Monday, December 27, 2010

Danny's BEST OF 2010: The Year In ROCK


- For the last few years, music has become an increasingly fragmented business, to the point where you would think it'd be hard for there to be much in the way of critical consensus. And yet, as I read through various best-of-the-year lists, I see more and more me-too tendencies from critics who want to jump on the bandwagon for whoever the "it" bands of the moment happen to be. I find this odd, since music is so subjective. And yet, so much music criticism is less about the critic's own gut reaction and more about what is cool, what isn't cool, and so on.
So here's a statement that is, I'm sure, decidedly uncool: In 2010, I enjoyed music from some of the big critical darlings. I dug Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, and The Dead Weather. But my favorite new album of the year, by far, was THE SCORPIONS' Sting In the Tail. Yes, The Scorpions, the German metal band, most prominent from the 70's through the early 90's, best known for rockers like "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Winds of Change." Every year, it seems that like-minded friends and I long for a great new rock album that feels like real, classic, rock n' roll. And lo and behold, this was it. From start to finish, Sting In the Tail rocks and rocks hard, with several great arena-rocking anthems that are right up there with anything from the Scorps' heyday. So laugh if you want, or give the album a listen. Maybe you'll think it's cheesy, but maybe you'll be rocking too hard to instant classics like "The Best Is Yet To Come" or "Raised on Rock" to care. Not bad for the final album of a forty-year-old rock n' roll band. Seriously, "The Best Is Yet To Come" is the best arena-rock single in years - if this doesn't have you pumping your fist, nothing will. All in all, Sting in the Tail is straight-up rock n' roll at it's finest.

The sheer awesomeness of Sting In the Tail was to me a big highlight of rock in 2010, although a couple of other old-reliables put out cool new music as well. TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS' new album, Mojo, was a pretty solid release, though I didn't like it quite as much as the band's previous album, Highway Companion. Still there were at least a couple of great tunes to be found on the legendary Petty's latest. Meanwhile, SLASH put out a pretty unique new album - containing an eclectic variety of rock songs, each sung by a different vocalist, with talents ranging from Ozzy to Kid Rock to Fergie. It was definitely one of the year's best and most interesting rock albums, though it did make me continue to wish that Slash and Axl would put aside their differences and just reform GnR already.

Lest you think I'm stuck in the past, I really dug some of the new stuff out there this year, although I do think that, overall, it was a disappointing year for modern rock. I think about the latest albums from bands like Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, My Chemical Romance, and The Gorillaz, none of which I really dug. And the less spoken about the ill-fated Stone Temple Pilots reunion, the better. In fact, reading the excellent "Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation?" series of articles on The AV Club made me all the more nostalgic for the days when great new rock n' roll seemed to burst out of the radio and MTV with regularity. To be honest, not a lot of new rock bands came on the scene this year that really blew me away. Nowadays, Modern Rock is sadly something of a niche genre, and modern rock that, well, rocks, seems to be getting harder and harder to find. But back to what I did like, I've been a longtime member of the ARCADE FIRE bandwagon, and while I wasn't *as* into their new album as I was Neon Bible, songs like "Sprawl II" were most excellent and held onto that deep, rich, sound that put the band on the map, making them one of the best new bands of the last couple of years. THE DEAD WEATHER also continued to impress with a new lineup of bluesy, Led Zeppelin-esque tunes. I'd still rather have a new White Stripes album, but hey, the Weather do indeed rock pretty hard. On the other hand, I'm still not entirely onboard THE BLACK KEYS bandwagon, but I can definitely admit that "Tighten Up" was one of the year's catchiest, grooviest new rock songs. Speaking of which, I have never been a fan of 30 Seconds to Mars, but I have to admit that I often found myself singing along whenever the radio played "This is War," a fun song, even if I still can't stand most of the rest of their music. Same goes for Florence + The Machine. I laugh whenever someone says that a band that just arrived on the scene is their "favorite," but I do see a lot of potential in this unique group. "Dog Days Are Over" was huge in 2010, and with good reason -- it's a great tune.

