Overall, I would say that this was not a great year for music. Boy bands, Jive Records, and soft porn masquerading as Rock 'N' Roll continued to dominate. There was no major rock album that went commercially through the roof as did Santana's "Supernatural" last year. I don't think there were any albums released this year so monumental that people will look back on the year 2000 5/10/20 years from now and see an album for the ages. I also don't see a truly notable "new band on the block". All this is not to say that 2000 was without its musical merits. It had its moments, as I will now strive to prove.
Although there were no major commercial rock records in 2000, there were quite a few good ones, and perhaps even a great one or two. Some of these barely even made a dent in the sales charts. Some, on the other hand, did respectively but few reached even the coveted "platinum" status. Nevertheless, the year had its share of good music, many of them hit almost without a sound and have been overlooked, I will now attempt to give 2000's best albums their due.
The year started out promisingly enough, when in the first quarter of the year we had a handful of worthy rock records. February 29th saw the release of AC/DC's long-awaited "Stiff Upper Lip". The band's first album in 5 years sounded just like... you guessed it, AC/DC. No shift in sound here, just a primal dose of speaker-shaking Rock 'N' Roll. If you like AC/DC then this is one of the year's noteworthy albums.
Later in the year we saw the release of two good but drastically different rock albums, Pantera's "Reinventing The Steel" and the prog-rock supergroup project Transatlantic with their debut album "Smpte". 2000 was a relatively poor year for heavy metal, and "Steel" is one of it's few high points. Like AC/DC, Pantera is a band that will not change their signature sound, which is just how their fans want it and just what they got. On the other hand, Y2K had a healthy dose of prog rock albums. There were so many neo-prog albums released in 2000 that it's hard to keep count. Like Liquid Tension Experiment before it, Transatlantic was the year's supergroup project, consisting of members from the genre's most prominent bands, Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spocks Beard, and Marillion. "Smpte" belongs on the year's "best of" list if you are a prog fan.
While we're on the subject of prog, I'll go ahead and list some of the genre's other notable releases that landed in 2000. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, was Spocks Beard's V. As soon as I finished listening to this album I almost immediately popped it back in the CD player to listen to it again, which is something I almost never do. Although it did viratually nothing in the sales charts, not to mention that it's an album most people have never heard of, I give "V" my "Album of the Year" vote. If you are a progressive rock fan, I urge you to check it out. Other notable Y2K prog discs include The Flower Kings' latest effort, "Space Revolver", a fine album, as well as their live effort "Alive On Planet Earth". We also saw the return of prog-metal favorite Fates Warning, who dropped "Disconnected" in the summer, the album is a return to a heavier sound after the avant-garde detour of "A Pleasant Shade of Gray". Other notables include Symphony X's "V: The New Mythology Suite" and Planet X's "Universe", among others. Prog legends Yes even gave us yet another live album this year, "House of Yes: Live From The House of Blues". Rush bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Geddy Lee also issued his first solo album "My Favorite Headache". The album is a signifigant departure from Rush, but still a worthwhile pick-up for material-starved Rush fans. All that said, me being a guy living in a small town in Oklahoma with a part-time job and only a couple of hundred dollars to spend on CDs (among other things) each month, I don't pretend to have bought/heard all of Y2K's major prog releases. For a good list of some albums I haven't mentioned, gohere.
Pink Floyd, considered a progressive rock band by many, also released their long-delayed "Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live". Floyd fans, us being an impatient bunch, were ready for any new Pink Floyd product, being as they haven't released a studio album since 1994, and only one other major album since, 1995's live "Pulse". "ITAOT", as the name suggests, is a long-awaited live version of "The Wall". Needless to say, this is an album for the hard-core Floyd fan. On other Pink Floyd notes, several of their classic albums were re-issued during the year with new packaging and such, though we still heard no new Pink Floyd music. Former PF member Roger Waters also released a live album of his recent tour of the same name "In The Flesh". If you want to know what I think of this album, then read my lengthy review of it.
