For me, 2004 was a better year for music than 2003. Heck, any year that gives me brand new studio Who tracks is automatically going to be a good year, and as it turns out, the new songs are great. On top of that, it's getting more and more common to do "deluxe" resissues of classic albums and include tons of bonus material (outtakes and the like). Great stuff. Found a lot of good new music as well -- took a lot of listening to nail down a top ten.

Enjoy the list.



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The Clash
London Calling
25th Anniversary Legacy Edition

The Clash's masterpiece, London Calling, gets the deluxe reissue treatment as a 25th birthday present. Along with the original album comes a full CD of the band's demos for the album, as well as a DVD with "The Last Testament", an excellent documentary about the making of the album that includes interviews with all four band members and other key figures.

If you've never heard London Calling, or avoided anything like it because it was recorded by a "punk band", you really need to check this out. The album is amazingly diverse, running from rock to pop to jazz to reggae to should've-been hit singles like "Train In Vain" and "Spanish Bombs". They jump from style to style, and every song works. A start-to-finish classic, and a must-hear.

tracks: "London Calling", "Brand New Cadillac", "Jimmy Jazz", "Hateful", "Rudie Can't Fail", "Spanish Bombs", "The Right Profile", "Lost In The Supermarket", "Clampdown", "The Guns Of Brixton", "Wrong 'Em Boyo", "Death Or Glory", "Koka Kola", "The Card Cheat", "Lover's Rock", "Four Horsemen", "I'm Not Down", "Revolution Rock", "Train In Vain"

bonus tracks: "Hateful", "Rudie Can't Fail", "Paul's Tune", "I'm Not Down", "Four Horsemen", "Koka Kola, Advertising & Cocaine", "Death Or Glory", "Lover's Rock", "Lonesome Me", "The Police Walked In 4 Jazz", "Lost In The Supermarket", "Up-Toon", "Walking The Slidewalk", "Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)", "The Man In Me", "Remote Control", "Working And Waiting", "Heart & Mind", "Brand New Cadillac", "London Calling", "Revolution Rock"

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Pink Floyd
The Final Cut

This is a strange reissue. Pink Floyd's 1983 classic The Final Cut was remastered and reissued in 1997 as part of a Pink Floyd 30th Anniversary series. This time around, one song "When The Tigers Broke Free" has been added to the suite. Taken from the film version of The Wall, "Tigers" is a short song dealing with a young Roger Waters finding the papers confirming his father's death in WWII, and the indifference of the government ("my eyes still grow damp to remember His Majesty signed with his own rubber stamp"). Interestingly, the original 45 of "Tigers" listed it as being taken from the album The Final Cut. Originally, The Final Cut was slated to be the title of an album of extra tracks from The Wall film, but the project changed direction dramatically since then.

The extra track definitely works. It's got the same feel as the rest of the album, but it's still a little odd to hear an extra song in the middle of the album. All-in-all, The Final Cut remains Pink Floyd's best album and one of the best albums ever recorded.

tracks: "The Post War Dream", "Your Possible Pasts", "One Of The Few", "When The Tigers Broke Free", "The Hero's Return", "The Gunner's Dream", "Paranoid Eyes", "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert", "The Fletcher Memorial Home", "Southampton Dock", "The Final Cut", "Not Now John", "Two Suns In The Sunset"

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The Waterboys
This Is The Sea

This Is The Sea is the highpoint of the early Waterboys "big music" sound, packing a massive sound around anthemic songs like "Don't Bang The Drum", "The Pan Within" and "This Is The Sea". The single from the album, "The Whole Of The Moon" takes that huge sound and hooks it up with a perfect pop song. A majestic masterpiece.

The bonus CD contains rough drafts, outtakes, live recordings, and two "full length" versions of the two shortest songs on the original album ("Medicine Bow" and "Spirit"). Absolutely worth updgrading if you already own the album.

tracks: "Don't Bang The Drum", "The Whole Of The Moon", "Spirit", "The Pan Within", "Medicine Bow", "Old England", "Be My Enemy", "Trumpets", "This Is The Sea"

bonus tracks: "Beverly Penn", "Sleek White Schooner", "Medicine Bow" [Full Length], "Medicine Jack", "High Far Soon", "Even The Trees Are Dancing", "Towers Open Fire", "This Is The Sea", "Then You Hold Me", "Spirit" [Full Length], "Miracle", "I Am Not Here", "Sweet Thing", "The Waves"


