Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Ten Favorite Albums of the Decade

With the aughts coming to a close, I figured it was time to make some pop culture lists. Why? Everyone loves lists. They're fun to make, and they're even more fun to argue about. Here's my initial post to my top-10 t.v. dramas list, if you're curious.

Do you know what's really scary? I work with teens, and most of them have only a vague concept of what an album is. I'm not kidding. Ask them the song they're listening to, then ask them what album it's from. Most of the time, they won't know. It's a dying art form. But I'm kickin' it old school, so the following list contains only cd's that I actually own.

Disclaimer: Notice the word "favorite"? That's key. These are the ten albums that I played the most when I was alone in my car. This is not a judgment of musical quality, which is a highly subjective exercise, anyway. I'll leave the top-10 lists based on artistic merit to Rolling Stone. I'm a sucker for poppy tunes that make me sing along. The good news? That means you won't see any entries where I try to sound hip by naming some obscure Belgian triangle-playing outfit.

It was tough for me to narrow it down to ten, so first permit me a lengthy Honorable Mention list, in no particular order:

Pearl Jam: Backspacer (2009), U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000), Taking Back Sunday: Tell All Your Friends (2002) and Where You Want to Be (2004), The Strokes: Is This It (2001) and Room on Fire (2003), Dashboard Confessional: MTV Unplugged (2002), Less Than Jake: In With the Out Crowd (2006), Jack's Mannequin, Everything in Transit (2005), All-American Rejects: Move Along (2005), Blink-182: Blink 182 (2003), Liz Phair: Liz Phair (2003), Yellowcard: Ocean Avenue (2003), Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones (2006), Fall Out Boy: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Muse: Absolution (2003), Bloc Party: Silent Alarm (2005), Pink: Missundaztood (2001), Various Artists: Garden State Soundtrack (2004), Cake: Comfort Eagle (2001), Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers (2003), Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope (2006), Our Lady Peace: Spiritual Machines (2001), MXPX: The Ever-Passing Moment (2000), Radiohead: Kid A (2000), The Killers: Sam's Town (2006), Weezer: Make Believe (2005) and Raditude (2009).

On to the Top 10:
10. Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)
By far their best album. It appears they shot their wad here, because their last two haven't been close. I love "In My Place" and "The Scientist," but my favorite is the haunting title track from the end of the album. Moody, melodic, and brilliant.

9. Avril Lavigne: Under My Skin (2004)
I hear the snickers, and I don't care. Avril's sophomore effort displays a wide range of her considerable talent. From the angsty up-tempo of "He Wasn't" and "Happy Ending" to the heartbroken ballads "Don't Tell Me" and "How Does it Feel?" to her touching tribute to her deceased grandmother, "Slipped Away," this is a much more mature (but just as enjoyable) effort than her debut record.

8. Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight (2008)
I promise this is will be the only band on this list you've never heard of. If you like sensitive Scottish indie rock (and who doesn't?), give this album a try. If you enjoy this inspirational tribute to secularism ("Head Rolls Off"), then ask me to burn you a copy of the cd. I probably will, just to spread the unadulterated joy with which this video fills me:
I go to maybe one concert every two years, and this was the last one I saw. I even interacted with the band (i.e. yelled out something witty and got a response), but that's a story for another blog.

7. Jimmy Eat World: Futures (2004)
The first of two albums on the list of the band I'm anointing as my favorite of the decade. It's highlighted by a cadre of one-word song titles ("Work," "Pain," "Kill," and "Futures") that range from earnest to angry. It's capped of by one of the best album closers ever, the ridiculously epic "23." A confident album made by a band in its prime.

6. Sum 41: Underclass Hero (2007)
This criminally underrated album can't seem to find its way out of the door pocket of my car. Many of the tracks are filled with poetic, Canadian rage at lead singer Deryck Whibley's parents or ineffective politicians. "Walking Disaster" is the most foot-stomping anthem from an impressive field. But the record also has a soft side, with a few excellent ballads like "With Me" that I can only assume were aimed at Whibley's then-wife...Avril Lavigne. If you don't think that doesn't get it bonus points in my book, you haven't been paying attention.

