Posts Tagged ‘rock’


Top 13 albums of the decade 2000-2009

January 4, 2010

First, the ground rules:  this is not a list of what I consider to be the absolute best albums of the last decade (though many would also be on that list), but the albums I remember that hold together as a unit and hold together under repeated listenings.  Or put more distinctly, these are the collections of songs that made me turn the shuffle option off in iTunes and listen to them from start to finish.

I made the list without regard to what type of artists or music were represented, and as I look back at the list there’s an interesting mix – mostly the heavy, melodic hard rock I would expect, but also some quiet moments and a mix of humor – all types of music I go to the well for when I want to draw out specific emotions.  It is also a list of comeback stories — this decade found a lot of my artists rediscovering and reinventing themselves, sometimes after a long hiatus or perhaps a period of consistent but not groundbreaking output.

The list (in non-committal alphabetical order):

Edguy – Hellfire Club (2004)
German melodic hard-rockers, but they lead with their music and it’s an all-English vocal affair (i.e. no intense-German Rammstein vibe here). Great songwriting and melodies over a heavy rhythm section. Sonically sweet, it’s a great blending of guitars, bass, keyboards, and great vocals from an old-school front man. They also put on a great live show.
Extreme – Saudades de Rock (2008)
A great comeback album.  Extreme have my favorite rock guitarist – Nuno Bettencourt who still brings his mix of heavy, percussive, and funky rhythm work along with crazy leads and orchestration.  To have a new album from these guys was a real treat this decade. “Saudades de Rock” is a collection of great songs that bring back the heavy elements of Extreme and their love of Queen in “Star”, but there are a lot of new sounds here too, including a speedy country-tinged number “Take Us Alive”, the atmospheric “Ghost” and the beautiful ballad “Interface” that was brought forward from Nuno’s last project.  In concert they still pour every bit of energy into it as they were doing 20 years ago.  They are one of my top all-time concert experiences back in 1990 on an early leg of the “Pornograffitti” tour and still brought that same energy when I saw them in 2008.   A good album all the way through.

