Top 8 Songs from Mediocre 2005* Albums
By The Staff | 22 November 2005
(* for the most part)
Some songs aren’t mentioned on here simply because they were already highlighted in album or track reviews (i.e. Legacy’s “I’ma Star,” which would otherwise be present for sure). Some 2004 songs are mentioned on here because I would swear that they were 2005, this being the year in which they’ve had their shit played out. Other songs appear because Greenwald wanted to write about them. At any rate, the basic unifying characteristic is that they’re the hot stuff that blew away their mother albums, and it’s easier to keep this within (roughly) the past music year because such a list would never end otherwise. There’s something fascinating about a glimpse of brilliance, an island oasis in an ocean of pitch, and that’s what Top Eight Songs from Mediocre 2005 Albums is all about.
(Ed: And though we just didn’t have enough time to give Martha Wainwright’s "Bloody Motherfucking Asshole" the attention it deserves, it certainly belongs on this list. So there’s a cop-out #9. Likewise, Diane Cluck’s "Easy to Be Around" probably would’ve been our #1.)
8. Gwen Stefani: “Hollaback Girl”
- from Love, Angel, Music, Baby (Interscope; 2004)
I submit that Gwen’s got one huge thing going for her at the moment, and the thing’s name is Pharrell.
While the rest of the album rehashes second-rate 80s new wave or makes an embarrassment out of Andre 3000, Stefani and the Neptunes put together what could be nothing other than a huge, bad-catchphrase smashwunder. The hit factor was destined at conception. Aaron Newell posits that I only love this track because I imagine Stefani’s tush firepoling, which may be true in part, but it’s also true because of that whole bratty Asian So Cal posse she runs around with in the video. It’s true because the drums that bounce like anvils on trampolines and the synths that scale and skronk make me froth even more than the firepoling. It’s even a little bit true because I like the way Gwen plays with her cadence, how the track relies on that for hooks. It’s almost untrue because of the beyond-dumb, slang-slinging “B-A-N-A-N-A-S” breakdown, but whatever. This is the most unique and fun (and subsequently overplayed) hit song since “Hey Ya,” to which “Hollaback Girl” might fairly be considered heir apparent. So more embarrassment for Andre.
Oh, that “Can I Have It Like That” single is incredible, too.
7. Missy Elliott: “My Struggles”
- from The Cookbook (Atlantic; 2005)
Okay, so, an order of business: when I reviewed this album earlier this year, I gave it a 71. Apparently I was high, because that’s a solid 20-30 points more than The Cookbook deserved. Within a week, the only track still on my iPod was this glimpse of brilliance, these three smooth minutes of tickling guitar licks, gracefully echoing drums and the only good raps on the album. Missy spits like she gives a shit, lazily playing with her cadence like an emperor eats grapes. Puba saunters in, hits it slow and effortless like he hasn’t in years, and then—what the fuck—the beat switches up so Mary J. Blige can drop a few charmingly labored bars. Blige starts wailing on the outro, which sucks (obviously), but these three old pros done won our hearts by that point. This is Under Construction Missy, a reckless auteur shuffling through ideas and gags while the audience tries to catch up. Some more tracks like this, and maybe she wouldn’t be struggling so much, you know?
6. The Game: “Hate It or Love It”
- from The Documentary (Aftermath; 2005)
Minor acknowledgements: I like “Dreams,” you like “Dreams,” we all kind of mildly like “Dreams.” Thanks, Kanye. And I will have to admit that I grew a small bit of unwanted, cancerous affection for “How We Do” when hearing it chorused by a couple dozen Compton kids surrounding me (long story). Still, there’s precisely one song on The Documentary that I’d actually want to listen to on a regular basis, that I do listen to on a regular basis, that I wait through Ying Yang on the local rap station for, the reason that I ever loaned out The Documentary from the library in the first place… the Hoobastank-sized reason.
The reason has nothing to do with The Game. It has even less to do with 50 Cent. It’s all on Cool and Dre and their beautiful, I mean, beautiful “Hate It or Love It” beat. I couldn’t care less if The Game really is rap’s MVP and he’s not going anywhere and I have to get to know him, or if 50 Cent will ever start enunciating so that I can understand what he’s saying apart from the helpful illustrations provided by his music videos. You don’t need me to describe the beat because you’ve all heard it, which is good, because the beauty is indescribable. It’s hip-hop-affirming hip-hop. If the song had words worth a shit, it’d affirm other things, too, like life or love or peace or justice, or, I dunno, something worth affirming besides G and Fiddy’s self-esteem. Because, unless I can get a couple dozen Compton kids to follow me everywhere, I think that giving Cool and Dre an excuse to bestow this wondrous piece of production on the world is the only worthwhile thing The Game has ever done.
