The Year In Review: 2016

The Year In Review: 2016 

The 19th anniversary of my Year in Review finds us at a crossroads. Most of us will agree that we wish we could undo 2016 as a year. We lost so much at the hands of this trash fire year, especially musically. The most notable (and terrible) musician deaths of the year included David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Glenn Frey of The Eagles. Despite it all, we were blessed with some incredible albums and songs - proving that amongst the ashes, some beauty remained.

10. Joey Cook & the Partyraddlers – “Bones”

A shockingly unique song in a world of carbon copy songs. There's elements of indie rock with Americana folk, a gothic song with a sense of dread. Lead singer Joey Cook had an impressive run on American Idol in 2015, making it to the Top 6 with quirky covers of "Fancy" (Iggy Azalea) and "King Of Spain" (The Tallest Man on Earth). Recently she's sang with Postmodern Jukebox, but if this is any indication, it's her solo material that will be the true standout. 

9. Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”

An absolute love letter to 70's disco, 80's funk, 90's R&B, and a little 00's pop. Songs this reminds me of (in no particular order): the disco glam of "Upside Down" (Diana Ross), modern throwback by way of "Slow Jamz" (Twista, Kanye West, Jamie Foxx), the funky "Word Up" (Cameo), perfect pop like "Senorita" (Justin Timberlake), and throw in a hint of Michael Jackson ("Bad"). 

This song is infectious and happy and we will all be putting our pinkie rings up to the moon for eternity. No doubt we will be listening to this at weddings for decades to come along with "Blurred Lines", "Uptown Funk", "I've Gotta Feeling", and "Can't Stop The Feeling. Mark my words.

8. Metallica – “Moth Into Flame”

Both elegy and eulogy - this cautionary tale describes the life and inevitable destruction of a young starlet. The lyrics bring to mind Amy Winehouse more so than her blonde partying peers, as the conclusion of the song finds the young girl dead and the media machine moved on to the next one. 

If a Metallica song could ever be called "catchy", here it is, but it's still just as heavy as you'd expect. This should be massive live in concert. If this doesn't find major success on the Modern Rock chart, I don't know what would. [Oh wait, I do. This song has only peaked at #15 and is behind Coldplay, Lil Wayne, and multiple songs by the Lumineers.]

7. Adele – “Water Under The Bridge”

Powerful but lovely, triumphant but sad, despair and desperation, but sung with a sure-footed sense of self-worth. The obvious choice is "Hello" or "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" but this song resonated with me far more. This was certainly Adele's year with a massive sold-out tour including 6 nights at Madison Square Garden. I was lucky enough to get a ticket - for face value, no less - and witness this song live. 

Photo taken by me - Sept, 26, 2016 - Madison Square Garden

6. Disclosure f. Lorde – “Magnets”

I have a special affinity for this song, as I think it deserves a place on my self-curated Less Than Zero book soundtrack. Cigarette smoke and carelessness off Sunset. Smudged eyeliner and a diner at 3 AM, quaaludes and beauty gone bad. Just a hint of youthful yearning amongst the nihilism and the inner knowledge of an outsider gone quiet. One of my most played songs of the year.

5. Halsey – “Colors”

Urgently independent and driving, the poetry of the lyrics is what makes "Colors" stand out in a crowded musical landscape. It lends itself to being interpreted like poetry in  a way that most repetitive songs can never be. It's ripped jeans you can't fit into anymore and what's left when infidelity fades. It's not wanting to hope for the future if it's just going to be this way. Halsey's entire album Badlands is beautifully cohesive, flirting with the edge of pop but always dipping a toe in deeper waters.

You were a vision in the morning when the light came through

I know I've only felt religion when I've lied with you
You said you'll never be forgiven till your boys are too
And I'm still waking every morning, but it's not with you

You're dripping like a saturated sunrise

You're spilling like an overflowing sink
You're ripped at every edge but you're a masterpiece
And now I'm tearing through the pages and the ink

4. Pink – “Just Like Fire”

A feminist anthem that's not explicitly so - a little bit 00's girl power with a rasp of modernity and an unbridled power. Pink has never received the kind of accolades that she should - even with her strings of hit singles, she still comes off as the underdog and it works. 

