It’s time to party!

Our Best of the Decade feature rolls on. Thanks again to Rob Rector for offering his two cents on our movie series (Visit Natsukashi dammit!). This week we move to music as Hart, another very special guest, and yours truly discuss our five favorite music acts from the aughts. So strap on your headphones, settle in, and let’s talk some tunes.

Rise Against

But how we survive, is what makes us who we are…

It’s been quite a decade for Rise Against as they moved quickly from opening act to the criminally underappreciated ska band The Mad Caddies, to Warped Tour headliner, having two sold out shows at Red Rocks, and near ubiquitous airplay on mainstream radio in under 7 years. It’s rare that a band with such a hardcore aesthetic finds its way into such popularity, but they say the cream always rises. Then again, I’ve never experienced dairy farming in the flesh, so I can’t verify that cliché effectively.

In 2001, Rise Against released The Unraveling, which, while gruff and lacking polish, showed incredible promise. The problem with most hardcore punk bands is that no matter how much the sound may rock, you can almost never understand the vocals. Usually it sounds like either Cookie Monster or someone doing an impression of an ambulance has garrisoned the microphone, but Tim McIlrath amazingly managed to capture the furious energy of hardcore punk music with a vocal style you could actually understand and sing along to. Revolutions per Minute followed shortly thereafter, and with even cleaner production and an unspeakably awesome cover of Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” Rise Against signed with Dreamworks.

Siren Song of the Counterculture was their first mainstream release, and remains one of my Top 5 albums of all-time. I wrote my Master’s thesis about this album, and although I examined every inch of it, I never got tired of it. Why? Rise Against filled the void left by Rage Against the Machine. Rage managed to rail against the establishment when everything was fine, everyone was prosperous, and a Democrat held highest office. As soon as things legitimately got wacky for progressives, Rage bolted and we were left without a contrarian voice. Rise Against stepped up and offered a counterpoint to the perceived tyranny of the powers-that-be, but managed not to beat you over the head with it.

At one of their shows in 2003, McIlrath got on the mic and said, “It doesn’t matter what we believe, but we want you (the college kids in the crowd) to get involved. No matter what it is, just get educated, and stay involved in the causes you support.” He never mentioned their own causes, which include PETA and corporate greed, but you never had to ask. Listen to their songs, and their message is clear. But unlike Goldfinger who shows slaughterhouse videos in the lobby during their concerts to persuade people to go vegan, or NOFX who obnoxiously encourages you to vote Democrat during every damn song break, Rise Against lets their music do the talking. And agree or disagree with them (I happen to disagree with about 75% of their political platform); you can’t help but get sucked in to the all out RAWK before you that couples an issue-driven agenda with an intimately personal point of view.

The Sufferer & the Witness and Appeal To Reason round out their releases this decade, each one bigger than the last. And with frenetic energy, an impassioned poet leading them, and the condensed power of a Molotov cocktail, they look poised to continue rocking into the next decade. I’ll be there pumping my fist with them.

Ludacris

Got a big weed stash, pocket full of cash, just seen a big ol’ ass. Oooh Oooh!

I think the AV Club perfectly summarized Ludacris when they said, “Ludacris doesn’t write lyrics so much as punchlines.” And that’s probably the main reason I continue to return to Ludacris’s albums as I increasingly find hip hop totally unlistenable. Whereas someone like Jay-Z chokes you with his sense of self satisfaction, Ludacris dwells in his ridiculousness with pleasure.

My first memory of Ludacris includes riding shotgun in my own car while my friend Conor drove us home from a party where I made him play “Saturday (Oooh Oooh!) over and over again. To that point in my life, “Saturday” was the funniest damn song I’d ever heard and I proceeded to listen to it somewhere between 25 and 600 times over the next two weeks. I bought Word of Mouf shortly after that, found “Move Bitch” to be somehow even funnier, and decided the song “Area Codes” is the pinnacle of hilarity in choosing a ringtone.

He’s had an interesting decade, to be sure. From hits ranging from the near-ubiquitous “Roll Out” to the massive “Stand Up” to recent hits “One More Drink” and “What Them Girls Like,” a year rarely passes without Ludacris wafting into your consciousness at least once. He was a character in the incredibly addictive video game “Def Jam: Fight for New York” with his own playable strip club-themed fighting arena. He had a memorable feud with Bill O’Reilly that got him fired by Pepsi. And he was the only watchable part of 2 Fast 2 Furious, as well as a standout in the crowded movie Crash. Add all that up, and you’ve got yourself a decade, son.

But the thing that stands out most about Ludacris to me is that I think he’s the only person on the planet who can sample the theme song from Austin Powers (as he did in the song “Number One Spot”), drop a bunch of goofy Austin Powers references into it, turn it into a hit, and  an actual decent rap song, while not sounding like something that Andy Samberg wrote and performed. How you stay relevant and maintain a credible rap image in the face of all that shameless silliness is amazing (Oooh Oooh!)

