favorite albums of 2003

20.Wig In A Box: Songs From & Inspired By Hedwig And The Angry Inch (Off)


What a great idea — have some of the coolest alternative bands redo the songs from Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Most of the songs are really good including a brand new song by John Cameron Mitchell which is absolutely beautiful. Plus all the proceeds go to a good cause.

Favorite songs: The Origin Of Love by Rufus Wainwright, Freaks by Imperial Teen, Milford Lake by John Cameron Mitchell

Favorite lyric: “Six inches forward and five inches back/I’ve got an angry inch” (duh) from “Angry Inch”

19.Black Box Recorder – Passionoia (Little Indian)


Full of bitchy diva songs British style. Black Box Recorder has a lot to say about England and not much of it is good; however, it is pretty humorous and tongue-in-cheek and it’s all set to dancable electronica.

Favorite songs: The School Song, The New Diana, Andrew Ridgley

Favorite lyric: “I want to be the new Diana/Lying on a yacht reading photo magazines” from “The New Diana”

18.Annie Lennox – Bare (J Records)


Annie’s finally back and gave us an album full of hurt and insecurity except for the uplifting “Wonderful”. Sometimes the despair can get a little cloying on the album, but all-in-all a good effort.

Favorite songs: Pavement Cracks, Honestly, Wonderful

Favorite lyric: “When will you be satisfied?/Not ’till the hurting time begins” from “The Hurting Time”

17.The White Stripes – Elephant (V2/Third Man)


Not as well put together as “White Blood Cells”, but a grand experiment in minimalism and rock/blues. And the remake of Dusty Springfield’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” is as surprising as it is fun.

Favorite songs: There’s No Home For You Here, I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart, The Hardest Button To Button

Favorite lyric: “I’m only waiting for the proper time to tell you/That it’s impossible to get along with you” from “There’s No Home For You Here”

16.Andrew Bird – Weather Systems (Righteous Babe)


Andrew Bird decided to give his band Bowl Of Fire a break and go out convert an old farm into a recording studio. This is the first effort from that studio and it’s a wonderful homesy folk/pop album full of his consummate violin playing.

Favorite songs: First Song, Lull, Weather Systems

Favorite lyric: “I’m rambling on rather self consciously/While I’m stirring these condiments into my tea/And I think I’m so lame/I bet I think this song’s about me/Don’t I, don’t I, don’t I?/I’m in a lull” from “Lull”

15.Blur – Think Tank (Virgin)


After losing their lead guitarist and songwriting collaborator, Blur continued on by mixing their early-career pop, mid-career grunge and Damon’s side project Gorillaz. The “new” sound is purely Blur and very entertaining.

Favorite songs: Crazy Beat, Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club, Gene By Gene

Favorite lyric: “I delete myself” from “Gene By Gene”

14.Rosanne Cash – Rules Of Travel (Capitol)


Come Back Of The Year. Rosanne Cash’s first album in seven years comes after facing an agonizing vocal disease. Her inability to sing caused writer’s block and she did nothing for years except raise her daughter. She finally found her voice and wrote this eleven track beauty. It includes a heart-breaking duet with her father (Johnny Cash) called “September When It Comes”.

Favorite songs: Rules Of Travel, Will You Remember Me, Closer Than I Appear

Favorite lyric: “You’re the last stop before home/And then I always go home” from “Last Stop Before Home”

13.The Postal Service – Give Up (Sub Pop)


Debut Of The Year. An entire album written between Seattle and Los Angeles on CD-R’s traded back and forth? You betcha. Wearing the 80’s on their sleaves, Ben Gibbard (of Deathcab For Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (of Silverlake and Dntel) have put together an album full of cold electronics and warm emotions.

Favorite songs: The District Sleeps Tonight, Such Great Heights, We Will Become Silhouettes

Favorite lyric: “And I am finally seeing/Why I was the one worth leaving” from “The District Sleeps Tonight”

12.Suzanne Vega – Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega (A&M)


I’ll repeat what I said a few years ago: Suzanne Vega is one of the best songwriters of our generation. It’s rare when “best of” collections make it on this page, but almost every song on this collection is worth repeated listens. Plus it’s nice to finally see “Tired Of Sleeping” get some recognition. I believe it to be the best song she’s written.

