(#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 Wallflowers’ “Red Letter Days” (2002) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-01-03 22:41:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

** This is the fifth in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009. As of today, the #1 album has been revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade! **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

Knowing that Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan is son of THE Bob Dylan has raised a certain bar for his career in the music industry.  And he operates, for the most part, within the confines of genres that his father helped to define — folk/country rock, rock and roll, and most recently on his solo album, solo acoustic music.

Especially considering how high that certain aforementioned bar is, the respect I have for Jakob Dylan’s style of songwriting and producing is all the more significant.

In every way that matters, Red Letter Days is the Wallflowers’ masterpiece, coming just three months after the band passed the ten-year mark since their first, self-titled release.  And if you’ve heard The Wallflowers, then you know just how far they’d come to be able to release a record as well-developed, instrumentally brilliant, vocally masterful, and conceptually tight as this one.  Lyrically, Red Letter Days is Jakob Dylan at his best, and his vocal performances, both leads and backgrounds, are outstanding — perfectly orchestrated and yet not flat in the least.

This is what drives me furious about the public reception of this band and of this album.  Jakob Dylan has a style very much his own — catchy, quirky, tight and poppy yet raw — and still there’s hardly a reviewer who can pass up the opportunity to compare him to his father or to somehow reference Bob Dylan in some way.

I know, I know; even I haven’t avoided this.

Then there is Red Letter Days, an album that combines all the compositional qualities and sonic characteristics of my favorite classic rock — great guitar effects, a solid acoustic rhythm supporting most tracks, cool bass riffs, and a strong back beat — without coming off as being derivative.  This is not a band trying to sound like they stepped out of the sixties.  They’re not a seventies jam band transplanted into the modern music market.  And there’s nothing eighties about them.  No, this is a band with its roots solidly in everything that made the so-called nineties rock revival excellent.  Two years into the new millennium, they were carrying the best of those aspects into their new album while also incorporating more experimental sounds — i.e. drum machines and other synthesized sounds typically associated with alternative rock.

Forgive me as I ascend the soapbox, but can someone please explain to me why Red Letter Days didn’t so much as appear on any of the numerous “best albums of the decade” lists that I’ve read over the past several weeks?  I cannot, for all my love of and experience with the rock music of the past ten years, sort out a justification for why Red Letter Days isn’t sitting pretty alongside such acclaimed works as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Viva La Vida, Elephant, In Rainbows, and Sea Change, all albums that I also appreciate and do, in fact, appear on the Weekend Review’s top fifty list.

Putting the soapbox aside, the Wallflowers are one of the foremost rock bands of the nineties, and despite having suffered a steady decline in popularity, have continued to produce some of the most outstanding rock albums of the 2000’s.

The Wallflowers' "Red Letter Days" (2002)

The Wallflowers' "Red Letter Days" (2002)

From the first few seconds of “When You’re On Top,” it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t your standard Wallflowers release.  This opening track is all about anxiously stretching out for something original in a society that worships the retreads, the formulas.  We’re a society that loves what we know — in television alone, consider the four Law & Order franchises, the multiple CSI‘s and the even more numerous Survivor‘s.  American Idol is the same old formula, but played out season after season.  The narrator of this song, setting the tone for this record, aches for undiscovered ground, all the while remembering that it’s always best “when you’re on top.”  This can be read as referring to some other person being “on top” in his life, or perhaps a more autobiographical reading might suggest this is Dylan singing to us after his band’s decline in popularity after Bringing Down the Horse gave way to (Breach).

“How Good It Can Get” and “Closer to You” are the perfect pair, much more straightforward rock compositions that advance the tone and themes of the first track.  The former appears to exude a confidence, the narrator nearly bragging about what he has to offer, but the latter follows up with a much slower, more introspective approach.

For the fourth track, the Wallflowers shift into an altogether new and different gear.  “Everybody Out of the Water” is some of the hardest rock Dylan and company have recorded.  It really shows their teeth and Dylan seems to delight in the apocalyptic imagery and barely-contained scream rising up in his lead vocal.

This is quickly followed up with another drastic downshift into one of the best, albeit simplest, acoustic songs that this band has to offer.  “Three Ways” is driven by a clever lyrical device that is delivered within a beautiful, mesmerizing melody.

The middle ground of Red Letter Days presents an interesting combination.  Tracks six and eight, “Too Late to Quit” and “Health and Happiness,” are dark, bitter, bile-fueled rock songs that continue with the “all hell breaking loose” vibe of “Everybody Out of the Water.”  Between the two lies “If You Never Got Sick,” which is among the best Wallflowers songs to date.  If I were asked to play one song that represented the Wallflowers at their best, this would be it.  Dylan’s lyrics are beautifully constructed, his vocals are fittingly both longing and confident, and the instrumentation is a perfect blending of strong acoustic guitars, a purposeful electric lead, and driving drumbeats.

It is, in context, a bright spot at the heart of what is otherwise quite dark.

By the time “See You When I Get There” kicks on, the clouds have begun to part.  “Feels Like Summer Again” further demonstrates a positive attitude, playing with the imagery of summer to express all the hope that the warm months represent after a cold, frigid winter and a hesitant spring.

By the time the distorted guitars and crunchy bass of “Everything I Need” wind up, Dylan is a man whose confidence has been entirely restored.  The double tracked lead — Dylan’s lower register delivery in particular — adds to the battle-hardened, yet optimistic attitude that characterizes much of the album.  As he repeats in the chorus, “You can’t save me; you can’t fail me.  I’m back up on my feet, baby.  On the way down is when I found out, I’ve got everything I need.”

The final track of the album is an acoustic-based number in the same spirit as “Three Ways.”  “Here in Pleasantville” takes a deep breath, steps back, and examines the realities of the situation that has spread out before us between “When You’re On Top” and “Everything I Need.”  And there is no more zen-like, realistic song that you’ll find on this album or perhaps anywhere.  This song is certainly wrapped up in a bittersweet haze, but there is something very peaceful about it.

Almost as an afterthought, the bonus track “Empire in My Mind” stretches out and builds up a nearly manic sinking feeling that, “There is no order, there is chaos and there is crime.  There is no one home tonight in the empire in my mind.”  After an album’s worth of confidence building, breaking down of fears and insecurities and restoring independence, this is interesting choice indeed for a closing track.

Without reservations, I strongly recommend the Wallflowers’ Red Letter Days to you as the overall best rock album of the decade, 2000-2009.  Rolling Stone might as well have ignored it altogether for the bland three-star, one-paragraph review they afforded it.  The general consuming public might as well have forgotten the band existed for the relatively poor numbers, as it came in a full 28 spots lower on the Billboard charts than Bringing Down the Horse did and has failed thus far to so much as register on the RIAA books.

Don’t make the same mistake: if you go back and pick up one rock music album from this decade, make it Red Letter Days.