With 2009 speeding along nicely and a wealth of music having been produced since the Millennium, it’s high time we stepped back a minute, past the X-Factor winners, past the endless re-releases, re-masters and greatest hits to appreciate the albums which have really defined the decade, and indeed the century.
Though I’ve picked out only 10 here, I could suggest dozens more which might be worthy for the list, but the important thing is not the album that’s sold the most, but those that put quality over quantity and dare to be different and, dare I utter yet another cliché, break the mould – or is that just a VO5 advert…never mind.
So here they are in their divine splendour. You will definitely have heard of one or two, but really it’s the ones you haven’t heard of you should pay attention to. Every album here has a combination of bold ideas, impressive musical skill – whether it be technically or pop-hook-crunchingly – and contains songs which have made the awkwardly titled ‘noughties’ surpass critics expectations for brand new music.
In no particular order, we begin with a more obvious choice: Green Day’s American Idiot.
Now I’m not suggesting it was the best album they’ve ever produced (that right is reserved for 1,039), but there’s no doubt that when it was released back on 2004 it caused a bit of a stir across the music world.
The idea of a ‘rock opera’ concept album is nothing new, with examples dating back to the 1960s and even earlier, but it had never been done with such flair and enthusiasm, or if it had then people must’ve conveniently forgotten about it.
Based around the failings of modern America, the album boasts two nine minute tracks and follows the story and issues of a boy, the self-proclaimed ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, as he leaves what he knows behind on a voyage of self discovery which is vaguely referred to throughout the album.
The video for the rock ballad track Wake Me Up When September Ends offers a little more clarity, portraying the boy as part of a couple who are quickly torn apart when he heads of to war.
Despite not being the Green Day fans were used to, it spawned an entire generation of new fans and saw the group play a two-day stint at Milton Keynes Bowl to a crowd of over 120,000, the biggest of their career.
This album will be talked about in years to come as a standard set for the modern concept album, and since Green Day themselves haven’t been able to better it with latest effort 21st Century Breakdown, then it deserves some attention.
Critical tracks: Jesus of Suburbia, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Holiday
Next up is a band you almost certainly will never have heard of. Why on Earth are they on this list you might ask? The reason is simple: pure musical perfection.
Adequate Seven were, surprisingly, a seven-piece band from Wales who released two albums and then faded into darkness.
While their first album: Songs of Innocence and Experience, may have made more impact, by the time 2006’s Here on Earth was released the band had found their stride and put everything into it.
The diversity which came as a result is something almost unprecedented on a ska/punk record, showing elements of hardcore one minute and melodic duet the next.
Musically the arrangement is magnificent, with each instrument playing off the others as the Chili Peppers-esque lyrics dance over the top.
Slap bass has never been used so infectiously, particularly in recent years, and you can’t help but get into the groove with this album as each song throws out a fresh hook to keep your attention.
The style is difficult to describe, and despite its similarities to early RHCP there is a lot more to offer here. Adequate Seven is a band which defines the term ‘funk punk’, an exquisite blend of the bouncing bass of jazz and the passion of punk.
The recording quality may not be top-of-the-line and the drums may come over a little quieter than they should in places, but all is forgiven when you immerse yourself in what the energetic septet (yes, I had to look it up) are trying to do.
Critical tracks: Foward Motion, Seven Mics for Seven Brothers, Gotta Stay Focused (re-record)
Returning to more familiar territory with the next album, this release undoubtedly made nu-metal a household term. The genre may have broken free from the underground with Korn’s Follow The Leader in 1998, but it wasn’t until Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory was released that the world realised the genre had truely arrived.
Selling 24million copies worldwide since its release in 2000, the significance of this album is hard to ignore. Songs like Crawling and One Step Closer saw rap and metal collide in a way which the pop-listening public had never heard before.
The most significant part of that of course is that the public didn’t like it, which may account for the genre’s quick demise, but the most pop-friendly single: In The End, made it to #8 in the UK charts and took the top spot in the US Modern Rock chart, as well as #2 in the main US chart.
The band made significant use of the music video as a medium, putting time and effort into bringing the songs to life, often disturbingly so, and dealing with themes such as paranoia, violence, childhood abuse and isolation.
