The Best Albums of 2002

The big stories of 2002? Garage rock breaks, pop bursts, great albums are made. We lost Layne Staley, Lisa Lopes and the great Joe Strummer. It was a year of transition, and record sales were down, but at least the future of proper music looks bright once more. See you in 2003!

30. Starsailor - Love Is Here
Every year, another British band comes along with massive credentials that make you doubt their credibility. Starsailor was the latest entry into the sweepstakes: influenced by the Buckley’s (named after an obscure Tim Buckley album!), making emotional rock. The selling point is singer James Walsh’s powerful throat. At times meddling, but another promising debut. Sweet.
29. Nelly - Nellyville
Sure, he’s banal and riding the gravy train after his hugely succesful debut, but at least you have to give props for his unviolent, happy lyrics, another nail in the coffin of gangsta rap. Really, would you wanna hear another song detailing a gruesome murder, or a party song desribing a rapper’s fly shoes, down to the heel? I thought so.
28. George Harrison - Brainwashed
The Quiet Beatle’s passing last year was expected, but still terribly sad. One would expect these songs (written and recorded when George knew his time was short) to be sombre and depressing. Instead we get songs recorded by a dying man who wants to express his wonder in living one more time, with wonderfully written songs and arrangements. Rest in peace, George. Thank you for the music.
27. Shania Twain - Up!
If you like your pop highly digitalized, something like a female Def Leppard, this is your CD. 38 songs, almost two-and-a-half hours long, with a separate CD for country and pop versions of the songs (not to mention an Eastern-influenced one for international markets), killer pop songs: Shania knows how to cater to her audience. Bless you, Mrs. Lange!
26. Sigur Ros - ( )
In a year full of bands trying to top their previous masterpieces, Sigur Ros faced the same ordeal. “Agaetis Byrjun” was a great start as its title suggested, and this new album is judged on two hands: on one, it is unpronouncable, with no album/song titles, no liner notes, no nothing. Therefore it’s a fuck you to the industry. On the other, its unpronouncable and even slower to percolate. Therefore I will give it time.
25. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
The daughter of Ravi Shankar has a smooth, velvety voice that is used to great effect on jazzy, soft, comforting songs. A pop culture phenomenon for sure, but still a strong debut that bodes well for the future.
24. The Roots - Phrenology
After five albums of hinting at their greatness, the Roots finally release an album so banging, so switched-on and well-developed that they cement their status as the greatest hip-hop band, bar none. These Roots go deep.
23. Justin Timberlake - Justified
A vanity solo project after finding massive success in a digital boy band, as in the case of Afro-licious Justin, is by all rights supposed to fail. Thanks to a more organic R&B approach with superb, original production by the Neptunes and Timbaland, it doesn’t.
22. Missy Elliott - Under Construction
A spoken-word intro lamenting the loss of Aaliyah and Left Eye. A newly slender image after losing fifty-some pounds. Has Missy lost her touch? Hell no! On the follow-up to “Miss E” and its ubiquitous freakfest “Get UR Freak On” Timbaland piles on the sleaze in reverse bossa nova while Missy is still the sexiest, funniest and daring rapper in the business. Hail the queen!
21. Weezer - Maladroit
Cementing the fact that they’ll never make the sequel to their cult classic “Pinkerton”, Weezer’s second album in as many years as another short, punchy affair, even more so than their comeback “Green Album.” Said album was full of breezy harmonies, as is “Maladroit” only this time they’d rather pull a Van Halen-esque guitar solo in the middle of the song. Crunchier than granola.
20. RJD2 - Deadringer
Another reason why Def Jux is one of the edgiest labels out there (not to mention hip-hop label), this Ohio native takes a similar approach to DJ Shadow in chopping up dead voices and obscure record into an emotional, deep stew that reveals more with every listen. A very engrossing, pretty album.
19. Avril Lavigne - Let Go
Okay, she has a little growing up to do, but she’s showing promise. The other movement this year, girls with instruments, was spearheaded by this 18-year Canadian, belting out pop-punk numbers on a guitar with a tight supporting band. Surprisingly, there’s some telling and mature lyrics on this album, but only time will tell how much of her potential little Avril can fulfill. But let's face it, she's got more talent in her guitar pick then all the wriggling pop mistresses do in their entire bodies.
18. The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious
Oh, here they are! Though technically released in 2000 and available as an import, this year it benefits from a major label rerelease and it still sounds as good as it did back then. Aside from boasting great knowledge in physics and philosophy, the coolest names ever (Dr. Matt Destruction? Howlin’ Pelle Almquist? Vigilante Carlstroem?), and a fishy corporate appearance, they blaze through their 12 mini-anthems in a zealous 29 minutes. Seemingly manipulated, but still: what a rush!
17. DJ Shadow - The Private Press
Josh Davis is hopelessly devoted to the hip-hop culture, but is constantly itching to try new sounds. Of course this can only lead to something new, and in this case that proves true. Mixing 80’s electronics with soulful torch ballads, he finds the ghosts in his mind and makes another wide-eyed wonderful album, almost on par with “Endtroducing.....”
16. El-P - Fantastic Damage
