70. Jimmy Eat World Bleed American AKA Jimmy Eat World
Released in the summer of 2001, Jimmy Eat World’s fourth album Bleed American quickly saw its name changed to the eponymous Jimmy Eat World in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Slight controversy aside, however, the album became a huge critical and commercial success, buoyed by its second single “The Middle”, which seemed to be almost everywhere during the first few years of the aughts. While it’s certainly the track most remembered on the album, it’s just one of an entire stable of classics from the disc. The title track is a raucous, driving rocker, while later singles “Sweetness” and “A Praise Chorus” are buoyant, smile inducing pop rock. Deeper tracks like the elegiac ballad “Hear You Me” and the peppy “The Authority Song” balance out the affair, and while the back half certainly drags a little, Jimmy’s break out album still holds up over a decade later. Few albums have the same staying power for me. Stephen
69. Imogen Heap Speak For Yourself
Seven years after her debut album, Imogen Heap returned in 2005 with the fantastic Speak For Yourself. Although she enjoyed some success from her track “Let Go” recorded as one half of the duo Frou Frou, it was her second solo album that broke Heap into the mainstream. Written, produced, arranged and almost entirely played by her, Speak For Yourself was filled with Heap’s mix of daring pop and electronic dance music. A number of its songs went on to be sampled, most famously Jason Derulo’s incorporating the landmark a capella track “Hide And Seek” into his hit “Whatcha Say”. Although Speak For Yourself may not have charted incredibly high, it established Heap as an original in the pop music world, helping her develop a large and loyal fan base. Mike A.
Kid A has become the Perennial Album of the Decade for a lot of reasons having nothing to do with the music itself: because Radiohead committed artistic suicide and managed to come out on top, because it somehow prophesied the digital revolution and the hopeless “War on Terror” decade, because it inspired a new generation of musicians to challenge the parameters of rock n’ roll, because it found that slipper that’s been at large under the chaise lounge for several weeks. And that’s all nice and everything, except who fucking cares? It’s not like this album had no precedent. David Bowie beat them to that whole “rock n’ roll deconstruction” thing by a good twenty years, and the Smashing Pumpkins alienated their fanbase with electronica only a few years before Radiohead made it acceptable. Make no mistake, Kid A is just as astonishing now as it was a decade ago, but it has very little to do with the sanctimonious rubbish it’s inspired.
Kid A is a topographical map of a world in ruin: bunker settlements running deep underground, despots picking at the Old World’s carcass, prison ships adrift in glacial waters, toothless cityscapes heavy with snow. I don’t think that Radiohead created this album with the intention of telling a post-apocalyptic narrative; however, I think that somewhere in the creation process, these songs took a life of their own. Kid A is about everything and nothing all at once—yes, the band’s politics bleed into every song, but you can shape this album into anything you want it be. Maybe it’s a crushing 1984-styled narrative about humanity’s propensity for self-destruction? Maybe it’s a weird coming-of-age story about the world’s first human clone? Maybe it’s about a crippled war veteran in a British mental hospital who locks himself inside of a freezer? Who the hell knows?
