Hey folks, welcome to the home stretch! I was trying to think of something Casey Kasem-esque to say, but…I got nothin’. Sorry.
Those of you looking for a full list of the top 100 albums, never fear! After the #1 album is announced, I will post a list of the complete Top 100 so you don’t have to go clicking back and forth to view the entire chart (even though you will have to click back and forth to enjoy all the awesome commentary.)
Here are the last ten entries on the list. Caught up and ready to move on? Let’s go.
I probably have more memories associated with Continuum than I do with any other on this list. For whatever reason, I’ve always been able to relate to John’s lyrics pretty strongly, and to say that this album hit home is an understatement. The first single was something of a red herring (“Waiting On The World To Change” is probably the album’s least essential song,) but Continuum, overall, is one of the essential pop albums of a decade. It came out on the same day as Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, which I remember being more excited for at the time. I played JT’s album first, then played John’s. Halfway through Continuum I’d practically forgotten poor Mr. Timberlake. I also took a bit of pride in the fact that the majority of my friends who hated John at the time (blame “Your Body Is A Wonderland”) were turned around by Continuum’s brilliance, thereby justifying my constant proclamations of “But this guy is good!! No, really!!”
The album’s solid all the way through–from the pensive “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You),” which features some tasteful trumpet playing from Roy Hargrove (and finds John warning you that he was a massive douchebag a couple years before the world came to that conclusion) to the anti-war song “Belief,” this is a mature, provocative piece of work. For my money, the two best songs are the quietly seething “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” (in which Mayer proves himself the heir apparent to Eric Clapton with some shit-hot guitar playing) and the beautiful piano-led “Dreaming With A Broken Heart.” In recent years, John has become well-known for being a bit obnoxious, but Continuum is proof that even dicks have feelings. Let’s have a toast to the assholes. Big Money
39. Damien Rice O (2003)
Buzzwords like “folksy”, “troubadour”, and especially “Irish” tend to pop up in articles about folksy Irish troubadour Damien Rice, but I’m not so sure the descriptors are that necessary; it seems like the best way to best describe Rice’s particular milieu is probably “honest”, or at the very least “intimate”. More importantly, there’s an intangible present in Rice’s unique brand of sad-bastard; acoustic guitars are gently plucked as often as they are aggressively strummed, and lovely female background vocals float in and out of the ether, and I suppose the whole enterprise sounds on paper like it could be just another singer-songwriter record knee-deep in its own misery, as though Damien Rice is Conor Oberst is M. Ward is The Tallest Man on Earth. But there’s that intangible… it could be Rice’s own voice, a bruised baritone slowly climbing the scales to a fractured falsetto. It could be the way he layers songs that sound like they should be hushed, intimate, campfire affairs with orchestral flourishes and overdubbed vocals and operatic sopranos (not making that last one up). It could be the way Rice is never too cool to directly access emotions, an undervalued asset in the age of detached irony. But no: those are tangible values, and there’s nothing tangible about the way the fragile, resilient beauty of “The Blower’s Daughter” and “Older Chests” exhume the soul of all that ails it. After O, Damien would go on to release sophomore set 9, which sounded less delicate and emotional and more like the berserk musings of a post-breakup sad-sack committing to tape his last thoughts as he slowly starves himself to death, but O remains a potent reminder of the potential all sad bastards saw in this guy. – Drew
38. U2 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)
I must admit to being surprised that How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb made it onto this list over 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The latter album appears to be more highly regarded from a critical standpoint. It announced U2’s comeback, while Atomic Bomb was a re-affirmation of sorts. Even with the knowledge that ATYCLB completed the comeback mission successfully, and the meaning that album holds in the hearts of a lot of people (especially my fellow New Yorkers following 9/11,) I think HTDAAB (damn these long album titles!) is the better piece of work.
