I can pinpoint exactly when my panic set in.
I was listening to WFUV, the “Adult Alternative” NPR station from Fordham University in the Bronx, and the D-J played Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” “I haven’t heard this on the radio in years,” I thought to myself. I guessed that it had been probably nine years, since my heydays (ha ha) of college radio. Then the DJ said, “That’s Bruce Cockburn from his 1984 album Stealing Fire.”
“1984?!” I gasped out loud. All I could think of was that the song is old enough to get a learner’s permit. Panic came over me—I have become what I always feared: a nostalgia-based music listener. In other words, I am old. Well, in the musical sense—31 was old in the 17th century, but I figure I’ve got another 31 years left in this body.
The signs had been there over the past year, but I tried to ignore them. In last year’s Top 20 List, I wrote page upon page rambling on about records from my teenage and college years like I was Grandpa Simpson telling Bart tales of his time in WW2 with the Fighting Hellfish. (At least I didn’t fall asleep in the middle of typing like Grandpa would.) This year’s Top 20 albums features only four new artists—and one of these “new” artists (Ween) has been around as long “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” At the end of 1999 I was joking with a friend that Y2K would be Y2Country—but that became the truth. I bought 11 Willie Nelson albums this year, and I had my aunt send me a stack of my grandfather’s country albums. When I dropped the needle on Johnny Cash’s Now, There Was a Song (from 1960!), it seemed like only yesterday when my grandpa showed me how to use the turntable.
I always thought I would never become one of those people that say, “Music was better in my time,” but here I am, and that’s exactly the way I think. How could anyone even compare the talents of groups like Korn, Creed and Matchbox Twenty to, let’s say Faith No More, Pearl Jam and The Connells? This year someone told me that a person’s musical tastes for life are determined between the ages of 14 and 24, and now I’m inclined to believe him.
Less than an hour after hearing Bruce Cockburn, the DJ played The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues,” which itself is 12 years old now. But I didn’t care—I sang along. (Well, mumbled along is more like it. I only know one line in the whole damn song, when singer Mike Scott screams, “With light in my head/And you in my arms.” Of course “arms” sounds like “harms” with his accent.) I decided to sit back and enjoy living in my past—with the amount of brain cells I’ve killed since 1984, I’ll be lucky to remember my name by the time I’m 50, let alone the music I liked.
Since the mid-nineties, it seems that every year has to be branded “The Year of (fill in the blank),” whether it’s been teen bands, Latin artists, electronica, swing, ska, etc. So what has 2000 brought us? The same old thing—teen acts, hard-core rap and hard rock-rap are still selling tons of records, and the same select few artists are creating music that excites me. But there were a few things that rose to the top to make this year as memorable as a case of food poisoning from bad pizza.
Speaking of getting violently ill, Jewel wrote another book. Yes, dear reader, Jewel the singer-actress-activist, blessed us with more of her wit and wisdom. Chasing Down the Dawn features pictures of Ms. Kilcher through the years, and journal entries from her world tour. As a matter of fact, I almost ended up interviewing her about this book. This presented me with an interesting ethical dilemma; on one hand I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t do something to make sure she never sang again. How many opportunities would I get to do this, and have the implement of destruction (a heavy microphone) at my disposal? On the other hand, there’s that whole “Thou Shalt not Kill” thing and the hassle of getting Johnny Cochran to convince a jury, “She doesn’t deserve her pop hits, so you must acquit.” Fortunately, my dilemma was solved, as the interview was canceled. Unfortunately, I am still scarred by reading Jewel’s words, and by the nasty paper cut I got on my index finger.
I wanted to cut my own wrists watching the MTV Video Music Awards. Anytime a host has to drop their pants (as did Marlon Wayans), it’s going to be a long evening. But who could have predicted the absolutely horrific pairing of the teen-that-can-actually-sing, Christina Aguilera and that untalented multimedia mogul, Limp Bizkit singer (ha, right) Fred Durst? I actually have shivers going up my spine typing that sentence, and they’re not caused by my back problems. Who thought this was good idea? Durst rapping over the weak hard rock flailing of Aguilera’s backup band while she tried to be the second coming of Alannah Myles might be considered a sign of the apocalypse in some cultures. What could MTV dig up next year? Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor joining Barbara Striesand for a cover of “Closer” that she dedicates to James Brolin? Britney Spears duetting with Zack de la Rocha? Britney Spears actually singing on stage? Ah, all the mind-numbing possibilities…
Some other thoughts:
Baha Men, please meet your touring partner for the next five years, Lou Bega.
Garth Brooks took this year off, then came back to say he wasn’t retiring, but was divorcing his wife and might make one more album. I have nothing funny to say about this, but I just wanted to point out (yet again) that he’s an asshole.
The Backstreet Boys put together “street teams” of their fans to “help get the word out” when their new album, Black and Blue, was hitting stores. I don’t know about you, but when I think “street,” I’m not thinking of five white boys from O-town.
“So Steve,” you’re probably thinking, “What was 2000 about, in a musical sense?” (Or perhaps you’re thinking, “Isn’t there a copy of the Post I can read instead of this crap?”) That’s easy: It was The Year of The Figgs. Long-time readers know this trio is one of my all-time favorite bands—heck, even my email is named after the band. The Figgs put out three releases this year, which is unheard of since the heady days of the sixties when The Beatles and The Stones would put out great albums just six months apart. On top of all that music, two of the guys in The Figgs released side projects (guitarist Mike Gent formed a side band called The Gentlemen, while bassist Pete Donnelly put out a solo cassette). That makes five albums in one year. Excuse me—five great albums in one year. It’s that kind of commitment to music that keeps me from being the most jaded person in New York City (but if I had done better in the un-congeniality and bathing suit competitions, I still could have won the damn crown).