3. Britney Spears – “Liar”

The closest thing to Carrie Underwood's brand of country that Britney's ever approached. All high-heeled red leather boots and gritted teeth, it's a country song that's perfect for any workout mix. Britney's semi-surprise album Glory was glorious (sorry) from start to finish and her best songs since 2011's Femme Fatale. A close runner up to "Liar" is the soda-pop sex-fizz of "Do You Wanna Come Over", also worth checking out.

2. Keith Urban – “Wasted Time”

From the first listen of this song, I knew it would be in my Top 10. It's all the perfection of being 17 and driving to nowhere. The journey is the destination and the soundtrack is Guns 'N Roses and it feels like there will never be anything more than this. There was no better song to blare while driving my boat across the lake this summer. Nostalgia was never so bitter nor so sweet.

1. Sing Street Soundtrack – “Drive It Like You Stole It”

This is the most perfect pop song EVER WRITTEN. EVER. Endless optimism that flirts with the edge of cheesy. It's a little Hall & Oates, throw in a dash of Modern English and Berlin, and a little bit of "Send Me An Angel" by Real Life. It's the "Pretty In Pink" prom scene if Andie had ended up with Duckie - they would have danced to this song, trust me - searching for the epic amongst the arcane. 

Sing Street is director/songwriter John Carney's latest film in a pseudo-trilogy along with Once and Begin Again. There are two versions of the song on the soundtrack: the movie version by the movie's 16 year old star Ferdia-Walsh Peelo or the more-polished and poppy version by Hudson Thames. Both are sublime perfection. If you like any of the following - Ireland, the 80's, new wave music, realistic coming-of-age stories, and the agony and ecstacy of being a teenager - go see this movie immediately and come back and tell me about it.

You just can't stand the way that I walked out from the wreckage
Can't understand the way that I turned myself around
I tried to terminate this war with you
But you won't let it go, you keep coming back for more

Freedom - I'm takin' it back
I'm outta here, no turnin' back
In a baby blue Cadillac
Just when I was stallin, I heard an angel callin'

This is your life - you can go anywhere
You gotta grab the wheel and own it
And drive it like you stole it
Roll it
This is your life - you can be anything
You gotta learn to rock and roll it
You gotta put the pedal down
And drive it like you stole it

Honorable Mentions
Bon Jovi - "This House Is Not For Sale"
After too many largely forgettable albums (The Circle, What About Now), no cohesively solid album since 2007's country record Lost Highway, and Richie Sambora's departure, Bon Jovi was definitely in need of a strong lead-off single for their new album and this is it. Is it yet another kiss-off to the record company? Is it a scolding of Richie? Or is it just a metaphor for integrity in a world where everything has a monetary value? It's made for a stadium singalong and my heart.

Demi Lovato - "Stone Cold"

For me, this song was beautifully brought to life on Dancing With The Stars as the soundtrack to an absolutely killer routine by professional fighter Paige Van Zant and her dancing partner Mark Ballas. Aching, gorgeous, and brutal – just like every breakup song should be.

Kris Allen – “Faster Shoes"
This song has a little more bite than most of Kris’s acoustic numbers – a little bit lovestruck, just a little bit menacing. Kris Allen is nothing if not consistently authentic – I’ve seen him live about 5 times, including twice this year – and this song was the standout for me on this year’s new record Letting You In.

Little Mix – “Shout Out To My Ex”

A classic girl group kiss-off that’s just a little bit too repetitive to make my Top 10. The verses are Destiny’s Child-lite, while the bubblegum chorus brings to mind the Spice Girls. And a song I had a particular affinity for this year. (Hi boo, I know you’re reading this!)

Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello - "Bad Things"

Whoever thought a rap/pop song could sample "Out Of My Head" by Fastball and end up this mind-numbingly catchy? Sweet and sour, good and bad, light and dark - it shouldn't work but it does. Also known as the song that broke up Fifth Harmony, but man, was it 'worth it'.

