10 The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
I put this one 10th, because it’s actually a punk album, if you listen to it, the drum beats juxtaposed with enough closeness and meaningful presence so as to carry the music’s kinetic energy such as would be the case with a Clash or Buzzcocks. But these guys just felt it in their BONES — how to make unifying, catchy anthems, even good enough for NME. It’s hilarious now that I think about that The Complete Stone Roses comp I used to have that the library would get… I’d be like, Why don’t I like The Stone Roses yet, like my sister said I would? Was it the Gregorian Chants that put me off? Or maybe the cut-and-pasted jibberish session “Full Fathom Five”? Anyhow, the self-titled album IS the COMPLETE Stone Roses.
9 Beach House – Devotion
The common denominator of all these albums is that, as they are great pop, the lead singer’s voice is the primary, irreplaceable instrument. On no album is this trait more distinctive than on Devotion. The air outside the “beach house” is, in all its gallantry, indiscernible from the water — everything a thick, humid haze of discoveries and renewals. Even the “Gila” monster has been invited to the cookout, on a track that gives the listener a zesty appetizer of Legrand’s sensual crooning, that of which we’d get a seven-course sirloin dinner later on Teen Dream. On Devotion, the ante has yet to be upped, and the effect, upon a retrospective listen, is one of ease, but of pop wizardry anything but diminished.
8 Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
How could the British make an album that’s so damn AMERICAN? Check that, the drummer is too restrained, it could have never been us Yankees. It’s this kind of confidence, on songs like “I Don’t Wanna Know” and beautifully self-destructive opener “Second Hand News, that we Americans should have replicated by now, but some things are just innate. Even the Northwest bands like The New Pornographers, with their “European-style streets” they walk on, have the tendency yet to mask their guileless artistic statements with mechanical ploys like drum fills and stylistic arcaneness, perhaps lacking in the dogmatically sure whimsicality of Nicks and Buckingham, et. al. I think of Rumours as their way of paying back to us, but also rubbing it in, a little.
7 The Thrills – Teenager
Speaking of Beach House… California! Ha, just kidding. Long story, one time I was in this bar and the girl was playing Bloom, this guy asked her where they were from, asking the name, and she was just like, I dunno, probably California. And I’ll admit, I thought Head Automatica was from California when I first heard them, just from the way they sounded. And in the meantime, those Californians are over there, looking at us several thousand miles away, wearing our t-shirts that don the name and shape of their state, saying, We’re sittin’ here breathin’ smog, you a**holes! Have you heard of our album Road Maps of Hell, by any chance? Anyway, back to The Thrills, I could have easily chosen So Much for the City, which makes reference to “Big Sur” and “Hollywood” each thoroughly, but this one’s less publicized, and all this band ever did was make perfect albums, each one, yes, summoning that sunny feeling of glee and naivete that, I know they’re still living under in Cali, probably, right?
6 Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
Oh God, I’m summoning my 1990’s smart-ass now. I feel like telling you, if you think this band is just another one-hit wonder like The Posies or Seven Mary Three, then the hell with you, and I’ll roll my eyes and look back down at this coffee, which is my third of the day. Then I’ll look out the window, and think, Why is humanity so bad at helping humanity? Like take that guy. Anyway, never has an album been as successfully un-grunge as this one. And sure, it’s got major chords and brisk paces, and the guitars aren’t face-peeling or anything, but the lyrics are just so hilariously zoomed in, focused on situations we all encounter — girls dating mindless brutes, underrated people struggling for social sovereignty, and most of all, rock music overload. Hate to tell you, but that ’90’s smart-ass was right. See, he knows best how to have fun.
5 Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
I won’t even pretend that it’s possible to examine this album through an unbiased lens if you’re in my younger generation, it’s just not. And then here’s this old guy, just whining about his life: literally every song is an introspective assessment of the disastrous situation he’s in. The grunge school says, Surfer boy! Get your head out of the gutter! There’s starvation and violence on our streets! Hey, at least he’s miserable. My favorite songs are the recorder ones, like “I’m Waiting for the Day,” on which, also, the background vocals chime in with the most explosive exuberance, and carry the song to an especially grandiose place.
4 Beirut – The Rip Tide
I never thought I’d get FRANK ZAPPA called to mind listening to Beirut, but piano is piano, and the beginning of the titled track on this one does bear a striking resemblance to “Uncle Remus,” one of the former’s rare collisions with pop okay-ness. “The Rip Tide” isn’t really better or worse than “Uncle Remus,” and it doesn’t matter, because it feels like what’s created is all one family, carried on — of melody, harmony and inclusion. Plus, “Santa Fe” steals the show, something Zappa could have never touched in a million years, easing its way into societal crevices of critical acclaim, but Barnes-and-Noble-playability.
3 The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
What’s good about this album? I still remember the day I lost all illusion. It was an environmental campaign to raise fuel efficiency standards we were working on. It was going great — we were fighting the W. Bush oil mongers, I was learning about how things were actually pretty proficient back in the ’70’s, when they had to be, because of the energy crisis. And then, all of a sudden, our issue changed to “protection of open space.” It seemed our battle to preserve the Earth’s resources just lost momentum, to this chic new cause that was actually a catch-22 anyway. The world just kind of fell away, I’d always come up short in life’s endeavors after that, partly because of my lack of willingness to succeed in them, but I’d always have Twin Cinema as a benchmark of that last horizon of ideological perfection one can always reach for. If for only 60 minutes, the world, when this album is on, is full of electrified beings that attack the vestibular havens of their ideals like wild animals.
2 Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
That which makes us feel most guilty and foolish is just that in which we indulge most zealously. This is why some people masochistically reject the palatable, the catchy — it’s an attempt on the part of these to sterilize music of all its requisite, behooving transcendent capabilities, the things that make you yell to yourself, “Yeah!” The Life Pursuit is as layered as it is unforgettable — coaxing our deepest admiration and disarmament with the stepwise climb after the second chorus in “Another Sunny Day,” and bleaching our perceptions of the album’s artistic reaches with the centerpiece stylistic anomalies “Sukie in the Graveyard” and “We Are the Sleepyheads.”
1 The Beatles – Abbey Road
What, oh WHAT, gives John Lennon the right to sound so dismayed, so forlorn, over the plight he immediately channels in “Come Together”? And what, oh WHAT, gives him the right to marry this random Asian lady who would end up BREAKING UP THE BAND? Abbey Road is actually the last stuff they’d record, with Paul McCartney’s cover-depicted bare feet the symbolic death knell of the greatest group ever, and it all “comes together,” indeed, on the opener, a song so good that Aerosmith barely screwed it up. Abbey Road is a mutant strain of seaweed algae that, through some insufficiently documented happenstance of Darwinism, grew legs, hobbled up from the sea floor, and started taking orders at Panera. I once heard an account of a friend of mine having to pull his car over while listening to a White Stripes live album, an early bootleg, I think, because he was banging on the dashboard too hard. Abbey Road makes you pull over, but that Buddha on your dash is unbothered, because you’re just lighting a J and smiling, thinking of all the hurried fools out there doing what they’re supposed to do.