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Uprising

2009 wasn't a great year for albums, but songs were a different story.

Pearl Jam, "The Fixer": Never mind anyone under 25 who heard "The Fixer" probably thought it was a new Kings of Leon song — it's lean and mean in a way Eddie Vedder's Seattle survivors haven't been since the "Do the Evolution" days... or maybe ever. In a year the band's 1991 breakthrough Ten got the deluxe-reissue treatment, almost always a sure sign an artist is ready for the oldies shelf (see: Nirvana), "The Fixer" proved Pearl Jam is still hungry and vital. Not bad for a Target commercial.

U2, "Moment of Surrender": Although it proved to be, well, "Magnificent" live, look no further for the reason No Line on the Horizon was U2's poorest-selling album since the similarly stadium-sized Pop than the fact that its best song is a melancholy ballad that stretches more than seven minutes. But what a ballad it is. Bono may be revisiting familiar territory, the uneasy alliance between earthy and unearthly love, but he does it with both characteristic humanity and a heretofore-unseen degree of humility (really!). Meanwhile, the Edge's angelic harmonies and Brian Eno's chorale-like keyboards make this song the closest U2 has ever come to touching the face of God — no mean feat for a band whose credits already include "Gloria," "40" and "One."

White Lies, "To Lose My Life": Pale, skinny post-punk Brits singing about love over fuzzy basslines that feel like a ride on the Tube are nothing new, of course, but these London lads do it better than most. Having 2009's most Livejournal-worthy refrain in "Let's grow old together/ And die at the same time" didn't hurt. By year's end, "To Lose My Life" had found a proper home in teasers for the CW's Twilight-lite series The Vampire Diaries.

White Rabbits, "Percussion Gun": More than any other, this song by the Missouri-to-Brooklyn transplants embodies the brave new world Noise is still coming to terms with. We first heard it in a friend's car — we had to ask her who it was at least three separate times who it was before we finally remembered for good — and we never did hear anything else off parent album It's Frightening (even though it was produced by Spoon's Britt Daniel). No matter, because its machine-gun drums, exclamation-point bass and leering lyrics may be the most purely fun three minutes of music we heard all year.

Wilco, "I'll Fight": Jeff Tweedy's band continues to refine both its peculiar business model as a group that makes its living on the road yet whose fans still swamp record stores whenever a new album comes out — ask anyone working at Cactus Music the day Wilco (the Album) was released in June — and its talent for couching uncomfortable sentiments in silky-smooth sounds. Here, Tweedy compares himself to Jesus, vowing to fight (and kill) for his audience as his musical compadres craft a deceptively upbeat organ-based tune that doesn't so much smooth over the lyrics' sharp edges as conceal them in a leather sheath. No other band out there would go to such lengths for its listeners, which is both comforting and a little creepy.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Zero": Karen O and her two cronies leave the Lower East Side for Studio 54 for this New Wave dance-floor gem with hipster-criticizing lyrics that cut deeper than anything Pitchfork could come up with. By simultaneously castigating and embracing the YYYs' fan base, "Zero" set a synth-punk standard nobody in 2009 could live up to: Nobody else in their ZIP code, anywhere else, and — although "Heads Will Roll" and "Skeletons" came relatively close — not even the band itself on the rest of It's Blitz! Chris Gray

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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