Two-thousand through 2010 was a thrilling decade for entertainment. Videogames continually defied storytelling expectation, film delivered both brains and brawn (albeit more clumsily), television consistently impressed both the public (the behemoth that is American Idol) and critics (Big Love), and novels like and Away and The Post Birthday World proved great authors still exist. The most creative growth, however, took place in the realm of music. From the anthem pep of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Stadium Arcadium (2006) to Britney Spears' darkly futuristic pop in Blackout (2007), Shania Twain's genre-bending Up! (2002) and the solemn free-by-download In Rainbows by Radiohead (2007), music in the 2000s was as diverse as it was frighteningly similar. Shimmering electro-pop (Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor, 2005) and slinky throwback (Solange's Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams, 2008) were trends both widespread and pervasive, from superficial pop to underground hip-hop. But ten albums stand out in my mind as excellent, innovative from a creative standpoint and, as is most important to The Happiest Activist, a hell of a fun listen.
10. Kings of Leon, Only by the Night (2008)
It's rumored Caleb Followill wrote Only in a single night, beginning with the haunting, desperate "Closer," about a vampire looking to feed. This is not their Happiest record of the decade, but the general tone and musicality of the album wins with major style points.
Happiest Track: "Revelry"
9. Sam Sparro, Sam Sparro (2008)
Sparro's debut is unabashed 80's-style pop, but occasionally-deep lyrical content appears when least expected.
Happiest Track: "Too Many Questions"
8. Robyn, Robyn (2008)
Simple, perfect pop.
Happiest Track: "Handle Me"
7. Feist, Let It Die (2004)
Happiest Track: "Inside and Out"
6. Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster (2009)
I was tempted to rank this higher on the list--no other female pop record was quite as fun in the 2000s--but the album is still fresh.
Happiest Track: "Bad Romance"
5. The Postal Service, Give Up (2003)
Possibly also the Happiest Album Art Award?
Happiest Track: "Nothing Better"
4. Lily Allen, Alright, Still (2006)
Lily Allen was and still is the most believable pop music brat. And her brand of humor has been copied again and again...(Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Kate Nash...lot's of K's, for some reason)
Happiest Track: "Knock 'Em Out"
3. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (2005)
Happiest Track: "Better Version of Me"
2. The Killers, Hot Fuss (2004)
There are a lot of faux-Brit rockers in the music world, but none as slick, sexual or pared down as Brandon Flowers and his less-relevant band members.
Happiest Track: "Smile Like You Mean It"
1. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2006)
Cutting selections from this list--which began much larger than the ten you see here--took a lot of careful consideration and research. I wanted to include a Madonna album, simply for the impact she's had on my life in the past decade, but no single album is better than the above ten (2000's Music came close). I also wanted to throw in Rihanna's Rated R (2009), which is altogether a better record than The Fame Monster but, let's all be honest, the Lady deserves a spot here. There were a hundred others--Shakira (for She Wolf, 2009) and John Mayer (Continuum, 2006), M.I.A. (Kala, 2007) and even electro-pop goddess Annie for the dazzling, whirling disco of Anniemal (2004). But when I had to make a choice for Happiest album, there was no doubt in my mind. Amy Winehouse is a legend in the making. She has a voice without peer and an ability to write lyrics as sharp as shattered glass--and as heartbreaking as the worst breakup you've ever been through. Paired with Mark Ronson's addictive beats and as-of-yet-unmatched talent at mimicking the rasp of vintage recordings, one can only hope her heart is broken again. And that's black.
Happiest Track (of the Decade): "Back to Black"