100 Best Albums of the 2000s - Rolling Stone
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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.


Brian Wilson, ‘Smile’

The famously un-finished Beach Boys record, begun by Wilson in 1966 as an answer to Sgt. Pepper but abandoned in favor of the less-ambitious Smiley Smile, gets finished in 2004 with help from longtime co-conspirator Van Dyke Parks. Is it the album it might've been 30-plus years ago? Who knows. But it's Wilson's finest solo moment: cascading vocal arrangements, delicious melodies, and letter-perfect orchestral flourishes. A generation of vocal-obsessed indie rockers (Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes) owe him large.

Rolling Stone's Original 2004 Review

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Gnarls Barkley, ‘St. Elsewhere’

Everybody went crazy for "Crazy"," the Gnarls Barkley debut smash that hovers seductively between eras and genres, hitting a chord with everyone from indie rockers and hip-hop headz to teenyboppers and their great-grandparents. But "Crazy" was just one of the pleasures offered up on Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse's debut. Blending spaghetti Western soundtrack music, Motown, club-savvy dance beats, rock and gospel, St. Elsewhere seemed to take like a little bit of everything while resembling nothing else out there – a primer on 20th century pop that heralded a brave new musically polyglot 21st century. Bonus: they performed in Star Wars outfits.

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Rolling Stone's 100 Best Songs of the Aughts: Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy"

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The Postal Service, ‘Give Up’

It's quaint to think of it now: Electronic musician Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard named their project Postal Service because they used to send demos back and forth to each other – in the good old-fashioned U.S. Mail. In a way, that suits the glitchy, retro computer pop the duo made on Give Up, with help from Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and Temper Trap’s Jen Wood. Songs like "Such Great Heights" – whose inclusion on the soundtrack to Garden State elevated the album's profile – and "Nothing Better" bubbled with sweet little blips and bloops and bright patches of synth-manipulated  strings whose crispness balanced Gibbard’s delicate warble.

Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

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Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’

From the beginning, it was clear that Chris Martin and company had designs on U2-level stardom – they wanted to be the Band That Matters Most. With their fourth album, they reached that goal, delivering 10 widescreen, windswept anthems about love, war and la vida. (Longtime U2 secret weapon, producer Brian Eno, helped the cause.) "I used to rule the world," sang Martin in the majestic title track, and "used to" was the only part that rang false.

Rolling Stone's Original 2008 Review

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Video: Coldplay's "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall"


Eminem, ‘The Eminem Show’

On his third album, Eminem shifted from provocation to introspection, mulling fame, fatherhood and the psychic toll of being America's biggest pop star and – according to scolds on both ends of the political spectrum – number one moral menace. The rhymes were as densely packed and virtuosic as ever ("When I speak, it's tongue in cheek/I'd yank my fuckin' teeth before I'd ever bite my tongue"), but they were also poignantly confessional; the beats largely jettisoned perky hip-hop to embrace the power chords and grandeur of Seventies rock.

Rolling Stone's Original 2002 Review

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The Black Keys, ‘Attack & Release’

If you're going to do a song called "Psychotic Girl," you may as well make it sound like it was bashed out by a couple of psychotic dudes. And the old-school blues-rock duo from Akron, Ohio, was more than happy to oblige. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were bringing the garage-rock noise when people dismissed the sound as a fad, but by teaming up with Danger Mouse, they were still topping themselves with their fifth album. Intended as a collaboration with Ike Turner, who died before it could happen, this down-home guitar ruckus could have come from any decade — but fit right into this one.

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Queens of the Stone Age, ‘Rated R’

The greatest LP by these post-grunge stoners begins with "Feel Good Hit of Summer" – which is just that, providing you’re not in rehab. ("Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, and alcohol!" are pretty much the entire lyrics.) The album carried the torch for song-based hard rock awesomeness during the lean years of rap-rock, cribbing as much from the Beatles and glam-era Bowie as from avant-metal kin like The Melvins. Crushing, hypnotic, and frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious – like a good buzz should be.

Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

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Ryan Adams, ‘Gold’

In the early 2000s, the former frontman for North Carolina alt-country also-rans Whiskeytown blossomed into a shockingly prolific, amazingly consistent song machine. On Gold, released two weeks after 9/11, he set evocations of hard loving and heavy drinking on the Lower East Side to eclectic, heartfelt roots rock. The rollicking anthem "New York, New York" could've been on AM radio in 1974, and songs like the singer-songwriter revelation "Silvia Plath" and the Hendrix-tinged boogie ''Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues'' showed how diverse his talent was. Adams' character sketches of pretty young things finding themselves in a city that was still on one knee made Gold one of that autumn's most therapeutic listens.

Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review

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Kings of Leon, ‘Youth and Young Manhood’

The Followills came blazing out of Juliet, Tennessee swathed in enough "Southern Strokes" hype to choke a mule. But they lived up to every bit of it on their fabulous debut, one of the decade's greatest garage rock records. Stylish but downhome, punky but purdy, it veered from short, sharp tambourine-banging rockers to sultry, guttural slow burners. Caleb's cotton-mouthed delivery fell somewhere between Kurt Cobain and an alcoholic tractor supplies salesman – the perfect slop-jowled squawk for their odes to wayward  Southern girls and the fallen boys who loved them. 

Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

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The New Pornographers, ‘Electric Version’

This oddball indie-rock all-star team is one of those "only in the 2000s" stories. A.C. Newman, brilliant Vancouver songwriter and hard-luck veteran of the Nineties rock boom, retreats to his bedroom and writes a bunch of songs that would have been perfect AM-gold radio nuggets in the Seventies. He picks up a band to join him, including country vixen Neko Case and literary balladeer Dan Bejar. Then, to everyone's shock, the band becomes a hit, and just keeps getting better. This sophomore album is full of cheery guitars, loopy keyboards, and sly pop ditties like "The Laws Have Changed."

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Sufjan Stevens, ‘Illinois’

The literary indie-folk poet only got two discs into his threatened project of recording an album about every state in the union – but his ode to the Land of Lincoln is an American classic nonetheless. On songs like "Out of Egypt" and "Chicago," Stevens set wax-winged melodies atop delicately droning avant-classical compositions deeply indebted to Steven Reich and Philip Glass, and he balanced those sweeping moments with simple, acoustic benedictions – from "Decatur," a waltz-time cheer for our greatest president, to "Casimir Polaski Day," a meditation on religious faith in the darkest of hours that might serve for non-believers as a metaphor for keeping your head up in the decade of 9/11 and George W. Bush.

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Yo La Tengo, ‘And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out’

On their most intimate, sonically rich album, the cutest couple in indie rock found a sweet spot between the elegant noise-guitar hum of 1993's Painful and the bedheaded grooviness of 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. Whether a gorgeous dance-pop tune inspired by a Simpsons episode ("Let's Save Tony Orlando's House"), recalling a dance-floor meet-cute over slow-dissolve guitar echo and a Latin-tinged rhythm ("The Last Days of Disco") or shyly covering a Seventies R&B chestnut (George McCrea's "You Can Have It All)," Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley's private revelations inspired scores of frumpy lovebirds to set aside their issues of the Believer and hit the futon.  

Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

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Sigur Ros, ‘()’

Definitely not one for the Miley fans — over an hour of Icelandic psychedelia, with eight untitled tracks sung in an imaginary language the band made up themselves. But in any language, Sigur Rós created a stunningly widescreen work of beauty. Singer-guitarist Jónsi Thor Birgisson bowed his axe for an ungodly level of reverb, yet the mood was peaceful, fleshing out the slow-motion melodies with piano, church organ, and the female string quartet Amiina. In the 12-minute climax "Untitled #8" (also known as "Poppaglio," or "The Pop Song"), you can hear the almost telepathic communication between the musicians, as Birgisson brings the guitar thunder.

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Arcade Fire, ‘Neon Bible’

Arcade Fire followed up their breakthrough 2004 debut with Neon Bible, a set of songs that pushed the dour, bombastic sound to a darker, more baroque extreme. Though many of the tracks, such as "Intervention" and "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," are fixated on a noble, Job-like suffering, the group never shy away from cathartic crescendos, with the Springsteen-esque "Keep the Car Running" and the charging "No Cars Go" reaching the most ecstatic heights of their career to date.

Rolling Stone's Original 2007 Review

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Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Stadium Arcadium’

By 2006, the Chili Peppers had long since folded up their socks, and critics had begun to call them "mature" – a dreaded term that has signaled the death of many a great rock band. But with their huge ninth album, Anthony Kiedis, Flea and company proved that artistic growth and unapologetic Californicating funk-rocking can go hand-in-hand. Sprawling out over 26 songs and two CDs, Stadium Arcadium offered up everything the band do best: mordant L.A. stories ("Dani California"), ballads about love and renewal ("Snow") and a classic Chili Peppers party anthem whose title, "Hump de Bump," says it all.