Further on in these pages you’ll be able to read more about The Figgs and other folks that made 2000 bearable, and at times, even fun. Enjoy.
20) Luke Vibert & BJ Cole - Stop the Panic (Astralwerks)
Stop the Panic is the collaboration of two types of musicians who probably shouldn’t be working together—Luke Vibert is a British producer who has released records featuring all the genres of electronica music, while BJ Cole is the preeminent pedal steel player to come out of the U.K. But somehow these two made an album that combines the best of their musical expertise. Vibert’s loops and samples provide a perfect base for Cole’s experiments with the sounds one can make with a steel guitar. It’s a perfect late night chill out album that I predict will be imitated and copied over the next few years. Best Tracks: “Swing Lite - Alright,” “Start the Panic,” “Fly Hawaii”
19) XTC - Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) (Idea/TVT)
XTC’s follow-up to last year’s absolutely brilliant Apple Venus Volume One is a return to the guitar-based pop that made the band gods in the eyes of music geeks around the world. And when I say guitar, I really mean it—the opening riff on “Playground” could have been lifted from Back in Black. The singles “Stupidly Happy” and “I’m the Man Who Murdered Love” are incredibly catchy, but overall Wasp Star doesn’t hold up to the orchestral stylings of Apple Venus Volume One. That being said, bands like Matchbox Twenty, Vertical Horizon and Nine Days couldn’t write a song as wickedly catchy and funny as “Wounded Horse” if their VH1 video play depended on it. Best Tracks: “I’m the Man Who Murdered Love,” “Stupidly Happy,” “My Brown Guitar”
18) Barenaked Ladies - Maroon (Reprise)
Ah, the pressure of following-up a breakthrough album—it’s a problem many artists have attempted to tackle, and have failed miserably. (See The Verve Pipe, Tracy Bonham, Fastball) Barenaked Ladies were staring this dreaded dilemma right in the face when making Maroon. Years of constantly touring the U.S. paid off with 1998’s Stunt, which sold four million copies, and spawned the number-one single, “One Week.” Just to add another obstacle, keyboardist Kevin Hearn was battling leukemia. With all these factors primed to make BNL fail, these lovable Canadians delivered their best album to date. Don’t let the single “Pinch Me” fool you—it’s the worst song on the disc. “Too Little Too Late” and “Go Home” are terrific pop songs that sink their hooks into you the way I bite into a double cheeseburger. Frontmen Steven Page and Ed Robertson have also slimmed down the number of cutesy pop-culture comedic references, which is funny considering there’s a song called “Humour of the Situation.” Best Tracks: “Go Home,” “Sell Sell Sell” “Falling for the First Time”
17) Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (Interscope)
Rap clichés in the year 2000: Someone else must guest on your single; every other song must give props to “your dogs;” you’re making an album between jail stints; and you show up three hours late to your own shows. But there’s always an exception to the rule. L.A.’s Jurassic 5 hearken back to the days of old school rap. The four MC’s rap together for a couple of lines, then each takes a couple of lines solo and then mix in some call and response—and that’s just on the first track (“The Influence”). This isn’t “Rapper’s Delight” redux however—the J5 have two DJ’s (Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark) who use different styles to create an intoxicating mix of beats. The lyrics also pack a powerful punch, especially on the back-to-back portraits of the City of Angels (“Lausd” and “W.O.E. Is Me (World of Entertainment)”). Eminem’s tracks might make you think, but Jurassic 5’s tracks will make you think positive thoughts and enjoy the groove too. Best Tracks: “Contribution,” “The Influence” “Lausd”
16) Everclear - Songs From an American Movie Volume One: Learning How to Smile (Capitol)
Everclear started out as a hard-rock Nirvana sound alike, but with every album singer-songwriter Art Alexakis’s pop side comes out more and more. Learning How to Smile is his pop opus. It’s a very personal look at man’s marriage falling apart (Alexakis’s own marriage ended in 1999) and how he’s trying to look back on the good times, whenever they might have been. Songs like “Here We Go Again” and “AM Radio” combine the trio’s basic guitar-bass-drums lineup with loops, samples, horns and keyboards to create Alexakis’s own Phil Spector homage. “Unemployed Boyfriend” is a fresh concept for song—a man hitting on a woman at the unemployment office. And “Wonderful” is easily one of the most touching songs about divorce ever recorded. You might be asking yourself, “With all of these great songs, why isn’t this album higher on the list?” The answer: They cover Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” and do it horribly. It’s easily one of the worst covers I’ve heard in the past five years, and it makes me hate the song even more than I already do. I liked the first 17 thousand times I heard Van Morrison sing about “makin’ love in the green grass,” but enough is enough. I can see how it fits into the concept of the album, but it’s so bad that I had to stop the album the first time I listened to it. So if you listen to Learning How to Smile, learn how to skip track number-four. Best Tracks: “Wonderful,” “Learning How to Smile,” “Unemployed Boyfriend”
15) Ween - White Pepper (Elektra)
I hate Ween. I have hated them ever since I heard Gene and Dean Ween’s first (and only) “big hit,” “Push TH’ Little Daises,” back in 1992. And usually I am set in my ways—when I hate something, I will hate it forever. This past April I was drafted to interview Gene and Dean when we were short-handed at work. After listening to White Pepper a couple of times, I realized that I didn’t hate it. I actually liked it, and continued to listen to it even after I had done the interview. I had always thought of Ween as a joke band that would co-opt other people’s musical styles for the sake of parody. White Pepper certainly has that—“Bananas and Blow” is a dead-on take of Bob Weir singing a Jimmy Buffet song. But tracks like “Flutes of Chi,” “Back to Basom” and “Exactly Where I’m At” aren’t parodies, they’re just intriguing tunes that get better with each listen. Now I’m off on a journey to check out other Ween albums—and wondering what I’ve missed out on. Best Tracks: “Even If You Don’t,” “Bananas and Blow,” “Exactly Where I’m At”
14) Green Day - Warning (Reprise)
