What, no Westlife? The best albums of the decade



1 Arcade Fire

Funeral (2005)

Back in 2005, Montreal’s Arcade Fire heard the big music and things would never be the same for them – or us – again. A classic right out of the traps, Funeralwas an album about spirit-sapping death and loss that yet managed to sound life-affirming, elegant and charismatic. As they blazed a trail around the world, the band’s live shows turned thousands into disciples and further added to the album’s allure. Here, at long last, was a band you could believe in, at least until the lights went up. Funeralwas a rarity in the last decade, an album that abandoned rock’s comfort zones to take risks, shoot for the stars and wear its ambitions on its sleeve. Wake Up became the band’s calling card, an anthem of such intensity, euphoria and poise that many other acts, from Coldplay to U2, attempted to annex or emulate its appeal. Every song on Funeralbore similar witness to Arcade Fire’s art-rock craft and theatrical vision. At decade’s end, the album’s hypnotic violins, faded pianos and psychedelic orchestration still cause shivers. Nothing else came close to capturing that sense of epic grandeur. JC

2 Arctic Monkeys

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006)

They were one of the first new rock acts to mobilise a fan base through their MySpace pages, but this achievement pales in comparison with the effect this album had on its release. Singularly British in outlook (hometown Sheffield landmarks are referenced in broad local accents), and plugged into a lineage that stretches from The Kinks to Oasis, the record’s influence can still be traced. And the songs? Each one a taut, literate and gritty slice of modern life. TCL

3 The White Stripes

Elephant (2003)

As the decade proceeded, Jack White took on a ton of sideline projects – The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, acting in Cold Mountain– and Meg stayed quiet. But when Elephant raised its head in 2003, we all wanted a slice of the Stripes’ dash. As the thrilling thump of Seven Nation Armysoundtracked their move from underground to mainstream, we swooned to the streamlined swagger and gritty, dramatic blues. Their finest hour to date. JC

4 Bon Iver

For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)

Maybe all songwriters seeking their creative mojo should spend a few winter months in a remote cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin. That’s where Justin Vernon fetched up in 2006, nursing a broken heart, contemplating the break-up of his band and recovering from a bout of mononucleosis. There he found the inspiration to write and record a bunch of spooked, masterly folk songs, which formed the basis for one of the decade’s most haunting releases. JC

5 Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes (2008)

The debut album of Seattle five-piece Fleet Foxes was one of the most immediately striking in recent memory. Loaded with evocative imagery, skilled musicianship, and most importantly, pitch-perfect harmonies in songs such as Ragged Woodand He Doesn’t Know Why,it literally triggered goosebumps and took breaths away. This was the sound of five Americana- and folk-obsessed musicians so finely attuned to each other that they seemed to be singing and playing as one (hairy) mass of sound. Quite simply, stunning. LM

6 Gillian Welch

Time (The Revelator) (2001)

In creative cohesion with partner David Rawlings, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Welch recorded this stark fusion of old-time mountain music and hymnal country on vintage equipment in Nashville’s famed Studio B (Elvis Presley’s preferred studio, apparently, as referenced on Elvis Presley Blues).

Heritage and ghosts intact, Welch delivered a batch of songs that had little lyrical warmth but were glimpses into lives mired in austerity. Musically it’s sparse, yet it has an irresistible hypnotic quality that sets Welch miles apart from her contemporaries. TCL

7 Brendan Benson

Lapalco (2002)

If this album were an animal, it’d be a dog with its tongue stuck out the window of a car on a hot summer’s day. Benson’s sure-footed second album established him as a masterful songwriter of feel-good anthems. Good to Me, Tiny Sparkand You’re Quietare shining examples of uplifting guitar pop with a wry, self-deprecating edge and without sentimentality. When it comes to melody and songcraft, there are few active musicians to rival the Michiganite. LM

8 Antony and the Johnsons

I Am a Bird Now (2005)

Antony Hegarty’s voice calls you back again and again to this exceptional album of heart and soul. A trembling beauty to remind you of Nina Simone, Tim Buckley or Jimmy Scott, Hegarty’s voice was put to perfect use on this album of expressive, emotional and personal torch songs. I Am a Bird Nowis soft and delicate, with each song sympathetically framed by the barest and simplest of musical fringes, allowing Hegarty the space to soar. JC

9 Cathy Davey

Tales of Silversleeve (2007)

Following a hesitant start with her debut (2004’s Something Ilk), Dublin singer Davey stepped up smartly with this album, which showcased the talents of what sounded like a different person. There was hardly a wrong move here – from the opener, Sing for Your Supper, to the final track, All of You, Davey had produced a selection of highly accomplished pop music, deftly insinuating rhythms and vocal performances that hinted at cheek without actually displaying it. TCL

10 Interpol

Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)

It was the album that spawned a hundred copyists, but none came close to equalling it. The dark magic of Interpol’s extraordinary debut was infused with a unique sense of New York cool and was a clarion call to fans of bands such as Joy Division. Their unique modern spin on despondent anarchism was infused with despair, love, longing, shimmering beats, pulsing bass lines and nihilistic vocals, its emotion seeping through each song like damp on the wall of a prison cell. Powerful. LM