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Coldplay, ‘Parachutes’

Coldplay's debut is long on ambition, with songs like "Yellow" and "Don't Panic" that rival the grandeur of U2 and the shell-shocked beauty of The Bends-era Radiohead. But what sets the band apart from their easily spotted influences is the big-hearted warmth of frontman Chris Martin, who conveys a self-effacing humility even when his songs aim for widescreen melodrama.

Rolling Stone's Original 2004 Review

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Sleater-Kinney, ‘The Woods’

Tons of 2000s bands made it their business to square Nineties indie-rock and Seventies metal. But none were as inventive – or as heavy – as the Portland riot-grrrl trio. Sleater-Kinney had already mastered bracing post-punk on 1997's Dig Me Out, but here they slowed their torrid roll a little, giving Corine Tucker and Carrie Brownstein's guitars more room to move as they jacked the distortion way into the red and Janet Weiss re-imagined John Bonham as a dance-rock warlord. They bash Eighties nostalgia, tell a feminist fairy tale and even quiet down for a couple sensitive love songs – needed breaks from music so intense you wonder how they can contain its explosiveness.

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Franz Ferdinand, ‘Franz Ferdinand’

Everything got a lot livelier when these mod Scottish dance-whore boys showed up, wearing tighter trousers and flaunting catchier tunes than any band out there. The Franz lads declared their mission was making "music for girls to dance to," with frantic guitar jitters and a disco sense of melodrama in hits like "Take Me Out," "Michael" and "Darts of Pleasure." Alex Kapranos' vocals are full of smeared-mascara goth sex as he sighs pick-up lines like "I can feel your lips undress my eyes." Kanye West called them "white crunk music," Lil Wayne covered "This Fire" and the band has kept girls dancing all decade long.

Rolling Stone's Original 2004 Review

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Missy Elliott, ‘Under Construction’

Elektra/Wea, 2002

The Virginia hip-hop freak-master drops her loudest bomb, mixing old-school rap, double-dutch playground chants, and avant-garde funk.

Essential moment: “Work It,” as Missy puts her thing down, flips it and reverses it.


Bright Eyes, ‘Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground’

A true American original: the ghost of Walt Whitman setting up shop in the wraith-white, rail-thin frame of a acoustic-strumming Nebraska Cure fan. On his breakthrough album, Conor Oberst and a grandly shambling indie-folk ensemble turned his twenty-something angst into songs as sprawling and overwhelming as the Midwestern horizon. Oberst reaches out with stuff like "They say they don't know when, but a day is gonna come / When there won't be a moon and there won't be a sun / It will just go black, it will just go back to the way it was before," and his warbled conviction in makes it seem like some emo version of "Hands Across America" – a pity party we all can join, stretching from sea to shining sea.

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U2, ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’

U2 stripped down and got tuneful on 2001’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind – then they turned up on Atomic Bomb. Released just weeks after Dubya was elected for a second term, the band offer hope with what they do best: soaring guitar escapades, arena-ready choruses and arrangements so epic you can practically see the blinding cityscape stage they toured with that year. Still, the personal moments shine through: “One Step Closer,” which Bono wrote about his father’s death, is a gorgeous tribute that proves that the band rarely loses its soul, no matter how big they sound.


Rolling Stone’s Original 2004 Review

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Bjork, ‘Vespertine’

Björk carried on through the decade with notable left-field projects, but Vespertine is a one-of-a-kind item in her one-of-a-kind career. It's her most experimental yet disarmingly personal music, using glitch-riddled electronics, harps, bells, vintage music boxes and Icelandic folk sounds to create a hushed, strangely intimate mood. Björk sings about love and romance all over the album, in cerebral sex ballads like "Heirloom" and "Unison." When she gasps and whispers her way through "Cocoon," shocked to find herself in the presence of a boy "restoring my blisses," she captures the sound of two lovers nestling on a melting iceberg.

Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review

Photos: Rock & Roll Moms

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Antony & the Johnsons, ‘I Am a Bird Now’

One part Brian Ferry, one part Kate Bush, Antony Hegarty is a gender-blurring balladeer with a haunting vibrato, which got its proper introduction to the world on this set of beguiling, piano-based chamber music. He even pulls off a romantic duet with Lou Reed on "Fistful of Love," sounding like a bathhouse Otis Redding. An inspiration to transgender people everywhere – and to a new school of indie-rockers unafraid to push their voices into strange realms.

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Manu Chao, ‘Próxima Estación: Esperanza’

In Europe and Latin America, Manu Chao has long been a rock god on the scale of Bob Marley. But here in the U.S., it took this 2001 gem to give music lovers a taste of his wild-ass greatness. A Spaniard born in France, Chao rocks his acoustic guitar to horns and beatboxes, full of crackpot humor, singing in English, Spanish, French or whatever language he feels like at the moment. "Me Gustas Tu" is the one for the ages: a lazy reggae-rock guitar riff, a chorus you can't stop singing even if you don't get the language, and Chao rambling about crucial topics from politics to marijuana.

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Gillian Welch, ‘Time the Revelator’

In which the reigning queen of old-timey Americana (and her longtime collaborator, singer-guitarist David Rawlings) give the mountain music treatment to a suite of rock & roll songs. Time the Revelator is gorgeous, dreamy, and a little bit weird – 10 finely honed songs about love, sex, dancing, Elvis Presley and other timeless subjects, adorned only with acoustic guitar, banjo and luscious harmony vocals. The result is a lovely exercise in anachronism: what rock & roll would have sounded like had it been invented in the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Video: Gillian Welch Performs "The Way It Goes" on 'Conan'


Kanye West, ‘808s and Heartbreak’

In 2008, pop went bonkers for Auto-Tune, and on his fourth album, Kanye West jumped on the cyborg soul bandwagon, largely forsaking rapping to (kinda sorta) sing the blues. (West's mother had recently died and he had just split with his fiancée.) The results were occasionally gauche, and always monumentally self-pitying. ("How could you be so heartless?" he sobbed.) But no one before or since has wrung so much pathos from Auto-Tune; West sings in the voice of a man so stupefied by grief that he's become not quite human. 

Rolling Stone's Original 2008 Review

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Johnny Cash, ‘American III: Solitary Man’

On his first album since being diagnosed with a neurological disorder in 1997, the 68-year-old Johnny Cash had a new vulnerability to his voice. Here he sings classics both old and new, harmonizing with Tom Petty on a defiant “I Won’t Back Down,” while the eighteenth century ballad “Wayfaring Stranger,” which Cash cut earlier in his career, is downright spooky: When he sings, “There's no sickness, no toil nor danger in that bright land to which I go,” he sounds like a man ready to go home.

Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

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The Shins, ‘Oh, Inverted World’

From the jangling disaffection of "Caring Is Creepy," to the mournful, infamously synced "New Slang," the Portland, Oregon-based band's debut never needed a hype machine to make it worthy of repeat spins. James Mercer's disembodied tenor lifted tunes like "Girl on the Wing" from their low rumble and set the standard for indie-pop frontmen who could invoke gauzy nostalgia in the now – which, 10 years later, makes Oh, Inverted World a joyfully resilient listen.

Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review

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Phoenix, ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’

After years of slowly building an audience with impeccably crafted Gallic rock, Phoenix finally broke big with an album full of tunes that were as romantic and danceable as anything from a classic John Hughes soundtrack, yet totally inscrutable. Why is the "meteor tower" in “1901” so "overrated"? Why do the lyrics of “Lisztomania” sound so much like a bad translation? But when head-scratchers come out sounding this heartbreaking, it hardly matters.

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Interpol, ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’

These dapper New Yorkers may have been the first band in history cocky enough to name the first song on their debut album "Untitled" — and that barely begins to hint at their mind-boggling pretensions. ("Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down," for fuck's sake.) Yet they crafted one of the decade's great guitar epics, demanding rapt attention for 49 expertly paced minutes of arty post-punk melodrama. From gothed-out power-drone ballads like "Hands Away" to the hard-charging Rock Band fave "PDA," Interpol capture the moment on a late-night city street when the crowd suddenly vanishes and loneliness stares you in the face.

