As a staunch defender of mainstream pop, the year 2000 wasn’t a great year for music. It’s almost as if all the big names tried to put out good albums in 1999 just in case the world really would end with Y2K. On the other hand, what was good in pop this year was generally great. I’m not very good at lists so take this one with a grain of salt (I’ll go back and read High Fidelity again and try harder next year folks, I promise!). What I have included is among the best I heard, but I’m sure I missed a lot of excellent stuff in the shuffle. I’m also sure some of you readers will question my taste, but I did throw in a couple of indie rock albums for good measure.
1. XTC, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) (TVT)
Anyone who read my review of this disc knows I’m biased, but there’s little doubt in my mind that this album stands on its own. After their excellent excursions into accoustic and orchestral songcraft, this return to power pop from one of the greatest pop bands of the last 25 years feels fresh and comfortably familiar all at once. “We’re All Light” and “You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful” are my musts-for-mix-tapes of 2000. (To the critics at Amazon.co.uk: You placed S Club 7’s album over that of the true heir of Ray Davies?!? Thus the downfall of the Britpop empire.)
2. Barenaked Ladies, Maroon (Reprise)
Months after spending nearly a week listening to this album non-stop, I still catch myself whistling tunes from this pop gem. All the elements of Brian Wilson (the singer, not the song) and more. BNL is all grown up and famous now, and they wind up turning out a nearly perfect recording to prove it. Still not sold on the Barenaked Ladies? Check out “Conventioneers” and “Tonight Is the Night I Feel Asleep at the Wheel”.
3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
Everything this band has put out since Pablo Honey is about progression, an along the way they’ve filled in the gaps on that debut disc with precision. Coming off an album so lauded that even the Grammys couldn’t ignore it (OK Computer), the band manages to do it again and prove that they are the brilliant musicians they’re touted to be. Everything else to say about this album has already been said.
4. Travis, The Man Who (Epic)
Okay, I know this disc really debuted in 1999, but being a Yank it didn’t hit my shelves until 2000, so it counts in my book. At times fragile and others anthemic, Travis evokes the spirit of every other great Britpop band of the ’80s and early ’90s (can anyone say James?), while proving that piano medody is still beautiful and that you don’t have to rip off the Beatles to follow in their footsteps.
5. Creed, Human Clay (BMG/Wind-Up)
Sigh. Okay, I know we’re all pretty sick of hearing “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open” and watching Scott Stapp stand around in a Jesus Christ pose. And sure they’re a slick amalgamation of Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam (or at least the early work of these acts), but so what? Human Clay is still a highly enjoyable rock album, no matter how derivative the grunginess is, and songs like “Beautiful” and “Never Die” give me faith that rock can be saved from the Slipknots of the world.
6. Michael Hutchence, Michael Hutchence (V2)
Yeah, no shit, Michael Hutchence. Eerie as it is to listen to a dead man sing songs like “Slide Away” and “Don’t Save Me From Myself” and see the too-symbolic cover photo of Hutchence with eyes closed and arms crossed over his chest, there is a lot of lost potential evidenced in this album. Hutchence shows a range of style on this disc that he rarely touched on INXS’ discs. This deeply sensual and dark album could change any negative opinions you might have about an excellent vocalist and artist.
7. The Search for Saturnalia, Four Letters (Has Anyone Ever Told You?)
This Austin, Texas-based indie rock band is the cure for anyone who’s sick waiting for new material from Sonic Youth. Perfectly imperfect, fuzzy, crunchy, and poppy all at the same time, this album grows and grows on you like a vine.
8. Eels, Daisies of the Galaxy (DreamWorks)
The man called E delivers another touching and emotive album of material unlike any other. The deep sadness that made Electro-Shock Blues such a dark masterpiece haven’t entirely vanished from E’s songs, but this follow-up sees the man and the band returning to a brighter future. Where their debut, Beautiful Freak, was more playful and kaleidoscopic musically, Daisies of the Galaxy is subtle in the extreme. But when the final, “hidden” track ends this disc with a chorus of “Goddamned right, it’s a beautiful day!” you know there’s still hope for us all.
9. The Urge, Too Much Stereo (Immortal/Virgin)
Party funk-punk-pop music might seem like a dime a dozen these days, but the Urge supplement their typical genre bending with excellent hooks, killer riffs, and the amazing voice of Steve Ewing. Coming out from under the shadow of 311 on this album, the Urge is nothing but fun, even when singing serious songs. While not a contender for artistry and craftsmanship like some of other albums on this list, this is simply a great collection of tunes, well produced and arranged.
10. Car 44, Platinum Holes (Thirsty Ear)
I’m not sure why this album really hit me so hard. Perhaps it’s the simple basics of rock at the heart of the band, or Dahna Moore’s sultry voice, or just that it was different from the highly polished gloss of pop pabulum available over the radio, but something did. Without any sense of punk pretentiousness or false grit, Car 44 manage to sound somehow raw and feminine and just plain good.
Suburbia’s Finest, A Fundamental Review on the Topics of Higher Learning
It didn’t seem fair to put up a local Denver band whose album is currently only available over the Internet (www.joesgrille.com), but this disc really shows a huge leap forward for Suburbia’s Finest and has been in regular rotation in my CD player all year long. Some damned fine punk-pop that.