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CD Reviews:
The Best Albums Of The Decade

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Thursday, December 24, 2009

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And so another decade comes to an end — and brings the end of the music industry as we’ve known it.

The big music story of the first decade of the 21st century was not the music itself but the way music is sold, distributed and consumed. In 2000, for instance, 785.1 million albums were purchased, and the Internet only accounted for 1.6 percent of those sales. Last year, however, album sales in total were down to 428.4 million, with 65 million of those downloaded, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

But that doesn’t mean people weren’t buying music. In 2008, total music purchases were 1.5 billion and marked the third consecutive year they increased. Moreover, sales of individual digital tracks topped a billion for the first time ever, a 27-percent increase from 2007. Those are trends that are expected to continue when the 2009 year-end report comes out.

The severe swing to digital has, of course, caused casualties — in the retail world in particular, where music stores have nearly disappeared. And the statistics indicate that the album is a dwindling, and perhaps endangered, art form.

So it may be that by the time we get to 2019, albums will not be the true measure of creative musical achievement. But during the past decade they were, and as it comes to an end it’s time to consider the best 25 of those albums that came out during the past 10 years...

The Beatles, “Beatles 1” (2000): The top-selling album of the decade (nearly 11.5 million copies) had nothing new to offer — except 27 indelible hits that were, in fact, new to another generation won over by the charm of the Fab Four through this collection, before video games became the main mode of discovery.

Eminem, “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000): The Detroit rapper’s second major label outing showed the sensation stirred by “The Slim Shady LP” was no fluke as he managed to mature without losing the audacious blood ‘n’ guts of his debut. It was the rightful recipient of its year’s Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and was named the fastest-selling solo album ever by the Guinness Book of World Records as he went on to become the decade’s leading record-seller.

Radiohead, “Kid A” (2000): Few releases were more provocative during the decade as the British quintet knocked its fans and the entire music world for a loop with this atonal but tuneful — and utterly refreshing — reinvention of its sound.

U2, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (2000): After some rampant and largely under-appreciated experimentation during the ‘90s, the Irish quartet staged a “comeback” with this familiar-sounding set. Singles such as “Beautiful Day” and “Walk On” unwittingly became part of the post-911 attack soundtrack.

OutKast, “Stankonia” (2000): If the 2000s were the decade of reinventing hip-hop, this Atlanta duo helped lead the charge on its fourth album, stirring rock and cutting-edge dance flavors into a mix that also included the seminal single “Ms. Jackson.”

The Flaming Lips, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (2002): The Oklahoma art rockers reached new technicolor heights this time out, crafting a brand of melodic psychedelia that brought the ‘60s pastiches of the Beatles and Brian Wilson up to date, 21st Century style.

Jay-Z, “The Blueprint” (2001): The New York rapper had already graduated to impresario by the time he delivered his sixth album, a hard-spitting masterpiece that was reportedly cut in just two weeks and was fueled by the specter of criminal charges (gun possession and assault) and feuds with colleagues such as Nas and The Prodigy. Then-fledgling figures such as Kanye West and Timbaland were among his collaborators.

Coldplay, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” (2002): Call ‘em a U2 knockoff if you will, but Coldplay’s sophomore set staked a claim for this British quartet as its own band, with craft that matched the group’s, and particularly frontman Chris Martin’s, abundant charisma.

Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (2001): You could argue that its successor, 2004’s “A Ghost is Born,” is a better album, but the impact of Wilco’s fourth album went beyond the music. After Warner Bros. Records refused to put it out, the group leaked it online, creating a buzz that won its eventual release — a sobering demonstration and foreboding of the power the Internet could wield over the music industry.

Ryan Adams, “Heartbreaker” (2000): Adams stepped out of Whiskeytown and opened a vein on his solo debut, lamenting a broken relationship with the most fully realized song set of his prolific career.

Bob Dylan, “Love and Theft” (2001): Rock’s legendary bard defied age and expectations with a dizzying creative run that began with 1997’s “Time Out of Mind” and stayed in stride with this crinkly set — on which Dylan sounds more wise than weary — and continued five years later on “Modern Times.”

The Strokes, “Is This It” (2001): With apologies to the White Stripes — whose “White Blood Cells” had a lower profile — the New York quintet’s debut launched the garage rock craze, ironically (but not unusually) channeled back to these shores from the U.K., which caught on first.

Alicia Keys, “Songs in A Minor” (2001): Surprisingly sophisticated and fully formed for a debut album, this introduced us to one of the decade’s most consistently beguiling artists — a welcome counter to the booty-shaking vacuousness of many of her many “neighbors” at the top of the charts.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising” (2002): Springsteen took it seriously when a fan shouted to him that “we need you” in the wake of the 911 attacks and brought the E Street Band back together in the studio for a thoughtful and insightful stock-taking of not only the tragedy but what happened in its wake.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “By the Way” (2002): Having regained some lost equilibrium on 1999’s “Californication,” the rock ‘n’ funketeers further refined their attack and particularly their songcraft on hits such as “By the Way,” “Can’t Stop” and “The Zephyr Song.”

Various Artists, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack (2000): Amidst the other sounds at the turn of the century, few could have expected the Appalachian classics of the Carter Family, the Stanley Brothers and others of the ilk would capture the ears and imagination of the masses the way the companion to the equally quirky Coen Brothers’ film did.

Drive-By Truckers, “Southern Rock Opera” (2001): The title’s a hoot, and the album is even better, mixing autobiography and the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fatal plane crash in 14 years earlier with, of course, some raging rock ‘n’ roll. Can we get a “Free Bird,” somebody? Say “amen.”

White Stripes, “Elephant” (2003): Though “White Blood Cells” was the breakthrough two years prior, the Detroit duo’s more expansive and creatively daring fourth album is the one that made them stars. It won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album, while the hit “Seven Nation Army” was that year’s Best Rock Song.

Warren Zevon, “The Wind” (2003): With mortality sitting on his shoulder after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Zevon delivered an affecting and clear-minded discourse on his situation — which was released just two weeks before he passed away.

Green Day, “American Idiot” (2004): The notion of a punk rock opera raised eyebrows — and then raised triumphant fists as the trio rolled out some of the sharpest, most intelligent and irreverent social commentary made in a couple of decades, not just this one.

Kanye West, “Late Registration” (2005): Another case where an artist’s debut (in this case 2004’s “The College Dropout”) brought the party but its successor delivered the goods. West’s sophomore set transcended his hip-hop home base for a sweeping pop terrain marked by hot anthems such as “Touch the Sky,” “Gold Digger” and “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.”

Dixie Chicks, “Taking the Long Way” (2006): Bashed by their country core for their anti-war (and, ultimately, anti-Bush) stance, the Chicks showed some defiant Texas ‘tude on their seventh release — as well as considerable creative growth from 2002’s “Home.”

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand” (2007): The most unlikely combination — Led Zeppelin’s singer with bluegrass’ ranking queen?! — yielded one of the decade’s most surprisingly sublime creations.

M.I.A., “Kala” (2007): This arty and future-looking mash-up of world music, hip-hop and pop never ceases to yield something new with each listen, and “Paper Planes” remains one of the decade’s best musical moment, period.

Lil Wayne, “Tha Carter III” (2008): Coming after a convoluted slew of mixtapes and leaks, the Louisiana hip-hop auteur staked a new career high with an ambitious sonic swirl and pointed political commentary.

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