SPIN Magazine seemed to be only half-serious, I think, when its writers chose "Your Hard Drive" as the No. 1 album at the end of 2000 — right above Radiohead's Kid A and our own Eminem's The Marshall Mathers Album. But it turned out to be one of the more astute musical observations of our time, especially that early in the decade. As we've said before, one of the best things about the Internets — and, thus, the decade itself — is that it was the great equalizer in that everyone could now be heard. That applies to music for our purposes here but extends as well to politics, uneducated opinions, etc. And therefore, one of the worst things about the Internet — and, thus, the decade — is that it was the great equalizer in that everyone could now be heard. ...
Of course, the biggest "hipsters" and poseurs will always try to find the most eclectic, obscure stuff so as to feel superior to those whose tastes they consider philistine. The Internet has certainly accelerated that snobbishness to a degree. But it really isn't anything new (although the great Nic Cohn's philosophy that it's actually easier to fool the "elitists," "intelligentsia" and "avant-garde pseudo intellectuals" than it is the less gullible bubblegum popster kids — by simply offering "the suggestion that only the very finest minds could possibly understand the product offered" — seems truer these days than it was when the great writer made the claim in the late '60s). But no matter how one looks at it, music did seem to be a more disengaged, disenfranchised and much less communal experience in the 2000's, for better or for worse, than ever before.
Detroit can at least take pride that in subsequent years following that 2000 SPIN round-up, the White Stripes took the number one position in two of the magazine's year-end polls. Eminem sold more music than anyone else in the 2000's (and Bob Seger's Greatest Hits album was the best-selling catalog album of the decade). But one also wonders what it says about culture and pop music when Eminem is only slightly trailed by those eternally great believers in unity, the Beatles, on that best-selling of the decade list. Hell, Elvis Presley had the number one international dance single of 2002, for gosh sakes. But perhaps this simply follows an era in which pop music and its many subgenres have become more segregated and more fragmented than perhaps any time in modern history.
As destructive as some thought MTV was in the '80s, it was only a fraction as damaging to pop culture as the ghastly phenomenon known as American Idol has been. Of course, a big part of the problems we've encountered this decade included a troublesome but deliberately willful lack of perspective — as in folks who don't know and, even worse, don't want to know. (That transcends just music and popular culture, by the way; how else can one explain a large segment of society electing losers like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Kwame Kilpatrick, not just once, but twice?) Let's face it: it was a lousy often devastating decade — anyone who denies that just hasn't been paying attention; it began with Bush taking office, after all, and rapidly went downhill from there. And the pop culture of the time mostly followed suit, either via escapism or a lot of negativity and darkness. (Hey, kids, the first main ingredient of chamber pop music should probably be, um, melody, no matter how damn good the vocal harmonies happen to be!) We weren't at all impressed, for the most part. And at this rate, we anticipate a future 15 or so years from now when Kennedy Center Honors go to such modern cultural heroes as John & Kate Gosselin, Simon Cowell, Harvey Levin, Justin Timberlake, Diddy, Lady Gaga and Holly Sampson (or substitute your favorite Tiger Woods "girlfriend" here).
Nevertheless, in an era in which videogames were far more important to a generation than music has been in years, we appreciated a few bright spots ... or at least things that moved us in our own little segregated, fragmented worlds (or pods or iPods, if you prefer), although a world (for those of us with some experience) in which "popular" doesn't necessarily mean "bad." —Bill Holdship
BILL HOLDSHIP'S 12 FAVORITE POP-ROCK ALBUMS OF THE DECADE
1. Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia): The best of the trilogy of albums that began with 1999's Time Out of Mind, its ironic title and steeped-in-roots music belied the fact that, mixed as it was with both humor and pathos, it was a perfect barometer of the American zeitgeist — both politically and personally — deep into its Dubya-inspired long national nightmare. Of course, that's something the old geezer has managed to accomplish for five decades now. He remains one of the artistic wonders of the Western world.
2. The Libertines, The Libertines (Rough Trade): This decade didn't produce a lot of great rock 'n' roll bands — and I mean rock 'n' roll in terms of that classic swagger, sound and look that's now a full-fledged archetype ... but also frequently a cartoon these days when it's approached at all. But these troubled dudes were the decade's finest of the sort. And their sophomore swan song, documenting the end of the band (and a friendship), is one of rock's finest albums of any decade, and destined to be an archetype of classic proportions itself. A pity that more people know them due to co-leader Pete Doherty's junkie-fueled, supermodel-connected tabloid exploits than for such terrific music.
3. Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge): The most infectious and surprising debut of the decade (again, belying its grim title), it initially made this writer think (at least some of the time) of Talking Heads fronted by Yoko Ono, but always in a good way. That was until numerous cool rock reference points began popping up all over the place with repeated listens. The best "art-rock" to come along in a long, long time ... especially if synthesizer music leaves you cold.
4. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (Republic): The tabloid problem that plagues Pete Doherty applies here as well. Fortunately, a lot of folks (including those of us who had the British import) discovered Winehouse's classic blend of Ronettes/Shangri-Las/Petula Clark meeting some of history's greatest jazz and pop standard chanteuses before those tawdry stories (and the heavy drug addiction, which has made her a perennial on year-end death polls for several years now) kicked in. What a voice ... but also what an evolving sad story thus far.
5. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch): When someone says you need to "spend time" with a disc, that generally means it has no licks or hooks. Not true in this case (as it would be on some of Jeff Tweedy & crew's subsequent releases). It was also the album that demonstrated more than perhaps any other the lack of an adventurous spirit (or ears) on the part of the major labels now that the original "hit men" have been replaced by corporate bean-counters.
6. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising (Columbia): Truth be told, I actually prefer music, for the most part, on the more recent Working on a Dream. But this was the 9/11 album to end all 9/11 albums — the only true 9/11 album, actually (although songs like the gorgeous "You're Missing" speaks to loss that transcends the World Trade Center). It was also the beginning of Springsteen being one of the few rockers of this decade saying the things that needed to be said.
7. The Raveonettes, Chain Gang of Love (Columbia): A kinder and warmer Jesus and Mary Chain steeped deep in rock history, this Danish duo was the other great rock unit of the decade. It never got any better than this major label debut (along with their preceding Whip It On EP).
8. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (Island): The great Patti Smith pop-rock album that Patti never actually made. Who'd have ever thought we'd get a happy, almost celebratory love album from — of all people — PJ Harvey? (Of course, it wasn't long before she returned to a darkness that was deeper than the one she exhibited earlier in her career ... but maybe that's what happens when one falls in love with and writes an album in tribute to someone as seemingly creepy as Vincent Gallo.)
9. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol): If the decade was mostly a series of solipsistic experiences that made the '70s seems positively communal in comparison, it's also true that I never thought I'd ever end up with a Coldplay disc on any list of mine. But, damn, someone played this repeatedly around me at a most fragile time (house burned down, father died, prescribed drug withdrawal — yeah, the 2000's were a bang on a personal level, and not just politically, for a lot of us as well). And Chris Martin's lyrics and vocals just struck, while the music was less suicide-inducing (and had more hooks) than something like Kid A.
10. The Strokes, Is This It (RCA): They ended up not been the stuff of "legend" that Rolling Stone predicted upon this album's release. And the answer to that question is probably "no." Plus, it was perhaps the grand culmination of "trust-fund rock." But at that particular time, these Velvet Underground and Wire lovin' pretty boys were briefly America's finest, if not most interesting, rock band.
11. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): Fuck art (and even terrorists). Let's dance!
12. The Libertines, Up the Bracket (Rough Trade): Hey, I said they were the decade's best rock 'n' roll band!
Kings of Leon, Youth & Young Manhood; Neil Young, Greendale; Steve Earle, Jerusalem; Rodney Crowell, Fate's Right Hand; Lucinda Williams, West; Bruce Springsteen, Working on a Dream; Van Morrison (with Linda Gail Lewis), You Win Again; Paul Westerberg, 49:00; Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, Arcade Fire, Neon Bible; Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP; Glasvegas, Glasvegas; Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne; The White Stripes, Elephant; The White Stripes, White Blood Cells; Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears; Bruce Springsteen, Magic; Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions; Paul Westerberg, Come Feel Me Tremble; The Strokes, Room On Fire; Old 97's, Satellite Rides; Weezer, Weezer; Weezer, Make Believe; Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal, Drive-By Truckers, The Dirty South; Lindsey Buckingham, Under The Skin; Brian Wilson, That Lucky Old Sun; Brian Wilson, Smile, Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around; Carlos Guitarlos, Straight From The Heart; Doves, Last Broadcast; Rickie Lee Jones, Sermons On Exposition Blvd.; OutKast, Speakerboxx/The Love Below; Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia; Dandy Warhols, Odditorium or Warlords of Mars.
W. KIM HERON'S TOP 21 JAZZ ALBUMS OF THE DECADE:
1. Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar): The great demolisher of jazz strictures circa 1959 is, for all to hear, a genre of one; and for all he did to democratize all the voices in a jazz group, it's his classic cry that counts the most.
2. Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy): True, some of the concerts sampled in this live anthology go back as far as 1980, but it feels less like an archival project than a current one that happened to be nearly 30 years in the making for the stellar improviser.
3. Wayne Shorter, Footprints — Live! (Verve): After drifting in the post-Weather Report era, Shorter formed his classic quartet. Unlike Rollins (his sidemen relegated to second-fiddling) and more so than Coleman, this is jazz democracy in action.
4. Andrew Hill, A Beautiful Day (Palmetto): The iconoclastic pianist-composer's late-career wonders included just one big band outing, a doozy.
5. Dave Holland Big Band, What Comes Around (ECM): Another big band? Didn't they die 50 years back? Holland's proved you could achieve clockwork precision and still kick high-velocity ass.
6. James Carter, Chasin' the Gypsy (Atlantic): The supremely masterful saxophonist finds things anachronistically copasetic in the land of Django Reinhart. Cousin Regina Carter is likewise brilliant here, and together ... think delirium in a French cafe.
7. Jason Moran, Modernistic (Blue Note): His consistency makes it tough to pick one representation of what he did in the decade. But this solo piano disc set the stage for what was to come. His "Planet Rock" calls on the spirits of Afrika Bambaata and James P. Johnson.
8. Maria Schneider Orchestra, Sky Blue (artistShare): A student of Bob Brookmeyer and apprentice to Gil Evans has gone on to imagine her own world of big band sumptuousness.
9. Joe Lovano, Streams of Expression (Blue Note): The follow-up to Lovano's large-group collaboration with conductor-arranger Gunther Schuller of the '90s included a look back to Schuller's work with Miles on Birth of the Cool.
10. Cassandra Wilson, Belly of the Sun (Blue Note): Wilson broadened the jazz repertoire for her generation in the '90s, but this disc epitomized her depth as well as her breadth.
11. Keith Jarrett, Always Let Me Go (ECM): "There's a love affair going on, there's a drunkenness, a diving in, and rapture, an ecstasy," the bassist Gary Peacock once said of the trio of himself, drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Jarrett. Opening up jazz standards was their way of passing the wine.
12. Burnt Sugar, Butch Morris, Pete Cosey, Melvin Gibbs, The Rites (Avantgroid): Butch Morris conducts Burnt Sugar, the improvising orchestra his theories inspired, with Cosey and Gibbs (Miles Davis band and Decoding Society alums, respectively) as ringers.
13. Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison): Is that the influence of Henry Threadgill in the drummer-leader's compositional twists and unexpected turns, his sense of the dramatic? Whatever his inspirations here, the Cuban ex-pat drummer is at his peak here.
14. Andy Bey, American Song (Savoy Jazz): He of the velvet baritone and so-nuanced delivery happens to be the best male jazz vocalist practicing today.
15. Denys Baptiste, Let Freedom Ring (Dune): The jazz-as-social-comment disc out of England was never released domestically. Poet Ben Okri's brilliant recitation (content and delivery) is framed by a 12-piece band, led by saxophonist Baptiste, that pays homage to Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite," Max Roach's "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite" and the era that produced them.
16. Graham Haynes, BPM (Knitting Factory)/Craig Taborn, Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear): Jazz met techno and various electronic music strains throughout the decade. Haynes' Wagner samples framed grand ambitions. Taborn's improv conversations with bandmates created a canvas at once intimate and a little insane.
17. Wadada Leo Smith, Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet (Tzadik): One of great AACM voices aptly saluted the passing of another, the trumpeter Lester Bowie.
18. The Vandermark 5, Burn the Incline (Atavistic): Who could keep up with reedman Ken Vandermark's prodigious output in the decade? But this 2000 release — with a catchy swagger and lots o' hooks amid the caterwauling — was a reason to try to follow this Vandermark outfit in particular.
19. Rudresh Mahanthappa featuring Kadri Gopalnath and the Dakshina Ensemble, Kinsmen (Pi): At least as far back as Yusef Lateef in the '50s, musicians have been finding affinities between jazz and Indian music. Indian-American Mahanthappa has found the deepest synthesis to date.
20. Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT): An energized avant-populist, deconstructing West Side Story's "Somewhere," paying homage to Andrew Hill, slamming through MIA's "Galang," and translating Julius Hemphill's "Dogon AD."
21. ROVA::Orkestrarova, Electric Ascension (Atavistic): The sax quartet plus a dozen guests posit Coltrane's "Ascension" as Handel's Messiah for the new century.
Editor's note: Brian Smith's Worst Albums of the Decade will appear in next week's issue of Metro Times.
Send comments or your own "Best of the Decade" lists to firstname.lastname@example.org.