Top of the pops

A look at the year in hooks

It’s a good thing great pop music is no longer synonymous with commercial success, because this year’s CL Top 10 were nothing if not modest sellers. Here’s what should have ruled the charts in 2001:

Ryan Adams, Gold (Lost Highway). There was a time when the former Whiskeytown frontman borrowed too much and too often from his neo-honky-tonk forefathers (Gram Parsons et. al). But with Gold, Ryan Adams further abandons his past in favor of more straight-ahead rock, redefining alt-country for the tear-in-my-(imported)-beer set. Evidence of his pop prowess: The single “New York, New York” — along with its accompanying video — has become a bittersweet anthem in the wake of Sept. 11. (KY)

Beulah, The Coast Is Never Clear (Velocette). Hands down the best “classicist” pop album of the year. Musically Beulah evokes a seamless blend of Revolver, Pet Sounds, Forever Changes and the third Velvet Underground album. But beneath the sonic window dressing lays bleak reveries and alienated observations, imbuing the album with an emotional investment that elevates it above mere pastiche. (JR)

Clem Snide, Ghost of Fashion (SpinArt). Lazily described as Americana or alt-country, these smarty-pants New Jersey-ites dress up snappy lyrics (“The highway is a ribbon/Making a present of everything”) in everything from layered chamber pop to Neil Young-ish balladry. Careful listening reveals songs that, at first, appear jokey (“Joan Jett of Ark” may well be the song title of the year) but actually convey sincere and affecting sentiments. (JR)

Grant Lee Phillips, Mobilize (Zoe/Rounder). Trading in the layered Americana of Grant Lee Buffalo for lilting, electro-spiked guitar pop, Phillips proves that intelligent songwriting and formidable hooks needn’t be strangers. And as an added bonus, floating atop these great songs is one of the most beautifully expressive singing voices found anywhere in the biz. (JR)

R.E.M., Reveal (Warner Bros.). The breathless anticipation for Radiohead’s Amnesiac unjustly eclipsed this return-to-form release from the ever-dependable R.E.M. Content to whisper sweet somethings in your ear rather than scream for your attention, Reveal may be a bit too subtle for the times, but it is easily the band’s best effort in almost a decade. (JR)

The Shins, Oh, Inverted World (Sub Pop). Crazy, silly, cool (not to be confused with crazy, sexy, cool). That’s the only way to describe the neo-psychedelic clang concocted by this Albuquerque, N.M., outfit. With nods to everything from ’60s garage rock to Beach Boys, Ramones and early ’90s lo-fi, the Shins have created one of the weirdest, loudest and most pleasurable pop experiences of the year. (JR)

Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun (Fat Cat). Roughly translated, the title of Sigur Ros’ sophomore effort means “good start,” which, given the evidence, may well be one of the most needlessly humble understatements in recent memory. Agaetis Byrjun, soothes your post-millennial ills while embarking on a sonic exploration of uncharted territory. Best of all, you don’t even have to understand Icelandic to appreciate it. (JR)

The Strokes, Is This It? (RCA). With hooks as chewy as “Last Nite” and “The Modern Age,” who cares if the Strokes’ songs are as derivative as their sloppy haircuts and tight jeans? Is This It? is packed with as many frenetic three-minute pop songs as one quartet could dream up in a year. Only time will tell if these barely twentysomething Manhattanites have all but exhausted their talents on their first record. (KY)

Rufus Wainwright, Poses (DreamWorks). God bless this newfangled piano man and his singular, skewed vision. Building on the songwriting strengths of his underrated 1998 self-titled debut, Wainwright furthers his forays into melody (“California”) and melodrama (“The Consort”) with a 21st-century irony and vaudevillian comedic flair that make Poses one of the most consistently and wholly tuneful albums of the year. (KY)

Lucinda Williams, Essence. Ever notice how much hipper Lucinda Williams became once the rest of the world began to think she was hip too? This rugged Louisiana chick’s matter-of-fact tales of wisdom and woe gained critical mass as far back as her 1992 debut. But not until Essence did her brand of roots rock gel into manna of Stones-and-Dylan proportions. (KY)??