15. Nelly Furtado - "Whoa, Nelly!"
Quirky, unique, sexy and original are words you wouldn't use to describe me, but rather Nelly Furtado. Her brilliant debut album is a rare occurence on Top 40 radio and the charts: a breezy, eclectic and supremely enjoyable listen which envelops styles from Latin to bossa nova to classical to pure pop perfection (as on "I'm Like a Bird"). Plus she's Canadian to boot. Whoa Nelly, you're hot shit!
14. Queens Of The Stone Age - "R"
What's there to do in the California desert? Smoke weed and make stoner rock, as QOSA show on R. 11 hard-hitting songs make up the finest American album since Nirvana's Nevermind, including the catchy Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, all about, you guessed it, that wacky tobacci and all the others. The finest straightforward rock album of the year.
13. Madonna - "Music"
Madge made a spectacular comeback in 1998 with “Ray Of Light”, an album saturated with techno beats, strings and beeps produced by dance-meister William Orbit. She follows the same path here, except that this one is mostly carefree clubbing music and her best effort since her treasure-trove-period in the mid-Eighties. Hooking up with Orbit and his protege Mirwais, Madonna is able to create warm, personal songs out of electronic tools to give it a warm human quality that serves as a pillar to support her personal lyrics that range from the celebration of music to the topic of loss and reflection. Opening track “Music” falls into the former category: a very danceable electro beat with irreverant lyrics. Other songs with this subject include the Daft Punk-like heavy bass of “Impressive Instant” and the thrilling “Amazing”, packing everything possible into 4 minutes: beeps, gurgles, electronic synth washes and those every-present electronically treated vocals. On “Don’t Tell Me”, producer Mirwais gets a little too clever for his own good, adding an acoustic guitar melody that is treated to sound as if the CD was skipping very randomly. Madonna speaks of her tougher times in “Gone”, the stunning 6-minute “Paradise (Not For Me)”, the pulsating “Runaway Lover” and “What It Feels Like For a Girl”, which subtly conveys Madonna’s feelings on living in a man’s world. With her constant reformations, its obvious that Madonna will be a pop fixture for many years to come.
12. Nelly - "Country Grammar"
Good rap albums are few and far between. It’s been a while since we heard a solid party album (although more conscious rap is quite common these days) that can get everyone shaking their ass. Which is why Nelly’s debut album will hit you like a ton of bricks: its pure uncut St. Louie funk. He states several times over through the duration of the CD that he’s “from the Loo” and he’s proud of it. His rapping style is smooth, but rough enough to distance him from R&B. But don’t get him mixed up with R.Kelly: he still keeps it real like the finest rap pimp: shout-outs to his city, his ho’s, weed, guns and MONEY. The album’s centerpiece and high point (of many) is first single “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)”. Over an irresistible supporting track laid down by Jay E, he raps about Range Rovers and street sweepers, changing the rap style every now and then, and drops a hook straight from playground staple “Goin’ down down baby!”, creating an unbelievably addictive song that was a huge hit. “Ride Wit Me” is the finest rap crossover in a long time as Nelly flows on about bitches and blunts. Although Nelly sometimes stumbles with mediocre songs like “Wrap Dem Summat” and “Thicky Thick Girl”, the many strong songs balance them out to create an album that will keep the party moving on till the break of dawn.
U2 - "All That You Can't Leave Behind"
It's hard to be taken in by the hype; the congratulatory back-slapping; the endless performances of Beautiful Day on award shows; but none of it can mask the truth: All That You Can't Leave Behind is bland. Most of it excruciatingly so. In hindsight, U2's big comeback album did its job: re-established the band as a major musical force, especially on the back of a rock-solid stadium tour, and a Grammy-swallowing award season. However, once you get past the fifth song, it's all downhill to an utterly uninspiring sort of musical vanilla that most adult contemporary artists would say no to. Hailed as their third masterpiece, it comes nowhere close to the fire of even irony-era U2. Here's hoping their next album (if there is one) will do its job and show the world the potent musical force U2 is.
