Part I: The Lost Decade
There’s a common perception that the 2000s (Naughts, Nothings, whatever you might call the first decade of our new millennium) has been, shall we say, a troubled period for popular music. It certainly hasn’t seen anything along the lines of the birth of Rock in the 50s, its flowering in the 60s, the Punk explosion of the 70s or the Alternative Rock boom of the 90s. And this is not just about Rock. Hip Hop, Dance Music, Country, you name it, nobody was exactly having a golden age during 2000-2009. Instead, it’s been more like a treading of water and triumph of pre-packaged bland slickness in pop music, reminiscent in some ways of the 80s. I had hoped that this might be a waiting period for the next big thing, but I’m starting to feel some despair on that front.
Personally, I was, in various ways, out of commission myself for large parts of the decade. A little marriage breakup here, intense workaholism there, plus a major dash of bottoming out and getting in to recovery will do that to you. You miss some life that way, certainly. But, even more disturbing, you miss some culture. Now, it’s not as if I paid no attention to new music in 2000-2009. As you can see elsewhere in this blog, I had my musings about the decade, and best albums of the year lists here and there. But, given my outages, I have been haunted by an ongoing fear that there might be significant gaps in my musical experience of the decade.
More than that, I’ve been curious about what I might have missed. Even in the worst periods, there are diamonds among the dung. I wondered what might be waiting for me, undiscovered…
Part II: Project Overview
To discover what I might have missed, I first had to determine what others were saying the best albums of the decade had been. In pursuit of this, I looked to a few sources:
- the top 25 from albums of the decade lists by A.V. Club, New Music Express, Paste (the online inheritor of the legacy of the late, great Crawdaddy), Pitchfork, Rhapsody, and Rolling Stone
- the 2000-2009 entries from Spin’s 1985-2010 list of the 125 best albums of the past 25 years
- year-end top 5 lists from my two favorite rock critics, Chicago’s Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot
I was looking for albums that garnered multiple entries, since that seemed the best way to cancel out the biases of individual lists (Pitchfork is tilted toward indie-rock, NME likes Brits more, Rolling Stone is the stodgy conservative of the music journalism scene, etc.).
Combining 260 total listings from these nine sources ended up netting me 150 albums. Of this 150, only 43 made it on to two or more lists. That was actually kind of refreshing, since the rap on these kinds of lists is that “everybody picks the same things”. In fact, over 100 albums only appeared once, meaning that each source’s tastes do have some individuality to them after all. Even better, out of 150 albums total, only 27 appeared in three or more sources.
Part III: The List
I figured this 27 was the crème de la crème, where I might find the great albums that I had missed (the numbers represent the number of times an album appeared in the nine sources):
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 8
Arcade Fire, Funeral 7
The Strokes, Is This It 7
Jay-Z, The Blueprint 6
LCD Soundystem, Sound of Silver 6
Outkast, Stankonia 6
Radiohead, Kid A 6
Beck, Sea Change 5
Kanye West, The College Dropout 5
The White Stripes, Elephant 5
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells 5
Daft Punk, Discovery 4
Green Day, American Idiot 4
Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights 4
Kayne West, Late Registration 4
MIA, Kala 4
Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavillion 3
Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head 3
D’Angelo, Voodoo 3
Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP 3
Madvillian, Madvilliany 3
MIA, Arular 3
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix 3
Spoon, Kill the Moonlight 3
Sufjan Stevens, Illinois 3
The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 3
TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain 3
As you can see, I have some of these highlighted. The ones in yellow I already love, so I don’t need to “discover” them. The ones in gray, well… I’ve tried to like Radiohead. As documented elsewhere, I’ve failed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’re bad, I don’t think people who like them are stupid or evil. They’re just not my cup of tea. Ditto with Coldplay. And even more so, but with less respect for the underlying musical product, with the Strokes.
Weeding out albums I knew, or knew would be non-starters, by very happy coincidence, left 20 not totally familiar to me (as in, I’d never given them a proper listen from start to finish) albums from the 2000s for me to review (presented here in alphabetical order by artist):
Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (3)
Arcade Fire, “Funeral” (7)
Beck, “Sea Change” (5)
Daft Punk, “Discovery” (4)
D’Angelo, “Voodoo” (3)
Eminem, “Marshall Mathers LP” (3)
Interpol, “Turn on the Bright Lights” (4)
Jay-Z, “The Blueprint” (6)
Kayne West, “Late Registration” (4)
LCD Soundystem, “Sound of Silver” (6)
Madvillian, “Madvilliany” (3)
MIA, “Arular” (3)
MIA, “Kala” (4)
Outkast, “Stankonia” (6)
Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (3)
Spoon, “Kill the Moonlight” (3)
Sufjan Stevens, “Illinois” (3)
The Flaming Lips, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (3)
TV on the Radio, “Return to Cookie Mountain” (3)
Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (8)
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which our reviews will commence…
This will help me catch up on everything I missed. But I liked Radiohead and Coldplay a lot!
You haven't missed anything Robert.
I love certain individual songs from '90s Radiohead (which is blasphemy to a “real” Radiohead fan, as their entire albums are supposed to be “perfect”). I thought Kid A and Amnesiac were weird and fun when they came out, but I haven't listened to them in years, which probably says something.
Coldplay always struck me as a wimpier Radiohead, or an even less humorous U2 (if that's possible).