Off-key in 2003: Best of wrap-up

Eric D'Orazio

Okay, so it’s that time of year again. That wonderful season in which I, your local friendly music guru, compile the finest recorded works of the year in an effort to prove how great 2003 was. Sure it’s a generic thing to do, but hey, who ever said being predictable wasn’t fun? After all, Spin is doing it, and most likely Rolling Stone is as well, so I suppose I should join in the festivities, too. Anyway, they’ll probably give too much credit to some over-produced, under-conceived pop records, hence, my purpose is well-founded. So, in similar form to Michael Jackson’s recent legal woes, here we go again:

10. The White Stripes, “Elephant”

Supposedly the biggest album of the year, Jack and Meg’s new album comes up short in respect to overall expectations. Sure, it’s a great thing that they produced the album for under $10,000, but the songs just taper off from time to time. On the whole, it’s a good record, possibly worthy of the five stars given it by Rolling Stone, but only time will tell if it is truly deserving of such acclaim.

Standout tracks: “The Hardest Button To Button,” “Little Acorns”

9. Elefant, “Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid”

Spending a good deal of 2003 opening for fellow New Yorkers Interpol, Elefant has the potential to be the next big thing. In fact, they probably are the next big thing, right after Interpol for that matter. Anyway, their debut album is as tight as they come, packed with exuberant songs about love and longing, and driven by lead singer Diego Garcia’s moving vocals, as well as bassist Jeffrey James Berrall’s superb bass grooves.

Standout tracks: “Bokkie,” “Tonight Let’s Dance”

8. Manic Street Preachers, “Lipstick Traces”

Yet another fine example why the Manics are the greatest Welsh rock band of all time, this two-disc, 35-song collection spans the band’s deep back catalogue of b-sides, rarities and covers, and does an insanely good job in doing so. It evenly balances the band’s early, socially-charged and vitriolic work with their latter, more politically-oriented arena-rock. Altogether, it’s an outstanding effort form start to finish.

Standout tracks: “Judge Yr’self,” “Spectators Of Suicide,” “Train In Vain (live)”

7. Radiohead, “Hail To The Thief”

Basically, Radiohead’s sixth effort is nothing more than a combination of their last two records, “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” but just put to different lyrics. Yet, though it may sound the same, the album is a true pleasure nonetheless. The songs are quite enjoyable for the average fan, and quite intriguing for those unaccustomed to the band’s style since 2000. Though the album fails to break new ground, it does allow Radiohead to hold their position as our generation’s most provocative group.

Standout tracks: “2+2=5,” “Scatterbrain”

6. Travis, “12 Memories”

Marking the dawn of the new, more political Travis, their fourth album is simply amazing. Focusing more on world peace and religious issues than falling in love and holding hands, the band has matured to a level that few of their peers seem to reach. Though they may already be famous, at least overseas, this album will make them all but legendary.

Standout tracks: “Peace The **** Out,” “Some Sad Song”

5. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Take Them On, On Your Own”

Based upon the massive success of their self-titled debut, B.R.M.C.’s second album was destined to be incredible. And quite obviously, it is, with even harder hitting songs, stronger melodies and a title that makes the competition quiver in their designer boots. Aside from the big mainstream hit they had with “Stop,” the band stay highly credible by means of their no-rules attitude and all black wardrobe.

Standout tracks: “U.S. Government,” “Heart + Soul”

4. The Strokes, “Room On Fire”

As predicted by almost every critic under the sun, The Strokes follow-up to their smash “Is This It” was itself a smash success. Focusing less on moving ahead artistically, the band’s sophomore effort resembles their debut to a great degree, yet stands apart as being more synth-based and driven by singer Julian Casablancas’ powerful vocals. In all truth, the band has made a great second album, which in turn points the way to even greater things in the future.

Standout tracks: “What Ever Happened?,” “Between Love & Hate”

3. Matthew Good, “Avalanche”

Epic. That’s the only word viable enough to describe Matthew Good’s awe-inspiring solo album, his first after having disbanded the legendary Matthew Good Band. The songs are nothing but mammoth pieces of genius, clocking in at an average of five minutes and above, and dealing with issues like fallen fame, diplomatic policy and third world debt relief. If this album is anything to go by, then Matthew Good is set for greatness.

Standout tracks: “Weapon,” “While We Were Hunting Rabbits”

2. The Dandy Warhols, “Welcome To The Monkey House”

Known mainly for deep and trippy songs about sex and drugs, The Dandy Warhols have moved into the realm of ’80s rock and procured their finest album yet. Driven by synth-hooks, gorgeous falsettos, and the recurring sound of bong-water, the album not only produces the soundtrack for all forms of debauchery, but remains decadent unto itself. Certainly, this is the feel good record of the year, no questions asked.

Standout tracks: “We Used To Be Friends,” “You Come In Burned”

1. Blur, “Think Tank”

Having deposed their primary guitarist and lost their appetite for pop music, Blur has really headed in a different direction with their seventh studio album. Instead of simply bowing out or producing an album of recycled tunes, the band’s latest effort stands as a tight set of 13 remarkable songs that single-handedly bring back the art of lo-fi guitar and instill the music industry with a renewed interest in Middle Eastern beats. All in all, with their latest effort in mind, Blur has made the quintessential album of 2003.

Standout tracks: “Out Of Time,” “Sweet Song”