(#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.

Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ The Suburbs” (2001) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2009-12-20 20:00:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

** This is the third in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009. On January 2nd, 2010, the #1 album will be revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade. **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

Ben Folds’ 2001 solo debut Rockin’ The Suburbs is one of those rare albums that thoughtfully balances all-seeing self-confidence and heartbreaking vulnerability.

It is also one of those albums that has gone largely unappreciated.

At the time of its release — September 11, 2001 to be exact — the album received moderate reviews and modest numbers on the album and singles charts.  Folds’ subsequent records have also been dismissed by many sources, holding steady around the three star mark from major reviewers like Rolling Stone.  Still, his more recent work has scored higher on the charts, with Songs For Silverman earning the “mature record” stamp and Way to Normal garnering an inordinate amount of attention from the media, as well as the distinction as Folds’ highest debut on the Billboard charts.

Say what you will about his other work — and Songs for Silverman is a truly great album — but he has never matched the sound, feel, and overall conceptual focus that was present throughout Rockin’ the Suburbs.  Listen after listen, the latter reveals itself to be an exploration of that most basic of all human conditions: loneliness.

Whether intentionally or not, Folds is making statements, track by track, about what it means to confront the truth that, in the end, we’re all alone.  His contemporary landscaping lends itself to this task quite well, as he sets his songs in cubicle-dominated office buildings, behind the doors of extravagant corporate offices, at funerals, and in any number of mundane suburban settings frequented by aimless and/or lost young people.

This was an album I could relate to as a young college student, beginning to think about the world around me and the career — the life — ahead of me.

Likewise, nearly a decade later, this is an album that not only has meaning for me as an adult, but that I also expect will speak to me in decades to come when I find myself, as Michael Stipe would say, staring down the barrel of the middle distance.

Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs" (2001)

Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs" (2001)

“Annie Waits” is the ideal opening track, establishing mood with the tale of solitary Annie, waiting on a call that never comes, expectantly watching the cars driving past and wishing she was alone.  Alone, there would be no expectation, there would be no disappointment.  There would be no vulnerability.

The second track moves quickly into the territory of the disenfranchised, featuring two young people, uniquely spelled names and all, screaming out loud to a world that’s not listening.  Zak is the more introverted of the two, choosing to plunk away at guitars, while Sara is rattled by the dreary banality, choosing instead to verbally lash out against a car salesman.  Even Sara has to snap out of it in the end, clapping at the end of her song.

“Still Fighting It” is certainly one of the most personal songs on the album, written as a direct statement to his son.  While expressing the pure joy of fatherhood, Folds also notes that “everybody knows it hurts to grow up,” recalling that “it was pain, sunny days and rain; I knew you’d feel the same things…”

The next four tracks can be viewed as various takes on separation and loneliness.  It begins with “Gone,” a rant against an ex-lover who moved on too quickly, and concludes with “Losing Lisa,” the lament of a lover uncertain of what he’s done to merit a break-up.

The interceding tracks introduce the two sides of a coin all too often stamped out by a contemporary, corporate world that values profit over personality, hubris over humanity.  “Fred Jones Part 2″ describes the final day of a man who has spent twenty-five years working for a newspaper at which he has remained utterly anonymous.  “No one is left here that knows his first name,” Folds sings.  He continues, “Life barrels on like a runaway train where the passengers change; they don’t change anything.  You get off, someone else can get on.”  And so Mr. Jones goes quietly into that good night, ostensibly to conclude a life lived without meaning or true substance.

In other words, a life that many modern-day office workers are in danger of living.

“The Ascent of Stan” an equal and opposite life journey.  Stan is described as having been a “textbook hippy man, and yet somewhere along his path he chose to play the game that would earn him the prestige, the paychecks, and all the financial security that accompanies them; this leaves him, of course, morally bankrupt.

“Carrying Cathy” and “Not the Same” follow the stories of two people who have become lost.  Cathy ends up committing suicide, leaving the narrator with nightmares and regrets.  The subject of “Not the Same” takes LSD, climbs a tree, and returns to the ground as a born-again Christian.  In a sense, the latter song centers around the narrator’s disbelief that he has seen so many people change, “drop like flies from the bright, sunny skies,” and he is left alone with “one good trick.”

