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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 100 Best Pop Albums of the Decade

100. 12 Songs - Neil Diamond (SonyBMG, 2005)
Having made Johnny Cash hip again, the producer Rick Rubin applied his less-is-more magic to the squarest crooner of the lot. The result? A set of the most gorgeous, understated, deliciously pained songs you will hear in any decade.

99. Surprise - Paul Simon (Warner, 2006)
There was less tub-thumping in Surprise than in the post-9/11, post-Katrina statements of other American artists, but Simon’s contribution to a nation’s angst oozes understated brilliance. In Wartime Prayers he delivers a beautifully tender elegy to those lost fighting overseas.

98. By the Way - Red Hot Chili Peppers (Warner, 2002)
Thanks to guitarist John Frusciante’s sense of melodic wonder it suddenly felt as if the Chilis, formerly slap-bass rock berks, could adventure in any direction they wanted: huge rock choruses, swooning balladry, strings, ska, Beach Boys harmonies and even flamenco boogie.

97. Youth Novels - Lykke Li (Warner, 2008)
One of many Swedish, sugar-voiced singers to surface in the Noughties, Lykke Li’s debut has an air of the theatre workshop about it, its catchiness peppered with avant garde percussion. The sound is graceful and minimalist, and Li’s fragile vocals are never less than endearing.

96. The Transfiguration of Vincent - M. Ward (Matador, 2003)
The singer-songwriter’s third album marks Ward out as a master of laid-back, front-porch Americana. Woozily beautiful songs swing, rock and meander. There is humour but mostly a poignant gentleness, his sandy-throated croon turning Bowie’s Let’s Dance into a whispery, dark-night- of-the soul classic.

95. American III: Solitary Man - Johnny Cash (American, 2002)
The Man in Black’s remarkable second coming reached its zenith with his third Rick Rubin-produced album of wry originals and stripped-down covers. A 68-year-old Cash gives Bonne Prince Billy’s I See a Darkness, Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat and U2’s One new, soul-searching depths.

94. Tarot Sport - F*** Buttons (ATP, 2009)
With the acid-house legend Andrew Weatherall behind the desk, the Bristol duo were able to realise the immensity of their vast, voiceless mini-symphonies on their second album, creating undulating sound sculptures that simultaneously sound like the end of the world and the beginning of a new one.

93. React or Die - Butcher Boy (How Does It Feel to be Loved, 2009)
For those who, a decade earlier, had swooned to Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, this is the first true successor to its bright-eyed, Postcard Records-back-catalogue-re-recorded-by-Miss-Jean-Brodie’s-“gels” wonder. With flourishes of Vince Guaraldi and Arthur Lee, and stories of girls who live on “Spanish oranges and wine” — it is the kind of record that could change a more sensitive 18-year-old’s life.

92. Youth and Young Manhood - Kings of Leon (Hand Me Down 2003) 
The sons of a Tennessee preacher man reinvent the Southern rock genre with a sensational debut that’s as rough and revved-up as any scene-setting garage band from New York. “I’m going so fast that I can’t slow down,” Caleb Followill sings. And from this point on they never did.

91. Fever to Tell - Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Polydor, 2003)
The debut album that delivered the world Karen O also captured her New York, art-punk trio hitting their righteous, rackety stride. Sulphurous, sexy and somehow infinitely more than the sum of its parts, you can’t escape its thrilling voodoo.

90. Walking on a Dream - Empire of the Sun (Virgin, 2008)
A predeliction for shimmering robes plus a sense of falsetto-heavy melodica borrowed from ELO and Supertramp transforms Luke Steele of Sleepy Jackson and Nick Littlemore of Pnau into the Noughties’ most preposterous, and compulsively listenable, pop visionaries.

89. 22 Dreams - Paul Weller (Universal, 2008)
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Or can you? Mixing elements of folk, jazz and beat poetry with his beloved psychedelic and soul influences, the Modfather turned in the most rewardingly diverse and adventurous collection of his long career.

88. Finisterre - Saint Etienne (Mantra, 2002)
For its perfect dance-pop sensibilities and ambient swirls, the heart of the Croydon trio’s finest album lies in the passion and poetry found in a humdrum, workaday world. Music for drizzly commutes beyond Zone 3... in the best possible way.

