Monday, December 01, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: Recapping an Amazing Decade of Music

About a year from now, you’re going to be inundated with best-of lists for the decade, so I figured why not get out ahead of the pack? Over the next month, I’ll be revisiting my 10 favorite albums (maximum) from each year of the new millennium, starting today with 2000 (and, yes, I know technically the millennium started in 2001, but spare me Jerry Seinfeld). On New Year’s Eve (pending I actually complete this thing), I’ll compile the best of the best for the ultimate near-end-of-the-decade list. But first …

IN THE YEAR 2000 …

“Heartbreaker,” Ryan Adams
Could you ask for a better debut album? Cynics would say he’s never been better than this pure alt-country masterpiece (I am not one of them, however, as you will see). The newly solo singer/songwriter moves effortlessly from barroom brawlers to tender love songs, and it all works together perfectly.
Favorite Track: “Come Pick Me Up”

“Relationship of Command,” At the Drive-In
Speaking of heartbreakers, here’s one for the ages. This genre-defying classic marked both the peak and the end for these Texas firebrands, who split just as they were about to break huge. They all went on to form inferior bands (please don’t start with me about The Mars Volta), but at least they went out with guns blazing.
Favorite Track: “One Armed Scissor”

“American III: Solitary Man,” Johnny Cash
The Man in Black opens this album with the utterly appropriate “I Won’t Back Down,” backed by the song’s author, Tom Petty, and it’s off and running from there. No middle slump here in the new-classic stretch of five American Recordings albums from Cash and producer Rick Rubin. Highlights abound, including tremendous renditions of U2’s “One” and Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat,” but my …
Favorite Track: is the overpowering “I See a Darkness”

“The Swiss Army Romance,” Dashboard Confessional
Before he went and got all arena-rocky and infatuated with his own mythos, Chris Carrabba’s band consisted of his earnest voice, an acoustic guitar, and a stool. This album was downright revolutionary at the time, released amidst the malaise of Pearl Jam knockoffs and the awful nu-metal and rap/rock crazes (anybody still remember Limp Bizkit?). Carrabba would be credited—for better or worse—with helping launch the emo genre, and he was equally loved and despised. That, I think, is one mark of a great frontman.
Favorite Track: “Ender Will Save Us All”

“Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea,” PJ Harvey
With this record, Polly Jean wanted to see if she could write and record a more accessible rock album, and she succeeded in spades. A stone-cold classic, it marked the culmination of a decade of incendiary work. There isn’t a bad track on the entire thing, and even after eight years I still constantly change my mind on my …
Favorite Track: Today it’s “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,” but tomorrow it’ll probably be something different

“Binaural,” Pearl Jam
This release signaled the beginning of a new era for Pearl Jam, as it was the first album with former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. Cameron’s aggressive style forever changed the tone of the band, and the debate still rages today if it was positive or negative. It also marked probably the peak of my Pearl Jam obsessive fandom; I saw them five times on this tour, in four different states. The Chicago show on 10.9.00 still stands as my favorite concert experience ever.
For me, this is Pearl Jam’s classic that got away when you consider “Sad” (one of the band’s best-ever songs) and “Fatal” were inexplicably left off the tracklist, while demo “Puzzles and Games” was reworked into the inferior (but still good, mind you) “Light Years.” That being said, “Binaural” still offers multiple treasures, such as “Grievance,” “Sleight of Hand,” “Of the Girl,” “Parting Ways,” and …
Favorite Track: “Insignificance”

“Renegades,” Rage Against the Machine
From the album-opening Tom Morello guitar salvo on “Microphone Fiend” to the closing sledgehammer of “Maggie’s Farm,” this is one, long adrenaline rush. Not just my favorite Rage CD, it’s one of my favorite records of all time, it's made all the more impressive because its made up of tracks from artists that influenced the band’s own landmark music. Thus “Renegades” has an underlying foundation of authenticity and accessibility that doesn’t necessarily occur in the band’s own rhetoric-to-excess work.
Favorite Track: “How I Could Just Kill a Man”

“De Stijl,” The White Stripes
Though I was first introduced to the Stripes in 2001 with their breakthrough “White Blood Cells,” this is the album that turned them into one of my all-time favorite bands. Jack White has gone on to write more intricate and well-crafted songs, but there’s something to be said for the raw, primal power of his fiery six-string on tracks like “Death Letter,” “Let’s Build a Home,” “Little Bird,” and “Hello Operator.” And like his heroes from Led Zeppelin, he also engages in a softer, gentler, folkier side on this record to great effect, including my …
Favorite Track: “I’m Bound to Pack It Up”

“All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” U2
Though it doesn’t hold up as U2’s “third masterpiece” (as Rolling Stone hyperventilated at the time), the first seven tracks of this comeback album of sorts are as solidly brilliant as U2 has ever been. Though it compares most favorably with the pop/rock accessibility of 1987’s iconic “The Joshua Tree,” “ATYCLB” wasn’t so much a return to 1980s form as a consolidation of all the music the band had produced to that point, forming a familiar but still new, modern sound that has carried them through the rest of this decade (though we’ll see what the next one sounds like early next year).
Favorite Tracks: “Beautiful Day,” “Walk On (UK Single Version)”

“Unified Theory,” Unified Theory
One of the best flash-in-the-pan bands I’ve come across, Unified Theory was formed out of the ashes of Blind Melon and stuck around just long enough to put out this incredible debut album that doesn’t offer a subpar track. Despite showing amazing promise, the band disbanded shortly thereafter. Great hooks, swirling guitar flourishes, and soaring vocals from charismatic frontman Chris Shinn, who I can’t believe hasn’t hit it big with some other group in the intervening years. I managed to catch them in a small club in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while they toured off this album, and the show still brings back a warm memory all these years later. What a pity.
Favorite Track: “Passive”

“Almost Famous,” soundtrack
"B.R.M.C.," Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
"Best of Blur," Blur
"White Pony," Deftones
“Swagger,” Flogging Molly
“Veni Vidi Vicious,” The Hives
“MACHINA/The Machines of God,” The Smashing Pumpkins
"MACHINA II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music," The Smashing Pumpkins
"Silver and Gold," Neil Young

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