And so the last full decade of this project ends. For the record, starting next week I will cover 2010-2013 but I’m scaling them back to lose honorable mentions.
The truth is I moved away from popular music at that point. Part of it was I aged out. I was 28 in 2012 and that was a good end point for that. Another factor was my life changed. In early 2013 I moved in with my fiancee and my trips to see her along with trips in general ended. Now if I take a trip, it’s podcast time.
But we’re not there yet. We are still very much in a prime era for music for me. And 2009 looked on the surface to not be one. Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas was the biggest song of the year. Lots of party songs this year. However you don’t have to dig deep to find good music. In fact, this list is wall to wall great artists just throwing heat. At least one seismic debut. Some all time killer rock. This is a hell of a list.
Green Day- Know Your Enemy. I feel like I would love this, 21 Guns, and East Jesus Nowhere more had American Idiot not existed. They’re quality work but nothing compared to those.
Alice in Chains- Check My Brain. For a band rebuilding with a new lead, this is as good as it gets. Very 1991 them. I really dug this track.
The Veronicas- Untouched. Every list has a brutal cut. This one hurts not to be in the full list. It’s a perfect pop song. Too bad it was in a year filled with them.
Muse- Uprising. A good song to put on while stressed. That nice driving beat while expressing feelings I feel hard.
Foo Fighters- Wheels. Probably their most casual, low key song. Even the greats can go light once in a while. It’s still awesome.
Is nice ok? We treat nice like it isn’t acceptable. It’s played like you need to be hard and do more. And in 2009, nice was needed. We needed a sweet, happy song. So yeah, time to put the cutesiest song to be a hit in 2009 on the list.
10 Owl City- Fireflies. It’s funny how easy this song would be to hate. But it’s not. It’s a deeply wonderful song. Probably because it’s direct. It’s point blank about how a camping trip made Adam Young feel. But damn if it doesn’t nail it. It conveys the feeling of being in awe of nature. It helps that Young just sounds sincere. He can’t be inauthentic and I love that Young embraces his uncoolness. And after years of cynicism we needed him. What a joy this song is.
It’s weird how dominant Rihanna was in this era. I mean obviously she was. She was everywhere. But it’s how impressive she was at being everywhere that matters. She was throwing utter heat this year. And I’m not going to shock anyone with this pick.
9 Rihanna- Disturbia. Can’t go wrong with that fantastic hook. This song is very much an update on Somebody’s Watching Me except if by someone who could sing and got the energy right. The beat on this song is just a perfect thumping beat. And even as the song is about paranoia, it laughs with it. It’s just a sheer blissful fun party song. Hard to say much more.
In 2007, Britney Spears had her breakdown and if you go by pop culture, her career hits a wall and she will be nothing but tragedy until her abusive conservatorship is over. It’s not true at all though. Her music in 2008/2009 was some of her most interesting and actually highly successful. Maybe not her best. I agree with the view that 3 is pretty wretched. But all the anger and bitterness in her came through hard on that next album. Especially on the title track.
8 Britney Spears- Circus. I’m not reading too much into this song to say it’s a metaphor for how the public perceived her life because that’s explicitly what the song is about. It’s sad that both this and the song above it are cowritten by despicable abusers and performed by abuse victims. (Look them up.) Because this is perfect catharsis for Spears. She’s long been known as a limited performer but this is what she is fantastic at. She kills the seductive force of nature. It’s obvious this was her taking the narrative back. It was actually a huge hit. Good.
Watchmen is one of those movies that divided the fanbase so hard. I get it. It’s so literal it’s close to a book on film. The flaws in the adaptation are underlined in that way. But me? I loved it. One of my favorite films of the year. It’s got a soundtrack of the gods. There’s a series of just perfect song choices from the opening note of Unforgettable to the closing song. How do you send people out fired up? This.
7 My Chemical Romance- Desolation Row. This is a hell of a gut punch to end the film. A very punk cover of Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row, this is the band exactly on the note the material needed. Gerard Way’s love of comics is well known as was his inevitable move to writing them. His voice shreds here. The whole thing is very guitar driven, angry, and just exactly in the spirit of the work. Electric stuff.
One last time, one of the greats crosses my list. U2 has slowed down. They’re in the legacy category now. They’ll release music but won’t ever matter like they did. And that’s fine. They were gold for their age. They’ll rock the concert circuit until they quit. And they got one last perfect blast in.
6 U2- Get on Your Boots. U2 has had better songs, more serious songs, and they ranked higher. But I adore this song. This is silly U2 at their very best. Hard on the electronica, really back to their 90s peak with it actually. Bono sounds like he’s having more fun than ever. And the material might be incredibly light but that’s the point. This is a party song. It’s a party you want to be at. If this was their last peak, it was a fine one.
