Twangy spitfire Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone was selected by Amazon.com’s editors as the best of 2009, while U2’s No Line On The Horizon was the online retailer’s best-selling album this year. That’s according to a just-released year-end package that jumps the “happy new year” gun by quite a few days. Sure, boosting these albums now will probably be great for the holiday sales, but it’s too bad that publishing the list now means that the likes of R. Kelly’s Untitled and Shakira’s She Wolf didn’t get their critical due. Oh wait, there are no pop-as-pop albums on the editors’ list anyway. Silly me! Top 25s for both lists after the jump.
THE GOOD: It sure is fascinating to see the sales demographics of Amazon out themselves via the Bestsellers list—U2, Susan Boyle, Diana Krall, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan make up the top five, while younger-skewing top-selling 2009 releases like the Hannah Montana soundtrack, Eminem’s Relapse, and the Black Eyed Peas’ The E.N.D. land at Nos. 16, 24, and 25, respectively. At least all generations can agree on Green Day (No. 6)! And it’s nice to see Case’s editorially beloved album performing well on the sales side, too (No. 11).
THE BAD: In addition to Boyle’s pre-order mania landing her at No. 2; two albums on the bestsellers list have been released in the past few weeks: Michael Bublé’s Crazy Love (release date 10/9, No. 9) and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Night Castle (release date 10/26, No. 12). That sort of implies a low bar for high sales, methinks.
THE WHAAAA? This might be a wild and crazy question to pose, but is Steve Martin’s banjo album really the best of its breed to come out this year? More »
Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, Or Death And All His Friends was the top-selling album of 2008 worldwide, selling 6.8 million copies, according to data released today by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents some 1,400 record companies around the globe. Coming in behind Coldplay were AC/DC’s Black Ice; the soundtrack to the movie version of Mamma Mia!; Duffy’s Rockferry; and Metallica’s Death Magnetic. The top 20 albums and top 10 digital songs after the jump. (I swear this is going to be the last 2008 wrapup we run.)
THE GOOD: Viva La Vida sold more copies than the previous year’s No. 1 album, the soundtrack to High School Musical 2. Hey, these days, it’s any port in a storm, right?
THE BAD: People around the world sure do love operatic boy band Il Divo, whose The Promise sold more around the world than recent efforts by the Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift.
THE WHAAAA? The soporific “Apologize”—No. 5 on the global tracks chart—was credited to Timbaland, with nary a mention of OneRepublic, a.k.a. the band that actually crafted the song that housed his occasional “ay”-ing. Good thing Ryan Tedder has that prolific songwriting career!
Well, the Village Voice‘s annual music-critics poll is here, and… it’s about what you would have suspected. In an oddly Grammy-like move, the top single, M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” is actually from 2007, and benefits from 50 carryover votes. And following the paper’s arguably racist cover from its 2006 P&J issue, TV on the Radio took the top album slot in what can only be described as a landslide, beating No. 2 Vampire Weekend by 669 points and 49 mentions. Consensus!
Nielsen SoundScan has released its year-end numbers for music sales, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they aren’t all that great—no albums cracked the three-million-sold mark this year, with Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III almost getting there (2.874 million) and every other album in the top 10, um, not. Thanks to SoundScan’s Dec. 31-to-Dec. 28 chart year, the top single was Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” which shifted 3.42 million digital singles and bested Wayne’s “Lollipop” by some 260,000 units. Top 10s after the jump.
THE GOOD: Perhaps most intriguing to me was the number of latecomers that showed up in the album chart’s top 10: Taylor Swift’s Fearless, released Nov. 11, came in at No. 3; AC/DC’s Black Ice, released Oct. 20, ended the year at No. 5; and Beyoncé’s I Am…Sasha Fierce, which didn’t come out until a week and a half before Thanksgiving, squeaked into the No. 10 spot.
THE BAD: Album sales? Down 14%. Overall album sales, which include “track equivalent albums”? Down 8.5%. But hey, vinyl LP sales were up 89%! Of course the 1.88 million LPs sold represents about .43% of the total album picture, but just think of what this’ll mean for the heightened presence of that Animal Collective vinyl release on Tuesday!
THE WHAAA? Rihanna may have been the top-selling digital tracks artist, selling 9.941 million copies of her various radio-ready hits in single-serving format, but her album sales were nowhere near that, even with the reworking of Good Girl Gone Bad that tacked on the seemingly inescapable “Disturbia” and that Maroon 5 song that went pretty much nowhere. Maybe we can blame Adam Levine for this, since his track was the only “album-only” track on that reissue?
When 2008 started, I was sure it was going to be awesome. “It’s going to be two-thousand-great,” I told anyone who would listen, ignoring the various signs (MTV ringing in the New Year with Tila Tequila, hints of economic collapse, etc.) that things wouldn’t exactly go as planned. Or even be much good at all. But at least there was music to help the seemingly endless parade of bad news plod along a bit more jauntily, right?
THE GOOD: Getting back into R & B full-throttle thanks to Ne-Yo, Erykah Badu, Estelle, and Solange; Ida Maria’s twitchy “Oh My God,” which I am going to try and have every person I know hear at least once over the course of the coming months; Prince and Jarvis Cocker owning gigantic open spaces; Ne-Yo turning girls into goo.