The success of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” wasn’t a bad thing for Green Day. It gave the Bay Area trio the freedom to branch out even more from their punk rock roots. (However, there was a negative side—anytime someone is retiring from a sport, that damn song gets played over a highlights package. Somehow I don’t think Darryl Strawberry will get one of those.) Warning doesn’t rock as hard as Dookie or Insomniac, due to the fact that Billie Joe Armstrong has honed his songwriting chops enough to where he doesn’t need to make fast music to make his point. It does sound like he listened to some Kinks (“Warning”) and The Who instead of raiding his punk rock collection again. Unfortunately, it also sounds like Billie Joe listened to a Doors album before writing “Misery,” but that’s only a minor problem. Warning is yet another fine album from America’s loveable brats, who are growing up nicely. Best Tracks: “Castaway,” “Church on Sunday,” “Waiting”
13) Neil Young - Silver & Gold (Reprise)
After a couple of stumbles on his last two albums (that includes crap he did with CSNY last year) Neil Young successfully returns to his folky-Harvest roots for Silver and Gold. Young has a knack for singing about the little details of love like no one else, and he uses it effectively on “Good to See You” and “Silver and Gold.” Young’s tale about his old band in “Buffalo Springfield Again” is easily the best songs he’s written in years. If you like Harvest or Harvest Moon, you have to get Silver and Gold. Best Tracks: “Buffalo Springfield Again,” “Good to See You,” “Razor Love”
12) The Figgs - Rejects (Philtyrex)
13 fast and catchy songs in less than 34 minutes—that’s the way rock should be. Of course, The Figgs know that and that’s what they made with their second release of the year, Rejects. This vinyl-only album compiles songs that didn’t make it to any of the band’s albums over the past six years, and alternate versions of the live staple “The Bar” (sung by its author, drummer Pete Hayes) and promo-only B-side “What Became of It.” Unlike any other Figgs album, Rejects captures the rush of seeing these guys on stage with their amps cranked up. Tracks like “Rollerskate” and “She’s Fine” make me want to stop typing, pop out of my seat and pogo like I was in a club. Even with all of these amazing songs, there is one main reason to seek out this hard-to-find album: The release of the Holy Grail for Figgs fans, “Fucks Off.” The band has been playing this song for the past four years—and for the entire time it’s been my favorite Figgs song. “Fucks Off” is rock at its primal best. My words cannot adequately describe the raw power of this tune. Best Tracks: “Fucks Off,” “My New Gun,” “What Became of It”
11) Radiohead - Kid A (Capitol)
I can’t imagine an album that was more awaited by critics and “serious” music fans in the past decade than Kid A. So was it worth the wait? Yes and no. Even harder to process than OK Computer, Kid A has its share of breathtaking moments. The opener “Everything in Its Right Place,” with Thom Yorke’s voice manipulated as if it were just another instrument, is transcendent. But then along comes the title track, which sounds like some hacks learning how to use their new Casio keyboard. That’s followed up by the worst Radiohead song EVER, “The National Anthem.” This is where the guys in the band start with a leaden groove, and then make it worse by using an eight-piece section to bludgeon you to death with the fact that, “We’re serious musicians, look how atonal we can be with our horn charts!” Ugh. Thankfully, the band rights itself, and by the time track six, “Optimistic,” rolls around, “The National Anthem” seems like a bad dream. Kid A keeps getting better, finishing with the lush “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” Radiohead are planning to release another album next spring—hopefully it will be filled with songs, not minutes of musical masturbation. Best Tracks: “Optimistic,” “Everything in Its Right Place,” “Motion Picture Soundtrack”
10) eels - Daisies of the Galaxy (DreamWorks)
eels last album, 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues, was all about death (frontman E’s mother died of cancer and his sister committed suicide). It’s not the most uplifting subject to listen to for 45 minutes, but somehow E made it work. Daisies of the Galaxy is sound of someone trying to move on after death, but struggling to do so. “It’s a Motherfucker” is a motherfucker of song, with just a piano and a string section accompanying E as he sings: “It’s a motherfucker/Being here without you/Thinking ‘bout the good times/Thinking about the bad/and I won’t ever be the same.” E even seems haunted by those who have left him in “Selective Memory” and “Daises of the Galaxy.” But all this hurt is masked by the sweet music he writes. By the time the hidden track “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” rolls around, you almost think he’s going to be okay. Best Tracks: “It’s a Motherfucker,” “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues,” “Jeannie’s Diary”
9) Deathray - Deathray (Capricorn)
Deathray was started a couple of years ago by two guys who left Cake, one of whom, guitarist Greg Brown, wrote that monster guitar riff in “The Distance.” Deathray are quite a far distance away from Cake and that sports anthem. Their self-titled album sounds like someone tapped into that great drum machine and synth sound of the early eighties and grafted it onto some catchy songs. (Trust me, it’s a combination that is much better—and fresher sounding—than that description.) I’m pretty sure that the keyboard solo in “Check It Over” comes directly from The Cars’ Heartbeat City. It’s a shame this fascinating hybrid sound didn’t catch on with anyone else. Best Tracks: “Someone After You,” “Check it Over,” “My Lunatic Friends”
8) The Jayhawks - Smile (American Recordings/Columbia)
Smile is the only album in 2000 that features the phrase “Genuflect beneath the starry skies.” Genuflect? I don’t think that word has ever been used in a rock song. But there it is in “Smile,” the best title song for any album this year. It also features some of the best chorus vocals on any track this side of the Beach Boys. The rest of the album takes The Jayhawks further away from their alt-country roots. What we’ve got here are songs with loops (“Somewhere in Ohio,” “Queen of the World”) and electronic bleeps and bloops (“What Led Me to this Town”). Who knows, they might be called Jayhawks Slim or Chemical Jayhawks on their next album. Best Tracks: “Smile” “Somewhere in Ohio,” “Queen of the World”
7) The Figgs - For EP Fans Only (Hearbox.com)
The first release of 2000 from The Figgs showcases a more polished side of the trio. Songs like “I Thought I Drank the Drink But the Drink Drank Me” or “Waiting for the Sun Rise” definitely rock, but “When You Rest,” “Please, One More Time” and “To Be Announced” are sweet mid-tempo songs that are a change of pace for these guys. As if I didn’t like The Figgs enough, “Excuse the Lame Excuse” is the first song that name checks my favorite Stones record, Tattoo You. “Didn’t know you had it on vinyl/Check out side two/‘Tops’ and ‘Worried About You’.” Best Tracks: “Waiting for the Sun to Rise,” “Please, One More Time,” “To Be Announced”
6) Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue Volume 2 (Elektra)
Sequels never live up to the original. At least that’s a good rule of thumb in movies, and especially music. (UB40’s Labour of Love II is the first example that comes to mind.) But every rule must have an exception. (Ed note: this seems to be a recurring theme this year.) The movies have Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and we in the music world have Mermaid Avenue Volume 2. This volume of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s collaboration with Woody Guthrie isn’t as immediately accessible as the first album. But songs like “Airline to Heaven” and the epic ballad “Remember the Mountain Bed” grow in power after each listen. It’s hard to believe that songs as great as “My Flying Saucer” and “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again” didn’t make the first album. And there is something that both Mermaid Avenues have in common—Natalie Merchant sings the weakest song on both. Hopefully she won’t be around if there is a Volume 3. Best Tracks: “My Flying Saucer,” “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again,” “Against the Law”
5) Pearl Jam - Binaural (Epic)
After making their most commercial sounding album since Vs. with Yield, Pearl Jam head back into some more obscure territory on Binaural. The low-key “Nothing As it Seems,” “Of the Girl” and “Sleight of Hand” wouldn’t sound out of place on No Code. Eddie Vedder takes his Who fandom to new heights by lifting the opening of “I Can See for Miles” for “Breakerfall.” I can’t explain where Vedder got the idea to use a ukulele for “Soon Forget,” but somehow it works. Binaural’s highlight is “Insignificance,” a driving rocker inspired by the conflict in the Balkan region of Europe. As a matter of fact, after listening to their European bootleg series, it’s seems obvious that producer Tchad Blake’s track record of sonic experimentation (especially with Los Lobos) wasn’t the best match for Pearl Jam. In concert these songs truly come alive (pardon the pun), while on the record at times they sound muddy, as if I need to turn up the treble. Binaural means to listen with both ears—hopefully Pearl Jam will do so the next time they pick a producer. Best Tracks: “Insignificance,” “Light Years,” “Grievance”
4) U2 - All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Interscope)
Opening with “Beautiful Day,” U2 return to heights they haven’t touched since Achtung Baby on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Bono and The Edge could put 10 tracks of their farts after “Beautiful Day” and this album still would have made this list this year. Thankfully, there is no gas passed on the rest of the album. This is U2 at their basic best: The Edge’s simple guitar playing, ambient keyboards supplied by producer Brian Eno and uplifting lyrics by Bono. Every song has some sort of positive outlook, a rarity in these days of angst. On “Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Walk On,” Bono sings as if he actually cares, not with the detached irony that seeped through his voice on their last album Pop. For the first time in years, U2 prove they didn’t leave their talent behind. Best Tracks: “Beautiful Day,” “Walk On,” “Kite”
3) Elliott Smith - Figure 8 (DreamWorks)
Elliott Smith is one sad dude. All his lyrics just reek of loneliness. Like any good pop songwriter, Smith knows how to make the bitter pill of his problems go down easy—with a dose of beautiful melodies. Somehow I find myself singing lyrics like “the first true love folded at the slightest touch” (from “Junk Bond Trader”) like they were lines from “Sugar Sugar.” Figure 8 is my favorite Elliott Smith album because now he’s not just a guy singing wimpy songs about his problems—“L.A.” and “Son of Sam” really bring the rock...along with his problems. Best Tracks: “Son of Sam,” “L.A.,” “In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach)”
2) The Figgs - Sucking in Stereo (Hearbox.com)
The Figgs third release of 2000 is also their best. Sucking in Stereo features 12 tracks that are cut from the same cloth—rock that will make you get up and dance. Drummer Pete Hayes is the star of this album. His drumming propels these songs, especially on the opening salvo of “Opening Night,” “The Daylight Strong,” “Reaction” and “Something’s Wrong.” If you aren’t dancing and twisting in your seat by the time this quartet is over, then you must be Al Gore. I hate to use this comparison (but since the Figgs’ Mike Gent said it first, I will), but Sucking in Stereo taps into the same rich vein as Elvis Costello’s Get Happy. These songs are soulful, a trait lacking in rock today. And how can you go wrong with an album that closes with a song about Motorhead tapes (“Cheap Cassettes”)? Do yourself (and me) a favor—go buy this album today. Best Tracks: “Cheap Cassettes,” Reaction,” “Something’s Wrong”
Supergroups aren’t that super. That’s a rock rule with very few exceptions. (Ed: Enough with exceptions already!) Add The Gentlemen to the exceptions list. Figgs singer-guitarist Mike Gent formed the band with Gravel Pit guitarist Lucky Jackson, bassist Ed Valauskus and drummer Pete Caldes after the Pit toured the West Coast with Gent as the opening act. The Gentlemen wrote a few songs. Then they played a few gigs. Then they recorded (live in the studio) and mixed Ladies and Gentlemen… in five days. Today bands can take five days just to get a drum sound, not make an entire album. And what an album it is: 12 songs about getting dumped; 12 songs that sound like AC/DC and The Faces had a bastard child after a night of heavy drinking; 12 songs that anyone who’s had a broken heart can relate to; 12 songs that should inspire people around the country to pick up guitars and start their own bands. I knew I would love this album after hearing this line in the first song, “Sour Mash”: “I met her in the summer of my sorrow/She was high heel deep in a barrel of sour mash/I asked her for some feeling I could borrow/She looked like June but she talked like Johnny Cash.” How can you go wrong with a line that great? The answer is, you can’t. If I had a dime for every time this album has made me feel better, I’d have enough money to buy everyone reading this a copy of this amazing album. But I don’t, so you’ll have to go buy it yourself. Best Tracks: “When We Broke In Two,” “Top Heavy,” “Sour Mash”
1) CSNY Release Another Studio Album; Neil Young’s Songs Feature Him Reading the Bay Area Phone Book.
