2004 In Review:
Muse, Gwen Stefani, Green Day top best of 2004

By John Everson

Ashlee Simpson

U2 bought itself an instant hit by selling its first single from its latest disc to a commercial campaign before the album was even released. Ashlee Simpson released a debut that put her sister to shame but then got the lip sync rug pulled out from under her on "Saturday Night Live," to public ridicule. And members of Guns 'n' Roses pooled their talent with a former Stone Temple Pilot to unleash Velvet Revolver.

Fastball, Matthew Sweet, Duran Duran, Richard Marx and BoDeans all released comeback albums after years of silence. The Cure marked its comeback after four years with a Curiosa summer festival that didn't exactly pack 'em in, but did better on the ticket trail than the canceled comeback of Lollapalooza.

Los Lobos, Mark Knopfler, Casey Chambers, Cowboy Junkies and John Fogerty all delivered solid folk/roots-rock discs, while Jools Holland and Ollabelle offered refreshing takes on classic gospel and R&B. The Killers started a new retro-wave revival, while Hillary Duff, Jesse McCartney and Lindsay Lohan played well to the teen crowd and The Hives, Good Charlotte and Green Day kept the nouveau punk banner held last year by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jet flying high.

Ashlee SimpsonIt was a rewarding year in music on many fronts.

The Pop Stops column reviewed or noted more than 150 CDs over the past year, and at least that many other discs made it in and out of my CD player. I heard a lot of music in 2004.

Following are my favorite 25 albums of the year, including their original Pop Stops review star ratings.

 

 

* * * TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2004 * * *


 

Muse1) Muse – Absolution (Warner Bros.): Buoyed by the electroclash bassline and handclaps of "Time Is Running Out," Muse leapt out of obscurity last summer. While that single is truly an exceptional '80s-techno-meets-modern-gen-X rhythm track, the rest of the band's 3rd album, Absolution, is equally as entrancing.
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2) Gwen Stefani – Love.Angel.Music.Baby (Interscope): Stefani's first full solo CD, outside of No Doubt, is a celebration of bubble gum pop and urban groove, with a heavy nod at the music from the '80s she grew up on. It's both a fresh, new collection of sassy songs and homage to the best synth dance pop of days gone by.
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3) Green Day – American Idiot (Reprise): The punk-pop trio's first album in four years finds the boys still firmly in control of their infectious three-chord songcraft. The disc includes nods to the '60s harmonies of The Who and the thematic ferocity of Bad Religion. Billie Joe has never sounded so cynical.
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Matthew Sweet4) Matthew Sweet – Kimi Ga Suki (Superdeformed/RCAM): Originally released for his fans in Japan, Sweet's first solo disc in five years is filled with raw guitar leads and reverb-heavy vocals. Spotlighting Sweet at his most raucous, this is a garage-rock album that feels like the best of his older catalog, from Girlfriend to Altered Beast.
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5) Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Friends 3 (Radar/Warner/Rhino): This is the third rollicking album of covers and original songs by Holland to feature a different lead singer on every song (everyone from Buddy Guy, Ruby Turner and Smokey Robinson to Bryan Ferry, Paul Rodgers and Ringo Starr turn up). Friends 3 recaptures the energy of big band soul, gospel, boogie-woogie rock and R&B.
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6) Secret Machines — Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise): Merging bombastic rhythm tracks with a parade of serpentine guitar leads, Brit-pop-tight vocals and a progressive art-rock vibe from the early days of Rush, Secret Machines unleashed an album like no other this year. It delivers more with every spin.
( ½)

Elysian Fields7) Elysian Fields – Dreams That Breathe Your Name (Diluvian): Elysian Fields' first full CD got a wide release back in '96 through Radioactive Records. However this, its third, only found release on a minor label in Europe last year, and finally made it to these shores this year. This is one of the most entrancing CDs of 2004.
( ½)

8) Los Lobos – The Ride (Hollywood/Mammoth): The classic Mexican-American roots rock band's latest effort takes a cue from Santana, bringing in a series of guest artists on almost every track. Unlike Santana, however, these guests aren't just pop star luminaries. Los Lobos pairs with a series of artists known for creating inventive roots and blues rock. The result is inspired and magical.
( ½)

