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 Features: The Best of 2003 

Top40: The Best of 2003

The best of the best for 2003:
1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40

Top40-Charts presents the 40 best albums of 2003 (also you will vote them very soon for having our users opinion).

11. Kathleen Edwards

(from Canada)

This young, 24, Canadian singer-songwriter delivers a sucker punch of an american debut. While it may take a few listens for some of the material to sink in, Kathleen Edwards plainly has attitude to burn and a killer band to back it up. As a rootsy artist who sings about sexual attraction and betrayal with a languid breathiness, she inevitably has been tagged a younger Lucinda Williams, but it would make as much sense to describe her as an alt-country Ani DiFranco or a female Ryan Adams.
What's most powerful in her music, however, seems to come from a deeper, more personal place than the study of other artists: from the violent climax of "Six O' Clock News" to the bitter resignation of "Hockey Skates" to the buoyantly rocking resilience of "12 Bellevue" to the offhand sensuality of "Westby." Plainly, she's unconcerned with ruffling feathers, titling one number "One More Song the Radio Won't Like" and elsewhere asking the musical question "Do you think your boys' club will crumble just because of a loudmouth girl?"

Kathleen Edwards keeps up the groove, alternating ballads and rockers, some of which work better than others. If she can keep developing as an artist, there is no reason to believe that she won't soon be on the level of the likes of Emmylou Harris or Lucinda. Whether she lived them or not, the experiences on Failer obviously come from a very real place.

Overall, a strong debut from a young artist who has a lot to live up to! Kathleen is someone well worth watching for in the future; hopefully, American radio stations, be they country or adult-alternative, will latch onto her. Kathleen Edwards recently finished up her touring engagements in support of Failer. She plans to go into the studio in early 2004 to record her next album. Only one year of its first release, Failer is easily the 'discovery' for 2003...

12. Al Green
I Can't Stop

(from USA)

The highlight of I Can't Stop, Al Green's reunion with producer-arranger Willie Mitchell, the architect of his deathless '70s hits, is "My Problem Is You." Over six and a half minutes, Green roars, wails, and rambles through a mid-tempo exploration of a seemingly unsolvable riddle - the love of a woman and its hold on him. In great voice, his high-end barely touched by time, he makes every moment count over these dozen originals; often lacking the layer of eccentricity that colored tracks as diverse as "I Can't Get Next to You" and "Belle," the songs still ring with the Reverend's authority.

Mitchell's grooves add to the ecstatic mood, especially when the thumping bottom-end syncopation of a track like "Million to One" suggests that of, oh, "Look What You Done for Me." The first time this pair has worked together since a 1985 gospel album, I Can't Stop blows away the dust and finds more life and gutbucket flash in a seemingly inexhaustible vein.

Also, we used to say to each other during the early 70s: "Al Green is God." We got the shivers from Al even back then. We are so excited to have Al back in the mainstream! It is unbelievable to hearing him again on the biggest RnB and Pop stations worldwide. Everyone is right on that his voice hasn't dissipated one tiny shred. Maybe we'll get lucky, and he'll tour the world behind this...?
It's not hyperbole to say that Green possessed one of the 20th century's most distinctive and wonderful voices. Swooping from a controlled, gently seductive coo to ecstatic, improvised cries and moans, it seemed to encapsulate the struggle between sex and spirituality at soul music's heart. At 57, Green's voice is still fantastic, his vocal interspersed with remarkable falsetto screams. It is a lovely thing to hear.

I Can't Stop has more to offer than a rush of nostalgia. The songwriting is largely superb, which keeps the album from sounding like a clever pastiche. Rainin' In My Heart and Not Tonight are heartbroken ballads, beautifully performed. Three decades as a pastor have done nothing to blunt the troubled edge in Green's voice: whatever spiritual fulfilment he has found, he still has the ability to sound as tortured as ever.
Even the lengthy blues track My Problem Is You is a draining experience for all the right reasons. If none of the uptempo numbers quite scale the heights of Let's Stay Together or Here I Am (Come And Take Me), there are a handful so close that it is hard to notice the difference, at least while you are listening to them.

