The Zaw Towers Review of 2003

So what did 2003 hold for me? How good or bad was the year? And what did I consider to be the absolute best of all during the year? Well, humble reader, here's where you find out what I really liked in ten categories. The 2002 review is also now up too (I never put it up when I re-designed the site!) and this can be found here.

Best Single of 2003 - "Faithfulness" - Skin
It never got the airplay it deserved, but what a shame. After Skunk Anansie was no more, Skin went her own ways and released a pretty decent solo album "Fleshwounds" that really laid bare her more emotional side. As I said when I reviewed the album, the opening track Faithfulness stood out a mile and with some really superb guitar work from Gail Ann Dorsey underpinning things very well indeed. It has just the right amount of solo pianos with the guitars swathing their way through the piece superbly. Shame the record company had to re-release the album on the back of this single release....

Also recommended:
"Hurt" - Johnny Cash
- Yes, I know it's a cover. But they don't make covers like this very often. In the final years of his life, Cash stripped down many classic modern recordings and made albums of them, often sparse, more emotional pieces. And they were pretty emotional too. Not least the fact that Trent Reznor himself cried when he heard it for the first time, if that gives you any indication.
"Misfit" - Amy Studt - What? Me liking a pop single? But there's more to it. Amy was bullied at school and this song was her poem about those times, not fitting in, and how her hopes of being better than them one day carried her onwards. Really defiant and gives hope to youngsters everywhere, and the video also showed that one day the so called "misfit" would be the winner in the end. And she writes her own stuff too, respect!

Best Album of 2003 - "The Grotto" - Kristin Hersh
Well, it couldn't have been anything else. And why? Because the album takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions that make you feel up and down throughout the whole thing. Not least in some parts where you think Kristin's voice is going to break under the strain of the emotional turmoil, such is the feel that this whole album gives you. From solo acoustic guitar to lush strings, and back again to a more sparse and yet scene full of various feelings, comes a heavenly voice that really makes you feel uncomfortable yet relaxed at the same time. I've lost count of the number of times I've wanted to cry when listening to this record since I've first heard it. It's very very tough going, but perseverance does reap its own rewards, and with this, the reward is intensity and complex feelings.

Also recommended:
"Welcome To Poppy's" - Fun Lovin' Criminals
- The FLCs are back, and how, with a more urban groove, and mainly now just Huey and Fast setting the tones throughout the album. None of the street edge has been lost however, and you're soon getting down to many funky workouts with the gentle husky tones of Huey singing or rapping throughout, making this one album to wind down with perfectly. When the lights go out, when they cut your phone... s**t happens. This is anything but that.
"Show Me Your Tears" - Frank Black and the Catholics - A much more slow paced and melancholy feel from Frank Black this time around, but all the better for it. He goes from his old black self to Shane McGowan and back again on this album, with everything in between just making the package sweet enough to taste plenty of times. Standout track? Has to be When Will Happiness Find Me Again?, which sounded even better live and just had the whole crowd swaying and singing along, a perfect emotional piece.

Best Concert of 2003 - Fun Lovin' Criminals - Manchester Academy 1
So what makes the FLCs so good live? Well, it's not just their tight playing and managing to get the crowd moving with their songs. It's more than that, it's about persona, about having a feel good factor spreeading around the place so everyone felt welcomed and at home, and playing their hearts out. Critics wrote them off too soon after a supposed split: this tour was their two fingers to their critics, and quite right too. An almost perfect mix of old and new, with a crowd bouncing Scooby Snacks to please, and even Big Night Out at the end to set the tone of the night spot on. If you didn't walk out with a smile on your face, you missed the point. Those swashbucklers from Brooklyn are back, and back to stay. Yes!

Best Film of 2003 - Finding Nemo
Yes, there were blockbusters this year. But many of them disappointed for one reason or another. Trust the folks at Pixar to come up with another gem that is even better than Monsters Inc., and how they managed that! Finding Nemo sounds a simple tale, but in fact is a great underwater adventure, with lots of the ocean displayed superbly along the way, not to mention surfer dude turtles, and a fishtank in a dentists where the fish have been trying to escape from for ages. All the characters are believable, they exude all the right feelings and if you're a child or an adult, you can watch this film knowing there's something for you. You'll feel happy and sad in parts, but you'll walk out singing like the Mr. Ray character with utter joy having watched this modern day cinematic masterpiece. And if you've got a multiregion player, then get it on DVD..