87. Candylion - Gruff Rhys (Rough Trade, 2007)
The most discernible sonic precedents on Rhys’s solo album seem to be quintessentially English ones, in particular, Canterbury scene alumni such as Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. Somewhere between the lysergic whimsy of The Court of King Arthur and the mesmeric Skylon lingers a sense that this may go down as his defining moment.

86. Geogaddi
Boards of Canada (Warp, 2002) Deeper and darker than the publicity-shy Scottish electronic duo’s lauded debut, Music has the Right to Children, the brilliant Geogaddi retains the nostalgic childlike melodies and pummelling beats, but stirs woozy, disturbing psychedelia into the lush audio soup.

85. Just Beyond the River
James Yorkston & the Athletes (Domino, 2004) Abetted by production from Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, Just Beyond the River reveals in Yorkston a songwriter as adept at dispensing minor epiphanies as he is describing them. On this second album, rain-lashed hymns to human companionship line up alongside love songs with devotional intensity enough to move mountains.

84. Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords (Warner, 2008)
On the first album by the eponymous Kiwis, the Pet Shop Boys and Bowie pastiches are fine, but better still are the songs in which Bret and Jemaine channel their love of black American music rather like stalker to a celebrity. The result: a comedy record that sustains repeated listening.

83. Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires (XL, 2008) 
Headed up by the singles Paris, Jump in the Pool and Skeleton Boy, this debut album seems to take its inspiration from the chemical optimism of early house music. You would have to go back farther still to remember the last time that white boys played that funky music with such panache.

82. Holy F*** - Holy F*** (Dependent, 2008)
“Find something in the trash ... plug it in!” was the ethos of the Canadian outift, who wanted to recreate modern electronic music without using modern equipment, such as laptops. Mostly improvised live, this is first-rate instrumental electro-rock.

81. Primary Colours - The Horrors (XL, 2009) United by a love of My Bloody
Valentine, Can, Phil Spector and The Cramps, The Horrors needed to find a way to fossilise all those influences into a single source of creative fuel. Here they manage to do just that and more, suggesting that they might be as important in the next decade as, say, Radiohead were in the last.

80. Cross - Justice (Warner, 2007)
In the footsteps of Daft Punk come a young Parisian duo who unite the muscular beats of techno with the dumb-but-fun riffs of heavy metal, cut-up filtered house and electro. Their debut album just about does justice to their tumultuous live shows.
Stoner rock from the Sahara: the trance-inducing drones of the Tuaregs’ debut made them the first African act to break through to an audience that had previously ignored world music’s rebel credentials.

79. The Radio Tisdas Sessions - Tinariwen (Wayward, 2001)
Stoner rock from the Sahara: the trance-inducing drones of the Tuaregs’ debut made them the first African act to break through to an audience that had previously ignored world music’s rebel credentials.

78. Chaos & Creation in the Backyard - Paul McCartney (Parlophone/EMI, 2005)
The heart of McCartney’s artistic renaissance had Nigel Godrich to thank for encasing the melodies in a subtle, attic-air production. Lyrically it is self-deprecating and more emotionally open than anything McCartney has cut since the early Seventies.

77. The XX - The XX (Young Turks/XL, 2009)
Recent alumni of the same forward-thinking school as Hot Chip and Four Tet, the Londoners cast their net wide for inspiration on a magnificently moody debut, which combines shoegazing reticence with electronic textures and soulful vocals.

76. Speech Therapy - Speech Debelle (Big Dada, 2009)
The hug-me hurt that radiates at the centre of Debelle’s South London memoirs of hard times found a disarmingly empathetic setting in Wayne Lotek’s autumnal, predominantly acoustic arrangements.

75. Lay it Down - Al Green (EMI, 2008)
For two decades artists had tried to imitate the Reverend’s classic Hi Records soul sound of the Seventies. In the end he just had to come back and show how it was done. Slow-burning grooves, warm brass, funky drums topped by one of the all-time great voices. His message of love, struggle and happiness never sounded so fresh.

74. Broken Boy Soldiers - The Raconteurs (XL, 2006)
Side-project? What side-project? In many ways Jack White’s first post-White Stripes project — co-fronted by fellow Chicagoan Brendan Benson — was more like a proper group than his day job. And here was the proof — a filler-free mini-jukebox of power pop, new wave and blues-rock gems headed up by the imperishably magnificent Steady As She Goes.

