And so it finally ends. Remind me to choose a smaller number the next time a decade ends. Coming up in a few weeks: The Decade in Film, a collective affair with a very different format.
I've listened to "Love And Theft" more in the last four months than I've listened to the supposedly sacred Time Out of Mind in the last four years. Casually profound and profoundly casual, this startling return to form reminds us that the key to Dylan's greatness has always lain less in the weighty pronouncements that got him dubbed the "Voice of a Generation" than in the warm, open tone of his music, the freeness of his vocals, and the consistent humor and wit of his lyrics. It is (Oh no! Here it comes!) his best record since Blood On the Tracks.
Song Sample: "Summer Days"
Single: "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" — Jay-Z (2001)
The MC of the decade at his apex, each verse digging a little deeper than the one before, and a new producer (Kanye West) showing off.
It was absolutely no surprise to see this Sri Lankan/British import fail to cross over into the American mainstream. No matter: Fusing Jamaican dancehall, Brazilian baille funk, American hip-hop, and British techno and grime into something as spellbindingly new as it is utterly familiar, this homemade polyglot pop is an instant dance party. Twentysomething Maya Arulpragasm may not have completely sorted out her conflicted feelings — terrorist or freedom fighter? — about her estranged Tamil Tiger father, but in the crossfire of global pop genres, political bullhorn lyrics, lovely double-dutch melodies, and utter confusion, she fashioned something more important: the year's most undeniably crucial album.
Song Sample: "Pull Up the People"
Single: "Ms. Jackson" — Outkast (2000)
This intricate concept album from a Brooklyn guitar band mostly illuminates a world of its own creation. While his comrades are busy cribbing classic-rock guitar and piano riffs, songwriter supreme Craig Finn spins a chronologically complex, intellectually addictive, and emotionally engrossing tale about a Catholic high school girl sucked down a drug-culture rabbit hole and onto a 16-year, cross-country journey back to salvation, with Sopranos-worthy subplots ("Charlemagne in Sweatpants") along the way. Mixing up their mythologies and pushing them out through p.a. systems, the Hold Steady concoct a twisty good-girl-gone-bad narrative that plays like a rock-and-religion version of Mulholland Dr., albeit with a much happier ending.
Song Sample: "Stevie Nixed"
Single: "Paper Planes" — M.I.A. (2007)
A Song of the Decade candidate for at least a year before it went worldwide via a movie trailer, an Oscar winner, and a hip-hop posse cut. Official video here