The Sound of Violence

To these ears, at least, the best album of 2001 is the best album of 2000: U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind, released on Halloween last year though every song sounds as though it were written and recorded on September 12 of this one. The album that set out to lay claim to the title of World's Greatest Rock Band wound up providing solace and optimism to a traumatized and grieving country; it was a Band-Aid, in every sense. The deep cuts ("Walk On," "New York," "When I Look at the World") served to heal deep wounds, and even if it became a little harder to sing along to "Beautiful Day" for a little while, it at least promised one just around the corner. Little wonder, then, U2 marched on during the Tour That Wouldn't End, playing Dallas twice this year; the second time through, with hundreds of names of those killed on September 11 scrolling behind them, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen proved it was indeed possible to sweat and grin at an Irish wake. "Peace on Earth" was our national anthem, for a few weeks.

Hundreds of disposable discs made their way through my car's 10-CD player this year; only All That You Can't Leave Behind stayed there throughout the entirety of 2001, never bending or breaking beneath the strain of newfound responsibility. Others remained untouched for a few days, at best a couple of weeks; The Eels' thrillingly apt Souljacker, out in England last September but not due for Stateside release till spring, was one of the few that took out a longer lease. So, maybe the best album of 2001 is actually one of the best of 2002. Fact is, that might actually be the case, as evidenced by Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, originally skedded for release this year by Reprise till an A&R dope bounced the band from the label, claiming there were no Hit Singles--never mind the fact Wilco was actually one of the label's few profitable and respectable bands. Wilco promptly made the disc available to its fans, who burned it and passed it around like a campfire joint. It's due for release in 2002 on Nonesuch, but thousands already have every word memorized--especially that bit about saluting the ashes of an American flag.

Tried giving The Strokes a few dozen listens, hoping to find the CBGB's brilliance others insist is there, but ended up loving only the song that sounds like Tom Petty. Far better is the so-called Freelance Hellraiser remix floating around the Internet: "A Stroke of Genius," which so seamlessly fuses The Strokes' "Hard to Explain" with Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" you'd think they were legally wed. If it's not the best unofficial single of the year, then Tenacious D's eponymous debut isn't so overrated after all (if you think it's so good, wait until the fifth listen, about when all comedy records lose their laugh).

Let the kids to their Britney and bouncy baby boobies; let the kids to their System of a Down and Tool; let the kids to their disposapopfunkrapmetal, most of which arrives smelling spoiled, anyway. We end the year with perspective we didn't have just a few months ago, back when people gave two fucks about Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger comebacks, which quickly became sell-backs at your local used-CD store. We end the year listening for songs that stir on albums that linger by performers who matter; it was the Year of the Adult, in other words, the year when we took refuge in the digital grooves that made us smile, cry or, on a good day, both.

1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (unreleased): Jeff Tweedy lost his label and a few bandmates, but never his spirit or spark--or, for that matter, his soul. Beneath the whispered clicks and clangs lies a daring masterpiece about love and death and the need for optimism in a time of despair. Sounds like nothing this band--or any other--has ever done.

2. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia): Released on September 11, Dylan's latest Best Album Since Blood on the Tracks keeps its promise; it was hard that day not to listen to "Lonesome Day Blues"--with its line, "Well, today has been a sad and lonesome day"--without thinking about what the TV wouldn't stop showing. But don't read too much into it: Behind that smarmy 'stache and steely glare is a man putting us all on, the king of the burlesque too serious to fool.

3. Travis, The Invisible Band (Epic): Fran Healey just wants you to sing, sing, sing, and only the deaf or dead could resist him.

4. Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol) and Radiohead, I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings (Capitol): The latter reveals what the former willfully hides. Radiohead writes great rock songs; it just doesn't want to admit it.

5. Macy Gray, The Id (Epic): Fans of the debut found it hard to relate to this Kurt Weill-touched soul-singin' psychopath, so this tanked--which figures, since it's 10 times the record On How Life Is, uh, was.

6. Various artists, Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt (FreeFalls): Willie, Emmylou, Lucinda, John Prine and Cowboy Junkies covering the greatest Texas songwriter of, like, ever. And there are still 10 other tracks.

7. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony): "I want to sing that rock and roll," moans the Beverly Hillbilly, and for the first time, I believe every word coming out of her crooked mouth.

8. Chocolate Genius, Godmusic (V2): He's like Prince, only Marc Anthony Thompson may actually be touched by the Lawd-uh.

9. Sarah Dougher, The Bluff (Mr. Lady): Love (and hate-to-love and love-to-hate) songs all, but bereft of sentimentality or, on occasion, any tangible hint of emotion. Featuring two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney, like she needs the assist.

10. Kelly Hogan, Because it Feel Good (Bloodshot): The greatest female singer in pop-rock-country-wha? covers Randy Newman, Charlie Rich, Smog, King Floyd and, oh, herself.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky