(#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!)

“Wishlist” (Pearl Jam Cover)

Originally posted 2009-03-23 23:32:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Pearl Jam chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

You know what I wish?  I wish that I would wake up tomorrow and there would no longer be anyone on the entire planet who smoked cigarettes.  Never mind the health risk — which, by the way, there are few ingestible products that come with a “may cause cancer” label.  The concept of breathing tar into your lungs aside, let’s consider the ramifications to non-smokers on the road. For instance, I sat in a McDonald’s drive-through tonight for ten minutes and was delighted by not only the automobile emissions but two smokers puffing away.  The breeze was such that my car was filled with noxious fumes.

In a sense, this was great, because the fish filet and large fries actually seemed healthy by comparison!  :-)

Seriously, though, what really gets me is the disposal of the butts.  It’s happened so many times recently that I’ll be driving down the road and someone in the car ahead of me will flick a lit cigarette out of their window.  I don’t know if it’s due to me being older, a generally law-abiding dork, a teacher of transcendental texts like Emerson’s “Nature,” or a combination of the three, but this is enough to drive me crazy recently.  To paraphrase our friend Matt Griffiths from the WCJM morning show, it’s just enough to tweak my hypothalamus and send me into an uncontrollable rage!

I suppose I simply can’t imagine driving in my car, holding a lit piece of paper in my hand, and saying to myself, “I’m done with this.  Why not chuck it out the window?”  Since when did that become the acceptable form of cigarette disposal?! Think twice ye smokers, lest you piss off the drivers behind you (such as myself tonight when a highly tossed butt bounced off my car, lit ashes flying everywhere)…

For those of you wondering what this has to do with my post tonight, prepare to be dazzled.  Well, maybe not dazzled…

Just as I have ranted about something that has bothered me and later wondered if it was too negative, so did Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam decide that he should try writing something positive.  Out of a lengthier “stream-of-consciousness exercise,” we have the “better wishes” presented in this little gem of a song.  It was an instant favorite of mine upon first listening to Pearl Jam’s 1998 album Yield.  As with Binaural, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this album, as it sold less and seemed generally regarded as at least somewhat inferior to previous releases such as Ten and Vitalogy.  But I love this album, and I love this song.  For once, the song I love most is actually in my vocal range!

Okay, so that’s not entirely true.  My first pick for a song to learn and play would have been “Do The Evolution.”  For any of you familiar with that song, you should be sitting at your computer laughing at simply the notion of my attempting to sing a song like that!  I understand my own limitations!  :-)   That being said, you should take the time to search on YouTube for “Pearl Jam Evolution” and watch the official music video; it’s simply amazing — a very cool use of animation to visualize the lyrics to a song.

Along with my acoustic cover song music video tonight, I also send a shout out to my girlfriend Nicole who is a big fan of this song.  (I hope you like it!)  As she is currently in possession of my CD copy of the album and my iPod is tied up with my Bob Dylan playlist (518 out of 622 tracks!), I had to rely on my iPhone to listen to “Wishlist” tonight as I wrote out the lyrics and chords.  What a Mac nerd I am… but I love it.  Speaking of Macs, if I don’t end up writing a full review of U2’s No Line on the Horizon, please allow me to go on record saying that “Unknown Caller” has to be the worst track on the album for a number of reasons.  It’s only redeeming quality is that Bono makes lyrical references (“force quit and move to trash”) that bely his computer loyalties…

Although I have so much more I could say — about Pearl Jam’s re-release of Ten tomorrow, this song, other music, the fact that my dad and I just bought tickets to see Bruce Hornsby at the MGM Grand on Friday(!), life in general — I think this is enough for one night!  As a final note, please allow me to point out that this is officially the tenth post in the Pearl Jam category here at the Laptop Sessions, rounding us off to an even ten just in time for the re-release of Ten for tomorrow’s New Music Tuesday, March 24th, 2009!

