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!)