Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Top 10 Years For Album Releases - #10

There hasn't been a post in a while, so I figured it's time to write something.

Over the next 10 posts, I am going to comment a little bit about my favourite 10 years for album releases. In each post, I will discuss a little bit about the year in question, describe some of the key releases of the year, some of the surprises, and the disappointments.

I hope that these posts will be controversial and I encourage anyone to reply to them with their thoughts, whether they agree, disagree, or just wanna say wassup.

Anyway, without further ado...let's start the list. I will start with my tenth favourite year, and work to number one...just to keep up the suspense :-)

#10: 2003

This was a very controversial year for music, with EMI releasing its despicable Copy Control technology on to the world. It was the first year where I ever had to deny myself the pleasure of buying a new album by an artist I love, simply because they were on the EMI record label. Many of the albums I managed to source by other means (e.g. buying the non-CC version of the album off Ebay), but many albums from this year I still really really want but can't get because of EMI's dreaded technology. Sleepy Jackson's brilliant album Lovers is one such example of this.

Anyway, enough ranting about Copy Control. If I was to sum of 2003 in a nutshell, I would describe it as the year where many great bands and artists released rock solid albums, in many cases returns to form. Some examples of great albums by great artists released in 2003:
  • Ben Harper - Diamonds on the inside
  • Blur - Think tank
  • Super Furry Animals - Phantom power
  • Radiohead - Hail to the thief
  • Belle & Sebastian - Dear catastrophe waitress a lesser extent - The Strokes "Room on fire". A good, solid album, but I can't see myself bundling it with the brilliant albums listed above. If anything, the Strokes album really surprised people because many were expecting a sophomore slump from this overhyped New York band, and the fact they managed to avoid such a slump impressed a lot of people, including myself.

The 5 albums I just listed above have something in common. They are all extremely solid, often brilliant albums by artists who have been around for a while, and on the albums above reached a point of artistic maturity where they combined the best parts of their prior albums, filtered out the self-indulgence, and simply played to their absolute strengths.

In many cases, there were some dramatic reinventions - Dear Catastrophe Waitress was Belle & Sebastian's first real "pop" album where they strayed from their melancholic roots, albeit in a brilliant way that redefined who they were and where they were heading.

In some other cases, like on Hail to the thief and Think tank, Radiohead and Blur respectively cut a lot of the self-indulgent crap that had plagued much of their prior 2 albums (Kid A & Amnesiac, and Blur and 13), and managed to combine the best bits from the early part of their career with the best bits from the more experimental eras, into solid and most importantly very listenable albums. I mean, honestly, it's all good and well to say you like a song like Pull/pulk revolving doors from Amnesiac, but when was the last time you actually listened to it?

There were also 2 artists I discovered in 2003. One was American singer/songwriter Kelley Stoltz, whose low key sophomore release Antique glow album acquired a bit of a cult following, making it to the top of many best albums of the year lists. I actually bought this one after reading a 5-star review of in The Age which intrigued me enough to fork out $25 for it at Raoul Records in St Kilda without having heard a single song on it (it wasn't available in many shops at that point). And it's a great album...I highly recommend seeking it out (or alternatively getting an "offsite backup" off me ;-)

My other discovery in 2003 was the Milwaukee quartet The Shins. Their second album Chutes too narrow was released in 2003, and it has quickly become one of my favourite albums of the year, probably cracking the top 5 now. Soon after I purchased their much lauded debut Oh, inverted world, but that album has never quite done it for me as much as Chutes. If you are a fan of mellow indie folk music with subtle melodies that shine through on repeated listens, and moments of absolute lyrical and goose-bumply brilliance (did I just make that word up?), I highly recommend this album.

One of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2003 was Elephant by The White Stripes. I bought it amidst all the hype, and to this day (after many many listens), I still cannot understand what the big deal is. There's no denying that there are some great tracks on this album, but it's also patchy as hell (does anyone really like the cover of the Dusty Springfield hit I just don't know what to do with myself)? Personally, I much prefer their previous album, White blood cells.

Besides Elephant, these were the biggest disappointments for me in 2003:
  • Jack Johnson - On and on (too much like his debut Brushfire fairytales to justify having it in the collection)
  • The Polyphonic Spree - The beginning stages of... (the 36 minute self-indulgent crap that is track 10 kills this album for me)
  • Muse - Absolution (a decent album, but I much prefer their 2nd album Origin of symmetry)
  • Something For Kate - The official fiction (maybe I'm being unfair here, it's a very decent album. But there's no denying that it's a disappointment after the far superior Echolalia)
  • Lucksmiths - Naturaliste (definitely not as good as Why that doesn't surprise me, which I don't actually have, but have heard and will purchase one day - thanks Pete!)
And finally, the only albums that I have from 2003 which I haven't mentioned yet, and some brief commentary:
  • The Coral - Magic & Medicine (got this for a bargain price of $5, and was expecting it to be crap, but it's actually a pretty solid album and a nice subtle evolution over their debut. Personally, I don't think they have many albums left in them)
  • Powderfinger - Vulture street (solid rock album from this very popular Brisbane band, decent effort that doesn't hit the heights of Internationalist but is still very enjoyable)
  • Elbow - Cast of thousands (not one of my absolute favourites from the year, but a lot better than their debut Asleep in the back. Here's hoping that their 3rd album will be their masterpiece)
  • Joe Strummer - Streetcore (the final album from the former Clash frontman who died in December 2002. Some lyrics are very poignant in hindsight - the final track Silver & gold has the lyric "I want to do everything silver and gold / and I've got to hurry before I get too old")
  • Damien Rice - O (bought this on the recommendation from a friend - quite a stunningly beautiful album, but can get a bit whiney in parts)
And that pretty much sums up 2003 (phew...). A great year for music, and looking like it's in much better shape than 2004 at the moment. Here's hoping that Tom Waits and the late Elliott Smith will help to lift 2004's standard a bit when their new albums are released in October.

Thanks for reading!


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  2. Jerome, some would argue that you have too much time on your hands, but I think that you are simply a very pasionate man (with perhaps too much time on his hands).

    2003, a good year for music, no question. I must say I agree with your comments, but I remember some other artists that you have omitted. For example, 2003 saw the emergence of many genuine talents that will become the "Farhnams" of tomorrow. Who can forget Guy "Belle &" Sebastian's hit single, Angels Brought Me Here? I personally hope that they take him back very soon, particularly before he has a chance to "sow the seed" and preserve his genetic line. Too harsh? Well, I don't think many will oppose the sterilisation of Shannon Noll. This guy makes Jimmy Barnes look like an ambassador for the arts. If I have to sit through another filmclip in which he's kicking the dirt and clutching his package, I'll move to the island of Lesbos. And the man with an original nickname - Robert "Millsy" Mills - famous not for singing, but for bonking a woman for is famous for bonking everyone. I guess his only regret is that they didn't film it, it would have been Mill's only chance for legitimate income.

    So, I've noted the darker side of 2003, hopefully I've added a little more controversy to this post. Finally, for those fans of Australian Idol, consider this: you have saved Mark Holden from obscurity, and that can surely not be good for the people of Australia.

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