Monday, February 25, 2008

The Top 100 Songs of the Year (70-61)

The Unthinking Majority
Serj Tankian
Elect the Dead

Despite the radical politically charged lyrics and a title like “The Unthinking Majority,” it seems both odd and disappointing that the most significant aspect of Serj Tankian’s first solo single is that it marks a return to old System of a Down style that fans fell in love 10 years ago. Daron Malakian’s horrendous vocals and the increase in pointless comedic filler left many System of a Down fans disappointed over the last few years, and those who hated them to begin with only had more reason to hate. Even if “The Unthinking Majority” does absolutely nothing new or unique, just hearing Serj’s voice over a quality song in early System of a Down style is enough to bring out the inner fan in anyone who once cared about System of a Down. Unfortunately, that novelty is only a novelty. It may sound like heaven to past System fans, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else finding much at all to like with this song. Serj’s political lyrics are nothing new, and there really isn’t anything here that couldn’t have been done with System of a Down. It’s almost impossible to praise “The Unthinking Majority” without comparing it to early System of a Down, and that’s both why it’s on this list and why it isn’t in the top 50.

Been There All the Time
Dinosaur Jr.

In 1987, Dinosaur Jr. recorded what could very easily be called one of the greatest alternative rock albums of all-time with You’re Living All Over Me. Unfortunately, the band hasn't done much since then. Still, it seems like most critics have once again fallen in love with Dinosaur Jr., as their reunion album has been garnering a large amount of press amongst indie critics. This critic may not love the new album as much as everyone else, but “Been There All the Time” is an exceptional single that is reminder of how to play indie rock right. It may not compare to the band’s classics, but it ranks among both the best indie rock songs of the year, as well as the best Dinosaur Jr. songs post-You’re Living All Over Me. The song itself isn’t particularly unique, but it’s an example of when sound itself is the most important factor. Dinosaur Jr.’s sound is the epitome of great indie rock, and the return of that sound is not only great music, but also a blueprint for the type of dark yet soothing and catchy yet deep sound that every indie band strives for. “Been There All the Time” doesn’t have the substance to be called an instant Dinosaur Jr. classic, but it’s the type of song that can make any indie fan reminisce about the influence that this great band has had. Whether or not the song’s greatness stems from You’re Living All Over Me, any song that can instill that pleasant memory in its listener deserves to be mentioned among the best songs of the year.


Even though “Driven” doesn’t stray far from Sevendust’s basic formula, it’s also a song that takes the band back to their roots and serves as a reminder of just how far Sevendust has come. On paper, their style of heavy metal verses mixed with accessible melodic choruses isn’t a unique one. However, Sevendust’s sound is far better than the typical mainstream hard rock band. Unlike the “nu-metal” bands that either faded or became obsolete over time, Sevendust has the talent and songwriting ability to be able to create a sound that manages to be heavy, melodic, soulful, and not at all watered down. Over the years, the band has replaced much of the metal riffs in favor of an overall more melodic hard rock feel, but “Driven” sees the band returning to their heavy metal roots. The mix between Morgan Rose’s and Lajon Witherspoon’s vocals are appropriately rough during the heavy riffs of the song’s verses, but Lajon’s biggest asset continues to be his passionate and powerful vocals during the song’s more melodic chorus. This is the heaviest Sevendust has sounded since their debut, but “Driven” is an example that the band has progressed immensely since then. “Driven” is just as accessible as it is heavy, while the songwriting has improved dramatically in the last ten years. On top of that, Sonny Mayo is finally settling in as a guitarist, which immediately makes “Driven” far superior to anything off of their previous album, Next. “Driven” may be only slightly different from typical Sevendust, but typical Sevendust is still worthy of praise.

