#1. Radiohead, Kid A (2000): Anticipation for a follow up to 1997’s hugely successful Ok Computer was immense, and for good reason. Once thought of as standard bearers of the brit rock movement of the early 90s, Radiohead stepped out of that mold with a more expansive collection of work that took form as a concept album. Beyond the signature arena-rock sound were more sonic textures that made for an amazing album that truly set them apart from their fellow countrymen. With the release of Kid A, never again would they be compared to anyone else. Like any other fan of Radiohead, I went through 4 stages while digesting this album; shock, disgust, curiosity, then finally sheer admiration. Mostly gone were the guitar-oriented songs that were the hallmark of both Ok Computer and The Bends. In their place were songs like the opener, “Everything in its Right Place.” An entirely electric, experimental tune with a very unconventional song structure; needless to say I was not thrilled. But in time, I grew to realize that it wasn’t the music that I didn’t like, it was the fact that it was different from what I had come to know and love about Radiohead. Taking the record on its face, it is a wonderful mixture of electronica, alt-rock, classical, techno and even jazz fusion; a huge contrast from anything they had done before. There’s still some guitar-driven stuff here on tracks like “The National Anthem” and “Optimistic.” But more often they choose to eschew distortion pedals for exotic synthesizers and other creative sounds like on the technocratic “Idioteque;” An earnest shout out to techno progenitors Kraftwerk.
All across the musical landscape, it is common practice for bands to mail it in once they’ve reached superstar status [see U2]. Instead of taking the easy path, Radiohead embarked on an ambitious undertaking. It is for this reason that it stands atop my list of the best albums of the decade.
Faves: Everything in its Right Place, The National Anthem, Optimistic, Idioteque.
#7. Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007): Despite this album being the band’s most concise since Ok Computer, they did go out on a limb in one respect: it was initially available, only as a digital download. Hardly a novel concept, I know. Except for the fact that consumers were able to purchase this album at their own price! No doubt its difficult to say how this all worked out for them financially. What can be said however is that musically, the album shines; but then that’s hardly anything new for these guys.
Whether it was appealing to the sentiments of pimple-faced teenage angst in the 90’s with their breakout hit “Creep,” or turning the misguided quasi-U2 moniker on its head with the landmark record Kid A, they’ve managed to keep their music fresh yet honest with every release. 2007’s In Rainbows stays on the same path. To be sure, arguments over which of their great albums is the best have persisted for years; well….add this one to the list. Indeed, there is something on here for hipsters and the purists alike. While the upbeat rocker “Bodysnatchers” would probably fit at home on most of their other releases, the closer “Videotape” sounds like an outtake from Ok Computer. Still, the gem “House of Cards,” a fun yet understated tune about lovers without love is a step in a different direction. Take away the chilling sounds in the background and the song could be used in a Corona commercial. In the end, In Rainbows is another stroke of brilliance from a band that knows no other way to make an album.
Faves: 15 Steps, All I Need, Reckoner, House of Cards
#13. Coldplay- X&Y (2005): 2002’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” set what many perceived to be the high water mark for this English band. Making a shift from some of the cutesy themes (see Yellow) of their breakout album “Parachutes,” the gents opted to follow a more serious tone. But the band wasn’t done. With X&Y the message is go big or go home. X&Y is Coldplay’s magnum opus, in part because it evokes some of the bigger moments of bands like U2 and Radiohead, with whom they are often compared. Tracks like “Square One,” and “Low” recall some of U2s more epic songs, while evoking the guitar-oriented sound of “The Bends” era Radiohead. No doubt X&Y is Coldplay’s most concise album. Some of the bigger moments on the album fit perfectly alongside more subdued tracks like “Swallowed by the Sea” and “Twisted Logic.” The irony of X&Y is that it’s biggest hit- “Speed of Sound” – or Clocks Part II – is no less its least ambitious.
Personally, it took me a while to get into this album, which makes it a curious choice for my list. Nevertheless, most of the albums that I find myself enjoying the most are the ones that took the longest to sink in.
Faves: Square One, Low, The Hardest Part, Swallowed by the Sea