To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long strange year it’s been in the world of music. When number-one albums in this year range from a reggae/dancehall star people thought was washed up (Shaggy) to a compilation of American patriotic tunes, God Bless America, featuring a Canadian (Celine Dion) singing the title track, things are not normal.
Shaggy, the two-hit wonder of the 90s (“Boombastic” and “Oh Carolina”) surprised everyone in the music world by scoring two big hits from his album Hotshot. “It Wasn’t Me” and the remake of “Angel in the Morning”—the song Juice Newton made a hit in the 80s—just called “Angel” seemed to be inescapable in the first six months of the year. I knew that Shaggy was a bit overexposed when I saw a woman in her 50s singing along to “It Wasn’t Me” at my local supermarket. So what’s up next—a rap version of “Queen of Hearts?” Wait, I think someone may have already done that.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was the popularity of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack. This infinitely enjoyable high quality compilation of traditional and bluegrass tunes has sold almost three-million copies without any airplay to speak of, far outshining the box office returns of the George Clooney film. Just like the surprise success of the Cuban all-star collection Buena Vista Social Club, it’s a disc that has spread through word of mouth (and NPR stations) across the country. The success of this album has already inspired rip-off look-alike bluegrass compilations, such as O Sister, Where Is Thou Art Supplies?, O Uncle, Art Thou Where I Think Thou Be? and O Wife, Are Thou Thy Mother And Also Thy Cousin At Thou Same Time?
2001 was a year of big change for one of my all-time favorite bands, Wilco. In January, the drummer Ken Coomer was booted. In August, the guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett left Wilco, and Wilco left their label of six years, Reprise. Over the years Reprise, and its sister label Warner Bros., had a reputation over the years as labels where critically prestigious acts (such as Neil Young and R.E.M.) are encouraged to grow. But when Wilco presented their new album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, to a label bigwig, he rejected it. Various rumors have circulated that the label exec thought every song was a piece of shit and that he didn’t “understand” it. An executive that disagreed with the decision said that Wilco leaving the label was like losing Radiohead before OK Computer was released. Advance copies of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were leaked and popped up all over the Internet in late summer, and while it’s no OK Computer, it’s another leap forward for Wilco. The disc definitely secured a spot on next year’s list when it’s officially released next year. (And in a fitting postscript, that label exec was fired this fall.)
So what else was in this year? Rehab!!! That time-honored tradition came back with a vengeance in the music industry:
First we had the “rebel” Backstreet Boy, A.J. McLean, check in during their tour, just in time to increase their profile before the next ’N Sync album was released. On MTV’s American Bandstand successor, Total Request Live, the Boys spoke with Dick Clark, umm, I mean Carson Daly about A.J.’s rehab stint. The teenage girls cried and cried as if they had learned the Boys don’t actually sing the backing vocals at their concerts.
Metallica used to jokingly call themselves Alcoholica. No longer, I would assume, since singer-guitarist James Hetfield did the rehab thing. First no drinking for Tommy Lee, and now this? Will the youth of today only have Kid Rock to count on as the rock ‘n’ roll party animal? God, give me a beer…
Mariah Carey’s breakdown and subsequent check-in to a mental hospital provided so much comic fodder I figure you, dear reader, have probably already thought of your own funny joke. But you haven’t seen funny until you’ve seen Carey’s star turn in Glitter. Her acting makes me think Elvis should have been an Oscar winner for his emotional portrayal of “Lucky Jackson” in Viva Las Vegas. After watching Glitter, I wanted to check into rehab myself.
The three major post-September 11th benefit concerts showed of the best and the worst of the music world:
The Concert for New York City contained a couple of good performances (Adam Sandler’s Operaman being the highlight), and a tribute to the fallen policemen and firemen was a good idea. But letting five-thousand of these people get drunk in one place and giving them microphones is not such a good idea, unless you have a Royal Irish Ass. (I partially do.)
The United We Stand show in Washington, D.C. ran more than four hours over schedule—and included Michael Jackson at the end, leading an all-star finale. I thought at the end of the night, “Those people in D.C. have already gone through so much—isn’t this like adding a pound of salt to an open wound?”
America: A Tribute to Heroes was a tasteful, well-produced, and diverse event that struck the perfect tone. I didn’t see it initially, but did hear it on the radio at the start of my vacation in Austin, Texas. (By the way, a great city to check out.) Eddie Vedder’s moving performance of “The Long Road” immediately brought back memories of seeing Pearl Jam in Virginia Beach in August 2000. It was their first show since the tragedy in Roskilde, Denmark, where eight fans were killed during the band’s performance. Pearl Jam started that show with “The Long Road,” and in both cases the lyric “I wished for so long/How I wished for you today” never seemed more appropriate.
A few random thoughts:
Limp Bizkit plans to hold an audition tour to find a new guitarist, as their original guitarist, Wes Borland woke up one morning and realized, “Holy shit, I’m in a band with Fred Durst,” and quickly regained his senses. If I knew how to play guitar well enough to get on stage, I could use the guitar as a weapon, and then I could save a lot ears from a lot of pain.
Afroman, meet your new touring partners, Young MC and Tone Loc.
From now on, I’m going to introduce myself at parties as “S to the IZZ-TE, V to the IZZ-E.”
Alien Ant Farm, meet your new touring partner, Orgy.
2001 also brought pain and sorrow to my beloved city. September 12th was the first day at any job I’ve had since I was 12 that I didn’t listen to any music at all because nothing could possibly sound good. Songs that seemed completely innocuous up until the 10th changed meaning pretty quickly. “Bodies” by the Dallas hard rock band Drowning Pool with the chorus “Let the bodies hit the floor” was dropped like an anthrax-tainted letter by many radio stations. System of a Down’s single “Chop Suey,” contains the lines “self-righteous suicide/I cry/When angels deserve to die,” and some stations wisely choose to pull back on playing it for a few weeks. SOAD (as we hip acronym-using writers like to call them) is a group of politically minded Armenian-Americans who aren’t afraid to speak their minds about various topics. On September 13th singer Serj Tankian posted a lengthy note on with his thoughts on the attack. At my “real” job, we ran excerpts of the note, parts of which could be considered very controversial. The next day the note was yanked off the website, so we ran a story about how it was gone and highlighted more passages from the text.
