Monday, January 02, 2006

2005 Album of the Year

Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
(Buy: Amazon / iTunes)

No, I'm not kidding. I'm serious (and yes, I submitted "Kelly Clarkson, but remixed" as my choice for Stereogum's Miss Indie Rock 2005) Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say Kelly's better Sufjan, or even close to being his equal. Illinois (Buy: Insound / Amazon / iTunes) is a remarkable achievement, about as good as a concept album can be.

But fuck "good". That shit puts me to sleep (an odd statement, admittedly, coming from someone who has 110 Elliott Smith tracks on his iPod). When I listen to music, I want to rock out, sing along, do the pogo - no matter how well crafted, Sufjan's songs don't make me do any of that. As fun a song "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" is, have you tried getting a whole car to sing along? "Behind Hazel Eyes"? Much easier.

Where Sufjan stops at well crafted, Kelly puts out bangers after bangers. Was there a better expression of teen girl psyche and knowing denial than "My heart can't possibly break/When it wasn't even whole to start with" in 2005?

And though this album represents a breakout for Kelly and a departure from her American Idol persona, this is a comeback for the Swedish genius Max Martin, who ruled the late 90s with the songs he wrote for Britney, NSync and the Backstreet Boys, and is back in a huge way with "Since U Been Gone" and "Behind Hazel Eyes".

Really, what can I say about "Gone" that hasn't already been said? For one, where Martin's songwriting ranged from the incoherence of "I Want It That Way" and the creepiness of "Hit Me Baby One More Time", the essence of "Gone" comes from joy, not camp. The words aren't simply there to fill the soundscape until the hook, as Max Martin lyrics often seemed - they paint the picture of a girl who uses denial and nonchalance to mask and push away her sadness, building up to the irresistible chorus.

What makes this and other songs off Breakaway work though, is that Kelly has the voice. She could have gone with standard pop/R&B tracks, done the Mariah oversinging thing and lost herself in the crowd. The songs on this album don't always take advantage of her range. But those occasions where Kelly hits the notes, make her the most delightful Top 40 artist in ages.

The rest of the Top 10:
2. Nada Surf - The Weight Is A Gift
3. The Cardigans - Super Extra Gravity
4. Stars - Set Yourself On Fire
5. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
6. Kanye West - Late Registration
7. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
8. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
9. Rogue Wave - Descended Like Vultures
10. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights

Top 5 Singles (does not include any song included in Top 10 albums):
1. Levy - "Rotten Love"
2. The Spinto Band - "Oh Mandy"
3. Annie - "Hearbeat"
4. Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl"
5. Blackalicious - "Your Move"

Worst Single:
Jay-Z - "Dear Summer"

Best Live Show:
Bloc Party @ the Bowery Ballroom


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