What was most disappointing about music in 2000: that only a baby's handful of albums really mattered, or that that baby's not-too-much-older sibling was commanding the industry? It didn't matter if the kids consuming the music were acting on their best behavior and setting sales records by gobbling up over two million copies of 'N Sync's No Strings Attached in its first week of release, or behaving badly, allowing moron rape-rock bands such as Disturbed and Papa Roach to prosper. In the end, it all pretty much sucked. The list of the year's worst records is made up of CDs that most people heard. There were thousands of other dreadful albums released, but besides family and really close, tolerant friends, no one listened. These, unfortunately, found an audience. At least the top four on the best-of list will still sound relevant a decade from now. And the top four on the other list? Well, they'll still suck and end up more representative of the first year of the new millennium than anything else.
1. OutKast: Stankonia (LaFace/Arista) -- Dre and Big Boi borrowed the mothership for a spin or two around the universe, and they returned it in pretty good shape. As the two Atliens zoomed into space in their superfunkyrocketship, they checked out their neighborhood, their country, and their planet from the awesome view. And they saw that it could be better. There's more bounce to the ounce and hip-hop hooray here than in the entire No Limit and Cash Money catalogs combined.
2. U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope) -- Take away The Joshua Tree's significance and the entire '90s, and U2's return to rock and roll sounds pretty familiar. Add some big guitars and even bigger words, and it sounds pretty damn good. Bono decided he doesn't want to save the world anymore; he just wants to sprinkle pocketbook-sized homilies onto it and hope it grows into something he can be proud of.
3. D'Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin) -- There isn't one groove here that doesn't sound as if it originated with a joint and the bass player fucking around with his instrument. D'Angelo holds it all together by creating a mood entirely out of mood itself. This isn't music; this is a place to be. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find the spiritual center of this album, which sounds something like the Prince of Darkness being baptized by D'Angelo's musical fire.
4. Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol) -- Part hype, part oddball space opera, this overly ambitious, tuneless new-millennium prog-rock masterpiece is every bit as infuriating as all that implies. It's also a stunning, beautiful, and complex work, and cheers to Radiohead for having the courage to even mount such a project. Give it the time, space, and attention it needs, and you'll realize just how much we needed this.
5. Wyclef Jean: The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book (Columbia) -- Wyclef's carnival/fun cruise never has a chance to bore us, because it never stays in one place long enough to make anything more than the slightest impression. Like a madman zipping through his car radio stations, Wyclef can't decide if he likes the station playing rock, pop, rap, or jazz. So he plays a little radio roulette, spinning the dial and praying for a winner. Cultural hopping at its funniest.
6. Patti Smith: Gung Ho (Arista) -- More edgy, literate rock and roll about the dead people in her life from someone who was one somber chick to begin with. This particular time around, she confronts the ghost of her father and sees a little bit of herself in the reflection she eventually finds. Haunting, lyrical, and just a little bit uplifting.
7. PJ Harvey: Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) -- This is Polly Jean's fun album, which means the moody duet with Thom Yorke, the introspective ditties, and the eventual realization that things are just OK matters most in retrospect. Peace, love, and understanding from bipolar coasts and a singular mind.
8. Magnolia: Music From the Motion Picture (Reprise) -- Aimee Mann's soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson's Altmanesque film is just as important to its narrative as its actors are. It's a credit to her strong songwriting that these songs -- which are gathered from numerous sources (including a once-aborted album and B-sides) -- fall together into so sublime a piece.
9. Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador) -- Domestic bliss never sounded like such a downer before and, ultimately, so carelessly therapeutic. Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley's heart play drips with atmosphere. And if it sounds like a head-clearing car ride home after a long, self-searching night, it's served its purpose.
10. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath Ent./Interscope) -- Women and gays hate Eminem/Slim Shady, walking around, dissing you-know-who. Yeah, but he's sold tons of records, and he's probably got a couple of screws loose up in his head. Shock theater as musical art.
1. The Bloodhound Gang: Hooray for Boobies (Geffen) -- The title alone should be a sign. If not, consider this: songs about porn stars, masturbation, fornication, and oral sex, all over cheesy synth rhythms Haysi Fantayzee would have found amateurish. Factor in leader Jimmy Pop's (over)use of similes as his sole songwriting device, and you have an album even a 12-year-old would find obnoxious, unfunny, and way too obvious.
2. Various Artists: Coyote Ugly (Curb) -- The draw to this all-over-the-place, platinum-selling soundtrack must be the four new LeAnn Rimes songs that open the album. Unless, of course, you're really intrigued by the mix of moldy oldies (Don Henley, EMF, Snap, INXS, Charlie Daniels Band) and no-name newcomers (Rare Blend, Tamara Walker, Mary Griffin).
3. Godsmack: Awake (Republic/Universal) -- Pity the poor guys of Godsmack. They're so "sick of life," as one of the better tracks on this truly awful record is called, they can't even enjoy their Top 10 album position or the oodles of airplay they receive on rock radio. So despondent are they, song titles barely muster enough energy to make it beyond one word.
4. 98 Degrees: Revelation (Universal) -- The lamest and buffest of the boy bands give the kids exactly what they want on Revelation: ultra-tight harmonies, extra-glossy production, and squeal-inducing songs about love and other such sticky-sweet topics. And on the album's lead single, "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)," they even lay down some of that Latin pop everyone's been talking about.
5. Kid Rock: The History of Rock (Lava/Atlantic) -- Too busy living the pimp lifestyle to make a new record, Rock raids the vaults for this embarrassingly bad survey of how he spent the '90s. Anyone who remembers his Vanilla Ice flattop and vulgar, robotic rhymes will smirk over his rap-metal makeover; newcomers will just wonder what all the fuss is about.
6. 'N Sync: No Strings Attached (Jive) -- Demanding and wrestling control back from the mad scientists who invented them in a lab someplace in the scary South, the goofiest-looking boy band in the world plots world domination by conning little girls into thinking '80s synth beats and '30s harmonies are the keys to the 21st century. It's soul music without soul and pop without sizzle.
7. Spice Girls: Forever (Virgin) -- The gals comb the shelves for hotshot producers, state-of-the-art sound, and much-needed relevance. All they come up with is a flaccid attempt to sound current . . . and an album that sounds like dozens of others out there propelled by hotshot producers, state-of-the-art sound, and a desire to sound pertinent.
8. Limp Bizkit: Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (Interscope) -- In which Fred Durst wants to know why everyone wants to bring him down. In which he leads the Bizkit through a whinefest like you've never before heard. In which the new millennium's most annoying rock star ups his irritation factor by putting on the Fred Durst show and then having the balls to bitch at everybody for showing up.
9. Papa Roach: Infest (DreamWorks) -- More angsty young kids writing more angsty fast songs. At least there's some good old-fashioned crunch to some of the tunes this California rap-metal quartet lays down ("Last Resort" drills itself into your skull and clings to whatever it finds in there). But you've heard all this before from many other Korn Bizkit imitators; Papa Roach is simply along for the ride.
10. Various Artists: Music From and Inspired by Mission Impossible: 2 (Hollywood) -- Your mission: to find a worthwhile song on this mishmash of a soundtrack. Limp Bizkit gives the familiar title tune a wild new spin, and Metallica's bone-crushing "I Disappear" fits into the film's all-action, all-the-time theme. But what's up with the Foo Fighters and Brian May tackling Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar"? Impossible? Nah, just insipid.