So apparently Pitchfork has been doing this awesome 5-10-15-20 series for a while now, but I just found out about it. It’s like they made this series with me in mind. I could read about musicians discussing the music they love all day long. It’s also gotten me to thinking about the music I loved at different intervals of my life. Although 7-10-17-20-24 would be a more informative set of ages for me, I didn’t make the rules, so here’s the music that meant most to me when I was 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25.
5: New Kids On The Block — “Hangin’ Tough”
Around when I was two or three I realized I loved music by watching and dancing to videos of Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” and that crazy big band “Sing, Sing, Sing” song. Well, the New Kids were big shit when I was five, and I remember me and a few other kids on my street would go to this one girl’s house who had a New Kids tape and we would just dance to it like crazy. In my memory we would stay up till like one AM dancing for hours, but I’m sure it was just for fifteen minutes at 5:30 or something. All four of us ended up living on that street all through high school. I remember “Hangin’ Tough” was me and my friend Sean’s favorite because, while we still liked the poppier songs, it seemed hard just like we were. I liked that the New Kids made a song for dudes like us. (For the record, my favorite was Jordan, and I felt vindicated when he hit the charts again with “Give It To You,” which is a pretty good song, in ’99.)
10: Pearl Jam — “Jeremy”
Ten was basically the album that turned me into me a lifelong music nerd. Before I’d ever listened to Pearl Jam, I knew I loved music, but my personal tastes weren’t fleshed out at all. For example, when I was in first grade, my two favorite musical artists were Guns n’ Roses and Paula Abdul. I had this friend named Brandon who was a little ahead of me on the musical road around that time, and he had all these tapes, one of which was Ten. I was always intrigued by its cover, but for some reason we never listened to it. Then in the summer, we were at Kennywood riding the Music Express, which was basically this ride where you got on and went around this track while music blared, and “Jeremy” came on for our ride. Brandon told me it was Pearl Jam, and I just remember thinking that that song was made for me.
From that point on I became completely obsessed. Vs. came out right after my tenth birthday and I got it for Christmas, so I had two unbelievable Pearl Jam albums to digest at the same time. For Easter my mom got me a Pearl Jam shirt, and having a band shirt at that time was the most badass thing you could possibly own. I never had a more inflated sense of myself in my entire life than when I wore that shirt in fourth grade.
15: Everclear — “Everything to Everyone”
Such a lame choice. I still like So Much for the Afterglow and Sparkle and Fade, but when I was fifteen I was coming out of a two year period where I listened to almost no music. I had listened to as much Pearl Jam, Beatles, and Hendrix as a person possibly could by then, and I didn’t know where to turn next. When I was in junior high, my friends didn’t really listen to a lot of music like my friends in elementary school did, and that fact can’t be explained any better than to say that during those years the coolest CD you could own was the soundtrack to I Got the Hook Up. Egad.
For some reason this album was the one that brought me back into the fold. When I was in ninth grade the biggest thing going on in my life was my first year of high school track, so in my mind I spent all my time lying around at meets. The older kids on the team were all nice to me, and I certainly had friends in my grade, but I also sat around by myself a lot just listening to this CD.
20: Prince — “Purple Rain”
During my freshman year of college, I got over the idea that rock is the only valid form of music, thanks to things like Clipse’s first album, discovering the Avalanches, and “Ignition (Remix)”. By the time I was twenty, I was into stuff I never would have listened to in high school, particularly Prince, whose exalted status within the rock world prior to then had irritated me for some reason. I subscribed to Rhapsody that year, and I was listening to Prince albums pretty much every day. I also started dating my wife-to-be that year, and one of our initial common points of interest was a shared appreciation for Prince. She had The Hits, but I was under the impression that she had a working knowledge of his entire discography. Sometimes I wonder if musicians fully realize how their work tangibly alters people’s lives.
