The Police (1983)
It’s not too surprising that the album containing the song I’ve already tagged as the best of all time would end up somewhere on this list. More than “Every Breath You Take” and the sister hits “King of Pain” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, the album is solid throughout, with the exception of the rather unfortunate “Mother”. The music sounds timeless and the lyrics are strong – not much more you can ask for.
“Enter Sandman”, “Sad But True”, “The Unforgiven”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Nothing Else Matters”… that’s all in the first eight tracks, son. If Metallica and their label wanted to, they could have released eleven of the twelve songs on this album as singles, and they would have charted. Ironically, the songs that keep it in my personal rotation are the unreleased ones – “The God That Failed” and “My Friend of Misery”.
“Wonderwall” has the feel of a once-in-a-generation anthem, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is a near-perfect ballad, and “Champagne Supernova” stands as the best song to listen to when alone and drunk. Oasis fairly mastered making perfect pop albums, and this was their peak effort.
Florence + the Machine (2011)
There is simply not a bad song on this album. It’s hard to go wrong with Florence Welch’s vocals, granted, but the music backing her is so lushly layered and nuanced it’s clear this effort was not the sonic equivalent of a one-trick pony. Welch’s vocals on “Spectrum” are downright goosebump-inducing, but you can’t go wrong picking any tune on Ceremonials to start the journey.
Admittedly, Slayer is not most folk’ s cup of tea. Tom Araya and company make music that is, um, aggressive. Though the taste is an acquired one, excellence is excellence, and this is an excellent album. Yes, the imagery is dark and brooding – borderline juvenile in places – but the music is so tight, raw, and relentless that you can focus on its majesty instead, if you prefer. A perfect introduction to Slayer for the uninitiated is the title track of the album – not too heavy to lose the powerful groove, but packed with plenty of Slayer-ness.
Stone Temple Pilots (1994)
There are few feelings in life superior to driving around a pastoral autumn scene with your windows down on a crisp sunny day, “Interstate Love Song” blasting from the stereo. Purple is filled with cold-weather anthems; “Big Empty”, “Still Remains”, and “Silvergun Superman” resonate twenty years on, and “Pretty Penny” provides a palate cleanser of hushed tones inside them all.
Alice in Chains (1994)
Yes, it is technically an EP. Never, though, has an
album EP captured the spirit of an event more than Jar of Flies does a campfire. You can almost smell burnt leaves listening to its seven tracks. Mellow, acoustic, and completely unexpected given the Alice in Chains work that bookends it, Flies is more lullaby than rock album, but it’s executed perfectly.
Ray LaMontagne (2006)
As the haunting echoes of “Be Here Now” fade in, one realizes they are best served to sit down and just absorb this album in its sparsely gorgeous entirety. LaMontagne’s voice is so sincerely melancholy that he could generate sympathy over the phone ordering a pizza. The album closes with a pair of gorgeous and uplifting songs that melt together better than any pair of songs on any album – the title track segues unnoticed into “Within You” for a perfect end to the album.
The Black Crowes (1992)
I’m a big-time Crowes’ mark, so keeping their work in perspective was difficult. Southern Harmony, though, is undeniably their masterpiece. A modern incarnation of Southern Rock in a time of Grunge and the dying vestiges of Glam, the album oozed soul and melody from stem to stern. “Sting Me” and “Remedy” had rightful commercial success, but the heart of the album follows after those tracks – the achingly intimate trilogy of “Thorn in My Pride”, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye”, and “Sometimes Salvation”. It doesn’t hurt, either, that my personal favorite Crowes’ song, the invigorating “My Morning Song”, resides on this album as well.
Lyrically, the best R.E.M. album – and I love me some good lyrics. “Drive” makes you wonder, “Everybody Hurts” makes you cry, “Nightswimming” makes you relax, and “Sweetness Follows” makes you… ok it makes you cry also, but for completely different reasons than “Everybody Hurts” does. Automatic For The People is a time stamp of a legendary band at the peak of their song crafting.
Kanye West (2010)
No one made an album like this before Kanye. No one could. Sure, he’s an asshole, but he’s an asshole who knows it (“Runaway”), and he’s an asshole who sees hip hop in a way no one else can. He’s playing chess while the rest of the rap community brags about how well they play checkers. Fantasy doesn’t sound like any other hip hop album ever made, but the listener never, for one moment, questions that this is a hip hop album. That’s fucked up when you think about it. A rap song with nothing but a single piano keystroke for the first 35 seconds? Sure. Release it as a single? Why the fuck not?
With so much rap created as product for you to buy or use as phone ringtones, Kanye is making art. Love him or hate him, he’s almost single-handedly pulling the genre forward.