The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER FOUR is Jack Johnson

Originally posted 2010-02-18 13:56:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the second in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

For an artist whose entire recorded career is contained within this one decade, Jack Johnson has compiled an expansive and impressive catalog.  He has matured quickly, enough to form his own record label and to gain the respect of some of the biggest names in rock music.

As I type this, I’m listening to the live En Concert version of “Constellations,” a duet with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, performed as comfortably as if they were buddies jamming in their parents’ basement.

Most notable of all is the manner in which Jack Johnson has achieved success — namely, by recording chart-topping albums in an age when singles are all the rage and illegal downloading has cut many artists’ sales.  In a mere nine years, Johnson’s repertoire extends across four studio albums, a soundtrack, three concert DVDs, and a live CD.

Without a doubt, Jack Johnson is one of the top rock artists of the decade.

AN ALBUM GUY, AN ACOUSTIC GUY…

Just to recap:  singles ruling the music kingdom, illegal downloading killing sales, music stores closing their doors.

Well, you wouldn’t know it by the way Jack Johnson has built his career.  Thus far, it’s gone down something like this…

2001: Brushfire Fairytales, a mix between conventional (read: acoustic) and catchy/quirky, a debut album that manages to crack the top forty in the U.S., rising all the way to number 34 despite the fact that the only single released faltered on the fall line, forty slots lower.  Songs like “Inaudible Melodies,” “Flake,” and “Losing Hope” were already outstanding, while others shared the promise of thematic (“The News”) and lyrical (“Posters” – “Here comes another one, just like the other one”) material to come.

2003: On and On, a darker, more lyrically interesting album, a follow-up that skyrockets to number three in the U.S. and manages multi-platinum sales globally.   You wouldn’t know it from the U.S. singles charts, but there are some tremendous songs here — “Taylor,” “The Horizon Has Been Defeated,” “Gone,” “Holes to Heaven” — the list goes on…

2005: In Between Dreams, a veritable “best of” collection, an instantly classic album with a crystal clear sound and a beautiful sense of atmosphere, a true masterpiece.  It hit number two in America, and in a rare case of the UK being behind, they finally caught wind of Johnson as he topped the charts there.  It’s all here — the carefree, relaxing (“Banana Pancakes,” “Better Together”), the serious, politically-charged (“Crying Shame,” “Good People”), the good love songs (“Do You Remember?) and the jilted love songs (“Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”).

2008: Sleep Through the Static, billed as “Jack Johnson gone electric,” an even calmer, lower-key record than he had ever produced before, one that takes some time to grow into.  This is a case of each individual song being great — played in order, the “chill” factor is too much at times.  Not the strongest note to end the decade on, but it leaves us with some wonderful tracks like “All At Once,” “If I Had Eyes,” “Go On,” and “They Do, They Don’t.”

JAPAN, THE GREEK, AND EN CONCERT

His career as a professional athlete — surfer — may have been brief, but Johnson hasn’t stopped moving in this career, either.

And there are the films to prove it.

Live in Japan is more than just a concert DVD; it is a documentary of the On and On tour.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, comes A Weekend at the Greek, an even more interesting, visually stimulating documentary of two concert dates on the In Between Dreams tour.  I’ve seen a good number of rock documentaries and live DVDs over the years, and believe me when I say that the latter (The Greek) is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

En Concert, released last year, was the final Jack Johnson release of the decade, and his first CD/DVD combo.  Excellent, colorful booklet?  Check.  Great setlist?  Double check.  Some great guest duets?  Triple check (J Radio, Paula Fuga, and Vedder).

In any rock artist’s career, the ratio between studio albums and live albums must be carefully balanced.  From the outside, three live CDs and/or DVDs may seem excessive when held up against four studio recordings, but Jack Johnson somehow managed it.  He was smart to release Japan as a bonus disc with The Greek, and he held off on a companion CD until En Concert.  This was a rare circumstance of the overlap between smart marketing and an affordable, fan-friendly strategy.

WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS — COLLABORATIONS AND OTHER VENTURES

If this was all Johnson produced this decade, it would be more than enough.  However, he wasn’t content to stick to these traditional products alone.  He took on the task of recording the Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George soundtrack, involving others like G. Love, Matt Costa, and Ben Harper.  This was not only a strong release, but also featured some of the strongest tracks of his career — “Upside Down” (his highest charting single at #38), “Broken,” “Wrong Turn” — as well as some of the silliest, albeit catchiest — “The Sharing Song” and “People Watching.”

