Note that criteria for inclusion into the list did not include a 2005 (or even recent) release. To be eligible, an album only had to be added to my CD collection in 2005. Some long-time favorites with which I had familiarity but had not previously owned on CD were only eligible for “Honorable Mention” along with a few others that didn’t qualify for the Top 15.
In order to make it into the Top 15, a CD has to saturate my listening time for an appeciable length of time. These fifteen CDs took up more than 75% of my listening time during the year, a clear sign of appreciation. Although I have ranked them, distinguishing between any two is very difficult indeed. When I obtained each it probably remained in heavy rotation at home, on my iPod and at work for several weeks, often receiving two or three plays per day. This is the quality level required to make the Top 15.
- Top 15 Albums of 2005
- Letting Off The Happiness by Bright Eyes: Exquisite wordplay, riveting storytelling and a twisted dark side combine with sparse instrumentation to sear this album into my brain forever. Although it can seem overly depressing at times, it also veers into the realm of uplifting. In either case, the songs smack of a realness that is not often found in music. So real it’s scary.
- Guero by Beck: Eclectic and smart, this is the best Beck album since Mellow Gold. After some genre experimentation on previous albums, I’m glad he didn’t pidgeon-hole himself with this one. Despite the variety of styles represented here, his seemingly innate funkiness is always swimming somewhere below the surface.
- Liz Phair (eponymous): Although touted as Liz’s entry into mainstream pop, I didn’t find it to be a sellout at all. Incredibly heartfelt, touching lyrics and her trademark catchy melodies are no longer buried beneath the DIY indie production. What I’ve always appreciated about Liz Phair (as well as many of my other favorite artists) is the fact that her songs are so personal. Listening to this album is like catching up with an old friend.
- The Queen Is Dead by the Smiths: Released almost 20 years ago but with lyrics and music that sound timeless to me. Clever, witty, biting and romantic are just a few ways to describe what is probably Morrissey’s best lyrical effort. And it’s got a song about plagiarism! How cool is that?
- Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco: Having experienced a recent Wilco awakening, I purchased this album of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs in order to get a more complete view of their work. What a pleasant surprise to find that Guthrie’s work has held up so well after so long.
- Home by the Dixie Chicks: I’m not a big fan of the Chicks, but this rootsy outing ranges from humorous to serious without ever losing its heart. I’m hoping that this is the first release in which the Chicks were allowed to make the music they wanted and look forward to their future recordings.
- Franz Ferdinand (eponymous): Reminiscent of early New Wave (the good Television kind, not the kitschy Knack kind) but with a harder edge, this album rocks from start to finish. I will undoubtedly be checking out their newest album in 2006. (Thanks for the recommendation, Laine.)
- How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb by U2: I’ve lived with a hard-core U2 fan since 1992 and this is the first album by them that’s really grabbed me. The most obvious difference here from their past albums is the hard rock sound they have embraced, but there are also some really great melodies on mid-tempo and slow songs. Bono’s always incredible voice has matured and has more life in it than it ever has. Oh, and his backing band has gotten to be really good.
- The Devil’s Bris by Voltaire: Upon first listening, Voltaire seemed like some kind of demented Andrew Lloyd Webber. Perhaps it was his basso vocals that led me astray, but I no longer hear any schmaltz here — just pure, unadulterated and very dark irony.
- Get Behind Me Satan by the White Stripes: I remember the first time I saw the Stray Cats on TV, I thought, “How do they get that much sound from three musicians?” Since then I’ve learned that sometimes in music less is more. There’s no better example of this than Jack and Meg White, aka the White Stripes. Their latest album has more hooks than my dad’s tackle box and they get an incredibly big sound for just two musicians.
- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco: In 2004, we watched an excellent movie about the making of this album called “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” which eventually led to this purchase. Although it’s tempting, I’m hesitant to classify this as “pop” or even “power pop” because it’s so much more transcendant than those labels. I’m a sucker for acoustic guitars in a rock setting and this album panders to that weakness.
- License To Chill by Jimmy Buffett: This album was touted as Jimmy’s move into mainstream country, a genre that I detest as much as any. So when my sister introduced it to me in May, I was skeptical to say the least. Despite the various cowboy-hat-wearing George-Straight-wannabes that sing along with Jimmy on many of the songs, I still think this one classifies as classic Buffett. Favorite line Jimmy must have written: “…and it’s amazing what they pass off as a bathing suit.”
- 12 Songs by Neil Diamond: OK, I know what you’re probably thinking. I thought the same thing when a co-worker mentioned that I might try this one out. I daresay that I scoffed at the thought. But then he said, “Rick Rubin produced.” Whoa! Rick Rubin, the producer of Beastie Boys and Masters of Reality fame? Rick Rubin, the man who single-handedly revived Johnny Cash’s career and made him relevant up until the moment he died? Yes, that Rick Rubin. Taking a similar approach that he took to Cash, he’s captured Neil Diamond with a minimal backup band that never steps on Diamond’s acoustic guitar playing or the sincere honesty of his crackly voice.
- Trio by Michelle Shocked: Many of you know that I am a longtime Michelle Shocked so it should be no surprise that her first album since 2002 would make this list. In fact, she released three albums in 2005 and made them available in a single package called Trio. Although I didn’t have an immediate appreciation for these three albums, they have really grown on me, particularly Mexican Standoff, the first in the three disc series, which is dominated by Latin rhythms, instrumentation and melodies. The second is called Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and mixes genres similarly to the way Short Sharp Shocked did back in the late 80s. The third, Got No Strings, features Michelle’s voice at its loveliest as she sings classic songs from Disney movies. Aside from the Disney songs, these discs are also interesting because they feature many of the songs that Michelle has been performing for several years but have not seen CD release until now.
- Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple: This is a late entry into the 2005 derby, so I have placed it at the bottom of the list since it takes more than a couple of weeks (as is the case here) to reach the exalted honor of “Best of the Year”. Having said that, I never hesitated about including this in the Top 15. Although it’s similar in nature to Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, it’s livelier and more intimate than that album. I inadvertently saw her on The Today Show one morning and her two riveting performances were enough to sell this album for me.
- Honorable Mention
- Transcendental Blues by Steve Earle: Barely missed the cut for the Top 15. Rootsy, bluesy and country-ish without every being any of those.
- Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf: Bought for $4 at a yard sale and surprisingly good. Moreso than I had remembered.
- Blast Tyrant by Clutch: Perhaps classifiable as “heavy metal” but very listenable compared to many of the metal purveyors around these days. (Thanks for the recommendation, Dain.)
- Encore by Eminem: Relegated to this list only for a lack of consistency from track to track.
- Tom’s Album by Various Artists: Purchased after Coverville did a show featuring many of the songs. For anyone who was a fan of alternative music in the late 80s, this album is a must listen.
- From The Mars Hotel by the Grateful Dead: Possibly the Grateful Dead’s last good studio album.
- Ram by Paul McCartney: My favorite post-Beatles McCartney album, it didn’t make the Top 15 because I’ve known these songs backwards and forwards for almost 25 years.
- Tenacious D (eponymous): If rock and roll is all about fun, Tenacious D is the embodiment of rock and roll.
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