Best Albums 2000 (1-5)

5. Erykah Badu — Mama’s Gun

Cranky young me warred stubbornly against the organic subtleties of neo-soul aesthetes in favor of what I hoped were the progressive, populist instincts of chart R&B. (I know, right?) But enlivening Quiet Storm with flashes of genuine lightning, Badu was weirder, funnier, and tougher than Baduizm let on–she joined Wyclef and Springsteen as the only high profile musicians to address Amadou Diallo’s murder. The arrangements make this James Poyser’s high water mark as a producer, and after years of beating around the bush, Ahmir Thompson’s real drums announce themselves with soulful authority whenever he lands on that snare.

4. Grandaddy — The Sophtware Slump

Jason Lytle warbles about busted machinery as though he stayed up all night listening to Neil Young and next morning only remembered something about a silver spaceship. You can practically hear the crackle of the electrical tape holding his secondhand circuits in place as he recreates his exurban home as a deserted moonbase. “I try to sing it funny like Beck,” his doomed ‘droid sings, which is more effort than any au-Thom-atons put out, but Lytle has always preferred to humanize our shared loneliness rather than just art it up. That Peter Gabriel got to write a song for Wall-E rather than the author of “Broken Household Appliance National Forest” is a criminal injustice.

3. Eminem — The Marshall Mathers LP

Sorry Ms. Cheney, but rap’s Bugs Bunny didn’t “advocate” shit–learn a little about postmodernism why dontcha? The punchlines of his debut double-back on themselves, the better to dissect the pathology of modern masculinity, an ineluctable evil whose powers he deploys more judiciously than any number of Super Bowl commercials. I’d prefer a rapper spit “bitch” with venom than with casual contempt, particularly when, unlike so many sexist-by-default singer-songwriters, he’s out to understand his relationship with a particular female human. He kills her. Again. Love is strange.

2. PJ Harvey — Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

You can hear the transformation from foul-weather British blues mutant to happiest girl in the whole U.S.A. in those guitars, which greet Polly’s upcoming good fortune with wide-open strums rather than razored tangles. But the lyrics elaborate: “I can’t believe life’s so complex/ When I just want to sit here and watch you undress,” she sings on “This Is Love,” that declarative title a world (or just a perceptual shift) away from the quizzical “Is This Desire?” Throughout, she’s in awe of an intense joy that threw her for such a loop she spent the rest of the decade beating a retreat to her tics in hopes of a bashing out a return to form.

1. OutKast — Stankonia

Say “Bombs Over Baghdad” and “Ms. Jackson” belong to the ages or the airwaves (though hands off “So Fresh So Clean”) and you’ve still got Uncle Jam’s liveliest hip-hop godchild on your hands, the family resemblance more Funkadelic than Parliament, with luv for deez hoes genuine, gangster shit perfunctory, and most all residual kudzu that clung to Aquemini stripped away. Boi and Dre vent rage-never-spite at a new decade-century-millennium-whatever from which they expect the worst, their comic resilience a refusal to accept mere survival as a fate worthy of their genius.

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