73. A Lick on the Tip of an Envelope yet to be Sent - Circulus (Rise Above, 2005)
To get away with dressing up as 15th-century peasantry, you need to sound good. Here, the South London psych-folk collective sound far better than that, mixing early music with tales of sentient scarecrows, pixies and mushrooms.

72. Fever Ray - Fever Ray (Rabid/V2, 2009)
“A feeling of spikiness mixed with earth ... like sucking in woodchips,” opined an awed Florence (& The Machine) Welch on hearing this. Welch’s words are well chosen. Played out in the electronic shadow-world of this solo debut, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s panicked pop noir meditations are breathtaking.

71. Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay (Parlophone, 2002)
Proving that their debut was no fluke — and that there was more to them than “bedwetters” emoting — the likes of Politik and Clocks pushed them into the world’s biggest arenas. God Put a Smile . . . remains, arguably, their finest song.

70. Looking for a Day in the Night - The Lilac Time (Cooking Vinyl, 2000)
In 2000, after a decade-long hiatus, Stephen Duffy and his brother Nick reconvened the folk-pop project they formed in 1986. The result is an album of rapt dawn choruses and nocturnal acoustic reveries — albeit shot through with the smoggy industrial sunsets of the Duffys’ Birmingham upbringing.

69. Invaders Must Die - The Prodigy (Cooking Vinyl, 2009)
After his 2004 album Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned sank without trace, Liam Howlett linked up once more with estranged bandmates Keith Flint and Maxim for a thrilling call to arms that reconnected with the rave motherlode they had plundered so exuberantly in the early Nineties.

68. Vespertine - Björk (One Little Indian, 2001)
Bjork’s love letter to the home and the laptop. Recorded in the depths of an Icelandic winter, she said it was a tribute to hot cocoa and the kitchen table. She must have a big kitchen because there’s nothing DIY about the result: over stripped-back electronica, symphonic strings and soaring choirs, her boundless imagination and voice find the perfect setting.

67. The Blueprint - Jay-Z (Roc-A-Fella, 2001)
The album that confirmed Jay-Z as the undisputed top dog of hip-hop has the slickest beats, the smartest rhymes and a palpable sense of destiny about it. “I’m the Sinatra of my day/Compadre,” he brags. There was no one left to argue.

66. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver (4AD, 2008)
Sometimes a bit of heartbreak can assist the creative muse. Justin Vernon retreated to a log cabin in Wisconsin to get over the end of a relationship and bared his soul on this collection of searingly intense songs.

65. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters (Polydor, 2004)
Marrying the hedonism of the New York underground with the spirits of Elton John, Queen and, erm, Pink Floyd, Jake Shears and company’s debut is a gang-show of strutting vaudeville and deceptively immaculate musicianship.

64. Black Holes & Revelations - Muse (Helium 3, 2006)
On their fourth album, the Devon prog-mentalists combine their unabashed grandiosity and apocalyptic obsessions with a smart pop groove. Bombastic sci-fi rock nestles alongside Prince-esque funk excursions, with Matt Bellamy channelling his inner Freddie Mercury to devastating effect.

63. 10,000Hz - Legend Air (Virgin, 2001)
This was a timely step into crisp and dry electronics without sacrificing their silvery melancholia: the gorgeous, flute-led Radian is probably the prettiest thing they’ve recorded to date.

62. Tangled Up - Girls Aloud (Universal, 2007)
Working again with the lightning-bottlers at Xenomania, Cole and co leave the memory of One True Voice even farther behind. Not since Abba and Michael Jackson has pure pop been so unanimously praised.

61. Who is Jill Scott? - Jill Scott (Epic, 2000)
The star of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency authors the soul album of the decade, in which her Rolls-Royce purr is married with bullshit-free lyrics, sung and spoken, and grooves that are by turns sweet, melancholy and utterly formidable.

60. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand (Domino, 2004)
For a few heady months in 2004, the playground of pop was ablaze with talk of Constructivism and angularity, and it was all because of this record — a scintillating entente cordiale of style, content and killer hooks from a group who seem increasingly lost for ways to emulate it.

59. Beautiful World - Take That (Polydor, 2006)
Having watched helpless for nigh on a decade as their old bandmate conquered the world, Gary, Mark, Jason and Howard reclaim the higher ground in fairytale style with a collection of soaring anthems, classy ballads and even a grandstanding Beatles pastiche. Robbie who?

