Was rock music better before? Rather than engage in this never-ending debate, Rock & Folk has decided to provide a summary of the best albums released in the last two decades. 20 years, 20 records. Any list is subjective, and those reading it are likely to contest it and suggest their own selection. One thing is certain, however: the creators of these twenty excellent albums have almost all had the honor of appearing on the front page of the magazine.
Can you guess which ones didn’t make the cover?
1 – Fatboy Slim Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars (2000)
A resuscitated Jim Morrison (“Sunset (Bird of Prey)”), a P-funk guest (Bootsy Collins in “Weapon of Choice”), Macy Gray and her helium-inflated voice (“Demons” and “Love Life”), electronic gospel, a few remnants of the Big Beat that made him famous and there you have it: the best album by Norman Cook, former Housemartins member turned star DJ.
2 – Tricky Blowback (2001)
As prolific as he is secretive, Adrian “Tricky Kid” Thaws, ex Massive Attack turned electronica apocalypse wizard, covers Nirvana and works with Cyndi Lauper in this 13 track album, which is probably his best since Pre-Millenium Tension that was released in the 90s. As Tricky stated, Blowback was recorded “for the money, basically ’cause I was broke” and features prestigious guests (RHCP, Alanis Morissette). It is Tricky’s most pop-sounding record. This doesn’t stop it from being worth a listen, with its spectral version of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way”, sung by Francesca Belmonte.
3 – Primal Scream Evil Heat (2002)
Both aggressive and elegant, and somewhere in between acid electro and (thundering) guitar rock, this is a good album by Primal Scream, who narrowly avoided scandal with one of the tracks. “Rise”, recorded in 2001, was originally titled “Bomb the Pentagon”, but that was before September 11th… The model Kate Moss provides vocals for “Some Velvet Morning”, composed by Lee Hazelwood and once sung by Nancy Sinatra, and Bobby Gillispie also makes an appearance. Evil Heat (a special mention for “Miss Lucifer”) is definitely the right title for this album.
4 – The White Stripes Elephant (2003)
An urgent fourth album recorded traditionally in two weeks by the White duo, who used an eight-track tape machine and 1960s recording gear. The result was a platinum certification in the United States and a double platinum certification in the UK, not to mention the fact that rowdy soccer fans have claimed the song “Seven Nation Army”, the most formidable rock anthem of the last twenty years, as their own.
5 – The Prodigy Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2004)
The late Keith Flint didn’t provide vocals for Prodigy’s fourth album, which is therefore more of a solo record by Liam Howlett, who chose to include a varied and first-class guest list. The Gallagher brothers appear on “Shoot Down”, while rapper Kool Keith is featured on two tracks: “Wake Up Call” and “You’ll Be Under My Wheels”, for example. As our friend JoeyStarr puts it so well: NOISE!!!
6 – Oasis Don’t Believe the Truth (2005)
A powerful comeback for the enemy brothers three years after the disappointing Dig Out Your Soul. With Zak “Ringo Junior” on drums, this sixth opus sold nearly a million copies in England. It was almost produced by Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes of Death In Vegas, but the Brothers decided to create the album under Dave Sardy’s leadership, helped by Noel who once again lost some of his songwriting supremacy to Liam.
7 – The Strokes First Impressions of Earth (2006)
Julian Casablancas and his gang part ways with Gordon Raphael, the producer for their first two LPs, and enlist old trail-blazer David Kahne (Tony Bennett, The Bangles, Stevie Nicks), who gives them “poppy” Nirvana and a certified British hit with “Juicebox”. The rest isn’t bad either.
8 – The Stooges The Weirdness (2007)
It’s over: Ron and Scott Asheton are dead, and so is the saxophonist Steve Mackay. The Stooges are no more and this third to last album released 37 years after Raw Power is a very curious offering. A mixture of punk noise and furious free jazz. Admittedly, this isn’t on the same level as Fun House, but Steve Albini did a pretty good job. Better than one might think after reading this PopMatters review that we decided to quote for just the fun of it: “Like every other inferior album by a defunct cult band that has unexpectedly reunited, it is a danger to the band’s legacy.” However, Ready to Die was released six years later, a fittingly named coda to the band’s erratic discography.
9 – Alain Bashung Bleu Pétrole (2008)
You can tell that the end is near when listening to “Je T’ai Manqué”, the opening track of this album that was released a year before the artist’s death. Less obscure than the very poetic L’Imprudence, Bleu Pétrole goes from radio-friendly pop songs (“Résidents De La République”) to the lengthy “Comme Un Légo” (9 morose minutes) written by Gérard Manset. Gaëtan Roussel was the songwriter for the majority of this stellar yet somber album dedicated to Mick Larie, a little-known mandolin player and friend of Patrick Sébastien.
10 – Pet Shop Boys Yes (2009)
Three years after Fundamental, which was produced with rhinestones and glitter by Trevor Horn, Neil and Chris invite Brian Higgins (Xenomania) to work on this album, which is as “poppy” and dynamic (“Did You See Me Coming?”, “Love Etc.”) as it is nostalgic and melancholic (“King of Rome”, “Vulnerable”). The splendid 300 copy limited edition box set containing eleven 12″ maxi-singles became one of the most expensive collectibles of the 21st century, with a maximum sales value of €6,626.19 on Discogs as of March 22, 2018. You can’t put a price tag on love.
