We’ve all heard the argument before; “rock is dead.” Whether it died with Kurt Cobain or was slowly choked out of the mainstream by cheap pop tunes, the fact remains that there’s a whole lot of people out there who seem to think music’s mightiest form just isn’t happening in the contemporary cultural climate. If you’re one of those people, we at Goliath are here to change your mind, with a list of 10 great rock albums that have been released in the 21st century. All of these classics have been released in the last 15 years, and while they might not be the best albums released during that time, they are most definitely a testament to the fact that rock and roll ain’t dead, folks.
10. Fever To Tell (2003) – The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The debut album from New York underground rockers The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever To Tell (2003) was a godsend circa 2003, following in the footsteps of similar sounding rockers The White Stripes and The Strokes (more on both of those later) and helping to reignite the failing interest in rock and roll at the turn of the century. With the absolutely captivating and incredibly talented Karen O front and center, the band released an album which featured hit singles “Maps” and “Date With the Night,” excellent examples of contemporary rock and roll that’s a far cry from the vapid pop tunes that saturated the radio at the time.
9. The Green Album (2001) – Weezer
Everyone’s favorite underdogs were in fine form when they released 2001’s The Green Album, which featured well-known hits like “Hash Pipe” and “Photograph”; however, it was the signature track “Island In the Sun” which took the music world by storm, becoming a massive hit over the duration of the album’s stay in the limelight. With a breezy intro and heavy chorus, the song was as catchy as they come in the rock world and signified a return to form after the band’s long hiatus (they hadn’t released an album since 1996’s Pinkerton). While the album received positive reviews, there were some criticisms regarding the newfound mainstream listenability of the band after years of underground success; however, in the years since, critics have come to see the album as a necessary progression in the band’s sound.
8. Thickfreakness (2003) – The Black Keys
The Black Keys have come a long ways since 2003’s Thickfreakness. They’ve become one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, and have released several albums which have gone on to dwarf the sales numbers of the 2003 release, with El Camino (2011) selling well over a million copies. However, it’s Thickfreakness which offers the best sampling of what The Black Keys have to offer, with blues so grimy and pure you wonder whether they were plucked from the souls of the South. Ranging from the title track to a stellar, slowed down cover of The Sonics “Have Love Will Travel,” there’s plenty of good old fashioned blues to be found here, and when it comes down to it, that’s why we listen to The Black Keys, for the blues (something they may’ve forgot when making their newest album, Fever).
7. Deja Entendu (2003) – Brand New
Featuring ambient tones and astoundingly beautiful lyrics, Brand New’s Deja Entendu (2003) is a highly underrated rock album that set the band up for greater commercial success with albums like The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me (2006) and Daisy (2009). Despite the commercial success of these later albums, it’s Deja Entendu that stands as the band’s best work, as vocalist Jesse Lacey’s wounded singing and emotional lyrics add an element of sincerity to the album that’s largely lacking from the generic dribble found on contemporary radio. While the album does occasionally border on trite, it’s this very sincerity that lends the music credence and gives it a sense of meaning, something tangible that connects with listeners in a very real way. A great listen for anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path.
6. The ’59 Sound (2008) – The Gaslight Anthem
Perhaps the least famous band on this list, that should in no way detract from what The Gaslight Anthem were able to do with The ’59 Sound, which is create an album that plays like the love child of punk and heartland rock, pulling from The Replacements and Bruce Springsteen in equal measures to create a sound that’s at once honest, intimate and ferocious. The heart wrenching lyrics of the album, which touch upon themes of the open road, adolescent angst and the land of opportunity, are growled by front man Brian Fallon with a tenderness that synergizes perfectly with the dynamic instrumentals. This is an album which can play front to back endlessly without ever seeming tiresome, that can heal broken hearts and inspire a sincere yearning for large engines and open roads. It’s a rock album everyone should hear, but few have, a fact that can be easily changed if you, yes YOU, go pick up a copy right now.
5. American Idiot (2004) – Green Day
Criticisms of commercialism and questions of authenticity be damned; despite what some folks may say, there’s no doubting that Green Day’s American Idiot (2004) is one of the greatest albums of its generation. A magnificent rock opera that flows seamlessly from song to song, it’s a classic example of a band stretching outside their existing catalogue to create a new and exciting sound (much to the chagrin of their existing fan base). For all the flak they were given, perhaps praise should have been given to Green Day for taking what they knew, what they were good at, and transforming it into something grand, something spectacular that was admittedly more accessible to mainstream audiences than what came before. For evidence of this grandeur, look no further than the album’s second track, “Jesus of Suburbia,” a master class in song writing that stretches over nine minutes.
4. In Your Honor (2005) – Foo Fighters
An expensive double album that features both heavy rock tracks and far softer acoustic tunes, the Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor (2005) will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest albums in the band’s catalogue. While 1997’s The Colour and the Shape is a leaner, tighter rock album, it’s In Your Honor which shows the full range of a band that has matured into one of the most popular on the planet. The awesomeness of Dave Grohl knows no limits, and his sincere appreciation for the form and history of rock and roll shines through on In Your Honor. Featuring standout tracks and Foo Fighters classics like “Best of You” and “DOA,” this is an album perfect for rolling down the windows, cranking up the stereo, and giving the gas pedal a little something extra.
3. Funeral (2004) – Arcade Fire
In the contemporary world of downloadable singles, so few albums are constructed as a whole, meant to be listened to from start to finish; rather, many albums now feature four intended singles and eight filler tracks, white noise to be played between the hits. Spoiler alert: Funeral (2004) by Arcade Fire is not one of those albums. This isn’t one you can pick up somewhere in the middle; you’ve gotta start at the beginning and finish at the end, and wonder if you’ll be the same person when it’s over (we’re betting you aren’t). Quiet yet anthemic, cold yet passionate, joyous yet sad, the album touches on themes as broad as power, love and death, with an overwhelmingly affective sound that will hit you right in the heart and leave you wondering how you ever got through life without this album.
2. Is This It (2001) – The Strokes
If there’s one album on this list you could say “saved” rock and roll, this might be it. Is This It by The Strokes is immediately cool, from the first note of the album to the last note. That’s it, really—it’s just cool— but it’s that old school cool that was so sorely lacking from mainstream music at the turn of the 21st century. Clad in retro clothes making retro sounds, The Strokes took the world by storm with their underground and lo-fi sensibilities, paving the way for bands like The White Stripes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to take their similar sounds right to the top of the music world. Is This It, steeped in New York chic, made legitimate rock stars of Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr., both of whom have gone on to successful solo ventures during the band’s intermissions.
1. Elephant (2003) – The White Stripes
If there’s one album from the last 15 years you need to go listen to right now, it’s this one. It’s everything rock should be; it’s fiery and loud on one track, soft and slow on the next, with poignant lyrics and absolutely devastating electric guitar. Seriously, this album contains some of the finest guitar work of this, or any, generation, both from a technical standpoint and an affective standpoint. While the album has become synonymous with the opening track “Seven Nation Army” (since coined the most recognizable riff in rock), there’s so much more to be found here, with standout tracks “Ball & Biscuit” and “The Hardest Button to Button” offering up the signature electric blues of the White Stripes in ample fashion. It’s the best rock album (perhaps even the best album, period) of the last 15 years and is often recognized as such, with accolades ranging from glowing to canonizing.