As usual, however, I was the only one to select particular albums and songs out of the several hundred critics whose votes were tabulated. In other words, I really do march to the beat of my own drum, which is highly apropos since I am a recreational drummer.
In my opinion, 2010 was the best year for popular music in many years. I hope you’ll enjoy the following albums as much as I did.
1. AGAINST ME! White Crosses — While some long-time fans of these punk rockers are screaming “sell out,” the truth is that this melodic mainstream punk rock album is a powerful work that is incredibly mature both musically and lyrically. I did not hear a more passionate or emotional album all year. Read my interview with frontman Tom Gabel here.
2. NEON TREES Habits — This mini-album (a solid 29 minutes) hooked me so strongly that I included it on a list meant for full-length releases. But hey, better quality than quantity, and this retro ’80s group delivers the goods. They merge diverse influences into their own sound, and for musicians who were probably little kids throughout the decade of decadence, they really channel it well. They get it. Check out my Neon Trees video collection here.
3. ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson — My favorite off-Broadway and then Broadway show of 2010, BBAJ skewered our seventh President Andrew Jackson, whose life story became an onstage symbol not only for the bitter divisions inherent in modern American politics but also the concept that America is still an angry teenager that needs to grow up. The songs from this emo musical are quite diverse, often self-mocking and laced with humorous irony. Read my Stage Directions cover interview with star Ben Walker here.
4. ANBERLIN Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place — I confess that the first time I heard Anberlin was on this, their fifth and latest release, a passionate rock album of ’80s influences as diverse as new wave and metal. Inspired by the poetic musings of Dylan Thomas, the group navigate the highs and lows of friendships, relationships and the search for meaning in one’s life. Heady and catchy stuff. Check out singer Stephen Christian’s Digital Playlist here.
5. HIM Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice — The gloomy Finnish rockers returned with yet another solid album of angst-ridden romance and dark introspection, this time with even more of an ’80s flavor than usual. I usually like the even numbered HIM albums more (just like Star Trek movies), but the seventh time’s the charm. The limited two-disc edition with acoustic renditions is also cool. Read my interview with frontman Ville Valo here.
6. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys — After delivering a powerful concept albnum about cancer (2006’s The Black Parade), My Chem returned with a futurist concept album that is more of a collection of stories than a full-on narrative yet still engrossing. Their music continues to diversify, from the raucous Detroit rock of “Party Poison” to the majestic psychedelia of “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”. An interview with frontman Gerard Way is coming soon.
7. ACCEPT Blood of the Nations — These German metal legends returned with their first studio album in 14 years, and it’s a hell of a ride, with new vocalist/lyricist Mark Tornillo keeping the band as edgy as ever. Who says middle-aged metalheads can’t rock your ass off? It’s baffling that this didn’t get nominated for a Grammy in the Metal category. (For shame!) Read my interview with guitarist Wolf Hoffmann here.
8. SERJ TANKIAN Imperfect Harmonies — The ever eclectic and politically charged Tankian conjured a second solo album that took a detour from the heavy rock he’s been known for. This time he made an orchestra rock out, kind of like acoustic metal, with only occasional guitar to fill out the sound. His lyrics remain as personal and socially conscious as ever. Next up: His rock musical Prometheus Bound, created in collaboration with Spring Awakening playwright Steven Sater, which opens through the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts on February 25th. Read my interview with Serj here.
9. BRYAN FERRY Olympia — Pop’s eternal King Of Cool returned with his first studio release in three years, and this is a moodier affair than some of his recent efforts. This may partially have to do with the fact that many of his former Roxy Music bandmates played in different configurations on a few tracks (including Phil Manzanera, Andrew Mackay, Andy Newmark and Brian Eno), echoing some of the tunes from the group’s atmospheric masterpiece Avalon (my pick for the most romantic pop album of all time). This is a fresh sounding album that may be as close as we get to a full-on Roxy reunion, and if so, I’ll take it. It’s great.
10. VIRGIN STEELE The Black Light Bacchanalia — The Romantic barbaric rockers from Long Island returned with their first studio release in four years (only their second in a decade), and it is the second half of a concept album devoted to Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who turned her back on a life of subjugation to live freely. This Virgin Steele opus is radically different from past works in that it is more piano-driven, and David DeFeis’ vocals are more subdued than ever before. It possesses a sound and atmosphere uniquely its own, and it will grow on you over time. An interview with David DeFeis is coming soon.