Thursday, December 29, 2011

Discopop Directory Top 10 albums of 2011

Let's get this out of the way now: PJ Harvey does not feature in this Top 10 (which is actually a top 11, because I miscounted). Let England Shake topped everyone else's polls and is, on an intellectual level, a brilliant treatise on war and history. But I never woke up singing lyrics like "What if I take my problems to the United Nations?".

So these are the albums that embedded earworms in my brain. The ones I cued up on every car journey. The ones I actually listened to...

11) Lady Gaga - Born This Way

On the face of it, Born This Way is a deeply unlovable album. The production is harsh, the artwork is horrible and the tunes simply aren't there. But if you carefully select the highlights (Edge Of Glory's sax solo, Sheiße's pomposity-pricking humour and the title track's towering chorus) it's a hell of a lot of fun.

10) The Pierces - You & I

The cover of The Pierces' fourth album is designed to look like an care-worn old record, with a ghostly imprint of the vinyl visible on the sleeve. The music is a similarly faithful recreation of a bygone era - lush with harmony and classic, timeless melodies. When the polished perfection threatens to become too winsome, the band flash a glimpse of their darker side, as on the possessive growl of Love You More. Tailor-made for radio, this didn't do as well as it deserved.

9) Katy B - On A Mission

Kathleen Brien wrote songs about going to the club, her plans to go to the club, picking up boys at the club and the aftermath of having been to the club. Thankfully, it wasn't as soul-sappingly tedious as that sounds. A night out with Ms B sounds thrilling and magical, everyone clamouring for one more dance before catching the night bus home. One reviewer described On A Mission as "a glowstick Alice in Wonderland" and, frankly, I can't do better than that.

8) Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth

A big old FM rock album, directly inspired by Tom Petty, with choruses bigger than mountains. It's almost as if Noah and the Whale were bored of pining after Laura Marling and wanted to have some fun...

7) Beyoncé - 4

"Apparently", Beyoncé is a secret math nerd. Her album was called 4, it featured one song called 1+1 and another, Countdown, which was a tribute to Carol Vorderman's mental arithmetic skills [subs - please check].

Less edgy than her previous albums, 4 is steeped in classic soul - from the Randy Crawford-isms of Love On Top, to the Purple Rain grandstanding of 1+1's guitar solo. It all adds up (ha!) to become Beyoncé's most consistent album to date, even though it was apparently sequenced by a monkey stabbing pins into a dartboard.

6) Foster The People - Torches

You might have noticed that this top 10 is a bit oestrogen-y. Well, this is the antidote: A trio of California dudes who aren't shy of a pop hook. They may have been fêted by the indie kids because of their disturbing lyrics and quirky production techniques (he's singing through a megaphone, LOL) - but Foster The People were as shamelessly mainstream as Russell Grant being fired out of a cannon.

5) Metronomy - The English Riviera

The English Riviera opens with the sound of seagulls and a string quartet and ends with a woozy techno ode to Jill Scott. In between, it references Serge Gainsbourg, Ace Of Bass and end-of-pier Wurlitzers. It sounds bonkers - it is bonkers - but it's also a superbly-crafted record, with more musical twists and turns than a bowl of spaghetti.

4) Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

She's a cheery sort, Lykke Li, declaring "sadness is my boyfriend" and singing wistfully of being "kicked 'til I drown". You have to hope she's seeking professional help... but would a happy, well-adjusted Lykke Li make music as mesmerising as this? From the depraved sexual pounding of Get Some, to the echo-drenched Sadness Is A Blessing, this is the most exciting album about loneliness and depression ever made.

3) Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials

Listening to Florence and the Machine is a bit like standing in a wind tunnel full of kettles - invigorating but painful. Once you get past the bluster and chaos of this over-produced album, however, you might notice that it's rammed full of tunes. Shake It Out is the best song about a horse since Father Ted, while Spectrum showcases Florence's surprisingly versatile vocal range. If there had been a few extra moments of levity - like the frothy Breaking Down - this would have been a contender for number one.

2) Nicola Roberts - Cinderella's Eyes

"I had to call the fireman, my hair was burning bridges.
I'm shooting bullets from my chest. I'm Superwoman, bitches.
And if my balls of steel have got stuck half-way down your pipe,
I brought some KY, time to open, open, open wide."

Dear all other pop stars, you have been served your notice.

Nicola Roberts - Gladiator

1) Adele - 21

Yes, that's right: It's a team ginger triumph in the top three...

She turned up out of the blue, univited, and conquered the planet. 21 is not cool, it is not original, it is not remotely contemporary - but Adele Laurie Blue Adkins' 11 tales of heartbreak, revenge, and more heartbreak and revenge touched millions. It's inspired by soul, gospel and country, but the album is defined by that voice. Adele has a clarity of tone so pure you suspect that, somewhere in the fiery depths of hell, the devil has a tiny leather box with her soul in it. Good album, though.

Adele - Set Fire To The Rain

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