7. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade
My Chemical Romance, for me, was a bit of a revelation when I discovered them last year. With their name, I was expecting generic Cookie-Monster rap metal. Instead, I got intelligent lyrics, well-constructed songs, tight musicianship. This is modern metal with songwriting ability and a wicked sense of humor...after all, how else could you explain song titles like "It's Not A Fashion Statement, It's A Deathwish"?
With The Black Parade, the band must've been listening to either Broadway musicals or to Queen's Night at the Opera while on mushrooms. There's definitely increased theatrics here, but while they do take some getting used to, they don't come off as cheesy. The songs are still solid (highlights are the brutal "Dead!," "Teenagers," and "Mama," which, strangely enough, includes guest vocals from one Liza Minelli...seriously!). The only really weak periods are when they try to get overly commercial, which they do in the semi-cheddar "I Don't Love You"...but these are in the minority. I really hope they don't keep going for the commercial, because it's not their strong point, and they are getting a fan base with their regular stuff...and they do rock.
8. Loose Fur - Born Again in the USA
While the self-titled Loose Fur debut was a noisefest (which unfortunately killed some great songs, such as the Wilco outtake "Not for the Seasons," which became a very strange "Laminated Cat"), this one is much more coherent, much more controlled. And the benefit of this is that the songs, as a result, really stand out. The sound is still experimental, but rather than employing the "let's hit something" strategy of its predecessor, Born Again in the USA employs a Zappa-esque creativity with arrangements...albeit from a 3 piece.
Half the songs are from Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy, and those are dandies. "Hey Chicken" rocks, while "The Ruling Class" (as played on Tweedy's last midwest solo tour) is a soothing, funny acoustic singalong opportunity waiting to happen...and then there's "Pretty Sparks," which has Tweedy turning in his most soulful singing performance yet. Jim O'Rourke's material can be a bit more introspective (see the moody, somber "Answers to your Questions"), but the man can rock and rollick, as in "An Ecumenical Matter," his lively take on the ten commandments.