2003 In Review:
Top of the Pops
Nouveau whiny punksters Blink-182 recorded a song with The Cure's Robert Smith; John Mayer's concerts drew women by the droves, based on his looks and the line ("Your Body Is a Wonderland"); Billy Corgan resurfaced from Smashing Pumpkins for a quickly abbreviated foray as Zwan and Styx released its first studio album in 30 years without founder Dennis DeYoung.
Fleetwood Mac left Christine McVie behind; Rob Zombie finally got his edgy Technicolor horror movie and soundtrack, House of 1,000 Corpses released; and Michael Jackson once again made headlines, but not for his music.
It was a strange and varied year in pop music, with bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jet and The Rapture capturing critical attention by drawing inspiration from the roots of punk, while Marilyn Manson, Overseer and Evanescence forged new powerful sounds, melding buzzsaw-guitars and techno beats.
Following are my favorite 25 albums of the year, including their original Pop Stops review star ratings (you'll note from the star ratings that a couple of discs apparently grew on me after I reviewed them). If you missed these in 2003, you might want to pick them up before we get too far into the new year!
* * * TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2003 * * *
The Thorns – The
Thorns (Aware/Columbia): What happens when you pair up three topnotch
singer-songwriters such as Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge? Harmonic
pop-rock, the likes of which hasn't been heard since the golden days of Crosby,
Stills & Nash.
2) Liz Phair – Liz
Phair (Capitol): Phair thumbed her nose at her cultish alternative rock
fan base and swooning critics, and crafted one of the catchiest pop-rock discs
of the year, all the while maintaining her biting lyrical genius.
3) Marilyn Manson – The
Golden Age of Grotesque (Nothing/Interscope):
Abrasive and infectious, the shock rocker delivers a powerful angry stream of
4) Zebrahead – MFZB
(Egg): Pounding rhythms, manic hard-rock rapping and an Offspring-like guitar
fury made Zebrahead's third album hard to turn down — or off.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever
to Tell (Interscope): Classic New York punk came to life again this year
in the three-chord anthems of this trio, led by wildly evocative singer Karen
6) Venus Hum – Big
Beautiful Sky (MCA): With its musical homage to '80s techno and the versatile
charisma of singer Annette Strean, Venus Hum's debut album is a retro-synth pop
lover's dream come true.
7) Kim Fox – Return
to Planet Earth (Oglio): Drawing power from nostalgia, doo-wop harmonies,
Tin Pan Alley song savvy, and even disco nightlife rhythms, every track on Fox's
sophomore CD offers picture-perfect song-writing.
8) Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra
– More Friends (Rhino): This
is the second rollicking album of covers and original songs by Holland to feature
a different lead singer on every song, (everyone from Robert Plant to Norah Jones
turns up). More Friends recaptures the energy of big band soul, gospel,
boogie-woogie rock and R&B.
Caitlin Cary – I'm
Staying Out (YepRock): The former Whiskeytown member proved a consummate
country-rock storyteller on her second solo album, building a rich tapestry of
character portraits and bittersweet melodies.
10) Chantal Kreviazuk – What
If It All Means Something (Columbia): Chantal penned an alluring dozen
emotive, celebratory anthems of soul-baring pop power on her third release.
11) Paloalto – Heroes
and Villains (American): Soaring, Radiohead-like anthem rock.
Joe Jackson – Volume
4 (Rykodisc): The welcome return of Jackson's New Wave rock side.
13) Live – Birds
of Pray (Radioactive): Inspirational hard rock.
14) Overseer – Wreckage (Columbia):
Cool vocal samples, infectious rhythms and rock guitars.
15) Sarah McLachlan – Afterglow
(Arista): Quiet, but effective layered beauty.
Mary Fahl – The
Other Side of Time (Sony Classical): Beautiful songbook of anthems and
ballads from former October Project singer.
17) Bleu – Redhead (Aware/Columbia):
Solid singer-songwriter pop-rock a la Tal Bachman.
18) Evanescence – Fallen (Wind-up):
Industrial power with ethereal vocals.
19) Sting – Sacred
Love (A&M): Polished, polyrhythmic and pure.
20) Blue Man Group – The
Complex (Lava): Percussion (and a sense
of humor) are kings of this Complex.
The Ataris – "So
Long, Astoria" (Columbia): Solid alternative rock.
22) The Rapture – Echoes (Universal):
The Cure married The Clash and found Rapture.
23) Rasputina – The
Lost & Found 2nd Edition (Instinct): Rock cellos have never sounded better
playing Pink Floyd and CCR.
24) Jet – Get
Born (Elektra): Skinny tie punk rock with a Kinks bite.
25) Barenaked Ladies – Everything
to Everyone (Reprise): Still harmonically funny (and occasionally serious)
after all these years.
Other albums worth hearing from 2003: October Project, Black Box Recorder, House of 1,000 Corpses Soundtrack, Martin Gore, Sleeping At Last, Chris Duarte Group, Styx, Wheat, Lucky Boys Confusion, Rose Falcon, American Hi-Fi, Elastica (Radio One Sessions), The Feathermerchants, The Mavericks, Rooney, Will Hoge, Ingram Hill, Serart, Northern State, Blackmore's Night, Peaches, Amy Grant.