Graham’s soundtrack to 2000

Disc 1

1 Yo La Tengo – Everyday
2 Dark Star – Graceadelica
3 Babybird – The F-Word
4 Primal Scream – Accelerator
5 The Dandy Warhols – Get Off
6 Blur – Music Is My Radar
7 Saint Etienne – Heart Failed (In The Back Of A Taxi)
8 The Fall – Behind The Counter
9 Underworld – 8 Ball
10 The Magnetic Fields – All My Little Words
11 Eels – Packing Blankets
12 Grandaddy – Jed The Humanoid
13 Doves – The Cedar Room
14 Everclear – Wonderful
15 Richard Ashcroft – C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)
16 Filter – Take A Picture
17 Radiohead – The National Anthem

Disc 2

1 Lambchop – Up With People
2 Doves – Here It Comes
3 Travis – Coming Around
4 Badly Drawn Boy – Another Pearl
5 PJ Harvey – Big Exit
6 Asian Dub Foundation – Real Great Britain
7 Elastica feat Mark E Smith – How He Wrote Elastica Man
8 Phish – Heavy Things
9 Radiohead – Idioteque
10 The Fall – Cyber Insekt
11 Saint Etienne – How We Used To Live
12 The Smashing Pumpkins – With Every Light
13 REM – The Great Beyond
14 All Saints – Pure Shores
15 Oasis – Go Let It Out
16 Primal Scream – Shoot Speed Kill Light
17 David Gray – Say Hello Wave Goodbye

“This is a call / A call to all / It goes out to those who’ve been bad”

The passing of time adds context to events in your life, and you realise that what seemed like a big deal at the time really isn’t. But I was pretty miserable at the start of the year 2000; I didn’t get invited back to Camp Thunderbird, all of my friends at home had gone off to university, and the new life I’d been trying to create for myself abroad had been ripped away. My first job of the year had been working long hours in a factory checking the barcodes on lipstick products (I lasted two-and-a-half days before quitting), and while I decided to enter myself back into the selection process for finding a new camp to work at, the one that offered me a job ended up withdrawing it a couple of weeks later, leaving me with an alternative option from the dregs of what was left. And in the meantime, while I was working out in one part of America at a struggling camp where I didn’t really want to be, my family had booked a holiday where I thought I’d be ending up, anticipating that I would be working there. Over a decade on, it feels far less of a big deal (don’t you know there are kids starving in Africa? etc), but at 21 it was a lot of disappointment to take in one go.

It’s probably as a result of some of the bad memories that I’ve always been a bit down on the Soundtrack to 2000. It was always one of my least favourite of the lot (only 2001 I thought was worse). Part of that was down to the downbeat, melancholy and downwhat lightweight music all over the place, particularly on disc 1, and to the fact that I’d made a balls-up of the running order to scare people off.

It’s time for a reassessment. I listened through the 2000 soundtrack front-to-back for the first time in years today, and it’s a lot better than I give it credit for. Though I can’t dispute that the songs I chose are some of the most dejected and gloomy music I’ve ever put in one place, there’s literally so much of that stuff here that it actually hangs together really well as a ‘proper album’ (with one exception that I’ll come to later).

And anyway, my quibble over the running order really hangs on the choice of opening song. In previous years, I’d gone for bombast up front to hook people in – The Verve, The Dandy Warhols and The Charlatans. No definitive article with Yo La Tengo – and certainly none of the bombast. Yo La Tengo have gone on to become one of my favourite bands, mostly down to their extraordinary consistency over a long career that continues to this day. I bought their album And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out off the back of the NME giving it nine out of ten, and I quickly fell in love with it – even if much of it was out of step with the rest of their output that I would discover much later. And the track that would lead off the album would be a six-minute minimal dirge featuring little more than a couple of stretched-out chords, a repetitive rumble of muffled percussion and a bassline making its meandering way up and down its scale. ‘Everyday’ had sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. For some reason, I thought it would be a fantastic idea to put it as disc 1, track 1. And for years afterwards, I cursed that decision. But really, it was perfect – if the job of a mixtape’s first track is to put the mind of the listener into the creator’s world, or to set a scene, then I couldn’t really have picked much better. It screams, “the next two-and-a-half hours are not going to be a barrel of laughs”.