The following Monday, I received a phone call from a promotion bozo at their label, screaming that we had taken Tankian’s words out of context. The more I tried to calm this rat down, the hotter he got, accusing me of practicing “yellow journalism,” and that I had slandered the band and ruined their career. He finally threatened to sue me and claimed when he was done he would own the company I work for. This made me chuckle because a) I have never written a story with my own urine, b) no court would say we slandered this guy, and c) we’re owned by one of the biggest media corporations in the world, and it would take billions of dollars to buy the company. Ah, now that’s a Monday.
I thought the problem would go away after this promotion weasel called me back, with a much cooler head, and to make sure we had got Tankian’s new “kissing the ass of the U.S. statement.” The promotion rodent, of course, blamed our story for causing five stations to drop the record, never once thinking the lyrics of the track might be the reason. Then two days later Howard Stern read the story on his show. So, no surprise here, the next day Tankian appeared on Stern, trying to explain what he had written (and not doing a good job of it, I might add). I swear, I could actually hear him squirming inside his shirt over the phone line.
I would have let this whole thing go and not have mentioned it in this year’s list until I received a fax from SOAD’s lawyer. The fax basically said, “We could sue you, but we think it’s best to let it drop, but don’t do anything like this again.” The fax—which I now refer to as the “self-righteous lawyer’s fax”—also claimed Tankian’s life was threatened because of the story we wrote. Again, they missed the point: It was the ill-timed things he wrote, not what we reported on, that caused people to be angry with SOAD. It took a great deal of self-control to not fax the lawyer a drawing of my middle finger. It’s unfortunate all of this happened, because I liked SOAD, but it’s hard to like a band when their lawyer sends you a pompous letter, just so they can feel all big and mighty. After all of this, I feel compelled to ignite the flames any way I can, so I encourage you to put this web address in your browser [http://www.angelfire.com/ok3/soad/speech.html#wtc] and read Tankian’s statement for yourself. By the way, the promotion coyote got booted from the label about six weeks later, and I drank a bottle of beer that weekend in honor of his unemployed, self-righteous ass.
Before September 11th, New York had already a dose of pain and sorrow by losing Joey Ramone. I told someone once that I didn’t feel like a full New Yorker until I saw that tall, lanky, leather jacket-wearing long-haired guy on the street in the East Village. The night of his passing I went to one of my favorite hangouts and played every song on Ramones Mania in a row, and that didn’t even put a dent in the void this city picked up that day in April. As I write this, I’m listening to Ramone’s first solo single, a cover of “What a Wonderful World,” via his website, just a couple days after the death of another icon, George Harrison. Jesus, what a fucking year. No wonder why my drinking has steadily gotten further and further out of control. As a matter of fact, Im drunhk right noow…
In summation…well, there is no summation for this year that felt long enough to be two. If I had to give title this year, I’d call it The Year of Weezer. Rivers Cuomo and company came back and delivered a hook-fest of a disc, they actually toured and made me feel happy when I listened to them. And I guess that was good enough for me this year.
20) Macy Gray - The Id (Epic)
Macy Gray seemed to be someone I could file away until I needed to come up with a mix of one-hit wonders of the 00s. You could try to escape “I Try,” but it was unlikely that you’d be successful, and that kind of overexposure usually spells certain doom. But Gray somehow came back with a second album that far outshines On How Life Is. I looked up “id” in my Funk and Wagnels (and you know how painful that can be ladies and gentlemen), and the definition says it’s “the part of the psyche that is the source of instinctual impulses and demand for satisfaction.” And damn, does Gray ever demand satisfaction on “Gimme All Your Lovin or I Will Kill You.” A line such as “It’s amazing what a gun to the head can do/My baby loves me now as hard as he can” would cause a controversy from day one if a male rapper uttered it, but somehow Gray gets away with it. The Id is a sprawling mess—the kind of mess that your bedroom is in after a night of rough sex where the clothes are all over the place, the lamp is on the floor, and it smells like an unholy mix of you and someone else. Gray’s one of a kind personality (this is a woman who didn’t bat an eye when a Wayans Brother started talking about her bush at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards) and unmistakable voice hold this disc together when by all rights it shouldn’t work. Oh, and it also has a song that should be a big as hit as “I Try,” “Sweet Baby.” Alas, it wasn’t to be—sorry, Macy. Best Tracks: “Sweet Baby,” “”Boo,” “Sexual Revolution”
19) R.E.M. - Reveal (Warner Bros.)
