Note: Folks, we're running out of time here! 2013 will be upon us and a whole new bunch of old years will be celebrating important anniversaries! I didn't want anyone thinking I didn't care. We now join this ridiculously ill conceived blog already in progress…
…and that was how ol' 'Fat Wax' McGillicuddy died in my arms on New Year's Eve, dreaming of hot dogs and Proust.
You could say 2002 started poorly. We were still freaked out about 9-11 and anthrax letters and it took years to feel something resembling normal. The music business was on its own death trip, hurriedly calculating how many ways it could shoot itself in the foot, heart and head and surrender to irrelevancy without a real fight. The fractures of the 1970's mass audience had turned into full-on dismemberment, with the foot bone having no effect on what was happening with the arm bone (I flunked doctor school) by the 1980s and 1990s, when adult music critics pretended to like, get this, Eric Clapton albums named August and Journeyman! It was like he was daring you to like them. Why not Hack! you might ask?
By 2002, everything was in pieces, all junked into strict stylistic boxes that few people bothered to rummage through anymore. It had only been a few years earlier when a girl got in my face about not liking Tool! By 2002, she was likely married, pregnant and thinking about a career in corporate communications.
The list below is a cross-section of stuff that got released within the calendar year of 2002. The stuff that passed my sniffer as being "pretty good" probably got heard by a couple dozen people. I know younger folks like to imagine a world without 'boomers,' but I have to wonder if anyone will be performing to any notable audience at 70 years old. I mean, of course, once Dave Grohl inevitably dies.
Is Rihanna all we have to look forward to in our retirement communities? Maybe Lady Gaga will do a little soft shoe?
25) Audioslave -- Audioslave: The guy who sang for Rage Against The Machine was annoying and it was either get a legitimate out-of-work frontman to replace him or Tom Morello would have to sing, so in the interest of saving lives, Chris Cornell, then on hiatus with Soundgarden International, decided to press his hair into service. Thank you, Chris. Say hi to Brad Pitt for us.
24) Pearl Jam -- Riot Act: Pearl Jam admired the Who but they never figured out how to reach catharsis like ol' Pete, so things with the P-Jam were prone to getting stuck between gears and, well, jamming. Their decision to back away from the mainstream and stand for their "principles" means the people who weren't already firmly in their camp just wandered to another booth. File under: missionary work.
23) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- The Last DJ: This isn't an album that anyone but the most devoted fans reach for. Get real. But the concept was a valiant one. You just need music to back it up, because no one listens to music for the instructions that no longer come with the package. Is there even a package anymore? Supposedly, it's all inside this rectangular thing by my feet I keep kicking.
22) Nelly -- Nellyville: Nelly's second album debuted at #1 on the album charts and the band-aid under his eye was a powerful visual clue to nothing in particular. Even people in Canada bought the album! Canada! They got six singles off the album. Maybe this is who I'll see on my 2042 cruise of the positively balmy North Pole.
21) Bruce Springsteen -- The Rising: Bruce could never stand back and just let it all be. He had to interject himself into the 'American Conversation.' So 9/11 put the Boss back to work. If you'd skipped over Lucky Town and The Ghost of Tom Joad, you could reestablish your personal relationship without penalty. But be forewarned, if you thought he was a little preachy before…oi vey!
20) Weezer -- Maladroit: I learned a few years back that I'm infamous with Weezer fans, since I was the clown who reviewed Pinkerton in Rolling Stone, back when it was considered just another album. Since that review, it was voted Worst Album and eventually revised as the Greatest Album Ever Made! I'm still in the middle of whatever. However, if I had to pick one Weezer album to bring to the retirement condo, I go with Maladroit. The Cure homage alone is worth it.
19) Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Here's where I really get into trouble. Can I say it? Jeff Tweedy bores me and his little band of mini-Heartbreakers leave me wondering where the hooks went. From a populist standpoint, getting dropped by your record label and then having it picked up by the artsy division of the same evil conglomerate makes a great story, but I watched the film and found myself wondering if rock 'n' roll was ever meant to be this lacking in star power. Alice Cooper? Man, I'm really into Dock Boggs?
18) Sigur Ros -- ( ): If you're going for anonymity, it's best to make music that's enhanced by its low profile. Sigur Ros, Iceland's hottest band?, turned in eight "untitled" tracks, with subheadings for identity, that are nearly impossible to critique. As long as it floats, it works just fine. No one cares about the people who make it or whether they hate their mothers. Do some yoga. You'll like it.
17) Songs: Ohia -- Didn't It Rain: The band name is terrible. That's really it, with the colon and everything. In a just world, they'd at least be known somewhere outside of Metacritic and among kids who collect records for a living, but in the real world, there are too many flashing lights and fancy computer doo-hickeys to get the mainstream to slow down and whiff the kerosene. Besides, Molina sings like he took lessons from Neil Young and there's only room for one guy who sounds like a cow with his leg caught in a fence!
