In honor of the 20ish anniversary of this blip of a genre, I will be posting a long, personal, rambling series of essays. Some will have stats, most will be very scatterbrained, all will be disputable about one of my favorite genres that may not have been a genre at all.
Check out prior posts here, and now… this!
Every legitimate scientific study must set controls. A baseline, where we can measure our results against those things. I’m doing it semi-scientifically by trying to define some Bests of the Garage Rock Revival.
Having put a little personal study into this, gathering data from a few different sources and generally keeping my ear out to the zeitgeist, I think I’d break it out this way:
The highest point culturally was the Strokes’ 2001 “Is This It.” It was the one everyone bought, and generally everyone enjoyed. I hesitate to say it’s the best album, only because there might be some debate there with the next band to be mentioned, but when we think of Garage Rock Revival, we think of this album. Less the band and more the album itself. This truly was it.
The best group was the White Stripes. Also the best catalog. Somehow, despite having a better, more consistent output for their entire career, the Stripes’ highpoint (either “White Blood Cells” or “Elephant”) did not leave as large a footprint as “Is This It.” It’s a total Blur-vs.-Oasis situation: while one (Blur) put out more reliably good music, the heights reached by the other (Oasis) were just too high to be beaten (see also “Star Trek” vs. “Star Wars”).
The Best Live Performers: the Hives. It was, is, remains and always will be. While their studio work didn’t get quite as much love as the other two bands mentioned (culturally, mind you; not from me — I’ll talk anyone’s ears off about them; one might even posit that’s what I’m doing here, but forcing a “Best Live Performers” qualification into this list, just to give the Swedes a trophy… anyway….), the albums almost seemed like an excuse to generate more material to perform live. I’ve put this to the test, as a matter of fact. I saw them and the White Stripes twice, and while I enjoyed the White Stripes’ performances very much (particularly since it took place during their “Elephant” tour — the pinnacle of Stripeyness), there’s no contest here. The Hives, every time.
The Best In One Shot: “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You can go read a lot about this song, it was huge and all that, so I’m not going to break any new ground. It might get a boost in these arbitrary rankings for how much it stands out from the pack (female singer, slower tempo, etc.), but I think it just might be THE song, in a way. It sounds like it was made in a garage, or close to one, but it also feels like an elevation of everything around it. Art house while being rock. Punk while being sweet-ish. Bitter while being tender while being optimistic while being realistic.
OK, I guess I wrote too much about it again.
The Best Album Cover: The White Stripes’ “Elephant.” The Stripes always worked in a limited color scheme, but something about this presentation — with the cowboy fringe, the spotlight, that dress — all clicks. “White Blood Cells” is cool but a little too busy (I’ve always loved how it has a kind of punchline with its flip-side cover, but I cannot count that here), and later Stripes albums would push a bit too hard into the cowboy-spotlight-lacey dress angle. But this one… maybe it’s even the fact that it has them farther back? It’s great.
The Best Album CoverS: The Kills. In this regard, the White Stripes (formerly the Blur/“Star Trek” to the Strokes’ Oasis/“Star Wars”) are now Oasis/“Star Wars” to the Kills’ Blur/“Star Trek,” and if you can follow that, then you’ll surely agree with me. The Kills didn’t manage to make as big a splash as the White Stripes, and that splash certainly helps the placement of a great album cover (it can, by the way; I’ve come to believe that all of the album covers we think of as “great” have more to do with our feelings about the music inside of them), but the Kills’ first three or four albums all have fantastic covers. From their arrest records and fingerprints…
…to the photo booth gone mad…
…to a crowded bed…
…to that weird ghostly back seat photo…
…there’s something about these covers that I feel epitomizes the genre (again if it even is a genre). No other band made covers as compelling, interesting or just plain cool.
That’s it for now. Come back for more, yeah?