15: Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Country music was a big part of the music I loved in 2015. It’s notably less relevant in 2016 (Loretta Lynn, Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert all had albums with moments I found compelling, but that didn’t sustain my interest throughout). Simpson did, bringing more strong songwriting and another out of left field cover to a well-crafted album. As with “The Promise” on his last album, his cover of “In Bloom” won’t click with fans of the original, but once again he finds a new life for the song.
The album received wide critical acclaim and earned Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and Best Country Album. The songs are intimate, defiant, frank.
I done Syria, Afganistan, Iraq and IranThe album is framed as letters home for an American serviceman overseas. It’s useful and a bit petty to point out that Simpson actually served in the US Navy while Toby “America’s Boot, Y’All’s Country’s Ass, Etc.” Keith served in the 404 FILE NOT FOUND (Keith does offer active servicemen/women a free burger and beer at his I Love Bar and Grill). Simpson's actual service, no doubt punctuated with actual humans injured or killed, has him eschewing country music’s cliché jingoism.
North Korea tell me where does it end
Well the bodies keep piling up with every day
How many more of em they gonna send
The boundaries of country music in the mid-teens seems to be simply “no rap/no Black artists [aside from the one]”—it's totally acceptable for Sugarland or the Dixie Chicks to cover Beyoncé, but when Beyoncé appeared with the latter to perform “Daddy Lessons” at the CMAs, the audience was displeased. Simpson’s music is too progressive for the “country” label to limit it, but his continued acceptance in the genre creates the interesting scenario of music that is openly cynical about America’s use of its military in front Sarah Palin’s alleged “real America” who are along for the ride.
14 & 13: Rihanna Anti & Drake Views
There are two sets of two albums that have become paired in my head. The first: Anti and Drake’s Views. It has nothing to do with their collaborations with each other or their relationship status at any given moment (I believe they are both contractually obligated to date someone new every 16 weeks). It might have something to do with the fact that I’ve seen both titles stylized in all capital letters at various times.
Both are artists I associate with upbeat songs of or about the clubs (those mythical, non-couch oriented clubs). These albums are filled with post-club music. Both albums are solid and the quality of music pretty consistent throughout. Neither is distinguished by singles (aside from “Hotline Bling” which ended 2015 at #2 on my singles list, coincidentally behind Rihanna at #1 with “Four/Five Seconds”).
I’m sure listening to them in close proximity to each other as part of my year-end review didn’t hurt, but I’m not associating either with Angel Olsen or Chance the Rapper or Anderson .Paak who were being played around the same time. If pushed I would have said Drake deserves the better ranking but listening to tracks now, I’m thinking Rihanna. But officially they are tied.
No, not tied, paired. They’re paired in these 2 positions.
12 & 11: Green Day Revolution Radio & Red Hot Chili Peppers The Getaway
As luck would have it, the other two albums that are paired in my head (and on my list) are also in positions adjacent to the Drake & Rihanna (or Rihanna & Drake) pairing. In this case both bands are rock acts I like and respect, but don’t consider among my favorites. Both have megahit songs that they’ve copied a few times and eschewed attempts, almost, here (“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and “Under the Bridge” being the first instance of each).
While “Sick Love” seems to flirt with Bridge-ness, it’s more “Bennie and the Jets” -- Elton John and Bernie Taupin share writing credit and Elton plays piano on the track. “Ordinary World” seems far too earnest and simple, folky, to compare with GR/TOYL. It will probably end up in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but would have an entirely different emotional pitch than the earlier song and the episode of e.r. it was used in.
Both albums are about bands I dig playing safely within their established boundaries, making really solid music, and seeming to have a lot of fun doing it. I know those three things are increasingly subjective in that order, but listen to both and tell me whether you think they sound like they’re having a good time. I’ll be right here waiting.
If pushed for ranking the two, I’d place RHCP ahead of GD based on their scoring 2 singles on my top 50 (GD only earned 1). Elton John also helped.