If 2001 as a year in music felt schizophrenic and unfocused, than 2002 was just as splintered and eclectic. The synthetic "boy band" sound that dominated most of my teens was finally dying out; it felt cool to play an instrument again. In an irony-free post-9/11 soceity, the goofy punk-pop stylings of Green Day, Blink-182, and The Offspring --nothing against any of them, of course-- was giving way to raw, typically serious acts like The White Stripes, The Vines, and The Hives. (Having a "The" in your band name was also in vogue.) After a prolonged battle between Courtney Love and the surviving members of Nirvana, their final single hit the airwaves eight years after it was recorded (see below). 2002 was a transitional year for other heroes of '90s grunge, an awkward 12-month span that included: the death of Layne Staley; former members of Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine joining forces as Audioslave; the failure of Krist Novoselic's new project, Eyes Adrift; Dave Grohl's return to the drum set, courtesy of Queens of the Stone Age; Billy Corgan forming Zwan; and Pearl Jam quietly releasing a new studio album --on top of a gazillion "official bootleg" live discs-- as they fought to stay relevant.
My discovering The Strokes and The White Stripes in late '01 kindled my heretofore delayed interest in alternative rock; I was still a classic rock DJ at heart, but the indie/garage/DIY renaissance was enough to stop me from completely writing off "new" music. A tiny, now-defunct UHF channel in Chicago would similcast MTV2 --back when they still aired videos, of course-- half the day, so I would tape two-hour blocks of programming when I was at school. Quaint, eh? On a more personal level 2002 was a very eventful year, one that culminated with my braces being removed in early January, than my first (and so far only) cruise, my first alcoholic beverage (a banana daiquiri, don't judge), first kiss, the deaths of four relatives in a three-month span, the craziest baseball game I've ever seen*, being nominated for Homecoming court, and the long-delayed, long-awaited installation of internet in the Allard household. In short, 2002 was just as crazy and exciting for me as it was for music.
*Sorry to keep you hanging, but I'll give you all the details about that game on or about the 10-year anniversary in September.
1. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco. Seeking a change of pace following the power-pop of 1999's Summerteeth, Wilco's fourth album now stands as an example of brilliance under duress. Lambasted by their former label as "not commercial enough" and devoid of a single, Foxtrot takes the sonic experimentation of Summerteeth several steps further, like a Midwestern answer to Radiohead's Kid A. The brains of the outfit, Jeff Tweedy writes lyrics both cruel and compelling, homespun yet articulate. One of the first albums to be extensively bootlegged online, the Foxtrot legend was already in place when it was finally released in April 2002.
2. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips. Both a concept album and a collection of songs with recurring themes, the often intergalactic Yoshimi does the undesirable task of following up The Soft Bulletin while holding its own and setting its own rules. Balancing spacey with somber, Fortune magazine (of all people) dubbed Yoshimi "a lush and haunting electric symphony." I can't argue with that.
3. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay. At what point Chris Martin go from charismatic, workman-like rock pianist to electrical tape-wearing, Gwyneth Paltrow-impregnating rock god? Probably around the time Chris and the boys cut Rush of Blood, their staggering sophomore effort. Soft-rock at its least cloying, tracks like "In My Place," "Clocks," and "The Scientist" are straight-up earcandy.
4. Turn On the Bright Lights, Interpol
5. [ ] (a/k/a Parentheses), Sigur Ros
6. Songs for the Deaf, Queens of the Stone Age
7. Power in Numbers, Jurassic 5
8. O, Damien Rice
9. Up the Bracket, The Libertines
10. Sea Change, Beck. One of the very few alternative acts I paid attention to before my "awakening," I was one of many that initially couldn't make heads or tails out of Mr. Hansen's eighth album. Trading in his wacky, recondite sound for something more organic and melancholy Sea Change was, depending upon your first listen, either another wild, left-field turn by an artist you couldn't quite pin down or one dramatic reinvention too many. A decade later the former party has the edge; the lush songcraft overwhelmingly trumps any fan's expectations.
Honorable Mentions: Geogaddi, Boards of Canada; The Coral, The Coral; When I Was Cruel, Elvis Costello; Whip It On (EP), The Raveonettes; The Execution of All Things, Rilo Kiley; Kill the Moonlight, Spoon; Original Pirate Material, The Streets; Highly Evolved, The Vines.
"Losing My Edge," LCD Soundsystem
"One By One," Foo Fighters
"Don't Know Why," Norah Jones
"California," Phantom Planet
"You Were Right," Badly Drawn Boy
"Diamonds and Guns," The Transplants
"Hands on the Bible," Local H
"City of Angels," The Distillers
"Son of Three," The Breeders
Best 1994 Single of 2002: "You Know You're Right," Nirvana. The first song recorded for what would've been their fourth studio album ended up being their last song as a band. After years of legal entanglements "Right" was finally released as a single that September, giving Nirvana fans some type of closure, yet leaving them wonder what might've been.
1. "Fell in Love with a Girl," The White Stripes. Director Michel Gondry's lengthy association with Jack White began with this all-time great clip, a stop-motion tour de force involving thousands upon thousands of Legos.
2. "Star Guitar," The Chemical Brothers. Another Gondry gem, "Star" is a continuous shot filmed from the window of a train, where somehow all the buildings and objects passing by are exactly in the time with The Brothers' 126 BPM dance track. Nothing short of a marvel.
3. "This Train Doesn't Stop There Anymore," Elton John. Justin Timberlake's first great performance --actor, singer, or otherwise-- was in this video, another continuous shot. One of Sir Elton's better late-period songs, JT plays his hero circa 1973, struggling to survive the rigors of fame. Also, look out for Paul Reubens as the Rocket Man's former manager, John Reid.
4. "The Middle," Jimmy Eat World.
5. "No One Knows," Queens of the Stone Age.
6. "We Are All Made of Stars," Moby.
7. "Rush Hour Soul," Supergrass.
8. "Someday," The Strokes.
9. "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," Good Charlotte.
10. "Do You Realize?" The Flaming Lips.
Honorable Mentions: "The 15th," Fischerspooner; "Aerials," System of a Down; "Still Waiting," Sum 41.