Favorite songs: Tired Of Sleeping, (I’ll Never Be) Your Maggie May, Solitude Standing

Favorite lyric: “Oh Mom/I wonder when I’ll be waking/It’s just there’s so much to do/And I’m tired of sleeping” from “Tired Of Sleeping”

11.Fleetwood Mac – Say You Will (Reprise)


The long-awaited return of Lindsey Buckingham and it’s worth the wait. Unfortunately, it’s at the cost of Christine McVie’s great pop songwriting. This is the band’s most experimental album since Tusk (getting a much deserved re-release Feb. 2004) with Buckingham channeling some old-school guitar rock. Includes some great Stevie Nicks songs, too.

Favorite songs: Say You Will, Steal Your Heart Away, Bleed To Love Her

Favorite lyric: “That always seems to heal the wounds/If I can get you to dance” from “Say You Will”

10.The Dandy Warhols – Welcome To The Monkey House (Capitol)


The Dandy Warhols is one of those bands that critics go ga-ga over and, yet, when you get the album home it’s just not all they are claiming. Fortunately, this Portland band seems to have learned something. Probably from Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes since he co-produced most of the music on the album. It’s also where the keyboards came from. The Warhols have pushed the keyboards to the front and it really helps their sound and Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s songwriting especially in stand out songs like “We Used To Be Friends” and “The Last High”.

Favorite songs: We Used To Be Friends, Scientist, The Last High

Favorite lyric: “When Michael Jackson dies/We’re covering ‘Blackbird'” from “Welcome To The Monkey House”

09.Ed Harcourt – From Every Sphere (Astralwerks)


This is the follow-up to his incredible Here Be Monsters and it proves that the man is no fluke. This time around he adds in some more uptempo rockers to the mix but sacrifices a bit of the constantcy that Monsters had. Here on From Every Sphere, Harcourt proves that he knows how to write a heartbreaker to sing along to. Gets the award for best song title: “Metaphorically Yours”.

Favorite songs: Bittersweetheart, All Of Your Days Will Be Blessed, Jetsetter

Favorite lyric: “It’s like I’m part of the jetset/Respectively I haven’t been that reckless…yet” from “Jetsetter”

08.Macy Gray – The Trouble With Being Myself (Epic)


Easily Macy Gray’s best and most constant album. It’s gotta a whole lot of R&B going on. Every song borrows from the great R&B masters of the 70’s – Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Isley Brothers. It’s just plain funky. Yes, she has a limited vocal range, but she knows how to use it to the best effect for each of the songs. From the opener “When I See You” to the closing “Every Now And Then”, Gray goes through the paces of funk, soul and even hip-hop to encompass an album that is not on diversified, but flows as smoothly as a Smokey Robinson ballad.

Favorite songs: When I See You, She Ain’t Right For You, She Don’t Write Songs About You

Favorite lyric: “She may be smarter/Her bosoms are larger/But she don’t write songs about you” from “She Don’t Write Songs About You”

07.Clearlake – Cedars (Domino)


Gloom, doom and catchy pop songs. Not since The Cure has a group mixed them in a way that allows for enjoyment of an entire album. The opening track, “Almost The Same” kicks the album off to a deceptive beginning with its fast pace and almost cheerful lyrics; however, the next song sets up the rest of the album. “The Mind Is Evil” tries to explain that people are heartless, but it’s their minds that are evil instead. And it all goes downhill until you reach the US only bonus track, “We All Die Alone”. The journey is welcome though. After all the bubble gum pop out there, a little catchy misery is the antidote we all need.

Favorite songs: Almost The Same, Can’t Feel A Thing, We All Die Alone

Favorite lyric: “I don’t want to worry you/I don’t want to alarm you/I don’t know what I’ll do/And I’d hate to think I’d harm you/And when I think of you/I know I have to warn you/I’m trying to tell you/I’d really like to hurt you” from “I’d Like To Hurt You”

06.Lucinda Williams – World Without Tears (Lost Highway)


No one is writing music today as fine as Lucinda Williams especially at this consistent quality. After the ultra-downer of Essence, it seemed that the success of Car Wheels On A Gravel Road had done some damage, but World Without Tears places Williams at the forefront of folk-based pop music. The melodies on this one are some of her finest as is proven by the beautiful “Ventura” and the heartbreaking “Those Three Days”. This is a must-have for Lucinda Williams and folk music fans.

