Listening in Real Time

Eclectic neoclassicism versus childhood-oriented avant-primitivism as global warming swamps our history

So nuts to the way Bruce Springsteen's predictably good album just barely snuck on at 40 (behind the National—ridiculous) and the Rolling Stones' shockingly good album was edged out at 43 (two/three points behind German-techno Isolée and chanteuse-pop Feist, who at least offer alternatives), both with no appreciable help from voters under 35. I can respect that this hyper-precise Coldplay album belongs 23 places behind their warmer 2002 breakthrough, but not that this rocking Franz Ferdinand CD belongs 22 places behind the skinnier 2004 model, the one juiced by a bigger single and a newer band. And even more egregious are two albums that didn't break 100. Four Tet's Everything Ecstatic got three mentions two years after the 29th-place finish of their/his Rounds persuaded me to listen till I got it, which I guess I didn't, because I swear the new one's dabs of drum'n'bass distinguish it only marginally from its predecessor. You like one Kieran Hebden album, you like the other—unless you've decided "folktronica," whatever that was, is now just too 2003. And then there's 50 Cent, who came in 137th with a hookier and more seductive version of the debut album that finished 15th. People must have thought they couldn't vote for the same bullet wounds twice.

What-have-you-done-for-me-lately is evil later. The way music has worked for me as an adult is that something that sounds good one year retains its zip. Timely pizzazz evolves into aesthetic impact; moments have legs. Longing to rewrite history, young crits love them their new oldsters. When an intelligent journeywoman like Bettye LaVette outdoes herself on two straight releases (though her Dennis Walker cheating album had stronger songs and rawer soul than 2005's better-distributed Joe Henry job), she's hailed as the new Shuggie Otis, I mean Loretta Lynn. But netsters have made such a life project of hopping on bands that they think nothing of filing Four Tet away with that Limp Bizkit embarrassment they fell for when they were 17. Franz Ferdinand's 26th place was just a hype correction, and now they'll fade from view or figure out what they have to say. But learning to hear Kieran Hebden took effort for an old guy like me, and I wish his constituency would show him some love. In years to come he'll evoke his time more deeply if less acutely than Franz Ferdinand—unless he has to be rediscovered like Bettye LaVette.

Pardon me for breaking wind—after 32 or 33 years, I just couldn't hold it anymore. Or maybe I mean if you can't take the stink get out of the john—were I really hoping not to offend, I'd abandon this methodologically challenged enterprise altogether. Instead, here I am musing about posterity and framing an album argument as unnumbered file swappers and music bloggers join Pazz & Jop's sizable old drink-fuck-and-be-merry singles-are-the-shit contingent. Since the kids were busy cultivating their very own byte-gardens while the old-timers fed dollar bills to the consensual jukebox, however, I had no trouble programming my changer and checking out our top 40 as album tracks. Most of these were masspop at its best, socially accessible songs-as-songs even if I didn't know them as such. I only wish I could tell you they beat a barrel of monkeys in sequence. Right, Amerie's explosive "1 Thing" is a machine-gun one-shot on an album with its safety engaged, Mariah Carey's name-checking "We Belong Together" shines amid the stars, and the Game's triumphant "Hate It or Love It" is so improved by removal from The Documentary that from here on in I'll play the Clipse remix and remove it from the Game as well. But most charting "singles" I preferred in their longform contexts. Even Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" and Three 6 Mafia's "Stay Fly" freshened up their albums for me.

M.I.A., #2 album; #29, 30 singles
photo: Mike Schreiber
M.I.A., #2 album; #29, 30 singles

Since I don't drink in bars or have ear time for radio or TV (or music blogs), my own singles list is always weird. This one is headed by a 48-second, circa 1999 Eminem boot that I played for all my friends, and also includes two candidates for protest song of the year, a 50 Cent sweetmeat that apparently lost its flava on the blogpost overnight, a Black Eyed Peas sex trifle some consider the worst record of all time, "Gold Digger," and an unprecedented four country titles, all accessed in one midsummer flurry. That two of my country picks also finished in our poll bespeaks both a desire to show love to the red states and a worsening drought in guitar-based representational songwriting.

There are certainly major exceptions on our chart beyond Brad Paisley's "Alcohol" and Miranda Lambert's "Kerosene," neither one narrative in form, but both stressing the literal meaning of every well-chosen word: the quick Stones-ish reversal of Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Want To," the Kaiser Chiefs' detailed if not always concrete "I Predict a Riot," and, were someone else singing, Antony's depressive "Hope There's Someone." But the BS favored by Beck, Bloc Party, My Chemical Romance, Death Cab for Cutie, and even punkoid dreamboats Fall Out Boy makes a fella love love love the White Stripes' terse, painfully drawn out "My Doorbell." With his retrograde prejudices fending off faddists, Jack White looks more like Van Morrison every year. That his duo finish high even though they'll never make a Moondance is a little sick, but they earn the loyal base their knowing commitment to the blues-based attracts. "Hollaback Girl" and "Since U Been Gone" are wordwise too, but they definitely arrive music first. Part of Kanye West's genius is how easily he straddles that divide, fitting deft narrative and multi-leveled rhetoric to dominant beats like a quality rapper should, only more humanely than Jay-Z, or OutKast either.

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