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This year marks the 40th anniversary of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, the finest dystopian record ever recorded. Featuring mutants and marvelous men cavorting around the ruins of a 1984-inspired New York, it set the pop-music standards for talking about the perils of tomorrow. In honor of its birthday, we tracked down five more albums that operate with the same thesis: sometimes, the future sucks.
1) Grandaddy, The Sophtware Slump (2000)
"How's it going, 2000 Man?" asks Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle on "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot," the opening track to The Sophtware Slump. 2000 Man never answers, but we can assume the answer is "not so hot, Jason." Released at the height of the dot-com bubble, the album presents a Silicon Valley utopia gone wrong: the trees are plastic, the dogs are suicidal, and the people are rendered disconnected and isolated by the technology designed to help them. Sadly, that technology doesn't fare much better. On "Jed The Humanoid," Lytle tells the tale of Jeddy 3, a robot so despondent about his abandonment by his creators that he actually drinks himself into a fiery malfunction.
2) Gorillaz, Plastic Beach (2010)
The titular island of Plastic Beach exists today. Kinda. In an interview with Wired, Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn revealed that the island is actually the result of the plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eventually coalescing into a solid, solidly disgusting landmass. Operating from this near-future manufactured paradise, the band's animated alter egos pass their days in the tropics attempting to ignore other eyebrow-raising environmental issues ranging from irradiated oceans to processed food made from the same junk as the island. It's a Saturday morning cartoon version of ecological collapse, but it's still scary.
3) Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030 (2000)
Imagine William Gibson getting smoked up, watching Akira, then trying to explain corporate personhood to his dealer. That's sort of what Deltron 3030 sounds like. It's another entry from the turn of the millennium, but unlike Grandaddy's tech-industry navel-gazing, rhyme savant Del Tha Funkee Homosapien taps into the conspiracy-friendly currents of Y2K paranoia. The result? Possibly the world's first cyberpunk hip-hop record, inspired in equal parts by Neuromancer and the doomsday panic we'd all just lived through. Featuring an anti-corporate message laced with allusions to everything from Afro-futurism and parapsychology to Snow Crash and Ghost In The Shell, Deltron 3030 the perfect crossover record, one equally at home bumping out of a DJ set and soundtracking a particularly dramatic Shadowrun tournament.
4) Prince Rama, Top 10 Hits of the End of the World (2012)
Assuming that humanity manages to bring about the apocalypse some time soon, some schmuck of a band will have the honor of owning Billboard's #1 Song on the day the world ends. Just over a month before the supposed end of the world in 2012, Animal Collective disciple and bonafide writer of metaphysical manifestos Taraka Larsen and her band Prince Rama blew that sad fact out to its logical extreme. Packaged like a compilation you'd see advertised on television in Purgatory, the genre-hopping Top 10 Hits of the End of the World contains 10 real songs by the 10 hottest fake bands that channeled their ghosts into Larsen after the skies fell. Which hadn't happened yet. Or had, but no one noticed. We're still not too certain about what this means for space-time, but the songs are killer.
5) Laurie Anderson, Big Science (1982)
Laurie Anderson isn't Nostradamus, and thus, Big Science wasn't intended as a document of prophecy. However, that didn't stop some listeners nearly two decades later from feeling a chill whenever "O, Superman" came on. That song, like many on the record and in Anderson's broader catalog, contains themes that bear a spooky resemblance to the events of September 11, 2001. From answering machine messages left for seemingly missing recipients to lines like "Here come the planes/ They're American planes," the song's images of isolation brought on by increased connectivity amplified the dread and disconnect of people watching the chaos unfold on television.
Lyrics aside, Anderson has another lasting connection to the events of September 11th. Unlike many artists around the country, Anderson went on with her homecoming concert at Chicago's Park West on the night of the attacks. The Tribune's Greg Kot noted that those same songs, far from seeming sinister, lent voice to "a collective mood that desperately cried out for some sort of public expression." Later in his review, he hit upon an unstated takeaway that neatly encapsulates Anderson's work: "It is far preferable to face the unspeakable together."
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