Which aspects of the first 20 years of the 3rd millennium will be remembered? An abundance of sound, regrets and certified hits, as well as a few forgotten masterpieces. To choose 20 albums that were released during the last two decades, I looked back at the 21st century and selected these 20 moments of stereo happiness and escapism. I took the opportunity to draw up a summary of my favorite bands, my musical obsessions and my eclectic tastes. Is anything missing from this list? Of course. But it’s a start.
1 – Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
The decade gets off to a great start with the best album from one of the greatest rappers of the 21st century, Eminem. This album includes both classics (“The Real Slim Shady”, “Stan”, “The Way I Am”) and demonstrations of technical prowess (“Kill You”). Under Dr. Dre’s artistic direction, Marshall produced a flawless LP with a first-class guest list (Snoop Dog, Xzibit, Onyx’s Sticky Fingaz and Nate Dog) that never overshadowed his creative genius or unique style. Many of Eminem’s other albums are worth a listen, but this one is undoubtedly his most accomplished opus and, on top of that, it has aged particularly well. Thirteen years later, Eminem tried to create a sequel, named MMLP2: close but no cigar.
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2 – Lunatic Mauvais Œil (2000)
Perhaps the most significant milestone in French rap during the last two decades. The album has both an oppressive atmosphere and heavy sounds chosen by Gereldo, the main producer. Booba and Ali, a duo as unstable as nitroglycerin and just as explosive, work wonders throughout the 14 tracks on this record, which is in the Top 5 best French rap albums. The metaphors are biting (“Le silence n’est pas un oubli”), the rhymes powerful and the synergy between the text and the music striking.
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3 – Rhythm & Sound w/ The Artists (2003)
Behind the name R&S are Moritz Von Oswald, alias Maurizio, and Mark Ernestus, a Berlin duo obsessed with sound, bass and dub. Their discography ranges from minimal techno to reggae dub, and it is this last category that the album drifts towards, with bass rich productions accompanied by reverb packed lyrics from both prestigious (Cornell Campbell) and lesser-known Jamaican artists. The captivating tracks on this remarkable record transport the listener to the very heart of the sound and into the world of dub, where raw electro flirts with ancestral roots reggae. Jennifer Lara’s “Queen in My Empire” and Paul St. Hilaire’s “Jah Rule” are two of the gems in this tech-dub crown of unparalleled sonic perfection.
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4 – Throbbing Gristle Part Two – The Endless Not (2007)
The band of the late Genesis P. Orridge, his ex-girlfriend Cosey Fanni Tutti and their acolytes Chris Carter and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson had been out of business for nearly a quarter of a century before returning for this unexpected album. While Part Two – The Endless Not doesn’t provoke the same venomous fascination in its listeners as 20 Jazz Funk Greats or The 2nd Annual Report did, it remains a sophisticated industrial record full of tortured and abrasive white noise, but also a few rare moments of respite and peace.
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5 – David Byrne & Fatboy Slim Here Lies Love (2010)
One of the strangest concept albums released in a long time: the unlikely duo comprised of the former singer of Talking Heads and the bass player of the Housemartins, now a world famous DJ, produced a record dedicated to Imelda Marcos, spouse of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and avid shoe collector. The prestigious casting for this album is mainly feminine, with artists like Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper, Kate Pierson (former B-52’s bandmate), Roisin Murphy and the French singer Camille. “Why Don’t You Love Me”, sung by Cyndi and Tori, concludes this double CD with echoes of Madonna’s “You Must Love Me” from the musical Evita. Only a filmmaker like Alan Parker could have taken this strange and completely unique saga and made it into a movie. What a shame that it’s too late.
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6 – Orelsan Le chant des sirènes (2011)
As soon as “RaelSan” was released, it was evident that Orel had produced a hard-hitting record. Regarded as something of a renaissance album after eight months of writer’s block, Le chant des sirènes features several major titles, including “Plus rien ne m’étonne” with its peplum-like music video and the corrosive “Suicide social”. The mega hit “La terre est ronde” and “Ils sont cools” with Gringe complete the picture. Naturally, the album rapidly earned a well-deserved platinum certification.
