Looking back, 2002 was definitely one of the sparsest years of the decade for me. Maybe it’s because I got married that year and thus didn’t pay as much attention to what was going on in the pop culture world at large, or maybe there just wasn’t that much great stuff out there at the time. Whatever the reason, it took multiple trips through the CD rack to come up with these 10; I stand by them all, but only a few would rank near the top of an all-decade list.
“American IV: The Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash
Though a bit uneven when compared to other albums in the American Recordings series, this album’s a no-brainer for “Hurt” alone, which along with its tremendous video introduced the Man in Black to me and so many others of my generation. “American IV” offers much more than just that seminal single, though, with incredible covers of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” The Beatles’ “In My Life,” Sting’s “I Hung My Head,” and an updated take on Cash's own “Give My Love to Rose.” But my …
Favorite Track: is the foreboding, chilling, yet thrilling title track, a Cash original, “The Man Comes Around.”
“A Rush of Blood to the Head,” Coldplay
My brief flirtation with Coldplay is long gone, but this album is undeniably exceptional. No matter how frontman Chris Martin may annoy me in the past, present, or future …
Favorite Track: “Clocks” stops me in my tracks every time.
“Busted Stuff,” Dave Matthews Band
DMB were basically forced to release this album after its discarded original form, dubbed “The Lillywhite Sessions,” became one of the first widely spread bootleg albums on the Internet. That collection of songs was pushed to the side in favor of the wretched “Everyday” (more on this in a future post), so “Busted Stuff” was a bit of a make-good on behalf of the band. And it’s easy to see why these tracks were in such demand—“Busted Stuff” showcases DMB at its elemental best, perfectly balancing all the talented musicians instead of letting the band’s namesake take too much of the spotlight, which has been unfortunately the trend for the group’s other releases this decade. It’s tough to pick a …
Favorite Track: but I’ll go with “Grace Is Gone.”
“Drunken Lullabies,” Flogging Molly
The Ireland-via-California punk band rarely takes their collective feet off the gas on this scorching, rabble-rousing joy of an album. Definitely the CD of choice for anyone looking for a rush of blood through the veins.
Favorite Track: The iconic and unforgettable title track, “Drunken Lullabies”
“One By One,” Foo Fighters
The Foos have always been a bit too silly for me to care about them overly much, but when they get it right, they really get it right. This album is a tour de force, certainly up there with “Colour and the Shape” as their best work. From gatling-gun opener “All My Life” through to epic finale “Come Back,” this one’s a barnburner.
Favorite Track: “Come Back”
“Riot Act,” Pearl Jam
I debated back and forth about whether to include this album here or not, because it is without question my least favorite Pearl Jam release by a wide margin. Looking back over its tracklisting, maybe just half of the songs do I consider better than mediocre (or downright awful). That being said, it remains a Pearl Jam album, and thus had an impact on my musical life nonetheless. When I look at the other CDs included here from this year, it just wouldn’t look or feel right without PJ accounted for.
Favorite Track: “I Am Mine”
“30 #1 Hits,” Elvis Presley
I still say Elvis is the most overrated uber star in rock and roll, but I have a newfound respect for him, as an artist, performer, and just a sad, lonely man, after visiting Graceland this past year. His influence alone on so many bands I love was reason enough to pick up this collection, and it clued me in to what I'd been missing for so long.
Favorite Track: “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
“The Rising,” Bruce Springsteen
I listen through “The Rising” at least once a year as it is the definitive post-9/11 album for me, back when Springsteen knew how to be passionate about his country without resorting to cheap partisan demagoguery. Here he perfectly captured the wild mixture of emotions coursing through America at the time, from grief to anger to fear to even a bit of hope and a commitment to rebuild. That all seems like a very, very long time ago now, but songs like “The Rising,” “Lonesome Day,” “My City of Ruins,” "You're Missing," and “Further On (Up the Road)” are built to last. This is another of those albums where my …
Favorite Track: Continually changes. Any of those previous five would work, but more often than not I return to the haunting “Nothing Man.”
“89/93: An Anthology,” Uncle Tupelo
So as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy struggled in 2002 to get his latest record released (see directly below), his former band unveiled this greatest hits collection, thereby showcasing exactly the rough-and-tumble greatness the record company was expecting from Wilco, I guess. Whereas Wilco songs tickle your brain as well as your heart, this set sings to your gut. Look no further for proof Tweedy and co-songwriter Jay Farrar were the Lennon and McCartney of alt-country; it’s a shame they couldn’t make it work for the long haul, but while they were together, nobody burned brighter. Nearly two decades old, these songs sound as fresh and wonderful as ever—there’s not a mediocre entry to be found here, much less a bad one.
Favorite Track: “Graveyard Shift”
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” Wilco
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” has become its own term in my musical lexicon, meaning: an album that takes awhile to sink in. It was months before I could say I liked this record; it would take years before I fully loved and appreciated its genius and beauty. Founder/frontman Jeff Tweedy set the bar so high with this dense, engaging, challenging, and, ultimately, gripping masterpiece, all the fine work he’s done since still sorta suffers by comparison. Such is the curse of a classic album where nearly every song could be considered a standout: “War on War,” “Ashes of American Flags,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “Jesus, Etc.,” and …
Favorite Track: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
“Caution,” Hot Water Music
“Electric Sweat,” The Mooney Suzuki
“We Are the Only Friends We Have,” Piebald
"Forty Licks," The Rolling Stones