16) The Decemberists -- Castaways and Cutouts: Long before they became indie-rock's beloved proggers, the Decemberists just came off weird in a 'Robyn Hitchcock-isn't-this-off?' kind of way. Why the singer was singing in an accent that wasn't his seemed a little preposterous. Was he trying to be a big hit in erudite whaling communities?
15) Joey Ramone -- Don't Worry About Me: Not sure anyone thinks this is a great album, but coming the year after his death, it's a sentimental one and all punks are allowed to mist up upon hearing this most deserving icon sing his way through "What A Wonderful World." They don't just "not make men like him anymore," they never did in the first place. Gabba Gabba Godspeed.
14) Elvis Costello -- When I Was Cruel: Nobody's going to confuse this with This Year's Model. Despite its insistence of being hard and angry and featuring two-thirds of the Attractions, it's still too cluttered. El' would never be simple again. I'd take a quarter of it, since I still love what he was. But somebody teach him how to sing without bleeding through his ears. And ever since you went "classy," you've been really dull.
13) Interpol -- Turn On the Bright Lights: They immediately drew comparisons to Joy Division because two or three of the songs nicked riffs and atmospheres from the old grey institution and their singer obviously had fallen under the spell of St. Ian Curtis sometime in his young life. Time has shown there's some nice other stuff going on here. I'm sure if you heard them at 14 years old, they were like what Gram Parsons was to kids who'd never heard Merle Haggard.
12) Paul Westerberg -- Stereo/ Mono: It was bound to happen. Sitting around for weeks in a studio getting the right sound just so radio could ignore you is the kind of feedback loop that doesn't provide positive reinforcement, so, of course, Westy fires the big name producers and rolls tape in his basement. As long as he writes the songs, he can sing 'em. In case, Stereo was too polished for you, he threw in Mono.
11) Neko Case -- Blacklisted: Yet another musician who would rather hang out with friends and make little records as opposed to hanging around with industry hotshots, making big records and videos where you behave naughty, naughty and pretend you dig Kid Rock. The choice is obvious. Howe Gelb and Kelly Hogan are likely well-read and won't try to steal your TV. Or worse, pretend to steal it for the press.
10) Eminem -- The Eminem Show: The year of 8 Mile, 2002 was the year where everybody caught up to Eminem. The album has sold over ten million copies and critics, not wanting to be seen as old and out of the loop, made sure they weighed in on the importance that was clearly here. I mean, it is, right?
9) Tori Amos -- Scarlet's Walk: A new label and Amos came out swinging with a concept album that could be heard without the concept, though a post-9/11 America was a concept everyone understood, since we were living it.
8) The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion -- Plastic Fang: Their music causes deep conflict within me. Are they rich kids who know their packaging? Are they an art project? Do they rock? With Steve Jordan at the controls and on bass, Plastic Fang is more conventional than their other records and probably the only one I keep until storage becomes an issue.
7) Patty Griffin -- 1000 Kisses: With a voice that can break hearts and lyrics that can cut glass, Griffin could be (here's where I give out career advice) tougher than the rest if she'd just stop already with the sanctimonious secular I've-been-to-the-mountaintop spiritualism stuff and stick to writing about her own life, upper middle-class white girl.
6) Johnny Cash -- American IV: The Man Comes Around: This was Cash's final album while still above ground. Like its predecessors, it features Cash singing anything producer Rick Rubin could convince him to do. I'm glad Mr. Rubin did this. We can't ask Johnny to do it anymore.
5) Beck -- Sea Change: Even Scientologists get the blues! A nine-year relationship done kaput (never trust a stylist!), Beck turned to moaning the blues in his room with an acoustic guitar. Critics treated it like no one had done it since Dylan's Blood On the Tracks, which must have frustrated the hell out of every singer-songwriter since 1975. For example, I present to you...
4) Brendan Gamble -- Heartless Moon: Brendan Gamble is a little known singer-songwriter who'd been the second drummer in the Poster Children and a member of the Moon Seven Times. His divorce led him to write and perform this heartbreaking piece of first-rate artistry. If you like Sea Change, you should love this one. It's one of those lost treasures that will be reissued in twenty years like he's the new Bill Fay or something.
3) Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me: I added this to the pile since it's likely the one album that the "average music fan" has in his or her collection. I'm fascinated by people who exercise judgement and own 31-77 CDs. What finally gets people off their duff? And how do they decide? I've made it easy on myself. I collect everything!
2) Tom Waits -- Alice / Blood Money: Three years since Mule Variations and Tommy shows up with two brand-new platters. Unlike, say, the Guns and the Roses or Bruce the Springsteen, Tommy actually had two albums worth of material to foist upon us. Presentation matters!
1) Laura Cantrell -- When The Roses Bloom Again: As someone who doesn't cotton to most alt.country without a wince, I found myself enjoying this record for the simple fact that Ms. Cantrell chose the songs because she liked them, as opposed to because she wrote them, and because she sang them like a talented young lass seemingly unaware of being recorded. It's a trick, I know. But you gotta love magic!