13. Tahiti 80
Wallpaper For The Soul

(from France)

"It's a definition of all music," Tahiti 80 frontman Xavier Boyer says, deconstructing the title of the poptastic Paris combo's second album, "Wallpaper for the Soul". "Imagine your heart as a house. Music is a way to decorate, to bring colors to your life."
Tahiti 80 got its unofficial start in 1993, when singer/guitarist Boyer and Portuguese-born bassist Pedro Resende met at the University of Rouen near Normandy. Classes were often skipped in favor of listening to records and learning how to play. A year later, guitarist Mederic Gontier came on board, while Sylvain Marchand, a childhood friend of Boyer's, joined up on drums in 1995. They were inspired by not just the Beatles and the Beach Boys but the Left Banke and the Zombies, not just Serge Gainsbourg but Sergio Mendes - though the name was not an homage to Brazil '66 (it came off a t-shirt Xavier's parents brought back from holiday).

We'd say this is one of the most well-crafted indie-pop albums we've heard since "Life" by The Cardigans. Definitely the best release by Tahiti 80 so far, on the limits of 2002/03 (late November 2002). We are really impressed by this album because it retains the best aspects of their previous release while carrying over none of the drawbacks. The last album had summery melodies and warm harmonies, but sometimes suffered from being too sappy.
The lyrics could also be cheesy at times. But on the new album, the sound is just as "feel good" with a continuation of the good melodies that define this band and this genre of music, but their sound and musicianship is now more refined and mature, as is the songwriting. They have made a good use of strings and electronics to accent their music without overdoing it (like the latest Flaming Lips album). This album shows a nice growth from their last one. It's always great to see a band you like improve from album to album.
Definitely, an essential addition to your growing pop collection!

14. Alicia Keys
The Diaries of Alicia Keys

(from USA)

If pop stars had approval ratings, Alicia Keys's score would go on the US chart! It is not just a matter of commercial success, although her 2001 debut album, Songs in A Minor, sold 10m copies. In two years, the 21-year-old New Yorker seems to have achieved a mass acceptance that stretches far beyond platinum discs. Politicians, not a social group renowned for their love of retro soul, seem to love her: she has performed at the House of Commons and spoken before a US congressional committee. As for prizes, Keys has won everything except the FA Cup: Grammies, Billboard Awards, American Music Awards, a VMA, NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Awards, World Music Awards and something called an ECCHO, which leads you to suspect that people are actually making up awards in order to give them to her!

On musical terms, her second album indicates this question has bothered Keys herself. Its highlights fuse the earthiness of her heroes with some of the futuristic flash of current R&B. It absoloutely works and the results are great. Heartburn marries the explosive brass and choppy guitars of a Blaxploitation soundtrack to a beat bearing the influence of visionary producer Timbaland. The single You Don't Know My Name takes a sample from slick 1970s trio the Main Ingredient and transforms it into a piece of art!
Also there is plenty of knowing references to old records: the sitar effect from early 1970s Motown singles crops up on If I Was Your Woman, while Feeling U Feeling Me, features a squawky synthesizer reminds Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. As anyone who saw her live show last year knows, Keys is given to labouring the point (she is the sort of performer who sings Prince's How Come You Don't Call Me while standing in a prop telephone box). She studied it classical piano from age seven, an obvious fact when she appeared on her album cover.

Far more interesting is an unexpected dig at the "war against terror" called Wake Up - for Americans the 'ultimate morning song' of 2003. Keys's politics are as mysterious as her personal life: Wake Up is surprisingly direct, sung from the viewpoint of a partner, remembering "Bring my baby back home." It's not the international, but it is an anti-war song likely to find its way into millions of American radio/TV.

So, on this album seems there are a handful of great moments, where risks are taken and ground is broken. Listening to The Diary of Alicia Keys - no matter what anyone says - shows that Alicia has the talent, the spirit and the voice to do many great things. This girl really loves music. Alicia's confidence and passion about her work really shine through on "The Diary of Alicia Keys." Add this album to your 2003 collection and you won't be disappointed.

15. Rufus Wainwright
Want One

(from USA)

Rufus Wainwright is a soldier! He's fashioned as a forlorn knight of yore on this record's cover, brandishing a three-foot iron sword, and shrouded in medieval battle armor. But this image misleads: Want One is more a drove casting of arrows than any detailed fencing bout with mythical demons and fire-breathing dragons. The record is something of cinematic effort, composed of roughly half of the material recorded over the course of six months' studio time that yielded thirty-odd products of his unique musical vision. A follow-up, Want Two, is scheduled for future release, and is said to boast the set's more adventurous and cumbersome confections.

