2001 In Review:
Good music, but no new sounds
2001 was not exactly a "space odyssey" year in pop. Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys continued to draw the adulation of teens, and a newer crop of hard rockin' "punks," like Staind, System of a Down, Linkin Park and Blink-182, gathered an increased audience, especially at the concert box office. But no new "sounds" really broke; while plenty of new artists released discs, none truly cracked the pop consciousness with a smart new direction. Longtime pop chart favorites John Mellencamp, Depeche Mode, Melissa Etheridge, Tori Amos and Janet Jackson all released catchy singles in 2001, which unfortunately heralded less-than-average quality albums.
The spring and summer found classic rockers Journey and Aerosmith returning in good form, and the very end of the year saw new discs hit the charts by No Doubt, Jewel, Mick Jagger, Creed and other heavy hitters. As last year featured a return of The Beatles to the charts with their 1 album of hits, the end of 2001 also was dominated by Fab Four news just as Paul McCartney was unveiling his latest solo disc, the loss of George Harrison to cancer saddened millions and put any further "near-Beatles" reunions to ultimate rest.
But lest it sound like 2001 was a bust musically, let's look at what was good. There were a number of solid CDs out on the shelves for the discoverin' that boasted solid start-to-finish lineups of catchy tunes. Following is my ranking for the Top 25 albums of 2001, based both on my original Pop Stops review star ratings and on how often (original rating aside) I felt myself compelled to return the albums to my CD player for pleasure-listening. As always, some of those discs that I only gave 3½ stars to ended up spending far more time in my CD player than some discs that I initially gave higher ratings. As in all things, time proves the great equalizer!
* * * TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2001 * * *
(RCA): With the harmonic sense of Jellyfish, Queen and The Rembrandts, and the
edgy, studio-savvy flair of Self and ELO, Bully offers one perfectly
realized pop track after another. There's not a dud on this 11-song disc, nor
is there a sleeper. This is crunchy pop-rock drenched in honey and spiked with
bite. An unbeatable combination of hook and harmony.
(out of 5).
Rockin' the Suburbs (Epic): Ben Folds' first "official"
solo album after dissolving Ben Folds Five finds the current generation's piano
man at top form with lyrical wit, layered wall-of-sound pop harmonies and both
pounding and plaintive piano.
3) Spike 1000 Waste
of Skin (Portrait): A friend walked into my office and said "that sounds
like Cher singing with Godsmack." I hadn't thought of it that way, but this
is a blisteringly heavy band with an acid-tongued, heavy-voiced woman at the
mike. My favorite hard rock disc of the year.
4) Mint Royale On
the Ropes (MCA): This techno stew of beats, basslines and samples
delivers track after track of unbelievably catchy, smart, danceable pop, most
of it sans vocals.
Over The Rhine Films
for Radio (Back Porch/Virgin): They've been out in the music trenches for
over a decade, and this year found them release an album of thoughtful beauty
that let Karin Bergquist's vocals run the gamut from little-girl-lost pining
to sensual extravagance. Close your eyes and watch the imaginary film reels
as they spin stories from amber classicism to violet-night moods, and then flirt
with pastoral technicolor. This is Oscar material.
6) Neilson Hubbard Why
Men Fail (Parasol): Filled with long, slow
cello and violin passages, whispering melancholy vocals and lightly strummed
guitars, Why Men Fail is a beautifully stirring revelation, an adventurous,
unflinching exploration of a singer-songwriter's soul gone sad.
7) Jennifer Paige Positively
Somewhere (Hollywood): Paige's second disc is a gorgeous mix of upbeat love
pop with soaring harmonies, strumming and occasionally mildly distorted guitar
riffs and all-round smiley-happy synthesizer sounds. The opener, "These Days"
and "You Get Through" are two of my favorite songs of 2001. Sharper than Britney,
softer than Alanis, as catchy as Natalie Imbruglia, this album never gets stale.
Eliza Carthy Angels
& Cigarettes (Warner Bros.) Carthy's songs are thoughtful, lush considerations
of life, fickle love and the fleeting passage of time, often reminiscient of
Sarah McLachlan. Angels & Cigarettes is a bold, beautiful album of honesty,
depth and maturity. It's an album to swim in, again and again.
