12. Skindred - Babylon
Two decades in, it's hard to imagine Skindred being anything other than one of Britain's most reliable rock acts. But when the band released their debut Babylon in 2002 it was a pretty leftfield move, their reggae-metal fusion almost entirely untested ground and distinct from just about anything else you could find either side of the Atlantic. That was just part of the band's charm though – Skindred were a breath of fresh air, an irrepressible force who could switch between metal beatdowns, dub segments and reggae grooves at the drop of a hat.
While the album's initial run was commercially disappointing, ultimately contributing to their split from label RCA and the international re-release of Babylon in 2004, Babylon is a blueprint for everything we love about Skindred. Indeed, songs like Pressure, Bruises and Nobody remain set staples even 20 years after release. Considering it topped Billboard's Top Reggae Albums chart and broke into the Billboard 200 at No. 189 on re-release, its not unfair to say Skindred were quite literally ahead of their time when they released their debut in 2002.
13. Finch - What It Is To Burn
Finch burned bright, but all-too-brief. With a sound that sat somewhere between the disparate camps of pop-punk, post-hardcore and emo, the band were like a perfect microcosm of the post-2000s American alternative music landscape, able to slot in as comfortably with the likes of Glassjaw as they could with New Found Glory.
What It Is To Burn captured Finch's turbulent sonic range perfectly, acting almost as the missing link between the tidal wave of emo that would come to dominate the landscape going forward and post-hardcore breakouts like At The Drive-In and Glassjaw that were emerging in the new millennium, Glassjaw vocalist Daryl Palumbo even guesting on the tracks Grey Matter and Project Mayhem. Peaking at No. 99 on the Billboard 200 (No. 177 in the UK), the album also helped further establish label Drive-Thru Records as a hotbed of new talent, a Sub Pop for the early 2000s.
14. Idlewild - The Remote Part
Scottish rockers Idlewild had been building steam since their emergence in the latter-part of the 90s, 2000's 100 Broken Windows seeing the band break into the UK Top 20 at No. 15. For album #3, the band decamped to the Scottish highlands to plot their next steps. The result was The Remote Part, a headlong dive into straight-up indie territory that seemed an obvious destination after tasting success, packing the album with radio-friendly bangers that could take the band to the next level.
It worked. Reaching No. 3 in the UK, The Remote Part surpassed its predecessors and affirmed that Idlewild were new British heavy hitters. Drawing more than ever before on inspiration from bands like The Smiths and R.E.M., the band became a vanguard for the more poetically-inclined indie that would emerge later in the decade, a hint that Britain was due its biggest resurgence of guitar-based music since the heady days of Britpop.
15. My Chemical Romance - I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love
It would have been near impossible to reconcile the idea that the band who recorded I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love in 2002 would be spearheading one of the planet's biggest alternative movements in just a few short years. But then, you'd probably say the same for Bleach-era Nirvana. My Chemical Romance's debut record was an exposed nerve of angst and neuroses, practically bouncing off the walls with scrappy energy.
In short, it was perfect for an entire generation of angsty teenagers who were contending with a suddenly politicised landscape. For all of its rawness, My Chemical Romance effectively connected with their audience by coming in on the ground floor and speaking from the heart, making no grander promise than a space to vent for 40 minutes, give or take. On release, the album was by no means a smash success, but it set the stage for everything My Chemical Romance would achieve over the rest of the decade, establishing that there was no dividing line between the band and the teens who worshipped them.
16. Avril Lavigne - Let Go
Alt rock, pop-punk or just straight 'pop'; it didn't matter what you called Avril Lavigne in 2002 because she was fucking massive. Lavigne's debut album Let Go bridged pop and alternative in a way that would be oft-repeated in subsequent decades, though never quite to the same extent. On release Let Go topped the charts in both Canada and the UK, whilst climbing to No. 2 on the US Billboard 200, subsequently going multiple-times platinum the world over (7x in the US and Australia, 5x in New Zealand, 6x in the UK... you get the picture).
Singles like I'm With You, Complicated and Sk8r Boi became the dirty secret in many a rocker's musical library, guilty pleasures for their impossibly infectious hooks that ignored all notes of credibility to nudge the listener and say "but isn't this good"? Two decades on, genre-fidelity is a remarkably outdated concept (as if it ever wasn't), but for many Avril Lavigne was temptation enough to look past the borders of rock and ponder what great songs existed beyond.
17. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights
It's hard to describe New York's early-00s indie scene as a 'resurgence', considering the city never stops producing bands of all stripes, scenes and colours (metal, hardcore, punk - take your pick), but nevertheless there was considerable excitement about the city's jangle-guitared offerings at the turn of the millennium. Interpol took full advantage of the spotlight with their debut album Turn On The Lights, a brittle-toned exercise in post-punk angst that helped shape the subsequent wave of post-punk-inspired indie acts like The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and Arcade Fire, who acted like discovering Joy Division, Smiths and Clash records in a bargain bin was akin to finding Jesus on a round of toast.