Meanwhile, he continued his interest and involvement in independent films (he did graduate as a film major, after all!), contributed to numerous high profile tribute releases (“Mama, You Been on My Mind” for I’m Not There, “Imagine” for Instant Karma, “Someday at Christmas” for This Warm December), and nurtured the careers of the several artists on his Brushfire Records label.

My respect for Jack Johnson is multiplied when I consider how he accomplished all these things on his own in less than ten years.  He is a unique voice and sound in modern rock music, as well as a prolific artist, and as such, I was not surprised to hear that, a mere month into the new decade, he has already returned to the studio to work on his fifth album, due out in June 2010.

Even with my disappointment after Sleep Through the Static, I can already feel my anticipation building!

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER TWO is Barenaked Ladies

Originally posted 2010-04-19 14:30:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the fourth in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

As we close in on my top pick for best rock artist of the decade, the decisions are getting more and more difficult.  In an attempt to be as unbiased as possible, I initially had last post’s honoree — Jack White — in the #2 spot.  Then I started listening to All in Good Time, which led me back to their albums of last decade.  After one listen to Maroon and Everything to Everyone, I knew that the Barenaked Ladies belonged in a higher position.  It should also be noted that while I do believe I made the right choice for the #1 slot, I have been a BnL fan for much longer, and they hold quite an important place in my heart where music is concerned.

That being said, let’s get this party started!

The Barenaked Ladies have distinguished themselves in all four of the categories I’ve established (see above) for this list.  They are a constantly evolving group of songwriter/musicians and performers, not content to rest easy at what worked for them in the past.  Throughout this, the second full decade of their existence, they have been prolific, releasing new material in every year except 2009.  In addition to typical studio albums every three years, this decade has seen the release of a greatest hits collection, a DVD compilation of their music videos, a holiday-themed album, a musical production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (the one release in their catalog I have yet to set eyes on), their first live DVD, and a children’s album with accompanying book.

Although the decade ended with the oft-noted and overly publicized departure of founding member Steven Page, the remaining four members closed out 2009 by recording a series of eighteen songs, fourteen of which would find their way to 2010’s All in Good Time.

In every way that matters, the Barenaked Ladies have been a creative force to reckon with — and pay attention to — throughout this decade, and despite the criticism of naysayers, they have a very promising future in the next.

POST-STUNT EXPECTATIONS

To say that there was a lot riding on Maroon would be an understatement.

After the breakthrough success of 1998’s Stunt (via the chart-topping “One Week”), BnL’s image and career stood to be reconsidered based on what came next.  While Maroon was successful enough to preclude accusations of one-hit-wonder status, their American audience in particular seemed less and less interested in their work as the years went on.  This much is apparent in the charts, each album topping out further down than the previous one.  (As of this writing, this continues to hold true for All in Good Time, which has peaked at 23; in Canada, on the other hand, it has rightfully marked a comeback, hitting #3 which is the highest chart position for a BnL album there since Maroon.)

But numbers are numbers.  There are so many important aspects of modern life which, contrary to the beliefs and attempts of the powers that be, simply cannot be quantified.

Music is certainly one of those.

Maroon is BnL’s most fully-realized, cohesive, balanced album; it is serious, yet entertaining — fast and slow, loud and quiet.  The first half is populated by equally single-worthy rockers like “Falling for the First Time,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Pinch Me,” the latter admittedly seeming like a wanna-be follow-up to “One Week.”  The second half of the album stretches out a bit, unwinding hauntingly gorgeous ballads like “Off the Hook” and “Helicopters.”  I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorites — “Baby Seat,” “Go Home,” and “The Humour of the Situation.”  This is a true five star album.

Although the album and singles performed well, it was apparent that they were all received with a bit less interest than Stunt‘s material had been (or, more accurately, its lead-off single).  I, for one, think that it is no coincidence that this was just about the same time that I began to lose interest in popular radio and music television.

