75.) The New Pornographers - Challengers (2007)
For the most part this list isn't adventurous. You can probably guess what's going to be on it and probably have a good idea as to what will show up in the top 10 or so. That's how it goes. There aren't many truly great records. There's a lot of good ones, but great ones are often hard to come by, especially in this digital age. So, with the exception of a few wild cards (most of which have already been played) the best records of the decade are the best records of the decade because, well because they're the best records of the decade. Does that make any sense? In a long winded way, I'm trying to say there won't be a whole lot of underrated records on this list. Most of them will be rated exactly right as being great four or more star records.
Challengers is underrated. Criminally underrated. It's a great record and for some reason it didn't get a lot of love. It's a difficult task to follow up a "breakthrough" record and though the New Pornographers had been making great records for a while, it was their third record, Twin Cinema, that really proved they were one of the best bands working. So, what to do with the fourth.
I call these records the come-down record. The record where you've got to reassess everything. You've got to come correct this time out, it's important, but it's equally important to try and do something different and The New Pronographers did just that on Challengers. Traditionally come-down records are just that - come-downs. They're usually a little slower in tempo and speed and have that feel of insecurity. Well, the Pornos certainly scaled it back a notch, but it's anything but insecure.
Challengers shows a band so assured of their own abilities and comfortable enough in their own skin that they don't feel the need to write "Twin Cinema 2". Challengers is certainly a more subdued affair, but it's an incredibly impressive one. To be fair it's certainly not dour - there are some barn burners here- but it definitely shines a new light on the band.
Challengers boasts the best Dan Bejar composition for the band to date in "Myriad Harbour", Neko's best NP vocal in "Challengers", Katherine Calder coming into her own as a band member with a bravura performance on "Adventures in Solitude" and for my money, the best run of three consecutive songs in pop music this decade - "Go Places", "Mutiny, I Promise You" and the aforementioned "Adventures..."
Ok, so there's nothing as immediate as "Bleeding Heart Show" on Challengers - good. We don't need one every time out and if there was one people would probably complain about that as well. Here's the deal - Challengers may feel like a let-down to start - it's not an immediate pop masterpiece - but it's their most complex record by a mile and I hope it wasn't people's short attention span that hindered them from realizing this.
Posted by Pat Driscoll