"Too early to declare," you say? Bah, humbug say I! Besides, I'll be in Winnipeg next week and I can't guarantee much by way of posting, so here it is.
And here I sat, spinning one disc after another, playing entire album files on that tiny contraption, and wondering why, after four years of blogging, I picked this year to announce an “album of the year.” I reviewed my case. This has been my first full year of subscribing to eMusic, which means I’ve downloaded over 360 songs in the last 12 months. Add to this the fact that my CD collection continued to grow at its usual rate from purchases and gifts, and it’s safe to say I’ve achieved a personal record of sorts. Surely this constitutes a near ideal environment for me to make such a declaration — no?
Well ... no. The truth is I haven’t been paying attention. I got sick, then I got grumpy, and my focus wandered. Worse than that, I cued up the music, returned to my chores at the kitchen counter and said, “I’m not really listening to you, so you better come up with something pretty damn sensational for that to change.” The artist was now working against two enormous impediments: my disinterest, and their own ability to sustain an artistic moment for the length of an entire album. Good luck to us all.
In an environment like that, an “album of the year” will be a very rare thing, indeed. But there were a number I enjoyed: Joni Mitchell’s Shine was a pleasant entry, Galactic’s From The Corner To The Block swept in from left-field and caught me by surprise and I got a HUGE kick out of listening to Robert Plant rediscover his inner flower-child while coming to terms with his own mortality in the ethereal presence of Alison Krauss. And if I’m going to choose the most noteworthy album released this year, it’s going to go to Joe Henry’s Civilians. That album sits like a rediscovered corner in the attic, catching shafts of sunlight at odd hours of the day and glancing them off treasures I didn’t know I had.
I also enjoyed discovering acts and albums that have been around awhile: wax.on wax.off, The Yayhoos, Janiva Magness, James McMurtry and Gurf Morlix.
But if there’s one album, old or new, that I picked up for the first time this year, then reached for and played again and again and again I have to just come out and admit it is ....
Dirty Diamonds by Alice Cooper.
Honestly, no-one could be more surprised by this than I am. Over the years as I watched him shill for golf clubs, then school supplies, then the Republican Party I basically thought of him as the increasingly lame punchline to his own joke. How was I supposed to take this guy seriously if he didn’t take himself seriously? Moving along, then.
But wouldn't you know it (*sigh* here goes) Alice Cooper takes rock & roll seriously — or, in the case of Dirty Diamonds, as seriously as it ought to be taken. It can be jokey, creepy, hokey, even downright nasty, but all of it is entertaining and infectious, hearkening back to the stomping, whistling, rocking atmosphere of the great arena shows. And on my choice for standout track, "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)", Alice has every single one of the ingredients mixed just right. Not one of the last 52 weeks has passed by without me giving this song at least one spin. I love it, I love the album it’s on, and that’s my album of the year.
Tomorrow I’ll compile a list of my favorite tracks of the year (or what we used to call a “mixed tape”). Cheers.