Notable 2000 releases outside of progressive rock were few and far between. The two big exceptions in my mind are Iron Maiden's "Brave New World", and Don Henley's "Inside Job". "Brave New World" features several major changes for the legendary heavy metal band. First, vocalist Bruce Dickinson returned to the fold, and the band now features three guitarists, Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers. In my opinion, this album is very good, possibly even their best ever. If you like heavy metal music then this was hands down the best metal album of the year, a must buy. (Not that it had much competition, unless you count Halford's "Resurrection" which has gotten rave reviews from fans; personally, I have not heard it, as I am not a big Judas Priest/Halford fan). On the other hand is Henley's "Inside Job" his first studio effort since 1989's "The End of the Innocence". I think it is a landmark album in many ways. It is certainly the lyrical album of the year. Very nice songs as well, including several successful singles. It doesn't sound like the Eagles and it's not "adult contemporary", I urge any music fan out there tired of the boy bands and generic songs and lyrics to check out "Inside Job", which features some of the most honest songs you'll find anywhere.
Probably the closest thing we had to a major rock release was Radiohead's "Kid A", the hotly anticipated follow-up to 1997's "OK Computer", refuted by many as one of the greatest albums of all-time. Well, what can I say about "Kid A" that hasn't already been said? Not much. It is a stray away from the sound of "OK", but is still in the very experimental style that most Radiohead fans will love, even though it has polarized some of the band's followers, as we all know. Still, it debuted at #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K., but fell off rather quickly and ended up going gold. What's this, a successful album that not only was experimental, but had no singles, no videos, and relatively little radio airplay? Oh, sorry, I thought I was talking about Pink Floyd again there...
2000 also saw the return of some heavy hitters from the 80's (aside from Iron Maiden). Bon Jovi dropped "Crush", an album that features the perpetually catchy hit single "It's My Life", this album was received well by Bon Jovi fans and was undoubtedly a guilty pleasure for many of the band's detractors. Sleaze metal veterans Motley Crue also returned with "New Tattoo", their first album with Tommy Lee replacement Randy Castillo. It was welcomed as a return to the band's classic sound by fans. Speaking of old heroes returning, 2000 also saw the release of "Live At The Greek" the live document of the already semi-legendary tour collaboration between The Black Crowes and guitar hero Jimmy Page. It was originally available only online, and set a milestone as the first truly successful internet-only album. Black Crowes fans were also able to pick up "A Tribute To A Work In Progress" the band's "Greatest Hits" album. I also feel I must mention the return of Billy Joel, who released "2000 Years: The Millennium Concert" early in the year, which is a truly outstanding live album in my opinion. One of the 90's most successful bands, Collective Soul, also returned in 2000 with "Blender".
I'd probably get shot if I wrote all this and didn't mention the debut album from A Perfect Circle. It is considered by many to be one of the best albums of the year. I've heard some of it, it's not exactly my cup of tea, but I admit it is better than most of the stuff on the radio today.
So what's left? Box sets. Whereas 1998 was the year of the live album, 2000 was in many ways the year of the boxed set. We saw major new boxes from Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and tons more slip into record stores throughout the year, most of them coming conveniently at the dawn of the Christmas shopping season (ahem). Elton John's boxed set "To Be Continued..." was also re-issued during the year. Speaking of EJ, he also put out a live album, "One Night Only" during the year.
That was basically it as far as I can see. I probably left our your favorite album, or an album you liked at any rate, but I ask you, who's writing this? Not you. If you disagree I'd be glad to have your list of the year's best. Anyways, rock had some other non-musical triumphs during the year, most notably the release of Cameron Crowe's highly acclaimed film, "Almost Famous". Ah, the good old days...
So now that 2000's behind us, what can we look forward to in the next year? Well, as everyone knows, the real music issue of 2000 was the Napster debate, and the future of online file-sharing in general. We should be able to see the initial results of the debate in the coming year. As for music itself, 2001 is shaping up to become a rather good year for rock music.
