Tuesday, December 9, 2008

SONGS OF MASS DEVOTION

They don't make albums like they used to. Every year it becomes increasingly harder for me to come up with 10 CDs that I can to listen to all the way through. The superstar CD, in particular, has basically morphed from a creative statement (on a good day) into a marketing tool that can be padded--with iTunes originals, deluxe-edition bonus tracks and various assorted extras--at money-grubbing whim. The past 12 months continued the trend in a major way. Though a few releases hold up front to back--Cyndi Lauper's Bring Ya To The Brink, Duffy's Rockferry (in pre- and post-"deluxe edition" form) and Coldplay's Viva La Vida come immediately to mind--for the most part, singles, album tracks and isolated TV and concert moments tended to satisfy my cravings for ace tunes this past year. Here, in alphabetical order (by artist) and with only one entry per act, are 20 of my favorites from 2008.

  1. Adele: "To Make You Feel My Love" At last, umpteen covers of the 11-year-old Bob Dylan tune later, one that I can fall in love with.
  2. Beyoncé: "Diva" If getting hitched to Jay-Z didn't do the trick, this finally should complete Beyoncé's journey to street cred.
  3. Britney Spears: "Mannequin" Circus' least affected moment. Just when Britney stops trying to prove something, she does.
  4. Bryn Christopher's "The Quest" A beautiful discovery during the closing scene of Grey's Anatomy's season-four finale.
  5. Coldplay: "Lost!" As good as "Viva La Vida"! And this one rocks and rolls without a hint of pretentiousness.
  6. Cyndi Lauper: "Lay Me Down" The best track from a smart dance album that went over the heads of U.S. music fans way too obsessed with shallow hip hop and R&B.
  7. David Cook: "Always Be My Baby" A sappy Mariah Carey ballad re-imagined as a creepy, grungey stalker manifesto on American Idol, of all places.
  8. Duffy: "Stepping Stone" Best Performance By A Female Singer In A Leading Video Role.
  9. Fantasia: "Bore Me (Yawn)" Her love-it-or-hate-it way-over-the-top performance of the Fantasia track on the pre-finale episode of American Idol 2008 was one of the series' most interesting musical numbers since Fantasia's own star-making season-three rendition of "Summertime."
  10. Goldfrapp: "A&E" The Hercules and Love Affair remix transformed three minutes of mellow mood music into seven minutes of disco nirvana.
  11. Hot Chip: "Don't Dance" Trying to heed the titular command is futile. Go ahead, dance.
  12. Keane: "The Lovers Are Losing" The band's native UK shrugged big time, but here in Buenos Aires, I've heard it blaring from the loudspeakers of at least two supermercados. Who said porteños don't know a great pop-rock anthem when they hear one?
  13. Kylie Minogue: "Like A Drug" The high point of her Buenos Aires show performed almost entirely in a box.
  14. Leona Lewis: "Run" I spent most of the year scratching my head over Leona mania until I heard her transform an old Snow Patrol track into an elegant, sweeping power ballad. She's still not the best thing since sliced bread, but the song reminds me of why I used to love Celine.
  15. Leona Naess: "Leave Your Boyfriends" Still under-appreciated, still under-promoted and still one of the best female singer-songwriters in the business. (See video below. What, were you expecting a clichéd Sex And The City-style girls night out from uncompromising Leona?)
  16. Madonna: "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" Hard Candy's sweetest drop. Anyone who paid attention to this and to "Miles Away" saw the Madonna/Guy Ritchie split coming from, um, miles away.
  17. Mariah Carey: "Side Effects" E=MC2's money moment. Not releasing it as a single probably cost Mimi multi-platinum sales.
  18. M.I.A.: "Paper Planes" Thanks to its prominent inclusion in the trailer for the stoner flick Pineapple Express, a hard-to-market star was born.
  19. Natasha Bedingfield Ft. Sean Kingston: "Love Like This" Oh, brother (that means you, Daniel), where art thou?
  20. Sugababes: "Girls" The critics carped and dismissed it, as did the fans who sent the first singles from their last four albums to No. 1 in the UK. (It only managed a No. 3 peak.) Hey, guys, not every great song has to have a swinging '60s beat.

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