The Decade: A Retrospective The 25 Best Albums

The album was a diluted art form by the turn of the century. Greedy record executives reasoned that if a hit song was big enough, they could slap it onto an album with 11 other tracks of filler and people would pay $14 to buy it instead of just selling a physical single. That's how Vanilla Ice, Chumbawamba, and Natalie Imbruglia sold so much. That model worked fine in the booming economy of the 1990s, but it wasn't feasible.

Another nail in the album's coffin came in the form of Napster, which by 2000 was only a few months old. As the site grew larger, illegal downloading began to chip away at album sales, foreshadowing the eventual havoc it would wreck on the industry. When the iPod debuted just over a year and a half later, the single was resurrected as consumers could spend 99 cents to get a solitary song instead of buying an entire album.

As the decade drew to a close, one of the album's leading supporters, Radiohead's Thom Yorke announced that his band was done making albums. Recording a full length had become a "drag," and in this digital world, instantly available singles and EPs were the way to go. Another popular although less critically acclaimed group, the Black Eyed Peas, made similar comments, saying that the album was dying, that in its place would be a living breathing musical creation that would live online.

Even 17 Tracks is feeding this notion as our best albums of the decade list is only 25 creative works while our singles list is a sprawling seven-day-100-entry affair. Still, its easier to latch onto three minutes and 30 seconds of music rather than a 45 to an hour long piece of work. So many of todays albums are nothing more than a collection of songs anyway, strung together with no thought of making something that is lasting and can be called art.

What this list represents is 25 albums that are art. They aren't just a few radio hits slapped onto a disc filled with filler, they are a collection of songs that collectively mean something. They are proof that the album is not dead. You can hop onto iTunes and download the 'must download tracks' that are listed below each album description, but if that's all you listen to, you're doing yourself a disservice. Consider those songs something to whet your appetite, these albums were meant to be listened to in their entirety.

American Life (2003)
[Maverick/Warner Bros.]

Nowhere near as successful as Green Day's similarly themed album, Madonna tore apart Bush-era America in her forray into folk pop.

Must download tracks: "American Life", "Hollywood", and "Easy Ride"

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006)
Arctic Monkeys

The Arctic Monkeys faced intense pressure as the hyperbolic British rock press labeled them the next big thing. They delivered with the fastest selling debut album in UK history.

Must download tracks: "I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor", "Dancing Shoes", and "When The Sun Goes Down"

Futuresex/Lovesounds (2006)
Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake's sophomore solo effort teamed him up with Timbaland for what would become the producer's creative and cultural peak. The Tims blew our minds with ridiculously good pop.

Must download tracks "My Love", "SexyBack", and "What Goes Around...Comes Around"

Plans (2005)
Death Cab for Cutie

For Death Cab's major label debut, Ben Gibbard and company created a sprawling soundscape that spanned "the length of the isle of Manhattan" and reflected on the meaning of love, life, and death.

Must download tracks: "Marching Bands of Manhattan", "Soul Meets Body", and "I Will Follow You Into The Dark",

The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)
Mariah Carey

Mariah's mid-decade comeback album showcased the voice just as strong as ever, but more reserved. It remains Carey's classiest album to date.

Must download tracks: "We Belong Together", "Shake It Off", and "One and Only"

808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Kanye West
[Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam]

Kanye ditched his four year college theme plan and rapping when his mother died and his fiance broke it off all in the same year. His emo-pop art masterpiece became his most divisive release.

Must download tracks: "Welcome to Heartbreak", "Heartless", and "Love Lockdown"

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson let the real her show in her sophomore album, rocking out to some of the best pop rock tunes this decade has heard. Still the best release by an American Idol alum.

Must download tracks: "Breakaway", "Since U Been Gone", and "Behind These Hazel Eyes"

Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)

Coldplay became the world's biggest band, but they needed an album to justify that to themselves and everyone else. Ditching a formula that had already sold millions of albums, they teamed up with Brian Eno and ruled the world.

Must download tracks: "Violet Hill", "Viva La Vida", and "Lost!"

Sam's Town (2006)
The Killers

Brandon Flowers boasted that Sam's Town would be one of the best albums in 25 years. It's actually the 17th best of the decade. Toning down the synth-glam, the Killers made a the great American rock album.

Must download tracks: "When You Were Young", "For Reasons Unknown", and "This River Is Wild"

Back To Black (2006)
Amy Winehouse
[Island/Universal Republic]

Amy Winehouse captivated the world with her bizarre behavior and catchy neo-retro sound. Filled with drug and alcohol references, her album mirrored her tabloid life, which didn't stop her from winning a slew of awards.

