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Best Albums of the Decade, 9-1
We’re almost there! Before you read any further, make sure you’ve caught up with the rest of the countdown. Click to see 101-90 and 89-80 and 79-70 and 69-60 and 59-50 and 49-40 and 39-29.5 and 29-20 and 19-10.
Okay, here we go. I have ten albums in my top nine spots because we’ve got a tie at number 1. Let’s get there and get this thing sewn up, shall we?
9. Vishal-Shekhar, Om Shanti Om (2007)
Hands down, despite some fierce competition, our favorite Bollywood soundtrack of the decade. This duo crafts carefully plotted songs that sound completely out of control, yet they keep the focus on the beat and the melody. This outlandish meta-musical (guy meets girl, both are killed by evil film producer then reincarnated so they can fall in love all over again and finally defeat him!) is held together by Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani’s glowing pastiches of every lovely music ever invented, from surf music to techno to good old-fashioned Indian classical music. And Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are all zen: “All the cool boys / Come and make some noise / And sing ‘Om Shanti Om’!”
Other albums that could have gone here: Bluffmaster! (2005)
8. George Clinton and the P. Funk All-Stars, How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? (2005)
What are the odds that this late in the game, almost 40 years after they had their first psychedelic doo-wop hits, that the P. Funk collective would come out with the 10th best album in their catalog? Well, maybe 12th or 15th, not sure; they have released a lot of great albums. But this double-disc was definitely our fave rave of its year, sporting ornate piano ballads (“Saddest Day”) and full-on metal jump-ups (“Viagra,” where they yell “They got you by the malls!”) and old-school funk and jazz and r&b. But the real standouts here are when George works a little blue, hitting us with the posse rap track “U Ain’t Runnin’ Shit” and with the extended old-school medley on Disc 2 where he gets to growl “Let’s go to the motherfuckin’ hop!” before Bobby Womack takes it all home. Shockingly touching.
7. Cibelle, The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves (2006)
Whatever Cibelle is doing, it’s working. After only two solo albums, this Brazilian expat has learned to fold in just about as much electronic music and freak-folk and pretty-pop as anyone else in the world might, but she sure makes it her own. She can croon soft nothings in full-on bossa nova seductress mode, then turn around and get her Bjork on with weird/awesome cathedrals of sound. From the MASSIVE chord changes of “Phoenix” to the beat-box oddness of “Mad Man Song,” she remains the only constant, and her lyrics are insightful in whatever language she chooses at that moment. Cibelle even manages to make Devendra Banhart seem cool by collaborating with him on the Caetano Veloso classic “London, London.” Exciting, challenging music that actually sounds good?
Other albums that could have gone here: Cibelle (2003)
6. Missy Elliott, Under Construction (2002)
And this is the album we SHOULD have been greenlighting in 2002. Don’t get us wrong, as we loved Missy the whole time. But this disc has aged a lot better, for about 50 reasons, than just about any rap music of the 2000s. Tops on that list is sheer sonic invention by Timbaland and Missy; next would be the immediacy and candor of Missy’s mic-wreckage and that of her co-stars (Ludacris’ verse on “Gossip Folks” was the first time we loved him). And with “Work It” she actually managed to upstage “Get Ur Freak On” and “Pass That Dutch,” maybe the feat of the decade.
Other albums that could have gone here: Miss E…So Addictive (2001), This Is Not a Test! (2003)
5. El Gran Silencio, Chuntaros Radio Poder (2001)
Five guys from Monterrey, Mexico, almost took over the world with this record, a bumpy sonic journey through their beloved hometown and all the rest of the music in the world. Tony and Cano Hernandez are a pretty strong one-two brotherly punch here, rapping and singing and beatboxing and thrashing and skanking over each other’s songs like cocky lovable rock gods; Campo holds it down on the accordion; and Vulgar’s bassline never wavers. (Yeah, they had a bass player named Vulgar.) Sometimes the concept of a record overtakes it, but not here, as they got all their favorite DJs in town to introduce the songs, date-stamping them to fill in a whole full day in the life of El Gran Silencio. The only thing wrong with this is that they almost topped it three years later, then never again scaled the same mountains again. Hey, someone, give EGS a contract and some real money and let ‘em loose on the world, would ya?