25: The Jacksons — “Can You Feel It”
There was no one album or song, old or new, that I became really obsessed with when I was twenty-five. (I’m twenty-six now so it’s not like this was eons ago.) So the biggest musical event in my life at this age, somewhat by default, was the death of Michael Jackson. The day after Michael died I was all bummed out, and I listened to a Michael Jackson station on Pandora at work. This song, which I’d somehow never heard before, came on. It’s awesome. My favorite part about it is how they lead with Randy singing, and kind of tease you with Michael not being overly prominent in the chorus. Then Michael just explodes into the bridge: All the children in the West! It’s far from a perfect song, but it has a sort of tension to it while you wait for Michael to take over, and I love songs that create tension, intentionally or otherwise.
Here we are — the final frontier. These five albums are the ones that really, truly became a part of my life these last ten years. Thank God this list is over with. It’s going to take me another ten years to forget how tired I became of this slog and want to do something like this again. (And I didn’t even write anything about half of these albums.) Until then . . . .
5. The Smashing Pumpkins — MACHINA / The Machines of God (2000)
As the fact that this album landed at number five illustrates, I’m intensely loyal to my favorite artists. (That is, unless they alienate each and every one of their former bandmates, view going on tour as an opportunity to lecture their most dedicated fans, and, of course, start making incredibly shitty music. But I digress.) While MACHINA was panned by critics who didn’t buy into the whole “The Pumpkins are back!” storyline, as a diehard who cared as much about how this album fit into the Pumpkins’ career arc as the quality of the music itself, MACHINA met all my expectations and then some. While I understand those that fault this album for being overproduced, to me it made sense; I’ve always viewed it as a logical progression from Mellon Collie‘s bombast and Adore‘s iciness. And for those who took the easy route of lampooning “Glass and the Ghost Children”, well, all I have to say to you is . . . um, let’s move along. And as we sit back and watch with horror as Billy takes a blowtorch to what remains of the Pumpkins’ legacy, I remind everyone that in 2000 this album stood as the Pumpkins’ swan song. The Pumpkins’ breakup was something I became progressively sadder about for months after its announcement, knowing that a band I loved so much was no longer going to be around to write songs like “Stand Inside Your Love,” “This Time” or “The Age of Innocence” any more. Those songs that swung for the fences and connected, by virtue of their epic choruses and ambitious climaxes. When I listen to MACHINA, I’m not listening to it with my customary critical ear — I’m listening to my favorite band’s last great record. Maybe it isn’t great to you, or to the critics, or to the casual music fan, but it’s great to me.
4. Daft Punk — Discovery (2001)
While we all wipe the tears away from our eyes and recover from reading my MACHINA blurb, I’ll interject briefly to say that I don’t have anything interesting to write about this album. I love it for the same reason that every other person who’s ever listened to it does.
3. Ghostface Killah — The Pretty Toney Album (2004)
The dumbest thing I’ve ever written about music (and this is no small distinction) was my review of The Pretty Toney Album where I only gave it three out of five stars. Mercifully, I was not able to find it online. It was fairly early in my music critic days, and as I wrote the review, I grappled internally with how to objectively evaluate an album by an artist I thought so highly of, and overcompensated by harping on the album’s few flaws. Consider this, along with the fact that I named my column the following year The Pretty Toney Column, my attempt to set the record straight.
In fairness, this album is a grower in the most classic sense, which is especially unusual within rap. Most rap albums play like a gargantuan list of hopeful singles, and are constructed fairly predictably. That Pretty Toney was a different animal escaped me. I knew the intro was the greatest rap skit of all time, and I knew “Biscuits” was an instant classic, but the brilliance of tracks like “Ghostface” was lost on me initially. Come summer time, it was rare that it left my car’s CD player. I obviously get why people love Supreme Clientele so much (after all, it placed 64th on this list), but how this album isn’t universally viewed as the crowning achievement of Ghost’s solo career is beyond me. Pretty Toney seamlessly captures all of his moods, all of his styles, and all of his sounds — and the album flows along as smoothly as any revered rock album. So please allow me to revise my original score from three stars to seventeen.
2. Clipse — We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2 (2005)
This album, and the insanely good songs contained within, don’t really tie into my biography all that much, probably because I’m not a drug dealer. This mixtape, as much as anything else released this decade, represent the incredible experience of becoming uncontrollably obsessed with an artist, when an album of theirs is pretty much the only thing you listen to for months at a time. I’d followed the Clipse’s odyssey closely after Lord Willin’ came out. I anticipated Hell Hath No Fury like it was Christmas, only to be disappointed time and time again. Then this found its way onto my hard drive and the rest was history. There isn’t another album I’ve liked nearly as much as WGI4C2 since it came out. I’ll be surprised if I ever do.
