Four entries: one from a born again Christian, one from a Jew for Jesus, a third from a gangsta who's probably going to meet the big guy in the sky any day now, and the last from a group ready to "push the button." And surprise, all four will make 2005's list for best albums of the year.
Saints Preserve Us!
The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss, 2005). Speaking strictly as an ex-Catholic, Craig Finn is a born again after my own heart. He knows the depths of sin better than any Sunday school teacher, and he knows more about compassion and mercy than all the TV evangelists put together. Far from being holier than thou, Finn’s characters – the self-mutilators, abused lovers, and deluded youth - are just like you and me; they’ve been through the mud enough times to know it ain’t easy in this world. Temptation tugs on us all, and falling is as easy as getting out of bed in the morning. But redemption awaits all who seek it, and damned if Finn isn’t going to shout it out to the world. My favorite song is Cattle and the Creeping Things, where Finn offers up his own explanation of original sin: “the dude blamed the chick, the chick blamed the snake” and of course they were both naked when they got busted. A
Clem Slide: End of Love (Spin Art, 2005). “No one will survive the end of love,” Eaf Barzalay announces on the opening track. And things only get better from there. On Jews for Jesus Blues he laments, “Now that I’m found, I miss being lost.” An Israeli in Nashville is about as fish out of water as you’re likely to get. But Barzalay overcomes his deficiency, as it were. Like most people, he’s worried about the world we live in; unlike most people he’s preoccupied with how God feels about how we’ve treated this world we live in. The old testament in him torments his soul as the track God Answers Back shows, a song in which the Almighty quips, "If you get everything you hope for/Then I will have to punish you." Here’s hoping he finds comfort in the new testament. A-
50 Cent: The Massacre (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, 2005). The no good, the ugly and the bad, that’s what this is. Following on the heals of fellow gangstas Biggie Smalls and Tupac, this is about as low as low gets. The usual formula gets played out, too: the degradation of woman and, oh yes, guns, guns, guns. But, try as he does to drive all but hardcore devotees away, his style is irresistible. On this, his latest and best effort, he finds his funny bone. The result is an album that gets more to the point than Get Rich or Die Tryin’; in other words it’s more about sex and killing, and less about conditions in the ‘hood. All you need to know about his mind-set is to listen to the line from In My Hood. “You can be a victim or you can lock and load.” Guess which one 50 is? A-
The Chemical Brothers: Push the Button (Astralwerks, 2005). Like the Pet Shop Boys before them Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons get a lot of mileage out of a genre that was supposedly dead years ago. From start to finish this latest entry (their sixth) is a tour de force. Forget the detractors who still don't get it. Innovation isn't limited to merely those who forge new paths in the wilderness of music; sometimes the real test is how fresh you can sound driving down the same road (see Sleater-Kinney). Q-Tip sets the tone early with Galvanize; from there the party never seems to end. Overall, their best effort. A