Playlist: It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

TheStrokes_IsThisItWhen you look back on music history, which vintage still gets you moving – and moved? Mike Pinnington casts his eye back twenty years, and finds a winning mash-up of genre and emergent talent to rescue us from the dirge-like remnants of Britpop…

Early February marked the twentieth anniversary of the release of Stephen Malkmus’ self-titled debut album, one that formed a large part of the soundtrack to my life at that time; also significant largely due to it being his first following the split of his band Pavement, in 1999. It felt like the end of a drought. Big, interesting, watershed releases came thick and fast – a year of milk and honey following the aural wasteland dominated by bands like Travis and the Stereophonics, peddlers of beige-toned indie who’d snuck in the back door left slightly ajar by Britpop. Dark days.

In retrospect – and with a slight broadening of my own tastes – 2001 was even better than I’d realised. Regular readers will know that I’m no stranger to the particular kind of nostalgia that music can induce, but even at a glance it’s clear that this was a very special vintage. From Malkmus, I made the short hop to fellow Pavement alumna Spiral Stairs’ project, Preston School of Industry. In fact, I’d seen them live that year in Manchester (at the great Night & Day Café). I get it, though, these releases could be deemed a little on the niche side. And remember, this was pre-BBC 6 Music (which launched the following March), so former members of Pavement (band of their generation they may be), would hardly be getting regular airtime on Radio 1.

“Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On continues to sound ridiculously fresh”

At the other end of the spectrum, to artists who were very much gracing the airwaves: Pharrell Williams-led N.E.R.D. released their debut album, In Search Of…; and Missy Elliott was tearing things up with Miss E… So Addictive. The latter album’s single, Get Ur Freak On, which peaked at number four in the UK charts, continues to sound ridiculously fresh to this day. The story of the year, though – at least among me and my peers – was the arrival of the ‘The’ bands. The Strokes lead the way, landing with hooks-laden Is This It. Recalling a golden age of American garage rock, their debut referenced everyone from the Velvet Underground to the Modern Lovers and much besides. I was briefly deeply cynical of them; and, sure, there seemed little originality on show, but The Strokes proved irresistible and get me on my feet to this day.

From the perspective of a post-9/11 New York, theirs was a sound – and look (ironic, effortless, sexy, thrift-store chic) – that breathed new life into the by now staid indie-rock. Their rise part-inspired and is documented in music journalist Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001–2011. (Appropriately, the book is named for the Strokes’ song of the same name from their 2003 album Room on Fire.) The band signed with Rough Trade, and in-turn rejuvenated the UK’s music scene; it’s no exaggeration to say that their success paved the way for a bunch of bands, including the likes of Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem, to name but three. Label-mates The Moldy Peaches regularly joined The Strokes on tour, and 2001 saw the release of their own – ramshackle but entirely loveable – eponymous debut.

It wasn’t all about The Strokes. Formed in Detroit in 1997, Jack and Meg White’s The White Stripes were every bit as quintessential to 2001’s sound, with their Delta blues-updated, pared-back sound championed by critics. That July saw the release of their third album, White Blood Cells, their last release with indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry. Featuring tracks like Hotel Yorba and Fell in love with a girl, it brought commercial success to go with blanket music press acclaim. That same month, label-mates The Von Bondies released debut album, Lack of Communication. Produced by Jack White, it’s a brilliant, frequently cacophonous perfect storm of rock influences and a somewhat overlooked classic of that year’s vintage. (It wasn’t all rosy – just a couple of years later White, and Von Bondies’ leader Jason Stollsteimer, were involved in an altercation that would see the former charged with assault and the latter admitted to hospital.)

“2001’s sound wasn’t restricted to guitars – far from it”

Other noteworthy releases by guitar bands that year include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s debut B.R.M.C.; The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World; Wonderland, by The Charlatans; and veterans New Order, whose Get Ready was the band’s first album in eight years. Honourable mentions also go to Andrew WK (I Get Wet), and the polar opposite verging on twee Norwegian duo, Kings Of Convenience, with their aptly named Quiet Is The New Loud. 2001’s sound wasn’t restricted to guitars – far from it. Electronic discotheque floor thumpers were brought to us by a wave of acts treading new ground in the cross-over stakes. They included (but weren’t limited to) Daft Punk’s Discovery – an about face of a follow up to 1997’s Homework. Back to NYC, and electroclash duo Fischerspooner dropped #1; ‘two-headed Norwegian monster’ Röyksopp, meanwhile, delivered their universally acclaimed debut Melody A.M.; Domino put out Four Tet’s Pause; and Aphex Twin unleashed drukQs.

So far, with some notable exceptions, so largely international – a kicking back against the so-called ‘Cool Britannia’ of the previous decade, perhaps. But, emerging from Liverpool’s shores came Ladytron, whose 604 announced a fully-formed band fed on a diet of shoegaze, Bowie, and Kraftwerk filtered through the lens of the new millennium.

I’m sure I’ve missed some stuff out, maybe your favourite record by your favourite band that year (sorry). Sat writing this two decades on, though, it’s reassuring to listen back and hear that this lot more than stands up, and still get the juices flowing. We won’t be going out dancing to them any time soon, of course – more’s the pity – but we can sit (the more energetic of us can maybe jig around our front rooms) and raise a glass to these records’ birthdays.

Mike Pinnington

Images: The Strokes, top, photograph by Colin Lane; home page, photograph by Leslie Lyons

Posted on 24/02/2021 by thedoublenegative