The White Stripes, ‘Elephant’ NME’s number one album of the year was a choice that few people would be able to mount an effective argument against. The Stripes made their masterpiece by changing absolutely none of the raw ingredients and, with the effortlessly infectious ‘Seven Nation Army’, graduated to becoming a proper pop group.
Biffy Clyro, ‘The Vertigo Of Bliss’ It would be a few years before Biffy became the stadium-eating behemoths they would turn into, but deep in their years of jaggedy hardcore is this gem of a second record, a challenging but magnificently confident collection that would flesh out their unique worldview. For certain sectors of the fanbase, this second record still stands out as their best.
Beyoncé, ‘Dangerously In Love’ Can much else of the entire decade measure up to the towering pop colossus that was ‘Crazy In Love’? Unlikely, but the album that contained the noughties’ undisputed pop peak did a damn fine job of trying, as the future Mrs Carter strode confidently out to solo stardom, 10 years before she would sing at Obama’s inauguration.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Fever To Tell’ The O Team – as we must surely now call them forever – had actually exploded into prominence over a year beforehand with that awesome first EP. The album had a protracted birth, but when it arrived in a storm of blood and glitter, it was impossible to resist, from the raucous ‘Y Control’ down to the tearjerking ‘Maps’.
Amy Winehouse, ‘Frank’ Amy’s debut was overshadowed by its follow-up, and that in turn was overshadowed by what would happen to her. But her confident debut was no slouch either, announcing the arrival of a talent as precocious as she was prodigious – ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ does not speak of the work of a retro wallflower.
OutKast, ‘Speakerboxx’/’The Love Below’ Big Boi delivered a serving of crisp, southern-fried hip-hop, while on the other side Andre 3000 fluffed up his snazziest peacock feathers to sleazy, romantic funk pop. It may have just been two solo albums bolted together, but the effect was more than the sum of those parts, and OutKast’s defining statement.
Dizzee Rascal, ‘Boy In Da Corner’ Long before he decided that yes, he would fancy a bit of commercial success and roped in Calvin Harris for some easy hits, Dizzee made three albums as the single most thrilling force in UK urban. This first was a revelation, a future-grime Unabomber with fire in its eyes and a cultural impact as mighty in its way as the Sex Pistols.
The Hidden Cameras, ‘The Smell Of Our Own’ ‘Gay church folk music’ is not exactly a crowded genre, but it wasn’t just uniqueness that marked Joel Gibb’s Canadian troupe out as special. ‘Golden Streams’ for a start is the most adorable song you’ll hear about getting pissed on during sex, while ‘Ban Marriage’ took spikier political swipe against demands for heteronormalcy. Still, gorgeous.
Blur, ‘Think Tank’ Graham left midway through the sessions, and while their final album (to date at least) might have represented them blinking out of existence (for a while, at least), there were still sumptuous delights to be had on ‘Think Tank’, a record that saw them facing middle age with grace, and still grand purpose.
Kelis, ‘Tasty’ She’d been the indie hipsters’ R&B female of choice ever since shrieking onto the block with ‘Caught Out There’ four years earlier. But it wasn’t ’til she ditched The Neptunes that Kelis Rogers approached paydirt commercially. And after breakout hit ‘Milkshake’, few straight teenage boys were able to enjoy a Raspberry Ripple without going squiffy again.
The Mars Volta, ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’ At The Drive-In had burned out a few years before, and the splinter bands that arose in their wake explained exactly why. Sparta could have been any generic emo group, but from the start, Cedric and Omar were shooting for somewhere far grander, stretching out the old band’s prog tendencies to fantastical, conceptual heights.
Explosions In The Sky, ‘The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place’ The Texan post-rockers delivered their masterpiece with this third set, a loose concept album about love. How that’s possible for a collection of six instrumental epics is anyone’s guess, but that’s by the by when you’re dealing with something as majestically glacial and gorgeous as 10-minute opener ‘First Breath After Coma’.
The Strokes, ‘Room On Fire’ As it turned out, that hadn’t been it after all. Few records could ever hope to match the generation-shaping majesty of The Strokes’ debut, but their follow-up did a more impressive stab than most people would have dared to hope, mainly because it stuck to the exact same formula. But with songs as good as ’12:51′ and ‘Reptilia’, who cares?
Rufus Wainwright, ‘Want One’ The first half of his opulent, operatic two-parter, you know everything you need to know about the scale we’re dealing with here from the cover, Rufus depicted as a lovelorn knight of some mythical realm. Referencing everything from The Wizard Of Oz to September 11 to Medusa, this was the work of a man at the height of his singular powers.