9) Aerosmith Just
Push Play (Columbia): One of the summer's best "cruisin'" discs, Just
Push Play found Aerosmith at the top of its form from the perfect power
ballad of "Jaded" to the steel punch of the title track, the group remains a
rock powerhouse in full command of all the tricks.
Saliva Every Six
Seconds (Island): An irresistible pleasure for hard rock fans. Opening with
"Superstar," a wailing four minutes of brazen rock attack, the disc careens
through one arena-ready anthem after another, including its stop-start, Kid
Rock-take-note crowning moment, "Click Click Boom."
11) Stabbing Westward Stabbing
Westward (Koch): Chicago's favorite industrial post-Ministry sons' 4th album
is a passion play of powerful proportions, with cycles of light and dark, fire
and ice, detailing line after line of desperate isolation and loss and obsession.
12) Edwin McCain Far
From Over (Lava/Atlantic): With a dozen strong songs, a mix of Americana
styles, and a Texas and Memphis-influenced roots-rock production that consistently
features big background vocals, McCain has crafted a great easy-listening rock
record in Far From Over.
13) Journey Arrival
(Columbia): With a new singer and a return to concentration on Neil Schon's
guitar, Journey returned this year with a strong declaration of "new" classic
II (MCA): The cover shows the duo beating
on kettle and bongo drums, and it's a good representation of the music inside.
This is a disc of celebratory modern and African rhythm augmented by electronic
dance beats and synthesizers.
15) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds No
More Shall We Part (Reprise): The best word
to describe the work of Nick Cave and his half dozen longstanding Bad Seeds
is "moody." Cave is a singular artist who works in a variety of styles, but
always with an underpinning of darkness. No More Shall We Part is required
listening for anyone who occasionally appreciates the disturbing beauty of graveflowers.
16) Glen Phillips Abulum
(Brick Red): The lead singer of Toad The Wet Sprocket stripped back the guitars
and drums for his first solo album a folksy CD that still features his deceptively
easy songs of humor and wisdom.
New Order Get Ready
(Reprise): New Order's first album in eight years features a guest appearance
by Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and brings out everything that was ever icy
cool about the band's throbbing basslines and whispering background vocals.
18) The Cult Beyond
Good and Evil (Lava/Atlantic): Their first album in more than five years
is a 12-song jamfest of pounding rhythms, yells and hybrid '80s goth and '90s
metal guitar riffs.
19) David Garza Overdub
(Atlantic): From T-Rex jams to falsetto blues, Overdub is an album rich
in both lyrics and melody, with a rootsy rock sense that puts it somewhere between
Jude Cole and Bryan Ferry.
A*Teens Teen Spirit
(MCA): There's nothing too deep or profound here, but there isn't a miss in
the batch. Every one of these ABBA-meets-Ace of Base songs is cotton candy
light, fluffy, non-filling
and completely addictive.
21) Adam Schmitt Demolition
(Parasol): Urbana, Illinois' power pop savior returned after an eight-year absence
with this solid crunchy collection of guitar anthems and ballads.
22) Betty Blowtorch Are
You Man Enough? (Foodchain): This all-girl punk rock act, helped along the
music industry rails by Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan, knows how to rock loud,
lewd and obnoxious. They also know how to swear, and sing with racy gusto about
Epiphany Project Epiphany
Project (Epiphany Records): A gorgeous collection of 14 songs, sold by Bet
Williams' full, sometimes throaty, sometimes whispery, sometimes soaring vocals
which paint a warm tapestry of layered moods and melodies.
24) Carly Hennessy Ultimate
High (MCA): loaded with "na-na-na-na"s and silky, seductive upbeat pop candy,
many of the tracks on Hennessy's debut are a pop lover's dream.
25) David Mead Mine
and Yours (RCA): One of those slow growers that takes repeated listens to
reveal its genius,Mead's McCartney-esque Mine and Yours ultimately unveils
itself as a quiet bit of pop perfection.