A serviceable definition I recently came across for the word “best” was “of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.” As a journalist, the job regularly includes the hopefully tasteful, relevant use of superlatives, but incorporating the word “best” into writing about art will always seem at least partly phony. In particular, creating a year-end “Best Albums” list is theoretically impossible unless your dependable scribe has scoured the Earth to not only find but competently listen to every album released over the past 12 months, and it has been reported that 105,000 albums were released last year in the United States alone. Even then, to pen and publish a “Best Albums of the Year” list, it seems a writer must believe that he or she possesses taste so good and true that it denotes the capability to tell the world which excellent sounds they should effectively desire.
Me? I’m just a hopeless music lover who gets a kick out of turning people on to the music that finds its way inside my bones and stays. Plus, the end of this year is special, as it signifies the end of arguably the second-most (to use another superlative) interesting decade of rock music ever, behind only the 1960s. So here’s my list of favorites — one for each of the past 10 years — that might’ve moved you too. Check them out, and feel free to e-mail us your own opinions.
2000: PJ Harvey Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea — “I just feel like it’s the end of the world,” English singer-songwriter and riot-goddess PJ Harvey sang on “Big Exit,” the blistering first track from her diversely breathtaking fifth album. Dynamic professions of bold love — from “I’m immortal when I’m with you” to “with you I wait to be born again” — are delivered via Harvey’s emotive vocals, which recall Patti Smith, Nick Cave and even legendary blues queens like Mahalia Jackson. Harvey called Stories “my beautiful, sumptuous, lovely piece of work” in 2001, and part of the album’s breakout success was due to a streamlining of her more explosive previous work, but this captivating record’s elegant aggression made it soar.
Honorable mention: Air The Virgin Suicides
2001: Radiohead Amnesiac — Many people will surely slam me for not including Dr. Dre’s comeback success (Chronic) 2001 anywhere in this list, but then they’ll inevitably take a moment to look up from their bongs and realize 2001 was actually released in 1999. Radiohead’s psychedelic electro-rock classic Amnesiac, however, was released to widespread acclaim in the summer of 2001, debuting on the U.S. charts at #2. Recorded at the same time as their more abstract 2000 collection Kid A but released eight months later, Amnesiac began with tentative techno swirls and hostile lyrics — “get off my case … you’re looking in the wrong place” — probably aimed at fans and critics expecting the arena-rock follow up to OK Computer that was eventually delivered by Coldplay. Instead, Amnesiac listeners swam with black-eyed angels, shoved mice in their mouths, and enjoyed 11 weirdly beautiful songs that juxtaposed technological creativity with lyrically daring and comfortably numb garage-rock.
Honorable mention: Bob Dylan Love and Theft
2002: The Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — World peace might literally be attained if one of the Flaming Lips’ climactic concerts — such as our ecstatic evening with them at Red Rocks earlier this year — took place at a major political summit, but the band’s symphonic affirmations of love and life actually make the most sense on headphones. If you spent the ’00s on another planet, slept through them, or were simply too busy to discover new music, it’d be tough to find a track that’d better sum up the audio glory of the past 10 years than “Do You Realize??” from the Flaming Lips’ 10th LP. Partly a fantastical concept album about a robot-fighting Japanese woman, Yoshimi finally made these Oklahoma oddballs a worldwide sensation, and “Do You Realize??” is a psychedelic koan that will be intriguing Earthlings (and maybe others) for a long time.
Honorable mention: Broken Social Scene You Forgot It In People
2003: Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tell — The label that gave us Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson in the ’90s went on to expose the masses to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a volatile New York City art-rock trio who exploded into the mainstream with Fever to Tell in 2003. “Maps,” propulsive singer Karen O’s romantic plea to her rock-star lover to stay home, became an MTV hit; however, the real story here was that raucous alt-punk tracks like “Black Tongue” and “Rich” strikingly turned up-front sexuality upside down, finally giving the music world a female Iggy Pop.
Honorable mention: The White Stripes Elephant