A Renaissance man in modern application, Wainwright's grand scope here covers a great deal of space and unwittingly mines the ground dug out by many a contemporary artist. With multitracked vocals and lush, complex arrangements (both, Wainwright staples), the ghost of Brian Wilson seems a ubiquitous presence - especially on numbers such as "Vicious World", where Rufus' plaintive, appealing croon takes center stage, backed by a chorus of his own likeness and a finely tuned, direct arrangement. "Movies of Myself", with its straight-ahead bounce, drum-led clip, and aberrant guitar crunch, recalls Jason Faulkner. "14th Street" is a Jim Croce chorus-line cabaret burlesque, and "Natasha" loosely tunes in to early Paul Simon-inflected tribute-narratives.

But to say Wainwright is following anything but his own vision would be a misconception. His footsteps mostly lead him back to his earlier cabaret-infused theatre pop and maudlin, hushed anti-ballads. The result is a top-heavy album, with his best material - the more operatic and unconstrained works-- all unfolded within the album's first half hour. "Oh What a World" opens the album with a tuba's reluctant elephant steps and some acoustic plucks, and slowly trickles in a full concert's worth of accompaniment before deploying a string rendition of Ravel's Bolero behind Wainwright's plaintive warble.

"I Don't Know What It Is" follows in with a slow building, twinkling pop sensibility, carrying his most melodic vocal punch. "Go or Go Ahead", the album's most compelling portrait, falls in like fine China crashing to the ground in slow motion, reaching an epic chorus that carries the song just shy of the seven-minute mark. The lyrics carry mythological grandeur, but as with the rest of this album, they're shot through with vulnerability and emotional nudity.
"Vibrate", then, marks the album's low water mark, taking his stream-of-consciousness, take-me-as-I-am drama too far: Over thin instrumental accompaniment and languished tones he sings, "My phone's on vibrate for you/ Electroclash is karaoke, too/ I try to dance Britney Spears/ I guess I'm getting on in years." This, along with "Natasha", "Pretty Things", and "Want" are simply too sparse to offer any real substance. But then "Beautiful Child" cuts in, sounding, before the mix becomes too cluttered, like Wainwright fronting an inspired, experimental U2. Perhaps there is a battle going on here: It sometimes feels like Wainwright is merely fighting his way through inspiration, unable to put anything aside. And between the scrambling and shifty vulnerability, he stumbles onto something that is uniquely his own. But if there's any momentum to speak of leading into this album's sequel, it's the anchoring weight of Want One's second half, without which the record could survive itself.

16. Thrills
So Much For The City

(from Ireland)

One might assume that a band from Dublin called the Thrills would sound a certain way. And one might well be wrong. If northern garage grit is what you're looking for, skip So Much for the City, because this quartet sounds owes less to Northern Ireland forbearers such as Stiff Little Fingers, the Undertones, and Thin Lizzy than to gentle Southern California denizens like the early Eagles, Harvest-era Neil Young, and, strange to say, the Carpenters. More contemporary cousins would be the Jayhawks at their sprightliest. An Irish Americana band with a taste for the lighter side of the country-rock/'70s pop-rock spectrum is certainly an anomaly, and not necessarily an appealing one, but the Thrills approach the California myth with a winning guilelessness and plenty of talent. The story is that that the foursome settled in San Diego and set about soaking up more than just the sun. Songs such as "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)," "Big Sur," and "Hollywood Kids," tell a kind of love story - one between some lads and a beautiful setting, or maybe a state of mind.

So, this is is one of the best albums of 2003 in our review, a 'masterpiece'. Every song is terrific. You never reach for the skip button. Beautiful harmonies in the vein of the Beach Boys and Teenage Fanclub are a joy to listen to. Instrumentation is gorgeous and it's one of those albums that doesn't sound like it was made during any specific time period. It could have been in the 60's or today, terrific!

17. Evanescence

(from USA)

The Daredevil soundtrack provided a nice boost for this previously unknown quartet from Little Rock, Arkansas. Evanescence's songs "My Immortal" and the imposing "Bring Me to Life" are clear standouts in the film, mainly because they work so well with the dramatic, eerie undertones of the storyline. They reappear here on the band's debut, alongside a selection of similarly brooding tracks that evoke pensive artists like Tori Amos and the Cranberries. Vocalist Amy Lee has the kind of voice that can cause weeks of insomnia, but on songs like "Tourniquet" and "Haunted" she belies the music's sinister mood with evenhanded spirituality, thoughtfully letting some light shine through the tempest.

