Top Ten Essential Albums of the 2000s
Words by Olivia De Zilva
The 2000s is a time us millennials have great nostalgia for. Tamagotchis, crimped hair, butterfly clips and Goosebumps novels were the things that made us into the people we are today. But what about the music?
Read below for our top picks on the essential sounds of the 2000s. Featuring plenty of talent, garage beats and synth pop, we have compiled an imperative list for any keen listeners of 2000s music. So, sit back, relax and read about the records that changed your life when you were fifteen:
#10: Born To Do It — Craig David (2000) Wildstar Records
Craig David’s freshman album encapsulated what the people needed after the busy R&B records of the 90s (think Salt n Pepa and En Vogue). Born To Do It brought R&B and hip hop back to its basics, allowing listeners to chill to the smooth sound of David’s soulful charisma. At only 19-years-old, David’s achievement was massive, releasing the highly popular singles 7 Days, Fill Me In and of course, everyone’s party favourite, I’m Walking Away. When you think of 2000s hip hop and garage music, you look to David, and that’s saying something. Influencing artists like Drake, Born To Do It has stood the test of time and proved to be one of those albums you can’t help but love when you hear it again.
Hidden gem: While everyone remembers I’m Walking Away, the albums second song, Can’t Be Messing Round’ is a sweet deep cut from David’s discography. A fun little jam with David’s expert fusion of garage sound and hip hop is a great listen and condiment to any playlist you create for the person who’s ignoring your ten thousand text messages.
#9 Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots — The Flaming Lips (2002) Warner Bros.
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is an album which seems almost ageless. Borrowing from the infectious fun of The Pet Shop Boys, the smooth electro synths of Electric Light Orchestra and cruisy sounds of 90s rock, the album is literally what the rainbow tastes like. Capitalising on their classic psychedelic sound as well as the indie sound left over from Oasis and The Verve in the 90s, The Flaming Lips created an instant classic full of out of this world songs including the titular single, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1. This record is essential in the history of 2000s indie music, with all its melancholy, angst and broken heartedness played over a smooth synth beats now synonymous with Doc Martens and shaggy haircuts.
Hidden gem: Though not entirely hidden, but having much less attention than the titular single, the track Do You Realise is an ode to love, to romance and melancholy. It’s one of the simpler tracks of the album and is able to balance the loudness and effort of fighting all those robots with its sweet message and out of this world production.
#8: The College Dropout — Kanye West (2004) Roc-A-Fella Records
Originally known as a producer, the then backpack and polo wearing Kanye West was determined to make an album. Much to the chagrin to his contemporaries including mentor, Jay-Z, West’s boastful optimism was looked at as nothing more than wishful thinking. However, in classic Kanye style, he managed to prove everyone wrong and create an album which was both critically and universally acclaimed. The College Dropout details the early stages of West’s career, from him leaving Chicago State University to work on music and his 2002 car crash detailed in the Chaka Khan sampled track, Through The Wire. Full of West’s meticulous genius, the album is an ode to individualism, chasing your dreams and the confidence to change the world. It’s gospel-infused hip hop, expertly crafted raps and samples from monumental artists including Lauryn Hill put West’s name into legendary status, leaving him an impressive legacy away from wearing a Make America Great Again hat.
Hidden gem: Again, not so hidden, but desperately overshadowed by tracks All Falls Down, Jesus Walks, We Don’t Care and Never Let Me Down, West’s recollection of his 2002 car crash, Through The Wire is one of his most reflexive tracks, detailing his journey back to hip hop after his jaw was wired shut. Sampling Chaka Khan’s single, Through The Fire, West’s track is a heartbreaking ode to his past-self and rebirth of the Kanye we all know today.
#7 Viva la Vida — Coldplay (2008) Parlophone
Coldplay’s impact on the 2000s is monumental. With records including 2005’s X&Y and 2002’s A Rush of Blood To The Head in their discography, the band already created an enviable legacy in rock history. However, when they released their fourth studio album Viva la Vida or “Death and all his friends” in 2008, they changed the game altogether. Moving away from the simpler sounds and themes of love and heartbreak in their previous records, Coldplay presented a new and exciting record calling for revolution, rejoice and strength. Featuring Brian Eno as a producer, the band was forced to experiment with different sounds and create an album which didn’t adhere to the restrictions of rock in the late 2000s. The titular track, Viva La Vida proves their success. Combining lead-singer, Chris Martin’s searing alto voice with a mesmerising cello hook and odes to revolution, rhapsody and power, the song was an unstoppable force, reaching the top of the UK’s Singles Charts in 2008 and winning a Grammy for Song of the Year the next year. This album proved that rock could be fluid, changed and experimented with, allowing the genre to evolve and expand for the better.
Hidden gem: Lovers in Japan is a diamond in the midst of all of the musical chaos of the album. Using a honky tonk piano backing and smooth vocals of Martin, the track is another underrated love song which should be put in any playlist dedicated to that special someone.
#6 For Emma, Forever Ago — Bon Iver (2007) Jajjaguwar
Written in an isolated cabin in rural Wisconsin, Justin Vernon, with his band Bon Iver, created the 2000’s anthem to heartbreak with their soft-folk album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon’s simple odes to melancholy, heartbreak and eventual forgiveness, the album exploded onto the mainstream with its rough, yet brutally honest acoustic sounds and relatable and open depiction of raw human emotion. Popularising the folk genre on the top 100 charts was no easy feat, but Vernon managed to do this with his effortless ditties of love, loss and starting again. The album’s standout single Skinny Love proved the power of Vernon’s music, with countless covers and widespread critical claim.
Hidden gem: Re: Stacks softens the heartbreak of Skinny Love perfectly. With a simple guitar line and Vernon’s hopeful falsetto, the song is an easy listen and something you can dry your tears to after you’ve listened to the emotionally charged tracks taking up the majority of this timeless folk masterpiece.
