Landmarks: The Year 2000
Introduction: I’ve been doing this for about ten years now; my first published review was in early 2000, and I’ve been steadily listening and writing about music ever since. I loved music before 2000, of course, but, since donning my critical thinking hat and becoming an ever-aspiring music critic, I’ve explored music with greater and greater passion and, hopefully, knowledge. As a result, the music released in the past decade has a special place in my heart; look at my list of all-time favorites and you’ll notice a distinct bent toward the contemporary, a trend about which I am unashamed.
It’s hard to believe that this, the first decade of the millennium, is coming to a close. To mark the occasion– and to blaze a trail for my “favorite albums of the decade” list that will inevitably come in late December/early January– I’m starting a semi-regular series of posts, looking back at the landmark albums and trends that marked my own listening habits, one year at a time. And, taking a cue from Julie Andrews, I’ve decided to start at the beginning…
I think I’ll always remember the music of the year 2000 for one big, central dichotomy, a dilemma that spilled over into my first-ever “favorite albums of the year” list. As 2000 came to a close and I took to chronicling my favorite records from the previous twelve months, I was torn in two directions: That of celebrating traditional, soulful songcraft on the one hand, and honoring convention-bucking trailblazing on the other.
At the time, I decided to lean toward the former; at the year’s end, I hailed U2‘s inspired return to full band-oriented, pop songcraft, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, as my favorite of the year’s offerings, a conviction in which I only grew stronger in the months that followed. While my love of Pop is well-documented, I was nevertheless excited to hear the band return to the sincere, arena-filling swell on which they built their career, particularly since it was done so well, and without deliberate glances toward the past; contrary to the conventional wisdom, which holds that this album is something of a throwback to retro U2, it was– and is– an album that stands out as unique in their catalog, a collection of intimate, soulful pop that mostly eschews the bombast and broad gestures of their classic work. The band has rarely played as well together as they did on that album, and Bono’s lyrics– songs of real joy and concrete, Christian hope– made the album sound like a true blessing in the dreadful months that followed the 9/11 attacks; for me and countless others, these songs will forever be treasured as anthems of hope and healing.
Eventually, though, I came around to the fact that, while U2’s album will always mean a lot to me personally, it was the year’s other big rock album– Radiohead‘s Kid A— that stands as the year’s most significant achievement, an album that literally created the context for the decade that would follow. Radiohead shattered pop music conventions so thoroughly that its influence is still felt today– rock and indie music can be divided into pre- and post-Kid A eras and nobody could reasonably complain– and its mind-bending imagination proved to be seminal for my own forming tastes and aesthetic. The divide between tradition and innovation remains ever-present in my own mind, and I actually tend to lean toward the former, but Kid A is still, for me, a mind-expanding album that revealed to me the limits of pop music– or, more accurately, the lack of limits. Almost no other album released this decade is as deserving of the term “landmark” as this one.
There’s at least one, however: Stankonia, the fiery and mercurial hip-hop opus from Outkast, which might accurately be termed urban music’s own Kid A, in the sense that it set the agenda and shattered the limits for what hip-hop music could be. Outkast‘s scale and ambition are actually greater than Radiohead’s, and the way they brought the various strands of black music together into one genre-defying package set the tone for a decade in which hip-hop would prove to be one of the more creatively vibrant albums out there. Still, in the 00s, there are two kinds of hip-hop albums: Stankonia, and the albums that walked the trails that it blazed.
A few more albums and trends deserve mention here: Following Outkast’s lead, several hip-hop and R&B artists released bold, brilliant reclamations of urban music, many of them loosely affiliated with the Soulaquarians collective. Of these, Erykah Badu‘s soulful Mama’s Gun is my favorite. Meanwhile, a similar reclamation was going on in bluegrass music, thanks to T-Bone Burnett‘s fine soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?; PJ Harvey made a bid for the mainstream with the slyly slick and totally kick-ass rock album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea; and David Eugene Edwards released his most soul-stirringly, bone-crunchingly intense work ever with his band 16 Horsepower— 2000’s Secret South stands as their finest recording.
And that’s the story of 2000– well, my story of 2000, anyway. I’ll time-travel back to 2001 in the next installment of this series, but until then, what are your favorite records from 2000?