Are the White Stripes, the Hives, the Vines, and other acts all buzz and no sting? We reveal which of 2002's critical darlings deserve the hoopla

By EW Staff
Updated December 13, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
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Credit: The White Stripes: Kelly Ryerson/Camera Press/Retna

Image credit: Bright Eyes: Tina McClelland / RetnaUK

Bright Eyes

Has Bright Eyes lived up to his hype?

THE BUZZ Foppish guitar prodigy Conor Oberst emerged fully formed from Omaha with a fleet of booze-soaked songs about elusive romance and a punishingly pretentious album title, ”Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.”

THE HYPE The new Dylan — so said a four-star review in Rolling Stone and a four-page feature in The New York Times Magazine. And his agit-punk side project Desaparecidos made him a hero of the downtrodden.

THE IMPACT Though ”Lifted” debuted in the Billboard 200 and hit No. 2 on the Heatseekers chart, it remains a cult treasure at 42,000 copies sold.

THE VERDICT The beginning of something great, but still just the beginning.

Image credit: Cody Chesnutt: John Spellman/Retna

Cody ChesnuTT

Has Cody ChesnuTT lived up to his hype?

THE BUZZ This black-rock revivalist parlayed his bohemian chic and folksy guitar-pop into phenomenon status — without even releasing an album. ChesnuTT also hornswoggled Julian Casablancas from the Strokes, getting the latter to pull him on stage at MTV2’s ”2$Bill” taping.

THE HYPE Cody had an MTV ”You Hear It First” segment months before his debut CD, ”The Headphone Masterpiece,” was in record stores. Effusive praise followed in almost every media outlet, from Vibe to The New York Times.

THE IMPACT Cody toured with the Roots but is only just beginning to gain an audience for his own songs.

THE VERDICT He looks good in leather, but sounds a little too lo-fi in stereo.

EL-P

Has EL-P lived up to his hype?

THE BUZZ Lower East Side-raised B-boy takes anti-mainstream, hyperintellectual hip-hop to a darker, denser, more indecipherable level than ever before on his solo debut, ”Fantastic Damage.”

THE HYPE The pasty alt-rap poster boy mean-mugged on the covers of ”progressive” publications from URB to the New York Press and was even profiled on MTV — though the channel has yet to air his low-budget video.

THE IMPACT ”Damage” became a college-radio staple, but for most rap fans, Eminem is still the only white boy doin’ it.

THE VERDICT Don’t let the assaulting syllables and space-age beats discourage you: EL-P shows sure signs of idiosyncratic genius.

Image credit: Fischerspooner: Roe Etheridge

Fischerspooner

Have Fischerspooner lived up to their hype?

THE BUZZ Rumor says it cost a $2 million advance to sign up this NYC-based, gonzo-coutured art-tronic performance troupe.

THE HYPE In England, they’ve been called ”nuclear-grade brilliant” by Muzik mag and were tapped for a Kylie Minogue remix. They’ll also play the 2003 Venice Biennale. Back home, they headlined a three-night set at New York’s trendy Deitch Projects art gallery.

THE IMPACT Even in England, the release of Fischerspooner’s debut, cheekily titled ”#1,” barely scratched the charts. After countless delays, ”#1” has yet to see its American release; it’s now due in February.

THE VERDICT Musicians? Yes. Spectacular, high-concept, post-ironic tricksters? No.

Image credit: The Hives: Sarah J. Edwards/Camera Press/Retna

The Hives

Have the Hives lived up to their hype?

THE BUZZ Hopped-up Swedish garage boys (in matching outfits!) with a singer who has obviously studied Jagger’s every gyration. These were the punks to finally convince you that everything you thought was rock & roll was really cabaret by comparison.

THE HYPE Lots of huffing and puffing from punk-loving pundits, culminating in the Hives’ being featured in a Battle of the Garage Bands with the Vines on this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.

THE IMPACT Outside hipster circles, Hives mania faded quickly; their current disc, ”Veni Vidi Vicious” (325,000 sold), has already dropped off Billboard’s album chart.

THE VERDICT More ‘tude than tunes, even if the ‘tude is pretty killer.

Northern State

Have Northern State lived up to their hype?

THE BUZZ Long Island beastie girls with college degrees drop a four-song rap demo, ”Hip-Hop You Haven’t Heard,” and clueless crits gurgle in appreciation.

THE HYPE Although it was never released, their demo ”debut” notched four stars in Rolling Stone and got a glowing review in New York’s Village Voice. Twice. In the same issue.

WHAT THEY SAY ”There are definitely days when I wake up and think, Am I tripping that hard that I think I’m gonna be a white female rapper?” the group’s DJ Sprout (above, left) told the Voice.

THE IMPACT The group has only just issued their first commercially available record, the EP ”Dying in Stereo,” and still they’re better known than some acts with legit deals.

THE FUTURE After the requisite bidding war, look for Northern State to dead-end somewhere near Radio Disney.

THE VERDICT Proof positive that pretty girls can get anything they want, even a career in rap.

