There are turbulent decades we can look back on, and then there’s the 2000’s. Even by the standards of the past hundred years, an era that saw 9/11, climate change and the credit crunch takes some beating...
But there were some phenomenal steps forward as well, not least of all for the international space station, fans of Harry Potter, and the entire Chinese economy. And the continued evolution of the internet brought us social networking, along with many ways for musicians to reclaim control of communication and distribution of their work with fans from the record companies. Change was definitely in the air, and it led to some fantastic moments for guitar music. So let’s examine ten of them, going year-by-year...
Don’t Panic (Coldplay, Parachutes, 2000)
Despite the noughties signalling a new explosion in alternative, post-punk, grass-roots guitar rock, the decade actually kicked off with a relatively mellow feel to the radio airwaves – certainly in the UK anyway. Bands such as Travis, Snow Patrol and Toploader were already producing a string of undemanding post-Britpop crowd-pleasers, but Coldplay were the group hailed by the international music press for their significance at the time. Ignore the substantial critical swing away from this attitude over the subsequent 20 years (disliking Coldplay has become a very unsavoury fashion in some media quarters), focus on the song writing and musicianship, and the Parachutes album can be justly viewed as a truly extraordinary compilation, with hints of everything from Pink Floyd to U2 in the wonderfully ethereal mix. And the intertwining acoustic and clean electric guitar lines of Don’t Panic, courtesy of Chris Martin (he’s not just a pianist remember!) and Jonny Buckland respectively, are perhaps the best example of this band’s harmonic talents.
Plug In Baby (Muse, Origin of Symmetry, 2001)
Origin of Symmetry was the album that truly brought Muse into the spotlight, ending the frequent critical comparisons with Radiohead and charting worldwide to great acclaim. And with everything from West African xylophones to full-sized church organs involved in the recording sessions, the results were always going to be rather more unique than most hard rock acts. Plug In Baby was the albums lead single, featuring that magnificent fast-paced, heavily distorted minor guitar motif (voted #1 ultimate guitar riff of the 2000s by Total Guitar magazine) that quotes elements of both Bach and Barber. Hard to believe that this song started life as a ballad, especially since Bellamy once conceded it was “written above a sex shop”...
Hurt (Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002)
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor can feel justly proud for composing Hurt, the track that many think should have clinched the Best Rock Song Grammy for which it was nominated in 1996. But upon viewing the music video of Johnny Cash’s spartan acoustic cover, his response was “that song isn't mine anymore... It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. Somehow that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning – different, but every bit as pure.”
We can’t improve on that summary. One of the most stunningly emotional acoustic guitar recordings ever made by the man in black, two months before the death of his beloved wife, and six months before his own passing. May they both rest in peace.
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes, Elephant, 2003)
“DUMMM, DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM DUHHHH DUHHHH!” Yes, it’s the riff that took the crown from Smoke On The Water as ‘probably the first thing anyone under the age of 30 first wanted to play on the guitar’. It holds a Grammy and an MTV video award. It’s been featured on prime time TV shows, video games, at the highest profile sporting and political events throughout the world. It’s certified Gold in Germany, Platinum in Italy, and Double Platinum in the United Kingdom (where, incidentally, it was recorded on antique equipment in a crummy backstreet London studio for about a dollar). It’s possibly the simplest rock hit ever recorded by a duo. It’s quite simply a work of genius.
Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand, 2004)
What was it about the noughties and killer guitar riffs? Take Me Out was the second single from Franz Ferdinand’s eponymous debut album, fusing indie-rock and dance-rock into possibly the greatest guitar-powered disco stomper of the decade, and deservedly winning Alex Kapranos the Best Contemporary Song category at the prestigious 2005 Ivor Novello awards. There’s so many reasons why this epic tracks stays lodged in the mind - the subtle-yet-determined intro then sloooooows right down without any warning, the entire band stabs tight distorted chords down the listeners spine for about ten seconds, before the whole thing explodes into a mechanical masterpiece of intertwining guitars lines by Kapranos and Nick McCarthy. Essential listening.
