Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 2003

For 2003, I simply want to mention two albums that don’t make the list due to my self-imposed guidelines and that will demolish whatever remaining cool points I have. The first is Michael McDonald’s Motown, an album of Hitsville U.S.A. classics sung by the man best-known for transforming the Doobie Brothers into a blue-eyed soul band. Which may sound like a disaster, especially if you’re not a big fan of the Doobies’ late-70s transformation. That said: 1) I am a fan of the Doobies’ late-70s transformation; 2) this was my POE into Motown; and 3) if there’s a white soul singer alive who can so much as hold a candle to the incandescent glow of Stevie or Marvin, Michael McDonald is he. The second is The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. It doesn’t make the cut because much of the album consists of rerecorded versions of older songs, but for all that it’s the best album JT had made in decades. (And I promise that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment – it’s one of my favorite holiday records.)


Keep It Together

With Keep It Together, Guster complete the transition from stripped-down acoustic-guitars-and-bongo trio to full-fledged pop/rock combo that began with Lost & Gone Forever. Their old sound hasn’t totally disappeared; but with amplifiers and trap set in tow, the band gives its upbeat melodic instincts free reign here. And in the face of such winning confections as “Homecoming King” and “Amsterdam,” who can blame them?


Welcome Interstate Managers

“Stacey’s Mom” became a surprise hit, and as silly as it might be, it’s also an absolute monster of a three minute pop song. Which is how I feel about 90% of the Fountains of Wayne catalog, to be honest – brilliant but kinda silly. When Schlesinger & Collingwood rein in their inner Weird Al and play it straight, however, the results border on perfection (see: “Valley Winter Song,” “Hey Julie”).


Chutes Too Narrow

Chutes Too Narrow may lack the punch as Oh Inverted World, but honestly, “Saint Simon” is every bit the equal of “New Slang.” Here and throughout, James Mercer’s sometimes obtuse lyrics are wedded to music as melodic and accessible as the most 70s-minded power popsters. Across its 33 minutes, Chutes Too Narrow brings this fact into even sharper focus than the Shins’ already remarkable debut.


Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go is to Two Against Nature as Gaucho is to Aja – a lesser but still excellent follow-up that often gets short shrift among fans and critics alike for having committed no more egregious sin than being inferior to its predecessor. Looked at objectively, however, tracks like “Godwhacker” and the title cut can stand with anything the band has released, and the rest is pretty great too.


Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Dear Catastrophe Waitress is Belle & Sebastian’s most ambitious album to date, fleshing out the band’s newly muscular (I mean, relatively) attack with big orchestral arrangements and a full, punchy pop/rock sound. The songs still have that timeless B&S sound though. Because when Stuart Murdoch’s witty lyrics, whimsical melodies, and perfectly fey vocals come together against a backdrop of soulful organ, jangling guitars, and bewitching backup vocals, something magical happens.

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