- Read the introduction and #'s 100 to #76 at this link
- Read #'s 75 to #51 at this link
- Read # 50 to #26 at this link
- Read #25 to #11 at this link
10. Peter Gabriel-‘Up’ (2002)
This decade’s greatest mind-fuck from an established artist is Peter Gabriel’s decade in-the-making somber collection of songs about the cycle of life, ‘Up’. A torturous and penetrating record featuring some of the most soul baring songs he’s ever written. “I Grieve” mystically puts death into perspective, “The Barry Williams Show” opens up day time talk shows as manipulators of people seeking nothing more than love, the eye-opening life affirming “More Than This” and finally “Growing Up”, a transforming journey amidst distortion echo sequences. Most people listened to this album once and designated it to the shelf never spinning it again. The excursion of life, from birth to death is encompassed within these ten songs in a way I’ve never seen anyone do before. The cumulative effect of listening to the album in its entirety (with lyrics in hand) is more than stirring and resounding, it’s emancipating. These ten exquisite and intricate compositions ponder the existence of life as well as any film, book or work of art ever has. (Read a 2002 show review here and a 2003 review here).
9. Mick Jagger- ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ (2001)
This may be the most personal and reflective work of Mick Jagger’s career. While nothing he ever does outside of the Rolling Stones will ever been appreciated fully, ‘Goddess’ is a stunningly naked reveal from one of rock n’ roll’s most secretive and closed off rock stars. The Rolling Stones have a template of rock n’ roll that works and Jagger isn’t really allowed to step outside of that world to wrestle with his inner demons, but he does here. Dismissed by many as too soft or poppy, they’re missing out, because it’s here where Jagger pulls back the curtain and lets us into his world in a way that no autobiography ever could. Bono helps out on the inspiring “Joy”, Lenny Kravitz provides Jagger the meanest guitar riff this side of Jimmy Page on “God Gave Me Everything and Wyclef Jean provides an urban feel to “Hideaway”. Is Jagger writing from the first person or merely as an observer? He would never admit anything, but when you hear him croon “I was trying to forget you, but you won’t tell me how” on “Don’t Call Me Up”, you hear the rock God at his most vulnerable as if you were having a conversation with him and a tear escaped from an eye duct. He admits his shortcomings, his insecurities and rips his heart out of his chest for us to see. “Too Far Gone” and “Visions of Paradise” finds him admitting his own fears of being hurt which keep him from truly accepting love (“Don’t hold me tight, cause I could get use to your vision of paradise”). Released mere weeks after 9/11, there are no words as to how comforting this record was to me. I was lost in my own world of conflicted emotions and trying to make sense of relationships that would never work, but hearing the same doubts and questions from the rocks most confident and brash singer made me feel like I wasn’t alone and whenever a piece of music makes you feel less isolated, then that’s a work of art that has to be admired.(Read 'Shine A Light' film review here).
8. Coldplay – ‘A Rush of Blood To The Head’ (2002)
“Yellow” was a great single, but I figured that was all we would hear from Coldplay. ‘A Rush of Blood To The Head’ changed all of that. No sophomore album should be *this good*. Lead singer Chris Martin pleads with the listener (“Open up your eyes”) on the epic and thrashing opener, “Politik” and this was just the inauguration. This album has an awe-inspiring elaborate quality to it all. “Clocks” was ready-made for stadiums while “The Scientist” can only be defined as epic and a song Radiohead and U2 most likely are envious of. Even the non-singles “Green Eyes” and “Warning Sign” engage the listener with a spiritual gallery of comfort. The sonic frame work is nothing short of astounding as it begs borrows and steals from decade’s worth of canonical influences and they twist and turn them into their own. These compositions are full of eye-opening lyrics, thriving sonic soundscapes and enough breathtaking abandonment to cue lighters. With a wide brush stroke Coldplay proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with…worldwide. (2005 live concert review here).
7. The White Stripes – ‘Elephant’ (2003)
Up until ‘Elephant’, The White Stripes were accused of being a one trick pony, but they silenced their critics right from its opening track, “Seven Nation Army”, a spacious and sprawling song with grooves, beats and melodies so simplistic one wonders why someone else hasn’t made a recording like this before. On ‘Elephant’ the songwriting reaches astounding levels where they become more about the songs than the way they are performed and recorded. “In The Cold, Cold Night”, “The Hardest Button To Button” and “There’s No Home For You Here” still exhibit rawness but the pedigree of the material is at an entirely different level with the production being more than a tool but a method of bringing the listener to an arousing harmonious apex. Meg White was more involved and her presence could be felt on the entire record, helping the listener identify with this mythic two-some as we digest and dissect the lyrics looking for hints or a reveal that the White’s may or may not have given us. In the end, it doesn’t matter one bit as we are enthralled from the opening chord to the last asking ourselves “How do they do that with only two of them?” The energy and cohesiveness of this album is awe inspiring and seismic. Garage rock would never be the same after this.
