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Ryan Adams called me an asshole this year. In response to a stink-bomb review I gave his phony Demolition album, the y’alternative newt-boy left a whiny rant on my voice mail, X
in which he said that he had also phoned my editor to complain. That’s right: Adams told on me. Later that same night, he potshotted me from the 9:30 Club stage. I wasn’t in the crowd, though. I was doing something more constructive with my time: watching Wild On on E!. Or maybe Showtime.
Now, I certainly don’t feel special because of the attention. Adams made the news quite a bit in 2002 for his infantile reactions to his quickly fading star power, belittling journalists from New York to Nashville. But I must say that I do feel enlightened: Adams unwittingly reminded me of my own recent bit of boneheaded posturing and thus has freed me to provide, here and now, the most unabashedly honest best-of-pop list you’ll ever read (or at least skim for stuff you like, too).
Here’s the deal: Last year, like so many other lemmingesque critics, I put Adams’ Gold album on my top 10. I was a sucker for the hype. I weakened and got caught up in the steady stream of media-fueled rah-rah horseshit. Gold’s not a terrible disc, mind you; it’s just that I haven’t listened to it since then. If I had to do it all over again, the album wouldn’t even get a mention—asshole comment or not. Same goes for Radiohead’s high-ranking Amnesiac; I dig critical darlings Thom Yorke & Co. very much, but let’s just say I’m still stuck in The Bends.
So this time, I’m listing only albums and songs from mostly major labels that have repeatedly made me and my CD player very happy—and will no doubt do so in the future. Screw trying to look cool or in the know. I’m not—case closed. Basically, this is a collection of the stuff I couldn’t stop listening to—without all the stuff people told me I should have been listening to. The White Stripes? I couldn’t care less. The Vines? Couldn’t name a song. Barry Manilow’s remastered hits? Sweet music to my ears. You get the point.
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This year is the perfect time for this gotta-be-me moment, too: Since I’ve been writing about music—basically, six years of searching for synonyms for “catchy”—I don’t think there’s been a better year for pop. Although there were some major disappointments (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ The Last DJ, for instance), great new voices (N.E.R.D., Sahara Hotnights, Doves) and old stalwarts (Foo Fighters, Chris Isaak, George Harrison) nevertheless provided musical bliss on a regular basis.
So without further ado, let’s get to the goods. Herewith, from the bottom of my honesty-swelled heart, the 10 best albums of 2002:
A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay Frontman Chris Martin—until recently, a pathetic, love-starved virgin who mined his paramourless life for musical inspiration—is currently dating Gwyneth Paltrow. So blame the sunny starlet when Coldplay never sounds this pretty and pained again. Blondes suck.
In Search Of…, N.E.R.D. Who wants a “Lapdance”? All of the Neptunes’ big, bad, jazz-band-in-a-nudie-joint beats can be found in this one convenient place. And you know Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are saving some sublimely nastee shit for Album No. 2.
The Last Broadcast, Doves Dig that after-school-special-circa-’77 intro on the lushly sun-warped “There Goes the Fear.” Pure Britpop bliss—no matter what my jaded, Joy Division-loving editor might say.
In Our Gun, Gomez Psych-poppy jam-banders with a big Beatles crush, these Liverpudlians rework the last madcap minute of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” and stretch it out over 13 tracks. Plus, Ben Ottewell just might have the most flutterly gorgeous vox in pop.
Always Got Tonight, Chris Isaak Have you seen The Chris Isaak Show on Showtime? I think it comes on between Lady Chatterly’s Stories and Red Shoe Diaries. Anyway, it provides pretty good (or sad) insight into how this near-50 tsunami-haired troubadour has been able to do one thing—croon about his creaky heart—so well for so long.
Brainwashed, George Harrison The dearly departed Dark Horse doesn’t fear the reaper on his final musical foray. Indeed, he practically makes the Bescythed One an honorary Wilbury for this upbeat goodbye bash of shimmering and spiritual pop lovelies.
One by One, Foo Fighters Love stinks—and burns and scratches and roars. Dave Grohl doesn’t take getting dumped well. Lucky for us.
Home, Dixie Chicks Natalie, Martie, and Emily proved that they can look lovely and throw a pickin’-frenzied bluegrass shindig without the shiny pop-country hooks. A correction: Blondes rule!
Jennie Bomb, Sahara Hotnights Someday I’ll give up all the dirt on my naughty exchange-student adventures in Scandinavia. (Chapter 1: “Mama, no!”) For now, allow these Swedish Go-Go’s to remind you that it always stays hot ‘n’ heavy in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Maladroit, Weezer Rivers Cuomo told Rolling Stone that he now enjoys paying for sex. So relish these sugar-smacked bursts of Motley Crue-meets-ELO pop while you can—then pull up a couch: He’s beelining for Pinkerton again.
But that’s not all, folks. Here are 10 more gems that, although not as stellar as the previous batch, were just a few bumps and bruises away from an upgrade: Bramble Rose, Tift Merritt; The Blueprint2: The Gift & the Curse, Jay-Z; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco; The Rising, Bruce Springsteen; Have You Fed the Fish?, Badly Drawn Boy; Rock Steady, No Doubt; Jerusalem, Steve Earle; By the Way, Red Hot Chili Peppers; Miss Fortune, Allison Moorer; Mali Music, Mali Music.
This year, I’m not even making any excuses for loving Barry Manilow. “Weekend in New England”? Tissue, please. And here’s another no-longer-shameful little secret: Back in my bellboy days at a posh hotel in Columbia, Md. (OK: I was 24), I once chauffeured Mr. “Mandy” in the courtesy van from Merriweather Post Pavilion back to his digs. It got hellish, too: I was nearly mauled by 500 40-plus groupies encased in thinning 1978-vintage “I Heart Barry” concert T-shirts. I also had this weird fantasy of driving the van off a cliff—but the less said about that the better.
Anyway, here are my 10 favorite compilations of the year, starting, of course, with Ultimate Manilow, Barry Manilow; Greatest Hits, Run-DMC; Loud, Fast, Ramones: Their Toughest Hits, the Ramones; Aware Greatest Hits, Various Artists; The Muppet Show: The 25th Anniversary Collection—Music, Mayhem, and More, Various Muppets; Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath, 1970-1978, Black Sabbath; Classics: Selected by Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys; The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac;
30 #1 Hits, Elvis Presley; and—perhaps my most listened-to disc of 2002—Getz Plays Jobim: The Girl From Ipanema, Stan Getz.
I didn’t listen to a lot of radio this year—too much Showtime, if you know what I mean—but here’s what sounded boardwalk-sweet (read: catchy!) on road trips: “Everybody Out of the Water,” the Wallflowers; “Hate to Say I Told You So,” the Hives; “Work It,” Missy Elliott; “Like I Love You,” Justin Timberlake; “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!,” Shania Twain; “Pussycat,” Wyclef Jean; “Stop Crying Your Heart Out,” Oasis; “We Are All Made of Stars,” Moby; “A Thousand Miles,” Vanessa Carlton; and—in memory of my cousin John, who even bleached his hair to look more like Marshall—”Without Me,” Eminem.
Wow: Thanks, Ryan—I feel so pure. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I should add that Manilow’s tour manager tipped me $95 for my derring-do bellboy services way back when. To this day, it remains the most impressive money I’ve ever made for 20 minutes’ work. Tissue, please. CP