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Livewire's Top 10

Concertlivewire's Top Ten Albums of 2002

By Tony Bonyata

Probably the most significant advancement this year in music was the resurgence of rock music - played hard, loud and fast with just a pinch of punk rock attitude. Bands such as The Hives, The Vines, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and The White Stripes [do you sense a reoccurring theme here?] finally took the media's obsessive attention away from lame boy bands and Britney wannabes (How many times does Rolling Stone have to run a Britney Spears cover? I mean, she's cute, but c'mon).
A couple of these rock revivalist bands made the grade here, along with albums from old rock stalwarts, alt-country darlings and one finger-licking good hip-hop act (and, no, it's not Eminem).
Weezer10) Weezer - Maladroit (Geffen)
Who'd have known that eight years after Weezer burst onto to scene with their catchy post-grunge ditties about frayed sweaters and Buddy Holly, that they'd still be at the top of their game creating similar music built on brick shithouse rhythms, heavy metal guitar riffs and addictive pop melodies squinting through a pair of scotch taped horn-rimmed glasses.
Sure these guys are still dweebs - four lovable dweebs who, not only craft some of the best damn pop songs today, but also who know how to rock like there's no tomorrow.
Tom Waits9) Tom Waits - Alice & Blood Money (Anti- Records)
Releasing both Alice and Blood Money simultaneously, Waits incorporated songs which were originally created as music for a Robert Wilson avant garde opera held in Hamburg back in 1992, but were never recorded until now.
The theme of Alice was loosely based on the obsessions that Lewis Carroll had for a young Alice Liddell, the inspiration for his books Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. And, not unlike Carroll's own hallucinatory work, Waits' album is filled with odd characters, such as the bodiless piano player in the twisted jazz of "Table Top Joe," as well as his own gravelly vocal delivery, dusty production and demented arrangements.
While still retaining an air of the Weimar Republic on Blood Money, the album is decidedly darker and more desperate than it's sister. With chilling melodies ("Coney Island Baby"), a grim, yet strangely comical, sense of hopelessness ("God's Away On Business" and "Starving In The Belly Of A Whale") and two hypnotizing instrumentals that conjure up fear and dread ("Calliope") and impending danger through the use of jabbing horns ("Knife Chase") the hallucinogenic sense of youth and innocence of Alice, is crushed like a caterpillar under a boot.
Black and intriguing, beguiling and playful, this burning-trash-can laureate has done it once again with two intoxicating albums that are as different from one another as they are uniquely Tom Waits.
Nappy Roots8) Nappy Roots - Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz (Atlantic Records)
Look out all you good ol' bluegrass boys, there's hip-hoppers in them thar hills. The homegrown Kentuckian group Nappy Roots may actually change the way people view Kentucky music in the future, as they throw in their own meaty, country cuts into the southern hip-hop pot.
While the rhymes and rhythms on numbers such as "Headz Up," "Hustla" and "Ballin' On A Budget" are all models of quality hip-hop, it's the soulful funk of "Awnaw," "Slums" and "Po' Folks" that makes this platter so dag-nabbity good tasting.
"Go down to the country, you won't wanna go back," raps vocalist Scales, and after just one little taste of Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz Nappy Roots just might be right.
Wilco7) Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch Records)
While I readily admit that I was mistaken when I originally reviewed this as only a 3 star record earlier this year, I still stand firm in my convictions that this is neither the masterpiece that virtually every critic has proclaimed, nor is it the strongest work from Wilco thus far. That said, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is still a very strong album, as proved on the numbers "Jesus. etc.," the hopeful "Kamera," the upbeat pop of "Heavy Metal Drummer," as well as the cheerful "War on War."
Masterpiece? No. Top 10 best albums of the year? By all means. (there, now I feel much better.)
Trail of the dead6) ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Source Tags & Codes (Interscope)
On their third full-length album, Source Tags & Codes, this Austin, Texas based quartet has crafted a strong collection of eleven songs that combines the subterranean dreaminess of early New Order with the sonic dissonant assault of fellow Lone Star State compatriots and now-defunct aggro-rock act At The Drive-In.
While songs such as the in-your-face punk rantings of "Homage" hearkens back to angst filled bands such as Fugazi and Mike Watts' Minutemen, a deeper look into the psyche of this band is revealed on the ethereal title track, as well the introspective, yet still punchy, numbers "Another Morning Stoner" and "Relative Ways."