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Amy Rigby
Faulkner, Dylan, Heinz & Me

Amy Rigby's second web-only live "odds and ends" collection. She mixes an eclectic set of covers including Bob Dylan's "Hurricane", Warren Zevon's "Reconsider Me" and Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" (maybe better known by Tracey Ullman's cover), along with some of Amy's own more playful songs. The sound quality varies a bit, but the album is a blast. If you're a fan, you need this one.

tracks: "Hurricane", "I Miss His Truck", "Faulkner's Maalox", "The EZ Life", "Needy Men", "Yankee Wheels", "Against The Law", "Questions I Can't Answer", "Third Wheel Theme", "Don't Know Nothin'", "Reconsider Me", "I Don't Envy Us", "They Don't Know", "The Purgatory Principle", "The Last Time I Saw Bob", "Silvio"


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The Jam

Released shortly after their 1982 breakup, Snap! gave a great overview of The Jam's career with extra emphasis on their terrific singles. The original UK issue of the double album included a great 4-song EP of live tracks from the last Jam tour to round out the package nicely. When Snap! showed up on CD, it came out as Compact Snap!, dropping the live EP tracks as well as a number of the songs from the original vinyl making it a frustrating release.

In 2004, Hip-O Select reissued the original lineup of Snap!, spreading the original double album across two CDs, and adding a third CD of the contents of the live EP. The CDs come packaged in a glossy hardbound book that has all of the liner notes from the original, plus lyrics and release info for every song. Essential for Jam fans. If it was in stores, it'd be a nice introduction the band, but the price is really aimed more at the collectors.

tracks: "In The City", "Away From The Numbers", "All Around The World", "The Modern World" [Single Version], "News Of The World", "Billy Hunt", "English Rose", "Mr. Clean", "David Watts" [Single Version], "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street" [Single Version], "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" [Single Version], "Strange Town", "The Butterfly Collector", "When You're Young", "Smithers-Jones" [Single Version], "Thick As Thieves", "The Eton Rifles" [Single Version], "Going Underground", "The Dreams Of Children", "That's Entertainment" [Demo Version], "Start!" [Single Version], "Man In The Corner Shop", "Funeral Pyre" [Remix Version], "Absolute Beginners", "Tales From The Riverbank", "Town Called Malice", "Precious" [Single Version], "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)", "Beat Surrender", "Move On Up" [live], "Get Yourself Together" [live], "The Great Depression" [live], "But I'm Different Now" [live]

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iTunes Originals

Only available for download from iTunes, R.E.M.'s entry in the iTunes Originals series is an alternating mix of commentary from the band and songs from throughout their career. The songs wouldn't make up a true "greatest hits", but it is a very interesting mix of songs, including new versions of six songs, and a first-time studio recording of "Permanent Vacation" (a recent live fave that was written before the band had a recording contract). The interview bits are terrific. Very interesting and very funny. If you're an R.E.M. fan, grab this.

NOTE: If you want to burn this on a CD, you'll have to drop a song - so drop "Everybody Hurts". Yes, it's a great song, but without it, everything fits nicely and the first thing you hear on the CD will be Peter Buck talking about the very early days of the band.

tracks (interview tracks in italics): "Everybody Hurts", The Beginning, "Permanent Vacation" [iTunes Originals Version], The Cause And Effect Of Pageant, "These Days" [iTunes Originals Version], The Biggest College Band In The World, "Exhuming McCarthy" [iTunes Originals Version], Bubblegum Pop, "Stand", Reaching Clarity In Lyric Writing, "World Leader Pretend", The Biggest Surprise Hit, "Losing My Religion", Monster, "Bang And Blame", The Dark Horse Favorite Album, "E-Bow The Letter", The Impact Of Bill Berry Leaving The Band, "At My Most Beautiful", A Song That Should Have Been A Hit, "I've Been High" [iTunes Originals Version], Coming Full Circle, "Final Straw", The Two Most Political Songs On The Record, "I Wanted To Be Wrong" [iTunes Originals Version], Inside "The Outsiders", "The Oustiders" [iTunes Originals Version], A Profound Love Of Music, "The Boy In The Well" [iTunes Originals Version]

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The Who
Then And Now! 1964-2004

Yet another Who greatest hits album (for a band that has more "greatest hits" albums that studio albums), but this time out, there's a twist: two brand new songs. "Real Good Looking Boy" is a stunner. It wouldn't fit in to any of the old Who albums, but it's a great track, and it's definitely The Who. Clever lyrics about youthful insecurity coupled with a classic Townshend melody. Superb. "Old Red Wine", a tribute to the late John Entwistle, is almost as good, and the ending minute or two is a vintage Who explosion with Townshend's guitar and Zak Starkey's drums sounding like Pete and Keith of old.

