Best of '06, Pt. 4
5. Sean Lennon – Friendly Fire
Living up to his pedigree will probably never happen for Sean Lennon. Nor should it; his father was arguably the most important songwriter of the 20th century. What is so refreshing about Sean is that he moves on as if it doesn’t matter who his parents are – he is his own man (a man who happens to write really good songs and may be one of the best arrangers in pop music). This album is a complete turnaround from the analog synth/bossa nova/fuzz bass of his debut album; instead we get a refined pop album, with strings, acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies at the forefront. In fact, it is almost reminiscent of another 2nd generation singer/songwriter, Rufus Wainwright. Lennon’s nasal voice floats above many of these recordings with a breathiness that adds to the sublimity of the arrangements. And then, all of a sudden, you get some weird stuff thrown in to remind you that his mom is probably the best known avant-garde multimedia artist of all time and that he’s logged time playing with Cibo Matto and John Zorn.
My only gripe about this record is that it took so long to come out – only two albums in eight years. In that way, and in only that way, I wish he were more like his father. Standout track: “On Again Off Again”
4. Frank Black – Fast Man Raider Man
The double album – gluttony or glory? Use Your Illusion or the White Album? London Calling or The Wall? Depending if you are stupid or not, you may not know which 2 of those double albums are glorious. Typically, I am a fan of the double album, because I am not a fan of songs being locked in a vault somewhere – if it is recorded, if the fidelity is good and it doesn’t completely blow, put it out. However, with the advent of the internet, I see the information superhighway as the perfect place for what used to be thought of as filler or leftovers – which means that in the 21st century, the double album might be dead. Frank Black is my favorite living songwriter, and I think probably the only artist who I generally don’t doubt when picking up their new album. However, this double record follows his weakest album of his career, 2005’s Honeycomb. And it featured many of the same players and the same producer who destroyed many a good song last time out. So was I bummed out by the album? Not really.
The first disc of the album was by and large arranged by one of the great unsung musicians of today, Lyle Workman, and featured some great stuff, most especially a relatively uniform sound. Despite tackling an old Scottish standard (“Dirty Old Town”), a hazy drunk dreamscape (“Dog Sleep”), and a ballad about driving across country (“Seven Days”), the disc sounds cohesive. Disc two on the other hand is a hodgepodge of sessions, from different years and different cities that sounds just like that. The most egregious inclusions are the leftovers from Honeycomb, which sound as flat and lifeless as most of that album, mixed in with some new songs that show real spunk. So, disc two is far more of a typical double album ebb and flow feeling.
What does this all mean? It means that the songs are top notch, for the most part, the production/arrangement on disc 1 is pretty stellar, and that disc 2 is hit or miss. But, in the grand scheme of things, the 15 track album I’d have released may have be the best thing released in 2006, but the dead weight weighs it down quite a bit. Standout track: Disc 1: “Dog Sleep,” Disc 2: “It’s Just Not Your Moment”