In the year of our lord 2000 (the first of this decade, but not, apparently, the first of this century -- and you're damn right, I just cited Wikipedia), I still listened to CDs. You know, actual compact discs. I don't think I've done this regularly in about four years. But back then, I had this enormous 400-CD disc changer. I had all my albums listed on a spreadsheet organized by artist, year, and rating (out of five stars). In 2000 (read: almost ten years ago), the following were among my most-played (and highest-rated) artists: Good Charlotte, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit. That's right, I was being angsty about girls with the Madden twins, angsty about... hell, I don't even know, with Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, and bumping the slick grooves and smooth rhythms of one Mr. Fred Durst. I still throw on the first Good Charlotte album every once in a while when I feel like reminiscing about high school (I don't think most people do this), and Linkin Park was -- and is -- good to blast when you want something to scream along to and don't want to think about what you're doing. As for the L-I-M-P Bizkit, I really have nothing to say except this: in ten or twelve years, the song "Nookie" WILL come on in a bar and you WILL sing along. Every word. With a half-ironic smile. Trust me on this.
That said, there was also a lot of good -- genuinely good, not ironically good or good for what it was -- music released (most of which I got into after the fact). Here are my ten favorites:
Honorable mentions: At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command (way better than The Mars Volta), Goldfinger - Stomping Ground (great driving album), Good Charlotte - Good Charlotte (sentimental/nostalgic value), Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory ("Craaaaawling in my skiiiiin....!"), MXPX - The Ever Passing Moment (pop-punk classic).
10) Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Soul Caddy
Produced by: Tony Visconti, Jack Joseph Puig, Steve Perry
Standout tracks: "Swingin' with Tiger Woods," "God is a Spider," "Soul Cadillac"
Remember that band that did "Zoot Suit Riot"? Yeah, they're not actually a swing band. They do cut a mean swing track (the aforementioned "Riot," "Swingin' with Tiger Woods"), but they can also do punk ("God is a Spider"), ska ("Soul Cadillac"), and rock ("Irish Whiskey"). In other words, it's too bad these guys got typecast as a swing revival act (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, et al.), because they were actually really good. They cover a lot of musical ground on this one, and it's well worth the listen -- if you can find it. It's catchy as all hell with some great sing-along jams and verve to spare.
9) The Offspring - Conspiracy of One
Produced by: Brendan O'Brien
Standout tracks: "Come Out Swinging," "Want You Bad," "One Fine Day"
Disclaimer: The first three concerts I ever went to were Offspring shows. One of the first CDs I ever owned was Smash. The Offspring has been one of my favorite bands since junior high. That said, I still think this is a pretty kick-ass album ("Original Prankster" aside). It's full of brazen, balls-out, fun punk-tinged rock songs. "Come Out Swinging" is one of the best and most-aptly titled album-openers ever; "Want You Bad" is the best Cheap Trick song not actually by Cheap Trick; "Million Miles Away" and "Dammit, I Changed Again" are hidden gems in the bands oeuvre (perhaps the first time this word has been used to describe The Offspring's body of work). The latter half of the disc delves into a bit more experimental territory: slower, more melodic songs and more complex instrumentation: "Special Delivery" captures the quirk that makes the band more than just a wannabe punk act, and "Vultures" is highly reminiscent of Ignition standout "Dirty Magic." If you can get past the fact that this is the same band that did "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" (which is awesome in its own right), you might find something to like here.
8) Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R
Produced by: Chris Goss, Josh Homme
Standout tracks: "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret," "In the Fade"
Before Queens of the Stone Age became Josh Homme and the Josh Homme Band (a great group in their own right), they were a pretty rockin' stoner rock band with not one, not two, but THREE lead singers: the aforementioned Homme, ex-Dwarves member Nick Oliveri, and Screaming Trees co-founder Mark Lanegan. What a triumvirate they made (there's a vocab word for ya)! At times rollicking, at times subdued, at times proggy, at times grungy, and at all times a helluva good listen, Rated R captures the interesting group dynamic before egos took over. The album feels like a midnight drive through the desert on acid -- the chorus of opener "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" sets the tone: "Nicotine, Valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol... c-c-c-c-c-COCAINE!" You know you're along for a trip then. The band trades of lead vocalist duties, but the vibe is the same: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. You can always count on the Queens (whatever their membership) for that.