#5 Back to Black — Amy Winehouse (2006) Island
Produced by Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse’s second and final studio album, Back to Black is a searing tale of darkness, loss and desire. Utilizing Winehouse’s cool, powerful vocals with hints of jazz, soul, R&B and funk, the album proved a powerhouse in a time dominated by flowery pop. Winehouse has always been brutally honest, but in this album, she takes it to the extreme, detailing her struggle with addiction (Rehab), detachment and failing relationships (Back To Black). In this record, Winehouse is visibly comfortable with her voice and image, capitalizing on her immense talent for lyricism and tantalising vocal power. By breaking the barriers of almost every genre of popular music, Back To Black stuns as a vocally impressive and resounding record with lasting result, (see, the emergence of Adele shortly after). Winehouse’s legacy will live on forever with this album, and for that, we are entirely thankful.
Hidden gem: You Know I’m No Good is soul-inspired, funky jam playing on Winehouse’s naughty side. Her cynical lyrics to the background of horns and groovy drum beats is the recipe to making a perfect song in a matter of 4 and a half minutes.
#4 Dangerously in Love — Beyoncé (2003) Columbia Records
Bouncing back from a girl group can be hard. Ask the Spicegirls. However, for Beyoncé, her leaving Destiny’s Child was just the beginning of her nearly 20 yearlong dynasty. After going solo, Beyoncé released the highly popular album Dangerously In Love, a hip hop and soul hybrid which brought her to international acclaim. Camouflaging well into 2003’s strong pop melodies and ballads, this album transported Beyoncé into super stardom with songs like Crazy In Love and Baby Boy. The album allowed Beyoncé to showcase her own unique style away from her girl group days and illustrate that her talent was something to be taken quite seriously.
Hidden gem: Naughty Girl demands Beyoncé’s talent and sensual chemistry with her music. A favourite club banger and track to dance in the mirror with, Naughty Girl is a sleepy classic which is a must-listen to for any Beyoncé aficionado.
#3 Demon Days — Gorillaz (2005) Parlophone
Founded by Blur lead-singer Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz splashed onto the 2000’s as an exciting new project not seen before. With the band being entirely virtual, many listeners were intrigued with their fictional universe set to the sound of postmodern electro-rock and hip hop. Their sophomore record Demon Days entered the UK charts at number 1, with listeners going crazy for their genre-bending, immersive platform of story-telling through song. With contributions from artists including Pharcyde and the London Community Gospel Choir, Demon Days created a new sound which was a strong juxtaposition of Albarn’s experimental work post-Blur and Hewlett’s visual art. Though it was a mish-mash of just about every genre, the album proved to be outstandingly popular, inspiring a new aesthetic of music being born. Tracks like Dare and Feel Good Inc. throttled this off-kilter project into an all-out masterpiece and showed struggling musicians all around the world that there is nothing to be afraid of when expressing your art.
Hidden gem: The thirteenth track of this record, Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head features 70s movie star giving a monologue over a funk, hip hop beat featuring an off-beat horn. Now read that sentence again. Nothing really makes sense in this song, but that’s what makes it extremely fun to listen to.
#2 Sam’s Town — The Killers (2006) Island
Though people would argue that Las Vegas natives, The Killer’s best album was their first, (Hot Fuss 2003), their sophomore record, Sam’s Town seems to have had a stronger lasting effect. Right off the cuff of a successful indie-pop album with fusions of The Pet Shop Boys and The Cure, Brandon Flowers and co. shifted gear in an entirely different direction with their follow-up Sam’s Town. The album is dedicated to a story of disillusioned Americana, with images and themes of small town living and disenfranchisement (see Sam’s Town and This River is Wild). Taking on a darker tone to their first record, Sam’s Town sees more sophisticated writing and musical effort, with Flowers’s obviously improved vocals in the album’s stand out single (When You Were Young). With many expecting a follow-up to Hot Fuss with more indie-inspired synth sounds, Sam’s Town proved that The Killers were not afraid of change and disallowed themselves from being confined to a certain genre. Though a brave move, many didn’t agree with Flowers steering the band to a darker sound. However, with over ten years passing, the album has become a cult-classic, with many considering it to be an important landmark of 2000s indie rock with its undeniable gusto and confidence.
Hidden gem: Read My Mind perfectly encapsulates the album’s themes of nostalgia and disenfranchisement. One of Flowers’s best written songs to date, the track deals with issues of moving on, small town romance and loss. It’s simple, it’s catchy and delivers outstanding vocal talent unseen in many of the band’s contemporaries.
#1 Kid A — Radiohead (2000) Parlophone
And here we are, the essential album of the 2000s (in our subjective opinion). Like many of the records on this list, Radiohead’s magnum opus Kid A moved away from the more conventional sounds of indie-rock of the 90s and experimented with synthesisers, heavy production and included a more orchestral element to this emotionally charged record. After suffering a mental breakdown during the promotion of their previous album, OK Computer in 1997, lead singer Thom Yorke became disillusioned with the state of rock music and decided that it was important to make a change in what he saw as a constricting genre. Experiencing writer’s block and depression, Yorke poured his soul into this landmark record which popularised the infusion of rock with electric and funk beats. Undeniably brave, hauntingly beautiful and outrageously imaginative, Kid A proved to be an anthem of the 2000s, a distinct shift in time which allowed people to move away from the conventions of popular genres.
Hidden gem: In Limbo is a dizzying take on jazz, rock and atmospheric pop. Noting themes of depression and frustration, the song is a beautiful representation of Yorke’s unsteady state of mind and the band’s obvious shift from the indie rock which shaped their earlier records.