For all the bleak subject matter that dominates much of the disc, it is easy to dismiss the levity that the title track offers as contrary to the overall tone of the album.  And yet “Rockin’ the Suburbs” is Folds’ signal to his audience that he has put all things in perspective.  If nowhere else on the album, it is on the title track that he lets all the walls fall down to reveal his sense of humor and unique perspective in as uncensored a manner as possible.

Go ahead and watch the music video.  Try not to laugh, I dare you.

“Fired” continues in the same vein as previous tracks like “Losing Lisa,” describing the painful revelations of the narrator.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “The Luckiest” completes the album on a fittingly somber-sounding note, providing a hopeful story as the singer confesses his love — albeit in a unique manner — through a description of his perspectives on l0ve, life, fate, and choice.  And isn’t this ability to start all over again, heartbreak notwithstanding, the key factor in being able to break free of the loneliness that threatens to haunt all human souls?

It would only take one listen to Way To Normal to reveal that the starting over may also lead to future heartbreak, but that is indeed the story for another review…

When Robert Christgau labeled this album a “dud,” tossing it into the general category of “a bad record whose details rarely merit further thought,” he clearly missed not one but many outstanding attributes of Folds’ debut.  He missed a provocative exploration of the modern human psyche, that lonely, longing, and bruised side that many of us attempt to push aside for the ease of survival.  He missed a fascinating lineup of characters populating the album from front to back — characters like Annie, Zak, Sara, Fred Jones, Stan, Lisa, Cathy, and Lucretia — who are representative of the negative toll society can take on individuals.

And he certainly missed the finely layered vocals, bass, and drums that are always supporting, yet never surpassing, Ben Folds’ considerable talents on piano.

This is an album that I hope you won’t miss.  It shaped the way I see my world, and continues to merit further thought every time I listen to it, all the while being a great deal of fun to listen to.

As I’ve inquired in the past, what more could you ask for in a rock album?

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER ONE is Wilco

This is the final 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. There was stiff competition, but here goes…

By Chris Moore:

And coming in at number one on our Top Rock Artists of the Decade list are none other than Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glen Kotche, Nels Cline, Mikael Jorgensen, and Pat Sansone…

…better known as Wilco!

Before I get to writin’ below, I would be remiss if I didn’t note just how close a battle it was between this band and my pick for number two, the Barenaked Ladies. Now, I know what you might be thinking. The Barenaked Ladies and Wilco referenced so closely? Well, the truth is that they have both distinguished themselves as prolific writers, performers, and album-makers in a decade when more and more people are allowing those oh-so-frustrating, defeatist sentiments:

They just don’t make music like they used to…

There really isn’t any band making great music/albums anymore…

Well, it’s simply not true!

Wilco had to take the top spot on this list for a number of reasons, not the least of which being what a memorable decade this was for the band. It was, after all, the ten year span that kicked off with them being kicked from their label after the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions, the release of which would go on to skyrocket them as close to the mainstream as they’ll probably ever come.

You know what they say: out of the alt country genre dead-end and into the fire. (Isn’t that what they say?)

Several key personnel changes at the turn of the millennium notwithstanding, Wilco’s lineup stabilized by A Ghost is Born, and they have since created some of the most interesting and engaging rock music available — certainly of this decade, and very likely of all time.

While internet-fueled music piracy was threatening the entire system by which the industry functions, Wilco was busy pioneering new ways to reach fans. They were among the first to stream an album online for free. They signed on for the return of vinyl. They supported numerous causes, brought lost music by historic singer/songwriters (namely Woody Guthrie) back to life, put on marathon-length live shows of the finest quality, and engaged in myriad side projects.

Wilco has not rested these past ten years, and anyone who has been listening knows it is not an exaggeration to say that this decade has seen the band hit its stride and perhaps its peak.

You Have To Lose…

It may have been 2001, but the story of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot calls to mind the pages of rock music history that involved such trendsetters and iconoclasts as Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and the Beatles. Taking the music itself — the genre, the style, the arrangements — out of the equation for the moment, the difference of opinion between the executives at Reprise Records and the members of Wilco was an old story: band makes music it feels is honest and A&R men see only dollar signs.

