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Pop that made the grade in 2001

BY MATT ASHARE

"The top 10 albums of 2001" ó that entire notion seems dwarfed by the events of September 11. Which is not to suggest that pop music lost any of its resonance or value in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, just that itís hard to sort back through the thousands of CDs that came out this year without bumping up against that date hard and wondering, if only for a second or two, whatís the point. I mean, if I had to pick a band of the year, it would surely be U2, if only because they seem to represent the right combination of hope and cynicism in the aftermath of a sobering disaster. Too bad their All You Canít Leave Behind (Interscope) came out in 2000 ó it even had a song called "New York" on it. For the most part, though, pop music isnít equipped to handle large disasters, and nothing proved that better to me than the A&E special that had all kinds of serious stars covering John Lennon tunes in tribute to New York City. Lennon may have lived in NYC for a time, but if I remember correctly, he was British.

No, the best one could hope for in 2001 were full-length albums that could get you from Boston to New York in a car without making you switch to talk radio. And though there were plenty of great singles to enjoy over the course of the year, those albums were few and far between ó especially the ones that could bring a little joy to the ride. Thatís not meant as an indictment of music in 2001, which I actually thought was a pretty good year (a decent Aerosmith single and a listenable Mick Jagger album released within 12 months of each other is nothing to complain about). Itís only my way of shedding some light on why my favorite albums of 2001 had little or nothing to do with anything else that was going on in the world.

1. Ike Reilly, Salesmen and Racists (Universal). Out of nowhere ó actually, Libertyville, Illinois ó this Irish sonofabitch father of four (he just had another baby boy, so now thatís five) delivered an album that dealt with deep things like mortality, not living up to the person youíd like to be, and getting laid, then hit the road to try to get people to like him. It might not have worked out all that well, but as I told him the last time he came through town: youíll always have a great, great album to look back on, one that proved for those lucky enough to hear it that rock and roll is still a valid medium for genuine self-expression, not just for fashion-magazine spreads. And that it can still be fun, too.

2. Idlewild, 100 Broken Windows (Capitol). This sophomore disc by a bunch of Scottish kids from the middle of nowhere actually came out overseas in 2000. But thanks to Spin magazineís listing it as one of the top 10 albums you didnít hear in 2000, Capitol decided to take a chance on it. Fact is, the Nirvana-style grunge these guys specialize in didnít stand a lick of a chance of selling here in the US. But at least the boys got a chance to tour a country theyíd never seen. And anyone who can allude to Gertrude Stein in a punk song and keep a straight face has my vote.

3. Mark Kozelek, Whatís Next to the Moon (Badman). Pairing Mark Kozelek, the leader of the San Francisco sadcore outfit Red House Painters, with 10 Bon ScottĖera AC/DC songs might seem some kind of ludicrous joke, but the result turned out to be one of the heavier, funnier, and more brilliant albums of the year. Kozelek has done away with most of AC/DCís original music, kept the lyrics intact, and shone a whole new light on the likes of "Love Hungry Man," "Walk All over You," and "If You Want Blood." Pathos doesnít even begin to describe the impact he has on these songs ó you have to hear them for yourself. And then youíll never hear an AC/DC song the same again.

4. Lucinda Williams, Essence (Lost Highway). Okay, so it isnít really as good as Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which itself wasnít quite as good as the Lucinda Williams Rough Trade disc she put out a decade ago. But thereís still nobody around who understands contemporary Americana ó or, should I say, has it bred in her bones ó like Lucinda. The title track is yearning at its most exquisite; the rest finds the notoriously picky Williams letting the emotions ĺow uncensored, which is something sheís been needing to do for quite some time. An artistic triumph that may (and I hope will) lead to bigger or at least better things.

5. Weezer (Interscope). Okay, so one of my best friends played bass on this album. Big deal. Heís no longer with the band, which means itís perfectly acceptable for me to point out that Rivers Cuomo, for all his faults as a frontman, has reopened the door for geek rock with this belated album and maybe convinced a new generation of kids that a guitar is every bit as expressive if not more so than a sampler and that itís time to go back to the garage and start writing pure power-pop songs. "Hash Pipe" isnít even the best tune, and neither is "Island in the Sun." Record-company people are notoriously inept when it comes to picking singles.

6. Buck Cherry, Time Bomb (DreamWorks). If the drummer would only stop playing fills, then Buck Cherry would sound just like AC/DC. Unfortunately, he keeps busying things up. But next to the Weezer record, nothing sounded as good as Time Bomb when you were cruising along the Mass Pike in August with the windows down ó especially the philosophical parts where he explains that love ainít nothing but bitches and money. Man, things must really suck in Hollywood.

7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, B.R.M.C. (Virgin). Thereís nothing wrong with ripping off another artistís shtick, especially if itís the right artist and the right shtick ó just ask Buck Cherry. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club wanna be the Jesus and Mary Chain circa sometime in the mid í80s, and they wanna know whatever happened to their rock and roll. I donít blame them ó in fact, I commend them for trying to bring it back. A fine blast from the past that may be a harbinger of better things to come if labels like Virgin keep finding bands like this to sign.

8. Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American (DreamWorks). Capitol Records lost a bundle on Jimmy Eat World, but that didnít bother the folks at DreamWorks. Not sure why, either. I mean, emocore is dead, long live emocore. And Jimmy Eat World are, at this point, the emocore prototype. Earnest lyrics. Razor-sharp guitar hooks. Rachel Haden singing background vocals. Itís punk rock with a purpose and a shower. But what makes it great is that it sounds almost as good as Buck Cherry when youíre cruising along the Mass Pike in August with the windows down.

9. The Strokes, Is This It (RCA). Ah, the Strokes. Perhaps the most overhyped underground band of the year. That thought would be a lot funnier if they didnít have such damn good songs. And if the singer werenít somehow able to channel Iggy Pop, David Johansen, and Lou Reed all at once. RCA better be counting on a whole lot of European sales, because music like this just doesnít cut it in the US ó at least not these days. But if all the people who see the Strokes eventually form their own bands, well, weíll have a bunch of pretty cool music in five or 10 years, and no one ó not even the Backstreet Boys ó will have anything to say about it.

10. New Order, Get Ready (Reprise). A decade ago, the dour foursome who arose from the ashes of Joy Division were way ahead of their time in their use of sequencers, electronic drum beats, loops, and all the other trappings of so-called electronica. So maybe it made sense for them to wait around for a few years before committing to a new full-length. Whatever, Get Ready is my dark-horse winner for 2001 both because it grooves from beginning to end and because itís more of a surprise comeback than the Weezer album, even if New Order donít stand a chance of reclaiming their past stature as dance-pop leaders.

Issue Date: December 28, 2001 - January 3, 2002

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