For all you new music fans, don’t forget to stop by the blog tomorrow night for an all-new high-quality Jim Fusco Tuesday.  I have it on good authority that he’ll be taking it to a WHOLE…  NOTHA….  LEH-VAL….

See you next session!

“Black” (Pearl Jam Cover)

Originally posted 2008-05-23 21:15:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff Copperthite:

Good evening! Welcome to your Friday installment of The Laptop Sessions. I hope you are ready to celebrate a three-day weekend, and plan on seeing family, friends, and perhaps enjoy a nice cookout or two in the process.

Meanwhile, I get to bring to you one of my favorite songs. It’s Pearl Jam tonight with a song from their first album Ten. Track #5 is Black from that album and that is the song I bring to you tonight.

It has a great background electric guitar and Eddie Vedder sings a wonderful vocal melody in the entire song. Vedder is known to go in between styles back and forth and this song showcases that talent of his. From the soft verses to the emotional outro of the song, I attempt to emulate what Eddie can do. I think I do a good job, but then again i’m no Eddie Vedder. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Also, this song translates wonderfully to acoustic guitar, and I substitute a minor change in the guitar part at the end of the song instead of the vocal “do do doo doo do do dooo” that the recording has. And as with all songs that fade out, I picked the chord that sounded best to end on and went with that.

I want to thank all of you for visiting, commenting, rating, and subscribing. This is among the sessions I am most proud of.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Jim’s latest session, then come Sunday we bring another special week of songs to you. You’ll have to check out Chris’s session on Sunday to find out just what that is!

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Jeff’s acoustic cover song music videos are no longer on YouTube, but we decided to keep his cover song blog posts up.  We figured these music blog entries would be good for posterity’s sake and because Jeff always gave such insightful posts each Session.  We hope to see Jeff’s impressive catalog of acoustic rock songs here on the Laptop Sessions cover songs and original music blog again in the future.  But, for now, please make sure to check-out hundreds of other acoustic cover songs from all of your favorite bands here on the Laptop Sessions music blog!

Pearl Jam’s “Ten” (1991, 2009 Remix Deluxe Edition) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-03-28 20:15:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  5 / 5 stars

If I were to post a one-sentence review of this album, it would read something like this:

“Pearl Jam’s Ten is the Pet Sounds of the grunge rock genre.”

I do not take such a comparison lightly, so let me begin by explaining my reasoning in detail.  In both cases, the general public took some time to warm up to the songs, but they have both ended up making regular appearances on “Best Albums” lists, both of the decade and of all-time.  In both cases, the songs and the image projected via artwork and touring would define the band for years to come.  Finally, in both cases, the album stands out as head and shoulders above and beyond other similar work being released at the same time from the same genres.

While Pet Sounds was the Beach Boys’ eleventh release and arguably more of a Brian Wilson solo album, Ten was Pearl Jam’s debut album, their very first studio release, and as much of a group effort as any rock album ever recorded.  Of course, the former came at a turning point — it perhaps caused or at least contributed to that turning point — for rock/pop music in the sixties.  Virtually every album that came after can be traced in some way back to that foundation.

In that sense, I do not mean to overstate Ten‘s importance by comparison.

Still, though its influence cannot compare, Pearl Jam somehow managed — and in their debut, no less — to compose and record as strong a set of songs as any being released during the early nineties and certainly from the grunge scene.  From fade in to fade out, Ten demonstrates a simultaneous command of subtlety, beauty, and gripping lyrical content, while also delving into raw, reckless abandon in a manner that is not sloppy yet not too controlled.

Almost two decades later, it is one of the cornerstone albums of the nineties and of rock music as a whole.

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991, 2009 remix)

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991, 2009 remix)

As the cover suggests, Pearl Jam decided from the very beginning to be an “all for one, one for all” sort of group.  Outside of their revolving door of a drummer’s seat in the first decade, they have followed through on the promise implicit in that pose.

