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Album Milestones 2023: Which is the best album turning 20 this year?

Is it just me or are all albums turning 20 this year absolute gems?
Is it just me or are all albums turning 20 this year absolute gems? Copyright Arista, XL-Third Man, Warner Bros, Parlophone, Columbia, Taste
Copyright Arista, XL-Third Man, Warner Bros, Parlophone, Columbia, Taste
By David Mouriquand
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Twenty years since 2003? My my, how time flies… But which is the best album turning 20 this year?

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Are all albums celebrating a major milestone anniversary this year absolute gems?

In this five-part series, Euronews Culture takes a trip down memory lane and explores the landmark albums celebrating their big anniversaries in 2023, and picking out one standout album that you should rediscover or embrace as the best that year had to offer.

After our Albums Turning 10 roundup, we continue with those 2003 releases turning 20 this year.

Twenty years since 2003? My my, how time flies.

Those were the days... Apple had launched its game-changing iTunes Music Store alongside its third-generation iPod – this time without the mechanical scroll wheel; America’s Next Top Model sashayed onto screens; "The Da Vinci Code" had just been published; Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek ended their runs; Britney Spears became the youngest singer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at age 21; Finding Nemo and the final instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, were released into theatres and became global hits; lace-up legwear, crop tops and Ugg boots were all the rage; and an entire generation was heartbroken to hear that Friends would soon be finishing its 10-season run.

Feeling old yet? Well, 2003 is also the same year Greta Thunberg was born. Let that sink in.

Musically, R&B and pop were dominating the charts.

Before she was turning lemons into lemonade and breaking Grammy records, Beyoncé Knowles released her solo debut 'Dangerously in Love' and made us all fall crazy in love with it. The album and its singles would go on to win Beyoncé five Grammys the next year including Best Contemporary R&B Album. 

Her future hubby Jay Z dropped 'The Black Album' with hits like '99 Problems' and 'Dirt of Your Shoulder', and everyone’s favourite Atlantan duo Outkast released 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below', their final album together before they announced their separation. From 'Roses' to 'The Way You Move' and, of course, 'Hey Ya', their brilliant dancefloor fillers were unescapable.

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Andre 3000 in Outkast, performing 'Hey Ya' liveWireImage

Elsewhere, 50 Cent’s 'In Da Club' was Billboard Song of the Year, Kelis was bringing all the boys to the yard with 'Milkshake', Erykah Badu’s neo-soul R&B of 'Worldwide Underground' was an absolute joy to listen to, Jamaican star Sean Paul was propelled to global fame with the song 'Get Busy', and the Black Eyed Peas weren’t the absolute joke they’ve become and were making quite the impression with Fergie’s inclusion into the crew with 'Elephunk' tune ‘Where is the Love?’

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Kelis in the Milkshake video (2003)YouTube

Nu-metal was not quite dead but morphed into goth rock, which gained some mainstream attention due to Evanescence’s debut album 'Fallen', which sold over 17 million copies worldwide. Even if you weren’t a rock fan in the early noughties, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell you weren’t singing along to Amy Lee’s vocals. 

After a three year wait, Linkin Park released their follow-up to 'Hybrid Theory' with the fantastic (and possibly superior) 'Meteora'. Without eclipsing them, progressive rock band The Mars Volta gave everyone a sonic slap with their debut album 'De-Loused in the Comatorium', a sprawling, dense and brilliant avant-garde offering that left behind all formula relating to the prog-rock genre. If you don't know it, time to catch up. 

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Evanescence release their debut album Fallen in 2003Wind-up

While nu-metal was on its way out, the scuzzy indie-rock scene in full swing.

The US scene was were it was all at, especially in New York. The Rapture released their dancepunk debut 'Echoes', led by the excellent single 'House of Jealous Lovers', while Yeah Yeah Yeahs came in swinging with their provocative debut album 'Fever To Tell', which in many ways exemplified the NY art-punk sound. Joining them were The Strokes and their second album 'Room on Fire', the follow-up to the hugely successful 'Is This It'. Lizzy Goodman wrote a terrific book about the rebirth of the New Rock rock scene these bands were a part of – ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ (which was later made into a documentary released last year) – and it’s well worth your time and pennies.

