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Red Rocker's best albums of 2003, best CDs of 2003
Red Rocker’s fav 10 releases of 2003
by: Red Rocker (e-mail

Red Rocker home / CD Reviews / Entertainment Channel / Entertainment Web Guide

Not so different from most other years, 2003 saw new music, both good and bad, from old, familiar faces as well as a fair crop of freshman. On the upside, we were introduced to Kings of Leon, The Exies and Jet. These brash, baby-faced rockers seem poised and able to keep vintage rock n’ roll on the radar screen for at least another calendar year. On the downside, however, metal Gods Metallica left us scratching our heads with their first studio release in six years. The concert calendar was again full in 2003, with Foo Fighters, Fleetwood Mac, Ryan Adams and even Iron Maiden all returning to form with memorable live performances. While we weren’t even looking, the promoters of these shows have gone and doubled the price of tickets on us. Upwards of $150 to see Simon & Garfunkel in their 60s?!

We lost the great Johnny Cash this past year and that bitter pill remains stuck in my throat most days. Rolling Stone magazine turned into a cheesy teen pin-up rag before our very eyes, while MTV played exactly four music videos throughout the 12-month period. Some things will likely never change, but here (again, in no particular order) are the 10 releases from 2003 that I believe had the greatest impact.

Ben Lee: Hey You, Yes You
A bona-fide “sky faller” from the 24-year-old Australian, this one won’t necessarily hit you upside the head during the first spin. But like a toxic venom, given due time to take, most will grow to adore Ben Lee, who has actually been making obscure music for the better part of a decade now. “Something Borrowed Something Blue” and “Dirty Mind” are the highlights.

Zwan: Mary Star of the Sea
This gem was released so early in ’03 that I often forget it even was. Billy Corgan’s latest (and ultimately briefest) side project never really grew wings, but what a fabulous debut offering this represents! The deliciously swirling guitars that made Smashing Pumpkins so damned appealing in the 1990s return on “Lyric” and “Honestly.” So what’s next, Billy?

Eels: Shootenanny
A tip of the alt-rock hat to Paul Westerberg and The Replacements, if not for at least the title, Mark Everett expands on a relatively unknown catalog with this year’s brainchild. As glum and depressed as E wants us to think he is in his lyrics, he just can’t hide the giddiness that abounds from tracks like “Saturday Morning” and “Love of the Loveless.” This is a great batch of songs that likely never got heard in 2003.

Jet: Get Born
Along with fellow retro rockers Kings of Leon, these Aussies stole the award for surprise hit of the year! Thirteen tracks of spanking new yet classic rock and roll, from wailing AC/DC-like stadium gold to inspired ballads sure to get the Bic lighters raised high. Whether Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick or T. Rex, the influences here are too numerous to list, but Jet provides tons of promise for the transition of 1970s guitar rock into modern day.

The Jayhawks: Rainy Day Music
I love, love, love The Jayhawks and this record is stellar! As an ardent fan since the early 1990s, even I thought these guys had disbanded in 2002. Thank God, I was wrong. “Come to the River” and the Matthew Sweet collaboration “Tailspin” immediately become two of the best cuts in the brilliant ‘Hawks catalog.

Ryan Adams: Rock N’ Roll
Yes, Ryan Adams is a sniveling brat most of the time, and for whatever reason, he seems intent on self destructing a magnificent career before it would ever stand a chance of becoming legendary. That said, he keeps turning out one landmark album after the next at a pace that would make the Stones in their heyday take notice. Returning in ’03 from a very short respite, Adams served a cranked-up batch of, well, rock n’ roll. This is the record that Paul Westerberg has been trying to make ever since Pleased to Meet Me.

Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
A long-awaited third release from the dynamic duo Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, this year’s Fountains of Wayne album should please most any and every musical pallet. “Valley Winter Song,” “Bright Future in Sales” and the radio bliss of “Stacy’s Mom” succeed in stacking one tempting reason on top of another to give this a try.

Liz Phair: Liz Phair
Unfairly tagged, as far as this critic is concerned, as an Avril Lavigne rip-off, Liz Phair’s newest record might have been too good. She’s made a career, after all, of under-producing and side stepping the mainstream, but when Avril’s engineering team (The Matrix) joins Phair in the studio here, all critical Hell broke loose. Sell out? I think not. “Favorite” is probably the best composition she’s ever written.

The White Stripes: Elephant
Try as one might to not follow the media frenzy that swarmed like mad hornets around Jack and Meg White this year, I simply couldn’t resist. David Medsker donned this “a White Stripes record for people who can’t stand the White Stripes.” Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Kings of Leon: Youth and Young Manhood
Welp, I managed to save the year’s best for last. Kings of Leon gave the rock and roll underground something grand to salute in 2003. In fact, they did it twice. A five-song EP came out in the spring before the official debut hit stores in August. Put the bevy of influences aside because these Kings are on top for as long as they want to be! “California Waiting” and “Red Morning Light” are both about as good a rock clips as we’ve heard in recent years.

Ye Old ‘Honorable Mentions’ and others that got away…

Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears
Patrick Park: Loneliness Knows My Name
The Exies: Inertia
Live: Birds of Pray
Pete Yorn: Day I Forgot
The Thorns: The Thorns
Pink: Try This
Josh Rouse: 1972

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