2) Radiohead Announce Plans for an Album of “Free-Form Jazz.” Group Says They’re Inspired by Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls.
3) Gwenyth Paltrow Releases Two Albums; One Shows Her “Folky” Side, While the Other “Rocks Hard.” Both Produced by Ben Affleck.
4) Guns n’ Roses Change Lineup Again—Axl Rose Accidentally Replaces Himself.
5) Pearl Jam Release 30 More Live Albums, Featuring Only Eddie Vedder’s Stage Banter.
6) Van Halen Resurface With New Vocalist, the Late Shannon Hoon. Eddie Van Halen Says, “At Least THIS Guy Won’t Talk Back.”
7) It’s a Record! Fred Durst Is the Director of Every Video on MTV.
8) Don Henley Fights Again for Artists Rights After Winning Copyright Battle in Congress. Eagles Drummer Supports a Law Allowing All Rock Stars to Sleep with 15-Year-Old Girls.
9) Rosie O’Donnell Records Another Christmas Album.
10) Liv Tyler Decides to Record an Album With Her Father Steven; Actress Says, “If Gwenyth Can Do It, Why Not Me?
2000's Top 20 Singles
20) Air - “Playground Love” (Astralwerks)
This cut from The Virgin Suicides soundtrack isn’t your typical radio fare—a sleepy vocal, a mellotron and a sax solo are more likely to be found on a Pink Floyd album. But the French duo created a perfect song to sum up the film that also stands (rather sleepily) on its own.
19) Bloodhound Gang - “The Bad Touch” (Republic/Geffen)
“You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals/So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel” is the best chorus of this year. And how can anyone resist those cheesy nineties Euro-synths?
18) Lit - “Over My Head” (Capitol)
This quartet from Orange County, California does it again, serving up a gem that was wasted on the Titan A.E. soundtrack. Hopefully they’ll be wise and put it on their next album. The backing vocals from Steven Tyler are a nice touch too.
17) Queens of the Stone Age - “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” (Interscope)
What turns this from a standard Sabbath-inspired tune into a great track is the use of vibes. (The instrument, not the feeling) Perhaps the world is ready for vibe rock?
15) Long Beach Dub Allstars - “My Own Life” (DreamWorks)
The band featuring the two remaining Sublime members finally releases their most Sublime-like track. Unfortunately, it didn’t propel them to Sublime-like sales.
14) OPM - “Heaven is a Half Pipe” (Atlantic)
I don’t like skateboarding, and I really don’t like skateboarders, but this song makes me want to give it a shot. It’s hard to resist any song where heaven to the singer is, “Just kicking back with Jesus packing my bong.”
13) Ween - “Even If You Don’t” (Elektra)
The best XTC song that XTC didn’t release this year, except it’s got a better guitar solo than most XTC songs. Somehow I don’t think Beavis and Butt-Head would dig this song as much as “Push TH’ Little Daises.”
12) eels - “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” (DreamWorks)
eels frontman E writes depressing songs. But somehow a line like “The smokestacks spit black soot into the sunny sky” sounds happy placed against the jaunty music. And when E sings “God damn right/It’s a beautiful day,” I’m inclined to believe him.
11) Macy Gray - “I Try” (550 Music/Epic)
Oh, that beautifully odd voice—I’m still not sick of it, even after hearing this song hundreds of times.
10) Matthew Sweet - “So Far” (Volcano)
“I love you so far/I love you today/And that’s all that matters/When time is running away.” Thanks for summing it up perfectly, Mr. Sweet. Now if we could all only say that at the right time to the right person, the world would be a better place.
9) AC/DC - “Meltdown” (Elektra)
Brothers Angus and Malcolm Young know how to write riffs that lodge in your brain like a splinter buried in your pinkie. The lyrics are usually pretty inconsequential (and pretty moronic). This song could be about how they would like to kill me (and I’m sure singer Brian Johnson does, but that’s another story) and I would still crank it up.
5) Everclear - “Wonderful” (Capitol)
Singer-guitarist Art Alexakis knows how to nail the angst of a child going through divorce. Too bad his kid could sing these words and have them be truthful.
