Monday, November 30, 2009

The Design Of A Decade pt deux: Post Flannel Fury!

All that you can't leave behind is how to dismantle an atomic bomb because there is no line on the horizon.

The Grunge and Alterna Rock boom of the early 90's was the last significant movement in Rock music that would hit on a mass scale in my book. When the 2000's rolled around many of those flannel wearing acts had broken up or gone back to the underground. At the same time there were artists who did persevere, gliding into the second stage of their career proving they still had some potency left past their 20s. Of those that survived, here are my favorites:

All That You Can't Leave Behind...Luggage!

U2's 2000 release All That You Can't Leave Behind is my top pick from this genre, though technically they were an 80's band. Top flight songs (the hits "Beautiful Day", "Stuck In A Moment", "Elevation" and "Walk On" all stem from this disc) broadcasting a weary, melancholy sense of hope became my soundtrack to the feeling after 9/11. It also brought guitars back to the band's sound after spending the 90's tinkering with electronic noise. A great album.

With The Lights Out, It's Less Dangerous

The Smashing Pumpkins kicked off the new millennium with what was supposed to be their swan song, Machina/The Machines Of God (2000). While the album is a little abstract (it was the remnants of a planned concept disc that didn't go through) there is some good stuff here. Not the greatest Pumpkins disc, but not an embarrassment either. Anyway, it was Pearl Jam's return to anthemic songwriting that pushed their self titled Pearl Jam (2006) to the top of the ex flannel heap. Scorchers like "Life Wasted" or "Big Wave" exploded on impact. Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl led his Foo Fighters through Echoes Silence Patience Grace (2007), a decent disc highlighted by two outstanding jams "The Pretender" and "Long Road To Ruin". Coming in at the end of the Grunge era was Weezer, who sat out the last part of the 90's only to return armed with an inspired set of compelling nerd rock on 2001's Weezer (the green album). "Island In The Sun" still gets my head bopping.

It Is The Distant Future, The Year 2000

Like the album cover, Green Day caught everyone off guard with a masterstroke pop punk concept album American Idiot (2004) going off like a grenade. An artistic triumph, Green Day spoke to the disaffected with a strong set of songs that hung together thematically. American Idiot was one of the discs I played the most within the last couple of years. And no one saw it coming from a trio that was written off as lightweight has beens.

Radiohead has been the barometer for everything considered great about rock music following The Bends in 1995. Many Best Of The Decade lists I've seen rate Kid A (2000) near the top, an album I could not get into. Electronic doodling in rock music is nice as an additional extra, like buying an accent piece of furniture, but I hate when rock bands remove guitars completely in favor of blips and bloops (lookin' at you U2 and Radiohead!). The Radiohead album I did get into was the famous freebee In Rainbows (2007). A sturdy bunch of songs packed with that whiny croony thing Thom Yorke does so well. Along similar lines, Coldplay became one of the few new stadium bands of the 21st Century thanks to a string of polished, glossy U2/Radiohead style balladry. A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002) was a compelling listen evoking a sort of post modern yearning for something more. It's a mellow ride through a mildly tortured soul. The lone downside is that "Clocks" threatened to become as ubiquitous in montages as Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" was five years before it. Once I heard "Clocks" used in a scene from ER I saw there was no getting away from that song. Ever.

Not to be left in the past, alternative techno rock icon Trent Reznor served up the pretty good With Teeth (2005) for his Nine Inch Nails. It wasn't as inspired as his best work, instead it was consistently good with "Only" becoming my favorite NIN song.

Shiny Happy People Marching

R.E.M. spent most of the time making mediocre albums to a fanbase that kept wondering - when was R.E.M. going to be great again? What happened to those sublime post punk songs with the riddle filled lyrics? In 2008, R.E.M. took a shot at regaining their own title back as jangle rock kings on Accelerate and came damn close to succeeding. On its own terms, Accelerate powers forward by embracing the bands past but not copying it.

R.E.M. had their roots in college rock or what's now called Indie rock which will be the next genre on my list here. Because that's me in the corner, that's me in the spot. light.

December 8th Add On

There were two CDs that I went back and forth on including and ultimately I decided to tack them on. The first is Pearl Jam's latest Backspacer (2009). I didn't think much of this disc when I first got it but since then it has grown and resonated with me strongly so I am adding it on. Also, power pop ace Matthew Sweet generated Kimi Ga Suki (2003) should have been included for its pure chimy catchiness.

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