College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 2 and 1


2. Weezer, Weezer

Unlikely as it may have seemed that a band that had only released their debut album seven years earlier was in dire need of a comeback, that was exactly the situation Weezer was in when they released their third album in late spring of 2001. Following a surprising smash with the oddball pop of their self-titled debut in 1994, Weezer’s sophomore effort, 1996’s Pinkerton was widely seen as a failure, although admiration for the record has swelled in the years since. Rivers Cuomo, the main creative force behind the band, put Weezer on hiatus while he toyed around with other pursuits, including an attempt at completing his degree at Harvard. When he decided to record under the Weezer name once again, there seemed to be a clear and concerted attempt to duplicate the success of the earliest release, right down to once again titling the album with nothing more than the name of the band and making the cover a simple picture of the group against a solid background color. The lead single absolutely clamored to college radio airplay, its name blatantly tapping into the easy, somewhat obnoxious rebellion that comes from playing something sort of naughty on the air. I have a feeling that the band also benefited from the lengthy layoff because the kids now programming college stations didn’t remember being disappointed by Pinkerton, but instead undoubtedly viewed Weezer, whose insanely catchy “Buddy Holly” was ubiquitous at just the time they were entering their teenage years, as one of their key gateway bands to the sort of music they now lived by as young adults. Maybe I’m just grasping at weak theories here, but that explanation makes more sense to me than college programmers actually liking this mediocre album enough for it to earn the year’s runner-up spot.


1. Built to Spill, Ancient Melodies of the Future

As I’ve already mentioned many times over while tracking through these fifty albums, getting reacquainted with college radio in 2001 was especially fascinating for me because I was able to see how much the musical landscape had changed in the years–spanning less than a decade’s worth of time–since I could honestly refer to myself as a college broadcaster. Many of the titans from my day were afforded little more than cursory, respectful attention (appropriately so, since it was probably true that their most vital days were clearly behind them) and bands that were just starting to announce themselves in the early nineteen-nineties were now the powerhouses. There’s perhaps no novel insight in that observation–so things change as time passes, how interesting!–but it also helped me to put some needed distance between my new and former role. Few things could make that clearer than Built to Spill absolutely dominating the college charts with their fifth album, Ancient Melodies of the Future. I think it’s a solid enough album, though certainly not on par with the trio of masterful records that preceded it (at it’s best, I will concede, that it’s pretty wonderful). But, in way that I recognized, the quality of that individual album wasn’t necessarily the whole point. It was equally important that this was a band that belonged to them, the kids programming college radio at that point in time. They’d made Keep it Like a Secret a major success just two years earlier, and now their band was arriving again with new music that may not have been transformative but sounded unmistakably like Built to Spill, in much the same way that my friends and I had played R.E.M.’s Out of Time or the Replacements’ Don’t Tell a Soul knowing deep down that these released didn’t represent peaks for the bands in question. Far from it, in fact. But they were albums from favorite artists that were there for us, sometimes feeling, against all available evidence, like these works were for us only. It was nice to know that there endured a sense of familial affection for favored bands among college radio kids. That the bands were different than the ones that once belonged to me somehow made it all the better.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise
10 and 9: Death Cab For Cutie and Gorillaz
8 and 7: Jimmy Eat World and Björk
6 and 5: Stereolab and Guided by Voices
4 and 3: Stephen Malkmus and Radiohead

