Top Ten Albums of 2001

1. Bjork, Vespertine (WEA/Elektra)
I hold my breath whenever I play this album, gasping in the gaps between the silences, working hard to distinguish which sounds are my heartbeat, which sounds are head noises, and which sounds are coming from the disc. So beautiful it scares me silly sometimes, although I played “Undo” over and over in the days after September 11, because it was so beautiful that it scared me sane.

2. System of a Down, Toxicity (Sony/Columbia)
The most impressive, important metal album since, oh, well, probably since System of A Down’s eponymous debut record came out a few years ago. Anyone who could create something as technically intense as “Chop Suey!” and then get it onto pop radio is doing something really impressive–and it’s not even one of this album’s best songs.

3. Butthole Surfers, Weird Revolution (UNI/Surf Dog)
Beck-flavored, post-electronica sell out? Hell, no! Instead, the logical follow-on to a decade of electronic experimentation begun with the important and under-rated 1991 Jackofficers’ (an alter ego band) house elpee, Digital Dump. Scatology for the masses, wet and messy, badly influencing young people near you, very, very soon, like now.

4. Iggy Pop, Beat ’em Up (EMD/Virgin)
Forget Bob Dylan, will you? The best old-guy-making-important-music this year was Iggy Pop, hands down.

5. Mick Jagger, Goddess in the Doorway (EMD/Virgin)
Forget Bob Dylan, okay? The best old-guy-making-important-music this year was Mick Jagger, certainly.

6. New Order, Get Ready (WEA/Warner Bros.)
Forget Bob Dylan, alright already? The best old-guys-making-important-music this year were New Order, absolutely and for real. Not Bob Dylan. Really. Forget him now, please.

7. Marillion, Anoraknophobia (BMG/Sanctuary)
Smart and snappy pop that evokes Radiohead, I suppose–except that I like this, and I don’t like Radiohead. This is not your older brother’s Marillion.

8. Black Crowes, Lions (BMG/V2)
I suppose Kate Hudson can continue to live if she inspires her hubby and his brother to make records like this one. Just don’t let her make any more movies, okay?

9. Dredg, Leitmotif (UNI/Interscope)
Mysterious dudes make magnificent modern progressive rock music. Very crunchy, very engaging, like King Crimson with better vocals and occasional acoustic guitars and cellos. The kind of prog that can make you forget and forgive Rick Wakeman and his cape.

10. Clutch, Pure Rock Fury (WEA/Atlantic)
Truth in advertising lives, as this record’s title tells you just what you get when you slap it on the disc-go-round and push the “play” button. Hands up, who wants to rock?

Bob’s Mortality

It’s with an ennui-flavored sense of futility that I prepare my end-of-year “Best Of” lists for various publications, because I know when I actually pick up those publications, I’m gonna be seeing some bad caricature of Bob Dylan on the cover, since Love and Theft is going to be named the album of the year.

I mean, how can it not be, given that we critics, collectively, fell all over ourselves a couple of years back to award Dylan top honors for an album that couldn’t possibly have been anywhere near as good as Love and Theft? Or at least that the way it feels here on December 15, having spent the better part of the past three months wading through column after column and article after article of hyperbolic, hyperbaric raves for what Bob’s wrought this year, the best thing since whatever, the most important thing since that other thing, the end all and be all of all ends and bes, world without end, amen, amen.

Most of those articles make some point about how good Bob’s gotten again since his brush with death a few years ago, but I can’t shake this nagging suspicion that the critical accolades that Dylan’s been receiving over the past few years are generated less by his own feelings about his own mortality, but out of our collective critical feelings about Bob’s mortality. His swollen heart sac made us realize that, gosh, he could actually die at some point, and dammit, we’d better hurry up and be nice to him again while we’ve still got him.

It didn’t hurt the hype machines to have Love and Theft hitting the streets on September 11, either, speaking of mortality and a desire to return to a happier, earlier, younger time, and the sounds that marked that time in our hearts. And, sure, it’s easy to love Bob again, and it feels good to do it, and he sure is cute and lovable with that nifty new Vincent Price mustache and everything, but, really, and I do mean really . . . is this album as good as all that we’ve been saying about it?

Was there nothing better, fresher, more innovative, more important, more pleasant, more something this year? And if this exact record was issued by a second or third or seventh or ninth generation Dylan clone, would we like it as much? Nah . . . it’d be a pleasant enough 3.5 star (on a 5 star scale) record, enjoyable, nice enough, well crafted, with moments of magic here and there, but nothing to write home to the folks about, and nothing with which to decorate the cover of a magazine’s year-end issue. Lifetime achivement awards are fine. This is one of them. Let’s be honest about that, okay?