Best Albums of 2002

I was thinking that 2002 wasn’t that long ago, but of course it’s 17 years, and looking at the albums from that year I’m quite surprised that they were released that long ago. It really seems so much closer. Anyway, I’ve left a lot out and gone for a top 54, a stupid number but 54 it is. As always with these sort of lists it is all my opinion and I’m quite comfortable with being considered wrong, because that’s the thing about opinions, mine is right.

54 – Cornershop – Handcream For A Generation

Cornershop have always been rather underrated in some quarters, but not by me, this is a really great album, and anybody who releases a single with the repeated line ” The overgrown super shit”, is ok with me.

53 – Moloko – Statues

I think I may use the word Underrated more than would initially appear necessary, but I’m not convinced Moloko received the acclaim they deserved. They produced great Dance/Pop songs and Róisín Murphy’s voice is fabulously distinctive. I like them.

52 – Moby – 18

This, of course, is the album that isn’t ‘Play’ and it was never going to repeat its success, but it has some really good tracks on it, not least ‘We are All Made of Stars’ which I find better than many of the ‘Play’ tracks.

51 – Super Furry Animals – Rings Around the World

I never took any notice of Super Furry Animals, despite them being very Welsh, and then I heard the track below on a compilation and really liked it. It’s not indicative of everything they do though.

50 – Xiu Xiu – Knife Play

I have one album by Xiu Xiu and this isn’t it, in fact I’ve never heard his album until now. It is sort of experimental but it has something about it that I really like, it’s also nothing like the album I do have, which is their re-working of the Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack to Twin Peaks. I fully appreciate this won’t be to everybody’s taste.

49 – Out Hud – S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D.

One of the great benefits of doing lists like this one is that I get to listen to things that otherwise I probably wouldn’t. In the 17 years since this album was released I have never tripped over it, I literally know nothing about it. I listened to it, I love it.

48 – Jóhann Jóhannsson – Englabörn

There are certain things that I can confirm as being true, one is that I like modern classical, another is that I like film soundtracks, which leaves me rather vulnerable to this. Although, I do have 2016 release Orphée so I’m not a complete stranger to Jóhann.

47 – El-P – Fantastic Damage

There are things about Hip-Hop, Rap etc. that I don’t understand but the young ‘uns seem to be all over it, talking about flow and sick beats amongst other things, frankly, most of the time I can’t even make out the words, I’m old, I can’t help it, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t like or appreciate something from within the constraints of my own understanding. I appreciate this, it’s, erm, dope.

46 – Ms Dynamite – A Little Deeper

She was the next big thing, but turned out not to be. This was partly by choice I think as she took time off for her child and her return was marred by a badly promoted second album and then being dropped by the record label. Putting that aside, this is a really good debut and, personally, I think it’s a shame she didn’t take off. I saw her DJ-ing a few years ago, I like her.

45 – Beck – Sea Change

I’ve listened to this album several times over the years and even though I know it is very highly regarded, the track ‘The Golden Age’ is the only one I can ever remember because I once put it on a mixtape. I must try it again and see if I’ve missed something.

44 – Dalek – From Filthy Tomgue of Gods and Griots

I don’t know why I like this, I just do.

43 – Aimee Mann – Lost In Space

I bought this when it was released and it is only today when I went looking for it that I realised I don’t have it now. Mann is a really good songwriter and I thought back in 2002 that she would be a bigger thing than she turned out to be, though this is not necessarily a criticism. There are a lot of good songs on this album, you should give it a listen.

42 – Craig Armstrong – As If To Nothing

This is classified as Modern Classical, Downtempo, Experimental, Ambient. Well that’s me sold on it then, how could I resist? Don’t know him? Craig Armstrong, OBE (born 29 April 1959 in Glasgow, United Kingdom), is a Scottish composer of modern orchestral music, electronica and film scores. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 1981, and has since written music for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta. He also has several film scores under his belt. I’m a fan.

42 – Groove Armada – Lovebox

Francis Rossi of Status Quo played on the track Purple Haze, the opening track to the album and in the video below, the guitar riff is from an early Quo track called April, Spring Summer And Wednesdays. The album is packed with cool, really listenable tracks, recommended.