Evanescence's Fallen does indeed show talent, whether it is talent in editing or in the actual vocal strength of the singer is the question. Evanescence's work while underground would suggest it is the latter, with powerfully strong vocals in Origin, a limited release underground album. But Fallen's sound is a more falsified, almost techno-like one. With the possible exception of My Immortal, almost every song sounds heavily edited, drawing listeners away from the true talent of singer Amy Lee.

Therefore, listeners know what to expect from each song, a mix of techno and heavily vocal gothic rock. What Evanescence lacks is diversity, this album does not surprise listeners by coming out with a suddenly different style, as was true in Origin, which featured a 7 minute instrumental entitled "Eternal". If you enjoyed "Bring Me To Life," "Going Under," and "My Immortal" then you can move to the others...

Going Under begins with the sinister guitars and bottom-of-the-well growl that have now become clich�s. The arrangement heads into another downward spiral before Lee's dramatic range scoops up the melody. For Everybody's Fool she flies circles, like a bird of prey, above fierce string lashes, waiting to strike with an arena-pop chorus. The real payoff is when the guitars are unplugged and Lee moves freely between the plunks of piano chords on My Immortal and the cello strings on Hello.
This album has the diversity in order to be successful in the long run; most listeners will stick on it. The album is worth a listen, and it is a 'must' buy. To fellow listeners on any radio and everywhere else (home, car) give it a try and see for your self, cause you will be addicted after one listen! For those who are fed up with the state of rock music these days, Evanescence is definitely a band worth checking out. Moody's rock driven melodies coupled with Lee's profound singing talent make for sound that is theirs and theirs alone. They will definitely not evanesce.

18. Hans Zimmer
Last Samurai (SOUNDTRACK)

(from USA)

This is an entertaining work, but far - and we mean far - from great! We don't doubt the score provides a good musical counterpart for Edward Zwick's film, but on album this is a less than stellar work - melodramatic, redundant, and quite frankly pretty slow and uninvolving at times.
Yes, we read comparisons to other Zimmer works, like Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, Black Rain, etc, and those comparisons can indeed be made. Let us say this, however - this score is far from Zimmer's finest work. There's no question Samurai is a "dramatic" score above all else, and if you want to get hear Zimmer's pinnacle achievement in that area, look no further than The Thin Red Line, the best, most restrained, and ultimately profound score of his career.
Nathan Algren: "Life in every breath..."
Katsumoto: "That is, Bushido"
These words from the movie "The Last Samurai," perhaps best define the essence of the music on this soundtrack. Every note of music is recognizable, and with it carries a stringent dedication to the movie.

We have seen several movies in our days and we haven't met a movie in a long time in that the music carries such feeling, and emotions. However, we believe that in order to fully appreciate the music, one must first see the movie. Only then can a connection be drawn from music to film.
After seeing "The Last Samurai" (three or four times now), we have concluded that the true soul of the movie lies in the spirit of the plot, epic filmography, and the articulation of moments through the music.
The only let down of the CD was the lack of features and layout design. The front and inside cover look like they were thrown together at the last moment. And we would have preferably enjoyed more bonus features such as movie trailers, and maybe even clips from the movie to accompany each track. However, the movie links preferably compensate.

The album is a pretty pleasant listen, and we have found ourselves returning to it several times, despite it being in our mind less than spectacular. The main theme, heard in the first track, is pretty and we suppose authentic enough in creating an Asian ambience. Likewise, the following tracks (and pretty much the entire first half) are subdued and interesting, if still overtly dramatic in a subtle kind of way, and we do admit that we like the Asian influence the score has.
Orchestral background music is a must in any movie that will in time be considered a classic. Hans Zimmer's beautiful articulation from film to sheet is must have for any classical music collection that strives to be great.
The end result sounds something along the lines of Zimmer's The Thin Red Line score mixed with his Gladiator themes. Needless to say, it's an aural delight, and listening to Zimmer blend deep Western horns and themes with Japanese flutes and strings sends chills down the spine.

We'll stop there to avoid retreading too many cliches. One of the best for this year 2003! If you're a fan Hans Zimmer's previous work, you'll find this album easily sliding working its way on to the shelf with your "favorites," and if you're a fan of strong, theme-driven orchestral music, The Last Samurai may be right up your alley.

19. Radiohead
Hail to the Thief

(from UK)

Thom Yorke has said in recent interviews that Hail to the Thief will be the last album from Radiohead as you know them. Two years from now, he predicted, Radiohead will reemerge completely unrecognizable. Given that Radiohead could release a blank CD and have the world salivate over it, the possibilities of Yorke's prophecy inspire both wonder and fear. Funny that the band's latest album, Hail to the Thief, should do the exact same thing.

