Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Decade postmortem: 2004 and 2005

My original list for 2004:

1. Arcade Fire, Funeral
2. Franz Ferdinand, s/t
3. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
4. Kanye West, The College Dropout
5. Regina Spektor, Soviet Kitsch
6. Wolf Eyes, Burned Mind
7. Vietnam, The Concrete’s Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street
8. Usher, Confessions
9. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Like Bad News
10. William Shatner, Has Been

In terms of how music is made and distributed, the early 2000s weren’t hugely different from the late ’90s. There were still megaplatinum albums (7.4 million for The Eminem Show in 2002, 6.5 million for Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in 2003), MTV still wielded the hitmaking wand, and the Internet was still more of a nuisance/question mark than the Third Horseman. (The iTunes store opened in 2003, to no small amount of skepticism.) But 2004 was the year things started to look truly transitional.

It was actually a good year for album sales. They went up 2 percent in 2004, after slipping the previous three years. Usher’s Confessions was tops with a remarkable 7.9 million. After sweeping the Grammys and moving 5.1 million copies of Come Away With Me in 2003, Norah Jones continued to sell by the truckload: another 3.8 million in 2004. What could be wrong, right?

In hindsight there were probably a million indicators of what would come, but here are two obvious ones: First, Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, a big flaming copyright violation released online with no label. It proved that this crazy new distribution model could actually work, and while the labels were used to challenges from the consumer/pirate side, this one came from an artist. Second, the Arcade Fire. They scaled the peaks of blog hype, but their sales were still peanuts by biz standards. Lesson: the days of plucking a Kurt Cobain out of indie-rock are over. Consequence: the indies dry up as a farm league and spin totally out of orbit.

I think I was pretty dead-on with my list. Aside from a few position changes, the only change I want to make is to cut Vietnam, which made an impression on me at the time but hasn’t held; Joanna Newsom replaces it. Notes: Nix on The Grey Album, a curiosity that I never got much out of musically, although I recognize DM’s ingenuity. I’m also omitting U2, the Killers, Gwen Stefani, Interpol and Wilco for various reasons, the biggest that I don’t love the albums. And yes, the Shatner record is good!

What does all that biz analysis have to do with my favorites? Nothing. It’s just interesting.

So, 2004 revised:

1. Arcade Fire, Funeral
2. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
3. Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender
4. Kanye West, The College Dropout
5. Usher, Confessions
6. Franz Ferdinand, s/t
7. Regina Spektor, Soviet Kitsch
8. Wolf Eyes, Burned Mind
9. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Like Bad News
10. William Shatner, Has Been

And now for 2005. I don’t have much more to say about the biz or the larger culture. It was the year in which, despite everything, George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term, having won a decisive majority. Maybe it’s appropriate, then, that the best album of the year was an uncompromising, politicized cry from the third world.

My original list:

1. M.I.A., Arular
2. The Frames, Burn the Maps
3. Sons and Daughters, The Repulsion Box
4. High on Fire, Blessed Black Wings
5. Kanye West, Late Registration
6. Decemberists, Picaresque
7. White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
8. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
9. Keyshia Cole, The Way It Is
10. The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike

I’m going to give myself the groupthink test on these — i.e., looking back after four years, which ones am I certain I was voting for out of love, and which might be the result of that invisible consensus peer pressure we were talking about earlier?

  1. Not a chance. Loved it, listened over and over.
  2. Nope. It didn’t even make Pazz and Jop.
  3. Ditto.
  4. Ditto, not that metal would make that list anyway.
  5. Some groupthink is inevitable, but to my 2009 ears it still sounds completely solid. And it’s amazing just how much of a fully-formed star Kanye was right from the get-go. He had years of practice with Jay-Z, Twista, Jadakiss et al., but none of those guys had the gumption to look into a live network TV camera and say, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
  6. Probably some, but it’s easy to forget how fresh the Decemberists sounded in the first half of the 2000s. Picaresque is what their major-label debut should have sounded like; as I’ve said elsewhere, it got stale pretty fast after this point.
  7. Nah, check my other lists.
  8. Probably. It is an excellent album, though, and I have no regrets about including it.
  9. Nah, I fell for it all on my own. This one also didn’t make Pazz and Jop.
  10. Yeah, makes me wince. What can I say, sometimes you make a bad call.

So that’s pretty good, I think, overall. I’m cutting the Go! Team, as you might guess, but otherwise leaving my list pretty much intact.

For me, the big contenders I had originally excluded are: My Morning Jacket’s Z, Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois, Feist’s Let It Die, Spoon’s Gimme Fiction, Teenage Fanclub’s Man-Made, Amadou & Mariam’s Dimanche à Bamako, Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, Van Morrison’s Magic Time, Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Came From, Teddy Thompson’s Separate Ways and Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy.

Of those, the only ones I have unequivocal feelings about are My Morning Jacket, Wolf Parade and Okkervil River. And I think MMJ wins out. Sorry, Sufjan, your big breakthrough was beautiful but a little too precious for me. Sorry, Feist, Spoon and Teenage Fanclub, I love you guys, but your albums were flawed. Sorry, Amadou & Mariam, you handed Manu Chao the keys. Sorry, Teddy, I still think you can better. Sorry, Van and Lee Ann, you made gorgeous records but they feel lost in time.

So, 2005 revised:

1. M.I.A., Arular
2. The Frames, Burn the Maps
3. Kanye West, Late Registration
4. Keyshia Cole, The Way It Is
5. Sons and Daughters, The Repulsion Box
6. Decemberists, Picaresque
7. High on Fire, Blessed Black Wings
8. White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
9. My Morning Jacket, Z
10. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine

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