As we embark on a new year, let's look back on where we were a decade ago. In 2009, we heard a ton of amazing songs, singles, and albums. But which records have stood the test of time? These are my favorite 2009 albums: the ones that defined my life 10 years ago and continue to do so even as my music library expands.
Hoobastank - 'For(n)ever' (January 27)
Following growing successes with Hoobastank (2001), The Reason (2003), and Every Man For Himself (2006), Hoobastank’s final record with Island was a hidden gem called For(n)ever. This fourth album saw Hoobastank combining their dual sides - hard rock on songs like “My Turn” and “Sick Of Hanging On” mixed well with brighter, more pop tracks like “Tears Of Yesterday” and “You’re The One.” The band also shined on the moodier ballads, “The Letter” and "I Don't Think I Love You," as well as the uplifting "You Need To Be Here." While it wasn’t as big as Hoobastank’s previous albums, For(n)ever was a solid effort and remains one of my favorites within their discography.
Top Songs: "I Don't Think I Love You," "The Letter," "Tears Of Yesterday," "You're The One," and "You Need To Be Here."
K'naan - 'Troubadour' (February 24)
Troubadour wasn't K'naan's first album, but it was the album that saw him skyrocket to staggering success. Perhaps the biggest song from the record was "Wavin' Flag," which went on to be used during the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was rerecorded as a charity single in response to the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. As universally acclaimed and widely popular as "Wavin' Flag" was, though, it was just one piece of a stunning album that highlighted the struggles K'naan and his community had experienced. From "Somalia" to "America," Troubadour took us to K'naan's various homes around the world, starting in his Somalia birthplace and its war-torn landscape, moving into his experience as a refugee in the US and Canada, and finally finding stability in adulthood. For all of K'naan's tribulations over the years, he retained an admirable sense of joy (see "Dreamer"), peace ("Fatima," "Take A Minute"), and gratitude ("15 Minutes Away"). He described hardships and basic rights so many lack, packaging these heavy messages into bouncy, energetic, and irresistible earworms. Troubadour covered an expanse of themes, sounds, and landscapes, and the effect was an album that is dynamic and unforgettable.
Top Songs: "T.I.A.," "ABC's," "I Come Prepared," "Bang Bang," "Wavin' Flag," "Somalia," and "Take A Minute."
Kelly Clarkson - 'All I Ever Wanted' (March 10)
Kelly Clarkson hit it big with her debut album, Thankful, following her 2002 American Idol win. But that was nothing compared to the massive success of Breakaway (2004), which launched hit single after hit single. Her third album was doomed from the start, though, when her controlling label didn’t think her self-written songs had enough pop appeal. A compromise for releasing My December was that her fourth album would fill that pop void. Enter All I Ever Wanted, a somewhat ironically named album that saw Kelly giving up creative control. Nonetheless, All I Ever Wanted did certainly deliver a delicious range of tracks, each showing off different sides of Kelly’s artistry. It offered pop rock anthems including “My Life Would Suck Without You” and the title track, but it also gave us some polished dancey gems like “If I Can’t Have You” and “The Day We Fell Apart.” Ballads like “Cry,” “Already Gone,” and “Save You” balanced the record, while fun tracks like “I Want You” and “Ready” gave it a lighter air. All I Ever Wanted was a mixed bag, and not always in line with Kelly’s own goals, but it did serve memorable tracks that still hold up within her discography.
Top Songs: "All I Ever Wanted," "Already Gone," "If I Can't Have You," "Save You," "I Want You," and "The Day We Fell Apart."
Green Day - '21st Century Breakdown' (May 15)
Green Day made history with American Idiot, an album that revived the punk band's career and become one of the biggest records of the year and the decade. After its insurmountable success, Green Day had an almost impossible task ahead of them: to follow it up with something equally arresting. It took five years, but finally, in 2009, Green Day was back with their second politically charged rock opera. 21st Century Breakdown was even more ambitious than its predecessor, dividing its generous tracklist into three acts: "Heroes and Cons," "Charlatans and Saints," and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades." From the very first notes of the album's introductory track, "Song Of The Century," it was clear that listeners were in for a spectacle. The story loosely followed Christian and Gloria, but the main plot point of the album was its narration of social and political issues within the US. The album featured a ton of standout songs, the best of which were usually the most experimental. With 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day proved that they could still churn out impressive music that stands the test of time.
Top Songs: "Before The Lobotomy," "Last Night On Earth," "East Jesus Nowhere," "Peacemaker," "¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl)," "Restless Heart Syndrome," "Horseshoes And Handgrenades," and "21 Guns."
Muse - 'The Resistance' (September 15)
Muse's fifth album was an interesting turning point in their musical career. After growing successes with their first four albums - ending with timeless staples like "Starlight" and "Knights Of Cydonia" - Muse moved into new territory on The Resistance. Its first single, "Uprising," was a promising anthem about standing up to political oppressors. Other highlights on the album include the lush "United States Of Eurasia" and the peppy "I Belong To You (+ Mon Cœur S'ouvre À Ta Voix)." Of course, the centerpiece for The Resistance was its "Exogenesis" symphony, which sprawled over three tracks at the end of the record. Indeed, these three pieces represented the grandiose composer side of Muse. Despite all of these highs, The Resistance was a difficult record for me upon its release. It seemed to lack a certain coherence or sense of urgency, and some of the songs weighed down the otherwise stunning music. Fortunately, the album has aged well, improving over the decade to become a highlight of the 2009 music scene.
