Top40: The Best of 2003 |
Top40-Charts presents the 40 best albums of 2003 (also you will vote them very soon for having our users opinion).
31. Drive-By Truckers
They earned wide acclaim with the double-disc Southern Rock Opera, a sprawling concept album about Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their three-guitar lineup and greasy look signify big, dumb rock in the minds of many, but their songwriting is relentlessly whip-smart. And what may be their greatest song, "The Living Bubba," is an ode to a righteous, hard-rocking redneck felled by AIDS. No, the Drive-By Truckers never do anything by the book, so it's no surprise that with Decoration Day, the band's first release for indie New West Records, Patterson Hood and his mates take another rewarding left turn.
The album boasts a handful of crowd-pleasing, party-starting cuts, like the brash, cranky rocker "Hell No, I Ain't Happy" and the Stones ringer "Marry Me." Yet more common are moments of startling beauty (the steel solos on "The Deeper In" and "Loaded Gun in the Closet" and the jangling guitars, rolling melodies, and soulful fiddle breaks of "Heathens" and "My Sweet Annette") and heavy doses of recrimination and regret, as in the back-to-back suicide tunes "When the Pin Hits the Shell" and "Do It Yourself."
Southern rock hasn't sounded this good since the days of Lynryd Skynryd. These boys have delivered a narrative on the southern way of life that is at once proud, while at the same time recognizing its flaws. 'Marry Me' is a better Stones song than anything Mick and Keith have written in over twenty years, and 'Outfit' is as good a song as you'll hear anywhere. As the album closes with the alarming poignancy of "Loaded Gun in the Closet", it drives home the fact that the Drive-By Truckers are easily one of the best independent rock bands in America today! Nobody writes and plays such honest, thoughtful, loud rock 'n' roll as these guys do, and with this, their fifth album, you get the feeling that they've only just gotten started.
32. Linkin Park
Linkin Park's second studio effort (not counting the 2002 remix album Reanimation) overflows with glossy production values and Big Rock oomph, fully embracing the pop instincts of their Hybrid Theory debut. For many, Theory sounded inexcusably corporate, from its too-timely rap-rock sound to the long list of product endorsements included in the liner notes. Meteora will only amplify those complaints, but this album is actually truer to the band's nature. It's still impossible not to hear strains of Limp Bizkit, Korn, Rage Against the Machine, and the like. None of those acts, however, would try something as blatantly anthemic as "Easier to Run," which would sound fine to a Def Leppard fan, or as borderline danceable as "Breaking the Habit" and "Session."
Linkin Park is what Trent Reznor was always afraid of becoming, but if you ever wished he would drop the pretenses and just make a hair-metal record, you'll find Meteora to your liking. This album simply defies the laws of music. Hybrid Theory proved to be an incredible debut album, and somehow, Linkin Park has followed it with an album of even more incredible sound! Meteora bears a resemblance to Hybrid Theory in some of the song structure, but when you break down the album song by song, you can see why Meteora is vastly superior to its predecessor. The guitar riffs are not plain, and a person has to be extremely talented to play their music. This band is probably the most talented rock band right now!
Chain Gang of Love
The first full-length album by the Danish duo Raveonettes rocks! Last year, The Raveonettes came popping out of Copenhagen with an armload of press-ready gimmicks: a quirky boy/girl rapport, a preoccupation with 1950s, noir-heavy American kitsch, The Jesus & Mary Chain's discography memorized in full. Probably you aren't into this so-called movement of the "The" bands (i.e The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, etc.) but this is different. Unlike the aforementioned bands, The Raveonettes manage to incorporate some infectious hooks into their music. Maybe you are not know many about the whole distorted, fuzzed guitar sound but we thought it really works with The Raveonettes.
"Noisy Summer" made us want to buy the cd. Normally ourmusical tastes leans more towards the darker side lyrically and musically but we thought "Chain Gang of Love" was a half hour bliss of pure joy. It has a very retro sound, very Link Wray-ish, Buddy Holly-ish sound. After listening to "Chain Gang of Love", we are officially now fans of The Raveonettes. They definitely are one of the best bands we have heard in a long time.
Their sound is so different from the rest - more like The Jesus and Mary Chain meets the Beach Boys meets the Shangri Las. Each song clocks in at around 3 minutes and before you know it the album has ended and you must go back for more. Sune and Sharin's harmonizing shoo-waps on top of sonic and rockabilly guitar is pure genius and it is a pleasure to listen them on the radio!
