Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music! Since opinion pieces are my thing now, I’ve decided to put out some big opinions. Like, which albums from the first decade of the new century are the most important to rock music. Now, by “important” I don’t mean “best,” or even “favorite.” I simply mean that these are, in my opinion, the albums that had the most impact on rock music. They may have opened doors for other bands of the same style, or they may have brought rock music back into the spotlight for a while. In all honesty, I may not even like the album or the band who produced it. But in the interest of objectivity, sometimes I can’t deny the impact of a certain artist or album. So, here goes nothing (or just my credibility):
10. TIE: Tell All Your Friends (Taking Back Sunday) & The Used (The Used)
Emo existed for a long while before 2002, but no one cared. Which was kind of the point, I guess. But mainstream radio had its hands full with 90’s alternative, grunge, post-grunge, and punk at the turn of the century. No room for emo anywhere. That is, until a couple bands made it connect with the music that was getting all the attention. Taking Back Sunday and The Used didn’t just do emo; they defined what it would become in the 21st century. It was always angst-ridden, but with the rise of alternative punk throughout the 90’s and its popularity at the turn of the century, these bands figured out how to integrate the aggressiveness of punk with the angst of emo to create a sound that would shape the entire genre. Of course, emo is still small bananas in comparison to the rock genre as a whole, which is why 21st century emo definers such as Tell All Your Friends and The Used are all the way back here. But they made big splashes when they jumped in the pool.
9. Lateralus (Tool)
When it comes to modern metal, few bands have made as much of an impact as Tool. From hard rock to death metal to progressive metal, Tool’s influence has a very wide reach. Though Lateralus was the band’s third album, it contained the single, “Schism,” which won the band a Grammy. Despite its popularity the song contains a ton of odd time signatures and complex passages, which in a time when simplified power chords and basic 4/4 structures dominated really woke up the hard rock genre. Bands who push creativity over mainstream success and achieve it anyway are often the ones who lay the groundwork for new bands to follow, and hard rock has never been the same. Low, guttural vocals, thrashing guitars, plodding drums–none of that solely defines hard rock and metal. Tool taught the mainstream rock world that urgent mid-range vocals and songs that wander off the beaten path can also capture fans’ attention.
8. Away From the Sun (3 Doors Down)
3 Doors Down is to the 00’s as the Goo Goo Dolls were to the 90’s–a band that blurred the lines between pop rock and hard rock so well that no one ever really noticed. But the impact Away From the Sun had goes even beyond that. It’s far from news that rock has struggled to stay relevant in a music industry dominated by pop stars, rappers, and country artists. Arena rock belongs in the 80’s, right? Not so. 3 Doors Down made some noise with their first release, but even the catchiness of “Kryptonite” wouldn’t sustain them for long. Hard rock doesn’t have anywhere near the popularity that pop, rap, and country do. But Away From the Sun brought with it songs that could easily spill over into Top 40 radio. Songs that would be played in waiting rooms and supermarkets. Added to movie and TV soundtracks. And, of course, spawn other artists to imitate the sound that made them famous. Rock had a mainstream arm again. It was relevant. At least for a little while.
7. From Under the Cork Tree (Fall Out Boy)
As much as it pains me to be positive on Fall Out Boy, one cannot deny the doors From Under the Cork Tree opened. Punk (and specifically pop-punk) had its heyday in the early part of the decade, when bands like blink-182 and Good Charlotte ruled the world. But as the decade wore on, blink-182, Good Charlotte, Jimmy Eat World, Sum 41, Simple Plan, and all their contemporaries began to fizzle. Angsty teens were turning to emo, goth, and metal. Some went back to classic rock. But pop-punk? Not cool, dude. Good Charlotte were a bunch of posers, right? But something changed all that, and that something was a song called “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” All of a sudden pop-punk was back, albeit with new bands and a trend toward a more emo sound. You still couldn’t be cool listening to the likes of Jimmy Eat World (speaking from experience, of course, as they’ve always been a favorite). But you could adopt some new bands as your own. And Fall Out Boy paved the way for plenty of bands to follow. And as much as I’m not a fan of the trendsetter here, I do owe them thanks for opening the doors for some of the bands I do like.
6. TIE: Take Off Your Pants And Jacket (blink-182) & All Killer, No Filler (Sum 41) & Sticks and Stones (New Found Glory)
On the subject of pop-punk, I think we need to take a moment to salute the triumvirate of albums that really made people notice it. These albums defined the sound of early 00’s punk rock, and you simply couldn’t escape the popularity of songs like “First Date,” “Fat Lip,” and “My Friends Over You.” To this day, this is exactly what I think of whenever I hear the words “Warped Tour” uttered by anyone (and I realize that makes me sound old and I’m not okay with that yet). But bands like these were the core of alternative rock in the early years of the decade, back before indie took over (more on that later). All kinds of bands have been influenced by the seeds of pop-punk, some from the same time period and some from years to come. Genre definers and refiners like these, though…that’s where the real magic happens. Punk has never been the same since.
