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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 22, 2006

The year's best albums

 •  The best 10 tunes of 2006
StoryChat: Comment on this story

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

No. 1: My Chemical Romance. Lead singer Gerard Way performs with his band during the annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas in Los Angeles on Dec. 9. Chem's album, "The Black Parade," is a love letter to rock fans by rock fans.

BRANIMIR KVARTUC | Associated Press

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No. 2: The Beatles. With "Love," Beatles producer George Martin and his son, Giles, mixed and mashed up classic Fab Four tunes, making them sound fresh.

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No. 3: Arctic Monkeys. The hype for "Whatever" is justified. From left, Andy Nicholson, bass guitar; Matt Helders, drums; Alex Turner, lead vocalist and guitar; and Jamie Cook, guitar.

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No. 4: Roseanne Cash. Johnny's daughter seeks hope in grief with "Black Cadillac."

JIM COOPER | Associated Press

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No. 5: John Mayer. In the service of classic R&B and traditional blues comes "Continuum."

MARK J. TERRILL | Associated Press

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No. 6: Pearl Jam. The band's rage over lives wasted by war gave rise to their rocking "Pearl Jam." Here, lead singer Eddie Vedder lights up the Blaisdell Arena.

LUCY PEMONI | Associated Press

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No. 7: Brand New. The challenging and difficult "Devil and God" is impressive.

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No. 8: Paul Simon. On "Surprise," Brian Eno brings his atmospheric studio wizardry to Simon's wry, confessional lyrics.

ROB CARR | Associated Press

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No. 9: Gnarls Barkley. The unmistakable falsetto of Cee-Lo Green (pictured, at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards) and daring beats make "St. Elsewhere" fun and funky.

JASON DECROW | Associated Press

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No. 10: KT Tunstall. Adult contemporary gets a much-needed jolt with "Eye to the Telescope."

Associated Press

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A quartet of New Jersey neo-goth misfits cooked up a career-changing masterpiece by taking what made them unique and liberally borrowing from the musical heroes who inspired their rocker dreams in the first place.

Long-reliable artists from the '70s through the '00s turned in some of the best records of their careers.

And who could've predicted that a disc of truncated Beatles classics mashed-up and rewired for a multimillion-dollar Las Vegas-based Cirque du Soleil production would wind up one of 2006's most vibrant, revelatory releases? Not me.

Here are the CDs that I enjoyed more than all others in 2006 all fodder for last-minute gift-giving:

1. "THE BLACK PARADE" BY MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE (REPRISE)

Why was an unapologetically over-the-top concept record about a terminally ill, deathbed-trapped young man gazing back on his unremarkable life not just the best CD I absorbed all year, but one of the most fun? Because as conceived by New Jersey emo-saviors-no-more My Chemical Romance, "The Black Parade" is also one of the most unabashed rock 'n' roll love letters ever written to rock fans by rock fans.

Pick a track, any track. Then try to figure out which of its musical heroes My Chemical Romance is channeling and sometimes outright stealing from. "The Wall"-era Pink Floyd on grandiose opener "The End?" Queen enjoying "A Night at the Opera" on the grandly theatrical "Welcome to the Black Parade?" Lost T. Rex guitar riffs on "Teenagers?"

Instead of falling face first on its classic-rock-geek CD collection, My Chemical Romance triumphs with a fearless sound fully embracing "where'd-I-hear-that-before?" musical teases while keeping things wholly original.

The quartet that a couple of years back crafted "I'm Not OK (I Promise)," one of emo's finest moments, still has inspired fan-boy chutzpah to spare. But that confidence is now backed by rock-solid musicianship and songcrafting skills that have earned My Chemical Romance a deserved place among rock's finest young bands.

Goodbye emo! We'll carry on.

Album: "The Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance
Sample song: "Welcome to the Black Parade"


2. "LOVE" BY THE BEATLES (CAPITOL/APPLE)

Were it not illegal to download, DJ/producer Danger Mouse's crazy inventive, crazy-Web-traded "The Grey Album" an unauthorized mash-up of The Beatles' legendary White Album and Jay-Z's "The Black Album" would've been my pick for 2004's best album. "Love" is just as good a blissful multisong sonic collage of Beatles tracks mashed up with other Beatles tracks, demos and song fragments, all lovingly and expertly shaped by legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles.

No simple 80-minute Beatles medley, "Love" is an often revelatory document of the extraordinary emotional dynamics at play in the Fab Four's compositions. Mostly, though, "Love" is just a great listen.

Snippets of "Hello Goodbye" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" play over "Glass Onion." The symphonic cacophony of "A Day in the Life" leads into the opening keys of "Get Back." And that's just the first three tracks.

Where less-knowledgeable hands might have sewn together the equivalent of stale musical blasphemy, the Martins have culled one of the freshest-sounding CDs of the year from one of music's most beloved pop canons.

Album: "Love" by The Beatles
Sample song: "Strawberry Fields Forever"


3. "WHATEVER YOU SAY I AM, THAT'S WHAT I'M NOT" BY ARCTIC MONKEYS (DOMINO)

Hyped to the Scottish highlands by the U.K.'s typically overly-excited music press as yet another second coming of Oasis, Arctic Monkeys' "Whatever" became the fastest-selling debut in that country's history. For once, the hyperbole was justified.

