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Top Ten Songs of 2003

by: paul schrodt

2003 was a good year for fans of every musical genre, but for New Wave buffs it was first-class. Kenna brought pop-synth to the next level, and The Dandy Warhols paid marvelous homage to Duran Duran. As far as songs go, there were three real masterpieces (see #1, #2 and #3) but guilty pleasures came in the greatest numbers. Junior Senior reminded us how to dance and Missy Elliot gave the country a good lesson in hairstyling.

Top Ten Songs of 2003:

Missy Elliot

Number 10en
Missy Elliot
"Let Me Fix My Weave"

The relative disappointment of Missy Elliot's This is Not a Test! didn't stop "Let Me Fix My Weave" from being the hip-hop song of the year. You can skip 50 Cent's trite mess Get Rich or Die Tryin', because rap is about having fun, and no one knows that more than Missy. She irreverently imitates a Jamaican with a wicked sense of sex humor ("Baby you could call me/If you go down on me/But you got to back up off me/Wearing cubic zirconia"), while Timbaland works up a hot dance club beat that puts P. Diddy to shame.
album review

 

Puretone

Number 9ine
Puretone
"Addicted to Bass"

I bet you won't find this song on any other top 10 list this year. "Addicted to Bass" is just good pop fun, at its most unadulterated. Amiel Daemion's euro-faux track promotes minimalism; the casual cool of her lyrics and the impeccability of her rhythm taps directly into our sense of music without the manipulation of mainstream pop: "Listening to the radio I feel so out of place/There's a certain something missing that the treble can't erase/I know you can tell just by looking at my face/A word about my weakness/I'm totally addicted to bass."
album review

 

Junior Senior

Number 8ight:
Junior Senior
"Move Your Feet"

"Move Your Feet" is guilty pleasure at its gooiest. No song on Junior Senior's D-D-Don't Stop the Beat follows another -- and if you're looking for good party fun, "Rhythm Bandits" and "Boy Meets Girl" are not to be missed -- but "Move Your Feet" is the electro-dance number of the year. The New Wave bassline and Junior's infectious chorus invoke an all-out physical response from the listener to the song.
album review

 

Madonna

Number 7even:
Madonna
"Hollywood"

The writer of this review may not think so, but Madonna's 20-year career has and continues to be a consistently rewarding experience. From the highs of her success (Like a Prayer) to the greatly undervalued points that truly outline her career (Erotica), it has always been the case that as Madonna grows, so does her sound. "Hollywood" summons a Sheryl Crow-like sunny aura about it, but this is a song Crow could never fathom. Madonna's biting reflection of Hollywood and the hopefuls that flock to the city every year is sharp and, above all else, musically addictive. The French techno beats and guitar licks recur to give emphasis to the nature of the singer's persistent lyrics: "Push the button/Don't push the button/Trip the station/Change the channel." Madonna's on-stage performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilaera at last year's VMA's made her message all the more clear: when the diva came mouth-to-mouth with her novices after a joined singing of the song's bridge, it was a self-conscious manifestation and direct revolt of mass media's faceless methodology.
album review

 

REM

Number 6ix:
R.E.M.
"Bad Day"

No year's best songs list would be complete without R.E.M. Don't be alarmed: they didn't come out with a new album in 2003, but in releasing their In Time "best of" collection the band did have the courtesy to include two new tracks. "Bad Day" may not be as subtle as Radiohead's "There There" but its political message is just as exhilarating. The exuberant, straight-rock style of the song is a definite throwback to the R.E.M. of Automatic for the People. And Michael Stipe's relentless depiction of the Bush administration is as smart and hilarious as the singer's been since 1983's Murmur: "Free Teflon whitewashed presidency/We're sick of being jerked around/Wear that on your sleeve." Fans now have permission to rejoice.

 

Dandy Warhols

Number 5ive:
The Dandy Warhols
"You Were the Last High"

Like the album it comes from, the Dandy Warhols' "You Were the Last High" is a marvelous homage to Duran Duran and an unabashed act of New Wave indulgence. Like their formers, the Warhols sleekly infuse post-punk and disco; heavy bass lines and electronic sirens encompass Courtney Taylor-Taylor's psychedelic voice in full-bodied nightclub spirit. His trashy love story is one for the ages: "So maybe you loved me but now/Maybe you don’t/And maybe you'll call me/Maybe you won't," he says bluntly, as the music rushes over him. What fun.
album review

 

The Postal Service

Number 4our:
The Postal Service
"Nothing Better"

Benjamin Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello's collaboration album is a stunning feat of electronica. Gibbard cuts between love poems and politically-charged outlooks on the state of the world, but "Nothing Better" is the disc at its most humane. If "Such Great Heights" is a gorgeous but shallow experimentation in laptop-dance, "Nothing Better" is a musically modest but tender piece of sweet romance. Gibbard fights to win his woman back while she interjects with a sensible sign of farewell: "Don't you feed me lines about some idealistic future/Your heart won't heal right if you keep tearing out the sutures." The soft strings and jangling piano arrangements in the background keep the song's sound subtly ravishing. Simply put, the Postal Service's masterpiece is the loveliest thing to happen to electronica since Daft Punk.
album review

 

Kenna

Number 3hree:
Kenna
"Hell Bent"

Kenna's New Wave-inspired New Sacred Crow proves that 80's synth-pop isn't something to be joked about. The bleeps that open "Hell Bent" could very well be the start to a Eurythmics song, but the creamy subtlety of producer Chad Hugo's immense sound is something to behold. Kenna gives the song's chilling crisis a celestial sensation -- somewhere between Radiohead and David Bowie -- that refuses to be labeled.
album review

 

Radiohead

Number 2wo:
Radiohead
"There There"

World affairs and George W. Bush finally gave Radiohead's deep-seeded paranoia some context in Hail to the Thief. Though the album was largely a disappointment, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more profound political work in the whole year than "There There." Drums swell as the electronic guitar becomes increasingly urgent in Thom Yorke's evocation of a dark, cold forest (or a destructively anxious nation): "There's always a siren/Singing you to shipwreck/Don't reach out, don't reach out." The band's intentions are firm and biting, and it's no accident that the song's ravishing musical build-up resembles that of a society preparing to self-destruct.
album review

 

Damien Rice

Number 1ne:
Damien Rice
"Eskimo"

O's poetic love story progresses sequentially down to a devastating three-part finale, entitled "Eskimo." It places itself in the pitiful, sobering stage of a break-up, as anger subsides and despair emerges. A broken-up Rice comes up for air amidst his excruciating pain: "Tiredness fuels empty thoughts/I find myself disposed/Brightness fills empty space/In search of inspiration." The folk-structured guitar work evokes the song's immense solitude and Rice's redemption is brought to climax by a swelling string harmony and an opera singer of awe-inspiring force, and fades out like a Shakespearean tragedy -- hopelessly beautiful.
album review

Check out our top ten runners-up of 2003.

Check out our top ten albums of 2002.

Check out our top ten albums of 2001.

Check out our top ten albums of 2000.


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