Granted, I didn't hear everything I wanted to hear (like Morrissey's new album) because I'm po', but here's a highly subjective listing of the greatest albums released in (or just before) 2004:
10. Good Charlotte, The Chronicles of Life and Death.
Along with Avril Lavigne and Matchbox 20, Good Charlotte rounds out the triumverate of bands I'm ashamed to admit I love. This album—predictable at its lowest point ("Predictable") and inspired at its peak ("I Just Wanna Live")—lets those cute little goth-punksters have more than a little pop in them after all.
9. No Doubt, The Singles 1992 - 2003.
No Doubt has long been one of my favorite bands; in 1995, they gave one of the best live shows I've ever seen. This collection of their singles ranges from the fashion-forward/backward "Hella Good" to the forgettable "Bathwater" to the curious "Trapped in a Box." Although Rock Steady and Tragic Kingdom are nearly equal in their perfection, this album offers some good tunes from every album—including "New" from the movie Go.
8. Rufus Wainwright, Want Two.
Although, for me, his eponymous debut album will always be my favorite, Want Two picks up where Want One left off, exploring themes of love and longing from a decidely queer (and operatic, and melodramatic, and wonderful) perspective. "Gay Messiah" gets special points for being my favorite song title of the new century.
7. Coheed & Cambria, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.
This curious band popped up on my radar and then vanished nearly as quickly. Based on their strange yet infectious single, "A Favor House Atlantic," I picked up the album and was pretty blown away. As the sonic offspring of a concept album and a bizarre aural landscape, Keeping Secrets is fairly uncategorizable. But successful, and hypnotic.
6. Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown.
Although Switchfoot's album came out deep into 2003, they didn't really splash until this year. My boyfriend has the dubious honor of having attended Bible College with members of this band when they were still reserved for Christians. What I like about Switchfoot is their unfailing optimism, their interesting lyrics, and their ability to rock out when so inclined. Although image-wise, they've been processed in the Magical Music Machine (apparently the same one the Goo Goo Dolls fell into), they've still got some cred. Ask Jesus.
5. Polyphonic Spree, Together We're Heavy.
Dubbed "so gay" by one of my ENG 101 students, the Polyphonic Spree resist easy boxing. If the entire decade of the 60s had sex with Norman Jewison's film version of Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar while meditating, this band would be the result. Amassing a seemingly endless array of members, the Spree crib together chorale, orchestra, rock, and communal values. Not to be missed.
4. Phoenix, Alphabetical.
This low-radar band's second album fuses pop, rock, and soul beats. The lead singer's lackadaisical vocals sound as though the act of singing is nearly too much effort for him, but the mellow, round tones suit the music. Lyrically interesting, Phoenix's second set also show great rock range as well.
3. Jem, Finally Woken.
Hailed by both The OC cast & producers and Dave Matthews as an artist of merit, Jem, a former producer, takes her first stab from behind the mike. The results are Dido-like, yet creepier: where Dido's musical concerns are primarily about being left, Jem actually considers mortality ("Just a Ride"), ubiquity ("They") and the horror of falling in love ("Falling For You"). The beats are the thing here--strange, almost reggae-like at times, Jem's electronic musical smorgasbord doesn't fail to be interesting.
2. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters.
You can't say anything about Scissor Sisters without first thanking for them finally making some fucking awesome, distinctly queer music. Trash culture never had it so good, and this band pushes the envelope, going so far as to make the most deliciously inane disco remake of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." They show heart on "Mary" and "Return to Oz," get funky and sexy on "Music is the Victim" and "Lovers in the Backseat" and decry the state of modern culture on "Tits on the Radio" (as in, "Cuz you can't see tits on the radio..." And why can't you?!). They're good shit, dog.
1. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand.
I nearly wrote this band off as a Modest Mouse clone, but I would have been sorely mistaken. Franz Ferdinand blows all their competition out of the water for album of the year. Lyrically rapturous, rhythmically diverse and avant-garde, Franz Ferdinand are easily the best new band of this decade (so far). The lead singer's voice, straight out of Cabaret, is dark, mysterious, chiding, sexual, and fun—in the same phrase. From the dubious sexuality of "Michael" to the shifting beats of "Darts of Pleasure," this album has no equal this year—and few in the history of alternative rock.