Saturday, February 6, 2010

"If all you got to live for is what you left behind / Get yourself a powder charge and seal that silver mine."
"Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo"

Yeah, I suppose I'm an undying Deadhead, even as I invoke them to remind us that the show must go on. Face it: so much great music being produced now, and the last decade had its share of marvels. Who but a stuck-in-the-Woodstock-mud hippie or a Classic Rock Meathead could not to realize that?

Spend some hours listening to the delectable musical landscapes of tangled emotions and release which grace Tucson's 92.9 the in between their Maoist political screeds, check out the musical selections from 91.3 KXCI community radio...or anything from the list below. Then check your pulse if you still feel that this batch doesn't match some of the best pop music produced in previous decades. Any of them leave "Stairway to Heaven" in the shade (since I'll take nuanced emotion and human insight over Tolkienesque bombast and a galvanic guitar solo any day).

* "If I Ain't Got You" - Alicia Keys

While it ain't got the endless raging signification of "Like a Rolling Stone" or the slab-of-soul-delivered-on-a-platter of "Purple Rain," this little ditty by the Hell's Kitchen prodigy nee Alicia Augello-Cook nails my prize for best song of this decade. More than that, it's one of the most moving pop songs of any era. "What's not to like?" - as Dylan himself puts it. Meanwhile renegade Texan philosopher Dr. Kenneth Smith gripes that, "One has to explain to men, as if they were children, what intrinsic and transcendent values would even mean. Twenty minutes later they have forgotten." Alicia Keys reminds men and women alike of the meaning of what really matters (without the condescension), in world befouled by self-aggrandizing piratical sociopaths (Bernard Madoff, anyone?) and other forms of scum, villainy, and legions of misguided lost souls. Just when you thought the halcyon days of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" would never be repeated, she proves that yes, Virginia, a contemporary musician can combine artistic greatness, epic sweep and mass other words, a great song with great popular success to match.

* "When the Stars Go Blue" - The Corrs and Bono

This one, a cover of an otherwise untranscendent tune by Ryan Adams, is the best thing either these Irish lassies or lad will ever do....which is really saying something.

* "Wake Up" - Arcade Fire with David Bowie

Multi-instrumentalist preppy Canucks with an aging but (in this case at least) still vital Thin White Duke. A moving rumination on impermanence, death and the bittersweet cost of survival.

* "Phantom Limb" - The Shins

Who knows what they're even singing about? And who cares, with a tune this melodically luscious.

* Nick Luca - "Sick of Love"

A jolt of pure vitality and integrity from Luca: former fixture of the a Tucson music scene, Wavelabs Studios maven and touring partner of X's John Doe and desert Cow Punk eclecticist Howe Gelb. Blows away 99% of anything on the radio.

* "Game of Love" - Santana featuring Michelle Branch

Mere pop music, my ass. So was Fleetwood Mac. This tune not only takes goes somewhere.

* Jenny Owen Youngs - "Coyote"

When since Paul Westerberg's irreplaceable Replacements has a vocalist/lyricist dug so deep into emotional ambivalence and demanded such no bullshit insistence on authenticity? "One two three, I hate me / There's no one else who I know how to be / Four five six, oh your body makes me sick / Don't take it away from me just yet."

* "I Met a Girl" - Wheat

* "Island in the Sun" - Wheezer

An idyllic daydream...a 3 minute plus non-narcotic shot of bliss...drifting in the zone.

* "Never Let You Go" - Third Eye Blind

I suppose that this one has to count as a guilty pleasure, because of this band's sheer commercial appeal and complete lack of avant-garde cachet. But screw that, this song releases so many endorphins in me...(even if it's not quite "You Get What You Give")...that I'd have to harken back to the irresistible joys of the 70s for comparison, like Manfredd Mann's Earth Band's version of Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light" or "Band on the Run."

* "You Never Know" - Wilco

Dear Mick and Keith: How many decades since you wrote a number this damn good?

* "Anywhere You Go" - Shawn Colvin

Speaking of zero avant-garde credentials, my favorite musician of the 90s didn't do much in the 00s. This one is a wonder, however: A musical zen koan. "Just chop wood and carry water."

* "Right as Rain" - Adele

Holy crap, can she sing.

* "Better in Time" - Leona Lewis

Yes, Simon Cowell is a shameless schlockmeister. Fat chance though that any of his minions on American Idol could match this luscious chanteuse.

* "Mr. Brightside" - The Killers

Fat chance also that any new band has touched the Replacements for their previously mentioned virtues. These sexually ambiguous Mormons come close, though. The Hold Steady? As if.

* Tegan and Sara - "When You Were Mine"

I better shut up before I get too effusive in my praise...this paired down masterpiece deserves plenty.

* Snow Patrol - "You're All I Have"

* Counting Crows with Vanessa Carlton - "Big Yellow Taxi"