2002, the Year That Aimee Mann Killed Me
1. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol)
They said they were out of gas. There was talk of a split. Surely it was a smoke screen. Coldplay took all comparisons to Radiohead and pummeled them into dust with A Rush Of Blood To The Head. “Politik” both rocked and moped, with singer Christ Martin asking for all kinds of things, but ultimately pleading, “Give me love over this.” “Warning Sign” is the breakup song of the year; its chorus of “The truth is, I miss you” is going to inspire a Say Anything-esque moment on some college campus. Beautiful, haunting, terribly sad yet surprisingly hopeful, Coldplay have skipped their sophomore year.
2. Paul Melancon - Camera Obscura (Daemon)
Give me this album and one of those shakers Hermione Granger uses in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I could make Paul Melancon a rock star. I’d go back to 1991, the year that Matthew Sweet broke wide open with his masterpiece Girlfriend, and I’d release Camera Obscura at the same time. Any station that played “Divine Intervention” or “Girlfriend” would gleefully have taken in Melancon’s “King Sham” or “Hitchcock Blonde” as well. His closing number, appropriately named “Finé”, is spine tingling. Neil Finn and Michael Penn better watch their backs. Someone hook this man up with Jon Brion, stat. (I’ll have a review for this soon)
3. General Store - Local Honey (NotLame)
Tam Johnstone, son of Elton John’s longtime guitarist Davey Johnstone, follows in his dad’s footsteps and releases his own album. And by that I mean recorded, mixed, and played almost every instrument on the album. Does it sound like anything current? Nope. His dad’s old stuff? Nope again. Rather, it sounds like vintage west coast pop from the ‘70s, including some songs that beat Poco, the Eagles and CSN&Y at their own game. His ballad “Stay” would have been a million seller if N’Sync had released it. Imagine what he could do if he had money to spend and time to do something really special. Don Henley would certainly be jealous, if he still had the heart to give a damn.
4. Badly Drawn Boy - About a Boy (ArtistDirect/BMG)
All of the promise implied on Hour of Bewilderbeast was fully realized on About A Boy. (And then subsequently wasted on Have You Fed The Fish?) Damon Gough wisely teams up with Elliott Smith teammate Tom Rothrock and ends up making his own version of XO. “Silent Sigh” is easily the best song a solo John Lennon never wrote. Closer “Donna and Blitzen”, which sounds like it came from an album called A Very Spector Christmas, is the ultimate boy-gets-girl song. He wisely kept his filler track piss takes to himself (though “S.P.A.T.” comes dangerously close to being one), and instead delivers a gem that is one of the best pop soundtracks in ages.
5. Doves - The Last Broadcast (Capitol)
Another British band lazily compared to Radiohead that isn’t remotely like them. For starters, the Doves’ music has a heart that the robots in Radiohead couldn’t comprehend. You’d be better off comparing the Doves, if you must, to the dream pop bands of the early ‘90s. Ride, Inspiral Carpets and the Trash Can Sinatras are better represented here than anything that’s recently crossed the pond. Yet the Doves aren’t retro any more than the Stone Roses were. There may be a clear path of like-minded bands that came before them, but the Doves are going on their own beautiful, blissful journey.
6. Beck - Sea Change (DGC)
A wise man (okay, it was Neil Young) once said only love can break your heart, and Beck Hensen’s Sea Change couldn’t be a better example. The erstwhile practical joker plays it straight for a change and reveals that, surprise, he’s just as human and feeling as the rest of us. Bringing back Nigel Godrich (he also produced Mutations, Beck’s last low key album) was a wise move, and allowing him to open up the musical scope to enhance Beck’s pain was even wiser. The really impressive thing about Sea Change, though, is Beck’s singing. He’s never sounded better.
7. Thievery Corporation - The Richest Man In Babylon (ESL)
Thievery Corporation is the only band that’s remotely as cool as Massive Attack. Both are masters of laid back melodies clamped down with tougher than average beats, but the Thieves took Massive one step further, and made a record that is truly global trip hop. You’ll find nods to Air and Sade here and there, but it’s songs like “Facing East” (which is downright ballsy given the anti-Middle Eastern times in which we live) and “Exilio” that make The Richest Man In Babylon so rewarding.
