Ten Years of Metacritic: The Best Music of the Decade

  • Comments: ↓ 226 user comments
  • Publish Date: December 15, 2009

Correction: The 2009 Shakira album was mistakenly left out of the artist's average Metascore calculation. The Best Pop/R&B Artists table has been revised accordingly. [12/16]

Our top artists and albums from 2000-09, with a major caveat

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As we celebrate ten years of collecting reviews for Metacritic with this look back at the best music of the decade (there will be more articles in the coming weeks about other entertainment genres), let's be clear about one thing from the start: we don't have every album from the decade in our database.

In fact, it's not even close. Although definitive figures are elusive, the number of album releases per year in the U.S. alone easily reaches into the thousands. If you include the most obscure labels and self-released titles, the number is upwards of 20,000 per year, and likely reaches several hundred thousand for the decade. Of course, only a tiny fraction of those albums actually get reviewed by major publications and critics.

On Metacritic, we list, on average, about 450-500 titles annually, although that number has been increasing in recent years, and we now list 700 or more albums per year. Which albums do we cover? Typically, the ones that get reviewed the most by the publications we use, which means a lot of indie and alternative rock, certainly, but also major releases in rap, pop, R&B, rock, electronic and country, among other genres. What don't we cover? Well, a lot of terrible albums, for one thing. (Although we did manage to list a Kevin Federline album.) But keep in mind that we are also missing some gems -- including a few releases by some of the artists you'll see mentioned below (and elsewhere on Metacritic). So our lists and picks below are meant to represent the best of what is listed on Metacritic, and are not intended to be all-inclusive of every album released during the decade. (Is your favorite release of the decade missing from our lists? Post your picks in the comments section.)

And one more thing before we get to the good stuff: we know the decade doesn't really end until the conclusion of 2010. We're just impatient, like the rest of the internet.

Our top overall artist of the decade: Spoon

ImageTriumph of the underdog

Before we get to the top albums of the past ten years, let's take a look at the best artists of the decade. First, we decided to highlight the top overall artists of the past 10 years by picking the artists who met the following three criteria: (a) released at least 3 albums from 2000-09; (b) at least two of those albums must be "great" (with a Metascore of 81 or higher); and (c) the average (mean) Metascore for all of their releases from the decade must also be 81 or higher.

The top 35 artists meeting all three criteria are displayed below (sorted by number of great albums, then by Metascore average), and the band topping the list was a surprise to us as well, albeit a pleasant one. The Austin, Texas indie-rock band Spoon may not be the most prolific band of the decade, but they were the most consistently great. From 2001's stellar Girls Can Tell to 2007's, well, stellar Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the Britt Daniel-led group received accolades from the music press and music fans for their impeccable songwriting and addictive songs.

Even less prolific than Spoon but almost more accomplished is the Atlanta rap duo OutKast, who scored two of the best-reviewed albums of the decade in Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. If they could have pulled off the trifecta, they would have finished with the decade's highest average Metascore; instead, OutKast's third and final release of the period, Idlewild, was merely good. So the highest average instead goes to defunct indie-rock band Sleater-Kinney, who went out on a high note with 2005's The Woods but fell one great album short of Spoon's total for the decade. Another top-scoring artist was Bob Dylan, whose 2003 release Love and Theft stands as another critical high point of the past ten years.

