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Matthew Greenwald's
Top Ten Albums (New Releases) of 2002

By: Matthew Greenwald

  1. Paul Weller "Illumination" (Independiente ISOM 33CDL)
    An artist that continually grows and stretches, Paul Weller has never really let me down, but this new album caught me by surprise. Weller's genuine concern for and curiosity of the human condition is what makes it special, and Illumination (woefully available only as a U.K. import) just may be his finest album to date. Aided by long-time drummer Steve White, Weller brilliantly self-performed most of the album, with a little help from a few friends such as Noel Gallagher (Oasis) on "One X One". The record balances bruising, violent rock statements such as "A Bullet For Everyone" beside radiant folksy cameos like "Bag Man", with it's iridescent, Bert Jansch-inspired acoustic guitar lines with equal aplomb. There's also modernist gospel, soul and blues throughout the record, and basically every cut is a gem. You need this record. P.S.: Weller also released a fine live acoustic album this year, Days Of Speed (Epic), which is likewise well worth checking out.

  2. Wondermints "Mind If We Make Love To You" (Smile ID2976WM)
    If this album was conceived as the Wondermints 'swan song', it couldn't be a more appropriate one. But let's hope it's not. The band unquestionably wears their collective and individual influences on their sleeves, but they also manage to distill these with enterprise and, most importantly, without arbitrating their integrity and individuality. Working better than their previous releases as an album, the cuts here flow from one to another in a courtly, dream-like haze. There are lots of standouts, but "Something I Knew", "Ride" and especially the willowy "Time Has You" get my votes for some of the finest recordings of 2002.

  3. Tom Petty/Heartbreakers "The Last D.J." (Warner Bros. 479552)
    If this album only included ""Can't Stop The Sun" and 11 other 'decent' songs, it would warrant inclusion on this list. The-afore mentioned track is one of the most powerful and inventive songs/recordings that Petty and his band have ever cut in their illustrious 25-year history, and must not be missed. But there's more - so much more. A loosely-based 'concept' album, the record hits hard at hypocrisy, greed and mendacity, and does so with such style and a low bullshit quotient that it's obvious, even to a fool, that this is a statement of purpose, virtue and strength of spirit. That said, it is more than necessary in these days of doubt. Along with 1994's Wildflowers, it just may be his masterstroke.

  4. Graham Nash "Songs For Survivors" (Artemis 751130-2)
    Between a CSN and two CSN&Y tours, breaking both of his legs in a harrowing boating accident, running a cutting edge photo processing company, as well as raising a family, Graham Nash somehow also found the time and energy to complete his finest solo album since his 1971 debut. A great mix of topical ("Dirty Little Secret") personal, psychological excursions into consciousness {"Liar's Nightmare"} as well as tender love songs ("Come With Me"), the album succeeds on all levels. Combining all of the interests from this artistic firebrand into one cohesive whole that is in a word, breathtaking, this record is an artistic achievement that any artist of any medium would be proud to consider a crowning achievement. The (superior) 5.1 DVD audio disc (available from DTS) is a natural for Nash and his combined interests of photography & music, and is the preferable medium to experience this exceptional work.

  5. Los Lobos "Good Morning Aztlán" (Hollywood 11501-2)
    "As musicians and artists, we're part of something that's larger than ourselves", says Los Lobos' Louie P?rez of the band's current condition, and truer words were never spoken. The band have always had that magical ability to place themselves and their music perfectly in the context of the rest of the world, and this new album underlines that fact. The strong chemistry and bond between the musicians has never been more apparent than on Good Morning Aztlán, an album that balances hope, despair and whimsy into one fine, cohesive ball of fire that is irresistible and reduces the distance between people. And it rocks, too. What more could you want from a rock band?