4) Bob Dylan - “Things Have Changed” (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)
The hot streak Dylan started with Time Out of Mind continues with the song he wrote for the Wonder Boys soundtrack. Just like Air’s “Playground Love,” “Things Have Changed” captures the essence of the film, but also stands on its own.
3) Elliott Smith - “Son of Sam” (DreamWorks)
I’m not sure if this song is about the Son of Sam. As a matter of fact, I have absolutely no idea what this song is about. But it sounds damn good at a very loud volume, and that’s all that matters, I guess.
2) Incubus - “Stellar” (Epic)
Generally I’m not a fan of any band that has a DJ. But I really dig Incubus. These guys can play, singer Brandon Boyd has a great voice, and their DJ actually contributes textures that make sense in the context of the song. The best driving song of the year.
1) U2 - “Beautiful Day” (Interscope)
What has the musical world been lacking the past 10 years? A great U2 anthem. Finally, the drought is over. The chorus, “It’s a beautiful day/Don’t let it get away” is so damn simple, but the voices of Bono, The Edge and producer Daniel Lanois push it to incredible emotional heights. And when The Edge starts jamming the riff at about 3:32 in, I’d swear it was 1987 all over again. Beautiful indeed.
The Madness of Pearl Jam
25 European concerts=25 live albums.
All released on the same day.
It’s easy if you’re the most unconventional commercially successful rock band of today, Pearl Jam. Well, not that easy, I suppose—I could only imagine how they got Sony to agree to do this. These 25 double-discs sell for only $10.98 through their fan club, and $16.98 in record stores, which is a total bargain any way you look at it. Sure, fans trade bootlegs and MP3 files of PJ shows, but who wouldn’t love to have a high quality copy of the concert you were at without paying through the nose or waiting 90 minutes to download a file?
The reason that someone might be insane enough to get all 25 shows (like me) is that every concert is different. Each night has a different setlist, a different tempo, and a different highlight. But if you’re not a completist like me, then here are the Top 5 shows to pick up (until the North American shows are released next year).
#1 Lisbon, Portugal 5/23
On this opening night, Eddie Vedder botches the lyrics to a few of the songs, causing him to lead the crowd into a chant of “Eddie Sucks.” And to hear him sing “I’d rather be in Portugal,” instead of “an animal” is pretty damn funny.
#12 Nurnberg, Germany 6/11
Usually their shows start out with a slow song, but this show starts out with six blistering rockers in a row, with guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard playing as if they were possessed. If I had to choose only one disc to buy in this series, this would be it.
#16 Kotowice, Poland 6/16
The second of two nights in Poland covers the whole width of the Pearl Jam catalog, with a healthy dose of B-sides and genuine affection for the crowd from Vedder.
#17 Salzburg, Austria 6/18
This disc is worth it just for the pretty improv song that leads into the No Code gem, “Present Tense.”
#18 Ljubjana, Slovenia
The best part of any of these shows comes right before “Insignificance,” which describes (in a somewhat roundabout way) the situation in the war-torn Balkan region. Vedder introduces the song as being about “being a human and having nothing in common with the decisions your political representatives might be making on your behalf,” which brings a deafening roar from the crowd.
Other Musical Stuff From 2000
COMPILATIONS AND REISSUES
10) Marshall Crenshaw - This Is Easy (Rhino)
Mr. Crenshaw has been releasing pop gems for almost 20 years, and this collection puts all on them one disc. From “Someday Someway” to “Little Wild One (No. 5)” to one of my favorite pop songs ever, “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” This Is Easy shows a musician who knows how to make great ear candy.
9) Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - SRV (Epic/Legacy)
This three CD and one DVD box set has been in the works for years, and it was well worth the wait. 36 out of the 54 tracks are previously unreleased, including a few songs recorded the night before Vaughan’s final concert, a live guitar duel with Jeff Beck and an absolutely tremendous cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.”
8) Matthew Sweet - Time Capsule (Volcano)
Matthew Sweet has something in common with the aforementioned Marshall Crenshaw—both make great pop songs. One spin of this best of and you’ll be singing Sweet’s lyrics for the whole day. (Which might disturb the people you sit next to on the train.) Usually when an artist tacks a couple of new songs on a greatest hits release, those songs aren’t so great. But with “So Far,” Sweet has delivered his best song since “Sick of Myself,” which makes this album a must have even if you own all of Sweet’s albums.
7) Cracker - Garage D’Or (Virgin)
The unwritten rule of a greatest hits album is that one great song is left off. In the case of Cracker’s Garage D’Or, that song is “I Hate my Generation.” Otherwise, the songs on the album blend together perfectly. Even better is the limited edition of the album—it includes a bonus disc of B-sides and live tracks.
6) Moby - Songs 1993-1998 (Elektra)
Moby hit it big with Play, his first album for V2 Records. So his previous label decided to release a compilation of his older material. These label inspired compilations usually stink, but Songs 1993-1998 is different. Moby personally selected and sequenced all the tracks, and he did a damn good job, revealing the blueprint for the sound of Play in the process. Now if he would stop being so damn preachy…
5) Egghead. - Dumb Songs for Smart People (Mutant Pop)
Full disclosure here: I wrote the liner notes to this collection. But that doesn’t make me like this group of fun power-pop songs any less. Actually, now that I think about it, I like it even more!
4) Los Lobos - El Cancionero/Mas Y Mas - A History of the Band from East L.A.
One of the greatest bands California has ever produced finally gets the treatment it deserves with this impressive four disc box set. Everything this band from East L.A. has done that matters is here. Throw in track-by-track notes from drummer Louie Perez, and you have one of the best box sets ever.
