Monday, December 21, 2009

Decade postmortem: 2003

My original list:

1. Sparks, Lil’ Beethoven
2. Tall Dwarfs, The Sky Above, the Mud Below
3. Shins, Chutes Too Narrow
4. Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers
5. Kings of Leon, Youth & Young Manhood
6. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People
7. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
8. Warren Zanes, Memory Girls
9. The High Strung, These Are Good Times
10. Grandaddy, Sumday

The big releases in 2003 were Outkast, Norah Jones, 50 Cent, Beyoncé, Linkin Park and Evanescence. The ones that turned up on the most critics’ lists were Outkast, the White Stripes (Elephant), Fountains of Wayne, Radiohead (Hail to the Thief), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Shins.

2003 was a pretty great year for pop singles. There was “Hey Ya!” and “In da Club,” perhaps the two greatest hip-hop/pop songs ever. (And I mean pop: Not talking about “Straight Outta Compton” here.) It was also the year of “Crazy in Love,” the greatest of whatever that is. And “Seven Nation Army,” the White Stripes’ peak, the last moment before they began obsessively dismantling the formula they had created.

So with all of those wonderful pop hits, why did I pick Sparks and Tall Dwarfs? I don’t really know. To some degree I think it’s the contrary instinct: you know everybody else is going to pick the White Stripes and Outkast, so you go for a personal favorite and try to grab some cool points with something obscure. It’s kind of ridiculous, but everybody does it. Another reason is simply that you’re rating full albums, not singles.

And goddammit, Lil’ Beethoven really was the most entertaining album of the year for me. It’s full of bile and wit and stacked harmonies, with “classical” arrangements and the Sparks’ trademark opera-rock vocals (they did it before Queen), and the Mael brothers just ridicule everything they see: ostentatiously angry rock bands, the island of Ibiza, automatic phone hold-bots, “Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls.” There’s no real point to it, no major relevance. But neither was there any huge point to The Importance of Being Earnest, and you damn well better believe that that would have topped my list in 1895.

Judging by some of my other choices, it seems that my mood in December 2003 was, “Fuck it, I feel like choosing these 10 albums right now, and I’m tired of thinking about it.” Call it PMS: pre makingalist syndrome. So Tall Dwarfs is good, but probably not No. 2 good. Warren Zanes and the High Strung, nah. Fountains of Wayne album has some nuggets but it’s no Utopia Parkway.

As for the other biggies, yes on 50 Cent and Beyoncé, both of which are so fantastic I really can’t account for their omission. Elephant also belongs here, bottom half. But I stand by my meh of Hail to the Thief, and while I think the Strokes’ second album is underrated, it’s not as great as, say, Grandaddy’s still-amazing Sumday. I don’t remember why I put Kings of Leon here, but I’m leaving it because I don’t have a good reason to take it off.


1. Sparks, Lil’ Beethoven
2. 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’
3. Grandaddy, Sumday
4. Shins, Chutes Too Narrow
5. Beyoncé, Dangerously in Love
6. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People
7. White Stripes, Elephant
8. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
9. Tall Dwarfs, The Sky Above, the Mud Below
10. Kings of Leon, Youth & Young Manhood

I think that’s a pretty good list.

Next ... 2004!!!

1 comment:

Robbb said...

Good for you, sticking to your guns on The Sparks and Grandaddy.

You are resisting the tendency toward "group think" that's now running rampant through everyone else's lists, and it's going to make for a unique and cerebral perspective.

Coincidentally, Clive Thompson just ran a column about group think (particularly as it pertains to taste in music) in this month's 'Wired':

Great article.