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.
Third post of the challenge, yeah, let’s do this! So, as I stated in my previous post, I will be devoting each entry in this challenge to a theme of sorts. These could be albums that have similar content, similar genre styles, or anything I come up with that would adequately tie them together. Although I know that I’ll probably have to really stretch to find an adequate theme for a large selection of these, and also that some posts will be forced to have no theme at all, I still think this would be a relatively fun exercise.
So, if you’re looking for some shredding guitars, fast pounding drums, and totally freaky-sounding vocalists… well, you’ll probably want to sit this one out. Indeed, my coverage of rock music through the 2000s should ideally go over as many different genres and styles of rock as possible, and this challenge would be nothing if I just plain ignored albums from the more tamer side of the spectrum. Keep reading to discover some of my most prominent pop rock releases of the year 2000!
The Madding Crowd – Nine Days
Nine Days probably doesn’t mean to most by name, but I guarantee that playing the first few seconds of the band’s breakthrough single “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” will cause many ears to prick up. Even though I didn’t listen to much radio during the height of the song’s popularity, I do remember this song being practically everywhere. It was the kind of song that kids would mention on the playground and everyone would just know what they were referring to. The song has become undeniably connected to my idea of what early 2000s rock radio was like – so, of course, I decided to actually give a listen to the album of its origin.
The album opener is the uptempo number “So Far Away”, which contains some pretty competent guitars and post-production studio techniques, elements that remain pretty consistent throughout the record. “Absolutely” is, far and away, their tightest song – the chorus is undeniably catchy, for sure, but the melody in the verses and pre-chorus are also rightfully memorable, with pretty decent vocals and a nice, fluffy guitar solo. But that’s not to say that that the remainder of the tracks are worthwhile in their own right. The common theme of them all seem to be the general aimlessness of life and tough, confusing decisions with which young adults are often often bombarded in the process of growing up. “End Up Alone” is led by the phrase, “Why do we all end up alone? / Why do we all end up dead, drunk, or stoned?”. Meanwhile, the chorus of “Sometimes” moans, “You gotta set free what you love just to bring it back”. So, basic adult alternative stuff.
In terms of sound, this album is consistent in its radio-friendly pop rock groove. Every song seems to follow the exact same verse-chorus-verse format, to the point where it becomes hard to discern one song from the next. The band really struck gold with “Absolutely”, but listening to this record, it’s not hard to see how they just weren’t able to follow this up. Almost every other song runs between the spectrum of forgettable (“Bob Dylan”, “Bitter”) to whiny (“Back to Me”). Still, the instrumentation is consistently good throughout, and I’d argue that this alone saves the album from total oblivion. In particular, “257 Weeks” is a charming, underappreciated track – if anything is worth listening from this record (well, besides “Absolutely”, of course), it’s that one.
Best tracks: “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”, “257 Weeks”
Mad Season – Matchbox Twenty
Matchbox Twenty have always, to me, seemed like one of the more familiar bands of the 90s to mid-2000s. Even though I never particularly loved them very much, their big singles were always present in my music library (especially upon their release of their third album More Than You Think You Are). In particular, Mad Season was the album toward which I always tended to gravitate – I even had the lyrics for the title track on my MySpace page for a little while! Anyway, I felt that this album was worth a relisten to see if it holds up after all these years.
It might be cheating to include this song alongside the others in this post, but it’s also worth mentioning that this is the album where Matchbox Twenty soften up their sound a bit. The opening song “Angry” presents much of the angst that defined the grunge movement of the 90s, especially with Rob Thomas’s growling vocals (also the chief lyricist) and Kyle Cook’s equally as aggressive lead guitar. However, the trembling rhythm of this song soon gives way for the sudden appearance of a jazzy saxophone introducing the next song, “Black & White People”. Thus sets the trail for the remainder of the album – a few songs that demonstrate their origins in the 90s hard rock scene, but many more that opt for an increased experimentation in sound and production. While songs like “Crutch” and “Rest Stop” have this nice radio rock sound that suits it wonderfully, it’s other songs like”Last Beautiful Girl” and the idiosyncratic “Mad Season” that loosen things up a bit and set it apart from the rest.