Though Turn On The Bright Lights failed to make any major in-roads into the charts (failing to crack the Top 100 in the UK at No. 101, though still better than their #158 placing on the Billboard 200), the album was nonetheless an instrumental stepping stone on the development of both indie and pop punk. Interpol managed to avoid the accusations of landfill indie that would tar so many others that came in their wake, their success owed to the sheer prodigious quality of their songs.
18. Pearl Jam - Riot Act
Grunge's time was long through by the time 2002 rolled around, but that wasn't much concern to Pearl Jam, who had long since moved past the scene trappings of Seattle by that point. Having spent much of the 90s deconstructing their own fame (failing spectacularly in the process as they still filled arenas around the world), Pearl Jam had reached a point where they could comfortably explore the boundaries of their sound, folding punk and folk influences into a single release while still retaining remarkable cohesiveness.
Riot Act is a great example of this; rowdy punk punch-up Save You sitting alongside reflective acoustic number Thumbing My Way and transcendental alt rocker You Are. The album also marked a critical point in the band; 2000's Roskilde tragedy (where nine fans were killed amidst a surge in the crowd) had almost seen them call time entirely. In turn, this makes the album's hopeful notes (lines like Thumbing My Way's, 'No matter how cold the winter/there's a springtime ahead') all the more poignant, the band maturing gracefully for their second decade.
19. Good Charlotte - The Young And The Hopeless
Pop-punk newbies like Sum 41, Bowling For Soup, Simple Plan, New Found Glory and Good Charlotte all gatecrashed the charts in 2002, and while New Found Glory's Sticks And Stones climbed highest (reaching No. 4 on the Billboard 200), Good Charlotte's The Young And The Hopeless proved the best barometer for where the scene was headed with its post-Tim Burton Hot Topic goth aesthetic becoming the standard for post-2000 emo.
While largely as sunny as anything that had ever come out of California, The Young And The Hopeless struck a balance between SoCal-inspired pop-punk anthems like Lifestyles Of The Rich And The Famous and The Anthem and softer, more sombre reflections like Hold On and Say Anything that perfectly tapped into the teenage angst and social ostracisation of a generation. The album reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200, getting certified Triple Platinum by the RIAA in 2004, heralding the mainstream arrival of Good Charlotte as one of the leading voices of the new generation of pop-punk star.
20. The Donnas - Spend The Night
After a decade of angst and fury courtesy of grunge, The Donnas' nostalgia-tinged good times rock'n'roll felt almost revolutionary, despite being about as innovative as toasted bread. The Donnas major label debut Spend The Night was actually the band's fifth (seventh including releases under other names), but hit just the right note with its AC/DC meets The Runaways sound.
Climbing to No. 62 on the Billboard 200, Spend The Night was packed start-to-finish with songs about partying, hooking up and every permutation of those aforementioned themes. While The Donnas weren't the first band to mine a nostalgic rock vein, they did pre-empt the arrival of everyone from The White Stripes and The Darkness through to Wolfmother, Silvertide and Rival Sons – and they had a great time while doing it.
21. Lacuna Coil - Comalies
Comalies marked the international arrival of Italian goth metal merchants Lacuna Coil. The band had enjoyed some success with their second album Unleashed Memories (including a placing in the Top 100 of the German music charts), but Comalies marked the point the band's sound crossed the Atlantic for the first time. Vocalist Christina Scabbia described the impact of lead single Heaven's A Lie to Hammer in 2021, saying "A radio station that does not exist anymore, called WAAF, decided to start to play the song, and then a lot of other stations picked it up. In a few days, more than a hundred radio stations in the US were playing Heaven’s A Lie."
Heaven's A Lie wasn't the only song to break Lacuna Coil to US audiences however, as the song Swamped snuck into the soundtrack for 2002's Resident Evil movie, sharing pride of place with the likes of Slipknot, Rammstein and Sepultura. Comalies ultimately broke the top 10 of both the US Independent Albums and Top Heatseekers charts, whilst also affording the band in-roads to tour the country, as they did when they were invited onto the 2004 Ozzfest tour.
22. System Of A Down - Steal This Album!
Steal This Album! has always stood as an oddity in System Of A Down's discography. Coming a little over twelve months after the colossal Toxicity, the album's entire existence can be traced back to a leak of demo material recorded during the Toxicity sessions that made its way online, forcing the band's hand into finishing and re-recording said songs, eventually put out as the band's third record in November 2002. Guitarist Daron Malakian told Billboard at the time that “if these songs were never leaked on the web, I never would have agreed to release them," explaining some of the... eccentricity that embodied their third album on tracks like Chic 'N' Stu.
Except, subsequent interviews with drummer John Dolmayan and vocalist Serj Tankian saw them suggest that Steal This Album! was actually a band favourite, and the inclusion of songs like Ego Brain, Mr. Jack, Boom! and I-E-A-I-A-I-O ensured the record still provided its fair share of top-notch bangers. Whilst perhaps not on the level of Toxicity itself (or the two-part release Mezmerize/Hypnotize that succeeded it in 2005), Steal This Album! nonetheless showed SOAD were on top of the world creatively in 2002, able to turn near-nonsense into chart-climbing gold.