The video for Crawling was particularly powerful, depicting a child abused by her father, much as lead vocalist Chester Bennington was, and the blood pouring out of her as the video goes on until she appears fine by the end. The chilling beginning and ending sample of water (or what sounds like water…) going down a drain still has the power to make your hairs stand on end even today and encapsulates everything that the album is about.
The combination of Chester Bennington’s distinctive screaming vocals with Mike Shinoda’s rap creates a unique juxtaposition which gives the album it’s unique sound. It’s on fourth track Points of Authority that this comes across the most strongly, with Mike’s vocals interwoven with Chester’s pointed screams.
Critical tracks: Crawling, Papercut, In The End
Continuing in the hardcore theme we come to the next entry, a little album called The Sufferer and the Witness by Chicago hardcore heavyweights Rise Against.
From the very album artwork your eyebrows immediately raise with this album, what do the patterns on the cover mean? Two figures? One the sufferer and one the witness? Like much art it’s best to draw your own conclusions.
Their previous album Siren Song of the Counter Culture gave the band mainstream success, so now that pressure to succeed was lifted they were able to flex their musical muscles a little more on this album and produce something outstanding.
From the first few seconds of the album you know you are in for something special as a voice-over matter-of-factly announces: “This, is noise.” From there the album keeps the accelerator down right until the end, tearing through every track, hardly pausing for breath.
Two songs where the album just take a break are the heart-felt Roadside and the depressing tale of loss: The Approaching Curve, which tells the story of a two people tearing each other apart as their relationships breaks down during a late night car journey, ending with the inevitability suggested in the title.
The album is full of memorable riffs, powerful choruses and overflowing with energy. Injection, which tells the story of a struggling drug addict battling his addiction, is a prime example of everything Rise Against is good at, and takes serious issues and combines them with the passion which only music can unlock.
The album also saw the first track to be launched into the mainstream on the back of the hugely successful Guitar Hero franchise, as Prayer of the Refugee began to tear up living rooms nationwide and introduce a whole new generation to the angered musical stylings of the band.
The album stands of one of the most complete and flawless of the decade, each track earning its right to be there and to such quality that it’s impossible to skip a single one.
Critical tracks: Injection, Prayer of the Refugee, Under the Knife
The fifth addition to our list comes from Leeds, a place well connected with good music thanks to its own counterpart to the legendary Reading Rock Festival, which began in 1999.
The Music, forever the enemy of the search engine, formed in the same year and released their self titled first album in 2002. Despite the album getting to number 4 in the charts, it missed out on snatching the title from its successor by not holding together as well as an album.
Welcome to the North, is one of the most complete 21st century albums you are likely to find. At just 11 tracks long the album takes listeners on a voyage in the only way modern hippies can. With ‘love’ and ‘freedom’ featuring heavily throughout it’s not difficult to start feeling the flower power, albeit in a reserved and controlled way – very 21st century.
An effects laden guitar echoes expectantly as the albums’ title track begins, from here is a sound which takes the slow pop rock ramblings of The Beatles and kicks them into gear. It may sound harsh to a band as epic as the fab four but when you compare the trudging beats of the 60s to the hard hitting tempo of the 00s from The Music, it’s very difficult to ignore.
Every song has powerful bass grooves, drum beats riddled with hi-hat and multi-layered guitar, giving the music an almost hypnotic quality. Add to that Robert Harvey’s simplistic but endearing lyrics, not to mention his mastery of manipulating nonsense words to create irritatingly catchy choruses, then you have something which is truly a sound to behold.
The album itself didn’t do quite so well in the charts, with many hardcore fans criticising the newer, more reserved sound of The Music, but the band aren’t really holding back, just are more focused on creating rounded complete songs, and succeed time and time again here.
Critical tracks: Freedom Fighters, Breakin’, Welcome to the North
So, that’s the first five, five more still to come. Like my suggestions? Feel like sharing some of your own? You can leave a comment or two below, I don’t pretend to know all the answers, and, as I said, this list of ten won’t be the only important albums to come out of the decade.
Stay tuned for the next part of the list in the next few days…