As 2007 dwindles down, we look back at our favorite tracks. For each of the past three Tuesdays, we?ve sung the praises of the 20 songs that made our year. See what made the cut, and let us know what you think of our choices.
Kanye West, ?Stronger? from Graduation (ROC-A-FELLA)
Based around Daft Punk?s ?Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,? West?s top-charting single from his third album is part dance, part Nietzschean manifesto. Slamming together beats and rhymes in a furious display of his pop-star prowess, the producer-cum-rapper explains in no uncertain terms why he is the best thing to ever happen to music in the history of everything. Yes, some of the references are awkward, but his savvy wit and deep knowledge of the news of the day serves him well; any song that manages to somehow fit Kate Moss, O.J. Simpson, Isotoner gloves, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, A Bathing Ape, Prince and Apollonia into even a loose rhyme scheme is impressive. The video, which stars actors wearing Daft Punk?s robot suits and West?s post-post-modern fashion sense (Jeremy Scott sunglasses, Akira apparel), is the true star here, though, since it manages to both produce a vaguely coherent narrative and look extremely cool. Blame West?s fascination with Japanese art: His love of underground Japanese cultural lodestone Nigo (an artist, musician, clothing designer and all-around cultural kingpin) and artist Takashi Murakami have added up to something new entirely. Where the Wu-Tang were once fascinated by Bruce Lee, West has updated hip-hop?s not-so-latent orientalism. He wears it well.
Spoon, ?Finer Feelings,? from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (MERGE)
It seems Spoon saved the best for almost-last when they placed ?Finer Feelings? as the penultimate track on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. While the song traffics in many of the things the Austin quartet have been doing best for over a decade (bright, spiky indie pop with a dollop of barely concealed contempt from too-cool frontman Britt Daniel), it also comes with a few new features. Starting with a sample from Mikey Dread, a collaborator of known Spoon-influence the Clash, Daniel launches into what might be his most personal song to date, a portrait of the artist as a young man: ?I was part-time at the Tasty Prawn/ That and moving furniture and cutting lawns/ Covered in newsprint, staying up real late/ Just holding out for some fate.? The band then devolves into a melodic cacophony, an interlude straight out of the ?Day In The Life,? playbook, all ricocheting guitar, Motown bassline and what sounds like a moaning, slowed-down harmonica. Daniel resorts to a series of ?do do do do,? so as not to detract from the symphony of detail he?s conjured.
Feist, ?1 2 3 4? from The Reminder (INTERSCOPE)
One would hope that a song as good as Feist?s ?1 2 3 4? would have gotten the attention it deserved, even without a certain fruit-monikered multi-billion dollar corporation behind it. But these things happen, and when the anthemic ode to love lost interrupts the evening static of the networks, it?s a welcome reprieve. It?s nice when good things happen to good people; the recently anointed indie goddess from the north did time as a hype-woman in Peaches? filth-rap posse, and later joined up with the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene. The second single from her third album stutters open with a simple banjo and the warm scratch of Feist?s voice, starting as simply as a nursery rhyme and blooming into a revival-tent-sized sing-a-long. Feist’s tale of heartbreak would sound maudlin and self-serious (?You?re changing your heart/ You know who you are?), were it not for the piano flourishes and handclaps. Instead, it sounds like a salve. And as simply as it started, the banjo picks its way quiet again.
Bruce Springsteen, ?Radio Nowhere? from Magic (SONY)
At first it sounded like a ready-made ? that chord cycle from Tommy Tutone?s ?867-5309/Jenny? was a bit too close for comfort ? and therefore somehow minor. But the glory of this collective growl wasn?t in the structure of the tune, but in the passion of the performance. From ?Two Hearts? to ?Working on the Highway? Springsteen has always come up big by heading fists-first into a track, and here he?s seething, fury replacing the heartache felt for the deep disconnection he sees while absorbing America?s current antics. The band bolsters such rage, of course; their focus is thrilling. But as Bruce sings about hearing ?millions of different voices speaking in tongues,? they also throw a dollop of sorrow in there, too. We?re goners if we don?t let our diversity carry the day.
Britney Spears, ?Gimme More,? from Blackout (JIVE)
What an unbelievable mess the former Mrs. Federline made for herself over the past 12 months. Curiously, her record — despite a precipitous drop-off in sales, the sort you?d normally expect from, say, a new album by Don Johnson — offered her typically intriguing brand of pop and dance, and it wasn?t half bad. Perhaps, as many have speculated, this was because Spears herself had little to do with its production. Regardless, the album?s first single was entirely successful at being self-aware. Over tinny dancefloor beats and booty-shaking percussion, she sings a seductive ode to being the center of attention: ?Cameras are flashin? while we?re dirty dancin?/ They keep watchin? . . . feels like the crowd is sayin?/ Gimme gimme more.? She?s right. They are. Trained as a child star by the masterminds at Disney, Spears seems powerless not to give the people what they paid for, and what she thinks they?re craving is a melt-down. At once, ?Gimme More? operates as a key to the age of celebrity, while simultaneously shutting the door on all the year?s tabloid nonsense. In the future, if they want to understand 2007, they?re going to have to unearth this song. And even then, they?ll wonder how things could have possibly gone so wrong.