The music world witnessed a whole host of momentous goings-on in 2003: the music-buying public were introduced to the revolutionary iTunes Music Store, while Download Festival made its debut and Radiohead returned to Worthy Farm to headline Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. Sadly, the year also became notable for the passing of such music legends as Nina Simone, Johnny Cash and Robert Palmer.
For many people, though, 2003 in music will be best remembered for the array of classic albums that arrived that year, all of which will celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2023. So yes, it’s that time to feel old again: here are 15 albums from 2003 that are turning 20 this year.
OutKast – ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’
Big Boi and André 3000 essentially went their separate ways on OutKast‘s fifth studio album, with each member taking up residence on either side of this double album to indulge in their preferred sound. While Big Boi didn’t veer too far from the triumphant yet tried-and-trusted Southern hip-hop on ‘Speakerboxxx’ (‘GhettoMusick’, ‘The Way You Move’, ‘Tomb Of The Boom’), André pushed the boat out like never before. Mashing together elements of pop, soul and electro-funk (and so much more), ‘The Love Below’ featured timeless, universal smashes (‘Hey Ya’, ‘Roses’), beautifully realised moments of intimacy (‘Take Off Your Cool’, ‘Prototype’) and, naturally, a frantic cover/reworking of John Coltrane’s version of ‘My Favourite Things’. The world has been waiting for ‘The Love Below’ part two ever since.
What happened next: After releasing one more LP (2006’s ‘Idlewild’, accompanying their musical film of the same name), OutKast then announced a hiatus that would only be interrupted in 2014 when they embarked on a reunion tour which included headline slots at Coachella and Bestival.
The Strokes – ‘Room On Fire’
“‘Room On Fire’ had this kind of ‘if we don’t put out a record quick, our careers are over’ [energy],” The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas recalled to NME in 2020 about the fraught process of making the follow-up to their era-defining 2001 debut ‘Is This It’. Thankfully, ‘Room On Fire’ helped prolong The Strokes’ career rather than sink it, with the NYC five-piece ultimately managing to dodge the “difficult second album” curse by producing another 11 tracks of solid-gold indie-rock (though there was some disappointment at the time that they hadn’t pushed the limits of their sound further). Following unsuccessful sessions with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, the band reunited with Gordon Raphael to help bring the likes of ‘12:51′, ‘Reptilia’ and ‘The End Has No End’ to glorious life.
What happened next: The Strokes’ ascendancy continued with their more expansive third album ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ in 2005, though it would be another six years before they released their next body of work (2011’s ‘Angles’). Now six albums in, the band toured in the UK last summer.
Jay-Z – ‘The Black Album’
It seems remarkable now that ‘The Black Album’, Jay-Z‘s eighth studio album (a prolific run that began with 1996’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’), was initially billed as being his farewell record before retirement. Of course, this ultimately didn’t turn out to be the case, but ‘The Black Album’ would’ve been a fitting swansong had Shawn Carter decided to bow out from the rap game then and there. Enlisting some major names to handle production – The Neptunes, Eminem, Kanye West, Timbaland, Just Blaze and Rick Rubin – Jay-Z went about cementing his legacy on the record like it really was his final time on the mic (“I’m supposed to be number one on everybody’s list / We’ll see what happens when I no longer exist,” he rapped on ‘What More Can I Say’). But when you make a track as timeless as ‘99 Problems’, you can’t really call it a day, can you?
What happened next: Jay-Z opened his Glastonbury headline set five years later by tagging ‘99 Problems’ onto a sarcastic cover of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’, sticking two fingers up to Noel Gallagher – who’d publicly doubted Jay’s suitability on the Pyramid Stage – in the process.