A lot of people I know have given up on R.E.M. offering them anything new musically. That’s unfortunate because this second album of the post-Bill Berry era is yet another fine work from one of America’s best bands of the past twenty years. Reveal isn’t as surprising (or as good) as 1998’s Up, but that doesn’t stop Michael Stipe from delivering vocal performances on “I’ve Been High” and “I’ll Take the Rain” that are perhaps the best in his career. The expanded five-piece band (Peter Buck and Mike Mills with drummer Joey Waronker and multi-instrumentalists Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow) clicks like they’ve played together for 20 years, not two, on tracks like “The Lifting” and “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star).” The single “Imitation of Life” sounds like Buck said to himself, “You know, I think I want to play my guitar like I did 20 years ago just to prove I can do that whenever I want.” Best Tracks: “The Lifting,” “I’ll Take the Rain,” “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)”
18) Graham Parker - Deepcut to Nowhere (Razor & Tie)
Graham Parker has garnered the reputation for writing some pretty bitter songs over his 25-year career, and Deepcut to Nowhere certainly has its share. “I’ll Never Play Jacksonville Again” may be the meanest song committed to CD about shoddy treatment by concert promoters and an uncaring audience. With titles like “Syphilis & Religion” and “It Takes a Village Idiot,” you know you’re not going to be in the land of milk and cookies. What makes Deepcut to Nowhere one of Parker’s finest albums in years is that he balances those bitter, insightful tracks with beautiful, insightful love songs like “Depend on Me” and a witty look at love in “Tough on Clothes.” Hey, where exactly is the land of milk and cookies? Best Tracks: “I’ll Never Play Jacksonville Again,” “Depend on Me,” “Tough On Clothes,”
17) They Might Be Giants - Mink Car (Restless)
Five years. Yes, five years have passed since They Might Be Giants released a proper studio album. We’re probably lucky that it didn’t take even longer—doing music for five different TV shows, a theme for a movie, an MP3 album and a couple of MP3 EP’s is bound to suck up anyone’s free-time. Mink Car has some of the tracks from the MP3 ventures, but most of them have been re-recorded. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the tender love ballad “Another First Kiss.” This song appeared on the Giants live album Severe Tire Damage in 1998, but it was three times the tempo and had one-half the feeling. This time, doing other projects certainly helped The Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh) expand their horizons, because there’s another sweet ballad (“Mink Car”), a techno-disco song (“Man, It’s So Loud in Here”), and an odd, yet inspired collaboration with former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty (“Mr. Excitement”). Let’s hope it’s not another five years until we can enjoy Brooklyn’s finest duo. Best Tracks: “Another First Kiss,” “Cyclops Rock,” “Mink Car”
16) Bill Janovitz - Up Here (Spin Art)
Bill Janovitz has been writing classic American songs for almost 15 years as a member of Boston’s Buffalo Tom. On his second solo album he comes up with at least five more classic songs, tales of people just like you and me, dealing with life’s small and big problems, just wanting to make it through another week so we can spend time with our loved ones. Okay, okay, I know I’m getting a little sappy here, but Janovitz’s lyrics and voice always have this power over me. Up Here’s acoustic format brings both of those tools to the forefront. A great album to drop into the disc player just after you’ve woken up on a weekend morning. Best Tracks: “Atlantic,” “Long Island,” “Minneapolis”
15) Jay Farrar - Sebastopol (Artemis)
Jay Farrar seems to be at his best when he starts a new project. The first Uncle Tupelo album, No Depression, is widely considered their best (and started a movement and became the title of a magazine). After he split with Jeff Tweedy, Farrar started Son Volt. Their debut album Trace was one of the best of that year. Now that Son Volt is pretty much done, Farrar decided to record his first solo album, and again, it’s one of the best of the year. What is so surprising about Sebastopol is that Farrar actually ventures outside his usual “alt-country” area that he’s mined so much the past decade. His lyrical focus on freedom, especially while driving (“Feel Free”), has remained, but this time around, the pedal steel guitars are replaced by mellotron and other keyboards. This isn’t a major breakthrough like Wilco’s Sumnmerteeth, but it’s a good start. Best Tracks: “Feel Free,” “Feedkill Chain,” “Voodoo Candle”
14) The Cash Brothers - How Was Tomorrow (Zoe/Rounder)
I first encountered the music of The Cash Brothers when they opened up for The Autumn Defense, the side project of Wilco bassist John Stirratt earlier this year. I’m about as big a fan of opening acts as I am of the four-hour Super Bowl pre-game show. I want the rock I came for, not some band that’s going to make me regret showing up early and leave me complaining two hours later that my feet and back hurt. Andrew and Peter Cash made me happy that I showed up early that night. The golden harmonies and country-tinged tunes they played that night made me go and get How Was Tomorrow, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. The easy way out would be to call them the Canadian Jayhawks. And I’ll take it. Best Tracks: “Nerve,” “Night Shift Guru,” “Nebraska”
13) The Autumn Defense - The Green Hour (Broadmoor)
Wilco bassist John Stirratt started work on a solo project five years ago, before Wilco released their second album, Being There. After various delays (and scrapping more than 30 songs) Stirratt's solo project mutated into The Autumn Defense. Their debut, The Green Hour, proves that Jeff Tweedy and now ex-guitarist Jay Bennett weren’t the only ones driving Wilco into a more power-pop direction. On the opener, "Long Forgotten Love," Stirratt's low-key vocal delivery meshes perfectly with combination of horns and pedal steel. The horns throughout the album (played by Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner and Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Jimbo Mathis) add an almost Belle and Sebastian-like feel to many of the tracks. "Revolutionary Mind" features lyrics by Woody Guthrie, but unlike the Mermaid Avenue albums, Stirratt creates a sound that seems transported from a hip New York, Guthrie-era lounge. The Green Hour is a must listen for any Wilco fan, and a perfect way to lead into the next Wilco album (which—news flash—will come out in April of next year). Best Tracks: “Full Five Paces,” “Long Forgotten Love,” “Revolutionary Mind”
12) Bare Jr. - Brainwasher (Immortal/Virgin)
Bare Jr. rocks—how could a band with an electric dulcimer player not rock? Track four on Brainwasher, “Why Do I Need a Job”, is an anthem that all of America should hear. Since the Reynolds Top 20 List doesn’t cover all of America, I’ll try to do the best that I can. Here is the first verse and chorus to “Why Do I Need a Job”:
“Why do I need a job/Why do I need a job
