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Top 10 CDs of 2005


People were still buying Rod Stewart "Great American Songbook" CDs — the fourth in the series arrived in the fall — by the millions.

And perhaps on a more realistically troubling note, rap, hip-hop and R&B dominated the singles charts. If you wanted a hit record, Mariah Carey was a far better bet even than an established million-selling band like Bon Jovi.

Despite that last bit of statistical evidence, I assert that the aging animal known as rock 'n' roll was alive and kicking — hard — in 2005. At least on an artistic level, rock was one of the healthiest and most adventurous genres of music.

For proof, look no further than my picks for the year's top 10 CDs. Bona fide rock acts claim nine of the slots. They demonstrate that rock remained vital across a wide range of styles, from the creative metal of System of a Down to the dance-happy rock of Franz Ferdinand to the steely, introspective sound of Bruce Springsteen's "Devils & Dust."

So once again, let's call off the rock 'n' roll funeral, tell the preacher his afternoon is still free and celebrate a year that produced a healthy number of exceptional CDs. Here are my picks for the best of the bunch:

1. System of a Down "Mezmerize" and "Hypnotize" (American/Columbia Records) — System of a Down isn't just today's best metal band, it's the first metal band since Pantera to genuinely expand the possibilities of what metal can be — and do it in a way that appeals to a large audience. The band's secret? An uncanny ability to blend frenetic, careening rock, soaring melodies, a whacked-out sense of humor and lyrical incisiveness all in one viscerally invigorating, highly entertaining package. The tag team of "Mezmerize" and "Hypnotize" — separately released CDs that the band considered two parts of a single work — found System reaching a new peak. The inventiveness, quality and sheer scope of these ambitious CDs made "Mezmerize"/"Hypnotize" the choice for album-of-the-year honors for 2005.

2. Bruce Spring-steen "Devils & Dust" (Columbia Records) — Springsteen has always been one of the best at examining the dark recesses of the soul. "Devils & Dust" shows this talent remains undiminished as his characters grapple with desperate emotions or hard-won second chances. Though billed as the successor to the austere acoustic music of "Nebraska" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad," the songs on "Devils & Dust" generally feature some level of full-band instrumentation, which helps make "Devils & Dust" a musically stirring, lyrically moving work that stands with much of Springsteen's best.

3. The Rolling Stones "A Bigger Bang" (Virgin Records) — Not since "Some Girls" in 1978 have the Stones released a CD that came even close to the group's career-defining late-1960s/early-1970s albums. "A Bigger Bang" shows there's still some spit and vinegar in these wily rockers. Stinging songs like "Rough Justice," "It Won't Take Long" and "Driving Too Fast" rate with the band's best work, and throughout the CD, the Stones crackle and groove with a vigor that up to now seemed to have permanently moved beyond their grasp.

4. Sleater-Kinney "The Woods" (Sub Pop Records) — Already one of alternative rock's top bands, Sleater-Kinney hits a new peak. On the CD, the group takes its already spiky brand of hooky rock to noisier and more blustery levels — usually with impressive results. But no matter how brash the songs get, the storm of sound can't drown out the sharply crafted melodic punch delivered on such stellar songs as "What's Mine Is Yours," "Entertain" and "The Fox."

5. Franz Ferdinand "You Could Have It So Much Better" (Epic Records) — The Swedish rockers made a strong impression with their 2004 self-titled first CD. With "You Could Have It So Much Better," Franz Ferdinand easily surpasses that effort with a more varied, more adventurous and more accomplished follow-up. The buoyant dance-rock of the debut is back on terrific tracks, as in the hit single "Do You Want To" and "You're the Reason I'm Leaving," but songs like the spacious pop of "Walk Away" and the manic, vaguely trippy "Evil and a Heathen" suggest Franz Ferdinand has only begun to tap into some considerable potential.

6. Kanye West "Late Registration" (Roc-A-Fella Records) — West had a tough act to follow after debuting in 2004 with the outstanding CD "The College Dropout." But "Late Registration" lives up to the standard set by that first, delivering a sequel that's lyrically smart and funny and musically clever and engaging.

7. Paul McCartney "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" (Capitol Records) — Despite his gift for melody, the former Beatle had never threatened to make my top 10 lists because his albums were always dragged down by filler tunes and sappy, superficial lyrics. But with producer Nigel Godrich pushing him along, Sir Paul has made his best post-Beatles CD. He embraced his inner Beatle and delivered an intimate collection of gracefully melodic songs that recalls nothing so much as McCartney at his "White Album" best.

8. My Morning Jacket "Z" (ATO/RCA Records) — Of all the newer bands on a growth curve, My Morning Jacket may have made the biggest leap with "Z." Its previous outing, "It Still Moves," had several sparkling tracks as the group fashioned a dreamy mix of echo-laden, rootsy folkish rock and pop. "Z" branches in some new directions (the infectious pop of "What a Wonderful Man" and the reggae-inflected "Off the Record") while also taking the band's songwriting to new levels of consistency and accessibility.

9. Fiona Apple "Extraordinary Machine" (Epic Records) — Five years ago, Apple's promising career seemed to have crashed and burned when she cut short touring after a much-publicized meltdown during a show at Roseland Ballroom in New York. It indeed took Apple time to get back on her feet, but "Extraordinary Machine" shows she didn't lose her touch. The CD is full of disarming, mostly piano-based tunes built around Apple's sultry voice and knack for crafting unexpected but appealing chord structures.

10. Hot Hot Heat "Elevator" (Sire Records) — Two years ago, Hot Hot Heat was being hyped as the band that would bring genuinely danceable rock into the mainstream. The Killers and Franz Ferdinand ended up being the bands that connected. But at least on a musical level, Hot Hot Heat hasn't disappointed at all. "Elevator" finds Hot Hot Heat moving slightly away from dance-rock and going more for an energetic pop sound. "Pickin' It Up" and "Jingle Jangle" are among the killer (no pun intended) tunes that should have filled radio playlists this year.

Honorable mentions: Foo Fighters: "In Your Honor"; Idlewild: "Warnings/Promises"; Kaiser Chiefs: "Employment"; Bob Mould: "Body of Song"; Nickel Creek: "Why Should the Fire Die?"; Graham Parker: "Songs of No Consequence"; Robert Plant & Strange Sensation: "Mighty Rearranger"; Bonnie Raitt: "Souls Alike"; White Stripes: "Get Behind Me Satan"; and Neil Young: "Prairie Wind."

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