Teenagers should love it!
34. Warren Zevon
USA Today, August 28, 2003: "The Wind probes a wealth of moods and emotions that find Zevon more an excitable boy than the poor-poor-pitiful-me type".
Ever since rock-and-roller Eddie Cochran died in a car crash while his single Three Steps to Heaven was climbing the charts, rock music has been big on unwitting musical epitaphs. There is a ghoulishly appealing aura of doomed romance and mysticism about albums that appear to presage their authors' demise.
There are albums made shortly before an artist takes their own life, which critics are quick to claim as musical suicide notes: Joy Division's Closer, Nirvana's In Utero, the Manic Street Preachers' Holy Bible. There are albums packed with eerie coincidences: Lynyrd Skynyrd's Street Survivors, released three days before a plane crash killed three members of the Southern rock band, featured them standing in flames on the cover and included an order form for a "Lynyrd Skynyrd survival kit".
However, actual musical epitaphs - albums made by artists who know they are going to die - are a rare occurrence. The two major examples to date featured terminally ill superstars playing to type. Queen's Innuendo had Freddie Mercury Judy Garlanding his way to the grave, coming up with songs called things like The Show Must Go On. George Harrison's final album, Brainwashed, saw the quiet Beatle largely avoid the subject of his mortality, before signing off with a rather grumpy title track on which the pet subject of unfair taxation made a final appearance.
So the news that American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, who was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in August 2002, had chosen to make a farewell album was greeted with understandable curiosity. For most of his career, Zevon seemed preoccupied with illness and death. People were always dying in his songs. His oeuvre was studded with titles such as Life'll Kill Ya and Don't Let Us Get Sick. His most recent anthology boasted the title I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. In addition, Zevon's speciality was flippant, sardonic wordplay and a kind of ironic detachment. His rhetoric was clever enough to earn him the tag of "the songwriter's songwriter", but it hardly seemed the ideal style with which to tackle the subject of imminent death.
It is, of course, virtually impossible to be objective about the musical last-will-and-testament of an artist who died recently. Then again, objectivity does not seem to be the point of The Wind. Before his death, Zevon was open about his reasons for making the album. They were strictly personal. "If I can let someone know what I felt about them," he said in an interview earlier this year, "that's more important than passing off some bullshit insight I've had about living on the planet." You suspect that if Zevon had attempted to do the latter, critics - particularly in the US, where the album was released shortly before Zevon's death - would still have acclaimed The Wind as a masterpiece. Nevertheless, its curiously unassuming nature lends the album an unsettling power that all the weighty pronouncements in the world could not match.
Despite the all-star supporting cast - including Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, The Eagles' Don Henley and Emmylou Harris - it is musically and lyrically understated, and frequently suffused with an almost unbearable poignancy. The circumstances in which it was written and recorded turn El Amor de Mi Vida from a straightforward song ruefully reflecting on a lost love into an oddly invasive experience. It is hard not to feel you are eavesdropping on a personal conversation that you shouldn't really be listening to, however beautiful the melody.
The net result is an occasionally uncomfortable but unique record. "Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath, keep me in your heart for a while," he pleads on the album's lovely closing track. It's nice to report that Zevon gets his dying wish: it seems unlikely that anyone who hears The Wind is liable to forget it in a hurry.
Some bands change and their sound evolves. Certain bands have changed so much over the years that it's very hard to recognize their original style in anything new they put out. A perfect example of this is Rush. The constant metamorphosis of their sound over the years has been hailed as "adapting" and "changing with the times."
However, when a band like Metallica does it, it's been labeled as "selling out" and "going pussy," etc. Following the stripped-down Load and Re-Load, they've returned to the raw, vitriolic savagery of their earlier canon, using 1984's Ride the Lightning as a template for St. Anger. The title track provides the psychic lynchpin of the album by combining the bombast and defiance of the band's earliest high-water marks with more deliberate lyrics and emotional nakedness.
Equally cathartic is "Some Kind of Monster," a lumbering beast of a song that declares, "This is the voice of silence no more." Despite that claim, there's an economy to these lyrics; James Hetfield's raw-toothed growl only occasionally punctuates the menacing soundscapes. In fact, "Dirty Windows," the standout album track, is a shimmering five-minute instrumental that's free of the baroque trappings that sometimes clutter the Metallica landscape.
