…and that was how ol' 'Fat Wax' McGillicuddy died in my arms on New Year's Eve, dreaming of hot dogs and Proust.
You could say 2002 started poorly. We were still freaked out about 9-11 and anthrax letters and it took years to feel something resembling normal. The music business was on its own death trip, hurriedly calculating how many ways it could shoot itself in the foot, heart and head and surrender to irrelevancy without a real fight. The fractures of the 1970's mass audience had turned into full-on dismemberment, with the foot bone having no effect on what was happening with the arm bone (I flunked doctor school) by the 1980s and 1990s, when adult music critics pretended to like, get this, Eric Clapton albums named August and Journeyman! It was like he was daring you to like them. Why not Hack! you might ask?
By 2002, everything was in pieces, all junked into strict stylistic boxes that few people bothered to rummage through anymore. It had only been a few years earlier when a girl got in my face about not liking Tool! By 2002, she was likely married, pregnant and thinking about a career in corporate communications.
The list below is a cross-section of stuff that got released within the calendar year of 2002. The stuff that passed my sniffer as being "pretty good" probably got heard by a couple dozen people. I know younger folks like to imagine a world without 'boomers,' but I have to wonder if anyone will be performing to any notable audience at 70 years old. I mean, of course, once Dave Grohl inevitably dies.
Is Rihanna all we have to look forward to in our retirement communities? Maybe Lady Gaga will do a little soft shoe?
24) Pearl Jam -- Riot Act: Pearl Jam admired the Who but they never figured out how to reach catharsis like ol' Pete, so things with the P-Jam were prone to getting stuck between gears and, well, jamming. Their decision to back away from the mainstream and stand for their "principles" means the people who weren't already firmly in their camp just wandered to another booth. File under: missionary work.
22) Nelly -- Nellyville: Nelly's second album debuted at #1 on the album charts and the band-aid under his eye was a powerful visual clue to nothing in particular. Even people in Canada bought the album! Canada! They got six singles off the album. Maybe this is who I'll see on my 2042 cruise of the positively balmy North Pole.
20) Weezer -- Maladroit: I learned a few years back that I'm infamous with Weezer fans, since I was the clown who reviewed Pinkerton in Rolling Stone, back when it was considered just another album. Since that review, it was voted Worst Album and eventually revised as the Greatest Album Ever Made! I'm still in the middle of whatever. However, if I had to pick one Weezer album to bring to the retirement condo, I go with Maladroit. The Cure homage alone is worth it.
18) Sigur Ros -- ( ): If you're going for anonymity, it's best to make music that's enhanced by its low profile. Sigur Ros, Iceland's hottest band?, turned in eight "untitled" tracks, with subheadings for identity, that are nearly impossible to critique. As long as it floats, it works just fine. No one cares about the people who make it or whether they hate their mothers. Do some yoga. You'll like it.
16) The Decemberists -- Castaways and Cutouts: Long before they became indie-rock's beloved proggers, the Decemberists just came off weird in a 'Robyn Hitchcock-isn't-this-off?' kind of way. Why the singer was singing in an accent that wasn't his seemed a little preposterous. Was he trying to be a big hit in erudite whaling communities?
14) Elvis Costello -- When I Was Cruel: Nobody's going to confuse this with This Year's Model. Despite its insistence of being hard and angry and featuring two-thirds of the Attractions, it's still too cluttered. El' would never be simple again. I'd take a quarter of it, since I still love what he was. But somebody teach him how to sing without bleeding through his ears. And ever since you went "classy," you've been really dull.
12) Paul Westerberg -- Stereo/ Mono: It was bound to happen. Sitting around for weeks in a studio getting the right sound just so radio could ignore you is the kind of feedback loop that doesn't provide positive reinforcement, so, of course, Westy fires the big name producers and rolls tape in his basement. As long as he writes the songs, he can sing 'em. In case, Stereo was too polished for you, he threw in Mono.
10) Eminem -- The Eminem Show: The year of 8 Mile, 2002 was the year where everybody caught up to Eminem. The album has sold over ten million copies and critics, not wanting to be seen as old and out of the loop, made sure they weighed in on the importance that was clearly here. I mean, it is, right?
8) The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion -- Plastic Fang: Their music causes deep conflict within me. Are they rich kids who know their packaging? Are they an art project? Do they rock? With Steve Jordan at the controls and on bass, Plastic Fang is more conventional than their other records and probably the only one I keep until storage becomes an issue.
6) Johnny Cash -- American IV: The Man Comes Around: This was Cash's final album while still above ground. Like its predecessors, it features Cash singing anything producer Rick Rubin could convince him to do. I'm glad Mr. Rubin did this. We can't ask Johnny to do it anymore.
4) Brendan Gamble -- Heartless Moon: Brendan Gamble is a little known singer-songwriter who'd been the second drummer in the Poster Children and a member of the Moon Seven Times. His divorce led him to write and perform this heartbreaking piece of first-rate artistry. If you like Sea Change, you should love this one. It's one of those lost treasures that will be reissued in twenty years like he's the new Bill Fay or something.
2) Tom Waits -- Alice / Blood Money: Three years since Mule Variations and Tommy shows up with two brand-new platters. Unlike, say, the Guns and the Roses or Bruce the Springsteen, Tommy actually had two albums worth of material to foist upon us. Presentation matters!
- Arts & Entertainment