First off, Merry Christmas!
And now, because you demanded it. Well, okay, not really. But here’s my top ten non-soundtrack albums for 2006, more or less in the order that I loved ’em. And yeah, if you know my musical tastes, it’s a pretty predictable list.
LEO – Alpacas Orgling. I almost hate to admit that I’m putting an all-star ELO homage above the real article, though I’ll admit that a completely new album from Jeff Lynne probably would’ve knocked them out of top spot. But that’s okay – these guys get it, from the songwriting style to the background vocals to various recording techniques that lend it the stamp of authenticity, and yet Bleu and his army of collaborators (few of whom met/played in person, but instead recorded parts and sent them to each other via the ‘net) don’t lose their own identities in it. Also features ex-Jellyfisher Andy Sturmer, the Hanson brothers, and quite a few familiar names on the indie pop circuit.
Tim Finn – Imaginary Kingdom. This album is almost like Tim’s graduate thesis, a summation of all the styles he’s explored in his solo career, and he manages to mesh everything together beautifully, from almost gospel-esque numbers to big-screen ballads to energetic rock songs with an agile, bold voice that make you forget this guy is in his fifties. Please tour this material in the U.S. in 2007, Tim!
Tom Petty – Highway Companion. Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell are back, and the result is the best thing Petty’s stamped his name on since these three put together Full Moon Fever in 1989. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Petty has written some of his best material since then too, running the gamut from rootsy rock to stuff that’s absolutely mesmerizing. This one just got nominated for a Grammy, and it’s certainly worthy of one.
Jars Of Clay – Good Monsters. This is the best contemporary Christian album I’ve heard in years, though it seems to have ignited controversy within that somewhat insular genre of music by not following the usual formula of cheerleading and reinforcing one’s faith, instead opting to challenge it and lyrically acknowledge challenges to faith in the real world. Some folks didn’t seem to like that violation of their “keep the boy in the bubble” mentality. By addressing those real issues and still affirming their belief, the Jars turned out something for more inspirational than the usual paint-by-numbers praise-and-worship album.
ELO – A New World Record, On The Third Day, Face The Music (remasters). Okay, maybe this is a cheat to tie three albums in a top ten list, especially when they’re re-releases of old material, but the difference between the original 80s CD releases and these freshly remastered ones is night and day, and Jeff Lynne is kindly digging through the archives to find and finish unreleased gems like “Surrender” for us. Even if you had these on CD before, they’re worth getting again.
Roger Manning – Land Of Pure Imagination. The former Jellyfish frontman’s solo album is just a little bit uneven, and suffers some serious damage from some edits performed to replace three tracks from the much stronger original Japanese release, but there are still some outstanding pop songs in here, all gloriously (and in a few cases, not-so-gloriously) recalling 70s stylings that have fallen by the wayside. As with most of his former Jellyfish compatriots, to Manning, solo means “one guy plays everything,” and the pure craftsmanship of this whole album, whether a given song appeals or not, is astounding.
Lindsey Buckingham – Under The Skin. In the past, Buckingham minus the rest of Fleetwood Mac has still tended to sound like Fleetwood Mac, sometimes to a point of slavish duplication, but not this time. Though there’s one song with McVie and Fleetwood sitting in, the rest are Lindsey sorta-unplugged – very acoustic, but multitracked to the nines with great harmonies and some of the most intricate guitar work he’s pulled off to date. Very, very impressive, if not necessarily what everyone expected given his work to date.
Weird Al Yankovic – Straight Outta Lynwood. It seems like as popular music gets ruder and cruder, that just makes for a richer vein of material for Weird Al to mine – and I love that he does it without stooping to the same level. Increasingly, as with his past couple of albums, it’s Al’s originals and “style parodies” (the songs that aren’t direct homages to a specific song by another artist) that stand out – well, that and his rapid-fire polka medleys. Considering how many styles and well-known tunes they have to ape, Al’s band demonstrates off-the-scale musicianship. It’s not just good fun, it’s good music too.
Here’s a taster, this time in the listed order (LJ folks will have to visit my site for this to show up).