Willie's Obligatory Best of 2002 List
Well, I'm certainly glad this year is over, but this time it's just for personal reasons. Musically, this has been a relatively solid year, with at least a dozen terrific albums not making the following list simply because there was no room for them. (Extend the list to 20, you say? No.) And as with every year, there are a bunch of potentially great albums that I haven't had time to get around to, so this isn't designed to be the be-all, end-all of Best Of lists. Rather, just take it as a guide to some albums that definitely bear investigating, regardless of whether there's other, equally worthy music out there that I'm unfamiliar with. Ask me in another couple weeks, and perhaps Guided by Voices or Neil Halstead (two albums I own, but haven't gotten around to absorbing yet) would make the list; this is just how it stands as of January 1, 2003. For the second year running, it's an embarrassingly predictable and narrow list as well, but I have nevertheless decided that it's time to indulge my listy side, and make a list! Screw you, 2002!
TEN BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR, THAT I'VE HEARD:
Doughty: Smofe + Smang: Live in Mpls.
2. Beck: Sea Change
3. Gomez: In Our Gun
4. Rinocerose: Music Kills Me
5. Camper Van Beethoven: Tusk
6. Clinic: Walking With Thee
7. David Bowie: Heathen
8. DJ Shadow: The Private Press
9. Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head
10. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
XTC: A Coat of Many Cupboards Perhaps not the most affordable career retrospective on the market (unless, like me, you innocently get Astralwerks to send you a promo copy for review and then promptly get dropped from the weekly you write for, which doubtless makes you look like a total ass in the eyes of the very nice publicity people who sent it to you), this four-disc box is a must-have for any XTC fan and a fine introduction for newbies as well. Throwing together generous amounts of demos, alternate versions, unreleased songs, and overlooked album tracks, these Many Cupboards make quite a case for XTC as one of the most consistent- and most consistently underrated- songwriting acts of the past 20-odd years.
RUNNER-UP: Residents: "Petting Zoo" With three decades' worth of dark, smirky, and above all strange noisemaking under their anonymous belts, it's difficult to know which Residents discs are worth picking up and which are just a waste of your time. Thankfully, the Residents were kind enough to compile this 20-track disc of their most accessible material and price it at around $5.00 (new!) so we can all discover for ourselves whether they sound intriguing or just annoying. The best discovery of all is that, with weirdo songs like "Constantinople" and "Hanging By His Hair.Road," they're both.
BEST RADIO SINGLE OF THE YEAR:
Andrew W.K.: "Party Hard" Stupid? Of course it's stupid! It's a throwback to Twisted Sister's heyday, with pounding guitars and a bellowed chorus about partying, and partying hard. But there's something hilariously charming about the guileless, Bob the Builder-esque determination with which W.K. sets about fighting for his right to party, and that is what lifts this song from being a mere novelty to exactly the rallying cry Andrew intended.
RUNNER-UP: Eminem: "Without Me" Though he spent most of the year grasping for artistic respect, with his heralded performance in 8 Mile and a number of sincere songs on The Eminem Show, "Without Me" was apparently one last burst of the dead-horse-flogging, stutter-step vocalizing, meta-humor, and pigeonhole-defying hip-hop on which he made his name. Throwing surprisingly clever rhymes into the stew alongside utterly deluded ad hominem attacks (when, exactly, during his countless appearances, did they try to "shut me down on MTV"?), and grounding it all with a snappy chorus, it's another step in a career that my colleague Steve Knowlton described as "the most successful mindfuck in rock history." And all this from a guy who then went on to actually, seriously yell at a dog puppet on the MTV awards.
BEST SINGLE OF THE YEAR THAT NEVER MADE THE RADIO:
The Flaming Lips: "Do You Realize??" Granted, you can hear bits of it on an Intel commercial, but I can't imagine a song that so beautifully and unflinchingly faces our collective mortality had much of a prayer to make the top 40. Drenched in poppy, Beach Boys-style production sap, and guided by Wayne Coyne's stre-e-e-etching-to-reach-the-high-notes voice, it sounds like the most life-affirming song ever written... but then the Lips throw the listener a curve by gently reminding, "everyone you know someday will die." That line hits like Ebeneazer Scrooge's ultimate epiphany, and the rest of the song proceeds with a hightened urgency, reminding us to live life to the fullest. It's perhaps the most inspirational bit of pro-love propaganda since John Lennon's "Imagine."
RUNNER-UP: Yo La Tengo: "Nuclear War (Version 2)" It's probably not for everyone, but I can't recall a more chilling-yet-hilarious tune this year than Yo La's seven-and-a-half-minute cover of Sun Ra's space-jazz song of peace. For my money, it doesn't get much better than all three Tengos bashing out an intricate, polyrhythmic tattoo on assorted drums, and a wavering drone floating beneath James McNew and a cast of schoolchildren doing an inspired, profane call-and-response. As Mr. Ra said, it's a motherfucker- but in a good way.
Andrea Maxand: "When God Shuts the Door" Maxand's debut album, Angel Hat, was one of this year's aforementioned terrific records that didn't quite make the top ten. This skittery, ticking seether of a song, however, is the one tune from 2002 that I most want to encourage everyone to hear. Maxand's sweet voice is insulated by a bristling guitar and nagging drum loop, in the service of an utterly perfect vocal line that seems to discuss the paralysis that comes with abandonment. It's one of those rare songs that finds the elusive balance between Velvets-esque primitivism and soaring pop glee.
WORST SINGLE OF THE YEAR:
OK Go: "Get Over It" I'll thank you to ignore the fact that this is the second single in the list that appeared in Madden NFL 2003. Is there anything more annoying than confessing your problems to someone and having them tell you to "get over it," thus dismissing you entirely? Yes there is! Namely, when OK Go channels that phrase into the sputtery chorus of their appalling, midtempo jock rock (i.e., "Get get get get get over it!"). In the post-Blink-182 "punk/pop" world, OK Go has the distinction of failing the most thoroughly in their attempt to create an anthem by simply chanting smugly.
BEST COMEDY ALBUM:
David Cross: Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! My sentimental vote goes to Laugh Out Lord by Neil Hamburger, because Neil keeps plugging away no matter how many pizza parlor gigs he loses, but Cross's brilliant double album(!) is quite possibly the sharpest, funniest, most trenchant stand-up record ever released. (If you're thinking, "What about Bill Hicks?" right now, there's the door.) Cross is angry without being hostile, and his comedy takes the form of lengthy, seemingly unscripted rants and rambles that are as witheringly sarcastic and clever as his work on Mr. Show. Disc one sticks largely to harmless stand-up fare (jokes about rednecks and sports announcers' malapropisms abound), though in a much more intelligent fashion than most hacks could manage. Disc two, however, is taken up largely with David pontificating about politics and religion (and the intersection of the two) in ways that would make the ears of most casual comedy fans bleed for weeks. In particular, I'm thinking of a run where he goes hilariously, inappropriately overboard playing devil's advocate on behalf of all those pedophile Catholic priests... It's jaw-dropping, and you'll be gasping for air.
Alright, I'm tired. Enough.
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