Following that, we get a trio of songs that are of the type that I would more typically put early on. The shortlived psych band Dark Star should not be confused with the band currently trading by that name. This is the only track I own by them – the BBC Evening Session version of ‘Graceadelica’, all phased guitar and absurdly brilliant drum pattern. It still sounds great. Then we’ve got ‘The F Word’ by Babybird. It’s better known now as the theme tune to Gordon Ramsay’s cookery show of the same name that came later, but it shows that Stephen Jones had a range of songwriting that he wasn’t always given credit for. And after that, we have the Kevin Shields-assisted squall of ‘Accelerator’, from Primal Scream’s last truly great album XTRMNTR.

The Dandy Warhols show a change of direction with countrified stomp ‘Get Off’, a single from an album that I wouldn’t pick up for another couple of years (which is a shame, as it was really quite good, beyond the help it got from Vodafone adverts). Blur did a one-off single for their greatest hits compilation, ‘Music Is My Radar’, which listening back to now sounds like one of their weediest efforts. Not really a fan.

What I most definitely was becoming a fan of was The Fall, and having fallen in love with ‘Touch Sensitive’ a year previously, it was time to discover a bit more of their back catalogue – and with perfect timing, a 1990s-spanning collection of their work came out around then. ‘Behind The Counter’ is lifted from it – I’ve long imagined the song, with its whistle at the beginning and its shambolic-sounding stomp, as a sort of alternative Match Of The Day theme – it conjures up the images of going to a football match sometime in the early ’80s, without the hooliganism.

‘Behind The Counter’ breaks up 45 minutes or so of what is otherwise pretty glum, dispirited music. Saint Etienne are usually associated with breezy pop, but there’s not much evidence of it in ‘Heart Failed (In The Back Of A Taxi). Likewise, Underworld were better known for clattering beats, but you wouldn’t get that impression from ‘8 Ball’, their contribution to the soundtrack to the Danny Boyle film The Beach. My own personal memory of listening to these nine pleasant minutes of noodling was from waiting for a Central line train at Stratford station – mostly because of the ‘waiting for a train’ line at its end. Hmm – Danny Boyle, Underworld and me being in Stratford. Little would I know how those elements would all collide over a decade later…

Then the ‘suite of sad’ really gets into full gear. ‘All My Little Words’ is a beautiful little paean to lost love from Stephin Merritt’s magnum opus, 69 Love Songs (an album that overall, despite its sacred status in indie circles, I don’t really rate that much). Then it’s the two minutes of Eels’ ‘Packing Blankets’, from an album about moving on following the deaths of his relatives. And we’ve got the almost cruelly sad centrepiece of Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump album, ‘Jed The Humanoid’, about the robot that is built to great fanfare by a group of scientists before being discarded in favour of new technology and then drinking himself to death. Not pleasant, but certainly beautiful (and having been cast aside from summer camp pretty ruthlessly after being briefly flavour of the month, I could relate just a tiny bit, although I never took to the booze). It’s hardly surprising given how bummed out I was at the time that I would take to a band whose backstory would be fascinatingly bleak, and so the emergence of Doves – out of the ashes of dance act Sub Sub – could have been almost tailor-made to appeal to me, and the widescreen miserablism of the seven-minute single ‘The Cedar Room’ was my favourite song of the year.

My job at Camp Henry Horner – the camp I would end up working at that summer – partly involved driving a minibus round, picking kids up and dropping them off from their homes. This meant I listened to a whole lot of US chart radio at the time, partly because I had no choice in the matter, as the buses didn’t have CD/cassette slots and it was back in the day before iPods. So I got submitted to a whole load of crap, but I included a couple of the better tracks here as a memory of the time. Everclear’s ‘Wonderful’ sounds pretty rotten now, but it was one of the best of a bad bunch along with Filter’s ‘Take A Picture’, which is a bit better. Breaking these two songs up is ‘C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now)’ by Richard Ashcroft. The most credit I can give this is that it’s the least worst song on his debut solo album, a cautionary tale that domestic bliss can soften your edge and produce some of blandest music of the age.