10. Badly Drawn Boy - "The Hour Of Bewilderbeast"
British solo artist/musician Damon Gough uses his moniker on the songs he writes. This is his debut album and it is nothing short of great. It is like the finest of indie albums, all ambience and unusual musical arrangments highlighting tightly executed songs. “Bewilderbeast” is a sometimes meandering 63-minute journey that is refreshingly creative and a light warm breeze in an otherwise cold pop landscape. Quirky interludes between songs set up other fully-fleshed gems like the acoustic, Nick Drake-like “Camping Next To Water”, the touching kick-off “The Shining” and the post-punk “Another Pearl”. There is an overall theme throughout the album, about love of course, that goes from adoration to a quiet let-down. What sets this album apart from other typical indie offerings is the spontaneity on Gough’s part. It is obvious that he has the enormous potential to be something great. The British press must agree because Badly Drawn Boy walked away with the prestigious Mercury Prize this year. Let’s hope Gough can pull off more masterpieces like this in the future.
9.Doves - "Lost Souls"
After years spent toiling in Manchester's dance scene and even releasing a minor hit under the nom de plure Sub Sub, the Doves ditched most of the electronics, adopted guitars and released one of the most majestic and affecting albums of the year. Most of the music can get you a little down, but there always the next chorus that lifts you right up to heaven. Beautiful stuff that bodes well for the future.
8. Travis - "The Man Who"
While Oasis have been marked as the next Beatles, it will more likely be Travis that gets it right. Their abilites to craft sublime melodies and exquisite lyrics are best exhibited in UK favourites Why Does It Always Rain On Me? and Driftwood. You don't have to be a fan of British rock to enjoy this simple, skyscraping masterpiece from these rising stars.
7. D'Angelo - "Voodoo"
Sultrier than Prince at his height, greasier than KFC and steamier than a sauna, D'Angelo superb sophomore album is a rare exception in the bland world of R&B, a 79-minute jam session that spanns hip-hop, velvety R&B beats, jazz and every other imaginable genre that could be used in an album like this. However, Voodoo is less sexual than sensual: it is almost like an exclusive foreplay album. But don't get it confused with an oozing sex album. It channels the spirits of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield to create a unique mix that sounds classic, but looks forward with much eagerness. It relies heavily on an intoxicating groove, none better than the mystic "One Mo'Gin": put it on once and you'll be hearing it a hundred more times.
6. Coldplay - "Parachutes"
Being proclaimed the Best New Band in Britain has its disadvantages. While the artist may shine temporarily, that label is usually the kiss of death for a new band. Hopefully that is not the case with Coldplay. Their indie debut album is an exquisitely crafted, warm affair that lasts a mere 42 minutes. Upon release, it debuted at No. 1 in the UK thanks to an inspired performance at Glastonbury and their crushing single “Yellow”. It is a song that may sound corny upon first listen, but grows on you like moss on trees. Singer Chris Martin’s tender falsetto during its surprisingly emotional chorus is a thing of beauty and one that must be nurtured. His voice is one of the more original sounding in music: a mixture of Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke (all of whom can be considered as influences on Coldplay), able to shift from strong and convincing to shaky and frail. But what eventually sets Coldplay apart from most other bands is their ability to craft perfect (and radio-friendly) songs that will undoubtedly sound great in years to come: the aforementioned first single, the epic “Shiver”, the chilling “Spies”, which perfectly exemplifies Martin’s voice, the gorgeous “Trouble”, even the 47-second title track. This album, of any released this year, best puts to use the simple band setup: acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, vocals and the occasional piano. It feels like a perfect, complete work of art from a band far too talented for its young age (all members are younger than 24), so if you are a fan of “Bends”-era Radiohead, you should definitely check out this great album.