Rolling Stone's Original 2002 Review

Video: Interpol Perform Their Grim Ballad 'Lights' on 'Conan'

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Danger Mouse, ‘The Grey Album’

The mash-up reached a conceptual and artistic plateau with Danger Mouse's fusion of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album. It sounded like a stunt ("Justify My Thug" meets "Rocky Racoon"?) but it was really a love letter – a music geek's mash-note to hop-hop and classic rock – and a polemic: an argument that the best hip-hop warrants a place alongside the most revered gods of the pop music canon. But it was the sheer musicality of the thing that carried the day: Who knew that "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "Julia" could get along so beautifully?

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Death Cab for Cutie, ‘Transatlanticism’

Released at the peak of their career as indie heavyweights, Death Cab for Cutie’s fourth album was their most aspirational yet, as the Seattle band stretched beyond angular, tightly wound jangle-pop to explore more nuanced tones and moods. Lush and bombastic (especially on "The New Year," "Transatlanticism" and "Tiny Vessels"), the album demonstrated multi-instrumentalist Chris Walla's growing prowess as a producer. But it was singer and guitarist Ben Gibbard's lyrics that made Transatlanticism their master work, as he distilled post-collegiate malaise, the feeling of distance from loved ones and apathy about romance into songs that peeled back the skin on the place – as mentioned in "Title And Registration," "where disappointment and regret collide."

Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

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Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’

Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University in the late 2000s, showing a pronounced affinity for boat shoes and button-downs as well as an intimate knowledge of African guitar music. Their debut backed up massive press buzz with suavely seductive pop-rock songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies were as refined as his education, floating over bright keyboards and Afropop-tinged grooves. Koenig had a term for VW's music: Upper West Side Soweto. However you label the sound, it was manna for indie-boys and Molly Ringwald girls all over the world.

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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, ‘Raising Sand’

One of rock's great voices meets one of country's great voices, tackling an inspired, roots-minded songbook with sonic guru T-Bone Burnett. Krauss sounds bluesy, even lusty; when she sings "I could never kill a man" on Gene Clark's "Through the Morning, Through the Night," you’re actually not 100 percent sure. Plant, meanwhile, dials it down so far, it’s often hard to identify the dude who sang "Black Dog." Yet the nuance in his vocals is as impressive as it is unprecedented. Tender, haunting, brilliant.

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Norah Jones, ‘Come Away With Me’

Though its surprising success (eight Grammys, 20-plus million copies sold) overwhelmed it, this seductively modest little record is a marvel of mood and invention. The songwriting and arrangements are sophisticated, often jazzy, yet full of catchy hooks. And Jones' vocals are silken and perfectly turned, setting a seamless mood that could soundtrack high-end restaurants and low-rent make-out sessions alike. And the sexy double entendre of the hit "Don't Know Why" ("…I didn’t come") still sounds sly as hell.

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Kings of Leon, ‘Only By the Night’

How soulful is it? Ask Beyoncé, who has covered "Sex On Fire" live, and Trey Songz, who does an impressive "Use Somebody." Those songs were the album's trumps. But the whole package burns with agitated good-ol'-boy hormones and lazily anthemic, unzip-those-jeans guitars. Add killer hooks and Caleb Followill's slurring down-home tenor, and you have rock enormity that isn’t supposed to happen anymore. Don’t call them the southern Strokes – call them the American U2.

Rolling Stone's Original 2008 Review

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M.I.A., ‘Arular’

M.I.A.'s 2005 debut is both politically and musically radical, with the British emcee delivering biting, often nihilistic revolutionary rhetoric over tracks that blend rap, dancehall, club music and harsh British electronica into some of the most raging bangers of the decade. It's dark stuff, but M.I.A. has a wicked sense of humor, dropping bitter zingers into intense tracks such as "10 Dollar," "URAQT" and the single "Bucky Done Gun."

Rolling Stone's Original 2005 Review

Photos: M.I.A.'s Wildest Looks

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Spoon, ‘Kill the Moonlight’

Though it came out in 2002, this masterwork of spiky texture and bummed-out sentiment seems even more appropriate for 2009, when a dismal economy makes college grads scramble even harder for jobs they hate. But Spoon's Britt Daniel made his gnomic soliloquies about directionless youngsters both humane and hooky, and he and his bandmates got tons of mileage out of a spare, signature sound, tossing in rollicking piano, sax and cold-eyed stomp. And not even the Shins or Death Cab came up with anything as insanely gorgeous as "Paper Tiger," a cryptic-but-sweet love song with budget-Radiohead sonics.

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