100 & Single: Considering The Album-Chart Class Of 9/11, 10 Years Later

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A king of hip-hop, retaking the penthouse of the album chart with his latest blockbuster.

A middle-of-the-road rock band, reviving a turn-of-the-'90s "alternative" sound that's now squarely mainstream.

A sexagenarian legend who debuted in the '60s and who still captures Boomers' hearts and CD-buying dollars.

And a younger, big-lunged diva, looking to continue her pop dominance after a notable MTV appearance and a blitz of multimedia omnipresence.

I could be describing some of the current inhabitants of the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart. If I were, they would be, respectively: rap king Lil Wayne, who debuted at No. 1 this week with nearly a million in sales; aging alt-funksters the Red Hot Chili Peppers, debuting right behind Wayne at No. 2; '60s ingénue turned veteran diva Barbra Streisand, at No. 9 in her third week in the winners' circle; and vocal powerhouse Adele, hanging in at No. 3 after a commanding MTV Video Music Awards performance that, just this week, sends her ballad "Someone Like You" to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

But I could also be describing four acts who, on this day a decade ago, dropped new, Top 10-destined albums: hip-hop king Jay-Z; lite-grunge revivalists Nickelback; reluctant '60s-generation spokesman Bob Dylan; and pop/MTV queen turned ill-fated actress Mariah Carey.

That day, as you've heard friends and pundits reminisce, was a lovely one in New York City—perfect weather, blue sky. More important for our purposes, the day now called 9/11 was a Tuesday, which meant it was an album-release day. Not that anyone in my hometown was buying CDs.

What's my point? That, in popular music as in life, the more things change, the more they stay the same? Sure, that's true—there was even a NOW compilation in the Top 10 back then, and another one's in the Top 10 now—if a little obvious.

As a chart-watcher, I'm consumed with the idea of mass art as unintentional art. Week after week, my colleague Al Shipley and I use this space to make readers aware of music whose popularity demands that we reckon with it, for better and worse. (The fact that we genuinely like a good deal of this stuff is immaterial.)

Albums that reached the world on 9/11 are, in a way, the ultimate unintentional art. These albums landed, unwitting and fully formed, into the post-9/11 world. None of these are among the roughly half-dozen Great Works my fellow critics have nominated as "9/11 albums," from prophetic records like Kid A and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to direct responses like The Rising. These, instead, are the albums that had to find the mass audience they were intended for in the fourth quarter of 2001—a time when such an idea felt, momentarily, a bit vulgar.

Some of them actually are great art, amazingly. And what's sort of remarkable about the half-dozen 9/11 releases that materialized in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 is that they span at least four, maybe five or six sub-genres, and offer a window into how the pop world would reconstitute itself over the next decade—including how certain mini-genres were ultimately doomed in the new century.

I don't want to make too much of these albums as comments on our world, unwitting or not. But I do think it's valid to consider what we were consuming then, and whether the anxious decade to follow changed our perception of these discs.


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7 comments
Terrycart
Terrycart

Great collections and reviews, they are my favorite type really. The pop-rap and classical rocking style are really suitable to my taste.

hil
hil

dylan's love and theft did have the very appropriate line "things should start to get interesting right about now"

Hunter Schwarz
Hunter Schwarz

Homerun once again. I especially liked your take on the death of rock and Nickelback. 

Robert Latchford
Robert Latchford

With the Rugby World Cup on in New Zealand you should do an article on NZ music that has never really broken into the US charts - here are 4 bands worthy of a mention all with new albums soon...The Feelers 'Didn’t Want To Fall In Love' would do well Stateside , Black Seeds - new album coming soon, Shihad - the elder statesmen of NZ rock,  Salmonella Dub - just fantastic tunes... check out Problems and Love Your Ways -

Chartwatcher
Chartwatcher

I don't see how it can be argued that Mariah Carey's career never recovered from Glitter when in 2005 she released not only the best-selling album of that calendar year, but the biggest song of her entire career as determined by Billboard (no small feat considering she logged 16 weeks at No. 1 for a song in '90s)! She also brought home 3 Grammys for that album, the most she has won in a night. So you're right, she didn't match her peak moments, she surpassed them! Reaching a "moment" is garnering a hit here or there, not achieving even bigger commercial and critical success than you have preiously. That it didn't last a decade can be chalked up more to your argument that pop stars only have 1 period of dominance. But to say her career never recovered is silly because A) her time had come (see your aforementioned argument that pop stars only have 1 period at top) and B) Emancipation brought her career to a whole new level and did more for her legacy than most of her previous releases.

Trademark Litigation
Trademark Litigation

Students may find themselves splitting time between classes and computers as OU officials plan to implement more hybrid and blended courses in high-enrollment classes in fall 2012.OU is considering the benefits of hybrid courses, said Nancy Mergler, senior vice president and provost. The implementation of the new courses will be slow at first.Hybrid courses are when class lectures are integrated with interactive online learning. Students will be asked to interact with one another by reading other student’s essays and posting comments.OU offers hybrid courses in the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences is offering one blended class this semester, Sociology 1113, college dean Paul Bell said. He also said Arts and Sciences is working on the integration of more hybrid classes.

Ethan Stanislawski
Ethan Stanislawski

9/11's greatest legacy on music was forcing The Strokes the best song on their debut album off its U.S. release—the world was never the same since.

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