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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.

43

The Killers, ‘Hot Fuss’

So what if they were from Vegas, not the U.K., and the year was 2004, not 1983? The Killers were determined to be Duran Duran anyway. Hot Fuss was a blast: Irresistible synth-bolstered grooves and lyrics about sex, dancing, jealousy and gender-bending, blasted out by Brandon Flowers in the world's greatest bad British accent. A couple of years later, Flowers would develop a Springsteen fixation and a preposterous mustache. But Hot Fuss was the Killers at their sleazy best, singing about boyfriends who look like girlfriends, and dragging dance rock from the hipster fringes back to the down-and-dirty mainstream.

 

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Rolling Stone's Original 2004 Review

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42

Elliott Smith, ‘Figure 8’

Elliott Smith's remarkable melodic sense had its perfect yin-yang match in the bottomless darkness of his lyrics. Figure 8, the last album Smith completed before committing suicide in 2003, was his most ornamented work. Yet there is joy in even the busiest arrangements: Dazzling music-hall piano drives the Beatlesque "In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach)/The Roost"; a guitar curlicues like wild ivy on the morbid power-pop number "L.A." It's hard to imagine the wave of rustic, gorgeous music coming out of Smith's adopted home, the Pacific Northwest (Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists), without this haunted high-water mark.

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Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

Photos: Rockers Lost Before Their Time

Photos: Elliott Smith Photographs by Autumn de Wilde

41

Arctic Monkeys, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’

Now this was one strange Brit-pop success story: Where were the fashion statements and model girlfriends? It turned out that all the Monkeys needed to conquer the world was scrappy, lager-fueled tunes about being young and bored in a bleak steel town. Alex Turner sang about waiting all week for Saturday night, only to strike out with the same local girls he bombed with last week. Thanks to Turner's big bag of creaky melodies and the band's snaggletoothed guitar attack, even America couldn't resist pub-punk gems like the raging, sexy "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor."

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Rolling Stone's Original 2006 Review

Video: Arctic Monkeys Perform "Don't Sit Down…" on 'Letterman'

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40

Kanye West, ‘Late Registration’

The College Dropout introduced the world to a polo-shirt-wearing preppy who merged backpack-rap politics and bling-rap materialism. But it was on Late Registration that Kanye really started showing off, calling in L.A. pop geek Jon Brion to co-produce an album that ranged from triumphal autobiography ("Touch the Sky") to witty club pop ("Gold Digger") to heartstring-tuggers ("Hey Mama"), packing in Chinese bells, James Bond themes and Houston hip-hop. The end result was a near-perfect album that remade the pop landscape in Kanye's own oddball image.

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Rolling Stone's Original 2005 Review

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Photos: Rock Stars and the Models Who Love Them

39

Kings of Leon, ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’

The Followill brothers grew up in Tennessee with a Pentecostal preacher for a daddy. But Lord knows even down-home boys fall prey to the sinful temptations of the rock & roll life, and every last one of those temptations gets chronicled in lip-smacking detail on Aha Shake Heartbreak. The Kings' second album is a hilariously raunchy Southern-rock travelogue about all the girls they met on tour for their first album. Songs like "Slow Night, So Long" and "Taper Jean Girl" are populated by gold-digging mothers and groupies with motel faces; the grooves are as sweaty as a long shag, and the hard-edged guitars aim below the Mason-Dixon Line.

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Rolling Stone's Original 2005 Review

Video: Inside the Followills' Private Worlds

Video: First Look at Kings of Leon's "Radioactive"

38

Ryan Adams, ‘Heartbreaker’

"When you're young, you get sad, then you get high," whooped Ryan Adams on his solo debut. As the leader of alt-country heroes Whiskeytown, Adams had written his fair share of songs about youth, sadness and altered states. But Heartbreaker gave these themes a classic heft, in weather-beaten country-folk songs that marked Adams as an heir to the Band and Gram Parsons. Best of all was the slow-rolling "In My Time of Need," an alternately devastating and transcendent neo-Dust Bowl ballad. "Can you take away the pain of hurtful deeds?" he sang, sounding plenty sad, but not quite so young, or so high.

 

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37

50 Cent, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin”

In Fiddy's hands, the thug life was not merely a lifestyle — it was a code, an ethos, a Zen path to showbiz glory. When Dr. Dre and Eminem unleashed him in 2003, America couldn't get enough of the ripped, tatted, bullet-riddled stud. 50's debut was full of dark, nickel-plated songs where he played up his hardcore image, but he also had no shame making songs for the ladies: With hits like "In Da Club," he packed dance floors at discos and bar mitzvahs alike. Fun fact: Get Rich or Die Tryin' went nine-times platinum, making 50 the first rapper to sell a million for each time he had gotten shot.

 

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Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

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36

U2, ‘No Line on the Horizon’

U2 aimed sky-high on their 12th album, recording with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois and combining lessons from all over their career: their Joshua Tree-era anthems; their abstract, modern Nineties; and the renewed focus of their last decade. The result was an open-hearted disc with dizzying high points: The joyous "Magnificent," the locomotive title track, the party-hearty "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight." Bono infused everything with gospel yearning, even when he expressed doubt and dislocation in "Unknown Caller" — but most clearly, and gorgeously, on the on-your-knees testimonial "Moment of Surrender."

