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.