College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 2 and 1

weezer
2. Weezer, Weezer

Unlikely as it may have seemed that a band that had only released their debut album seven years earlier was in dire need of a comeback, that was exactly the situation Weezer was in when they released their third album in late spring of 2001. Following a surprising smash with the oddball pop of their self-titled debut in 1994, Weezer’s sophomore effort, 1996’s Pinkerton was widely seen as a failure, although admiration for the record has swelled in the years since. Rivers Cuomo, the main creative force behind the band, put Weezer on hiatus while he toyed around with other pursuits, including an attempt at completing his degree at Harvard. When he decided to record under the Weezer name once again, there seemed to be a clear and concerted attempt to duplicate the success of the earliest release, right down to once again titling the album with nothing more than the name of the band and making the cover a simple picture of the group against a solid background color. The lead single absolutely clamored to college radio airplay, its name blatantly tapping into the easy, somewhat obnoxious rebellion that comes from playing something sort of naughty on the air. I have a feeling that the band also benefited from the lengthy layoff because the kids now programming college stations didn’t remember being disappointed by Pinkerton, but instead undoubtedly viewed Weezer, whose insanely catchy “Buddy Holly” was ubiquitous at just the time they were entering their teenage years, as one of their key gateway bands to the sort of music they now lived by as young adults. Maybe I’m just grasping at weak theories here, but that explanation makes more sense to me than college programmers actually liking this mediocre album enough for it to earn the year’s runner-up spot.

ancient
1. Built to Spill, Ancient Melodies of the Future

As I’ve already mentioned many times over while tracking through these fifty albums, getting reacquainted with college radio in 2001 was especially fascinating for me because I was able to see how much the musical landscape had changed in the years–spanning less than a decade’s worth of time–since I could honestly refer to myself as a college broadcaster. Many of the titans from my day were afforded little more than cursory, respectful attention (appropriately so, since it was probably true that their most vital days were clearly behind them) and bands that were just starting to announce themselves in the early nineteen-nineties were now the powerhouses. There’s perhaps no novel insight in that observation–so things change as time passes, how interesting!–but it also helped me to put some needed distance between my new and former role. Few things could make that clearer than Built to Spill absolutely dominating the college charts with their fifth album, Ancient Melodies of the Future. I think it’s a solid enough album, though certainly not on par with the trio of masterful records that preceded it (at it’s best, I will concede, that it’s pretty wonderful). But, in way that I recognized, the quality of that individual album wasn’t necessarily the whole point. It was equally important that this was a band that belonged to them, the kids programming college radio at that point in time. They’d made Keep it Like a Secret a major success just two years earlier, and now their band was arriving again with new music that may not have been transformative but sounded unmistakably like Built to Spill, in much the same way that my friends and I had played R.E.M.’s Out of Time or the Replacements’ Don’t Tell a Soul knowing deep down that these released didn’t represent peaks for the bands in question. Far from it, in fact. But they were albums from favorite artists that were there for us, sometimes feeling, against all available evidence, like these works were for us only. It was nice to know that there endured a sense of familial affection for favored bands among college radio kids. That the bands were different than the ones that once belonged to me somehow made it all the better.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise
10 and 9: Death Cab For Cutie and Gorillaz
8 and 7: Jimmy Eat World and Björk
6 and 5: Stereolab and Guided by Voices
4 and 3: Stephen Malkmus and Radiohead

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