1. The Avalanches — Since I Left You (2000)
Here’s to the most well-constructed album of the decade — after all, the Avalanches somehow built an album entirely out of samples and still managed to bookend it perfectly. Here’s to the most original album of the decade — at least to me. Here’s to an album that opened my mind to electronic music — Boards of Canada and Autechre aren’t anyway near this list without Since I Left You. Here’s to “Live At Dominoes” — one of the greatest songs ever. And here’s to the Avalanches themselves. They may never be able to create a proper follow-up, but that’s okay. Part of me wanted to place something else at the top of this list, but they left me with no choice.
13. Prefuse 73 — One Word Extinguisher (2003)
12. High On Fire — Death Is This Communion (2007)
11. Kanye West — Late Registration (2005)
I’d be surprised if Kanye ever tops this one. The College Dropout is too long and uneven. (Although I will say this: I’ve read a couple pieces about that album lately that reminded me of how original it sounded upon its release. That’s easy to forget since there’s been an army of Kanye imitators in its wake.) Graduation is really good, but it lacks its predecessors eclecticism, which was my favorite aspect of Kanye’s first two albums. And 808s and Heartbreak, which I loved when it came out, didn’t age well for me — I would die a happy man if I never hear “Heartless” again. But Late Registration is one of the decade’s true masterpieces to me, even beyond my own tastes. Sometimes I wonder how long Kanye can continue his run of brilliance, or if it’s already over. No musical artist can keep it going forever. But regardless of what the future holds for Kanye, my God, what a decade.
10. Radiohead — Kid A (2000)
To all the haters: This is the album of the decade, at least if you’re evaluating music that exists within the rock idiom. Yeah, I know, Brian Eno did a lot of this shit before, and so did a ton of other bands that you know that pretty much no one else does. In the words of Derrick Coleman, whoop de damn do. OK Computer was as critically acclaimed as an album can be, anticipation was sky high for whatever their follow-up ended up being, and Radiohead still exceeded the world’s considerable expectations. Maybe Kid A isn’t quite as original as a lot of people made it out to be, but it changed a hell of a lot of people’s musical tastes. There aren’t many examples in rock history when a band had such scrutiny and attention placed upon them, and not only released a classic, but made an album with such a strong gravitational pull that, for years after its release, every other great album in its wake will inevitably be compared to it. Part of this is because it came out in 2000, but every single rock album that people lost their shit over this decade had to answer to Kid A. Even though I balked at the Church of Radiohead in my blurb for In Rainbows, I can’t deny that statement. For any piece of music to be truly great and truly memorable, it has toe the line between technical brilliance and touching as many people as possible. In this decade, no album struck that balance nearly as well as Kid A.
9. Brian Wilson — Smile (2004)
Does this album count? I mean, the best songs on this album came out in the Sixties, which normally should instantly disqualify it, but surely we should give this album a pass since for years and years it was the most famous album never released, and was masterfully, improbably coordinated by an old man who’d lost his mind dozens of times. If Kid A had impossibly high expectations that Radiohead somehow surpassed, Smile had it even worse. After all, it was supposed to better than Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s. I just remember being utterly shocked by how good it ended up being, and then listening to it day after day after day.
8. At the Drive-In — Relationship of Command (2000)
Around the time when this album came out, I was totally in the midst of a big-time angry young man phase, and Relationship of Command was pretty much a perfect distillation of everything I ever wanted to hear in a band. The guitars were angular as hell, the vocals were razor sharp, and kick-ass basslines were never too far down in the mix. Now that I’ve been fully swallowed up by the corporate world, visceral emotions, especially anger, are a thing of the past for me, and my zeal for a lot of the punk and post-punk music I once loved so much has faded. (Given that my consumer habits mirrored that of someone whose primary goal in life is to own every Dischord album, it really had nowhere to go but down.) But you know what? THIS ALBUM IS STILL FUCKING AWESOME. Even though I hadn’t listened to this album for a while at the time, finding out that “One Armed Scissor” was going to be in Guitar Hero was one of the watershed moments of my life. Even better was when I played it for the first time and it was as fun as a video game, or life itself, could possibly be. So, all high on GH mania, I started listening to Relationship of Command again, and I loved every song as much as I once did. Throw in an irresistible sense of childhood nostalgia, and you’ve got my eighth favorite album of the decade.
