2002: The best and Durst

Last week’s music section offered a thorough overview of 2001’s top recordings, taking the current pulse of everything from hip-hop to contemporary jazz to soundtrack scores. But music’s health can’t be defined solely by its albums, any more than a trend can be confined to a calendar year. So in this week’s Around Hear, regular music-section contributors Robert Bishop and Scott Wilson help me take a look at some entertainment-related movements and happenings that should make news in 2002: the changing (seemingly for the better) face of mainstream radio; the possible voluntary deportation (cross fingers here) of Fred Durst and the subsequent dissolution of Limp Bizkit; the equally promising possibility that kiddie-pop and Diddy-rap might be following that red-capped geek out the door; the continuing struggle to establish new live-music options within Kansas City’s limits; and still-relevant questions about artistic sensitivity in the wake of the September 11 attacks, even as the social climate has relaxed to the point that America might again deem any of the aforementioned issues important. All that, plus Britney, who is due for a major image makeover this year if she plans to follow the Madonna model for staying-power.

Breakup Stuff…

After guitarist Wes Borland quit Limp Bizkit, the group teamed up with top producers to bleed its existing product and idiotic brand name for new dollars — hence, December’s New Old Songs. But the press hasn’t been kind to that tepid remix disc or, for that matter, to any of the group’s albums, prompting frontman Fred Durst to threaten to move overseas, in the tradition of misunderstood artistes such as Jerry Lewis and David Hasselhoff. Here’s hoping Fred goes, taking with him Linkin Park, Nonpoint, Crazy Town and every other rap/rock outfit in existence.

We’ll Throw In Fred Durst For Free…

Artfully oblique lyrics, aesthetically enhanced feedback, subtly rendered melodies — in some corners of the world, this is what “pop music” means. Oh, to live in Iceland. Here, the face of the mainstream is maturing, as even radio listeners and MTV viewers have started to embrace intelligent acts such as System of a Down, Outkast and the Strokes. Equally encouraging are the cracks in the kiddie-pop façade, best symbolized by wedding rings on the fingers of the twentysomething members of misleadingly named “boy” bands. Though 2001 still made room for musical horror story O-Town, perhaps next year’s wrap-up shows will be devoid of these plastic armies. In the meantime, Iceland, could we please arrange an exchange program?

The Kids Are All Right; the Adults Aren’t…

In El Torreon, Kansas City finally has an all-ages venue that’s here to stay. Unfortunately, the high first-year fatality rate that once haunted kiddie clubs now plagues grown-folks’ establishments. The Pyro Room got off to a hot start before being extinguished midway through the year. The Madrid Theatre brought classy entertainment (and otherwise Lawrence-bound concerts) to Midtown, but its future is now in doubt because of piddling parking concerns. Here’s hoping 2002 brings a truce between Madrid owner Kerry Duffin and neighborhood fuddy-duddies, inspiring House of Blues (which has suspended operations at the grand restored building) to resume booking the kind of high-quality jazz, jam, hip-hop and blues shows in which the Madrid specialized.

How J-Lo Can You Go?

Sean Combs, formerly Puff Daddy and now P. Diddy, cited a need for change to clear his name in the wake of a trial that ended in a highly questionable not-guilty verdict. Coincidentally, this Prince-style stunt came just as Combs’ name, whatever it was, had started to fade from public interest. Combs was widely lampooned for his “rhymes with shitty” new moniker, but he tried to select several other names in an attempt to remain in step with current hip-hop preferences. Unfortunately for P. Diddy, he was unable to commandeer the handles Jay-Z, Ja Rule and Ludacris. Instead of fiddling with his nickname, perhaps P. Diddy should make it a New Year’s resolution to bring his beats up to the standards set by producers such as Timbaland and Neptunes.

There’s No Timing Like Bad Timing…

Lost in the furor over the Coup‘s discarded Party Music album cover (a photo illustration of the hip-hop duo demolishing the World Trade Center towers that was conceived and completed well before September 11) was the inflammatory nature of Agnostic Front‘s still-on-the-market Dead Yuppies. Featuring a homicide-scene chalk outline that traces the absent body of a briefcase-carrying executive, the record’s artwork seems infuriatingly inappropriate after the attacks, especially from a New York-based group that’s built its career on brotherhood-related slogans. Agnostic Front, who visits El Torreon on February 7, hastily assembled a disclaimer that characterizes the group as a working-class band that opposes terrorism, which assuaged its label, Epitaph, and record stores. Still, the cover raises compelling questions. American audiences have gradually resumed attending violent movies, debating the merits of stars’ wardrobes and accepting terrorist-related plotlines in works of fiction, but divisive messages such as Dead Yuppies‘ eye-catching graphic might become increasingly rare, relics from an era when real unity, even across economic lines, was not yet a virtual necessity.

No Longer a Girl, Not Yet a Smart Woman…

“Yes, I am a really, really big Elvis fan. And I think the real reason why we did the whole Elvis thing is because, you know, he’s from Vegas,” said snake-charming virgin and high-school graduate Britney Spears, answering a question regarding the Presley-style jumpsuits she donned in the advertising campaign for her November HBO live special. Later at the same roundtable, she addressed her cover of Joan Jett‘s “I Love Rock and Roll” by gushing, “I love Pat Benatar, and I think she’s amazing. She’s a rock and roll chick and she’s just having a good time and it’s a very empowering song.” Here’s hoping that after New Year’s Eve, Spears grabs Dick Clark and persuades him to give her a remedial one-night course in rock history. Otherwise, even affecting a British accent won’t land her the respect afforded her role model, Madonna. (Spears reportedly loves her tune “Rhythm Nation.”)

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