Rockin’ Thru the Aughts is my revisit through the rock music I loved as a preteen and teenager. For a full list of what I will be covering on this challenge, head over here.
As I step into this new listening/writing challenge for the very first time, I see no reason to start anywhere but at the very beginning. The music world of the year 2000 was very different from what we have now. For one thing, even though pop and R&B definitely dominated top 40 radio, there was a lot more rock present on the actual pop charts. In the year-end list of the year’s top 100 songs, I counted fourteen singles by bonafide rock bands, including two Santana tracks in the top three. This doesn’t sound like a while lot, but compared to today’s musical climate, an occurrence as this is practically miraculous.
But who was I in the year 2000? And what was I listening to? Well, I was eight years old when the ball dropped into Y2K (I sincerely thought it would be the end of the world… but in an exciting way), and I was mostly listening to whatever mainstream radio pushed my way in those days. I was still riding the high of the countless boy and girl bands circulating pop radio (I had an O-Town poster on my wall!), as well as flipping through both sides of my cassette copy of Britney Spears’s …Baby, One More Time again and again. And there was also Radio Disney, which offered a variety of other G-rate musical fare for my budding eardrums. I got really into Aaron Carter around this time. Rap music was pretty much nonexistent in my listening habits (except for Radio Disney staple Lil Romeo), partially because my household forbid it and partially because I simply had no interest in branching out.
Needless to say, my musical tastes were not nearly as honed as they would be in later years. Nonetheless, as I mentioned earlier, rock music continued to thrive in these days. Here is the first part, wherein I cover some of the most prominent rock releases of this year.
Razorblade Romance – HIM
Released on January 24th, this album is the earliest record of 2000 that I found to follow my three qualifications for this challenge: it was released in the 2000s, falls under a rock genre, and was found in my music library at some point in this decade. Of course, I was far too young at the time for its release to catch my attention at all; it took until late middle school for HIM to go across my radar in any way at all. They are notable for being one of the few rock bands from Finland to have a successful crossover into the mainstream rock scene. Their gothic rock sound was certainly attractive to the emo kids in the mid-2000s… but the obnoxious good looks of lead vocalist Ville Valo didn’t hurt either.
Razorblade Romance, HIM’s second album, best demonstrates the two most prominent themes across their discography: love and death. Just reading through some of these track titles certainly conveys this – “Poison Girl”, “Join Me In Death”, “Razorblade Kiss”. In particular, “Death is in Love With Us” sounds like it could be a parody song title! Not that these songs are played particularly straight anyway – the lyrics of “Join Me In Death” in particular feel very tongue-in-cheek in its kitschy worship of the Shakespearean suicide love story. As does “Gone With the Sin”, which turn a lot of generic romance conventions on its head (“I love your skin, cold as ice… I love the way you’re losing your life”). The best songs on this record rely strongly on the chugging guitars of Mikke Lindström, as well as Valo’s delicate but versatile vocal delivery.
Nonetheless, the album as a whole is pretty top-heavy – once you get through the interesting power of the first few tracks, the rest unfortunately feels like it’s treading on familiar territory. Still, the first six songs would make one hell of an EP, dripping with equal parts lust and theatrical angst.
Best tracks: “Poison Girl”, “Right Here in My Arms”, “Gone With the Sin”
The Better Life – 3 Doors Down
This album’s introductory track and lead single “Kryptonite” holds the honor of being one of the first rock songs I remember piquing my interest. Specifically, I remember watching the video for the first time while I was getting ready for school and was amused by how wacky it was. I think back in the day I even interpreted it as being about a superhero, specifically Superman, given the song title and the line, “If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman”. I was a weird kid.
While I enjoyed the song pretty well back in the day, looking back now with much more hindsight on what the band would soon become, it’s just alright for me. The guitars chug along pretty nice and the melody is catchy enough for comfortable radio play – nothing more or less. It isn’t until now, though, that I actually gave a listen to 3 Doors Down’s sophomore album The Better Life, one of the most successful albums of 2000. While “Kryptonite” led things off to a good start, it all went steadily downhill from there. This whole album is nothing more than a totally watered-down, radio-friendly brand of post-punk where the last track is indistinguishable from the next.
