Saturday, January 01, 2022

2021 in music

Kat: 2021?  The bulk of the music released wasn't so much bad as it was mediocre.  In fact, if I had to pick the worst album of 2021, I'm amazed by how easy it is.  There are no runners up, no close seconds, it's an obvious choice, Bruce Springsteen's THE LEGENDARY 1979 NO NUKES CONCERTS which flopped back in November.

The ego knows no bounds -- that's the only reason for The Bitch to release this garbage.  First off, "the legendary" aspect of the No Nukes Concerts was never Bruce.  And the album reminds you of that, he's never sounded more like a Bob-Seger rip off than he does on this recording.  The stars?  The legends?  That would be The Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Jackson Browne, Ry Cooder and Crosby, Stills & Nash.   Bonnie Raitt -- a decade away from real fame -- did deliver a strong set; certainly stronger than anything Bruce had to offer.  Another legend?  MUSE -- the organization that put on the concerts.  

His ego allows him to make it all about himself and his ego allows him to pretend his medicore set warranted an individual release.  American music lovers made it to clear to him that no release was required as THE LEGENDAY 1979 NO NUKES CONCERTS became his worst charting album in the US in over fifteen years.  And it's his sixth album since 2008 not to go gold.  Yes, the bloom is off what passed for his rose.

From fakes to greats, let's look at the best of 2021.)

10) Helado Negro's FAR IN.

Helado Negro (stage name of ) began recording back in 2009 and on FAR IN the various strands he's offered in previous years come togther to make a classic set of songs.

"There Must Be A Song Like You" is my favorite track on the album.

9) Nick Jonas' SPACEMAN.

Nick made a solid album, a smooth ride of synth-pop that recalls efforts by George Michael and Prince without sounding like he's trying to copy them.  An album that I've listened to every week since it came out in March. 

8) Laura Nyro's GO FIND THE MOON.

Known to most music lovers for her songwriting, Laura was a singer-songwriter.  Her vocals seem perfectly normal today and give Mariah Carey credit for that -- Mariah has enlarged the scope of singing in popular music.  When Laura was doing huge vocal leaps, for example, it put some off.  But even those who couldn't get behind her singing, couldn't help humming along with the songs whe wrote.  Blood, Sweat and Tears' "And When I Die," The 5th Dimension's "Wedding Bell Blues," "Save The Country," "Sweet Blindness," "Soul Stoned Picnic" and "Blowin' Away," Barbra Streisand's "Stoney End" and Three Dog Nights' "Eli's Coming." GO FIND THE MOON is a tape of Laura Nyro's audition when she was shopping for a label before she'd ever recorded classic albums like ELI AND THE THIRTEENTH CONFESSION, THE FIRST SONGS (originally titled MORE THAN A NEW DISCOVERY), CHRISMAS AND THE BEADS OF SWEAT and NEW YORK TENDABERRY. 

7) Lil Nas X's MONTERO.

Marcia clued me in to this album.  Lil Nas X produced an album of rich and wonderful songs.  

"Sun Goes Down" has the kind of assurance that Lauryn Hill sported on her amazing solo debut THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL.  And the album is sure footed and filled grooves that stick in your head and stay with you.  

6) Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo's BLACKBIRD: LENNON-MCCARTNEY ICONS

A strong selling release due to the talents of former 5th Dimension-ers Marilyn and Billy and of songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  The success of the album was a sweet reward for one of music's longest lasting couples (Marilyn and Billy married back in 1969).  It was also ignored by Ann Powers -- NPR's musical gadfly --  and the others who seemed to feel that their absurd attack on The Beatles as racists made them look 'woke' when it really only revealed how stupid they really were -- stupid, uninspired and idiotic.  Ann's the 'feminist' who never supports women.  I'll praise her for her piece on "Brick" all those years ago but, looking back, isn't it telling that her 'feminism' is never about women.  A male group does a song about abortion and she's got a million words plus.  But women release albums over and over each year and she looks the other way over and over.  So she was the right person to offer up 'leadership' for the lost cause attack on The Beatles.  Like Roberta Flack's earlier Beatles tribute album LET IT BE ROBERTA: ROBERTA FLACK SINGS THE BEATLES, Marilyn and Billy find new interpretations for the songs.  My favorite is the title track but I love the whole album and their version of "Help" ranks right up there with Tina Turner's rendition. 

