What I Think of NME’s “The Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade”

Now that the Aughts are almost up, slews of folks will be making best-ofs. Britain’s NME (New Music Express) has just come out with their “Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade” (http://www.nme.com/list/the-top-100-greatest-albums-of-the-decade/158049/page/1). Because I like lists, and because I like saying things, here are the albums upon which I can comment:

63. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven – Twenty-two-plus minutes of this album are known variously as “Storm,” “Gathering Storm,” or “The Gathering Storm” depending on where you find it. Whatever it’s called, it’s some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. The first nine minutes in particular create red-dust-apocalypse visions in my head that I somehow hold very, very dear.

62. Queens of the Stone Age, R – Easily one of the best rock records of the modern era. Sounds as rad today as it did in 2000. Should be much higher on this list.

61. The National, Alligator – Meh. I have friends who love this album and this band, but they leave me flat, and I don’t think they belong on a best-of.

60. Green Day, American Idiot – This album is so good it should be in the top five, if not number one outright. Especially perfect are the nine-minute “Jesus of Suburbia” and the temerity to close such a pounding, frenetic collection with the wistful “Whatsername.”

59. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America – An exceptional band and album.

57. Outkast, Stankonia – Should be much higher. “Ms. Jackson,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Bombs Over Baghdad,” “Gasoline”……ridiculous.

19. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells and 18. The White Stripes, Elephant – I have no idea how NME wound up putting these two back to back, but it’s fitting, even though they should most certainly be in the top five. These are two of the most perfect rock albums ever made. Anyone who wants to write songs on guitar and sing them needs to study these two collections very carefully.

15. Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf – My list would have this album at number one. Brilliant title, brilliant between-songs radio schtick, frighteningly aggressive opening track (“You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire”), corrosively sludgy guitar work, delish melodies, and the best goddamn drumming since the mighty John Bonham, rest his soul. Truly a perfect album.

14. Radiohead, Kid A – Should be in the top ten. Recall that this followed up their much-ballyhooed OK Computer, and instead of trying to recreate that album’s awesomeness, they just kept walking farther out into the weird, weird woods. It’s saying something that the record’s best song, “Treefingers,” has no guitar, bass, drums, or vocals.

12. At the Drive In, Relationship of Command – I got wind of ATDI too late: this album, their third, was also their last, though they splintered into Sparta and The Mars Volta. But what a way to go out. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything more assaultive than the opening track, “Arc Arsenal.” Every song kicks complete ass.

10. Radiohead, In Rainbows – Love it, though I think number ten is too high.

8. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights – Wow, wow, wow. This and the follow-up Antics are about as good as dour guitar rock gets, kind of like a Yankee Joy Division on meds that work just enough.

4. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not – The Monkeys' music is basic in many ways, but it’s also in a class by itself. This album is one of those that I just can’t imagine anyone NOT liking. If “Fake Tales of San Francisco” was the only song they’d ever released, they’d still be in this spot. Or at number one, which is where they surely could be. Incredible music.

3. Primal Scream, XTRMNTR – I’d say almost no one in the U.S. has heard of this album, and that’s their loss, because it’s weird and loud and furious and smart and scary. Scary? Yes. The synth squiggles on “Kill All Hippies” sound like a good horror soundtrack. The distorted guitar on “Accelerator” is not of this Earth but from a far fuzzier, hotter planet. As bad as Primal Scream’s earlier output can be – “Rocks Off” and “Movin’ On Up” are so stupid they practically drool – that’s how fantastic this album is.

1. The Strokes, Is This It – Um……really? Really, NME? I like this album a lot, but number one for the decade? No way. Top ten, sure, but not number one.

And then here are the ones from NME’s list about which I want to know more, and which I might actually buy:

90. Gallows, Orchestra of Wolves – If only for the album title alone.

80. Danger Mouse, The Grey Album – What a genius idea. Still never heard it.

79. Kings of Leon, Youth and Young Manhood – Another fab album title. I confess that I don’t like Only By the Night (other than “Sex on Fire”), but this one is supposedly terrific.

72. MIA, Kala and 50. MIA, Arular – Been wanting to get her albums for years.

36. Spiritualized, Let It Come Down – Their rep precedes them; their songs have somehow escaped me.

26. Dizzee Rascal, Boy in Da Corner – Oi!

16. The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come for Free – Oi! Oi!

And, predictably enough, here are some of my other favorite Aught albums. I won’t pretend that these selections should be part of some zeitgeist-affirming list – I just like this stuff.

Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills – “And perhaps at last / The song you sing will have meaning”

Elvis Costello, The Delivery Man – God, I wish he’d make more albums like this and stop dicking around in other genres. These songs are priceless.