And finally, we come to the track that without question is badly placed in the running order. Radiohead’s Kid A is one of the great artistic statements of its age, and still my favourite album of the 2000s (yeah, if we define 2000 as the first year of the decade, and seemingly most people do). And among its many highlights is The National Anthem, a monster of a track ending with a brass cacaphony that startles as much now as it did at releasetime. But the problem with extracting tracks from Kid A to put in a mixtape is that Kid A is such a hermetically sealed pleasure, a 45-minute piece of mood music, that to take tracks from it is to lose its context – you can see why Radiohead released no singles from it. Here, as good as The National Anthem is, the effect of putting it last on disc 1 is that it jars so much with what came before, like ending a polite dinner party with a nuclear explosion. So yeah, maybe my running order was flawed on this disc, but the problem was with the end, not the beginning.

Overall though, listening back on this disc proved far more enjoyable than I was anticipating. Having seemingly dumped all the sad stuff on disc 1, disc 2 is left a little bit lighter.

We start off with a track from a band I discovered in a big way in 2000. Again, I have the NME to thank for discovering a band – it wouldn’t be long until I lost trust in them (around the time they started plugging the Vines, I think) – but the magazine’s 9/10 review convinced me to buy Lambchop’s fifth album Nixon. I still adore this album – it walks the line perfectly between Nashville country and Curtis Mayfield-style soul, and is evocative of the American South that I’d just left behind, with its dusty porches and night-time crickets crawling. ‘Up With People’ was the well-received single and possibly the finest six minutes of a career that’s had its fair share of highlights (of which more to come in subsequent soundtracks).

Two more of my favourite albums from 2000 are plundered in the minutes following ‘Up With People’. Doves’ album Lost Souls got tagged with all the usual sobriquets for any decent indie debut LP of the time – ‘best debut since Definitely Maybe’, etc, etc – but it’s still an outstanding front-to-back listen, a peak they could keep up for another album before an element of diminishing returns kicked in. Much the same can be said of Badly Drawn Boy, whose debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast deservedly won the Mercury Prize – his purple patch continued through his underrated ‘About A Boy’ soundtrack before he dropped off markedly. Singles from both these albums are broken up by ‘Coming Around’, a non-album single by Travis, a band I was still a fan of at this point before belatedly realising they were a bit dull. ‘Coming Around’ is pleasant enough, even if it does sound a little bit similar to The La’s’ ‘There She Goes’ to these ears.

I started university in Brighton – after a three-year gap in education – in October of 2000, and two songs here remind me vividly of those early weeks in halls. Radiohead’s Kid A came out the very day I started uni, and I remember walking straight from my course enrolment to the local Sainsbury’s to buy it. As mentioned in the last blog post, it’s 1) my favourite album of all time and 2) picking songs off it to put on a compilation lessens the impact of the songs themselves, but bloody hell, ‘Idioteque’ is still an outstanding track. Also reminiscent of my early uni days is PJ Harvey’s Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea LP. It would win the Mercury Prize the year after Badly Drawn Boy (memorably awarded on September 11, 2001, for an album all about New York City), and it’s still a remarkable artifact of its time. ‘Big Exit’ is not my favourite song from the album a decade on – that accolade probably goes to the brooding ‘One Line’ – but it categorically contains my favourite vocal performances. Polly Harvey is my favourite female vocalist for a reason – she can pull off just about anything from a whisper to a coo to a high wail – but here, she is in full-on Bellowing Garage Rock Goddess mode, and all the better for it.

