"What, no Dido?" The 10 best albums of 2003 according to John Donnelly.
1. Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
The expected mix of guitar attacks, reflective moments, electronic experiments and lyrics to bring down a government, this clearly wasn’t as brilliant as OK Computer or as focussed as Kid A/Amnesiac, but, even slightly off-form, Radiohead are still light years ahead of just about any other band on the planet.
2. Blur: Think Tank
Blur’s trip to Morocco resulted - thankfully - in an album influenced by a relaxed mindset rather than a full on ‘world music’ experience; while the lack of upfront guitar (no doubt due to the loss of Graham Coxon) took the sound in a sparse, more rhythmic direction. The benefits of this can best be seen on tracks such as Ambulance, Caravan and Out of Time (one of the year’s best singles). Me, White Noise doesn’t fit in with the rest album (which is probably why it is included as a hidden track), but really is a must hear.
3. Freeland: Now & Them
From the slow-burning euphoria of Burn the Clock to the wake-the-fuck-up! politics of We Want Your Soul, this is a thrilling, state-of-the-art dance record.
4. Outkast: The Love Below/Speakerboxxx
At the end of 2003, there were no doubt many people (including myself, admittedly) still trying to get their heads around this, two-and-a-half hours of the year’s most ambitious music. Ghetto Musick was a good indication of the project as a whole, moving from rapid fire beats and rapping to a relaxed, soulful Patti Labelle sample for no real reason; best off the Speakerboxxx CD, however, was the horn-fuelled The Way You Move. The Love Below, meanwhile, included the indispensable Hey Ya!, a near drum n bass version of Favourite Things and an amusing skit entitled Where Are My Panties?
5. Richard X: Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1
With imaginative production and (mainly) 80s samples, X blends artful oddities (the weirdest Walk On By cover you’ll ever here; a Jarvis Cocker/Mazzy Star mash-up) with moments of perfect pop (Being Nobody, Finest Dreams, Freak Like Me).
6. Goldfrapp: Black Cherry
With its lush, dreamy soundscapes, occasionally risque lyrics and sensual vocals courtesy of Alison Goldfrapp, this was perhaps the year’s sexiest album.
7. Audio Bullys: Ego War
Somewhere between Basement Jaxx and The Streets, Audio Bullys were perfectly summed up by their name and wanted to bash you about the head with huge beats and bad attitude.
8. The Kills: Keep on Your Mean Side
On paper, this back-to-basics boy/girl duo seemed a similar prospect to The White Stripes. In reality, the music was rawier, dirtier and more dangerous.
9. The Roots: Phrenology
At 75 minutes, this might have been considered a monster if it weren’t for The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. Skipping in mood from chilled to furious, and encompassing everything from drum n bass and techno to Stones-y rock (The Seed), this was another album demonstrating why hip-hop is arguably the most interesting genre at the moment.
10. The Coral: Magic and Medicine
Brimming with ideas and bizarro influences (Spaghetti Westerns?), yet with a smattering of beautifully simple moments (Pass it On, Liezah), perhaps the most impressive aspect of this album was its tightness.