In a genuinely surprising and not altogether disappointing turn of events, U2's Achtung Baby took the top spot. It's a strange choice that, regardless of any arguments to be made for or against it, I at least find somewhat refreshing. What struck me, though, is how little the list resembles the feature they did to celebrate their 20th anniversary back in 2005: The Top 100 Albums of the Last Twenty Years.
Here's the top ten from the 2005 list:
10. N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton
9. PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me
8. Prince - Sign O The Times
7. De La Soul - 3 Ft. High And Rising
6. Pixies - Surfer Rosa
5. The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead
4. Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted
3. Nirvana - Nevermind
2. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation...
1. Radiohead - OK Computer
And now, here's the top ten from this year's list, which, remember, covers the exact same time period, but also the last five years.
10. Nine Inch Nails — The Downward Spiral
9. Pavement — Slanted and Enchanted
8. PJ Harvey — Rid of Me
7. Guns 'n' Roses — Appetite for Destruction
6. Public Enemy — It Takes a Nation of Millions...
5. Radiohead — OK Computer
4. Nirvana — Nevermind
3. The Smiths — The Queen is Dead
2. Prince — Sign O the Times
1. U2 — Achtung Baby
If ever you were on the fence about the merits of these lists anywhere, but especially in big glossy magazines, this should do much to solidify your stance. Not a single record was ranked in the same spot on the two lists; three records from the 2005 list failed to crack the top ten this time around, and the number one record on this year's list—by a band with, let's face it, an awful lot of ad dollars to spend—wasn't even in the top ten five years ago.
I recognize that our opinion of a record evolves over the years, and that because of the nature of this type of list, there will always be a great deal of hesitation to rank recent records too high, but because the two lists differ from one another so drastically, even though no records made in the past five years were ranked in the top ten (and only two in the top one hundred), this year's installment is essentially just a very public edit of the original list. At best, it's pointless, and at worst, it damages their credibility as much as it improves their page views.