Must download tracks: "Rehab", "Tears Dry On Their Own", and "Love Is A Losing Game"

Transatlanticism (2003)
Death Cab for Cutie
[Barsuk Records]

Death Cab's breakthrough album took snapshots of life, a New Year's party, rummaging through a glove compartment, making out in the back of a car, and it found the drama, beauty, and pain that exists in those moments in time. Ben Gibbard's lyrics are pure poetry.

Must download tracks: "The New Year", "Title and Registration", and "The Sound of Settling"

Intimacy (2008)
Bloc Party

Bloc Party is the sort of band that assaults your ears with raw visceral guitar and rapid-fire percussion. Not exactly intimate. They managed to craft a deep and emotional record however, one with songs that perfectly describe the rage, anger, and sadness in losing love.

Must download tracks: "Mercury", "Halo", and "Signs"

Blackout (2007)
Britney Spears

Britney Spears is shockingly absent on her greatest album. Her voice is shredded through vocodors to become another instrument in her producer's arsenal, but its haunting, danceable, and dark vibe is a frighteningly accurate soundtrack to her self destruction.

Must download tracks: "Gimme More", "Piece of Me", and "Break the Ice"

The Blueprint (2001)
[Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam]

Jay-Z wowed the world with his soul sampling The Blueprint, an album that became the blueprint for hip-hop in the 2000s. Without it, Kanye West would never had made it big (he produced several songs), sampling wouldn't have become the default option in rap, and the "-izzle" phenomenon would have never happened.

Must download tracks: "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)", "Girls, Girls, Girls", and "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)"

A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

Coldplay's second album cemented their status as one of the biggest bands of the decade. More rocked out than their debut, they still managed to produce some beautiful, lighter than air tracks that resonated with the hopeless romantic in all of us.

Must download tracks: "The Scientist", "Clocks", and "Green Eyes"

Give Up(2003)
The Postal Service
[Sub Pop]

When Death Cab's Ben Gibbard and electronic artist Jimmy Tamborello teamed up, the results were breathe-taking. Their one time Postal Service gig was an indie laptop daydream, and the biggest selling album for the Sub Pop label since Nirvana.

Must download tracks: "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", "Such Great Heights", and "Brand New Colony"

Richard X Presents His X Factor Vol. 1 (2003)
Richard X

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That was the attitude EMI took after bootleg mash-up artist Richard X was caught illegally distributing mash-ups. This authorized compilation of mash-ups rerecorded by a slew of Europe's biggest pop acts made for the decade's best pop album.

Must download tracks: "Being Nobody", "Finest Dreams", and "Freak Like Me"

Kid A (2000)

Radiohead welcomed the new century with a disc that oozed millennial fears and paranoia. An alternative rock band using electronica was something new and unheard of, but it won over critics and fans alike.

Must download tracks: "Everything In Its Right Place", "The National Anthem", and "Idioteque"

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)

This wasn't an OutKast album, it was two solo records stitched together, sort of a reverse White Album. The Speakerboxxx side is classic old school hip-hop, a fitting successor to OutKast's body of work at the time. The Love Below was a psychedelic freak-out that drew its influences from the entire history of pop, rock, and rap.

Must download tracks: "Hey Ya!", " Happy Valentine's Day", and "Love In War"

Is This It (2001)
The Strokes

There was a lot of pressure on the Strokes when their debut album came out, so much so that they ironically named their album Is This It. Fortunatley, it was it. The group deserved all the accolades the rock press threw on them and they kickstarted the garage rock revival with this energetic debut.

Must download tracks: "Last Nite", "Someday", and "Hard To Explain"

5. Interventions and Lullabies (2003)
The Format
The Format's 60's inspired guitar pop is the kind of music that you hear for the first time but you swear you've heard it before. Its so catchy and so familiar, yet so original. Exploring themes of youth, coming of age, and both finding and falling out of love to roll-your-windows-down rock is a beautiful combination.

Must download tracks: "The First Single", "Tie The Rope", and "On Your Porch"

Silent Alarm (2005)
Bloc Party

Don't let the title fool you, there is nothing silent about Silent Alarm. But alarm? Yes. As the premier band in the post-punk genre, Bloc Party introduced themselves with a dance rock debut featuring hard hitting rhythmic friction and pointed lyrics that moves at breakneck speeds. It's an album about growing up in the modern, cold, uncaring world, something every teenager and twenty-something can relate to.