Hump de Bump
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium Arcadium

Despite a disappointingly generic music video directed by Chris Rock, and a surprisingly poor chart placement, "Hump de Bump" is one of the most fun songs the Red Hot Chili Peppers have done in some time. It may not have the same lasting appeal that you'd expect from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it's still a fun alternative rock song that remains catchy and enjoyable throughout. That being said, it's really the chorus that makes "Hump de Bump" such a great song. The verses are a little lacking in substance, and the repetitive pre-chorus is a bit too catchy for its own good. However, the well written chorus makes the song more than just a funky alternative tune. It's actually a bit odd that the chorus in "Hump de Bump" has more substance than the verses because strong and meaningful verses are at the forefront of the some of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' greatest songs. Excellent verses propel songs like "Can't Stop," "Californication," "Under the Bridge," and "Otherside," while many of those songs feature a rather brief chorus. "Hump de Bump" spends very little time with verses, and instead has a lot of fun, albeit repetitive, funk inspired moments. The first part of the song isn’t anything special, but it's the last repeat of the chorus that makes "Hump de Bump" more than just filler. The catchy and even somewhat beautiful chorus is one of easily one of the highlights from 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, and while the rest of the song isn’t quite as spectacular, “Hump de Bump” is simply one of the most fun songs the band has recorded in years. Considering that fun and funky sound is painted across the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ roots, a song like “Hump de Bump” is long overdue.

Never Enough
The Divine Conspiracy

“Never Enough” is not only one of the weakest songs off Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy, but it’s also a very poor representation of the band’s sound and talent. “Never Enough” sounds very similar your typical female-fronted hard rock song, and it unfortunately forces comparisons to mainstream artists like Evanescence. However, “Never Enough” is the only Epica song of its type, while the rest of the album is made of up of far more unique symphonic metal tracks. Compared to similar songs that have come out this year, however, “Never Enough” is slightly ahead of the competition. After Forever’s “Energize Me,” Within Temptation’s “What Have You Done,” and Nightwish’s “Amaranth” all use a similar pop-metal style. What puts Epica on top is simply the talent and creativity of the band. There are more subtleties in “Never Enough” than what is to be expected of pop-metal, and it’s clear that Epica has more talent than most of the aforementioned bands they have be compared to. Simone Simmons doesn’t give her best vocal performance on this song, but even Simone Simmons at her worst ranks among the best of the year. She has more versatility than any other female vocalist on this list, and she pulls off the more pop-oriented style of “Never Enough” exceptionally well. The rest of the band is equally as impressive, especially guitarist Mark Jansen, who’s distinct riffs add a touch of personality to the song. As an Epica song, “Never Enough” is somewhat of a failure. However, it still ranks among of the best singles of the year, as well as the best songs of its kind.

September Sun
Type O Negative
Dead Again

Much like “The Profit of Doom” before it, nearly half of the album version of “September Sun” has been cut for the single. However, the song’s epic feel has been left intact. “September Sun” shows both the beauty and variety of Type O Negative, as Peter Steele and Kenny Hickey demonstrate the full spectrum of the band's vocal talents. Steele’s powerfully deep voice creates a truly haunting vibe when combined with Type O’s gothic riffs and excellent keyboards. Then Hickey is able to come in and transition into a higher and equally powerful voice that perfectly compliments the heavier riffs of the chorus. More than anything, “September Sun” is distinct and varied, and the contrast between Steele and Hickey’s vocal styles adds to the epic nature of the chord progression. “September Sun” could very easily be called a progressive metal song. There are numerous subtleties that can be found throughout the song, particularly in the vocals. There is already a ton of emotion in the song, but Steele’s subtle yet powerful cry of Elizabeth after the first line of the chorus is an example of the subtle passion found deep within the already passionate sound of “September Sun.” As a whole, this is one of the best, most diverse and most passionate songs in Type O Negative’s discography.

Within Temptation
The Heart of Everything

Within Temptation has gone through a fairly drastic style change since their last album, and although The Heart of Everything doesn’t have anything on the same level as “Ice Queen” or “Mother Earth,” songs like “Frozen” have made their transition into a more accessible style of symphonic metal a successful one. The instrumentalists of the band are certainly talented, but it’s Sharon den Adel’s vocals that continue to take center stage on Within Temptation’s strongest songs. “Frozen” is no exception, as den Adel’s vocals are nothing short of magnificent. This may just be her strongest vocal performance yet, and that’s saying something. The instrumentals do an adequate of job of complimenting her voice, but nothing outside of Sharon’s performance is truly spectacular. In terms of structure, “Frozen” is a pretty typical power ballad, and it’s only Sharon’s voice that ascends it to greatness. Nearly every symphonic metal band has at least one song that shows off what their vocalist can do. Not only does “Frozen” stand out from the rest of the pack in terms of the quality of the song itself, but Sharon den Adel also stands out as one of the best vocalists in the genre. Credit the rest of Within Temptation for making the song worthwhile on its own, but Sharon still deserves the bulk of the praise for delivering one of the best vocal performances of the year.

Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water

Is an explanation really necessary for this one? The song is called “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water.” That warrants a spot on this list by itself, as Nile easily wins the award for “best song title of 2007.” However, there is more to “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water” than just its name. It also happens to be one of the most brutal yet oddly accessible death metal songs of the year, and its intentionally over-the-top nature makes it simply one of the most awesome songs of 2007. Any song that can be analyzed with simply the word “awesome” is great in of itself, but the real triumph of the song is that Nile has made brutal death metal fun. “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water” is completely ridiculous, but it still follows the formula for great death metal. Overly fast drumming, double bass pedals, heavy riffs, low growling, and a fast tempo are all aspects of the song’s sound. Nile isn’t a particularly unique band, but they perfectly execute death metal fundamentals, and “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He who is the in the Water” is yet another example of a typical death metal song that is simply more brutal, heavy, clear (especially in terms of vocals), and just plain more ridiculous than the competition.

Silent Waters
Silent Waters

Both the biggest strength and flaw of Amorphis is their willingness to reinvent their sound on each new album. When it works, it works well. However, there have been numerous times when the band has regressed or made unnecessary changes that only hindered their sound. Thankfully, “Silent Waters” is mostly a triumph. The lack of harsh vocals may disappoint fans of their heavier sound, but the excellent riffs and fantastic vocals should please just about anyone else, and the lyrics stemming from Finnish mythology are interesting to say the least. However, the most impressive aspect of “Silent Waters” is what’s missing. That is to say, "Silent Waters" lacks a distinct genre. There is not a single subgenre of metal that can properly classify this song, as “Silent Waters” combines nearly every genre the band has experimented with over their last few albums. Doom, gothic, progressive, and even a touch of melodeath in terms of structure. The only style that’s missing is traditional death metal, and that may be for the better. The darkness in the sound comes from the doom and goth influences, and despite a slightly cleaner sound, this is one of the darkest songs Amorphis has done. The melodic guitar work is something that comes from Amorphis’ melodic death metal days, although the clean vocals add a sense of beauty to the riffs. “Silent Waters” is a song that has both beauty and darkness, and it’s quite astonishing that band somehow puts their influences together to create a somewhat progressive single that contains nearly everything that makes Amorphis great.

The Miracle Field
The Reverse Engineers
The Miracle Field

Despite only recently being signed to an indie label, The Reverse Engineers are already one of the best alternative rock bands in music today. “The Miracle Field,” a non-album single released in the spring of 2007 is not one of their better songs. However, the diverse instrumentals and optimistic lyrics make “The Miracle Field” one of the most interesting songs released all year. The band’s sound can be described as a mixture between the progressive structure of Rush with the more simplistic and soothing sound of 80s and 90s alternative rock. The result is almost an alternative rock version of Rush, although calling The Reverse Engineers anything other than original would be inaccurate. “The Miracle Field” has a sound all its own, and its progressive overtones add a layer of depth to the optimistic and somewhat mysterious lyrics. There is a perfect balance between simple and complex, both in the lyrics and music. This is a song that shows a ton of promise, and while it doesn’t quite reach the level that the trio reached on their debut album, Max Q, fans of progressive or alternative rock would be wise to give The Reverse Engineers a listen, and pick up a copy of Max Q while their at it.

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Anonymous said...

Great list. I wasn't a big fan of Serj's new album, but it did sound like the old system of down.
Epica's Never Enough was the weakest song on the album. Assuming the fact that that song was made into a music video, I think they were intentionally trying to make some what generic song.


DF said...

NILE!!!!! "Papyrus Containing The Spell To Preserve It's Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In The Water" is awesome. Have you heard "Chapter Of Obeisance Before Giving Birth To The Inert One In The Presence Of The Cresent-Shaped Horns"?. Also, for more awesome long titles look up Demilich and Bal-Sagoth. :)

Kylekatarn said...

Another great list, Matrix. Didn't "Stadium Arcadium" come out in 06, though??

Bryce Murphy said...

Kylekatarn: the album came out in 2006, but hump de bump wasn't released as a single until last year.