I feel so free, I got nowhere to be/So why so I need a job
I once worked for an old bastard/Who always pushed me to work faster
He made fun of me/Cause my hair was green/He tried to stick his hands into my jeans
My girlfriend is a stripper in Abilene/She likes me to stay home and watch TV
She pays for my food/She likes to be rude/She undresses her friends for me
So why do I need a job/Why do I need a job
I feel so free, I got nowhere to be/So why do I need a job”
Seriously, does it get any better than that? If the album were just that song, it still would have landed in the Top 20. Fortunately, the rest of the album is damn good too. Best Tracks: “Why Do I Need a Job,” “Kiss me (Or I Will Cry),” “Brainwasher”
11) Guided by Voices - Isolation Drills (TVT)
Guided by Voices leader Robert Pollard is one of the most prolific songwriters/performers of the past 15 years. Under the GBV name, as a solo performer or in collaboration with other musicians, this schoolteacher turned indie rock icon has released approximately 1,526 albums, EPs and singles. (I might be off by a couple hundred.) Most of these projects have been strictly lo-fi affairs. That’s why I like Isolation Drills so much—it’s a GBV album that doesn’t make me think the wax in my ears is robbing the disc of its fidelity. Producer Rob Schnapf (he worked on the last two ultra-fine Elliott Smith albums) makes Pollard’s songs and the playing of his stellar band come through crystal clear. The fact that I could hear the glorious pop hooks in “Glad Girls” and “Chasing Heather Crazy” makes me want to put away my Q-Tips for good. Best Tracks: “Glad Girls,” “Run Wild,” “Chasing Heather Crazy”
10) Lloyd Cole & the Negatives - Negatives (March Records)
Lloyd Cole hasn't released an album in the U.S. since 1995's Love Story, and to be brutally honest, has never released a solo album as good as his '80s work with the Commotions. The Negatives changes all of that. Cole's sharp lyrical wit and ear for a fine melody have returned with a vengeance. Songs like "Impossible Girl" and "Man on the Verge" stick in your head after just one listen. Cole gets as lighthearted as he has ever been on "What's Wrong With This Picture?" which is the standout track on an album filled with many highlights. This return to form must be due, in part, to Cole's work with a set band for the first time since the Commotions. The Negatives (the band) feature two musicians that have their own careers—guitarist Jill Sobule (of "I Kissed a Girl" fame) and bassist Dave Derby, leader of the late Boston band The Dambuilders and the current band Brilliantine. It seems obvious to these ears that working with two fine songwriters has helped Cole recapture that missing spark and turn a negative into a positive. (Get it? Ha ha!) Best Tracks: “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” “Impossible Girl,” “Negative Attitude”
9) The Minus 5 - Let the War Against Music Begin (Malt/Mammoth)
The Minus 5 is the loose collection of musicians headed up by Young Fresh Fellows mastermind Scott McCaughey. M5 started as a way for McCaughey to make records while YFF were inactive, but the line got blurred this year as this album and the Fellows Because We Hate You were sold as a double album. Any year where you get a double album from the McCaughey mind can’t be all that bad—but for our purposes we’ll count this release a two separate discs. On War McCaughey (whose money-making gig since 1994 has been with R.E.M.) is joined by an all-star roster that includes R.E.M’s Peter Buck, The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, Robyn Hitchcock, Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken and Los Lobos saxman Steve Berlin. Whew, that’s really an impressive list when you type it out. Anyways, all these musicians do their best to present McCaughey’s quirky and poppy songwriting in the best possible manner. In a better world (perhaps in some parallel universe) songs like “Got You” and “You Don’t Mean It” would be ruling the pop charts. Instead, they just rule many of my mix tapes of the past year. Best Tracks: “You Don’t Mean It,” “Your Day Will Come (Parts 1 & 2),” “A Thousand Years Away”
8) Radiohead - Amnesiac (Capitol)
Amnesiac is drawn from the same sessions that produced last year’s Kid A. Perhaps now I’m used to the new approach Radiohead took on these albums, as it didn’t take me 20 listens to actually like this disc. Maybe these songs are just, well, more like songs. “Knives Out” made me think I had accidentally slipped The Bends into my player. Or better yet, a Smiths tribute album. One track, “Morning Bell,” appears on both Kid A and Amnesiac, and the easy winner is the latter version. It’s one of the most beautiful ballads Radiohead has ever done. And there’s always something to be said for good sequencing—the worst song, “Life in a Glasshouse,” is at the end. Not surprisingly, it’s yet another time when Thom Yorke and friends believe horns are a good fit for their music. Ugh. I don’t think so. Best Tracks: “Knives Out,” “Morning Bell/Amnesiac,” “Pyramid Song”
7) Champale - Simple Days (Pitch-a-Tent Records)
Champale is the first band in the 12 years of these silly lists that actually live in the same town I do. Okay, I admit Brooklyn is a little bigger than a town. I do feel proud to live in the same borough as this collective of great musicians. Champale’s songs—written by singer-guitarist Mark Rizzo—touch upon many of the musical styles I hold near and dear to my heart. Country dirges, sweet Big Star-like pop songs, mid-tempo tunes that grasp a slice from the Burt Bacharach songbook, and slow ballads that build into a gorgeous wall of sound are all here. And most of these songs are seasoned with one of my favorite instruments, the vibraphone. Finally a hometown band I can get into without personally knowing all the members. Best Tracks: “Motel California,” “Hard to Be Easy,” “See You Around”
6) The Figgs - Badger (Hearbox)
At this point, should I even bother reviewing a Figgs album (or in this case, an EP) for the list? If you’ve been a faithful reader over the past five years, you know what I think. Perhaps I should run a contest to see who can come up with the perfect imitation of me praising another dose of power-pop that only gets better the more you pump up the volume on your car stereo. The winner, of course, would get a copy of Badger. Six tracks, each clocking in at three minutes or less—that’s perfect rock music, my friends. “The Trench” is a such a perfect pop song that bands like Train would give all of their nuts, and the nuts of their road crew, just to create a song that was half as good. Not that I’d want to witness that exchange, eeeeeew. Best Tracks: “The Trench,” “To Throw Us,” “With Pounding Hearts”
5) Young Fresh Fellows - Because We Hate You (Malt/Mammoth)
