The Best Songs of 2002

My the contrast we have here. 2002 was a year of nonstop joy for me. I won a bunch of contests. I had several great trips. I had friends. Life was stress free! Movies were incredible. So were books. And I got into comics for the first time.

So let me stress how bad music was this year. Yikes. This was a bad year for music on a level I haven’t seen since the 80s. The number one song was How You Remind Me! That’s a level of bad that can’t be exaggerated. A lot of what was big was bland. No wonder I was disconnected. Honestly I was mostly listening to CDs this year. But when I was connected, I stress the good was very good. I don’t think it’s an accident only three of my top 10 are making their only turns. A lot of good acts came to play.

Honorable Mentions:
Jimmy Eat World- The Middle. I’ll bet this would be an actual entry if it wasn’t played to death. Because this is a blast. An all time upbeat song.
System of a Down- Aerials. I will always have affection for this band. The most cartoonish of the bands of this age. This is their best song.
KoRn- Thoughtless. I was so close to doing this project and not including them. Their best song came after their prime. Good and angry and creepy even.
Toya- No Matta What. The VERY last cut. I love this innocent club song. Not enough of those exist. This should have been a hit.
Dirty Vegas- Days Go By. The acoustic version rules. I honestly consider this the hardest cut. This is a killer song in that version. The techno version was bigger though and it’s so much worse.

I’m putting an old favorite here. Towards the end of the year I got into more indie music. Some was local. Some was national. This was what I really loved. This is what gets the spot on the list. And it’s all down to one perfect hook.

10 Interpol- PDA. This is about a relationship gone bad. Which is obvious from the verses. You can’t miss it there. They’re shockingly raw as the song captures sheer bitter rage. But that’s something all too easy to forget from the chorus which is just weird and odd. It seems to mean nothing and indicate the song is the same way. It doesn’t though. Look at the words spoken with it. I was going through my own breakup with school at the time I was into this, the mythical senioritis, and I love that it let me feel it. And seriously that hook drives.

A key piece of context for this list is that in 2002 I was at the end of my high school days. I was in my senior year at year’s end. This was a moment of waking up. So once more I can thank Incubus for the soundtrack to that.

9 Incubus- Nice To Know You. I love how they keep using sentiments that sound dark for light purposes. This is a song about gaining clarity and it’s aggressive in the chorus. I love that it was inspired by Brandon Boyd having a hand wake up which makes the pins and needles line pop. This song is just a bold celebration of mental clarity. It really gets that moment of seeing what you need to do. And like everything they did it shreds. There’s not enough feel good hard rock in this year. But this is fantastic.

I think warmly of this year in no small part because it was my most productive one as a writer I’ve ever had. I wrote three really solid scripts this year and I wish I could recapture that drive. The best thing I finished this year was a script about a romance between a person with social anxiety and a popular girl. I think I love it because it’s an honest, raw assessment of how I felt. It ends on an open note and I don’t think it ended happily. Well there’s a song I think of a lot relating to it.

8 Michelle Branch- All You Wanted. I really feel like 2002 more than any other year is a .5 to the year before. A lot of the songs on this list are tracks off the same albums that littered the year before. That’s of course the case here. This isn’t as perfect as Everywhere but it packs a real punch all the same. It’s a song about trying desperately to connect with someone who needs it. And it’s a beautiful, kind song but it’s also got a darkness to it with that need. There’s no filter to this. Branch has a great voice for that empathy and kindness. It’s a more aching song to the joy of Everywhere but it’s still gold.

This is a hot take but the less omnipresent Alanis Morissette got, the better she was. Oh she had a hit with Hands Clean off this year’s Under Rug Swept and Everything and Underneath are two genius songs still in her future. But so much of her best work wasn’t hits. Baba is her best rock song, a violent evisceration of religious movements that exploit people. So Pure is liquid joy that it guts me had to miss this project. And there’s this.

7 Alanis Morissette- Precious Illusions. This was almost defiantly not a hit and I didn’t even hear it until years later but given what a dreadful year for pop music this was, well that stings. The thing is, I get why it wasn’t big but the ok Hands Clean was. People were hooked on the gossip about You Oughtta Know and liked the immature work she did and Hands Clean evoked that. This? It’s a mature song about admitting the dreams you cling to don’t work and it hurts to let go of them. I’ve had to fight that a lot in recent years. This is spot on stuff. Maturity works so well for her. Her voice is better than ever here. Her lyrics are first rate and her production on the song shines. This is her best work, hands down.

And so we come to the final analysis on Creed. Four albums, two good to great, one severely mixed with the great losing to the dreck, and one unlistenable. I actually saw them live in 2002 and they were great live. But all things considered, if they happened now I doubt I’d be a fan. So keeping them on these lists is a confession nostalgia taints my views. Take it for what it is. Still love the three songs I’ve put here.

6 Creed- One Last Breath. The other Higher remake. This is kind of wonderful for the same reason the other two are. It’s joyful rock. And it really hits me how absent that was in their prime. Incubus was doing it and earned three straight spots here but not very many others. This is just fantastic as an example. It’s the same Higher as love song formula, sure. Hell it’s basically My Sacrifice again. But it still makes me happy. If My Sacrifice is an anthem to be sung at your peak, this is to be sung when you’re low. It’s theatrical in the way their best work was. This was it for Creed, but it’s a fine sign off.