College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 4 and 3


4. Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus

As has already been made clear, no doubt, in these past couple of weeks, the upper reaches of the 2001 CMJ album chart invites a fair amount of compare and contrast between my graduation from college radio as a student in the early-to-mid-nineteen-nineties and my return as an advisor at the launch of a new century. That’s remains true with the album at #4, the official solo debut of Stephen Malkmus. His most famous prior work, as a member of the band Pavement, was startling to take charge of the college charts in my final years at 90FM-WWSP, the educational, noncommercial radio station of my student years. While the band’s debut, Slanted and Enchanted, did quite well on the charts and developed an immediate, fervent fan base, I seem to recall it having only the most meager of impacts at our station. 90FM staffers were always a little slow to come around to the odder or more abrasive material, and Pavement’s defiantly half-formed ideas didn’t exactly click with us. It was a viewpoint I generally shared, despite the ever-mounting critical (and cool kid) consensus that I was supposed to see all this as resoundingly transformational. By the time I was working in commercial alternative radio station a few later, enduring the complaints of haughty listeners that were complaining we weren’t playing Wowee Zowee (while sympathetic to the assertion that out playlist wasn’t daring enough, the few things I’d heard off that record were flat-out bad), I was completely over the notion that this was a band that demanded my attention and affection. My contrarian opinion largely carried over to Malkmus’s self-titled solo bow, though there was at least a little more respect for genuine songcraft to be found there. To his further credit, Malkmus didn’t really want this effort to be released under his own name, preferring to start up a new band and simply call it the Jicks. Then the record label intervened. Of course, later releases were issued under the compromised moniker of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and most fans also consider that to be the proper artist assignment for this effort, regardless of how the cover reads. Malkmus has kept right on with this musical derivation, releasing albums with an unrushed consistency. The almost inevitable Pavement reunion occurred too, which only served to further solidify his status as one of the elder statesmen of indie rock.


3. Radiohead, Amnesiac

Like Mr. Malkmus, the artist one notch above him on the chart first starting earning their college rock reverence as I was thinking about collecting my diploma and fretting about the real world. Radiohead’s debut album, Pablo Honey, came out during my final semester, grabbing attention with its moody guitar rock and even securing an unlikely crossover into the Billboard Top 40 with the lead single, “Creep.” It was an impressive start, and yet gave almost no indication of the sizable influence to come as Radiohead rocketed to prominence with later releases OK Computer and Kid A. By 2001, they were so clearly one of the most important bands to programmers on the left end of the dial that even a release pulled together from material recorded at the same time as Kid A but not used otherwise could be strung together into an album that dominated playlists for months. That may have been the genesis of Amnesiac, but the band insisted that it was a proper release, not a ragtag collection of musical scraps. Truth is, it might not have mattered given how hungry fans were for any new music, even coming less than a year after the previous release. Amnesiac is a fine record, although I think it’s also the first hint that the Radiohead sound was reaching its saturation point, that it was all starting to blend together a bit. For me, anyway, there are only so many times I can plunge into clouds of ethereal sonic majesty.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise
10 and 9: Death Cab For Cutie and Gorillaz
8 and 7: Jimmy Eat World and Björk
6 and 5: Stereolab and Guided by Voices

College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 6 and 5


6. Stereolab, Sound-Dust

Stereolab was just starting to rattle college radio’s proverbial cage at about the time I secured my undergraduate degree, a task undertook in concerted foot-dragging fashion, I assure you. The album Mars Audiac Quintet was released about a year after I graduated, its lead single, “Ping Pong,” nicely mapping out the new path noncommercial radio stations might take now that their profit-driven counterparts further up the dial had fully and completely appropriated grunge rock. The music was poppy and light but also archly different, introducing oddity through the casualness of its mildly disenchanted deconstruction of traditional songcraft. Not as resolutely oppositional to warmth and accessibility as, say, Pavement or the band that will be named in about a half a paragraph, Stereolab still seemed to build their sound by feel and instinct. By 2001, when the band released their eighth full-length album, Sound-Dust, they were confirmed college radio stalwarts, each album eagerly anticipated enough that its arrival initiated tug and war debates over whether or not the group was stagnating or moving forward, delivering what was expected and loved or, that most dreaded of college radio condemnations, selling out. The music on Sound-Dust sounded pretty good to me when I heard it, but then they were always a peripheral band to me, peaking when I had the misfortune of not paying attention. To their credit, they seemed to be doing something that was almost unimaginable during my earlier time in college radio: simply settling into a comfortable groove that could provide an extended career. No one really expected them to crossover, nor did they have the burden of continuing to craft epoch-shifting masterworks with every release. They could just go about the business of continuing to create music, to make records. Their fervent acolytes might dwindle, but there was always going to be enough people willing to listen.


5. Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills

My god, but did I try to like Guided by Voices back when they were one of the bands of necessity on the college radio scene. As with Stereolab, they had their sizable initial success right after I could no longer claim to be a student at the college radio station. The beloved Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes came out in successive years in the mid-nineties while I was making the awkward and thankfully aborted transition into commercial radio. My dirty little secret is that the albums, to the limited degree that I heard them, represented my sudden detachment from where my recent former home was heading. To use a term that doesn’t really exist but describes my reaction more effectively than any word found in an actual dictionary, I thought their music was an earsore. Robert Pollard’s tendency to put absolutely every idea onto record, whether or not the baking process was complete, led to a lot of songs that were almost great but frustratingly incomplete. Listening to a Guided By Voices record was, for me, like listening to the shards of clumsy takes and in progress material that landed on bonus discs on cash-in reissues. It might be fascinating from a curatorial standpoint, but who could actually listen to this stuff repeatedly? I’m one of those select few who thought the band improved greatly when they started approaching their music in a way that offended the faithful, beginning with the widely reviled 1999 album Do the Collapse, produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars in about the way that anyone would expect one of the impresarios of Heartbeat City would produce it. I actually liked what I heard of it, although I remained skeptical. It was the follow-up, Isolation Drills, that closed the deal. Lead single “Chasing Heather Crazy” was everything I wanted a Guided by Voices song to be, maintaining Pollard’s offbeat qualities while also applying the demanding rigors of fine pop songwriting to the finished product in much the same way, about a decade earlier, that Pere Ubu’s “Waiting for Mary” was true to that band’s abstract aesthetic yet embraced the charms of taking the extra effort to bang material into finished, appealing shape. That approach is evident all the way through Isolation Drills, so much so that the music kept turning up in the most unlikely of places and earning even more unlikely fans (I have it from a reliable source that “Glad Girls” produces a markedly consistent reaction of joy among females of a certain age). Maybe I didn’t find the slapdash self-destruction of earlier Guided by Voices all that romantic because I’d already been there done that with my music fandom. Whatever the reason, Isolation Drills may have been the end for some, but it was just the beginning for me.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise
10 and 9: Death Cab For Cutie and Gorillaz
8 and 7: Jimmy Eat World and Björk

College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 8 and 7


8. Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American

There is probably no album that better measures the distance between the college radio station I left in 1993 (or 1994, depending on how you look at it) and the one I joined in 2001 than Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World. It was the fourth album by the hard-rocking Arizona band, and it garnered them significant attention, eventually achieving a certification of platinum. The second single, the crazy-catchy “The Middle,” was especially huge, breaking into the Billboard Top 5. It was exactly the sort of big, slick guitar-rock record that we would have been all over at my alma mater. In fact, while I have no proof of such, I’d confidently wager that Bleed American probably was one of the biggest albums of the year at that station. At my new radio home, however, the album was barely touched, presumably because it was too popular and too commercial, damning descriptors that could sink any new record (unless it was by Radiohead, whose capability to regularly debut at the top of the Billboard album charts didn’t seem to cast the same pall). That observation isn’t meant to cast aspersions on either approach, even if the nostalgic tug for my original central Wisconsin broadcast center is mighty indeed. If there’s a tiebreaker, it’s maybe the album itself. If that’s the case, my honest opinion of it is that it’s markedly dull. At least in this case, the snobbier kids are right.


7. Björk, Vespertine

If Bleed American illustrates the aesthetic divide between my two radio tours, then Vespertine suitably drives home the passage of years. When I first landed at 90FM in the fall of 1988, DJs who wanted to talk about Björk still had to wrap their tongues around the daunting last name of Guðmundsdóttir, and the only real frame of reference was her stunning vocal performances on Life’s Too Good, the debut album of her band the Sugarcubes, which stormed college radio that spring. The album may have edged its way out of our station’s active rotation by the fall, but there were still singles having their way with the college charts. By the time I arrived at WPRK, Björk was a widely acclaimed solo artist prominent enough to have a Best Original Song Oscar nomination to her credit. Vespertine, her fifth solo album, came out that summer to the sort of rapturous response that was, by that time, fully expected. The ingenue had become the old guard. Miserably enough, the same could arguably be said of me. As for album, it was Björk all right: angular, inventive, challenging, deliberately odd. It’s the sort of music that may have gotten modest, appreciative attention in other quarters, but it was also unique enough to practically justify the continued existence of college radio all on its own. Only brash, musically enraptured kids toiling with low-wattage transmitters on the noncommercial end of the radio dial would be foolhardy enough to think material like this deserves a prominent place on the public airwaves. Bless ’em.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise
10 and 9: Death Cab For Cutie and Gorillaz

