This article was first published on CLUAS in Dec 2000
2000 - A Year in Music
Steve reflects on the most memorable music to hit his ears in 2000
Are we allowed to make lists these days? Now that Nick Hornby's new-man novel 'High Fidelity' has reached an even wider audience through Stephen Frear's excellent movie, it is impossible to review the year in music without thinking of how incessant list-making and rating has been ridiculed?. " My top 5 things to make lists of are?"? Still, I shall persevere and risk the wrath of the CLUAS Discussion Board.
Again, like 1999, most of the best music this year has come from the States. Much has been made of failure of UK and Irish acts to crack the American market since the rise of New Wave and Duran Duran in the 80s. Undoubtedly, the Irish have had more success than the Brits and (ahem) Samantha Mumba sits in the Top 10 Billboard chart as I type but there is a straight-forward reason for this malaise. What chance have the likes of the Honeyz or The Spice Girls got against the home-grown US talents of Destiny's Child or TLC? Or Westlife vs Backstreet Boys? As for Oasis and Robbie Williams cast as the Bad Boys of British rock who? shock horror? smash up hotel rooms?! American Bad Boy stars kill people. They have guns. Apart from Sting and Radiohead, the most successful British act in the US Top 200 albums is? wait for it? Charlotte Church, the 14 yr old classical songstress. The Americans, simply, make better pop music right now. But we must also remember that the US charts, infested with the likes of Offspring, Limp Bizkit et al, has its own fair share of shite.
British and Irish music is not as soporific as these facts suggest. Look at U2 who have reinvented themselves by going back to their roots or Radiohead who controversially used their status to produce the most pretentious but, ultimately, fascinating album of the year in 'Kid A'. The resurgence of Nick Drake (who had all his albums remastered and re-released to widespread acclaim) may be one of the reasons that Badly Drawn Boy's sprawling, folky 'The Hour Of The Bewilderbeast' was viewed by many as a masterpiece. White indie miserabilism is still alive and well as highlighted by Coldplay's 'Parachutes' landing on the top spot in the UK charts. Great things are expected from both these acts.
Two excellent albums that seemed to pass on by were Primal Scream's 'XTRMNTR' and David Holmes' 'Bow Down To The Exit Sign'. Both are blistering records. The Scream are still the most vital sonic attack in the British canon and the addition of Mani to their line-up has added all sorts of extra dimensions. His brilliance here makes me lament The Stone Roses self-destruction even more. "Swastika Eyes", along with Eminem's "Stan" were the singles of the year for me. Our own David Holmes seems to be going through the same fixation with America that Bono went through in the late 80s - his record is a celebration of the energy, vitality and danger of big city streetlife. Without the profanity and humour of Eminem's enjoyably disturbing "The Mashall Mathers LP", there is still an urgency to the music. Holmes is one of the most imaginative musicians we have and "Bow Down To The Exit Sign" is like the soundtrack to the greatest movie that's never been made.
The wonderful music emanating from the Southern States of the USA has been coined alt.country. This burst of creative energy in imbued with the spirit of Gram Parsons, the evocative singer-songwriter with the Byrds. Emmylou Harris duetted with Parsons on his only two solo records before his untimely death and, whilst also releasing the beautiful 'Red Dirt Girl' this year, she oversaw the production of "Return Of The Grievous Angel" - a tribute to Parsons with his songs performed by the likes of Beck, Wilco, Whiskeytown and Emmylou herself. It is a simply brilliant record and alongside 'Nixon' by Lambchop , 'Daisies In The Galaxy' by The Eels, 'Big Tobacco' by Joe Pernice, 'Transcendental Blues' by Steve Earle, 'Smile' by The Jayhawks and a myriad of others, this record demonstrates the heart and feeling in American music today. In the new year, with records from Wilco and Whiskeytown imminent, this quality will surely continue to come.
On the re-release front, there has been some astounding success for that little-known beat combo, the Beatles. Now officially the fastest selling album of all time, 1 has been at the top of the charts worldwide and, on the 20th anniversary of Lennon's assassination, the Beatles have been confirmed as the cultural global phenomenon of the 20th Century. But my favourite re-release this year was from a band that rose from anonymity to back Bob Dylan on one of the most controversial tours in rock history, his electric tour of 1966. Dylan was famously accused of being a "Judas" by his shocked fans. In the years following, the Band played music that seemed steeped in American history. The re-releases of 'Music From The Big Pink' and the eponymous 'The Band' in the late sixties confirmed them as a group worthy of all the mythology that surrounds them. Their music had power, depth, subtlety and a sumptuous panache that's all their own.
So, this has been a good year. An excellent year even. While the popularity of boy-bands and female singers with enlarged, comedy breasts continues unabated, there's still plenty for us to enjoy. And to look forward to.
10 Albums Of The Year
Holmes - 'Bow Down To The Exit Sign'
Dandy Warhols - '13 Tales From Urban Bohemia'
Primal Scream - 'XTRMNTR'
Badly Drawn Boy - 'Hour of the Bewilderbeast'
Destinys Child - 'The Writing's On The Wall'
Lambchop - 'Nixon'
Emmylou Harris - 'Red Dirt Girl'
U2 - 'All That You Can't Leave Behind'
The Eels - 'Daisies In The Galaxy'
Eminem - 'The Marshall Mathers LP'
Re-Release Of The Year
The Band - "The Band"
Compilation of the Year
Emmylou and Friends - "Return of the Grievous Angel"