With 2014 (almost!) officially over, it means the endless stream of twentieth-anniversary Illmatic and Kurt Cobain thinkpieces have ended. While 1994 was admittedly an infinitely important year for music of every genre, both in terms of artistic success and industry milestones, two decades later it seems to have also set a new standard in milking nostalgia. Probably the biggest casualty of all the attention that 1994 got for twentieth-anniversary retrospectives? That 2004’s numerous tenth anniversaries were sorely under-reported. With nine years to ruminate over a twentieth-anniversary thinkpiece, here are five tenth anniversaries in 2014 that you likely forgot.
1) Brian Wilson’s Smile Released and It’s Actually Pretty Great
In probably the least likely music story from 2004 that’s still pretty shocking to reflect on, Beach Boy Brian Wilson completed his vision for his magnum opus Smile. The oft-rumored lost Beach Boys masterpiece from four decades prior, Wilson’s completed Smile proved how timeless and enriching his grand idea was. Released to critical and commercial success, Smile’s bow gave hope that we would someday see other oft-delayed albums — such as Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy — hit store shelves. And yes, there were still stores!
2) Eminem and Mos Def’s Highly Anticipated Disappointments
As much as Smile lifted our spirits, some of the most exciting names in music delivered colossal disappointments. Eminem’s Encore, promoted as his “final” album, originally had fans assuming he was making a deliberately terrible album à la Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music once they heard the indefensibly terrible “Just Lose It,” the record’s first single and, to this day, the worst song he’s ever recorded. Followed by the too-little-too-late political track “Mosh,” Encore‘s uninteresting fate had been sealed. Despite a handful of passable tracks, Em’s until-then stellar track record had been permanently tarnished. The same happened to the perpetually promising Mos Def, whose early Rawkus singles and subsequent Black Star and Black on Both Sides albums made him a surefire bet for a career of great albums. Then The New Danger happened. The five-year wait for the half-rap, half-whatever project disappointed everyone except those who delight in explaining albums to people. It was a rough fourth quarter.
3) British Hip-Hop’s Kinda-Crossover
The rap climate of 2004 proved an interesting transitional year. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter album made many listeners finally realize what a stellar MC he’d been for the past five years, Ghostface and Cam’ron both found new ever-expanding cult followings, hyphy was beginning to explode out of the Bay Area to a nationwide audience, and MF Doom was the top name in indie rap, with a level of consistent, prolific output not seen since Kool Keith. But the strangest aspect of that moment was the sudden critical interest in the British rap/grime scenes. Dizzee Rascal’s Showtime and the Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free, both of which sounded like nothing else going on in American music at the time, somehow grabbed an audience. While there had been a handful of imports who’d had moments of crossover success in hip-hop over the previous decade, the ubiquity of Streets/Rascal was something that could have only emerged in 2004.
4) Return of the Concept Album
A big reason the aforementioned Streets album A Grand Don’t Come for Free was such a hot topic was the creativity of the record’s lyrical through-line. While it may not have been particularly noticeable at the time, 2004 sure had a lot of concept records. From the underground career-prequel narrative of Masta Ace’s A Long Hot Summer to Green Day’s American Idiot, artists across genres really felt inspired to deliver their music in narrative form. American Idiot in particular seemed to benefit the most critically from this endeavor, with punky, pseudo-bratty Green Day a seemingly odd band to release such a fully realized opus. Who would have guessed that a decade later it would spawn a hit Broadway musical? We’re still waiting to see the Hives’ Tyrannosaurus Hives and J-Zone’s A Job Ain’t Nuthin’ But Work make their way to the stage.
5) Anti-Bush Music Becomes a Genre
Before he was painting pictures of cats and writing books, George W. Bush was actually the forty-third president of the United States. Despite being elected to a second term in 2004, he wasn’t thought of fondly by many in the music industry. Of course, a reviled president translates to big bucks for political musicians, and there was no shortage of instantly dated anti-Bush compilation in 2004. From the unmistakable punk rock fury of Rock Against Bush (initiated by Fat Mike of NOFX and based on the early-Eighties Rock Against Reagan movement) to the subversive electronic and hip-hop elements of Who’s America, if you weren’t a fan of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, or John Ashcroft, you had no shortages of soundtracks. As much as we’d love for these compilations to have tenth-anniversary releases under the guise of some fear-mongering “THEY’RE MORE DANGEROUS THAN EVER” marketing, it’s probably best a lot of these records are left in the past.