Pop music was mostly on the downside in 2004, with no huge blockbuster tour or album — although Madonna raked in the dough on her tour (which never came near here) and Usher...

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Pop music was mostly on the downside in 2004, with no huge blockbuster tour or album — although Madonna raked in the dough on her tour (which never came near here) and Usher dominated the charts with his “Confessions” CD.

The slump in the recording business continued for the fourth year in a row, with a projected sales increase of only 1 to 2 percent. The industry still tries to blame the Internet for its woes, but actually the most promising development this year was the continued growth of legal downloading, creating a new income stream for record companies. And it’s only just begun.

The story of the year was the death of Ray Charles. The passing of the genius of soul was softened somewhat by the posthumous release of a stellar duets album, “Genius Loves Company,” and the outstanding biopic “Ray,” in which Jamie Foxx inhabits the character so convincingly, you think you’re watching Ray Charles himself.

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Among other great albums released this year:

• Loretta Lynn’s amazing project with Jack White of the White Stripes, “Van Lear Rose,” which resulted in some of the grittiest, most honest and moving songs of the country legend’s long career;

• Green Day’s punk-rock concept album, “American Idiot,” a kind of rock opera about the Iraq invasion and America’s cultural shift to the right;

• Prince’s funky “Musicology,” his most spirited album in years;


Mindy Smith was one of the year’s discoveries. The folk-influenced singer and guitarist made several appearances in Seattle, among them a headlining gig at the Moore Theatre.

• U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” with the band rocking hard like it did in its youth nearly a quarter-century ago;

• “Franz Ferdinand,” a talented young band from Scotland with a fresh, lively sound;

• Eric Clapton’s bluesiest album ever, “Me and Mr. Johnson,” dedicated to the songs of blues pioneer Robert Johnson;

• Patti Smith’s “Trampin’,” in which she somehow finds hope and spiritual uplift in troubled times; and

• Eminem’s “Encore,” with the rapper displaying a mature, socially concerned side, without losing any of his energy or credibility.

Locally the concert year was outstanding, one of the best ever. Veterans such as Eric Clapton, Prince, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Al Green, Rod Stewart and Tom Jones showed that they still have what it takes to excite and move audiences.

Clapton was awesome in July at KeyArena, reaching a breathtaking state of perfection in union with his band. Green’s short set — so short it angered some — at the Paramount in July captured his pure essence. Costello revisited the great songs of his past, along with newer songs, obscurities and covers, making for a memorable concert in March at Benaroya.

Prince displayed coolness and brilliance in two shows at KeyArena in August. Green Day, revitalized by the success of “American Idiot,” put on a rocking show with elaborate special effects last month at Everett Events Center.

Waits was mesmerizing at the Paramount in October, his only U.S. show this year. His grizzled persona has reached an apex of creativity, creating fascinating, dark and poetic songs with layers of meaning and frequent sparks of humor. Wilco put on a sparkling, brilliant performance in November at the Paramount. Annie Lennox stole the show from Sting at a chilly White River Amphitheatre in October.

Among new discoveries was folk-influenced singer-songwriter Mindy Smith, who made several appearances, including Bumbershoot, the Tractor and a headlining gig at the Moore. Franz Ferdinand also played here several times. N.E.R.D., in March at the Paramount, revealed a new star in the making, Pharrell Williams. Velvet Revolver, made up of veterans from several hard-rock bands, shook the walls of the Moore in June.

The year also saw some of the worst shows to ever play here, including Shania Twain’s odd KeyArena gig in June. She spent most of the time interacting with fans rather than performing, and cut out early. Van Halen’s bloated, arrogant show in October in KeyArena was made up of sloppy performances of some of its worst songs.

Britney Spears’ March show, also in the Key, was sheer desperation — sex sells, as we all know, but not when it’s pushed down your throat. Kid Rock showed an almost total lack of talent in May at the Key. Most disappointing of all — a mediocre R.E.M. performance last month in McCaw Hall from a once-great band that seems to have lost its way.

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312, pmacdonald@seattletimes.com