Lists: The best albums of the 00s

Here are the best fifty albums of the past ten years, in the humble (and entirely subjective) opinion of Ben Vernel. We’ll countdown and review the top ten before moving on to the list of albums eleven to fifty.  Read on…

10. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor

This genie of grammar, this king of conjugation, this lord of lyrics, this father of flow burst onto the scene in the middle of the decade with an intelligent, youthful mix of hip hop songs that appealed to and connected with Gen Y in an unprecedented way. Fiasco rapped about skating, security guards, absentee parents and young love. He broke life down into the simplest of categories (e.g. food and liquor) and built it up again in a way which made you laugh, made you think and most importantly made sense. He had a great deal of exposure thanks to his guest verse of Kanye West’s Touch The Sky, and the release of single Kick, Push was greeted with great interest. The single was a success and remains his most well-known song. The rest of the album mustn’t be discounted; He Say She Say is one of most perfectly put-together and performed hip hop songs I have ever heard. Second and third singles I Gotcha and Daydreamin’ are both excellent and album tracks Real, Pressure and Kick, Push II are all incredibly solid. Fiasco took a conceptual turn with his next album The Cool, losing some of the innocence and fun that made this album so good.

9. Daft Punk – Discovery

What is there to say about Daft Punk’s Discovery that hasn’t already been said? Well, I could compare it to a succulent steak; a familiar cut of meat, cooked to perfection. I could list the best 5 songs; Harder Better Faster Stronger, One More Time, Digital Love, Crescendolls, Aerodynamic. I could praise the dynamism present in what is an essentially repetitive artform. I could underline the fact that the album is good enough to slot in at ninth spot without the assistance of Around The World (which featured on an earlier release). I could do the robot for an hour (the duration of this album).  I could attempt to explain the widespread international appeal of a previously niche genre, thanks wholly to this duo. But no, I’m not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m just going to ramble incoherently for a paragraph. See?

8. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

Sufjan Stevens is one of those enigmatic genii who promise many great things and deliver… some. We’re not just talking about evident potential here; Stevens openly announced an ambition to craft an album based on every state of America.  Since the release of state number one Michigan in 2003, he has recorded and released only one other: Illinois. The biggest shame in his lack of follow-though is that both albums are fantastic. It’s purely a matter of opinion, but I feel that Illinois just edges out Michigan. While the traditional songs of both albums are almost impossible to split in terms of quality, Michigan’s instrumental filler – all tubular bells and swirling atmospherics – just doesn’t stack up to the more refined orchestral content of Illinois. Uplifting set-piece Chicago forms the accessible core of the album, while sad and beautiful numbers like John Wayne Gacy, Jr. and Casimir Pulaski Day tug firmly at the heart-strings. Jacksonville and Decatur are less elaborate than the shifting tempos of The Man Of Metropolis and The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades but the changes in tone are swift and seamless. This is an incredible accomplishment. Now where are those other 48 states?

7. The Killers – Sam’s Town

This album is criminally underrated. Prior to its release, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers declared that it would be heralded as a modern masterpiece. The equal of the best of Springsteen, he said. It was quite successful, it must be said, but not nearly to the extent to which it was predicted. Critics called it uneven and overly-ambitious and fans failed to find the unrelenting dance-poppery of previous release Hot Fuss. For someone who just likes good music   and didn’t particularly think Hot Fuss was as great as it had been made out to be (the second half is woeful), Sam’s Town came as a pleasant surprise. It is a concept album. It is a work of art. It is four or five brilliant songs surrounded by five or six great ones. Having come to the party late, I missed out on the hype and subsequent letdown. Instead, I found a masterfully crafted album that defied genre but excelled in all of them anyway. Bones never fails to elicit that spine-tingling sensation you get when music plugs right down deep into your soul. Read My Mind is a perfect pop song that utilises the nostalgic synthery that featured so heavily on Hot Fuss. Bling and This River Is Wild epitomise The Killers’ sound at that point in time; impossibly catchy but deeper and more artful than your average pop-rock.

6. Jay-Z – The Black Album

On The Black Album, Jay-Z declares that he is, ‘The best rapper alive’. In 2003, he was. A recurring theme runs through the top albums of the past decade; they are a perfect representation of the quirks of the genre to which they belong while being well-written enough to appeal to a wide(r) audience. The Black Album is, I believe, the pinnacle of Jay-Z’s career. The Blueprint was an excellent album and American Gangster was an admirable work but here, on The Black Album, was where Hova managed to find the perfect balance of aggressive, cocky grandstanding and relatable everyman storytelling. In addition to the frankly incandescent lyricism of Jay, the production is tip top-notch. Case in point: 99 Problems. It’s perfectly produced. Literally nothing about it could be done better. The same goes for December 4th, Public Service Announcement (a hidden gem), Change Clothes and Encore (although the Linkin Park collaboration serves to create some ambiguity with regard to that last one). Jay-Z’s reign at the top was short-lived, with Kanye West dropping College Dropout one year later and Late Registration the next. A bizarre retirement and comeback have forever tainted the memory of Jay-Z’s glory days but The Black Album remains nigh-on perfection.

5. The White Stripes – Elephant

The White Stripes broke through following the release of White Blood Cells and the single Fell In Love With A Girl but they hit their peak with Elephant, a collection of vintage rock and roll featuring the talents of Whites Jack and Meg, guitar virtuoso and capable drummer respectively.  Fell In Love With A Girl might have been the attention-grabber but Seven Nation Army was the instant classic, the kind of song that never ever loses its shine or its power. The song is a perfect mix of poetically evocative lyrics, squealing guitar and metronomic drums. Fortunately, the album’s brilliance does not rest solely on the sevenfold shoulders of an army of nations. Playful/mournful piano number I Wanna Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart, low-down blues wailer Ball & Biscuit, early sixties swinger Hypnotize and pure rock and rollers like The Air Near My Fingers and Black Math are all excellent songs. If The Strokes and Kings Of Leon ushered in an era of retro-rock, The White Stripes cemented the renaissance with Elephant.