5. Primal Scream - "XTRMNTR"
What’s a person to think when one of the most brutally eviscerating and straightforward rebel-rock albums of the last 20 years is dropped to deaf ears? When a musical Molotov cocktail with the force of a hydrogen bomb is heard by only a few dozen people in the United States? What can that say about music’s current state? How about that it’s crappy. Primal Scream began the decade as rockers who had successfully married underground dance music and mainstream, Rolling Stones-type rock and drenched it in Ecstasy on 1991’s rave masterpiece “Screamadelica”. After spending most of the decade in a drug-fueled haze, they finally gave up on the stoner’s life and created a nightmarishly sober album that can only soundtrack a world slipping into chaos, confusion and violence. The lyrics are provocative, on the border of nihilistic. The music is ear-splitting and numbing. In other words, “XTRMNTR” is furious and very paranoid. However, the Scream doesn’t attack just one person or corporation: they’re pissed-off at everyone. “Swastika Eyes” is the lead-off single and the cornerstone of the album, a seven-minute meditation on corporate evil set to a head-pounding psedo-disco beat and throbbing bass. “Kill All Hippies” features creepy string half-octaves and the simple mantra “You’ve got the money/ I’ve got the soul/ Can’t be bought.” It’s a simple lyric set to a driving beat and a mean bassline from ex-Stone Roses bassist Mani, while “Pills” dissolves into lead singer and rock icon Bobby Gillespie screaming “Sick/ Fuck/ Sick/ Sick/ Fuck” over and over again, after he taunts you by saying “You ain’t nothin’, you got nothin’ to say/ Shine a light on you, you fade away.” It’s highly confrontational and just plain scary. “Keep Your Dreams” is a welcome respite from the blitzkrieg, if you can get past the first line “I believe syphilis can burn your soul away,” while on “Exterminator”, Gillespie proclaims “Everyone’s a prostitute,” and corporations like Nike to be “concentration camps.” Some of the high profile producers and performers who show up on “XTRMNTR” are the acclaimed Dan “The Automator” Nakamura (of Dr. Octagon fame), the Chemical Brothers and Kevin Shields, the highly respected leader of My Bloody Valentine, innovator of navel-gazing noise-fests, who promptly shreds your sub-woofers on “Accelerator”, a searing track drenched in unlistenable feedback during which you can only make out the “Come awn!” chorus. What is hard to define on “XTRMNTR” is its genre. Is it dance? Is it punk? Is it hard rock? Who knows. Who really cares? Primal Scream is best when they’re defying a genre, and on this album, they absolutely destroy every one of them.
4. Sigur Ros - "Agaetis Byrjun"
Iceland is not commonly known for producing popular mainstream musicians, with the happy exception being Björk and the Sugarcubes. However, Sigur Rós will change that, as their website states that they will forever change the way people view all music. They just might do that. Their music is one of timeless wonder, owing much to the bleak, but beautiful landscape of their tiny island. Their “songs” are long, long, long exercises in musical landscaping, building and beefing up from small elements like a guitar line or drums. What is absolutely undeniable is singer Jón Thór Birgisson’s enthralling vocals, a chilling mix of Björk and the alien from The Fifth Element, a voice that is so inhuman and yet so gorgeous, you might just break down in tears. You can’t understand what he’s singing, most likely, because it is in a mix of Icelandic and his own creation, Hopelandish. But whatever he’s saying, it sounds good. Of course, the rest of the band deserves kudos for incorporating an unusual mix of instrumentation with pianos, flutes, tremolo, horns, feedback, and that godly voice in songs like the slowly-building first single (in Iceland) “Svefn-G-Englar”, the tone-shifting “Hjartao Hamast” and the gorgeous, “Hey Jude”-like “Olsen Olsen”. In a perfect world, this would be the soundtrack to all things ecstatic, mournful, terrifying, and awe-inspiring. An absolutely marvelous, emotionally encapsulating album.
