Five Essential Albums of 2005
By RJO Taduran
Last year, Kanye West was crowned as the new king of hip-hop, as his debut album The College Dropout gained both critical and commercial success. He conquered the singles chart with the hits "Slow Jamz," "Through the Wire" and earned the respect of his peers with his fearless social commentaries in "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks," which gave him a Song of the Year nomination in the Grammy Awards.
This year, the red carpet has been laid down for King Kanye's return in Late Registration and along with him is the phenomenal prince-producer Jon Brion and his golden instrumentations. Also following his dignified march are warring rap lords Jay Z and Nas in the track "We Major," Maroon5 viscount Adam Levine in "Heard Em Say," and the joker Jamie Foxx doing another Ray Charles impersonation in "Gold Digger."
In Late Registration, West's parchment reads brave social commentaries about the slaves in Africa in "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," the failing health care in "Roses" and the prevalent drug problem in "Crack Music."
Once Again, West proves that rap can be a potent medium to bring forth important issues, rather than the usual subjects of debauchery, murder, thug life and all the bling-blings. And once again, everybody agreesLate Regitration is one of the best-selling records of the year and it has been nominated for eight awards in the next year's Grammy ceremonies. Give it up for Kanye. Heck, make him a monument!
Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple - (Sony)
This album was supposed to be released in 2003, with Jon Brion as the producer, but Apple's bosses in Sony Music rejected it for having no potential hit singles.
Enter Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew. As the original recordings were leaked on the Internet, the dynamic duo reformulated and reengineered the whole album. And the resultFiona Applerediscovered and reinvented. It's like we've never heard of the chanteuse before. The music mechanism was built to surpass the prototype, just like the pressing tunings of "O' Sailor," the threading loops of "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)," and the grinding piano of "Get Him Back."
But the real power comes from Apple's lyrics. Written during her break-up with long-time boyfriend Paul Thomas Anderson, director of wonderful films like Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, Apple transforms her sorrow and angst into trenchant, raw melodies. In "Window," she sings, "Better that I break the window than him or her or me," then hammers, "Especially me!" In "Red Red Red," she drills, drills, and drills a hole in the heart with the line "I think if I didn't have to kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill myself doing it."
Extraordinary Machine shows us that even in unfortunate events, such as lovers' break-up or a music label's intrusion, an artist can still create beautiful things out of them. And an artist like Fiona Apple will always be extraordinary.
Takk - Sigur Rós - (Geffen)
Sigur Rós, the Icelandic quartet, once declared, "We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music." Armed with ambient choruses and a made-up language called Hopelandic, it seemed that the band has lived up to its promise. Takk is said to be the band's mainstream album. Here, song structure and progression are followed and the native Icelandic language is audible. Have they sold out? Or have they lost hope of the music revolution they started? Probably not, since all of the songs are sonicscapes of dreams and metaphors. The affective and grand melodies, strings and piano arrangements, and Jon Thor Birgisson's glacial vocalization would make Enya sound absurd like Hillary Duff, Bjork like Ashlee Simpson, and Coldplay like Simple Plan.
Takk is one of the rare albums that is whole and intact as it is. The album itself is one big wave of emotions and the songs should never be exploited by movie soundtracks and NOW compilations. It is a wonderful album that will always be remembered.
Playing the Angel - Depeche Mode - (Reprise)
Depeche Mode is believed to be one of the most eminent trend-setting groups in the music industry to date. In the span of 25 years, the synth-pop group has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.
Playing the Angell, the British trio's 11th studio album, flies in pain and suffering in various tempos, which is chief songwriter Martin L. Gore's holy grail. In the record, frontman Dave Gahan also takes off as the songwriter of standout tracks "Suffer Well," "Nothing's Impossible" and "I Want it All."
Gahan's vocals soar in heavenly heights in "John the Revelator" as he sings, "John the Revelator, he's a smooth operator, it's time we cut him down to size." With whirring synthesizers and gospel choir in the background, one can easily be reminded of Jonathan Seagull and John the disciple at the same time.
All of the songs have religious allusion, to some extent, that glides between worship and blasphemy, which reveals us the true meaning of the album title. Depeche Mode frolics with low-key and high-key synths, dabbles with sexuality and sadness, and plays with the believers and non-believers all at the same time. It's the kind of record a hardened serial killer and a new generation priest would listen to. And only Depeche Mode can do it with finesse.
Don't Believe the Truth Oasis - (Sony)
Which is the greatest band in the world? The Rolling Stones are too old. Steven Tyler and the rest of Aerosmith have lost their glamorous wa-cho-chows. And some say U2 have sold out.
But wait, can anyone remember Oasis? The British band was known for a masterpiece of an album in 1995 entitled (What's the Story) Morning Glory? But all went downhill after that, as original band members quit and left the Gallagher brothers doing mediocre follow-up albums. For many years, the self-proclaimed "greatest band in the world" seemed to have bigger egos than musical talent.
But in their latest effort, Don't Believe the Truth, the blokes sound reinforced and reinvigorated. With Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey taking on the drummer duty, Oasis may have rejuvenated their grandiose ambition to become the second coming of the Beatles. Tracks like "Let There Be Love," "The Importance of Being Idle," "A Bell Will Ring," "Keep the Dream Live" and the lead single "Lyla" are all reminiscent of the Fab Four, but with a swaggering delivery from the Gallaghers.
In this seventh outing, Oasis have surprisingly evolved to become a legitimate unadulterated band that could match their bloated attitudes with the power of their music. The guys make a statement: they, indeed, could be the one of the greatest bands ever to grace the music industry. And that's the truth.
Honorable Mentions: - I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning Bright Eyes - (Saddle Creek)
Demon Days Gorillaz - (Virgin)
Confessions on a Dance Floor - Madonna - (Warner)
Back to Bedlam - James Blunt - (Atlantic)