  6. Wilco "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (Nonsuch 79669-2)
    It's strange, disturbing, enlightening and downright bizarre in places, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is, in the end, a uniquely beautiful and brave experience. Loaded with great songs, eclectic soundscapes and a sometimes-unsettling vibe, the album often challenges the listener, and this is something that is a price beyond pearl. Although recorded before 9/11, this record sounds like a documentary of America in the weeks that followed that harrowing event. But, strangely enough, as Jeff Tweedy said, it's truthfully a "really hopeful album". An excellent documentary ("I Am Trying To Break Your Heart") on the album's creation is available via

  7. The Flaming Lips "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" (Warner Bros. 9 48141-2)
    The Flaming Lips might be getting more attention these days moonlighting as Beck's backing band, but it's important to remember that the aggregation also released one of their finest albums this year. While not quite as ambitious as 1999's sprawling The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi still retains the band's matchless amalgamation of lyrical vulnerability and musical space-walks. Wayne Coyne's intimate vision just gets better with each new project, and his open-hearted commentary on the human condition is - despite some of the musical strangeness that surrounds it - a reassuring thing at the dawn of the 21st Century. It's just nice having this band around, beguiling both the heart and the ear.

  8. The Pretenders "Loose Screw" (Artemis ARTCD-175)
    One of the strengths of this album is the obvious fact that Chrissie Hynde has found her most sympathetic and versatile Pretenders line-up since the original band. As well, the songs were written, according to Hynde , "Very, very quickly--there was no agonizing over anything." This level of spontaneity makes for a striking sense of immediacy upon listening: "easy listening", says Chrissie. The ensemble playing is suburb throughout, and frame Hynde's songs (most written with guitarist Adam Seymour) perfectly. Although reggae has been a constant throughout the group's 25-year history, Loose Screw contains more of this shading than on previous albums. One of the songs, "Kinda Nice, I Like It", brilliantly mixes dub rhythms with a Stones-inspired, tremolo-soaked guitar that is pretty damn fabulous, and is perhaps the finest welding of pop and 'Jamaican soul'. Oddly, one of the album's standouts is a dazzling cover of All Seeing Eye's "Walk Like A Panther".

  9. Richard X. Heyman "Basic Glee" (Turn-Up TU-2)
    Coming off of 1998's dazzling and critically acclaimed Cornerstone, which made Billboard's Top-Ten albums of that year, Basic Glee takes off where that nearly self-performed treasure left off. One of the best 'power pop' records to come down the line in years, the record is filled with a neat combination of energetic, Keith Moon-inspired drums and ringing, 12-string Rickenbackers, like some star-crossed pairing of The Who and The Byrds. However, despite the ready influences, Heyman has a strong, individualistic sense of style that permeates all of the songs and performances. As a writer, he takes a myriad of cues, ranging from Gordon Lightfoot to Gene Clark, among many others, to create a singular identity that is overflowing with undeniable integrity. One track, "Waterline" is one of the finest recordings of 2002, with a hypnotic, ever-expanding whirlpool of sound that will leave you, basically, breathless. Available via www.richardxheyman.

  10. The Negro Problem "Welcome Black" (Smile ID2975MA)
    "This record is a girl who didn't have time to look in the mirror but left the house with a load of attitude," says Stew, The Negro Problem's guiding light. "We like to think of it as our quick and dirty late-night party record--" That's a pretty accurate description of Welcome Black, which is perhaps the loosest set of songs so far from this Southern California musical collective. From the Spoonful/Faces tribute of "Lime Green Sweater" to the stately "Watering Hole" and even the hilarious "I'm Sebastian Cabot" (which dates back to TNP's earliest days), the album is as easy to slip into as that ripped flannel shirt laying on the floor of your closet. Stew also released an exceptional solo work at the beginning of the year, Guest Host, which is also indispensable.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Barry Goldberg "Stoned Again" (Antones TMG-ANT 0058)
    The Jigsaw Seen "Songs Mama Used To Sing" (Vibro-Phonic DL 12011)
    Kristin Hoffman "&" (Eggbert ER 80032)
    Marianne Faithfull "Kissin' Time" (Virgin 12009 2 6)
    Maroon 5 "Songs About Jane" (Octone/BMG 82376-50001-2)
    George Harrison "Brainwashed" (Capitol EMI)
    David Crabtree & Dick Weissman "Tours/Detours" (Wind River WR4024CD,

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