(#21-30) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2009-12-31 23:34:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

After releasing the bottom twenty of my top fifty rock albums of the decade list yesterday, I return to drop in ten more.  Unlike yesterday, I’ve included brief annotations about each album — my reasoning for picking the album, critical stances, related stories, etc.  Of course, nothing I could say in two or three sentences could ever be enough to fully describe these records.  I ask you to accept my words as the following: a teaser trailer of sorts if you have yet to hear the album in question, or a reminder of why the albums you’ve already heard were so excellent.

As this segment of the list begins to suggest, there are some years in rock music that were simply better than others.  For instance, seven of these ten tracks come from the past three years.  When I was ranking these works, I purposely chose not to include the years, so as not to color my thoughts.  But, as you’ll see later and as you may have guessed, some years are better than others.

Hurry back on Saturday for the next ten albums in The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009, List.  I spent a great deal of time the past couple months listening to the albums of this decade, returning to and/or buying (used at Newbury Comics, of course) albums that were recommended to me by my friends, and writing, re-writing, and constantly shuffling this list until it exists as you see it today.  As I mentioned before, I encourage you to leave your comments, criticisms, and of course, your own lists!

21) That Lucky Old Sun (2008) – Brian Wilson: Brian Wilson’s first entirely original album of the decade, That Lucky Old Sun proves in many ways that he still has what it takes to write and arrange not only great songs, but also great albums.  Vocally, this album is head, shoulders, and waist above anything being produced by contemporary bands.  In many ways, rock music has progressed and been experimented with, but Wilson is still the greatest orchestrator of vocal parts, using voices more as instruments than simply a way to convey words and meaning.  Even the spoken word tracks which, on the outside, sound problematic are excellent and truly integral to the feeling and flow of the album.  As Ringo Starr has done, Brian Wilson has surrounded himself with some of the best rock musicians and writers available and it is all to the benefit of the music.  That Lucky Old Sun — not to be confused with Kenny Chesney’s Lucky Old Sun released later that year — is one of the standout albums of the decade, and proof positive that, even after two great albums that relied on compositions and tracks “from the vault,”  Brian Wilson is not finished producing original studio albums.  If we’re lucky, we’ll hear another album soon.

22) Forget And Not Slow Down (2009) – Relient K: Relient who?  That was the reaction of just about every music reviewer getting paid to listen to rock albums today.  (Interesting that Relient K was suddenly noticed and reviewed when they scored a major label contract, then summarily dismissed as soon as they released an album on a smaller label…)  Forget and Not Slow Down is the record on which this band has finally matured without losing any of the youthful energy of their previous releases.  And this is a concept album if I’ve ever heard one, documenting the numerous phases one goes through after a rough breakup.  Vocally, instrumentally, and lyrically, this album is fun and well-put-together.  My pick for the best rock album of 2009, I hope you’ll find it out there somewhere and take a listen.

23) 21st Century Breakdown (2009) – Green Day: As I wrote in my review of this album (click HERE to read), no one could be more surprised by the quality of this album than myself.  I am not, and have never been, a big Green Day fan.  I wanted to like American Idiot for its amazing packaging and overarching concept, but I have yet to crack that particular code.  But 21st Century Breakdown, this is an album I can support.  From front to back, the pacing is excellent, the focus is clear, and the band has clearly found their stride a full decade after their initial top-of-the-charts success.  This is an album that I continually return to and, despite its boneheaded single “Know Your Enemy,” I hope you’ll give it a chance, too, if you haven’t already.

24) Ringo Rama (2003) – Ringo Starr: Okay, okay.  So you might be thinking that Ringo Starr does not belong in the top twenty-five of any album list.  But have you listened to any Ringo album since the seventies?  If you haven’t, then you’re missing out on the pinnacle of Starr’s solo career.  He has surrounded himself with some of the best young instrumentalists and songwriters available and has consequently made some of the most outstanding rock music of his career, as well as the decade.  In fact, Choose Love missed the cut on this list by one and he would have received honorable mention if not for the fact that he’s solidly represented here.  Ringo Rama has a light, feel-good air — recall Ringo’s marketing strategy of using the following slogan: “Ringo Rama, peace, and love.”  I find it almost impossible to list even my favorites here — I’d end up naming every other track — so you’ll just have to take my word on this one and take a listen if you’re out of the loop.