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35

PJ Harvey, ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’

Polly Harvey, happy? It was a surprise: Harvey had spent four records howling her sexual obsessions and romantic disappointments over stark postmodern blues. But album number five found her in New York and in love, crowing, "I'm immortal/When I'm with you" in the surging opener, "Big Exit." Her guitar attack was still forceful but softened around the edges by marimba, piano, organ and guest vocalist Thom Yorke. The result was lusher than anything she had recorded but also vibrant and catchy as all hell, especially the garage-y "Good Fortune" and the yearning "A Place Called Home" — mash notes to lovers in the big city.

 

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Rolling Stone's Original 2000 Review

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34

OutKast, ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’

It sounded crazy: For their fifth record, both members of hip-hop's most creative duo would record his own LP. What they ended up with was hip-hop's White Album, an overlong but thrilling behemoth fueled by weed, ego and a thousand old funk records. Big Boi's pulverizing Speakerboxxx deepened OutKast's adventures in crunk. Far wonkier was The Love Below, where André 3000 tried to be Prince, Beck and George Clinton all at once, crafting tunes as bright and strange as his wardrobe — including the smash "Hey Ya!" and "Roses," which "really smell like poo-poo."

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Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

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33

Daft Punk, ‘Discovery’

The French techno duo taught a generation of indie kids to dance with this international club hit, building a disco empire out of house bass lines, off-kilter keyboards, mysterious robot vocals and a stack of old Chic records. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo never liked to show their faces, but for all their glitz and sci-fi costumes, they sounded inescapably humane. Their 1970s sci-fi moves were a true time warp — like watching TRON and Saturday Night Fever morph into the same movie. And with the Wurlitzer burble of "Digital Love," they made the Supertramp-keyboard sound seem funky.

 

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Rolling Stone's Original 2005 Review

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32

Lil Wayne, ‘Tha Carter III’

Between 2006 and 2008, Lil Wayne went on an astonishing creative bender, churning out mixtapes, lending his amazing rasp to other people's hits and earning that Best Rapper Alive tag. When it came time to release a proper album, we expected a letdown. Instead, he made a pop-rap masterpiece, complete with fizzy Auto-Tune novelties, a Hurricane Katrina elegy and the classic "Dr. Carter," in which Wayne dons scrubs to resuscitate hip-hop. He likened himself to Biggie Smalls and to E.T., and no one argued. "I am so far from the others," he rapped. "I can eat them for supper/Get in my spaceship and hover."

 

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31

My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’

These Kentucky boys took a giant leap forward on their fourth album — giant enough to take them from a jammy Americana band to awe-inspiring purveyors of interstellar art rock. Jim James' songs were shorter and more focused than ever before, from the pummeling "Gideon" to the playful "Wordless Chorus," where James boasted appropriately, "We are the innovators/They are the imitators." My Morning Jacket infused Z with both Eno-esque keyboards and sculpted guitars, but also Skynyrd-style riffs and bar-band grooves. The result brought Radiohead down South and rocked with supersize soul.

 

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30

Radiohead, ‘In Rainbows’

After the pay-what-you-like release hoopla died down, what were Radiohead fans left with? One of the band's best albums: expansive and seductive, full of songs they had been fleshing out live for a couple of years. You can hear the musicians' exhilaration all over the tracks, from the shivery tambourine buzz of "Reckoner" to the jagged guitar waves of "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." These are the most intense love songs Thom Yorke has ever sung, especially "All I Need," and the warm live-percussion feel gives the whole album the vibe of a hippie jam session. One that's taking place at the end of the world, of course.

 

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29

Sigur Ros, ‘Ágætis Byrjun’

Beautiful and alien, Ágætis Byrjun was like being plunged into an Atlantis where language, gender and songforms were largely indeterminate. Sigur Rós conjured magic with drones, using strings, brass, electronics and guitars that took Jimmy Page's bowing technique to new heights. But the showstopper was Jónsi Birgisson's otherworldly voice, swooping between tenor confessions and falsetto ballet. Filmmakers Wes Anderson and Cameron Crowe have since used Byrjun in their soundtracks, but it was tough to beat the movies that this music conjured inside your own head.

 

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28

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Fever to Tell’

Ladies and gentlemen, Karen O! The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' debut introduced the world outside New York to the beer-swilling frontwoman, who sounded like she'd eaten Pat Benatar for breakfast while rocking out to Siouxsie and the Banshees. The gorgeous ballad "Maps" was the surprise hit, but most of the album found O spitting fiery slogans — "We're all gonna burn in hell!" — like a crazed art-school diva. With Nick Zinner dishing thick, badass riffs and Brian Chase laying down thudding drums, this was vicious garage punk that put fear into the hearts of bass players everywhere.

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Rolling Stone's Original 2003 Review

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27

The Flaming Lips, ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’

Wayne Coyne took two decades and a long, bizarre road through drug-addled metal and alt-pop before he nailed the Pet Sounds in his psychedelia. Yoshimi is a delightful iridescent bomb of buoyant electronics, imaginary Japanese animé and plaintive vocal surrender. The real war — inside the steam clouds of synthesizer and Cat Stevens echoes on "Fight Test"; under the tubular-bell sunshine of "Do You Realize??" — was between Coyne and his insecurities. The Lips' 10th album was Coyne's first as a wide-open songwriter — inviting and vulnerable — and the result was total, dazzling victory.

 

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