It’s a difficult enough task to try to pick the best rock albums from this decade, but it’s even more challenging to narrow down that list to just 10. But here you are: my picks for the Top 10 Rock Albums of the ’00s. Disagree with my picks? Then feel free to sound off in my forum.
For fans of classic bar-rock – the sort that Bruce Springsteen invented in the mid-‘70s – the Hold Steady felt like the Second Coming, reinventing the genre with exultant, literate albums about bad girlfriends and Catholic guilt. Boys and Girls in America was the band’s proudest moment, finding frontman Craig Finn drawing up compelling scenarios about ill-timed hookups, women who like to bet on the ponies, and many people who just want to get high. Boys and Girls perfectly captured the agony and ecstasy of being young.
Filter disappeared from radio in the ’00s, but frontman Richard Patrick kept making great music even if no one was paying attention. 2008’s Anthems for the Damned reflected that year’s political upheaval, as hope, fear and cynicism squared off during the presidential election. Patrick sings from the heart about a world tumbling into turmoil, and the music matches his urgency. An underrated gem, and one worth seeking out.
After a few years of ignoring guitar rock in favor of studio experimentation, six-strings made a comeback on Hail to the Thief, the band’s thorniest, angriest record of the decade. Of course, Radiohead didn’t abandon studio trickery altogether, but this 2003 album felt like a full-band effort, combining the eerie piano balladry of “Sail to the Moon” with the paranoid clatter of “There There.” Radiohead pushed the envelope of modern rock, and this album was their strongest melding of convention and adventurousness.
A smorgasbord of their many different sonic guises, the White Stripes’ Elephant touched on blues-rock, folk ballads and, on tracks like “Black Math,” a head-banging fury that was almost metal. Ringleader Jack White was angling for world domination with Elephant and even if that didn’t quite happen, the album proved that the White Stripes were going to be a major artistic force for years to come.
Pearl Jam’s self-titled 2006 album was hailed as their comeback, but in truth they really hadn’t gone anywhere. Still, Pearl Jam allowed one of contemporary rock’s best bands to reassert their authority, bouncing between moody, quieter numbers and the angry political commentary of “World Wide Suicide.”
If this turns out to be the last album Trent Reznor ever makes as Nine Inch Nails, it was a fine way to say farewell. Made available for free online, The Slip demonstrated what a confident mood-maker Reznor had become, conjuring images of desolation and apocalypse that lacked the shock value of his youth. Instead, The Slip was one of the decade’s most mature statements on uncertainty, its every song riddled with a niggling doubt about a future that seems very much up for grabs.
If the ‘90s were when Tool introduced themselves to the hard-rock world, this decade was the era in which they buried their competition. Lateralus built on their brilliant debut, Undertow, by increasing the track lengths and amplifying the very bad vibes. Metal didn’t get deeper or darker than this in the ‘00s, but amazingly Tool continued to win over record-buyers in droves – it’s hard to think of a weirder or more challenging album that’s ever gone double-platinum.
Alt-metal’s smartest band, System of a Down burned brightest on Toxicity, a record about drugs and death that was simply too musically exciting for its grim subject matter to drag down the listener. Vocalist Serj Tankian proved he wasn’t your typical metalhead, equally talented at bellowing and singing. And songwriter Daron Malakian gave Toxicity a welcome eclecticism that helped it stand out from the pack. The band didn’t last, but this album has certainly stood the test of time.
A bunch of weirdoes out in the Southern California desert decide to make psychedelic hard rock so potent that you feel like you’re getting stoned just listening to it. That’s the easiest way to describe R, Queens of the Stone Age’s magnificent 2000 album that introduced frontman Joshua Homme to rock fans everywhere. The songs on R are scary and inviting at the same time, luring you into a sun-baked parallel reality that’s probably not good for you, which is what makes it all the more enticing.
It’s easy to forget now, but when Green Day were getting ready to work on American Idiot, it seemed like their career was in serious trouble. But then frontman Billie Joe Armstrong decided to dream up a concept album about young people trapped in a media-saturated America that was fighting a very questionable war with no end in sight. But the genius of American Idiot is that it’s not its politics that hit you first – it’s the songs, arguably the most compelling of Armstrong’s life. Ambitious, emotional, angry, forlorn and insanely catchy, American Idiot was the decade’s model for how to make mainstream rock that could both challenge and engage a wide audience.