Someone viewing the 2002 Billboard album charts from a foreign land (say Singapore) would probably get the impression that American musical tastes are as sterile and homogenized as American brand names. Hell, someone in America looking at the charts might get the same idea. Familiarity is the mandate. Fashion is the condiment. But a McDonald's hamburger smothered in Kraft's lo-cal ranch dressing is still nothing more than an overly tart version of a McBurger. As 2002 came to a close, McDonald's posted its first losing quarter in the company's history and their stock value has plummeted almost 60 per cent from its high water mark. There's hope.
The face of the 2002 year-end charts doesn't look much different than past years, with the exception that the designer jeans are being worn a little lower on the hips. True to form, the major labels are banking on multi-platinum artists from days gone by to generate even bigger hits. Also true to form, they are hedging their bets with lavish and expensive publicity campaigns for some pretty dismal recordings. For example the US$25 million spent to force feed Michael Jackson's latest opus on the public. In actual sales, that amounted to about US$10 per disc spent just on publicity. No wonder CD prices are so high. But if you were to listen to the major labels, it is the nine out of 10 artists who don't make the charts that are the cause of their financial woes. That is when they're not whining about the Internet. Somehow I doubt that the combined marketing budgets of those nine "loser" acts came anywhere close to US$25 million.
lasting quality of music cannot be measured out in Soundscan blips. Great
music comes from the heart, not from corporate strategy rooms. Which is
why you can still buy Woody Guthrie and Gram Parsons albums, but old Vanilla
Ice CDs gather dust at yard sales for a quarter (no respectable used CD
shop would have them). The fact that we Americans can be duped into buying
so much crap is a phenomenon that escapes me. The fact that we cling so
dearly to those recordings that we most identify with does not. To twist
a phrase by the Drive-by Truckers, "such is the duality of the American
fitting that a year ending with Trent Lott's political self-sabotage started
out with this double-CD set. Released independently by the Alabama-based
band and picked up in mid-year by Lost Highway, the Drive-by Truckers
set out on two missions, "an unblinking look at the post Civil-Rights
South and the death of the Southern Rock glory days." On the first they
succeed, correctly pointing out that racism is a worldwide problem that,
because of George Wallace, is "conveniently played out with a Southern
accent." They challenge the misconception that the South is any more racist
than any other part of the world (also correct) and sing hallelujahs to
the South's musical history of racial harmony among musicians (Muscle
Shoals in this instance but the same can also be said for Memphis). The
Truckers make a strong case that the political face of a state is not
necessarily the true face of its people. By the end of the year, Trent
Lott (from Mississippi) was reminding us all that not much has changed.
As for their look at the "death of the Southern Rock glory days," they
fail miserably by making one of the most glorious albums in the history
of that genre.
in the productivity department, the Truckers also managed a live album
this year. Alabama Ass Whuppin' has numerous highlights and gives a pretty
good indication that, like their heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, they're a very
dynamic live outfit. And, at some point during their set, they will not
only rock you, but they'll bring you to tears as well. In this case with
The Living Bubba, an ode to Gregory Dean Smalley, the deceased Atlanta
guitarist who started the Bubbapalooza fest. But if you've got the patience
to track one down, a great bootleg soundboard recording from the 400 Bar
in Mpls, MN (2/15/02) is even better. That one includes the unreleased
Thank God For The TVA, a whole-nother history lesson about the South.
of slippage here, as the little band from Denton, Texas continues to amaze
on their fourth release. Brent Best proves again to be one of America's
best songwriters with tunes like Sister Beams and Butchers. And the band
also proves to be great interpreters as well, as anyone who has ever caught
their live act can tell you. This time around it's a cover of To Love
Somebody that will leave you asking yourself which blue-eyed southern
soul singer originally recorded it. Oh, yeah. It was the Bee Gees.
Handy Award nominee will remind you a lot of Taj Mahal, with its offbeat
and folky approach to the blues. Ten Million Slaves and Three Stripes
On A Cadillac are highlights.
jeans here. This is bib-overall music with an anarchist's bent. If the
cover featuring a '40-ish "red" theme doesn't clue you into Gibbs' anti-capitalist
views, the music certainly will.
Got Away With It seems to poke light-hearted fun at "blue-collar" millionaire
rockers like Bruce Springsteen. By the time you get to Weight Of The World
though, you know that Bob is the genuine article (blue-collar that is,
not millionaire). It you suffer from depression, you might want to take
a Valium or two before indulging.
coming and worth the wait. Documented extensively in the pages of BigO.
patriotic record of the year, no matter what you heard. It's that duality
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