As far as pop music goes, I think most of it is crap these days. That said, a few bright spots like Rihanna keep me interested. And of course, there are guys like CEE LO GREEN who are technically making pop songs, but are also doing whatever the hell they want in the genre and seeing success from it. And hey, even if she didn't have a new album this year, I include Lady GaGa in that category as well. What can I say, I like originals and eccentrics (well, to a point). And hey, I'm definitely not immune to the fun of a totally-stupid-yet-ridiculously-catchy dance-pop song, like "Dynamite" from Taio Cruz. But, one of the most unlikely sources of pop music stardom in 2010 had to be ANTOINE DODSON - a kid from the projects whose TV News-broadcast warning to local criminals - autotuned by internet savants The Gregory Brothers - turned into the viral internet music sensation of the year. What the Gregory Brothers did with Dodson's words is pretty incredible. While the gimmick is already starting to wear a bit thin, I still get a huge kick out of how they took Dodson's outspoken personality and made his cry of "hide ya' kids, hide ya' wife" into the year's most quotable song lyric.

Finally, there was a lot of good music this year that came from the world of TV and film. For example, I don't know if there was any song I found myself humming more over the last several months than "Gunfight Epiphany," aka the awesome theme song to the sadly-cancelled TV show Terriers. In addition, there were some incredible movie scores in 2010. From Trent Reznor's work on The Social Network, to Hans Zimmer's epic Inception score, to DAFT PUNK's techno-tronic Tron Legacy soundtrack. I've been a longtime fan of Daft Punk, so hearing their moody grooves coupled with the fantastic visuals of the film made for a sensation of near-sensory overload. While the soundtrack does not exactly function as a traditional Daft Punk album, at least a couple of the tracks are, in their own right, kickass electronica-powered singles. The one-two punch of "End of Line" and "Derezzed" is definitely a highlight. One additional music highlight from the world of movies and TV - the awesome and underrated flick THE RUNAWAYS from early in the year. This rock n' roll fable detailed the early days of proto-punk girl group The Runaways, the same band that eventually gave birth to the solo careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The movie 100% captured the spirit of The Runaways' and Joan Jett's music, and reinforced, to me, why it is that like Joan I love rock n' roll. Plus, stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning did a surprisingly great job of covering the band's tunes - their version of "Cherry Bomb" is not bad at all.

Of course, 2010 for me was also a year where I saw some amazing live music. It was one thing to hear The Scorpions' new album, it was another thing to see the band live in LA during their farewell tour. The Scorpions absolutely kicked ass, and looked like anything but a band that was ready to retire. Certainly, they went out with a bang. I also saw one of my all-time favorite rock bands, the mighty Aerosmith, live for what I hope is not the last time. Despite seeming slightly worse for wear, Aerosmith still rocked and put on a great show. I only hope that Steven Tyler and co. can forget all things American Idol and get back to being a badass rock band. This year, I also kicked off Halloween season the way I'd always wanted to: by seeing Alice Cooper himself live and in person. It was awesome seeing the legendary shock-rocker in person, and more awesome since he was co-headlining his tour with the one and only Rob Zombie. Seeing the gruesome twosome together was a one-of-a-kind musical moment. I saw Conan O'Brien's live show, which saw the king of late-night perform many a hilarious musical number, even dueting with Jim Carrey at one point. Finally, I can proudly say that 2010 was the year that I finally saw the man, the myth, the legend - Weird Al Yankovic! - live in concert. Seeing Weird Al at the OC Fair was everything I hoped for and more - an epic all-ages show that had multiple generations of Al fans going nuts. Call me crazy, call me weird, but dammit all, Weird Al put on one of the biggest and best concerts I've ever seen. But as The Scorpions say: "the best is yet to come."

With all that said, here are my probably-controversial picks for the best songs of the year ...


1.) The Scorpions - "The Best Is Yet To Come"
2.) The Scorpions - "Raised on Rock"
3.) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - "Something Good Coming"
4.) The Black Keys - "Tighten Up"
5.) Daft Punk - "End of Line" / "Derezzed"
6.) Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II"
7.) The Scorpions - "The Good Die Young"
8.) Robert Duncan - "Gunfight Epiphany" (Theme From Terriers)
9.) Slash featuring Fergie - "Beautiful Dangerous"
10.) Antoine Dodson and The Gregory Brothers - "Bed Intruder Song"
11.) Florence + The Machine - "Dog Days Are Over"
12.) The Dead Weather - "Hustle and Cuss"
13.) Cee Lo Green - "$%&# You"
14.) The Scorpions - "Lorelei"
15.) 30 Seconds to Mars - "This Is War"
16.) Rihanna - "What's My Name?"
17.) Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "Don't Pull Me Over"
18.) The Scorpions - "Turn You On"
19.) Taio Cruz - "Dynamite"
20.) Slash featuring Myles Kennedy - "Back From Cali"

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