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 (and have already covered) on this challenge, head over here.
As the rock albums on my queue for the year 2000 start to really dwindle down to the final twenty, I find myself struggling to come up with themes that would tie more than just a couple of releases together. I went to the Billboard 200 for inspiration, checking the 2000 year-end list for the most popular, commercially successful releases of the year. After finding that I already covered a bunch of albums that appeared on this list (including The Better Life, Mad Season, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, and Mer de Noms) I found some more on the lower rungs that I had yet to cover.
So this week will be devoted to albums released in 2000 that sold exceptionally well, specifically those that hit the top ten. More below!
All That You Can’t Leave Behind – U2
Peak position: #3
We’re starting off with a big one today. The big singles from this album (especially “Beautiful Day”) are among the very first tastes of modern mainstream I got in the days when I didn’t listen to much music at all. Even though I was raised on a bunch of 80s music by my mom, I’m pretty certain that this album’s frequent rotation on VH1 was what introduced me to U2 in the first place. It wasn’t until later that I found out that this was their tenth album and was widely considered a return to the band’s textured rock sound – albeit with a more modern edge – after they had experimented with pop music throughout the previous decade. I’m sure that the heightened public activism put forth by Bono in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks certainly brought him to the foreground of my public consciousness
The band also reunited with producer Daniel Lanois, who here collaborates with legendary musician Brian Eno. The latter inclusion to this record brings out some of its best traits – the opening track alone, “Beautiful Day”, is led by this floating echo of a guitar line and New Age elements in its production that, alone, work to keep this from being a drab, forgettable track. Although this album is certainly top-heavy as a whole, different forms of Eno’s touch could be felt on practically every track throughout the record. Despite its clunky title, “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” remains particularly nostalgic for me, especially with the synthesizer touches throughout and the subtle horn at the outro. “Walk On” is the closest thing to a great song that this record contains, particularly due to its swelling melody, Bono’s heartfelt delivery of such, and a beautiful reverberating guitar line courtesy of The Edge.
At its best, the album is largely driven by its lush instrumentation that just makes for some smooth, perfectly pleasant rock radio listening material. At its worst, however, this album can unfortunately be boring as sin. For anyone familiar with the band’s earlier material, it’s painfully obvious that as impassioned as Bono and folks’ tend to play on here from time to time, they never shine quite as bright as they did in their prime. And while it’s clear that they’re definitely going for an entirely different result here (“In a Little While” has a hip hop beat, for crying out loud), too many of these songs tend to ramble and drag along for the experience to be remarkable in the slightest. Especially notable is how many of these songs are bogged down by clunky lyricism from Bono himself, especially in the cloying “Peace on Earth” and “New York”, which I’m bound to hate for the line “Irish, Italians, Jews, and Hispanics”.
Still, if this album is worth listening for any reason, let it be for Brian Eno, whose production is just plain solid, as well as The Edge, whose guitar work is easily the most consistent element of any of the musicians on display here. I can’t wholly recommend this when there are entire albums of earlier, better U2 material out there – but from personal experience, it’s not a bad introduction to the group.
Best tracks: “Beautiful Day”, “Walk On”
Maroon – Barenaked Ladies
Peak position: #5
Oh, hey – remember Barenaked Ladies? Most people would recognize the name as synonymous with their hit single “One Week”, which hit number-one back in 1998 for (amusingly enough) one week. Few others might also recognize the name for some of their earlier hits that mainly charted in their home country of Canada, such as “If I Had $1000000”, “Enid” and “Brian Wilson”. For me, though, even before all of that, their top twenty single “Pinch Me” somehow found its way into my eardrums and lingered there for quite some time. I’ve never been a huge fan of the band, but something about the light, poppy vibes of “Pinch Me” really appealed to my childhood imagination back when the song was at peak airplay.
Maroon isn’t an album that most people think of when reminiscing on Barenaked Ladies – for one thing, it was the follow-up to the success of Stunt and the aforementioned lead single inevitably had to perform in the wake of the catchy “One Week”. Indeed, through “Pinch Me” alone, you get the sense that the band is trying so, so hard for a successful follow-up, even implementing some of the speed-sing vocals that made their chart topper memorable, as well as some similarly idiosyncratic lyrics.
Even though I don’t exactly love Barenaked Ladies, I just can’t deny how much I enjoyed this record. Sure, it’s nothing amazing and a bit slow to start, but once it gets going it’s a real treat. Each track does something a little different to its admittedly generic adult alternative sound to keep things listenable and, above all, kind of interesting. Much more notably, though, I found myself having a lot of dumb fun with some of these lyrics. Amidst the dark humor of “Pinch Me”, for example, comes the lines, “I could hide out under there / I just made you say underwear”. Things aren’t quite so juvenile most of the time, though – “Never Do Anything” has the line, “I’ll lick my wounds; could you pass the salt?”, “Go Home” suggests, “If you think of her as Joan of Arc / She’s burning for you; get your car out of park”, and “Falling For the First Time” asserts in its clever bridge, “Anything plain can be lovely / Anything loved can be lost / Maybe I lost my direction”.
