By GRAHAM REID and RUSSELL BAILLIE
1) Coldplay, Parachutes: Rock sceptics are already tediously predicting that after their Big Day Out showing we might never hear of the lovely Britband Coldplay again because that's in the nature of pop, and especially in the much-vaunted and overheated Britrock scene.
But this impressively direct and engrossing debut has justifiably captured stereotime on long wet nights and over long lazy summer days. Why? Something as old-fashioned and simple as easily accessible songs which push memorable melodies up front and which deliver necessary diversity from big-hearted soulful ballads (the very Jeff Buckley sound of Shiver) to engagingly simple pop (Yellow).
Coldplay breathe old-school, guitar-rock values, melancholic brooding (Spies came out of the water is as eerie as it is winning) and a sense of optimism in The Face Of It All ("We live in a beautiful world" in the appropriately entitled Don't Panic.) At times at this end of the world Coldplay are also a vindication of the music of Greg Johnson and the indie sound of the Nunnery. Much of Parachutes could have come from one of our own. Is that why we like them? Well, maybe, maybe not, but if you don't have Parachutes you are missing a severely good pop-rock album. As they say, "everybody here has got somebody to lean upon." And that's reassuring. Pop music could be in much worse hands than this self-effacing British four-piece. Did we mention it's just plain enjoyable?
2) Weta, Geographica: The debut album by Weta emerged during the year's third-quarter wave of releases of Kiwi bands getting the big push. It stood out from the pack, though, because it burned brightest as a rock'n'roll record while showing that the band — who had long laboured under Shihad comparisons — had come up with a sweat-soaked but atmosphere-heavy sound of their own.
It came with a barrage of high-decibel thrills — like the wait-for-it explosion late into Calling On, or when the equally slow-fused If I Will I Can finally detonates, or the hydraulic stomp of Snapshot. Equally though, Geographica was about slow-surging balladry of plaintive tunes which were then offset by the headrush rockers like Got The Ju. Geographica was quick, slow, loud, soft and emotive throughout. Those of dynamics made its 11 tracks a complete rock'n'roll album, and a vital one. A classic debut.
3) Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP: This foul-mouthed little white-guy in a predominantly black idiom just won that ultimate rock'n'roll accolade. After spending 27 weeks on the charts here this was deemed R18. Well, adolescent music should be parent-baiting. But he delivers the goods (and bads) with natural-born, unfettered talent. Like him or not — and we here like him a whole lot — the sterling little rapper delivered one the smartest, most savvy of albums.
4) Radiohead, Kid A: Why Radiohead's difficult fourth album when it didn't spring singles or videoclips for the masses? Because in a year when big Britrock bands retreated into recycling their own past (Oasis, Blur), someone else's (Coldplay albeit in a nice way), or embarked on disappointing solo projects (Richard Ashcroft, Ian Brown as if you cared), Radiohead kept the idea of the band-collective waving. And at least they tried. Grim, difficult and flawed though it was, Kid A pushed back frontiers and sounds extraordinary at full volume.
5) Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R: A thrilling collection of weird and wired rock'n'roll as delivered by a bunch of Californian scuzzballs with a murky musical past. Whether they're om-ing on like the Ramones with sunstroke (opening drug-anthem Feel Good Hit of the Summer), delivering pop tunes wrapped in barbed guitars, or heading into spooked and sprawling psychedelia, QOTSA's stylistic bed-hopping produced the American rock album of the year.
6) PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories From the Sea: The shy, slight and strident English singer-songwriter swapped the swampy murk of her recent efforts for something altogether more rock'n'roll, romantic, and abandoned. With Radiohead's Thom Yorke a frequent vocal contributor (and Patti Smith's longtime influence more pronounced than ever), Harvey's least harrowing album yet could well be her best.
7) Fur Patrol, Pet: Their single Lydia has taken its own good time getting to the the top of the New Zealand charts, and there's more where that came from on the Wellington band's assured debut, which comes resplendent in melodically and lyrically gifted songs which are variously wiry, woozy, fuzzy, dreamy and plain lovable.
8) Powderfinger, Odyssey Number Five: Aussie rock band comes of age on an album of hard guitars, strapping string sections to go with the tough riffs, and memorable tunes with titles such as Waiting for the Sun, These Days and We Should Be Together Now. As they say, whatever makes you happy. This sure does.
9) Phase 5, Space Bar: Local DJ Stinky Jim and producer Angus McNaughton pooled their tastes for dub and reggae, lounge and hip-hop into a deftly insidious low-lights/high-life blend which gets repeat plays on summer days and lazy nights.
10) Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues: An unlikely but winning combination of 19th-century American folk, 1966 psychedelic Beatles and millennial country-rock. It's a wonder no one had thought of it before.
11) U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind: The return of the grand, swaggering, heroic, heartfelt, stop-the-traffic, shout-it-from-the-rooftops U2. The one that used to write good songs. Comeback of the year.
12) Grandaddy, The Sophtware Slump: Yet further proof that some of the best rock records these days are the preserve of American oddballs from nowhere in particular, the latest from this beardy bunch out of Modesto, California was an elegant slice of New American Psychedelic Pop, equal parts rustic creativity and tripped-out musical vision.
13) Jurassic Five, Quality Control: Not only an overdue reminder of how musically vital American hip-hop was before it became The Rapbiz, this debut by the old-skool L. A. crew was an ego-free, lyrically insightful, breezy funky treat of an album.
14) Q-Tip, Amplified: Q: The wordman and mainspring of A Tribe Called Quest proved here he could not only kick it but amp up the volume for cross-back killa stuff, with contributions by Korn and Busta Rhymes alongside the jazzy Things We Do. Too smart by half and we liked it in the whole.
15) Merle Haggard, If I Could Only Fly: Old guys getting reflective are seldom hip, least of all when they are serial addiction country singers. Few deserve to be as reflective as this road-hardened veteran of the alcohol and coke wars. Plain English spoken here. For better or worse.
16) David Gray, White Ladder: The slow grower of the year (it was actually released the year before but only took off on re-issue). Yes, a bit Van Morrison and Anglofolk but good, simple and memorable songs win the day again. You can remember them after but one hearing.
17) Angie Stone, Angie Stone: The most traditional and most underrated of a new generation of funky divas, Angie Stone delivered a debut brimming throughout with old school soul panache on many a slow-burning song, all given the gentlest rubbing of hip-hop.
18) Lambchop, Nixon: This album by the very big Nashville ensemble blended and bent country rock and soul into a sprawling, diverse, cinematic album that was rewarding on multiple play.
19) The Subliminals, United State: The debut album with a slight local Flying Nun supergroup status did the drone-rock, space-rock, post-rock thing to mindbending effect with an expansive, exciting art-racket of throbbing grooves and guitars that were paintbrushes one minute, blow torches the next.
20) Johnny Cash, American Recordings III: This moving, resonant collection of contemporary rock covers and traditional country material is delivered with Cash's customary gravitas and rumble but also suggested the rumours of his imminent demise were exaggerated. Neither U2's gorgeous One nor Will Oldam's chilling and honest I See A Darkness seemed so necessary.
By GRAHAM REID and RUSSELL BAILLIE