The "greatest hits" part of the CD is the standard fare, with several shortened versions. There are FAR better Who compilations out there, and there are other ways to get the two new songs (download 'em from iTunes or pick up the singles box set in the next review). For Who fanatics, pick up the Japanese version of the CD. It comes with a bonus CD with the "Great Shakes" commercial, and two new alternate mixes of older songs.

tracks: "I Can't Explain", "My Generation", "The Kids Are Alright" [Edited Version], "Substitute", "I'm A Boy", "Happy Jack", "I Can See For Miles", "Magic Bus", "Pinball Wizard", "See Me, Feel Me", "Summertime Blues", "Behind Blue Eyes", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "5:15", "Love, Reign O'er Me" [Single Mix], "Squeeze Box", "Who Are You" [Long Edited Version], "You Better You Bet", "Real Good Looking Boy", "Old Red Wine"

bonus tracks (Japanese Edition): "Great Shakes", "Magic Bus" [Full Mono Version], "Eyesight To The Blind" [Alternate Vocal], "Postcard" [Unreleased EP Version], "I Don't Even Know Myself" [Unreleased EP Version]

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The Who
The 1st Singles Box

Here's a much better way to get the new songs (assuming you're a fan). The 1st Singles Box is a box set of 12 CDs packaged like the original single releases (using cover art from versions of the singles from around the world). The songs are also the single versions in many cases, but it makes sense in this context. A very nice package.

tracks: "I Can't Explain" [Original Mono Version], "Bald Headed Woman", "My Generation", "Shout And Shimmy", "Substitute", "Circles" [Revisited Second Mono Version], "I'm A Boy" [Mono Version], "In The City" [Original Stereo Version], "Happy Jack" [Single Version], "I've Been Away", "Pictures Of Lily", "Doctor, Doctor", "I Can See For Miles", "Someone's Coming", "Pinball Wizard", "Dogs Part Two" [2003 Stereo Version], "Won't Get Fooled Again" [Single Edit], "I Don't Even Know Myself", "5:15" [Single Mix], "Water", "Who Are You" [Single Edit], "Had Enough", "Real Good Looking Boy", "Old Red Wine"

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Neil Young
Greatest Hits

This is a pretty straightforward collection of Neil's solo material (with CSNY's "Ohio" thrown in for good measure), and it makes a nice quick overview of the "hit" side of Neil's career. However, with a career spanning almost 40 years, it's impossible to really do his canon justice without a box set. Still, a very nice package for a new fan, but unneccessary for the existing fans … except …

The CD/DVD version of the album comes with a bonus DVD Audio version recorded in "super saturated stereo". No, it's not a 5.1 mix (it really is stereo), but it's an amazingly clear, powerful recording. If you're a Neil fan and you've got DVD Audio equipment that'll do it justice, then pick this up immediately.

tracks: "Down By The River", "Cowgirl In The Sand", "Cinnamon Girl", "Helpless", "After The Gold Rush", "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", "Southern Man", "Ohio", "The Needle And The Damage Done", "Old Man", "Heart Of Gold", "Like A Hurricane", "Comes A Time", "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)", "Rockin' In The Free World", "Harvest Moon"


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various artists
Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs Of Warren Zevon

As expected, fans of the late Warren Zevon pay tribute to him via a tribute album. Bruce Springsteen does a good job with a live "My Ride's Here", The Wallflowers add a fine cover of "Lawyers, Guns & Money", and the Pixies add a noisy touch with an over-the-top cover of "Ain't That Pretty At All". A nice treat is two songs Warren never recorded, "Studebaker" (recorded by Warren's son Jordan) and "The Wind" by Billy Bob Thornton (who does a surprisingly good job). My only real disappointment was learning that Zevon's lone hit "Werewolves Of London" would be sung by Adam Sandler, although to be fair, he does far better than I would've expected. If you're a big Zevon fan, it's worth checking out.