7. Optimo — How to Kill the DJ, Pt. 2 (2004)
This ranking really is for disc one, which had a massive impact on my musical tastes. Basically, the dudes from Optimo are what I hope to be when I’m their age — veritable encyclopedias of seemingly every style of music that came out in their lifetimes. How to Kill the DJ was the first DJ mix I really got into, and for as many DJ mixes I’ve downloaded in the years since it came out, I’ve yet to find any other DJs I like nearly as much as Optimo. No one else that I’ve found has a similar approach — take as many different styles of music as possible, find common threads that only the most attuned ears could hear without being prompted, and tie them all together seamlessly. Put it this way: for our honeymoon, I think we’re going to Scotland, and destination number one for me is going to be Sunday night at the Sub Club in Glasgow.
6. Sufjan Stevens — Illinois (2005)
When the backlash against Sufjan hit, it completely stunned me, even though looking back it was inevitable. After all, when you release three incredible albums in a row, topping things off with an insanely ambitious concept album that’s a total masterpiece, no wonder people decided they hated him. (Oh wait, that makes no sense at all. Maybe the world is just full of contrary jerks.) What bothered me most about the whole thing is that I feel like Sufjan was held up as the quintessential example of how indie rock became the favored style of music for all the world’s pussies. Even though I thought it was poorly executed, I pretty much agreed with every thing about Sasha Frere-Jones’s infamous “A Paler Shade of White” essay, the very thought of Sufjan getting lumped in with crap like the Decemberists offends me. Maybe the boy-girl ratio at Sufjan’s shows will never be as out-of-whack as I assume it used to be at Bathory or Geto Boys concerts, but Sufjan the fact that Sufjan has an unparalleled gift for wrenching emotion out of things like a UFO landing or a flying cartoon in tights shouldn’t be held against him. I know the whole fifty states-fifty albums thing was always a joke, but surely it can’t be too much for Sufjan to give it just one more go.
We’re officially into the cream of the crop now. The twenty-four albums that remain are the ones that are going to stay with me for a long, long time without exception.
24. Les Savy Fav — Rome (Written Upside Down) (2000)
It feels a little weird to say that a seventeen minute long EP is my 24th favorite album of the decade, even beyond the fact that saying “This is my 24th favorite album of the decade” is inherently stupid. These five songs are all close to perfect, and represent the best amalgamation of Les Savy Fav’s reckless stage antics and their considerable songwriting skills.
23. Modest Mouse — The Moon and Antarctica (2000)
In the summer of 2004, when “Float On” (which, of course, is not on this album, so forgive me) became an improbably Song of the Summer candidate, my editor at the Cornell Daily Sun at the time said to me that if an established indie band were suddenly going to become really popular, he thought Modest Mouse was a good band for that to happen to. That always made total sense to me. Nothing about the band’s prior output — including this album — inspired fans to feel particularly territorial about them. They were just a really, really good band, so it seemed natural that their music could be embraced by the masses while being spared from a backlash amongst the die-hards. I always thought Modest Mouse deserved some credit for this.
22. Matmos — The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast (2006)
I’m a total sucker for concept albums when they’re executed well, and I fell hard for this one. Just read this review. It’s fascinating.
21. Electric Wizard — Dopethrone (2000)
20. Clipse — Lord Willin’ (2002)
19. Grizzly Bear — Yellow House (2006)
18. Cam’ron — Purple Haze (2004)
There was a time when it seemed like every internet music geek was uncontrollably obsessed with Dip Set. And man was I one of them. I must have listened to at least a song or two from this album every day for like three months. Probably 50% of my away messages at the time included a reference to Purple Haze‘s lyrics. Nothing lasts forever of course, but as far as I know Dip Set hardly resembles its 2005 form (I’m not uncontrollably obsessed with them anymore and was too lazy to do any research), and before long the number two album on this list ended up obliterating my passion for this album and just about everything else in my life. But there’s certainly something to be said for looking back fondly on past loves, which leads us to . . . .
17. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead — Source Tags & Codes (2002)
There was a time when this album’s perch atop any albums of the decade list of mine was set in stone. Then I stopped being an angry high school senior. Because of that, the harder songs on this album have lost almost all their appeal for me, and I no longer spend my free time seeking out online interviews where Conrad Keely and Jason Reece rage against the world’s innumerable phonies. However, as someone who believes the album is the height of musical expression, I still marvel at how well constructed Source Tags & Codes is. The track sequencing from a momentum standpoint is nearly flawless, and both the opening — “It Was There That I Saw You” into “Another Morning Stoner” — and closing — “Relative Ways” into the title track — pairings are simply incredible. Given how my tastes have changed in the last seven years, it’s not often that I get the urge to listen to this album much anymore. But when I’m in the right mood, few albums sound better.
16. Krallice — s/t (2008)
Someday I will be lined up outside a Gamespot awaiting the midnight release of Guitar Hero: Krallice. Believe, believe, believe.
15. Dungen — Ta Det Lugnt (2004)
While I really love almost everything about this album, it’s worth noting that you could insert “Panda,” which is probably my favorite rock song of the decade, in front of Raffi’s Greatest Hits and that album probably would have cracked my top fifty.
14. T.I. — King (2006)
Aside from the fact that the first half of this album is an absolute murderer’s row, King is on this list for abstract reasons as much as any other on this list. When King came out and “What You Know” was everywhere and ATL was hitting theatres, T.I. knew at that moment that he was on top of the music world. I like to imagine T.I., who’d already had a handful of fairly big hits, driving home from the studio the day he recorded “What You Know,” and slowly realizing what an incredible song he had on his hands, that his entire career was a volcano primed to erupt, that when people think back to the spring and summer of 2006, his songs would be the ones they remembered. It’s always charming when artists blow up out of nowhere and carry themselves like their life is one big Sally Field Oscar speech, but it’s just awesome when someone knows it’s their time and demands that everyone else get in line behind them.
Looking over the completed list (of course, there are still three parts to come), this is the section I’m least happy with. I had a really hard time placing some of these albums, and sometimes I ended up thinking, Really? I liked that album that much? Plus it ended up being a rather small section, so if you view my entire albums list as if it were an album itself, this would be the weak part in the middle that you almost want to skip.
34. Explosions in the Sky — The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
One thing that really bothers me, in — I admit — an obnoxiously snobby way on my part, is how casual music listeners allow their tastes to be so readily influenced by music that is presented to them via another medium, like how that stupid Snow Patrol song became popular solely because it was featured in Grey’s Anatomy. That phenomenon also leads to shows like The O.C. (which I loved, even though it’s the least rewatchable show in history) desperately trying to be the cool older brother for all the show’s younger viewers and break new bands, to the point where it actively detracts from the show. (Remember the episode where that d-bag Oliver said, “Rooney is amazing live”? I know next to nothing about Rooney, but that can’t possibly be true.) Here’s where I’m going with this: I knew about and liked Explosions in the Sky before they soundtracked the Friday Night Lights movie — and, by extension, the TV show — and even had this CD and liked it, but my enjoyment of it became greatly enhanced once listening to it allowed me to envision Smash, Saracen, Riggins, and all the other Panthers taking down state.
33. Boredoms — Vision Creation Newsun (2000)
32. Out Hud — S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. (2002)
This pretty much is the album I was talking about in the intro above. I had no idea where to place it, and had no idea how to weigh the fact that no song came remotely close to being stuck in my head as much as “Dad, There’s a Little Phrase Called Too Much Information”. If someone made a biopic of my life, obviously I would want the soundtrack to be rich and varied, but for seven years that song has been the literal soundtrack to my life, and that doesn’t even bother me one bit. I still love it.
