Moving into the Top 15 and coming close to wrapping this little project up.
The year's most beautiful record is a reunion album from this great Senegalese pop band of the '70s and '80s that has been accurately but insufficiently described as an Afropop Buena Vista Social Club. Co-produced by countryman and onetime spotlight-usurper Youssou N'Dour, this dispatch from the other end of the Afro-Cuban continuum is more commanding and more supple, led by guitarist extraordinaire Barthelemy Attisso and saxman Issa Cissokho.
Song Sample: "Bul Ma Miin"
Single: "Beware of the Boys" — Panjabi MC featuring Jay-Z (2003)
Hip-hop going global was one of the best musical developments of the decade, and this might be the finest example.
In its own way, this Memphis-recorded breakout record from Detroit garage duo Jack and Meg White is as cognizant of American pop-song traditions as "Love And Theft" — and more organically female-friendly than any significant hard-rock record since Nevermind. Offering a negation equally relevant to both the womanizing hipsters within his own subculture and the macho metal bullies crowding the marketplace, Jack White pulls no punches in negotiating his battle of the sexes but also never offers less than plain, simple decency, all while ex-wife Meg watches his back by keeping the beat. The result is a blues-rock masterpiece suffused with an uncommon blast of freedom, best summed up by the rollicking contentment of "Hotel Yorba"'s Lyric of the Year: "It might sound silly for me to think childish thoughts like these/But I'm so tired of acting tough and I'm gonna do what I please."
Song Sample: "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"
Single: 14. "All My Friends" — LCD Soundsystem (2007)
Not just a classic track, but a better song, as all the cover versions (Franz Ferdinand! John Cale!) are great too.
While Kanye West's masterful 2004 debut The College Dropout was built around high-concept anthems ("We Don't Care," "All Falls Down," "Jesus Walks"), the lyrical profundity of this far sneakier follow-up is almost casual. It's in the litany of mundane social ills on the sadly beautiful "Heard 'Em Say"; the Randy Newman-esque satire of pimp-rap and R. Kelly-R&B sleaze on "Celebration"; the incredibly gentle counterpoint to Houston hip-hop's myopic content on "Drive Slow." Instead, Late Registration is more immediately bracing as music: Bringing in pop producer Jon Brion as a collaborator, this is West's attempt to make a hip-hop album with the soulful opulence of a classic Stevie Wonder or Curtis Mayfield disc. Mission accomplished.
Song Sample: "Drive Slow"
Single: "Hey Ya!" — Outkast (2003)
This could have been even higher, but (spoiler alert!) it's only my third favorite Outkast single of the decade.