tracks: "Searching For A Heart" [Don Henley], "Werewolves Of London" [Adam Sandler], "Reconsider Me" [Steve Earle & Reckless Kelly], "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" [Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt], "My Ride's Here" [Bruce Springsteen], "Lawyers, Guns And Money" [The Wallflowers], "Studebaker" [Jordan Zevon], "The Wind" [Billy Bob Thornton], "Splendid Isolation" [Pete Yorn], "Mutineer" [Bob Dylan], "Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse" [David Lindley & Ry Cooder], "Don't Let Us Get Sick" [Jill Sobule], "Ain't That Pretty At All" [Pixies], "Keep Me In Your Heart" [Jorge Calderòn & Jennifer Warnes]

hidden bonus track: "Keep Me In Your Heart" (instrumental) [Van Dyke Parks]


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Except for a cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" on their 1973 debut single, Rush has always recorded their own material. For their 30th anniversary, Rush recorded a mini-album's worth of their favorites from their youth (that would work with just a trio performing). The problem is that the band seems like they're playing too close to the original arrangements, which I'm guessing was part of the point. But as a result, you don't hear the band's character come through (for instance, I missed hearing Neil Peart's usual overpowering drums on these). Despite this, the results are still a lot of fun, but not essential Rush.

tracks: "Summertime Blues", "Heart Full Of Soul", "For What It's Worth", "The Seeker", "Mr. Soul", "Seven & Seven Is", "Shapes Of Things", "Crossroads"

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Paul Weller
Studio 150

I had high hopes for this album based on the lead single, a terrific cover of Gil-Scott Heron's "The Bottle", but that turned out to be one of the few highlights. Weller's cover of an Oasis B-side "One Way Road" is the best thing on here, and his take on Sister Sledge's "Thinking Of You" is a winner (I'd never guess the source in a million years). The rest just seems to lack the fire of his other solo recordings. Paul Weller covering The Carpenters? Really? Pass.

tracks: "If I Could Only Be Sure", "Wishing On A Star", "Don't Make Promises", "The Bottle", "Black Is The Colour", "(They Long To Be) Close To You", "Early Morning Rain", "Thinking Of You", "One Way Road", "Hercules", "All Along The Watchtower", "Birds"


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The Jam
Forever And Always
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The Jam
Where's Woking?

A pair of new Jam bootlegs from Back To Zero provide the biggest set of Jam outtakes I've seen in quite a while. Forever And Always mainly covers older, pre-In The City material that (except for Paul Weller's voice) sounds very little like what The Jam would become. The highlight on the first album is a solid cover of The Beatles "Rain". The second CD cuts a wider swath, from a 1975 take of "Walking The Dog", through demos for 1980's Sound Affects. Very interesting stuff, although be aware that most of it sounds NOTHING like the band The Jam you're used to.

Forever And Always:

tracks: "100 Ways", "Forever And Always", "I Will Be There", "Non-Stop Dancing", "Left, Right & Centre", "Again", "When I Needed You", "Please Don't Treat Me Bad", "Soul Dance", "I Got By In Time", "Wonderful Time", "Rain", "Isolation"

Where's Woking?:

tracks: "Walking The Dog", "Takin' My Love", "Back In My Arms Again", "Sounds From The Street", "The Modern World", "Art School", "In The City", "I've Changed My Address", "All Around The World", "London Girl", "Bricks And Mortar", "Carnaby Street", "Worlds Apart", "Billy Hunt", "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have A Nice Time)", "Saturday's Kids", "The Night", "My Girl", "But I'm Different Now" [Version One], "But I'm Different Now" [Version Two], "Korina", "Out On The Weekend", "Unknown #1", "Unknown #2", "Unknown #3"


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Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: The Tertiary Phase

"The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" started life as a BBC Radio series, running for twelve episodes over two seasons. Eventually, those radio shows formed the basis of the first two books in the five-book trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. A few years ago, Douglas Adams pitched the idea to the BBC of turning the final three Hitchhiker novels into radio dramatizations, thus bringing the project full circle. Douglas has since passed away, but the BBC is finally getting these radio shows done. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: The Tertiary Phase dramatized the third book in the series, Life, The Universe, And Everything, and does a wonderful job with it. Almost all of the original radio cast is back, and Douglas actually recorded the part of Agrajag, so he gets to appear in the story. Grab this set, pour yourself a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, and enjoy.

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Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams At The BBC

A very nice tribute to Douglas featuring many rare recordings of Douglas' non-Hitchhiker work for the BBC, narrated by Simon Jones (who starred in "Hitchhiker's" as Arthur Dent). For the Hitchhiker fanatics.

