Off-Key with Eric D: much more in 2004

Eric D'Orazio

Well kids, 2003 has come and gone. And with it has left a whole slew of great albums, singles and illegal MP3s for us to cherish henceforth. From the crazy beats of Blur to the ’80s metal audacity of The Darkness, that stellar year in music will surely be missed. However, take heart, for it’s the start of 2004, and with this fourth installment of Y2K, new and interesting music is all, but abundant.

Launching the year with notable success is the new self-titled third effort from L.A. garage rock favorites Phantom Planet. Though they ditched their founding drummer, actor Jason Schwartzman, and re-released their second album, “The Guest,” with seemingly unnecessary bonus tracks, the band has pulled together a nice 12-song set, including the hit “Big Brat,” which has got the critics raving. As to whether they will make a true breakthrough with this album, only time will tell.

Speaking of a breakthrough waiting to happen, 2004 will see the American debut of The Cooper Temple Clause, quite possibly the U.K.’s finest band at the moment. Sounding something like a heavier, more grandiose version of America’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the British six-piece will release “Kick Up the Fire, And Let the Flames Break Loose” on Feb. 26. With powerful tracks like “Promises Promises” and “Blind Pilots,” waiting to be unleashed upon US radio, the album will certainly be a “must-have” record this year.

In similar form to The Cooper Temple Clause, British folk-rockers The Coral are planning to make it bigger in 2004 as well. Having already gained relative success in the States from their self-titled debut two years ago, the group will release their sophomore effort, “Magic and Medicine,” into the U.S. sometime in the spring. Considering its great potential, with U.K. hits like “Pass It On” and “Don’t Think You’re The First,” the album should fare quite well in America. And if all else fails, The Coral’s third album, the limited edition, “Nightfreaks and the Sons of Becker,” will be released into the U.K. on Jan. 26.

Following up on the forthcoming success of Brit-rock this year come Ash, by far the finest band in Northern Ireland’s history. Based on the U.S. success of their fourth album, “Free All Angels,” the band have recorded their as-yet-untitled fifth masterpiece in Hollywood with Foo Fighters’ producer Nick Raskulinecz for an April release date. Though earmarked as being Ash’s heaviest record to date, fans and newcomers alike will find enlightenment in songs like “Renegade Cavalcade,” “Orpheus” and “Evil Eye.” In all honesty, this could very well be the album of the year, but then again it’s anyone’s call.

Looking back inside America, New York City’s own Interpol is preparing their second album for an early summer release. Having played a slew of new songs during last year’s fall headlining tour, the band headed back into the studio and began recording their material immediately. Though it is unclear whether or not the album has met full completion, it is known that it will hold tracks such as the moving “Length of Love” and “NARC,” as previewed last fall.

Though Interpol seems to be making a real mainstream comeback with their new record, the true comeback kids of 2004 are none other than emo-gods Weezer. In similar form to 2002’s “Maladroit,” Weezer’s next artistic endeavor will focus upon nothing more than good-time metal. In fact, they’re so into the idea of putting out such a hard-rocking record that they’ve recruited System of a Down and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ producer Rick Rubin to man the controls. With these factors in mind, the band’s record shall certainly come out as the most memorable piece of music this summer.

Should one be looking for an even more credible, yet incredible piece of music in 2004, they need look no further than the new album from Wales’ own Manic Street Preachers. Unlike their previous six albums, the Manics’ newest effort has been described by the band as “elegiac pop” and was partially recorded in New York with David Bowie producer Tony Visconti for a fall release. With song titles like “Everything Will Be,” “Litany” and “Emily,” a tribute to Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, it’s a sure thing that the band’s taste for politically charged rock has yet to be squelched.

When it comes down to it, the fact remains that one album reigns supreme in the field of new releases for 2004. Though seemingly not the finest record in the bunch, that outstanding masterpiece at hand is the tenth album from musical genius Beck. Due to hit stores in the fall, the enchanting wizard of rhythm has promised an about-face from the sad songs of 2002’s “Sea Change” and a resurgence of more rocking tracks, in the vein of 1996’s “Odelay” and 1999’s “Midnite Vultures.” With any luck, his recorded version of last year’s “Feel Good Time” may make it on the album, but one can only hope.

So, if anything should be learned from the forthcoming music of 2004, it is that this year will be a rocking one. In addition to the albums alluded to, 2004 will see new records from elder statesmen of rock, such as R.E.M. and U2, as well as EPs from Blur and Radiohead, and new solo albums from Matthew Good and Graham Coxon. Maybe Guns ‘N’ Roses’ long delayed “Chinese Democracy” will meet its release this year, but don’t hold your breathe. The point is that even though 2003 was such a great year for music, there’s much more lying in wait for 2004.