Favorite songs: Righteously, Ventura, Real Live Bleeding Fingers And Broken Guitar Strings, Those Three Days

Favorite lyric: “I wanna watch the ocean bend/The edges of the sun then/I wanna get swallowed up in/an ocean of love” from “Ventura”

05.Leona Naess – Leona Naess (Geffen)


She just keeps getting better and better. Dropping the 80’s synth sound of her second album, I Tried To Rock You But You Only Roll, Naess has stripped her music to the bare minimum. She locked herself in a room with her producer and came out with eleven songs of longing and beauty. The arrangements really allow Naess’ wispy voice to come to the forefront so you can hear the aching in songs like “He’s Gone” and “Star Signs”. The entire album is romantic without being maudlin, which is a fine line to walk and Naess does it with style.

Favorite songs: Calling, He’s Gone, Dues To Pay, Home

Favorite lyric: “It’s only been pain loving you/You’re my dues to pay/I hunt down the night that brought you/And made you this way” from “Dues To Pay”

04.Fountains Of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve/Virgin)


Here is what will most likely be labeled as the quintessential Fountains Of Wayne album, which is funny because their old label dropped them and Virgin picked them up to their biggest selling album. The band has really tightened up and defined their guitar pop with muscular hooks and even a hit single in “Stacey’s Mom”. They are still writing songs on the verge of novelty, but there are a couple of emotional, heavy-hitting ballads: “Hackensack” and “Valley Winter Song”. This completes a nice little trilogy of incredible albums, all of which are worth picking up.

Favorite songs: Stacy’s Mom, Hackensack, Hey Julie, Halley’s Waitress

Favorite lyric: “I saw you talkin’ to Christopher Walken/On my TV screen” from “Hackensack”

03.Nelly Furtado – Folklore (DreamWorks)


Here is a young star raising fulfilling all your wishes for a talented songwriter who confronts the sophomore effort by blowing her previous album out of the sky. Nelly Furtado seems to have the uncanny ability to write songs for any instrument and style. It’s been a good long time since we’ve heard a banjo in a pop song and it is used in the one-two punch of the first two tracks on the album, “One Trick Pony” and “Powerless (Say What You Want)” where Furtado claims that her new album is not just more of the same and she will not give into pressure to change her image for mass consumption. This, of course, is enormously freeing. Folklore jumps from one genre to another with nary a blink. Soaring from the aching pop ballad “The Grass Is Green” (“I’ve got a skeleton that’s deeper than any closet/And a bomb that I will drop on it”) to the psychedelic musings of “Childhood Dreams” (“I’m sliding on the rainbows of my childhood dreams”), Furtado is a huge developing talent.

Favorite songs: One-Trick Pony, Powerless (Say What You Want), The Grass Is Green, Childhood Dreams

Favorite lyric: “‘Cuz this life is too short to live it just for you” from “Powerless (Say What You Want)”

02.Dressy Bessy – Dressy Bessy (Kindercore)

I was introduced to this album by my fellow improv comedian, Mateo. I was even playing the album in Videotique when the drummer of the band walked in with his girlfriend. It was surreal to say the least. This is a little Denver band trying to make it big and this album should have done it. Full of cute, little guitar pop numbers, Dressy Bessy is the answer to your grrrl pop cravings. There isn’t a bad number in the bunch and it’s great to blast while driving. Plus it was cool to have a local band so far up on my list, too. I’m all hip and stuff and junk.

Favorite songs: The Things That You Say That You Do, This May Hurt (A Little), Girl, You Shout!, Tidy

Favorite lyric: “She’s broken all the secrets we’d made and packaged neatly in our minds” from “This May Hurt (A Little)”

01.Rufus Wainwright – Want One (DreamWorks)


It just seems that Rufus can do no wrong. He has ended up at the top of my lists with each album release and this is no exception. It starts off with shout out to Broadway in “Oh What A World” that sounds as if it could be in any musical out there. This is his most thoughtful and well put together collections of music and it was all done while he was sober. Want One is his clean-up album, the one he wrote after rehab and it’s a celebration of life itself – good and bad. The pinnacle of this has to be “Vicious World”, a shout-out to all the early 20’s gay guys that life has only just started so cool the attitude. It’s also a song to bring a tear to your eye. Want Two is coming out soon and has different songs from this recording session, but I have a feeling that this is the best of the bunch. It’ll be hard to top an album of such pure pop sensibilities.

Favorite songs: Oh, What A World, Vicious World, Go Or Go Ahead, 14th Street, 11:11

Favorite lyric: “Didn’t realize you were so top of the shelf/Just you wait and see when you turn, turn 23” from “Vicious World”

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