College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 10 and 9


10. Death Cab For Cutie, The Photo Album

As anyone who’s spent quality time with my Friday posts is probably well aware, I have extremely strong associations between the college radio station and certain songs and albums from the era when I was a student. There was a whole range of music that seemingly belonged primarily to us. No matter how many other college stations (or commercial stations, for that matter) were playing the same thing, they surely didn’t love it the way that we did. I assume this is a natural side effect of being a college kid who’s sharing in the thrilling task of keeping a fully licensed broadcast entity on the air with quality programming. When I got back into the college radio field in 2001, it didn’t take long at all to discover that the sensation in question transcended time and place. I may not have been one of those college kids any longer, but there were still albums that were so ever-present on the airwaves I was helping preside over that they practically become our sole property. We were the guardians of everything that made that collection of songs special. The first record that achieved that status there was The Photo Album by Death Cab For Cutie. As one of the DJs alluded to in a comment written on the sticker affixed to the CD’s front cover, it never hurts to have a good song about a bad dad to capture the misfit hearts of those who tend to gravitate to the noncommercial side of the dial. Even setting aside that particular track, the whole album is first-rate, operating with a resounding emotional opennes that perfectly suits the melodic spareness of the music. It got played a lot at my new station (we didn’t keep track of such things, but I’d bravely wager it was the biggest album of the year for us), and it was clear that the DJs weren’t just enjoying it, they were relating to it in the deepest of ways. Remembering that feeling well, I was damn glad to see it was still happening.


9. Gorillaz, Gorillaz

While Death Cab for Cutie is a band I strongly associate with the place that became my new home in 2001, the debut album from Gorillaz is the demarcation between that new place and the dairyland I left. My first exposure to the cartoon band conceived by Blur’s Damon Albarn and Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett occurred as we were packing up our Wisconsin house for the big move south. Intending to multitask with a little research on what music might be big on the college radio scene, I put on MTV’s (well, actually MTV2’s at that point) 120 Minutes as we packed boxes. As I recall it, one of the very first videos they played that night was the spectacular “Clint Eastwood,” the first single from the self-titled debut attributed to Gorillaz. I found it amusing enough to consider the fictional histories of the animated quartet, all that would be mere gimmickry if the music wasn’t worthwhile. On that first album, it surely was. While they all had their peaks, subsequent releases weren’t as engaging, but the freshness of Gorillaz is still remarkable.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise

College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 12 and 11


12. Low, Things We Lost in the Fire

The first time I realized I may be falling out of step with the prevailing taste of college radio kids came fairly early in my post-collegiate years, when a breathless rave in the pages of CMJ New Music Monthly inspired me to go out and purchase The Biz, the third album by the Chicago band the Sea and the Cake. The jazz-inflected collection of languidly thoughtful songs was deemed smart, intricate and artistically challenging. It found it incredibly boring, maybe because I had inclinations towards neither bongs nor headphones. So it was a little rough for me when I officially rejoined the world of college radio a few years later to discover that similarly deliberate defiant anti-pop bands had made further inroads on the scene. For one, there was Low, a indie rock outfit from Minnesota (home to spectacular punky, garage rock clatter in my day) that had helped kick off 2001 by releasing their fifth album, Things We Lost in the Fire, in January. Even if there was a a touch of toughness to their music, the main goal seemed to be testing how fiercely slow they could make a song. This new sonic landscape was clearly going to take some getting used to…


