12 'Rock is Back' albums of the early '00s, ranked

The Strokes: They sure do look like a rock band.

The Strokes: They sure do look like a rock band. Photo: Colin Lane

While reading Lizzy Goodman's Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011, which I wrote about for City Pages today, I started wondering just how the music the book discusses has held up over the years.

Most of the artists included are still active. Several (Ryan Adams, the Strokes, Kings of Leon, and LCD Soundsystem) went on to stardom, while others (the Moldy Peaches, Longwave, Mooney Suzuki) faded away or stayed cult heroes. And some of them made records I loved and related to deeply back in the day, though in some cases that was maybe a matter of timing or novelty.

So here's a selection of 12 albums from bands featured in Meet Me in the Bathroom, ranked by how well they've aged, from worst to best. The takeaway from this exercise: The era's major songs succeed, but few artists made full-length artistic statements that cohered and endured.


12. Fischerspooner -- #1 (2003)
The way Fischerspooner willed itself into existence as an elaborate art project has always been its most intoxicating quality. But musically, the frosty synth-pop on the duo's debut has no real blueprint or direction without the performance aspect. The cover of Wire's "The 15th" works, however, as does the claustrophobic robotic mime "Emerge" and its cool, whispered chant: "Hyper-mediocrity."

11. The Strokes -- Is This It (2001)
Early on, the Strokes' live shows consisted of ripping, feral rock 'n' roll blasts that careened around haphazardly, like the band was a car with failing brakes. That feeling didn't translate to the band's debut: Is This It sounds muffled, as if it's playing through a broken speaker. A plodding, slurring slog, broken up only by windmilling pogos ("Hard to Explain," "Someday") and punkish new wave ("Barely Legal").

10. The Rapture -- Echoes (2003)
Meet Me in the Bathroom underscores how much labor went into actually getting the Rapture's debut full-length into stores. Fifteen or so years later, it shows: The disco ping-pong "Olio" is still pleasingly Cure-like, but the versions of dance floor slayers "House of Jealous Lovers" and "Sister Savior" on Echoes are curiously flat—and the bulk of the album lacks lingering bite or energy.

9. The Mooney Suzuki -- Electric Sweat (2002)
The Mooney Suzuki never quite lived up to its potential, partly because signing to a major label did nothing to further its career, and partly because its sweaty garage rock posturing didn't translate well to wax. Fifteen years on, Electric Sweat sounds like Elvis Costello doing classic rock and Nuggets karaoke, which has its moments -- the shaggy Kinks-isms of "It's Not Easy," the hotrodding title track—but generally comes off as paint-by-retro-numbers.

8. White Stripes -- White Blood Cells (2001)
The White Stripes' simplicity brought the band acclaim. Today, however, White Blood Cells falls off considerably, and comes across as slight and unfocused, after the ragers "Fell In Love With a Girl" and "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and the rollicking, twee-country "Hotel Yorba."

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Fever To Tell (2003)
Save for the tender and unfuckwithable "Maps" and "Modern Romance," the band's full-length debut is still a shambling, smeared-mascara mess of skronking blues and siren-punk vandalism. That flawed defiance often manifests itself in grating filler, although at other moments—the sneering "Black Tongue," the scraping-concrete dance floor filler "Y Control" -- the chaos is endearing. Verdict: Enjoyably imperfect.

6. TV On the Radio -- Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (2004)
Perhaps the most unselfconscious record from this time, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes assimilates decades of textures, sounds and musical approaches -- haunting a cappella, dank post-punk, perforated electro, bluesy dub-soul -- and remains an eminently listenable album to puzzle through and figure out.

5. The Hives -- Veni Vidi Vicious (2000; reissued 2002)
The Hives succeed where the Mooney Suzuki fail, largely because the Swedes have better, memorable songs -- "Hate To Say I Told You So" is a loose-limbed fireball -- and maintain a playful but serrated garage-punk edge. "Main Offender" is somehow at once coordinated and imploding, while "The Hives-Introduce the Metric System in Time" is a frantic blast.

4. Liars -- They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (2001; reissued 2002)
At this point, Liars have lived many lifetimes, so it's easy to forget their role in the NYC rock renaissance. That's a shame, as the group's torqued no wave and mad scientist electronics remain delightfully weird and otherworldly. Crank "Mr Your on Fire Mr," whose sinewy bass line and digital hopscotching make it one of the era's best forgotten gems.

3. The Vines -- Highly Evolved (2002)
Joke's on us: The band widely considered to be posers or trend-jumpers made an enjoyable and infectious record full of Britpop ragers, skunky garage-punk, and '60s psych-rock sunburns that holds up shockingly well today.

2. The Killers -- Hot Fuss (2004)
In hindsight, Hot Fuss sounds even more pastiche-like than it did at the time: "Change Your Mind" resembles the Strokes at new wave night, "Midnight Show" would make a great Morrissey solo single, and "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" is a dead ringer for early '80s Duran Duran. It’s trying on a lot of styles to see what sticks. Still, these homages sound inexplicably fresh and charming, especially the sighing, synth-punk swoon "On Top."

1. Interpol -- Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
Although the overwrought drama hasn't aged well -- the oft-quoted line "The subway, she is a porno" scans like particularly scrambled word salad -- Interpol's prickly moodiness endures. The secret: The record has a keen ear for both details (strings coursing through "Hands Away," the Sonic Youth-esque post-punk slashes of "Roland") and grand statements (the shimmering, oceanic textures bottoming out during "Untitled").