The wait is over. Time to exhale. Capitulating, finally, to untold pressure, Warren has cobbled together his Top Ten Albums of 2002. In many other respects, it’s been a crappy year – with the passing of Joe Strummer ranking high on the Crappy Events List. But be strong, rock’n’rollers. After all, as Joe would say on ‘Complete Control’: “You’re my guitar hero!” Rock is back, and we mean it, maaaaan.
1. The Vines ‘Highly Evolved’ – They should probably be rechristened Craig Nicholls and his Somewhat Anonymous Backing Band, so completely does the mad little Aussie dominate the proceedings. But this isn’t a list about Top Ten Bands That Really Aren’t. It’s about my top ten albums, and this one truly is. There are certainly echoes of Nirvana, here – and Beatles, and Badfinger, and even Abba (one of Nicholls’ favourites). As influences, those are good ones to have. Young Craig hasn’t yet achieved the lyrical relevance of Cobain – but the music is just so damn good that I didn’t care. If he’s alive in two years, Nicholls and his Vines will be the biggest band in the world. You read it here first, etc.
2. White Stripes ‘White Blood Cells’ – When my brother and I saw Jack and Meg White with some other folks in Toronto this Summer, someone nearby remarked – uncharitably but not erroneously – that Meg is “basically a metronome with mammaries.” And it is true: her drumming is steady, but pretty darn unimaginative. Given that the Stripes are a two-member band, said lack of imagination should have been fatal. But Jack more than makes up for her deficiencies, and particularly so on this album. He is (like Craig Nicholls) a spectacular talent, one who makes everyone in the vicinity look good, whether they deserve it or not. Capable of flat-out blues-based rockers (and what rocker isn’t) and even tunes that appeal to the kids (‘We’re Going to be Friends’), Jack is a flippin’ genius. Cool clothes. He and Meg should make a resolution to lose the Sisters/Husband-Wife routine in 2003, because it’s getting very tired. Otherwise, they should also keep doing what they’re doing. It works.
3. The Hives ‘Veni Vidi Vicious’ – The pride of Fagersta, Sweden, are apparently bent on world domination – and, on the strength of this album and their live show, they just might achieve it. A twisted Nordic hybrid of the Stooges, Radio Birdman, the Seeds, Gary Glitter, AC/DC and Devo (for the uniforms, not the music), this album is wall-to-wall kick ass. Howlin’Pelle Almqvist (we’re not making this up, Mom and Dad) is the most charismatic front man since, well, the last really cool charismatic front man from Sweden. The fact that he dates one of the gals in Sahara Hot Nights simply makes him cooler. There is only one bad tune on this album, but ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ more than makes up for many sins. Listen to it loud with the windows rolled down, even if you live in Whitehorse.
4. Division of Laura Lee ‘Black City’ – What is it with Sweden, anyway? Leave it all alone for a few years, post-ABBA, and it starts exporting some of the best rock bands on the planet. ‘Need To Get Some’ has a riff so catchy, it’ll lodge in your brain like a fish hook. Ouch.
5. Paul Westerberg ‘Stereo’ – We saw him in Toronto this Summer, and it occurred to me, mid-way through, that it was possibly the first time I’ve ever seen him perform sober. But fret not, ‘Mats fans: he still went and smashed a perfectly good guitar to pieces for no apparent reason, forgot half the lyrics, and swore a lot. A double-disk, with one of ‘em (‘Stereo’) featuring a smoother, quieter sound (fatherhood agrees with him, methinks) – and the other (‘Mono’) done by his “Grandpaboy” alter ego, and features him ripping out a few of the chairs in the front row, just like in the good old days. Somewhere on the CD, he writes: “This is rock’n'roll recorded poorly, played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason…It feels right. This is in my blood.” True enough. If you want sterling production values, Paul isn’t for you. If you want unheralded genius, he is.
7. Wire ‘Read and Burn’ – There have actually been two installments in the ‘Read and Burn’ series this year, and both see Wire return to what made them great about 25 years ago – fast, melodic, wordy punk rock. (Albeit with an industrial edge, their concession to the times, I suppose.) One is available in the stores, the other on Wire’s web site (which can be found at the aptly-named www.pinkflag.com); I bought mine when I finally saw them perform this Fall. When they sauntered out on stage, I was uneasy: the passage of time had not been kind, and was there for all to see (“Old geezer rock,” as I yelled into my cell phone to my brother in Calgary, before their show got underway). But once it did, the new songs stood up as well as the old, old ones. ‘In the Art of Stopping’ is a raver, like most of the tunes on these two mini-albums.
8. The Datsuns ‘The Datsuns’ – It’s too easy to simply dismiss these guys as Seventies throwbacks. If the Seventies any of us endured had sounded remotely like this, God would have had no need to invent Iggy and punk rock. The New Zealander progeny of the Hellacopters, but with a better pop sensibility, these guys are destined for hugeness – if, for nothing else, the fact that Dolf de Datsun will soon be rock’n’roll’s Number One Chick Magnet. Stand out track: ‘Motherfucker From Hell.’ Hard to live up to a title like that, but the Datsuns do.
9. The Liars ‘They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top’ – The first time I heard these maniacs, I was unfair: “Pavement was good enough to deserve a tribute band, and the Liars are it.” Like all the really good stuff, subsequent listenings made clear how wrong I was. There’s Fall in here, Public Image Limited, early Mekons – and Pavement, natch – but that’s only the beginning. ‘Mr. Your On Fire Mr.’ has got the funkiest groove this side of George Clinton; on that one and throughout, front man Angus Andrew, a giant from Down Under, howls like he wants to nail you (a la Henry Rollins) to you front door, beside your well-stocked garage. Not for the faint of heart. Or even those with hearts.
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Master’ – From Brooklyn, like their buddies the Liars, YYY really didn’t release an album in 2002: it’s more like an EP, but who cares. On ‘Bang,’ Karen O delivers the best rock line of the year, in a tone that is snotty and sexy all at once: “The bigger, the better.” And you know she ain’t talkin’ about cars, boys and girls. Just a three piece, with (like the White Stripes) no bass player, YYY are a bit like Le Tigre, but without the wymyn catechism. And a bit like Veruca Salt, but without the melodic structure. And a bit like the Breeders, without the heroin.
There you go, folks: Winkie’s Top Ten! Go forth and download!