Top Songs: "Uprising," "United States Of Eurasia," "Guiding Light," "I Belong To You," and "Exogensis: Symphony Part 1 (Overture)."
Paramore - 'Brand New Eyes' (September 29)
Paramore hit it big with their sophomore album, Riot!, led by its infectious first single, "Misery Business." It was a punchy, confident album that promised a bright future for the young band. In 2009, they followed it up with a slightly surprising change in style. Brand New Eyes was at once softer and bleaker, and yet also filled with more rage and angst. Its lead single, "Ignorance," underscored this shift in mood and impact, while songs like "Careful" and "Brick By Boring Brick" reaffirmed it. On the other hand, Paramore explored a new, more fragile side on "Misguided Ghosts" and "The Only Exception," songs that united the lost and questioned the existence of love. While "Playing God" and "Turn It Off" continued the doubts and agitation, the only bright spots were "Looking Up" and "Where The Lines Overlap," songs that felt optimistic on an otherwise pessimistic record. The one song that tied it all together was album closer "All I Wanted," taking listeners on a journey from somber to vigorous. Brand New Eyes was a slow-build album, but it sticks with you once it clicks.
Top Songs: "Playing God," "Brick By Boring Brick," "The Only Exception," and "All I Wanted."
Alice In Chains - 'Black Gives Way To Blue' (September 29)
After singer Layne Staley died in 2002, many thought Alice In Chains was over as a band. Even then, it had already been seven years since their self-titled third album hit shelves. The drug addiction that took Layne's life also robbed the band of the ability to record new music, and the grief and sorrow surrounding this made a fourth album seem like an impossibility. But in 2006, an unexpected live performance featuring a new singer - William DuVall - alongside guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell ignited an opportunity for the band to continue. 2009 marked Alice In Chains' first new studio album in 14 years. Although Black Gives Way To Blue featured a new singer, the band chose to honor the late Layne Staley in its title track, a moving ballad that mourned his untimely loss. Elsewhere on the album, though, Alice In Chains found new footing in their updated style. They still sounded like the AIC fans were familiar with, yet the sound had, by necessity, evolved. While some fans of the band may choose to stick to their Layne-fronted records, Black Gives Way To Blue was a worthy comeback that confirmed Alice In Chains' place in modern rock.
Top Songs: "All Secrets Known," "A Looking In View," "Take Her Out," "Private Hell," and "Black Gives Way To Blue."
Editors - 'In This Light And On This Evening' (October 13)
Editors earned a fervent and loyal fanbase with their first two albums. But while those records presented a traditional rock band sound - featuring plenty of guitars and drums - fans were in for a surprise when Editors unveiled their third album. Indeed, In This Light And On This Evening took listeners on an entirely new musical journey, this time rooted in electronica and new wave of the 1980s. The album was dark and moody, both musically and lyrically, often taking on cynical and sinister overtones. Likewise, the songs were longer, allowing extra room to grow and fade into more complete compositions. The most striking and menacing song here was "Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool," a track that was at once eerie and irresistible. On the other end of the spectrum, lead single "Papillon" was the most instant and energetic track here, and became one of Editors' most beloved singles. Songs like "The Big Exit" and "The Boxer" gave the album weight and context, at times nostalgic and at others gloomy. As different as In This Light And On This Evening was from its two predecessors, it was a stunning album that defined a new chapter in Editors' ever-evolving music career.
Top Songs: "Papillon," "The Big Exit," "The Boxer," "Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool," and "I Want A Forest."
Florence + The Machine - 'Lungs' (October 20)
Florence + The Machine's debut album, Lungs, was a highlight of 2009, and among the best debuts of any artist that decade. While it came out in July in the band's native UK, the United States didn't get it until that fall. A driving force behind Lungs was its second single, "Dog Days Are Over," and its b-side, "You've Got The Love." Throughout the album, the songs moved between folky rock, art pop, and bluesy punk. While the latter genre didn't stay with the band in subsequent releases, the former two became defining aspects of their unique sound. Indeed, the songs often sounded mystical, combining quirky and confessional lyrics with magical harps and choirs. Florence Welch's voice was the centerpiece to the band's sound, ranging from breathy and delicate to raw and powerful. The effect was a dreamy, inimitable album that paved the way for Florence + The Machine's lasting career.
Top Songs: "Dog Days Are Over," "Howl," "Hurricane Drunk," and "Blinding."
Alicia Keys - 'The Element Of Freedom' (December 15)
One of the last releases in 2009 was Alicia Keys' fourth album, The Element Of Freedom. In contrast to her first three records, on The Element Of Freedom, Alicia shifted her R&B pop style from the 1960s and 70's into the 1980s and '90s. The songs still had a retro vibe, but felt a bit more modern, too, building up more prominent drums and an electronic production. The album was her most cohesive, low-key, and subtle yet, generally staying in mid-tempo and subdued territory. It was a slow-build album that took time to make its impact, but it represented a transition in Alicia's career and defined where she went in the 2010s.
Top Songs: "Doesn't Mean Anything," "That's How Strong My Love Is," "Put It In A Love Song," and "Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down."