2001 was a great year for music for many different reasons. One of the main causes is that it had a very identifiable character; think post-punk revival meets the best of the 1990s. 2001 is the reason for many today (who were alive then) say that guitar music is going to make a comeback any minute now – and sure enough, now and then, a great guitar band comes along and blows everyone out of the water.
By the time the grunge dream and Brit-pop eras of the 1990s died, bands like Radiohead and Gorillaz were beginning to express a new kind of music that began incorporating computers as an instrument. These signs suggested we were on the precipice of a musical revolution; little did anyone know that the revolution involved looking back instead of forwards.
Perhaps it says more about how people are: we are sentimental beings, and always longing for something more vaguely romantic from a bygone era of the ’60s and ’70s. Maybe it just means that people recognise that guitar music, when done right, is transcendental.
In a relevant interview between David Bowie and Jeremy Paxman in 1999, Bowie described how he thought the internet was going to impact society and the music industry: “Now it’s the internet carries the flag of being subversive and possibly rebellious, chaotic and nihilistic,” he commented.
When Paxman’s body language and facial expression suggested that he thought Bowie was wrong, the starman replied with, “Oh yes it is, forget about the Microsoft element. The monopolies do not have a monopoly – maybe on programs. I embrace the idea that there is a new demystification process going on between the artist and the audience. When you look back at, let’s say, this last decade, there hasn’t been one single entity, artist, or group that has personified or become the brand name for the ’90s.”
Adding: “Now, there are sub-groups and genres. It’s hip, it’s girl power; it’s a communal kind of thing. It’s about the community; it’s becoming more and more about the audience. Because the point of having somebody who led the forces has disappeared because the vocabulary of rock is too well known. The currency is not devoid of meaning anymore, but it’s just a conveyor of information and not a conveyor of rebellion anymore – and the internet has taken on that.”
While Bowie was correct to a certain degree, the early part of the new millennium would prove Bowie incorrect. The guitar revival movement did bring forth a cohesive movement that seemed like a denouement of the golden era of the 1990s.
2001 was both the beginning and the end of ‘alternative rock’ as a genre. The Strokes and The Hives were two of the bands who paved the way for a new brand of old rock ‘n’ roll, one that was equally informed by ’60s garage rock and late ’70s post-punk.
We delved into the six of the best albums released in 2001.
The 6 of the best albums released in 2001:
The Strokes – Is This It?
The Strokes’ debut was a smash hit when it took everyone by surprise. The record’s sound had little production on it – what you heard was what the band sounded like in a live setting. This is a big part of The Strokes’ appeal and what made them one of the more quintessential guitar-revival bands.
“Our music was, like, the Doors’, but trying to be classical,” said the drummer, Fabrizio Moretti. “We all took music classes and tried writing songs, and when we put them together they were this crazy amalgam of insane ideas that we thought was really cool.”
Singer, Julian Casablancas is the primary songwriter for the group, who quickly became renowned for his keen eye for observation and his NYC telephone-like vocals. Casablancas is a nuanced songwriter and works much in the same way a composer would. He develops all the parts that would fit into one song. Talking about this, he said: “I just wanted to write music that could touch people. [As] a songwriter, you play a few chords and sing a melody that’s been done a thousand times, and now you’re a singer-songwriter. I think it takes a little more than that to do something that matters. And I wish I could write a song where all the parts work. When you hear a song like that, it’s like finding a new friend.”
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – B.R.M.C
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s eponymous debut is the perfect amalgamation of psychedelia, garage rock, and some blues undertones. Noel Gallagher helped them find their first recording deal and invited them to come to play with Oasis during this time. To say the least, B.R.M.C did much better in Britain than they did in the States.
Peter Hayes of B.R.M.C was initially a member of another San Fransisco group The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Hayes, with some conflicts with other bandmates, decided to break away and start this outfit of pure rock ‘n’ roll.
‘Spread Your Love’ found considerable success as a hit single and has been featured in a few movies as well as commercials.
The White Stripes – White Blood Cells
The White Stripes’ third effort came out in 2001 and it was ranked as one of the best of 2001 and did a lot in the way of putting The White Stripes on the map for good. Their previous albums emphasised the gritty delta blues turned electric sound; White Blood Cells saw Jack White expand his palette and cemented him as a formidable songwriter.
This is the record that gave us ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ and ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ – two brilliant tracks that revealed Jack White as the balladeer.
Björk – Vespertine
This is one of those records that never quite fits a list, as Björk is so unique. Bjork has always stood out and Vespertine perfectly exemplifies how 2001 wasn’t exactly homogenous.
2000 was the year where sites like Napster began changing the entire musical landscape. It would take an artist like Björk to use this as an advantage and consideration when making an album intended for illegal download.
“I use micro-beats, a lot of whispery vocals, which I think sound amazing when they’re downloaded because of the secrecy of the medium,” she commented. “The only acoustic instruments I would use would be those that sound good after they’ve been downloaded, so the harp, the music box, celeste and clavichord. They’re plucky sounds. And the strings ended up being more panoramic textures in the background. It’s all about being in a little house, on your own. The strings would be like white mountains outside.”
Radiohead – Amnesiac
Amnesiac was recorded during the same sessions as Kid A, as it was intended to be a double album, however, Radiohead felt that it would probably be too dense as such. Amnesiac continued the band’s exploration into composing without guitars and develop bleaker but more mysterious soundscapes.
Amnesiac was very successful; it debuted at number one on the UK Albums Charts and number two in the US Billboard 200. By 2001, Radiohead had successfully identified themselves as a wholly unique group; the 1990s saw them as one of the leading guitar groups of the Brit-pop era, who then dismissed their tried and true formula and opted for more experimentation.
Weezer – The Green Album
In between Pinkerton and The Green Album, Weezer may have grown up a little bit and decided they didn’t have to be the angst-ridden heartbroken teenagers they used to be. While some may say that The Green Album is a very formulaic record, while this may be true, it is not detrimental to the listening experience nor does it take away from the genius of its simplicity, but instead adds to it.
Where Pinkerton may have tried too hard to be what it is, their third record is brilliant because its form blends in seamlessly with its creative expression – in other words, it doesn’t get in the way of itself. Rivers Cuomo, by this point, truly mastered the art of his songwriting.