It’s been too damn long since a proper Young Fresh Fellows album hit these shores—eight years as a matter of fact. Sure, they’ve put out a couple of albums in Spain, appeared on a few compilations and released an EP in Japan during that time, but I missed being able to walk into a record store, see a card for YFF in a rack, and find an album there. These eight years have only increased my love for one of Seattle’s finest exports. Thankfully Because We Hate You doesn’t miss the mark, even if it is a bit different from past albums. I never thought I’d get a Fellows album that had, back to back, a song that sounds like a great Neil Young tribute (“Worthless”) next to a straight ahead punk rock track (“She’s a Book”). Scott McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchinson tour the country and release albums on an almost Boston-like pace now, but hopefully they’ll at least keep checking every few years. Best Tracks: “Barkey’s Spiritual Store,” “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite,” “Good Times Rock n’ Roll”
4) Old 97’s - Satellite Rides (Elektra)
Old 97’s have moved from being alt-country darlings to a major label pop-rock band over their past four albums. That ride has not always with the approval of the fans that want these Dallas boys to stay the same as they were back in early 90s—rooting tooting cowpoke rockers. Satellite Rides takes everything the 97’s have done so far and distilled it to its perfect essence. Singer-guitarist Rhett Miller’s usual bag of rejection songs go from late-era Replacements to solid country footing, and sometimes even within the same song (“Bird in a Cage”). The biggest shocker on the album is that Miller wrote two love songs that aren’t about rejection. One of them, the simple acoustic ballad “Question” (as in poppin’ the), is bound to be someone’s wedding song within a year, and almost makes marriage seem like a decent thing. (Please send your anthrax-laden letters of criticism to…) Satellite Rides didn’t fly off the shelves this year, but somehow it bought Old 97’s a chance to make yet another album on a major label budget. Sometimes, that’s the best news you can hope for with any band you like. Best Tracks: “Bird In a Cage,” “Question,” “King of All the World”
3) The Gravel Pit - Mass Avenue Freeze Out (Q Division)
I’ve seen The Gravel Pit many times, playing on the same bill as their friends The Figgs. Mass Avenue Freeze Out is their first album to capture the raw power and energy these four guys create on stage. The huge voice of Jed Parish, the big guitar tones of Lucky Jackson, the massive low end supplied by Ed Valauskas, and the thundering drums of Pete Caldes just explode out of the speakers on “The Ballad of the Gravel Pit,” immediately transporting me to a packed club where I bang my head, pump my fist and drink five Rolling Rocks. (Okay, 15 Rolling Rocks…) Parish is one of today’s smartest songwriters. He crafts inventive hooks and melodies and pairs them with lyrics that give the listener credit for having a decent amount of intelligence. Do me a favor and order this album from the website at the end of this sentence. Best Tracks: “The Ballad of the Gravel Pit,” “Loved One,” “Baby Gap”
2) Bob Dylan - “Love and Theft” (Columbia)
“And the winner is, Bob Dylan.” That is likely what you will hear when Album of the Year is announced at the Grammy Awards in February. “Love and Theft” will be tops on tons of critics lists, and the Recording Academy loves awarding older artists (especially if the Academy screwed up royally in the early part of the artist’s career). I’ll admit I was expecting this album to be truly bad because Dylan was producing it himself, and because he hasn’t put together two high quality albums back to back since 1975. I guess I should learn to not count him out, because “Love and Theft” is a tour de force through the history of the American songbook. In the press release announcing the album, Dylan said he considered it a “greatest hits album.” He wasn’t far off—jump blues, Chicago blues and Tin Pan Alley are among the styles he handles with ease—and that’s just within the first six songs. Two reasons why I think this album works so well: Dylan used his amazing touring band, and they have developed a psychic feel for what the man’s songs require. Second, Dylan has learned to use his voice perfectly. Sure it’s shot, but he now controls it like it’s just another instrument in his arsenal, using it to color each song any way he wants to. He’ll be using that instrument again next year, to give another acceptance speech. I am sure that somewhere Soy Bomb is getting limbered up. Best Tracks: “Honest With Me,” “Lonesome Day Blues,” “Mississippi”
1) Weezer - Weezer (Geffen/Interscope)
Oh, the joy of having Weezer back. Since the 1996 release of Pinkerton, Rivers Cuomo and company attained a cult following for the wacky and creepy relationship songs that dominated that commercially unsuccessful album. I must admit I never thought they would release another album. And I don’t think anyone could have predicted that their second self-titled album (known to fans as The Green Album) would become such a commercial success. It seems that the longer they were away, the more people loved them. The Green Album picks up where their first album left off, delivering one pop gem after another. Ten songs in 28 minutes just might be the perfect equation for musical greatness. When this album is done, I still want more, so I go right back to the beginning. One night at a bar I listened to it three times in a row, and driving back from Boston this summer I listened to it four times in a row. I think it’s impossible to get sick of an album designed this perfectly. As I wrote this paragraph, I listened to the whole disc, and I’m about to start it again. (I had to stop typing at some point to sing along and air drum, pardon me.) Best Tracks: “Glorious Day,” “Photograph,” “Hash Pipe”
1) System of a Down Wins Million-Dollar Lawsuit Against Music Journalist
2) Train Releases New Album, Drops from Uranus
3) Fred Durst, the Entrepreneur: Starts New Action Drink Line Called Haterade
4) Michael Jackson Releases Photo Book; Book Reviewers are Blinded Around North America
5) Jennifer Love Hewitt to Release Comeback Album; Claims She’s the Original “J.Lo”
6) Here Comes Flashdance, the Deluxe Edition
7) Boyz II Men All Check into Rehab, but No One Seems to Care
8) Celine Dion Returns from Retirement by Releasing an Electronica-Based Album Called A New Accent
9) Lifehouse Storms the Charts With “We’re Not Wimpy, We Rock!”
10) TNT Plans Another Tribute Show; Say Aah: A Night of Poison Includes Appearances by Moby, Nelly Furtado, Wyclef Jean, Bono and Warrant
20) Afroman - “Because I Got High” (Universal)
Thank goodness novelty songs are not dead. This is the best pot song since the last blunt joint from Snoop Dogg. I was going to write something else funny about Afroman, but then I got hungry for some reason.
19) Old 97’s - “King of All of the World” (Elektra)
Ah, the sound of joy at the beginning of a romance. Old 97’s take their twang and mix it with a dose of Cheap Trick and concoct a tasty mixture…wait, I must still have the munchies from number 20.
17) Blake Babies - “Nothing Really Happens” (Zoe/Rounder)
Many overlooked the reunion of this Juliana Hatfield-led trio, which is a shame. The album God Bless the Blake Babies brought me back to being on the air in college and dreaming of meeting Juliana Hatfield. “Nothing Really Happens” is a nice little guitar-pop song that captures the essence of child-like innocence.
