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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.

85

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.

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

84

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.

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83

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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82

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.

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Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

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81

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.

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80

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. 

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79

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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78

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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77

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.  

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76

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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