Brooklyn, New York
The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Jet, the White Stripeswhat do these groups have in common? Well, they're rock, for one. They all, um, rock, too. They also have very little to do with anything new. Maybe that's all right, though. They all sound pretty good and certainly point toward the possibility of somethingbetter. Then again, if rock is dead, the recording industry is dead, and two of the four Beatles are dead, maybe straight-ahead rock is new all over again. Even better, it's a little faster this time.
Can White Stripes be garage punk and Zeppelin disciples at the same time? Can a band with a rhythm section as dynamic as the Strokes really owe that much to the Velvet Underground? The more you listen the harder it is to pin down, which is what good bands do.
The folks who think Jack White is a great blues guitarist are the same folks who think the Strokes sound like Television.
Sure-shit sign that a CD's going to be huge: hearing "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button" in a leather bar the week Elephant came out.
Don't the White Stripes seem a little too white for their own good? And I'm not just talking about their complexions. Like, would it kill them to get out in the street and mingle with some brown people once in a while? I mean brown people that aren't dead or really old bluesmen, or Mick Collins? Or that scaryslave, er, bodyguard they hadwith them on Conan O'Brien.
Without a doubt, the debut of the year was by the U.K.'s Led Zeppelin. I know, everyone says they're just ripping off the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, but they are so much more than that. Who else would have the guts to debut with a three-disc live set? Their deadpan take on every conceivable '70s rock excessincluding, hilariously, the de rigueur 20-minute drum soloworks as well as it does because these guys can actually play!
It's absurd to dislike Cold- play because they're not as good as Radiohead. You should dislike Coldplay because they're not as good as Styx. Well, not yet; when they really get their jackass semi-falsetto orchestral bombast tight, their "Come Sail Away" will be right around the corner, followed swiftly by "Too Much Time on My Hands." Anyway, 2004 is going to be a good year for '70s and '80s synth-pop that was too pop to be prog. Next comes, get ready, ELO. I predict seven articles by June about how they were really goodno, geniuses. It's a good time for blue skies, mister.
While everyone yaps on about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Distillers, there was one rock band with a female singer that actually sold records this year and didn't sound like a throwback to 1983, or 1977: Evanescence.
Amy Lee's the coolest Christian since my mom and my best friend, Xian Hoard. For the millions of religious middle- and high-schoolers navigating sexual and social awakenings and difficultiesand the s/m-derived Hot Topic fashions that caricature themshe's a lone beacon, wrapped in thunderous guitars and weeping strings, moral chaos made No. 1 single.
Brooklyn, New York
A few years ago I accidentally asked the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt if he meant all that stuff he said in 69 Love Songs; he stroked the cat in his lap and made fun of me for taking Nirvana seriously. Last year I accidentally asked Justin Hawkins of the Darkness the same thing; he told me to hang on a second and asked the very loud groupies filling his tour bus to please keep the noise at a dull roar. Then he asked what the question was again.
My Morning Jacket's crossover success was classic grass- roots trickle-up. Indie kids caught the lo-fi vibe, followed by a bear hug from the jam band community appreciative of the group's hard-touring, psychedelically-inclined aesthetic, and finally the old-timers and musos circling the fringes began taking notice of some adept juggling of classic influences.
FRED M. MILLS
Wadesboro, North Carolina
The latest resurgence of Southern rock has steered clear of the Scylla of regional scorn and Charybdis of inherited racial guilt. So all that's left for axe-wielding New South rednecks to do is rail against the sinister incursions of Wal-Mart and Uncle Disney: Kentucky's My Morning Jacket with overwhelming reverb and assists from the Great White North's pastoralist wing, Kings of Leon by claiming Albion and California, Brooks & Dunn by sneaking Memphis and Muscle Shoals onto Music Row, and the Drive-By Truckers with fiery attitude and Jason Isbell's poignant family verities.