Sean McCarthy's Top 100 Of The 2000s (Part II)
[Editor's note: Cover images of albums previously reviewed on the DV have been linked to the review.]
In the '90s, we saw hair metal and boy bands destroyed by grunge and alternative rock, only to have boy bands resurface stronger than ever at the end of the decade. At the beginning of this decade, we saw boy bands be destroyed once again, but by what was up for debate. Thanks to file sharing, MySpace and Internet radio, musical tastes became more and more divergent. As a result, there was no galvanizing movement like grunge or superstar like Michael Jackson to steer the masses in a certain direction. Videos virtually disappeared.
For a record executive, this decade sucked. For a music fan, you couldn't ask for a better environment. Don't want to pay for a CD? Try Lime Wire. Afraid of potential viruses from Lime Wire? Listen to albums for free on LastFM, LaLa, Spinner and MySpace. Several bands cited diminished album sales as reasons to start selling their music to car companies and in the case of The Flaming Lips, Kraft mayonnaise. "Selling out" became less and less of an artistic sin as shows like Grey's Anatomy and Gossip Girl had artists actually clamoring to be featured on their soundtrack.
World events also played a significant role in shaping the musical landscape. Beginning with the most devastating attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, September 11 brought forth an era of anxiety and uncertainty. The Dixie Chicks, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen and Sleater-Kinney took on the Bush administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the handling of Hurricane Katrina.
The best albums of this decade proved to be a reflection of our times before many of the events even took place. Two of the decade's more influential albums, Jay-Z's The Blueprint and Bob Dylan's Love And Theft, were released September 11, 2001. Radiohead's Kid A took the isolation in OK Computer to a new plateau of alienation. Perhaps the only major movement of new music this decade, indie, showed that good music could find an audience without video or radio airplay. There was still the occasional blockbuster, but bands had to settle for a mere "double-platinum" award rather than then five million-plus sales marks of decades before. And like most decades, some years were packed with potential "album of the year" releases and others were on the lean side (one of my albums of the year didn't even wind up in my top 100).
This decade saw the music world get a lot smaller. But the following 100 albums show that ambition, bravery and just plain kick-ass skills were still a commodity.
80. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose – 2004
On paper, it sounded almost like a cruel joke: über hipster opts to produce an album by an old country hall of famer. Was Jack White just going to hammer out a few jams and have Loretta step in the studio and do lip service on a few songs? Not in the slightest. The White Stripes routinely cited Loretta Lynn as an idol and Jack White expertly played to Lynn's strengths. Backed by an enthusiastic band, Lynn made an album worthy of her legend.
79. D'Angelo – Voodoo – 2000
Yes, it's the naked dude video guy. He also was one of the key players in the neo-soul revival of the early part of this decade. Michael D'Angelo Archer only created one album this decade, but Voodoo was a meticulous study of the dynamics of soul. It may have been a bit guest-heavy (Lauryn Hill, Q-Tip, Method Man to name a few), but D'Angelo's mix of modern R&B and tried-and-tested old-fashioned soul produced a work that hasn't aged a bit. Hopefully next decade, we'll get more than one album from him.
78. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds – 2006
Somewhere between 1999 and last week, Justin Timberlake went from being a member of a boy band with a rapidly-shrinking (not shrieking) fan base to a consistent Saturday Night Live MVP. His first solo album Justified was an accomplishment just in terms of getting people to forget he was in the band *NSYNC. With FutureSex/LoveSounds, he went from being a person with a whole lot to prove to a person who will steer what we know as pop into the next decade.
77. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine – 2005
Allegedly, Extraordinary Machine was an album Sony was not happy with. The legend goes that the label forced Fiona Apple to rerecord, but she triumphed because the leaked "unfinished" album got in the hands of fans and those fans eventually forced Sony to release the album. Turns out though, Fiona Apple was just waiting around for her muse to catch up with her. Even with the myth surrounding the recording of the album largely debunked, that takes nothing away from the songs. "Better Version Of Me" and "Get Him Back" showed Apple can still pen a mean hook and "Red Red Red" proved Apple can still break your heart.
76. Against Me! - Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose – 2002
Like the best punk rock, Against Me! combines raw, wired aggressiveness, socio-political commentary and a decent share of humor. Their debut Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose may have lured unsuspecting people in by its hilarious tongue-in-cheek album cover, but the music keeps you riveted. I always knew pints of Guinness made you strong. I'm just glad these guys came up with a song that articulated this belief.
75. Andrew Bird – Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs – 2005
Orchestral pop is pretentious by default, so as a genre, it already has some obstacles to overcome. Without succumbing to indie cuteness, Bird made a lush, beautiful contribution to Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label with Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs. There was plenty of variety in terms of instrumentation, but Bird never forgot the first and foremost rule in good music was to create a moment that sticks in a listener's ear. The Mysterious Production Of Eggs is full of those types of moments.
74. Eels – Shootenanny! – 2003
After an agonizing succession of deaths in his family, Mark Oliver Everett (E) deserved some lighthearted moments in his life. Shootenanny! was far more lighthearted than his classic Electro Shock Blues. With Shootenanny!, E deftly documented a routine Saturday morning for either a kid or a middle-aged adult and the actual benefits of solitude. Still, it's an Eels album, and even a sunny Eels album is etched in black.
73. Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R – 2000
Don't let the stoner rock stigma fool you, Joshua Homme is a savvy bastard. In the late '90s, Rob Halford was dangerously close to becoming a caricature, but Homme recruited him to sing in the leadoff track "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer" from the Queens Of The Stone Age album Rated R. What comes after that is a mix of welcome heavy-ass rock as well as occasional forays into stoner metal ("Monsters In The Parosol"). Homme would go on to recruit higher-profile talent in subsequent releases, but Rated R remains a high-water mark for heavy metal in this decade.
