Music of the Year
Things always go in cycles, and that old saying is perhaps no more true than when it comes to music. Fortunately, in 2002, the wheel of fortune seemed to be coming back around to a hopeful point on music's evolution. Flash back to 1977-78. That was a time when a bunch of creative, rebellious, and distinctive new acts (think The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Talking Heads) breathed new life back into the rotting carcass of pop music that had been soiled by disco and a wave of sound-alike corporate rock bands (think REO Speedwagon, Styx, Journey, or Foreigner).
As 2002 dawned, rock was exhibiting a familiar stench. The industry had been overrun with lightweight teen pop, forgettable rap-rock, and extreme metal bands and pop-punk bands, which were little more than pale imitations of Green Day.
But as spring turned to summer, a scent of rebellion had emerged. The White Stripes and The Strokes-two bands that arrived the previous fall-were getting major notice. Then along came The Hives and The Vines, two gutsy, vibrant, and original sounding bands that also seemed plenty capable of blowing the cobwebs off of rock and roll. Time will tell if these distinctly different bands trigger the kind of full-blown revival rock experienced during the heady days of the original punk movement, or even to a lesser extent in the early 90s with Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But the mere fact that there were new bands to be excited about-not to mention revivals from several veteran acts (note my top-rated CD)-makes 2002 one of the better years in recent memory for music. Here are my choices for the year's top 10 CDs.
1) Bruce Springsteen The Rising-The year saw plenty of artists confront the issue of 9/11, but no one explored the aftermath of the attacks with the poignancy, emotional power, and musical strength and beauty of Springsteen's The Rising. After a decade of mildly disappointing music, this re-established "The Boss" as the songwriter who has an uncanny ability to express the emotions and concerns of the common man.
2) The Hives Veni Vidi Vicious-Visions of 1977-era Clash, Ramones, and MC-5 spring to mind when this Swedish import unleashes their blast of blitzkrieg punk. Vicious is brash, rebellious, catchy, cool-and best of all, more original sounding than anything the Green Day wanna-bes and Epitaph Records-styled punkers have come up with over the past decade.
3) Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-Wilco became the poster boys for everything that's wrong with major label record companies when this CD was rejected by their former label, Reprise Records. While it may be Wilco's least accessible CD, it is also the band's most evocative effort. Yankee is full of genre-defying songs with vivid moods and sometimes thorny, sometimes deceptively strong melodies that find frontman Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates fracturing the boundaries of Wilco's earlier rootsy pop sound.
4) N.E.R.D. In Search Of-Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo-the creative engines behind N.E.R.D.-may be better known as the hip hop producers, The Neptunes. But, In Search Of suggests that their songwriting talent is as strong as their skills as producers and beatmasters. These funky, tough, and tuneful tracks mix echoes of Curtis Mayfield, Sly & the Family Stone, and classic soul with thoroughly modern beats. The result is the year's freshest and smartest hip-hop CD.
5) Elvis Costello When I Was Cruel Considering his collaboration with Burt Bacharach and a trend toward more restrained material on recent pop albums, one had to wonder if the irascible rocker in Costello would ever re-emerge. But did it ever. The CD boasts terrific edgy rockers like "45" and "Tear Off Your Own Head," and found Costello staking out new stylistic and structural territory. That's a rare accomplishment for any artist with a career as long as Costello's.
6) The Vines Highly Evolved-For 40 years, England has consistently produced promising new pop bands whose music builds on the traditions of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. Whether The Vines will be like The Smiths or The Cure (bands which built sturdy careers) or like Oasis (a band that quickly lapsed into self-parody), remains to be seen. But the pithy rockers and graceful balladry represent an auspicious beginning for this foursome.
7) Foo Fighters One By One-While there's good reason to celebrate new bands like The Hives and The Vines, this is a strong reminder that the Foo Fighters have been giving rock a much-needed shot of adrenaline for a decade. And, yet another collection of potent, lean, and catchy rock that is sturdy, trend-resistant, and best of all, just plain fun to listen to.
8) The Roots Phrenology-The Roots have consistently been one of rap's most ambitious bands, and Phrenology is their boldest statement yet. Once again, diversity is a hallmark. The new songs draw from straight-ahead rap, soul, rock, and jazz, and The Roots don't hesitate to freely mix these styles, while also spiking their sound with a barrage of smart sonic treats.
9) Los Lobos Good Morning Aztlan-After several albums that found this criminally-underappreciated band bringing a wealth of experimental sonics and sensibilities to their music, this effort put the focus on songwriting with a far more straight-forward sound. And killer songs like "The Big Ranch," "Good Morning Aztlan," and "Hearts Of Stone" made this CD the year's best collection of roots rock.
10) Queens Of The Stone Age Songs For The Deaf-Founding members Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri are joined on this CD by drummer Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and singer Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees). The CD lives up to the pedigree of the players. Dense, brawny, grooving, and tuneful, Songs For The Deaf is a heavy rock album that demands to be heard.
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