Year End Review 2002

 

Music: Response 2002 

Take a good look at the music industry these days, and it’s tough to find complete, solid, cohesive albums from start to finish.  Record companies are still pushing albums with a hit single or two and a bunch of filler.  This is the biggest reason why MP3’s are so popular.  People are tired of buying entire albums and finding a few good songs (if you’re lucky) for $15.  There is solid proof that when this strategy is averted, and someone is cultivated and nurtured to become a real artist, they produce far-reaching albums of great songs.  Alicia Keys was a perfect example of this last year, and Norah Jones is one this year.  Put out quality music, and the fans will follow – and stick around.  These are the real American Idols.  Are you listening, Mr. Record Executive?

That said, who had the goods this year?  The face of teen pop is changing.  Justin, Britney, Christina, and the rest of the Mickey Mouse Club isn’t going anywhere too soon, but there’s a whole new wave of young singer-songwriters, guitar in hand.  Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, and Kelly Osbourne are the new teen idols, and it’s nice to have a little variety in the pack.  Rock became hip again, and with a new sound inspired by old styles of punk and grunge – bands like the Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, and most of all the White Stripes – it took a big fresh breath and exhaled coolness.  Hip hop’s entourages are keeping the Benjamins rolling in, thanks to innovators like Missy Elliot, who continues to amaze by mixing it with a whole new spin.  Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” pulsed with a raw energy and urgency in a song like we haven’t heard in a good many years.  No Doubt, J Lo, Jimmy Eat World, Kylie, Res, Nelly, the Chemical Brothers, and even N’Sync, Elvis, and the Mitsubishi commercials (!) gave us some of the rest of our favorite pop nuggets of the year. 

Now, back to those albums –

 

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

One Order of the New Breed…

Norah Jones – Come Away With Me

What kind of market can a 22-year-old lounge singer have in 2002, where jazz sales account for only 3% of the total take?  Not much right?  Why then, does almost everyone I know own this CD – which has sold 3 million and counting?  The answer is simple.  Sounding years beyond her age, Norah Jones floats every jazz-influenced delicious word over a chocolate martini that gets sweeter with each listen.  No matter what’s going on in the world, listening to this CD takes you to a smoky, dimly lit jazz cafe where the world stops turning for a few moments.  Start to finish, a remarkable disc.

John Mayer – Room for Squares / Howie Day – Australia

It’s been quite some time since I can recall so many quality male singer-songwriters popping up.  There have been plenty of ladies singing for their supper (Fiona, Aimee, Sheryl, Sarah, Dido, Tracy, etc) but other than Sting, the guys have been MIA.  Well suddenly it’s raining men, and it sounds fantastic.  Jack Johnson, Pete Yorn, David Gray, Ed Harcourt, John Mayer, Howie Day – the last 2 are my favorites, and their albums of catchy, simple pop songs get better with each listen.

Various Artists – A Tribute to Greg Brown

Apparently, Greg Brown is a big shot on the folk circuit.  I had never heard of him until I came upon this tribute to him, featuring a bunch of his songs being covered by some of the seminal women in the acoustic scene.  Ani Difranco, Shawn Colvin, Allison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and a bunch of lesser knowns all ante up here and do a great job sharing the love for this guy.  I’m a convert.

Beth Orton – Daydreamer

Since her start with the Chemical Brothers on some block rockin’ beats, Beth Orton has struck out on her own for 3 albums – each one a keeper.  She scores again here with some guest appearances from Ryan “don’t call me Bryan” Adams and Emmylou Harris.  The result is a fantastic collection of folk rock, mellow pop, and bit parts of some trippy beats thrown in for a kick.  “This One’s Gonna Bruise”, written by Adams, is an astonishing tale of a vulnerable woman in love, while the title track meanders along a nomadic trail.

…a Side of Truth…

Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head

Coldplay emerged a few years ago with their first CD “Parachutes”, an immediately striking album of simple, direct, lovely songs that have aged well.  Their second CD is a large step into more expansive ground, musically.  The lyrics, though, are still straight to the point.  Few bands around today can write lines like “No one said it would be easy – no one said it would be this hard” and “The truth is, I miss you” when singing about a breakup and not sound corny.  That Coldplay can do it and make it sound so urgent is a testament to this still-young band’s depth, and promise of more brilliant things to come.

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

Over the past few years, nu metal has been the talk of Rock Town.   Middle class suburban white kids rapping about how suppressed they are.  Whatever.  This year their biscuits went limp and garage rock made a welcome return – with bands like the Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, and most of all the White Stripes.  With a sound that recalls pieces of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Green Day, and even Camper van Beethoven, White Blood Cells chronicles the dynamic duo of Jack and Meg White.  How can a Lego video not be fun?  Vive le rock!

