Best Album of the 2000s: 2002

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It’s not easy to pick the best album of a particular year. Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and it means different things to individuals depending on where they’re at when an album is released. Over the next few months I’m gonna tell you what albums we liked each year over the past ten years and I’ll also talk about your collective choice for best album each year. Anytime you narrow down entire years music down to 10 choices, you’re gonna miss some great music, and I know some of you think these types of articles are a waste of time. To you I say this:

  • Get over it. It’s my time I’m wasting. If you don’t wanna waste your time, don’t read.

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  • PMA will still cover the latest music as it comes out, so you’re not missing anything there.

  • We see value in remembering great music from the past. Some of our readers may have missed these albums the first time around, so it’s still exposure to new music, even if it’s from 10 years ago.

I hope you enjoy this segment while it lasts, and get into the dialogue. We’ll probably nail some of your favorites and dreadfully miss others. Let us know what you think of the choices in the comments, and tell us what changes you’d make.

In the meantime, here are the winners for The Best Album of 2002. Enjoy!

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Reader's Choice - Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head

Some of you are going to hate this pick. I know this. Up to now, all of our collective choices for best albums (readers and PMA) have been game changers in the music world. They have been albums that you can look back and actually see a conscious shift happen in the wake of their release. Well, that isn’t the case with ARush of Blood to the Head and I think some of you will have a negative knee-jerk reaction to seeing it here. It puts me in an awkward position as a critic. I mean, I could try and play it cool & sit here talking the album down. I could try to make you feel like fools for not picking some tasty indie selection, no seriously… I could. Well, I guess in theory I could… here’s the thing… I love this album, love it. It may not have changed music history, but it changed my music history, and when I look back to the music of 2002, there are very few (if any) albums from that year that I’ve listened to as consistently and as often as A Rush of Blood to the Head.

To remember the absolute dominance of this album, you need to look back at the track list. Classics like “In My Place,” “Clocks,” “The Scientist ,“ and “Warning Sign” are all there. Throw in Coldplay mainstays like  “Politik,” “Daylight,” and “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and with six songs you’ve got a pretty star studded album. Well, then toss on the anyone-that’s-listened-to-loves “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” and (one of my personal favorites), “Green Eyes,” and you see why this record is deluxe front to back. There isn’t a bad song on it! In fact, it’s not even that there isn’t a bad song… it’s that there isn’t a just “good” song. They’re all excellent. I have a friend that I consider a great musician. He’s always talking about how hard it is to write one good pop song. Well, how hard is it to write 11? The interesting thing about that is that this isn’t the actual track listing for the original album. For one thing, the first version of Rush of Blood didn’t have “Clocks” on it. Chris Martin wrote it too late to include it by the label’s deadline, but when the original Rush of Blood was finished, the band was unhappy with the final product… they felt like it sounded too much like Parachutes. So, rather than release an album they weren’t happy with (that still would have sold a bazillion copies), they negotiated a later release date with the label. How many bands would pass on a payday, just to get things right in their head? The reason this album is so good is that artists wrote it, not just musicians. These were people that cared about their work, and you can hear it in all 11 songs.

You know how some movies up for Best Picture at the Oscars are amazing, but kind of torturous to watch? I mean you’re always glad you watched them in the end, but they were just hard to sit through? I’m talking Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Ray, Benjamin Button… stuff like that.Great movies that progress the genre or actor, but flicks that make you wanna poke your eyes out when you’re done because it they were so heavy? Well, I think we often give “Best of” credit to the musical equivalent of those Oscars. For the Best of 2001 I wrote about Is This It and for me, that album is like the Best Picture nominees. It’s the best, no question… it saved us from horrific nu-metal, but I’ve barely listened to it since then. In my opinion, those albums aren’t always built for that kind of listening. Conversely, there’s something to be said for musicians that write music people want to listen to day in and day out. Coldplay is that band. Bottom line = EVERYONE loves Coldplay. When you get a car full of people headed up the mountain, it’s the kind of music you put on in the background because every song is solid, and every person wants to hear it. Nobody wants to sit there and have you dissect Merriweather Post Pavillion’s hooks on the way in the car on vacation. They want to hear good music that they love. Rush of Blood is timeless and it’s a great pick for 2002 album of the year.

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PMA's Choice – Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

So, it’s 2001 and you’re Jeff Tweedy. You’ve been kicking around the music scene for seven or so years playing great music with Sun Volt & Wilco. You’re a respected musician to people that know, but the genre you’ve been developing is relatively unknown. To the masses, country music has become reduced to little more than second rate pop music with depressing lyrics about dogs, trucks, cheaters, and tequila. It had become a brand of music that had developed a nasty stench that didn’t seem to wash off. What do you do? Well, you do what any other self-respecting musician would do… you write an album that shifts the paradigm surrounding the genre. You, in essence, rebuild the genre. Not an easy thing to do, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot did just that.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot opens with one of the most prolificsongsof 2002 and “I am an American aquarium drinker” is the how Tweedy decides to deliver it. The word drinker may be the only similarity to the country that most people were aware of at the time. Many people think that this album was the beginning of alternative country, but it wasn’t true. It was a brand of music that had been developing throughout the 90s and although it wasn’t your grandma’s country, it was a lot closer to that than it was to your country.

In my mind, alt country separated itself from current country in two major ways:

1)    Lyric theme: Country music has always had a dark side to it. Traditionally it was the marriage of complex working class issues with peppy, emotive music. It was the musical expression: “if we don’t laugh, we cry.” However, the lyrics that had come to dominate mainstream country had become surface-level… not the deep, complex lyrics that once existed. It was superficial and full of saccharin. Alt country, conversely, paid tribute to the Hank Williams era and explored hauntingly depressing lyrics (even taking things it to the next level): Ashes of American flags, drug addiction, and death were just some of the issues explored. It went back to talking about the deep issues people experienced in rural, poor America.

2)    By merging traditional rock with traditional country. Country music in the early 2000s had become more of a mixture of country and pop music than anything else. In fact, many songs that “country” artists were singing were actually first pitched as pop songs! They were pop’s rejects and all it seemed to take to turn them country was a steel guitar here, and a twangy voice there. Alt country took traditional rock elements: raw acoustics, heavy drum kits, etc. and merged that to traditional country elements: violins, tingy pianos and shakers. It isn’t pop music, it’s rough riding country.

So, what’s so important about YHF in relation to all of this? Why is it Best of 2002? Well, for one, it marked Tweedy's first major commercial success. Two, it became a coming out party (of sorts) for many alt country stars. Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, Bonnie Prince Billy, Bright Eyes, Calexico, Cat Power, Okkervil River, Bon Iver, and even Spoon would eventually have a stage because of the mainstream success of YHF.  This was the album that opened that door. What Lonesome Crowded West was to Indie Rock, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was to Alt Country. Despite the bizarre circumstances surrounding its release (dropping of Wilco from Reprise, the relationship of 9/11 & the context of "Jesus, Etc."). The album went on to receive Gold status and pretty well cemented Tweedy's status beyond the thems-that-know in the music world. Alt country had been introduced to a wide berth of people, and it’s been making music better ever since.

Now go vote for the Best Album for 2003!

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