Pitchfork and Rolling Stone and Spin and all those other outlets have their lists of the best albums of the decade, and you know what? I'm going to let them. There's no point in me trying to come up with that list because there were so many great records to choose from. Who's to say that The Strokes
' Is This It?
was better than Muse
or any album by Arcade Fire
? You can't! You can't! Best albums are invariably marked by an editor's (or staff's) preference in music. But what about qualifying the most important? I can tell you that Bob Dylan
's Modern Times
was probably the best record put out this decade by an old timer. But it wasn't more significant from a historical standpoint as Bruce Springsteen
. Not even close. And so after three painstaking weeks of research, rehashing and re-listening, I'm pleased to present to you the 25, 27 most important albums released from 2000-2009.
25) Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
I don't know why so many millions of people want to go on American Idol. If being a star brings odds of one in infinity, winning Idol AND becoming a star past it must bring odds in infinity plus one. If you think I'm crazy and have the formula the other way around, just check out the beginning of next season's show when FOX manages to fill an entire football stadium with wannabe singers. So this list starts with Kelly Clarkson (NOTE
: the list said the "most important
" albums of the decade, not the "best
"-I suggest you learn to read good) whose Breakaway was a bolder, rockier follow-up to that gooey-drip garbage that was Thankful
. Not that I'm totally hating on that debut record-but Breakaway was an important release for both Clarkson and the pop music consuming public: Clarkson because she finally wrestled some creative control out of the hands of the American Idol machine; the pop music consuming public because it solidified the fact that yes, an Idol winner could go on to sell legit records after the show. This was an especially important development given how much From Justin to Kelly sucked (though, to be fair, Justin Guarini's debut effort was just as good or 'eh' as Thankful, but because the movie was such a fraud his sales absolutely sucked). The winners and runners up who followed Clarkson all hoped to make something like Breakaway, but Clay Aiken might've been the only other contestant to understand that you have to weather the bullshit storm of Idol's squeaky machine before morphing into the Individual. It's a formula that only David Cook has been able to duplicate; a formula that only Daughtry has been able to break altogether.
24) D'Angelo - Voodoo
In my lifetime, I've seen mobs of people standing around a TV in a public place (like an electronics store) on three occasions: the end of a big NFL or college football game, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the time D'Angelo's music video "Untitled" debuted on MTV (though I'm sure it was BET, but I'm even more sure that Best Buy wouldn't have played BET on their big screens). The music was playing on the intercom and every black woman in the store immediately ran to TV section. As the shot of D'Angelo slowly zoomed out to reveal his bare chest, abs, lower abs… good Lord, the man is naked! these women had a collective orgasm. To this day it ranks up there as one of most surreal things I've ever seen in public. What Voodoo effectively did back in 2000 was strip down the mounting gloss-production of R&B-think R. Kelly-to create a record of a bare man singing in a basement with a couple of genius fellowshippers. But Voodoo is unlike any R&B record that has come before or since. It's spiritual, in a tribal way. And D'Angelo-definitely not known for singing with clarity-croons from track to track blurred and in no hurry. Listeners are definitely on his time, and you'd be a fool to skip it.
23) The White Stripes - Elephant
If 2001's "Fell in Love With a Girl" made The White Stripes a great one hit wonder, then "Seven Nation Army" took that away and replaced it with These Guys Are For Real status. Of course, Jack and Meg White had been for real long before that, building an underground reputation as one of the legendary live bands around. But despite "Fell in Love" and a few other minor chart spottings, 2001's White Blood Cells failed to really put a dent in the bigger musical picture. Their two-person, two-instruments on recording-only act was something new and fresh and pseudo-innovative, but the reality was that they were just one of a slew of new wave of indie bands who had recently splashed onto the scene, bands like The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines… only they predated all of those bands by a number of years (White Blood Cells didn't actually blow up until the other bands did as well). 2003's Elephant then was a game changer, in part because many of those other "The" bands weren't fortunate enough to enjoy the same level of success on their sophomore albums (Elephant wasn't The White Stripes' second album, but let's just pretend that it was). What separated their success largely had to do with Jack White's genius and bravado. The infamous bass line that opens "Seven Nation Army" was so ridiculous that it instantly catapulted the band to superstardom while going down in history as one of the best of the decade. If you scour the reviews from any of the music outlets for reviews of this album when it first dropped, critics were already hailing it as one of the year's best. Yes, at some point in the middle of the decade John Mayer turned blues and took a whole bunch of Jack Johnson fans with him. But this was nothing-on a musical level-compared to the outright Southern blues revival that The White Stripes conjured up. The band's cause is infinitely helped by what a fascinating subject Jack himself is (see: the film documentary It Might Get Loud), but back in 2003, before anyone knew too much about him and his wife/sister/twin/whatever partner Meg, there was Elephant, fourteen tracks of blazing fire and a booming, preacher-like voice from Detroit spewing spiritual rock 'n' blues from his Ward pulpit.
22) Taking the Long Way - Dixie Chicks
So what happens when you're on tour, you tell your audience that you don't really like George Dubya that much, and then find yourself spending weeks in the news cycle trying to defend what you said in front of rabid conservative Americans (who somehow have forgotten now that Obama is in office that they ever supported Bush to begin with)? Why, you make another album and address it, that's what you do! And that's what the Dixie Chicks did! Taking the Long Way sold boatloads of records-seriously, it's Country; they all sell boatloads of records-and got people asking aloud if patriotism, democracy and free speech were inherently in conflict of interest with each other. In coming up with the list for the most important records, the albums that stirred controversy immediately came to mind, and frankly, that's what you want if you're to put your foot on a page of music history. Taking the Long Way could've been just another Country record, a record that wouldn't have made this list. Look what they did.
21) Kanye West - Graduation
There's a great line on the track "Barry Bonds" that goes:
I done played the underdog my whole career
I've been a very good sport, haven't I, this year
They said he's going crazy, and we seen this before
But I'm doing pretty good as far as geniuses go
I put 2007's Graduation on this list because of the context; it oozes with all kinds of blowhard Kanye quotes. Why is this any more significant than the chest-puffing, crotch grabbing gestures that other figures in hip hop do on their records, you ask? Well, Kanye took his proclamations to the nth power. Somehow, his records were holy grails. His style was what hip hop should be following. If John Lennon was taken out of context when he said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Kanye West was absolutely serious when he asserted that if the bible were written today he'd be in it. Somehow, this album served as a vehicle for him to fulfill his own prophecies by being the new Jesus and further antagonizing an already annoyed public. He hadn't even gotten around to stealing Taylor Swift's MTV Music Award moment or granting his Oh Wise One opinion on Justin Timberlake (that JT "could have" been the next Michael Jackson but chose to slack off, and so he himself would take that title, thank you very much!). 2007 was right when everybody was just a little too tired of his antics, and yet, he still managed a bomb album that everybody talked about, whether it was the awesomeness of "Flashing Lights" or the epic club banger "Stronger" that borrowed generously from Daft Punk. He certainly took the time to assert himself as the next Michael Jackson if you want to consider a polarizing star whom hadn't broken down on stage and started dating a bald headed alien-yet.