Kanye West, The College Dropout and Late Registration – Kanye’s a giant prick, to be sure, but he’s also a lyricist and sampler par excellence. “Jesus Walks,” “Crack Music,” “Roses,” “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and “Breathe In, Breathe Out” are as good as rap gets.

Probot, Probot – Even if Dave Grohl had put out a list-worthy album in the Oughts (One By One and In Your Honor disc 1 are good, though), this doom-metal tour de force would still be here. Dave wrote all the music and played nearly all the instruments, and then he got renowned (for their genres) singers to lend lyrics and vocals, and the result is one badass record that should shame all nü-metal douchebags into silence. If the first three tracks – "Centuries of Sin," "Red War," and "Shake Your Blood" (Lemmy!) – don't get your adrenaline pumping, you better get your affairs in order, son.

Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head, X&Y, Viva La Vida – It’s apparently uncool to like these guys, and I’d probably care about that if the music weren’t so goddamn good.

Wolfmother, Wolfmother – This album excited me like nothing I’d heard in a long time. Still does. The maximum riffage just after the floaty middle section in “White Unicorn” is like an aural dictionary entry for “electric rock music.”

Morrissey, You Are the Quarry – After six years' worth of consistently perfect music with the Smiths (who I still say will reunite someday), Morrissey has put out twenty-plus years of consistently great music on his own. I'd put this third behind Bona Drag (yes, I know it's a collection and not a proper album) and Vauxhall and I, but it's still everything anyone could ever want out of croony guitar pop.

Audioslave, Audioslave – Many of my musician buddies dislike this band because they’re not as good as their component parts, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine minus Zack. I agree that they’re not as good as their antecedents, but you know what? Not much is, chief. Basically, anything with Tom Morello is going to kill.

Pete Yorn, musicforthemorningafter – What Ryan Adams wishes he could be.

The Darkness, Permission to Land – Most folks can’t get past that keening falsetto, and that’s a shame, because this album’s guitar riffs are stupendous. As sometimes are, amazingly enough, the lyrics: “I want to banish you from whence you came” proclaims the singer in the finely crafted double-entendre fest “Growing on Me.” Smart hard rock pretending to be stupid.

Various Artists, Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack – Perfect. Jai ho!

Weezer, Maladroit – Poor Weezer. When you start your career with two peerless classics, you’ve nowhere to go but down. And down they’ve gone on some releases, but not this one, which is basically a metal album. The first time I heard “Dope Nose,” I got heart palpitations.

Moby, 18 and Hotel – Lots of fellow Moby fans disagree with me on this, but I think 18 is one of Moby’s best albums, especially “We Are All Made of Stars,” “In This World,” “Fireworks,” and “Another Woman.” Hotel is just as good, and that’s only counting disc 1 – disc 2 is all ambient, and it’s breathtaking, softly shooting Moby into the realm of Brian Eno and Aphex Twin.

Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers – Probably the funnest album of the decade. If you got tired of and now can't stand "Stacy's Mom," it doesn't matter, because all the other songs are way better.

Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera – I could put any of their albums on this list, but SRO really is a monumental achievement: a two-disc (act) set that’s an oblique paean to the Lynyrd Skynyrd legend and a flawless conjuring of the 1970s Deep South. The guitar sound, three axes thick, will never be bested.


  1. Excellent post! And great idea I may have to steal if I can get organized enough to do it. I love stuff like this. I'm ashamed to say I haven't heard most of those bands... I'm either turning into an old fogey or I'm just specializing too much in old-school punk rock or somethin' (I'm so mired down in that mindset that when I saw the "MIA" entry I thought "The band that did 'Boredom Is The Reason' reformed?!?" I love that song - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5gES_bucGA ) Definitely some stuff on this list I need to check out. I concur on the Queens of the Stone Age stuff... excellent band. And I may have to give Green Day a second chance on that recommendation. The only thing I've got by them is "Dookie" and I like it pretty well but was never inspired to buy any more of their stuff. Might have to snag that 'un. And Probot, indeed, rules mightily! Some cool person sent me a copy of that once :) and I was mucho impressed... "Shake Your Blood" is actually one of my fave "Motorhead" songs even though it's not technically Motorhead.

    A lot of my fave "new" bands lately are actually old bands that I just got into years after the fact (The Gits and their offshoot The Dancing French Liberals of '48, Fuzztones, Nashville Pussy, Crown of Thornz, Cranked Up, Argy Bargy, etc.) Sometimes I lag...

  2. Yeah... I lag, too. None of my faves of the year are anywhere near the NME or AVClub lists, though those lists are for the decade + not just this year... Whatever. The shit on my Best of 2009 list will warm the cockles of any music-lover's heart. Or the heartles of any music-lover's cock...