It's a beautiful day in a beautiful world, or so it seems when listening to U2's "Beautiful Day" ("It's a beautiful day," insists Bono, "don't let it go away") and Coldplay's "Don't Panic" ("We live in a beautiful world," moans Chris Martin, "yeah, we do") back to back...and back to back again, until your heart kind of hurts. It's not at all easy to dismiss a year in which those two songs exist--antidotes to the pop ennui that has engulfed us ever since Max Martin gave birth to baby Britney, salves to the festering wounds opened by Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Fred Durst, and the other ridiculous, clown-faced merchants of penny-ante angst and hate. The dawn of the new millennium has presented us a little hope, and only the foolish or deaf would dare turn down the offer. Now, if you'd only turn down that Eminem shit.
The future of pop music isn't Shawn Fanning and his technological tire-iron, used by the cheap and culpable to crack open the rock-and-roll coffers from which they steal music under the guise of "liberating art." The future of hip-hop isn't Chuck D, who gives away rancid product while pretending he's screwing over The Man and empowering the disenfranchised; and it sure as hell isn't Eminem, branded a genius only by rock critics begging to put him on the covers of their slick, empty magazines. The future of electronic music isn't Moby peddling his radio soul to car companies, nor is it Fatboy Slim ringing the same bell until the future sounds like 1997's echo. And the future of metal isn't...well, it just isn't. Hasn't been--not since the Sab, dude.
Poring over the stack of digital wax released in 2000 reveals a multitude of riches: astonishing comebacks, breathtaking debuts, and those records somewhere in between by artists who've so fallen through the cracks that we barely see them beneath our feet. It was a year in which Jill Scott exacted her revenge on Erykah Badu for messing with the Roots' "You Got Me," written by Scott and ruined by Badu. It was a year in which Travis released a great album and two amazing CD-singles and managed to find a little leftover magic in a very old song (The Band's "The Weight") and a lot of beauty in a very new one (Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time"). It was a year in which The Go-Betweens reunited--with Sleater-Kinney and Quasi--and a year in which the Mekons made their best disc since Rock 'n' Roll 11 years ago. It was a year in which Outkast dropped bombs over Baghdad and the explosion was felt all over, and it was a year in which Steely Dan crawled out from the tar pits and proved dinosaurs still run amok on fresh legs. For starters.
Trying to narrow this year's releases down to a top-10 list has proved a frustrating endeavor; it was a far better 2000 than one ever imagined while living and listening through it. (Look, Ma, no Sleater-Kinney or PJ Harvey on this year's list! That's gotta count for something!) In the end, those discs that make it onto this compendium are the ones that will outlive the expiration date; they've been my companions in the car, and they'll keep riding shotgun in the 10-disc changer till something better comes along. (One of which is the forthcoming disc from Peter Schmidt's Legendary Crystal Chandelier, which has been in the CD player since September, and it shall remain there till next year...and the year after that.) That none of my colleagues can agree on a so-called "best" of 2000 only serves to remind us that even in the middle of most droughts, a little rain must fall. Here are but a few of the drops collected in one man's tiny bucket, in no particular order, because that's just not how I hear things.
David Holmes, Bow Down to the Exit Sign (1500 Records): No lyric sheet, only a sketched-out "script" complete with exterior shots and voice-overs, making Holmes' third album both film and soundtrack. How appropriate that the man who scored Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight--like a porn film, like a thriller--would make the best movie of 2000, one that stars Jon Spencer, Martina Toppley-Bird, Bobby Gillespie, and David Arnold, the last of whom has become the latest man to dress James Bond in strings and things. Ostensibly, it's about drugs--making them, and taking them.
D'Angelo, Voodoo (Virgin): He's Marvin Gaye gorged on the "Devil's Pie," which is just what you think it is. Not only the best makeout record of the year, but also the best makeup record of the year...after a little, ya know, getting slapped around. Suggestion for next album cover: just a picture of D'Angelo's "root."
Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2: Or, the last remnants of the dodo (SuperEgo Records); Aimee Mann, Ultimate Collection (Hip-O): Odd how so many critics are putting Mann's Magnolia soundtrack atop their lists, since it was a 1999 release; maybe they didn't know about Bachelor No. 2, since Mann self-released the gem and didn't send out any press freebies--a sure way to get ignored by skinflint journos. At once beautiful and biting--it makes you cry, like having your heart broken by an ax--Mann's third solo record is, as always, about getting rejected by either a lover or a label; being spurned is her inspiration, for better or best. And though she disowns Ultimate Collection, being sold by the very label that once ignored her, it's the perfect intro (from "Voices Carry" to the Elvis Costello co-written "The Other End of the Telescope") and the perfect album.
Coldplay, Parachutes (Parlophone/Nettwerk America): The first song sounds like Elliott Smith, the last song sounds like Randy Newman, and in between is "Yellow," the best single of 2000 not named "Beautiful Day" or "B.O.B." When the guitars ring in like midnight on New Year's Eve and Chris Martin starts crooning about how the stars shine just for you--me?--you'll keep hitting "repeat" so often, you'll forget there are five songs left on the album.
U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope): First three songs are better than any complete U2 outing since Bono had a mullet. And I used to think "Beautiful Day" was the best U2 single in history, till I heard "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" on the radio. It's like a hug on a horrible day.
Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue Volume 2 (Elektra): Woody Guthrie's dead, long live Jeff Tweedy and Billy Bragg, who once more resurrect the dead man's words with chimes that reverberate down to your soul and soles. When I die, I want "Airline to Heaven" played over and over again at the funeral, even though I know hell awaits; at least it will cushion the blow.
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Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of the Bewilderbeast (XL Recordings): The best Paul Simon record Elliott Smith didn't release this year, and a record so sad (all those cellos, French horns, and strings) that it makes you somehow ahappy to be in its presence. Damon Gough just wants to "put a little sunshine in your life," even if he gets eclipsed by a broken heart every now and again.
Jill Scott, Who is Jill Scott? (Hidden Beach Recordings): If you have to ask now, it may be too late; you probably bought Mama's Gun and like it. This is the follow-up the Dallas diva should have delivered but didn't, couldn't, wouldn't--all three, likely, as writer's block is a bitch. Best R&B record of the year. Best jazz record of the year. Best soul record of the year.
Various Artists, O Brother, Where Are Thou? soundtrack (Mercury Records): The best collection of rural-roots Americana since Harry Smith sat down on the banks of the Ohio with the Blue Sky Boys back in the day. In a perfect world, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" would be a single, and Emmylou Harris would ditch Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton so she could record with Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss all the time. A record so good, Sam Phillips is buried in the choir.
The Go-Betweens, The Friends of Rachel Worth (Jetset): The best Sleater-Kinney record of 2000 is this reunion between old friends Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, who found there's still "Magic in Here" and out there by singing about angels and surfing magazines and German farmhouses, or something. For a minute, I thought someone replaced this disc with the one inside Bellavista Terrace, last year's proper best-of; sometimes, you can--and should--go home again.