OK, so I’ve mocked Nickelback but I don’t hate them. I doubt they’ll make the project but I’m fine with them. That’s how I feel about a lot of the music of 2002. I mean, looking at it made me get why Charlie Brooker trashed it in San Junipero. But I don’t feel angry towards a lot of it. It’s just boring and it only would take a nudge to make it not. Take The Calling. Wherever You Will Go bores me. But I really love this song. Why? Let me explain.

5 The Calling- Could It Be Any Harder. Getting into why this song fascinates me, it really helps to know I’m fixated on Charles Band’s life. Band is an old school b-movie king in the best way. The divorce from his first wife is what this song is about from the perspective of their son, who wrote and performed the song. This is basically an 8 year old boy grieving his mother leaving him as filtered through an adult perspective and even before I knew that’s what the song was about, I knew this wasn’t a conventional missing a loved one song. There’s something almost unsettlingly childlike about it with none of the standard romantic imagery. And maybe that’s why this gets to me when so many of these don’t. It genuinely hurts. Alex Band worked overtime to play up his pretty boy image in rock but he never was as effective as when he bled.

For some reason I cluster music in my head. I did it in 1999. I do it here. In this case literally because the song before this, this song, and the song after I associate with the trip to Gulf Shores. Great vacation. So many happy memories. I read some a-grade books and really started considering though not really buying comics. Nice, happy time I wouldn’t change. That’s the right way into this song.

4 Lifehouse- Spin. I’m a sucker for a good shallow song that conveys a mood well. That’s this. Just a nice song about being in love. Except it’s kind of not. This is a very anxious song. The imagery that floods it is all about darkness and chaos and pain. Not very many feel good songs have the lyric “everything I know has let me down” in them. And that’s why this song connects with me. It’s got the gloss of all of the pop that bored me this year but there are real teeth here. This is a song about just staying sane barely through another person. We need more songs that seem like love songs but are really panic attacks. Also this is a great album and of this shade of fairly modest bands, Lifehouse ruled.

Top 3. And we are in rare air here. Three iconic acts. Three great songs. We begin by finally getting to one of my favorite groups. If Genesis saw this project in, I feel safe saying the torch was picked up by these guys. British. Deeply emotional music. Distinctive lead singer. Years of killer music. Let’s kick those years off right.

3 Coldplay- In My Place. This song hits me hard. I’ve said 2002 was all wins but there was an awareness a giant change was coming and it was scary. That’s not what this song is about of course. It’s about a turbulent relationship, specifically a very uncertain one. He was immature and couldn’t handle her. I shouldn’t have felt that. But a lot of life was like that at 18. I was just old enough to know what I didn’t. I relate to feeling lost, an idea that we will get back to with this band in 2008. This is also, like everything they do, sonic gold. Few bands make music this pretty without it feeling sappy. This is poetic. We’ll be back to them next year.

I talked in the 1985 entry about the nostalgia I have for this artist. A friend was a fan. I heard him a lot. And I never griped because I got it. This was that perfect youth moment. And it was a great moment for the one they call The Boss.

2 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band- Countin on a Miracle. There was no way the best album of the 2000s by a band that soared in the 80s wasn’t getting represented. This was Springsteen back with the E Street band after 18 years and it couldn’t sound better. This is my favorite track off the album, a fairly dark lyrically yet loud and anthemic song. What’s it about? There’s no official statement but it’s hard not to see it as a song about loss. It’s a very angry song about loss too. It’s driven and powerful in the way Bruce excels at. There’s a lot of fairy tale imagery and while saying fairy tales are bullshit is nobody’s idea of a new statement, it works from him. He has that iconic leathery growl that makes the rage felt when something is beyond you soar. Sonically this is THE best sound of the year, with every artist adding their piece. Clarence Clemons of course stands out with a searing sax line but everyone kills. Listening to this makes you appreciate the experience this band has. Time didn’t burn them out but only made them better. A true classic and my favorite album only track of the decade.

What do I make of Eminem? I’m very conflicted. Because on one hand he’s obviously one of the greatest rappers ever. His flow is unlike anyone else’s and when he’s on he’s utterly ablaze like on the searing anti-war Square Dance. But when he’s off? He’s one of the worst major rappers. He has a hopelessly childish sense of humor and he’s legendarily self obsessed with most of his biggest songs about himself. I’m not really a fan. But it’s 2002. And there’s one time he knocked it to space.

1 Eminem- Lose Yourself. Few number ones were this easy though I debated putting the previous song here. I couldn’t though. This is a master class of a song. Of course it’s his biggest song. It’s an impossibly tight beat behind the best lyrics of his career. Mathers has always had a clear differentiation between his character he plays on the album and himself so rapping about the character he played inevitably fit like a glove. And yet it also winds up being his most universal song. This is the greatest hype yourself up song ever recorded and nothing comes close. We’ve all needed this. The way it builds and builds is art. And talk about flow. This is his best argument for GOAT ever. Every syllable pounds you hard as possible. You can’t argue any of it misses. A certified classic that deserves it.

Next: I begin the pain of adulthood in 2003.

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