6. Butch Walker – ‘Letters’ (2004)
Reflective records shouldn’t sound as celebratory and blissful as this one. After a decade-plus of playing, producing and playing the big league games of the industry, Walker unleashed an intensely personal collection of songs awash in picture-perfect pop production. Don’t let that last sentence dissuade you. Walker is one of the best producers on the planet at the moment and his formula for crafting enthralling and easy-on-the-ear melodies is unrivaled. However, while there is plenty of sonic splendor on ‘Letters’, Walker made sure the instrumentation could breathe, so that the piano and acoustic guitars sounded innocent, invigorating and most importantly intimate. Look no further than the intense and solemn “Joan” for opulent production and elegiac lyrics that haunt you long after the song reaches its conclusion. Upon listening to this record, I felt as if I knew Walker intimately (in a non-religious sense) because he doesn’t hold anything back. One listen to the broken hearted narrator of the wistful “Mixtape” (the greatest mega-hit of the last decade that wasn’t) and it’s impossible to not hop on the Butch Walker bandwagon. I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t seen him live and walk out a devout believer. Finding the right blend of lyrical poetry paired with bravura production, Walker made a record that should be studied by the industry as a whole as the perfect concoction of illuminating intimate pop epiphanies. (2005 live review here).
5. Will Hoge – ‘Draw the Curtains’ (2007)
Will Hoge’s ‘Draw The Curtains’ is a collection of ten stunningly crafted songs that are as multifaceted as the relationships he sings about. This album stirs your soul and yields a genuine truth so rarely found in today's music with each song essential to the underlying theme. Hoge has shaped an emotionally severe and intuitive masterpiece that is not just timeless but the best album of 2007. This is an album deeply embedded in reactionary tales that permeate into you more and more with every listen. Will Hoge sings these songs like a lost bluesman. The rockers are full of roadhouse exuberance that are so smoky sweet I felt like I was in a bar where the liquor flows like a river and the smoke wraps itself around you like a cloud. In 2006 and 2007, Hoge masterfully crafted two perfect albums constructed of ten songs each filled with heartache, hope and romantic giganticism. We all know someone who yearns for the good old days and have lost faith in modern times and technology. Back in 1994 when I would meet a cynic who would tell me “they just don’t make movies the way they used to”, I’d told them to go and see ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ so they could recapture not just their own personal faith but in the film medium as well. The next time someone tells me “they don’t make albums like they used to”, I’m going to tell them to buy Will Hoge’s ‘Draw The Curtains’ so they can have that same spiritual awakening. (Read the full album review here)
4. James – ‘Hey Ma’ (2004)
‘Hey Ma’ delicately balances the beauty and bleakness that life has to offer. The Manchester band James created an immense masterpiece finding middle ground between relevant themes and sonic landscapes that simultaneously elicit tears of happiness and sorrow. It’s almost unheard of for a group to reunite after an extended hiatus to create a work of art on par with their best offerings, but James has gone one step further by creating a biting, boiling and blissful collection of songs that align like the stars in the sky. James has made an album that lies somewhere between mainstream programming and indie fanaticism. They haven’t just made a great reunion record; they’ve made the best album of their career. Not since U2 released ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ has there been a collection of potent and powerful hymns as stalwart as ‘Hey Ma’. James provides an admission of emotional vulnerability and has proven to be raw and dangerously alive. The lofty topics of ‘Hey Ma’ are drowned in pop sensibilities that would invigorate any FM dial. No topic goes unturned; God, war, self-loathing, desperation, dislocation, separation, temptation and most importantly revelation are all here. With each intoxicating listen, I’m drawn into the reverberating music, the ebullient melodies and the world weary lyrics. The depth of the subjects found on ‘Hey Ma’ prove to be socially provocative; war (“Hey Ma” & “72”), awakening (“Bubbles” “Waterfall” and “I Wanna Go Home”) and ultimately life and love (“Oh My Heart” and “Upside”). For the first time in a while, I feel an artist has created a complete album that speaks to me in the here and now while simultaneously enrapturing my ear drums with ambient pop and soulful sounds. Not since Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ has an artist so effortlessly converged pop melodies with lofty, weighty and biting topics. James sound like a band with an insatiable hunger willing to do anything to make their mark. Their lack of innocence gives way to experience, knowledge and wisdom. James hasn’t just mined a victorious reunion album with ‘Hey Ma’ they’ve created one of the best albums of the decade. (Read the full album review here and their 2008 live review here).
