Did Australian music peak in the year 2000? These albums suggest so

Make a wish, Australia: these are 21sts to celebrate

Turning 21 is a symbolically big deal. Sure, you’ve been able to drink and vote and be conscripted into military conflicts which don’t remotely affect you for three years, but it’s still a significant milestone which most of us mark with the third largest gathering of our lives, behind our wedding and funeral. Or second largest gathering, depending on how many people you permanently alienated at your 21st.

This year is a good time to have an especially large celebration because, friends, 2000 was the year that Australian music peaked. That’s not just in the sense that it was the most lucrative year for music sales in Australia (CD sales peaked that year both locally and internationally before heading into the precipitous decline that streaming and expensive limited-edition vinyl reissues have yet to arrest). It was also a watershed year for Australian creativity.

Maybe it was the spirit of the new millennium and the so-far unrealised hope that it might be a bit less shit than the last one. Maybe it was the Olympic spirit racing through our collective veins like the triumphant Sydney Monorail. Maybe it was the last gasp of an industry who hadn’t yet realised just how badly this internet racket was going to affect their bottom line.

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It’s impossible to be sure but Australian music pulled out all the stops in 2000. And while the 20th-anniversary plans for many albums were ruined by the pandemic, it has just meant that these albums can now celebrate their 21st. Join us as we raise a glass to them.

1. Australia nailed pop with Kylie Minogue’s ‘Light Years’

In 1997, Kylie released her best album, ‘Impossible Princess’. It also happened to easily be her worst-selling. That was for many reasons, not least of which was her record company deConstruction going under and the unfortunate coincidence of Princess Diana’s death weeks before the release, forcing a rapid title and artwork change.

But there was also the fear that the album was too personal and not poppy enough, which was a risk Minogue would never take again. ‘Light Years’ was the result: a gloriously impersonal and tune-rich album that was to save her career and simultaneously become one of the greatest pop records made by an Australian artist.

As returns to form go, you can’t really argue with lead singles ‘Spinning Around’ and ‘On A Night Like This’, both of which made clear that the whole personal songwriting thing she’d done on the last album could fuck right off. Now it was all about the dance floor and big shiny videos.

The album even gave Robbie Williams his hands-down greatest single in their duet, ‘Kids’, which still absolutely slaps, by the way.

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The album’s success was no one-off either: exactly a year after the release of ‘Light Years’, Minogue dropped the lead single from her almost-as-triumphant ‘Fever’, scoring her long-sought international hit in the form of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. What a time.

2. Australian stadium rock is perfected with Powderfinger’s ‘Odyssey Number 5’

Had Powderfinger split in 2000, they would’ve left behind a perfectly solid catalogue. But something happened between the solid indie-rock of the album that came to define them, 1998’s ‘Internationalist’, and Australian stadium rock in general: a hastily written song for a film soundtrack that got dumped on a B-side and then unexpectedly topped the 1999 Hottest 100.

That song, ‘These Days’, knocked up for the Heath Ledger/Rose Byrne career-launching Two Hands, opened up a whole new way of writing for lyricist Bernard Fanning, and a much wider musical palette for the rest of the band, who realised that they could showcase emotion without fans turning on them for being ‘soft’.

It came out as a B-side to ‘Passenger’, and then made history as the first Hottest 100 winner not to be a single. Powderfinger, not being fools, then immediately turned it into a single.

While the eventual album, ‘Odyssey Number Five’, showcased that Powderfinger had crystallised their bouncing-off-the-back-of-the-arena sound in songs such as ‘Waiting For The Sun’ and ‘Like A Dog’, the slow burn of ‘These Days’ led the band down a path away from their dude-heavy audience. It helped open them up to ‘My Happiness’ and ‘My Kind Of Scene’, thousands of swooning women down the front at festivals, and even their breakthrough song given a cred-enhancing quote in Hilltop Hoods’ own breakthrough single, ‘The Nosebleed Section’. Those days were nothing like what they had planned, indeed.

3. The entire world is turned upside down by The Avalanches and ‘Since I Left You’

There’s a reason ‘Since I Left You’ still regularly tops lists of the greatest Australian albums of all time. It’s not just because it’s superb (which it is) but because there’s literally nothing like it in the world.

It’s no surprise that it took the band almost two decades to risk making a follow-up, having lost just about all of the ‘SILY’-era line-up. After all, how do you follow a perfect record?

The Avalanches weren’t the first artists to build tracks out of samples: The Dust Brothers had built all the beds to Beastie Boys’ stunning 1989 album ‘Paul’s Boutique’ in that manner, while by the early 1990s, Pop Will Eat Itself were basing songs around bits of records too.

But The Avalanches went further. Thanks to the advent of affordable samplers and legal grey areas around copyright, they were able to create an album made entirely by DJs selecting seconds of sweet riffs and beats, and stitching them together.

These days, it’d be impossible to get the rights to the tracks; as it is, there are subtly different versions of the album in different territories depending on what samples were available, and reportedly the band still lose publishing money on it after having to sign over more than 100 per cent of the rights to many of the songs.

Only Robbie Chater and Tony di Blasi would remain by the time follow-up ‘Wildflower’ arrived in 2016, and last year’s ‘We Will Always Love You’ demonstrates that The Avalanches aren’t about to waste any more time. Neither are quite ‘Since I Left You’. But then again, what is?

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