Chock-full of dirty punk guitar riffs, wordy mock-stylized angst and cock-of-the-walk snarly Northern English vocals, "Whatever" features lead screamer/guitarist/songwriter Alex Turner playing tour guide through the sketchy after hours Sheffield club scene that birthed the band.

After hyping listeners for the night ("A View From the Afternoon"), he tries hooking up with indifferent women ("I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor"), messes with security ("From the Ritz to the Rubble"), takes a wild hometown cab ride ("Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured") and considers paying for some company ("When the Sun Goes Down"). You'll need a four-pack of Red Bull when its all over.

Album: "Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" by Arctic Monkeys
Sample song: "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"


4. "BLACK CADILLAC" BY ROSANNE CASH (CAPITOL)

Cash has always excelled at turning her healing into knowing, plain-spoken yet emotion-rich art. The time span documented in "Black Cadillac" was the most trying of her life. During its two-year creation, Cash lost her legendary father and stepmother (Johnny and June Carter Cash) and mother (Vivian, Johnny's first wife).

The set opens with the warm voice of her dad recorded when she was still a child calling out, "Rosanne ... c'mon." She complies with a set of engaging rockers and somber ballads seeking peace in the uncontrollable, understanding of memories pleasant and still difficult, and hope in grief.

Album: "Black Cadillac" by Rosanne Cash
Sample song: "Radio Operator"


5. "CONTINUUM" BY JOHN MAYER (AWARE/COLUMBIA)

Though always a gifted, fiercely intelligent and exceedingly curious musician and lyricist, John Mayer has often been misunderstood by music critics. Why would a good-looking and charming enough twentysomething with a knack for composing hooky, melodic and relatable radio-ready pop want to put his enviable skills to the service of a classic R&B and traditional blues sound? Answer: Because he loves it, and is devastatingly good at it. The mature, virtuosic and well-crafted songs on "Continuum" prove that Mayer is one of music's best current talents.

Album: "Continuum" by John Mayer
Sample song: "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)"


6. "PEARL JAM" BY PEARL JAM (J)

Pearl Jam returns to the impassioned urgency that fueled its mid-'90s rise beyond Seattle's over-hyped "grunge" scene with a focused set of tight, mostly power-chord mauling tracks mixing righteous topicality, political rage and head-nodding thrash. The result cements Pearl Jam's deserved place as one of rock's greatest bands ... period. (A must-have companion? Honolulu's best concert of 2006. Pearl Jam's epic three-hour, career-spanning Dec. 2 Blaisdell Arena tour-ending show, available for MP3 download at www.pearljam.com.)

Album: "Pearl Jam" by Pearl Jam
Sample song: "World Wide Suicide"


7. "THE DEVIL AND GOD ARE RAGING INSIDE ME" BY BRAND NEW (INTERSCOPE/TINY EVIL)

Jesse Lacey, lead songwriter/vocalist of this emotionally tormented, introspective Long Island, N.Y., band, has some serious doubts about his faith and place in the world. "Devil and God" is his diary of that spiritual and life crisis. An urgent blast of alternately reverent and blasphemous soul-searching guides this astute if formerly indistinguishable pop-punk band to mature levels of passion-filled lyricism and exhilarating sonic experimentation. A challenge to listen to. Difficult to forget.

Album: "The Devil and God Are Raing Inside Me" by Brand New
Sample song: "Jesus"


8. "SURPRISE" BY PAUL SIMON (WARNER BROS.)

One surprise was that Simon who's attached his smart confessional songwriting to shimmery adult contemporary rock, South African mbaqanga, Brazilian folk and Broadway over 10 solo albums had never worked with ambient rock space cowboy Brian Eno before. Here, Simon's the sly, self-deprecating, ennui-enriched rapper; Eno's the professorial DJ marrying muted drum & bass with occasional flourishes of soul, southern blues and other stray sonics. Surprise again! It all works beautifully.

Album: "Surprise" by Paul Simon
Sample song: "How Can You Live in the Northeast"


9. "ST. ELSEWHERE" BY GNARLS BARKLEY (DOWNTOWN)

The inescapable summer radio hit "Crazy" was this disc's dazzling centerpiece, and deservedly so. But the oddball pairing of former Goodie Mob howler Cee-Lo Green's soaring falsetto with the never-less-than-seamless beat and production inventiveness of Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) gave the rest of this mesmerizing mess of a CD some fun and funky surprises.

Album: "St. Elsewhere" by Gnarls Barkley
Sample song: "Crazy"


10. "EYE TO THE TELESCOPE" BY KT TUNSTALL (VIRGIN/RELENTLESS/EMI)

Urgent stompers "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Suddenly I See" brought a welcome left-of-mainstream folk blast to adult-oriented radio playlists this year. But Scottish singer-songwriter Tunstall's solid songwriting skills and soulful vocals are showcased best in the hushed eccentricities of lovely ballads such as "False Alarm" and "Under the Weather." A richly promising debut.

Album: "Eye to the Telescope" by KT Tunstall
Sample song: "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.