Super Furry Animals, ‘Phantom Power’ The Furries’ sixth album saw them take a more rustic approach, as well as attempting to make something more cohesive by choosing songs that ‘worked well together’. That this found them still veering from country to techno is testament to their unique magic, but in ‘Golden Retriever’ and ‘Hello Sunshine’ there was a hippy feel even by their standards.
Elbow, ‘Cast Of Thousands’ By their second album, Elbow were still something of a hidden treasure, the incredible acclaim still not translating into the fanbase they deserved. That would all change, but this is as stunning as the rest, and in ‘Grace Under Pressure’ they had the blueprint for their festival-slayer ‘One Day Like This’.
The Shins, ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ The second record from James Mercer’s Portland mob solidified their position as one of the most beloved indie outfits of the decade. Smoothing up their sound from the lo-fi strains of debut ‘Oh, Inverted World’, their status as cardigan-wearing royalty was assured forever.
Brand New, ‘Deja Entendu’ Brand New were always bigger than just emo: their later transition into a kind of US Radiohead is proof of that, but so is their generation-defining second record, which took the pop-punk basics and amped them into something way more theatrical. Still emo with the titles though: ‘Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t’.
Jay-Z, ‘The Black Album’ Portent hangs heavy over Jigga’s sixth collection, this being intended as his final record, before a retirement that would last three whole years. Still he was going out on a high, this being home to ’99 Problems’ and ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ – although it would lose out on a Grammy to Kanye’s ‘The College Dropout’.
Grandaddy, ‘Sumday’ Jason Lytle said that for his band’s third set he wanted to step away from storytelling and try to write from the heart, but there was still a fairly whimsical feel to his lovely psych-country collection. Reviewing at the time, NME’s Alan Woodhouse called it “pretty much like Neil Young if he’d heard an Aphex Twin record.”
The Knife, ‘Deep Cuts’ After establishing their legend with their 2001 debut, siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer took it to international levels with the follow up; a record which, from the title down, went out of its way to delve further into the fantastical world they created.
The Cardigans, ‘Long Gone Before Daylight’ Nina Persson’s Swedish sect had already earned themselves a reputation as a sugary pop confection. But the darkness that had always been there in their underbelly had turned outward-facing over the years and it was never more prevalent than on this, their sorrowful masterpiece. Nicky Wire correctly hails it as one of his favourite albums ever.
Four Tet, ‘Rounds’ Kieran Hebden made his most acclaimed work with this third collection of gentle, pastel-coloured electronica. The acclaim brought his way by ‘Rounds’ would make the Fridge man one of the most celebrated, if enigmatic, figures of the early noughties.
The Rapture, ‘Echoes’ More cowbell! ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ was the breakout hit from New York’s punk-funk scene, and became an anthem for hipsters worldwide. So the pressure was on for the album to deliver: happily, this James Murphy-produced debut turned out to be a cracker, as much defined by darkness as dancing.
Deftones, ‘Deftones’ The Sacramento behemoths broadened out for their fourth effort. The eponymous collection veered from some of their crunchiest ever compositions at one end to flirting with trip hop at the other. But while it earned better reviews than their previous, ‘White Pony’, it didn’t do the same numbers.
Oceansize, ‘Effloresce’ Manchester’s minimal/maximal prog metal might have been further away from the hipster zeitgeist of the time than most of the rest of this list, but their debut album, a gallant journey into the heart of metal psychedelia, is one of those that has grown immeasurably in stature and influence in the years since. It’s the reason a ton of people formed bands.
Dannii Minogue, ‘Neon Nights’ Never really recognised for her contribution to the hallowed annals of the awesome pop library, things didn’t look great for Dannii before her X Factor resurgence. But this fierce fluke boasted her best singles in the form of filthy electro gems ‘Put The Needle On It’ and ‘I Begin To Wonder’. It was a lot better than Kylie’s offering that year, ‘Body Language’.
The Postal Service, ‘Give Up’ This glitchy collaboration between Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and electronic maverick Jimmy Tamborello has earned legendary cult status, its legend increasing because it had widely been assumed as a one-off. But recently they’ve regrouped for tour dates and a 10th anniversary reissue of their beloved record.
Peaches, ‘Fatherfucker’ Merrill Nisker’s one-woman crusade for sexual liberation took on a rockier edge with her third collection, but she was typically outlandish and outspoken the whole way. The cover art depicted her as a bearded lady, and visceral lead single ‘Kick It’ featured a vocal from Iggy Pop.
Muse, ‘Absolution’ The Teignmouth trio hit their stride, and shook free of Radiohead comparisons on this incredible third set. It took on Matt Bellamy’s apocalyptic fixation increasingly head-on, and their histrionic tendencies were ramped up higher than ever. But it also had a glorious pop sensibility that set them on their way to becoming world leaders.