I'm popping off to Scotland for a week, so the blog will be as blank as Olly Murs' manuscript in a maths exam. To tide you over to the 4th of February, here are a few songs I would have blogged about if there'd been more time.
1) Justin Timberlake - Suit and Tie
This is the lyric video to the audio track that was teased in a Youtube clip spawned from a tweet. All this faffing about would be worth it if the song was slap-you-on-the-tits amazing, but sadly it's still just a 5/10. *sigh*
2) Laura Mvula - Green Garden
Of all the artists on this year's Sound Of 2013 predictapolls, Laura Mvula is the one with the most potential to do an Adele. Hip enough for Radio 1, edgy enough for 6 Music and soothing enough for Radio 2, she's got what I like to call "potential". She also has an incredible voice and amazing songs. Green Garden takes a while to get going, but you'll be swooning by the final, exuberant chorus.
3) Zedd ft Foxes - Clarity
Zedd is a German producer who's been working on Lady Gaga's new album.
Foxes is British songstress Louisa Rose Allen, who we like a lot.
Together they are "Zedd ft Foxes".
And this song is fucking great. Sand dunes ahoy!
4) Jessie Ware - If You're Never Gonna Move (Two Inch Punch remix)
This song used to be called 110% but, for some reason, it's been renamed If You're Never Gonna Move for the US release. Clearly, the new name is a line from the chorus, which is useful for the sort of person who goes into a record shop and says "I heard this song on the radio and it sort of went duh duh duh duh If You're Never something a-a-ah. Do you have it?" Except the only line anyone can ever remember from 110% is "Dancing On My Own" which is a completely different but equally brilliant song. And anyway, the record shops are all closed nowadays and you can just Shazam the song off the radio, so why bother changing the name in the first place? Gah!
The remix, by the way, is excellent: All ambient and spookified. And only available in the US. Double gah!
5) Lana Del Rey - Summertime Sadness (Monsieur Adi remix)
Do you think Lana approves of this? She spends ages cultivating her doe-eyed, pouty-lipped pop vixen persona, then someone waps her vocals on top of a honking bassline and makes her sound like the queen of the carnival. A carnival populated by the cast of Glee and 10,000 other people with the permanently startled expression of Scooby Doo with a jack-in-the-box.
But who cares what she thinks? It's big, dumb, mindless, and infuriatingly catchy.
6) REM - Losing My Religion
Major Scaled is a project whereby songs in a "sad" minor key are digitally tweaked so they're in a "cheerful" major key. The results are quite startling. You can recognise and follow the songs, but something's not quite right. They've posted a bunch of examples on their Facebook page - but REM's Losing My Religion (recast as Rediscovering My Religion) is the best of the bunch.
That's it - have a lovely snowy week. See you in a bit.
You may have heard of Arlissa late last year, when she gave the ultimate two fingers to her ex-boyfriend - by recording a song about their break-up with his favourite artist, Nas. Hard To Love Somebody was good enough to get Arlissa (pronounced Ar-Leesa) onto the BBC Sound of 2013 longlist, and the New Year episode of Top Of The Pops, where she premiered her follow-up single Sticks and Stones.
It's a great song. Shivering on the misty battle lines of a torrid relationship, Arlissa pleads with a lover, whose "bullets shoot down my faith and my body". It's a lazy comparison to says she sounds like Kate Bush - but Arlissa actively encourages it: "Kate Bush is my biggest influence. I'd like a career like hers," she told the Guardian last year.
The video has a curiously unsettling tone - lots of shots of warthogs and shetland ponies and what appears to be a goat brothel - but it also reminds me of Wes Anderson's excellent Moonrise Kingdom, which is no bad thing.
NB: It may have come to your attention that Arlissa is quite gorgeous. If so, you will be pleased to hear that the video makes no attempt to disguise it.
The video for Nicole Scherzinger's Boomerang has just "dropped", which sounds awfully careless if you ask me.
As the opening salvo of an album campaign, the will.i-am production is a little underwhelming - not awful, you understand, just bland. You do begin to wonder whether poor Nicole will ever get to release a solo album in her home country (debut album Her Name Is Nicole was binned, while the US release of Killer Love was cancelled).
Directed by fashion photographer Nathalie Canguilhem, the video has a few beautiful moments, particularly the ultra-slow-motion filming during the middle 8. Here's a couple of screengrabs.
Nicole uses an invisible urinal.