Mark E Smith is possibly my favourite male singer, precisely because he is a non-singer. I would love to hear what Jessie J and will.i.am would make of him on The Voice. He gets two appearances here, one leading The Fall on demented rockabilly track ‘Cyber Insekt’ and again as a guest on Elastica’s short, punchy comeback single (written as a tribute to The Fall) after five years away. Also on the first half of disc 2, you get Asian Dub Foundation’s state-of-the-nation rant ‘Real Great Britain’, with dated references to the Millennium Dome and prophetic references to Rupert Murdoch. And there’s also ‘Heavy Things’ by Vermont jam-rockers Phish, who like contemporaries Widespread Panic around the turn of the century, eased off on the noodling and wrote an album of pop songs instead. My friend Cameron was playing this to death when I went to visit her in Auburn University towards the end of my summer away.

So that’s the first half. ‘Side two’, if there could be such a thing on a CD, plays a bit more like a 40-minute slow-building suite of songs, showing that I hadn’t made a total hash of the running order at all. Kicking off is Saint Etienne’s nine-minute, three-part single (yes, single), ‘How We Used To Live’. While the name of the track conjures up memories of the children’s education programme I watched at primary school, the track itself is much more forward-thinking, effortlessly ‘sailing away’ from delicate ballad to anthemic pop to lounge jazz. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste – its parent album Sound Of Water described rather accurately by Pitchfork (when reviewing its follow-up) as ‘the sort of record one’s glad a band does, but are sort of worried they’d keep doing’ – but I, for one, am really happy they got this out of their system.

You could make a pretty good argument for all of the artists appearing on the second half of this record being in decline by the time 2000 came around. I’d make an exception for Saint Etienne, even if their chart heyday belonged to the 20th century, but Billy Corgan’s time had come and gone for sure, and the Smashing Pumpkins’ MACHINA/The Machines Of God album was every bit as pompous and overblown as its title suggests – the Pumpkins being the sort of band that could get away with a pompous artistic statement once, but not repeatedly. However, tucked away towards the conclusion of MACHINA is a beautiful, Bacharach-style ballad, ‘With Every Light’ – indisputably Corgan’s last great song. He’s still plodding along alongside some anonymous musicians as the Pumpkins even now – he should have quit straight after ‘With Every Light’.

Perhaps REM’s decline, as an even more beloved band of the previous 20 years, was even more painful, but at the time, ‘The Great Beyond’ was received as a return to the prime-time REM of the Out Of Time / Automatic For The People era after half a decade pottering around at the relative margins. Alas, said ‘return to form’ turned out to be a red herring, as they began to look like a band chasing the mainstream rather than leading it.

‘The Great Beyond’ came from the soundtrack to the Andy Kaufman biopic ‘Man On The Moon’, and it’s followed by another film soundtrack pilfering. All Saints were supposed to be the cool, urbane counterbalance to the Spice Girls, but they completely lacked charisma, or indeed any tunes – at least until William Orbit got involved. To all intents and purposes, ‘The Beach’ soundtrack’s main single ‘Pure Shores’ is an Orbit track with All Saints guesting on it. It still sounds pretty damn good today.

Then we’ve got a track you probably wouldn’t expect me to love. Oasis were a busted flush after Be Here Now, but they did give us ‘Go Let It Out’ as their opening single. As with the Smashing Pumpkins, I think this is their last great song – sure, it rips off two different Beta Band songs and the organ line from ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, and Noel is back lifting lyrics wholesale from old poems, but that build-up to the final chorus, climaxing with a blown whistle, is as euphoric a moment as Oasis ever produced. And perhaps proof that not everything I listened to in 2000 was miserable.

After hitting the peak of the mountain, we drift away into the sunset with the final track from Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR, ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’ (XTRMNTR proving rich pickings for my soundtracks – with a pre-album single making it onto both the 1998 and 1999 collections as well as the two across 2000). And after the noise fades away, it’s left with David Gray and his acoustic guitar to play us out with his cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’. Gray has said himself that he’s seen as a slight artist because of the mega-selling White Ladder album, and I haven’t heard enough of his other stuff to judge. But ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, as pleasant as it is, inadvertantly points to the MOR direction of my Soundtrack to 2001.

The 2001 soundtrack is my least favourite of all 16 years, and somehow over the next week I’ve got to motivate myself to listen to it again. Maybe it’ll sound better now. In the meantime, enjoy this one.

2000

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