Why are people always complaining that music isn’t as good as it used to be. I think this decade featured some very fine music. I’ve seen a lot of lists that are so indie it hurts, and a lot of albums hailed not so much because they are *enjoyable* and more because, well, they AREN’T.
My top albums of the decade are diverse, and there a couple lesser known titles, but many of those were a bit bigger across the pond. Some trends I like? A couple oldsters put out their best work in years, some new people broke innovative ground, and others bucked the system… and it made for some compelling music.
I’m actually quite anal about rating and ranking my albums. I have four categories that I rate 1-10, resulting in a possible 40 point total. The categories are: (S)ONGS – How good is the songwriting? (P)RODUCTION – How much detail, how much punch… did the producer/engineer succeed to the fullest? (M)USICIANSHIP – How is the vocal quality, instrumental players, arrangement, etc… (C)OHESIVENESS – The most subjective, does the album flow well, do the songs combine to form a whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts?
If you like popular music, and you are unfamiliar with any of the albums I talk about, I urge you to run out right now and get it, because you’ll be in for a treat! So without any further ado, let me begin the countdown.
Near Misses: Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown, Morcheeba – Fragments of Freedom, Robbie Williams – Swing While You’re Winning, Daniel Bedingfield – Gotta Get Through This.
20. Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way (2006) S:8 P:9 M:8 C:8 – 33
Freed from trying to please country radio, the Dixie Chicks made the album they were born to make. By throwing convention aside, the became the modern versions of Johnny Cash. Country rebels. Because of course they were still going to make a country record, but now they could do it their way. So much detail in the music. So many layers to the sound. Punk looks good on you.
19. Robbie Williams – Escapeology (2002) S:8 P:7 M:10 C:8 – 33
Has any pop artist in the past two decades ever embraced true musicianship so wholeheartedly? Trends be damned, Robbie loves a good horn section, loves lush strings, 70’s style piano and a little bit of funk. With this album he manages to blend his somberness, smarmyness, cynicism and joy into a unified front of emotion and virtuosity.
18. Lady Gaga – The Fame (2008) S:9 P:8 M:7 C:9 – 33
There is no question that Lady Gaga has already started a sea change in popular music. But in sound and image. And while I rather fear what she may have wroght (more is NOT always more!) There is no denying the unabashed fun of this album. Musicianship gets a tad buried behind producer RedOne’s “throw in the kitchen sink” arrangements, but a unique voice (vocal and songwriting) manage to shine through the cacophony.
17. Radiohead – In Rainbows (2008) S:6 P:10 M:8 C:9 – 33
Way too many sounces have listed Kid A as a top album of the decade. It is impressive for it’s sonic masturbation, but that’s about it. For their post OK Computer career, In Rainbows takes it for finally finding a way to combine their breathtaking new direction in sonic soundscapes, and managing to get back to writing some good songs at the same time. The sonic depth of the record flies you into a new world, and they pace they album just right.
16. Coldplay – Viva La Vida (2008) S:7 P:9 M:7 C:10 – 33
It feels like a concept album, thought I don’t know the concept. They deftly play with song structure, music textures and instrumental passages that leave you wondering where one song ends and the other begins. They take you on a journey. You don’t know where you’re going, but the scenery along the way is breathtaking.
15. Prince – Lotusflow3r (2009) S:7 P:10 M:9 C:8 – 34
Prince redeems himself on wax with his best record in well over a decade. Some of the songs are a bit twee, but man, he let’;s his guitar playing rip throughout like never before. And the space, detail and depth of the the production is stunning. Listen in great headphones and you’ll never want to leave this world.
14. Mika – The Boy Who Knew Too Much (2009) S:10 P:8 M:8 C:8 – 34
I’m going to have to write a post on artists that are just too gay for America! Mika evidently is one, as there is no other reason for his lack of success here. The album is cheeky fun and glam with earworm hooks that never leave your brain. Left field instrumental choices don’t diminish it’s mainstream pop impact, in fact, they just heighten it.
13. Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe (2009) S:7 P:10 M:9 C:8 – 34
The undeniable newness and cultural impact of Violator in 1990 is about the only thing that keeps this from being Depeche Mode’s best album ever. That and a couple of songs whose removal wouldn’t have been missed. But this is still a confident true return to form that started with Playing the Angel in 2005. David Gahan’s voice has never sounded better, and his acceptance into the songwriting fold paid some good dividends.
12. Muse – The Resistance (2009) S:7 P:8 M:10 C:9 – 34
Depeche Mode and Queen had a lovechild that is Muse. They keep getting stronger. The complex, almost classical instrumentation drives a rock symphony that makes you wonder if you should catch Muse live in a stadium or in a concert hall. Their arrangements are awe inspiring, with rich production and great pacing.