The older album runs out of gas about 75% of the way through, while Atomic Bomb is strong from beginning (the pumped-up “Vertigo”) to end (the hushed prayer “Yahweh”) In between, there’s an amazingly emotional tribute to Bono’s father (“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”…when Bono comes out of the bridge singing “Can you hear me when I sing?” I lose it every time,) an uplifting tribute to the Big Apple (“City of Blinding Lights”) and even a soul ballad (“A Man & A Woman.”) This album found U2 comfortably atop the heap of legendary rock bands, while sounding as hungry and passionate as ever-a very tricky thing to do, if history is any indication. Big Money
It’s hard for me to talk about Up without at least mentioning Scott Walker’s The Drift. Both albums feature avant-garde (former) pop musicians returning after a long period of dormancy, and eschewing traditional songcraft in favor of towering sonic architecture, covering such delightful themes as death, aging and the post-9/11 landscape. Of course, Up never quite reaches the ghoulish depths of Walker’s album—there’s no meat carcass percussion, no juxtapositions between the Presley brothers and the Twin Towers, no love songs for a dead fascist’s mistress—and I guess whether or not that’s a good thing is entirely subjective. Then again, The Drift returned Walker to the critical limelight and became one of the major talking points in the critically-acclaimed documentary 30 Century Man. Up pulled Gabriel out of any kind of a limelight almost as quickly as it reestablished him.
And to be honest, I can understand why. There’s nothing on this album as readily accessible as “Sledgehammer,” “Shock the Monkey,” “Games Without Frontiers” or “Solsbury Hill” (even “Mercy Street” seems like a jaunty Top 40 number compared to some of the tracks here). At the same time, Up isn’t striving for the avant-gardist peaks of albums like Melt, Security and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. It doesn’t care if it challenges your preconceptions about music. In fact, outside of the jazzy rhythms on “No Way Out,” the gospel crooning on “Sky Blue” and the obvious nods to Trent Reznor on the first two tracks, Gabriel isn’t doing much you haven’t already heard.
So then—why did Up crack our Best Albums of the Zeros list, while The Drift got kicked to the wayside? For one, Up contains some of the best lyrics that Gabriel has ever written. “Darkness” studies the evolution of fear between childhood and adulthood, and features some of Gabriel’s most paralyzing imagery. “No Way Out” deals with the pain of a lover’s suicide. “My Head Sounds Like That” says more about the suffocating monotony of suburban living than the entirety of Arcade Fire’s most recent effort. Even “The Barry Williams Show,” which sounds about ten years older than the rest of the album, throws some clever jabs at the nineties talk show circuit (I could see Maury doing an “I love my daughter’s rapist” special, but that’s just me).
Second, Gabriel sank more time into Up than any other project he’s worked on (with the possible exceptions of Big Blue Ball and whatever the crap he’s doing now), and while the compositions might seem a little unyielding at first, there’s so much complexity and depth to them that this album never feels boring for a second. Everything—from the industrial gnashing on “Darkness” to the azure haze of “Sky Blue” to the ice-chipped pianos on “The Drop”—has been tuned to perfection, even the track sequencing (the first five songs tell a more a cohesive story than most concept albums). Further, Gabriel’s vocals are more impassioned than they’ve ever been. Just to listen to the way he wrings poetry out of lines as simple as “I grieve for you / You leave me.”
In the end though, Peter Gabriel is just that good at this industrial world music art pop shit. Really. Greg
36. Nas Hip-Hop Is Dead (2006)
Beat-wise, Hip Hop Is Dead isn’t great. But it’s a statement album. No matter if you agree or disagree with him, Nas always has something to say. In fact, Jay-Z used to mock him for always saying things, but not always having a point or making sense. As an artist, Nas uses his mic freedom to express his thoughts, whether smart or not. I think a big part of the “hip hop is dead” movement was really about getting a reaction and selling records and I think most of the artists should’ve just done the nod and wink with him and understood where he was coming from rather than taking offense to the title of his album. We would see him go to that well another time with the album that eventually became Untitled. But if you listen closely to Hip Hop Is Dead, you can hear a theme that is about coming together, as a hip hop community. Nas is only suggesting that the music is dead because of who the decision makers are, the powers that be. You’d have to be blind to not see that much of hip hop is watered down and is generally terrible, so I’m not sure what there was to disagree about. But in order to make it right, Nas’ message was to come together as a group, much like a union would to make sure workers were treated fairly.