March should see the release of the long-awaited new Aerosmith studio album, "Just Push Play". We'll get a new album from Radiohead early in the new year as well. Rush is to start working on a new album in January, which might possibly see the light of day before the year closes. We should see the result of the ongoing Van Halen soap opera, as well as a new VH album. Guns N' Roses even has a tentative release date for the perpetually delayed "Chinese Democracy" in June of 2001 (yeah, right) with a world tour to follow. We are might also see new albums from Ozzy Osbourne, Santana, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Metallica, and many others. These are but a few of the bright moments we might see in what is shaping up to be not only a great year for music, but also for movies, video games, and entertainment in general.
So what will be the big album of 2001? What new bands will pop up? What will be the result of the Napster debate? Is online file-sharing the future of the music industry? Will boy bands and rap-metal continue to dominate, or will rock storm back to it's rightful place at the top of the charts? If not, is there no justice? As Arthur C. Clarke has said, the only real problem in life is what to do next. We'll just have to wait and see.
DJs talking at the beginning/ending of songs before and after the lyrics have stopped/started - This practice is the single greatest reason for the downfall of my opinion in radio (well, other than alternative). Say a song has a 35 second intro. Well, often a DJ will plug his stataion or announce the song/artist during this intro, and stop talking just before the lyrics start. Same for the outro of the song. This practice is an insult to musicians everywhere. They couldn't care less about the song's lyrical content, they just wanna hear the instruments in all their glory. How can they do that when some annoying DJ is plugging his station during their favorite song's awesome guitar-driven intro? Exactly, they can't. DJs need to respect musicians more by stopping this practice, instead of catering to the teeny-bop "I just wanna hear the singer" crowd.
Rock and Pop being in the same section at music stores - I have never understood this. Why? The two genres are about as far away from each other as it is possible to get. What does Aerosmith have to do with the Backstreet Boys? Van Halen with NSYNC? Pink Floyd with Spears? Pop is, in fact, little different from rap. That is to say, a synthesized drum beat with people singing over it. Oh wait, that is rap...
"Who sings that song"? - I find it incredibly annoying and repulsive when someone likes a song, but doesn't know which band it is, and they ask you "Who sings that song?". Say a person likes Enter Sandman, but doesn't know Metallica performs it. A typical conversation would go something like this:
"Enter Sandman, I love that song. Who sings it?"
"Yeah right. There's no band called James Hetfield"
"No, there's not"
"But you just said there was"
"No I didn't, I told you who sings Enter Sandman"
"But I asked what band did it"
"No you didn't, you asked who sings it"
"No, it's not"
"Oh, well. You knew what I meant".
Sure, we knew what was meant, but who cares? This practice (along with the radio deal) is an insult to musicians, making it seem as if only the vocals and lyrics in a song count. This is simply not true. People who practice this annoying tactic are the same type of people who can't believe that there are such things as instrumentals.
Sky-high cd prices - CDs cost about a quarter to make. With music, packaging, and everything added, still only a couple of dollars. They are sold in stores for $12-20. This is simply ridicilous. They could sell these things for $5 and still make a profit. In theory, to be fair to everyone, CDs should cost between 5 and 10 dollars. So why isn't that the case?
Trash alternative bands being labelled as hard rock and metal - I won't touch much on this subject since the article I put up called "The Denim and Leather Test" dilligently covered the subject, but it does annoy me to the utmost degree to hear a DJ or "fan" refer to bands such as Kid Rock, Creed, and Matchbox 20 as hard rock, or even heavy metal. Plain fact of the matter is, these bands aren't metal. They aren't hard rock. Some, including the "Kid" (despite his name) aren't even rock. They are metal with cliched or sampled metal guitars. That's not rock, and it's sure as hell not hard rock or metal. Other offenders include: Static X, Korn, Marilyn Manson, and Limp Bizkit, among, unfortunately, many others. In fact, I think we should leave Microsoft alone, and sue Creed. They have a monopoly on radio.