Freak Kitchen – Organic (2005), Move (2002)
Comic relief, but so much more. This is a Swedish 3-piece fronted by the guitar god Mattias “IA” Eklundh. He puts his freak guitar antics aside to serve the songs and lets loose with a collection of edgy, funny, and unique pop songs with a twist. I bundled these two albums as they work great together as a single unit. You’ll hear some interesting guitar work here but it succeeds in supporting the quirky songs perfectly. For all of IA’s craziness, he proves he can craft great pop tunes and melodies when he wants to. Want to hear a 5/4 pop song that works (and one you could probably dance to)? Try “Nobody’s Laughing” from “Move”. The lyrics here totally work and are very entertaining and cut quick to our cultural inconsistencies. You’ll be singing along after a single listen.
Iron Maiden – Brave New World (2000)
Comeback album by the heavy metal legends Iron Maiden. This album is sonically great and sounds like a continuation of the direction they were going on one of my favorite Maiden albums, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son“. All the Maiden signatures are here – galloping rhythm, cool bass parts, anthemic vocals, and complex songwriting. Their next couple of albums in the decade, “Dance of Death”, and “A Matter of Life and Death” continue this forward.
Johnny A – Sometime Tuesday Morning (2001)
I was introduced to Johnny A when he opened for Eric Johnson a few years ago and was amazed by the range of sounds he could coax from a slim hollow-body Gibson with a Bigsby tremolo. The result is an enchanting and ethereal sound, played out over a mix of jazzy lounge-style tunes and ultra-hip bluesy numbers. His touch on the Bigsby is intoxicating on “Sometime Tuesday Morning” as he goes through some of his own compositions as well as bringing new takes on some great covers such as “Wichita Lineman”, “Yes It Is”, and “Walk Don’t Run”. His next release “Get Inside” is just as great and there will hopefully be a lot more to come. The concert experience here is also not to be missed.
King’s X – XV (2008)
My favorite band and they cemented their position with the release of “XV” in 2008. King’s X have been putting out consistently good work all decade, but “XV” finds them firing on all cylinders and is both a return to classic form as well as a push in a new direction. The songs are the highlight here with some new classics like “Pray For Me”, “Alright”, and “Go Tell Somebody”. dUg Pinnick is the ultimate voice in the ultimate 3-piece band, bringing soul in droves to the heavy, funky foundation of their rhythm section. This CD is produced by the famed Michael Wagener who brings some great sound and focus to the project. Great songs, great band, great live show.
Nevermore – This Godless Endeavor (2005)
This is probably my most-played heavy album of the decade. This one is a real treat played at volume, whether it’s a speedy double-bass assault or slow, heavy, and tight rhythmic riffing. The production and engineering of the great Andy Sneap pay off here in an album that sounds clear and amazing, even with such heavy elements at work. From the album cover onward, Nevermore bring together a (post) apocalyptic vision that is powerful in its lyric and musical manifestation. Vocalist Warrel Dane brings a great sound and power to the songs, bringing a Queensryche vibe to the mix but in a heavier venue, letting loose some great vocal melodies that ride on top of the heavy undercurrent. The dual guitar work here is wonderfully layered and heavy – even on the slow numbers, blending acoustic elements with some great sounding distorted tones. Jeff Loomis is my favorite player in this genre and brings some great lead work to the table. A highlight of the disc is the slow but heavy sci-fi “Sentient 6” which lays out the struggle of a machine that’s studied man and is becoming self-aware as it struggles between the destruction of mankind and its longing to become “more than a machine” – something mankind has denied it. The instrumental break plays this out perfectly, starting with the mathematically-harmonized guitar lines sprung from the mind of a machine that ultimately give way into bluesy and emotional human phrases. I look forward to their next one.
Pantera – Reinventing the Steel (2000)
We lost metal’s great talent Dimebag Darrell this decade, and with it his former band Pantera. Pantera’s last album “Reinventing the Steel” was a comeback album of sorts for them and was the first one I got into. Pantera reinvented metal in the 90s and with “Reinventing the Steel” I discovered what I’d been missing. Their collection of Texas hard rock sets all your testosterone loose with no-apologies guitar work and angry subject matter. Darrell was a lover of all things rock-and-roll and the passion he commits to it is fully evidenced here. A drummer/guitarist duo like their heroes the Van Halens, brothers Vinnie & Darrell are locked into the groove like I suppose only blood brothers can be. The titles of the songs themselves lay the attitude on the table – “Goddamn Electric”, “Revolution Is My Name”, “I’ll Cast a Shadow” – and the music backs it up. This is kick-ass Texas hard rock that took metal to the next level and laid the groundwork for all of the heavy bands of today.
Scorpions – Humanity: Hour 1 (2007)
This is a great melodic hard rock album, finding the Scorpions teaming with songwriting giants such as hit-machine Desmond Child, James Michael (songwriter/producer and Sixx: A.M. singer), and Eric Bazilian (of Hooters and “One Of Us” fame). A lot of these songs could be reworked as pop numbers, but the Scorpions add enough of an edge to them to keep them rocking. “Humanity” sounds inspired from Freddie Mercury’s “Innuendo”-era Queen vocals, which is a good thing.
Symphony X – Paradise Lost (2007)
I’ve been listening to Symphony X for a while now and they continue to best their efforts with each release. This album brings together their heavy riffs and layered orchestration with some great melodies and songwriting. Michael Romeo is an incredible guitarist, but the symphonic elements and orchestration he brings to the table here are amazing. The opener, “Oculus ex Inferni” is an orchestral treat that sets the stage for the bombast that follows. Russell Allen’s vocals are in great form and are more accessible here and provide the power for the melodies you find yourself singing along to. The guitar parts are incredible, but fit right into the pocket of these complex songs. I wasn’t sure how their songs would translate in concert, but they worked big-time. They also released a version of the album with a 5.1 surround mix.
Tesla – Into The Now (2004)
This is one of the comebacks that exceeds the albums in their back catalog. Tesla came out among the hard rock 80s bands, but shower off the Aqua Net and a great 70s-era hard rock band remains. Jeff Keith is a great front man born a bit too late for that era, but brings his distinctive vocals and matured lyrics into the new millennium. Twin guitars round out the sound to give that classic rock feel. This album contains some great songs – among them the concert-opening rocker “Into The Now”, the heavy “Heaven Nine Eleven”, and the beautiful ballad “Caught In A Dream”. Tesla continued the party in 2008 with another great album “Forever More” which is as good or better than this one. Don’t miss a concert by these guys – they know how to put on an old-school rock-and-roll show.
Tom Waits – Mule Variations (1999)
This one came out in 1999, but it’s still so great and important to me that I have to include it on this list. I love the formula and contrast of his work – at a cursory level, it’s some of the strangest-sounding material you’ll hear, but spend just a little time giving into it and you’ll be cut deep with the storytelling and the emotion that is brought forth from within yourself. He has a way of establishing a whole world and vibe in a couple of opening lines. “Mule Variations” is a collection of classics like “Hold On”, “Get Behind The Mule”, “Picture In A Frame”, “Chocolate Jesus”, and well, all of them. “Come On Up To The House” gets me every time…The instrumentation on “Mule Variations” reminds me of the broken-down graveyard musicians in Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, with a mix of strange-sounding instruments and oddly-performed parts to go along with Waits’ gravelly voice, but in the end it’s all just perfect. Tom Waits had some other great albums this decade with “Alice”, “Blood Money”, and “Real Gone”, and the “Orphans…” collection, but this is tops as a collection of songs. Plus, he composed “Way Down In The Hole”, which served as the theme song for the TV series of the decade, “The Wire“.
Winger – IV (2006)
Another great comeback from a band that deserves to be re-evaluated if you haven’t heard them lately. I’m not afraid to put Winger on my list. I like Winger. If you disagree with me, you’re probably a racist. Kip Winger has matured into a great songwriter (and also classical composer) and shows his production skills here as well with a collection of nicely-layered instrumentation. Lyrically, this album (and its great cover art) explores the perspective of the American soldier in a non-political way and serves as a great tribute to their sacrifices – not heavy-handed at all.  The song “Blue Suede Shoes” that appears on “IV” (for which Kip was honored by the US Armed Forces) ranks as one of the tops of the decade. There are some good rockers on here as well, and rock heavyweights Reb Beach and Rod Morgenstein always bring the groove. Their latest effort “Karma” (2009) is also very good.

Honorable Mention:
Song of the Living Dead
Soundtrack to the great zombie musical put on by the great Atlanta theatre company, Dad’s Garage.

Close behind:
Joe Bonamassa – The Ballad Of John Henry (2009)
Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot (2009)
Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)
Dreamscape – End Of Silence (2004)
Mark Knopfler – Shangri-La (2004)
Shaw Blades – Influence (2007)
Sixx: A.M. – Heroin Diaries Soundtrack (2007)
Whitesnake – Good To Be Bad (2008)