This is what it will look like when they sequence Nicole's DNA.
I call this one "combustible hair product disaster movie".
Someone's been overdoing it with the layering tool in Adobe Aftereffects.
And here are all of those images in motion and context. Enjoy.
Reverb enthusiasts Foals have been chatting away to Digital Spy about their new album and "the state of music" (urgh).
It turns out Yannis Philippakis is not a fan of club music kingpin David "Dave" Guetta: "David Guetta is basically... it's not even something that really makes my blood boil because it is just bullshit," he seethes. "It is an abomination but there needs to be bad music around."
You might disagree with his taste, but I like the point he's making. What are Solange and Jessie Ware and AlunaGeorge, if not a kickback against the dancification of R&B?
People (and by people I mean the NME and Pitchfork) keep hoping for a comparable indie insurrection - but Yannis gives that idea short shrift, too. "The most exciting moments in guitar music are when there's no attention on it," he reckons. "When people say, 'It's the reign of the guitar band', that's when the worst records get put out."
The current shortage of decent guitar music certainly means Foals are large horses in a small paddock - but their new single would deserve attention in the midst of a full-on indie revival. My Number is constructed from nimble, interlocking guitar lines and - heavens above - a proper chorus.
Video-wise, we're in "live performance" territory. But, in a neat twist, the director shows what's going on around the venue - snogging in the toilets, breakdancing at the fire escape, and some heroic moshing (although not as heroic as this).
Prince is clearly gearing up for something special this year. A handful of new and rare tracks have appeared online via a Twitter account called 3rdeyegirl and, despite the fact Prince flounced off the internet in a huff about five years ago, he hasn't ordered their removal. Then there were a handful of surprise concerts in Minneapolis. And now he's put a new song up on his official website.
It's called Screwdriver and, like many of the recently-unearthed tracks, it sees Prince going back to simple rock riffs and goofing off with his all-female new band. It's not jaw-droppingly "oh my god, he's back" awesome - but it is a return to form after the barren wastelands of the late 2000s.
Here's a YouTube version - if it won't load, the original is on www.20pr1nc3.com.
An interview with his new band also cropped up on The Current, in which we learn Prince is "ridiculous at ping-pong" and that - YES! - there are some "promo dates overseas" on the horizon.
The other track to appear online today is a live jam, called Chapter & Verse. It's a little loose and silly - but it's always interesting to hear Prince boss around his young charges (and to hear him dissing rappers like a silly old man.)
Disclosure dropped a duo of dreamy dub-pop singles last year, by the names of Control (ft Ria Ritchie) and Latch (ft Sam Smith). The latter even propelled the dance act into the top 20, much to everyone's surprise and delight.
The band are, in fact, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, from Surrey. Aged 21 and 18, they spend their spare time defacing promo pictures with a Tipp-Ex pen, and describing their sound as "house, garage, chords, singing, drums", which at least saves me the effort of thinking up something better.
New single White Noise features Aluna Francis (sounding curiously like she's been sped up, Alvin and the Chipmunks style) and is quite simply gorgeous. It's out in March, which is AGES.
So far, the Girls Aloud solo albums have played it safe - content not to stray beyond the borders of the band's pop heartland. But Kimberley Walsh is doing it a little differently. Her debut solo record, Centre Stage, is a collection songs from film and theatre musicals, recorded for proper posho classical label Decca.
Among the standards she's covered is On My Own, from Les Miserables - a song she used to watch from the wings when she played Young Cosette in the stage show in her youth. She later performed it in the West End as part of ITV 2's Passions Of Girls Aloud series.
But the song she's chosen as the first single is a slight cheat. One Day I'll Fly Away was originally a top 40 hit for soul singer Randy Crawford in 1980, and only fits the brief for Kimberley's album because Nicole Kidman covered it in Moulin Rouge. It's like rock week on X Factor when everyone covers Travis and Avril Lavigne "because they've got guitars in".
However, Kimberley's arrangement of the song is rather sweet, pushing her vocals to the forefront with just a sparse drum pulse and some beautifully-judged string textures for company. The expensive-looking video is below.
The Staves have just uploaded the video for their next single, fan favourite Winter Trees, to YouTube. A hand-crafted stop-motion animation, it features dozens paper bunnies trapped in a flood. In other words, Watership Down: The Ecological Disaster Edition.
Here's what the band have to say about it all: "We are currently in Boston doing some radio shows with some good people and it is FREEZING. White winter trees most definitely covered with snow.