3. OutKast - "StanKonia"
If there is one thing OutKast can be defined as, it’s innovative. They can be called the Radiohead of hip-hop. They never stand still and they don’t rehash earlier successful formulas. Four albums into their already illustrious career and they have hit the golden jackpot with StanKonia. It is an undeniable and experimental album that shoots straight out of the formulaic hip-hop of today and puts any doubts about their creativity to rest. Andre 3000 and Big Boi have crafted an album that bleeds together like a Technicolor hip-hopera and recalls a time when funk was king. Their idea of old skool is the glory days when George Clinton and his P-funk Parliament Funkadelic were creating vibrant musical masterpieces coupled with thought-raising political lyrics. That said, this album is surely the finest collision of ass-shaking vibes and strong political viewpoints since “America Eats Its Young”. Check out first song “Gasoline Dreams” for proof: electric guitars that summon the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. Other tracks fare well: the vibrant, pure funk of “I’ll Call Before I Come” and “So Fresh, So Clean”, the vitriolic first single “B.O.B.”, the brilliantly lyrical “Ms. Jackson”, the fast-paced duet with Erykah Badu “Humble Mumble”, the touching “Toilet Tisha” (whose title does not bear it justice) and the oozing “Stanklove”. Along the way, OutKast enlist the help of the Goodie Mob, B-Real from Cypress Hill and Gangsta Boo to give the album the obligatory guest list, but doesn’t go overboard and distract from the music. Even when OutKast stumble with blatant misogyny, their masterful producing and mixing salvage the lyrics, and therefore the music. Peppered with eight interludes and several smart modifications of nursery rhymes (“I stank I can, I stank I can/It’s the Stankonia Express/The underground smellway”), “StanKonia” is no doubt the finest and smartest, but not the most visceral hip-hop album of the year.
2. Eminem - "The Marshall Mathers LP"
You could say what you wanted about the year 2K, but you couldn’t leave out Slim Shady. You cannot argue that the alter ego to Eminem, alter ego to Marshall Mathers, and his sophomore album was everywhere in the news. “The Marshall Mathers LP” is arguably the best shock-rap album of all time that makes his debut seem tame in comparison. The “MMLP” gleefully exploited the word “faggot” almost as much the other four-letter “f” word, thus sparking a major backlash from GLAAD. However, that could not stop the album from completely blowing up, selling 1.76 million copies in its first week alone, and becoming the fastest-selling hip-hop album of all time. The album is a heady mix of outrageous rhymes and head-spinning beats, mostly provided by uber-producer Dr. Dre, but what really shines is Eminem’s undeniable skill. He solidifies his position of the most original and inventive story-spinner since Kool Keith and his rhyming patterns leave you scratching your head throughout the album. The yin and yan of the album is “Stan” and “Kim”: one is a thought-provoking and chilling song about a crazed fan, while the latter is a tightly executed, but almost unlistenalby abrasive trip inside a maniac's mind. The other songs range from angrily mediocre (“Amityville” and “Remember Me?”) to disturbing (“Kill You” and “The Way I Am”) to hilarious (“I’m Back” and “Who Knew”) to strangely ambient (“Marshall Mathers”). Eminem may well be the most quotable MC alive, because of the abundance of 20th century white-boy-angst soundbytes. Of course, nobody is safe from him. Girl and boy groups (pretty much throughout the album), Sonny Bono, Versace, homosexuals, his mother and ICP are among the people who come under Eminem’s verbal knife with vicious insults and sometimes funny comments. Of course it seems ironic to many that after all the struggling that black people have endured in making hip-hop something the mainstream could appreciate that a white man comes and steals their thunder by nearly reaching the zenith of the genre, much the way the Rolling Stones did when the world heard their blues-rock freakadelica almost forty years ago. However you can’t deny that “The Marshall Mathers LP” is the most unsettling, undeniable and powerful hip-hop album of the year and the first great album of the 21st century. You just try and keep your ears away from it.
1. Radiohead - "Kid A"
Simply put, there hasn't been an album of this magnitude since DJ Shadow's "Endtroducing . . . . ." If Radiohead weren't the undisputed kings of the art of Album making, then they will be when this album is properly digested as the brilliant masterstroke it is. It's hard to believe that actual humans made this album: (OK) computers would have a tough time making something so alien and yet so comforting in your bedroom late at night. If you don't have this CD, then you don't know what music is gonna sound like. Remember, "Nevermind" wasn't huge immediately.