While I don’t particularly love each of these songs on their own, for some reason it all seems to work together very well as parts of a larger whole. A single like “Bent”, for example, might feel worthy of skipping over when placed on a playlist alongside other similar songs – however, placed in between the easy-going “The Burn” and the soft “Bed of Lies” here makes a lot more sense. Although I felt that I grew out of Matchbox Twenty, I found myself riding the wave of this album and really enjoying the experience as a whole. Even the sentimental ballad “If You’re Gone” – which I never cared much for – seems all the more meaningful when compared to the album’s closer, the heart-wrenching torch song “You Won’t Be Mine”. Once again. I don’t know if I could listen to any of these songs alone on my own free will, but as a whole this album is actually pretty damn good. You certainly could do worse.
Best tracks: “Black & White People”, “Mad Season”, “Bent”, “You Won’t Be Mine”
The Covers Record – Cat Power
While both of the aforementioned albums got a decent amount of radio play in their day, here’s an album that lay nestled in the indie side of things. Nonetheless, as I started to branch out into different forms of music in high school, I came across Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) and had a few of her songs in my library. The Covers Record is, as one would assume, a collection of covers of some of Marshall’s favorite songs, with the exception of her original “In This Hole”.
For the most part, these songs are all Marshall’s lone recordings – besides her voice, we also hear a guitar or a piano (sometimes both) and that’s about it. The resulting mood of this record is one of calm, gentle simplicity. Though the arrangement is sparse, though, the enjoyment is heightened by the songs being relatively recognizable. The album begins with arguably the most recognizable track of the bunch, a cover of The Rolling Stones’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. As her guitar strums along, Marshall sings the familiar tune with only a hint of the original melody, taking her own liberties with making the song even looser and wispier than we’re used to.
Besides the Stones, Marshall also covers familiar tunes from Bob Dylan (“Kingsport Town”, “Paths of Victory”), Moby Grape (“Naked, If I Want To”), Michael Hurley (“Sweedeedee”), and Johnny Mathis (“Wild is the Wind”), among others. A personal highlight for me is her cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason”, which is lifted beautifully by her lushly delicate vocals.
For the most part, though, there’s nothing about this album that is innovative, to say the least. Due to its bare-bones instrumentation, the quiet, calm mood of the record remains consistent from beginning to end. This is to the point where songs tend to bleed into one another pretty effortlessly, as is the case with her rendition of Smog’s “Red Apples”, followed by “Paths of Victory”. But the real treat comes at the end, wherein we are treated to a Cat Power version of Phil Philips’s “Sea of Love” accompanied by only a twangy guitar. This song has always been pretty cloying to me, but Marshall’s take on the song just works so wonderfully. The way she twists the melody on “I want to tell you…” gives me a lump in my throat, and I don’t even mind that annoyingly antiquated, “I knew you were my pet” line. It goes to show that even in the most ankle-deep of records, sometimes it’s the little things that really count.
Best tracks: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “I Found a Reason”, “Sea of Love”
Crush – Bon Jovi
Even though I grew up listening to a lot of 80s music, I’m tempted to say that I was actually introduced to Bon Jovi through their later single “It’s My Life”. It was shortly after September 11th and there was some sort of benefit concert being aired on VH1 or MTV. I was only ten years old at the time, but I distinctly remember a section where a man fully clad in American flag-embroidered clothing (who I would eventually learn was Jon Bon Jovi) was singing this song that I may have heard once before on the radio in passing. (If anyone can figure out which concert this was and/or has a clip of this specific performance, please let me know!)
Of course, I would come to know Bon Jovi mostly for their better-known hard rock singles of the 80s, but “It’s My Life” was my first taste of their brand of anthemic rock, fitted for a new generation of fans. This is Crush‘s lead single as well as the introduction to the album as a whole. While I do hold a soft spot for this song, I will admit that it hasn’t held up well over time – it sure is the most fun track on this entire record, but the on-the-nose quality of its lyrics certainly hold it back (especially its call-out to the earlier Bon Jovi single “Livin’ on a Prayer). The next couple tracks, “Say It Isn’t So” and “Thank You For Loving Me”, demonstrate even more of the lyrical weakness of this record, ranging from needlessly goofy (the former) to just plain boring (the latter).
It doesn’t help that Jon Bon Jovi’s lead vocals just don’t match up to what they used to be. The vast majority of these songs are sung with this nasally country twang that offers little in the way of warmth or personality to these recordings. Yet even when he does branch out into some harder territory, as in “One Wild Night”, it’s just embarrassingly inept. What does remain consistently pleasant through this album’s entirety is Richie Sambora’s guitar work, adapting to the varying modes of this record’s pop rock style. It’s too bad, though, that so much of this is drowned out by this early-2000s production – “Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen From Mars” actually has some eccentric lyricism to its name, but it doesn’t matter when the sound it just so drab and uninteresting.
