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.