58. Miss E ... So Addictive - Missy Elliott (Elektra, 2001)
The US rap queen’s third album perfectly captures the moment that Ecstasy culture collided with the US hip-hop scene, as Timbaland muted his experimental inclinations in favour of hedonistic club bangers, almost delivering the scene its very own summer of love in 2001.

57. Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus - Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (Mute, 2004)
The dark prince of alternative pop swaggers thoughtfully through a double album soaked in rich poetic tenderness, rude priapic energy and rough gallows humour. This is Cave somewhere close to the peak of his creative powers.

56. Employment - Kaiser Chiefs (B-Unique, 2005)
Dry Yorkshire wit, nightlife vignettes, floor-filling guitar pop: the only difference between this and Arctic Monkeys’ debut was that the Kaiser Chiefs didn’t feel funny about calling songs Na Na Na Na Naa. Underrate at your peril.

55. The Futureheads - The Futureheads (679 Recordings, 2005)
Arriving with a sound so distinctive and delivered with a conviction so pure, you can only grin dumbly at the sharp pop-punk shocks, four-part Mackem harmonies and faintly odd, outsider worldview. Their Hounds of Love for cover of the decade?

54. 29 - Ryan Adams (Mercury, 2005)
Freudian analysis, prompted by the onset of Adams’ 30th birthday, yielded a song-cycle loosely based on his own (mercifully unrealised) suicide, as told through characters representing aspects of the singer’s personality.

53. Elegia - Paolo Conte (WEA, 2005)
Aged 68, the Italian singer who sang “Chips, chips” in that car ad put his gravelly slur to the best album of his life. Here he sounds like a man raised and subsequently orphaned by jazz, mired in the denial of its passing — like one of those poor souls who spend their days approaching strangers in cafés with tatty pictures of missing relatives.

52. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - Bruce Springsteen (Columbia, 2006)
For all the folk old guard’s insistence that traditional music manages very well without the intervention of “outsiders”, it sometimes takes a rock musician to come along and reawaken standards such as John Henry and O Mary Don’t You Weep. This is the sound of dusty spectres being shaken out of old forgotten books. “The sound,” as Springsteen himself put it, “of surprise and the pure joy of playing.”

51. Dimanche à Bamako - Amadou & Mariam (Because, 2005)
With Manu Chao producing, the blind couple went ballistic with this joyous description of a colourful Sunday in the Malian capital. A dazzling bundle of pop smarts and African soul.

50. Out of Season - Beth Gibbons & Rustin’ Man (Universal/Island, 2002)
As Portishead lay fallow, their enigmatic vocalist teamed up with a former member of Talk Talk and quietly released an album that channels the spirits of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Nick Drake into searing torch songs and haunting folk ballads.

49. Up the Bracket - The Libertines (Rough Trade, 2002)
Picking up the baton from the Clash (whose Mick Jones produced), this epoch-making debut is full of great tunes and stroppy braveheart energy. It’s all about The Good Old Days and Time for Heroes. Too bad they eventually blew it.

48. The Information - Beck (Polydor, 2006)
If you approach every Beck album cautiously hoping it’s an Odelay, then this, a decade on, finally is. Smoothed-down hip-hop weaving through perfect pop makes every track a classic, whirring drum machines, robotic backing and all.

47. Demon Days - Gorillaz (Parlophone, 2005)
The addition of Danger Mouse to the cartoon supergroup was a masterstroke by the Gorilla-in-chief Damon Albarn — together they ingeniously blend proper hip-hop and joyous pop hooks with a deftness of touch not heard since the golden Daisy Age of De La Soul.

46. Reality - David Bowie (Columbia, 2003)
A melancholy, unvarnished collection of simply fine songs in which the pop chameleon reveals something of his true colours at last. This perfectly distils the formidable songwriting wisdom of a great artist in the autumn of his career.

45. Panic Prevention - Jamie T (Virgin, 2007)
Private school boy from Wimbledon records album in his bedroom and ends up somewhere between Billy Bragg and the Beastie Boys, his tottering wordplay veering from criminally vulgar to closing-time sentimentality. The aural equivalent of that third-pint buzz.

44. The Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem (Polydor, 2000)
Sealing his graduation from ear-catching rookie to mould-breaking superstar, Eminem’s sophomore album makes a grisly subject of fame itself, from his savage atomisation of the pop song in The Real Slim Shady to the epic stalker anthem Stan.