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Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn's latest has him teaming up with Gillian Welch and NRBQ drummer Joey Spampinato for a laid-back, folky album that doesn't quite match his best work. There are definitely highlights, like the poppy "If You Know Time" and "Everybody Needs Love", the lovely "Full Moon In My Soul", and the appropriate creepy "Creeped Out". A good album, but not up with Robyn's best work.

tracks: "Television", "If You Know Time", "Everybody Needs Love", "English Girl", "Demons & Friends", "Creeped Out", "Sometimes A Blonde", "We're Gonna Live In The Trees", "Tryin' To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door", "Full Moon In My Soul", "Welcome To Earth", "Flanagan's Song"

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Patti Smith

Patti's latest is another solid album, and the reviews have generally been raves, but I don't think it quite matches up with her last few recent albums. Patti and her band mix rockers like "Jubilee" and "Stride Of The Mind" with the elegant "Cartwheels", the stark "Cash" and the epic centerpiece of the album, "Radio Baghdad" (a long, hypnotic song about the US attack on Iraq). A fine album overall, and the last one to get bumped from my top ten.

tracks: "Jubilee", "Mother Rose", "Stride Of The Mind", "Cartwheels", "Gandhi", "Trespasses", "My Blakean Year", "Cash", "Peaceable Kingdom", "Radio Baghdad", "Trampin'"

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Roger Waters
To Kill The Child & Leaving Beirut

An iTunes-only single, Roger Waters' latest is a pair of protests against the US invasion of Iraq. "To Kill The Child" is a mid-tempo song with strong, but subtle lyrics. "Leaving Beirut" is a 12-minute epic that mixes spoken word parts with singing and a lyric that pulls no punches, attacking both President Bush ("Oh George, oh George, that Texas education must have fucked you up when you were very small") and Prime Minister Tony Blair ("But now an Englishman abroad is just a US stooge, the bulldog is a poodle snapping 'round the scoundrel's last refuge") as well as the new Right in general ("Don't let the might, the Christian right, fuck it all up for you and the rest of the world"). Musically, it's a bit reminiscent of The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking. I don't think it's Waters' best work, but it's still pretty good. Clearly he was looking to make a strong statement, and he definitely does that.

tracks: "To Kill The Child", "Leaving Beirut"

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Frank Zappa

The latest "vault" Frank Zappa release shows an amazing bit of advance planning on Zappa's part. The songs on QuAUDIOPHILIAc were all recorded or mixed with more than two channels of sound in mind, making it a perfect choice for DVD Audio. The songs are a mix from across Zappa's career, with some previously unreleased tracks thrown in. The collection of songs doesn't make it one of Zappa's best, it's really more of a rarities album. But hearing tracks in surround as Frank intended them to be heard is a real treat. This one's just for the Zappa hardcores.

tracks: "Naval Aviation In Art?", "Lumpy Gravy", "Rollo", "Drooling Midrange Accountants On Easter Hay", "Wild Love", "Ship Ahoy", "Chunga Basement", "Venusian Time Bandits", "Waka / Jawaka", "Basement Music #2"


(in my hideously less-than-humble opinion)

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The Futureheads
The Futureheads

Punky power-pop with the kind of quirky rhythms you'd probably indentify with bands like XTC and Talking Heads, The Futureheads is an irrestible collection of short, catchy tunes that just kind of crawl under your skin and stay there. Just when you think they're going to just blast away with a song, they changes direction or throw you some other curve. For instance, covering Kate Bush's classic "Hounds Of Love". It seems like the kind of thing that shouldn't really work, but it does. A great debut album.

tracks: "Le Garage", "Robot", "A To B", "Decent Days And Nights", "Meantime", "Alms", "Danger Of The Water", "Carnival Kids", "The City Is Here For You To Use", "First Day", "He Knows", "Stupid And Shallow", "Trying Not To Think About Time", "Hounds Of Love", "Man Ray"

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How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

U2's followup to their comeback All That You Can't Leave Behind is in the same vein -- the rock and roll is back and the Pop is gone. "Vertigo" is a powerful lead-off single, "All Because Of You" is a great blast of anthemic rock, and songs like "Yahweh" and "Crumbs From Your Table" sound like they could have come from The Unforgettable Fire era. I've seen a few really lousy reviews of this one, and I'm puzzled by 'em. This is U2's second great album in a row.

tracks: "Vertigo", "Miracle Drug", "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own", "Love And Peace Or Else", "City Of Blinding Lights", "All Because Of You", "A Man And A Woman", "Crumbs From Your Table", "One Step Closer", "Original Of The Species", "Yahweh"

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Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand

The rave of the UK press, Franz Ferdinand plays smart, stark guitar rock that sounds both brand new and a lot like bands you've heard before. They balance driving rockers like "Michael" and "Darts Of Pleasure" with moody songs like "40'" and "The Dark Of The Matinée". The second great debut album in this year's list.