The power in the music is his message. But he also did something pretty powerful outside of that message. He secured Jay-Z on a song called “Black Republicans.” It was interesting because Jay-Z had released his comeback album just a few weeks prior to Hip Hop Is Dead and just based on him being Jay-Z, you would’ve expected that he get the track for Kingdom Come. But it came out on Nas’ album and while not necessarily at the level of song you’d think the two could put together, it was a decent track and showed that while hip hop wasn’t all together, two of the biggest rappers ever could be. “Still Dreaming,” save for Kanye’s hook and verse, is the highlight of the album, with Chrisette Michele singing beautifully. GG
35. Chevelle Wonder What’s Next (2002)
Wonder What’s Next, released in 2002, is Chevelle’s second album, and the band’s break through to the charts. With singles “Send the Pain Below” and “The Red,” Wonder What’s Next is most likely Chevelle’s best known album next to Sci-Fi Crimes. The album was certified platinum, selling over a million copies, and putting the band into the mainstream music sphere. To this day, the album is the band’s most successful album. Their newest album Hats Off to the Bull has yet to sell as many copies. Cassandra
I hate the fact that Fiona Apple takes lengthy absences between albums (three albums in sixteen years is proof of that.) However, every time she disappears, she comes back with a classic. It’s a double-edged sword. The music is so good that you want more from her, but you also wonder if the music would be as good if it was recorded and released more frequently. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, yeah?
At any rate, Extraordinary Machine has one hell of a history. Fiona originally recorded the album with Jon Brion at the producer’s desk, re-recorded it with several producers (including Dr. Dre associate Mike Elizondo,) fought tooth and nail with her record company, had fans protest to release the album…oh man, the drama! Fortunately for us, the music was worth the drama. There was the title track, which sounded like the theme to some demented Disney movie. There was first single “O Sailor,” a new millennium torch song that could’ve been covered by one of the jazz greats back in the day. There was “Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song),” which you have to hear to believe. Perhaps in ten years, you’ll be seeing Fiona’s long-delayed fourth album (unreleased as of this writing) on another one of these lists? Big Money
When rumors began swirling that Chris Cornell would be joining the musical backbone of Rage Against the Machine, rock nerds everywhere no doubt imagined one of the hard rockingest super groups ever assembled. What they got was more of a 1970’s Sabbath throwback, filtered through modern studio rock. While many critics and fans of Rage were disappointed by Audioslave’s debut, the fact remains it was a solid rock and roll album, melding the rhythmic backbone of Rage with Morello’s unique guitar stylings and Cornell’s equally unique vocal delivery. Opener “Cochise” kicks thing off with some killer guitar riffs and Cornell’s ungodly high pitched vocals belting over top. While tracks like “Gasoline” bring similar intensity, much of the album rests on the mid-tempo ballad formula, though to be fair “Like a Stone” and “I am the Highway” are perfect mixes of Morello’s spacey effects and Cornell’s just shy of corny lyrics and delivery. Later albums would hurtle past the “corny” meridian, but at least for one album, the quartet was able to deliver a rock and roll gem. Stephen
32. Bloc Party Silent Alarm (2005)
Silent Alarm is how you do a debut and “Like Eating Glass” is how you start said debut. Released when a bunch of new British bands were emerging (Arctic Monkeys, Maximo Park, Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, etc.), Bloc Party invoked something magical and made the listener feel…something. Kele Okereke sounded like no other singer out there at the time (or even today) and Bloc Party’s sound was a throwback to the past but still so unique. This album would be a one off as the direction the band would take on their next two would be decidedly more electro. For now, we’d have the lo-fi Silent Alarm and drummer Matt Tong drumming away feverishly throughout. This one still resonates today, especially single “Banquet”. Jesse
This album puts me in an awkward position. First of all, I fucking hate The Arcade Fire. Any personal goodwill Funeral might have generated has been completely pissed away by their last few records. Yes, Neon Bible and The Suburbs contained more of the leviathan pop arrangements, soaring vocal harmonies and ravaged sentimentalism that appeared on their debut. However, they were missing one very important element: focus. Their songwriting has gotten choppier and more inconsistent with every passing album, and their bland observations about the human condition (“Suburbs, man…fucking shit”) haven’t really helped anything. Second, while I respect Funeral, I don’t have any personal attachment to it. There are people who love this album more than I ever will, and there’s not much I can do about that.
So there’s this album. And it’s called Funeral. And it’s filled with rich instrumentation: guitars wrapped in xylophones, tea kettle percussion, pianos misted with rain, strings drenched in sunlight. You know, stuff. And most of the lyrics deal with life’s ebb and flow. And it’s a cornerstone of the indie generation, or something. It’s all right, I guess. Greg