Starsailor – Love is Here

On Love is Here, James Walsh of Starsailor opens his chest and gives you a direct look at his heart and soul – with all of their scars and bruises.  That look is chronicled on this gripping album of emotional highs and lows.  Anyone who says that men don’t express their feelings should take a listen to this guy.  “Good Souls” is the feel good song of the year.

…Special Sauce…

Zero 7 – Simple Things

This CD came out in late 2001, and it was a slow burner that gathered more steam with each passing month.  It’s been compared to Air, but Zero 7 has more in common with Alpha.  They don’t have any of the kitsch or French playfulness of Air; instead, they take the remnants of late 90’s trip-hop and replace the cold distance of some of that music with human emotion.  They hit all marks when they try their hand at the more intimate songs here, like “Distractions”, “This World”, and “In the Waiting Line”.

Various Artists – Buddha Lounge and Buddha Sunset

Take a look around, and it seems that everyone is crazy about Buddha these days.  This is most obvious in the chillout section of your music store.  Why the craze?  Think about it – combine the laid-back coolness of mellow music with the exotic Asian appeal and peaceful tranquility of Buddha and you get a mixture that is an extremely enticing escape from the barrage of bad news media.  These two collections are two of the best around, but there are plenty of Buddhalicious ones out there, if you’re willing to look.  Namaste.

Supreme Beings of Leisure – Divine Operating System

This slicker than your average duo slipped into the music subconsciousness with their sultry vocals over groovalicious beats in 2000 with their first CD.  Their follow up is even glossier than the first, with booty-swaying songs like “Divine” and “Ghetto” bouncing through swank lounges, car speakers, and urban bedrooms around the country.

Various Artists – 1 Giant Leap

This concept album came together as part of a multimedia group looking to nurture and further cultivate “world music”.  Their goal was to bring together players and musical innovators around the world, merging and melding into new forms and cool grooves.  Featuring artists as diverse as Michael Stipe, Nenah Cherry, Robbie Williams, Maxi Jazz, Baaba Maal, and Grant Lee Phillips, the result is an interesting and very listenable collection of songs with a one-world vision and a global sound.  It comes together in perfect unity on “My Culture”.

…Hold the Bling, Please

Various Artists – Giant Step Soul Sessions I and II

A label out of NYC, Giant Step is more on the pulse of vital artists in pop, soul, and lounge music than anyone else in the world.  Promoting the hottest albums and shows around, Giant Step dropped their first two collections this year, the Soul Sessions volumes.  New soul is the next incarnation of soul, drawing from British trip-hop and world beats for flavor.  Featuring Koop, Ultra Nate, Donnie, Nickodemus & Osiris with Carol C of Sise, Rosey, and Jazzanova.

Donnie – Welcome to the Colored Section

Donnie is the bastard child of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.   A continuation of the neo-soul movement that is usually more about the booty than social issues, Donnie expands the walls and our minds.  Addressing songs about racial, social, and gender issues, Donnie croons to inspire each of us to self-empowerment; something that goes well beyond simply being a racial issue – particularly on “Our New National Anthem”, an ode to post-9/11 attitudes, and the title song.

Lauryn Hill – MTV Unplugged

When Lauryn Hill ventured out on her own from the Fugees, no one could have anticipated what a powerful songwriter she’d turn out to be.  Her debut album ranks as one of the most amazing collections of songs, hip-hop or otherwise, in the past 20 years.  This unconventional follow-up features bare-bones outlines of what can scarcely be called songs, recorded live and displaying her as a vulnerable but self-actualized, completely real artist.  She rambles on way too much about what she’s been through and gets too soap-boxey for her own good, but the songwriting here suggests that she’s just beginning to tap her potential.  If she can keep it together and continue to grow, she will be one of the most vital artists of the 21st century.


ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Bono

He may be arrogant, he may be a dufus, he may be a bit much to take sometimes, but this year Bono showed up like nobody else.  Bringing attention to the devastated communities throughout Africa, Bono rallied us to come together not just as a community, or as a country, but as a people, as one world, to work for peace, understanding, and acceptance.  As we’ve learned in the past few years, the world is a much smaller place than it’s ever been.  Whether you agree with his style or his music, you can’t disregard the effects that his efforts have made on some of the policies that exist for third world debt and treatment of disease.  Carry on, my good man.

 

That’s a wrap.  Until next year…

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