2002 In Review:
Top of the Pops
As the holiday cookies are reduced to crumbs and the end of the year rolls around, it's time to clean up the office, set things in order, and put 2002 to rest. It was a changing year for the music industry, as the glitter of stars such as Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson faded, and the simple three-chord distortion sound of late '70s early '80s punk rock was reinvented by groups like The Hives and The Vines.
The Spider-Man soundtrack dominated the FM airwaves over the summer, and the Blink 182/Green Day tour packed people into the outdoor arenas. Over the past year's worth of Pops Stops columns, I've mentioned more than 200 albums, and there were probably twice that number of discs I listened to and opted not to waste review space on. I still didn't hear everything, by a long shot, but out of 500-600 albums, what really got to me? A disparate assortment of artists, from bubblegum popsters to hard rockers to you-really-had-to-search-for-them garage bands peddling power pop. In my ears, good music is good music, whether you find it on the shelf at Best Buy or at the back of a club, sold on home-dubbed CDs by the band out of a well-worn cardboard box.
So here are my favorite 25 albums of 2002, based both on my original Pop Stops review star ratings and on how often (original rating aside) I felt myself compelled to return the albums to my CD player for pleasure-listening. Give any of these a couple spins, and I guarantee you'll find a melody or 10 that gets under your skin.
* * * TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2002 * * *
Silverchair – Diorama
(Atlantic): From the first falsetto explorations of the gorgeously string-laden
"Across the Night" to the bombastic, meaty guitar-stomp of "The Greatest View,"
Australia's Silverchair emerged from its grunge cocoon on its fourth album with
the most intensely evocative rock album of the year. Diorama is a multi-layered
gem that explores both lyrical and musical emotion with the wide-reaching intelligence
and finesse of Jellyfish, and the harmonies of the Beach Boys and Queen.
2) Alanis Morissette – Under
Rug Swept (Maverick): The brash crash guitar that opens Morissette's long-awaited
third album serves as the declaration of intent for the rest of the disc, an
album that runs the spectrum of love and loss. Filled with difficult themes,
but propelled by crunchy guitar riffs and undeniable vocal hooks, this one listens
better each time it spins.
3) Jools Holland – Jools
Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues (Warner): A celebration of
big band boogie with guest vocalists ranging from Sting to George Harrison,
this CD was actually released at the end of 2001, but didn't reach my desk until
January. From oversaturated piano boogie stomp to the "Batman"-theme urgency
of "Town and Country Rhythm and Blues," this is a treasure trove of great music,
great grooves and great artists.
Anna Waronker – Anna
(Five Foot Two): The former singer of That Dog unveiled an instantly lovable
blast of pop-rock on her first solo album by melding punky guitar riffs with
Bangles-like vocal harmonies. Anna seamlessly moves from grrrl-rock vocal power
to naked, soul-baring confessions, straddling the domains of alternative rock
edge and radio-pop silk with confidence.
5) OK Go – OK Go
(Capitol): Slick, fun, sassy and sharp, Chicago's OK Go updates the best of
the early '80s New Wave. In the first four tracks, the band manages to encapsulate
and extoll all the best of Queen harmonies, Cars synthesizers, and New Wave
guitar riffs (think The Vapors, The Romantics, Off Broadway, Shoes). Angular
pop for now people.
6) Grey Eye Glances – A
Little Voodoo (Sojourn Hills/Grey Album): Grey Eye Glances spins
intricate pop excursions that lend comparisons to Sarah McLachlan and Cowboy
Junkies. There are few artists on the major labels crafting music with this
much skill and depth. Track this down for a rare, both ethereal and earthy pop
Counting Crows – Hard Candy (Geffen):
Melding the twangy guitar lead styles of The Byrds and Tom Petty, with warm
piano and organ backgrounds, not to mention classic "ah-ah" harmonies, Hard
Candy is a beautiful, rich tapestry of instantly classic rock. Adam Duritz's
poetry is as complex, melancholy and introspective as ever, continuing his amazingly
deep, insightful legacy begun nine years ago with "Mr. Jones" and "Round Here."
8) Ben Kweller – Sha
Sha (Atco): Twenty-year-old Kweller's first solo project is more
fully realized and varied than many artists ever manage at any age. Kweller
alternates between piano and guitar, and occasionally sounds vaguely reminiscient
of Ben Folds when he sits at the piano and drops quietly humorous lyrics about
the slacker – er, younger – generation.
M2M – The Big Room
(Atlantic): Clean, vibrant harmonies, big choruses, catchy energetic hooks;
the two M's (Marit Larsen and Marion Raven) make high school love songs sound
fresh again to jaded adults with Bangles-esque harmonies. M2M have crafted a
perfect sugar-pop album in The Big Room. This aural frosting is irresistible.
10) Los Lobos – Good
Morning Aztlan (Mammoth): Nearly 30 years after it formed, in 2002
Los Lobos delivered one of the strongest discs of its career, exploring the
intersection of Mexican folk and American roots music, without sounding tired
or embarrassingly retro. This album is destined to be as classic as the styles
11) Alice Peacock – Alice
Peacock (Aware): Working with the same country-rock mix as Sheryl
Crow, Kim Richey and Amanda Marshall, Peacock sings with just a hint of twang
about a variety of characters with heart and harmony. The Chicago singer proves
herself with song after song of likeable easy listening country rock.
