By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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Zac Crain: Many have compared these rock-and-roll days to the beginning of the 1990s, when youths in revolt found nirvana in Nirvana. I don't buy that. Sure, yeah, whatever, the White Stripes and the Strokes and the Hives are all on MTV and radio, and all on major-label payrolls. But if you think a revolution is happening, you are an Entertainment Weekly staff writer, Little Steven's personal assistant or hopelessly naïve.
Clyde Fant: Hey, why throw Little Steven under the bus? But, yeah, figures it would take the four morons in Sum 41--in their video for "Still Waiting"--to point out that the insurrection mainly involves the word "the." And while I happen to like the White Stripes and the Strokes, I know they're merely a change of pace, not a change altogether. Now that major labels are paying attention, it's only a matter of time before garage rock finds its Creed.
Andy Cleft: They might be closer to finding it than you think. And, by the way, you're a jackass. You want proof that the watering-down process is in full swing? Here are two words that'll clear it up for you: the Vines. When the band played Trees earlier this year, I almost expected singer-guitarist Craig Nichols to hire Turner Van Blarcum to beat him up, so he could be even more like Kurt Cobain. Rolling Stone can put Nichols on the cover and say "Rock is Back!," but that does not make it so. The only pulse Jann Wenner has his hand anywhere near is the one below Mick Jagger's belt.
Zac Crain: Kiss your mother with that mouth? People are also making a big deal about the supposed sea change happening in pop music. As far as I'm concerned, it's irrelevant that Seventeen subscribers ditched Britney and Christina and Mandy in favor of Avril and Michelle and Vanessa, and so is the fact that Backstreet Boy Nick Carter's solo album sounds like a Duncan Sheik record. Put it this way: Just because guitars are involved doesn't necessarily mean mainstream music is getting better. It's just becoming a different kind of worse.
Andy Cleft: You missed some fish in that barrel, champ. Really, the only type of mainstream music where innovation is consistently rewarded is hip-hop. There, you can have Missy Elliott splitting the difference between 1982 and 2022, The Roots recording their version of the White Album, Clipse reimagining N.W.A. slanging rock on Neptune(s). In rock and roll, these kinds of musicians are the exception. In hip-hop, more often than not, they are the rule. And I don't mean Ja Rule.
Clyde Fant: Or Nelly.
Andy Cleft: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that said, things might be changing for the better. Look what happened last year: Norah Jones became a platinum princess. Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot landed just outside of the Top 10. Elvis Costello, Paul Westerberg and Tom Waits had their highest chart debuts in years. Jimmy Eat World's persistence finally paid off. The Dixie Chicks proved that a low-key album doesn't necessarily mean lower sales. Musicians took chances, and listeners took chances on them.
Zac Crain: That was the great thing about music in 2002: You didn't have to let MTV or the radio make your choices for you. There was more music out there than ever before, in record stores, on the Internet, wherever. Which means: There was more bad music. But also: There was more good, too. I'm buying more music than ever, blowing my profit margin on $20 imports and $8 singles, promo-only rarities and tiny bombs from tinier labels. I'm buying CD-Rs in bulk so I can burn bootleg beauts and MP3 mash-ups. It was all about finding that one perfect song, and there are more than enough to keep anyone with a heart, soul and ears busy.
1. Doves, "Pounding" (Capitol): U2's heart and New Order's soul. Or the soundtrack for the comedown when the 24-hour party is over.
2. N.E.R.D., "Things Are Getting Better" (Virgin): A rock-rap marriage built to last, with both sides of the hyphen at the peak of their game, like Magic and Bird in the 1984 NBA Finals. Hip-hop's answer to Steely Dan.
3. Spoon, "Jonathon Fisk" (Merge): Columbine, the musical: A picked-on teen fights back with...a saxophone. The musical re-education of Britt Daniel continues.
4. Clipse, "Grindin'" (Star Trak/Arista): Grittiest hip-hop hit in years. Darker and dirtier than German porn with a rhyming dictionary.
5. The Soundtrack of Our Lives, "Sister Surround" (Universal): Forget the Hives, this is your real favorite Swedish band. Think McCartney fronting the Who, then stop thinking.
6. Coldplay, "Warning Sign" (Capitol): Will drive you to tears or bring you back from the verge of them, depending on when you hear it. Maybe both. A great band tops itself.