3. Ryan Adams – ‘Gold’ (2001)
Distilling ideas and thoughts from every source of American music possible, Ryan Adams made the record everyone was hoping he had within him. Ryan Adams is not an easy artist to love, but I’ll be damned if there wasn’t another poet in this past decade who I continually was blown away by year after year. ‘Gold’ is an expansive and unyielding collection featuring a wide array of musical styles; classic rock, country, soul, bluegrass, alternative, alt-country and boogie shaking energy. “New York, New York” is a love letter to a lost love that took on new meanings in a post 9/11 world (the video featuring the Twin Towers in the background was shot mere days before they fell). The whole album aches with vulnerability (“Somehow, Someday”) which is why the songs resonate so strongly. While most people prefer ‘Heartbreaker’, I find ‘Gold’ to be a more ambitious collection of matters of the heart. It is one thing to toss off one song after another of lovelorn missteps and ache, but it’s another to be as arrogant and ruthless as Adams is here (evidenced on “Nobody Girl”). Originally planned as a double album (the 4th side was excised and released as a bonus disc), ‘Gold’ houses such an array of diverse sounds, it’s hard not to admire its ambition. But beneath all of the aspiration are the songs, sixteen of them full of golden harmonies and brooding lyrics you wrap around yourself to feel shielded from the world. Inside each one is not just a mini film, but a full blown cinematic experience glowing off a screen in a darkened room as we sulk it in, evidenced beautifully on “La Cienega Just Smiled”, in a mere five minutes and three seconds, I felt an entire relationship start, stop and evaporate in front of my eyes, but as the song fades out, the pain from the heartache can be felt. Of the one-hundred records on this list, no other did I return to more and mine for answers time after time. ‘Gold’ may have reached further into the commercial realm at ten or twelve songs, but it wouldn’t have been as majestic and in the end, if it’s not over-the-top and ostentatious then it wouldn’t be Ryan Adams. (Read 2007 live review here).
2. U2 –‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
Released in the fall of 2000, this was a glorious return to form for U2. Instead of being ironic and industrial, U2 went back to writing songs with big hooks, arm-waving choruses and melodies that soar (“Beautiful Day” & “Elevation”). The tour that followed was equally restrained allowing the listener to revel in the glories of these songs once again. In U2’s determination to be not just the best but biggest band in the world, the spectacle at times blinded the music, evidenced by the icy reaction to ‘Pop’. On ‘Behind’, U2 embraced the charming novelty of pop songs with soul (“Stuck In A Moment” & “Walk On”) while not being afraid to indulge in simplistic sugary pop sensations (“Wild Honey”). The singles are well known, but it’s the deeper cuts that define the record. “Kite” was written about Bono’s children, but after the death of his father in August 2001, it transcended to something far deeper and more personal. “In A Little While” was on constant rotation by Joey Ramone in his final hours of life, “Peace on Earth” became a staple of their concerts in the wake of 9/11 and “New York” a song about isolation, seemed to take on a noir element in the post 9/11 world. The album while heralded by many upon its release in the fall of 2000 truly had its watershed moment in the fall of 2001. It’s almost impossible to discuss the impact of this album and not mention 9/11. When the world was reeling from pain, dislocation and separation, these songs became sources of comfort and in many ways helped burst spirits back to life. The shows in the fall of 2001, their assorted television appearances culminating with an heroic Super Bowl performance early in 2002 found the band at the peak of their powers. Truly illustrious art rises above borders and becomes something more significant. Listeners take the songs, lift them upon their shoulders and wear their themes and melodies as a badge of honor. It’s one thing to write about a series of events and it is another entirely to create a collection of songs so universal and wide reaching that the world at large is able to revel in its beauty in entirely different ways. These were religious hymns for those without religion while simultaneously renewing faith for others. Embracing the fragility of life and death in these songs (all written and recorded by the band before a single member turned 40), ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ is one of the most endearing and rejuvenating records of the last few decades because of the way the songs have been able to surpass what they were initially written about. (Read 2009 live review here).
