Bob Dylan-- "Love and Theft" (2001)
Mick Jagger--Goddess In The Doorway (2001)
Beck--Sea Change (2002)
Bruce Springsteen--The Rising (2002)
The White Stripes--Elephant (2003)
Brian Wilson--SMiLE (2004)
Beastie Boys--To The 5 Boroughs (2004)
Kanye West--Late Registration (2005)
Bob Dylan--Modern Times (2006)
Bruce Springsteen--Magic (2007)
Bruce Springsteen--Working On A Dream (2009)
Seven of these albums, distributed over just four musicians, are by artists who in any reasonable estimation of their work peaked sometime between 1965-1975. I'd add that Beck and The Beastie Boys peaked long before 2002 and 2004, respectively.
Anyways the most notable of these reviews is Jann Wenner's five-star write-up of Mick Jagger's Goddess In The Doorway. The review, possibly written by Wenner because even hacks refused to award a Mick Jagger solo album five stars, strains mightily to praise the album. In 974 words, it embodies almost every conceivable qualm one might have with Wenner's publication, presenting them with--and this is the most shocking part--a completely straight face. Is it even worth my time critiquing it?:
In terms of consistency, craftsmanship and musical experimentation, Goddess in the Doorway surpasses all his solo work and any Rolling Stones album since Some GirlsThese statements wear their self-parody as unknowingly as the real Mick Jagger!
Goddess in the Doorway resembles the Stones' best albums in that it's a varied yet cohesive collection of ballads, hard rockers and one country song
Making the most of this opportunity to stretch himself, Jagger has recruited some outstanding guests...Rob Thomas...Lenny Kravitz...Bono...Joe Perry
It may seem a truism, but it's worth noting that he is - along with John Lennon, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Bono - one of the great male rock voices of this age
But what of the other ten? I suspect that about half of these albums will make the magazine's Decade Top 10. Personally, I've heard most of them--many of them on the strength of the RS reviews, I confess--all, in fact, but the Jagger disc and the three Springsteen albums. I doubt I'll hear any of those four, ever: though I love the Stones, I have no desire to hear Doorway, and while Springsteen fans seemed to love The Rising and Magic, I am not of their ilk.
Aside from Goddess in the Doorway, To The 5 Boroughs stands out as this list's other big misfire. It may have seemed natural at the time--responding to 9/11 helped net The Rising five stars, the Beasties hadn't released an album since the 90's, the singles were pretty fun, and RS does adore the Beastie Boys. But as a long-player, it's unexciting, surely the group's worst.
I can understand the Dylan reviews better. Note that 2 albums represents half of Bob's 00's output, and the magazine, which exists in large part to worship at the shrine of Dylan, picked the right two. "Love And Theft" is the weaker of the pair, but still quite good, one of three great records to be released on the 00's-defining, above-mentioned date (the other two being Jay-Z's The Blueprint and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which are both better so go figure). I do love Modern Times, however. Aside from its deeply ironic title, the album shows a reflective, lonely Dylan, with an arsenal of sharply written tunes. Still, it's a four-and-a-half star LP, tops.
Beck's Sea Change is another album on the list a half star short of RS's ultimate honor. It meant a lot to me when I first heard it, and the first five tracks will blow your mind. But Beck's transformation into a Nick Drake-like singer-songwriter arrived just in time to capitalize on the massive goodwill lent that particular mope in the early 00's, and the second half of his album drags. Plus, it sucks that Beck's vocals are always dirge-y now, even when his musical surroundings aren't. Wasn't that way before Sea Change.
The vocals on SMiLE bother me as well. Wilson's voice is audibly strained a number of times--most noticably on rerecorded but only slightly inferior versions of "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations"--and we can still only wonder what it would've sounded like had Brian been able to keep it together in 1966. But the old man and his many collaborators' take on a teenager's symphony to God is wonderful, complex stuff. RS surprised no one with the review, but they weren't too far off, either.
Which leaves the two best albums that Rolling Stone awarded five stars, the only two given to youngish artists. The Late Registration review might be the more surprising of the two, and not just because a black person got it. Previously, the magazine hadn't seemed particularly keen on Kanye--College Dropout, which won the Village Voice critics poll, got just 3.5 stars (which Ye later called them out on), and he'd never landed a big profile or anything. But Late Registration is not only an incredible record, but one that also caters to rock crit tastes (I mean, having Jon Brion co-produce your album?). A lush, hip-hop White Album, with enough subtle production tricks and facets of Kanye's then-interesting persona to make 70 minutes go by fast.
And finally: self-indulgence is the name of Jack White's game these days, but there was a time when he'd indulge his audience as well. That Rolling Stone would love the White Stripes was a foregone conclusion, but to award Elephant five stars took at least a small amount of balls in 2003. I vividly remember the issue, the first RS I got via my subscription: it was "The Cool Issue" and featured Lisa Marie Presley on the cover, along with a small blurb about the Stripes album. Elephant is where it all congealed for the Stripes: a blues-punk barnstormer that envisioned the Brill Building as a rickety garage, lower frequencies as the apocalypse, and a glorious coexistence of country-kitsch and multitracked screeds. The best album to receive five stars from Wenner's rag this decade and just enough to make me thankful that Rolling Stone existed in the 00's, if only for personal reasons.