Greatest Songs of 2009, #5 to #1

Here’s the end of an admittedly drawn-out list. Tomorrow we’ll resume the previous daily schedule from the all-time Top 500 list. — AWO

5. “1901” by Phoenix

“It’s hard for artists to teeter on the fence of change between albums– between refining your sound and getting stuck in stasis, between growth and overreach. Unless you’re Phoenix, in which case you make it look really, really easy, and crank out more effortless pop-rock. While there are more pronounced synths on this preview of their upcoming album, ‘1901‘ sounds like a logical extension of It’s Never Been Like That, and is just as smooth and spirited and dementedly catchy as any of their best singles. That last record endeared them to many, and it’s worth noting that they don’t sound especially daunted by following up their last big success. Whatever new touches are added here—the singeing keyboard chords that dominate the first few bars before taking a backseat to that clean guitar, or the percussive marble-down-the-drain echo—it takes effort to pick them out, as this track is as seamless as the top of the peanut butter when you first open the jar.” (Pitchfork Media)  

4. “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus

“The loose, reggae-powered pop tune…is Cyrus‘ take on growing up in the Hollywood spotlight: ‘It’s definitely not a Nashville party/’Cause all I see are stilettos/I guess I never got the memo.’ Lukasz ‘Dr. Luke’ Gottwald and Claude Kelly…share writing credits with online singing sensation Jessica Cornish, and producer Gottwald injects the song with an energy recalling Robyn and early Gwen Stefani. After successfully tackling dance and country formats and delivering one of the year’s strongest ballads (‘The Climb‘), Cyrus continues to show off her impressive range.” (Billboard)

3. “Outlaw Pete” by Bruce Springsteen

“The old westerns mostly played as struggles between good and evil, and in the first few minutes, through overly-caricatured heroes and villains, dreary, angular sets and backdrops, and bizarrely-tilted camera angles, we were clued-in to what was about to go down on the streets of Direville. From the opening chords and orchestration of ‘Outlaw Pete,’ the first track of Bruce Springsteen‘s new album, Working on a Dream, we’re set-up for one wild ride over the course of thirteen tracks about your average hombre and his everyday life and challenges. Though ‘Outlaw Pete’ gets off to a humorous start (‘…at six months old, he’d done three months in jail’), this Jessie James on crack folk story immediately shifts into full cinematic drama, musically merging the Rolling Stones‘ ‘Paint it Black‘ with a touch of Aaron Copeland via Billy Joel‘s ‘Billy the Kid‘ and a sliver of Ennio Morricone. It’s pretty surreal stuff for his first ‘dream,’ and it digs its spurs deeply into the essence of what makes a man. Is it evil? If it is, can he change? Is this an adolescent fantasy, a man’s destiny, or just a warning to keep us on the straight and narrow? Springsteen’s approach to the story is so wonderfully heavy-handed that you hope the rest of the album maintains this level of macho.” (Huffington Post)

2. “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys

“The rapper’s newest is an interesting study in artistic development and says a lot about how far Jay-Z has come and where he’s headed. Rather than trying to recapture past glories or refight youthful battles, he’s redefining what success means to him. It has been years since Jay-Z was a hungry artist, clawing his way to becoming the ‘best rapper alive,’ or an up-and-coming CEO just beginning to build his riches. Jay-Z’s maturation is evident on ‘Empire State of Mind,’ an ode to New York City featuring Keys. The upper-crust landmarks he now references are a far cry from the grimy Marcy Projects sights that he once detailed, something that perhaps is to be expected from the self-described ‘new Sinatra.'” (USA Today)

1. “Moment of Surrender” by U2

“[The] astonishing seven-minute ‘Moment of Surrender‘…merges a Joshua Tree-style gospel feel with a hypnotically loping bass line and a syncopated beat. ‘Moment’ was played just one time — the band improvised the version on the album from thin air. ‘This kind of spirit blows through every now and then,’ Bono says. ‘It’s a very strange feeling. We’re waiting for God to walk into the room — and God, it turns out, is very unreliable. So you don’t have the right to imagine you can make a great album. But what you can do is create the conditions where it might happen.'” (Rolling Stone)