After scoring a critical and experimental home run with last year’s “Cold Vein” by Def Jux labelmates Cannibal Ox, El-Producto, the man behind Company Flow and the Def Jux, steps behind the mic on this abrasive, often unlistenable album. However, while Can Ox’s album has its undercurrent flow of hope, this album is the sound of death, a scorched hell on earth. No escaping this.
15. Super Furry Animals - Rings Around the World
These Welsh eccentrics have always shown promise: on their fifth album it finally blooms is glorious, rich Technicolor. Something akin to folks in the 30’s seeing “Gone With the Wind” in full color, this album is layered with immaculate productions and an embarassment of pop hooks. Accompanied with a DVD full of animated videos and remixes, they sure know the meaning of “super-size, please.”
14. Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf
These guys are called stoner rock for some reason. This album is a little too loud and fast to be for them: this is more for people who can’t handle the gothic Korn anymore. Kudos to Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme for getting Dave Grohl’s ass behind the kit where it belongs and drumming with precision and fury unseen in today’s rock world. Truthfully, you would have to be deaf not to hear the roar of these songs.
13. The Vines - Highly Evolved
The most over-produced of the Holy Garage Quad, this debut by the Aussies is more eclectic than the Strokes and the Hives, a sort of Nirvana-by-the-way-of-Pink-Floyd-and-Beatles album, the visceral punk rushes offset by dreamy “ballads” and a mediocre ska-bop. Watch out for Craig Nicholls: if he smokes anymore weed, he’s in danger of becoming the white man’s Snoop.
12. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse
Holy, can this guy ever boast. I mean, calling yourself Jay-Hova is obviously gonna turn some heads. Releasing five Number 1 albums in four years will get you noticed. But sampling “My Way”? Releasing the most consistent double album in rap’s history, free of intros and outros and skits? What more, packing that double album with an army of producers and guests to spin funny, yearning, blazing, and sincere raps about the life and times of a megalomaniac and still keeping it excellent? You know what, he’s earned the right to boast. If he’s not joking, it’s a helluva way to leave the rap game he gave so much to.
11. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Having set themselves up for the impossible (following up “Soft Bulletin”), the Lips delved deeper into their fascination of concept albums and quirky sounds (although the concept kinda disappears after a few songs). Admittedly not as good as their previous album, this one is still another bright step in their eccentric career, the kind of album that will inspire a Midwestern teen to pick up the guitar and dream of a better world.
10. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
A luminous debut for those who missed Joy Division the first time around. Their promotion was prompted by the success of the Strokes, but don’t mistake these New Yorkers for another garage band: sure their album probably cost as much as Julian’s jacket, but their sound is much darker and jangly, somewhat like a depressed REM. A very regal, assured and promising debut, there’s no telling how high this band can go.
9. Eminem - The Eminem Show
Not as groundshattering as his classic “Marshall Mathers LP” from the golden Y2K era, but exponentially better: sick, twisted, sad, funny. He can still switch from iambic tetra to spondee to trochaic in a split second, but his topics stagnate slightly: we know you hate your mother! Try some more of the political stuff you started to touch on. Show us your true worth, Marshall!
8. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Source Tags & Codes
The longest (and most exciting) name in rock. The most destructive live show in rock. And now, one of the most fully realized albums in rock. These Texans transport the extreme dynamics of their live show onto plastic through sharp distorsion, anguished vocals and deep lyrics in complete songs. Listen to it at 11.
7. The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind the Music
If only their name was really true. The Soundtrack of Our Lives make music that sounds so pure and true, you’re convinced it’s the only music that matters. Kinda like Pink Floyd doing covers of Wings songs, they are close cousins of the Hives: Swedish, invigorating, catchy, damn near perfect at their craft. Just that much better.
6. Beck - Sea Change
His original idea of doing a rock idea was shelved after the garage revolution occured. Then his heart was broken. Badly. So instead he made an unironic country-ish heartache album produced by sound whiz Nigel Godrich and parlayed heartache into plastic gold. Yes, Beck is still a genius. The poor guy.
5. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Possibly the most famous album with a back story released this year, and one that gave a record companies a bad name once and for all, Wilco’s oft-maligned “experiment” is a smart, daring, complete work of art. Somewhat ironically, but very fittingly, their most successful one as well. Say what you want about the electronic noises (I was expecting so much more!), but this album has some of Wilco’s strongest songs.
4. N.E.R.D - In Search Of...
The Neptunes are simply the greatest. Even after creating a ridiculous amount of R&B gems, they shake up their album with a live band, giving it an organic, chaotic feel. Toss in smart lyrics about politicians, addicts and clubbing (YEAH!) and you’ve got one heady, brilliant album. Still full of promise after all they’ve done already.
3. Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow

Looking for worthless rap filler? Look elsewhere. The ultimate summer album, this album by West Coast rappers Blackalicious (affiliates of DJ Shadow and Quannum) puts almost every possible emotion and types of song into 74 minutes of plastic. Songwriter-pop, liquid beats, effervescent pop and a simple joy seemingly unheard of in today’s hip-hop world, rhyming about the sunshine and that life is a beautiful thing. Dare I say it is when listening to this.
2. The Streets - Original Pirate Material
This year’s best snapshot album, 21-year old Birmingham rapper Mike Skinner, aka. the Streets, raps about the grey concrete and faceless conditions of modern-day Britannica in a cliped, very cockney accent over a bed of cliped, very dirty garage beats. Sounds overwhelming? It can be, but in terms of capturing the essence of the times (in this case, unemployed young Britons wasted and high, playing Playstation all day), Skinner’s album did it the best.
1. Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
Pulling out a stronger, more mature album than most sophomore albums by major artists have the confidence to do, these British rockers defied expectations and moved ever closer to the Most Important Band level this year. Harder-edged, more melodic, lyrically confident and all-around wonderful, Coldplay’s second album is on par with “The Bends.” Timeless material.

Honorable Mentions

White Stripes - White Blood Cells On my list last year due to being enamoured with several songs, on my list this year due to a major label re-release, these Detroit blues-rockers are simply one of the most exciting, consistently daring bands in the garage movement. Rawer than the Strokes, more spontaneous than the Vines, better than all of them, this album is still a primal charge to the cerebral cortex. Aah, what a rush!
Bruce Sprinsteen - The Rising September 11 was a touchy subject for anyone to touch, let alone musicians. The only artist that could really credibly make an album about that horrible day and make it sincere is the Boss. Toss in the E Street Band after an 18-year absence and you have a purifying, rocking album with the fire and grit you’d expect when dealing with 9/11.
Doves - The Last Broadcast Another British band wanting to follow Radiohead’s footsteps in the epic, orchestral rock department. Coldplay did it better, but the Doves did a magnificent job on their own terms with those atmospheric sophomore effort that wonderfully shuffles dance with rock. A worthy band to worship.
Clipse - Lord Willin' The Neptunes (back for more) take their time to produce the entire debut of Virginia rappers the Clipse (apparently old friends) and make their edgiest songs of the year. The beats are awesome, the lyrics are mediocre. Aside from a couple of songs, it would be better to settle for the instrumental version (sadly unavailable as of now).
K-OS - Exit Finally, a Canadian hip-hop artist who actually says something. Whereas we have the Rascalz, Choclair and Kardinal “representing” with more tired beats, K-OS makes smart arragnments with all sorts of influences (reggae, dub). And his conscious flows? Tremendous. Raise the roof!
The Coral - The Coral Maybe I should just make a separate list for British bands. These Liverpudlians surely made the most befuddling album of the year, mixing together such disparate elements that it’s hard to believe you’re hearing what you are. Pink Floyd, Love, the La’s, Stone Roses, and Frank Zappa are all invited to jam and sing sea shanties. Lots of sea shanties.
The Polyphonic Spree - Beginning Stages Of... Aside from the 36 minute wank of the last song, this is one uplifting album. If you enjoy hearing a lazy summer day, or listening to the sunset/rise (your preference), you must have this album. A 10-man choir, 13-man band; this is either your blissful heaven or your syrupy hell.
Andrew WK - I Get Wet Stupid title, stupid songs, stupider lyrics, stupidest album cover. Is this man leading us on? He must be a genius.
1 Giant Leap The true definition of a “world music” album, this project by Faithless member Jamie Catto and producer Duncan Bridgeman pools together an impressive array of international music talent into five continents’ worth of music. Funky, folky, futuristic, this goes to show that music is the true universal language.
Solomon Burke - Don't Give Up On Me One of the greatest soul singers of the 60’s returns with his finest effort to date. Much credit can be given to the impressive army of songwriters who contributed songs, including Burke fans Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan. But the laurels rest on Burke’s head, especially his voice, which can melt steel and reduce a grown man to tears. You’d be a fool to give up on him.
Musiq - Juslisten The sophomore album from Philly’s neo-soul man Musiq showcases an artist maturing in his vocal arrangments and musical stylistic elements. This album is closer to D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” than any other male R&B album in that it relies more on a hypnotizing groove than a sugary chorus. Perfect for the lit candles and dinner with that special someone.
Common - Electric Circus Whenever an artist decides to explore a newfound musical inspiration, they can go off the deep end. Common has committed this crime, although not as badly as possible. His arrangments bristle with his current fascination with Jimi Hendrix to the point of falling apart, but it’s still a bold, rewarding project that gets better with time.
Jurassic 5 - Power in Numbers Would have been the great old skool rap statement of the year had Blackalicious not done it first and better.
Royksopp - Melody A.M. The debut album from the perennial chill-out-mix residents from Norway features a more intriguing, organic sound that sounds great before going to bed. You'll enjoy it.
Talib Kweli - Quality An impassioned, smart and uncompromising solo debut that touches on weighty topics without being preachy enough to rhyme about the joys of fatherhood. We could expect no less from one-half of Black Star.