Friday, March 17, 2017

Best of the Best: 2004

The perfect album for the W. Bush era.

Year: 2004
Movie: Spider-Man 2
Game: Pikmin 2
Album: American Idiot by Green Day
Song: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day

So finally we get to 2004. I was still in college, but by the end of that spring semester, I had decided that I was done with school, disenchanted, disenfranchised, over it. Done with the system, done with how it all worked. I was going to move on, and focus on my writing. I worked at a bar over the summer, a large very creepy bar, at night, by myself. It was a lot of fun, really. And then that fall I switched to a tech company (of sorts), doing data entry and various other shit like that, for the better part of the next two years. It was a job that I would wind up rather miserable in, but that's a story for another year.

As movies go, 2004 was still okey doke. The third Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban came out, and it honestly was a strong choice for the top movie of the year. It was my favorite Potter film for many years. I also really enjoyed Pixar's The Incredibles, which was a very novel and rich take on the superhero concept, this time with a family (including super kids). The Brad Pitt film Troy was also an interesting adaptation of the classic Greek epic poem The Iliad, and it was a solid film, well done, imagining what the events might have been like if they were "real", sans any direct depictions of gods or mythological phenomenon. The movie might have been more fun if it had the mythological stuff, but it was good for what they attempted. The Butterfly Effect, while a bit of a downer, wound up really surprising me also, considering it stars Ashton Kutcher. But Spider-Man 2 wound up winning the year, as it built on the foundation the first Raimi film had laid down, and built a better film out of it. The first was entertaining, but the second, I felt, really got more to the heart of the Peter Parker character, and while not super-accurate to the comics, the film depiction of Doctor Octopus was actually very well done. Easily the best Spider-Man film they have yet made.

How to do a sequel correctly.

Now in 2004, I finally got my hands on a (at the time) "current gen" console, a used PS2 that I bought from someone. I found myself playing an awful lot of the WWF wrestling game Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain, like Wrestlemania 2000 before it, mainly due to the whole create-a-wrestler feature. Metroid Prime 2 also came out, and while it's a good game, I felt it wasn't as good as the first. But I would be remiss if I didn't pick Nintendo's Pikmin 2 as the Game of 2004. It is, in almost every meaningful way, an improvement and a better game than the original. And when it comes to game sequels, that is precisely how you do them right. Now when I originally played this, mind you, I did love it, and felt then that it was a better game, in all ways but one. It had no time limit to complete the game, unlike the first which gives you 30 game days. There were even more areas to explore, and more treasures to find. In fact that was the focus of this second game, was that you were sent back to this planet to find more treasure. But the ONE drawback, or at least so I originally felt, is that there are underground areas that are basically often mandatory, and once you go down into them, it can often mean doomsday. If you fuck up, and don't play your cards right, on these missions you can very easily lose all your Pikmin, which is a tragic state indeed, let me tell you. BUT, I'm happy to report, that after coming back within the last few years and playing through the game again, which I actually beat this time, those caves aren't SO bad. Don't get me wrong, they can be kind of fucked, but the game IS overall an improvement over the already brilliant first game. I wish I could say the same for Pikmin 3, but I digress.....

THE band of 2004.

And as I already spoiled above, my album of the year, without a shadow of a doubt, was Green Day's "American Idiot". I had, as I'd mentioned in the previous article, been a Green Day fan since at least 1994 or 1995, when I first heard songs like "Basket Case" and "When I Come Around". But their output over the year in between had been very uneven, with "okay" albums like "Insomniac" and "Warning" sandwiching a better album like "Nimrod". Well....I guess in that light, the kept up the trend, perhaps by total accident. As the lore goes, they basically had most of an entire album written, perhaps even recorded, and some shit went down, and they somehow lost it all. Distressed as anyone would be, instead of crumbling, what they did was they turned around and wrote a FAR BETTER album (most likely), inspired by the absolute bullshit of the George W. Bush era, they wrote an anthem album, a rock opera for a new generation. And "American Idiot" was just that. It was  an album that came at the right time, especially in light of "W" winning a second term (dubiously, but whatever). The album attacked everything about the cynical, dark, often disdainful post-9/11 America, and called out bullshit left and right, while also speaking to the inner heart of American youth, the confusion, the suffering, the uncertain future, etc. It was an album of it's time, for sure, and an album that I absolutely latched onto.

Now I have always felt that the first half of the album, in general, is far stronger than the second half, but overall, it's a classic album with many great songs. And the song that was pretty much my Song of 2004, was the mournful ballad "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". I would dare say, though, that "American Idiot" might well still stand, and perhaps forever remain Green Day's finest work. A punk band that had long wrote mostly silly or oddball songs, suddenly had something serious to say, and it really worked.

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