The Top Ten Rock Albums Made After Y2K
in a time where the fantastic album is being largely forsaken in favor of a string of catchy singles that last a few months on radio and fizzle forever, i want to celebrate the art of making an album. to do that, i’m looking back at my favorite complete works of modern rock music in the last 12 years or so. it’s not just collections of great songs, it’s the greatest albums.
first off, a disclaimer: i like pop music. not because i believe it makes me popular, in fact in most cases it makes me unpopular. most musicians i know are into those edgy indie acts that are on the edge of being big-time, and then stop liking them when they “sell out”, or achieve mainstream success. i’ll acknowledge that sometimes bands/artists sacrifice artistic brilliance to meet the insatiable demands of pop, but in my line of work, i have to believe that the two can coexist symbiotically, especially for people like me who like pop music.
with that said, i don’t want everybody ripping on me for leaving out the beatles or led zepellin, because i honestly just don’t much like listening to the music they made. i believe they are legendary bands who made great music, and there are individual songs i like from their catalogs, but this isn’t a list of the best bands, it’s a list of my top 10 favorite albums of all time. now that i’ve pissed some of you off, i’ll have to objectively qualify how i came to my decisions. what makes a good album, you ask?
SONGWRITING. i believe a good song is the balance of two basic components: (1) i’m going to call it pop factor, it’s the familiar verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure with the million-dollar chord progression (I-V-vi-IV for you theory nerds.. see u2’s with or without you, taylor swift’s love story, linkin park’s shadow of the day, come to think of it, those three songs right there probably make that chord progression worth more than a million bucks each). everybody knows those structures, and honestly everybody knows them for a reason, because it’s a damn good way to write a pop song. too much of it tho, and you’ve got yourself a plain white bread song, which brings us to the second factor. (2) originality, it’s the paprika of songwriting. too much of it, and all you can taste is paprika and you’re saying to yourself, “who’s the asshole who put all this paprika in my mouth!? why can’t you give me a little chicken with my paprika so i can identify with it a little bit?” anyway, the challenge is to make something fresh out of something that has been overdone thousands of times. martin scorcese once said, “there are no new ideas anymore. all a filmmaker can do is make movies that feel fresh.” the same premise holds true for music.
LISTENABILITY. we’re still talking about what makes a good album, for those of you who got lost thinking about paprika. i want to be able to listen to the whole thing, without even the slightest inkling of desire to skip a song. not only do i want to look forward to each song, i want to know that if one of them was unexplainedly removed (say for example, if i had a hard drive error and only certain files were erased . . . harumph), i would be pissed off and the album would seem incomplete.
PRODUCTION. one of the main reasons i don’t like listening to older bands is because i love technology and where it’s taken us in high fidelity audiological ear-bliss. yes, i just coined the term ear-bliss, get over it. and don’t let your mind go there, no! bad mind! now i have a penchant for “big” sounding records, but i’ve included a relatively “small” sounding record in my list just to prove that i’m not discriminating.
VOCALS. so, so, so important. there are very few bands i like that don’t have strong, unique, and heavily-featured vocals. as i’ll illustrate later, they don’t have to be technically perfect, but they do have to be perfectly appropriate.
and now, to the list, in no particular order:
ONE-X: THREE DAYS GRACE | 13 June 2006 | Howard Benson
fave song: “get out alive” – i learned to play drums when i was 14, and can play along with a lot of my favorite stuff, but when i first heard what could have so easily been a pedestrian drumline turned into a tapestry of amazingness, i had to spend an hour or so drumming on my steering wheel until i could wrap my brain around the genius of that part. as an aside, if you ever ride in a car with me, be warned that a song like this may be on repeat indefinitely, and i probably already had it that way for 30 or 40 times before that. BGVs in this song are amazing, that’s really important to me.
CANNONS: PHIL WICKHAM | 2 October 2008 | Peter Kipley
fave song: tough, this whole album is on such an amazing level. i’ll go with “must i wait”. – i warm up my voice with this song, plus it gets me pumped up for a gig and makes me think i’m a vocal badass.
MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE: MATCHBOX TWENTY | 19 November 2002 | Matt Serletic
fave song: while technically i have to say “hand me down” is the best, it’s so unified with it’s neighbor “could i be you” that i tend to think of the songs as a unit. this album is extremely cohesive, a lot of thought was put into arranging the songs and getting them to flow together and complement one another. while this list is in no particular order, this is probably the closest thing to #1.
ABSOLUTION: MUSE | 23 March 2004 | Rich Costey
fave song: “butterflies and hurricanes” – one word: epic. this song makes me want to go kick the world’s ass on the way to climbing a large mountain. what makes this band great is that each musician is extremely well-represented in each song, they always come up with amazing parts for each song, and they’re unselfish enough to know when it’s not their time to shine, which is even more important than nailing your part when it is.
CONTINUUM: JOHN MAYER | 8 September 2006 | John Mayer, Steve Jordan
fave song: again for me this album is more about the album and less about individual songs, but “belief” does everything i want it to do and deals with something so weighty, kudos to john. i don’t necessarily agree with him on everything, but that’s not really the point of the song. if you haven’t seen his live dvd, called “where the light is”, he gets into this song perfectly in a way that at least looked spontaneous with his keys player. nothing to do with the album, but it deserves attention.
THE BLACK PARADE: MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE | 31 October 2006 | Rob Cavallo
fave song: “i don’t love you” – i’ve heard criticism that this album is completely un-mychemicalromance-esque, but that has never bothered me. a band can always reinvent itself, i don’t think the way you entered mainstream success is the way you have to leave it, and actually i think if you do, something went wrong. see john mayer’s career (started out a pop heartthrob and successfully melded that with his blues roots, can’t wait to see where he goes next). this is another album that takes you places, and regardless of whether or not they got help writing the tunes (the album screams that they did), it’s one of the most complete works ever made. has a very diverse feel with multiple styles mixed in, e.g. european-sounding songs like mama, then the classic rock feel of teenagers.
DREAMING OUT LOUD: ONE REPUBLIC | 20 November 2007 | Ryan Tedder
fave song: “prodigal” – this song is like one huge crescendo, and the detail and care in the small moments make it quite emotional. i’m all about emotion in music, that’s pretty much what it’s all about. this album, along with wickham’s, considerably influenced the making of my debut album. subtle, almost feeling guitar tones permeate, rhythm drives the action, vocal melodies are spot on.
DOSAGE: COLLECTIVE SOUL | 9 February 1999 | Ross Childress
fave song: “compliment” – it’s really nice to see a band put out an album this good that far along in their career. normally song quality suffers with age. i love listening to “heavy” with headphones, the guitars are so big and so wide, sometimes i need a cigarette once the song is over. this was good enough to overlook a few months discrepancy in the deadline.
O: DAMIEN RICE | 10 June 2003 | Damien Rice
fave song: “cheers darlin'” – rumor has it damien downs about four glasses of wine just before he performs cheers, and no doubt had a similar tactic for recording. this is the “small” record i mentioned in my introduction, but the intimacy serves it well for the the importance of each song’s lyrics. one of the things i love about damien is that his vocal technique is seldom technically perfect, but it’s always perfectly appropriate for the song. adam duritz (counting crows) has a similar approach in that he doesn’t always hit all the right notes, but it always sounds amazing in spite of that, or maybe because of the way he can pull it off.
AMERICAN IDIOT: GREEN DAY | 21 September 2004 | Green Day
fave song: “boulevard of broken dreams” – of course this is THE song on the album, perfect emotional content and execution. honorable mention: “give me novacaine”. i can’t say anything about this album that hasn’t already been trumpeted by some other critic already, but it’s a spectacular rock opera concept album in the style of the who. it’s just a journey, go ahead and pop it on your ipod again and put it on when you have some time to get through the whole thing. i think you’ll still find it amazing. oh by the way, this album sounds freaking amazing too, a sonic masterpiece.
THRIVING IVORY: THRIVING IVORY | 24 June 2008 | Chris Manning, Howard Benson
fave song: “angels on the moon” – most people get hung up on the vocal style, but thriving ivory has everything i want. when i heard angels come on at a party i knew immediately that i would like their entire album and probably buy anything else they ever made.
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