7) Less Than Jake - Borders & Boundaries
Produced by: Steve Kravac
Standout tracks: "Gainesville Rock City," "Malt Liquor Tastes Better When You've Got Problems," "Last Hour of the Last Day of Work"
It must be a good year for music when one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands only clocks in at number seven. I definitely went through a huge ska/punk phase in the middle of the decade, and while I still listen to a lot of ska (hey, either you like it or you don't), Less Than Jake is the only ska band that managed to eke its way into the "favorite band" conversation. Granted, the conversation mostly is mostly everyone sitting around and listening to Tom Petty pontificate about his amazingness, but LTJ is one of the bands that speaks up most often (how's that for an extended metaphor?). Why? Aside from all the ska prerequisites (fast, fun, catchy, AMAZING driving music), drummer Vinnie Fiorello is also one of the most underrated lyricists I can think of. He can take on a silly topic like the douchebag friend you had in grade school ("Mr. Chevy Celebrity") or a serious topic like looking back at a wasted life ("Last Hour...") with equal aplomb and without sounding too cheesy or pretentious. That dichotomy has marked LTJ since their inception and has helped set them apart (in my estimation) from their equally fun but less interesting contemporaries (Reel Big Fish, et al.). If you think I'm thinking too hard about a ska band, read the lyrics to "Last Hour..." or "Al's War" off of Hello Rockview. "So when ambition turns into competition / I'll never be the better man..."
6) A Perfect Circle - Mer de Noms
Produced by: Billy Howerdel
Standout tracks: "The Hollow," "Judith," "3 Libras"
A Perfect Circle: The Tool side project that a lot of people like better than Tool. I used to be one of them, but APC might be the only band that takes more time to create music than Tool. That, and Tool is just ridiculously good at the whole music thing. That said, I'm still not sure if they've ever released a song as amazing as "3 Libras." Although that might be because I'm a sucker for a chick with a violin (here's looking at you, Paz Lenchantin). Either way, in A Perfect Circle, Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan explores a mellower side with former guitar tech (and actual APC mastermind) Billy Howerdel. The formula is the same -- dynamic structures, religious themes, soaring vocals -- but the melodies are more haunting and the structures less imposing. This is probably the "best" (read: most aesthetically challenging and artistically interesting) album on this list (SPOILERS: you won't find Kid A on here -- I'm more of a Bends/In Rainbows kind of guy) and one that still resonates to this day.
5) Suicide Machines - Suicide Machines
Produced by: Julian Raymond
Standout tracks: "Sometimes I Don't Mind," "No Sale," "Extraordinary," "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"
This is perhaps the most interesting album on this list. It's somewhat of an aberration for the band: it has none of the ska/punk sound that defined their early work, and none of the venomous, politically-charged punk edge of the later work they're most known for. Instead, it has a sort of irreverent earnestness that I can't really say I've ever heard duplicated. Case in point: the opener "Sometimes I Don't Mind" is a heartfelt love song... about a dog. It took me about half a dozen listens before I realized this. But it made me love it all the more because, hey, who doesn't love their dog? Another example: the sweet, string-backed "Extraordinary" has the lyric, "That day will be etched in my mind as the day I made you mine / That day will live in my head as the biggest mistake of my life / Only kidding cause... / There's an extraordinary thing about you / That I can't put my finger on of figure out, it's funny." You really have to listen to it, but I really feel like he's being sincere. I've never heard another record that so balances the sweet and the silly, the sarcastic and the genuine, like this record does. I bought the record the night before leaving for a trip to the east coast my junior year of high school, and it still brings back memories of the Jersey shore, the fall leaves in New Hampshire, my grandfather's funeral, and a time before I knew that life was as bittersweet as this record portrays it. Yes, I realize that sounds like the shitty intro to an undergrad workshop story, but I'm sticking with it.
4) New Found Glory - New Found Glory
Produced by: Neal Avron
Standout tracks: "Dressed to Kill," "Hit or Miss," "Sincerely Me," "Sucker"
Either you love these guys or you hate them. Obviously, I love them. No, make that LOVE them. They're another one of those bands in the "favorite band" conversation. They hang out with Less Than Jake and make wisecracks about the Dire Straits while the Offspring plays beer pong in the background. Ben Folds has a beer with Rivers Cuomo. You know. Moving on. New Found Glory is one of those bands that I will forever associate with a certain time in my life (and certain people). It was the soundtrack to my first relationship and my first breakup and my first year of college. It was a great time in my life and NFG is a great band. Are those two things related? Probably. Either way, there's nothing like drunkenly singing New Found Glory songs with my friends at 4:00 a.m. "Remember the time we wrote our names up on the wall? Remember the time we realized "Thriller" was our favorite song?" If you don't think that's one of the defining pop songs of the decade, well, I'll quote Brennan Huff here and say "You're fuckin' high!" And you're fuckin' high if you don't like this band.