Of course, none of this would matter if the music wasn’t awesome. Kid A is the densest album that Radiohead have put together. There are so many great moments on this album: when “The National Anthem” transforms into a free jazz hailstorm, when Ed O’Brien’s guitar needles its way into “How to Disappear Completely,” when the harps set fire to “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” It’d be impossible to mention all of them, at least if I want to keep this at blurb-length. In the end, I’m not sure how much this album defines the last decade. Personally, I’d argue that Hail to the Thief gives a more accurate portraying of the Roaring Zeros. However, the glacial majesty of Kid A has never been surpassed. Greg
67. OutKast Speakerboxx/The Love Below
By their fifth album, OutKast had established themselves as a little more interesting, a little more unpredictable, and a bit weirder than their contemporaries in the hip-hop mainstream. Following a successful string of singles in the first two years of the decade, the duo made that bold, risky career move – the double LP. Complicating matters, rather than a proper OutKast album, the set was split, a disc each going to Andre 3000 and Big Boi. It was a risky move for an outfit that was finally starting to enjoy some mainstream success. Thankfully, it worked. Propelled by the ubiquitous single “Hey Ya,” the album quickly became a focal point in the pop culture of 2003. Andre’s contribution The Love Below stole the show, thanks to “Hey Ya” and a more obvious willingness to experiment with various styles. In hindsight however, it is Big Boi’s Speakerboxx that holds up as a better disc. Although both are excellent, Speakerboxx is more consistent and focused, managing to sound less dated than its counterpart. I almost want to pull a cliche and say “it could have been one really good disc,” but there really isn’t much filler across the two discs. In fact, it is only the obligatory skits and segues that really mar the album’s flow. That, and the fact that I still can’t listen to “Hey Ya” thanks to everyone who overplayed it to death. While Stankonia holds up as a much better album for me, Speakerboxx/The Love Below was undoubtedly OutKast’s crowning achievement, one that they have yet to come close to matching. Dr. Gonzo
John Mayer’s debut album was released in 2001, and from that moment on, my life changed. Okay, I realize that sounds terribly cliché and over the top, but hey, it’s true. Within seconds of hearing “No Such Thing” on the radio for the first time, I was instantly in love with Mayer, his guitar, lyrics, and enjoyable vocals. This has continued on to be a 11-year-love affair, and though I’ve had my ups and down with Mayer’s music (actually, my problems stem more from his career and public persona than his lyrics) through the years, I’ll always count him as my favorite musician, and this was the start of it all. I was only fourteen when I first bought Room for Squares (ha! You feel old now, don’t you?) but it stayed on heavy rotation in my discman and boombox. I didn’t know what Mayer was singing about in “Why Georgia” when he sang, “might be a quarter-life crisis, or just the stirring in my soul”, but I loved the uptempo beat and melodic chorus all the same. I had never been in such a relationship (or, well, any for that matter), when I first heard “City Love”, but I dreamed of one day dating some guy who lived in the city and “falling asleep to the sound of sirens”. Even now, Room For Squares stands the test of time. Sure, I don’t really like listening to the terribly overplayed (albeit catchy) pop tune “Your Body is a Wonderland”, but I can now relate to the lyrics in “Not Myself” in a way that I couldn’t when I was 14 and had never been in a relationship. Likewise, “Back To You” was always a favorite of mine because of the guitar work and Mayer’s smooth vocals, but now, it has a different meaning than it did then; I know what it was like to be in on-again/off-again relationships with someone you just can’t help finding irresistible. One of the main criticism of John Mayer’s earlier music was the simplicity of his lyrics and guitar playing, but I find that to be one of the things that makes Room For Squares so accessible and such an easy album to love, no matter how old you are. Brittany
By the time The Eminem Show rolled around in 2002, his underdog status was rapidly deteriorating. Realizing his status as the king of commercial hip-hop, he took the opportunity to shoot from the hip on “White America,” his most politically pointed song yet. The wide-ranging Eminem Show tackled everything from STDs (“Drips”) to his family history (“Cleanin’ Out My Closet” is one of his most heart-wrenching songs). Of course, Eminem the family man had a somewhat more sensitive side, as evidenced by “Hailie’s Song” (which Eminem actually sings, not raps, all the way through.) Em’s then-toddler daughter even made her first appearance on record, shouting the chorus on the hilarious “My Dad’s Gone Crazy.” Oh, and how could you forget the fact that even the admittedly pop-centric and formulaic single “Without Me” was great? After a star-making (and Oscar-winning) turn in “8 Mile”, the wheels fell off of the Eminem express for a while, but The Eminem Show stands as the final third in one of hip-hop’s most artistically productive and skillful trilogies. Big Money
