The Cru Jones Society is proud to welcome our special guest for our Favorite Musical Acts 0f the ‘00s, and a good friend: Roxy. Roxy is a former station manager and primetime DJ at a prominent college radio station, and currently writes the excellent “Effortless Anthropologie” blog covering all the latest fashions from clothing store Anthropologie. We’re thrilled to have Roxy with us. Please give her a warm welcome to the Cru Jones Society!
When Dagger asked me to write this column, I was thrilled to an obnoxious degree. Music is such a huge part of my life even as artists and the industry conspire to kill my good vibes. Even though I live in New York, I attend a shamefully low number of concerts. Turns out what was fun at 17 (sneaking into clubs, waiting in line in short dresses while getting ogled, getting pushed around in the pits, dropping hundreds to see the cool bands) ain’t so fun at 27. Especially after you’ve been spoiled by working in radio. But thanks to the wonders of the internet and its magical tubes of wonder I am still listening to music pretty much 24/7. God bless the internets. In writing this column I only considered bands that have been around for at least 10 years. Not fair to include younger bands in my opinion.
Anyone who knows me, knows these guys were going to show up somewhere on the list, so may as well kick things off with them. Just so we’re clear I’m not your typical U2 fan; my favorite album is Pop. Say what you will about lead vocalist Bono and his megalomaniacal side exploits, but let’s ignore those for now and concentrate on the music.
As the clock struck 2000, these guys were waning superstars welcoming a new millennium with little to celebrate. But you have to give them credit – they swallowed their pride and released All That You Can’t Leave Behind as a mea culpa to their fans for all that crazy 90s stuff (even though *ahem* I loved that crazy 90s stuff). To promote it, they went on every TV show possible and played intimate club gigs. It was insane. Imagine having a dinner with just you and your favorite star. The club gigs were akin to that. They re-ascended to their rightful place on top of the pop-rock pantheon and have stayed there for much of the decade. Sure, their latest album is kind of a whiff but even it contains “Magnificent,” a song that could arguably be in their Top 10 ever and probably makes Neil Diamond really proud. I can’t even count how many lame knockoff bands they’ve inspired. They certainly owe us all an apology for Coldplay.
But the real reason that U2 belongs on this list is because of their live show. No one, and I mean NO ONE, puts on a show like U2 does. Even U2 haters love U2 concerts. While young acts today are more interested in the worthless peripheries of fame, U2 actually had to work to get where they are and it shows in their concerts. The lights, the incredible stage rigs and the aural intensity are enough to build an experience that can only be described as transcendent. You enter a U2 concert as one thing and you leave as something else much, much better. Also much, much poorer.
Many imitate but no one approaches. Plus, I still want to have like 10,000 of bassist Adam Clayton’s babies.
4. The White Stripes
2001 was the height of payola in the music industry. The radio was being choked to death by lousy pop and someone needed to put us out of our misery. Even though I was working in college radio, I legitimately feared for the future of good music. So success stories like The White Stripes deserve to be celebrated.
Their 2000 release De Stijl is a cult classic that perked ears because it was awesomely different. Jack and Meg White continued that frenetic energy with 2001′s White Blood Cells. Joe Strummer once said that every good song is 2:30 or less, so I’m sure he’d be proud of “Fell in Love With a Girl,” 1:50 of pure frenetic rock. It was one of the first music videos I downloaded just so I could watch Legos in stop motion over and over and over and…where was I? Oh right. Their bassless setup had rock purists running scared, but anyone worth their musical salt was also intrigued by this two-piece odd little couple/non-couple/whatever the hell they were.
If this article were about the top songs of the aughts then “Seven Nation Army” needs a spot in the Top 10. Elephant as a whole has a place in my coveted no-skippies album list. I mean, for God’s sake, it has a Burt Bacharach/Hal David collab track! It’s been a bit tough to watch The White Stripes’ later albums abandon the garage punk blues fusion they had mastered, as well as Jack White’s distraction with side projects and making musician-supermodel spawn. Still, they released five amazing albums this decade and that earns them a place on my list.
