Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My favorite albums of the decade

We're nearing the end of the '00s, and the inevitable deluge of decade-end best-lists has already begun. So I might as well join the fun now.

In thinking about my favorite albums of the last ten years, I realized there aren't many which I love in their entirety. This may be a natural part of growing up; the music we love in our teenage years will never be as important as what we discover afterwards. Nothing on this list rivals the Black Album, or "Jar of Flies," or "Ten" for pure pervasiveness; I feel like I know all of the songs on those albums, because they were integral to my adolescence.

So does that mean the music I've embraced since is more grown-up, more intricate? Not at all. I am admittedly a very superficial music listener nowadays; I value production and arrangement over lyrics and emotion. But at least I am aware of this.

So here are the ten albums that I think best represent my decade. One is a film score, one is a comedy album, and one is an obscurity from Finland. But I think they all kick a whole lot of ass.

• • •

Sean's Top 10 Albums of the '00s
(in alphabetical order)

• • •

"Dark Passion Play," Nightwish (2007)

This Finnish metal band fired operatic vocalist Tarja Turunen and hired the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which painted keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen's melodic songs on an epic canvas. The lyrics mostly deal with the emotional fallout from the firing, and the sounds are appropriately dark and romantic. Emppu Vuorinen's guitar holds its own against Holopainen's bigger-than-life orchestrations, and the result is a score for a film in your mind. Download these: "7 Days to the Wolves," "Amaranth," "The Islander"

• • •

"Death Magnetic," Metallica (2008)

The riffs sound like a rebirth, even if the muddy production sometimes sounds like afterbirth. Metallica fuses every stage of their career (save the "S&M" experiment) into a bruising collection of thrashers. A band on the edge of irrelevance crawled from the wreckage one last time. Download these: "All Nightmare Long," "Cyanide," "The End of the Line"

• • •

"Discovery," Daft Punk (2001)

The very definition of ear candy. The band that annoyed the hell out of me with "Around the World" gave us this unholy concoction of beats, samples, vocoders and kick-ass guitars. If you want to get totally lost in an album with nothing but a dark room and a pair of headphones, this is the way to go -- it almost becomes euphoric. Download these: "Aerodynamic," "Harder Better Faster Stronger," "Something About Us"

• • •

"Fallen," Evanescence (2003)

When I first heard this album, it was like someone was making music just for me. It's dark rock with female vocals, an orchestra, and cinematic sweep. This album led me to the European bands that preceded it, but few of those albums are as consistently entertaining as this one. (Credit that American pop sensibility. Oh, and Ben Moody's chops.) Download these: "Haunted," "Hello," "Imaginary"

• • •

"Gladiator," Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard (2000)

This is the best score of the decade because it is the only one that acts as a main character in the film. Lisa Gerrard's wordless intonations beckon Maximus (Russell Crowe) to his wife's side in the afterlife, and Hans Zimmer accompanies them with a score that encapsulates everything that is best about his often-derided body of work. It lost the Oscar to Tan Dun's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," but it will be remembered long after wire-fu goes back to being a curiosity. Download these: "Now We Are Free," "The Battle," "The Might of Rome"

• • •

"Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)," Marilyn Manson (2000)

The provocateur follows the drug-soaked "Mechanical Animals" with this indictment of guns, God and government that retains much of the previous album's melodic sensibilities while re-embracing the darkness of "Antichrist Superstar." Nothing Manson has done since can quite compete with the unholy trinity he completed here. Download these: "Valentine's Day," "The Fight Song," "Coma Black"

• • •

"A Matter of Life and Death," Iron Maiden (2006)

Maiden loved their war epic so much they played it in its entirety on their '06 tour. I think it's their most consistent album since 1985's "Powerslave," and proves once again that these 50-somethings have more skill and power than just about every band half their age. They are unquestionably the best live band I've ever seen, and I last saw them in June 2008. Download these: "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns," "The Longest Day," "These Colours Don't Run"

• • •

"Mitch All Together," Mitch Hedberg (2003)

This is the only comedy album I can listen to over and over and over again, like it's a great pop record. Mitch's delivery here has an almost musical cadence, and his brand of humor -- definitely influenced by Steven Wright and, uh, Mary Jane -- surprises me, even after 30-odd listens. Sometimes I don't know if I'm laughing at the jokes, or at myself for laughing at the jokes. But I know I love it. Download these: The whole goddamn thing

• • •

"Return of Saturn," No Doubt (2000)

Paste magazine recently asked the Twitterverse to name its favorite album of the decade, and I tweeted back with this. A few days on, I'm not sure if that's actually true, but it feels right, mostly because No Doubt encapsulates just about everything I love about music. "Return of Saturn" had its share of hits, but my favorite songs are the ones radio didn't play to death. No, it doesn't quite boast the murderer's row that "Tragic Kingdom" does, but it's still endlessly tasty. Download these: "New," "Artificial Sweetener," "Comfortable Lie"

• • •

"So Jealous," Tegan and Sara (2004)

The sisters Quin give us a heartbreaking album that goes down so smoothly -- it must be the sweetest bitter pill ever. I rarely listen to albums start to finish, but I almost always hear all of this one when I put it in. Download these: "I Know, I Know, I Know," "Walking With a Ghost," "You Wouldn't Like Me"

• • •

Those are my picks. What are yours?


  1. Some runner-ups:
    "All Hands on the Bad One," Sleater-Kinney
    "All That You Can't Leave Behind," U2
    "City of Evil," Avenged Sevenfold
    "Fever to Tell," Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    "Lateralus," Tool
    "Let Go," Avril Lavigne
    "MACHINA/The Machines of God," Smashing Pumpkins
    "Silent Force," Within Temptation
    "The System Has Failed," Megadeth
    "The Village," James Newton Howard

  2. Well, I went about this the worst possible way that I could (which is off the top of my head at 7am at work without looking at my cd's) but alas, here goes...

    1.) Soul Asylum "The Silver Lining"
    2.) Wilco "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
    3.) U2 "All That You Can't Leave Behind"
    4.) Kanye West "Graduation"
    5.) Queens of the Stone Age "Songs for the Deaf"
    6.) Fountains of Wayne "Welcome Interstate Managers"
    7.) Bob Mould "Body of Song"
    8.) Better Than Ezra "Closer"
    9.) Evan Dando "Live at the Brattle Theatre"
    10.) tie - Paul Westerberg "Mono/Stereo" Jimmy Eat World "Bleed American" The Killers "Hot Fuss"

    Honorable mention to Drive By Truckers "The Dirty South," The Darkness "Permission to Land," Zwan "Mary Star of the Sea," Smashing Pumpkins "Machina," Loretta Lynn "Van Lear Rose," Pearl Jam "Riot Act," Old 97's "Satellite Rides," Black Crowes "Lions," Better Than Ezra "Before the Robots," Smoking Popes "Stay Down," Justin Timberlake "Futuresex/Lovesounds" and R.E.M. "Accelerate."

  3. Here's what I came up with on a once through my iPod:

    The Veronicas "The Secret Life of..."
    Nina Gordon "Tonight and the Rest of My Life"
    Evanescence "Fallen"
    Marilyn Manson "Holy Wood"
    Avril Lavigne "Let Go"
    Linkin Park "Hybrid Theory"
    My Chemical Romance "The Black Parade"
    Our Lady Peace "Spiritual Machines"
    Silverchair "Diorama"
    Green Day "American Idiot"