It simply baffles me to figure out what exactly people find compelling about 3 Doors Down. I guess Brad Arnold’s lead vocals is a big factor in it, consistently demonstrating just as much country twang as it does grungy grit. The guitar work leaves little to the imagination, though, with the same simple arpeggios and chords chugging along song after song after pitiful song. Even worse is when they try their hand at low-tempo ballads, as in the case with “Be Like That”, which is just treacly, limp, and embarrassing.
Moving further into the second half of the record… yeah, nothing exceptional here. It’s all the same shit. In particular, “Smack” feels like an egregious uptempo copycat of “Kryptonite”, demonstrating that there’s not much else the band has to offer. Worse of all, this is just the start of it: while compiling the list of rock releases to cover for this challenge, I was annoyed to find out that 3 Doors Down is one of the only bands to remain consistently relevant all throughout the 2000s. In other words, it looks like I’m gonna have a long road ahead of me.
Best track: “Kryptonite”
Bloodflowers – The Cure
Pretty much all throughout high school, if one would ask me who my favorite band were, my answer would almost consistently be The Cure. This was the same phase of my life where dark, moody, sad-sounding music was totally My Thing. While I never paid much attention to The Cure’s post-90s releases, I distinctly remember having Bloodflowers in my music library, though I mostly just gave “Maybe Someday” the most attention.
In any case, I finally gave the album a complete spin for this challenge. Having slowly drifted away from listening to the band as copiously as I did in high school (save for a few of my favorite 80ss tracks of theirs), this experience was akin to revisiting an old friend. The album begins with “Out of This World”, which is as replete with guitar washes and signature gloomy vocals courtesy of leader Robert Smith. The rest of the album rides on this easy wavelength for the remainder of its runtime.
Save for the obviously updated studio rock production and increased reliance on keyboards, most of the tracks on this album would fit in nicely alongside others from The Cure’s classic repertoire, such as Pornography and Disintegration. While many have criticized this album for its lack of ambition, I would argue that it is when the band branches out from their usual sound that this record falters the most. A vivid example can be found with “The Loudest Sound”, which attempts a sort of trip-hop feel that, frankly, does not work.
Fortunately, though, these turns are far and few between through this record. Those that appreciate the textured doom ‘n’ gloom that defined Disintegration would find much to love with Bloodflowers, especially in tracks like “The Last Day of Summer” and the titular outro track. Now that I’ve come back to an old friend, I can’t wait to revisit the rest of The Cure’s 2000s discography and see if its held up just as well.
Best tracks: “Out of This World”, “Maybe Someday”, “The Last Day of Summer”, “Bloodflowers”
White Pony – Deftones
This album was actually chosen for me by my partner, after giving him the complete list of albums from 2000 that I’ll be covering. Although I’ve been familiar with alternative metal act Deftones in the past, I never actually gave a listen to an entire album of theirs until now. White Pony is arguably the most acclaimed album of their career – it was a bit of a change from the sound of their previous albums in that it took on more experimental sounds and formats on a track by track basis.
The intro track “Feiticeira” is a good starting point on what to expect from the rest of the album. It contains the signature qualities of the band’s best stuff, including Stephen Carpenter’s heavy, distorted guitars, Abe Cunningham’s sharp drums, and vocalist Chino Moreno’s delicate sound that contrasts wonderfully with the aggressive instrumentals. “Digital Bath” was one of my favorite tracks of theirs in high school, and I was pleased to find out that it still holds up. The guitars are softer and more melodic without losing its edge; this combined with Moreno’s eclectic vocals create a wonderful wall of sound that seems to just drift along with little effort.
I guess technically this band would be considered nu-metal – more rhythm-heavy songs like “Elite”, “Rx Queen”, and “Passenger” certainly contain a tad bit of a hip-hop influence, although, yes, the rock edge is at the foreground at all times. What I do enjoy is how varied each of the songs are from each other, with each song bringing a little something different to the table. A great example of this is “Knife Prty”, which includes an Arabic-style vocal bridge sung by a guest vocalist named Rodleen Getsic, who is just terrific. And then there’s “Change (In the House of Flies)”, arguably the band’s most recognizable single. Rich, textured, mysterious, and even a little sexy, it’s got to be up there with one of the greatest radio rock singles of the decade (but we’ve just started!).
Honestly, I ended up enjoying this album a whole lot more than I expected to. The Deftones sound is just so chill and even a little melancholic – in other words, something I would have totally dug had I fully discovered this album in my high school years.