3) Buffalo Tom - A Sides From… Nineteen Eighty-Eight to Nineteen Ninety- Nine (Beggars Banquet)
If you’ve ever thought about buying a Buffalo Tom album, start here. Soon after listening to it, you’ll feel compelled to buy the rest of their catalog. (Trust me, I have seen this happen.) If you’re just interested in hearing what one of the best bands ever to come out of Boston sounds like, stop reading and head to the store now. (Or order it online if you’re reading this at home.)
2) Wonder Boys Soundtrack (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)
Wonder Boys director Curtis Hanson did one of the most remarkable acts in the field of music in the past five years—he got Bob Dylan to write a song for his film. As a matter of fact, Hanson got Dylan to write a GREAT song (“Things Have Changed”). The rest of the disc is perhaps the greatest classic rock mix tape ever, with three more Dylan tunes and strong songs from Neil Young, John Lennon and Van Morrison. Soundtracks nowadays are filled with popular artists doing substandard songs, but there’s not a clunker in the bunch on Wonder Boys.
1) Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger (Columbia/Legacy)
Reissued on CD this year, 1975’s Red Headed Stranger is easily one of the best country albums ever. It also set the blueprint for Willie’s best work over the next 25 years—his voice and his distinctive guitar with a minimal backing band. I hadn’t heard this album since about 1978; it was one of the numerous country albums my grandfather owned. Hearing it again was like stepping back into two different times—one being the late seventies, the other the old West. Nelson sings like he’s some otherworldly presence that has seen it all and is watching the dreams of the Wild West fade away. Red Headed Stranger is an absolutely stunning piece of work that no serious record collection should be without.
5) Buffalo Tom (Acoustic show) - Mercury Lounge, New York 11/3
I’d seen Buffalo Tom seven times before this special night when they did two shows at New York’s best small club. But this acoustic show displayed a side of the guys from Boston that I never knew existed. They seemed to dig deeper into heart of the songs without a loud electric guitar to hide behind. Of course, it might have helped that it was early and they were all sober. The second (electric) show was a raucous affair, with singer-guitarist Bill Janovitz demanding beer as soon as they hit the stage.
4) AC/DC - Madison Square Garden, New York 8/25
Ladies and gentlemen, great arena rock is not dead. And when I say arena rock, I mean those over-the-top shows of the eighties with big props, lots of flowing beer, fists pumping and people singing at the top of their lungs, not the angst-ridden “I’m so angry I could wet myself while screaming” bills that are so prevalent today. (I wonder if Fred Durst wears Depends?) AC/DC are the masters of arena rock. The riffs, Brian Johnson’s shrill growls and the canons (the canons!!!) in “For Those About to Rock” can’t be touched by any of today’s bands.
3) The Gentlemen - Brownies, New York 3/10
Have you ever gone to a concert sort of knowing an album from a band, and by the time they’re done playing you’ve felt like you’ve seen the future of rock and roll and it’s name is (fill in the blank)? That’s the exactly the way I was after seeing The Gentlemen. Even though I don’t get crazy and jump around at concerts they way I used to, say five years ago, I about jumped out of my skin at this show. This was rock music at its cathartic best.
2) The Figgs - Don Hills, New York 10/20
Once in a while a crowd will really make a difference at a show, inspiring an artists to great heights. Count this night among them. I’m usually the person that knows the words to every song this band sings—that night, every person around me knew the words. For those 45 minutes, there was no better band on the planet.
1) The Bottle Rockets - Brownies, New York 2/12
Through my day job, I get to go to many shows for free. But sometimes there’s a mix-up and my name is not on the guest list. And the only time this happens is when I’m bringing someone with me. Then I usually feel embarrassed, and then really REALLY fucking mad. Screw me over on tickets, okay, but screw a friend and me over, and then I’m ready for war. What happens next is that I’ll buy a ticket (if the show isn’t sold out), but not fully enjoy the show. This painful scenario happened before this Bottle Rockets show, so I was not optimistic about having a fun evening, even though I owned all of their albums and their last album, Brand New Year, was number two on last year’s Top 20 list. The person I had brought with me hadn’t even heard the band before, so I made a disc of their best 22 songs in chronological order. I had cooled down a bit by the time the Bottle Rockets hit the stage. The first song was from their first album, and on the mix I had made—as was the second song. After a few songs, I realized that (with a few exceptions) this band was going through their catalog in the same order as my mix, and they were playing these songs as if their lives depended on it. By the time they finished, I had screamed myself hoarse. If you get a chance to see the Bottle Rockets, do anything to go.
DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR
It seems kind of odd to say that the Farm Aid co-founder is a discovery for me. I’ve owned a few of his albums for a few years, and I've always enjoyed seeing him perform at the various Farm Aid concerts I’ve covered. But after hearing Red Headed Stranger again, I felt compelled to get as many of Willie’s albums as possible. 11 albums later, I know that I’m not done getting into this legend’s work.
777-FILM Is My Friend
This was one stinker of a year for movies. I usually always have a list of must-see stuff. Not this year—there were plenty of times when I had time to go to the theater and I didn’t. This year was so bad that I’ve also picked the worst film of the year. But first, here are the best out of the 50 films I did see.
10) The Virgin Suicides
Who would have thought that Sofia Coppola, the actress that was the ultimate weak link in The Godfather Part III, could direct such a breathtaking film 10 years later? Coppola gets great performances out of Kathleen Turner and James Woods. And Kirsten Dunst is shaping up to be one of the fine young actresses of today. (See Bring It On for another fine example of her work. Seriously.)