"And on that note, we are thrilled to share with you our brand spanking new video for our new single, Winter Trees (see what we did there? Smoooooth). Thanks to Karni and Saul for using their talents to create such a beautiful story. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do."
I have listened to Tegan and Sara's new single, I Was A Fool, approximately 12 times this morning. And, after a thorough forensic investigation of the song's structure, melody, lyrical content and harmonic balance, I can confidently assert that the three best bits are:
1) All of it 2) All of it 3) All of it
Basically, I Was A Fool is very good. An epic, yet mid-tempo, lament graced by the midas touch of pop Einstein Greg Kurstin. It sounds like this.
The single is is out on 29 January, and is taken from Tegan and Sara's forthcoming album Heartthrob.
Pay attention, everyone, because this sort of thing doesn't happen every day. A young MC called Scrufizzer has created an entirely new genre of music. A fresh and epic sound that will reinvigorate your eardrums.
This isn't the result of some happy accident - Scrufizzer knows exactly what he's doing. "I've got a brand new sound," he teases in a tannoy announcement introduction to his new single. "Who wants to hear my brand new sound?"
What can it be? A crocodile orchestra? A dance anthem played entirely on biscuits? Autotune baboons playing bassoons?
"This is rap rave," the MC announces proudly. "Cos when I rap, you rave."
That's right: Scrufizzer has just created the musical equivalent of "I'm John, he's Edward. And together we are..."
Besides, weren't The Shamen already making rap rave 20 years ago?
But even if Rap Rave disappoints on a revolutionary level, the song is arresting enough. Scrufizzer (real name Romani Lorenzo) has a delivery that's not a million miles away from Dizzee Rascal, and the rave klaxons are put to good use. Just don't expect a bubblewrap breakdown or a rapping sandwich.
You were probably in bed at the time, but Jessie Ware was left in charge of Radio 1 for two hours on Sunday night. Now if it was me, I'd have changed all the locks, put Annie Mac in charge of the playlist, moved Scott Mills back to drivetime and sent garrulous weekend idiots "Dan and Phil" in a metaphorical and literal elevator to hell.
But Jessie was content to spin a few tunes and talk utter nonsense until her allotted time was up. As you might expect, the music was sublime: A perfect late-night dose of chilled soul. She was a natural behind the mic, too. Talking about her upcoming gigs at Shepherd's Bush Empire, Jessie noted: "I’ve been to see Another Level there... and now there’s me".
You can hear the whole programme on the Radio 1 website or the BBC Radio Player app until Sunday. But if you are accessing this page FROM THE FUTURE (hello, Busted!) here's a Soundcloud playlist with all but three of the songs she played...
If you're interested the full tracklist was:
Jessie Ware - If You're Never Gonna Move (aka 110%) HAIM - Don't Save Me Sampha - Indecision Disclosure - I Love... That You Know Nautic - Fixxx AlunaGeorge - Thinking Bout You (1Xtra Live Lounge) Polica - Dark Star Twigs - Hide Zero 7, Sia & Sophie - Destiny Lauryn Hill ft D'Angelo - Nothing Even Matters Aphex Twin - Tha Nuyorican Soul - I Am The Black Gold Of the Sun (feat. Jocelyn Brown) The Maccabees - Pelican Brandy - Slower BenZel - Fallin' Love The Notorious B.I.G. - Juicy* Miguel - Adorn Lauryn Hill - Ex-Factor* Destiny's Child - Say My Name (Cyril Hahn Remix) Santigold & Diplo - I'm A Lady (feat. Amanda Blank) Jessie Ware - Strangest Feeling (Instrumental) Rhye - Open Redhino - Stay Together*
tracks marked with an asterisk are missing from the Soundcloud playlist
Justin Timberlake bought a stake in MySpace not so long ago so NATURALLY his new single premiered there. And can anyone remember their MySpace password? Can they fuck.
Oh, and even if you do by chance remember your login details, the entire site is a jumbled mess of badly coded white space, overlapping images and buttons you can't click*.
At least Justin can see where all his money has gone, eh?
Luckily, someone at the label had the foresight to put the single up on JT's official website, too. So it is possible to hear it without visiting a dark, dead corner of the internet. The song's called Suit and Tie and here's what happens.
1) A stoned horn section plays the fanfare from Benny Hill at the wrong speed.