Amy Winehouse – ‘Frank’
“I’ve never heard the album from start to finish. I don’t have it in my house,” Amy Winehouse plainly told The Guardian the year after releasing her debut album. A self-assured statement of intent that saw the Londoner’s inimitable vocals weave over tracks that traversed the worlds of soul, jazz and hip-hop, Winehouse’s gripes with ‘Frank’ were more to do with the music industry “idiots” who spoiled its release rather than its star-making content. The precocious singer despaired over the “Gucci bag crew” on the brilliantly withering ‘Fuck Me Pumps’, lashed out at the fuckboys on the sultry soul of ‘In My Bed’ and produced a break-up song for the ages on the devastating ‘Take The Box’. “My album isn’t shit,” Winehouse clarified in the same Guardian interview. “If I heard someone else singing like me, I would buy it in a heartbeat.”
What happened next: Winehouse’s second album ‘Back To Black’ – which saw her link up with producer Mark Ronson – was a major critical and commercial success in 2006 that elevated the singer to superstar status. Tragically, Winehouse passed away at the age of 27 in 2011.
Dizzee Rascal – ‘Boy In Da Corner’
The history of modern British music, let alone grime, cannot be told without paying suitable homage to Dizzee Rascal‘s thrillingly assured debut. ‘Boy In Da Corner’ saw the east Londoner – aged just 18 at the time of its release – declare himself “a problem for Anthony Blair” (‘Hold Ya Mouf’) as he delivered damning social critiques of the strife, alienation and frequent trauma that came with growing up on an inner-city estate, themes that many of his UK fans instantly identified with (the record went on to sell over 250,000 copies). Primarily produced by Dizzee himself, the album drew in even casual listeners with its big radio hits (‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’, ‘Jus’ A Rascal’) who then stayed to absorb the harrowing tales Dizzee spun on ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Sittin’ Here’. And he knew he was good: “You can’t outplay me, I’m an ace,” Dizzee not-so-modestly noted on ‘Cut ‘Em Off’. There was definitely no topping ‘Boy In Da Corner’ for some time to come after its arrival in 2003.
What happened next: ‘Boy In Da Corner’ deservedly won the Mercury Prize in 2003, before Dizzee went on to embrace the mainstream with a string of pop-leaning albums and chart-topping singles. He later returned to grime with 2017’s ‘Raskit’. In March 2023, he’ll play a special gig at London’s O2 Arena to celebrate.
The White Stripes – ‘Elephant’
There are around 7.8 billion people living on Earth – and who’s to say that 99.9% of them don’t know how ‘Elephant’ begins? Jack White‘s seven-note riff on ‘Seven Nation Army’ is world-renowned and, taken in the context of the album it kicks off, immediately sets the tone for what, for many, is The White Stripes‘ finest LP. White and drummer Meg White were on rip-roaring form across their visceral fourth record, creating all-time garage/blues-rock classics in the form of ‘Black Math’, ‘The Hardest Button To Button’ and ‘Ball and Biscuit’, to name but a few. ‘Elephant’ transformed the dynamic duo into Grammy-winning major festival headliners, while the still-ubiquitous ‘Seven Nation Army’ is now taught at schools (probably).
What happened next: Jack and Meg released two more albums together – 2005’s ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ and 2007’s ‘Icky Thump’ – headlined Glastonbury, and, following a lengthy hiatus, eventually announced their break-up in 2011, legacy secured.
Radiohead – ‘Hail To The Thief’
Weighing in at 14 tracks and 56 minutes long, Radiohead’s sixth album certainly tested the patience of their fanbase – and didn’t the band just know it. “We should have pruned it down to 10 songs, then it would have been a really good record,” guitarist Ed O’Brien told Mojo in 2008. “I think we lost people on a couple of tracks and it broke the spell of the record.” Colin Greenwood described ‘Hail To The Thief’ as “more of a holding process, really”, while his brother Jonny added: “We were trying to do what people said we were good at. But it was good for our heads.”
Still, ‘Hail To The Thief’ saw Radiohead combine their trailblazing rock and electronic urges to (mostly) good effect, producing gems such as ‘2 + 2 = 5’, ‘Where I End And You Begin’ and album highlight ‘There There’, which made Thom Yorke “blub my eyes out” when he first heard the finished version. “I was in tears for ages,” he told the BBC about the song in 2003. “I just thought it was the best thing we had ever done.”
