It was a decade that started with boy bands and Britney, and ended with Bob Dylan singing Here Comes Santa Claus.
In between, an endless stream of over-produced and under-talented American Idol winners managed to keep the big record labels from drowning in a pool of self-inflicted ennui. Yet, through all of this, we managed to find some exceptionally fine music. And you didn’t have to be an indie snob to find it. Here are ten records from the past 10 years that you can feel good about having in your library.
In Your Honor
A double album, shows the band at its best — plugged in and acoustic. It took on the other big double rock album of the decade — Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers — and won. With a string of radio friendly rockers like the Best of You and DOA, this is the album that made the Foo Fighters the top band of the decade.
Some critics would place Feist’s debut album, Let It Die, above The Reminder. But let’s face it, The Reminder put Feist at a higher level. It’s also the album that broke the Canadian songstress internationally. It was hard to get tired of 1,2,3,4, even with the monster abuse it took on those iPod commercials. These are well-crafted songs, written with style and originality, and sung in a uniquely alluring voice. Too bad The Reminder launched a thousand copy cats.
A Rush of Blood to the Head
This is the album that single-handedly saved EMI from disaster (the delay of the release of the follow-up X&Y actually caused a run on EMI stock, while Michael Jackson and the Beatles got the mega-label through the rest of the decade). The piano riff on Clocks alone makes this album a must. Coldplay started the decade a U2/Radiohead wannabe and reached 2010 well ahead of both.
Speakerboxx/The Love Below
This double album’s two huge hits – Hey Ya and The Way You Move — finally broke hip hop through to the mainstream pop charts. At the same time, its retro leanings toward funk and soul (a la Sly and the Family Stone) inevitably spelled the end to the genre as we knew it in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Melody became as important as the beat. Enter Kanye West, Usher, Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Few in Canada were aware of the innovative indie-rock collectives that were thriving in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver until David Bowie stepped on stage with Arcade Fire at a New York gig in 2005. The world seemed to look at the Canadian indie scene differently after that.
Back to Black
Sometimes there’s a reason why artists sweep the Grammys the way Amy Winehouse did in 2007. This was simply a very good album. How many people can remember exactly where they were when they first heard Rehab on the radio? It was that special. Winehouse managed to reference four decades of R&B music while still sounding original. This album sparked a British retro-fad with a flurry of young Dusty Springfields finding chart success. None, of course, were anywhere near as interesting as Amy. Who knows whether Amy will ever repeat the feat? It doesn’t really matter.
The White Stripes
Who would have thought that there was anything left to say in rock ‘n’ roll until Jack White came along and managed to do what others couldn’t with nothing but a drum kit, a guitar and a deft hand in the studio? This album proved that less can, indeed, be more. White has since managed to bring a touch of class to everything he touches, including Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Ros, the Raconteurs and Dead Weather.
We Were Born in a Flame
It started with a six-song EP (The Inhuman Condition) that cost the Montreal rocker just $65 to record. Two songs (Don’t Walk Away Eileen and Brother Down) broke through on radio after every major label in the country turned them down. The three surprise Junos Sam received made us realize that there was more to Canadian rock ‘n’ roll than The Tragically Hip and Rush.
OK, he’s a jerk. He’s proved that over and over again. But sometimes we have to let reality pass and just listen to the music. Kanye’s third album brought everything together and made his tremendous ego a little more bearable.
Live at Massey Hall 1971
Yes, this one doesn’t really belong. It’s a recording of a concert that happened almost 40 years ago. As a matter of fact, this spot was originally going to be taken by Ryan Adams’ Gold (2001), which had a tremendous impact on a whole new breed of singer-songwriters, taking them back to their roots. Neil, however, is the real deal. He is their roots. And nothing had a bigger impact on young writers than the release of this remarkable concert album. You can hear it all over Dallas Green’s Bring Me Your Love City and Colour album (2008).