Filling the gulf between OK Computer's epic progressive rock and Kid A's skittering electronic theatrics, Hail to the Thief borrows equally from each. Its title implies that this will be a collection filled with songs of anger and dissent, but Radiohead no longer howl at the moon like they did on 1995's The Bends. Instead, they use eloquent metaphors and complicated arrangements to express the uncertainty, fear and anger arising from the 2000 US presidential election and a post-9/11 world. There's no doubt about where Thom Yorke and company stand; the prog-rock break on "2 + 2 = 5" and Yorke's terror at the thought of being "put in a dock" make that immediately clear. But there's a prevailing sense of powerlessness here. The tinkling piano behind the cold sonic surface of "Backdrifts" and the brief, swooping melody in the middle of "Sail to the Moon" are islands in a sea of confusion. Like the band's best work, Thief requires more than a few listens to fully appreciate, but those who stick around will be richly rewarded.

What keeps all of Thief's pieces together is Yorke's one-of-a-kind voice. Yorke has always sounded like a ghost from the netherworld, returning to warn you about the evils of mankind. But Kid A and Amnesiac distorted his voice even further, depriving it of its immediacy without adding to its eerie qualities. Here, Yorke's voice is more or less left alone, and it accents the texture of both the guitars and the electronic blips and quirks, particularly on companion pieces "The Gloaming" and "Backdrifts".
The band is also allowed to flex their muscles. Freakouts likes "2+2=5" are accompanied by slow crunchers like "There There," the lead single, and elegantly personal songs like "Where I End and You Begin" and "Scatterbrain". There's no lack of experimentation - "Myxomatosis" sounds like an orchestra of giant zippers, and "Wolf at the Door" is Radiohead's first Dylan homage - but all of it is exciting and never off-putting.

One could argue that Thief doesn't contain a signature moment of brilliance, such as "Paranoid Android" or "Pyramid Song". But it's the kind of album that reveals itself to you in new ways every time you listen to it. Like the band's best work, Hail to the Thief requires more than a few listens to fully appreciate, but those who stick around will be richly rewarded. Overall, it accomplishes the impossible - resurrecting the best of the old while refining the new. And regardless of where they go from here, the one guarantee is that Radiohead will continue to go in directions that inspire surprise and amazement - and everybody understands why Radiohead are the best band in the world!

20. Beyonce
Dangerously in Love

(from USA)

The perfect timing of Beyonce Knowles' career moves continues with the release of her debut solo album. Dangerously in Love's best music is wildly up-to-date, craftily designed for both maximum street acceptance and positioning as some of the most cutting-edge stuff on current radio. The brash first single, "Crazy in Love," melds Jay-Z with an unstoppable Chi-Lites horn sample, shape-shifting into something brand new. Collaborations with Outkast's Big Boi and Sean Paul also prick up the ears, while changes of pace like "Be with You" and "Speechless" achieve their aim with credibility. The disc becomes far too ballad heavy in its second half, but the key stuff is the noise she brings.
At various points tonight she takes to the stage, Robbie Williams-style, dangling by her feet; she descends, on a trapeze, shrouded in warm yellow light surrounded by thousands of blinking stars; she thumps across the Odyssey throwing her hair and shaking her bootie like Tina Turner in her 'River Deep, Mountain High' pomp.

In truth, she doesn't have too many tunes of her own. 'Baby Boy' and 'Crazy In Love' aside, hers is a skinny solo cannon. So, by track three we're onto to a cover of 'Fever'. Closer to the end there's a few exorable Michael Jackson tracks - which may quietly disappear from future shows. But she does throw in some Destiny's Child moments, turning 'Independent Woman', 'Bootylicious' and 'Stronger' into an a cappella sing-a-long medley.
And then Beyonce is gone in a shower of silver paper and a pearly-white Lagan-wide smile. As far as world-wide chart pop superstars go, this is as good as it gets. Overall, we love Beyonce: she's a great dancer and she's much better at doing the "hip hop" flavored stuff than all the other pop divas. She is versatile, and that's what this CD showcases. The fact that she wrote and produced much of what's on her CD is also great to see her music future.

The best of the best for 2003 without music frontiers:

| 1-10 | | 11-20 | | 21-30 | | 31-40 |

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