In today’s multi-media world, an album is only one measure of impact, especially in today’s pop music scene. Compelling concerts, videos, remixes, covers, cross-promotions — it takes a lot to get noticed. Plus, there’s increasing appreciation for musicians who exhibit social concern and value charitable activism.
So who navigated 2007′s morphing, multi-media musical landscape most impressively? Well, it’s a largely female list. And Annie Lennox leads it.
Lennox released the absolute best album of the year, and the best of her career, Songs of Mass Destruction. The singer’s 52-year-old voice never sounded better or more powerful, and every song detonated with intended impact. In support of the album, Lennox stopped for an amazing and intimate concert at Lisner Auditorium in October. Increasingly agitated by world events, Lennox has devoted her passion mostly to the global AIDS fight, which will benefit from sales of her new single, the all-star female-empowerment ”Sing.” The Harry ‘Choo-Choo’ Romero remix is so good, you’ll want to support the cause at least twice.
Timbaland, for a change, had no part in one of the most top-producer-heavy albums of the year, and certainly the best, Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad. The hits are still coming — and it’s not just because Rihanna has a distinctive look and sound, but because she’s a charmer, a mass-produced but genuine performer. (Prolific too, producing three albums in two years.) To put it bluntly, anyone who doesn’t care for Rihanna doesn’t care much for pop.
People don’t quite know what to make of Amy Winehouse. The 24-year-old Brit can power-sing, songwrite and perform — if she sets her mind to it. Is she such a troubled soul because she’s so young and gifted? And is the public less entertained because of it? Whatever the case may be, 2007 was the year the world discovered Winehouse. And what a discovery, from her little masterpiece Back to Black — and of course ”Rehab” — to her older U.K. debut Frank to captivating performances at Baltimore’s Virgin Festival and on countless YouTube-posted clips.
Fellow British sensation Lily Allen, meanwhile, didn’t really register across the pond, but she impressed with her stellar debut Alright, Still. Allen’s sound is similar yet spunkier than Winehouse’s, more informed by New Wave and ska, even hip-hop. And her lyrics are even more ribald, offering a sunny cynicism just right for modern times.
The year 2007 was the year gay pop really began to blossom, and Cyndi Lauper seized the moment with the True Colors Tour. It was a perfect introduction to some of the scene’s best newcomers. Nonetheless, it was co-headliner Erasure that impressed most. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke proved that they’re still one of the best live acts anywhere, first with the release of the country-tinged live DVD On the Road to Nashville, then at True Colors. The duo’s new 2007 album, Light at the End of the World, was nothing special, truth be told — and yet their new songs sounded every bit as great live as the old classics.
D.C. actually missed out on one of the more engaging acts on the True Colors Tour. Due to a scheduling conflict, The Cliks only performed in our area at Alexandria’s tiny Jammin’ Java. Here’s to checking out this LOGO-staple next year. This transgender-fronted, all-queer Canadian rock band’s debut album Snakehouse is fierce, ferocious and fun, including a ballsy cover of Justin Timberlake’s ”Cry Me a River.”
The local queer music scene is also getting hotter, and it got a timely boost by Capital Pride’s focus on area talent. But as great as it was to discover Tom Goss and to hear a fun, full album from D.C. native Rachel Panay, it’s lesbian ”smart pop” creator Mara Levi who has the edge. Levi channels her sweet Joni Mitchell-esque voice over complex yet subtle compositions informed by cabaret and jazz as much as by pop and folk. As good as What Are You? is, you’ll be eager to hear more.
This year had its share of musicians not quite gay, or at least, not quite out. MIKA may have been the most famous, but we’re most taken with alt-popper Erin McKeown. The Fredericksburg, Va., native and Massachusetts resident released the delightful Sing You Sinners, on which she respectfully and playfully interpreted pop and jazz standards associated with Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie and others. Over the summer she released Lafayette, a live album on which she has fun playing with those standards as well her own previous indie-rock compositions. Hopefully in 2008 she’ll swing back around to the Birchmere. Even better would be a new album.
”Keep Your Body Working” is the latest in a string of dance chart toppers written by Tony Moran to come from his accomplished The Event compilation — and it’s certainly what Moran succeeded in doing this year, even if he never made it down to D.C. This year Moran made his debut at New York’s legendary Black Party, playing a harder, darker and more complicated set than most people would expect from the generally lighter, brighter Latin-pop nurtured DJ.
Forget Rufus Wainwright. The year’s best high-camp album belongs to former Soft Cell singer Marc Almond, whose Stardom Road is also the year’s best covers album. It’s as gay (and nearly as good) as pop music gets. It’s a de-facto musical about this dramatic tenor’s life, who covers songs popularized by Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and David Bowie with lyrics about love, longing and the lures of the city that are near and dear to gay men everywhere.