The White Stripes’ third album, White Blood Cells, was released in 2001 to universal acclaim and a rising tide of publicity. Music critics were going gaga over the “brother/sister” band that was actually a former married couple, who wore only black, red and white, who performed with guitar and drums but never a bass, and who made a living resurrecting the blues.
The scrutiny was wearing on Jack and Meg White during the recording of White Blood Cells, and they nodded to it with the album’s cover photo, which depicts them surrounded by shadowy figures wielding cameras and microphones.
My musical landscape was so narrow at the turn of the millennium that Destiny’s Child somehow completely escaped my attention. The trio’s 2001 album Survivor was a massive hit but not one I listened to even once.
One great thing about the streaming era is the freedom it gives you to listen to any number of different genres without the monetary risk. In fact, the more new music you consume the more of a bargain you’re getting for the $10-15 per month you’re spending with Apple, Amazon or Spotify. Back in 2001, I wouldn’t have dropped $12 to buy an R&B album on spec. Today, I’d at least give it a shot.
After counting down my own favorite albums of 2001, I now turn my attention to ten albums from that year that I don’t know well. This is the part of the Decades series that is usually both reassuring and disappointing for me.
The fact is, I almost never unearth any albums in this process that break into my regular rotation. So that tells me I must be doing a pretty good job rooting out the things I like in the first place. But on the flip side, I’d really like to find some new gem that has a real chance of cracking my own list of favorites.
I toyed with some other titles, but I was never in any real danger of not listing Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft as my #1 album of 2001.
This was the Bard’s 29th studio album, in his fifth decade of recording, and it’s as vital and playful as anything he put out in the 60s. He released his meditation on death and aging, Time Out of Mind, a couple of years earlier, and people might have easily mistaken it for a swan song. Instead, Love and Theft suggested it was a rebirth.
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.