41 – Nightmares on Wax – Mind Elevation

When I started buying vinyl again this was among the first that I bought, well, first 20 or so, I can’t remember exactly. I’d been streaming it before that and saw it in the shop, seemed an obvious choice to me at the time.

40 – Ladytron – Light and Music

‘Seventeen’ by Ladytron is one of my favourite tracks of this year. I had it on my Ipod, or whatever I was using then (Might have been Creative Labs as it had the biggest storage back then), in a playlist and it was played a lot. Oddly enough, I don’t think I ever listened to the whole album, just odd tracks, but now I have, it’s great.

39 – Morcheeba – Charango

Another album I actually bought when it was released, a double CD, one of which was instrumental versions, I only played that once. I still think their debut album is brilliant and this one doesn’t disappoint either, containing a duet with Kurt Wagner of Lambchop on the track ‘What New York Couples Fight About’, seek it out, it’s brilliant.

38 – Supergrass – Life on Other Planets

The fourth album from Supergrass, the standout tracks being ‘Grace’, and ‘La Song’ and ‘Never Done Nothing Like That Before’ on an album that could have been a classic but doesn’t quite make it. Still worth having though. I also like ‘Seen The Light’ which is so very T-Rex.

36 – Max Richter – Memoryhouse

I love the work of Max Richter and this is no exception, although it is one I don’t own yet I have listened to it several times. Memoryhouse is considered a “landmark work of contemporary classical music”. It’s an experimental album of “documentary music” recorded with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, which explores real and imaginary stories and histories. Several of the tracks, such as “Sarajevo”, “November”, “Arbenita”, and “Last Days”, deal with the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, while others are of childhood memories e.g. “Laika’s Journey”. The music combines ambient sounds, voices (including that of John Cage), and poetry readings from the work of Marina Tsvetaeva. 

35 – Jurassic 5 – Power In Numbers

I picked up a copy of this only a couple of months ago from a charity shop and have played it a lot in the car. Apparently the album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

34 – The Chemical Brothers – Come With Us

There are some really good tracks on this album, although I don’t think there were any massive ‘Hits’, I could be wrong about that though. This is their 4th album and ‘Star Guitar’ probably is the best well known track on it but despite some negative reviews I rather like it.

33 – Lemon Jelly – Lost Horizons

Lemon Jelly albums are generally their own special version of ‘feel good’. They are almost a brand rather than band with the their graphically designed images adorning the pages of countless magazines and the expensive collectors editions of their records. This is happy music made for cosy afternoons tucked up on the sofa and if you’re looking for something that’ll give you a bit of a spring in your step, then you really couldn’t do much better.

32- The Cinematic Orchestra – Every Day

Here we have a mélange of jazz, orchestral and digital samples which is primarily operating in a territory first mapped out by Bristol’s Massive Attack, if at a somewhat more rarefied and abstract level. The modern jazz and 20th century classical sensibilities are distinctive and well performed and, as Roots Manuva performs on one track, I am pre-disposed to liking it.

31 – The Roots – Phrenology

The Roots brand of hip-hop had a distinctly group-oriented musical sound and Phrenology builds from that, with the band filling their sound out and pushing it in a variety of directions for Phrenology. If you like things categorised, the band sound is a sort of tight soul/funk augmented with soul vocalists, including Musiq, Jill Scott, and, at the time, promising newcomer Cody ChesnuTT.

30 – The Coral – The Coral

Underrated is an entirely personal concept and I do say it far too often. More often or not the music is underrated by my and was in fact very popular which is usually as a result of my completely ignoring bands until many years later and then wondering why I paid no attention at the time. I picked up the CD of this in a charity shop a couple of months ago and it is really very good, and I’m only 17 years late in listening to it. There’s also something both amusing and endearing about a singer who pulls faces that make them look as though they are attempting a particularly troublesome shit.

29 – Tom Waits – Blood Money

Tom Waits is a genius, a total outsider who seems to do whatever the hell he wants and sod what people think. I rather like what’s happened to his voice, which is pretty much the sound of a man gargling a gallon of gravel, but with brilliant songwriting. He released two albums in 2002 and the other one is here too, it’s a close call between them.

28 – Tori Amos – Scarlet’s Walk

I’ve always had a soft spot for Tori Amos, another brilliant songwriter, but initially lumbered with the idea that she was the new ‘Kate Bush’, which she wasn’t. This album is 18 songs long and, perhaps, there are a couple too many, however, what to leave out? It’s an 18-track concept album that details the cross-country travels of Scarlet, a character loosely based on Amos, as well as the concept of America post-September 11, 2001. Perhaps the story wouldn’t make sense without all the songs.

27 – Tom Waits – Alice

Like the simultaneously released Blood Money, this album is previously unrecorded music from an opera production by Waits, his wife Kathleen Brennan, and longtime collaborator (“The Black RIder”) avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson, which explored the obsessive relationship between Lewis Carroll and the little girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell. I’d never heard of this opera, the songs are fantastic and I do wonder now about the show itself.

26 – Eminem – The Eminem Show

I am not a huge Eminem fan, but I can very much appreciate the impact he has and the crossover popularity. A careful listen to this album strongly suggests that the overriding emotion is the loneliness created by fame, money, and failed relationships, which is sad, but not a unique situation and it’s much easier to be sad if you’ve got money. What it does undeniably have is bloody catchy songs from a man who was the biggest pop star on the planet at the time.

25 – Porcupine Tree – In Absentia

Here is another band that I completely missed, they weren’t even on my radar. It wasn’t until I recently went to see Steven Wilson on tour last year that I started listening to the back catalogue and I was quite confused. My understanding was that it was Prog, which is part of it but it feels like there’s a lot of Pop in there, with hooks galore and more catchy choruses than you can shake a stick at.

24 – Gomez – In Our Gun

I actually though Gomez had broken up years ago, but they haven’t, they’re most recent album having been released in 2011, which I’ll check out along with a couple of others I’ve never heard. On the sessions for In Our Gun, the band also set aside some of their Americana influences in favour of tinkering with newer technology. All five members became fascinated by samples and loops and other electronic touches that could bring some new sounds to Gomez. At the same time, the band members worked to integrate the approach into songs that had an R&B or a folk-rock feel, allowing the effects to wash over tried-and-true traditions. Give ‘Even Song’ a listen, you might like it, if you don’t you’re wrong.

23 – Röyksopp – Melody AM

Melody A.M seemed to be playing everywhere back in 2002, at a time before MTV became unwatchable drivel it seemed like every 30 minutes they had a track playing. It’s a strange album in many ways, being a sort of after-club easy listening electronica which has an unsettling familiarity about it, and somewhere in there, a sense of chirpy sorrow, which is an odd feeling to evoke. It is super catchy and, for its genre, almost perfectly proportioned.

22 – Beth Orton – Daybreaker

I’ve seen Beth Orton a couple of times now and both times reminded me of not only the high quality of her songwriting but also of how much I like her voice, it’s almost lazy, and yet precise, which I have trouble making sense of. The first time I saw her was a seated concert with about 600 people in the audience, she was heavily pregnant and sat alone on the stage with just her acoustic guitar as accompaniment. The sound was stunning.

21 – Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around

I don’t think I really need to say much about this. If you don’t know it, where the hell have you been!?

20 – The Streets – Original Pirate Material

I have difficulties with this album, as I remember liking it on first and second listen but it had no staying power for me. It felt like listening to an audiobook repeatedly, however, going back and listening again I think I appreciate it more particularly in the context of what else was happening in music at the time. The references were instantly recognisable, mundane everyday issues of public transport, cheap drugs, fast food, and hangovers. There was no self aggrandizing, just brilliant phonetical descriptions of street life and culture.

19- Damien Rice – O

This album felt all conquering back in 2002, particularly when tracks from it were used in the film ‘Closer’. Today it is just as good as it was then, however, it does suffer from overplaying as many very popular releases often do. The songs are still incredibly good but that familiarity, over familiarity even, can, for me at least, have a detrimental effect. I do still give it a listen every now and again though.