5. Three 6 Mafia feat. Young Buck, 8Ball and MJG: “Stay Fly”
- from Most Known Unknown (Sony; 2005)
Talking purple, Mary Jane, droll, Tenny, and henny; Three 6 Mafia and friends took one of this year’s most notable ventures into hip-hop hilarity. Laying down speed rap over pattering bongos, a sinister string loop, and one itchy-scratch snare, the often pondering crew transformed themselves into serious club aficionados. Never mind that “Stay Fly” is boppable to the nth degree; the track has more remix potential than Kool-Aid.
Virtually an ’05 update on Willie Hutch’s “Tell Me Why Has Our Love Turned Cold”, DJ Paul and Juicy ‘J’ flipped chalky soul in favour of a more polished, car ready sound. Tossing a grievous bass synth into the mix made an already inoculable beat abundantly melodic, and it wasn’t long before the song found itself under the skin of everyone it came in contact with. Clearly addiction wasn’t far from the mind when the record was conceptualized; all of the verses deal with some form of narcotics. Whether it’s Paul’s warning to the guy who leaves his syrup lying around (“You leave your drink around me / Believe your drink gonna get drunk up”), Buck’s glorification of freeloading (“So when I’m in Memphis, Ten-a-key / I just might not bring my own / Cuz them niggas still let me smoke for free”), or 8Ball’s appreciation of the finer things in life (“With a bag of kush that cost six-fifty / Have a nigga who smoke Reggie Miller / Coughing and choking constantly”), it’s all relevant. There are only so many ways one can say it.
To call it the best track on an otherwise mediocre effort isn’t entirely fair. This song would stand out on any a-ah-ahah-ah-ah-ah-ahah-ah-lbum.
4. Big Star: “Dony”
- from In Space (Rykodisc; 2005)
Starting In Space with “Dony” makes the rest of the album that much more frustrating. It starts out so inherently Big Star; distorted guitars that slowly reveal their intentions, a shouted “oh!” that you can’t help but pump your fist along with, and a high bass line that forces Alex Chilton into recalling some of the energy of the original Big Star. The track is just unpredictable enough to stave off the monotony of the rest of the record. The second-half sax solo is followed by some vocal harmonies that sound genuinely exuberant, and for the only time on the album, Chilton and his band are actually having fun.
3. British Sea Power: “Victorian Ice”
- from Open Season (Rough Trade; 2005)
I don’t feel entirely comfortable with labeling Open Season as ‘mediocre.’ It’s probably the finest album from this list, and yet it simply didn’t stir my (or the CMG staff’s) loins as much as British Sea Power’s debut did; overly smooth, and containing one too many dull stretches. That said, “Victorian Ice” is the majestic standout. It doesn’t so much rock as glide, buoyed by a sublime six-note riff which splits the difference between the Far East and a Gaelic folk song. Of all the tunes on Open Season, Victorian Ice comes closest to evoking the wide expanses of the Great Outdoors that BSP were supposedly going for, and you can practically see your breath as Yan dramatically urges the listener to “hold your babies closer” and “start growing up before you get old.” The lasting effect is very Bunnymen, or to quote the kicker in the chorus, “totally wicked, and equally ace.”
2. Mia Doi Todd: “What If We Do”
- from Manzanita (Plug Research; 2005)
The titular chorus of Mia Doi Todd’s “What If We Do?” is not a question. The way she sings it with her magnificent alto – wistfully, regretfully – lends a sense of uncertain irony to the otherwise straightforward song. “What If We Do?” is about falling in love, and with its utterly gorgeous production, it’s hard not to adore the track. Opening with some light cymbal work, electric and acoustic guitars slide in as smooth and sweet as honey. Todd’s vocals are no less enthralling, and the track has a Judy Collins-esque magic about it that the rest of Manzanita never quite lives up to.
1. The Killers: “All These Things That I’ve Done”
- from Hot Fuss (Island; 2004)
In his review of the album, Amir Nezar places this song as one of the group’s failures because it never reaches the star-embracing, hyper-romantic U2 heights that it’s going for. Well, wait, actually, I think it does.
The rest of the album pussy-foots, holding itself back with small sounds and smaller ideas, Brandon Flowers prancing about, theatrics and a peacock up his ass. On this song, though, Flowers actually takes some of the blame for once; he feels his own weakness, the sharp reality of his wrongs, and he calls on someone to help. Beginning with a melody that’s reprised in one of the song’s two or three climaxes, the structure effortlessly ramps up through catchy verses and a catchy chorus to the, ok, somewhat dubious bridge of “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” but you’ve got to give the band points for even attempting the whole gospel chorus thing in this context. The big, fat, arena-wilting pay-off is that when that refrain finally does come shimmering on down the pike, it feels like you’re hearing all five of the song’s parts at once, and you have to think for a moment to realize how organically The Killers have applied broad and varied strokes in order to pack a fireworks finale wallop.
Such a wallop that you’d swear this album came out in 2005, or at least you’d pretend that it did so you could write about the song in a list called Top Ten Songs from Mediocre 2005 Albums. I did the same thing with the Stefani song, too, I know.