31. Q And Not U — No Kill No Beep Beep (2000)
30. The National — Boxer (2007)
29. Jóhann Jóhannsson — Fordlandia (2008)
I feel a little pretentious about placing an album that’s basically classical music this high on the list, but I do listen to it all the time, so that’s that. The weird thing about it now is that, instead of thinking about Henry Ford’s failed paradise, which is what the album is actually about, it just reminds me of Michael Jackson dying. I know. Allow me to explain. Jóhann Jóhannsson came to Pittsburgh and, along with his traveling troupe of musicians, played a show at the Warhol the Sunday Michael Jackson died. I was pretty excited about it, since I’d been listening to this album a ton since it came out and figured that this was the one and only chance I’d ever have to see Jóhannsson, at least in Pittsburgh. I ended up zoning out at the show and just thinking about Michael Jackson the whole time. When I snapped out of my trance, I really wondered what the hell was wrong with me. And now I’m stuck with this stupid memory forever.
(Here’s a humorous personal sidenote about Michael Jackson’s death: The night I found out about it, I was completely floored and was really, really concerned that the world wouldn’t make a big enough deal out of it, even going so far as to borderline angrily say, “This better be the top story in the New York Times tomorrow; I don’t care what else is going on in the world!” Looking back and reflecting on how the whole episode pretty much shut America down for a solid month, I think it’s clear that even the Y2K zealots’ fears ended up being less unfounded than mine.)
28. Young Jeezy — The Recession (2008)
Now this is an album, especially within the context of rap. (I’m willing to admit to some rockist tendencies regarding how much difficulty I have getting through a good many rap albums.) While, aside from the opening track, The Recession doesn’t really have all that much to say about, you know, the actual recession we’re currently slogging through, Jeezy’s lyrical themes and musical style have been amplified by America’s recent economic hardship. For as good a party song as “Go Crazy” was, the paranoid terror of “Crazy World” is far more resonant. Luckily, the recession has pretty much bypassed me so far, and needless to say, I’m not a crack dealer, so the stuff that Jeezy literally raps about much of the time has nothing to do with my life, but it’s still abundantly clear to me that Young Jeezy was made to rap during an age of ten percent unemployment rather than one of prosperity fueled by an artificial housing boom.
27. Sufjan Stevens — Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003)
26. Sufjan Stevens — Seven Swans (2004)
I swear I didn’t place these two albums next to each other to be gimmicky, it just happened. That’s mainly because I’ve always had a hard time deciding which of these two albums I prefer. As you can see, I’ve definitively sided with Seven Swans. Part of that is because Sufjan improved upon the basic construct of Michigan when he released Illinois, but Seven Swans is such an overtly personal statement of an album that I find it to be incredibly compelling. I realize the same could certainly be said of Michigan, but it lacks the same sense of vulnerability that Seven Swans possesses.
25. Radiohead — In Rainbows (2007)
When In Rainbows was “released,” my enthusiasm for Radiohead was at an all-time low. The best way to describe my relationship with Radiohead between Amnesiac and this album is to say that, given the fact that I owned every major commercial release of theirs and could sing about 80% of their material off the top of my head, I couldn’t have imagined myself liking them less. Hopefully that makes sense. Perhaps it’d be more clear to say I’ve always liked Radiohead’s music and disliked their otherworldly reputation. Radiohead possesses zero aura for me. So the fact that all the hub-bub about In Rainbows‘ release was tied to the method through which Radiohead released it rather than how RADIOHEAD IS THE BEST BAND EVER kind of allowed the music itself to sneak in under the radar, and I felt like I was finally able to listen to a Radiohead album without trying to figure out how they were re-writing music history and all that shit. Suffice it to say, I think In Rainbows is really, really great, and I think it portends well for the rest of the band’s career. I think they’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re at a stage where all their big, important statements are behind them, and that the thing to do from here on out is to just try and write terrific songs. I’m all for this.
While I realize it interrupts the continuity of the ongoing countdown of my 100 favorite albums from this decade, I couldn’t help myself but defend Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for his decision to try an onside kick this weekend against the Packers — even though the Steelers had just taken a two-point lead and there was less than four minutes left to play.