BRILLIANCE IN RELATIVE OBSCURITY

To avoid going into painstaking detail about every track that the Barenaked Ladies have released since 2000, I will begin by saying that there is a vast sea of reasons to be interested in and entertained by this band.  As much as I felt people should have been more receptive to Maroon, I was flabbergasted at the apathy that 2003’s Everything to Everyone.  How an album that could so masterfully run the gamut between silly and serious, all the while being consistently brilliant — both lyrically and instrumentally — is beyond me.  This album is composed of some truly killer tracks: sardonic songs like “Celebrity” and “Second Best,” upbeat rockers like “Testing 1, 2, 3” and “Unfinished,” a love song like “Maybe Katie,” the oddly foreboding “War on Drugs,” and the stereotypical BnL knee-slappers “Another Postcard” and “Shopping.”

A lack of public praise never slowed them down, as 2006 saw the recording of 29 new tracks.  Where the band went wrong, in this writer’s opinion, was in deciding to release one album that year and a second album the following year.  What ended up happening was the most outstanding tracks were split between the two discs and, with a lack of cohesion between the two discs, the Are Me/Are Men project was simply not as good as it could have been.  Even Wikipedians are uncertain how to classify these selections in their catalog — either as the seventh or the seventh and eighth albums of BnL’s career.  Still, these releases saw the unveiling of a new era for the band — one of independence from major labels and of stretching their musical sensibilities.  Kevin Hearn’s contributions demonstrated the potential that he presented not only as an instrumentalist and singer, but also as a songwriter.  Jim Creeggan’s beautiful vocals also showed significant promise, even if they were only showed off on a silly number.

These three (or four?) albums would be reason alone to consider BnL one of the best bands of the decade.  And yet they didn’t stop there.  In the past ten years, the band has released some amazing work, not the least of which are their holiday album and children’s album.  The holiday album, Barenaked for the Holidays, brilliantly blended Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed songs in one very characteristic collection (think: “Elf’s Lament,” “Green Christmas,” and others).  The latter, Snacktime!, swung far enough to the silly side of the spectrum to be largely ignored by “serious” music critics.  That being said, anyone who takes a moment to listen to the harmonies and instrumentation will realize that Snacktime! is a masterpiece unto itself, two of the best tracks — “Pollywog in a Bog” and “Louis Loon” — being penned by the unusual collaboration of Creeggan & Ed Robertson.  And it saw the lead vocal debut of Tyler Stewart on the rocking “Allergies,” a song that almost makes me feel cool for having season allergies myself.

AN ARREST, A CRASH, A BREAK, A VOW

Far too much has been written about the moments of crisis and tragedy in the personal lives of the Barenaked Ladies these past few years, so I’ll be especially brief here.  If you’ve kept up with music news, you know that Steven Page was arrested on charges of drug possession, Ed Robertson crashed his plane (fortunately with no serious injuries sustained), and Page’s departure was announced in 2009.  All in all, not a wonderful end to the decade.

That being said, the four remaining members — Robertson, Hearn, Creeggan, and Stewart — have vowed to continue recording and performing as BnL.  How well is that going?

One listen to All in Good Time is all you’ll need to answer that one on your own.

(#1-10) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2010-01-03 12:30:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for…  The unveiling of the Weekend Review’s picks for the top ten rock albums of the 2000’s.  For anyone who loves music — who loves albums — as much as I do, the artists and album titles that follow are among the best offerings in the past ten years.  Even in a decade that saw a marked decline in physical album sales and an increasing number of rock fans suggesting that good music hasn’t been made for ten, twenty, or more years, these albums are proof positive of the opposite.

Good and, occasionally, great music continues to be made each year.

As you read the final segment of this top fifty list, consider which albums you’ve heard and consider picking up those that you haven’t.  I encourage you to share your own thoughts below, if you feel so inclined.  I spent countless hours thinking, discussing, compiling, arranging, and rearranging this list, so I’ll be the first to tell you it is the imperfect work of an imperfect human being, albeit one who has approached this task with the seriousness of a full-time job.  I hope it gives you some food for thought, and that you enjoy it!

1) Red Letter Days (2002) – The Wallflowers: Their finest work and the overall best rock album of the decade for so many reasons.  Click HERE for my full review.

2) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) – Wilco: The album that singlehandedly catapulted Wilco out of the “alt-country” caverns and into the full light of day as one of the decade’s foremost alternative rock bands.  Click HERE for my full review.

3) Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001) – Ben Folds: This is Ben Folds at his finest, pounding the piano relentlessly and lyrically tracing the outline of what it means to face loneliness in a modern world.  Click HERE for my full review.