Sounding like they've created music for themselves instead of pandering to a false modern-day 'alternative' audience, ...Trail of Dead's latest album is a welcome addition to a hip, new world of rock that is finally rebounding from the lameness of the late '90s.
David Bowie5) David Bowie - Heathen (ISO / Columbia)
"Nothing remains...everything has changed," croons David Bowie on the opening strains of his latest album, Heathen. But with a collection of delightful covers and new self-penned numbers that ever so lightly touch down on periods throughout his four decade career, there is still a lot that remains the same. And thankfully so.
Instead of trying to clumsily cop the sounds of his best work, Bowie instead merely hints at them on Heathen, which leaves a bittersweet longing for his '70s work, as well as making a strong affirmation that this 55-year old rock legend still has something left to say.
While much of Heathen may seem to reference his own past, with new numbers like "5:15 The Angels Have Gone," which features a beautiful, sweeping chorus, and the hopeful number "Everyone Says 'Hi'," which incorporates a bit of Billy Corgan's melancholic melody, Bowie is still an artist who keeps looking forward.
TSOOL4) The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind The Music (Republic Records)
While The Hives may be the current Swedish sweeties at the moment, the cream of the crop of all of these rock revivalists is actually the pretentiously monikered band The Soundtrack of Our Lives.
Like their Scandinavian brethren, T.S.O.O.L.'s sound is definitely nothing new, but it carries with it a pliable "don't squeeze the Charmin" freshness that's hard not to embrace. Even the band comes clean, as singer/ instrumentalist Ebbot Lundberg admits on the track "The Flood," when he sings, "They say we're all backdated and you know it's true." But what they do prove on their third album Behind The Music, is that infectious songs, which are well written and expertly performed, don't need to be 'cutting edge' or revolutionary to fall in the category of greatness.
Blending a pinch of psychedelia with blissful acoustic guitars, near-perfect pop and a trailer-full of Nuggets-era garage rock T.S.O.O.L. are not only the best band to emerge from the bubbling Swedish wellspring right now, but are also in the running - at least for today - for the lofty self-imposed title once solely owned by The Rolling Stones.
Beck3) Beck - Sea Change (Geffen Records)
Forget the quirky robot moves, born-again gospel screams and hopped-up Jagger-isms. And, while we're at it, don't count on the 'cut-and-paste' lo-fi hip-hop readings from America's old songbook that this artist built his career on either. Because on Beck's latest album, appropriately enough entitled Sea Change, he has made a transformation. And a major one at that.
Whereas on his last album, Midnight Vultures, Beck slathered on the baby oil and frottaged his way into a swinging hot tub of funk and soul, on Sea Change he instead slips into a dusty, ragged pair of Depression-era sharecropper's boots and delivers a fertile collection of sad, salt-of-the-earth songs that hearken back to our country's past.
Never has despair, sadness and melancholy been such a pleasure. And like many of America's best musicians throughout the last century Beck proves that change is not only good, but necessary.
Neko Case2) Neko Case - Blacklisted (Bloodshot Records)
On her third album Blacklisted Case digs her spurs deep into the hind-quarters of rootsy country music without sounding affected or nostalgic. With stinging lyrics that lends an air of youthful rebelliousness to her music, this Tacoma, Washington-bred gal, who now calls Chicago her home, has produced the strongest alt-country album of the year.
While the overall feeling of Blacklisted is dark, emotive and, at times, even downright creepy, Case's voice - one that possesses the sweet and gentle sounds of morning songbirds, along with the unbridled passion and runaway power of a cattle stampede - is so natural and beautiful that it actually takes us by the hand and pulls us closer to her introspective songs.
With an album full of such unaffected passion as this, Neko Case's beliefs, along with a stagecoach full of talent, may just help keep this rich form of American music from an early grave.
The White Stripes1) The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (V2 Records)
They're loud, crude, grating and unconventional. Which is exactly what makes The White Stripes such a great band. This minimalist rock duo from Detroit brilliantly play out a refreshingly simple and direct brand of back-to-basics rock 'n' roll, which mixes together rootsy folk music, thrashing punk and metal, deep blues, along with the catchiness of '60s Britpop. While, musically speaking, it may not be a revelation, they've, nonetheless, made rock music seem fresh and important again.
On their third full-length album White Blood Cells singer / guitarist Jack White along with his ex-wife / sister (you choose) Meg White on drums bring a well-timed urgency to rock, much in the same way the Pixies helped jump start an underground revolution of unconventional alternative music in the late '80s.
Welcome home, rock! It's good to have you back.

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