by Andrew Thomas
I’m going to just come out and say it: I’m a Coldplay fan. Like, actually. Their music is on my iPod and everything. I know Coldplay has become the popular target for pot-shots from those who would like to distinguish their musical taste as “above” that of the masses, but I’d contend that that’s largely due to their enormous popularity. If, instead of playing sold out stadiums worldwide, Coldplay was unknown, and you caught them at your favorite local hole-in-the-wall, I believe most current haters would come away from the experience with a new best kept secret.
Or perhaps I simply like Coldplay for sentimental reasons. Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood to the Head is the first album that I ever truly loved. All of my passion for music since can be traced to the moment when my ninth grade self put that disc in my CD player, and I heard the primal, repetitive two-chord banging of the album’s opening track, “Politik.” It seemed so simple and uncreative at first, but as the song progressed, it became something more. The band played with this theme, turning it from something basic into something beautiful. After a gorgeous ethereal bridge, the song returns to it’s initial theme, using it to build to a powerful crescendo, then suddenly dropping off. I was stunned, and I couldn’t wait to hear more.
To this day, it’s one of my all-time favorite album openers. It arrests you as a listener, inviting you into the world of the album you’re about to explore. It promises more, but doesn’t give anything away. Upon returning to the album, the song feels like a familiar “welcome back”, re-introducing you to everything that you love about what’s to come.
It was with these criteria in mind that I set out to put together a list of the top 5 album openers of 2010. With New Years Eve approaching, a time for reflection on the past year as well as anticipation of the year to come, it just felt right. But these are just my picks. What are my glaring omissions? What else makes a good opener? Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.
In the spirit of new beginnings, I present…
The Top 5 Album Openers of 2010
5. The Roots featuring John Legend “Hard Times (Ft. Black Thought)”
This could considered an anthem of 2010. 2010 was an easy year for very few people, at least among those that I know. The Roots and John Legend expressed that difficulty in this soulful update of Baby Huey’s 1971 track by the same name on their collaboration, Wake Up!. Of course, they revised the lyrics a bit. As Legend croons, “Yeah, so many hard times / sleepin’ on motel floors / knocking on my brother’s door / eating Spam, Oreos, drinkin’ Thunderbird, baby,” and Black Thought adds “every day a drought, then the shadow of doubt come / I’m down to do whatever if it betters my outcome.” It’s an angry, desperate lament, but since when has economic despair been so danceable?
4. Jonsi – “Go Do”
Was a happier song released in 2010? In the 2000’s? The opening track off of Jonsi’s first solo effort is an absolute celebration of being alive. Unabashedly optimistic, the former Sigur Ros frontman urges those listening to go forward and take what they want from life, reminding them that, “you should always know that you can do anything.” His signature falsetto sounds almost alien, but only in the most joyous way. This song gets your blood pumping. It makes you want to go out and plant a tree, or adopt a puppy, or hug a toll booth operator. Jonsi is a master of all moods, and later in the album he will explore the darker sides of life, but for the opener he gives us a track of pure jubilation.
3. Villagers – “I Saw the Dead”
As Villagers’ debut album, Becoming A Jackal, opens, lead singer Conor O’Brien sits the listener down and proposes: “Have you got just a minute / are you easily led? / Let me show you the back room / where I saw the dead.” And he does. Throughout the album, he leads the listener on a tour of his ghosts. His regrets, mistakes and sorrows are exposed in the following ten songs. The opener, however, sets it all up. On this haunting, hypnotizing track, O’Brien professes his shame, lamenting that “the crowds are all laughing / at my every mistake.” As the track winds down, O’Brien offers a guess at what may have led himself to this point of regret: “it’s something we’re missing, darling.” This repeats until the song abruptly halts, a needle falling off of a record, one final sign that despite any epiphanies, nothing will be okay.
2. Crystal Castles – “Fainting Spells”
For anyone expecting more of the 8-bit video game dance tunes found on Crystal Castles’ debut from their sophomore effort, this opener dispels those expectations with a hammer. A chainsaw of white noise bursts through the silence, brash and abrasive, with out any sense of beat or melody. It takes a moment before the listener can find any footing, and even then it’s a distorted, pulsing rhythm that sounds more like a nuclear siren than a song. Eventually, the song reveals itself, an angry, seductive rager that owes far more to Korn than Nintendo. You can’t quite call it electronic. You can’t quite call it dance. But you can’t say it’s not those things, either. It’s something wholly new and different and exciting.
1. LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrself Clean”
Could there be a better name for an opening track to an LCD Soundsystem album? “Dance Yrself Clean”, odd vowel selection aside, is just what you’re hoping to do when you put on their/his music. Take the rest of the world, the worries, the problems, the stresses, and let the music wash them all away. Dance yourself clean of it all, and live, however briefly, in the moment. James Murphy, the master of tension and release, plays the listener like an instrument, pulling you in through the achingly long lower energy intro. Then, just when you can’t take it anymore, the drums kick in, the energy picks up, and Murphy gifts us with a few perfect moments to release our personal baggage, before bringing it down and starting the whole thing again. It’s extraordinary. Dance myself clean? This New Year’s Eve, I just might.
Andrew Thomas retired from a career in blog writing after a spirited six weeks. He currently aspires to write for television, also known as a “Moving Blog”.