Then came 'Elephant' by The White Stripes. Known for containing the hit 'Seven Nation Army', the album is often cited as the Stripes’ best. Their fourth album garnered commercial success and critical acclaim, and cemented Jack White and Meg White as the revivors of stripped-back garage rock.

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The White Stripes on their Elephant cover (2003)XL

Across the pond, 2003 was a good year for British and Irish bands.

Radiohead released 'Hail to the Thief', an under-appreciated album inspired by the unfolding war on terror and political instability of the time. Cementing that Brit Pop was truly dead and buried was Blur’s 'Think Tank', a fantastic (and also under-appreciated) record which saw Norman Cook and William Orbit on producing duties and giving the album an experimental dance music feel. Muse were still listenable with their third album 'Absolution', The Darkness gave us 'Permission To Land' and reminded listeners that the Thin Lizzy sound was alive and well, and The Thrills’ 'So Much For The City' was a lo-fi indie pop treat.

And who could forget the debut album by the late Amy Winehouse, 'Frank'. It may not be as strong as 'Back To Black' but it offered a glimpse of her soulful talent that has gone on to inspire countless artists. As for those bemoaning the lack of pop here, let’s mention Sugababes and their third (creatively titled) album 'Three' which gave us the hit single 'Too Lost In You', and their counterparts Girls Aloud, who released the frankly excellent 'Sound of the Underground'.

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However, if there’s one record turning 20 that deserves to be championed the most, it’s… Well, it’s two of them from the same artist…

Daniel Dumile aka: MF DOOM aka: King Geedorah aka: Viktor Vaughn, with the dual helping of 'Take Me To Your Leader' and 'Vaudeville Villain'.

Big Dada - Sound-Ink Records
Take Me To Your Leader (left) and Vaudeville Villain (right), which made 2003 the year of MF DOOMBig Dada - Sound-Ink Records

A year before he would drop his uncontested masterpiece 'Madvillainy' under the alias Madvillain, the late masked British-American rapper with a penchant for aliases dropped two records in 2003, under two different monikers.

The first was 'Take Me To Your Leader', under the King Geedorah alter-ego.

Geedorah is a sci-fi monster that is loosely based off of King Ghidorah, the three-headed monster that has beef with Godzilla in the Godzilla movies.

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This dramatic, sci-fi feel is present throughout the album and marked it out as one of the first hip hop records to dive so deeply into sci-fi themes. DOOM is more present on the production side of this one (compared to 'Vaudeville Villain'); he appears on a handful of songs but shines due to his infectious beats and the TV loops and cartoon snippets he weaves into the rapping.

From the terrific opener ‘Fazers’ (“He needed to stop before he caught the knee-drop / Even give you more zip-zip than ZZ Top”) to frantic ‘Fastlane’ (“Life in itself is like a bid / And if you scared to die then you scared to live”) and ‘Anti-Matter’ (“Not a movie plot twist like a twister / If I needed my meat burned I'd go to Sizzler”), the album plays out like the deliriously creative soundtrack to the best kaiju movie you’ve never seen. It’s highly recommended.

The second album, released merely a couple of months later, was 'Vaudeville Villain', the first album released by DOOM under his Viktor Vaughn persona.

Based on the Fantastic Four villain, Dr. Victor Von Doom, the Viktor character is an irresponsible and nerdy timetraveller who also includes sci-fi references into his lyrics, especially Star Trek: "Captain's log supplemental / The Klingons are now aboard the Enterprise rental-vessel".

DOOM’s lyricism is genuinely awe-inspiring on this one, and the sounds peppered through the runtime also feature superhero cartoons from the '90s. 

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The overall narrative of 'Vaudeville Villain' follows how Viktor Vaughn grows to become the true villain, even eventually meeting his evil idol, MF DOOM, towards the end of the album.

If you’re getting a headache from the sheer number of intertwining personas, fear not. It all makes sense when you’re listening to it, and both albums 'Take Me To Your Leader' and 'Vaudeville Villain' work beautifully well as a back-to-back listen. They’re both a testimony to the creatively boundless MF DOOM, a rapper / producer who sadly died in 2020 and who left a catalogue of terrific R&B records. 

These two are up there with the best, and there’s no doubt that 2003 was his year - the year of the villain.

Join us next week for Part 3 in this series - the best albums turning 30 in 2023.

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