A roundtable discussion of music in 2002, featuring me and two people I made up:
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.
Below is a track listing for a CD-R I made to remind me of the best moments of 2002. After I finished burning it, I realized I could have filled an entire boxed set if I wanted to. So, as always, your mileage may vary. And, if you're wondering, they are in no particular order.
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.
7. Dixie Chicks, "Truth No. 2" (Open Wide/Sony): What country music should be in 2002: traditional and timely, down-home and uptown all at once. There's picking but not much grinning as the Chicks sit on the back porch of a penthouse.
8. The Flaming Lips, "Fight Test" (Warner Bros.): Wayne Coyne and the boys followed up this generation's Pet Sounds with this generation's Smile, and "Fight Test" set the tone.
9. Missy Elliott, "Work It" (Elektra): Sticks in your head like autopsy photos, despite (or because of?) its back-masked chorus. Miss E's prolly the only rapper around who can give decades-old samples that new-car smell.
10. Ash, "Envy" (Infectious): What would happen if the Undertones heard the Supremes' symphony. Pick up Ash's import-only singles collection Intergalactic Sonic 7"s (only $19 at Tower) and hear what you've been missing all this time.
11. Interpol, "PDA" (Matador): Not sure if I like this because I actually like it or if it just reminds me of other bands I already like (Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen). Works either way, I guess.
12. Goldenboy, "Sing Another Song for the Winterlong" (b-girl): Nick Drake sits in with Grandaddy, and they all cheer up for a few minutes.
13. Morcheeba and Slick Rick, "Women Lose Weight" (Warner Bros.): Slick Rick's still the ruler. Don't let the government deport him.
14. Norah Jones, "Cold Cold Heart" (Blue Note): Jones' voice is all smoke and Sunday morning, sounding like the angel that brought Hank Williams to heaven. If that's where he went.
15. Antipop Consortium, "Ping Pong" (Warp): The Wu-Tang Clan, if everyone in the group took as many drugs as ODB. Hip-huh?
16. Elvis Costello, "45" (Island Def Jam): This year's model is older, but it runs better than it has in almost a decade.
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17. Josh Rouse, "Feeling No Pain" (Rykodisc): Rouse doesn't like to be called a singer-songwriter. Too bad he's such a great one. In Rouse's hands, "mature" isn't merely a synonym for "boring."
18. Guided by Voices, "Back to the Lake" (Matador): I hope I get old like Bob Pollard before I die.
19. Jurassic 5, "One of Them" (Interscope): A line in the sand, a grenade with the pin pulled, a fist in the air, a kick in the junk. You're either with J5 or against them.
20. The Vines, "Ms. Jackson" (EMI): This smoked-out version of the OutKast hit is the only remotely worthwhile thing Craig Nichols and the Vines have done. And it's so over-the-top good, it almost justifies the music media's crotch diving. Too bad they didn't write it.