By the way, "Franz Ferdinand" isn't the singer, it's the name of the band, taken from the Archduke whose assassination triggered World War I.

tracks: "Jacqueline", "Tell Her Tonight", "Take Me Out", "The Dark Of The Matinée", "Auf Acshe", "Cheating On You", "This Fire", "Darts Of Pleasure", "Michael", "Come On Home", "40',

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Atomic 7
… en Hillbilly Caliente

Atomic 7's second album treads fairly similar territory to the first, mixing rockabilly and surf with Brian Connelly's twangy guitar work. "Daddy's Little World" is the big highlight - it's an unreleased Shadowy Men rocker that sounds great with Brian's current band. Irresistably catchy, a ton of fun, and just as good as the debut album.

tracks: "Bury My Foot At Wounded Mouth", "Celebrity Cocktails", "That Leftover Savoir Faire", "Kicking At The Ghost Of Ass", "Daddy's Little World", "Devil's Mittens", "Funeral Hotpants", "Skynyrd", "Flying Bomb", "Meet Me Tonight In The Shadow Of Love", "So Long Happy Days", "The Happy Fingers Method", "Stab It & Steer It", "Riding The Sorry Train To Dumpsville", "Various Rats Are Whacked", "The Wreck Of The Dick Family Weiner Boat", "What I Liked About Lord Of The Rings"

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Bowling For Soup
A Hangover You Don't Deserve

Cut from similar cloth to Green Day, Bowling For Soup mixes punk power (and attitude) with pop hooks and a wise-ass sense of humor. The whole package walks the line between stupid and clever, but the catchiness of the tunes make it work. We're not talking deep introspection here, this is just about fun. Relax, don't study the lyrics (just laugh), and crank it up.

tracks: "Almost", "Trucker Hat", "1985", "Get Happy", "Ohio (Come Back To Texas)", "Ridiculous", "Shut-Up And Smile", "Last Call Casualty", "Next Ex-Girlfriend", "A-Hole", "My Hometown", "Smoothie King", "Sad Sad Situation", "Really Might Be Gone", "Down For The Count", "Two-Seater", "Friends O' Mine"

hidden tracks: "Ohio (Come Back To Texas)", "Belgium"

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Moris Tepper
Head Off

Former Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band guitarist Moris Tepper's third solo album (the first I'd heard) is a superb collection of off-kilter rock with nods to both the Captain and Tom Waits. Tepper's voice isn't the same kind of growl as those two, but there's a raw quality to his singing. The songs are weird but catchy, mixing driving rockers like "Bag O Nails", "1000 Eyes", with the bluesy title cut, the Tom Waits flavored "I'm The One", the moody "Mrs. Bodeen", and the first new Captain Beefheart composition since 1982 ("Richochet Man", with lyrics by the Captain and appropriately "Beefheartish" music from Tepper). Bizarre and wonderful.

tracks: "Bag O Nails", "Head Off", "Ricochet Man", "Red Light", "1000 Eyes", "Mrs. Bodeen", "I'm The One", "The Sky Was Grey", "Sourpuss", "The Land Of The Ten Foot Tall", "The Fast One", "Any Left"

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Camper Van Beethoven
New Roman Times

Despite breaking up rather acromoniously back in 1989, Camper Van Beethoven has been working more and more frequently. Since 2000, there have been package tours with CVB frontman David Lowery's band Cracker, the release of CVB's cover of the Tusk album, reissues of the original CVB albums, live albums, and a rarities CD. A formal studio album reunion seemed inevitable, and New Roman Times doesn't disappoint. Ostensibly a concept album (although it's tough to follow), New Roman Times shows all of the flair of CVB's best work, careening through rock, folk, exotic instrumentals, bizarre experimental tracks and dropping in a should-be-hit (like "51-7" or "Militia Song") along the way. I was a little concerned that it would just sound like a Cracker album. I love Cracker's stuff, but CVB has it's own sound. I didn't need to worry: New Roman Times is definitely a Camper album. In some ways, it sounds more like their earlier albums than their original swan song Key Lime Pie, but in any case, it's obviously the same folks. Welcome back.

tracks: "Prelude", "Sons Of The New Golden West", "51-7", "White Fluffy Clouds", "That Gum You Like Is Back In Style", "Might Makes Right", "Militia Song", "R 'n R Uzbekistan", "Sons Of The New Golden West (Reprise)", "New Roman Times", "The Poppies Of Balmorhea", "The Long Plastic Hallway", "I Am Talking To This Flower", "Come Out", "Los Tigres Traficantes", "I Hate This Part Of Texas", "Hippy Chix", "Civil Disobedience", "Discotheque CVB", "Hey Brother"

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Around The Sun

R.E.M.'s latest is a blend of the hi-tech moodiness of Up and the balladry of Automatic For The People. "Leaving New York" is a stunning single, but the rest of the album is just as good. "I Wanted To Be Wrong" and "Final Straw" are sharp political statements, "Wanderlust" is just plain fun, and "Around The Sun" and "The Worst Joke Ever" are gorgeous epics. Like the U2 album, I've seen a lot of lousy reviews of this one, but I don't agree. Granted, R.E.M. is obviously not the same band that recorded Murmur or Document, and this sounds nothing like those early days, but R.E.M. is still one of the best bands in the world.

tracks: "Leaving New York", "Electron Blue", "The Outsiders", "Make It All Okay", "Final Straw", "I Wanted To Be Wrong", "Wanderlust", "The Boy In The Well", "Aftermath", "High Speed Train", "The Worst Joke Ever", "The Ascent Of Man", "Around The Sun"

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Manic Street Preachers

After releasing the aggressive Know Your Enemy in 2001, and then following up with "best of" and a "rarities" albums, Lifeblood is a terrific album of epic pop more along the lines of "A Design For Life" rather than older rockers (which I'm sure drives a lot of fans of the punky early years crazy). James Dean Bradfield has one of the best voices in rock, and the more dramatic songs (like "Empty Souls", "I Live To Fall Asleep", and "Solitude Sometimes Is") really show off the power of his voice. Strings, pianos, and horns flesh out the sound, and the result is stunning. A band that continues to get better and better.

tracks: "1985", "The Love Of Richard Nixon", "Empty Souls", "A Song For Departure", "I Live To Fall Asleep", "To Repel Ghosts", "Emily", "Glasnost", "Always / Never", "Solitude Sometimes Is", "Fragments", "Cardiff Afterlife"

bonus tracks (Japanese Edition): "The Soulmates", "Antarctic"

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The Polyphonic Spree
Together We're Heavy

The Polyphonic Spree's 2002 debut album, The Beginning Stages Of … was essentially a demo, recorded quickly to give club owners an idea of what the 20-plus member "choral symphonic pop band" sounded like. It was an interesting start, only marred by the 36-minute sound collage closer, "Section 10 (A Long Day)". The other songs were good, but only hinted at what the Spree might really be able to do.

The followup, Together We're Heavy, is a dazzling album that shows off the full potential of the band. Your basic rock and roll "guitar/bass/drums" lineup is joined by keyboards, horns, strings, a Theremin, and a 10-piece choir. The sound is absolutely enormous, and the songs take full advantage of the majestic sound of the ensemble. Beneath the surface is a pop album with fairly simple and upbeat lyrics (snide comparisons to "Up With People" aren't uncommon), but the power of the full band sound transforms it from being merely a pop album to essentially a pop symphony with the songs simply being different movements of the piece. Yes, in a way we're dealing with something fairly pompous here, but somehow the whole package works. A must hear.

Together We're Heavy is also available in the DVD Audio format with a 5.1 mix. If you already like the album, the 5.1 mix will absolutely floor you.

tracks: "Section 11 (A Long Day Continues / We Sound Amazed)", "Section 12 (Hold Me Now)", "Section 13 (Diamonds / Mild Devotion To Majesty)", "Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)", "Section 15 (Ensure Your Reservation)", "Section 16 (One Man Show)", "Section 17 (Suitcase Calling)", "Section 18 (Everything Starts At The Seam)", "Section 19 (When The Fool Becomes A King)", "Section 20 (Together We're Heavy)"


Just click on the album cover to see that year's review.