1. Green Day ‘American Idiot’ (2004)
Resounding, defiant, triumphant, explosive, stratospheric, resounding, strident, anguished, catchy…and epic; adjectives that describe and herald Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, without question the album of the decade. What makes this collection so mouth gapingly impressive is that no one felt that Green Day had this record in them. If you had taken a survey in March of 1994 as to what current artists would release a larger-than-life masterpiece a decade onward that could be a soundtrack that would define the chaos and confusion of the world I am sure Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and U2’s names would have been thrown around, but no one would have even dared to mention Green Day, who had just released ‘Dookie’ a few months earlier. At the beginning of the millennium Green Day was maturing and evolving past the punk-pop template they forged and produced the decade’s most unlikely work of genius. Embracing rock’s heroic lineage Green Day set out to not just leave their contemporaries in shock and awe, but the world as well. The explosive opening riff of “American Idiot” is a call inviting everyone into a musical world of booming political exuberance. The characters within these songs are more than fictional works of art, but authentic voices of a generation. “Jesus of Suburbia”, an epic nine-minute track, finds Green Day entering territory once largely dominated by The Who and Clash, but they proved to not just be worthy of making bold sophisticated statements but tearing the roof off in the process as well. ‘American Idiot’ is a winding and breathtaking collection of songs that barely allows the listener to breathe because they unremittingly rip through you in machine gun fashion. “Are We Waiting”, “St. Jimmy”, “She’s A Rebel” and “Extraordinary Girl” all could have been singles, they are as engaging and alluring as anything you’ve ever heard on the radio, yet are integral to the overall scope and story being told on ‘Idiot’ and they all further the cinematic story at hand.
I am a firm believer that every artist should follow their own muse and create within their limits of their own talent and should never be chided for doing what they do best. However, I do find that when art becomes more than mere entertainment, it truly stands the test of time. Green Day raised the stakes with ‘American Idiot’ and pushed themselves to not just give a biting commentary about the state of the world, but did so in an exhilarating fashion that no one else even came close to in the past decade. From the blatant “Holiday” to the confessional “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to the ravaging and elaborate nine-minute “Homecoming”, Green Day found a way to embrace all of the greatest qualities of the fifty year history of rock n’ roll housed within a thirteen song collection. They rocked, they rolled and they transformed our view of the world in the process. Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ is living proof that music does matter and can be as dominant and captivating as any painting, film, book or work of art. There will be a day when my daughter will ask me what it was like to live in the first decade of the 21st Century. She’ll look upon me with her baby blue eyes and wonder if I had doubts, fears, failures, success or whether I questioned my faith by the state of events that occurred. Instead of telling her a story, I’ll take put on ‘American Idiot’ and tell her that the sounds of this record better defines my life and my generation than any documentary film or time machine ever could. (Read 2005 live review here).
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.
Runners Up to the Top-100:
101. Cheap Trick – ‘Rockford’
102. Justin Timberlake-‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’
103. Kanye West-‘Late Registration’
104. Remy Zero- ‘The Golden Hum’
105. No Doubt – ‘Return of Saturn’
106. ‘Elizabethtown’ soundtrack
107. Eminem- ‘The Eminem Show’
108. Matt Nathanson- ‘Some Mad Hope’
109. Def Leppard – ‘X’
110. Black Crowes-‘Warpaint’
112. Neil Diamond-‘Home Before Dark’
113. Green Day – ‘21st Century Breakdown’
114. Madonna – ‘Music’
116. Alice in Chains-‘Black Gives Way To Blue’
117. Prince – ‘3121’
118. Ryan Adams – ‘29’
119. Counting Crows – ‘Hard Candy’
120. Sharon Little – ‘Perfect Time For A Breakdown’
121. Kid Rock – ‘Rock N’ Roll Jesus’
122. Coldplay-‘Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends’
123. Ryan Adams –‘Rock n Roll’
124. The Sounds-‘Living in America’
125. Elvis Costello-‘When I Was Cruel’
126. Neko Case-‘Fox Confessor Brings The Flood’
127. Neil Young – Living With War’
128. Farkus-‘Farkus EP’
129. The Hold Steady-‘Boys and Girls in America’
130. Joey Ramone-‘Don’t Worry About Me’
131. Elliott Smith-‘Figure 8’
132. Melissa Etheridge – ‘Lucky’
133. The Who –‘Endless Wire’
134. Eminem- ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’
135. Bruce Springsteen-‘Magic’