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7 – Pet Shop Boys Electric (2013)
The first installment in a tryptic produced by Stuart Price, this nine-track album is surprising (the cover of “The Last To Die”, an obscure Springsteen song) and moving (“Love Is a Bourgeois Construct”, a falsely cynical reflection on the intricacies of love). The British rapper Example adds an urban touch to “Thursday”, and “Vocal” concludes the record with six minutes and 36 seconds of dynamism and emotion. Are the Boys back? No. They never left.
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8 – David Bowie The Next Day (2013)
With the track “Where Are We Now?” released in early January of 2013, The Next Day was the most unexpected and glorious comeback of the decade. Almost 15 years after the somewhat inconsistent Hours, Bowie offered us a major discographic renaissance, with a visual that revisits the cover of 1977’s “Heroes” and production by Tony Visconti. The penultimate LP from one of the greatest geniuses in pop music.
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9 – Ennio Morricone The Hateful Eight (2015)
Finally, an Oscar! Ennio proves once again that after approximately 500 film scores, he still knows how to come up with great hooks, has a taste for unforgettable melodies and a touch that turns everything he writes into gold. Fifty years after Sergio Leone’s first westerns, Morricone illustrates this excellent Tarantino movie. Do we really need to mention once again the lavishness of the strings, the amount of work put into the arrangements and the originality of the compositions? Yes, we do. Ciao Ennio.
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10 – Kraftwerk 3-D (The Catalogue) (2016)
Kraftwerk’s work is both unchanging and in perpetual movement. Unchanging in these eight albums that form their “Catalogue”, in perpetual movement because their sound has evolved over the decades. Released to accompany their series of 3D concerts (all the animations on the giant screen behind the four Germans and their keyboards were in 3D, and the audience had to wear 3D glasses), this box set features new versions (not really remixes) of the major milestones of electronic music and synth-pop that are “Radioactivity”, “Trans-Europe Express”, “Man Machine”, “Tour de France Soundtracks” and of course “Autobahn”, the alternative and more peaceful route to the “Highway to Hell”. Armed with these timeless melodies, Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn…
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11 – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree (2016)
From the most terrible tragedy comes the most intense beauty. A record of mourning and a collection of haunted compositions, this universally acclaimed album is worthy of being included in the 21st century musical pantheon. “Girl in Amber” is as breathtaking as it is agonizing, and rarely have such intimate feelings been sung to complete strangers, who will use them to channel their own grief. From “Jesus Alone” to the song that gives the album its name, these eight mournful yet radiant tracks are deserving of all the praise they receive.
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12 – The Residents The Ghost of Hope (2017)
A record about railway accidents. The kind of bizarre concept that could only be pulled off by The Residents, four mysterious musicians who have hidden their faces behind masks since 1974, the year their debut album Meet The Residents was released. The atmosphere is oppressive, the vocals are distorted and the music is synthetic. The stories told here could give you nightmares, so make sure you don’t listen to it before taking the train.
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13 – Lee “Scratch” Perry & Subatomic Sound System Super Ape Returns To Conquer (2017)
Bob Marley’s first producer revisits his ultimate dub masterpiece, the album Super Ape. The perfect opportunity to rediscover “Zion’s Blood”, “Dread Lion”, “Chase the Devil” and “Croaking Lizard”: cosmic sounds from this reggae genius. Perry used Max Romeo’s album War Ina Babylon, which he produced in its entirety, as a basis for this “dubification”. SARTC is therefore a re-remix that makes you want to rediscover the original album and confirms that the super freak of dub is still as ingenious and unpredictable as ever.
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14 – Richard Hawley Live At The Devil’s Arse 28th April 2017 (2018)
His voice is as silky as that of Elvis Presley. If there was any justice in the music industry Richard Hawley would be a billionaire superstar. This brilliant live album includes his best compositions, such as “As the Dawn Breaks”, “Ashes on the Fire” and the poignant “Tonight the Streets Are Ours”, which is even more powerful than the studio version. Can this still be classified as rock? Labels aren’t clearly defined when listening to Richard, and the only thing that counts is the shot of emotion provided by these 14 heavenly tracks.