9) Keane – Hopes and Fears (Interscope): Fans of Palo Alto, Gerry Rafferty and early Radiohead will find touchstones in this wildly evocative soundscape of Brit-pop melancholia. The entire album is a warm wash of emotion that is defies categorizing.
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10) Charlotte Martin – On Your Shore (RCA): Martin wears her Tori Amos and Kate Bush influences without apology. Her debut is a strong declaration of arrival from an artist who hopefully will be around to sing us siren songs for many years to come.
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The Cure11) The Cure – The Cure (Geffen): The kings of dark pop return with its first disc in four years, and with a slate of songs that reference their various styles of the past two decades. They prove that nobody melds insular lyrics with melancholic rock better.
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12) Fastball – Keep Your Wig On (Rykodisc): The wild success of the band's hit singles "The Way" and "You're an Ocean" sent this Austin trio into hiding for almost six years. But its sadly unheralded, overdue return is filled with the kind of warm, fuzzy, rootsy, Beatlesque pop that appeals to almost everyone.
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13) BoDeans – Resolution (Zoe/Rounder): Eight years off hasn't dulled their pens; the BoDeans' 7th studio album returns to the roots of this classic roots-rock band. Resolution focuses on simple-but-powerful song writing and the sweet-and-sour vocal harmonies of Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann.
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Dogs Die in Hot Cars14) Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Please Describe Yourself (V2): If you survived the alternative '80s, this disc will bring back fond memories of the angular, intellectual pop of XTC, with the occasional shade of China Crisis. If those bands don't mean anything to you, then this will be a refreshing dose of quirky pop that's like nothing else on the radio today.
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15) Mary Lou Lord – Baby Blue (Rubric): Her waifish, wispy vocal delivery makes Lord an instantly comfortable friend on your speakers. Baby Blue perfectly captures the complex emotions of being a "Long Way From Tupelo," revels in the pop cover of Badfinger's "Baby Blue" and cringes at the danger in "Someone Always Talks."
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16) Ollabelle – Ollabelle (Columbia): This jazz and blues-influenced sextet heavily mines the fields of old spirituals, such as "Soul of a Man," "Elijah Rock" and "Jesus on the Mainline," on their debut, offering a complex mix of soulful emotion, style and vocal harmonies. Inspired and inspiring.
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Butterfly Boucher17) Butterfly Boucher – Flutterby (A&M): Twenty-something Aussie singer-songwriter Butterfly Boucher delivers an impressive batch of instantly catchy pop-rock songs on her debut album. She also produced the CD and played virtually every instrument on it. There are a dozen tracks on Flutterby, and almost every one offers a lyrical and musical hook that sticks with you for days.
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18) Duran Duran – Astronaut (Epic): Their first album with all the members who shot to stardom with "Girls on Film" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" in almost 20 years is a non-stop party of a synth-pop reunion.
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19) Five For Fighting – The Battle for Everything (Aware/Columbia): John Ondrasik's second disc, as Five For Fighting, is filled with the same heartachy vocal attack and adventurous lyricism that took his first album of folksy pop songs to the top of the charts.
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Richard Marx20) Richard Marx – My Own Best Enemy (EMI): Marx has matured as a songwriter since his '80s hits. His fifth album has a darker edge to its lyrics than those early pop smashes, yet his knack with a catchy pop hook is still overpowering.
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21) Ashlee Simpson – Autobiography (Geffen): Move over Jessica; there's a Simpson with talent in town. She's less shrill than Avril Lavigne and more naοve than Liz Phair, but she can sing pop-rock as strong as either of them.
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22) The Hives – Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope): While often their lyrics seem nonsensical, their update of the Sex Pistols meets the Clash punk sound makes meaning meaningless. This is an album about retro-feelin' rockin' out. The words are loud, but superfluous.
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23) I Am the World Trade Center – The Cover Up (Gammon): Mixing Blondie/Human League style synthesizer instrumentation with a fresh 2004 vibe and the seductively cool vocals of Amy Dykes, this independent CD offers a dozen tracks that sound like they could have been produced by Yaz, the Human League or Blondie in the mid-'80s.
( ½)

Alanis24) Alanis Morissette – So Called Chaos (Maverick/Reprise): Musically, Morissette's third studio album since her groundbreaking 1995 Jagged Little Pills CD is a rousing pop affair, but its undercurrent of incessant female relationship victimization remains steady. Long live the jaded Alanis!
( ½)

25) Tony C. And The Truth – Demonophonic Blues (Lava): Led by a gravelly voiced singer who sounds like he should be fronting a blues band (he's also a boxer and Mensa member), Tony C & The Truth turn up the amplifiers and distortion pedals to crank out some fiery delta blues-colored rock 'n' roll. Strutting riffs and strutting lyrics make this a fun album of delta machismo.
( ½)