43. Tender Buttons - Broadcast (Warp, 2005)
Timeless pop songs, Trish Keenan’s fragile, evocative vocals and a riot of groovy synthesizer effects, Broadcast’s debut album is an expert demonstration of how to make arty pop music with mainstream appeal.

42. Smile - Brian Wilson (Nonesuch, 2004)
In many respects Wilson’s comeback is the pop story of the decade. It remained principally a live phenonemon apart from the completion of the record that first sent him into three decades of mental turmoil.

41. Thunder, Lightning, Strike - The Go! Team (Memphis Industries, 2005) 
Billed as an unlikely fling between Sonic Youth and the Jackson Five, the debut by the Brighton-based collective combines walls of guitar with harmonicas, TV theme tunes and chirruping raps from the ebullient Ninja.

40. Run Come Save Me - Roots Manuva (Big Dada, 2001)
The South Londoner’s twisted, mordantly humorous take on hip-hop came of age with a longplayer that contains at least two stone-cold classics in the cavernous, synth-heavy anthem Witness and the woozy hymn to narcotic romance Dreamy Days.

39. Field Music - Field Music (Memphis Industries, 2005)
The Sunderland brothers David and Peter Brewis undoubtedly have pop masterpieces in them, and their eponymous debut is inches from being one. Self-produced, it channels kitchen-sink existentialism into odd but irresistible melodies that fill you with quiet wonder.

38. Love and Theft - Bob Dylan (Columbia, 2001)
The album that confirmed Dylan’s creative renaissance, its title sums up his relationship with America’s musical past, which he has subsequently plundered so effectively on his Theme Time Radio Hour.

37. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not - Arctic Monkeys (Domino, 2006)
An internet phenomenon that became an everything phenomenon, this audacious, Mercury Prize-winning debut introduced us to a sublime bunch of indie-rock songs with full northern attitude. Perfectly of the moment.

36. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips (Warner, 2002)
Band member Steven Drozd’s real-life struggle with heroin addiction helped to inspire an album in which his frazzled brethren alchemised mortality into the kind of lush, carpe diem psychedelia that is best delivered from inside a giant hamster ball.

35. Funeral - Arcade Fire (Rough Trade, 2005)
Proof that there is more to anthemic indie rock than Snow Patrol, the Montreal collective’s debut is a glorious multi-instrumental cacophony, a meditation on mortality and community performed with religious zeal.

34. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - P. J. Harvey (Universal, 2000)
In which Polly Harvey loosens up, embraces slick melody and big elemental rock. Result: a deserved Mercury Prize. Honourable mention, too, to the spectral White Chalk (2008).

33. Nixon - Lambchop (City Slang, 2000)
Shedding their alt-country tag, the Nashville collective construct a stately, soulful sphinx of an album. Nudging it along magically is Kurt Wagner’s voice , and lyrics at once ambiguous, beguiling and confounding.

32. Justified - Justin Timberlake (Zomba, 2001)
The former Mousketeer came of age on his debut, thanks mainly to working with the likes of Timbaland and the Neptunes, producers who gave Britney’s ex a full-on funk injection and instant street cred, leading to comparisons with Jacko.

31. White Blood Cells - The White Stripes (XL, 2001)
Jack and Meg White struck commercial gold at the third attempt without really deviating from their signature stripped-back sound. The beauty is in the simplicity of their vision, though a bit of intrigue surrounding the relationship between the duo helped to hasten the legend.

30 The Ecstatic - Mos Def (Downtown, 2009)
Having spent as much of the Noughties starring in movies as he did making music, the charismatic New Yorker finished the decade with a kaleidoscopic bang, a record whose combination of doom-laden fractionalism, rosy nostalgia and prismatic optimism perfectly crystalises its times.

29. Confessions on a Dancefloor - Madonna (Maverick, 2005)
Anointing Stuart “Les Rythmes Digitales” Price as her voguish producer du jour, Madge approaches her sixth decade with the slinky chutzpah of a 19-year-old club kitten. From the Abba-sampling Hung Up to the turbo-charged feminist floorfiller Jump, this is her best album since True Blue.

28. The Greatest - Cat Power (Matador, 2006)
Chan Marshall hooks up with a crack squad of Southern soul session greats and husks her way to greatness. Sounding as if it was recorded just around closing time, this is gorgeous, barfly balladry at its most moving and wistful. An instant, unexpected modern soul classic.

