2003 In Review:
Top of the Pops

By John Everson

 

Spider-Man 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 Thorns1) 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.
( ½)

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 head-banging hell.
( )

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 Yeahs5) 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 O.
( ½)

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.
( ½)

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 Cary9) 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 Jackson12) 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. (no review available)
( )

15) Sarah McLachlan Afterglow (Arista): Quiet, but effective layered beauty.
( )

Mary Fahl16) 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. (review available 1-8-04)
( )

18) Evanescence Fallen (Wind-up): Industrial power with ethereal vocals. (no review available)
( )

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 Ataris21) The Ataris "So Long, Astoria" (Columbia): Solid alternative rock.
( ½)

22) The Rapture Echoes (Universal): The Cure married The Clash and found Rapture. (review available 1-8-04)
( ½)

23) Rasputina The Lost & Found 2nd Edition (Instinct): Rock cellos have never sounded better playing Pink Floyd and CCR.
( ½)

24) Jet Get Born (Elektra): Skinny tie punk rock with a Kinks bite.
( ½)

25) Barenaked Ladies Everything to Everyone (Reprise): Still harmonically funny (and occasionally serious) after all these years.
( ½)

The Thorns

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.