Here they are, my picks for the top 100 albums of the 2000s.
An asterisk beside an entry indicates that the album also made the Higher Ed Critics list of the decade’s 100 best albums.
The top 10
1. Green Day, American Idiot (2004)*
Just when we thought this trio of punks was finished — their previous release was a “best of” collection, International Superhits — they come up with this, their best album ever. As political polemic, American Idiot is a brilliant, bombastic indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration’s failed politics of division. But this album extended beyond political commentary. With American Idiot, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool also gave us the best rock opera since Tommy. Not bad for some washed-up punks.
Holiday – Green Day
2. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) *
Since his days with Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco’s front man) was known for his roots-rock musicianship. But with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco took a sharp turn away from their roots to create one of the best experimental albums of the decade. The music industry wouldn’t touch it — at first. But eventually Wilco got a record deal and the rest is recent history. Parts of this innovative work sound as though Radiohead broke into the studio and jacked with the tracks.
Kamera – Wilco
3. The Strokes, Is This It (2001) *
This album opens with the sound of a party already over. The title track to the Strokes’ debut sounds like a hangover. The ennui is as thick as the smell of stale beer in a dingy club, and the song isn’t even a question (notice the lack of interrogative), just a statement. But this Manhattan-based quintet, heirs to the NYC punk scene, snap out of it soon enough with garage-ish art rock that lifts us out of the boredom.
Hard to Explain – The Strokes
4. Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004) *
It’s a beautiful, bizarre day in the four-part “neighborhood” suite that opens this Canadian band’s debut. Born out of band members’ personal tragedy, Funeral is a beautiful meditation in combining unusual sounds — from brass instruments to violins to tea kettles — with more conventional elements of pop and rock — your drums, guitar, keyboards and bass — to form amazing music.
Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire
5. Radiohead, Kid A (2000) *
This sounds great when I’m on over-the-counter cold medication. Seriously. Next time you’re at home with a head cold, pop some NyQuil, put on the headphones and crank Kid A. You will disappear completely into the soundscape. But even if you’re the picture of health, Kid A will do your head good.
The National Anthem – Radiohead
6. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Streetcore (2003) *
Listening to St. Joe’s final recording is a bittersweet experience for me. Strummer died in December 2002, so the album was released posthumously. Hearing his cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” is haunting, but there are many fine cuts on this album that showcase the former Clash front man’s many styles and wide array of influences, from reggae to rockabilly. The production is spare on acoustics pieces like “Redemption Song” and “Long Shadow,” but fuller on up-tempo tunes like “All In A Day,” “Coma Girl” and others that return my mind’s ear to Strummer’s role fronting The Only Band That Matters.
Midnight Jam – Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
7. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (2007) *
Nearly as strong, in my opinion, as this Canadian band’s debut album Funeral, but not quite as critically acclaimed. Still full of surprises, from the sweeping pipe organ intro of “Intervention” to the Springsteenian feel of “Antichrist Television Blues,” and an excellent album in its own right.
Intervention – Arcade Fire
8. The White Stripes, Elephant (2003) *
A beautiful beast of an album. On Elephant, Jack and Meg White honed their stripped-down style of garage rock to a dark, hard, aggressive essence.
The Hardest Button to Button – The White Stripes
9. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (2007) *
Glamtastic tunes about S&M, sexual ambiguity and unrequited lust. Song titles that send you running for your European history textbooks. One relatively decipherable tune, “She’s a Rejecter,” includes perhaps the greatest line of the decade: “There’s the girl that made me bitter/Wanna pay some other girl to just walk up to her and hit her.”
She’s A Rejecter – Of Montreal
10. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (2004) *
Hands down, the finest album named for an assassinated archduke that I’ve ever heard.
Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand
All the rest
11. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells (2001) *
The Stripes made garage rock cool again.
12. Spoon, Gimme Fiction (2005)
This alum is full of great hooks.
13. Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown (2009) *
How to follow up a multi-platinum rock opera? By creating another rock opera, of course. Somehow, Green Day made it work.
14. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm (2005) *
Surprisingly, just the right mix of angular guitars, ghostly vocals and techno beats.
15. The Hives, Veni Vidi Vicious (2000) *
Infectiously itchy, grungy noise out of Sweden.
16. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (2000) *
An amazing, lyrical album.
17. Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica (2004) *
As the title implies, an album of distance, isolation and alienation. But weirdly personal and human.
18. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005) *
From folksy banjo songs about stepmoms and cancer to sweeping, Coplandesque orchestral works, this is the Suf-man’s masterpiece.
19. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) *
With this release, U2 left the ’90s behind them and got back to being the world’s greatest rock band.
