Nearly 40 years on, this album of pop standards is still fresh because a) the songs are so tight, and b) each song showcases a different combination of talents. It's like they passed around the guitar to each member and said "Here. Give us your best."
Actually, many of the songs sound like they were sung at 3 am on the floor of a recording studio, exhausted after six hours of fighting, while intoxicated ... which is actually how the album came to be. Other bands with similar sounds in the seventies are dated (Seals and Crofts, anyone?). Where they were all style, Fleetwood Mac added weariness, pain, and soul.
While some of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs (Landslide, Sarah, Gypsy) are on other albums, this album contains nothing but good songs the whole way through. Their eponymous album has a similar sound (this is like part 2 of that album).
This album also has no filler songs; it's not more highly ranked because the very good songs slightly outweigh the 5 star songs. I admit that some of the songs that didn't make my 5 star song rating might have been 5 stars on some other band's album.
5 star songs: Dreams, Don't Stop, Go Your Own Way, Songbird, Gold Dust Woman
Dar Williams - Mortal City
This is Dar's second major album (her debut is higher up on the list). This album contains simple guitar playing, carefully constructed melodies and harmonies, and some poetry of immense power. It's not higher on the list only because the songs that are not 5 stars are only ok (as opposed to really good; at least they are not bad). This is the second of her two great albums (so far); she has a good material on subsequent albums, but it's mixed with a lot of artifice.
At this point, Dar was still singing folk music with just a little bit of electric instrumentation thrown in. February is one of the best songs of the last 50 years, and The Christians and the Pagans is both meaningful and hysterical.
5 star songs: As Cool As I Am, February, The Christians and the Pagans, This Was Pompeii, The Ocean, Family
Lynn Miles - Unravel
Lynn has two other albums higher on this list. This is her fifth album, counting her self-released self-titled cassette. Some people like her fourth album (Night in a Strange Town) more, but, oddly, that album is the only one of hers that I'm not crazy about.
Unravel sees her transition from the poignant but sweet and simple sounds of her early albums to a raw anguish that comes from a late night of brooding over cigarettes and whisky. I'm Over You is perfectly stunning and haunting. Black Flowers sounds like it should be a far older song. The album has a few missteps, such as the somewhat dull When Did the World, and a few lovely phrases, like "sad songs matter most". Lynn mostly sings beautifully, daringly, and wistfully. Listen at night, while on the road.
5 star songs: I'm the Moon, Undertow, Over You, Unravel, Black Flowers, Surrender Dorothy
Coldplay - Mylo Xylo
Unlike some of my friends, I think Coldplay gets better with each album. Yes, the original albums had unique and wonderful songs that were more groundbreaking, but many of the other songs on those albums were fillers. The number of fillers gets smaller on each album (I also really like Viva La Vida and X & Y). Mylo Xylo is their first true concept album, and while not completely free of fillers, the good songs now seem to flow effortlessly. I even love their new visual style.
The wall of sound, catchy tunes, thumping lively music, and vocal harmonies are just so ... Coldplay. Mylo Xylo is a story about dystopia, but it never feels anything less than happy.
5 star songs: Hurts Like Heaven, Paradise, Charlie Brown, Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall, Princess of China, Don't Let It Break Your Heart
Renaissance - In the Beginning
I'm surprised that I have Renaissance albums - two!- in my list; I would have thought that my enjoyment of inhumanly high-registered vocals over relentlessly over-produced pretentious music would have faded since I left my teens. Why hasn't it?
Maybe I'm still excessively immature. Maybe it's that this pretentious, inhuman, and even hokey, but exceedingly dramatic and talented prog rock band (think Rush, Yes, ELP, etc) stretched the boundary of operatic rock music to the absolute limit. This album, which is a re-release of their first two albums Prologue and Ashes Are Burning, is a kind of culmination of rock: masterpieces of nine minute epic prog rock piece performances, delicate, inventive, powerful, sonorous. Tiring. They reached the edge of the world; rock music had to go somewhere else after this.
5 star songs: Spare Some Love, Rahan Khan, Can You Understand, Let It Grow, Carpet of the Sun, Ashes Are Burning