72. Buddy Guy – Sweet Tea – 2001
Buddy Guy may have taken some cues from Bob Dylan and released his own version of Time Out Of Mind in 2001, but for all the other artists who have ripped off Buddy Guy, he was certainly entitled to some stylistic thievery. He's especially entitled to this type of thievery if he can almost top what Dylan did on Time Out Of Mind. "It's A Jungle Out There" and "Done Got Old" touch on mortality, but what you take away from Sweet Tea is Guy's ability to make the blues hit you like a sledgehammer, especially in the ten-minute-plus jam "I Gotta Try You."
71. The Decemberists – Picaresque – 2005
This decade saw a flood of bookish bands, singing folksy ballads inspired by historical events, mythology and literature. Nerdish, yes. And The Decemberists were the kings of this new nerd rock movement. As amazing as The Crane Wife was, Picaresque was even better, as Colin Meloy made an epic album for the library circuit.
70. Lucinda Williams – Essence – 2001
Lucinda Williams has been known to be a perfectionist, taking the better part of five years to make an album sound just right. However, in this decade she released four albums, almost doubling her 20-year output. The first album of Aughts from Williams, Essence, remains a fan favorite. You can feel the ache in "Blue" and "Lonely Girls" as well as some mischief in "Get Right With God." It was an album she had to make rather than an album she wanted to make.
69. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale – 2006
Any thoughts that Fishscale would be just another Wu-Tang solo album were dispelled as the first few thumps of bass ushered in "Shaky Dog." What we hear after that is a dizzying narrative filled with paranoia, bullets and french fries. Rap, usually a young person's game, spent most of this decade playing catch-up to Ghostface. Ol' Dirty Bastard gets resurrected in "9 Milli Bros," just one of many resurrections Ghostface performs on Fishscale.
68. Cat Power – The Greatest – 2006
If this is Cat Power's sellout album, may all sellout albums sound this great. On the first listen, The Greatest is one of those albums that can make you lose track of time. After a slow, slightly droney opening, The Greatest calmly leads into "Living Proof," a song that packs so much of what makes Cat Power a great singer and lyricist into three minutes that you think it's the ultimate closer for the album. Then you realize you're only two songs into this lovely bummer of an album that made Cat Power a tad more accessible to the masses thanks to the help of some Memphis-based jazz and soul musicians.
67. M.I.A. – Arular – 2005
Much has been made of Maya Arulpragasam's style (both clothing and music), her melding of third-world beats with hip-hop and her politics. What gets lost in the analysis is something much simpler -- M.I.A. could produce beats that would make Jay-Z and Dr. Dre jealous. Arular is full of them, from the defiant "Pull Up The People" to the thudding "Galang," Arular was a dance album with a purpose.
66. A.C. Newman – Get Guilty – 2009
When you think of late night albums, you probably think down-tempo. But The New Pornographers’ brain trust A.C. Newman managed to create an amazing late-night listening experience that was anything but down-tempo. Get Guilty's sound is as open and uncluttered as an empty apartment. It's a work of love from an artist who has a genuine love for pop music.
65. The White Stripes – De Stijl – 2000
The White Stripes got big with Elephant. They got a budget with Get Behind Me Satan. But the band was at its loosest, rowdiest and bluesiest on Destilj. On their 2000 album, Meg White may have been as subtle as Animal behind the drum set, but that supplied a raw current of energy for Jack White to harness on songs like "Hello Operator" and the early '60s go-go chug of "Jumble, Jumble." Many rock bands have tried to emulate the blues into their sound, but few new artists have truly understood the history and have been able to effectively channel the blues like The White Stripes.
64. Eagle*Seagull – Eagle*Seagull – 2005
Eagle*Seagull is slated to release their follow-up to their 2005 debut sometime next year. That's five years since a debut – a lifetime when you consider the average span of time between a debut album and a follow-up. The amount of time the band spent recording the follow-up shouldn't come as a surprise, though. The music on their debut album is as perfect of a mix of pop and noise as you could hope for.
63. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped – 2006
Age has not slowed down Sonic Youth in the least. For their final Geffen album, they released a tight collection of rockers masked in a cover that looked like it came from the scary, underground punk section of a record store. "Incinerate" was the closest thing Sonic Youth came to recording a quasi-hit song in nearly two decades. Murray Street was a quiet masterpiece, but Rather Ripped captured Sonic Youth walking that razor-thin line between ear-bleeding feedback and head-bobbing accessibility.
62. The Roots – Game Theory – 2006
This decade saw The Roots release an album that landed them a large audience (Phrenology), only to lose most of the audience on their scattershot follow-up The Tipping Point (which some fans still swear by). I happened to fall into the crowd that thought The Tipping Point was a stumbling block for The Roots, but they came back in ferocious style with Game Theory. Featuring some great collaborations from the late J Dilla, Game Theory was the sound of a band refocused, reenergized and pissed off politically.
61. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions – 2006
When people think of Springsteen this decade, they may think of his galvanizing performance at the Super Bowl. Others may think of him reuniting with his E Street Band to heal the United States' wounds after September 11 with The Rising. Others may think of his political campaigning. He had the money to pretty much do anything this decade, but what I'll remember most about Bruce Springsteen is his ability to be as dangerous with a group of friends fooling around in front of a microphone as he is with a studio full of sound wizards. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions fell into the former category. Whether it was a hoedown or a hootenanny, The Seeger Sessions was the marriage between his stadium anthem persona and his tortured poet of the working class persona (See this decade's Devils and Dust).
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