Metacritic's Artists of the Decade, 2000-09
  Artist # Releases # Great Average Metascore
1 Spoon 4 4 85.3
2 Sigur Rós 4 4 83.5
3 Super Furry Animals 6 4 82.5
The Welsh alt-rockers quietly had a terrific decade; side project Neon Neon shone as well
4 Sleater-Kinney 3 3 86.3
5 White Stripes 4 3 84.8
Jack White even found time to produce one of the decade's best albums, for Loretta Lynn
6 Animal Collective 5 3 83.8
Doesn't include 2003's well-reviewed Here Comes the Indian, as well as three earlier albums
7 Drive-By Truckers 4 3 83.8
8 Lightning Bolt 3 3 83.7
One man's low-fi abrasiveness is another critic's gem
9 Iron & Wine 4 3 82.3
10 The Hold Steady 5 3 82.2
11 The New Pornographers 4 3 82.0
12 Portastatic 3 3 81.7
13 Elbow 4 3 81.5
14 Low 4 3 81.5
With Metascores of 87-76-82-81, this slowcore band may have to re-think its name
15 Bob Dylan 3 2 86.0
16 OutKast 3 2 86.0
17 TV On The Radio 3 2 85.0
18 Sufjan Stevens 3 2 84.0
19 Tom Waits 3 2 84.0
20 Four Tet 3 2 83.7
21 Dizzee Rascal 4 2 83.0
22 Richard Hawley 3 2 82.0
23 Okkervil River 3 2 82.0
24 Sam Phillips 3 2 82.0
25 Radiohead 4 2 82.0
A popular pick for band of the decade, but 2001's Amnesiac is holding them back here
26 Yeah Yeah Yeahs 3 2 82.0
27 Kanye West 4 2 81.8
28 Andrew Bird 3 2 81.7
29 The National 3 2 81.7
30 The Go-Betweens 3 2 81.3
31 Neko Case 4 2 81.3
32 Blood Brothers 3 2 81.0
33 The Clientele 4 2 81.0
34 Modest Mouse 3 2 81.0
Made the leap from indie to (somewhat) mainstream without losing the critics
35 Yo La Tengo 4 2 81.0

The table reflects data for all albums in Metacritic's database released between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. Only artists with three or more albums having seven or more reviews (each) were considered, and reissues, EPs, live albums, holiday albums, greatest hits albums, and other compilations are excluded (although we do include single-artist soundtrack albums, such as Bjork's SelmaSongs). All Metascore data is from December 11, 2009. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good).

Next, let's look at some of the top artists of the decade in various genres of music. The artists in these lists are simply listed in order by their average (mean) Metascores for the past ten years. Again, only artists with three or more releases are included, and the same notes in the tiny font above also apply to the tables below.