3) Eminiem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Produced by: Dr. Dre, et al.
Standout tracks: "Kill You," "Stan," "The Way I Am," "Drug Ballad"
In a lot of ways, I think that Eminem is one of the geniuses of our generation. More so than Kanye West anyway (although I do love me some Kanye -- you'll probably see him pop up on here at some point). He was one of the first -- if not the first -- mega star rapper to rap about stuff other than "big screen TVs, blunts, 40s, and bitches." Of course, his raps about "homosexuals and vicodin" did catch a lot of flack -- is he a homophobe and misogynist? Probably. Does he have issues? Out the wazoo. But is he talented? Undeniably. He raps about school violence ("The Way I Am"), the ridiculousness of the celebrity culture of which he is inextricably a part ("The Real Slim Shady"), anger issues ("Stan"), and, well, doing a lot of drugs ("Drug Ballad"). Mr. Mathers isn't afraid to wade deep, DEEP into the human consciousness, drag the bottom for the worst of what people think ("Amityville," "Kim") and bring it up for everyone to see. You know what they say: Someone's gotta do it. Better him than me, but I'm glad he did.
2) Eve 6 - Horrorscope
Produced by: Don Gilmore
Standout tracks: "Rescue," "On the Roof Again," "Sunset Strip Bitch," "Girl Eyes"
If the only song you've ever heard off this album is "Here's to the Night," you're sorely missing out. I know, I know, it was the soundtrack to countless proms and after-graduation parties -- believe me, I was there -- but there is so much more to this album than that song. Just like there's so much more to this band than "Inside Out." Dismiss them as a one-hit wonder at your own risk -- although the band only released three albums before breaking up (although they supposedly reformed), they are all insightful, clever pop-rock gems, and Horrorscope just might be their best (although their follow-up -- and, as of yet, last album -- It's All in Your Head is fantastic). On this record, the band started to experiment a bit more with their sound, using a variety of production effects to achieve a unique organic-yet-electronic backdrop for the album -- especially on tracks like "Rescue" and "Sunset Strip Bitch." Lyrically, this record is outstanding -- full of clever wordplay and tongue-in-cheek quips. I mentioned Vinne Fiorello earlier, but Max Collins is a *criminally* underrated pop lyricist -- anyone who's heard "Inside Out" knows this. No, he's not master poet or storyteller, but his lyrics have a way of getting in your head and moving things around. You'll be listening to a song for the hundredth time and go, "Oh, now I get it!" Touche, Max Collins. Touche.
1) Millencolin - Pennybridge Pioneers
Produced by: Brett Gurewitz
Standout tracks: "No Cigar," "Penguins & Polarbears," "A-Ten"
I have Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 to thank for discovering this record. The greatest thing about those games -- aside from, of course, the awesome gameplay (Christ air for the win!) -- is that they always had awesome soundtracks. The first game introduced me to Goldfinger and the already-mentioned Suicide Machines, THPS3 had "Ace of Spades" and that hilarious Del tha Funkee Homosapien song "If You Must," and 4 had way too much cool stuff to even list (and I kinda stopped playing those games after the fourth one). But Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 had "No Cigar" on it, which is easily one of the best punk songs of the decade... and this album is just as easily one of the decade's best.With 14 songs and coming in at under 40 minutes, it's short, sweet, and to the point -- the point, of course, being to have fun. Pennybridge Pioneers is almost infectiously fun, with bouncy hooks, jaunty choruses and other -y adjective/music term combinations (sprightly rhythms? mighty riffs? ...probably). It's late and I'm running out of adjectives. Regardless, this is a pretty seminal (love that word, haha) album for me and is still part of my regular rotation -- unlike the Limp Bizkits of the world.
Until next time, keep rollin', rollin', rollin' rollin', what? Keep rollin', rollin', rollin, rollin', come on!