I wish I had more time to spend on this record, because there’s so much interesting stuff going on in each track that deserves being pored over. As it stands, though, I’ll conclude this review by reasserting that the songwriting here is truly something to be admired. The Ladies are still unafraid to let their goofy side shine through from time to time, but this album as a whole just feels more sophisticated and streamlined than any older works of theirs I’ve listened to. Once again, it’s nothing life-changing, but judging by the fact that I really had no expectations for this album as all, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I got out of it overall. It’s definitely an under-appreciated record of its time.
Best tracks: “Pinch Me”, “Falling For the First Time”, “The Humour of the Situation”, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel”
Kid A – Radiohead
Peak position: #1
In the year 2000, three different albums of some genre of rock made it up to the top of the Billboard 200. Two of them are Santana’s Supernatural (which I won’t be covering since it had a 1999 release date) and Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (which I have already covered and hope to never look back on ever again). Nestled in between is Kid A, widely considered among the top tier of Radiohead’s album output. I actually never listened to this album much until after high school – I was still replaying “Karma Police” and “Creep” in those days, and it wasn’t until I discovered In Rainbows that I actually even thought to look back on the band’s older material.
There’s no doubt that Radiohead are one of the greats and so much had been written about Kid A in particular that my attempts can only be futile. Still, I’ll try. This album marks a significant departure for the band into more experimental territory, and the result is each and every track sounding distinctly dense and textured in its own way. While the opener “Everything in Its Right Place” is vividly electronic in influence, others like “The National Anthem” take more of a style of freeform jazz, and still others more openly express the group’s traditional gloomy rock roots.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Thom Yorke as a vocalist, but I think this album demonstrates some of the best usage of his delicate, melancholic range. Even more so, I’m ridiculously impressed by the instrumentation of this record. Not just the experimental quality of the album, but how much of it there is – that’s just so damn cool to me. Tracks like “In Limbo” and “Idioteque” really pile on with the sonic textures, laying different sounds atop each other until it feels like the whole track will implode upon itself. In a way, this is the perfect representation of unrelenting anxiety. While the mixing will sound a bit cluttered and admittedly ugly from time to time, it always seems to find a way to land on its feet in the end.
Most of the time while listening to this record, I find myself either not caring or being absolutely puzzled by the lyrical choices here. It’s clear, though, that this album is more of an excellent mood piece than anything else, with each and every track brimming with a highly recognizable atmosphere. It’s both calming and depressive as hell, in equal measure. More than anything, even though this is not my favorite of Radiohead’s works, I’m forever impressed by the sonic textures accomplished by this album. The guys took a chance and nailed it! Obviously, I would recommend this one to… pretty much anyone who loves music.
Best tracks: “Everything in Its Right Place”, “The National Anthem”, “How to Disappear Completely”, “Optimistic”, “Idioteque”, “Motion Picture Soundtrack”
Warning – Green Day
Peak position: #4
Oh, Green Day. Like many now-adults around my age, my music listening habits were forever changed by the release of the veteran punks’ groundbreaking 2004 album American Idiot. I’ll talk more about this album specifically when I get to it, but let’s just say that Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool (my favorite) were pinned up on my bedroom wall for more than a few months. My obsession with this album led me to look up some of the group’s 90s output – and, eventually, Warning. Well, more specifically, “Warning”. It was one of their many tracks I had on constant rotation back in the day, but I never actually listened to the album in full… until now.
I think what initially made me lean away from this album so particularly is how different in style the trio’s sound had become at this point. In comparison to the bouncy pop-punk of Dookie and the rougher, political edge of American Idiot, the sound encompassed in Warning is a bit softer, folkier even. It’s true that their penchant for tight, catchy melodies can still be found in songs such as “Fashion Victim”, “Misery”, “Minority”, and the titular track. Yet the tone has certainly changed, replacing the playful, energetic vibes of their earlier fare with easier tempos, more earnest lyricism, and a broader array of sonic influences overall.
As for these influences, they are very proudly worn on the musicians’ sleeves. “Warning”‘s main guitar riff draws parallels to “Picture Book” by The Kinks; the lilting melody of “Waiting” reminds me of the soaring chorus in Petula Clark’s “Downtown”; “Misery” is replete with unusual brass instrumentals and a swaying, polka-like tempo; “Hold On” contains a harmonica riff that sounds suspiciously like that in The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better”… you get the picture. What this results in is a collection of cool ideas thrown together , but unfortunately little by way of the original, memorable style with which they had made a name for themselves back in the day.
At the very least, though, we’ve always got the strong melodies – there are several songs on this record that had me humming along even long after the tracks had finished. Still, it’s hard to not feel that this is a bit of a lukewarm version of Dookie. This album, while good, still feels a bit like the middle child of Green Day albums. Still, it’s interesting to note just how much their lyricism and style had matured over the years – knowing that American Idiot lies just over the horizon, we have the advantage of viewing the tip of the iceberg.