Must download tracks: "Banquet", "Helicopter", and "Like Eating Glass"

Bleed American (2001)
Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World was dropped from their record label following their criminally underappreciated Clarity, but the band refused to let that get them down. They went on a grueling touring schedule and recorded their next album on their own dime. The airtight Bleed American was a perfect pop rock album, so perfect in fact, that labels were tripping over themselves to sign the band. Retitled Jimmy Eat World after September 11, this album is a prototype that both J.E.W. and other bands have unsuccessfully tried to replicate.
Must download tracks: "Sweetness", "The Middle", and "Hear You Me"

Hot Fuss (2004)
The Killers
The Killers were an American rock band who tried to sound British but were raised amind the glam and glitter of Las Vegas. The result was one of the most exciting debuts, not only of the decade, but in the entire history of rock and roll. They fit it all into Hot Fuss. There is sex, mystery, love, pain, synth, and a gospel choir. It couldn't have been pulled off without the knowledge and ambition of front man Brandon Flowers. Flowers understands rock and roll. He understands where it's come from and what it means. He has ambition rivaled by few in the music industry. It's evident in Hot Fuss, an album that so desparatley wants to be numbered among the greats, and pulls it off without sounding like it tried too hard.

Must download tracks: "Mr. Brightside", "Somebody Told Me", and "All These Things I've Done"

The College Dropout (2004)
Kanye West
[Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam]

Kanye West's debut is a concept album about what it meant to be an African-American in turn of the century America, a successor to The Miseducation of Lauren Hill. Ye touched on drugs, religion, family, and working out so you could get yourself an NBA player and quit your day job at the mall. West appeared in the liner notes wearing a striped rugby shirt with the collar popped, not a basketball jersey and backwards hat. He refused to conform to the stereotypes of who a rapper is supposed to be. In doing that, he opened up the genre to a whole new audience. Capitalizing on what OutKast had already done for rap, Ye took it a step further, and soon, indie kids and rock snobs were certified Kanye West fans. West has proven himself to be one of the decade's most important and influencial artists, and one of the most important rappers of all time, but he has yet to come close to the grandeur of his debut album.

Must download tracks: "Jesus Walks", "New Workout Plan", and "Never Let Me Down"

td:ar albums number 25-1


Bronson said...

You put Kanye as your #1? That's gonna piss a lot of people off! Great list though!

Anonymous said...

A decade is from 1-10. As 2001 - 2010. I just thought I would bring that to your attention.

hun*ter said...

WOAH! Thank your for letting me know! Better tell NPR that too! Here I was living my whole life thinking 1990 was part of the 90s when its actually the last year of the 80s!

phileazi said...

hunter you retard! you can't have multiple albums from a single artist on a top 25 list! and they must at least be an artist (Kanye?!?). and Britney Spears?!? WTF?!?!? if you're going to make this blog, you better get some musical taste. you nagger.

Anonymous said...

omg i love brit!

hun*ter said...

Phil, if they're good enough, they can fill up the whole list...that is if they released 25 albums. And you should give Blackout a spin sometime.

bcb said...

I like music! I knew some but not all. I don't like kanye, but i love the killers! Oh and bloc party is real good. I haven't heard the album that is higher on the list but i have heard that it is the better of the two so nice job there :)
Great list and love the decade updates all throughout!

Sexy Beeitch said...

Mr. Brightside better be on this list somewhere..................

hun*ter said...

Don't worry, it is.

jimbo said...

what the hell where is MGMT, radiohead, fleet foxes, wilco, band of horses, christssake the flaming lips!!!! all of these ARTISTS have monumental ARTISTIC abilities with oustanding ALBUMS to back this statement. you should be fired and ashamed to even think about mentioning brittany spears(ehh i just puked a little), kanye west, and jay phucking z as goddamn artists. whats wrong with your reasoning man. my god this is a serious problem we have going on here. this has got to be a flipping joke right!!!! you mean youve actually listened to half of this garbage ear shit?!?!? im seriously surprised you didnt mention 50-cent er um fiddy thent oh what the mr. music critic should freggin kill yourself if you havent done so by know. some advise, quit sucking the audiocock that IS comprised of corporate commercials tightly wraped and disguised as a music album and search out some real music. i am completely ashamed to admit that i live and breathe on the same planet as assholes like yourself. peace out you binford(tool)...

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viagra said...

This is perfect because you put in here a perfect selection of the different genres, one of the best ones for me is Viva la Vida because it has a perfect production behind the album itself, and also Blackout of Britney, I like the second one because she's so hot.

Timothy Brown said...

I like music!

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