4. QOTSA – Songs For The Deaf

Songs For The Deaf is, without doubt, the most incredibly awesome hard rock release of the past 10 years. It’s an almost unquestionable inclusion in the greater 50, but many would gladly place it top 10 and even, as we have, top 5. Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl and co. created a beast of an album. Heavy on crunchy guitar, thumping bass, complex drumming and most importantly, perfect pop sensibility, Songs For The Deaf displays a perfect understanding of how to tread the line between stoner rock and something significantly more accessible. No One Knows is as close to a perfect song as I’ve heard and Go With The Flow, You Think I Aint Worth A Dollar…, God Is In The Radio and A Song For The Dead are just brilliant. Like the albums which came in lower, Songs For The Deaf is so damn good at what it sets out to be (a loud, fun, atmospheric rock n roll album) that it reaches out beyond the constrictions of terms like stoner rock (or garage rock or hip hop) and appeals to a broader audience. It’s pop, but the very best kind.

3. The Shins – Wincing The Night Away

The Shins owe their international fame to Zach Braff’s Garden State, but the talent was always there.  In 2001 The Shins released Oh, Inverted World, a good album of indie-pop that improved after repeated listens. New Slang was their standout track then and,  nearly 9 years later, arguably still is. Wincing The Night Away is their strongest, most consistent release to date and features eleven songs of near-New Slang quality. Some are quite possibly as good, if not better; Phantom Limb, Australia, Red Rabbits and Turn On Me are all contenders. The rest are still only 5% or so off it, and the album remains an incredibly deep yet superficially beautiful journey. It’s not a hard album to listen to, but the subtler themes are there to be discovered by those willing to look. The band – led by James Mercer – find the perfect point between melancholia and euphoria, and they do it time and time again. Sleeping Lessons bursts into action, a repetitive and relentless beat and guitar, leading the listener into a tremulous world of girl sailors, comets, runaways and pilfered booze.

2. Kanye West – Late Registration

This was Kanye West’s breakthrough album. Already critically acclaimed as a result of his debut cut College Dropout, West took his sample-heavy hip hop to the masses with Late Registration. It was a phenomenal demonstration of the artistic potential and creative ability West had always possessed. Hints at this prodigal gift were littered throughout his debut with songs like We Don’t Care, Jesus Walks and School Spirit but there was all too much filler for the album to be confidently regarded as a classic. With the release of Late Registration, songs like Gold Digger and Touch The Sky found mainstream success. And when I say ‘success’, I mean ‘shit-god-damn worldwide popular and critical’ success. Lesser known gems like Heard ‘Em Say, We Major and my personal favourite Gone were plainly and simply amazing. Featuring masterful string arrangements, deft sampling and excellent guest spots from NaS, Common, Lupe Fiasco and Adam Levine, Late Registration is an A+++ album.

1. The Strokes – Is This It?

A masterpiece of lo-fi garage rock, The Strokes’ debut takes you back to the glory days of rock’n’roll. I was too young to appreciate it when it first came out, which is fair enough because I was a naïve thirteen-year-old (my Dad kept telling me they were going to be the next big thing, and I kept telling him Sum 41 were better… ). Now I see this album for what it really is; a collection of brilliantly written, perfectly performed pieces of music. Take Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mick Jagger and chuck them in a blender. The resulting rock star smoothie is called Julian Casablancas. Take The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones, do the same, and what you have is The Strokes. Their albums may have got successively worse, but that doesn’t alter the impact and quality of this, their first. Last Night is a grungy, soulful look at longing and alienation in the city (a recurring theme in Casablancas’ songwriting) as well as a damn-near perfect display of vintage rock as filtered through the minds and hands of a bunch of rich hipsters. Someday is a melancholic declaration of a man’s decision to not ‘waste no more time’.  Again, it’s beautifully done – as is the rest of the album. If you don’t like Is This It?, you’re ridiculous.

And now for the rest…

11. Kings Of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak
12. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
13. Radiohead – In Rainbows
14. Justice – †
15. Muse – Absolution
16. Kanye West – College Dropout
17. Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
18. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am
19. The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics
20. E agles Of Death Metal – Heart On
21. DFA1979 – You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine
22. Gorillaz – Demon Days
23. Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
24. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
25. Girl Talk – Night Ripper
26. M.I.A – Kala
27. Sigur Ros – Takk
28. The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
29. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
30. Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future
31. The Killers – Hot Fuss
32. The Strokes – Room On Fire
33.  Fleet Foxes – Ragged Wood
34. The Black Keys – Rubber Factory
35. Ratatat – Self-titled
36. The Mars Volta – Frances The Mute
37. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
38. Jose Gonzalez – Veneer
39. NaS – God’s Son
40. Wolfmother – Self-titled
41. Lupe Fiasco – The Cool
42. Kings Of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood
43. Jamie T – Panic Prevention
44. Lily Allen – Alright, Still
45. CKY – Infiltrate.Destroy.Rebuild
46. Kasabian – Empire
47. Band Of Horses- Everything All The Time
48. Architecture In Helsinki – In Case We Die
49. Simian – We Are Your Friends
50. LCD Soundsystem – Self-titled

Agree? Disagree? Post your opinions below.

– Ben Vernel


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