One of the decade’s great riffs, “Check My Brain” reanimated ‘90s-style grunge for the new century. At their best, Alice in Chains always sounded like they were up to their neck in misery and sonic muck, and the band’s brilliant comeback in 2009 was guaranteed with this song, which seemed like old times – in a good way.
Incubus had bigger hits in the ‘00s, like the inescapable ballad “Drive,” but “Wish You Were Here” was their most dynamic tune. Frontman Brandon Boyd gets trippy in the lyrics, counting UFOs on the beach while savoring a few moments of unadulterated happiness. But even then, he wishes he had a special someone to share the moment with, which gives the song a bittersweet aftertaste.
When White Stripes leader Jack White announced his Raconteurs side project, the obvious question was “What will this new band sound like?” This first single provided the answer. Riding a bass line that borrowed from Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” the Raconteurs piled on guitars and keyboards for a track that was more playful than the White Stripes but no less compelling.
Taking a cue from ‘90s groups like Filter, Chevelle made radio-rock that focused on metallic, angsty riffs. “Send the Pain Below” leaps out of the speakers from the first moment, and lead singer Pete Loeffler ably articulates the pain of an unequal relationship where you’re doing all the work and the other party is doing all the taking. Ostensibly, it’s a sad song, but the band’s galvanic guitars make it feel very liberating and exciting.
Seether’s 2007 album Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces was, as its title suggests, about surviving hard times. This track was its emotional centerpiece – proof that a post-grunge band could on occasion reach the heights of their Seattle predecessors. Sonically, “Rise Above This” is a tense-yet-soaring ride, as frontman Shaun Morgan sings about the determination to battle adversity in a way that’s unabashedly inspiring.
A great song that just sounded greater over time, Slipknot’s “Psychosocial” (off of 2008's All Hope Is Gone) is a thundering blast of alt-metal, brilliantly combining lacerating guitars and a melodic chorus. Slipknot made a career of incorporating freaky masks and shouted vocals for their nightmare-inducing rock. “Psychosocial” is one of those rare instances when the music was a terrifying and anguished as the band’s persona.
Kings of Leon took several years and several albums to catch on with American audiences, but 2008’s Only by the Night finally did the trick. “Use Somebody” is the album’s peak, an elegant and soulful mid-tempo song about being separated by geography from the one you love. Vocalist Caleb Followill was perfection at making longing seem sexy and romantic.
For most people, Velvet Revolver’s entire body of work, which only consisted of two albums, boils down to this song. In fact, it’s not even the song itself – it’s Slash’s hard-rock guitar brilliance and frontman Scott Weiland’s patented lizard-like charisma that come together so terrifically on “Slither.” This supergroup wasn’t built to last, but this was the highlight of their brief partnership.
One of the decade’s most innovative bands, the White Stripes made their name by stripping rock down to its essence: guitars and drums. So imagine everyone’s surprise when this piece of weird electro-rock came thundering out of this Detroit duo in 2005. “Blue Orchid” is still a very simple song, but the guitar sounds like it’s being played through an amplifier that’s short-circuiting. As for Meg White’s drums, they never let up.
The decade’s best song seemed to combine rock music’s past, present and future into one astounding package. The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn draws from the bar-band energy of early Bruce Springsteen, but then he throws in the hipness of modern rock while at the same time adding his own highly literate storytelling style. This may be one of the most euphoric songs ever recorded about the futility of young people’s dreams – or, put another way, it’s a wiser, sadder, funnier “Born to Run” for a new era.