64. Jamie Cullum Twentysomething
I’m sure an album of jazz covers and rehashed standards sounds terribly dull and overdone, but thankfully, Jamie Cullum decided to think outside the box when releasing his major-label debut Twentysomething in 2004. Cullum is first and foremost a jazz musician, so there are plenty of jazzy tunes here, including a beautiful cover of Dinah Washington’s “What A Difference A Day Made.” Of course, that’s to be expected, but Cullum pulls a handful of originals out of the box, like the tongue-in-cheek title track and the catchy first single “All At Sea.” Meanwhile, he does his fair share of covers, but surprises with the unexpected: he expertly tackles a slowed-down version of Radiohead’s “High and Dry”, sings on a sultry remake of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” and ends the album with a pop/jazz version of “Frontin’”, a song made popular by hip-hop stars Pharell and Jay-Z. Jamie Cullum’s brand of pop/jazz is the kind just about any one could get into: less boring trumpet solos, and more toe-tapping, piano rock fun. Brittany
63. Gorillaz Demon Days
Demon Days was practically the soundtrack of my life during my sophomore year of college. I say that because it was the only album my pothead roommates and I could really agree on and was blasted from our combined speakers so many times that it’s probably embedded in the plaster of our old dorm room. I’m not sure what Demon Days meant to them, if anything—maybe it was just a nice album to smoke out to on those evenings when Petty and Creedence weren’t cutting it. Personally, I liked the bleakness. And despair. ‘Cos let’s face it, underneath the bubblegum facade, Demon Days is a bleak and despairing album—the apocalypse rendered in the form of a Saturday morning cartoon. Its release couldn’t have been timed more perfectly: I was an angry young liberal arts major, riding a new wave of despair after the 2004 Presidential Election, and it connected with me more than anything else I listened to that year (with the possible exception of Sage Francis’s A Healthy Distrust). I still find it weird that this was the album that gave Damon Albarn his overdue recognition in the States after a couple of fluke hits. Maybe people aren’t listening to the lyrics. Or maybe they just play “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE” on loop, and phase out the moment Dennis Hopper starts doing his weird Lorax shit. Who knows? I’ll say this though: sometimes it’s reassuring to know that the world really is going up in flames. It’s not just you. Greg
62. Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever To Tell
Art rockers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had amassed a huge amount of buzz years before ever sitting down to record a proper album. Anticipation was riding high when the trio dropped their debut in 2003, and thankfully Fever to Tell exceeded all expectations. Edgier and rawer than the ethereal Show Your Bones and the dance crazy It’s Blitz, Karen O and company blaze through the front half of the album, from album opener “Rich” to my personal favorite “Date with the Night” (complete with its manic breakdown of “Choke, Choke, Choke!”). The band is most fun when at its most schizophrenic, especially tracks like “Tick” and “Pin”. But the album’s crowning jewel is the hauntingly beautiful “Maps”, arguably the best love song written in the decade. That song alone allows the YYYs to stand proudly beside the greatest New York City rockers of the decade. Stephen
The album that almost never was. From the personnel changes (replacing Ken Coomer early on with Glenn Kotche, and later letting go songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett) to the recording getting dropped by Reprise Records to disagreement over who should mix the album to a lawsuit over a small clip used in the song “Poor Places” (the clip being a repetition of the album’s title), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was fraught with stumbling blocks. Despite the quagmire of issues, the album was finally released in official format (and earlier in streaming format on Wilco’s web site) a little over a year after the recording was finished. It was worth the wait.
Adored by fans and critics alike, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows a very diverse and focused Wilco, confident of their song choices regardless of the opinions of Billboard-oriented record execs. Most of the album strikes me as a eulogy – half for the American Dream and half for lost love. It is laden with sadness, but so heartbreakingly honest and earnest that it becomes a near catharsis for one’s personal burdens. It is therapy-on-a-disc, and one of the finest examples of Americana rock at the turn of the century. Grez