In the 1990 poll we had a bracket for – to put it delicately – veteran rockers, acts like Fleetwood Mac and Van Morrison who were feeling their way into a fourth decade in the biz. The bracket returns for the 2001 poll, but its terms of engagement have shifted. For one thing the cast has changed (well, aside from Nick Lowe, back for the third poll in a row!) – people like Joe Strummer, REM and Depeche Mode fit into it alongside Elton and Macca. And where last time I had to throw our handful of country songs in, the 2001 poll has enough for a whole Roots bracket.

But there’s a subtler shift in play too. The rock class of 1990 were still a big deal, still the unit-shifting heart of the industry – albums like Behind The Mask and Rhythm Of The Saints were releases their labels cleared the decks for. A decade on, the grand old men (and women) of rock are more of a niche concern, selling CDs to that famous strawperson, “50 quid man”, but no longer priority artists. And they know it, and they’re relaxed about it, crafting music which lets them stretch out if they want to, sometimes addressing ageing head on.

The self-lacerating Elton John of “I Want Love”, for instance, is massively preferable to the AOR hit beast of “Sacrifice” and “Circle Of Life”. Rueful Nick Lowe beats smart-alec Nick Lowe. McCartney and Cohen, a decade or so deeper into the ageing process, keep on doing what they’ve been doing well for a while. Mary Margaret O’Hara emerges discreetly from seclusion with the lovely “Dream I Had (II)”. Strummer goes wider and wilder than he could when the spotlight was fully on him, telling sharp stories of life at the global margins.

Not everyone does so well with their late career moves – REM have more interesting late work than “Imitation Of Life”; I tend to assume Depeche Mode’s flame sputtered out in 1993 or so and “Dream” doesn’t change my mind. The newer, younger acts make for grim listening too. The bracket is rounded out with interesting choices pulled free of their usual context (a sitcom theme and a musical number). On the whole though, it’s a good, sympathetic showing for a part of 2001 which tends to get lost in the tumult.

POTENTIAL WINNER: OK, let’s not go overboard. It’s not going to win, and it’s not even that great, but “Imitation Of Life” is a band people like making a solid stab at recreating past glories: that and name recognition give REM a fighting chance at the final groups.

BEST SONG: “I Want Love” is one of the great mid-life crisis tracks, a lyric which sounds like Bernie Taupin doing Nick Cave set to a whomping Elton piano ballad.

DARK HORSE: Suzanne Vega had a great run in the Debut Singles poll, and “I’ll Never Be Your Maggie May” is just as good as “Marlene On The Wall”, with a gorgeous arrangement and a biting, disappointed lyric. If people give it a go, it could do well.

DISCOVERY: Tempted here by a Mary Margaret O’Hara vignette I never knew existed, but for the sheer gap between expectations and what I got I have to pick Joe Strummer And The Mescalero’s “Shaktar Donetsk”, a scrabbly folk song haunted by radio noise and voices from society’s cracks – its closest cousins in the poll are Pulp’s “Weeds” and “Wickerman”.