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100 Best Albums of the 2000s

100 Best Albums of the 2000s

Radiohead Kid A

Radiohead's Kid A

All through the last decade, you’d find a lot of people insisting that the album was dead, a victim of the MP3, the iPod and a la carte downloading. But that never happened. If anything, artists doubled down on the format, resulting in a renaissance of long form artistic statements from a wide range of artists. This list of the decade’s 100 best albums includes the work of rock revivalists (the Strokes, the White Stripes), dance floor visionaries (M.I.A., LCD Soundsystem), hip-hop icons (Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West) and old standbys like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and U2, who reinvented their sound without losing touch with what made them living legends. This list is not just an argument in favor of the enduring appeal of the album format, but a compelling case that some of the best music of all time came out between 2000 and 2009.

6

Arcade Fire, ‘Funeral’

Loss, love, forced coming-of-age and fragile generational hope: Arcade Fire's debut touched on all these themes as it defined the independent rock of this decade. Built on family ties (leader Win Butler, his wife, Régine Chassagne, his brother Will) and a rich, folkie musicality, the band made symphonic rock that truly rocked, using accordions and strings as central elements rather than merely as accessories, with a rhythm section that never let up. Songs like "Wake Up," "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" and "Rebellion (Lies)" were simultaneously outsize and deeply personal, like the best pop. But for all its sad realism — "I like the peace in the backseat," sings Chassagne at the album's end, knowing the sense of security is utterly false — this was music that still found solace, and purpose, in communal celebration, as anyone who saw them live during this period can attest. The upshot was an album that repaid countless listens — and made a generation of young rockers grateful for those childhood cello lessons.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2004 Review

The Unstoppable Ambition of Arcade Fire

Photos: Arcade Fire's Greatest Performances

5

The White Stripes, ‘Elephant’

After they grabbed the world's ear with White Blood Cells, it turned out Jack and Meg were just getting warm. They went from minimal to maximal on Elephant, with a hot-blooded rock throb that blew every other band off the radio. In these savagely honest love-and-marriage songs, Jack White fleshes out the story of two scared kids in love, building a fort to keep the outside world at bay — but being unable to figure out why they keep ripping each other apart. It's a sad story, but that doesn't keep the guitar boy and the drummer girl from having a filthy good time together, from twisted acoustic soul ("You've Got Her in Your Pocket") to electric-blues freakery ("Ball and Biscuit"). They struggle to hold it together in "The Hardest Button to Button." And when they cut loose for the depraved sex stomp "Seven Nation Army," the music lets you know why this bond was worth fighting for. In "Hypnotize," Jack yelps that he wants to "be your right-hand man until your hands get old." There's no doubt he'll die proving it.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review

Photos: The Many Guises of Jack White

The White Stripes in Rolling Stone: Interviews, Photos, Features and More

4

Jay-Z, ‘The Blueprint’

Unlike many of Jay-Z's records — the retirement and comeback discs, the movie soundtracks, the posse albums and "rock" albums — The Blueprint didn't have a gimmick. It rounded up a bunch of surefire beats and turned the greatest rapper on Earth loose.

Presto: Jay-Z's best record, and one of the finest rap albums of all time. Much credit is due to producers Just Blaze, Timbaland and especially Kanye West, who made his name with relentlessly catchy tracks like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." The old-school soul samples give the record a lush feel, but Blueprint was recorded at the height of Jay-Z's feud with Nas, and he was out for blood. Punch lines arrive fast and furious — "Sensitive thugs/You all need hugs," he quips — but what really stands out is the rapper's sheer musicality: the new flows, timbres and tones that Jay-Z unveils in every song, with a virtuosity that marked him a vocal stylist on par with pop's greatest singers. "I'm the compadre/The Sinatra of my day," he rapped. For once, he wasn't talking trash.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Jay-Z's 'The Blueprint'

Photos: Hip-Hop Royalty

3

Wilco, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’

Wilco's great leap forward was a mix of rock tradition, electronics, oddball rhythms and experimental gestures: a new vocabulary for an overwhelmed, dislocated age where we'd need to draw on both history and invention to survive. It is deeply tuneful but also fragile and unsteady. Its pretty acoustic-guitar melodies battled noise, skidded into dissonance or got chopped off abruptly. Its lyrics pitted hope against doubt, with all bets off. "You have to learn how to die," crooned Jeff Tweedy, "if you wanna . . . be alive."

The music was magnified by what came afterward: the band being dropped by its label; Wilco becoming new-media poster boys via the then-radical move of streaming their record for free ahead of the CD release; and, maybe most of all, the attacks of 9/11. The latter added metaphoric weight to songs about love and war, shaky skyscrapers and American flags. But nearly a decade after that perfect storm of history, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sounds just as jagged and beautiful.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2002 Review

Video: Wilco and Levon Helm Perform 'The Weight' at Solid Sound Festival

Jeff Tweedy: The Strange Birth of Wilco's 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'

2

The Strokes, ‘Is This It’

Before Is This It even came out, New York's mod ragamuffins were overnight sensations, jumping from Avenue A to press hysteria and the inevitable backlash, all inside a year. Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti were primed for star time, updating the propulsion of the Velvet Underground and the jangle of Seventies punk with Casablancas' acidic dispatches from last night's wreckage. Everything happened fast in "Barely Legal" and "Hard to Explain" — the attraction, sex and disappointment — but there was no missing the burn marks left by the guitars and Casablancas' vocals, mixed to the fore and ringed with distortion like he was singing from a pay phone. We got only two more albums from the Strokes, but they inspired a ragged revolt in Britain, led by the Libertines and Arctic Monkeys, and reverberated back home with the Kings of Leon. And for the bristling half-hour of Is This It, New York's shadows sounded vicious and exciting again.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Strokes' 'Is This It'

The Strokes, Elegantly Wasted: Rolling Stone's 2003 Cover Story

1

Radiohead, ‘Kid A’

"Kid A is like getting a massive eraser out and starting again," Thom Yorke said in October 2000, the week this album became the British band's first Number One record in America. "I find it difficult to think of the path we've chosen as 'rock music'."

In texture and structure, Kid A, Radiohead's fourth album, renounced everything in rock that, to Yorke in particular, reeked of the tired and overfamiliar: clanging arena-force guitars, verse-chorus-bridge song tricks.

With producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke, guitarist Ed O'Brien, drummer Phil Selway, bassist Colin Greenwood and guitarist Jonny Greenwood created an enigma of slippery electronics and elliptical angst, sung by Yorke in an often indecipherable croon. The closest thing to riffing on Kid A was the fuzz-bass lick in "The National Anthem"; the guitars in "Morning Bell" sounded more like seabirds.

The result was the weirdest hit album of that year, by a band poised to be the modern-rock Beatles, following the breakthrough of OK Computer. In fact, only 10 months into the century, Radiohead had made the decade's best album — by rebuilding rock itself, with a new set of basics and a bleak but potent humanity. Yorke's loathing of celebrity inspired the contrary beauty of "How to Disappear Completely," with its watery orchestration and his voice flickering in and out of earshot. His electronically squished pleading in "Kid A" sounded like a baby kicking inside a hard drive.

Ironically, Radiohead, by the end of this decade, had fulfilled much of that modern-Beatles promise by following rock's first commandment: Go your own way.

"Music as a lifelong commitment — if that's what someone means by rock, great," Yorke said in that 2000 interview. By that measure, with Kid A, Radiohead made the first true rock of the future.

Related:
Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Radiohead's 'Kid A'

Fifteen Years of Radiohead: Photos of the Band From "Pablo Honey" to "In Rainbows"

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