25) The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair (2006) – The Now People: Upon its release, this album was entirely ignored by much of the media.  How Rolling Stone could have passed it over, I’m not sure.  Actually I am, as they hardly fancy themselves album people anymore, preferring instead to hype legends and new bands — the more crowd-pleasing, obscure, or odd the better.  You won’t find those sorts of adjectives being used in conjunction with the Now People.  Their sound harkens back to a simpler time, but don’t let that fool you: there is an instrumental and vocal prowess that drives this album’s sound and the overall concept is well thought out and interesting to follow.  If you can find it, this one is an interesting addition to any collection.

26) Are Me / Are Men (2006) – Barenaked Ladies: This album — or set of albums — would have made it much higher on my list if they had made some choices early on.  With two albums (or really three, if you consider today’s CD market) worth of material, BnL could have released one of the absolute best albums of the decade.  Instead, they decided to release Are Me, followed shortly by Are Men.  This would be all well and good if not for the fact that the most outstanding tracks are evenly divided up between the two.  Looking back, how is one to measure this release?  As two separate albums?  As two halves of a larger double album?  If they are two separate albums, they are strong. As a double album, it’s a bit much, and the sequencing is odd in places.  Let’s be honest — an album with “Sound of Your Voice,” “Wind it Up,” “Bank Job,” and “Easy” from Are Me and “Serendipity,” “Running Out of Ink,” “Fun and Games,” and “Maybe Not” from Are Men could have stolen the top spot for the decade, or at least would have made the top five.  As a BnL fan, I’m happy to have access to all this outstanding music — the last they made as a five-piece band — but as an album, I have to shake my head.

27) Sky Blue Sky (2007) – Wilco: Not many albums evoke so clear an emotion as this one, as well as that of a season.  Perhaps due to the bonus DVD that is included with the deluxe packaging, I can’t help but relate this record to winter.  I even included it this year amongst my Christmas albums, particularly the Moody Blues’ more directly winter-themed album December.  Coming on the heels of A Ghost is Born, Wilco have nicely balanced the length of the instrumental jams here, arranging some impressive tandem guitar solos and an overall sound that will make you shake your head in disbelief at their ability to mix it up, album after album.

28) Backspacer (2009) – Pearl Jam: Simply not the best material Pearl Jam has released, often criticized as too tight and “poppy,” and much briefer than their previous work.  Okay.  That being said, Backspacer is easily the best album Pearl Jam has released in some time, certainly within this decade.  From the rock ‘n roll assault of the first four tracks to the slower, more contemplative songs like “Just Breathe” and “The End,” this album has a lot to offer.  Even though some of the songs are admittedly weaker than we’re used to, especially in the middle to second half, there are also some outstanding, adrenaline-fueled rock songs that are unparalleled in their catalog.  (Think: “Got Some,” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Fixer,” and “Supersonic.”)  It is their most positively reviewed album of the decade — I’m throwing my hat in now — and you should pick it up!

29) Magic (2007) – Bruce Springsteen: Bruce Springsteen has been hailed as one of the top artists of the decade, and as far as overall output and success goes, the claim can’t be denied.  Consider how he opened the decade, chronicling the trauma of 9/11 with The Rising, an album that was not nearly as contrived as I worried it might be.  It was actually quite good, although bland upon too many listens, and just barely got cut from this list.  Then, he went acoustic for the strong but quite overrated Devils & Dust (see my review HERE) and went back to basics for The Seeger Sessions.  By the time Magic came around, Springsteen must have gotten the itch for some classic rock ‘n roll, pulling his band back together and drawing heavily from the style of sixties rock.  Song to song, an excellent, enjoyable record.  Working on a Dream, another near-miss for this list, is an excellent record, but lacks the staying power (even less than twelve months after its release) of Magic.

30) Viva La Vida (2008) – Coldplay: You won’t find another Coldplay album on this list, primarily for one reason: they are simply overrated up to (and perhaps including) this album.  Viva La Vida was a smash hit in all respects — huge title track single, successful follow-ups, outstanding album sales (particularly in mp3 download format)…  The list goes on.  But what I love most about this album is how each of the songs are distinct and different, and yet each track flows into the next.  In many ways, it is quite reminiscent of the format of the early Moody Blues albums, which makes it even more amazing that it was so universally well-loved.  (Hint, hint… Dust off a Moody Blues album this year!)

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER THREE is Jack White

Originally posted 2010-04-13 14:34:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the third in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

Easily one of the busiest figures in contemporary rock music, Jack White has made it his business to write, record, perform, and produce music every chance he gets.  There is something breathtaking about the apparent ease with which he has transcended genre lines and brought the influences back to his own music.  It is equally impressive to consider how many directions he has been pulled in during this decade, and yet how strong his contributions have been to each of his numerous ventures.