20. Warren Zevon, The Wind (2003) *
A fitting end to Mr. Excitable Boy’s wonderful, weird career in music. His cover of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” is haunting.
21. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Living with the Living (2007)
Mr. Leo and his fellow pharmacists concoct a terrific punk album.
22. Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (2006) *
More pop than B&S purists would like, and that’s one reason I love it.
23. Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills (2001)
Melodic, jangly guitars — the heirs apparent to REM, if REM would just retire already.
24. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges (2008) *
Loving this album more and more.
25. John Doe, Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet (2005) *
A low-key mix of alt-country duets featuring some great co-conspirators, including Doe’s old L.A. buddy Dave Alvin and alt-country darling Neko Case. No stranger to sharing the lead role — he and Exene Cervenka co-sang many of X’s greatest tunes — Doe makes some beautiful music here with a little help from his friends.
26. Cat Power, You Are Free (2003) *
Chan Marshall’s soothing soulful vocals meander through simple piano and acoustic compositions.
27. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) *
Not as strong as Gimme Fiction, and one of the dumbest titles ever. But still a solid, fun release.
28. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive (2008)
Anthemic rock from the best bar band that never played a bar gig.
29. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising (2002)
The post-9/11 album America needed, from an American rock icon.
30. Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around (2003) *
“Hurt,” in and of itself, is powerful enough. But the Man in Black’s performance on the title track and an odd mix of covers solidified his place in music history at the twilight of his career.
31. Asobi Seksu, Citrus (2006) *
Lovely, bilingual shoegaze.
32. M.I.A., Arular (2005) *
It’s a mixed-up, jumbledup, shook-up world in M.I.A.’s sampling madness, but it works. Quieten down, she needs to make a sound.
33. Cat Power, The Greatest (2006)
Ms. Marshall incorporates horns and the Memphis sound to drench her vocals in blues.
34. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I Am Not (2006) *
These Brits do some serious damage with a telecaster.
35. Sin Fang Bous, Clangour (2009)
The best Icelandic group you’ve never heard of. Clangour is my pick for underrated album of the decade.
36. Bruce Springsteen, Magic (2007)
He’s still The Boss.
37. Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007) *
Better than I’d expected, given what I paid for it.
38. Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope (2006) *
A beautiful voice that can break your heart-art-art-art-art.
39. The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (2005) *
Porn you don’t have to hide under your bed.
40. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere (2006) *
“Crazy” makes this album, but the “Gone Daddy Gone” and other tunes are also strong.
41. John Doe, A Year in the Wilderness (2007)
Another strong showing by the former X co-lead singer. Too bad Exene Cervenka hasn’t had as much luck with her releases this past decade.
42. The New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (2000)
A fine debut from A.C. Newman, Neko Case and some other alt/indie Canadians who were just fooling around.
43. My Morning Jacket, Z (2005) *
Jim James and company cook up some mighty fine music.
44. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz (2009)
YYYs settle down and add a bit of techno-disco and melody to their repertoire. Karen O. still knows how to shout it out when she needs to, but she doesn’t always need to.
45. Sleater Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One (2000)
The most rock and roll fun you can have without a bass player (unless you’re the White Stripes).
46. Outkast, Stankonia (2000) *
Beautiful prose-poems from the streets, delivered in rapid, rabid rap.
47. White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan (2005)
A kinder, gentler version of the Stripes, but still kickin’ when the need arises.
48. Sleater-Kinney, One Beat (2002)
More rock and roll fun from the last of the riot grrls. I miss them.
49. The Libertines, The Libertines (2004)
Before there were the Arctic Monkeys, there were The Libertines. Listen to this and you hear where the Monkeys got their mojo.
50. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (2002)
Another fine effort from this Texas band.
51. John Mellencamp, Life, Death, Love and Freedom (2008)
Gritty and heartfelt, the best album of Mr. Mellencamp’s 30-year career. Echoes of John Prine and Johnny Cash.
52. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) *
Two words: “Hey Ya.” Andre is ice cold on that tune, but overall, Big Boi’s disc is the stronger of the two.
53. The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound (2008)
Another anthemic album (see title) that can only be described as Springsteenesque.
54. Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence (2001) *
AE can kick it like Chuck Berry one minute, and sing heartbreaking ballads the next. Just let the boy play his velvet guitar.
55. U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
What can I say? I’m an unabashed U2 fanboy. Even if Bono can’t count in Spanish.
56. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell (2003) *
Karen O. Oh, Karen. Oh!
57. Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005)
I can’t explain this one. You’ve just got to experience it for yourself.
58. DJ Danger Mouse, The Grey Album (2004) *
Brilliant mashup of Jay-Z and the Beatles.
