Gold Medal: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
It’s hard to believe that the stars aligned for this one. The band was in turmoil, the record label situation was sketchy, the official release was delayed forever. But somehow, we have Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with all its echoing pianos, strange industrial noises and poignant lyrics. On this release, Jeff Tweedy proves himself as one of the finest living songsmiths with tracks like “Jesus Etc.”, “Radio Cure”, and “Ashes of American Flags”. It’s lines like “Distance has no way of making love understandable” that resonate for so long after hearing them delivered by Tweedy’s husky baritone voice. With two towers on the cover and an intended release date of 9/11/01, this album is a frighteningly prophetic work of art.
(taken from my October “Best of the 2000s” post)
Silver Medal: Brainwashed by George Harrison
So often when great artists try to make albums in middle/old age, the result is a crusty, pathetic attempt to recapture the spark of thirty years ago. Either that or it’s just sentimental and gross. Brainwashed is neither. In fact, it is more of a template for albums by aging rock stars. Recorded during the final years of his life, George Harrison created a masterful collection of superb songs brimming with wisdom. Yet it doesn’t come across as preachy, thanks to the interspersing of playful songs like “P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)” or “Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” The record is wonderfully produced thanks to son George’s son Dhani and longtime friend and Traveling Wilbury, Jeff Lynne. If listening to this album is what it’s like to be brainwashed, sign me up. There couldn’t have been a better send off for one of the true greats.
Bronze Medal: Turn On the Bright Lights by Interpol
Right when it seemed like everything that two guitars, bass and drums could do had been done, we get the debut album of this post post-punk quartet, Interpol. Taking a cue from Joy Division and Television, this band churned out an album that’s just plain powerful. Minimal yet huge, Turn On the Bright Lights expresses alienataion through catharsis. While fellow New Yorkers, The Strokes, used their mechanized, guitar-driven patterns to represent a gleeful return to your classic garage band, these guys paint pictures of dungeons with their surging riffs and thumping rhythm section. Paul Banks’ vocals are just part of the architecture, never stepping too far out of the shadows to distract from the overall tapestry of somberness. Too bad they likely set the bar to high to ever return to this level.