Best tracks: “Digital Bath”, “Street Carp”, “Knife Prty”, “Change (In the House of Flies)”
The Sickness – Disturbed
Ah, now for Disturbed, one of the more prominent edgy rock bands of the 2000s. Two of the most prominent aspects of Disturbed’s music (to me at least) have been their melding of ragged hard rock guitars and David Draiman’s unique, primal, totally strange vocals. This is immediately apparent with The Sickness‘s introductory track “Voices”, which follows up a creeping synth loop with some deep pounding bass and, eventually, Draiman’s intense staccato vocals. The next track, “The Game”, contains a more prominent industrial rock influence, which is actually pretty unusual for the band. It’s still replete with its own flaws, such as the vocals and guitar drowning out all the cool electronic flairs, but at least it’s the closest I’ve come to truly enjoying any track off this album.
Where this album tends to falter the most is in its lyrics. “Voices” introduces the album with, “I’m gonna talk about some freaky shit now”. Nearly every line of every verse in “Stupify” ends with the word “fuck” (which Draiman delivers with his signature guttural yelp), and includes a shoutout to “all la gente in the barrio”. “Conflict” is even lazier, ending every line in the verses with “enemy” to the point where it no longer sounds like a word.”Droppin’ Plates” introduces itself as, “A little somethin’ for your earhole”. And then there’s the notorious “Down With the Sickness” that introduces itself with that awful vocal hook, continues with some vague lines about alienation and anger, and climaxes with an atrocious enactment of a child being abused by his mother. Not fun.
But even the songs that are so much more innocuous – like “Fear”, “Numb”, and the closer “Meaning of Life” – just feel so devoid of anything resembling a pulse. It’s not so much that this is style over substance – on the contrary, it often feels like the style and the substance are consistently sizing each other up in an arm wrestle of sorts. And that’s even mentioning their soulless cover of Tear For Fears’ “Shout” (which they renamed “Shout 2000” for some reason)… though maybe it’s best not to go into that one. I’ve definitely listened to worse albums, but few quite so unrewarding as this one.
Best tracks: “The Game”
Return of Saturn – No Doubt
While compiling the list of albums to cover for this challenge, one trend became glaringly obvious: these bands are almost completely made up of white men. I guess this is what I should have expected upon entering this project, and it does give me an excuse to offer my critique on the toxic masculinity that plagues so much of this music (see directly above for an example of such). Still, I want to try to have at least one review in these posts that covers a band led by or featuring a woman in its lineup.
No Doubt is actually one of the more important bands of my childhood. In particular, this album and its predecessor Tragic Kingdom really remind me of car trips with my mom (who was and still is a huge fan). The beginning chords of “Ex-Girlfriend” immediately set of bells in my heart to this day; now that I’m older, I can actually relate to the lyrics so much more (“I’m another ex-girlfriend on your list / But I should have thought of that before we kissed”). It’s clear also that the band is much more willing to experiment with their sound – while “Ex-Girlfriend” is more of a straight-forward pop-rock number, “Bathwater” has more of a pronounced jazz-swing element to it, while “Comforting Lie” is oddly tinged with nu-metal inflections.
Now that I have more of an adult(ish) frame of reference these days, comparing this with Tragic Kingdom is all the more fruitful. While their earlier ska sound is still present, the lyric throughout Return of Saturn seem to be much more about Gwen Stefani’s desire for domesticity. In “Simple Kind of Life”, she croons, “I always thought I’d be a mom… You’d seem like you’d be a good dad”. In “Marry Me”, amidst a soft, slinky rhythm, she describes herself as, “A creature conditioned to enjoy matrimony”. She plays it pretty straight, but at the same time, I get no sense of her condemning the person she was in her “Just a Girl” days – there’s a palpable sense of growth, not just with her but with the rest of the band, and it’s warmly welcomed.
“New” in particular is my personal high point of the album. Some sparse drums and soft singing from Stefani is followed up by Tony Kanal’s upbeat bassline, quicker drums from Adrian Young, and a reiteration of the melody line with a fresher, different sound than the intro. The band has rarely sounded better in this very moment – it’s also the only song that is produced by Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison! While the album as a whole is a mixed back in terms of how well it sticks, the liveliness, ability for experimentation, and personal growth emitted from Return to Saturn makes this a ride well worth taking.
Best tracks: “Ex-Girlfriend”, “Bathwater”, “New”
Come through for my next Rockin’ Thru the Aughts post next Monday, where I’ll continue my quest through the rock music from the year 2000!