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The Rockologist’s End Of Year, End Of Decade Wrapup Part 3: Best Favorite Albums Of The Decade

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To conclude my three-part wrap-up of the year and the decade, we come to the part of this exercise that was the most fun for your Rockologist.

This is where I got to go back and relive a lot of memories from the past ten years by listening to my favorite albums from that same period. Not all of those memories were good ones mind you, but even during the bad times these were the records that helped get me through them.

So right about now, I need to be clear about one thing. I'm not saying these were the best albums released during the past ten years — only that they were my personal favorites. I also need to add that what a lot of you may be seeing as artists or bands missing in action — including people like the White Stripes, Amy Winehouse, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket, and the Killers — would be here if I were to expand this list to twenty.

But since I've already spent quite a bit of time on this whole end-of-year, end-of-decade business, I thought it best to keep this list somewhat short in the interest of brevity. The last thing I want to do here is bore all of you to death.

That said, I'm also going to cheat a bit here.

Although I've decided to limit my choices to one album apiece from each artist, please don't shoot me if I slip a few of their other albums under some of these entries. Some rules are just made to be broken — especially when I'm the one who is making them. With that said, here we go:

10. Porcupine Tree – Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007)

PT were my personal major new musical discovery this decade, and this album represented that point of entry. I've since gone on to the rest of their catalog, which includes many albums better than this one — including this year's The Incident. Nonetheless, FOABP is always going to be a little special for me, because it was my introduction to a band I have since come to believe may be the single most underrated in all of music. The songs "Anesthetize" and "Sentimental" alone qualify this one for inclusion.

9. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)

Who woulda' known that somewhere underneath all of Wayne Coyne's wacky, druggy psychedelic weirdness, there was a Brian Wilson clone lying there in waiting? There's still plenty of weirdness to be found in the walls of sound that make up this densely layered masterpiece. But for all of it's sci-fi spaciness, I hear a lot more of Pet Sounds here, than I do, say, Dark Side Of The Moon. And I could listen to the soaring vocal of "Do You Realize?" for days on end, and never grow tired of hearing it.

8. Neil Young – Living With War (2006)

Neil Young's track record for making great records this decade was spotty at best — and this album isn't one of his best either. However, its timing was perfect in serving notice to the Bush administration that rock's social consciousness wasn't quite dead just yet. Nothing says "Lets Impeach The President" quite like a crusty and very pissed off old warhorse like Neil Young cranking the amps up to eleven, and letting the shit rip.

7. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Now before everyone gets their panties in a bunch over how I could choose this one over the more universally acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, remember that we're talking personal favorites here, rather than critical best. To me, the point where Wilco became more than just Jeff Tweedy's backup band was when guitar whiz Nels Cline joined up, and on this album Cline's shredding is a perfect match for Tweedy's beautifully understated songwriting. For my money, Cline is the missing piece that finally completed this band.

6. Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)

Chris Martin and company have made some decent records this decade, but they have never quite matched the studio perfection of this one. What makes Rush Of Blood such a great record is the way that it manages to sound so lush and yet so effortless at the same time. If Martin wears his romantic heart on his sleeve (as he is so often accused of doing), I can still forgive him if the result is a song as just plain pretty as "The Scientist." And I may just be the last man alive who will never tire of that killer piano riff on "Clocks."

5. U2 – All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)

It actually took me awhile to warm up to this album. The first few times I heard it, I actually thought it sounded a bit too slick and polished for these guys. The point where it really started to win me over though, was when the guitar riff from "Walk On" took hold of my brain and refused to let go. From there, the rest of the album finally began to sink in, and I realized that U2 had indeed returned home from the land of the arty-alternative Popmart dead. Although quite unintentional, this album also took on a profound new significance after 9/11.

4. Bruce Springsteen – Devils & Dust (2005)

Springsteen was a busy man these past ten years, and his albums The Rising and Magic with the E Street Band could just as easily fill this slot as this one. But Devils & Dust struck the most personal chord with me — mainly because it features some of the most beautiful, poignant, and descriptive songwriting I've heard on a Springsteen record going as far back as Nebraska. When Bruce sings words like "The wind in the mesquite comes rushing over the hilltops, straight into my arms" on "Long Time Comin'" it's as close to Steinbeck as music gets.

3. Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)

Although this masterpiece came something like thirty years too late, thank God that Brian Wilson finally saw fit to unlock all of this amazing music floating around in his head for the rest of the world to hear. Smile is every bit the worthy successor to Pet Sounds it was originally intended to be. And although it was a little weird to hear a version of "Good Vibrations" so different from the one so many of us grew up with, the layers and layers of gorgeous orchestral, choral bliss on this album more than made up for it. And the live version of this album on DVD is even better.

2. Bob Dylan – Modern Times (2006)

Dylan's best record since Blood On The Tracks is a journey through an apocalyptic wasteland done to the sort of bluesy backdrop that could have come from an old 1950's recording on Chess Records. Dylan's weathered croak of a voice is a perfect fit here for the biblical imagery inhabiting such songs as "Thunder On The Mountain" or the weary traveler found roaming along a road without end on "Aint Talkin'." Dylan also summons up the spirit of Muddy Waters on "The Levee's Gonna' Break" and "Rollin' And Tumblin'."

1. Radiohead – Kid A (2000) / Amnesiac (2001)

Remember that part I mentioned about cheating? To me, these two albums are really of one single piece when you put them together anyway. Even though they were released about a year apart from each other, they were also recorded at the same time. For me, when Radiohead stripped things down to the stark, minimal soundscapes of these two albums is exactly the point they started to make perfect sense.

Songs like "Morning Bell" and "Everything In It's Right Place" are at once dense and layered, yet deceptively simple at their core. But in addition to all the synthesizers, you get the jazzy guitar riff of "Knives Out," the funeral dirge of "Pyramid Song," and the throbbing bass of "The National Anthem." Holding it all together is Thom Yorke and that damned beautiful haunting voice of his. These two albums created the blueprint for the rest of the amazing music that Radiohead made this decade.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Minus Coldplay, this is a very good list.

    8. Neil Young – Living With War

    I’ll let Mookie know. Brace yourself.

    7. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

    After catching them on “ACL” and hearing how essential Cline was to their sound, I couldn’t imagine them without him all the previous years. When in rock history has that ever happened where someone has come in and become the signature part of a band’s sound?

    2. Bob Dylan – Modern Times
    Dylan’s best record since “Blood On The Tracks”

    Really? That would be “Time Out of Mind” for me.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Cline fits Wilco like a glove. Its like he was always there from the beginning, especially when you see them live. If you don’t already have the Ashes Of American Flags concert DVD, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    I like Time Out Of Mind (and for that matter Love & Theft) a lot too, but for my money Modern Times is the best of the trilogy (yes, I said trilogy), and one of Dylan’s best ever.

    Thanks for chiming in Bicho.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Oh, and for God’s sake don’t let the Mookster know I brought up his favorite album again…LOL…

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    kid a/amnesiac definitely deserve a place near the top. smile as well, although i’d bet it’d be edged out of my top 10 by a slim margin. i love it, but it’s hard to consider an album that’s almost 40 years old. especially since most people listening to it have been hearing it for a long time on bootlegs. wilco and the flaming lips might make it in, but probably on other albums.

    that said, my music taste has gotten so scattered this decade (last song i played was some 1930s georgia gospel blues, this one is some early 80s ny disco funk) that any top 10 i tried to make would be have to be a top ten of top tens by genre or something.

    (song after that is japanese experimental metal.)

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    But this recording of Smile isn’t forty years old Zing. The music has been in Wilson’s head that long, but the recording here, made with all of these fabulous musicians is as fresh as the year it was made…which was 2004 by the way.

    It also puts all those half-finished bootlegs from the sixties to shame.

    Just for the record, I’d also love to see a list from you…you do still have a BC account, correct?

    Every now and then, even your grizzled old Rockologist likes to make a left turn down fucked-up avenue, and I’ve no doubt a list from you would make for one hell of a road-map.