THE BAD: You don’t want to hear about the bad aspects of my 2008. (And honestly, typing a blow-by-blow out would just depress me all over again.) So instead I’ll note that I often hate making lists because even though they’re supposed to be overviews, they’re inevitably of the specific moment at which the list was made, which means that completely worthy entrants will get slighted, or pushed out by space limitations, etc. Here’s a “sorry” to Black Mountain’s In The Future, the Air Miami demos that were reissued by Teen Beat, Panic At The Disco’s Pretty. Odd., Deastro’s “The Shaded Forests,” The Academy Is…’s Fast Times At Barrington High, Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows,” and the Robin Thicke record that was mysteriously forgotten about by everyone.
THE WHAAAA? Before August, if you had said that I would have put Billy Joel on any list that didn’t count down the reasons my ninth-grade social studies class was completely absurd (hi there, three-day lesson on “We Didn’t Start The Fire”), I would have laughed so, so hard. And yet, his show at Shea Stadium was totally solid, not only because of his undeniable showmanship but for the ways it stoked my nostalgia about growing up on Long Island.
I like You & Me, by the Walkmen, but seeing it on so many year-end lists made me a little suspicious. After all, it seems almost designed to appeal to anyone listening to it in November or December. It’s not only a wintry album, warm and soft and a little bit logy, like you’ve just eaten a big turkey dinner—but there are even explicit references to the holiday season in there, including a whole song about New Year’s. Since year-end lists get made in precisely this period, and the album does sound uniquely good on a snowy day, it made me wonder if the idea of best albums lists really being “best winter albums” lists was a widespread problem.
This is what you’ve all been waiting for, right?
THE GOOD: Nos. 50-41 would have made an awesome alternate-universe top 10, what with Marnie Stern, Ponytail, High Places, and Beach House all being within. Alas.
THE BAD: I will not quibble with the No. 1 choice and the reasons for its placement being wholly attributed to its comforting throwback nature (“The threads of Brian Wilson’s intricate coastal pop, Appalachian folk, modern indie rock, Grateful Dead jams, and other influences are masterfully synthesized in the band’s harmonies and simply orchestrated but constantly shifting instrumental arrangements”… “pastoral tendencies”); instead, I will just chalk its absurdly high placement up to “yet another reason why this year needs to be put out to pasture ASAP.”
THE WHAAA? Those who “follow” Pitchfork as a hobby probably won’t be surprised by any of the picks for the top 10—the fake ‘Fork top 10 posted by the NME earlier this week, which was reportedly based off the site’s highest-numbered reviews of the year, had a remarkable overlap with the real one. It even got No Age’s No. 3 ranking right! (The only album from the proposed top 10 that didn’t make the real one: Fucked Up’s The Chemistry Of Common Life, which came in at No. 17.)
Earlier this month, we took a look at Christianity Today‘s best-of list, which seemed to judge records on an “is this Christian enough?” scale as much as it did musical merit. To balance that out, the online music mag Patrol serves up a list that looks at vaguer connections between faith and music. Patrol started off analyzing the fringes of the Christian music biz (it was called CCM Patrol then), but now it has a broader aim, tackling New York City from a faith-based perspective. Their list’s intro shows their disdain for the Christian mainstream, although at this point, you have to wonder which artists they’re talking about. CCM Magazine bit the dust this year, turning into a digital shell of its former self, and other publications working the Nashville center of the biz aren’t exactly lauding the work of Michael W. Smith these days either. Patrol goes a bit more obscure than Christian Music Today or (the horribly named) Jesus Freak Hideout, but by and large, the same discs lauded by the establishment are showing up on Patrol‘s list too. I understand the intent, but labeling your list the best “faith-inspired” albums doesn’t mean much when there’s only one “faith” represented.
THE GOOD: There really are a lot of quality discs in the mix here: Deas Vail (No. 45), The Welcome Wagon (No. 27), and Doug Burr (No. 8), to name a few. It’s almost like a case could be made with this list that Christian music—I mean “faith-based” music—doesn’t really suck as bad as advertised. Plus, the Jonas Brothers made the list (No. 42)!.
THE BAD: On the other hand, you can tell that there’s a certain style to the genre on its indie fringes, and that style is singer-songwritery folk. There are exceptions, but all in all, there’s a very Paste-y sound dominating the proceedings. If the point is to poke the mainstream, championing a different, but no less cliched aesthetic as an alternative seems to defeat the purpose. (Case in point: Recommending Francesca Battistelli (No. 44), an act seemingly engineered in a lab to emulate the success of Sara Bareilles.)
THE WHAAA?: How far can you stretch the idea of “faith-inspired” until the idea has no meaning? Joseph Arthur seems to have little connection to Christian circles, and if there’s a connection between the Mae Shi and a personal Lord and Savior, I’ve never seen it mentioned in any of their press. Next to those dubious connections, you have Richard Swift, who’s done everything possible to distance himself from the Christian-music world. I get the aim, and there’s an impossibility to trying to discern who is in and out, but the standards here still teeter on the absurd like the lists they’re aiming to out-cred.