I just want to preface this by saying that favorite does not equal best (which I’m pretty sure is made abundantly clear by the fact that I have Taylor Swift up here). The reason I’ve picked a lot of these isn’t because they’re particularly complex or profound, but because they mean something to me.
That said, I would argue that my top album, The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails is, in fact, complex and profound. It’s entirely cohesive in relaying a story about nihilism and the protagonist’s descent into madness — his downward spiral — using what Trent Reznor calls “a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar” to create a pretty ridiculous range of both sound and emotion.
The lead single, “March of the Pigs”, is a prime example of Reznor’s ingenuity — the tempo alternating between three measures of 7/8 time with one measure of 4/4 time in the verses, the high energy interrupted by piano interludes, and the brutal lyrics all coming together to create an unorthodox, but entirely NIN, song structure. This album will have you bitter, enraged, and defeated, taking you across an entire spectrum of human emotion, only to somehow end with catharsis, leaving you to reflect on the journey it just took you on.
I like Royal Blood solely because I love the way just two people are able to fill up so much space. While their songs are technically classified as alternative, what really grabs me are their hooks, which honestly have more of a pop-feel. They’re entirely predictable, but as far as I’m concerned that doesn’t take away from their appeal — when I listen to them I know I’m going to get some cool riffs and drum fills and sometimes that’s just what I want to hear (also, Hook, Line, and Sinker is a straight up banger).
River of Dreams was a staple in my childhood, so I’m probably more than a little biased when I talk about it. It is, in my opinion, the essential Billy Joel album. The title track is probably one of the most authentic, sincere songs he’s ever written (which ties into where he was in his career when he wrote it). The allusion to religion (the biblical imagery in the lyrics and the gospel influence) speaks volumes considering his aversion to it and does a lot to illustrate the spiritual journey of self-reflection he goes on.
Growing up, I had a pretty big Metallica phase (it was probably hilarious to see my scrawny seven-year-old self trying to mimic James Hetfield). That’s definitely the main reason I have a few of their albums in my top 42, but it wasn’t until later that I started to appreciate them — specifically after I watched their documentary Some Kind of Monster and really understood the pure, unadulterated rage on St. Anger. But, personally, I prefer Death Magnet because it takes that rage, polishes it and adds to it, resulting in what I would call their best album. It has the signature Metallica speedmetal with songs like “Broken, Beat, and Scarred”, but also songs like “The Unforgiven III” (my favorite on the album) that layer and weave together different parts to create a beautiful, complete picture.