As a result of Reprise’s treatment of the band, Wilco ended up gaining the sympathy and interests of many fans, critics, and music magazines. After the label rejected the album, they didn’t waste any time going to plan B, posting the album in its entirety on their website for free streaming. It would be until 2002 before Nonesuch (ironically a sister company of Reprise) signed Wilco and finally released the album properly.

Fittingly, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the first great Wilco album. Its simple songs and ambitious arrangements redefined their sound, and there couldn’t have been a better album for this publicity boost to happen to.

Experimenting, Jamming, and Blending

On the heels of Foxtrot, Wilco took an even more experimental turn with A Ghost is Born. Some tracks were tremendous achievements — “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Hell is Chrome,” for instance — and others were overly self-indulgent, namely “Less Than You Think” and its eleven minutes of feedback loops.

Tweedy himself admitted that it simply isn’t a track that even he would listen to every time around.

For their next project, Sky Blue Sky, the band altered the formula, leaning more towards a live band feel.  The result?  Some of their most fun rock songs, such as “Hate It Here” and “Walken.”  Thankfully, this did not lead to a breakdown in their cohesion or a “jam band” mentality.  As one might expect from Wilco’s previous releases, even the guitar solos in such tracks as “Impossible Germany” are impressively choreographed.

This is where Nels Cline’s outstanding talent really began to shine through on record.

Following two years of touring in support of Sky Blue Sky, and as if three strong albums in the decade weren’t enough, Tweedy and company released Wilco (the album) in 2009.  As the title might imply, this record finds Wilco really settling in, blending the various sounds and styles they perfected throughout the decade into one superb effort.  While it certainly isn’t their strongest individual project, Wilco (the album) is one of the most dynamic in their catalog, featuring the experimental “Deeper Down” and the oh-so blunt “Wilco (the song).”  The former would have blended smoothly into A Ghost is Born, and the latter reads like a direct, personal letter from Jeff Tweedy and Wilco to their fans.

On and On and On…

As I suggested in my “Number Two” article on the Barenaked Ladies, this number of quality studio albums would be, in and of itself, criteria for a band to be considered one of the best of the decade.  Like BnL, Wilco has been prolific beyond these standard releases.  This includes Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (2000), the second installment in their collaboration with Billy Bragg putting Woody Guthrie lyrics to music.  2005 saw the release of Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, Wilco’s first live record, a double CD with 23 tracks.  Four years later, they released their first live DVD, Ashes of American Flags, which featured a song selection that was more than 50% different from Kicking Television.

Outside of official full-band projects, the members of Wilco are constantly involved in other projects, including but not limited to Tweedy in Golden Smog, Stirratt and Sansone in The Autumn Defense, and Nels Cline in The Nels Cline Singers.  In 2003, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck invited members of Wilco to contribute to his own side project, the Minus Five, and the result was Down with Wilco.  In 2009, several members traveled to New Zealand to play on the latest Seven Worlds Collide charity project.

And the list goes on and on and on.

Since 2003’s More Like the Moon, Wilco has made a habit of releasing EPs to accompany their official album releases, offering them as free downloads to those who have purchased the CD (or downloaded the album legally).  2004 saw the release of The Wilco Book, which was packaged with a CD loaded with demos and outtakes.  Adding to the interactive quality of their music, the band now gives out free full-color programs at their live shows, booklets which include a score card listing all of their songs for their fans to check off as they are played.

To think that I promised myself I would avoid listing too many details…

I think the aforementioned details paint an indisputable portrait of a band always pushing themselves to the next level, each of the six members constantly involved with music both in the band and in their side projects, and a group of singer/songwriter/performers dedicated to making their music and their process transparent for their fans.  On record as they are live — and at the risk of overstatement — Wilco is a dynamic group whose music has seen me through some of the darkest chapters of my life (and safely out into the light again!) and a band that continues to inspire me as a songwriter and as a listener.

Wilco is my choice for the number one rock band of the decade!