11 Ryan Adams

Heartbreaker (2000)

One of the most bitter-sweet break-up albums of the decade came about following the collapse in New York of Adams’s relationship with girlfriend Amy Lombardi. With a black-and-blue heart, Adams relocated to Nashville, teamed up with country traditionalists Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (and also, on the mellow, morose Oh My Sweet Carolina, with Emmylou Harris), and proceeded to write a suite of slow-burning, cathartic songs that pitched the listener into a heightened state of melancholia. Love betrayed, half-mumbled phrasing, lightly strummed chords . . . alt.country’s Blood on the Tracks? TCL

12 The Strokes

Is This It (2001)

An obvious but important choice. In 2001, there had been few bands like The Strokes: rock’n’rollers who appealed to a younger generation while simultaneously doffing their caps to their elders. More significantly, it was crammed with terrific songs that inspired everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Wild Beasts. The jerky tick-and-jangle of Hard to Explain, the guitar riff of indie club staple Last Nite, the tense build-up to the chorus of The Modern Age. . . It was impossible to resist the New Yorkers. LM

13 The Avalanches

Since I Left You (2000)

This was an early-decade trendsetter – a bobby-dazzler of an album that provided an ear-popping road trip into pop culture. It demonstrated what happens when six sonic Aussie freaks go wild in a studio. Lashed together with audacious samples (from Madonna’s Holidayto The Osmonds’ Let Me In– the sample clearance process must have been hell) and interstellar grooves, it wasn’t so much the sum of its parts as the sum of its parties. JC

14 PJ Harvey

Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (2000)

PJ Harvey’s fifth release, partially set in New York City, won the Mercury Music Prize on September 11th, 2001. Even without that detail, though, this is a poignant album that saw the Dorset native flit from ferocious punk maiden ( This Is Love)to conductor of vulnerability (her duet with Thom Yorke on This Mess We’re In) effortlessly, gracefully and sensuously. A passionate, desolate, fragile and mysterious record that touches on numerous basic human emotions, and one of her finest moments to date. LM

15 Amy Winehouse

Back to Black (2006)

Let’s remember Amy Winehouse before she became a beehived tabloid caricature. A set of songs more bewitched, bothered and bewildered than pop ever tends to get these days, Back to Blackwas an audacious second album from the British singer. Aided by Mark Ronson’s production, Winehouse conjured up a sassy, soulful album that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Motown roster. Full to the brim with brassy anthems (Rehab) and confessional honesty ( Love is a Losing Game), it was a blast from start to finish. JC

16 Ash

Free All Angels (2001)

Bucking the trend for indie bands on their third album to disappear back to where they had come from (Downpatrick, Co Down), Ash instead delivered the best punk/pop album of the decade. We’re not sure what fuelled lead singer Tim Wheeler’s songwriting machine, but we’d guess it was a broken heart and a flick through a Beach Boys chord book. It’s rare for a 13-track album to have at least 10 tracks with hit-single potential, but that’s Free All Angelsall over – sheer class and shrewd commerce in equal measure. TCL

17 Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)

While some might argue that it’s far too early for an album from the class of 2009 to figure here, we beg to differ. Not only did Merriweather Post Pavilionsee long-running alternative stalwarts Animal Collective break on through to the other side, but it also demonstrated the growing appeal of their rich, hallucinogenic pop. Awash with idiosyncratic soaring harmonies, melodies and smart tunes ( Summertime Clothes, My Girls, Brothersport), its success was proof that more and more people want music that is. Ambitious, challenging and ecstatic. JC

18 Sigur Rós

Ágaetis Byrjun (2003)

Although released in Sigur Rós’s native Iceland in 1999, this astonishing record (whose title translates as “a good beginning”) didn’t receive a full release until 2003, through UK label Fat Cat. Before then, it had languished in its homeland as a painstaking piece of utterly strange ambient symphony. Through quixotic instrumentation, singing in an imaginary language (Hopelandic), and adhering to an innate melodic elegance, Sigur Rós not only introduced music that defied easy classification (“God crying golden tears in Heaven,” noted Melody Makerpretentiously) but paved the way for further experiments in “new classical” music. TCL

19 Doves

The Last Broadcast (2002)

Doves may have discarded their dance roots and proved their mercurial nature with their stark 2000 debut, Lost Souls, but it wasn’t until 2002’s The Last Broadcast that they really expanded their horizons, scoring several hits to boot. A full, rich-sounding album that hearkened back to 1990s indie but simultaneously looked forward to a new era, there was a fat streak of quality pulsing through every vein of this album. And, in Pounding, they wrote one of the most emphatically joyful indie songs of the decade. LM

20 Elbow

The Seldom Seen Kid (2008)

Elbow had always been the little band that could, but their solid efforts never translated into mammoth sales. That all changed with their fourth album. Guy Garvey fell in love and laid bare his soul, and the result was a clutch of semi-orchestral songs that tingled spines ( One Day Like This) and pounded heads ( Grounds for Divorce) from one eloquent chorus to another. By opening up their sound, the Bury band also prised open the door to mainstream success, winning the Mercury Prize in 2008. LM

Visit Jim Carroll's On the Record blog to give your reaction to the list.