So I’ve almost reached the end of my journey through my 50 favourite albums of the last decade! It was almost a two-week affair so thanks to everyone who read the entries, whether or not you agreed with me or thought my opinions were grating, annoying and narcasstic – they are – but isn’t that just what blogging is in general? Anyways, here they are, my most cherished, favourite records of the 2000s — these were the five most memorable moving efforts that I came across in the last ten years, and I’m grateful to all of them for making me laugh, cry and mostly think about myself, other people, art, music and life in general. Counting down from 5, here we go!
5. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs. This album is unlike any on this list, or any in my record collection at all really, because I bought it purely based on my laugh-a-minute enjoyment of a novelty song, in this case, the title track. On that song, Folds talks about how he’s “pissed off but [he’s] too polite/when people break in the McDonalds line” and being “all alone in [his] white boy pain” – he warns his mom and dad to not be so uptight before letting out the loudest proudest uttering of the word “fuck” I’ve EVER heard in a pop song. Yeah – it’s funny shit, and a catchy number too. I expected the rest of the album to be like the title track, yet, still wanted to buy it anyways. So I did, and it was SO not what I expected. And in junior high, that was a bit of a problem at first, until I really listened to Folds’ best record over, without or without his Five. There is so much quirky vulnerability here, so many untold stories to tell, so many little idiosyncrasies and moments of pathetic pathos and longing. The album’s opener, Annie Waits, is a song about a girl who is expecting a call from a boyfriend, and she suddenly wonders if she’d rather he be hurt or negligent – which would be a worse outcome for her? That kind of exploration of the relationship psyche is even rare in a novel let alone a song. It stands out to me as one of Folds’ finest lyrics ever. Zak and Sara is another odd song, a story song that I can never quite wrap my head around except to know that at the end when Folds sings, “Zak finished Sara’s song/Sara clapped”, I feel happy, despite that Zak and Sara seem throughout the song, doomed and brooding. The Luckiest is one of the most unique and romantic love songs that most people have never heard – honestly, I can’t even quote ONE great line because the whole song has this priceless hopelessly star-struck feel to it – I guess if I had to choose, I’d go with “in a wide see of eyes I see one pair that I recognize/and I am the luckiest”. Sigh… could you imagine if someone wrote a song like that for you? Fred Jones Part 2 is a different kind of sad story, one about an elderly man’s unwilling retirement, and his feelings of irrelevance when he sees his new young replacement. Losing Lisa is a two-Kleenex song at LEAST, its bouncy melody a clever disguise for a two-sides-of-the-story relationship song, in which the girl is crying and the boy has no idea what he’s done wrong, while he remembers all the good times they had together. We never get a clear answer, but one is not needed. Folds has made a couple of good records since Suburbs but none quite so memorable, beautiful, vulnerable and clever. This was one of the first ‘cool’ records I owned (as in, not a boy band or mainstream radio album, a Columbia House desperation pick, a Wal Mart bargain best-of or techno/dance compilation) and so I regard it as one of my first looks into the world of REAL music.
4. Damien Rice – O. It’s 2004 and I’m in my first year of university – I am just discovering people who will later become my life-blood like Ryan Adams and Elliott Smith, and I am starting to familiarize myself with big names in the indie/roots world. And completely by accident, I stumble upon two songs that change my life forever – The Blower’s Daughter and Amie – with the former, it is certainly easy to say a ubiquitous line like “can’t take my eyes off of you”, but it is less easy to cry them out with a torturous force over and over again, and still manage to squeeze meaning out of each short syllable. With the latter, the line “read me the story of ‘O’/tell it like you still believe that the end of the century brings a change for you and me” still resonates with me years after hearing it for the very first time. I decided, based on those two tracks, to pick up the album so I went to HMV and got it – when I listened to it the first time, I was both mystified and turned off by the long stretches of silence and the Gregorian chants and the cutting in of Damien Rice’s full-forced screaming in I Remember. The finished product was a bit TOO ‘out there’ for my 18-year old AM radio fan – but with repeated listens, I just… got it. The music clicked for me and I listened it when I walked to class on cold mornings in the dark and thought about secrets and people I had crushes on, and it was in those early months of 2005 that O was introduced truly into my life. Cheers Darlin’ is especially special in all its drunken bitterness and is there a better breakup line than “love taught me to lie” (Cannonball)? Damien Rice actually outdoes himself on his less successful sophomore 9 Crimes I think, but I only wanted to include one of his records and I think O is a more important effort that takes a lot more chances and is to me, a somehow more memorable piece. Yeah, there are a lot of breakup records on this list, but O is the quintessential one – I can’t imagine breaking up with someone without it.
