10. Chicago Stone of Sisyphus (2008, recorded in 1993) This was the last album Chicago recorded that they really believed in. Recorded in 1993 and produced by Austrian Peter Wolf. This was the first album Chicago recorded since Chicago XI that had no songs by outside writers. All of the songs on the album were either written or co-written with at least one member of the band. While there were some session musicians performing on the album, the reliance on session musicians was considerably less than on Chicago's albums from the eighties. As such this is likely the last Chicago album of original material that actually IS a Chicago album. It falls in at #10 for 2 reasons. The omission of the song Get On This which appears on many of the bootleg versions of the album that had/have been floating around since it was originally supposed to have been released on March 22, 1994 and the 14 year delay in the album's release. Technically this is a 90s album. It sneaks onto this list based on the technicality of its official release. (note, the review I've linked to is of the bootleg version, not the official release of the album).
9. Def Leppard Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008) This is easily the best new album from Def Leppard since Adrenalize and possibly even since Hysteria. It's a return to form after the abysmal X (the sleeve made a great bird cage liner and the CD made for a passable coaster). It's an extraploation of their 2006 covers album, Yeah! which was also thoroughly enjoyable but misses the list as its covers and not original material.
8. CTA Full Circle (2007) After being voted out of the band he helped found, drummer Danny Seraphine dropped off the radar for over fifteen years. Upon resurfacing he put together California Transit Authority. On their debut album they did primarily covers of Danny's material with Chicago. These new arrangements of Chicago classics are much more faithful to the spirit of the band Chicago once was than the new material that Chicago has been releasing in more recent years (incidentally, since Danny's departure). Seraphine found a chemistry with guitarist Marc Bonilla that he hasn't felt with any guitarist since the passing of the late great Terry Kath. You can hear that chemistry on every track. There are some excellent contemporary arrangements of some of Chicago's more obscure songs (Happy Cause I'm Going Home for example). Whether or not you're a fan of Chicago, this is an excellent album as it really takes their material to a different level.
7. OSI Free (2006) In 2003 former Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore teamed up with guitarist Jim Matheos of Fates Warning and his former bandmate, drummer Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater to form OSI. Their self titled debut was thoroughly enjoyable ambient metal. Their 2006 follow-up was an extrapolation and a substantial improvement over their debut.
6. My Chemical Romance Welcome to the Black Parade (2006) Love it or hate it, emo was there and hard to miss around the middle of the decade. Personally I'm not generally a fan of emo, but Welcome to the Black Parade transcended the genre. The classic rock influences were undeniable. There was a strange Queen meets Pink Floyd meets Green Day vibe dripping from almost every song. There's an anthemic quality to many of the stronger tracks on the album (and the strong tracks comprise most of the album).
5. Verve Pipe Underneath (2000) While I didn't "discover" this particular album until 2002 it really struck a chord with me. Brian Vander Ark (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 1996 when the Verve Pipe performed at my alma mater my freshman year) is a brilliant lyricist and on this album, moreso than any other Verve Pipe album, the lyrics really spoke to me. I was at a point in my life where I was spinning my wheels and this album was an emotional road map guiding me back to where I needed to be.
4. Porcupine Tree In Absentia (2003) By the time In Absentia was released, Steve Wilson and co. had already well established themselves in England on their previous releases. This was the album that introduced Porcupine Tree to the US audience. While the album cover is arguably a bit disturbing or even off-putting for some, the music is brilliant. There's an ambient vibe reminiscent of Pink Floyd with some subtle heavy metal hints that suggest a slight Dream Theater (incidentally, Porcupine Tree's drummer, Gavin Harrison, ended up replacing Mike Portnoy in OSI, on their 3rd release, Blood) influence creating a sound and style that is unique to Porcupine Tree.
3. Steve Lukather Ever Changing Times (2008) Around the same time that the sun was setting on the remarkable thirty-one year run of his band, Toto, Steve Lukather recorded Ever Changing Times. This marked his first full album of original material since Luke (1997). This is a decidedly more polished and also more well-rounded release than the gritty raw crunch of Luke. Lukather explores his various different influences from jazz fusion to AOR to hard rock. His guitar playing is superb and while he's not known for his voice, it certainly fits the material he is performing with the soulful grit he came to be known for in Toto.
2. Dream Theater Train of Thought (2003) (oddly enough, I haven't yet reviewed this one) After the at times brilliant and at times mediocre Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence Dream Theater released the much heavier metal onslaught of Train of Thought. Despite only having 7 tracks, the album clocks in at just over an hour long. The first four songs given the listener a relentless full speed ahead progressive metal onslaught before the slow melancholic 3 minute pause of Vacant giving the listener just enough time to catch his or her breath before putting the accelerator back to the floor for the final two tracks. This is easily Dream Theater's heaviest album ever and I'd argue their best of this decade (although this year's Black Clouds and Silver Linings does come close to matching Train of Thought's brilliance). The early Metallica and Pantera influences are unmistakable.
1. Toto Falling in Between (2006) It's bittersweet that this ended up being Toto's final album as it also was, imho, their best. After a revolving door of lead singers in the 80s, Bobby Kimball returned to the fold in 1998 after a 14 year "vacation" (as Steve Lukather said on the '98 tour, "you'd think he'd have a f***in' tan!"). With Bobby's return Toto grew progressively better starting with 1999's Mindfields followed shortly thereafter by their 2002 covers album Through the Looking Glass and culminating with Falling in Between. There's not a weak song on the album, the addition of grammy winning keyboardist/vocalist, Greg Phillenganes, was a welcome one (Phillenganes initially joined to replace David Paich on tour as Paich had retired from touring, but was still an active member of the band in the studio). There's a strong organic cohesiveness to the album. While Toto had remained popular in Europe and Asia they'd largely fallen off the radar in their native USA. It's unfortunate as that has left this great album largely unheard by domestic ears. For whatever reason, the critics never really warmed to Toto despite their commercial successes. Some would say it was a fluke that Toto IV essentially swept the 1983 grammies (Record of the Year - Rosanna, Album of the Year - Toto IV, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals - Rosanna, Best Vocal Arrangement for 2 or more vocalists - Rosanna, Best Engineered Recording Non Classical - Toto IV, Producer of the Year - Toto) but there's no denying the eclecticism and musical brilliance of Falling in Between. If they had to go out, at least it was with a bang, not a whimper.
Velvet Revolver Libertad, Them Crooked Vultures, Guns 'n' Roses Chinese Democracy (it was surprisngly better than expected, but the bar was set pretty low given the length of time it took to release the album), Brian Vander Ark Resurrection, Ben Folds Rockin the Suburbs, Dream Theater Black Clouds & Silver Linings, OSI Blood, Dream Theater Systematic Chaos, Ben Folds Songs for Silverman, Robert Lamm Subtlety and Passion, Sons of Champlin Hip Li'l Dreams