Billy soars on that song.  But the set finds both Marilyn and Billy in fine voice and, with regards to Marilyn, let's remember this is the voice of "(Last Night) I Didn't Get To Sleep At All," "Wedding Bell Blues," "One Less Bell To Answer" and "Never My Love," so that's really saying something.  Here's their version of "Blackbird."


5)  The War On Drugs' I DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.

The band basically worked on this album for three years.  You can tell.  These aren't doodles or practice sessions.  This is an album that sounds like a George Martin production.  Lucious joins the group for the title track.

Check out "Change."

It should make you want to check out the whole album if you haven't already.  

4) Diana Ross' THANK YOU.

2021 saw Diana Ross release another studio album.  2015 saw the release of DIANA ROSS SINGS SONGS OF THE WIZ.  That was an album MOTOWN pulled from the vaults.  Recorded as a part of the campaign for THE WIZ, the film fizzled at the box office before the album could be released.  The official soundtrack had already been released.  Sadly, "Is This What Feeling Gets" was cut from the film -- it was the best song on the soundtrack album (a few instrumental musical bars are heard in the film).  Diana sang every song from the film.  But MOTOWN didn't release the album (recorded in 1978) until 2015 (when NBC was staging a live production of THE WIZ).  But THANK YOU was a studio album that Diana's been working on at her home studio throughout the pandemic.  It's an incredible album.  It's up there with her greats -- albums like THE BOSS, diana, SURRENDER, TOUCH ME IN THE MORNING, SWEPT AWAY, etc.  She's put forward an album that's about survival and love.  It reminds me of Stevie Wonder's SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE.  Every song is unique and adds to the overall theme.  Diana's vocals are amazing, the way she textures and caresses the notes (especially on "I Still Believe" and "All Is Well").  It's a great album.  And give her huge props for not doing a duet album which seems to be the cheap way too many are going these days (looking at Elton John to name but one).

3) Joni Mitchell's  JONI MITCHELL: LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL -- 1969.

A lot of live albums came out this year (Dionne Warwick had a good one) but this was the finest.  Joni hitting one of her peaks -- there would be more to come -- and fully harnessing all of her talent into one thrilling performance.  I love this album -- I got it on vinyl.  I got all the albums on vinyl on this top ten except the one at number one.  I'll come back to that.  

It's a first rate album and I can't praise it enough but, honestly, I'm looking forward to later releases from the archives.  Specifically?  The FOR THE ROSES period.  It was a classic upon its release back in 1972.  For the bulk of the 80s, the focus was on BLUE.  COURT & SPARK was Joni's most commercial album.  And it is a great album but the 80s saw a real push to see BLUE recognized as the classic it is.  By the 90s, it was considered her finest album.  FOR THE ROSES was released between those two albums and the push for BLUE to get its deserved recognition seems to have resulted in FOR THE ROSES being forgotten.  The songs on that album are truly amazing (not just Joni's big hit "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio") and I'm longing for the release of alternate takes and live performances from that album and hoping it will remind the music world just how great FOR THE ROSES remains.

2) Adele's 30.

Adele issued the best selling album of the year and did so at the end of the year -- the album came out in November.  Poor Taylor Swift, a pretender to the throne whose tributes to artists -- no one seems to notice this -- are to White women only.  Why is it that Taylor's neither written a song for, say, Diana Ross, nor offered some form of tribute?  While Ann Powers and others wanted to create racism where it didn't exist, they failed to note that Taylor's created a sisterhood and it's one of saluting White women only.  Adele outselling her? Makes me very happy.  WIKIPEDIA notes:

In the United States, 30 became the top-selling album of 2021 after its first three days.[101] With 500,000 pure copies sold in the timeframe, it surpassed Taylor Swift's Evermore (2020), which previously held the title with 462,000 copies. The album also claimed the biggest sales week of the year, topping the 369,000 copies that Red (Taylor's Version) sold earlier that month. 30 moved 575,000 album-equivalent units in the three-days span.[102] The following day, 30 surpassed Certified Lover Boy by Drake for the biggest opening sales week of 2021 for an album, earning 660,000 equivalent album units in its first four days in the country, 560,000 of that sum being album sales.[103]

