I find it hard to believe that through almost 4,000 Songs of the Day I have yet to do a theme week or two on ‘Best Debut Albums.’ It seems like such an obvious and rewarding topic. I’ll put it on the list for later this year. Plus, it would lead nicely into ‘Best Sophomore Albums’ — I can get a whole month out of this.
At any rate, without question John Mayer’s Room For Squares would rank highly on that list of best debuts. Over 14 tracks and nearly an hour, he leaps out of the gate with a winning collection of pop-rock gems and doesn’t take a wrong step. That’s enough to make it #2 on my list of 2001 albums.
Rufus Wainwright seems to have lost interest in the pop music world after 2012’s Out of the Game (a prophetic title in hindsight). Since then he has written and recorded an opera and a collection of Shakespeare sonnets set to orchestral music. Not exactly Top 40 material.
I don’t begrudge Wainwright his musical path, but I miss the old stuff. From 1998 to 2007, Wainwright released five amazing albums that married his classical sensibilities with a real knack for pop songcraft.
My top four albums of 2001 are so good that I really could have presented them in any order. I settled on the lineup I did based on a quick dive into each album right here and now, so these rankings reflect my current mood as much as anything.
At #4 is Ben Folds’ first solo album, Rockin’ the Suburbs. Ben Folds Five had split up a year earlier following the release of their third studio album, and this record marked Folds’ shift into what would become a fascinating and successful solo career.
Initially I had Travis’ The Invisible Band lower on this list, possibly as low as #10. But the more I listened to it in preparation for this blog entry, the higher it crept.
This was the Scottish band’s third album and the follow-up to 1999’s smash hit The Man Who. That record is also excellent, and ushered in an era of emotional rock music alongside Coldplay’s Parachutes. But for my money, The Invisible Band is an even grander achievement.
My list of favorite albums in recent years is so dominated by female artists that it’s a shock to look back at 2001 and see how bro-tastic my tastes were then.
Lucinda Williams’ Essence, my #6 album of that year, is the only work by a woman in my top ten.
Now, in my defense, I haven’t found a lot of strong female contenders among the albums I missed out on in 2001. Maybe it just wasn’t a strong year for women in music. But it is striking, especially coming off of a year when five of my top seven albums were by women.
Ron Sexsmith’s Blue Boy comes in at #7 on my list of 2001 albums. This was my first exposure to the Canadian singer-songwriter and remains my favorite of his albums.
Produced by Steve Earle, Blue Boy has a more polished and eclectic sound than Sexsmith’s first few releases. He dabbles in reggae and torch styles, along with his usual quiet balladry and pop rock staples, and manages to make it all sound of a piece.
Ryan Adams isn’t too popular these days, after a New York Times investigation earlier this year exposed him as an overbearing #metoo villain who promised music industry success to women as a way to get them into his bed.
He is reportedly the subject of an FBI investigation and his current tour, as well as three planned albums, have been postponed indefinitely.