Best tracks: “Fashion Victim”, “Misery”, “Waiting”
No Name Face – Lifehouse
Peak position: #6
We will return to Lifehouse’s continued success into the 2000s, at which point they became more connected to the adult alternative scene than here. In this, their debut album that put them on the map, they are still technically a post-grunge band. One of the first CDs I ever remember owning was the seventh volume of Now That’s What I Call Music!, and while I generally enjoyed the whole compilation (honestly, it still kind of holds up!), I felt particularly fond of Lifehouse’s hit song “Hanging By a Moment”, which fell near the final stretch of songs on this CD.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one who appreciated this tune – it would soon go on to become the biggest song of the entirety of the following year. Not bad for a song that never managed to hit number-one on the Hot 100! The upright bass at the start of this song had long been one of my favorite elements of the track, so it was a pleasant realization to find that this was what Lifehouse chose to introduce their entire album. The song is an intriguing blend of post-grunge and less angry, more sentimental alternative rock that keeps this song memorable without driving it too far over the edge.
It’s too bad, then, that the album gradually gets pretty boring from this point onward. The thing about post-grunge is that… well, it’s exactly that. As one of the defining rock genres of the early- to mid-2000s, post-grunge consists of groups greatly influenced by the 90s grunge movement, opting to take the sound in a whole different direction. I’ll get more into other breeds of post-grunge further into the challenge, but Lifehouse almost wholly represents just one breed – the quiet, brooding, sensitive bands with a rough edge. Vocalist Jason Wade sure sounds like Kurt Cobain and the guitars are just distorted enough, but the lyrics are relatively offensive ad the sound is much more polished than their predecessors.
It’s not that this record is bad – just incredibly forgettable. The record consists primarily of ballads and mildly poetic, mildly introspective numbers. “Hanging By a Moment” is far-and-away their most compelling cut here, which is too bad considering it is stuffed right at the beginning, with but a steep downhill crawl to follow. Their songs with more pronounced electric guitars consistently sound tame, while their slower songs barely leave much of an impression. One exception is “Breathing”, which contains a lovely, warmly-welcomed mandolin-like instrument in the mix. And while the album closer “Everything” is a bit too Christian rock for my own tastes, it’s got a lush, lovely sound to it that I can see appealing to some folks. But overall, while this album is a good sample of the state of mainstream rock at the turn of the millennium… it’s mostly worth skipping.
Best tracks: “Hanging By a Moment”, “Breathing”
Machina / The Machines of God – The Smashing Pumpkins
Peak position: #3
Rock music of the 90s as very important to developing my overall music taste in my formative years. One of the bands that I discovered and quickly came to love was The Smashing Pumpkins, specifically with their albums Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Still, I never actually gave a complete listen to their fifth studio album Machina / The Machines of God, save for a few tracks here and there I had on constant rotation. So, in keeping tradition of one of the many benefits I’ve had on this Rockin’ Thru the Aughts challenge thus far, I finally got around to this album on which I’ve been procrastinating for years.
Much as this case for U2 with All That You Can’t Leave Behind (see above), Machina was widely seen as a return to form for Smashing Pumpkins, after their previous album Adore had experimented with new electronic elements to their sound. Here, the distorted guitars returned front-and-center and the band regained their footing on the polished alternative rock sound with which they had made a name for themselves in the previous decade. Even more interesting, I think, is the struggle undertaken by the band to push this album out. It was originally conceived as an ambitious concept album with a convoluted storyline and more theatrical elements. Ultimately, most involved never felt fully on board with these ideas, thus resulting in essentially just another studio album for the band.
Even without this backstory in mind, there is something to say for the songs themselves. Many of these tracks deal with very big ideas, led by flowing walls of sound and noise that flow from one song into the next. Yet, when the first track “The Everlasting Gaze” plays out like a rehash of the band’s previous Mellon Collie-era single “Zero”, this oughta be a bad sign. Indeed, much of this record plays out like a bit of a sampler of the band’s styles as they had evolved through the years. Many of these are soaring, rhythmic rock anthems with a bit of a shoegaze edge, but there are also tracks that continue to focus on the electronic tinges of their previous album, as well as more experimental gothic rock tracks. It’s one hell of a mixed bag, but at least it stays interesting.
Honestly, the biggest treat I got from this album was being able to revisit “Stand Inside Your Love”. It was one of my favorite songs as a teenage girl with budding depression and a yearning for a deep, meaningful romantic relationship. While the lyrics are pretty clumsy in retrospect and Billy Corgan tends to rear his creepy obsessive tendencies here and there (“I wrap my wire around your heart and mind / You’re mine forever now”), I still have an untouchable nostalgia for this one and it remains one of the best Pumpkins songs of this era. Overall, while this album hardly holds a candle to the best this band has to offer, it is consistently sonically interesting, with rich atmospheric elements that would appeal to even the mildest of Smashing Pumpkins fans. It’s well worth the hour-plus length!
Best tracks: “Stand Inside Your Love”, “This Time”, “Wound”
We’re getting down to the wire now, with the final dozen or so albums left on my list for 2000. It’s going to be kind of bittersweet leaving this year behind so soon, but if this is any indicator of how fun this project is going to be with years to come… I’ve got some journey on my hands. Thanks for reading, once again, and seeya next week!