Even if you are thoroughly tired of classic dance tracks being sampled for rap beats or sped up for TikTok, it would be a mistake to say music was better 20 years ago.
A quick look through the 2003 charts will show you that this - the year I musically came of age - was not entirely a classic one.
It may have been the breakthrough of grime, the golden days of trance and a time of revival for indie. But this was all while you couldn’t move for Busted, the Black Eyed Peas, and, dear me, R Kelly. My first single, bought in Asda for £1.99, was Loneliness by Tomcraft. But I quickly undid any credibility earned with this one by then buying Move Your Feet by Junior Senior. And I’m not even starting on the real dross. One True Voice? Fatman Scoop? Fast Food Rockers? Some things are better forgotten.
As ever, it is the albums that flew under the radar, or new sounds that were not yet fully appreciated, that are more fondly remembered. Albums such as Snow Patrol’s Final Straw can give a rose-tinted outlook on 2003, but if you are one of the nearly two million to own a copy it is unlikely you were one of the few thousand to have cashed in on the year of its release. The same goes for the debuts that year from the likes of The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dizzee Rascal.
There were also albums from returning artists such as Madonna, Radiohead, The Strokes, and Blur that were not hailed as career bests 20 years ago, but have since gained a cult status if not universal love. And for proof that some things never change, both Beyonce and Jay Z were on top form with their releases.
What is also interesting about 2003 is that it represented a final look at the CD era. The iPod was released but not truly established and downloading music wasn’t yet something the general public was well-versed in. Streaming was a distant dream.
It wasn’t all beautiful, well-thought-out, or even good. But 2003 offered a lot in music and here are some of the albums that have aged the best and are remembered the most fondly.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell
Part of the post-punk revival that took New York by storm, Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase delivered an explosive album of snappy riffs and infectious hooks - and then there is the band’s signature ballad Maps.
Madonna - American Life
Whether a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the curve or an edgy and interesting comment on society - this might be Madonna’s most opinion-splitting album. The title track’s rap sounded outdated even then, but the second single, Hollywood, is still worth a play.
Dizzee Rascal - Boy in da Corner
The album that gave the UK its first internationally celebrated rapper, this was the rightful winner of that year’s Mercury Prize and launched Rascal into superstardom.
White Stripes - Elephant
The best of the White Stripes’ six albums features their anthemic Seven Nation Army but also deeper thrills with The Air Near My Fingers and the melancholy I Want to be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart.
Beyonce - Dangerously in Love
A perfect launchpad for the modern legend’s career as a solo artist. Destiny’s Child was on borrowed time as soon as the first single Crazy in Love was released.
Evanescence - Fallen
Amy Lee and co. were often the unlikely dark antidote to whatever else was on Top of the Pops during the summer of 2003 and lead single Bring Me to Life surprisingly reached number one.
Jack Johnson - On and On
Johnson did not become a household name in the UK until the release of their later album, In Between Dreams, but this is one many fans come back to for some of the Hawaiian’s finest cuts.
Dido - Life for Rent
This was actually the biggest-selling album of the year in the UK. Combining the singer’s countertenor voice, production from her brother Rollo (one half of Faithless) and the writing of both Armstrong siblings plus Rick Nowels, this one could hardly fail to have been a hit.
Blur - Think Tank
The only record Blur recorded without Graham Coxon has been written off by Damon Alban but contains some of the band’s most interesting work, most notably Good Song and lead single Out of Time.
Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
Combining politics and folklore, Hail to the Thief contains none of the band’s most famous singles but was met with positive reviews upon release and was nominated for the Mercury won by Dizzee Rascal.
Muse - Absolution
After their breakthrough second album, Absolution made Muse a household name at a point when Matt Bellamy’s soaring vocals made Muse sound distinct rather than a self-parody.
The Strokes - Room on Fire
Often quoted as an example of a difficult second album, there is nothing sonically wrong with Room on Fire. Singles 12:51 and Reptilia are still among their most accessible.
Jay-Z - The Black Album
Made with a whole host of producers, The Black Album could have been an unfocused mess but is widely considered one of Hova’s most consistent LPs - complete with one of his call cards in 99 Problems.
50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Regularly marked as one of the most influential rap albums ever, 50 Cent marked his intentions, ambitions and authority on beats produced by Dr Dre and Eminem.
Linkin Park - Meteora
A huge album for many who credit it for their entry point to metal, or just good music, Meteora has barely left the chart 20 years on and is considered one of the band’s best.
OutKast - Speakerboxx / The Love Below
The last (ever?) full LP for Andre 3000 and Big Boi is a rare double album to deliver on its hopes. Kicked off with the uncharacteristically pop Hey Ya! the Atlanta duo mix between collaborating and exploring their own ideas on what could now be seen as a transition record.
Amy Winehouse - Frank
The first of sadly only two Winehouse albums, Frank exemplified Winehouse’s potential as a singer and also showcased her guitar ability as well as live performance.
Kelis - Tasty
Kelis’s distinctive vocals combined with some groovy productions helped to establish her star potential on this album that spawned hits in Milkshake, Trick Me and Millionaire, the latter aided by another 2003 hero Andre 3000.
Snow Patrol - Final Straw
A breakthrough third album that was far in advance of anything the Scottish-Northern Irish indie band had achieved up until then. Like Winehouse, a performance on Jools Holland of their anthem Run helped achieve wider appeal.
David Bowie - Reality
The last album from the Dame until 2013’s The Next Day, Reality was a straightforward rock record and was well received - charting at number three.