Be sure to also read David Medsker's Best of 2002 list!
In my mind, 2002 will go down as the year that classic rock returned, both in recorded and live form. Sure, we had to endure the pre-fabricated faux musicianship of American Idol Kelly Clarkson, as well as ad nauseam doses of cookie-cutters like Creed, Linkin Park and Nickelback. But with a brilliant new album and tour from Bruce Springsteen, a return to the road for The Who, a tag team concert event featuring David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, and a renewed presence of the great Paul McCartney, this year went a long way to restore faith for some that all of our 1970s and '80s childhood has not been lost. Even more refreshing, the best new records of the past year seemed to come from artists (like Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Wilco, and newcomers Wayne and The General Store) with that true classic rock integrity. In no given order, the following are the 10 CDs that saw the most playing time in my red world this past year:
Highly Evolved, The Vines
Time will tell if these young Aussie brats can survive the inflated expectations that most would have for them after hearing this debut. It's short, real short (30-some odd minutes from start to finish). Yet they manage to deliver homerun Nirvana-like opuses and more attitude than The Strokes, The Hives and The White Stripes combined.
One by One, Foo Fighters
It may have taken a while for Dave Grohl and the boys to finally get this fourth record released but, boy, was it worth the wait! All the conventional Foo Fighters skills are again displayed, as well as some of the best songs they've composed to date. I maintain that One by One stands as the best hard rock album of 2002.
Demolition, Ryan Adams
All Ryan Adams seems to do these days is write songs. He writes and writes and writes, then he records and tours both with and without his band, then he writes some more. At the risk of compromising my neutral journalistic bias, this guy really can do no wrong in my book. He has quickly and deservedly become the Bob Dylan voice of this generation.
Gravity, Our Lady Peace
One of my bona fide musical arguments with Pop Boy Medsker this year was staged over Gravity. He called it Creed part two, thought it was Matchbox Twenty on speed, even went so far as to accuse these Canadians of succumbing to industry pressure and crafting heartless, made-for-FM radio, cheese rock just to advance their career. I say Our Lady Peace has been making splendid yet unknown arena rock for years (five studio albums worth), and this one just might finally put them on the map where they belong!
89/93: An Anthology, Uncle Tupelo
I'm not usually a fan of including 'Greatest Hits' collections on year end best-of lists, but considering the glorious obscurity of Uncle Tupelo's career, I felt it very appropriate. Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy remain the foundation of my personal favorite musical category, that of alt-country rock. This is a great crash course for the first-time Tupelo buyer!
Music on Plastic, Wayne
Probably the best thing to ever come out of Birmingham, AL (at least musically), Wayne made a quiet statement in 2002 with this solid indie-label debut. They sound like Big Head Todd at times and Counting Crows at others, but these songs are interesting and the arrangements are very polished. I'll be keeping a curious eye peeled for their follow up.
The Rising, Bruce Springsteen
A far better record at this point in his career than The Boss ever needed to make! Clearly inspired by the chilling emotion that surrounded the events of September 11, Springsteen and his legendary band stamped out an awesome and extensive collection of career-defining songs here. From stadium rockers to piano ballads, The Rising plays like a 'Greatest Hits' package from start to finish.
After a couple years worth of legal wrangling and management disputes, the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine joined forces with Soundgarden banshee Chris Cornell and the result is pretty much what any fan would expect: the world's first abstract hard-rock expressionist masterpiece! My colleague Mr. Smola made his case for this album to be mentioned in the same breath as the Foo Fighters…shall we agree on a tie?
Local Honey, The General Store
Essentially a solo project by the son of Elton John's longtime guitarist, Local Honey was the sleeper pick of the year. I give Medsker all the credit for turning me onto this gem, and the influences he mentioned in his review are dead on. This is a "must own" for any fan of The Eagles, CSN&Y or most any Neil Young recording.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco
Even though his band has been almost completely revamped, Jeff Tweedy (and now John Stirratt) forges ahead with what he started more than a decade ago…making great contemporary twang rock with multiple comparisons being drawn along the way. This is the one that nearly got away after the label discarded it as "too unfavorable for radio." Thank God there's still a convicted ear or two in the business who is still willing to gamble on stuff that doesn't "fit" radio. Thank God!
Honorable Mentions and some that were close…
By the Way, Red Hot Chili Peppers
While You Weren't Looking, Caitlin Cary
Live, Black Crowes
Mono and Stereo, Grandpa Boy (Paul Westerberg)