16) Gorillaz - “Clint Eastwood” (Virgin)
I must admit I didn’t like this track at first—I think it was the smarmy quality of Blur frontman Damon Alburn’s vocals, like he was suggesting I could never have “sunshine in a bag.” Somehow I was won over eventually.
15) Stone Temple Pilots - “Days of the Week” (Atlantic)
As long as singer Scott Weiland can keep off the dope, these guys can keep writing catchy songs that continually prove they’ve come a long way from being labeled Pearl Jam rip-off artists.
12) Travis - “Sing” (Epic/Independiente)
The poor little banjo doesn’t get any respect. The bastard child of the guitar and the snare drum doesn’t even get the same exposure it used to in country music. Somehow Travis brought the banjo back in this atmospheric gem. Of course, lines like “For the love you bring/Won’t mean a thing/Unless you sing/Sing sing sing,” aren’t first class poetry, but the record sounds so damn good it doesn’t matter.
11) Alien Ant Farm - “Smooth Criminal” (Nu Noize/Dreamworks)
I like covers, I like collecting covers, but I usually never like them enough to put them on the singles list. But this ingenious take on the Michael Jackson 80s smash—and its sidesplitting video—provided me with hours of entertainment this year. Gosh, I hope Annie is okay though.
10) Minibar - “Holiday From Myself” (Universal)
How is it that bands from England sound more American at times than our own homegrown product? Minibar moved to California to record their debut Road Movies, and they found something in the water there that gave them a direct link to The Byrds and all the great country-rock bands.
9) Alicia Keys - “Fallin’” (J Records)
Ms. Keys should give half of her royalties from this number-one hit to Beethoven for that oh-so familiar classical piano lick. When people say, “kickin’ it old school,” I think they’re talking about the Stax feel of this tune, not that a guy wearing a powdered wig wrote the riff.
8) Blink 182 - “The Rock Show” (MCA)
I fell in love with the girl at the rock show—I think the first time was when I was 17. Damn, these guys know how to mine the high school experience for one great song after another.
7) Weezer - “Island in the Sun” (Geffen/Interscope)
Every song on the Green Album could be a single. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened, or I’d have no room for half of the songs on here. Monkeys anyone?
6) Doves - “Catch the Sun” (Astralwerks)
England’s Doves debut album Lost Souls was released in late 2000, and didn’t enter my radar in time to make last year’s list. It’s unfortunate because the entire album is a great example of a rock band using electronic enhancements to bring out the best in their songs. Even though “Catch the Sun” it’s good enough to land in the Top 10, it isn’t even close to being one of the best tracks on the album.
5) Ryan Adams - “New York, New York” (Lost Highway)
The ex-Whiskeytown leader has written about two things over his first two solo albums—living in New York and breaking up with girlfriend there. “New York, New York” fits that pattern to a “T.” But after 9/11, this song just took on a different meaning, especially with the video filmed on 9/7 from the Brooklyn promenade, looking right at the Twin Towers. The buildings are the only other character in the clip besides Adams. It’s a beautiful valentine to the city and its people.
4) Weezer - “Hash Pipe” (Geffen/Interscope)
“I got my ass wipe.” “I got my ass whip.” “I got my cool whip.” “I got fries and chips.” “I got Mick’s lips.” Who knows what the heck Rivers Cuomo is singing? I don’t, and I don’t really care.
3) Coldplay - “Trouble” (Nettwerk America/Capitol)
Everyone (well, almost everyone) has heard Coldplay’s American breakthrough, “Yellow.” That’s a decent song, but the third single from Parachutes is a beautiful piano-driven piece and the emotional center of the album. It stops me in my tracks and forces me to listen for four minutes and 30 seconds.
2) Incubus - “Wish You Were Here” (Immortal/Epic)
Pink Floyd this ain’t. These boys from California recorded their Morning View album at a beach house, pardon me (ha ha), a rented beach house. “Here” captures that great moment when you first step onto the beach in the morning and can smell and feel the sea in front of you. It’s the perfect musical postcard.
1) Guided By Voices - “Glad Girls” (TVT)
Here’s the best pot reference since, well, number 20. “Glad Girls/Only wanna get you high.” Repeat this about 30 times, pair it up with riff carved from the bed rock of, well, rock, and you’ve got a perfect-in-every-way single.
COMPILATIONS AND REISSUES
10) Buffalo Springfield - Box Set (Elektra Traditions/Rhino)
Yes! It’s a box set that raids Neil Young’s vaults! Oh, wait; it’s also got stuff from the other guys in this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group. Nuts. In any case, weeding through the sub par tracks by Steven Stills, Richie Furay and the other folks is worth it to get to the unreleased demos from Neil.
9) Hank Williams - Timeless (Lost Highway)
Tribute albums are always a dodgy prospect. Invariably the artists participating either have no right to tackle material much better than their own and make a carbon copy of the original song. Or they are talented artists don’t give a rat’s ass and throw together their track as if they’re sleepwalking. This tribute to the country legend looked doomed when I first opened it: Sheryl Crow? Lucinda Williams? Keb’ Mo? As I pressed play, Bob Dylan’s take on “I Can’t Get You Off My Mind” brushed away any worries I had. Dylan, Keith Richards, Tom Petty and Beck all treat Williams’s words and music lovingly, each adding their own particular spin. And Williams’ grandson, Hank the III, proves that the bloodline is strong with “I’m a Long Gone Daddy.”
8) Love - Forever Changes (Rhino/Elektra)
Love's Forever Changes has been hailed as a classic by critics since its release in 1967, and deservedly so. The Los Angeles quintet—lead by their offbeat singer-guitarist (turned convict) Arthur Lee—created an album that took the sound of the Summer of Love and turned it inside out. The marginally successful single "Alone Again Or" mixed a Latin feel (courtesy of a very Herb Alpert-like trumpet part) with images of sunny-hippie-free love painted against the narrator's loneliness. "A House Is Not a Motel" starts out in a place where "the streets are paved with gold" but ends up where "the bells from the school of war will be ringing." Both are a slap in the face of the peace and love ideals, and that's only the first two songs. Unfortunately, previous reissues have been very sub par. So leave it up to Rhino—the best reissue label ever—to finally give this album its due.
