More often that not, Best Albums of 2007 lists have a lot of overlap with Best Songs of 2007 lists. To make things more interesting – for both of us – instead of a list of the 10 best songs overall (many of them would be on my 10 best albums), this is a list of the 10 best songs that are not from albums on my 10 best albums list.
10: Bright Eyes: “Make A Plan To Love Me” (download)
Cassadaga is Bright Eyes’ tamest album thus far, and is a rare exception where control of the beast proved to be a good thing. Conor Oberst finally learned the art of editing, resulting in his most cohesive and interesting album thus far. Gone are the days of sounding like an overly-affected youth who records songs in his bathroom when he gets drunk and emotional, Oberst grew up and brought his art with him to the world of maturity. Nothing shows this quite so clearly as the sweet duet, “Make A Plan To Love Me,” which comes off as an endearing plea instead of a pathetic one.
9. John Vanderslice: “Numbered Lithograph” (download)
2004’s Cellar Door proved to be a tough act to follow for John Vanderslice, who is consistently one of indie rock’s most interesting – and kind – singer-songwriters. Pixel Revolt was hard to listen to, if only because it was a follow-up to a brilliant album, and realistically, Vanderslice can’t be faulted for that. Had it been placed somewhere else on his artistic time line, it may have fared better. With Emerald City, Vanderslice tries a different formula, with surprising results. It’s no small coincidence that Emerald City is the first album cover that Vanderslice himself appears on. With this album, Vanderslice lets us into his own world instead of primarily using invented characters. It’s his most intimate album thus far, both musically in its pared down acoustics, and topically, as it touches upon his Parisian girlfriend’s difficulty in obtaining a visa from the U.S. “Numbered Lithograph” delicately captures a string of moments of loneliness as embodied by their physical signifiers – a bird, a numbered lithograph, an ATM.
8. Arcade Fire: “My Body Is A Cage” (download)
Claiming Arcade Fire as the greatest indie band out there right now, or as the new keepers of the torch of Bruce Springsteen is a bit of a stretch, but we’ll get to that later. “My Body Is A Cage” is admittedly undeniable. It’s memorable already within just the first three seconds, where Win Butler wails the song title over a sort of muffled heartbeat and a slowly growing melody. It’s the musical embodiment of his increasing frustration with his own fear and restraint, and foreshadows the song’s gripping finale, the heart of which is Butler screaming, “Set my spirit free! Set my body free!”
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Sealings” (download)
With the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ output being as consistent as it is, you could change this to almost any of the last couple tracks on the Is Is EP, but “Sealings” wins because it’s the first song that jumps to mind when considering the few things they released this year. Like Is Is, “Sealings” is not a brand new song, but one from the vault. Lyrically, it feels more cryptic and complex than most of their work, but Karen O sings of scraping by, and with the song’s simmering opening and not-quite-as-loud-as-you-expect apex, it makes the perfect lament of doing just that.
6. Chris Brown: “Wall To Wall” (download)
Perhaps this song didn’t blow up the radio as much as it should have because it’s not as good as “Run It!” But that doesn’t explain why it didn’t do as well as “Kiss, Kiss,” because “Wall To Wall” is definitely better than that. I blame T-Pain.
The only thing Chris Brown has done lately that comes close to being as good as this song is the video. It feels a bit too much like a “Thriller” rip-off, but it’s worth watching from about 3:40 in: the boy can dance. (It can’t be embedded, so go here to watch.)
5. Timbaland: “Way I Are (Feat. Keri Hilson & D.O.E.)” (download)
Oh, “poor” Timbaland. It’s almost believable when he opens this song with the line “I ain’t got no money,” what with his propensity to give away the gold to other artists without saving a scrap for himself. Even “Way I Are,” undoubtedly the best song on Shock Value, is a recycled beat from one he gave to Justin Timberlake. Additionally, the real star of the song is Keri Hilson, who he gave the chorus to. The man can’t catch a break – except that he has, just not as the center of attention. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…
4. Rihanna: “Breakin’ Dishes” (download)
What, you expected “Umbrella”? Sure, it was an anthem for 2007, a comforting assurance among a rap and r&b world that is littered with ego, the kind of song that puts you in an instant good mood. But let’s face it, it got annoying. Very annoying. Very quickly. Keep all those good feelings. I’m going to go with… anger. There’s a lot to be said for a woman who isn’t afraid to be angry in a society that associates angry women with psychiatric instability. Being kind, sweet and caring are all “normal” for a woman, but anger from a woman is treated like tears from a man. Though even Rihanna isn’t completely off the hook when she sings, “I ain’t trippin’ / I ain’t twisted / I ain’t demented, hah / well, just a lil’ bit.” Still, the girl’s got brass to sing about trashing a man’s stuff and saying she’s going to fight him when she’s not even certain he’s cheating.
3. The New Pornographers: “Myriad Harbour” (download)
Dan Bejar! Dan Bejar! Dan Bejar! “Myriad Harbour” is not only one of the best songs by the New Pornographers, it’s one of Bejar’s finest masterpieces. Sounding like the band is writing for a Broadway Musical, “Myriad Harbour” captures the pull of New York City, bemoaning its traps because, as ridiculous as they are, they are effective. Our narrator gets sucked into a world of pretty girls, pretentious music buying, and bedroom pop. He can’t resist the city’s charms, nor can many resist those of this song.
2. R. Kelly: “I’m A Flirt (Feat. T.I. & T-Pain)” (download)
Besides being understatement of the year, R. Kelly’s “I’m A Flirt” is the most memorable track from Double Up for non-comedic reasons (take your pick from “the Zoo” and “Sex Planet,” otherwise). While it may not hold the instantaneous sing-along power that some of his older hits do, that just means it can be listened to repeatedly without losing its appeal. With lines like “I’m black, handsome, I sing, plus I’m rich” and “she be callin’ me daddy / and I be callin’ her mommy / she be callin’ you Kelly / when your name is Tommy,” it still makes for a good sing-along (I can’t even listen to the song while I write this, as I normally would, because the urge to sing is too distracting). Not to mention that R. Kelly using the words “I swear to tell the truth and the whole truth” is a delicious bit of irony – or perhaps a smartly placed allusion?
1. M.I.A.: “Paper Planes” (download)
Not only a front-runner for the ugliest album cover of the year, M.I.A. has jetted to the tops of many a 2007 list with “Paper Planes,” which is more than good enough to make up for the lackluster bulk of Kala. The gunshots in the chorus are not only startling at first listen, they continue to be discomforting in the sense that you want to dance to them. Only M.I.A. could create such a brilliant conflict and make it seem almost effortless.