5. Weezer: Green Album (2001)
The captain has just turned on the "every single song on the record is good" sign. Weezer's "comeback" album is the sweet blend of the poppiness of their first album with a dash of melancholy from their second. Clocking in at only half an hour or so, it makes every second count with hits like "Hash Pipe" and "Island in the Sun." I actually prefer the thrusting guitar beat of the opener, "Don't Let Go," the catchy, repetitive verses of "Simple Pages," and the soulful lament of the closer, "Oh, Girlfriend" (by far the longest song on the album, at 3:49). Weezer have had other good records this decade (see above), but this is the only one that doesn't contain filler. Nearly flawless.

4. The Killers: Hot Fuss (2004)
Just incredibly addictive. The Killers brought back the 80's and gave them an edge. The last time I air-keyboarded before hearing the superlative opener, "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" was probably for the Thompson Twins.

The album runs the gamut. You've got the dance club pulse of "Somebody Told Me." Then there's the distinct guitar riff and tortured chorus of "Mr. Brightside." Just when you think you've got the sound down, they bring in a gospel choir for the incredibly, stupidly fun-to-chant "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier" in "All These Things That I've Done." The only downside is how front-loaded the record is, which makes the merely decent second half pale in comparison. But, my God. Those first five songs...

3. Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American (2001)
How often does an album change one's life, or at least one's perception of music? I have to give credit to my students for this one. They introduced me to JEW (yes, I know that Clarity was their breakthrough, but I'd never heard it) just before "The Middle" blew up. To be honest, if I'd only heard "The Middle," I probably wouldn't have given the band a second look. Although it's still JEW's most well-known song, it's one of my least favorites on the album.

I loved this record so much that it inspired me to start listening to other bands in the emo-pop genre. Without Bleed American, I might've never gotten into Taking Back Sunday, Jack's Mannequin, Yellowcard, or Dashboard Confessional. My faves here are "Get it Faster," "The Authority Song," "My Sundown," and of course, "A Praise Chorus."

2. My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade (2006)
I know lots of my contemporaries are turned off by the band's name, or hell, even the font on the cover. It does look pretty Hot Topic. Well, that's their loss. This is one of my favorite concept albums ever, and it's actually the first one I thought of when I started trying to figure out my top ten of the decade.

It practically sounds like a greatest hits album; there are seven or eight songs on here that I ended up putting on different mixes. The album is best played through from the beginning, however, which is what's such a shame about the way people listen to music nowadays, picking and choosing singles.

I love the Queen-esque bombast and theatrics. I love the soaring anthems. I love that this young band had the balls to go all-in at the risk of looking overly earnest and pretentious. I especially love the breathtaking tandem of "Disenchanted" and "Famous Last Words" that close out this brilliant rock opera.

1. Green Day: American Idiot (2004)
One of my favorite bands' best work- a quantum leap forward. I'm going to de-friend the next person who tells me Dookie is a better record. I just don't have room for that kind of stupid in my life.

American Idiot was released at the perfect time, just before the 2004 presidential election. Naively, I actually believed at the time that this album's power could help sway the populace away from the evil forces of Captain Shit-for-Brains. I was wrong, but that doesn't detract from American Idiot's brilliant amalgam of rage, despair, and hope.

How many other albums this decade spawned a Broadway musical? As I wrote in my blog about the show, one thing that struck me was that the first four songs are all home runs: The title track, "Jesus of Suburbia," "Holiday," and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." It's like listening to a greatest hits soundtrack of the decade. The back end of the album isn't exactly filler, either, with "Letterbomb," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," "Homecoming," and the sublime closer "Whatsername."

American Idiot is the reason that we should still treasure albums, rather than picking and choosing singles. It's a cohesive rock opera, and not only is it my favorite record of the decade, I'd also argue it's the best, period.

1 comment:

paul said...

you could not have picked the top 2 any better. i love both of the albums with a passion. i have a combined 5000 plays between the tracks on those 2 albums on my itunes counter. you get extreme brownie points for this. - your 39th favorite student paul