I, for one, wasn’t sure what to make of this straggly-haired ax-grinder when I first heard of him in the wake of the White Stripes’ breakthrough effort Elephant in 2003.  I’ll never forget tuning in (on the advice of a friend) to Late Night with Conan O’Brien during their week-long tenure promoting this aforementioned album.  “Seven Nation Army” may have been overplayed for some, but I loved its gritty, riffy simplicity, punctuated by White’s lead vocals and Meg White’s wonderfully boneheaded drumming.

With each new White Stripes album I’ve heard, I’ve realized more and more the degree to which Jack and Meg — particularly Jack — are experts at finding their comfort zones, then burning them down.  In the Raconteurs, he contributes a very big, very characteristic guitar sound, somehow crafting a new landscape without plagiarizing his White Stripes sound.  And the Dead Weather, his second side project, is something else all together, a sound that White pulls together with his drumming rather than his guitar work.

Taking these three bands into consideration, then throwing in his solo work and other one-off collaborations for good measure, there is simply no way to avoid giving Jack White a respectful — if not awe-filled — nod for his exemplary contemporary rock music created this decade.

BLACK & WHITE & RED ALL OVER

Any music promoter will tell you that it’s not simply the sound of a band that is important, but also their image and general appearance.  Jack and Meg White have excelled with this other half of the equation, always dressing in red, white, and black, as well as seeing to it that their album artwork follows suit.  Their music may draw comparisons to acts of the past like Led Zeppelin, but this is no retro act.  In their continually developing sound, and equally in the way they dress and act, the White Stripes are one of the most interesting bands of the decade.

How to go about describing such a band in a few paragraphs?

I’ll start with words like quirky, bold, frenetic, complex, basic, and that’s just to begin with.  Since 2000’s De Stijl, the White Stripes have released four more albums:  2001’s very promising White Blood Cells, their major label debut Elephant in 2001 (a.k.a. their personal catapult into the pop culture lexicon), 2005’s piano-driven masterpiece Get Behind Me Satan, and most recently, a return to distortion drenched guitar in the riff-laden reveries of 2007’s Icky Thump.  By the time they released their first live CD, Under Great White Northern Lights (2010), the White Stripes had developed quite a catalog to draw from.

That they are able to achieve their sound with just two band members is intriguing.  Granted, Meg White suffered a breakdown that resulted in the cancellation of some tour dates in 2007, but there have been confirmed reports since last year that they are already at work on their seventh album.

A SIDE PROJECT, A SIDE PROJECT FROM THE SIDE PROJECT, AND MORE!

Jack White’s work in the White Stripes is substantial enough to be considered notable, but it is his wide variety of ventures outside the scope of his primary band that cinch his position at the upper part of the contemporary rock music ladder.  His five contributions to the Cold Mountain soundtrack in 2003 suggested that he had more to give than could be satisfied in one band alone.  He has since gone on to produce and play on a laundry list of other albums, including Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.  More recently, he wrote and recorded an outstanding duet with Alicia Keys for the James Bond film Another Way to Die, the first duet in the Bond series.

With all the writing, performing, and recording White has done since the early nineties, it is interesting to note that his first official “solo” work was released in 2009 — the single “Fly Farm Blues.”

In addition to these one-off efforts, White has joined not one but two side projects.  The first, the Raconteurs, formed in 2005 along with power pop rocker Brendan Benson (sharing guitar duty), bassist Jack Lawrence, and drummer Patrick Keeler.  After their 2006 debut Broken Boy Soldiers, they followed up quickly with the phenomenal Consolers of the Lonely in 2008.  The latter is easily one of the best rock music albums of the decade, and it is an outrage that I passed over it for my Top 50 Albums of the 2000s list.  This is the Jack White music that I am perhaps most drawn to: tight, fully-produced, riff-driven songs with an abundance of crunchy guitars, a rockin’ rhythm section, and catchy leads.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, White co-founded the Dead Weather in 2009 with the Kills’ lead singer Alison Mosshart, guitarist Dean Fertita, and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence.  This is an altogether different venture that features a grungier tone than the Raconteurs or even the White Stripes.  The songs are a bit longer, and could be described as a set of almost-jams.  After I heard their interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony,” a so-so deep track from 1978’s Street Legal, I was hooked.