I certainly didn’t expect to hear many people praising Tomlin’s decision today. After all, his decision to go for the onside kick was extremely unorthodox. What caught me by surprise was the unanimity of the criticism. What’s more, even those who even tried to defend Tomlin, like Joe Starkey and Peter King, did so with borderline condescension: While Mike Tomlin has clearly lost his mind, perhaps there is something to be gained by studying his descent into madness. As someone who giddily exclaimed “Tomlin’s a genius!” the second I realized it was an onside kick, I simply can’t sit idly by and allow such a brilliant tactical move be disparaged so thoroughly.
The question I have for everyone who is criticizing Tomlin today is the following: Have you not been watching the Steelers this year? For some of the national commentators, I realize this is, in fact, the case, so their remarks are automatically going to be somewhat uninformed. And that’s okay. It’s unrealistic to expect national commentators to torture themselves by watching the Steelers-Raiders game when there are other, more meaningful games on. But what of the local writers? The primary argument being advanced by Tomlin’s detractors goes like this: You can’t just give Green Bay the ball like that. You have to give your defense a chance to stop them. To that I say, What chance?
Let’s break this down as realistically as possible. The Packers’ average starting position on kickoffs prior to the onside attempt was their own 30. So let’s say the Steelers kick it deep and the drive begins there. Then let’s say the Packers need to get to the Steelers’ 20 to kick a field goal. Normally teams don’t need to get this close, but Packers kicker Mason Crosby had missed a 34-yarder earlier, so the 20 seems like a decent compromise. So the argument that the Steelers would be better off kicking it deep hinges on two things:
1. That the Packers wouldn’t score a touchdown anyway.
2. That the Packers wouldn’t be able to drive 50 yards in, say, 3:50 or less.
Does anyone who has watched this Steelers team all year honestly believe that neither of those two things would have happened? Really? It seems to me like the best argument against the onside kick is that Mason Crosby kind of sucks. That’s weak. The Steelers defense is HORRIBLE. They gave up three passing TDs in the last eight minutes of the Oakland game — when Oakland only had five passing TDs all year going into that game, and ten total. They almost blew a 28-0 second half lead to San Diego. They blew multiple second half leads to a Chiefs team that was on a 4-30 streak. I just don’t see how anyone could think the Packers weren’t scoring a TD there, meaning the Steelers get the ball, in all likelihood, down six (maybe down one) with less than a minute to play. How is that preferable to what actually happened?
I also think the argument that Ben “saved” or “bailed out” Tomlin is completely ridiculous. Was Ben by far the primary reason why the Steelers won yesterday? Of course. And as good as that drive was, it’s not like it was completely unexpected. Ben has a knack for regularly pulling wins out of his ass. Tomlin’s critics are acting as if his decision was made in a vacuum, as if he didn’t have a quarterback with a full resume of late, game-winning drives at his disposal. The fact that Ben “saved” Tomlin is partly why the onside kick was a good idea. Tomlin doesn’t make that call if Charlie Batch is starting. Hell, he probably owuldn’t have made that call if Aaron Rodgers were the Steelers’ QB.
Please recall the Baltimore game in week twelve. Dennis Dixon was starting. The score was tied at 17. The Steelers got the ball at their own 25 with 1:51 left. On first and second down, Dixon threw incomplete passes. So it’s third and ten, in what Hines Ward described as “almost like a play-off game, almost a must-win” in his interview with Bob Costas where he all but called Ben a pussy before the game, and what do the Steelers do? They run Mewelde Moore straight into the line — a play that had maybe a one percent chance of getting a first down.
Were Tomlin or offensive coordinator Bruce Arians criticized for that call. Hell no! Their quarterback was making his first-ever start and hadn’t exactly inspired confidence with his throws on first and second down. Would Tomlin/Arians ever have called that play if Ben were in the game? Of course not. Coaches always consider the specific situation and the personnel they (and the opposing team) have at their disposal when calling plays. Tomlin’s onside kick call was no different.
