My musical tastes lean more towards the old than the new, but that being said, I do listen to some current releases as well. Here's my Top 5 for '05:
1. Dream Theater Octavarium - This band still doesn't fail to impress or amaze me. This, their 8th album, is a step back in the right direction after 2003's nearly pure metal misstep, Train of Thought. The band has gone back to implementing various different musical styles from progressive to metal to hard rock, and even contains hints of pop on a few songs. The lyrical content of the album is also quite diverse ranging from recovery from alcoholism (The Root of All Evil, a sequel to 2002's The Glass Prison and 2003's This Dying Soul), 9/11 (Sacrificed Sons), to the 24 minute title track which is full of clever turns of phrase and has 5 sections, each section written by a different member of the band-- truly a "group" effort if ever there was one.
2. Ben Folds Songs For Silverman - At first I wasn't as impressed with Songs for Silverman as I was with 2002's Rockin' the Suburbs. But there's a lyrical majesty in Songs For Silverman that was lacking in its predescessor. While Rockin' the Suburbs had a bit more of cynical bite to it, Songs for Silverman is a bit more sentimental for the characters in the tales Ben sings about. Landed is an excellent song that struck a nerve with me as I've been "that guy"-- the one who was in a relationship with a girl and lost contact with all former friends in the process, only to come back to my friends, like the prodigal son, upon "escaping" from the controlling and suffocating relationship I'd been stuck in before.
If you wrote me off
I'd understand it
I've been stuck on
Some other planet
A sentiment common to any of us who have ever been in that situation! Other highlights include Jesusland and Late. The latter of which is a stirring memorial for the late singer/songwriter Elliott Smith.
3. James LaBrie The Elements of Persuasion - Dream Theater lead vocalist's 3rd solo endeavour. LaBrie's previous 2 albums under the moniker "Mullmuzzler" had a hard rock bite and at times sounded like homages to the musicians and bands which inspired LaBrie. The Elements of Persuasion is LaBrie being his own man. This isn't the hard rock album its predescessors were-- no LaBrie turns it up a notch and goes full bore, straight ahead heavy metal. While his voice isn't for everyone, one can't argue that his vocal style is best suited for this kind of music.
4. Dream Theater When Dream & Day REUnite - On the 15th anniversary of the release of their 1989 debut album, When Dream & Day Unite Dream Theater performed their debut in its entirety with their current line-up. They were joined for their 2 song encore (To Live Forever and Metropolis Pt. 1) by their former lead vocalist, Charlie Domenici and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. This is probably the first and only performance you will ever hear of Metropolis Pt. 1 as a duet with both Charlie Domenici and current lead vocalist, James LaBrie. Due to some shady dealings with the label which released their debut, Dream Theater gets NO money from the sale of their debut album. This live performance, released on their own label, Ytsejam Records, allows them to actually earn money for the material on their debut album. This release would have placed higher, but for Jordan Rudess keyboard playing on Ytse Jam. Normally the keyboard theatrics of the Julliard educated, Rudess, are a treat to listen to. But Rudess interpretation of this fan favorite (originally played by former keyboardist, Kevin Moore) is a bit over the top and really made me miss the more restrained performance from the original studio album.
5. Queen & Paul Rodgers Return of the Champions - Paul Rodgers, easily one of the most underrated rock vocalists to come out of the 70s pays homage to his late friend, Freddie Mercury with his performances of Queen classics. There's an intense energy on this album, not heard on a live album since Queen's Live @ Wembley 1986 release. While Rodgers may seem like an unusual choice-- it's that very novelty which makes his voice work. Rather than try to find a "Freddie clone" to perform the classic Queen material, Brian May & co. opted to go with someone with his own distinct and established style and gave him the opportunity to put his own stamp on the songs. So, rather than sounding like a cheap attempt to make a few extra bucks, this performances sounds like a tip of the hat to Freddie.
Here's to hoping 2006 brings even more musical treasures to savor and enjoy!