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Paul McCartney pooh-poohs Phil Spector's handiwork
Okay, so he had to outlive two other selections before becoming "the smart Beatle," but look at all the eye for an eye he's extracted in 2003. Forget about Phil Spector's allegedly murdering Lana Clarkson -- Macca's been trying to avenge Spector's senseless killing of "The Long and Winding Road" for the past 33 years. He finally got his wish when Let It Be . . . Naked was issued in December, stripped of any Spector involvement, and guaranteeing that no infusion of Apple cash would go to his legal dream team anytime soon. If only we could say the same for Michael Jackson. -- S.D.

Björk live
Live grandeur, in full effect -- between the five-CD Live Box featuring a decade of concerts (including '94's Unplugged session, which ranks as one of the MTV program's finest hours) and last summer's tour, with its stadium crowds, fireworks, Matmos' micro-crunch techno and a rocked-up string octet, no one else imagines live performance like Icelandic genius Björk, the finest future-folk poet in the land. Long may she reign. -- P.O.

The Internet meme of "Gay Bar"
An ironic mix of the worst disco and '80s music, the Electric Six's "Gay Bar" features the commanding main line "You! I wanna take you to a gay bar!" repeated over an equally repetitive Devo-style guitar. Much like last year's "The Ketchup Song" or "Cameltoe" earlier in 2003 by Fannypack, the song was rescued, with no involvement from the band, by surreal flash animation. Last spring, British animator Joel Veitch used the song as the soundtrack for his Flying Viking Kittens. The kittens, dressed as Vikings, shred flying V's and wield axes while flying around the clouds singing the song in thought bubbles. (See for yourself: www.rathergood.com/gaybar/) -- J.B.

RZA and Kill Bill mate
Most critics of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume 1 focused on the film's startling mix of cinematic styles. But the music makes the picture. Scenes acquire their rhythm from the interplay of sound and image. Musical motifs smooth the contrast between segments. Tarantino-picked tunes, like Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)," blossom in the sampling, remixing hands of Wu-Tang Clan maestro RZA. Sadly, choice snippets of zany flute riffs and reverberating spaghetti Western guitar were either left off the CD soundtrack or included in awkwardly long form. -- C.B.

Mötley Crüe conveniently forgets about Razzle
The Crüe rereleased their first four albums as a four-CD set called Music to Crash Your Car To, Volume One. Its title has already infuriated members of Hanoi Rocks, who lost their drummer Razzle thanks to Vince Neil driving drunk behind the wheel. If you can believe Nikki Sixx, he actually admits that he never made that connection. Perhaps the band can plan four more CDs for the spring: Music to Make Insincere Public Service Announcements and Continue to Drink and Drive To. -- S.D.

Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism
After 2002's precious Give Up, from Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard's side band the Postal Service, garnered a warm reception, hopes were high that the next Death Cab album would shine brighter than its last, 2001's The Photo Album. Gibbard and crew delivered with Transatlanticism, an epic work that deserves to be absorbed through thousand-dollar headphones. From the crashing opening chords of "New Year" to the delicate acoustic finger-picking of the final track, "A Lack of Color," Transatlanticism is Death Cab's crowning achievement. It's also the best album to make love to from this year. -- B.J.K.

Jay-Z's The Black Album
The first time through Jay-Z's 2001 hit "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," I misheard Shawn Carter's boast "Hova's back" as "hope is back"; over Kanye West's crackling Jackson 5 sample, the line was the hip-hop equivalent of a feel-good-movie climax -- Roy Hobbs pinch-hitting in the ninth. It's impossible to mishear Jay's hubris on The Black Album, since nearly every song surveys a personal or professional history. But that sense of hope is there for real, too, in blasts of sonic triumphalism like Just Blaze's string-swirled "December 4th," and Rick Rubin's head-banging "99 Problems," where Jay fights the law and Jay wins. -- M.W.

Michael Jackson. Yeah, him.
Michael Jackson should borrow his pal R. Kelly's luck: "One More Chance," his humdrum Kelly-produced slow jam, hasn't burned up the charts the way its inclusion on Jackson's new greatest-hits set Number Ones would suggest. And at least Kelly doesn't look like the bastard child of Liza Minnelli and Roy Horn in his mug shots. What's the bad mojo mean for Michael? Probably nothing, since if the guy has proved anything over the last couple of decades, it's that he can take a licking and keep on . . . licking? I kid. -- M.W.

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