3. Wilco – A Ghost is Born. In third place, we have Wilco once again. But while most critics and magazines are championing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as Wilco’s best release of this decade (or possibly ever), I think A Ghost is Born, while less important in terms of music history, is a stronger record overall. While still alienating like its predecessor (the opening lines of the album are “when the Devil came he was not red/he was chrome” and that kind of sums up Ghost), the few very charming, warm moments are really, REALLY warm and they always come as a nice surprise – like the oddly cute, funny commentary song Late Greats or the southern comfort riff of Muzzle of Bees. And these moments are tossed in the mix with a 9-minute rave rocker like Spiders (Kidsmoke) and a drugged-out driving beat song like Handshake Drugs. Wilco is at their most challenging when they take chances like these – A Ghost is Born is risky business but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Tweedy and his VERY talented ensemble cast. My absolute favourite Wilco song ever is Theologians, yet another track that mingles religious themes with the earthiness of the human spirit – the crescendo gently builds to a rock explosion and then we get Tweedy singing “I’m a notion/I’m all emotion/I’m a cherry ghost” – words that in their experimental poetry, are too beautiful to attach one particular meaning to. I know I talk constantly and at length about Ghost in my blog, almost to the point where saying anything else about it is a moot point, but there is a good reason for all that talk – A Ghost is Born is just such an irresistible, addictive, difficult, problematic, complex effort from a band that would DARE to tack a trail of 12-minute digital noise onto a three-minute piano ballad.
2. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head. Yes, here are again, talking about Coldplay’s Rush of Blood again, and simply because it’s a wonderful work of genius from a band that ended up conquering the WORLD in the 2000s. Hearing Amsterdam to me now, is like getting a sad phone call from a really old friend. Sometimes I think about this record and how much I love it, and I instantly gravitate towards it once again, being tossed into the world of Clocks, a fast-paced world of neo-art rock in which guitar solos soar with digital grace and drums play a soldier marching beat without being shy on the cymbals at all. Coldplay is the 2000s, and this was certainly their best effort of their own private decade. There’s so much material to explore in this album; when I first heard it, really heard it, I thought to myself, “this is one of few records from this period in time that people will remember as a complete classic in fifty years”. I still stand by that; will almost any song in the world move me as much as The Scientist does? I still weep for that song. This album is irresistibly beautiful and universally appealing. I wish I didn’t have to share it, but at the same time, I’m glad other people know how it feels to listen to Rush of Blood.
And the number 1 spot goes to……
Ryan Adams – Love is Hell. This record warms my heart in the oddest way possible; by making it feel like a black hole of death to which there is no return. I’ve had this album since its release in 2004, and I’ve listened to it countless times since then, but only on very special days and occasions; when the gloomy weather permits it; when I’m having an awful day of personal crisis/crises; when I’m feeling particularly hopeless about love and all of the awful things that can go wrong with it; when I want to be reminded of a time when all of this great music wasn’t just an average day-to-day hobby of mine, but truly a revolutionary feeling. For me, delving deeply into the pool of intelligent, well-crafted independent songs and albums was essentially life-changing, and this album reminds me of that time in my life. I heard it, and cried, and realized that almost every record I’d ever heard before it would never be good enough for me again, and every record I’d hear since this would never steal its top stop in the playlist of my life. Favourite album of the decade? Love is Hell is my favourite record of ALL TIME. It’s the kind of record that chooses you as opposed to you choosing it; the kind of record that comes along when you need it and sticks by your side through anything. The kind of record where you hear lines like “I fucked you over a million times and you died…” and don’t think, ‘what a stupid pointless lyric’ but rather, ‘I know… oh God, I know…’. Love is Hell is Ryan Adams’ most controversial and highly criticised and panned release, but also I think, his most heartfelt, personal work of art EVER. It’s truly a masterpiece and bleeds pain and suffering from every jagged little pill of a song. It acts like a concept album about someone who is both extremely, extremely creative and lonely slowly suffering until they end up alone, strung out and desperate, in the Chelsea Hotel before the story ends and a new, potentially more horrid one, might begin. What more can I say about this record? Talking about it is like an ode in itself; no record is this good in my opinion. I’ve yet to find a record that makes me feel quite the way Love is Hell ever has.