Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 2001

2001 was a big year for me. It was the year my grandfather passed away, giving me my first experience with the death of a family member. It was the year my political consciousness was awakened by the September 11th attacks. It was the year I first read The Lord of the Rings (before I even knew there would be a film – I consider myself one of the last true “book firsters”). It was the year I hit puberty. It was the year my parents got divorced. And it was the year that, on December 25, I discovered the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” followed by “Penny Lane” on the Blue Album 1967-1970. For better and for worse, things would never, ever be the same.

5. DRIVING RAIN (Paul McCartney)

Driving Rain

Driving Rain is widely considered one of Paul’s lesser efforts. Part of my love for it might be nostalgia–it was one of the first McCartney records I ever acquired–and it certainly has a rougher-hewn quality than many of his records. But the raw emotion of songs like “Magic” and “Lonely Road” sits well alongside the romanticism of “Heather” and “Your Loving Flame” as a portrait of a man rediscovering love after his long-time partner’s death from breast cancer.

4. TENACIOUS D (Tenacious D)

Tenacious D

With their worship of all things classic rock and blazingly dopey stoner humor (pun not intended at first but now definitely intended), Tenacious D were a staple of my late adolescence. The thing is, comedy rock often skimps on the music in favor of the joke. But as jokey as Tenacious D be, it’s also really well-written and -arranged, making for an affectionate “Tribute” to the music that Jack Black and Kyle Gass love.

3. SONGS FROM THE WEST COAST (Elton John)

Songs from the West Coast

Elton John had been hitting and missing for about two decades when Songs from the West Coast came along and kicked off something of a late-career renaissance. Maybe it was getting back together with Bernie Taupin that led Elton back to his classic sound, exemplified by songs like “This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and “I Want Love” – both of them among the best things Elton has written since Too Low for Zero.

[NOTE: I once again reserve the right to name two #1’s for 2001, because a) it’s my list and I can do what I like with it, and b) because I can’t bring myself to rank either of the following albums ahead of/behind the other. They’re both so different, but both so wonderful.]

1b. DISCOVERY (Daft Punk)

Discovey (Daft Punk)

Homework sometimes felt like exactly that – like Daft Punk had been set exercises and were working their way through them, honing their craft and seeing what they were capable of. Discovery is the pay-off, an album of full songs with giant hooks that draw on everything from disco to electro-pop to classic R&B and dazzle you with their masterful manipulation of texture. The only thing keeping it from being the ultimate electronica album is the existence of Random Access Memories. Otherwise, switch on the album-length music video Interstella 5555 and bask.

1a. ROCKIN’ THE SUBURBS (Ben Folds)

Rockin' the Suburbs

Ben Folds’ biting sense of humor is almost entirely absent from his first proper solo album – only the (hilarious) title track hearkens back to the likes of “Army” or “Underground.” Rather than stifling him, however, Rockin’ the Suburbs allows Folds’ humanity to shine. Instead of snarking about apathetic acquaintances or embittered dwarfs, Folds now paints sympathetic portraits of ex-hippie sellouts and codependent lovers and dedicates heartbreaking ballads to his wife and son. It’s the sound of a great artist growing up, and it’s powerful, poignant stuff.

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