The Hives – Veni
Vidi Vicious (Sire): Featuring retro '60s garage-band distortion,
manic bass and guitar rhythms, '70s Brit-punk vocals (think Stooges or early
furious Clash), Veni Vidi Vicious never slows down. If you're looking
for some brash, no-pretensions rock to blast out of your car stereo, this is
one great disc.
13) Bryan Ferry – Frantic
(Virgin): With a wide range of textures, writers and attacks, Frantic
is amazingly cohesive, and rarely manic, as the title might imply. Instrumentally
lush, and vocally intriguing with nods to his early years in Roxy Music, this
is Ferry's best disc since Avalon.
The Donnas – Spend The Night (Atlantic):
Picking up the mantle of one of the original all-girl rock bands, The Runaways,
The Donnas crank out classic Hollywood three-chord bar rock with a nonstop strut.
The guitars are set on high-octane jam at all times, the harmonies are solid
and the tease factor is as high as the late-great unsung L.A. metal heroes The
15) Menthol – Danger:
Rock Science!(Parasol): A pounding paean to that decade of skinny
ties, crunchy guitars and warbly, tinkly synthesizer leads, Danger: Rock
Science! sounds at turns like ABC, The Cars and Thomas Dolby. Menthol manages
to reference all the right bands of the '80s on this CD of pure rockin' retro
16) Bruce Springsteen – The
Rising (Columbia): Artists have always taken tragedy and turned it
into something that speaks beyond the raw suffering of the original event, something
timelessly enduring and moving. Springsteen has given us the first lasting musical
score to memorialize the events of 9-11. He's also given us a fine album of
15 new rock, country, gospel and pop songs that are not so specific that they
can't be enjoyed without ever thinking of the World Trade Center. A dual victory.
17) The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Columbia): Merging the kitchsy sounds of bleepy, throbbing synthesizers (reminiscent of the early work of Japanese synthesizer pioneer Tomita) with their trademark twining guitar and staccato drum attacks and Wayne Coyne's plaintive, somewhat nasal vocals (which occasionally bring to mind Neil Young), Yoshimi listens like the soundtrack to some lost classic B-movie. You can almost see the flying gigantic turtle in the distance. ( )
18) Cruxshadows – Wishfire
(Dancing Ferret): Miss the dark gothic synthesizer rock of the '80s? Check out
this Florida band who've gone abroad to score a chart hit album in Germany with
this collection of darkly danceable tracks that occasionally feature a plaintive
19) Cracker – Forever
(Virgin): On Forever, (another end-of-2001 release), Cracker augments
its sassy, cynical down-home garage rock sound with plenty of memorable riffs
and a parade of background singers. From irresistible pounding rock snarls to
funky '70s hit-waiting-to-happen tracks, this one consistently scores.
20) Tori Amos – Scarlet's
Walk (Epic): Cloaked as a song cycle that follows "Scarlet" around
the country in a love affair and exploration of America and a series of relationships,
the 18-song disc is a strong return for Amos. Through a range of character studies
and styles, Amos' voice rings both plaintive and powerful, and reaffirms her
place as one of America's premier singer-songwriters, building a catalogue of
personal and celebratory music that is always adventurous and uniquely her own.
Jason Mraz – Waiting
For My Rocket To Come (Elektra): Smart, romantic, funny, catchy –
Jason Mraz strums a funky guitar and slips from reggae to Bo Diddley beats as
he offers song after song of singular pop. Sounding a lot like Jude (remember
his 1998 cheeky hit "Rick James"?) with the occasional pure pop harmony sense
of Crowded House's Tim Finn, Mraz offers a wonderfully easy, breezy debut album
of solid folk-pop.
22) Gilli Moon – Woman
(Warrior Girl): Gilli Moon's Temperamental Angel disc, ranked as one
of my top albums of the year in 2000 and her followup album, Woman again offers
both introspective "girl and a piano" songs as well as dancehall-ready remixes
like the Cher-influenced "Woman," and the throbbing synth come-on "Naked" (a
track revamped from her last disc). Almost too expansive at 18 tracks, there's
definitely something here for everyone. Gilli Moon offers one of the best examples
of just how good indie releases can be.
Tanya Donelly – Beautysleep
(4AD): The former Throwing Muse and leader of Belly came out of extended maternity
leave this year to release the sadly unheralded Beautysleep, an album that draws
plenty of inspiration from motherhood in its lyrical sighs and chiming, laidback
beauty. A welcome return from Donelly and a rich entry ticket to dreams.
24) Matchbox Twenty– More
Than You Think You Are (Atlantic): After an astonishingly successful
solo breakout single with Santana and a rousing hit-laden collection (Mad
Season) with his band in 2000, Rob Thomas returned at the end of this year
with MT to showcase yet another collection of emotive, rock-radio ready anthems.
They just keep getting better.
25) Goo Goo Dolls – Gutterflower
(Warner): Eschewing strings and big "Black Balloon" ballads,
the Goo Goo Dolls hit the boards in 2002 with an album of solid rock riffs –
and it's one of their strongest releases yet.