2002 – A Hella Good year for music?

This week, BBC 6 music is a decade old, a fine landmark for a station which almost didn’t make it this far. Thanks to the efforts of listeners and well-wishers, it was saved from the chop, and thank heavens. The station’s birthday celebrations have kicked off in earnest this week and, as these things tend to do, made me look back at the year that was.

2002 was a year that promised so much. Without trying to be melodramatic, I think of it as the year that saved music.

The period from 1998-2001 was, in my humble but strong opinion, the absolute worst time for popular music since it began. I look back at the conveyor belt of rubbish that came along, and break out in cold shudders. Of course there was decent stuff in amongst it, but if you consider that it was an era where supposedly cool people turned to David Gray, Macy Gray and Travis, while Red Hot Chili Peppers became one of the biggest bands in the world, it all looked relentlessly dire. Groups like Muse, The Strokes and even The Hives were touted as greatness when, in fact, it all sounded like laughable mediocrity to these ears. What underground scene their was didn’t seem to be producing anything inspiring, never mind groundbreaking. As someone who’d always spent a great deal of my income on music, I didn’t know where to turn.

We even ended up with Damien Rice, the pustular cherry on the cake of affected, uninspired acoustic misery. As a result, here in Ireland, it seemed any middle-class kid could apparently pick up a guitar, put on a woe-is-me countenance, rhyme ‘tomorrow’ with ‘sorrow’ and put out an album of whingeing dirges, almost at will.  So long as you name-checked a few dead singer-songwriters, this act would guarantee slavering adoration and much hyperbole from an audience of chin strokers and swooning young females alike.

Music was being cheapened beyond all previous experience.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when, in 2002, things seemed, to my way of thinking, take a turn for the better. There seemed, during the summer months in particular, to come a succession of lively, memorable, catchy tunes from interesting acts, who made me start buying singles again after a couple of years of not bothering.  Looking back at the list of favourites now, it’s clear that few if any were ‘groundbreaking’, or consistent, or necessarily successful but they do remind me that there were some pretty good acts and records around that year.

And, as I recall 2002 being a pretty miserable year, mainly professionally, it’s quite nice that popular music came to the rescue, as it has always done. As did some unforgettable friends.  Here’s my best memories of that pop year – I think, at some point, I probably said of all of these songs: “I wish I’d written that…”

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