18 – The Libertines – Up The Bracket

The Libertines were pretty casual and rough around the edges with a sound that could have come from the 66 or 76 rather than the beginning of the 00’s. The songs were brash and bold, funny at times and spoke of perfectly ordinary, mostly English things, with Sid James quotes adding to that particular Britishness. Ignore what happened afterwards, this album, a debut, was like a breath of fresh air at the time.

17 – The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

It’s quite the trick to make one feel small and insignificant but happy about it at the same time, which is what the Flaming Lips pull off with this album, which may or may not have an overall concept, it’s difficult to tell. There is a diverse array of subject matter covered, mostly melancholy ponderings about love, mortality, artificial emotion, pacifism, and deception, not the most heartwarming of subjects, but who can deny the beauty of ‘Do You Realize??’

16 – Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

An album loved by the critics and liked by me. It has been said that the album is complex and dangerously catchy, lyrically sophisticated and provocative, noisy and somehow serene. It has been called a masterpiece and was top 3 on lots of year end lists. I’m yet to figure out why, it’s good, but a masterpiece? I’m not so sure.

15 – William Basinski – The Disintergration Loops 1

Speaking of masterpieces, here’s one. Not from everybody point of view for sure, but from mine it is. The music was recorded from a series of tape loops that gradually deteriorated each time they passed the tape head, an unexpected consequence of Basinski’s attempt to transfer a collection of his old recordings from magnetic tape to digital format. The completion of the recording coincided with the 9/11 attacks, which Basinski witnessed from his rooftop in Brooklyn and the artwork features Basinski’s footage of the New York City skyline in the aftermath of the World Trade Center’s collapse. He would subsequently dedicate the music to the victims of the attacks. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to it, in its entirety and it has some kind of emotional effect on me that I find difficult to explain. It is not related to the twin towers attack, it just makes me introspective and thoughtful, and, of course, I have admitted many times to my love of repetition.

14 – Pearl Jam – Riot Act

I had a CD player in the kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, and this CD was in it for several months, just playing while I did other things, sometimes for just a song and other times the whole album repeatedly. It grew on me, mostly due to my being too bloody lazy to change the CD but also because those are the sort of songs on the album, they aren’t necessarily going to hit you right between the eyes, but there’s a good chance they will get to you in the end.

13 – Iron and Wine – The Creek Drank The Cradle

Simplicity is a wonderful thing. The sparse lo-fi sound of the album is attributed to Beam recording the tracks at home on a four-track recorder initially as demos. His intention was to pass these on to Joey Burns and John Convertino of the band Calexico who would provide a rhythm section on the finished piece. However the demos were released instead. I don’t know who made that decision, but it was inspired, these fragile, beautiful songs are a joy.

12 – Mum – Finally We Are No One

Here I go again, UNDERRATED! there, I said it. Múm (Icelandic pronunciation: ​[muːm]) are an Icelandic experimental musical group whose music is characterised by soft vocals, electronic glitch beats and effects, and a variety of traditional and unconventional instruments. The last sentence doesn’t do them justice, they are magical.

11 – Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head

I know Coldplay are extremely popular, but personally I think they did 2 1/2 good albums, this is the second one, the next one is the 1/2. This topped a lot of year end polls, which is fair enough I guess but it was the popular choice, which is not how I judge things, after all, the best selling album of 2002 was Escapology by Robbie Williams, and it’s shit. That having been said, there are good songs on this and, for me, it’s in the correct place in this list.

10 – Martin Gretch – Open Heart Zoo

I wrote about this album quite recently, so here is what I wrote

9 – The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

Well, one must ask, ‘Do you own all the White Stripes records?’ and one must answer, ‘Yes I do, and am completely and utterly biased’. This was an album that showed progression, which continued through the next album, Elephant’ and on until they finally split. Despite the Guitar, Vocal, Drums format seemingly being limiting, it just isn’t noticeable, good songs are good songs and White Blood Cells is jam packed full of them.

