Prior to taking off on an adventure somewhere this week, I needed a Now Playing idea before I left. Lo and behold, Terry Hupp, one of my best friends ever, delivered a review of what he says are the 10 Best Albums of the 2000s. Since I haven’t listened to a new album in years (I wait until they are in the bargain bin at Recycled Records), and in the almost 30 years since we first met over a Who song, Terry has been my guiding light for good and real music in this world, I highly recommend this entertaining and elucidating commentary on contemporary alternative rock.
1. Kid A – Radiohead (2000)
The best album of the decade came early, in October 2000 to be exact. Kid A sounded like a new century as the electronic blips and otherworldly vocals of Thom Yorke provided a perfect soundtrack to the paranoia and dividedness that would soon pervade in the post-9/11 information age. It was four songs in when the first Radiohead-type song made an appearance, but from the opener “Everything In Its Right Place” to “National Anthem” to “Idioteque,” this was masterful songwriting. Radiohead continued throughout the decade to challenge its audience, to question the politics we were sold and to rebel against the stale music industry itself (allowing listeners to name their own price for new product). But neither they, nor their peers, delivered an album since that hit with the same force as Kid A.
2. Z – My Morning Jacket (2005)
My Morning Jacket had something the rest of the jam bands did not: the desire to break free of the genre’s limitations and the tunes to accomplish it. Z is nearly flawless. The album is beautifully produced, with the soaring vocals and wordless choruses from Jim James perfectly complemented by the arty keyboard flourishes and guitar hero codas. From the pop reggae crossover “Off the Record” to the thrilling rock of “Lay Low,” Z is a startling leap forward for the band. The Pink Floyd-style atmospherics of “Dondante” close the album in appropriately epic fashion.
3. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco (2002)
Talk about having the last laugh. Wilco completed Yankee in 2001 but Reprise Records refused to release it because it had no radio-ready single. Instead, the band streamed Yankee for free on their website until eventually signing with Nonesuch Records (like Reprise, a Warners subsidiary) in 2002. The album was released to universal acclaim and became the band’s first record to be certified gold. Many Wilco concert staples are here, and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “War on War” and “Heavy Metal Drummer” are among their most beloved songs. Despite their acrimonious parting after the record was completed, Jeff Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett crafted a masterpiece here.
4. Is This It – The Strokes (2001)
The title song is first, and this pedestrian slice of Pavement-style low-fi made you wonder if the album’s title might end up being the punch line of most reviews. Thankfully, the early Lou Reed stomp of “The Modern Age” follows next, and there are few weak spots from there on. New York’s Strokes returned to the city’s seventies glory days as they recycled Blank Generation punk riffs and provided us with the kick we needed after rap-rock and other late 90s atrocities. Clocking in at a shade over 30 minutes, there was little room for filler. “Barely Legal” and “Hard to Explain” rock with such assurance that critic’s assertions that they lack originality seem almost beside the point. Like the early Rolling Stones, the Strokes often surpassed their heroes even as they imitated them.
5. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark – Drive By Truckers (2008)
Brighter is more country-oriented than its recent predecessors, and the sprawling double album shows that Mike Cooley has shaken his songwriting slump. “Self Destructive Zones” and “A Ghost to Most” rank with his finest work. Main writer Patterson Hood remains at the top of his game. Whether tackling straight country in “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” driving rock in “The Righteous Path” or moving ballads such as “The Opening Act,” he proves he has few equals. He provides two views of the Gulf War, one from the battlefield (“That Man I Shot”) and one from “The Home Front.” Drive By Truckers had at least three contenders for this list, with The Dirty South and Decoration Day also among the decade’s finest.
6. Sea Change – Beck (2002)
Beck is rock’s best chameleon since the glory days of David Bowie. That said, there is nothing else in his catalog like Sea Change. Sure to torpedo any party, this harrowing collection is his most personal, reflective writing to date. It’s like having an entire album made up of a cross between John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired” and Big Star’s Third album, and that is meant as a compliment. The good times would resurface on Guero, but the sweet pain showcased on Sea Change in such numbers as “The Golden Age,” “Lost Cause” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine” is guaranteed to leave a mark.
7. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady (2008)
From the ashes of cult heroes Lifter Puller came The Hold Steady, rooted in the Minneapolis punk scene, but currently New York-based. Equal parts Husker Du and Bruce Springsteen, Stay Positive rocked with reckless abandon; its tales of drug-fueled all night parties laced with more compassion than shown on previous releases. Lead singer Craig Finn is one of rock’s finest story tellers, and “Sequestered In Memphis,” “Both Crosses” and “Lord, I’m Discouraged” best illustrate the band’s strengths and evolvement.
8. Funeral – Arcade Fire (2004)
U2 checks into the Neutral Milk Hotel and a new critic’s darling is conceived. Living up to the advance hype, Montreal’s Arcade Fire are one of the few multi-instrumentalist bands that really rock and the occasional bombast can’t sink this moving collection. Despite the fact that band members had lost several relatives during the recording (hence the title), Funeral is a surprisingly upbeat listen. “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” and “Wake Up” are among the many highlights.
9. White Blood Cells - The White Stripes (2001)
By decade’s end, Jack White had seemingly outgrown the two person band approach that launched a hundred imitators, putting the White Stripes on hiatus and forming the terrific Raconteurs and Dead Weather. But the stripped down, blues-fueled adrenaline rush of White Blood Cells holds up quite nicely eight years after initial release. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and “Fell in Love with a Girl” are the best hard rock here, while “Hotel Yorba” channels Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die” and unleashes a drunken sing along for the new millennium.
10. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (2004)
Nick Cave hits a career peak with this double-album opus. Packaged as separate works, Abattoir Blues is the more upbeat of the two. “Let the Bells Ring” and “There She Goes My Beautiful World” are as uplifting as their titles would suggest. Orpheus is ballad driven and more reflective, with the patented Cave sarcasm mixed with tenderness in “Babe, You Turn Me On” and “Easy Money.” Cave is one of rock’s most unique lyricists and these albums read as good as they sound.
Contact Tom Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org