It was in October 2017, my wife and I learned that we were finally going to become grandparents for the first time when our older son and his wife announced their were expected. Additionally, over the summer, my younger son and his long-time girlfriend finally got engaged. Those two had been an item since the end of their freshman year of high school back in the spring 0f 2004. Basically, the two had grown up together and had only broken up once in the spring of their senior year in high school mainly because my son got too big for his britches. Fortunately, the two realized their mistake (I gotta give it up to his wife for making him work hard to win her back even though we all knew that’s who she ultimately wanted.). So, everything was coming together as far as my boys moving into adulthood.
As for the music of these two years, there were several fine albums. As I have stated earlier, there are some great albums that were released by my favorite artists during this time period (namely Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello), but I refuse to take up space with my personal favorites in order to shine the light upon the younger ones, generally speaking. So, let’s get today’s list going.
Drive-By Truckers – American Band (2017). The Drive-By Truckers have arguably been the most artistically consistent rock band of the 21st century. Every album that have released since their landmark 2001 album Southern Rock Opera have been some of the best music released each of those years. Technically, this album was released in 2016, but it was released so late that year that it took me until 2017 to catch up. And, what a terrific album this one is! Once again, they tackle the philosophical and political issues that divides their native American South. This album plays as an adult version of Southern Rock Opera, as the anger and passion that drove that album are replaced with puzzlement and concern. The whole album can be summed up with one burning question, “Why do working class white people, who share so much in common with the working class of people of color, work so hard to undermine policies that are in their best interest?” Only a white man from a working class background can tackle such a topic with compassion.
Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa (2017). Of course, the younger talented women coming up in music will have the newer batch of outstanding singers as influences. With Ms. Lipa, look no further than Lady Gaga, Adele and Sia for her inspiration. With Gaga, she learned to aim for the dance floor and pop radio simultaneously. From Adele, she grabbed the idea of vocal control and emotions conveyed. And, from Sia, she took the notion of the dramatic. And, on this album, Dua put it all together for an excellent debut. I expect some big things from this young lady as she becomes more polished and experiences more emotions during her maturation into adulthood.
Joey Bada$$ – All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ (2017). My favorite protest music was never totally nihilistic but often offered the listener hope that the change would come. That’s what Joey Bada$$ has in common with artists like Elvis Costello, The Clash and Public Enemy. While Bada$$ was busy pummeling police violence, institutionalized racism and Donald Trump, along with many other ills and injustices here in American. Once again, we have an album that was ultimately prophetic in that it predicted just the things we were protesting about in 2020. This remains my favorite middle finger to the status quo created this century. And, it true! We do need a Bada$$!
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017). Kendrick Lamar is on a creative roll similar to Kanye’s nearly a decade ago or Eminem’s two decades ago. The guy just can do no wrong. While still displaying his keen political and sociological observations, Lamar actually turns his power of observation inward in order to comment on how everything is affecting him spiritually and psychologically. None of us will get out of our upbringing unscathed. It is what we do with it as adults that separates us. And, that is where Mr. Lamar seems to be heading in his unparalleled music.
Kesha – Rainbow (2017). What can you say about an artist who originally charts hit songs that draw upon her hedonistic life decides to shed her party girl skin to show some emotional depth? That’s exactly the major step Kesha took on this album. I guess she grew tired of the rock cliché of being tired of waking up hungover and intertwined with the bodies of people she did not know. Instead, she turned inward and created more dance anthems but with some emotional depth missing from her original hits. I really believe you can’t listen to this album and not be emotionally moved.
Lorde – Melodrama (2017). Lorde was only 17 when “Royals” made her an international superstar. Yet, although her talent belied her age, she still understood that her growth would come through whomever she collaborated. Enter former fun. creative leader Jack Antonoff, who quietly became ubiquitous in the modern pop music world as a producer. Lorde, who can brood with the best of them this side of Hamlet, reveling equally in the joy in her life as the angst, all of it put to music on this album. Here’s to the further musical development of Lorde!
St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION (2017). St. Vincent, known to her friends as Annie Clarke, nearly had a breakdown in the aftermath of the breakthrough of her previous eponymous album. So, instead of pushing herself further down a rabbit hole, she enlists the help of, you guessed it, Jack Antonoff to smooth the rough edges. Fortunately, this collaboration never jettisons St. Vincent’s sonic quirks for the sake of pop success. Instead, the duo simply polishes the sound a bit to make it more compelling when heard on a radio. I compare this move to being similar to Talking Heads turning to Brian Eno for a little guidance into the avant garde back in the late-Seventies.
SZA – Ctrl (2017). Want your R&B delivered with the ferocity of Kendrick Lamar? Look no further! SZA is the artist for you. This young lady is fearless and undaunted as she follows her muse into new soul music territory. I cannot wait to hear her musical journey.
Ariana Grande – Sweetener (2018). Finally, Grande is shedding her little girl Lolita image to become a fully aware young lady on this album. Maybe it was just her age catching up to her vocal talent. Or maybe it was the bombing that took place at the Manchester Arena before one of her concerts. Or, maybe it was a combination of the event occurring at the correct moment in here life. Whatever triggered this metamorphosis, I’m glad it happened. Everything conspired to make this young woman reassess her life right before our ears on this album. This growth is matched by the greatness of her music. That’s what made this album so compelling. She is following the path that her obvious predecessor, Christian Aguilera, should have traveled down.
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (2018). I find it such a relief when a female rapper finally hits the charts. Why? Because they to this day rarely get the full-on record company push needed to break her. So, now, welcome Cardi B to the trail once blazed by Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, TLC, Nicki Minaj, etc. It’s just so great that talent is now being more recognized that one’s gender. Cardi B took the music world by storm with her debut album that pitch perfectly uses cameo appearances by SZA and Chance the Rapper to enhance to outstanding album.
Christine & the Queens – Chris (2018). This album is full of coming-of-age stories of a queer woman. And, she does it by doing some Madonna-like rule-breaking by creating music geared for the dance floor that is created with the influences of Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mika, among others, while cutting her very own swath. This is simply a compelling album on so many levels.
And, that wraps up the next-to-last entry on this list. Stay tuned for the next one as it will be the last one in this series. Peace.