59. Kanye West, The College Dropout (2004) *
“Jesus Walks” changed the way I thought about hip hop.
60. Beck, Guero (2005) *
Atari blips and barrio street sounds, mixed up the way only Beck could do it.
61. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004) *
A not-so-modest effort that floats on seamlessly from track to track.
62. Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera (2001)
A concept album by southern boys coming to terms with their redneck roots.
63. Alison Krauss and Union Station, Live (2002)
The only live album to make the cut. Listen, and you’ll know why
64. The John Doe Thing, For the Best of Us (2005)
Like John Doe much?
65. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)
An overhyped but decent album. Perhaps my first album purchase that was largely influenced by blogosphere buzz.
66. Bob Dylan, Modern Times (2006)
I’m surprised I was the only one in our group of higher ed music geeks to put a Dylan album on the list. I guess I’m getting old.
67. David Bowie, Reality (2003)
I’m surprised I was the only one in our group of higher ed music geeks to put a Bowie album on the list. I guess I’m getting old.
68. TV on the Radio, Dear Science (2008) *
That song about the newspaperman resonates, because I used to be one myself.
69. The National, Boxer (2007)
I kind of felt like I had to add this one to the list, you know? But it’s good.
70. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People (2003)
My favorite by this band. My co-conspirators picked the self-titled album. Oh well.
71. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (2006) *
The album that brought the power chords and Craig Finn’s voice to the mainstream.
72. MIA, Kala (2007) *
“Paper Planes” – best overdub of a Clash song ever.
73. Alicia Keys, The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003)
A wonderful collection of songs by a talented chanteuse.
74. Echo and the Bunnymen, Siberia (2005)
Several strong tunes from this band’s best release of the decade.
75. The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust (2008)
Echo-drenched guitars and vocals. Shades of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
76. Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears (2003) *
Lucinda Williams’ whiskey-and-cigarettes vocals make her poetic lyrics even more compelling.
77. Santogold, Santogold (2008)
M.I.A.’s protege delivers with a creative mix of hip hop, new wave and dancehall. Santogold’s vocals shapeshift effortlessly from mimicking Dale Bozzio (of Missing Persons fame) to Gwen Stefani.
78. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (2008) *
Believe the hype.
79. Dashboard Confessional, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar (2003)
This is what real emo sounds like.
80. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals (2008) *
The album that created new sounds out of old. what a mashup.
81. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (2008) *
One of my co-conspirators on the big list called this album “a fresh take on electro-pop,” and I agree.
82. Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel (2002)
After losing his way in the ’90s, Elvis returned to his pop-punk roots. “45” is a beautiful track to kick off a great album, which echoes his Armed Forces days.
83. The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You (2009) *
The best offering to date from this bluegrass-roots trio. Every song on this album works.
84. Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
The final act from the Man in Black.
85. M. Ward, Hold Time (2009)
Hold time makes old-timey sound big time. Love Mr. Ward’s re-interpretations of Hank Williams’ “Oh Lonesome Me” (in duet with Lucinda Williams) and Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” (with Zooey Deschanel, his partner from She & Him).
86. Basia Bulat, Oh, My Darling (2006)
One of the greatest songstresses you’ve probably never heard.
87. Interpol, Antics (2004) *
Lead singer sounds like Michael Stipe as a goth-emo kid.
88. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (2007) *
A new guitarist and a return to their roots worked for Wilco with this album.
89. Passion Pit, Manners (2009) *
Listening to this album makes me happy.
90. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006) *
I think Ms. Case is better in collaboration, whether it’s with A.C. Newman and company in The New Pornographers or with John Doe (see No. 25), and I know a lot of people went ga-ga over her latest album, Middle Cyclone, but for my money, Fox Confessor is her best work. At least it’s the one in which she sounds most like Patsy Cline.
91. REM, Accelerate (2008)
More proof that I’m old. Yes, I was the only one in our gang of seven to pick an REM album for the list.
92. The Libertines, Up the Bracket (2003)
More amped up Britpop from some unlikely lads.
93. The White Stripes, Icky Thump (2007)
Jack and Meg discover the bagpipe!
94. Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane (2009)
Elvis goes all rootsy, in a great way.
95. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (2007) *
Some misses on this one, but overall a decent album by a very unlikely duo.
96. British Sea Power, Do You Like Rock Music? (2008)
Why, yes. Yes we do.
97. The Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and A Curse (2006)
More pop- and punk-influenced southern rock.
98. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers (2006)
Jack White’s side project turned into a terrific little album.
99. The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love (2009)
Love the concept behind this album.
100. Los Lonely Boys, Los Lonely Boys (2004)
This trio produces some fine latin-infused melodies, and no collection is better than their debut.