The top artists of the decade, by genre

Best-Reviewed Indie/Alternative Artists (by Average Metascore), 2000-09
  Artist Average Metascore Best-Reviewed Album
1 Sleater-Kinney 86.3 The Woods
2 Spoon 85.3 Kill The Moonlight
3 TV On The Radio 85.0 Dear Science,
4 White Stripes 84.8 Elephant
5 Sufjan Stevens 84.0 Illinois
6 Animal Collective 83.8 Merriweather Post Pavilion
7 Drive-By Truckers 83.8 Decoration Day
8 Lightning Bolt 83.7 Hypermagic Mountain
9 Sigur Rós 83.5 Ágætis Byrjun
10 Bjork 83.0 Vespertine
A sampling of other artists:
  Destroyer 81.7 Destroyer's Rubies
  Pernice Brothers 81.3 Yours, Mine & Ours
  British Sea Power 80.7 The Decline of British Sea Power
  Queens of the Stone Age 80.7 Songs for the Deaf
  The Decemberists 80.5 The Crane Wife
  The Flaming Lips 79.7 Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  System of a Down 78.3 Mezmerize
  U2 77.0 All That You Can't Leave Behind
  Beck 76.8 Sea Change
  Coldplay 74.0 A Rush of Blood to the Head
  Nine Inch Nails 73.5 The Slip
  Green Day 72.3 American Idiot
  R.E.M. 70.3 Accelerate
  Weezer 63.6 Weezer [Green Album]
Best-Reviewed Rap Artists (by Average Metascore), 2000-09
  Artist Average Metascore Best-Reviewed Album
1 OutKast 86.0 Stankonia
2 Dizzee Rascal 83.0 Boy in Da Corner
3 Kanye West 81.8 College Dropout
Yo Kanye, we're really happy for you, but OutKast had one of the best decades of all time.
4 Missy Elliott 80.8 Miss E... So Addictive
5 The Roots 80.5 Phrenology
6 Murs 79.3 Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition
7 The Streets 79.0 A Grand Don't Come for Free
8 Nas 76.4 God's Son
9 Ghostface Killah 76.0 Fishscale
10 De La Soul 75.8 The Grind Date
A sampling of other artists:
  Jay-Z 75.0 The Blueprint
Although three of his albums scored well above 80, the other three were stuck in the 60's
  Wu-Tang Clan 74.3 The "W"
  Atmosphere 73.3 You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having
  T.I. 70.7 King
  The Game 70.0 Doctor's Advocate
  Eminem 69.3 The Marshall Mathers LP
The overall top-selling artist of the decade, with over 32 million units sold
  Snoop Dogg 67.3 Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Boss
  Nelly 65.0 Nellyville
  50 Cent 64.8 Get Rich or Die Tryin'
  Black Eyed Peas 62.0 Bridging the Gap
Best-Reviewed Pop/R&B Artists (by Average Metascore), 2000-09
  Artist Average Metascore Best-Reviewed Album
1 Solomon Burke 79.3 Don't Give Up On Me
Not bad for a man whose age is close to his average Metascore
2 Me'Shell NdegéOcello 78.7 The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams
Her stellar December '09 release is not included, since it had just 4 reviews at press time
3 Erykah Badu 77.3 New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)
4 Al Green 77.3 Lay It Down
5 Mary J Blige 75.5 No More Drama
6 Norah Jones 75.0 Come Away With Me
Come Away With Me trailed only The Beatles and 'N Sync for top-selling album of the decade
7 Shakira 74.7 Fijacion Oral Vol. 1
8 Ne-Yo 74.0 Year of the Gentleman
9 Alicia Keys 71.7 Songs in A Minor
10 Keyshia Cole 71.3 The Way It Is
A sampling of other artists:
  Madonna 71.3 Music
  Pink 70.5 M!ssundaztood
  Macy Gray 69.0 The Trouble with Being Myself
  Usher 67.3 8701
  Avril Lavigne 66.3 Let Go
  Beyonce 65.3 B'Day
Both she and Kelly Rowland scored higher for their solo discs than Destiny's Child did as a group
  Kelly Clarkson 65.3 All I Ever Wanted
  R. Kelly 64.7 TP-2.com
  Britney Spears 63.4 Oops!... I Did It Again
Oops, she couldn't do it again: only her first disc of the decade topped the 70 mark
  Christina Aguilera 60.0 Back to Basics
  Mariah Carey 59.6 Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
Best-Reviewed Electronic Artists (by Average Metascore), 2000-09
  Artist Average Metascore Best-Reviewed Album
1 Four Tet 83.7 Rounds
His score reflects solo work only; albums with Fridge and Steve Reid failed to wow critics
2 Junior Boys 81.3 Last Exit
3 Matmos 79.0 The Rose Has Teeth in The Mouth of a Beast
4 Amon Tobin 78.3 Supermodified
5 M83 77.3 Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
6 Basement Jaxx 77.3 Kish Kash
7 Ladytron 77.0 604
8 Mouse on Mars 76.3 Idiology
9 Goldfrapp 76.3 Supernature
10 Autechre 74.5 Confield
A sampling of other artists:
  Royksopp 74.3 Melody A.M.
  Chemical Brothers 70.0 Come With Us
  Air 69.6 Talkie Walkie
  Thievery Corporation 68.0 The Mirror Conspiracy
  Zero 7 65.7 The Garden
  Moby 59.0 Wait For Me
Best-Reviewed Singer-Songwriters (by Average Metascore), 2000-09
  Artist Average Metascore Best-Reviewed Album
1 Bob Dylan 86.0 Love and Theft
2 Tom Waits 84.0 Alice
3 Sufjan Stevens 84.0 Illinois
4 Iron & Wine 82.3 The Creek Drank the Cradle
5 Sam Phillips 82.0 Don't Do Anything
6 Richard Hawley 82.0 Cole's Corner
A former member of Pulp, Hawley is one of the top British singer-songwriters working today
7 Andrew Bird 81.7 The Mysterious Production of Eggs
8 Neko Case 81.3 Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
9 Richard Thompson 80.0 Sweet Warrior
10 Rosanne Cash 80.0 Black Cadillac
A sampling of other artists:
  Vic Chesnutt 79.0 Silver Lake
  Cat Power 78.8 You Are Free
  Ron Sexsmith 78.4 Cobblestone Runway
  Damien Jurado 78.3 Where Shall You Take Me
  Aimee Mann 78.0 Bachelor No. 2 (or, the last remains of the dodo)
  Lucinda Williams 77.5 World Without Tears
  Jolie Holland 77.3 Escondida
  Josh Rouse 77.3 1972
  Rickie Lee Jones 76.3 The Evening of My Best Day
  Rufus Wainwright 76.0 Poses

