The Triumph of Sad Guitar Boys

The Year in Music

The Triumph of Sad Guitar Boys

The Year in Music

The Triumph of Sad Guitar Boys
The year on rewind.
Dec. 15 2003 12:16 PM

The Year in Music

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Hey Sasha, hey Keith—

I love the "Night Before Christmas" remix. Deck the halls, from the windows to the walls!

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I don't know about you guys, but I heard a load of excellent music this year. In fact, I bet it was the first year in ages—since 1999, maybe?—that I got crazier in love with new music than old music. Hot young guitar bands were popping up everywhere. The Strokes are fun. The White Stripes are fun. The Kills, the Thrills, the Stills? Fun. The Darkness? The most fun you can have with your pants on, even though the Darkness probably don't have their pants on. The Electrix Six? More fun than a fire at the Taco Bell. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Fever To Tell and the White Stripes' Elephant were my favorite records this year, two slabs of demented rock 'n' roll sexual obsession with cheap guitar kicks and desperately lustful singers and drummers going faster miles an hour.

It was a great year for indie-rock albums by sad guitar boys. My iPod right now is blasting British Sea Power's "Remember Me," from their debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power. I can't wait to see them live. Supposedly they build a forest onstage and wear World War I uniforms, which I'm sure is symbolic of something. Another one of my favorite sad-guitar-boy records is the brand new Death Cab for Cutie album, Transatlanticism. I always liked them before but never crossed over the line into totally loving them the way I do now. The day before Thanksgiving, I rode up to Boston on Amtrak, and I spent the whole ride, four hours, just playing those two Death Cab songs "Tiny Vessels" and "Transatlanticism" over and over. I loved Nada Surf'sLet Go, the New Pornographers'Electric Version, Longwave'sThe Strangest Things, the Stratford 4'sLove and Distortion—and I'm still not burned out on Stephen Malkmus'Pig Lib even though I've been playing it constantly for over a year now. I hate the title, and the album cover, but I'm just a sucker for "Vanessa From Queens."

You could complain, as Robert Christgau just did in the Village Voice, that all these hot indie bands aren't trying hard enough to cross over to the mainstream. But the problem is there's no mainstream left for them to cross over to—what are they gonna do, get played on 120 Minutes? The radio and MTV have long since given up on the idea of non-metal rock, and so there's no musical or cultural percentage in striving for a mainstream non-metal hit. For these bands, the only hope of meaning something culturally is just to go for what they know musically, and while that's sad, it would be a lot sadder to see them flame out in a conformist mainstream move the way poor Liz Phair did. And what do you know—the Strokes and the Stripes made it into the top 10 anyway. Their albums debuted at No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, while Korn debuted at No. 22. The kids know where it's at!

Commercial mainstream rock these days is hopeless, just hopeless. Evanescence is more fun than Linkin Park, but so is waiting in line at the DMV, and if Brody Dalle is really the next Courtney, why isn't Tim Armstrong dead yet? Hip-hop had another off year, but at least there were two excellent jump-rope songs: Missy Elliott's "Pass That Dutch" and Lil Jon's "Get Low." I loved the OutKast and 50 Cent songs, too. Pop music was still too tinny and snivelly. And Fred Durst's version of "Behind Blue Eyes" was a festering puddle of Chihuahua vomit.

Justin is just Rick Astley in a trucker hat. Am I wrong? Please, for the love of God, prove me wrong.

Free Adam Ant,
Rob

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.