- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

This was not a good year for pop music. Album and concert sales were down, and highly anticipated new releases failed to live up to their advance hype.

Few critically acclaimed records emerged, or at least none that critics and music fans could agree upon this year. Teen pop stumbled on the charts and rock continued to be dominated by the rap-rock craze, as hip-hop, rap and rhythm and blues stole the show with some of the year's best releases.
During all of this, the local music scene did surprisingly well. While stadium shows often fell far short of selling out, the 9:30 Club's business grew enough to add two shows a night during some weeks. The Black Cat moved to a larger venue (two doors down), and smaller clubs in Northern Virginia (such as Galaxy Hut and Iota) pulled in some stellar, if a bit more underground, acts.
Releases from local favorites Fugazi and the Dismemberment Plan not only gained favor with D.C. fans, but picked up critical nods around the country, with Spin Magazine putting the Plan's "Change" as No. 15 on its year-end best-of list.
In the end, though, the best-selling album of the year was (drum roll, please) Shaggy's "Hotshot," with 5.5 million copies sold, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. With his rather poor performance in those holiday Gap commercials, his fire has cooled considerably since his record's release last year.
Enya's 2000 release "A Day Without Rain," was the second highest-selling release, probably due in part to the country's need for comforting music in the wake of the terrorist attacks. In a sharp rebuke to critics who predicted the demise of teen pop, 'N Sync held the No. 3 spot with its third album, "Celebrity." The album had the second highest opening sales day in history, behind the band's own 2000 release "No Strings Attached."
But while "Celebrity" added two-step to its repertoire and a host of hot producers (Alex G, BT and the Neptunes), 'N Sync still could not escape the dreaded "teen pop" grouping. With Lance Bass and Joey Fatone starring in the movie "On the Line" this year and Justin Timberlake producing three of the album's 13 tracks, it's only a matter of time before the solo careers start (JC Chasez and Mr. Timberlake are the best bets in this direction).
Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks continued to dominate the country charts, though the strong sales of the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" continues to pose a quandary for the country music world. Many of the artists on "O Brother," including Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and even Emmylou Harris, aren't exactly played heavily on country stations (if at all). Even country legend Dolly Parton's critical bluegrass hit "Little Sparrow" has seen little airplay this year.
Coupled with the slow emergence of "alt-country," a murky genre that combines folk rock with classic country and bluegrass, there is a growing disconnect between the roots of country music and the Nashville charts, which likely will become more severe in the coming year.
In the modern jazz world, St. Germain's 2000 release "Tourist" topped the year-end charts, along with Rachelle Ferrell's "Individuality (Can I Be Me?)" and, alas, old stalwart Kenny G.
Speaking of stalwarts, this was the year of new releases from men who were big in the 1970s and early 1980s and seem to be desperately trying to recapture that glory. But Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" stands among his better releases, even if he does fit into the "old man" category.
Mr. Dylan seems to be largely unaware of modern musical tastes, yet still crafts songs that have contemporary meaning by returning to the roots of rock and folk. While the album isn't strong enough to warrant the heaps of praise it has received from middle-aged rock critics, it is a great example of how an artist can continue to stay relevant by simply making good music.
If only some of his legendary peers would catch on to the last part. Despite the glowing, five-star Rolling Stone treatment for Mick Jagger's "Goddess in the Doorway," fans stayed away from the fourth solo outing of the Rolling Stones' frontman. Likewise, Elton John announced that his "Songs From the West Coast" would be his last record, after he failed to conjure up his 1970s fan base.
John Cougar Mellancamp's "Cuttin' Heads" was, like Paul McCartney's "Driving Rain," a decent album, but no one would put these releases on a short list of either artist's best work.
R&B;, hip-hop and rap were the big success genres of the year, with albums that not only sold well, but were critically lauded. Alicia Keys made a stunning debut with her "Songs in A Minor," a piano-driven collection of soulful crooning. While R. Kelly and Shaggy held onto the top of the charts, new albums from Jay Z, Ja Rule and DMX showed that harder-edged rap still gets notice.
Of those three, Jay Z's "The Blueprint" stands out as one of the best albums of the year, along with the Dilated Peoples' undernoticed sophomore effort "Expansion Team." While Jay Z continued to turn boasting into an art form, the Peoples mined old school hip-hop for lessons in propelling a groove, with DJ Babu providing the samples and turntable skills that kept the record moving.
Though many tours failed to meet financial expectations, live shows from Madonna, U2 and Radiohead showed why stadium-level rock can be so powerful, and the HFStival continued its dominance as the "must be at" local concert of the year.
Moby's "Area One" tour had the most creative billing as it smartly snubbed its nose at genres and put Incubus, Nelly Furtado, Paul Oakenfold and Outkast together on one stage.
The list of disappointing albums for 2001 is long and filled with records that sold well the first few weeks out, but tapered off once fans realized the music didn't live up to the potential or hype.
Britney Spears' "Britney" sounded the first audible death knell for teen-pop, as the Neptunes gave the album its only edgy moment with "I'm a Slave 4 U." Mariah Carey's film and album "Glitter" tanked and Michael Jackson came off as pompous and irrelevant on "Invincible," his first album with new material in six years.
Other disappointments include No Doubt's reggae-influenced "Rock Steady," Macy Gray's lackluster "The Id," the Dave Matthews Band's formulaic "Everyday" and the forgettable "Lenny" from Lenny Kravitz (it wasn't a good year for self-titled records).
While many year-end lists will likely be filled with obscure titles, a number of major label efforts were worth seeking out.
Ryan Adams' second solo album "Gold" packed a good dose of alt-country pick-me-up; Mary J. Blige (on "No More Drama") and Miss Keys were properly soulful; Air's "10,000 Hz Legend" and Radiohead's "Amnesiac" blurred the lines between techno and rock even more; and the Gorillaz's self-titled release, as well as the above mentioned Jay Z and Dilated Peoples' records showed that hip-hop is alive and well.
Staind and Linkin Park, while horrifically overplayed, still brought some intelligence to the new metal ("nu metal") craze; Tori Amos' "Girl Versions" and Bjork's "Vespertine" were sometimes creepy, yet often beautiful visions; Lucinda Williams showed what true country spirit is on "Essense"; and Weezer, the Strokes, Travis and even Mr. Dylan put a kick back into rock.
Local, self-titled debuts from Cactus Patch and Fidel, as well as Fugazi's "The Argument," stood up to the mainstream machine. Tenacious D deflated the hyper-inflated egos of rock with its own self-parody and, finally, the benefit concert, "America: A Time for Heroes," not only was inspiring to watch, but provided some of the best music of the year.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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