7) Richard Thompson - Action Packed-The Best of the Capitol Years (Capitol)
The last decade of one of the most talented singer-songwriter-guitarists of the past 30 years is placed under the microscope on this disc. And guess what? The man made some really tremendous songs during that time. “I Feel So Good,” “I Can’t Wake Up to Save My Life” and “Turning of the Tide” are probably hits in some parallel universe. The Richard Thompson that lives there makes tons of money for the great music he’s produced, and has inspired musicians to invest time in practicing the guitar and writing lyrics that appeal to people with more than a fifth grade education.
6) America: A Tribute to Heroes (Interscope)
Great performances by Bruce Springsteen, U2, Neil Young, Eddie Vedder and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on the same album? And all the proceeds go to a September 11th charity? How could anyone not like this? Well, I suppose the Enrique Iglesias overblown track “Hero” might make anyone wary of spending their hard earned bucks for a double disc. And the Limp Bizkit reworking of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” makes me grab for the CD player remote like it was a big slab of ribs. But in the end, it’s the cause that counts.
5) Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On? Deluxe Edition (Motown)
One of the top three albums Motown ever released shines in this expanded two disc reissue. Two different mixes of the album, an entire live performance of the album, a live medley of Gaye’s 60s hits, and other odds and ends add up to a package that defines the term deluxe.
4) O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack (Lost Highway)
I get the feeling this could be a big Christmas seller—it’s an album that somehow has appealed to everyone ages 25 to 75. The banjo hasn’t gotten this much exposure since that toothless kid in Deliverance. And somehow the album ended up being named Album of the Year by the Country Music Association, which I thought turned it’s back on true country music when Garth Brooks put his cowboy hat on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it up for Album of the Year at the Grammys too. It’s amazing that top-notch performances and great songs can be a commercial success. Call me the man of constant amazement.
3) Barenaked Ladies - Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits (1991-2001) (Reprise)
As far as hits albums go, Disc One may be one of the best ever. 15 outstanding, witty pop gems, two rarities and two new songs make one perfect album. It’s certain to be a staple in cars for years to come.
2) Green Day - International Superhits (Reprise)
You know what, I could play Mad-Libs here: As far as hits albums go, International Superhits may be one of the best ever. 19 outstanding pop-punk gems and two new songs make one perfect album. It’s certain to be a staple in cars for years to come. Ha, this list-writing thing isn’t that hard.
1) The Soft Boys - Underwater Moonlight (Matador)
The Soft Boys were the group that Robyn Hitchcock (remember “Balloon Man?”) fronted in the late ’70s to early ’80s. Underwater Moonlight was the best album of the group’s brief career, and was reissued in fine fashion about ten years ago by one of the great reissue labels, Rykodisc. This edition is a deluxe double-disc of delights (whoa, that’s hard to say) and includes nine outtakes from the album sessions and a disc full of the group’s rehearsals. Moonlight is an outstanding mix of pure mid-60s Byrds-type pop (“The Queen of Eyes”), weird psychedelic jams (“Positive Vibrations,” “You’ll Have to Go Sideways”) and songs that are just a bit creepy (“I Got the Hots,” “Insanely Jealous”). I had a cassette of this album that I sadly neglected over the years—this reissue reminded me of what I had been missing.
5) Radiohead - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 8/7
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Radiohead at venues of various sizes throughout their career. First was in a club of 300 people, the second was in a hall of 3000 people and the third was at Radio City Music Hall, which holds about 6500. That show was somewhat disappointing, because frontman Thom Yorke seemed to not care about…anything. He certainly has shaken out of that funk now, as he grinned, smiled and laughed his way through one of the best arena shows I’ve seen in years. Crisp sound, video screens that added another dimension to the performance, and inventive reworkings of tunes from Kid A and Insomniac added up to a ticket well worth 40 bucks.
4) The Figgs - Knitting Factory, New York, NY 4/20
Drinking Makes a Show Even Better, Part One: I had the opportunity to take my friend Joe to see these guys on his 32nd birthday. We poured on the booze before the show, and were primed up for a loud rock show. The Figgs delivered, whipping the crowd up into such a frenzy that someone’s glasses went flying five feet up in the air, and landed in the middle of bunch of pogoing, dancing people. Miraculously, the specs survived without a scratch, and I woke up without a hangover.
3) Young Fresh Fellows - Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ 3/22
A question: Have you ever been a huge fan of a band for a long time (say 12 years) but never had the chance to see them perform, and once you did it was even better than you could have hoped for? If so, then you’ll know exactly how I felt when Young Fresh Fellows hit the stage that March night in Hoboken. Imagine now how you’d feel if that band opened up with your favorite song—I almost jumped out of my skin when the Fellows opened with the great love tale “No One Really Knows.” If I could bottle how I felt during the four minutes of that song and sell it, it would be more popular than ecstasy.
2) The Gentlemen - Brownies, New York, NY 7/14
Drinking Makes a Show Even Better, Part Two: Point of disclosure—I was at a party drinking with this band before the show. I’m convinced that there was something in the sangria that night, as The Gentlemen put on a display of pure rock intensity that I don’t think I’ve ever before witnessed. This band is great, but on this night they tapped into some mythic higher power. When someone says they’ve had a religious experience, I now know what they’re talking about.
I saw the Fellows three times this year—the first was in Hoboken, the second was at Irving Plaza in Manhattan. These shows inspired me to rent a car and drive up to my old stomping grounds for this show. It was my best decision of 2001. This two hour-plus gig had me completely drained by the end. The highlights are too numerous to mention, but some that come to mind are the covers of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” (with opener John Wesley Harding after someone yelled that Mr. Zimmerman had won the Oscar) and “Hang On Sloopy,” and the first time I saw them do my second favorite Fellows tune, “Hillbilly Drummer Girl.”
DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR
The Gravel Pit
It’s seems odd to say the Pit are a discovery this year, as I’d seen them numerous times over the past three years. But I finally picked up their catalog and realized they deliver some of the most intelligent power-pop today. I spun 1996’s The Gravel Pit Manifesto and 1999’s Silver Gorilla more than any other older albums this year. Here’s yet another band that I have grown to love, which likely dooms them to nothing but frustration for the rest of their career. Sorry guys.
777-Film Is My Friend
If you thought 2001 was a sub par year for music, take a look at the film world. The stink coming out of multiplexes across the nation smelled worse than Marlon Brando after being left out in the sun too long. Coming up with ten good films out of the 45 I saw was quite difficult—at one point Planet of the Apes was in the top five of this list. Thankfully fall came and brought along the usual amount of quality flicks.
Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, Traffic) is my favorite director right now. No one has been so consistent for so long in making films that look so good. Ocean’s 11 is not the second coming of Citizen Kane, but it’s obvious throughout watching the film that this stellar cast had a great time making it and that enthusiasm is hard to ignore. Watching Brad Pitt eat something in almost every scene is a gag worth the price of admission, as is the funny placing of Julia Roberts’ name in the end credits.
Johnny Depp plays an investigator with an accent. Wait, are you sure this isn’t Sleepy Hollow? Jack the Ripper is really, really, really scary in this excellent semi-fictional retelling of the legend of England’s mass murderer. Depp is again in top form, but please, Hollywood producers and directors, I beseech you—don’t let Heather Graham act in a film that requires her to have an accent. As a matter of fact, perhaps it would be better if she just stood around and didn’t speak in any film.
This bad-cop-screws-with-good-rookie-cop story would have been just like any generic Hollywood action film except for two words: Denzel Washington. He gives an incredible multi-layered performance as a corrupt narcotics cop that should garner him another Oscar nod. The other reason to see this film: Dr. Dre (yes, of The Chronic fame) as a cop. Now talk about fiction.
Director/writer Wes Anderson and actor/writer Owen Wilson follow-up Rushmore with a more mature and refined film about one messed up family. Anderson has a knack for bringing greatness out of his actors (Bill Murray should have at least been nominated for an Academy Award for Rushmore), and here Gene Hackman and Angelica Huston show why they are universally respected. Luke Wilson gives a very understated performance as a former tennis pro that implodes on the court for a very disturbing reason. Alas, Ben Stiller doesn’t have the acting chops of the rest of the cast, so his scenes sort of drag the film down. I believe that The Royal Tenenbaums is very similar to Rushmore in one aspect—it’s a film that will likely get better and better with each viewing
The heist film genre gets a boost from the snarling, chew-up-and-spit-out-the-scenery-and-your-fellow-actors performance by Ben Kingsley in this English flick. Gandhi he ain’t in this one—but Kingsley is just as compelling playing the most evil-driven of crooks as he was in portraying the hero of India. It would be a crime if he didn’t get another Oscar nomination for his work in this role.
5) Legally Blonde
Why do I like this film so much? Reese Witherspoon, Reese Witherspoon, Reese Witherspoon. She makes Legally Blonde succeed when it shouldn’t have any right to. This is an extremely likeable comedy in which Witherspoon shows off the great comedic side she first displayed in Election. I’m not sure any other actress could have lifted such clichéd material up this high.
The master of the warped, David Lynch, leaves the simple storytelling of The Straight Story behind and creates a masterpiece that is just…a mindfuck. I’m not even sure how to describe what happens in the film, because I’m still not sure what happens. Mulholland Drive started as a TV pilot that was just as intriguing as Twin Peaks, but Lynch somehow twisted it into something that would be much too disturbing for any network. See it once, and you’ll need to see it again.
It’s good to see the Coen Brothers rebound after the weak O Brother Where Art Thou to deliver yet another tasty slice of film noir. The Man Who Wasn’t There is Billy Bob Thornton’s finest moment since Sling Blade (mmm-hmmm). His portrayal of the barber Ed Crane is one of understated beauty—it’s rare for a character to seem so compelling when they’re doing virtually nothing on screen. Shot in black and white, it’s also the best looking film of the year.
I must give props to my co-worker Bill, for if he didn’t rave about this hit comedy from France, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Audrey Tatou plays the title character, a woman who discovers an old box of childhood trinkets in her apartment. When she finds the owner, the joy she brings to him sets her off to improve the lives of those around her. Tatou is so cute and perky in this film, you want to propose and take her to home to mom. A magical film that will melt away anyone’s rough exterior in mere minutes.
Like Mulholland Drive, Memento is a complete mindfuck, but for different reasons. Guy Pierce (L.A. Confidential) plays a man who can’t make any new memories since his wife was killed, and he tattoos clues to her killer’s identity on his body so he won’t forget. Having the film run backwards in time so the audience is experiencing the events just like Pierce’s character was a stroke of genius on the part of director Christopher Nolan. I bought the DVD just so I could watch the movie in the “correct” order, and I was still impressed how a little revenge film could be so damn good.
This year’s list took eight pieces of peppermint Bubble Yum, four pitchers of iced tea, one peanut butter bar, one container of egg noodles, one bowl of spaghetti, one chicken cutlet sandwich, one bag of Fritos, one bag of Rold Gold Snack Mix, one box of graham crackers, four Pop Tarts, four 20 oz bottles and three cans of Diet Coke, two plates of lasagna, and 12 trips on the F train. That’s not a whole heck of a lot to make this list.
The section to thank people without whom...
Thanks to: Stacy for making this coherent and to Scott for the beautiful photo below.
Inside thanks: M-S-C, Rob Zombie, Frankenstein, Steve Trachsel, the statened height, Office Space, Benny Mardones, Ted Baxter, Leonard, Marvin, Liza Minelli, knob, Haterade, Peaches and Herb, asphalt brings, “Hug Me,” and The Monkey Song album.
Things that made this year better: Mix tapes at Loki, the pitcher of iced tea, Saturday afternoons at Virgil’s, “Fallin” in a car, The Salt Lick, The Showdown, the Leonid shower, 4:00 am with a guitar at Johnny Mack’s and bowling.