The band is at their worst when it comes to ballads, and it doesn’t help that there’s just so many of them here. “Thank You For Loving Me”, “Next 100 Years”, “Save the World” – they’re all pretty indiscernible from one another and hopelessly disposable, with “She’s a Mystery” being the worst of them all. This whole album is just a snoozer from start to finish, and I see no reason why anyone should waste their time with it.
Best tracks: “It’s My Life”
Evan and Jaron – Evan and Jaron
And now for a band from my Radio Disney days! Even though twin brother duet Evan and Jaron Lowenstein never got much radio play outside of their single “Crazy For This Girl”, this song and “From My Head to My Heart” were among my favorite songs when I first started listening to the radio. They have long since been forgotten by most of the world, but when I stumbled upon their self-titled sophomore album while looking for records to cover on this challenge, I knew I needed to give it a spin.
As predicted, this album is pretty darn vanilla from start to finish. The album opens with a track called “Outerspace”, which actually has some fitting synth inflections in its production. Sadly, this gives way to the prominent pop rock production, which just flattens everything else that could have been interesting about this track. “Ready or Not” tries to experiment a bit with some background skatting throughout the verses… but once again, this is drowned out by its drab melody and even staler lyrics. This is basically the trend for the entire album: while many tracks have interesting elements, most of the time these elements are shoved aside for something more palatable with the expense of any ambition. It also doesn’t help that both Evan and Jaron have personalities duller than a wet paper bag (musically speaking, of course).
Of course, I got a swift kick of nostalgia once the opening cello chords of “Crazy For This Girl” chimed in. Same with the uptempo electric guitar of “From My Head to My Heart” – both tracks just seemed to breathe some much-needed life into the record. I’m not sure if this is just my nostalgia talking, but I’m pretty sure that “From My Head” in particular has the most fully realized melody of the entire album. It’s just so catchy and everything that I wished the rest of this record was! As it stands, though, it’s a sad misstep, but nonetheless a neat, short trip through memory lane.
Best tracks: “Crazy For This Girl”, “From My Head to My Heart”
America Town – Five For Fighting
Like most people, my first experience with Five For Fighting – the stage name of musician John Ondrasik – was through his breakthrough single “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”. Notably for me, I found out about it while listening to music on my TV, through one of those channels that displayed the song information on the screen. Interestingly enough, the information it was giving me for this particular song (multiple times, too) was “‘Drops of Jupiter’ by Train”… which is obviously a totally different song. It took me a little while to find out the true title of the song, and suddenly the lyrics made a little more sense.
Anyway, the time had come to finally listen to Five For Fighting’s sophomore effort. I was surprised to find that the album went right off to a pretty solid start. While I’m not the biggest fan of the lyrics to the intro track, “Easy Tonight”, the adult contemporary production is actually pretty pleasant. This general sound stretches throughout the first half of the record, with “Bloody Mary (A Note on Apathy)” containing some nice guitar to spice things up.
While very few of these lyrics strike me as particularly clever, the most ambitious song of the bunch is definitely “Superman”, which takes the mythos of the DC superhero and adds an introspective and existential spin. This song and “Jainy” are actually two of the best tracks on the album – their piano-led sounds come off as very similar, which leads me to conclude that this is where Ondrasik’s strengths lie. While it does take a while to get used to his oddly croaky singing style, I strangely don’t mind it so much in these, two of the most stripped-down songs on the record. Go figure.
The second half of this record, however, takes a steep d0wnhill spiral. Perplexingly, “Michael Jordan” seems like it’s an idiosyncratic love song to the titular basketball legend. Its tone is so much darker than the rest of the songs here and it just sounds like a weird inclusion overall. Moreover, “Out of Love”, despite its nifty guitar licks, is overly repetitive to a fault and just plain sounds unfinished. “The Last Great American” paints a hypothetical funeral for – you guessed it – the death of humanity and traditionally good values. It’s about as embarrassing as you think. Even more embarrassing, though, is “Boat Parade”, which goes for a grunge feel in its instrumentation – something that the album is totally not suited for.
The remainder of the album are just a series of autopilot tracks, one bleeding into the next with little rhyme or reason. This is a tad disappointing, considering the strengths with which it begun. Then again, I never expected much from a Five For Fighting album in the first place – you win some, you lose some!
Best tracks: “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”, “Jainy”
That’s about it for this week. I still haven’t really thought of a theme for next week, but it’ll come to me! Thanks once again for reading!