    -Glen

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Hmmm… A Top Ten List for a whole Decade? Tis one hard task:

    (Here’s another one of my lists,Glen):

    Attention Deficit – The Idiot King(2001)
    O.S.I. – S/T(2003)
    Tomahawk – S/T(2001)
    Cynic – Traced in Air(2008)
    Porcupine Tree – In Absentia(2002)
    Alkotrio – Baranina(2008)
    Spiral Architect – A Sceptic’s Universe(2000)
    The Bad Plus – Prog(2007)
    Strapping Young Lad – S/T(2003)
    Opeth – Blackwater Park(2001)/Damnation(2003)

  • zingzing

    “It also puts all those half-finished bootlegs from the sixties to shame.”

    thing is though, that it doesn’t. someone named “purple chick,” who also remastered the beatles’ discography in stereo and mono a few years ago, put together a disc that follows the 2004 recording for its structure, but uses mostly 60s recordings to make it. wilson didn’t add much new to the production or the songwriting, and other than some song placement, about 95% of it could be sourced directly from 60s stuff.

    go look it up–smile (purple chick mix) is what it’s called–and marvel. smile was finished, at least if you believe wilson in 2004. it just wasn’t sequenced. it’s possible that this (both purple chick and the 2004 version) represents wilson’s thwarted vision, and he would have added much more to it.

    either way, the 60s recordings, dodgy sound quality and all, represent the genius at his peak, working his own incredible voice and production methods in with one of the greatest harmony groups of all time. no offense to the wondermints, but they’re no beach boys. and no offense to brian wilson, but 37 years does nothing for one’s voice. there’s a sluggish quality to both his voice and some of the recordings on the 2004 version that just isn’t there in the 60s. and maybe it was the tapes i’m used to hearing, but there’s this constant nagging swirl of psychedelia to the original recordings that just doesn’t show up on the cleaner recent recordings.

    as for a list… i just checked my itunes, and there are well over 10,000 songs (so “well over” that it’s either impressive or embarrassing…) that are tagged with years between 2000-2009. i’d have to imagine there are another 2-3,000 songs that aren’t tagged. my itunes is a mess. just the idea of trying to do a list makes me sick to my stomach. but i have been writing about music here and there for the entire decade, and this is the first full decade that i’ve been aware of music, so it might be interesting to try. would have to wait until after christmas.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’m with ya on In Absentia Brian. Outside of PT and Opeth though, I haven’t heard a single thing on your list. Which I’m sure doesn’t surprise you.

    Zing, I’ll try and locate the Purple chick’s Smile. If nothing else, you’ve got intrigued about it.

    -Glen

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    glen, i think you’d like Tomahawk. also, that Bad Plus record is great. actually, so is there current one. usually, when an instrumental group adds a vocalist, i’m ready to run away. this time though, it was a brilliant move.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’ll have to find a download of Tomahawk I guess. And any group who calls their album “Prog” has me interested, so Bad Plus gets added to the list as well. Thanx guys.

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    A few disagreements, but nice list overall Glen. I have to say that personally I kind of fall into the “zing” category, that of listening to music just all over the place these past 10 years.

    I know that The Soft Bulletin does not count, as it is ’99 release, but that and Kid A were all that got me through Y2K. There has never been as much boy-band shit out there as that year, IMHO.

    Although I could probably put together a list of 10 records for what will be remembered as “The Bush Years,” I honestly think I could not find 10 I liked released in any of the individual years.

    That’s pretty rough, but think about it, were there actually 10 albums released in say, 2003 that you simply cannot live without?

    Good Rockology though Glen.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Hey, Glen, you should also give Attention Deficit & Alkotrio a shot as well. Especially, if you like spicy instrumental blues/fusion, the first of those two bands being a brilliant explosion of “structured improv” and the latter is just a blazing cauldron of electric bliss.

    I have to agree with Mark about The Bad Plus’ latest release but I had to go with “Prog” because they did such a killer job on “Tom Sawyer” from RUSH and it was my first experience with them(like yours w/FOABP). Mark was also the guy who introduced me to them… Much Props!

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Where’s Bruce’s “The Rising”?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Read under the entry for Bruce’s Devils & Dust a bit more carefully…

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