11. Michael Buble – Call Me Irresponsible (2007) S:7 P:10 M:10 C:7 – 34
Michael Buble has a knack for taking contemporary songs and making them sound like they belong on a 40’s swing record… if those old record of the past could even come close to the sonic richness of this record. The production put you right in the middle of a top notch band, and the excitement bubbles all around the listener. The instrumental arrangements have set the bar for this genre of music for the next decade or more.
10. Anastacia – Freak of Nature (2002) S:8 P:8 M:9 C:9 – 34
A sonic grab bag that is guided by a voice that, quite literally, would be chill inducing singing nursery rhymes. While the songs run the gamut, sometimes making you wonder what genre she wants to be a parts of, it can be forgiven in that the album flows as well as a great, multi-artist mixtape.
9. 1 Giant Leap – 1 Giant Leap (2002) S:6 P:9 M:10 C:10 – 35
This album was recorded remotely over several continents and assembled in the studio later into a sonic masterpiece that blends western pop with a cultural melting pot that never fails to amaze. Different instruments and voices come at you non-stop and brings a world unity that may never be seen in politics, only in art.
8. Scissor Sisters – Tah Dah (2006) S:9 P:8 M:8 C:10 – 35
Sit back and enjoy a fun, retro good time. The Scissor Sisters never aim for depth, they just want to have a good time, and the CD never fails to lift my spirits. Fun lyrics, indelible melodies and a party to your ears, this deserved more recognition in the states.
7. Eve 6 – Horrorscope (2000) S:10 P:8 M:8 C:10 – 36
I can’t understand why this album only produced one minor hit, because it rocks! The album hits like a demolition derby for it’s full length with dizzying wordplay, hook after hook (lyrically and musically). Smart, sophisticated, raunchy and rude… they should have been superstars.
6. The Script – The Script (2009) S:10 P:6 M:10 C:10 – 36
Only the production keeps this album from being my favorite album of the decade.. but hey, supposedly they recorded it in a garage. The songs are nothing less than some of the best songs pop music has seen in years, the musicians (especially the drummer) are at the top of their game, and they keep the album tight and brisk… and you longing for more when it is over.
5. Keane – Hopes and Fears (2004) S:9 P:9 M:8 C:10 – 36
Who knew music could rock without guitars. They rock, they soar, they take you into their world. Tom Chaplin may be the best, most emotional vocalist of the decade, and the melodies let him showcase it to the fullest. With Coldplay and The Fray having done so well here, it boggles my mind that they haven’t experience the success here that they have all over Europe.
4. Justin Timberlake – Futuresex/Lovesounds (2006) S:10 P:9 M:8 C:10 – 37
Not since Janet Jackson’s pairing with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis has a pop artist/start producer collaboration been so satisfactory. In a genre where so many artists try to have one track from ALL the star producers, it was refreshing to see him commit to Timbaland so wholeheartedly, and the risks they were able to take paid off. It’s worth the time it takes to learn all about an artist, and the exploration on this album proves it.
3. Alicia Keys – The Element of Freedom (2009) S:9 P:10 M:9 C:9 – 37
Will this be Alicia Key’s least successful album yet? The singles haven’t taken off yet. But this is by far her most accomplished album of her already accomplished career. Her songs have always sounded like they’ve been around for years, and she adds to that a sonic experimentation that is rarely seen in the soul genre. Synths and drum machines percolate around the standard soul combo and her piano playing for the most sonically rich and inventive album of the decade.
2. Pink – Funhouse (2008) S:10 P:9 M:9 C:10 – 38
While most of these albums are single producer efforts, Pink is the artist that is the exception to prove to rule. She may work with a half dozen producers on this CD, but her vision is so strong, and the will of her artistry so focused that you would never know it. From sonic pop-rock bubblegum to bluesy rock to simple, soul-searching ballads, Pink bares her soul with her best songs to date. This would have sold millions more if she had chosen a few different singles. (Yes, potential smashes were never even released). Not a weak spot, and a rollercoaster ride with thrilling highs and lows.. it truly is a funhouse.
1. Green Day – American Idiot (2004) S:10 P:9 M:10 C:10 – 39
Green Day was over. They were riding on Dookie for a decade. Everyone knew they wouldn’t be big again. Oops. Then they go a do something truly amazing. With… A Rock Opera??? Weren’t those supposed to be dead two. Green Day revived their career and the Rock Opera with this daring sonic blast of energy. They stayed punk, but showed the world that punk music doesn’t have to be limited to 3 chords and two minute songs. They showed that punk music could survive melody and structure and succeeded in putting out the best rock album in history.
Well, that wraps up this past decade!
Comment and tell me… what do you think I missed?