DISPATCHES

2005: The good, bad and ugly in music.

By: Hank Kalet
   Musical taste is a tricky thing.
   While critics might work as if there were some perfect ideal against which all music can be judged, the reality is that each song strikes each of us in wildly different ways.
   For instance, My Morning Jacket’s "Z" — country meets pop meets psychedelia — failed to chart despite being one of the best records issued this year. Mariah Carey, on the other hand, issued one of the year’s biggest selling discs — the egotistical, sell-aggrandizing "comeback," "The Emancipation of Mimi," which has the kind of overproduced, "wow-listen-to-me-sing" quality that guts too much contemporary R’n’B of its emotional content.
   "Mimi" gets the airplay and dominates the video channels, as does the hyper-falsity of the "American Idol" crowd — so, what do I know?
   But that’s the point. The Black-Eyed Peas released one of the better hip-hop discs of the year, "Monkey Business," while also fouling the air with one of the year’s worst songs. "My Humps," the latest single from the album, is a song about the female anatomy that manages to be crass without being ironic, juvenile without being funny and sexual without being sexy. The best thing you can say about it is that it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
   But perhaps the issue here is not so much the song itself, but the expectations that the Peas have created, coming on the heels of songs like "Where Is the Love" and the frenetic "Don’t Phunk With My Heart." After all, one of my favorite singles of the year, the Pussycat Dolls’ "Don’t Cha," is a completely inane bit of dance pop that has a sort of careless charm, an over-the-top shallowness that almost seems refreshing. The song came out of nowhere, lacking the Peas’ back story.
   Taste, as I said, is a tricky thing.
   Here are some other thoughts on the year in music, 2005:
   • For me, the year begins and ends with Bruce Springsteen. His "Devils & Dust" was the year’s best, as far as I’m concerned, a quiet album of emotional depth that has offered more and more with each listen. It is both a political commentary on the American political landscape and a rumination on fatherhood, spirituality and identity.
   That was the beginning. The end, of course, is the rerelease of "Born to Run" in a box set that features a remastered version of the album, a documentary DVD that offers snippets of different versions of the albums’ songs and a two-hour concert DVD shot during the "Born to Run" tour, just as Springsteen was breaking it big.
   • Speaking of reissues, Patti Smith’s "Horses" turned 30 this year, as well, and Arista Records has released a special double disc, which features a remastered version of the album and a live version recorded last summer.
   • Two legends returned to form this year, the Rolling Stones with "A Bigger Bang," their best record in year, and Paul McCartney with "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," a meditation on broken relationships. Both headed back to their roots to some degree and reminded us what made them so important in the first place.
   • The White Stripes prove that they are more than Jack White’s guitar with the sloppy piano masterpiece, "Get Behind Me Satan."
   • Some of the better discs out there this year were the live ones.
   Lucinda Williams’ "Live @ The Fillmore" is essentially a greatest hits package, but one that takes some of her earlier cuts and strips them down, gives them the benefit of her older, well-worn voice.
   Wilco’s "Kicking Television" tightens up the band’s recent experimental output, fleshing it out, improving it.
   Alicia Keys and the Old 97s also released outstanding live discs this year.
   • Other albums of note include: Death Cab for Cutie, "Plans"; Gorillaz, "Demon Days"; Ellis Hooks, "Godson of Soul"; My Morning Jacket, "Z"; Kathleen Edwards, "Back to Me"; Weezer, "Make Believe"; Foo Fighters, "In Your Honor"; Shooter Jennings, "Put the O Back in Country"; The Greencards, "Weather and Water"; Son Volt, "Okemah and the Melody of Riot"; Rodney Crowell, "The Outsider"; and Reckless Kelly, "Wicked Twisted Road."
   • Natasha Bedingfield offers perhaps the most engaging single of the year, the infectious and airy "These Words (I Love You I Love You)." Weezer’s "Beverly Hills" makes me laugh and play air guitar — not a band combination.
   And what can you say about Alicia Keys haunting "Karma" aside from this: It is, hands down, the best single of the year.
Hank Kalet is managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. His e-mail is hkalet@pacpub.com.