27. Maths + English - Dizzee Rascal (XL, 2007)
While Dizzee’s latest album may have spawned three No 1 singles, his third opus, Maths + English, hinted at the burgeoning pop credentials of the former UK grime heavyweight. Ignore the big-name guest turns and instead marvel at his knack for a massive hook and thrilling vocal dexterity.

26. Ys - Joanna Newsom (Drag City, 2006)
Any suspicions that the American harpist is just a new folk curio are here vanquished utterly, the sprawling arrangements and gorgeous orchestration framing a fantastical journey through Newsom’s lyrical looking glass. A thing of wonder.

25. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco (WEA, 2002)
Heralded as an austere masterpiece of alt-Americana, it’s easy to forget what a joy it is to listen to. Between the album’s pop sensibilities and fractured fever dreams lies a sort of magic.

24. Untrue - Burial (Hyperdub, 2007) 
Dubstep finally found its way into the mainstream in this sophomore album by the mysterious London producer, a murky masterpiece of feather-lite beats, moody sonic textures and fractured urban vocals.

23. Alright, Still - Lily Allen (Capitol, 2006)
Allen’s first album overflows with the charisma of its creator — a sonic Saturday-morning stroll through the Portobello of her mind, alchemising the highs and lows of a young Londoner’s world into great pop. The genius of that Tesco/al fresco rhyme remains undiminished.

22. Magic - Bruce Springsteen (Columbia, 2007)
An internet phenomenon that became an everything phenomenon, this audacious, Mercury Prize-winning debut introduced us to a sublime bunch of indie-rock songs with full northern attitude. Perfectly of the moment.
Railing against the rollback in civil liberties and twisted truths of the Bush era, Springsteen reconvenes the E Street Band to make his toughest rock’n’roll record of the decade. A stirring, post-9/11 protest with many extraordinary renditions of its own.

21. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (DFA, 2005)
James Murphy’s post-punk, post-funk new-wavers were the coolest kids in the punk-funk revival class. Among the many gems included on the 2005 debut, Losing My Edge is one of the songs of the decade.

20. The Good the Bad & the Queen - The Good the Bad & the Queen (Parlophone, 2007)
In a decade of Gorillaz and other magical monkey tours, Damon Albarn’s Dickensian, supergroup elegy to London is the wistful and — in tracks like Herculean — hauntingly beautiful outcome of his creative restlessness. A shadowy flipside to Parklife’s cockney phantasmagoria.

19. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Bella Union, 2008)
The Jesus beards suit a rich, multiharmony sound that evokes some hey-nonny-nonny gathering as much as it does Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But the timeless folk vistas conjured around Robin Pecknold’s resounding tenor transcend such comparisons. An extraordinary debut.

18. Kala - M.I.A. (XL, 2007)
The second album from Maya Arulpragasam, the British-based daughter of Sri Lankan refugees, redefined the meaning of world music. The jumble of Bollywood melodies, 8-bit dancehall beats and collaborations with authentic street singers was unpredictable and mind-bendingly good.

17. Viva la Vida or Death & All His Friends - Coldplay (Parlophone, 2008)
Scandalously, only on their fourth album did Coldplay discover the joys of writing and playing in a room together. Under the direction of Brian Eno, though, they sound reborn — Chris Martin’s death-fixated meditations countered at all times by the restless, rhythmic undertow of a band who many of us didn’t think had it in them to sound so life-affirming.

16. Felt Mountain - Goldfrapp (Mute, 2000)
The ice-cool voice of Alison Goldfrapp and the lustrous arrangements of Will Gregory produce alchemy on this Olympian debut. The ethereal sound is shaped as much by the duo’s love of orchestral soundtracks and European cabaret traditions as their electronica beginnings.

15. The Letting Go - Bonnie Prince Billy (Domino, 2006)
The pick of Will Oldham’s Noughties output, Dawn McCarthy’s ethereal vocals and a spare atmosphere make it as eerie as it is tender, playful as it is tragic. The Kentuckian will rarely equal the quiet chill of the title track.

14. Made in the Dark - Hot Chip (EMI, 2008)
After the breakthrough success of The Warning in 2006, Hot Chip refused to sit on their Oxbridge-educated laurels, conjuring up a more coherent set of wry electro-pop compositions that joins the dots between New Order, Derek May and Scritti Politti.

