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Thursday, January 6, 2005

Johnny Walker (Black)'s Top 10 Of 2004

1. Mark Lanegan, Bubblegum (Beggar's Banquet): Quite simply, the album that Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and a host of others wanted to make this year, but didn't. From the astoundingly soulful nihilism of the opening track, "When Your Number Isn't Up" ("No one needs to tell you that/ There's no use for ya here anymore/ And where are your friends?/ They've gone away/ It's a different world, they left you to this/ To janitor the emptiness/ So let's get it on"), this is an album that simply leaves all of its singer/songwriter competition in the dust.

2. Velvet Revolver, Contraband (RCA): Oh, come on, you Devendra Banhart-worshipping critical dickheads. The only reason a lot of you weenies (and weenettes) out there don't like the idea of these guys is because this is one "supergroup" that actually works! (Though I still contend that Blind Faith made a pretty cool album too, way back when.) Not to mention the fact that the V-Revolvers have already lived out every rock fantasy you've ever had about 10 times over. Jealousy will get you nowhere, my friends. These raunchy muthafuckas just plain rawk. Unlike that twee Marc Bolan imitator I mentioned earlier.

3. Lou Reed, Animal Serenade (Warners): I never thought Uncle Lou would sound this inspired again. Intense live versions of faves from the majestic Berlin ("Men of Good Fortune," "The Bed," "How Do You Think It Feels?"), inspired reworkings of some Velvets numbers (with a truly psychotic cello solo by Jane Scarpantoni on "Venus in Furs") and an angry, punked-out "Dirty Blvd." that shows time hasn't dulled Reed's rage at all. In fact, he sounds more pissed off now than ever. All of which to say is that the title's obvious throwback to what even Reed now acknowledges is one of rock's greatest live albums, his 1974 classic Rock 'n' Roll Animal, isn't misplaced here.

4. Mobb Deep, Amerikaz Nightmare (Jive): I don't pretend to be a rap/hip-hop expert. But I know what I like. And when I first heard Mobb Deep, who've been labeled "the Black Sabbath of hip-hop" for their doomy atmospheres and scarifying lyrics, I connected immediately. They've been off their game a tad since the 1995-6 classics The Infamous and Hell on Earth, but this latest release (which manages to make a sample from Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" sound sinister on "Got It Twisted") is a thugged-out East Coast classic.

5. Mos Def, The New Danger (Geffen): Funny how white artists like Madonna and David Bowie have always been lauded for their stylistic changes and uses of artistic personae, but when a black hip-hop performer tries the same thing, he is pilloried for "not keeping it real" or some such silliness. What makes this album refreshing is exactly the fact that you never know where Mos Def is going next: one minute he's Marvin Gaye, the next, Muddy Waters, all the while keeping his hip-hop roots in close proximity. One of the year's bravest exploratory musical efforts by a major-label artist.

6. Danzig, Circle of Snakes (Evilive): It couldn't be a Johnny Walker (Black) Top 10 list without Danzig, now could it? If critics like the esteemed Greil Marcus, with his half-digested theories of French radicals like the libertarian librarian Georges Bataille, were to actually write a real "secret history" of rock 'n' roll, Glenn Danzig, who helped to birth both punk and goth (with The Misfits and Samhain) as well as solidify the Rick Rubin-esque brand of dark hard rock (Danzigs 1 through 4) that ruled the 1990s, would be a central figure. But perhaps Danzig's got too many muscles for a wimpy guy like Marcus to deal with. In any case, with ex-Prong guitarist Tommy Victor in the band, Danzig sounds as on the money here as ever (listen to the chilling "Skull Forest" for verification).

7. Monster Magnet, Monolithic Baby (SPV): MM leader Dave Wyndorf seems more prophetic than ever here, considering his State of the Union assessment of American youth on this overlooked hard-rock classic. "You're from the soft generation/ Like a doggie with a bone/ You like your lame fuckin' music/ You love talkin' on your phone/ You're stone monolithic/ I smell it on your breath/ You got about nothing to say/ So buy your stupid garbage/ And love yourself to death/ Till daddy takes your T-Bird away" sings Wyndorf on the searing title track. And who knows, any day now, given the mess in Iraq, Big Daddy Dubya, back for those "four more years," may be doing just that.

8. The Libertines, The Libertines (Rough Trade): It may sound nasty of me to say so, but rock 'n' roll needs its romantic casualties. Sorry, but everyone can't be a mere businessman parading around with a guitar instead of a briefcase. We need our crazed Jim Morrisons, our depressed Kurt Cobains, our nihilistic Layne Staleys. I hope that the self-destructive Pete Doherty of The Libertines avoids this fate, yet I also appreciate the passion and utopian spirit he and co-leader Carl Barat bring to the whole idea of making rock 'n' roll and being in a rock 'n' roll band in 2004. Just listen to "Can't Stand Me Now" and "The Ha Ha Wall" from this album and tell me I'm wrong. This is a band of true believers (and they're even produced by Mick Jones of The Clash). We need that now more than ever.

9. The Stranglers, Norfolk Coast (EMI): I never thought I'd be including a Stranglers album in any top 10 list of mine again. Don't get me wrong, I always loved the original incarnation of this band, especially up to 1979's The Raven, and saw them as true punks parading a "we don't give a fuck" attitude amongst a bunch of phony moralistic hippies merely dressed up as punks. But The Stranglers without Hugh Cornwell, who left the band in 1990, was for me, unthinkable. Until I heard this album. Finally, "new" vocalist Paul Roberts sounds completely at home here, and legendary bass virtuoso Jean-Jacques Burnel is again maniacally pounding out his trademark, bone-crunching rhythms. I unreservedly recommend this to anyone who was ever a Stranglers aficionado. Try it, you'll like it.

10. The Blue Nile, High (Sanctuary): Look, a mug like me is never going to be as cool and suave as Blue Nile singer/songwriter Paul Buchanan. The guy even went out with one of the Arquette sisters for awhile, fer gawd's sake. And he's so diffident that he only makes an album every 10 years, or so it seems. But when I ponder the airy, evocative lyrics of "Because of Toledo" ("Because of Toledo/ I got sober and stayed clean . . . . The lipstick and the cocaine traces/ One face in a thousand faces/ I stumble through so many places/ Because of Toledo"), I can imaginatively transport myself into a world of jagged cool, wasted ennui and ragged grace, a place inhabited by the Paul Buchanans, the Bryan Ferrys, the David Bowies of this world. And sometimes, that's not a bad thing at all.

Honorable Mentions

Tarbox Ramblers, A Fix Back East (Rounder): John Kay (of Steppenwolf) sound-alike Michael Tarbox and company with some great country-punk blues.

RTX, Transmaniacon (Drag City): Jennifer Herrema resurrects her former skag-rock outfit Royal Trux minus partner Neil Hagerty. How can you not love a band whose album title salutes a classic by the great Blue Öyster Cult and whose best song's main riff ("Joint Chief") is an almost verbatim cop of Nazareth's classic track "Miss Misery" (from their equally hard-rock classic album Hair of the Dog)? All this, and sparkling clean production too!

Blanche, If We Can't Trust The Doctors (Cass): Mainly for the great, passionate cover of the Gun Club's "Jack on Fire," given the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood treatment here by hubby and wife team Dan and Tracee Miller. But the rest of this is pretty easy on the ears, too. Detroit Americana at its best.

The Dresden Dolls, The Dresden Dolls (8ft.): The album's good, an interesting juxtaposition of alt-goth and cabaret, but enterprising Internet cruisers should check around for their jaw-dropping video cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." You'll be instantly converted.

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears on occasion.



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