In summary, this decade has seen Jack White bring the White Stripes to worldwide rock music fame, form not one but two side groups, release his first single as a solo artist, and contribute to a myriad of other artists’ albums and soundtracks.  At the time of this writing (early 2010), there is a May 11th release date set for the follow-up Dead Weather album, confirmations from White that the White Stripes will be releasing an album in the near future, and whispers of an all-out solo record from the man himself.

Hands down, Jack White is my pick for the number three rock music artist of the 2000s for all the right reasons: the sheer quantity of music produced, his development of a signature guitar sound, and his collaborations with other artists (Dylan, Beck, and more in addition to those mentioned above).  It’s a no-brainer, my friends.

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER FIVE is Green Day

Originally posted 2010-02-03 19:12:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the first in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

The fifth entry on this list, Green Day is a strong candidate for top band of the decade, if only for their impressive return to the forefront of popular punk/rock music over the past ten years.  Even in their heyday, Green Day did not acheive the recognition that they have in the past six years. 

Who could have predicted that a trio of ostensible knuckleheads like Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool would be headlining the concept album revival in the mid-2000’s, complete with a rock opera/musical adaptation set to the tunes of American Idiot?

[Is that the sound of crickets?]

PAST SUCCESS

Without argument, Green Day was one of the most successful bands of the nineties rock revival, carving out their reputation by way of the punk rock genre.  It was a bit of an exaggeration to have titled their best-of disc International Superhits!, but their music did appear on many different charts in many different nations over their first decade as a band. 

And, for better or for worse, if you turned on a radio in the nineties and listened long enough, you couldn’t avoid hearing songs like “When I Come Around” or especially “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”  The latter was the song that ER character Jeanie Boulet chose to sing at the funeral of a friend. 

When one of the most popular dramas of the decade chooses your song at the peak of their own popularity, that’s saying something…

WARNING AND A LOW POINT

Which brings us to THIS decade.  I would be hard-pressed to find another group from the nineties in their genre that have had such staying power as Green Day.  Bad Religion?  Not so much.  Chumbawamba?  A one hit wonder.  The Offspring and Rancid?  Well, they’re still around, but they certainly haven’t acheived the mainstream success that Green Day has. 

That is, if you discount Warning, their first studio album of the decade.

Any way you look at it, Warning is a low point in their career, failing to ascend the charts, make sales, and receive positive reviews in the characteristic manner that their previous albums had.  Two years after Warning, things weren’t looking any better with them supposedly “co-headlining” a concert tour with Blink 182, but actually opening each night. 

This all amounted to a great deal of evidence that Green Day had peaked and this was their descent into obscurity.

A SETBACK BECOMES A COMEBACK

As they returned to the studio to work on their next album, Cigarettes & Valentines, things weren’t looking any brighter.  Near the end of their sessions (according to Armstrong), the master tapes were stolen.  There weren’t even rough mixes remaining.

So, what does this band decide to do in a moment of crisis?

Start from scratch.

That’s right: Green Day decided to start from scratch.  Although a song or two from the aforementioned doomed album would make its way into live sets, the band started over, taking this as an opportunity to approach their new album from a different angle.  So, they broke out their guitars and began writing, working together in new and better ways than they had before. 

The result?  Only their most critically acclaimed, highest-selling album to date, American Idiot.

AMERICAN IDIOT & 21ST CENTURY BREAKDOWN: A CONCEPT ALBUM REVIVAL

Green Day’s mentality following the loss of their master tapes brings to mind Conan O’Brien’s final lines from his closing statement last month on The Tonight Show: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

You think?

I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve never been a big fan of American Idiot.  I think I’ve missed something in the translation of the lyrics, and I’ve been told that the at-times-boneheaded lyrics that I am turned off by are, in fact, purposefully constructed in order to make a statement about the average American.  Perhaps.  What makes me believe this is true, and what makes me nod my head in American Idiot‘s direction even if it won’t appear on my iPod any time soon, is that the album is so carefully constructed.  One flip through the CD booklet will reveal an overarching concept, artwork, and other notes that were cleverly compiled and arranged to create a whole that is stronger than the parts.  I won’t go comparing it to the first seven records of the Moody Blues — the industry standard for excellent concept albums — but I will say I have great respect for the band’s intentions.