It just confuses me that people have been so critical of Tomlin despite the fact that everything that took place following the onside kick played out exactly as Tomlin envisioned it would. The Packers scored in less than two minutes, thereby allowing Ben enough time to orchestrate his game-winning drive. Tomlin knew his decision completely flew against football orthodoxy. This required him to own up to the fact that his once-proud defense is now useless, which couldn’t have been easy. He knew his decision was a giant slap to the face of everyone on that defense. He knew if things didn’t go right, the media and the fans would savage him. And he ended up being right. How that inspires criticism rather than admiration is beyond me.
As the list is not into its final 45, the line of demarcation between Parts Three and Four is that we’re now getting into albums I listened to a shitload of times. I suppose that could be said for Is This It, Night Ripper, and Think Tank from Part Three, but, with the exception of number 38, these albums are all by artists who impacted me this decade, either because the totality of their output this decade moved me, or because they released one album that I wore out.
45. Q And Not U — Different Damage (2002)
44. The Flaming Lips — Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
Embryonic has been met with such unbridled enthusiasm that, by the time I’m finally able to fully digest it, perhaps that will end up as the Lips’ signature release of this decade for me. When evaluating mature — for lack of a better word — artists this decade, if Mission of Burma’s new album represent the ability to just keep kicking ass without growing stale, and if Wu-Tang and Celtic Frost represent how best to expound upon what made you great in the first place, Yoshimi plainly represents how best to mellow out. Not that this album sounds like it could come from any other artist (well, except for Cat Stevens), but if your a psychedelic band that’s releasing a record that’s only tangentially psych, then it sure helps if that record’s songs are incredibly well-crafted.
43. Deerhoof — The Runners Four (2005)
The fact that Deerhoof’s output this decade was uniformly great, and the fact that such uniform greatness necessitates that a consensus over which of their albums was best cannot be arrived at, was a centerpiece of my list of reasons why decade-end albums lists are stupid. Here’s the thing: I think The Runners Four is clearly their best effort. Maybe it lacks some of the spastic madness that drew so many people to Deerhoof in the first place, but its ambition and scope is unmatched in their discography.
42. The Smashing Pumpkins — MACHINA II / The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music (2000)
Something tells me I’m not going to like Teargarden by Kaleidyscope as much as this.
41. Clipse — Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
Finally, the Thorntons make their first appearance on the list. (This might be the best ever example of an album cover that tells you everything you need to know about the album itself, by the way.) I realize that the point of lists like this is to sing to the high heavens about why all these albums are wonderful, so forgive me for nitpicking about Hell Hath No Fury. I feel compelled to point out the one reason why this clearly isn’t the Clipse’s finest album: There aren’t any really incredible choruses. Yes, it has some of the most insanely original beats around, but none of these songs are ever going to worm their way into your head. Maybe I’m alone in feeling this way, by if you’re going to split hairs amongst multiple masterpieces, things like this matter.
40. High On Fire — Blessed Black Wings (2005)
39. Interpol — Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
38. Morgan Geist — Unclassics (2004)
37. Baroness — Red Album (2007)
Admittedly, this is an uneven album. (I also admit, now that I’m finally listening to it every day, that Blue Record is clearly superior.) But I got so freaking obsessed with “Rays on Pinion” that it launched me on a two-years-long metal bender that still hasn’t ended. Clearly, that has to count for something.
36. Fugazi — The Argument (2001)
So, Pavement, a band I love dearly, is going to spend the better part of 2010 staging reunion shows. I’m not ruling out the possibility that I’ll go see them somewhere, but if I miss them and they never play together again, I won’t lose any sleep about the fact that I’ve never seen them. The albums are all I ever need. BUT, if Fugazi ever get back together and tour, well, let’s just say I’ll be willing to put a lot of money into ensuring that I see them. Not having seen Fugazi live is one of the biggest holes on my life’s resume. There are only a handful of rock bands ever that have a palpable aura about them, and I sincerely believe that Fugazi is one of them. Part of the reason for that is because, fifteen years into their career, they made an amazing album, and basically just disappeared without any self-serving fanfare.
35. The Exploding Hearts — Guitar Romantic (2003)
I can’t think of anything more terribly ironic than the fact that an album whose songs are so unabashedly happy ended up being associated with what was, at least for me, the saddest thing that happened in music this decade. Long live the Exploding Hearts.