So who exactly were the most influential musical artists of the past decade? Springsteen? Radiohead? Clay Aiken?
Well okay, two out of three ain't bad, right? But as we draw ever closer to the dawning of 2010, perhaps the more important question is why should we care? Fear not my friends, because your Rockologist has answers.
For sure, there are certain things which remain both constant and consistent when one decade bleeds into another. The doomsday nuts come out like clockwork, for one thing. In 1999, it was Y2K. This time around its the Mayan prophecies about 2012.
The other constant is the ongoing debate about whether decades begin and end with the double zeroes, or with the numerical designation of '01. For our purposes here, we're going to go with the 00's. Since both Rolling Stone and NME have already set the precedent, Blogcritics would be hard-pressed to go against the established grain by coming out with our own belated lists next year, right?
But back to the central question at hand: why should we care?
At a time when most of us in America are just waking up from the long national nightmare of the Bush years, only to find ourselves staring down at the cold, waking reality of more of the same under a President Obama who bares little resemblance to the candidate who so captivated us in '08, perhaps we shouldn't care.
But if nothing else, music represents escape from that hard, cold reality.
And for those of us who spend long, lonely nights huddled over our computers worrying and writing about it when we really should be out there trying to find real jobs (or at least trying to get laid), music represents something more.
A lot more actually. We care about where it has been because those memories represent unique snapshots in the fabric of our own lives. We care about where it is going because, in a lot of ways, it represents our hopes and dreams for an uncertain future.
Beyonce and Jay Z aren't likely to change that future anytime soon, but the fact remains — The Beatles and Dylan once did.
But enough of that sort of heaviness.
My own picks for my favorite albums (note that I said favorite, not best) of the past ten years will be coming in the third and final installment of this recap of the past decade and the past year. Those will come down to my own opinion, and nothing else.
Here on the other hand is where we go all rock critic on your ass, and bring you the people who, in our own humble estimation, were the ones who most influenced music this past decade. What I also thought might make this fun would be to imagine what these folks might do if they ever — like most of the rest of us — found themselves out of an actual real job.
These are in no particular order:
I take back that part about no particular order with this one. Radiohead were in fact the most influential artists of the decade. 2007's In Rainbows alone qualifies them for this distinction, with its initial pay-what-you-like internet mode of distributing.
Nevermind that the album was a stunning piece of work. Because it was.
What makes it most significant is the way it opened up so many new possibilities for artists to distribute their work outside of the traditional music industry pipeline, and the way it turned that same industry on its ear. Artists from Trent Reznor to Billy Corgan have since followed their lead. From Kid A forward, Radiohead also made a lot of truly amazing, challenging music this decade while never once sacrificing their artistic integrity.
DAYJOB: Much as I would like to think of Thom Yorke and his merry band of music-makers as the best IT department a corporation could ever have, Radiohead would never play by those kind of corporate rules. I also always thought Thom Yorke would make a great real-life Alfred E. Neuman for MAD Magazine. Speaking of the mad scientists that they are though, Radiohead would be an incredible asset to someone like NASA in getting us back to the moon and even beyond someday.
Jay Z And Beyonce:
For better of for worse, these two are the power couple of the decade without question. But with a difference. Jay Z is not the best rapper in the world (my vote there would go to Eminem), but he has delivered consistently satisfying albums for the past ten years while walking a balance between sophisticated class and blunted street cred that is unmatched in all of hip-hop. The fact that he did so without constantly having to remind us of his genius (hello, Kanye), and landed Beyonce's ample ass for himself (my boy Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud) only seals the deal. As for Beyonce herself, not only can the girl sing her perfect ass off — she also exudes class.
DAYJOB: Jay Z is a natural for some high-powered corporate executive position on Madison Avenue — the man's taste is impeccable, especially in women. But for the same reasons, he'd also make one hell of a waiter in a swank-ass restaurant. Something about those suits. As for Beyonce, she is definitely the bikini barista of my dreams. So excuse me my nerdish fantasies…
…represents everything that is wrong with music. But damn it all, him and his American Idol bullshit has everything and then some to do with the sorry state we are in. Note to Simon: I'll swap you two Clay Aikens for your one Paula Abdul.
DAYJOB: Carnival Barker. Abusive Psychiatrist. Fascist dictator of a small island nation. Anything but the ego-maniacal freak who has influenced the course of music the way that he inexplicably has.
Eminem, more than any person I can think of, defines the great class divide in America that has defined the Bush years. The fact that he is also the best rapper in the world speaks volumes when it comes to the times we are hopefully now emerging out from. Not only did Em's brutally honest and lyrically accurate raps speak more effectively to the class divide in America under Bush than anybody else — profanity aside, he also did so with the soul of a poet. The single most important artist to bridge the gap between the ghetto and the trailer park since the Beastie Boys. Only this time around, it was no joke.
DAYJOB: Short of stealing my hub-caps, Em would make a great serial killer. But seriously, I like the image of Em as my bartender at the corner beer joint far more. This is a guy I feel like I could cry to in my beer, or otherwise talk to when it most mattered.
If there is anyone who qualifies as the breakout talent of the decade, it is this man. Hands down. Great guitarist, great instincts, you know the rest.
A decent argument can still be made that the Strokes brought garage level rock back to a mass audience (in terms of popularity) before Jack did with the White Stripes. But like no else who has emerged this decade, Jack combines the soul of a bluesman with the technique of an artist and the street smarts of the best rock and roll. He has also continually evolved with bands like the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. Of all the talents to emerge the past ten years, Jack is the guy I most expect to be around when all is said and done.
DAYJOB: If I'm a guitarist, this is hands-down, my dream tech at the shop.
Am I an unabashed Bruce Fan? Absolutely, one-hundred percent yes.
But you already knew that.
But for those of us who have also followed Springsteen from the beginning — and let's be honest here — we also know that he spent the better part of the nineties putting his art aside, raising a family, and generally trying to rediscover his voice. Once he found that voice again, however, the man was a house of fire. Not only did he reunite with the E Street Band, he also made his music a force to be reckoned with anew — both politically and musically. From The Rising to 2004's Vote For Change tour, to standing side by side with Obama this year at the inauguration (for better or for worse), Springsteen stood mostly alone as the lone remaining voice of rock's social consciousness. Well, except for that Bono guy, anyway…
DAYJOB: If my own car ever breaks down on the highway, Bruce is hands down my mechanic. He is also the guy I'd most want to share a cold one with at the bar across the street from the shop.
Quite possibly the only band continuing to carry the torch of rock's original era of activism and altruism that still matters. When U2 rediscovered the power of just being a great rock band, and putting their pretensions of arty-alternative bullshit aside this decade with All That You Can't Leave Behind , they positively ruled. Bono has also impacted the social fabric like no musician has since John Lennon. And unlike Lennon, he has done so by working within the political system.
But there are some disturbing cracks there as well.
U2's current tour represents not only a return to the rock star excess of the PopMart era, but also a disconnect from the fans who got them there in the first place. Word to Bono: It's not a "Beautiful Day" right now for those of us in post-Bush working class America. And as much I'd love to see the new tour, like so many of U2's other fans, I've been priced out of the market.
DAYJOB; I love ya' Bono. But I have only one messiah, and brother, you aint' it.