The album debuted atop the Billboard 200 with 839,000 album-equivalent units, including 692,000 pure album sales and 185.39 million on-demand streams. It surpassed the sales of any album in its previous 11 months combined, and tallied the highest album sales week since the 1.2 million copies sold by Swift's Reputation (2017).[104] 30 also outsold the other 50 best-selling albums that week combined, as well as the other top 10 best-selling albums that week combined and tripled.[105] All of the 12 tracks from 30 charted on the Billboard Hot 100 following its release, with six of them in the top 40. Adele's sum of chart entries rose from 14 to 25, tying with Billie Eilish as the female artist with the third-most entries on the chart in 2021, behind Swift (40) and Summer Walker (18).[106]

30 remained at number one in its second week with 288,000 units earned, including 225,000 pure album sales and 81.33 million on-demand streams, scoring the biggest second-week sales of the year, and the largest second-week total for any album since Drake's Scorpion (2018) moved 335,000 units.[107] 30 had sold over a million physical copies in the US, becoming the first 2021 album to reach the milestone and the first overall since Swift's Folklore (2020).[108] In its third chart-topping week, 30 gained 193,000 units, marking the largest third week for any album since Scorpion.[109] It also became the first album to spend its first four weeks at number one since Morgan Wallen's Dangerous: The Double Album in early 2021, and the first by a woman since Folklore did so.[110] The same week, 30 moved 41,000 vinyl LPs, becoming the best-selling vinyl album of 2021.[111] Garnering 212,000 units in its fifth week, 30 achieved the highest fifth-week units for an album since 25, and became the first album of the 2020s to earn over 200,000 units in three separate weeks; Adele reached 39 total weeks atop the Billboard 200, tying Elton John as the British soloist with the most weeks at number one on the chart.[112]

And it could have sold even more but for Pete Pete Buttigieg and the broken supply chain taking place under his watch.  Those seeking a physical copy of 30 struggled -- especially if they were WALMART shoppers -- because there was difficulty getting the album in stores on vinyl (CD copies were easier to find).  Imagine for a moment how many physical copies Adele could have sold if the WALMARTs with the big Adele displays had all actually had copies of the vinyl album to put in the slots on that cardboard Adele stand -- the spots where they were supposed to go but, too often, were just filled with CDs.

"I need some substance in my life, something real, something that feels true."  I think we can all share that and you'll recognize your own life in all the songs on this album.  Adele's gone through a lot and it's all on this record.  I love this record and, at least right now, I love it more than 21 which was my favorite Adele album.  It's extraordinary.

So why isn't it number one?  You could make that argument about Diana's album as well or Joni's.  I knew all along what my top four would be but spent all of November and December trying to figure out which of the top four was the number one?

I went back and forth and changed my mind repeatedly.  There were four incredible albums and I toyed with a four-way tie.  It was a very difficult choice.  In the end, I went with the album I listened to the most during the last four weeks.

1) Chase Rice's THE ALBUM.

Not a huge fan of country music.  Love and respect the output of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, think Brad Paisely is first rate but country isn't really my thing.  Then came this album.  I love every track on it.  I have no interest in the Grammys.  Drake withdrew from the 2022 Grammys.  I wasn't impressed with the awards before the latest nominations but after they managed to completely ignore Chase Rice?  The Grammys are grossly out of touch.  I love this album, I listen to THE ALBUM every day.  Every day.  That's how great it is.  I love his gravely voice.  I love the songs.  I think this is an album like Joni Mitchell's BLUE that will grow and grow in stature as the years pass.  It's hard for me to pick one song to highlight so I'll go with Elaine's pick, "Lonely If You Are."

It's an emotionally honest album that cuts deep.  It's full of life and it's messy (my way to work in one more video, yes), but most of all, it just feels so honest.  I have no idea who hurt Chase so much but he shares the hurt and sorrow and the joy all on this album.

 My complaint?  It's still not on vinyl.  I listen to it on streaming.  I wish I had it on vinyl.   This is the year that vinyl outsold CDs, there's been a real revival.  But you can't get Chase's album (THE ALBUM) on vinyl.  A lot of people bought it on CD -- so many that twice this year after THE ALBUM was released, AMAZON had to note that it was out of stock.  It's a shame that the best album of the year resulted in no Grammy nominations but it's also a shame that we can't get a copy on vinyl.


Click here for my 2004 music piecehere for 20052006 in music2007 in musichere for 2008here  for my 2009 piece, here for my look at the decadehere for my 2010 piecehere for my 2011 piece,  here for my 2012 piece, here for my 2013 piece, here for my 2014 piece, here for my 2015 piece, here for my 2016 piece. here for my 2017 piece,  here for my 2018 piece, here for my 2019 piece,  here for my look at the decade, and here for my 2020 piece.