Also included is a bonus DVD featuring a down n' dirty live-in-the-studio performance of every track on the album. Never before has an artist designated a live DVD performance of a new album to simultaneously accompany its new studio release (the album produced by Bob Rock).
The listeners focus on the profanity and the sexually explicit material and view it as a sign that Peaches is simply out for shock value. And although it would be disingenous to argue that that doesn't play some role, it is a mistake to view the album as little more than a string of self-conscious naughtiness. Peaches pushes the envelope because that's what the music industry -and probably the country - needs. She sings about sex because that's what people think about. She curses because that's how most of us talk when we're around our friends anyway. With Peaches, you get the impression that there is no double standard between her private moments and her public performances. She's sexual, and so are her shows. It's sexist to critique a woman for being overly sexual on stage when no one so much as bats an eye when someone like Snoop Dog shows up at the VMAs with two women on collars.
The album honestly (and humorously) deals with sex and the funny little boxes that we've chosen to construct around ourselves. It also deals with interpersonal politics, and the fictions that construct contemporary gender identity.
So do yourself a favor, whoever or whatever you are. Pick up the Peaches album, and listen to what liberation sounds like. Peachy is up there with Grace Jones, Tina Turner, Iggy Pop and a host of other rock and roll / music icons. For real, she's amazing on the stage, go see her live if you can!
37. Kid Rock
Is Kid Rock about to drop the first half of his stage moniker? Some alarmingly mature cuts on his sixth album, addressing the woes of single parenthood ("Single Dad") and painful separations ("Cold and Empty," a cover of Bob Seger's "Hard Night For Sarah"), might suggest so.
But that's only part of the story. As Rock reiterates on "Son of Detroit," a butt-kicking revamp of David Allan Coe's "Son of the South," "I like country, soul, rock and roll, and I love me some hip-hop." Yet compared to his previous work, that last flavor takes a back seat to the other three: Hank Williams, Jr. drops by for the swaggering "Cadillac Pussy," Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love" gets a gritty nu-metal update, and ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd receive shout outs. Have no fear, fans - even as he reconciles having a child with acting like one, the Kid still lives to rock!
Rock 'n' roll fills the album with machismo, but Kid Rock's love seems to be also spare acoustic balladry. I Am and Cool and Empty, about life on the road, and the trucker imagery of Hillbilly Stomp are the twangy tracks that will keep Kid at the top of the charts.
38. Kings of Leon
Youth and Young Manhood
Already tagged with the unfortunate critical label of "southern-fried Strokes," the full-length debut by the brothers Followill (Nathan, Jared, Caleb) and cousin (Matthew Followill) may well have its roots in their itinerant evangelist father Leon blasting his sons with relentless doses of '70s rock as they traveled the South from one preaching gig to the next. But the way the Kings channel sources as disparate as Led Zeppelin's "That's the Way" into "Joe's Head" or the Who's "Circles" into their "Molly's Chambers" seems almost subconscious; after a decade of bands trying to reinvent the rock wheel, it's refreshing to hear one content to gleefully pry it loose and send it spinning in their own peculiar directions. As with all the great ones, deconstructing the Kings' sound doesn't get you far: singer/guitarist Caleb perpetually seems to be rolling one too many syllables off a lazy, Southern tongue while his haystack-haired brothers and cousin chug maniacally along like some lost, recently re-tooled '60s garage-psych-rock legend.
In the end there's not an ounce of the Strokes' latent pop culture self-consciousness in the Kings' intoxicating sonic haze - just the restless, often bittersweet noise of one of the most original bands to hail from Dixie since R.E.M.
With what words are we supposed to describe Kings of Leon anyway, the best thing to happen to Tennessee since pancake houses and the Smokies? (both of which, we love! :-))
The new version of "California Waiting", "REd Morning Light," "Happy Alone" and "Spiral Staircase" are amazing songs to just crank and blast while driving or tailgating - they are our automobiling soundtrack! Perhaps Youth & Young Manhood manages to be significantly more than an exercise in pastiche because the Followills are still too young to be jaded by these old noises. Whatever the reason, this is a fine start!
39. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Fever to Tell
Well before the release of this solid but slender debut, the Brooklyn-based Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the subject of so much international press hype that the White Stripes were probably taking quick, nervous peeks over their shoulders. But while Fever to Tell captures a lot of what's good about the trio - mostly the caterwauling energy of their club shows - it also exposes the band's limitations. Singer Karen O is the undeniable star here, contorting her voice from a primal P.J. Harvey growl to the pre-orgasmic purr of Chrissie Hynde. Nick Zinner chops, slashes, and torpedoes his guitar around, across, and straight at O's voice, while drummer Brian Chase delivers a suitably raw trash-can thump.
"Fever to Tell" sounds like it should be witnessed in a late-night, dank bar in a big, dirty city - which is pretty indicative of their NYC origins. So it's very much an album that captures the new and emerging NYC revolution. It's an nice start-up record and we think also a promising one. We've got a feeling Karen O and Co. will only get better (Karen O is sort of like a female Iggy Pop). Karen's vocals that steal the show; for once, they fairly drip genuine, regretful emotion. When she sings, "Lay off/ Don't stray/ My kind is your kind/ I'll stay the same.../ They don't love you like I love you," almost on the verge of defeated tears, the emotive response it produces is very real, and that means a lot.
So, the 'star' Karen O sings with frantic, manic energy; she's uninhibited, loud, vulgar, angry - in short, she shows that women really *can* rock if they want to. "Date with the Night" is exemplary of the kind of volatile sound that Karen O's voice spews out effortlessly. She sounds like a monkey in a cage, foaming at the mouth, on "Black Tongue"; and "Maps" is perhaps our favorite song, with an almost coy, pretty sound - Karen O shows here that she can be as beautifully soft as she can be intimidating and mean.
Despite the album's unevenness, we still think it's well worth purchasing even the less captivating songs are still pretty captivating, if that makes sense. There are a lot of cool sounds on this 11-song, 37-minuute disc, and enough metallic-KO attitude to make a bare-chested grandpa like Iggy Pop proud. What's missing is a more varied set of fully fleshed-out songs, the kind it took the White Stripes four albums to write. Hype too early in a career can be terrible burden - ask Liz Phair or, soon enough, the Vines. Better to enjoy Fever to Tell for what it is - an uninhibited blast of garage-rock fury - without swallowing extravagant claims for a potentially great band still under construction!
Room On Fire
The Strokes return with an album that sounds a whole lot like "Is This It." They knew they had a good thing going, so they stuck with it. They combine a touch of new wave (a few repeated synth loops and lots of chiming guitar riffs), folk (simple songs with complex, storytelling lyrics), lots of rock (loud electric guitars and a heartbeat rhythm section), and even the blues (singer Julian Casablancas is unhappy about his love life and isn't afraid to whine about it). Every song blends each these musical styles without sounding cluttered or pretentious.
An acclaimed debut prompts one of two kinds of follow-ups: either the band strives to broaden their palate or they attempt to deepen the colors they splashed all over that heralded first effort. The Strokes' second outing falls in the latter camp. In the tradition of the Ramones' Leave Home and Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory, the Strokes largely stay the course with their second full-length release, producing an album that won't cause the stir that its predecessor did, but has a sneaky appeal all its own. Thanks to the quintet's Lower East Side roots, Velvet Underground and Television references abound with these guys, but Boston new wavers the Cars, and in particular their hit-heavy second album, 1979's Candy-O, provide a more suitable point of reference for Room on Fire. As with Ric Ocasek and company, Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas and his cohorts have a Cars-like knack for sly riffs that creep deeper into ones consciousness with each listen. Not much longer than a half hour from start to finish, this 11-song is modest in intent and execution, and succeeds quite nicely on its own terms.
There is also some criticism about this album: the first is the length. We are not big fans of the overlong, fill-the-entire-CD albums most major bands put out - but 33 minutes?
Second, there's no songs on this album that are as good as the best from "Is This It." None of the new songs are as good as "Last Nite" or "Alone Together." But still, it's worth listening album. It's an impressive follow-up to a brilliant debut... In these wired times, where trends and backlashes occur mere weeks, after one another, it's astonishing to see a band willing to actually take their time developing. You can't produce miracles every time, but you can sure as hell deliver some thrills in the process. Like Jack Kerouac once said, "walking on water wasn't built in a day"!
The best of the best for 2003 without music frontiers:
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