11. Tortoise, Standards

…a point that was further illustrated to me by the success of Tortoise. Again hailing from the upper Midwest–this time Chicago, where they undoubtedly had some crosstown kinship with the previous mentioned the Sea and the Cake–the band pushed even harder against convention, reveling in thick, sluggish compositions that I had trouble wrapping my head around. Tortoise’s fourth album, Standards, was released only about a month after Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire, leading me to believe that college radio must have had the rough pace of chilled molasses spilled on a counter throughout the month of March. I’d love to report that I’ve warmed to these bands in the years since, but they continue to drone outside of my musical comfort zone, even as I’ve tried repeatedly to find the pleasures in their most acclaimed works. I’ll fully acknowledge that it’s me, not them. I may have wanted to dive right back into the pool in 2001, but there were clearly areas where I just wasn’t going to enjoy swimming. Of course, having a couple bands that I found utterly impenetrable was paradoxically part of the fun of being back there too. I missed college radio in part because I missed being challenged by the music I heard. It took no time at all to revive that part of the experience.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes

College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 14 and 13


14. The Beta Band, Hot Shots II

Like a lot of people, I suppose, my first exposure to the Beta Band came in the single finest moment of the decent but disappointing 2000 film adaptation of Nick Horby’s novel High Fidelity. Unlike the predicted five patrons of movie character Rob Gordon’s store, hearing the excellent “Dry the Rain” didn’t inspire me to purchase the band’s The Three E.P.’s (though I happily had the song on the movie’s soundtrack), but it did lodge the Beta Band in my head as one of those acts that merited attention. Right around the time I had the blessed opportunity to become acquainted with the new generation of bands that had a foothold on the college charts (at just about nowhere else), the second studio album from the Beta Band, Hot Shots II, arrived. Given my meager previous exposure of the band, I theoretically had a fighting chance to connect with the release with at least a little working knowledge, but the noncommercial terrain was now one upon which a single with a sample from the Günter Kallmann Choir’s 1970 version of Wallace Collection’s “Daydream” could be scrapped because there was already a totally different single out there with a sample from the Günter Kallmann Choir’s 1970 version of Wallace Collection’s “Daydream.” The world of college radio as it now existed was clearly designed to keep me discombobulated for as long as possible. I remember Hot Shots II as good but elusive. It was clearly going to take me a while to get used to life on the left of the dial again.


13. The Strokes, Is This It?

Earlier in this iteration of the countdown, I speculated that Satellite Rides by Old 97’s might be my favorite album of 2001. At the time, though, I distinctly remember being absolutely convinced that a different album deserved to be called the best of the year. The debut full-length from New York’s the Strokes, Is This It, arrived with so much breathless hype that the backlash was practically built right in. In the mid-nineties, I remember being shocked at the rapid turnaround time from adoration to disdain that dogged the band Veruca Salt, but that was the height of measured, ruminative patience compared to what the Strokes faced. That was partially because the record had a head start, getting released in England several months ahead of its planned U.S. bow. And then that date was shifted later yet, in part because the events of September 11th made the band and the label rethink the inclusion of the hardly laudatory song “New York City Cops” since it didn’t exactly seem like a time to take shots at first responders (the track was replaced by “When it Started”). The band also probably lost some credibility points in certain quarters because they replaced the racy cover art used for European releases (pictured above) with a more abstract image that is evidently a close-up of particle collisions. Everyone involved maintained that the band simply liked the new design better, but suspicions persisted that they were preemptively acquiescing to conservative retailers in the U.S. Whatever other problems the album may have had–besides everything else, I have a recollection of the individual band members consistently coming across as poser tools in interviews–there was little issue that could be taken with the music on the album. Even if it was derivative of any number of old post-punk classics, it was still sharp, clever and engaging, undoubtedly walking the trails well-blazed by their influences but doing so with consummate skill and just enough wily invention. Defined as much by their detractors as anything they themselves were creating, the Strokes weren’t able to get out from under the criticism heaped upon them with subsequent releases. I’m quick to agree that their third album, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, is pretty band, but the other efforts all have their charms, even Angles, their much derided 2011 return after a five year layoff. I think it’s a damn good, resolutely weird take on bent nineteen-eighties pop, the best album that the Tubes never got around to recording.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco