Anyway. In honor of the New Year, I'm going to be a sheep and discuss my favorite (and least favorite) CDs of 2010. I advise readers not to hold their breaths for this to become a yearly event. It probably won't, simply because I don't run out and buy every album right when it comes out, so half the time, I hear an album 2 or 3 years after it's released. That wasn't the case this year.
Two CDs came out this year that I was compelled to listen to right away. The first was Eric Clapton's 19th studio release, entitled simply Clapton. I was looking forward to that one. The second one I bought bought more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. That was Born Again, the 14th release by the Christian pop-rock group Newsboys.
Now, I am a Clapton fan. I have been one for about as long as I've been cognizant of who Eric Clapton was. I don't have anything against contemporary Christian music. I enjoy some of it, but I find a large portion of it to be annoying, overly simplified, and preachy. This seems like a done deal, doesn't it? Well, read on. You may be surprised.
Clapton is not a bad CD. It's just not a very good CD, either. It gets my "least favorite" of the year vote because of how woefully and ridiculously disappointing it was. The music is solid, relaxed, and pretty much the music of an artist who has paid his dues and now goes into the studio to record exactly what he wants to play. My hat is off to the man for that, seriously. However, just once more in my life, I would like to be blown away by a Clapton album.
The album is about half originals and half blues standards. All are decent, but I found myself lulled almost to the point of falling asleep while listening to them. Now, that would be fine if I was listening to, say, Enya, or Luther Vandross. One is not supposed to be put to sleep by an Eric Clapton album. The only two songs on the CD that made me sit up and pay attention were Autumn Leaves--a standard which Clapton makes his own in true style with top notch guitar work--and Diamonds Made From Rain, a lovely new ballad with Sheryl Crow on background vocals. Unfortunately, those two songs don't make the CD worth listening to for me. I'll happily import them into my music library and never bother with the rest again.
Born Again is Newsboys' first outing with Michael Tait as lead vocalist. I was curious but not quite sure what to expect, so I waited until I could get the MP3 download for rock bottom as a deal of the day. I rarely pay full price for anything, but I can tell you, if I'd heard this CD first, I would have happily shelled out for it. The title track sets a fabulous rock tone as the album opener, which is closely followed by One Shot. Both of these songs are fantastic, with smart lyrics and catchy, driving music. Track three, Way Beyond Myself, has more of a dance feel to it. I'm not a dance music fan at all, but the song won me over anyway. Again, terrific lyrics, and the music is upbeat enough to be fun without being annoying. The next song, Impossible, is probably the weakest in terms of the lyrics. It's been done before, but I guess there's a reason for that. People need encouragement sometimes. Not a bad song at all, simply not remarkable. Track five, When The Boys Light Up, is the song that will get stuck in your head for days. You're either going to love it or hate it. I love it. Build Us Back is a ballad, positioned nicely at the half point of the CD. It's my favorite song on the album, with lovely music and lyrics that are pretty and metaphorical while also being inspiring. It feels like it could have been an old time gospel song or a hymn back when worship music was more than simple choruses that engage on an emotional level and ask us to leave our intellects at the door. (Before anybody sends me hate mail, yes I know that worship choruses have their place and I even like to sing them. Just not all the time.) Escape, track seven, picks the energy back up a few notches, and Tait really shines here. Anyone who likes where Newsboys is going musically will probably love it. The people in the "we want Peter" camp probably won't. The next track, Miracles, builds on the rocking momentum established in Escape with an up-tempo drive and some nice guitar work. The CD slides smoothly from there to a slower song for track nine. Running To You is my second favorite song on the album. I could listen to it on repeat for hours. In fact, I think I did that one time when I was trying to get When The Boys Light Up out of my head. And then everything comes to a slow, grinding halt with track ten. It's a ballad called On Your Knees, which I tried very hard to like because it tells what should be an engaging and interesting story. It falls a bit short though. The lyrics are kind of muddled and while it isn't preachy, I just kind of rolled my eyes and sighed through the second verse because it was too predictable. The CD had been so good up to that point. I wish they'd chosen to leave the clunker off. Track eleven brought me back around, though. It's a fabulous cover of a Hillsong tune called Mighty to Save and I was so happy listening to it that I completely forgot to be irritated about the previous song. (See? I do like worship choruses!) The CD ends with another cover, this time of the classic dc Talk song Jesus Freak. It was a risky move for the band. Any time an established group switches singers, the first release is basically make or break time. Tait is well known as the frontman of dc Talk, and doing a cover of their most recognizable song now could have damaged the album's credibility. I am more than pleased to say, though, that they pulled the song of beautifully. I might even like their version better than the original--which is really saying something, because Jesus Freak gets a lot of play around here.
Bottom line? Buy this CD. Listen to it. Love it. Then come back next month for more music recs.