4) Figure 8 (2000) – Elliott Smith: His fifth and final studio album before his death three years later, Figure 8 is Elliott Smith’s masterpiece.  Each of his albums — Either/Or and XO most dramatically — just kept getting better, and this is no exception.  Click HERE for my full review.

5) Maroon (2000) – Barenaked Ladies: From front to back, this is the quintessential Barenaked Ladies album, demonstrating their knack for humor, keen eye for expressing serious issues and emotions poetically, and, as per usual, their considerable instrumental talents.  Click HERE for my full review.

6) In Between Dreams (2005) – Jack Johnson: In many ways, Jack Johnson has been the spokesperson for albums this decade as, more and more, consumers seem less and less interested in them as an art form.  Johnson not only made a name for himself entirely within this decade, but did so by releasing hit records without any significant hit singles.  And there is no better example of Johnson’s prowess than In Between Dreams. From beginning to end, the acoustic guitars are crisp and clear in the mix, and Johnson cleverly balances the cheesy and the serious — even politically charged — aspects of his lyrics better than he has before or since.  It’s a wonderful album, and it’s always my first choice for a hot summer day — perfect for any top-down drive, car wash, or beach trip!

7) Brainwashed (2002) – George Harrison: Posthumously released, George Harrison’s Brainwashed is an album created out of the most pure sense of an urgent mission at hand with which a human can be faced — imminent mortality.  Having been diagnosed with cancer, Harrison did what he knew best — returned to the studio to record the album of a lifetime.  And this is not said lightly, considering the catalog that he produced over a lifetime.  Far from rusty for his fifteen years outside the studio, Harrison is at his lyrical, vocal, and instrumental best on this record.  Completed with care by producer and friend Jeff Lynne with Harrison’s son Dhani, Brainwashed is perhaps THE post-Beatles studio album.  It deals with all the classic topics — religion, politics, mortality, and love to name a few — with such ease and expertise that it almost makes up for the absence of new George Harrison records after Cloud Nine.  It’s just that good.

8 ) Extraordinary Machine (2005) – Fiona Apple: As unstable as she might be in her personal life, Fiona Apple’s modus operandi concerning studio albums has consistently been defined by a measured approach at self-improvement.  With each album, she has only gotten better, and Extraordinary Machine is her masterwork.  Oozing with a sharp cynicism and a guarded smirk always lurking just beneath the surface, Apple’s album cleverly orchestrates a number of instruments around her piano which, characteristically, leads each song.  Combining this with her inimitable vocals setting the mood for each track, this is one of the best albums of the decade.  Rock music fans everywhere, just pray that she can put together another one (or two?) next decade!

9) Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008) – Counting Crows: Not since Recovering the Satellites have Adam Duritz and his band produced such a brilliant, enjoyable album — the best album of 2008 and one of the best of the decade.  Click HERE for my full review.

10) The Last DJ (2002) – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: It’s never been as much fun to openly despise the state of the modern music industry, particularly the system by which most corporate-run radio stations choose and broadcast music.  The undertone throughout The Last DJ is sarcastic, most brilliantly on “Joe” and the title track.  In between trips to his soapbox, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also find time to create some of the most beautiful (“Dreamville,” “Can’t Stop the Sun”) and most rocking (“When a Kid Goes Bad,” “Have Love Will Travel”) music of their career.  The only Heartbreakers album of the decade, The Last DJ can only serve to stir up more desire for at least one more go-round in the next.

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER THREE is Jack White

Originally posted 2010-04-13 14:34:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the third in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

Easily one of the busiest figures in contemporary rock music, Jack White has made it his business to write, record, perform, and produce music every chance he gets.  There is something breathtaking about the apparent ease with which he has transcended genre lines and brought the influences back to his own music.  It is equally impressive to consider how many directions he has been pulled in during this decade, and yet how strong his contributions have been to each of his numerous ventures.

I, for one, wasn’t sure what to make of this straggly-haired ax-grinder when I first heard of him in the wake of the White Stripes’ breakthrough effort Elephant in 2003.  I’ll never forget tuning in (on the advice of a friend) to Late Night with Conan O’Brien during their week-long tenure promoting this aforementioned album.  “Seven Nation Army” may have been overplayed for some, but I loved its gritty, riffy simplicity, punctuated by White’s lead vocals and Meg White’s wonderfully boneheaded drumming.

