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Rock 'n' roll music alive, kicking in 2005

December 28, 2005 - Three years ago, the big news was rock 'n' roll was back, as the Strokes, Hives and Vines arrived on the scene.

But those proclamations since have faded, and the domination of rap, hip-hop and R&B on the album charts has given renewed fuel to those who continually want to call rock an endangered species.

Chart results aside, I assert that the aging animal known as rock 'n' roll was alive and kicking — hard — in 2005. For proof, look no further than my picks for the top 10 CDs of 2005:

1) System of a Down: "Mezmerize" and "Hypnotize" (American/Columbia Records) — System of a Down isn't just today's best metal band, they're 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? It's an uncanny ability to blend frenetic, careening rock, soaring melodies, a whacked-out sense of humor and lyrical in-cisiveness all in one viscerally invigorating, highly entertaining package. The inventiveness, quality and sheer scope of "Mezmer-ize" and "Hypnotize" — separately re-leased CDs that the band considered two parts of a single work — made them my choice for album-of-the-year honors.

2) Bruce Springsteen: "Devils & Dust" (Columbia Records) — Springsteen's un-common talent for examining the dark re-cesses of the soul shines again on "Devils & Dust" as he sings of characters who grapple with desperate emotions — the title track — and hard-won second chances ("Long Time Coming"). Though billed as the successor to the austere acoustic "Nebraska" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" CDs, 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 work.

3) The Rolling Stones: "A Bigger Bang" (Virgin Records) — Not since "Some Girls" in 1978 had the Stones released a CD that came even close to the group's career-defining late 1960s/early '70s al-bums — until now. Throughout "A Bigger Bang," 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) — One of alternative rock's top bands, Sleater-Kinney hit a new peak with "The Woods." On the CD, the group takes its already-spiky brand of hooky rock to noisier and more blustery levels — while still delivering the sharply crafted melodic punch that's always been a trademark of Sleater-Kinney.

5) Franz Ferdinand: "You Could Have It So Much Better" (Epic Records) — With "You Could Have It So Much Better," Franz Ferdinand easily surpass its impressive debut CD with a more varied, more adventurous and more accomplished follow-up. This effort suggests Franz Ferd-inand has only begun to tap into its 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 CD, 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) — With producer Nigel Godrich pushing Mc-Cartney, along, Sir Paul has made his best post-Beatles CD with "Chaos and Crea-tion." Here he embraces his inner Beatle and delivers 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) — This band's previous outing, "It Still Moves" had several sparkling tracks as My Morning Jacket fashioned a dreamy mix of echo-laden, rootsy folkish rock and pop. "Z" branches in bold new directions, while also taking the band's songwriting to new levels of consistency and accessibility.

9) Fiona Apple: "Extraordinary Mach-ine" (Epic Records) — Five years ago, Apple's promising career seemed to have crashed and burned after a much publicized meltdown during a show at the Rose-land Ballroom in New York. But "Extra-ordinary 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 Rec-ords) — Hot Hot Heat has yet to have the major success many have predicted for the band. But at least on a musical level, Hot Hot Heat hasn't disappointed at all. "Ele-vator" pushes Hot Hot Heat's sound in a bit more of an energetic pop direction, but with consistently catchy and satisfying results.

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