In the 1990s, there was Nirvana’s Nevermind. In the ’80s, it was Thriller.
But what was the album of the 2000s? Many musicians and tastemakers feel that the first decade of the 21st century is hurtling to a close without a similarly era-defining record.
And in fact, with the music industry fractured and limping, and the Internet offering increasing access to an overwhelmingly massive pool of bands, is it still possible for a single album to amass the widespread cultural weight to capture the zeitgeist?
“No, I think the Internet ruined that,” Tegan Quin of Tegan & Sara said. “There’s too many groups now. It feels like everybody has a favourite band every five minutes.”
Indeed, based on recent critical surveys of the past 10 years, a handful of albums have emerged as the cream of the decade’s crop, but no one record really stands out above the rest.
Entertainment Weekly chose The College Dropout, the much-hyped 2004 debut of hip-hop producer extraordinaire Kanye West that tore down boundaries between underground and mainstream hip-hop and moved rap away from the gangsta trappings of the first part of the decade.
NME, meanwhile, chose the Strokes’ Is This It, the uber-cool, garagey 2001 throwback to classic New York rock that, despite being a near-perfect pop record, had more of a lasting influence on hipster style (skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors) than on the future sound of rock music. The Onion’s AV Club picked the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells, which, in combination with Is This It, was tasked with saving rock ’n’ roll following its ’01 release.
Venerable American rock mag Rolling Stone and the increasingly influential Chicago webzine Pitchfork agreed on their top choice: Radiohead’s 2000 reinvention Kid A, in which the British rockers mostly abandoned the Pink Floyd-influenced rock of their past in favour of voicing their technological paranoia through minimalist electronic means.
All those records have something in common: before or after their release, a critical frenzy predicted that they would change music.
And certainly, all of those records proved influential.
But if they weren’t game-changers on the level of Thriller or Nevermind, it might be because the newly splintered record industry — where music listeners craft their own iPod playlists instead of necessarily being beholden to MTV, MuchMusic or the radio — just doesn’t produce records that everyone can agree on.
“We’ve reached a point where it’s no longer going to be about record of the decade, because everything moves too quickly and there’s too many examples and there’s too many bands,” said Alexisonfire singer Dallas Green.