And this is what makes the individual tracks so strong for a first release.  As the various band members have stated in interviews over the years, many of these songs began life as Stone Gossard/Jeff Ament band jams, riffs and solos that were worked on and written, refined, and improved over a period of time.  When Eddie Vedder was brought in, he carried with him a new sense of lyricism and a unique voice that brought these instrumentals to life.  To this day, the issues and emotions expressed on Ten make for very compelling listening.

Critical opinions on Ten vary widely, though that difference has most often been the distance between five and four stars, or an A and a B-.  Most reviews have been positive, at least to some extent, but I find it difficult to understand any rating that falls short of recognizing the outstanding fusion of classic and modern rock, energetic performances and purposeful recording studio techniques, standout songs and an overall cohesive sound and voice that define this album.

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991)

Pearl Jam's "Ten" (1991)

Any great tale should begin with “Once upon a time…,” and Ten does.  It’s clear from the opening that this is no fairy tale, and “Once” sets the tone for the other songs to follow.  (Taken in a different context, “Once” has also been situated as the second in a three track series known as Mamasan, or Momma-son.  This three song cycle follows the story of “Alive” into the murderous “Once” and concludes with what has been read as an execution in “Footsteps.”)

“Even Flow” and “Alive” follow on Ten, unfolding one powerful, catchy riff after another, all driven by Vedder’s vocals.  These are the songs that you wish you could play along to, and the songs that you try to sing to.

Even the by-comparison mediocre tracks shine, like “Why Go” with its driving beat, shouted chorus, and manic guitar solo.

It’s forgotten, though, by the time the next track unfolds.  “Black” is a true masterpiece: put your headphones on for this one and listen for the way the instruments all play an intricate part, and yet how all the components gel around Vedder’s magnificent lead, made most impressive by what can only be called his vocal solo on the outro.

Next comes “Jeremy,” based on the true story of a boy who was bullied to the point of desperation, bringing a gun to school one day to shoot himself in front of his classmates.  The refrain “Jeremy spoke in class today” gains more poignancy as the song continues.

The second half of the album nicely mixes the tempo and tenor of tracks.  There are the slower, more melancholy tracks like “Oceans” and “Release.”  There is the declaration of independence and survival that is “Garden.”  Then there the rockers like “Deep” and its even more well-constructed, entertaining counterpart, the Vedder-penned “Porch.”

The outtakes from this period and the Ten recording sessions are nothing short of phenomenal.  Ament reportedly considered leaving the band when Gossard grew tired of “Brother,” a gem that went unreleased until 2009’s remix.  Even better is the live standard “Yellow Ledbetter,” a masterpiece in its own right.  While I understand the decision to leave “State of Love and Trust,” “Wash,” and the aforementioned “Footsteps” off the record, I am thrilled to have them as outtakes.  These are all songs that I look forward to, and they certainly transcend the typically forgettable bonus track fare.

From front to back, Ten is not only the strongest album in Pearl Jam’s considerable catalog — and this is saying something — but it is one of the best rock albums of all time.  The balance that was struck here between interesting musical compositions and engaging vocal performances set a bar few albums since have been able to rise to.  This is an album that deserved a reissue, and the deluxe edition (2 CD/1 DVD combo) was no doubt the best, most affordable deal of the four options.  The packaging included a hard case with a scrapbook style booklet, a disc with the album as originally mixed, a second disc with the remixed tracks and six bonus tracks, and a DVD of the MTV Unplugged concert that Pearl Jam performed in 1992.  This performance alone was worth the price of the album, and seeing Vedder, Ament, Gossard, Mike McCready, and Dave Abbruzzese was a clear reminder that these were different times: the grunge look has since gone out of style, but viewing this DVD provides an opportunity to see them in their early prime, each band member smiling at various moments in different songs, celebrating the outstanding music that they had written in brand-new acoustic arrangements.

(On this, the nineteen anniversary since the recording sessions began, the Weekend Review tips its hat to Ten and encourages you to squeeze in a listen very soon!)