166 – Best albums of the past decade

Something less serious to suit the time of year. It’s the end of the noughties, already. Time for a run down of my favourite albums from the past 10 years.

I think the decade in music was really strong, although there was no huge revolution in music as there was in the mid ’50s (rock and roll), the mid-late ’60s (the Beatles at their peak, and everyone else trying to keep up), the late ’70s (punk) and the late ’80s (hip hop). In the ’90s, the music scene became fragmented and increasingly specialised into many niches, with no single artist or style able to dominate as in previous decades. The noughties continued and accentuated that trend.

Musical preferences are personal, so your list would be different to mine. You won’t find any jazz, classical or electronic dance music below, but you might find some fantastic music that you would otherwise have missed. Just in time for Christmas!

1. Radiohead, "In Rainbows" (2007). The choice for top album of the decade was easy. This is an astonishingly beautiful and clever album. After countless plays I'm still getting more out of it. Radiohead also had what I think was clearly the best album of the nineties, "OK Computer".
2. Ryan Adams, "Cold Roses" (2005). Ryan was very prolific in the noughties, and the quality was consistently high, especially on this wonderful double album. It has country/folk/rock elements, and the songs are superb.
3. Bob Dylan, "Love and Theft" (2001). Who would have thought that Bob Dylan would release the best album of his entire career in 2001, at the age of 60? Hugely diverse, and consistently excellent.
4. Wilco, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002). This album grew on me slowly, but just kept growing. It's off-centre music, with all sorts of elements. Some pop, rock, alternative, country, folk, and sundry sound effects. It works brilliantly, because the songs are so great.
5. Rufus Wainwright, "Release the Stars" (2007). Rufus has the most beautiful and moving voice in the world, I reckon. He's an excellent songwriter, and his arrangements are rich and complex, but very accessible.
6. Muse, "Absolution" (2003). I discovered this album via a free CD on the front of a music magazine when it first came out. Nowadays Muse are huge - one of the biggest bands in the world. Everything about this album is great - the songs, the performances, the ambition, the arrangements. It's bombastic, perhaps even pretentious, but magnificent.
7. Elvis Costello, "The Delivery Man" (2004). Elvis did a bit of everything in the noughties: dance-influenced rock, cocktail lounge jazz, bluegrass, folk, rock and roll, symphonic orchestral music, big band jazz, New Orleans rock/soul, and Americana. Although it is one of his more conventional rock album, this one has a wealth of great songs.
8. Sexsmith and Kerr, "Destination Unknown" (2005). Ron Sexsmith, a Canadian singer songwriter, deserves to be much better known. He released a number of excellent albums during the decade. This one, in which he temporarily forms a duo with an old friend, is gentle and beautiful.
9. Bon Iver, "For Emma, Forever Ago" (2008). Delicate, quiet, solo album recorded in his father's cabin in the snow, over a few months. Lovely peaceful sad music, about a relationship breakup.
10. Bob Dylan, "Tell Tale Signs" (2008). This double album of left-over songs that didn't make it onto commercially released albums in the nineties and noughties is filled with gems. It's better than most of his proper albums, I reckon.
11. Wilco, "Wilco (The Album)" (2009). A much more conventional sounding album than "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", but still excellent. Wilco has grown in stature and confidence. Their live DVD that came out this year is also a strong favourite of mine.
12. Grizzly Bear, "Veckatimest" (2009). An unusual mix of ingredients, hard to describe. An online review calls it "rustic, ethereal, pop-folk". Some unusual arrangements for a rock album. Uses mostly standard rock instruments, but somehow it all sounds different. Melodic, often gentle, beautiful singing (reminds me of 10cc at times, with whom they share the virtue of having several lead singers).
13. Ryan Adams, "Cardinology" (2008). Ryan's last album released before his retirement from the music industry. I saw him in Perth on the tour to promote this album - one of his last shows before retirement - and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen.
14. Tom Waits, "Real Gone" (2004). Tom had several great albums in the decade, including a fantastic new live album called "Glitter and Doom", but this is my favourite despite the absence of any of Tom's lovely piano playing.
15. Bob Dylan, "Modern Times" (2006). Another terrific effort from Dylan. His first number 1 album for 30 years, probably helped by the fact that the only people still buying albums are people over 40, but truly the album deserved it.
16. Rufus Wainwright, "Poses" (2001). The most poppy of Rufus's albums, with some of his best songs, and that voice in great form.
17. Queens of the Stone Age, "Songs for the Deaf" (2002). Almost a concept album from this great heavy rock band.
18. King Crimson, "The ConstruKction Of Light" (2000). The decade saw a bit of a renaissance in the sort of music that has been King Crimson's bread and butter for 40 years - very complicated arrangements, complex time changes, ranging from very gentle to very heavy, impeccable musicianship. The best modern disciples are The Mars Volta (see below). Meanwhile KC themselves continued their own renaissance and released a couple of their best ever albums.
19. PJ Harvey, "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea" (2000). Polly Jean ranged all over the place in the noughties, from relatively poppy shiny arrangements (for her anyway) on this album, to pretty dark swampy rock on "Uh Huh Her" and delicate, ethereal music on "White Chalk". She gave some incredible concerts in Perth.
20. Elvis Costello, "Momofuku" (2008). This album slipped out to almost no publicity, but it's really a gem. Unlike most of his albums for the decade, this one is a straight rock album with his band The Imposters.
21. Neil Finn, "One Nil" (2001). Neil's one of the world's great songwriters. I love the somewhat quirky arrangements on this album, which is as good as anything he's released with Crowded House or Split Enz.
22. Raconteurs, "Consolers of the Lonely" (2008). Unlike the music media, I'm not that keen on The White Stripes, but Jack White's other band, The Raconteurs is superb. Of their two great albums, I slightly prefer this one.
23. Elliott Smith, "New Moon" (2007). Released postumously following his suicide in 2003, these tracks are from early in his career when he relied on very simple, sparse arrangements, which suit his gentle singing voice and his lovely melodic songs.
24. The Mars Volta, "Octohedron" (2009). King Crimson for the modern generation (see above). This is their gentlest and most listenable album (relatively), but I like their more challenging ones as well.
25. XTC, "Wasp Star" (2000). After a long period of slowly losing members over their 23 year life, this was XTC's last released album, recorded as a duo. After this, there was only one member left! The album has excellent songs, and XTC's usual perfect Beatlesque arrangements. Deserved to sell millions (like most of their albums), but didn't.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

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