Best DVD of 2003 - Finding Nemo 2 Disc Collectors' Edition (Region 1)
Without question this DVD sets a benchmark for high quality throughout. Not just with the film either, the specially reframed full screen version on disc 2 is perfect for those who haven't got a widescreen television yet is also a joy to behold. Not to mention the lots of useful extras that are both fun and, for the little ones, also educational. Everything is laid out superbly, the content is great, there's lots of thought and care gone into this, oh and some hidden easter eggs as well. As I said in my review, this is a perfect reason just why you need a multiregion DVD player and nothing's changed since then. Look out for it in your local hi-fi store as a test disc to show off DVD to its fullest.

Best TV Programme of 2003 - Superstars
While there were many good programmes that surfaced during 2003, not least the excellent gameshow Full Metal Challenge, with Henry Rollins being superb as co-host on there, it was the return of the sporting classic show Superstars that got everyone nostalgic and thinking of Brian Jacks' squat thrusts and arm dips, and Kevin Keegan's bike race. Not only was it back, but back with competitors whom while showing plenty of cameraderie out of competition, once the gun went and they were off, that was it, intensity of competition just like the old times all over again. Johnny Vaughan and Suzi Perry worked well as the new hosts, although if I were Johnny I'd leave the commentary to Paul Dickenson alone, but the spirit and essence were there in plentiful supply to make compelling viewing, not least the tied women's final with the dramatic mountain bike race finish. The BBC must continue this in 2004 with another series and not make it a one-off!

Best Sporting Moment of 2003 - England winning the Rugby Union World Cup
Many sporting moments go down in history. But England actually winning anything? Surely not? And in Australia's own back yard to boot? Hard to believe after the opening stages of the tournament, but we did then remember England had prepared by going to Australia and New Zealand and coming back with victories. Suddenly as we progressed the whole nation got behind the team, and as the final dawned, it was going to be a tense and nervous game. But how the English responded, taking on the Aussies and even though they fought back well, the nerve jangling extra time and that last minute drop goal by Jonny Wilkinson had to make the most ardent Aussie admit - we are the best in the world. And to see the Australian Prime Minister act disgracefully and be such a sore loser when handing England their medals only made us feel even more joyous in that it hurt him so much so see us Poms taking supposedly "their trophy". Just how good?

Best male personality of 2003 - Martin Johnson
In the hype of the Rugby World Cup, it was all too easy for people to pour praise on Jonny Wilkinson. But he will freely admit that no one got there without any team effort and determination, and that was personified by the Neanderthal Man himself, Martin Johnson. He not only piledrived his way into English hearts with passion and determination, but also honesty. We'd played rubbish against Samoa and were lucky to win, and there was no glossing over it from Johnson, he told it like it was that we had played rubbish, and for that alone I think it warmed a lot of people to him as a person, knowing that only the best was good enough to win the World Cup. Had England won in less dramatic circumstances, he'd have walked BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2003, no question. A true captain's example, and unlike the overpaid and namby pamby way the footballers have been this year, a change to see someone who really knows what it means to sing the national anthem with pride.

Best female personality of 2003 - Suzi Perry
It's been a very busy year for Suzi, not just jetting across the world with the Superbikes and with MotoGP, oh no. But also having a lifelong dream realised to present Superstars, a programme she idolised as a child, and also to continue on Treasure Hunt, that the BBC didn't commission again (a real shame, she was the new Anneka no question) the all-action Suzi has taken it in her stride, even to write a series of her favourite team Wolves match reports for one of the local newspapers in Wolverhampton. And I should add, if she has time, she does actually reply to her fan emails too, which I really was nicely surprised about. Good on you Suzi! :) She comes across on the bikes as knowledgable and intelligent, and also with a fanatical interest (very much like Murray Walker in his days of F1). Actually, Suzi interviewing Murray for the British round of the World Superbikes was superb!

Best personal moment of 2003 - Getting a promotion
Hard work it was, but so worth it. From the inital application form filling in, to a series of waits to see when the interviews would be, and then to face a panel of four people and not know just how well or badly you have done, it was a tough one. However, I managed to do all that and officially from 1 August 2003 I'm now an Information Systems Officer where I work, meaning I get to deal with slightly more complex IT tasks and also of course earn more money. Must admit it made my year having the letter come through saying I'd managed it.