3. Daft Punk
I still have no idea what Daft Punk really is but I friggin’ love them. These guys release tracks like I buy clothing and while their sound is consistent, they hardly ever retread. It’s sick the way they combine samples, kits, loops and effects into songs. They’re the only band I know of to work with Kanye, to be featured in a major fashion magazine and to wear helmets 24/7 unironically. They’re 21st century rock stars to be sure and a defining act within their genre.
Discovery is one of my definitive albums, ever. Top to bottom the album is ridiculously danceable. I am twice as effective during workouts listening to it. They should use this stuff to train police officers, firefighters and recruits. Human After All is an album I initially hated but it’s grown into another one of my all-time favorites. It was a quickie album for Daft Punk that lacks their subtle finishing touches, but I’ve grown to love the rough edges.
If you’re looking for the words to sum up their live show…well, good luck because I sure can’t! I have only seen them DJ’ing at clubs here in the city where they flawlessly mixed their own work into a never-ending track with other artists’ songs. Alive 2007 does a decent job of finding good breaks between songs. But that’s the point with Daft Punk – you don’t want to break between songs. You just want to keep going all night long.
2. PJ Harvey
Miss Polly Jean Harvey illustrates everything that is both right and wrong in the music world. Originally signed in 1991, her releases since 2000 are populated by incomparable tunes that at once energize, inspire and haunt. She writes songs that put other female “artists” to shame – I wouldn’t dare insult by even bothering to name other names. She’s also exceedingly cool, attracting an envy-inducing list of collaborators and opening up on some excellent tours. Yet she stays under the radar to a maddening degree.
2000′s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is a lullaby made of reverberating guitars, fully-fleshed melodies and the tale of a woman who lives for life on the road. It is not only one of the most important albums recorded by a woman, it’s one of the most important albums ever in my mind. Ms. Harvey isn’t the most enthusiastic live performer and I think this hurts her reach somewhat but her shows are haunting and ethereal. She’s collaborated with artists I’d put on my dream list including Thom Yorke, Nick Cave and Josh Homme.
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea was such a thrust into the critical darling spotlight that it took awhile before PJ Harvey released anything new. The wait was worth it as her other two albums this decade, Uh Huh Her and White Chalk are each classics in their own right. Harvey played almost every instrument on White Chalk herself and this album is so experimentally awesome that I think Thom Yorke started crying and killing kittens somewhere. There are so few artists I’m willing to suffer through Ticketmaster, lines, crowds and bad pickup lines for, but I try to see every PJ Harvey show in NYC. One of my all-time favorites and one of the decade’s masters.
1. Nine Inch Nails
It’s just the right combination of live awesomeness, sociopathy and block rocking beats that earns NIN my top spot. Led by a driven, talented and intriguingly unstable frontman, Nine Inch Nails never fails to innovate. Trent Reznor could not give a damn about being at the top of my list and dammit I love him for it. As a young Roxy, Nine Inch Nails was my bridge from rock into trance, dance and techno and I’ve enjoyed straddling and crossing the lines of genres ever since.
There are too few artists in this world who enjoy pure evil without crossing the line to camp. Consistently Nine Inch Nails brings out a twisted side of me, and I kinda like it! I’m cheating by mentioning The Fragile but that double album is one of very few albums that I can listen to all the way through, single or double or whatever. 2002′s Still is chronically misunderstood which only endears it more to me. With Teeth happened to cross into the mainstream collective but it’s less a matter of NIN selling out and more a result of the zeitgeist being captured on the record. “Every Day is Exactly the Same?” You’re goddamn right it was.
NIN’s more recent albums haven’t had the benefit of a label. The songs are a bit less slick than major label post-production would allow, but it delivers a better live show. If you’ve never weaved back and forth with 5,000 – 10,000 other people in an adrenaline-charged pack of animals then you’ve never lived. It’s weird being in a pit with beer-bellied 30 and 40-something males during a NIN show, so I prefer to stay back in the safety of a gal pack these days. I hate that Reznor promises that every tour is his last only to come back 2 years later but I’m sure I’ll still fall for it every time. The manifestations of the many sides of Nine Inch Nails add up to perfection in my mind.
Honorable mentions: Beck, Beulah, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, Death Cab for Cutie, Doves, All-American Rejects, Flaming Lips, Franz Ferdinand, Radiohead, Gorillaz, Minus the Bear, Dre, Jay-Z, Lucero.
10 Dec 2009 CJS Staff