If music is the food of love, as Shakespeare theorized, then we’ve got a lot of eating to do. We thought it’d help to share our list of the best songs/albums of 2014. Like food, music often involves an acquired taste to differeniate what tastes good from what really is good. Potato chips, for example, taste good. But they aren’t the kind of good food that we’d be recommending. Similarly, while Iggy Azalea’s ‘Beg for It’ might sound good, it’s a bit too fat-laden and short on healthy carbs, so we aren’t going to be including it on our list of best songs. Sorry Iggy. Maybe if you changed your name to Ziggy…..on second thought, nope. That won’t do it. So as media outlets begin to trot out their best songs of the year, we offer our low-carb, low-fat, healthy list of best songs/albums:
1. Chandelier – Sia. Songs as intricate, creative and emotionally-charged don’t come along very often. This song may rank as one of the best of the decade. It a beautifully realized piece of sonic artistry. The theme: concealed manic depression. The structure: four distinctly different songs fused into one delicate glass-like vessel. The performance: a soaring, desperate vocal by Sia backed by an adeptly arranged soundtrack. We’ve listened to this song well over 30 times and, with each listen, find something new and interesting. We don’t trot out the M-word very often, but given some time, Chandelier could evolve into one of those fine-wine masterpieces that seem to improve with age. If taken with this song, we recommend you pick up Sia Furler’s album, ‘1000 Forms of Fear’. Sia has written hit songs for Rhianna, J-Lo, Brittany, Celine and just about every other one-name singer out there. (yes, she even wrote Pretty Hurts for Beyonce that might have been our favorite song for 2014, if Chandelier had not been released). But she’s saved a few of these gems for her own album, with Big Girls Cry, a song that P!nk would have killed to have written and sung.
2. Songs of Innocence – U2. This album, as a whole, surpasses just about any of U2’s previous offerings. It’s that good. More importantly, it has a refreshing few number of weak entries. Of the 11 songs on the album, there are only two weak songs. The rest are beautifully crafted and subtly Edgified by the master guitarist. Danger Mouse produced most of the songs and it shows. Some of the songs are close to brilliant: The Miracle, Every Breaking Wave, Iris, Volcano and Raised by Wolves. The critics gave this album mixed reviews, but we think the critics were just doing what critics do. Any U2 fan or casual listener will realized within two or three listens that this is a well written and performed album done by people who not only know what they are doing but love what they are doing. We aren’t huge U2 fans, but you’ve got to give props where they are earned.
3. High Hopes – Bruce Springsteen. Conversely, we are big Springsteen fans and were thrilled with his understated release of this set of songs. Honestly, we were mildly disappointed. There are two stand-out tracks: High Hopes and Frankie Fell in Love. These songs transcend vintage Springsteen; they are fueled by Tom Morello’s powerhouse guitar and an ageless, if not renewed, E-Street Band. Some of the other songs are decent Boss offerings: Harry’s Place, Just Like Fire Would, and Hunter of Invisible Game would all have fit nicely into any other Bruce album. The reboots of The Ghost of Tom Joad and American Skin are probably improvements over the first versions — again, Morello’s power guitar is awe-inspiringly good. But the sum of the songs do not surpass the parts.
4. American Dream, Plan B – Tom Petty. Talking about American things, the lead song on Petty’s Hypnotic Eye is a thrillingly luscious album — the Heartbreakers’ lucky-13th studio album. The album is good, but not great. There are two standout songs, though. American Dream and Fault Lines are expertly crafted, powerful songs worthy of any Top 10 list. Forgotten Man offers some nice Buddy Holly-infused rock and Shadow People gently chides American materialism and self-obsession. Petty clearly put some thought into this album and it shows.
5. Inside Your Head – Michael Tiernan. Here’s our sleeper entry. It is possibly the best indie album of 2014. Check out This Could Be The Year and, if you aren’t wowed, then check your blood pressure….you might be dead. If you aren’t dead, continue on and listen to cuts like Inside Your Head, Release, What’s Holding You Up, Never Alone…..in fact, there’s only one weak cut on the album — an infectious reggae song called Run. It walks. Otherwise, Tiernan’s fourth album contains 11 very solid, nicely-produced songs that warrant a listen, if not an outright purchase.
There are a number of additional songs that should be part of your 2014 mp3 library. Some of them are acquired taste songs, like any of the songs from FKA Twig’s LP1, St. Vincent’s self-titled album and Pink Floyd’s Nervana and some of them are just expertly-crafted pop songs, like Spoon’s Inside Out, Robert Plant’s A Stolen Kiss, any song from Ed Sheeran’s X, Hozier’s impressive paean to nonjudgmental love Take Me To The Church and Taylor Swift’s Blank Space….actually Taylor’s entire album 1989 is solid. Also to consider is Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, along with I’m Not the Only One from his very impressive album In the Lonely Hour. Then there’s always Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass or Bey/Minaj’s Flawless. They are high calorie, but inarguably fun ear-candy. Enjoy the holiday feasts!