WHITE STRIPES, "Fell in Love With a Girl" (V2) "I said it once before but it bears repeating"—the little duo that could and their 1:45 blast of angst, ambivalence and ardor unleashed a tsunami-sized wave in the ocean of mediocrity that was pop music, circa 2002. Let it blurt.
NIRVANA, "You Know You're Right" (DGC) Weirdly suspended in time like the frozen remains of the Splendid Splinter, Kurt's final, anguished cry of recrimination sounds eerily contemporary and as in-step with the (bad) times as his band did when they first broke into indie-rock jail over a decade ago. Grunge may or may not be "back," but Nirvana's vaguely angry screeds prove eternal, no matter the vintage.
EMINEM, "Without Me" (Interscope) Shady's back, so tell a friend: Slim imagines a world where his patented elixir of piss, vinegar, Olde English, and toxic come-ons aimed at Lynne Cheney and "trailer park girls" feels just right for our admittedly messed-up world. Em flows furiously with his typical nonpareil verbals, while Dre gets busy on the mix with a beat so nasty Jenna Jameson could pole-dance to it.
NELLY, "Hot in Herre" (Universal) With the ubiquitous Neptunes providing the air cover for Nelly's latest summer jeep anthem (as ever, it's about gettin' your groove on in the face of considerable atmospheric opposition), you'd best believe it's hot in here. In fact, it's goddamn sizzlin'.
PRIMAL SCREAM, "Some Velvet Morning" (Sony) Obligatory cover song (Lee Hazlewood) on an album otherwise littered with sounds borrowed from another era? Check. Supremely bored supermodel (Kate Moss) doing the Nico sing-speak cameo thing while the band drags the tune haplessly down its predestined path? Double-check. Founding kingpin (Bobby Gillespie) strangely AWOL on his own record while others in his supporting cast spark reunion rumors regarding groups they once played in (e.g., Mani's supposed return to a regrouped Stone Roses)? Checkity-check.
MISSY ELLIOTT, "Work It" (Elektra) Missy and her partner-in-rhyme Timbaland followed up last year's immortal boogie-monster "Get Ur Freak On" by releasing what turned out to be 2002's best hip-hop record. "Work It" picks up where the duo left off by equally balancing Missy's twin urges to drop science with the Big Boys without ever letting them forget that she can take home your bacon and fry it up in the pan. Feminism gone stone-cold aggro, "Work It" is Aretha on crack.
COLDPLAY, "In My Place" (Capitol) Everything that critically-acclaimed pop is supposedly not: a delicate, glistening power ballad sodden with enough rainy-day sentiment to pour sugar over your high-school prom and another several dozen besides. But more in touch with its inner goth-kid than Foreigner ever was.
N.E.R.D., "Lapdance" (Virgin) "Lapdance" is the gravity-free fun zone where the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo finally trade in their faceless guru shtick in favor of getting their own freak on. N.E.R.D.'s hip-hop chops meet jock-rock guitars somewhere out in the DMZ, creating a fresh merger of disparate sonics that sound nothing whatsoever like the depressingly putrid pseudo-metal coughed up by the likes of Limp Bizkit and company over the past few years, and everything like the future of funk (naive faux political lyrical babble notwithstanding).
2 MANY DJ'S, "I Wish" (Pias) The so-called "mash-up" genre (DJ mixes lifting the vocals from one song and juxtaposing them against radically different music from another) was really just an inevitable extension of technology advances and the continued erosion of copyright law. The two Belgian brothers known as 2 Many DJ's emerged as the foremost purveyors of the genre, and "I Wish" (Skee Lo's wistful 15 minutes of fame paired with the Breeders' "Cannonball" for giggles) is their masterstroke—funny, thoughtful and vexing all at once.
THE HIVES, "Hate to Say I Told You So" (Sire/ Burning Heart/Epitaph) Another in the long line of get-rich-quick schemes cooked up by ex-Creation Records chief Alan McGee (the man who originally brought you My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Oasis, et al.), the Hives' Swedish stinkrock is super stoopid in that good ole Stooges way, all sturm, drang, and amphetamine-fueled brainlessness. Howlin' Pelle Almqvist makes like a young Jagger; the alt-rock world lies down in a pool of drool at his feet. Derivative? Of course. Rockin'? Most definitely.