My Chemical Romance

Teenagers scare the living shit out of me…

The first time I heard Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, My Chemical Romance’s major label debut in 2004, and their hit song “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, I knew these guys would be completely huge. Gerard Way had an aching vulnerability in his vocals that teen girls latch onto, and you just knew that with song titles like “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison,” that the skinny, sweatshirt-wearing high school crowd would eat these guys up with a spoon.

As their star rose, the expectations for their next album did as well. And MCR did nothing to downplay those expectations comparing themselves to Queen, Pink Floyd, and no less than The Beatles in promotion for it. Amazingly they didn’t fall flat on their face and made a ridiculously epic album highlighted by uber-popular title track “Welcome to the Black Parade.” I cannot emphasize strongly enough how omnipresent this song was in 2006. If you went out into society anywhere, the over/under on how long it would take to hear this song rested comfortably at 45 minutes for a good six months. It was always a good bet to take the under.

The remarkable thing was that despite its unyielding pretentiousness and balls out audacity, Welcome to the Black Parade mostly just straight up rocked. No less than five of the tracks could certifiably melt your face, while the others were just darn good rock songs. Overall, for an upstart gritty punk band that used to smear Vaseline under their eyes to make them red and puffy, creating such an unexpectedly bold endeavor certainly warrants mention. Between Three Cheers and Black Parade, while  not impressive by volume, it’s damned good in terms of quality.

Eminem

It seems everybody always wants to discuss me. Well this must mean I’m dis-gust-ing.

Marshall Mathers burst on the scene in 1999 with The Slim Shady LP and then spent most of the entire next decade pissing off conservative people with songs dripping with misogyny, violent fantasies, drug use, and homosexual slurs. Can I mention that he also is one of the most inventive lyricists of the last ten years and has a near-unparalleled sense of rhythm. Sure, he’s got Dre’s incredible production and peerless beats backing him up, but that’s why it’s good to be Dre’s friend.

While the Slim Shady LP was novel, The Marshall Mathers LP was deeper, and The Eminem Show was the most well-rounded. Marshall Mathers was like an exercise in bi-polar disorder as you got the sincere and thoughtful side of Em in songs like “Stan” and the murderous and batnuts crazy Em on the terrifying homicide fantasy “Kim.” It was an incredibly difficult album to listen to in places, but in the same way Mystic River is a tough movie to watch. The art is so good, it makes you squirm.

On The Eminem Show, Em is finally divorced, pleased to be a father, and despite some requisite introspection, he finally seems to be having fun for once. “Without Me” is an absolute hoot, and while you may feel like an asshole for enjoying Em’s exploitation of his daughter on “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” I defy you not to smile during its infectious chorus the denouement where his daughter adorably declares “You’re funny, daddy!”

I’ll admit that I found Encore underwhelming, and haven’t found Relapse to come anywhere close to Em’s first three albums, but I’m willing to forgive a guy who was such a cultural force during the first half of the decade. And we haven’t even discussed the seminal “Lose Yourself” which went to #1 and found itself in the Top 50 of Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 500 Songs of all-time. Think about that for a minute. On a list populated almost exclusively by baby boomer hits, this rap song from only a handful of years ago found its way into the Top 50. Even though he spent three years of the decade as a recluse allegedly eating filet mignon in his Detroit mansion, not including him in a best of the aughts discussion would be an absolute crime.

Andrew W.K.

Don’t stop livin’ in the red.

In 20 years when I think back to the music of the early 2000s, one of the first artists I will think of will be Andrew W.K. Never in my life have I been so blown away by someone’s live performance. I went in expecting less than nothing, and I got absolute gold. His album I Get Wet is one of the most relentlessly intense collections in the history of recorded sound and contains three songs with the word “party” in them (“It’s Time to Party,” “Party Hard,” and “Party ‘Til You Puke”). If you were in college, this album was your anthem. No one could party like the WK, but damned if you didn’t try your hardest every weekend to reach that level of fun.

His songs appeared in a slew of commercials ranging from Target to Coors to Nintendo GameCube, and his infectious spirit and unyielding energy led to Andrew’s current gig as a motivational speaker. He’s moved to producing music and speaks often at college campuses. He’s said in interviews that he’s written the ultimate party record, and it’s time to move on. While I respect that on an artistic and personal growth level, the part of me that wants him to obliterate me with outrageous party anthems wishes he would just melt my face with another rock opus.

He played every instrument on his I Get Wet follow-up The Wolf, and recently released an instrumental solo piano album called ’55 Cadillac. While those albums show the WK’s incredible range of talent, nothing will ever come close to the sheer surprise and joy experienced when hearing I Get Wet the first time. For that joy, and for a decade of images including AWK playing in a wheelchair at the Video Game Awards, the bloody nose on the cover of his first album, and his goofy charm during all those I Love the ‘90s segments, Andrew WK is one of my favorite acts of the ‘00s.

Tomorrow: Lee S. Hart’s 5 Favorite Music Acts 0f the ‘00s

Until then…

edagger@crujonessociety.com

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