Best Albums 2002 (11-15)

15. Andrew W.K. — I Get Wet

Schlock that aspires to purity–a joke that got even better once the motivational speaker lurking within proved his sincerity wasn’t ironic. The foolish conviction that punk, metal, and disco are all one big noise allows him to admire beautiful women, or New York City, and, of course, parties with a headlong intensity rarely encountered outside sports arenas. Quoth Ryan Schreiber: “Alright, this is bullshit. I’ve had it. Is this what we’ve been reduced to?” (Rating: 0.6) To which I can only say: If it feels this good being reduced, you just keep on reducing me till you reduced me up.

14. Justin Timberlake — Justified

Who figured that the boy band menace was nurturing the New Elvis y’all feared Eminem would prove? Falsetto creamier than previous and libido goofier, Justin had the stuff for a veritable Thriller Lite, with Brian McKnight offering a ballad as lame as “The Lady In My Life” to clinch it. JT’s no MJ, but Tim + ‘Tunes = Quincy Jones + Toto and then some, and the star skulks through the gothic architecture of the former and humanizes the latter’s chrome-plated funk with true grace. Justin may be a show pony these days, cantering from McDonald’s commercials to SNL appearances with glib glee, and all without a stint in the Army to blame. But there was a time he could charm you even if you didn’t want to fuck him.

13. Djelimady Tounkara — Sigui

His (Super) Rail Band, seminal and sturdy though it be, hardly deserves six discs on Belle Epoque where Franco and Rochereau get two each on Stern’s. But in this acoustic setting, adorned tastefully by kora, ngoni, and voices of both sexes, Tounkara makes his case as the premier Malian guitarist of the postcolonial generation. (Ali Farka Toure fans who find Tounkara’s touch a little light should let the cradle of the blues rock itself for a spell and come relax with grown folks.) Too bad a cultural preference for fluidity over flash makes West African guitar virtuosi a tough sell over here. But did I mention that “Samakoun” features genuine hammer-ons?

12. The Roots — Phrenology

AKA, The One Where They Finally Stopped Fucking Around. Not to give too much credit to new guitarist Ben Kenney (soon lost to Incubus), but what does it say that only when hip-hop’s greatest band faced Black Rock square on did their funk feel ready to take on the world? Maybe the expanded cultural and historical scope such a move required helped them realize that anything–Amiri Baraka and Swing Out Sister, “Apache” and Steve Reich–could belong to hip-hop. With plenty of room for their neighbors Musiq and Jill Scott too. And all the Cody Chesnutt ye need to know.

11. The Mountain Goats — Tallahassee

Maintaining an ungaugeable authorial distance from scenarios that are bound up in unmistakably experienced emotions, John Darnielle zeroes in on his hapless “alpha couple,” acoustic guitar driving them forward from hilarity to misery and back again. Sometime bilious (“I hope you die/ I hope we both die”), sometimes metaphorical (“Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania”), Darnielle understands how a bad relationship becomes its own entity, independent of either member’s will or desire. And that while unhappy couple may be unhappy in its own way, they’re all a pain in the ass for their friends.

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