Nick Jonas – “Bacon”
Who could have predicted in 2008 that Nick Jonas would be the next Justin Timberlake? Both shaved their curls and revealed six pack abs, an affinity for Jodeci and 90’s R&B bedroom jams, and released some killer singles. A killer ode to being unapologetically single.

Rihanna – “Love On The Brain”
I didn’t know Rihanna had this song in her, honestly. The swooning doo-wop of the Supremes meets Macy Gray, with a vocal as beautiful as it is ugly-raw.

Riley Biederer – “Thunder"
A paint-by-numbers pop song with just enough swag to stand out. Just try to resist its charm. I’ve probably played this song a hundred times this year.

Worst of The Year

Coldplay – “Adventure of A Lifetime”
This song makes me want to punch someone. Enough said. The “woo-woos” are especially violence-inducing.

DRAM & Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”
Broccoli is my favorite vegetable so I was hopeful for this song. Sadly, it is not about food but about marijuana. Also any song that references Metro PCS, Hulk Hogan, and Prego is just whack.

Desiigner – “Panda”
The fact that this was a #1 Billboard Hot 100 song this year makes me afraid for the future of music. Apparently this is about a BMW and not an actual panda. Thank god.

Lady Gaga - "Perfect Illusion"
Such a departure from her disco-glitter past or even her bleached-blonde-barstool stompers like "You and I". I couldn't get over how jaggedly unpleasing this song is to the ear.

Lukas Graham – “7 Years”
If I have to hear this inspid, emotionally pandering song one more time…and the astonishing thing is how many people fell for this. To those opening notes which sound like a mobile above an infant’s crib, to the references to smoking pot and drinking liquor at 11 years old, I literally can’t wait for the narrator to grow up and stop listing ages.
Nick Fradiani’s debut album “Hurricane"
I had high hopes for American Idol season 14 winner Nick Fradiani and bought his debut album unheard. It’s full of terrible clichés, poor songwriting, and musically daft songs. “Forget2ForgetU” is particularly egregious and the song title belongs on a 2Gether album from the year 2000. The standout song, besides his Chris Carraba co-written “Beautiful Life” Idol coronation song, is “Nobody”. But other than those 2 songs, a severely disappointing album.

Until next year, here's a Spotify playlist of all the Top 10 and runners up. Thankfully, I did not include the Worst of the Year!

Concerts I attended in 2016

March 3: Adam Lambert ~ Terminal 5
March 6: David Cook ~ The Warehouse at FTC
March 12: Nick Carter of Backstreet Boys ~ Playstation Theater
April 8: Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Steve Miller Band, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, NWA, Chicago) ~ Barclays Center (FREE tickets!)
April 16: Kris Allen ~ Gramercy Theater
April 20: The Mowglis ~ The Space (FREE tickets!)
April 25: Bruce Springsteen ~ Barclays Center
May 18: Sebastian Bach ~ BB Kings
May 24: Scott Stapp ~ Ridgefield Playhouse (FREE tickets!)
June 16: Dashboard Confessional & Taking Back Sunday ~ Oakdale Theater
June 22: Haley Reinhart ~ Gramercy Theater
July 14: Hanson ~ Alive @ Five, Stamford Downtown
July 23: Guns N Roses ~ Metlife Stadium
August 6: Nick Fradiani ~ Milford Mall (FREE tickets!)
August 23: Bruce Springsteen ~ Metlife Stadium
August 30: Bruce Springsteen ~ Metlife Stadium
September 2-3: Blues Views & BBQ Festival ~ Levitt Pavillion (FREE tickets!)
September 26: Adele ~ Madison Square Garden
September 30: Taking Back Sunday ~ Irving Plaza
October 17: Brand New ~ Oakdale Theater
October 20: Bon Jovi ~ Barrymore Theater
November 12: Kris Allen ~ Danbury Mall (FREE tickets!)