What happened next: After headlining both Glastonbury and Coachella, and having finished their contract with EMI, Radiohead self-released their next album ‘In Rainbows’ in 2007 as a pay-what-you-want download – a move that sent shockwaves through the music industry.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Fever To Tell’
Recently ranked by NME as Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best-ever album, ‘Fever To Tell’ initially cemented the trio’s status as one of New York City’s best new bands in 2003 following the rich acclaim which greeted their first two EPs. At the eye of their debut album’s fearsome storm was rock’n’roll’s latest hero Karen O, as much a captivating presence in the studio as she was tearing up the stage. Vocally fierce, imploring and fired-up all at once, O led her guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase through the searing likes of ‘Date With The Night’, ‘Rich’ and ‘Black Tongue’ (in which O wonderfully sneered: “Boy, you just a stupid bitch / And girl, just a no-good dick”). But then there was the sheer emotional gut punch of ‘Maps’, which showcased a different side to the usually riotous YYYs as Zinner, Chase and O united as one to ensure that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house, with the latter forlornly chanting: “They don’t love you like I love you.”
What happened next: YYYs delivered further greatness with their 2006 follow-up ‘Show Your Bones’, furthering guaranteeing their lifetime place in the hearts of every indie fan of the ’00s.
Blink-182 – ‘Blink-182’
Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker grew up significantly on their self-titled/untitled fifth album (especially given that their previous record was called ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’), and, it turned out, maturity suited the pop-punk trio. ‘I Miss You’ saw the band embrace acoustic instruments – including a cello! – to deliver arguably Blink‘s most beautiful moment on record, while even the immediate rock hits ‘Always’, ‘Feeling This’ and ‘Down’ blew away fans and innocent bystanders alike with their unshakable emotional power. Oh, and they also recruited The Cure‘s Robert Smith to briefly form a goth supergroup on ‘All Of This’. Much like our previous entry, ‘Blink-182/Untitled’ was recently ranked by NME as Blink’s best studio LP so far.
What happened next: Despite notching a career high, tensions within Blink reached boiling point in 2005 when they announced a hiatus. Their next record, ‘Neighborhoods’, wouldn’t arrive until 2011.
Kelis – ‘Tasty’
After delivering two hugely promising albums in ‘Kaleidoscope’ (1999) and ‘Wanderland’ (2001), Kelis truly hit the sweet spot with album number three. ‘Tasty’ featured not one, not two, but three undisputed, all-time R&B/pop classics – ‘Milkshake’, ‘Millionaire’, ‘Trick Me’ – which helped the then-24-year-old rise to the very top. The effervescent record also saw the Harlem singer continue her fruitful creative partnership with The Neptunes (‘Flashback’, ‘Protect My Heart’), while the very much on-form André 3000 delivered sparkling production and a scene-stealing verse on the aforementioned ‘Millionaire’. Kelis was still very much the star of ‘Tasty’, though.
What happened next: After releasing her first three albums in the space of four years, Kelis slowed the pace down by dropping her next LP, ‘Kelis Was Here’, in 2006. After that album failed to match the heights of its predecessor, Kelis started to balance her music career with a foray into the culinary world – she later graduated from Le Cordon Bleu.
Muse – ‘Absolution’
Muse followed up their 2001 breakthrough album ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ in 2003 with a record that NME hailed at the time as “astonishing”. We weren’t wrong: boasting the seismic likes of ‘Time Is Running Out’, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Hysteria’, the Teignmouth trio were remarkably poised in delivering what at the time was their biggest and most excessive statement to date. “Muse have widened the goalposts and re-established what rock is allowed to stand for,” our review concluded in 2003. It’s hard to imagine what path modern rock music would have taken without ‘Absolution”s influence.
What happened next: Muse headlined Glastonbury the following summer, which they later told NME was “the best gig of our lives”, and they didn’t look back; 20 years later, they’re still headlining mega-stadiums and festivals alike.
