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You may be sick of it now, but back in 1999 people couldn’t get enough of this monster hit. Thirty years after his hippie heyday, Carlos Santana topped charts at a time when they were typically reserved for teenage popsters and materialistic rappers. No wonder—“Smooth” was infectious, a Latin soul serenade with a rock bedrock. Santana was aided by Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas, who via this inspired pairing marked himself out as something more than another overwrought post-grunger. A great song—at least, until we all got sick of it.
Sure, All You Can’t Leave Behind wasn’t U2’s first return from the brink (hello, Achtung Baby). But while the Irish quartet washed away the heavy-handed disappointment that was Rattle and Hum with the self-deconstructionism of “The Fly”, come the new millennium the band sought instead to rebuild what it had spent the ‘90s tearing down. Following the ho-hum reaction to 1997’s Pop, U2 was compelled to reaffirm its status as the biggest band in the land, and “Beautiful Day” was purpose-built to ensure the plan succeeded. Though often remarked upon as the return of “classic” U2, this majestic stunner of a song could not have existed without the preceding decade of post-modernism and electronic dabbling—indeed, the electronic effects heard throughout the track are evidence that the lessons of the ‘90s were not forgotten. Yet it’s undeniable that the song’s persistent rush, its never-ending scaling for heaven, is exactly the sort of thing that won the group global devotees in the first place—and the sort of thing it had underplayed for what seemed like forever. Many have remarked that if for some reason “Beautiful Day” was to be the final U2 single, it would have been the perfect note to end on. It’s not hard to see why.
For fans of classic metal, the ‘90s were a dark period as alterna-rock and resurrected punk called time on sword-and-sorcery imagery and guitar histrionics. Meanwhile, British metal stalwart Iron Maiden drifted through the decade following the departure of singer Bruce Dickinson, recording two underwhelming LPs with his replacement Blaze Bayley But then something wondrous happened: not only did Dickinson rejoin Maiden, but so did fan-favorite guitarist Adrian Smith. Now expanded to a three-guitar six-piece, 2000’s Brave New World saw Iron Maiden reconnect with what make it mighty in the first place. The time apart seemed to have lit a fire under the band, for it tackled that record’s lead single with a gusto befitting its early ‘80s masterworks. Boasting a triumphant chorus of “Your time will come”, “The Wicker Man” heralded the start of quite possibly the most impressive second act of any band in metal history.
Being a Sade fan must be frustrating exercise in patience. Since the ‘90s, the British smooth jazz band has released only three albums, with the wait times between them spanning eight and ten years. But then a single like “By Your Side” returns Sade Adu’s seductive voice to the airwaves and all is forgiven as we rush out to buy it. No one can do cool, casual sensuality like Sade, and though loathe to admit it, it’s ultimately worth the wait.
After five years of waiting, the public didn’t know what to make of 1999’s double-disc The Fragile once it finally saw daylight. Brilliant yet flawed (yet brilliant), the double-disc opus flared out quickly as the music environment instead embraced less artful heaviness. Between LPs, Trent Reznor kicked his substance abuse habits and adopted a punishing fitness regime—and duly reentered the studio. “The Hand That Feeds”, the lead single from 2005’s With Teeth, was a perfect representation of the now healthy and sober Reznor: stripped down, streamlined, and seething with methodically regulated anger that’s held on a very short leash. It’s not as gnarled or as ambitiously visionary as other NIN A-sides, but that wasn’t necessarily the point. Not only did the track return Nine Inch Nails to modern rock prominence, it provided Reznor with an appropriate in-concert comeback for those occasions when an audience member acted less than respectfully.