Image credit: The Streets: Graham Giles/Camera Press/ Retna

The Streets

Has the Streets lived up to his hype?

THE BUZZ An Everyman U.K. rapper with roots in the 2-step garage scene, the Streets (a.k.a. Mike Skinner) was a huge smash in England. Überhipster magazine VICE scooped up his debut, ”Original Pirate Material,” to launch its American record label.

THE HYPE Unimaginative U.S. critics — who feted him everywhere from GQ to Vibe — couldn’t help but call Skinner the Brit Shady. Duh.

THE IMPACT All the press in the world couldn’t make Skinner’s thick brogue comprehensible to American ears; his CD has moved only 7,000 albums.

THE VERDICT Our fault, not his. The Streets is the best, least translatable British export since ”Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

Image credit: The Vines: Michael Schmelling/Retna

The Vines

Have the Vines lived up to their hype?

THE BUZZ Erratic Australian Nirvana-bes with a weakness for the Beatles release their raucous debut, ”Highly Evolved.” Young, way cute, and backed by a major label (Capitol), the Vines were pegged as the ”TRL”-friendly face of neo-garage.

THE HYPE ”You’ve got to imagine that by the end of the year, the Vines are going to be bigger than U2,” NME gushed.

WHAT THEY SAY ”I always knew we had it,” oft-stoned frontman Craig Nicholls (above, third from left) told Rolling Stone. ”I knew we could make a great album. Our next album will be a hundred times better.”

THE IMPACT A top 20 Billboard debut, a hit video for ”Get Free,” a crazed ”Letterman” performance, and around a half-million records sold thus far.

THE FUTURE Hopefully, they’ll spend the next year recording a new album and weaning Nicholls off his beloved bong.

THE VERDICT Highly derivative, but so what? The sharp hooks and relentless energy will keep us listening.

Image credit: The White Stripes: Kelly Ryerson/Camera Press/Retna

The White Stripes

Have the White Stripes lived up to their hype?

THE BUZZ Bluesy-punky guy-gal guitar-drums duo that could make you believe Robert Johnson’s spirit had possessed the body of a white boy from the Motor City.

THE HYPE ”Here, at last, is a duo that’s doing it right: Stripping things down to the primal spuzz, kicking up a racket that’s an inspired mix of electrified Delta blues, Zeppelin riffage, Velvet Underground thud, and MC5 firepower,” raved, er, Listen2This.

THE IMPACT They became MTV darlings thanks to a Lego-maniacal clip for ”Fell in Love With a Girl.” Their breakthrough CD, White Blood Cells, has sold 512,000 units.

THE VERDICT We’re sticking to our guns: The Stripes prove that low-tech, heartfelt music can still triumph over artifice.

Image credit: W.K.: David Titlow/Camera Press/Retna

Andrew W.K.

Has Andrew W.K. lived up to his hype?

THE BUZZ Longhaired American headbanger plans world domination via the dumbest, catchiest cheese-metal anthems ever conceived.

THE HYPE ”He…makes some of the most astounding music you’re ever likely to hear,” NME wrote.

WHAT HE SAYS ”If I achieve great things, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” W.K. tells Listen2This.

THE IMPACT While he’s a major star in the U.K. and overseas, his debut, ”I Get Wet,” barely dented the charts in his native land and has sold a measly 164,000 copies to date, leading some wags to speculate that ”W.K.” stands for ”Who Kares?”

THE FUTURE Could his opening slot on the current Aerosmith tour help this poor guy sell a few records? Probably not.

THE VERDICT We like shameless metal slapstick as much as the next schmo, but we start to feel queasy when the volume and the IQ level are both set on 11. ”Party Til You Puke,” indeed.

Image credit: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: J. Scott Wynn/Retna

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Have Yeah Yeah Yeahs lived up to their hype?

THE BUZZ New York City-based post-punkers whose jittery guitars compete with flashy frontwoman Karen O’s whooping vocals.

THE HYPE After Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. wore a YYY button on ”SNL,” just about every magazine save Cat Fancy made mention of the group — even though O and Co. had only a five-song EP under their trendily trashy belts.

THE IMPACT Touch and Go released two EPs, and the band opened for Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney.

THE VERDICT We’ll have to wait until the YYY’s full-length debut, due next year, to make our final call, but based on the unimpressive evidence so far, we’re saying nah nah nah.

Image credit: Bruce Springsteen: David Atlas/Retna

Bruce Springsteen

Has Bruce Springsteen lived up to his hype?

THE BUZZ Conor Oberst’s most serious competition for the ”new Dylan” tag, this Garden State critics’ fave emerged as the leader of the burgeoning Jersey rock scene, thanks to ”The Rising.”

THE HYPE Made the covers of indie fanzines such as Time and Rolling Stone.

THE IMPACT Landed himself a choice gig opening for Pink at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.

THE VERDICT ”The Rising” has sold 1.5 million copies so far — about as much as the combined sales of all the other artists on this list.

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