With each new White Stripes album I’ve heard, I’ve realized more and more the degree to which Jack and Meg — particularly Jack — are experts at finding their comfort zones, then burning them down.  In the Raconteurs, he contributes a very big, very characteristic guitar sound, somehow crafting a new landscape without plagiarizing his White Stripes sound.  And the Dead Weather, his second side project, is something else all together, a sound that White pulls together with his drumming rather than his guitar work.

Taking these three bands into consideration, then throwing in his solo work and other one-off collaborations for good measure, there is simply no way to avoid giving Jack White a respectful — if not awe-filled — nod for his exemplary contemporary rock music created this decade.

BLACK & WHITE & RED ALL OVER

Any music promoter will tell you that it’s not simply the sound of a band that is important, but also their image and general appearance.  Jack and Meg White have excelled with this other half of the equation, always dressing in red, white, and black, as well as seeing to it that their album artwork follows suit.  Their music may draw comparisons to acts of the past like Led Zeppelin, but this is no retro act.  In their continually developing sound, and equally in the way they dress and act, the White Stripes are one of the most interesting bands of the decade.

How to go about describing such a band in a few paragraphs?

I’ll start with words like quirky, bold, frenetic, complex, basic, and that’s just to begin with.  Since 2000’s De Stijl, the White Stripes have released four more albums:  2001’s very promising White Blood Cells, their major label debut Elephant in 2001 (a.k.a. their personal catapult into the pop culture lexicon), 2005’s piano-driven masterpiece Get Behind Me Satan, and most recently, a return to distortion drenched guitar in the riff-laden reveries of 2007’s Icky Thump.  By the time they released their first live CD, Under Great White Northern Lights (2010), the White Stripes had developed quite a catalog to draw from.

That they are able to achieve their sound with just two band members is intriguing.  Granted, Meg White suffered a breakdown that resulted in the cancellation of some tour dates in 2007, but there have been confirmed reports since last year that they are already at work on their seventh album.

A SIDE PROJECT, A SIDE PROJECT FROM THE SIDE PROJECT, AND MORE!

Jack White’s work in the White Stripes is substantial enough to be considered notable, but it is his wide variety of ventures outside the scope of his primary band that cinch his position at the upper part of the contemporary rock music ladder.  His five contributions to the Cold Mountain soundtrack in 2003 suggested that he had more to give than could be satisfied in one band alone.  He has since gone on to produce and play on a laundry list of other albums, including Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.  More recently, he wrote and recorded an outstanding duet with Alicia Keys for the James Bond film Another Way to Die, the first duet in the Bond series.

With all the writing, performing, and recording White has done since the early nineties, it is interesting to note that his first official “solo” work was released in 2009 — the single “Fly Farm Blues.”

In addition to these one-off efforts, White has joined not one but two side projects.  The first, the Raconteurs, formed in 2005 along with power pop rocker Brendan Benson (sharing guitar duty), bassist Jack Lawrence, and drummer Patrick Keeler.  After their 2006 debut Broken Boy Soldiers, they followed up quickly with the phenomenal Consolers of the Lonely in 2008.  The latter is easily one of the best rock music albums of the decade, and it is an outrage that I passed over it for my Top 50 Albums of the 2000s list.  This is the Jack White music that I am perhaps most drawn to: tight, fully-produced, riff-driven songs with an abundance of crunchy guitars, a rockin’ rhythm section, and catchy leads.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, White co-founded the Dead Weather in 2009 with the Kills’ lead singer Alison Mosshart, guitarist Dean Fertita, and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence.  This is an altogether different venture that features a grungier tone than the Raconteurs or even the White Stripes.  The songs are a bit longer, and could be described as a set of almost-jams.  After I heard their interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony,” a so-so deep track from 1978’s Street Legal, I was hooked.

In summary, this decade has seen Jack White bring the White Stripes to worldwide rock music fame, form not one but two side groups, release his first single as a solo artist, and contribute to a myriad of other artists’ albums and soundtracks.  At the time of this writing (early 2010), there is a May 11th release date set for the follow-up Dead Weather album, confirmations from White that the White Stripes will be releasing an album in the near future, and whispers of an all-out solo record from the man himself.

Hands down, Jack White is my pick for the number three rock music artist of the 2000s for all the right reasons: the sheer quantity of music produced, his development of a signature guitar sound, and his collaborations with other artists (Dylan, Beck, and more in addition to those mentioned above).  It’s a no-brainer, my friends.