Other albums that could have gone here: Super Riddim Internacional, Vol. 1 (2004)
4. T.I., King (2006)
No doubt in our mind that Clifford Harris was the rapper of the decade. Jay-Z laughs too much at his own clumsy jokes, Lil Wayne is too scattershot, Luda fell off the table, Raekwon…well, maybe we need to give that dude another shot. But T.I. beat them all for candor, focus, poetry, ambiguity, and skill, and this is his Biggest Boldest Blackest Best statement. Not just for massive radio hits like “What You Know” and “I’m Talking to You,” but the whole enchilada; “Live in the Sky” digs deep, y’all, “Stand Up Guy” is sexy and confident the way only T.I. can be anymore, and “Ride Wit Me” made a lot of entitled suburbanite kids re-think their privilege. Every new album from this guy is a must-buy. Can’t say that about too many people in the game.
Other albums that could have gone here: I’m Serious (2001), Trap Muzik (2003), Urban Legend (2004), T.I. vs. T.I.P. (2007), Paper Trail (2008).
3. Ike Reilly, Hard Luck Stories (2009)
We couldn’t love Ike Reilly more if we tried…which, fortunately, we don’t have to do, as he makes himself so easy to love. Ike is a rocker, a folkie, a rapper, a poet, and a gifted frontman with an iffy voice but an uncanny way of knowing how to use it. He’s been dropping hot fire since he appeared almost ten years ago, and he hasn’t let up since. We have followed his career since early days when he tied Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry to Ludacris without even missing a beat, and witnessed him just getting better all the time. But there’s something about this new one, a loose sort of gravity that takes things to another level. The political stuff is angry and double-minded, the rocky stuff is rockier than it’s been lately, and his hilarious duet with Shooter Jennings, “The War on the Terror and the Drugs,” goes to a suddenly emotional place one wouldn’t expect in a shambling blues song about sex and chemicals. How is this man not a major cult figure at least, if not a major star or perhaps the leader of a smallish country?
Other albums that could have gone here: Salesmen and Racists (2001), Sparkle in the Finish (2004), Junkie Faithful (2005), We Belong to the Staggering Evening (2007), Poison the Hit Parade (2008).
2. Bersuit, La Argentinidad al Palo (2004)
You think Rage Against the Machine are a bunch of badasses? Think again, friend. These guys were kicking and screaming against the Argentinian government at a time when it was neither profitable nor fashionable to do so; their single “Sr. Cobranza” was banned because it accused government figures of dealing drugs to other countries. Gustavo Cordero, the bald lunatic who fronts this ska-rock collective, is in the possession of some rather sizable cojones. (El pauso.) This isn’t their angriest album, but it is their ultimate statement, and it breaks as many hearts as balls in its two discs. Full-tilt avant-rockers such as “Mariscal Tito” nestle comfortably alongside heartrending ballads (“Hecho en Buenos Aires,” the most beautiful song you didn’t hear this decade, and “La Soledad”) and wacked-out sudamericano glam-slam like “Como un Bolu” and “Shit Shit Money Money.” Cordero often performs in mental hospital pajamas, and now we know why. Thrilling, dramatic, big-hearted, sarcastic, almost everything you’d need in a “best of decade” album. Except for two things…
Other albums that could have gone here: Hijos del Culo (2001), Testosterona (2005)
1. Erykah Badu, Mama’s Gun (2000) and 1. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Vol. 1: Fourth World War (2008)
…and they’re both named Erykah Badu. These two albums stood astride everything else for us in the last 10 years: strong and sexy and powerful, but also full of doubt and fear and confusion, just like all of us. Badu is a wise woman who knows the limitations of wisdom, a seer who sometimes covers her own eyes, and a prophet out for profit. She also has a thin subtle knife of a voice that she wields very carefully, cutting holes in reality and sliding through to other dimensions with the greatest of ease. And her lyrics; and her themes; and her willingness to keep going in a world she KNOWS is jacked up; and her heart and her soul and her brain; and her radical politics that sometimes verge on simple conservative solutions; and her nods to every musician who ever kept her going through the tough times; and her emotional honesty; and her emotional cloaking devices; and everything that is the case. Not a lot of Top 40 material, but a whole shit-ton of bravery and chops and being able to absorb the energy from long-dead planets, or whatever.
Plus, she’s funny when she wants to be.
Anyway, these two are tied for my Album of the Decade, and I will bear no argument against it. But I am very willing to read your angry comments about how your fave rave band got kicked out of the party before its time. Please, enlighten me. Remember, though, that “importance” means nothing to me. The work must stand on its own. It’s either great or it’s good or it’s bad, and that’s all that matters. To me, anyway.
Thanks for reading this little journey with me. Next one in’s a rotten egg.