Top 25 Albums of the Decade: 2000-2009
Okay, these lists are always subjective, but of course mine is the one true definitive list that all others will be judged by (just kidding). To start, here's my criteria:
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- The list is in alphabetical order
- To make the list it has to be a CD that I actually own
- I only picked one CD per artist
- I didn't include any Greatest Hits, Compilations or Re-Issues.
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The Top 10
Arcade Fire - Funeral
This one really grew on me - it was on rotation in my car for a long time. I kept getting sucked in by the instrumentation, arrangements and quirky songwriting. And it's Canadian, to boot. Bonus points for having four songs called Neighborhood. Neon Bible was good as well, but it didn't grab me in quite the same way.
Best songs: Wake Up, Rebellion (Lies), In the Backseat
Best line: "My love keeps growin'...like a cancer, and you won't give me a straight answer!"
Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around
I went to NYU with Rick Rubin back when he was in a band called Rick and The Pricks, and taught him everything I knew. I produced the Beastie Boys before he did. I lent him my drum machine and showed him how to use it so he could record the first Def Jam 12" (I still have the first test pressing, hot off the press). Saw his band Hose several times (featuring my friends Steve and Mike). Went with him to see bands like Run DMC, Flipper and the Misfits. Even went on a pilgrimage with him and some friends to Jersey to go to White Castle (years before Harold and Kumar). Over the four years I knew him I saw his talent continue to grow, but none of us ever predicted he would become one of the giants of the industry. He certainly did that, and his series of Johnny Cash recordings are some of his crowning achievements. Of course, let's give a little credit to Johnny himself. Is there a better song and video than Hurt? Not really.
Bob Dylan - Love and Theft
I was never much of a Dylan fan growing up - I never quite got it. But I continued to pick up the odd album along the way like a dutiful student of music history. Classic discs like Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited were definitely great, but he wasn't always on the top of my list. Somehow Love and Theft made me realize that he wasn't just a relic but actually at the top of his game. His voice, although newly raspy and hoarse, was never better. More importantly, Dylan really sounded like he was enjoying himself. Songs like Moonlight, Sugar Baby and Mississippi wouldn't have sounded out of place on the radio in the 1930's, and they'll still probably sound fine in 2030.
Green Day - American Idiot
This CD got plenty of play in my car and house. It was the perfect family record - 'punk' enough for me, my nine year old son loved it and demanded it constantly, and it is one of the few rock albums my opera singer wife will not only tolerate, but actually know the words to. Not too many albums can bridge those gaps. As a result it was played on every single family car trip, whether it was to Montreal or just downtown. Eventually 21st Century Breakdown took over as the car trip CD, but that one is only good for about five or six songs and the rest is skipped.
Jay-Z - The Black Album
I was pretty shocked when I heard the news that Jay-Z recently broke the record for most #1 albums by a solo artist in history. More than Elvis, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, etc. Not bad for someone that has been recording less than fifteen years, and even 'retired' for a while. But he's obviously doing something right, and the ubiquitous 'Empire State of Mind' is continuing his winning streak. Partly it's his talent for impeccably picking producers, but most of it is his smooth vocal flow. Apparently he doesn't even write down his lyrics - it just comes naturally. Blueprint came close to making this list, but The Black Album gets bonus points from the extra hours spent listening to the Danger Mouse Grey Album version. That and 99 Problems.
Outkast - The Love Below / Speakerboxxx
I was a fan of Stankonia, so I was quite excited to get this when it came out. It didn't disappoint. Not only was this playing in my car for most of 2003, it was probably my number one album on my iPod while I was jogging. Two weeks after it came out I correctly predicted it would win the Grammy for best album. What I didn't predict was how overplayed 'Hey Ya' would become, which actually became annoying after a while but I learned to tune it out. The funny thing was that for a long time I simply assumed that the Andre 3000 disc was the better one, but then I found myself listening to Big Boi more. It continues to go back and forth, but ultimately these two 'solo' discs somehow added up to one unified package.
Radiohead - Kid A
This seemed like a tough listen when it first came out. Lots of little blips and bleeps when I wanted to hear guitars. I didn't even realize I liked it until I started to realize how the songs had burrowed themselves into my head. Leave it to Radiohead to never rest on their laurels and continue to push forward with each new release, doing what they want instead of what their fans might expect. That's what makes them Radiohead, and why they continue to be influential to a host of bands. I still prefer the one-two punch of The Bends and OK Computer, but even a 'lesser' CD like this manages to make the Top 10 of the decade.
The Strokes - Is This It
This CD suffered from too much hype, but that doesn't stop it from being a good collection of songs from a tight band. Lots of fun to listen to, and a favourite when it came out. They weren't really able to keep it up - Room On Fire just seemed like a rehash, and Julian Casablancas doesn't seem to be taking the world by storm with his solo album. Still, their debut still sounds pretty fresh (in a 1970's kind of way). One thing I never understood: Every single review I ever read of the band always compared them to the band Television. I like the Strokes just fine, but they don't sound nothin' like Television to me.
Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel The Illinoise
The second (and probably last) in a planned series of CDs representing all 50 States, this ambitious CD is a favourite of mine. This is a hard album to categorize - it's basically a jazzy folk tale with a chamber orchestra and banjos, featuring well researched lyrics covering everything Illinoisian from serial killer John Wayne Gacy to the Chicago World's Fair. Very musical, great arrangements, excellent lyrics - well worth a listen. If nothing else, it would earn it's spot in the Top 10 just for having some of the best song titles of just about any album, including:
The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
Jack white has been a busy, busy boy in the last decade. He made five albums with The White Stripes, two with The Raconteurs, one with the Dead Weather, produced Lorreta Lynn's Van Lear Rose and appeared in three movies. And most of these productions (though not quite all) were very good. It was a toss up between this album and Elephant, but both CDs feature the band at their best - artfully switching from folky ballads to surprisingly powerful songs featuring just drums and guitar (even if the drummer is Meg White).
