(Bowing to the Jukebox.)
Musically speaking, 2011 has been an interesting year. Pop music has moved even further into the electronic dance realm, modern rock radio seems as stagnant as ever and Spotify shook up the industry in quite a few ways. 2011 was also the year when older artists unveiled their vaults in the form of lavish box-sets, which are priced from the affordable to the outrageously expensive (U2 – I’m looking at you!)
For me, 2011 will be remembered more for those we lost, rather than any new albums or artists. I’ve written a lot about R.E.M., in the past few months and after this I plan to let them finally go. Even though for the better part of a decade they were a shadow of their former selves, they were always dependable and always existed in one form or another. Chronic Town, the band’s debut EP was released in October 1981, a few months before I was born. Due to my older siblings, they were the soundtrack to my childhood. As a kid, I could sing along to Michael Stipe’s lyrics even if I didn’t know what they meant (and let’s be honest, not much has changed in 20 years).
In December, I turned 30. In an odd way, it seems significant that R.E.M. would break-up the year when I become what some might finally view as an adult. They defined much of my childhood and teenage years, and now we’re both at a cross-roads of some sorts. So for now, good-bye R.E.M., I’m finally letting you go.
The deaths of both Clarence Clemons in June, and Amy Winehouse in July also had an effect on me, as many others. Bruce Springsteen recently announced that he was getting the E-Street Ban back together with both a tour and album next year, and it’s hard to imagine them without the Big Man. Clemons’ was not only a brother to Springsteen, but also his foil. As Springsteen’s ambitions and aspirations grew bigger, Clemons was always there to bring a bit of soul to the “big rock”. The lyrics of “Badlands” represented a struggle, but Clemons’ saxophone break gave the listener the sense that everything would be alright, even as we spit in the face of the Badlands. “Born to Run” would still be triumphant without Clemons, but without his signature playing on the track, the song would lose a lot of its fun and recklessness.
Earlier this year when it was announced that Clemons would be lending his services to Lady Gaga’s forthcoming Born This Way album, I did a double-take. “What the fuck?”, was my initial thought. Musicians can do whatever they want and play with whoever they please, but I just couldn’t imagine Clemons’ saxophone playing over Gaga’s dance-oriented pop. As it turns out, Clemons’ playing on “The Edge of Glory” not only fit, but lifted the otherwise bland song into something else. When Clemons died, I couldn’t help but lament the fact that being featured on a Lady Gaga album was in fact his final statement as a musician. Then again, if being a guest on “The Edge of Glory” introduces new fans to Clemons, then it’s totally worth it.
As for Amy Winehouse, not many were shocked at her death and most of us had seen it coming for years. Even though it was inevitable, the sting of her death didn’t hurt any less. To say she was a bit of anomaly in the pop scene of the 2000s, is an understatement. Her soulful sound and raspy voice are irreplaceable in an era where the charts are dominated by thumping beats and digitally altered voices. Every once in a while, a true artist breaks through the pop scene and catches everyone’s attention. We’re seeing it now with Adele, but there’s no doubt that her path was already carved by Winehouse a few years earlier.
A few days back, I thought about compiling a list of the best albums of the year, but I found the task both daunting and depressing. While there were plenty of good albums this year, I never found one that captured my imagination and remained definitive of both the year and the artists themselves. If I really had to pick an album of the year, it would most likely be The Roots’ undun. While the group remains as tight and experimental as ever, and Black Thought’s sharp lyricism remains under-appreciated, undun fails to capture the glory and grand statements found on both Game Theory and Rising Down.
That’s not to say there weren’t any good albums, however. Wilco’s The Whole Love found the group balancing their experimental side and more conservative efforts, making it the best album they’ve put out since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Mates of State’s Mountaintops was quite good as was Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, his his wildest and craziest album since Bone Machine. And for those of you who are looking to see if I’ll list The Decemberists’ The King is Dead, I’ve tried (really, I have!) to like them, but they’ve never done anything for me.
2011 has also been a milestone for Leading Us Absurd. Over the past few months, I’ve had the great opportunity to interview numerous up and coming artists. You can view the entire list here. There’s too many to list here, but some of my favorite have included experimental New York rockers Black Taxi, singer-songwriter Laura Warshauer who has played with E-Street great Roy Bittan and Edward Rogers who channels the early days of the Kinks on his latest release. I hope you’ve enjoyed these articles as much as I have putting them together. Hopefully in 2012, I’ll be able to bring even more exclusive interviews and content to Leading Us Absurd.
Speaking of that….
In an effort to try and be more productive for 2012, at the suggestion of two of my closest and friends, I’ve decided to make each day a theme. So here’s my outline for those interested:
- Mondays: Song of the Week
- Tuesdays: Album of the Week
- Wednesdays: Lists
- Thursdays: New Music (include interviews, profiles and/or new artists I’m getting into)
- Fridays: Weekly music round-up – what’s going on in the music world, new releases, etc.
My hope is that this structure will enable me to be more productive, and also be more interesting for the readers. I’ll throw in other posts as necessary, but at least this way everyone will know what to expect.
Thanks again to everyone who has read and/or commented here. Have a happy New Year and I’ll you on Monday!