Bands waiting a lifetime between albums - It used to be, in the golden age of rock, that bands would release a new album just about every year. Now, we have bands taking 3, 4, 5, and even 6 years between albums (or, in the case of Pink Floyd, 7). AC/DC has released their last three studio albums in 1991, 1995, and 2000. Aerosmith, in 1989, 1993, and 1997. Pink Floyd in (gasp!) 1983, 1987, and 1994. None since then. And God knows how long Guns N' Roses (or more accurately, Axl Rose) will take. Don Henley just released his first album in 11 years. Hell, there's more new Jimi Hendrix material coming out than stuff from these guys. Now, you would expect a delay of albums with older bands such as the ones that I have mentioned. But it's new bands too. Rage Against the Machine took ages between their first and second albums. Gov't Mule, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and others are taking several years. The plan now among bands seems to be to release an album every 3-5 years and tour more. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have new albums more often.
"Farewell Tours" - I have no problem with bands touring until they are very old. As far as I'm concerned, they can go on into their 90's. But I am getting tired of these so-called farewell tours in which bands evoke past memories in fans and swindle them into buying a ticket to their "final tour", since they will never be able to see them live again. Ozzy recently finished a tour with Black Sabbath, and is currently engaged in Ozzfest and a new studio album. He said he retired in 1993. Kiss recently pulled the same act. I have no problem with touring senior citizen rock stars, but don't say "farewell" if you don't mean it.
Well, that's enough ranting for now. There'll be more later.
It certainly seems that the majority of the population conjures up images of dreadful 80's synth-pop when the synthesizer is mentioned. This is sad really, very sad. The synthesizer is a viable (although certainly not essential) instrument in rock music. Not on the level of guitar or drums, but certainly viable. Or at least it should be. But many people don't see it this way. Fact is, you can do many things with a synthesizer. That is why it has been used in such a variety of ways within the rock genre alone. And, it does take some actual skill to play one. Now, I'm not talking about programming in the drum beat for the latest Spears single, but rather the classic prog stuff I mentioned above. Some examples:
#1: The classic works of Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson. Man, these guys could PLAY! Listen to Wakeman's solo on Yes's Yessongs album, it is absolutely mesmerizing, and displays some of the many things that you can do with synthesizers. His famous "space sounds" have now become a cliche, but only because so many players have tried (unsuccessfully) to copy him. And what would classic Yes works like Close To The Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans be without his contribution?
Not to forget Emerson. Keith is widely considered to be the best keyboard player to ever lay it down in the rock genre. And he is one of the very few keyboard players who can claim to have played the LEAD instrument in their band. Yes, that's right, Emerson's synthesizers were the lead instrument in Emerson, Lake & Palmer's three man attack, backed by bass, drums, and occasionally guitar. Famous for taking Bob Moog's self-titled synthesizer to new heights, a quick listen to such ELP classics as Tarkus and Karn Evil 9 will erase any doubts you may have had about the legitimacy of synthesizers in rock music. And, could ELP's many renderings of classical pieces have worked with any other instrument?
#2 Van Halen's 1984 album. Hailed by many as VH's greatest album, 1984 was the album where Eddie Van Halen brought synthesizers to the band. Indeed, Eddie's synth playing powered Van Halen's only #1 hit single, Jump. Jump is a world-renowned song, liked by nearly everyone. And SYNTHESIZER IS IT'S LEAD INSTRUMENT. Out of the album's 9 songs, 3 are synth-led. Jump, the instrumental title track, and another hit single, I'll Wait. Synths and keyboards have been an integral part of the Van Halen sound ever since.