Their follow-up album?  21st Century Breakdown is an even more expansive concept album that tackles the question: What will we do when our national slogan can no longer be “Change We Can Believe In,” and must instead be (hopefully) “Change That Has Already Taken Place and A Society That We Are Happy With”?  This is an interesting question indeed, particularly for those of my generation who defined their coming of age by being in opposition to all that George W. Bush’s presidency represented.  As we “graduate” into a different, potentially better society in 2012, what will we do to avoid the pitfalls of the previous presidency and its perspectives? 

A mere year into Barack Obama’s term in office, we have already begun tackling the question: How long is too long to wait for that change we believed in?  Some are patient, some are less so, but 21st Century Breakdown makes an interesting statement on these essential questions, particularly on an emotional/intuitive level.

SIDE PROJECTS AND ADAPTATIONS

Amidst all this standard studio album work, Green Day has also been able to thrive in a number of different ventures outside of traditional band output.  They have released a Billboard Top Ten live album, a platinum-status greatest hits compilation, a B-sides/rarities collection that broke the Billboard Top Thirty, and worked their way into the retro market by preparing a Green Day vinyl box set.

Outside of the band, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool have formed such side projects as The Network and the Foxboro Hot Tubs, both successful to different degrees and certainly indicative of a band hungry to record, produce, and play new music in a prolific manner. 

Then there is the rock opera/musical based on the story told through American Idiot, certainly a unique addition to any band’s list of tributes.

And so, at decade’s end, Green Day has reasserted themselves in what can only be described as an impressive manner.  It took me until 21st Century Breakdown to really appreciate their work, and I can only hope that the coming decade will be every bit as successful in terms of not only popularity but also quality!

(#11-20) – The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009

Originally posted 2010-01-02 22:30:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

I’m glad you’ve decided to tune in once again for what is the penultimate segment of the Weekend Review’s list of “The 50 Best Rock Albums of the Decade, 2000-2009.”  As we draw nearer and nearer to the top picks of the past ten years, I’ve found myself returning to not only the music on this list, but also to the all-time great albums in rock music history.  I just wrapped up a rotation of the Beach Boys’ 1971 classic Surf’s Up, and I continue to stand in awe of the variety, the flow, and the conceptual focus of this record.  Decades have passed, but the excellence of this album has not.

As I’ve compiled this list, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, specifically wondering which albums that I love now will be the ones that I will dial up in years to come.  Which albums will I play ten, twenty, thirty years from now and still experience the same emotions as I listen?  For that matter, which albums will offer up new insights and feelings, even after double or triple digits worth of plays?

With all this in mind, I present to you my #11-20 albums of the 2000’s.  Don’t forget to hurry back tomorrow for not only the top ten list, but also the full Weekend Review article about the Number One Best Rock Album of the Decade.

11) Room For Squares (2001) – John Mayer: John Mayer didn’t develop the respect of the critics until after this record, specifically after going through a blues phase wherein he jammed with a number of highly authentic and credible singers and guitarists.  What seemed out of place to me was the order of events — shouldn’t the roots apprenticeship come before an artist develops his own unique and entertaining style?  Well, in this case, Room For Squares established Mayer as a writer of catchy pop music that had a backbone.  It’s all in the subtle details here, the guitar stylings and the recurring lines that repeat across multiple songs.  The packaging further suggests that this was a well thought out and executed album, one of the best of the decade.

12) Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) – Paul McCartney: As he did with his great 1997 album Flaming Pie, McCartney took on nearly all of the instrumental duties for this record, and the result is another excellent addition to his catalog.  And, if we’re being entirely honest, McCartney is known for his tremendous success post-Beatles, if perhaps not so much for his outstanding albums.  And yet, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is one of the two McCartney works to make this list.  It’s simple, really: great acoustic fingerpicking, great drums, and overall great songs make for a great album.

13) Mind If We Make Love To You (2002) – The Wondermints: Better known as the core of Brian Wilson’s talented backing band throughout this decade, the Wondermints deserve as much, if not more, appreciation for their own work.  They somehow managed to be strongly influenced by the Beach Boys while avoiding being entirely derivative, instead carving out their own beautiful, upbeat brand of power pop.  Mind If We Make Love To You is truly their masterpiece; it is catchy without being annoying, and it manages just the right balance between a classic and a contemporary sound.  Not as easy to find as a Brian Wilson or Beach Boys album on the shelf, but well worth the extra effort.