13. The College Dropout - Kanye West (Mercury, 2004)
Before his ego consumed him, Kanye West’s debut was a musical masterpiece. Already a sought-after producer, his aspirations to become a hip-hop star in his own right are stunningly realised on this innovative collection of old-school jams shot through with thought-provoking lyricism.

12. Original Pirate Material - The Streets (Locked On, 2002)
Mike Skinner became the Poet Laureate for the ASBO generation when this debut was released. Lyrically fearless and an incredible storyteller, Skinner paints an authentic picture of the grimy realities of street life, set to the lo-fi rattle of UK garage beats.

11. Favourite Worst Nightmare - Arctic Monkeys (Domino, 2007)
Stuffed with songs that are even more punchy, catchy and giddy than their award-winning debut, this album transcends parochial beginnings to reveal the outrageous extent of their talent.

10. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow (Polydor, 2008)
Grumpy northern indie underachievers — the adjectives were all lined up for Elbow’s career obituary when from nowhere they served up a masterpiece. Guy Garvey’s grown-up lyrics and delivery give a whole new meaning to the word tender.

9. Raising Sand - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (Decca, 2007)
Few could have expected a collaboration between a grizzled golden god and a God-fearing bluegrass icon to go interstellar — nor be quite so gently spellbinding.

8. Elephant - The White Stripes (2003, XL)
The whey-faced duo at the peak of their minimalist brilliance — from the punk-blues Seven Nation Army to the Bacharach/David melodramatics of I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. He shreds and sings. She bangs the drum. No bass required.

7. Coles Corner - Richard Hawley (Mute, 2005)
Britpop survivor knocking on middle age delivers stunning album of orchestral, reverb-soaked romanticism that manages to evoke an age of smoking in cinemas and afternoon pub closing. The transformation from local hero to national treasure started here.

6. Is This It - The Strokes (Rough Trade, 2001)
They failed to sustain the momentum, but for a couple of years Julian Casablancas and his elegantly dishevelled cohorts were the most exciting rock band on the planet, thanks to the bleary-eyed swagger and rabble-rousing garage rock of their breakneck debut.

5. Blackout - Britney Spears (SonyBMG, 2007)
The title was pertinent enough — Spears had shaved her head and was in and out of rehab when this vocally scrunched, harshly metallic album appeared. No one expected it to be this good.

4. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Outkast (Arista, 2003)
The coolest hip-hop album of the decade. A sprawling, madcap collection of jazz, funk, rock, rap, dance and Southern soul music performed with impeccable wit by the polar opposites Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Hey Ya! indeed.

3. In Rainbows - Radiohead (XL, 2007)
Bereft (at least initially) of the artwork and packaging that comes with physical releases, all we had to appraise were the songs — and what songs they were. Febrile magic hour reveries such as Faust Arp and Reckoner were startling snapshots of a band delighted to discover that each hitherto undiscovered chamber in rock’s Gothic pile contains an entrance to yet another.

2. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (Island, 2006)
“I told you I was trouble” — and so it proved — but Winehouse’s second album is as close to an instant classic as any this decade. The true magic of this record is in the rich melodies, and lyrics full of busted love and dark humour.

1. Kid A - Radiohead (Parlophone, 2000)
Almost a decade after its release, it’s easy to forget just how much of a leap into the unknown Radiohead’s fourth album presented. With OK Computer hailed by fans and critics as one of the greatest albums of all time, the group’s next challenge was to keep an audience without turning into their own tribute band. In doing so, they came famously close to dissolving completely. Tales of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood — the laptop-prodding axis of the group — sitting in one room while the others wondered if they would even be needed that day have become legion. However, what they emerged with effectively redrew the parameters of the rock album for the new century. The padded-cell ambience of Everything in its Right Place and Morning Bell seem custom-built for these obsessive-compulsive times — as does the fin de siècle night terrors of The National Anthem and Idioteque. And throughout it all — most notably on How To Disappear Completely and Optimistic — Radiohead still found time to remind us that, when the fancy took them, their electrifying live synergy was still intact. Anyone seeking to establish the last time a mainstream rock goup released such an experimental record and maintained their commercial stock would have to go all the way back to 1968 and The White Album. Therein lies the scale of Kid A’s achievement.


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