# 10A: Brian Wilson - Smile
Okay, I said no Re-Issues, but this kind of bends the rules. Brian Wilson finally recorded the lost album that the Beach Boys never got to finish in 1967. It was worth the wait - Good Vibrations indeed.
A special shout out to Brian's brother Dennis, whose Pacific Blue was rereleased in 2008. I was expecting Smile to be great, but was surprised to hear how good Pacific Blue was. He drowned before finishing his second album, Bambu - the unfinished version is included with the reissue. Check it out.
# 11 - 25
Ryan Adams - Gold
Nice alt country rock from Ryan (not Bryan) near the start of the decade in 2001. His song New York, New York might have stood as the definitive New York song of the decade until Jay Z swooped in just in time.
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Recorded in an isolated Wisconsin cabin over a winter, Justin Vernon played out the heartache of his recent breakup in a series of lovely, haunting songs. His misfortune is our gain.
Broken Social Scene - You Forget It In People
There was a time in the middle of this decade where it seemed that every single band in Canada was connected to BSS in some way, and this CD was at the epicenter of it all. It seems as if the BSS buzz has faded, but the album still holds up. Bonus points because I directed an episode of Designer Guys where we gave Brendan Canning's house a makeover. Additional shout outs to Metric's Old World Underground and Stars' Set Yourself on Fire.
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
A last minute addition to the list, as I just recently got the CD. It didn't take long to really get into this well crafted work that straddles the boundary between eclectic and accessible. Great vocal arrangements are part of the lure here, elevating each song into something unique and special. I'm hooked.
Feist - Let It Die
It was a good decade for Canadians, and Feist was an unlikely person to break through to the masses, thanks to her iPod ad. A lovely collection of songs that bear repeated listening. My wife is in love with the song Now At Last, and often sings it around the house (quite beautifully, I may add).
Fucked Up - Year of the Pig
Fucked Up got a lot of attention when their album Chemistry of Modern Life won the Polaris Prize. But before that, I was digging this EP. Four of the eight tracks are different edits of the song Year of the Pig, the longest of which is 18 minutes - pretty long for hardcore punk. But this isn't your father's hardcore punk - there are choral passages with piano before the screaming starts. Lots of fun. I had a smile on my face when I saw them opening for The Stooges last year.
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Solid rock and roll by a tight band in the 'E' Street mode. Tales of youth in small town America that are like mini movies. Many good songs here, although I kinda wish singer Craig Finn had a vocal range of more than three notes. Yet I can't picture anyone else singing Southtown Girls. I also liked their follow-up Stay Positive, but it seems to miss some of the raw power of this record.
Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster
I really like the sheer exuberance of this band - I think there is a reason there is an exclamation mark at the end of their name. Add in a healthy dose of wit and humor in both their lyrics and instrumentation (glockenspiel, anyone?) and you can't help but have a good time. At least I can't. Seeing them in concert sealed the deal for me. Just about equally as good is their follow-up We Are Beautiful, We Are Damned.
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
I easily go from loving this band to having enough of them. But they are never less than interesting - and I like a group that does whatever they want, whatever the consequences. Do You Realize is a great song, and amazingly didn't get diminished by being used in a television commercial. A notch under The Soft Bulletin - but that was 1999 and just missed this decade's list.
Metallica - St. Anger
This is pretty much universally considered Metallica's worst album, but I like it just fine. Kirk Hammett forsakes his usual super-speedy guitar solos for plain old solid riffing (probably 'cause James made him), and Lars sounds like he's using an anvil as a snare drum. James Hetfield's emotional issues during the recording of the album are on view in the documentary Some Kind of Monster, but even better viewing is the bonus DVD that features the band playing the full CD live in the studio. Death Magnetic was a welcome return to the old form, and certainly found time on my 'turntable' as well.
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
One of the newest CDs to make this list. The truth is - only time will tell if this poppy confection will stand the test of time...but I think it will. The opening trio of Lisztomania, 1901 and Fences sound like you've heard them for years after just a few listens. They follow it up with the instrumental Love Like A Sunset as if they were Bowie/Eno in 1977. Not such a bad thing to want to be.
Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
This band sounds like they are having a good time, and that's how I feel listening to it. Songs like You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb and Underdog are pure pop for now people, and there's nothin' wrong with that. Their previous album to this, Gimme Fiction, was good as well.
Super Furry Animals - Rings Around the World
This album from the Welsh band has a little of everything - pop, rock, psychedelia, lush harmonies, usually all at once. Standout tracks include Sidewalk Serfer Girl and (Drawing) Rings Around the World. Apparently Paul McCartney can be heard chewing celery on one track. Reason enough to buy the CD, certainly.
TV on the Radio - Dear Science
I was hooked from the first 10 seconds of opener Halfway Home. Solid songs, unique arrangements, a little funk, a little rock, good lyrics - what could be bad. I deducted a few points for their lackluster appearance on Saturday Night Live, but that wasn't enough to keep it out of the top 25.
Wilco - Wilco, The Album
I could have just as easily picked Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born or Sky Blue Sky...it's been a good decade for Wilco (although a sometimes tough one for frontman Jeff Tweedy). True chameleons, they have shuffled between alt country, folk, pop, rock and experimental with ease. I first saw the band at the Horseshoe in 1997, and again last year at Massey Hall - both shows were great. I'd see them again.