8. Chemical Brothers - Come With Us (Astralwerks)
Electronic music grows stale faster than marshmallow peeps (Quick: when was the last time you listened to Fatboy Slim?), but the Chemicals find a way to challenge themselves and clubgoers album after album. They dropped an A-bomb on clubs last year with the masterpiece “It Began In Afrika” (also included here), and there is much more where that came from. The title track had a tinge of prog rock, with the frenetic climbing keyboard riffs and thundering drums, and “Galaxy Bounce” had an outro paid humble tribute to Arthur Baker’s groundbreaking dub mixes from the early ‘80s. Come With Us? I’ll follow them anywhere they want to go.
9. John Shough - Ultra Vega (Big Beef)
“Hens Gone Wrong”? “Ejecti Nova Speed”? You would think they’re songs from Guided by Voices or the Pixies, but nope, it’s Dayton’s own John Shough. With an inverse proportion of the melody-to-quirkiness ratio that GbV’s Robert Pollard uses, Shough writes lots of short songs with gargantuan hooks. “Truly In Pieces” and “So Very”, in particular, are indie pop classics. For a guy who’s spent his entire career up to this point on the other side of the mixing board, Shough makes a hell of a splash on his debut. And word has it he already has three more albums worth of material in the can. Stay tuned.
10. Elbow - Asleep In The Back (V2)
If Thom Yorke is held as the current Minister of Paranoia, then Guy Garvey, singer for Elbow, is the Ambassador of Unspeakable Pain. There isn’t a moment on Asleep In The Back where Garvey doesn’t sound completely down and out, and yet so angelic at the same time. Garvey doesn’t try to hide his fears or obsessions a trip through the lyrics reveals “Any day now how’s about getting out of this place”, “I’m proud to be the one who holds you when the shakes begin”, “I’ll be the corpse in your bathtub” but contrast his pitch black lyrics with his heavenly voice, and the end result is more beautiful than bleak. The spirit of Talk Talk is alive and well in this band.
Best 2001 release I didn’t hear until 2002
Lolas - Silver Dollar Sunday (Jam)
Sunny, catchy, explosively powerful guitar pop from this sophomore effort. The melodies are effortless, the vocals sublime, and they can let rip if they feel like it, too. “Wild Blood” is easily the best Stone Roses tribute ever, and “It’s Been A Long Time” beats Oasis at their own game. Throw in a Shoes cover, and the rest is the most toe tappin’, jumpin’ jivin’ ode to ‘60s pop since, well, the ‘60s. Any fan of Beatles, Jellyfish, Big Star, etc. should get this, now.
10 Great Singles and other assorted tunes
- “Hate To Say I Told You So”, the Hives. How cool is that bass player?
- “Heavy Metal Drummer”, Wilco. I will leave the gushing over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to my colleagues. Just leave me this song.
- “Blame It On Me”, Unwritten Law. Rockabilly on steroids. Brian Setzer backed by Metallica. Easily the best song from their last album. Should have been a smash.
- “A Little Less Conversation”, Elvis vs. JXL. You may have heard of him.
- “Get Over It”, OK Go. What exactly does it mean to have a body like a battleaxe?
- “Party Hard”, Andrew WK. The world needs ditch diggers, too. And big dumb party anthems.
- “Across The Universe”, Rufus Wainwright. The one performer at the John Lennon tribute who actually got it. And not only did he get it, he nailed it.
- “That’s Not Really Funny”, Eels. Woo. Uh huh.
- “Home And Dry”, Pet Shop Boys. Forsaking the disco for the couch and a good book, this is definitely your father’s Pet Shop Boys.
- “Sweet Secret Peace”, Neil Finn. A nifty last minute Christmas present from New Zealand’s finest. Honorable Mention: “Invisible Ink”, Aimee Mann. One of my favorite artists of all time, and she broke my heart. Her new album, Lost in Space, bored me to tears. This song was the finest moment, and even it has the most damning lyric in its chorus: “Baby, we’ve all heard it all before.” You don’t know how right you are, Aimee.