The Rapture – ‘Echoes’
Two years before the release of LCD Soundsystem‘s seminal self-titled debut came The Rapture‘s similarly influential ‘Echoes’. Signed to James Murphy’s DFA Records, the Luke Jenner-led band were at the vanguard of NYC’s dance-punk revival of the early 2000s, which brought together the energetic sounds of the dance and rock underground to thrilling effect. Wholesome ballad ‘Open Up Your Heart’ aside, ‘Echoes’ now serves as a time capsule of that electrifying, albeit relatively brief, period in recent music history. Its euphoric centrepiece, ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’, still comes across today like the Daft Punk/LCD Soundsystem team-up of our dreams, and is guaranteed to light up any dancefloor in 2023 – especially when the guitar kicks in at 51 seconds…
What happened next: The Rapture released just two more albums (2006’s ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ and 2011’s ‘In The Grace Of Your Love’) before disbanding in 2014. They did reform in 2019, but they’ve since gone quiet again.
Beyoncé – ‘Dangerously In Love’
When a record produces what NME hailed in 2013 as “the best pop single of the 21st century”, then it’s fair to say that its place in music history is well assured. Her first proper solo endeavour away from Destiny’s Child, ‘Dangerously In Love’ gave Beyoncé Knowles the chance to revel entirely in the spotlight – and, of course, she grasped the opportunity with both hands by thriving on her solo tracks (‘Naughty Girl’, ‘Me, Myself and I’ and ‘Dangerously In Love 2’) and more than matching her collaborators in the studio (her future husband Jay-Z, Missy Elliott and ‘Baby Boy’ Sean Paul). Oh yeah, and it featured the immortal ‘Crazy In Love’. Need we say much more?
What happened next: The huge success of ‘Dangerously In Love’, and in particular ‘Crazy In Love’, set Beyoncé on course to becoming arguably the biggest pop star in the world, a title she still very much holds today: see 2022’s ‘Renaissance’.
Kings Of Leon – ‘Youth & Young Manhood’
The same week Kings Of Leon released ‘Youth & Young Manhood’ in the UK, they were pitched on the cover of NME as a band who liked to indulge in some “shootin’, snortin’ [and] screwin”. Fair enough! It was an unlikely move for a band of brothers (and cousin) who grew up in the Deep South as sons of a roaming preacher, but such was the Followill clan’s belief in the power of rock’n’roll. On their hastily recorded 2003 debut, they became perhaps the only viable challengers for The Libertines’ sleazy crown: its finest songs ‘Red Morning Light’, ‘Molly’s Chambers’ and ‘Spiral Staircase’ still burst at the seams with filthy riffs and ramshackle vocals.
What happened next: The two albums that followed (2004’s ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’ and 2007’s ‘Because Of The Times’) saw the band gradually tiptoe into more mainstream-friendly tastes. By 2008’s arena-ready ‘Only By The Night’, little of the feral charm that was showcased on their debut remained. TS
50 Cent – ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’’
‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’’ curiously proved to be a comeback record for an artist who could barely get started. In 2000, 50 Cent – real name Curtis Jackson – was shot nine times in a near-fatal attack just two months before his proposed debut record, ‘Power Of The Dollar’, was set to be released (it was quickly shelved by Columbia Records and, as of 2022, still remains unreleased). Two years later, Eminem heard glimpses of magic in the New York rapper’s muscular storytelling and catchy choruses, and he invited Fiddy to work with himself and Dr. Dre on what would become ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’’. A five-day recording spree on the West Coast with Dre conjured ‘In Da Club’, a high point for ’00s rap, and the resulting album became 2003’s best-selling record in the US. ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ stood at the pinnacle of gangsta rap’s commercial ambition.
What happened next: A film adaptation of his life recycled the album’s title in 2005, and Jackson soon went full mogul mode by establishing the G-Unit record label, and, er, investing in bottled water. TS
Additional words: Thomas Smith