Story Tony BonyataIn a year dominated by limp-wristed bubblegum pop and weak alternative-light fare, there were at least a handful of fresh, inventive albums that actually mattered in 2000. Cold, atmospheric art-rock, alt-country, heavy metal, hip-hop, as well as parting gifts from two of the strongest acts of the '90s all made the cut. Listed here, are the top ten albums, in no particular order, of last year.
Radiohead - Kid A
In one of the boldest "about face" career moves from an established rock act, Radiohead ditched their guitars and more conventional song structures in favor of atmospheric, soundscapes. Thom Yorke's vocals ethereally float above the vast icy tundra, while the rest of the band perform dissonant free-form jazz, ambient interludes and spacey alien soundtracks that's finally taking rock to new, uncharted lands. A modern alien masterpiece.
Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue Vol. II
Half of the brilliance of this album actually belongs to original folk musician and social activist Woody Guthrie, who wrote all the lyrics presented here. Unfortunately, he died before he got a chance to set them to music. Luckily, however, these lyrics were given to Wilco and Billy Bragg by Guthrie's daughter to add their own musical language to. The results are marvelous, with finger poppin' folk rock, country dirges, lilting lullabies and bouncy folk-pop. Social protest has never been this much fun.
U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
Leaving their techno baggage from their last three albums behind them, Bono and company bring along only what's needed. With songs that not only hearken back to a time when every other number was an anthem, but that also point to a simpler uncluttered future, this is the U2 that is sure to please the masses. And let's not forget that it also contains the song "Beautiful Day," quite possibly the best single of the year from any artist.
PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea
With the rage and passion of her earlier work back in full swing, Harvey has delivered one of her strongest works to date. With songs that reflect both her extended stay in New York City and her hometown of Yeovil, England, these are passionate stripped down, well-written songs with breathtaking dynamics. Welcome back, Polly Jean.
The Smashing Pumpkins - Machina II / the friends and enemies of modern music
Before one of the strongest acts spawned from the "alternative nation" officially called it quits last month, they left us with their swan song, "Machina II," a follow-up to "Machina / the machines of God." The beauty of this set, aside from the fact that it's actually a stronger collection of songs than "Machina I," was that they only pressed 25 copies on vinyl and gave them to fans to distribute any way they saw fit - via the Internet, taping, CD burning, bootlegging or any other method to get the music out. With songs ranging from grandiose pop to bone-shattering metal with flying guitar shrapnel to tender love songs, this is unadulterated, classic Pumpkins material. Thanks for the free music, Billy. It's been quite a ride.
Common - Like Water For Chocolate
Forget the wife beating, gay bashing, foul-mouthed slather from rap's current bad boy, Eminem. Instead, check out the organic hip-hop sounds from Chicago's own Common. Mixing rap, jazz and African influences, Common's approach to hip-hop music is sensual, seductive and, above all, real.
A Perfect Circle - Mer de Noms
Smart, retooled metal that smarts. Led by Tool's frontman Maynard James Keenan, A Perfect Circle blends heavy metal with edgy alternate rock. Hopefully, Tool will stay on their sabbatical just long enough for these guys to produce another brooding gem like this.
Lou Reed - Ecstasy
Leave it to the true father of alternative music to turn regret and lost love into art. He's sang about heroin, bondage, drag queens and the demented underbelly of New York's dark side. He even wrote an entire album that focused on the death of a friend. Now on "Ecstasy" Lou"s singing about another sore subject - his failed marriage with performance artist Laurie Anderson, and the results are, strangely, wonderful.
Rage Against The Machine - Renegades
The Smashing Pumpkins weren't the only great act of the last decade to recently call it a day, as lead singer Zack De La Rocha announced he was leaving Rage Against The Machine, the originators of the hybrid rap / metal genre. On their final release "Renegades" these musical anarchists have put together an invigorating collection of cover songs that touch on, not only, the more obvious choices, such as The Stooges "Down on The Street" and MC5's "Kick Out The Jams," but also do fresh, creative justice to Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad," The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm."
Tahiti 80 - Puzzle
They may be from France, but Tahiti 80's fey brand of pop is built on the finest of English pop traditions. The songs on their debut album, Puzzle, are light, bouncy and irresistible. Their influences from British pop icons, such as The Kinks and The Beatles, along with lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Boyer's effervescent voice, makes this album a delightful treat.
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