8 – Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man – Out Of Season

Absolute beauty. I was already sold on Portishead and so was a tad worried what was going to happen with a solo album (sort of), I needn’t have been, tracks such as the delicately acoustic ‘Mysteries’ (below) are not Portishead, but they are Beth Gibbons and they are wonderful, like a photo album you forgot you had, opening it years later and feeling the mixed emotions of melancholy and joy and somehow being grateful for the moments you captured on film.

7 – Sonic Youth – Murray Street

This is one of my faviourite Sonic Youth albums which forced its way into my psyche by having tracks in various playlists that I listened to a lot back then. If you’ve never listened to the album I highly recommend it, great songs, and much catchier than one might expect.

6 – Godspeed you! Black Emperor – Yanqui U.X.O

It is fair to say that GSYBE are not everybody’s cup of tea, and I’m good with that as they are very much mine. I saw them a few years ago at Warwick Arts Centre, on my own, and it was quite an intense listening experience. I do love the way the tracks build, often from almost nothing into lovely repetitiveness, layer after layer, into an almost classical crescendo.

5 – Lambchop – Is A Woman

Another band I saw at Warwick Arts Centre, again on my own, anti-social bastard that I am. I like things that are a little different, in this case Kurt Wagners phrasing, it feels almost desperately sad at times, and his use of words, the songs often feel to me like poems set to words, the Bukowski sort. A gem of an album.

4 – Interpol – Turn On The Bright Lights

I was given a mix CD that had no track listing and the track PDA from this was on it, although I had no idea what it was. When I finally figured it out I sought out the album and, having found it, played the damn thing to death. Interpol were compared to Joy Division a lot, and there is some of that influence there for sure, but also Echo & the Bunnymen amongst others, but they aren’t these bands, they are their own thing. Check out ‘NYC’, ‘Stella was a diver and she was always down’ and ‘PDA’ down below of course, but don’t limit yourself to those, just listen to the album.

3 – Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

A classic, which I wrote about HERE so I won’t again (because I’m lazy).

2 – David Bowie – Heathen

This is one of my favourite Bowie albums and to me it feels complete, unlike many of his earlier releases. It has none of the persona’s present that Bowie had previously used to such good effect, it seems more to be that he had found himself to be David Robert Jones, all grown up. The choice of cover versions are perfect, the Pixies’ “Cactus,” Neil Young’s “I’ve Been Waiting for You” and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship” all fit beautifully with the self-penned tracks. This album is a gem.

1 – Sigur Ros – ()

An album of 8 untitled tracks (though they were later named) with vocals in a made up language that nobody really understands is an unlikely resident of the number one spot, and yet here it is. () is an album of spacey, drifting ambience and brooding textural melodrama with songs that sometimes demand patient, observant listening. For me, music is more than a catchy hook or riff, it is about mood and emotion, texture and sometimes headspace, that place where you can go to get away from all your troubles, transported there on an analogue wave. An unexpected lifting of the spirits, a mild euphoria, a period of melancholy, it is all included. I love his album.

There are a lot of albums that were released in 2002 that could well have been in the 54 above, but they aren’t.

Below are the UK’s top selling albums of 2002 as promised, 2 made it into my list.

1 Escapology Robbie Williams
2 Missundaztood Pink
3 Escape Enrique Iglesias
4 A Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay
5 One Love Blue
6 By the Way Red Hot Chili Peppers
7 The Eminem Show Eminem
8 Unbreakable: The Greatest Hits Volume 1 Westlife
9 ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits Elvis Presley
10 Heathen Chemistry Oasis
11 Come Away with Me Norah Jones 3
12 Silver Side Up Nickelback
13 A New Day at Midnight David Gray
14 Greatest Hits I, II & III (The Platinum Collection) Queen
15 Fever Kylie Minogue
16 Let Go Avril Lavigne
17 Greatest Hits 1970–2002 Elton John
18 From Now On Will Young
19 Forty Licks The Rolling Stones
20 Feels So Good Atomic Kitten

Why not reply with your own top 10 of 2002? It’s harder than you might think!