5. Elephant (The White Stripes)
Alternative radio took a very interesting turn when this Detroit duo dropped their opus on the world. “Seven Nation Army” is a borderline rock anthem, with only the most basic drumming and simple riffing one could imagine. The White Stripes brought garage rock tinged with roots and blues back from the classic era and shoved it into the faces of modern rock radio enthusiasts. Were other bands doing that before? Probably. But no one cared. The White Stripes made people care. Made people like that sound. And that sound spawned plenty of bands to embrace it, run with it, and make it even more popular. Local radio ate this stuff up in the mid-00’s, bringing it to listeners of grunge, alternative, metal, and punk. What that did to the landscape of music was bring back the guitar-driven sound of the old days and make it relevant again. It didn’t need to be heavy, it didn’t need to be fast-paced…it just had to rock.
4. Riot! (Paramore)
Plenty of bands in the 70’s and 80’s had female singers. Even bands in the 90’s had female singers. And many of them had popularity. But at the turn of the century there was a noticeable lack of female-fronted outfits. The only exception was Evanescence, who seemed to hit hard with a single and then proceed to slowly disappear from the public eye. But if there were other female-fronted rock bands out there during that time, mainstream radio didn’t seem to notice. That is, until a song called “Misery Business” became suddenly inescapable. Paramore’s popularity happened so fast no one could really tell how. But the end result was far clearer–opening doors for female-fronted punk, alternative, and hard rock bands to come charging through. And there has certainly been an influx ever since. It’s become so commonplace that it’s not even noteworthy anymore. It’s not a way to stand out as a band. Which is exactly how it should be.
3. Only By the Night (Kings of Leon)
In the later years of the decade rock began to slip out of the spotlight again. House music, pop, hip-hop, and country still owned mainstream, and rock just couldn’t keep up. Taylor Swift and Lady GaGa owned mainstream radio. Rock was nowhere to be found. Until some DJ somewhere started playing “Use Somebody.” At the time, indie was just beginning to secure its foothold in popular music, but it wasn’t there yet. Rockers like Kings of Leon weren’t quite relevant anymore with their garage band sound, but as soon as they streamlined to something more in tune with the direction rock and alternative was going they hit it big. Mainstream big. Top 40 big. Bringing rock back to the frontlines where people would remember it exists big. And once rock was back in the public eye it stayed there, only in a new form. Edge had started to go away in favor of groove, guitars were traded for synthesizers, and the new decade was born. Only By the Night didn’t do that all on its own, but it sure helped. In order to stay in business, rock had to adapt. Only By the Night was an adaptation that made a lasting impression.
2. Sigh No More (Mumford & Sons)
Mumford & Sons hit just as the decade was wrapping up, and they completely set the stage for music in the 2010’s. Indie folk rock existed already, of course, but no one knew about it. It was music only the select few had access to. Sigh No More brought banjos and upright basses to the forefront of popular music–something very few could have seen coming. But, as always, doors opened, and soon indie folk was all over alternative radio. Bands who adopted the sound became all the rage, and an entire new movement in alternative rock was born.
1. Hot Fuss (The Killers)
Maybe an odd choice, but I definitively believe that the trend to indie rock’s popularity started here. Indie rock is alternative rock now. That much is beyond dispute–the sound of alternative from the 90’s is gone, and whatever dregs it had brought with it into the 00’s is gone too. Synthesizers are the instrument of choice. Odd, quirky songwriting is the standard. Arrangements that combine guitar and keyboards with danceable drum beats have become overwhelmingly popular. And in the middle of the decade a band from Las Vegas put all of that into their debut album and it exploded. It took half a decade’s evolution to get to the indie rock we hear all over radio today, but the seeds were planted when “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” became smash hits. This is what rock would become. This is what it would evolve from into what it currently looks like. The ripple of this album’s splash has influenced all corners of alternative rock, and, like it or not, alternative rock is the only rock mainstream cares about. No other album has been as much of a stepping stone between the 90’s/early 00’s and the late 00’s/10’s. This one summed it up in eleven tracks.
The 00’s were a decade in which rock really needed to define and refine itself in its struggle to stay relevant. It was a time when one feared that rock was truly dead, at least to the public eye. But musicians always find ways to innovate and create new sounds. Music evolves. Trends come and go. But these albums are the ones that really pushed and pulled and molded and set things in motion. We’re listening to the effects of their existence on modern rock radio today. And among them are new bands who will continue to force the evolution of music until the end of time. And that’s why it’s so fascinating. Or maybe it’s all just in my head.
~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!