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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 29, 2003

10 best albums of 2003

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

You could find most folks in da club with 50 Cent in 2003, lookin' so crazy right now with Beyonce, shakin' dat ting with Sean Paul, or just plain Up! with Shania.

That is, when we all weren't flying without wings. Whatever that means.

Musically speaking, while paraphrasing the poet Bono, 2003 had its good (White Stripes, OutKast), its bad (Justin Guarini, t.A.T.u) and its hopelessly overrated (Ryan Adams, The Darkness).

Never mind the bollocks. Here are my choices for the 10 best CDs of 2003.


Jack and Meg White, the White Stripes, rise to the top again with this year's best CD "Elephant."

Advertiser library photo • 2002

'Elephant' by White Stripes (Third Man/V2): Somewhere in the long-winded White Stripes induction speech read by Frances Bean Cobain at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2024 ceremonies, expect a line name-checking 2003 as the year Jack White went from being the innovative mastermind behind one of rock's best "garage" bands to one of rock music's most innovative masterminds, period. "Elephant" shows that White's first three Stripes CDs were mere rehearsals for this stunning collection of raw fuzzbox rock, unhinged folk and wonderfully blissed-out blues. From track to track, anything can happen on "Elephant" and always does. The Stripes are still Meg on drums and Jack on just about everything else that's not nailed down. But blistering sonic stomps like "Seven Nation Army," "There's No Home For You Here," and "The Hardest Button To Button" come off more menacing and raggedly alive than bands with three times the personnel.

None of this is easy. Jack White just makes it look that way. And with "Elephant," the White Stripes have done nothing less than concoct the most vital CD of the year ... for the second year in a row.


Big Boi and Andre of Outkast rap their way through the wildly ambitious and original double CD "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below."

Advertiser library photo • 2003

"Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" by OutKast (Arista): Andre "3000" Benjamin and Antwon "Big Boi" Patton barely acknowledge each other's presence for the 2 hours and 15 minutes of crazy show-off brilliance on this double-CD. But there's still a cohesiveness to the two solo rooms of musical sprawl at this party that always lets you know who got together to plan the menu.

Big Boi tears into his "Speakerboxxx" armed with blistering speed rap attacks, electric funk experiments, old school gangsta tricks and art-house crunk. Andre 3000 hopscotches through his absolutely delicious "The Love Below," crooning to Coltranesque jazz fusion, spewing Beatlesque arrangements and channeling purple-era Prince mojo, all without sounding hopelessly derivative. As wildly all over the map as it is amazingly ambitious and original, this is the hip-hop masterpiece that wannabe playas will be cribbing from for years.


"Hail To The Thief" by Radiohead (Capitol): The "will they or won't they rock again" chatter preceding the release of each new Radiohead album is getting about as tired as vocalist Thom Yorke's disaffected and disheveled music mag poses. Anyone still hoping for the band's grand return to the rock guitar-twang of "The Bends" needs to accept the reality that Radiohead exited that rocket ship for the monolith and the infinite beyond a long time ago, never to return.

"Hail" earns its high grades for marking a return to actual song-craft, complex arrangements and atmospheric form for Radiohead after the double dose of grand yet self-conscious aural chaos on "Kid A" and "Amnesiac." They're a reasonable band. Get off their case already.


"This Is Not A Test!" by Missy Elliott (Elektra): Otherwise known as the Missy CD on which Elliott and ever-present production partner in crime Timbaland bring in the noise and bring in the crunk. And damn if girlfriend doesn't put her thing down, flip it and reverse it with Tim's supa dupa fly bag 'o' hand claps, car alarms, whinnying horses and "Hootie-hoo!" chants on "Pass That Dutch," tasty leftover old school from last year's "Under Construction" CD, and funky experiments in dreamy balladry. Nothing here is as individually catchy and inventive as "Work It" or "Get Ur Freak On." But as a whole, "Test" gets an "A" as one of Missy's and Tim's best efforts yet.


"Welcome Interstate Managers" by Fountains Of Wayne (S-Curve/ Virgin): In this or any other year, the best CD exploring unattainable women, dead-end jobs, college football players and hormonally charged lawn-mowing teens. Fountains of Wayne wraps its knowing character sketches and soliloquies for working stiffs in a warm hoodie of woozy pop hooks, imaginative lyrics and shimmering guitar work that's darn near impossible to resist. Buy it for the infectious novelty fluff of "Stacy's Mom," but keep listening for the wonderful stories that surround it.


"Heavier Things" by John Mayer (Columbia): It's easy to hate John Mayer. He's dated Jennifer Love Hewitt. He hangs with Heidi Klum. On his breakthrough CD "Room For Squares," he wrote pop songs as sensitive-dude romantic and breezily nostalgic as a Carly Simon/James Taylor offspring given up for adoption at birth. And on the surface, "Heavier Things" doesn't seem like much of a departure from Mayer's amiable musical style. Listen closely though, and you'll find clever lyrical ruminations on 20-something self-obsession, self-deprecation, angst and love set to the quirkiest pop-jazz arrangements this side of David Gray.


"Kish Kash" by Basement Jaxx (XL/Astralwerks): After building two of the best electronic dance albums in, like, the history of the genre on phat foundations of progressive house and party-ready grooves, British producer/DJ duo Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe get deep. On "Kish Kash," the Jaxx's typically adventurous palette of sounds (punk, Middle Eastern, R&B, Latin and, yes, house) wraps itself around diverse vocals from Siouxsie Sioux, Meshell Ndegeocello and the BellRays' Lisa Kekaula to 'N Sync-er J.C. Chasez, and loses zero urgency or coherence in the effort.


"Love Box" by Groove Armada (Jive Electro): A little bit of chill-out lounge. A lot more of just about everything else. On their fourth album, London-based producer/ DJs Andy Cato and Tom Findlay keep their patented downbeat mostly on the down low and snatch up elements of rock, hip-hop, funk, soul and even dancehall like sugar-deprived kids finally let loose in a candy store. "Love Box" is sassy, satisfying, dance-floor friendly fun.


"Folklore" by Nelly Furtado (Dreamworks): Many critics unfairly put our naturally prodigious Nelly in a corner for daring to mix everything from the Kronos Quartet, church organ, banjo, Portuguese raps and even a bit of Hawaiian-style slack-key into her musical Cuisinart and make it work. Well, guess what? It does.


"Give Up" by The Postal Service (Sub-Pop): If retro-reminiscent synth pop were played in heaven, this duo of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and iBook beat poet Jimmy Tamborello (upon their passing, of course) would have the only permanent gig. Demented and sad, but social.

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8005.