On the next page, we reveal the best-reviewed albums of the past ten years ...

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Comments (226)

  • Frank Somma  

    Wow...these lists really prove unequiviocally the theorem that opinons are like **** You know, everyone has one. It still amazes tho that so many are so willing to reveal their assholiness. Guess I'm fortunate that I don't know it all like so many opinionators here. I can just use these listings as a reference to discover music that I never got to. And that's a beautiful adventure.

  • Brian Pitera  

    Jesus, this list shows how slanted the critics are in favor of indie-rock. It's not even until about number 15 that the list becomes interesting and more diverse in terms of genre. The critics would have you believe that Spoon, Sleater-Kinney, Iron & Wine, etc. had a better decade than Kanye West, Radiohead, Beyonce, Coldplay, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z or Dylan. It's preposterous.

  • Best of 2009 –  

    [...] Metracritic … No. 1 album: Brian Wilson, “SMILE” … No. 1 indie album: The White Stripes, “Elephant” [...]

  • Carlos  

    @Matt is Wrong: While all you posted is technically (here we go again) correct, it's valid to say a decade just ended. When mentioning or talking about 80's music for example, do you include 1990? Didn't think so.

  • Jason  

    this list was rubbish. where are bands like coldplay or u2? not huge fans of either but some of their albums were among the most influential of the decade for sure. if you want to check out some rankings that actually take into account what the fans think check out www.GoRankEm.com

  • Dustin  

    WTF Lil Wayne isnt on here thats BS he killed it

  • ray weller  

    ruined by the rich kids singing junk, my pick Highly Evolved.

  • William Birkin  

    List of my favorite 20 albums of the decade:
    20. Playing The Angel (Depeche Mode)
    19. Silent Cry (Feeder)
    18. DevilDriver (DevilDriver)
    17. Echo Park (Feeder)
    16. Sounds Of The Universe (Depeche Mode)
    15. By The Way (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
    14. Brave New World (Iron Maiden)
    13. Rosenrot (Rammstein)
    12. Reise, Reise (Rammstein)
    11. Exciter (Depeche Mode)
    10. So Many Musicians To Kill (Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers)
    9. St. Anger (Metallica)
    8. Eat Me, Drink Me (Marilyn Manson)
    7. The High End Of Low (Marilyn Manson)
    6. Death Magnetic (Metallica)
    5. Mutter (Rammstein)
    4. Dark Days (Coal Chamber)
    3. The Sinister Urge (Rob Zombie)
    2. The Golden Age Of Grotesque (Marylin Manson)
    1. Holy Wood (Marilyn Manson)

  • mike d  

    Thanks metacritic for putting all this together - using the web site has introduced me to some great new artists over the last couple of years, and have certainly found a few new things to investigate in this decade analysis. However, it really surprises me that so many people are blaming metacritic for poor scoring of their favourite bands - that they are willing to trawl through these lists in so much detail but fail to understand the basics of how the scoring works. Anyway, I think it's really interesting to see how albums stand up based on their reviews at the time of their release. Metacritic must do one of the few annual and decadal lists that isn't completely subjective and retrospective. (you only need to look at the summary of the "end of year" lists for each publication to see how different retrospective reviews are from scores-at-the-time)
    Also, those comments by Arnold just above are the funniest things I've read in such a long time! I laughed and laughed - Thanks!

  • Early Review «  

    [...] critical acclaim is almost comically universal. In December the online review aggregator Metacritic named Spoon the best artist of the decade, above acts like Radiohead and the White Stripes. In [...]

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