9) Billy Elliott
The story of Billy Elliott isn’t anything new and groundbreaking; it’s a standard for many Hollywood films. A little boy perseveres over numerous obstacles to achieve greatness. Of course, it’s not often that greatness manifests itself through ballet dancing. Since this is a U.K. film, the plot doesn’t come off as hokey as it could have been in the hands of a Hollywood hack. Jamie Bell turns in an amazing performance as the title character.
8) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Michelle Yeoh + Chow Yun-Fat + some of the best Kung Fu action ever filmed = one great film. Director Ang Lee redeems himself from tapping Jewel to act in a film (she starred in his last project, Ride With the Devil), returning to the exquisite form that made The Ice Storm such a brilliant work. Hopefully the Oscar buzz will grow for this thrilling flick.
7) Erin Brockovich
I’ve never been a Julia Roberts fan (except for her sexual tension-filled appearances on Letterman). But I am a fan of director Steven Sondenburgh. He’s been on a roll the past three years, with two great action-noir films under his belt (1998’s Out of Sight and last year’s The Limey) propelling him back up to the status he had after Sex, Lies and Videotape. This time Sondenburgh brings out a strong performance from his star, who doesn’t coast through on her charm. Look for a few Oscar nominations for this film.
6) Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
I can probably sum up why I like this movie in one line: An aging Italian gangster raps along to a Public Enemy song. That’s just one of the many odd treasures in this Jim Jarmusch film. Forrest Whitaker’s understated performance as “Ghost Dog” makes the somewhat unlikely premise of the film (as a samurai indebted to a gangster) believable. It also features an amazing score by Wu Tang Clan producer RZA.
5) The Tao of Steve
The Tao of Steve is your typical indie film romantic comedy—that is, lots of talking with little action. But what raises it above the pack is the performance of Donal Logue as Dex, the overweight and lazy ladies man. He almost makes me believe that the Tao of Steve—be desireless, be excellent, be gone—is worth trying out. Almost.
4) High Fidelity
John Cusack + a movie about girl trouble + a record store setting = one highly entertaining ride. It’s not as good as the book (it loses a bit by moving the setting from London to Chicago), but Jack Black’s performance as the most obnoxious record store clerk ever is worth the price of admission alone.
3) Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s latest presents a very sanitized version of the life of a band on the road in the seventies, based upon his own experiences as a Rolling Stone reporter. That doesn’t distract from the strong performances from Kate Hudson (a knockout as the lead groupie) and newcomer Patrick Fugit. Unfortunately, not enough people seemed to care, which is a shame. How could anyone miss a film from the guy who wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything?
A low budget film made in the U.K. in 1998 finally sees the light of day two years later in the U.S. My question is, what took so damn long? This story about a frustrated novelist who takes a job at a casino to find material for a book is fascinating from the get-go. Clive Owen is perfect as the novelist who gets wrapped up in all sorts of intrigue. I never heard of director Mike Hodges (who did the original Get Carter, which Sly Stallone butchered this year) before Croupier, but his is the kind of talent that most Hollywood directors would sell their Lexus for.
1) Wonder Boys
I never thought I’d like Michael Douglas in any film after Wall Street. But his performance as “Grady Tripp” was a huge surprise. Douglas truly becomes his character—a pot smoking crusty middle-aged professor who still hasn’t grown up. For all of his legal problems, Robert Downey Jr. proves that he still has plenty of acting in his future (if he can stay out of jail), and even Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek shows she can act, and isn’t just another pretty TV face. Wonder Boys is a rare feat in today’s Hollywood—an intelligent, quirky and immensely enjoyable film.
Eye of the Beholder
The lesson that I learned from this confusing mess of a film: Never, ever see anything with k.d. lang. Ewan McGregor stars as an agent of some kind (lang is his, well, his telephone operator, as far as I can tell) who obsesses over the murderous Ashley Judd. I’ve seen directions on assembling a child’s toy that were easier to understand.
I have never walked out of a film because it was bad. I’ll get my nine dollars and fifty cents of suffering in before beating a hasty retreat. I walked out of The Cell. Jennifer Lopez’s acting is so bad it makes Puff Daddy’s singing seem positively operatic, while Vince Vaughan is looking like he’s waiting for another check to come in from Swingers. The Cell proves that good video directors (in this case, Tarsem, who did R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”) don’t always make good film directors.
This year’s list took 10 rides on the F Train, 1 Ride on the A Train, 1 ride on Amtrak, 6 liters of Diet Coke, 4 cans of Diet Coke, 2 16 oz. bottle of Diet Coke, 9 pieces of sugarless peppermint Bubble Yum, 1 banana, 1 strawberry yogurt, 2 granny smith apples, half a chicken chimichunga, 1 meatball sub, 1 corn muffin, 1 Rolling Rock, 1 Venti Iced Chai Latte and 11 Pearl Jam live albums to complete it. That’s not that bad compared to last year.
The section to thank people without whom
Thanks to Stacy, for the watchful copy eyes; and Pete, for lunchtime.
Inside thanks to: Doke, Stove, Squire, Spool 32, “there’s a truth in every lie,” “Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuke,” “I think they’re swingers,” “where to?” the Utica Cluster and the legacy.
Things that made this year bearable: Batman Beyond, the dedication of “Top Heavy,” thanks inside of an album, hugs to calm me down, 12th Street at 5:30 AM, Office Space on DVD, more Undressed marathons on MTV, the Iced Chai Latte, “Change of Heart,” Virgil’s, The Wishbones and Joe College, Waffle House, Sibera on a Wednesday night and 2200 miles in a Taurus.
Thank you for reading. And yes, that’s a real fried chicken head.