For a very popular band, Pearl Jam’s canon is staggeringly bleak. They topped one of my lists with a song about a mentally disturbed homeless man. Their other hits include a song about a child committing suicide in front of his class, a song about an incestuous mother seducing her son, an abusive relationship, and finally a cover of a 50s song about a man holding his beloved as she dies. They do not have very many fun songs. But they have one.
5 Pearl Jam- The Fixer. This feels like a wild experiment for the band, trying to write a good silly pop rock song. It’s tight, just under three minutes. And it’s honestly as good as the band ever got. Like even though a song about trying to make things better isn’t in any way standard Pearl Jam, this is still through and through the band and it sounds fantastic. Mike McCready and Stone Gossard are as on fire on the guitar in 2009 as in 1992 and of course Eddie Vedder sounds just fantastic. The new guard might have risen up but this was Pearl Jam arguing just as forcefully as possible that they still mattered.
MGMT’s run on my charts follows the arc of a lot of bands. Only a short period. Only a few songs. Only one album that ever launched any. The difference is they actively avoided popular success. They didn’t want hits and they ran from them. It’s hard not to see work like Electric Feel as them trying to keep the lights on. They succeeded. And they got a second really good song in.
4 MGMT- Kids. A song about growing up kind of had to make this list in the first full year of my life on my own. And it’s a great song about that. The very simplistic beat gives it a kids song feel. There’s no way there’s a Kidz Bop version of this song but that beat is basically premade for it. And it’s so effective. The constant refrain of “Control yourself, Take only what you need from it” stresses how in life we need to relax, not get overly worried. That’s something we need to remember and forget. I’m in a place as a father where I’m seeing everything through those eyes. This is one to pass on.
I can’t discuss 2009 without discussing one of the worst moments in pop music ever. Ryan Tedder used the same basic arrangement for two songs. It’s not plagiarism since he had the rights to both but it’s lazy. Beyonce had a hit with Halo and justifiably so. Kelly Clarkson was so outraged by her song, which was recorded and written with Tedder without knowing he pulled this that she tried and failed to have her track pulled from the album. Even worse, it was a single. She’s vented long and hard about it, even doing a diss track. She has every right to be mad. But she also must take credit for a damned good song.
3 Kelly Clarkson- Already Gone. I hate that I had to do all that work to set this song up because this is a killer song. I’m a sucker for songs which approach a breakup rationally. This is is such a great song lyrically, dryly taking us through a failed relationship. It’s not working and you can feel that there’s a lot of darkness the very lovely song covers up. Clarkson has long been someone I considered for these lists and I’ve always liked her but she never broke through. This is the one. Her voice work here is crystalline especially because she holds back, even in the choruses. It gives the song its power. Perhaps she was taken for a ride but the result was a gem.
Context is everything. In 2009, when every song on the radio sounded the same, it was impossible to like any of them. You couldn’t tell them apart after all. But time sets in. The bad ones fade. The bad artists fade. And you start to notice true artistry. Especially if one of those artists becomes a truly important figure later on. You have to reevaluate their debut. So let’s get someone vital on the board.
2 Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O’Donis- Just Dance. In retrospect, this isn’t even remotely in the same league as the crap that flooded the air. Though it’s not like it doesn’t fit in. The song below it on the year end chart is I Gotta Feeling which is hardly bad and like this song basically a happy party song and the song above it is Poker Face which is by the same artist. But I still hate that and most early Lady Gaga stuff. But this has what I would respond to in the later work. For one thing, it has a bit of darkness in the lyrics. It’s about someone not in a good place trying to get there. It actually has a perspective on why they should be in the club. The song sounds great with superb production but even here you can tell that the vocals aren’t by someone in need of autotune to save her. She sounds fantastic already. This is an important debut. Party songs dominated 2009. This was the best.
I spoke in my 2001 entry about the war that Chester Bennington fought and lost as often happens. I don’t want my last entry of the 2000s to be a rehashing of that. Instead, let me note a beautiful thought. Others have fought the same fight as he did. And in his art, Bennington gave them a tool to deal with it. I believe there are people who’ve handled that fight better because of that. His legacy is to be admired. And damn did his band give us a classic in 2009.
1 Linkin Park- New Divide. It’s bizarre this was made for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen because it’s the exact opposite of that movie which is nothing but bad decisions. This is nothing but precise choices. Brad Delson’s guitar work on this is just incredible, a searing hot knife. The vocals are great. But this is a lyrically fantastic song above all else. I’ve seen 50 different interpretations of the lyrics. I can’t tell you what’s right. I think the key is that it’s so strong on an imagery level. It only makes sense that everyone takes their own interpretation. What is universal is the song is a cry for strength. It’s about being somewhere dark and fighting, It sounds so good. A powerhouse if there ever was one.
And that’s a wrap on the 2000s. We’re rolling to the end now. Four more to go.