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor (Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, 2005)
“Don’t believe the hype” says Alex Turner to the small studio audience as the music video for this track opens. The track then debuted at #1 on the British charts immediately upon release, suggesting that the studio audience weren’t fooled. Neither were the judges at the NME Awards, where the Monkeys won Best British Band, Best New Band and Best Track for this song just 4 months later. And by this time the hype had hit Olympian levels - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not had already become, and remains, the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history, and the second fastest selling debut indie rock album in America.
All of this was a good indication of just how big a factor the internet was becoming in terms of promoting new music – the band weren’t even originally aware of their incredibly popular MySpace page that had been created by fans. It was also a tribute to just how bloody good the music was – no-frills, high energy, vintage indie rock guitaring at its finest, desperately trying to keep up with a relentlessly energetic drummer, and supporting Turners fabulous Sheffield drawl on the microphone.
Welcome To The Black Parade (My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade, 2006)
Many guitar bands adopted a stripped-out, back-to-basics approach to music in the noughties, but MCR definitely weren’t one of them. The Black Parade was their 3rd studio album, a concept rock opera telling the story of a dying ‘patient’, and one of the most visible emo successes ever produced (triple Platinum in the US and UK, Platinum in five other territories, Gold in a further three). The massively over-the-top ‘70s prog feel is evident throughout, not least of all during the high-octane lead single Welcome To The Black Parade, which features some blistering guitar work from Frank Lero and Ray Toro, and topped the charts in three territories worldwide. We’d also suggest checking out the music video for this track – an outrageously over-the-top piece of cinematography that ranks as MTV’s ‘Greatest Music Video of the 21st Century’.
In Rainbows (Radiohead, 2007)
It was perhaps inevitable that Radiohead would crop up on this list, but our reasoning for including In Rainbows is multi-faceted. Firstly, it was the first ever internet self-release by a major act where the stunned customer could pay however much they wanted for the album download – ranging from nothing (which happened a lot) to many thousands of dollars (which also happened a lot) – and led to cries of ‘Revolution!’ throughout the music industry and press even after the bands record label were allowed to release the physical version (which many fans also purchased). And secondly, we just can’t decide which track from this otherworldly experimental rock masterpiece should be named in this article. From a guitarist’s perspective, whether electric or acoustic, fingerstyle or pick, clean or distorted, there’s a nugget of Jonny Greenwood brilliance somewhere in there for everyone. Have a listen and make your own mind up...
Sex On Fire (King Of Leon, Only By The Night, 2008)
The Kings Of Leon are basically what would have happened if the Strokes had been raised eating Ma’s apple pie on a farm somewhere in the American deep south. Three brothers and one cousin, who started producing magnificently guttural southern boogie in a basement somewhere outside Nashville, and received some major critical acclaim for their refreshingly uncomplicated 2003 debut Youth and Young Manhood. That beautiful simplicity (now musically matured but still exploiting all that is best in modest rock guitar music) was still with them five years and three albums later in Only By The Night, and most prominently exemplified in Sex on Fire – a Grammy-winning radio and dancefloor favourite to this day.
Crystalised (The XX, XX, 2009)
Pretty much every track on XX makes the listener feel like they’re hearing an album that was recorded in a West London garage at night. Which, for the most part, it was. The guitar and bass playing is hauntingly minimal with very subtle use of effects, the singing is whisperingly nocturnal in feel, the pure electronic beats blending in as seamlessly as a 2am night bus winding insomniacally through an empty city street. All of this is effortlessly fused in Crystalised, a masterclass in just how good truly spartan guitar playing can sound, and how less can definitely be more.
And on that note, it’s now after midnight. Time to find out if having another listen to Crystalised is gonna send me to bed or wake me up. So until next time......peace out!