Music Review of 2001

The stars and the Stripes fly the flag
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The Independent Culture

In a year when those pop moppets Hear'Say sat comfortably in the charts next to the Michigan metaller Andrew WK you might say that all musical tastes were catered for in 2001. Even So Solid Crew, the speed-garage band deemed too dangerous to be allowed on tour, played on Top Of The Pops. Acts that would have once been considered alternative were effortlessly absorbed into the mainstream this year. What did they have in common? Hype, of course.

Early this year, a manufactured pop band came together before our eyes. Hear'Say was a band born not from stage school or adverts placed in the back of magazines but from a hit television show named Popstars (also the name of their debut album). They're about as bland a bunch as you would expect while their songs are an unremarkable amalgam of Steps, S Club 7 and All Saints. That they are the embodiment of music-industry efficiency, however, made them curiously compelling, like watching farmyard animals being plumped and primed for slaughter. It can't be long until they're shipped off to the abattoir.

Hear'Say might have been the year's most predictable success story but no one could have seen the Strokes or White Stripes coming. Both bands unleashed the kind of mania not seen since, well, Gay Dad were declared the future of rock'n'roll two years ago. In a rare display of modesty, Noel Gallagher proclaimed New York's the Strokes "the best band in the world" while the fever surrounding Meg and Jack White of the White Stripes led them to be trumpeted on Radio 4's Today programme. One tabloid newspaper went so far as to describe them as "the new Sex Pistols", a fearsome title that would kill most careers stone dead.

At the time, the excitement surrounding the Strokes and the Stripes was deemed particularly remarkable in light of the fact that neither had invested in expensive marketing campaigns. Never mind that fact that, on their arrival in the UK, both bands were sucked into a vortex of interviews and television appearances, thus having their marketing done for them by the media. That they didn't have to pay for it was just the icing on the cake.

The success of the Strokes and the Stripes at least underlines the enduring health of the American indie-rock scene. While avoiding the hype of its more boisterous counterparts, the lo-fi end of the market certainly didn't lose its momentum with Sparklehorse's It's A Wonderful Life, Low's Things We Lost In The Fire and Mercury Rev's All Is Dream just a few of the albums to have woven their peculiar spells on us this year. Ryan Adams also showed that classic rock can be done with rawness and innovation, even while plundering its back catalogue. It was also a great year for US alt-country, that nebulous genre which spans musical territories as far-reaching as blues, folk, rock and pop. The unexpected success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? album, the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' film which showcases the formidable talents of Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, certainly boosted its profile, topping the US country charts and reaching platinum status.

Nu-metal, another ill-defined genre that seems to cover all guitar bands beloved of teenagers, proved its staying power. Staind, Slipknot, Linkin Park and Blink 182 were among those doing their sweaty, noisy thing. For a while it looked as if cock rock might make a comeback with a new LP from Aerosmith and rumours of a tour and album from Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe. But, alas, it was not to be. Axl Rose and co scheduled and then cancelled two live dates in London while Mötley Crüe took the much easier route and produced a book instead.

Another media circus accompanied the rise of Starsailor, "the next Coldplay", early in the year. Indeed, legions of earnest singer-songwriters, all with the same high-pitched voices, crawled out of the woodwork this year, all hoping to capitalise on Coldplay's success.

Other non-events included an Oasis anniversary (their 10 years was marked by a series of gigs that illustrated why they've done so badly in the last four), Kylie's head-to-head with Victoria Beckham and the dissolution of Five. But perhaps the greatest non-event of all was Luke Haines's call for a pop strike. At the end of June, the former Black Box Recorder and Auteurs frontman demanded that musicians lay down their instruments and consumers avoid record shops in order to rid the charts of unwanted pop dross for a week. You had to admire his spirit, despite that fact that he was completely ignored. That week, which included Radiohead's Oxford show and Madonna's string of Earls Court dates, saw some of the greatest live music events of the year.