11 – LCD Soundsystem This Is Happening (2010)
For the title of the first single alone (“Drunk Girls”), this record deserves our attention. Blending electro sounds and rock attitude, James Murphy, who became known in 2005 with the single “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”, finds the perfect balance and tortures his machines like others torture their guitars. “Dance Yrself Clean” is also worth a listen.
12 – Arctic Monkeys Suck It and See (2011)
After Humbug, which was co-produced by Josh Homme in Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, this fourth opus by the Arctic Monkeys marks their reunion with producer James Ford, who managed all 12 songs including the bizarrely titled single “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala”. NME described the album cover as “one of the worst in history” (it is true that it resembles a poor man’s White Album), and it was censored in the United States with a big sticker covering the title, considered obscene by certain big-box retailers. Only in America…
13 – Patti Smith Banga (2012)
According to Patti Smith, the meaning of her album’s title can be found in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Even without having read the (posthumous) work of this Russian author, one can appreciate the record, which was recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s studio (Electric Lady) “with the same personnel, the same sense of idealism and was released on the anniversary of my debut album Horses in 1974”. There’s a nice cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” and the first single, “April Fool” was released on April 1st. Nice one Patti!
14 – Daft Punk Random Access Memories (2013)
Teased with annoying excerpts of the single “Get Lucky” that lasted only a few seconds, this fourth album by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo is good enough to forgive the artists for the unbearable suspense. And how on earth could an album that features both Paul “Phantom of the Paradise” Williams and Giorgio “Munich Machine” Moroder be anything but exciting? Nile Rodgers’ guitar licks and the presence of a pantheon of studio stars are the highlights of this unexpected LP, which is very far from the electronic minimalism of the first EPs but has the same dose of boldness and talent. A shower of Grammys and impressive sales were the ultimate accolade for the two sophisticated Frenchies.
15 – Blondie Blondie 4(0) Ever (2014)
#Tip: as a bonus, this album from 2014 features a selection of the biggest seventies and early eighties hits by Debbie Harry and her gang (and also includes the Live at CBCG 1977 DVD for good measure). As enjoyable as the 13 songs that make up this “best-of” by the ultimate punk teenage fantasy are, it’s hard to compete with pop smash hits like “Atomic”, “Heart of Glass”, “Sunday Girl”, “Call Me” and “Dreaming”, which was used as the theme for the third season of The Deuce, reminding us of just how great a song it is. We love you, Deborah.
16 – Sparks & Franz Ferdinand FFS (2015)
If the term “supergroup” hadn’t become somewhat of an insult, we definitely would have used it to describe this joint venture between California’s most elegant popsters and the rock chic Scotsmen. The first attempt by these two bands to work together dates back to 2004, proof that patience really is a virtue. Especially since this slowly matured project is such a great success. Alas, the album didn’t produce any hits, but all those who were lucky enough to see one of the rare FFS concerts know that the venture was worth it.
17 – David Bowie Blackstar (2016)
“His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it,” Tony Visconti wrote about the Thin White Duke’s last album, which he secretly produced between 2014 and 2015. Naturally, it’s a mournful record, but it is superb in its darkness. Its homonymous opening track lasts 9’57” and is accompanied by a clip that was actually an obituary in pictures. Absolutely sublime.
18 – The Residents The Ghost of Hope (2017)
A concept album about train accidents of the last century. Who else but the Residents, freaks from San Francisco whose first album released in 1974 imitated the Beatles and who have never revealed their faces in their 50-year career, could have come up with this idea? Nobody, of course: the question was a rhetorical one. Behind the eyeball masks of the four Mystery Men, one can find all the anxiety caused by their distorted voices, oppressive rhythms and general strangeness that established this remarkably prolific band’s reputation.
19 – David Byrne American Utopia (2018)
“If you knew David Byrne, you would not be jealous of him”. A damning statement made by Chris Frantz in his recent autobiography Remain in Love that shoots an arrow right into the heart of those hoping for a Talking Heads reunion. Nevertheless, this rich and unique album volunteers the best of David, who disappointed listeners with most of his previous solo albums. There’s even a bit of an early Talking Heads vibe with the charming “Every Day is a Miracle”, and Brian Eno makes his modest contribution by playing the “robot rhythm guitar” on “Everybody’s Coming to My House”. This remarkable album was also accompanied by an exceptional live show that took place on a bare stage decorated only with light effects reminiscent of contemporary art, but featuring sizzling funk rhythms played by a dozen barefoot musicians. The perfect combo.
20 – Nick Cage & The Bad Seeds Ghosteen (2019)
A double album and the final chapter in a trilogy (after Push the Sky Away and Skeleton Tree), with the same grandeur in the vocals, arrangements and emotions. This record is proof that great beauty can arise from pure horror. From “Spinning Song” to the final 14 minute long “Hollywood”, everything in this album is breathtaking. Never has Nick Cave’s voice been so intense, and the Bad Seeds’ music is the perfect backdrop for it. Great art in the form of an intimate exorcism, a musical tomb for Arthur that, according to the artist, is “pointed firmly toward paradise”.
About: Rock & Folk
Rock & Folk has been around for 54 years (the first cover featured Michel Polnareff in November 1966). The leading magazine in French music journalism, it reports on contemporary and classic rock news and the cover alternates between rock legends and emerging heroes.