#3 Rick Wright of Pink Floyd. Everyone loves Dark Side of the Moon. EVERYONE. Okay, well almost everyone. It is an album that everyone and their dog seems to own. And guess what powers many of the songs? You guessed it... synthesizers. Now, no one can deny that David Gilmour's signature guitar sound is the main instrumental facet of the album, but Rick Wright's synths (Gilmour and Roger Waters also try their hand at them) are a very large part of the sound. Just listen to On The Run and Any Colour You Like. It's impossible not to hear (and coincidentally, to like) them. Another Floyd piece that features synths in prominence is the epic suite from their next album, Shine On You Crazy Diamond. They are in many other Floyd songs as well.
Those are but two of the best examples. There are many others. Practically every progressive rock band worth their salt has used synthesizers at some point, many as an integral part of the band. Another band with the recognizable synth sound is Rush. Many of the band's best known songs (Tom Sawyer, Subdivisions, Force Ten, and many others) feature synths in prominence. Even some of the 80's pop-metal bands have used them. Bon Jovi, for instance. Ever notice that synth bit at the start of Livin' On A Prayer before the bass and drums kick in? No? Well you should have, as it keeps going throughout the whole song. The band also used a similar sequence on their 90's hit, Keep The Faith. You can also hear them in their song Lay Your Hands On Me, among others.
So, if you conjure up images of that disgusting 80's synth-pop or the music your son or daughter is playing in the next room when someone mentions synthesizers, stop, and tell yourself this: Synthesizers go great with rock music, IF you use them right.
What indeed? It now seems as if it was never right, but the truth is, we simply got too ambitious. At the start of the tribute madness, only the really big name bands (Zeppelin, Metallica, etc.) would get tributes, and only one of them. But it then got to the point where the big names had 3, 4, or even 5 tributes to them. On top of that, there were bands (Guns N' Roses, Pantera, Dream Theater, etc.) that hadn't even yet released enough material to have their own greatest hits collections, but yet had tribute albums to them released.
What's more, there were some bands, Aerosmith for instance, that didn't have a tribute album to them, while many lesser bands did. Finally, in late 1999 an Aerosmith tribute album was released. Fine. But now, if industry rumors are to be taken seriously, there are FOUR more Aerosmith tributes on the release dates pipeline. This thing has simply gotten out of hand. At my last count (and this is just ones I've seen), there were 5 Zeppelin tributes, 4 Metallica, 3 Black Sabbath, 3 Jimi Hendrix, 2 Eric Clapton, 2 Stevie Ray Vaughan, 2 AC/DC, and even 2 Pantera (first major label album: released 1990) tribute albums.
Even worse, we are now seeing albums where bands are not merely redoing the original songs, but ruining them completely. For instance, there is a new series of tributes called "Pickin' On". Fine, okay. Problem is, they take bands like Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, and others and do BLUEGRASS covers of their songs! I swear to God that is not a joke, it is true. Also, there are "electronic" and "remix" versions of tributes available. Needless to say, the songs on these bear little or no resemblance to the originals, while at the same time, offering nothing substantially new. You have to wonder whether the record companies really think that people are going to buy this drivel.
I admit it, I've heard a few tribute albums in my day (and even gasp! bought one). But I can gurantee you one thing, I will never buy or listen to another one. Yeah, it sounded like a good idea at first, but look at the situation realistically. There are only two ways that a band can go about covering songs for a tribute: a) a "by the numbers" near carbon-copy of the original song. If this method is used, it won't be different enough from the original to warrant a listen from the consumer, and since it won't, in all likelihood, be as good, we'll just go back to the original versions. Or b) make a radically different version with little or no resemblance to the original. Okay, now everything we liked about the song in the first place is gone, replaced by some cliched techno or rap crap. Either way, we'd rather just stick to the originals.
Don't get me wrong, I like covers. I've heard some versions where the new takes were better than the original versions. But when you get a WHOLE ALBUM of the stuff, you can't help but be turned off by it. You can only take things so far. So, that leaves us with one question: why are these things still being released, if seemingly no one likes them? Well, there is only one possible answer, and that is because they are still selling. Surely, you are like me, and want to see an end put to this tribute madness? Well, there is only one possible solution: STOP BUYING THEM!