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15 – New Order + Liam Gillick So It Goes (2019)
A live performance unlike any other by the surviving members of Joy Division, who went on to become the most important band in British electronic rock. Rather than simply performing their (many) hits, New Order selected more obscure tracks such as “Dream Attack” and “Who’s Joe”, and even played two classic Joy Division tracks: “Decades” and “Heart and Soul”. Survivors of the 1970s, Bernard, Steven and the other members have managed to hold onto their panache four decades after the Joy Division years. They enjoyed the luxury of omitting “Blue Monday” from their set, the global hit that made Joy Division fans realize that New Order was here to stay.
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16 – A Certain Ratio ACR: Box (2019)
A band that has been underestimated since it was created in the late 70s, A Certain Ratio mixes new wave asceticism with funk rhythms, resulting in hybrid singles like “Shack Up”. Containing seven albums, this box set includes a few songs from the band’s (relative) glory days as well as excellent unreleased tracks, such as the cover of “Houses in Motion” by Talking Heads which was initially intended for Grace Jones. The ACR version is definitely worth a listen, and so is the frosty cover of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” written by Stevie Wonder.
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17 – Giorgio Moroder & Raney Schockne Queen of the South (2019)
After Déjà Vu, Moroder’s last, somewhat superfluous studio album released in 2015, this soundtrack from the Netflix hit series restores confidence in the former musical guru of Donna Summer and Roberta Kelly. Giorgio is partnered with Raney Schockne, the Californian he previously worked with on the score for Disney’s video game Tron Run/r in 2016, and revisits the old-school electro sound of his “I Feel Love” era. In other words, the hypnotic synth sequences that made his seventies and eighties productions a success. The covers of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and Blondie’s “One Way Or Another”, as well as the multiple instrumental tracks that are featured on this double LP with its latino design are very enjoyable.
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18 – Prince 1999 Super Deluxe Edition (2019)
The original album released in 1982 had the effect of a bomb. This luxury box set offers a breathtaking look at the Minneapolis Kid’s compulsive talent with a series of new releases. These funky jams ooze sensuality and have titles like “Vagina”, “Irresistible Bitch” and “Feel U Up”. The fact that so many premium tracks were set aside like vulgar demos at the time of the first release speaks volumes about Prince’s creativity, and this 10 LP box set edition is a fitting tribute that the Jackson estate would do well to imitate, rather than letting the King of Pop’s legacy deteriorate.
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19 – The Orb Abolition of the Royal Familia (2020)
The Orb is Alex Paterson plus a few assistants that have changed over the years. This album marks the comeback of the band that invented ambient house, with an avalanche of mysterious vocal samples, twisted rhythms and cryptic messages, the anarchic trend of the “No Future” era. The few guests invited by Alex (Youth, Roger Eno, Steve Hillage, Miquette Giraudy) add a touch of prestige to this record that makes you want to orbit the planet in a state of weightlessness. One can dream, and that’s what this album is made for.
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20 – Sparks A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020)
If Sparks could be summed up in one word, it would be “elegance”. An elegance in the compositions and lyrics that has never faltered during almost 50 years of existence. The career of Sparks (brothers Ron & Russell Mael) is strewn with fantastic albums, and this is one of them. It is evident right from the intro “All That” that this record is a success. The single “Lawnmowers” is compelling, and new wonders are revealed every time one listens to this 14-track album. Who else but the two Mael Alphas are capable of releasing a single like “The Existential Threat”? Or of writing a song about Abraham Lincolm complaining about the audience checking their smartphones during his speech (“iPhone”)? Sparks, forever and ever.
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About: Olivier Cachin
OLIVIER CACHIN is a journalist and writer. Founder of the magazine L’Affiche and the 90s TV show Rapline, he was also editor-in-chief for the hip-hop magazine Radikal and has written over twenty books, including L’Offensive Rap, Soul For One and Rap Stories, as well as biographies for NTM, Nino Ferrer, Prince and Michael Jackson. As a frequent guest speaker, he often gives lectures in France and abroad.