20) Belle and Sebastian
I’m a latecomer to these Scots, but no casual fan–as a group of lyrically-intensive, acoustic-driven melodists, they’re about as good as it gets. Only the vocal oddities keep some of the best work from being taken completely seriously, but I’m not sure any song is completely serious (“Piazza, New York catcher are you straight or are you gay?”).
19) Queens of the Stone Age
No one with a rudimentary knowledge of rock’s past fifteen years will be surprised to read that the Queens were best when Dave Grohl was their drummer (Songs for the Deaf). Thoughtful lyrics, tight songwriting, and excellent musicianship are the strengths of hard rock’s hippest band, but what really sets them apart from their semi-metal peers is their strongest muscle: their sense of humor.
18) Son Volt
When Uncle Tupelo broke up and begat two new alt-country uberbands, fans waited anxiously to see which would produce better work. Wilco may lead that race, but Son Volt’s not far behind, with Jay Farrar as devoted as ever to topical lyrics and catchy alt-country melodies. Each Son Volt record is equal parts familiar and unpredictable, fresh and unique but still accessible. They might make a stronger point for a higher ranking if their live set wasn’t relatively sleepy these days.
17) The Killers
Remember Jet? That whole bit about swinging for the fences? Well, the Killers are power hitters with a better average, and as much as “disco-punk” is, to my ear, an aesthetic oxymoron, it’s hard to deny the urgency, energy, and pop-potency of their most noteworthy hits (especially “Somebody Told Me”). Recent rumblings suggest that their sophomore effort might not be worthwhile, but for now, they remain one of rock’s most ambitious and powerful hit-makers.
If this list were made in 1996, Weezer would make a convincing case for Top 3 placement. Ten years later, they’re recycling their own perennial break-up rumors, caught in their own bizarre headspace, and drowning in irony. Nobody can deny Rivers’ ability to write a relevant, catchy hit, but at what point did we stop trusting that the band is in on the joke?
Speaking of bands that don’t age well, welcome U2 into the Top 15. Cheers to what you used to be. Cheers to your extracurriculars. But anyone who really believes How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was the best album of last year is drinking IPod’s Kool-Aid. Stop citing Southern music as your chief influence and refusing to tour in the South (where folks can’t pay $150 for decent seats). Stop using Mac to push your product. Stop copping Jesus’ mannerisms. And stop, stop, stop thinking anything musically related to your band is still relevant.
Maybe I’m biased. Alright, I’m certainly biased. But, regardless of where any given fan is from, it’s hard to deny that these homespun minor legends have vaulted themselves into the Southern rock canon with 4 (going on 5) truly great albums and years of tireless roadwork. And, while most songwriters peak in their mid-to-late twenties, Ben Nichols is only getting better. As their nationwide fanbase increases and the buzz for September’s Rogues, Rebels, and Sworn Brothers reaches a fever pitch, Lucero is a band with absolutely no shortage of relevance, and no signs of slowing down.
13) Foo Fighters
By now you’ve read at least one piece of unabashed flattery for Dave Grohl, one of rock’s Most Valuable Players. And, although their most recent double album didn’t play exactly as they anticipated, this is a band that will seemingly always deliver–radio hits, sleeper favorites, a tinge of unpredictability, and a top-tier live show. They’re the type of band that is nearly impossible to hate.
Though I’m not necessarily a fan, they are, undoubtedly, one of rock’s biggest bands in terms of popularity and scope. And, although I typically don’t indulge in piano-driven atmospherics, nor falsetto-laden whinings, even I can’t deny the success of songs like “Fix You” and “Swallowed in the Sea” off their most recent album. Whether you like it or not, Chris Martin and Co. do what they do, and they do it consistently well.
11) Red Hot Chili Peppers
Another aging band whose best days are behind it but whose worse days aren’t fast approaching. Although their most recent effort sounds somehow less mature than 2000’s Californication, the Chili Peppers are still a band devoted to musical alchemy and live-performance dominance, all in the context of the “Modern Pop Song.” Any band that’s still relevant fifteen years after its breakthrough is deserving of praise.
Top Ten Tomorrow!