The best rock albums of 2009 demonstrated just how elastic the term "rock music" really is. Great music came from bands of all stripes: three-decade veterans, promising up-and-comers, long-haired dudes from Europe, and snarling garage-rockers from Australia. There was a lot to choose from this year, but what was 2009's best record? Read on to find out.
18. The Sounds - 'Crossing the Rubicon'
With obvious debts to the Cars and Blondie, the Sounds continued to pledge allegiance to the new wave bands of yesteryear on their third album, milking that era's synthesizer-heavy melodrama for songs that veer between the playful and the despondent. Lead singer Maja Ivarsson's fetching looks may be a superficial enticement to get into this Swedish group's music, but her empathetic vocals ensure that you'll never think she's just a pretty face.
17. Various Artists - 'New Moon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'
Really, is there any surprise that the New Moon soundtrack outclasses the one for Twilight? Boasting higher-profile names than its predecessor (such as Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, and the Killers), the New Moon album contains the drama and intrigue that the accompanying film apparently doesn't. But the nicest surprise is the fuzz-guitar fun of "Monsters" from Hurricane Bells -- it's a sleeper track worth seeking out.
16. The Dead Weather - 'Horehound'
Apparently one side project wasn't enough for Jack White. After spending two albums ripping it up with the Raconteurs, White collaborated with Kills vocalist Alison Mosshart for more grimy garage rock. Horehound, the debut album from the Dead Weather, is a sexy, scary affair, with Mosshart's barbed-wire voice nicely complemented by White's blues-rock primitivism.
15. Marilyn Manson - 'The High End of Low'
Can a shock-rocker grow up? Marilyn Manson argues that it's possible with The High End of Low. Sure, he's not about to drop the horror-show shtick, but the album is at its best when Manson explores his own self-loathing with brutal candor. Turning 40 and newly single, Manson doesn't seem that interested in scaring us. Instead, he's too busy dealing with the guy in the mirror, which can be a lot more frightening.
14. Eels - 'Hombre Lobo'
On their first studio album in four years, Eels return with sad songs written in the voice of a fictional narrator who's a lonely man trying to woo the object of his affection. It should be utterly depressing, but Hombre Lobo is instead oddly life-affirming, offering tender ballads and horny blues-rock stompers that shake with the urgency and vitality of true love.
13. Pearl Jam - 'Backspacer'
Pearl Jam keep on keepin' on with Backspacer, a warm, reflective album that embraces optimism in a way that the Seattle band never have in the past. (Think it has something to do with the new guy in the White House?) Frontman Eddie Vedder tackles aging and romance on the album's quieter tracks, and tough-edged ballads like "Speed of Sound" and "The End" shine with the wisdom of a band about to celebrate 20 years together.
12. Chevelle - 'Sci-Fi Crimes'
Great rock music is often about tension and release, and few 2009 albums demonstrated the concept better than Sci-Fi Crimes. Chevelle's fifth studio album is a clenched-teeth record of pain and mistrust, led by the dynamic single "Jars." "I don't think you're nervous enough," frontman Pete Loeffler sings at one point. To remedy that situation, he and his bandmates made sure you got sucked into the paranoid energy of their guitar attack.
11. Red - 'Innocence & Instinct'
Red are a Christian rock band who are more concerned with rocking than shoving their faith down your throat. Innocence & Instinct finds the Tennessee quartet melding genres like on the melodic metal number "Shadows." An album about keeping your head when everyone around you is losing theirs, Innocence & Instinct offers hope during a time when it's been hard to find silver linings amidst all the economic and political gray clouds.
10. Them Crooked Vultures - 'Them Crooked Vultures'
There's one big problem with a lot of supergroups: Rarely are they very super. That wasn't the case with the debut record from Them Crooked Vultures. For this electrifying disc, the frontmen for Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age teamed up with the legendary bassist of Led Zeppelin and out came these funky, trippy songs about bad love and weird sex. Dave Grohl is a demon behind the drums (as if we needed to be reminded), but it's Josh Homme's charismatic, demented vocals that steal the show.
9. The Vines - 'Melodia'
Have you forgotten the Vines, the overrated alt-rock band of the early '00s? Melodia makes a strong case for why you shouldn't. On their newest album, frontman Craig Nicholls fine-tunes his skill at buzzy two-minute garage-rockers, but it's the psychedelic ballads that may be Melodia's biggest shock -- the listener gets knocked sideways by one woozy, lovely gem after another. One of the year's best rock albums -- and one of the most overlooked.