14) Love and Theft (2001) – Bob Dylan: Released on September 11, 2001, this album was immediately read as an apocalyptic sequence of songs that felt like the soundtrack — some sort of oddly real-time soundtrack — for the greatest national tragedy of the decade.  I’ll admit that there were some lyrics that were difficult to ignore, especially the reference to twins falling down — but the context is all off, as the twins are the bumbling Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, not buildings.  Still, Love & Theft came on the heels of Dylan’s 1997 “comeback” album and, with the easy “comeback” tag no longer available, critics were likely looking for a lens through which to view this album.  Nearly a decade later, forget the 9/11 lens, and you are left with an outstanding album, easily one of Dylan’s best.  And this is saying quite a bit if you consider even his sixties albums alone.  Some of his last true rock and roll is documented on this record, and even the more folky, dated sounding styles shine in all their glory, tight instrumentals and raw vocals driving all the pieces together.  Listen to “Mississippi” and try not to be hooked.  Even better, try “Honest with Me.”  If you can resist loving these tracks, you should probably recalibrate your tastes in great rock music.

15) Everything To Everyone (2003) – Barenaked Ladies: Even the tracks that make you shake your head when you really think about them are fun and add to the feel of this excellent album.  That is perhaps the best, most true statement I can make for Everything to Everyone, an album that manages to hit on all the major types of songs — happy songs, sad songs, protest songs (of sorts), love songs, post-breakup songs, and more.  The aforementioned “Another Postcard” and “Shopping” are the standout tracks that demonstrate the Barenaked Ladies’ singular ability to successfully walk the line between ridiculous and outstanding.  The true standouts are songs like “Celebrity” and “War on Drugs” for those that like serious, thoughtful lyrics, “For You” for those who love beautiful acoustic numbers, or perhaps “Testing 1, 2, 3” and “Second Best” for those that prefer downright fun rock music.  The sound is unsurpassed on any of their albums, before or since, and I can’t fully describe how much it feels like home to return to this album and let it play through time and again.

16) Welcome Interstate Managers (2003) – Fountains of Wayne: Rarely has a band produced one album with so wide a variety of styles represented and yet still maintained form and focus.  From the eighties pop-rock of “Stacy’s Mom” to the hard rock of “Bought For a Song” and back to the straight up country stylings of “Hung Up on You,” Fountains of Wayne have created their masterpiece — at least for now — in this album.  Preceded by solid if somewhat pedestrian records and followed by a lame attempt at either humor or conceptual continuity, Welcome Interstate Managers is one of those albums that feels like a greatest hits collection in that each track begins with a catchy, memorable part that keeps your interest.  And, by the time the pretty yet somber “Yours and Mine” fades out, it is the rare occasion when I can control the urge to crank the volume up further for “Mexican Wine” again.  This is one of my favorite albums of the decade, and I’m truly indebted to the friend who turned me on to it so many years ago.

17) Accelerate (2008) – R.E.M.: My purchase of Accelerate last year set me off on a quest to find other great R.E.M. albums.  I’ve steadily, if randomly, been acquiring their studio albums (as well as a really quirky B-sides and rareties collection) and my reaction has been the same with each: it’s not Accelerate.  This is an album that finds Michael Stipe at the top of his lyrical game, putting his gritty vocal chords to perfect use on these wonderfully subversive songs.  Track after track, this is one of the most underrated rock albums of the decade and, thus far, my pick for the best overall album in the R.E.M. catalog.

18) Memory Almost Full (2007) – Paul McCartney: The second of McCartney’s two excellent albums this decade.  Two years after Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, McCartney had returned to the studio with more energy and electricity than he had brought on perhaps any previous record.  One listen to “Mr. Bellamy” will demonstrate just how willing he was to experiment with more modern forms of rock music as well.  Speaking as a big fan of Paul McCartney’s work throughout his career — yes, even including Wings! — this was a stronger, more fun and rocking album than I could ever have hoped for.  Even if you don’t like his music, it’s worth buying this album just to play with the multi-layered packaging…

19) SMiLE (2004) – Brian Wilson: Nearly four decades after the SMiLE sessions crumbled around Brian Wilson’s mental decline, he returned with a final sequencing of songs that, as a whole, added up to much of the not inconsiderable hype and legend surrounding this album.  Click HERE for my full review.

20) Maladroit (2002) – Weezer: Crunchy guitars and catchy vocals drive the most tightly composed music in the Weezer catalog.  And, in many ways, Maladroit is the pinnacle of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo as a guitarist and as a songwriter.  It caused a great deal of debate among fans, and I think it is apparent where I fall in — strongly on the side of reading this album as one of the best, not only of the band but of the decade.