2) Uh-oh, we're in slow jam territory. Justin sings "I'll be on my suit and tie shit," which is a disturbing mental image if nothing else.
3) We're 45 seconds in and suddenly the pace ramps up. Here comes that trademark Justin Timberfalsetto, telling us about "romancing" a "lady" on the "dancefloor".
4) The lyrics are about putting on your glad rags for a night out. Judging by the tone of the song, they're going somewhere nicer than the nearest Nandos. Justin is "all pressed up in black and white" and his young partner is "dressed in that dress I like". You know - this one.
5) Boring fact: The snare drum sounds a lot like the echoey Pringles pop from Andrea True's disco classic More, More, More.
6) Justin is promising to "show you a few things", including this YouTube video about a shark.
7) Hmmm... We're onto the second chorus and the song isn't really going anywhere. Don't get me wrong, it's smooth like peanut butter, recalling the sweeter side of 90s swing like Donnell Jones or Michael Jackson's Remember The Time - but it doesn't shout "stop everything AT ONCE" in the way SexyBack did 85 years ago or whenever.
8) Totally unnecessary Jay-Z rap section for the urban demographic.
9) Extended two-minute coda over which Justin ad libs sweet nothings about taking his "lady" back home.
10) When they get there, do you think the lady will ask him to put on Rock Your Body instead?
All in all, pleasant enough. You can imaging Justin had great fun recording it - it's relaxed and cheery. A neat reference to the sort of pop he grew up with.
Also, the video is going to be great. The concept's simple but effective: Justin's in M&S trying on this year's Collezione range and a variety of hats. There will also be dancing.
You can buy Suit and Tie on iTunes now. And while you wait for that to download, you can look at this freshly-minted picture of Justin in a suit and tie. Ooh, synergy.
It's existence was only revealed on Thursday, but Nuclear, the first new Destiny's Child single in eight years, has already found its way onto the internet.
The lyrics are fantastically bollocks. "When two become one on a quantum level, it's nuclear," sing Beyonce and Michelle and Kelly. That's right, they are using nuclear fusion as a metaphor for doing it. "We both heat up," they purr, semi-accurately.
There was originally a third verse about "accelerating my particles" in a "large hard-on collider" but sadly that's been removed for the single edit*.
Sadly, the song itself is no atomic bomb. As predicted it's a mid-tempo ballad, albeit one that borrows the chunky drum loop from King Bee's Back By Dope Demand (itself a mutated sample from James Brown's Funky Drummer).
It's cold fusion rather than a nuclear blast - but DC's harmonies are supple and beautiful and, if you can ignore the lyrics, a worthy addition to their catalogue.
You can pre-order the Destiny's Child Love Songs album on Amazon for the very precise sum of £6.26.
Crikey - it's like David Bowie's surprise comeback has spurred the entire music industry into action.
First up, Destiny's Child have announced a brand new track, called Nuclear, will be included on their forthcoming compilation album, Love Songs. Sadly, a quick glance at the tracklisting, shows it's clearly going to be a ballad. But there's still hope as The Neptunes are on production duties. If you've heard their remix of DC's Emotions, you'll know what I mean.
Then, pop star turned actor turned interior designer turned golfer Justin Timberlake announced his long-overdue return to music.
It came via a minute-long, spoken word YouTube video, which I hope and pray isn't a sign of what's to come. We want beatboxing and jaw-dropping dance moves, not a po-faced thesis on how he "nurtures his muse". I've said it before, and I'll say it again: GET ON WITH IT JUSTIN.
At the other end of the scale, here's a new song from Florence + The Machine, which has appeared out of nowhere. I Come Apart is duet with US rap prodigy A$AP Rocky and it is magic.
Finally, the Brit nominations came out last night. It's a pretty good shortlist this time around, and one which illustrates the increasing separation between the download market (represented by Olly Murs and Calvin Harris), the people who still buy albums (Mumford and Sons, Alt-J) and the music industry voters whose sole aim is confusing Cathy in Asda by nominating acts she's never heard of (Cat Power, Richard Hawley).
I wrote a brief analysis on the BBC - which is basically a string of bad jokes (what else?). But the best thing about the launch event was Jessie Ware playing an acoustic version of Running.
She's up for two awards: best female, which she'll lose to Emeli Sande, and best breakthrough, where she has an even chance of winning - but it's fantastic just to see her in the running. Haha, running. Like her song. I see what they did there.
Get ready to sob uncontrollably, because pop music is having a massive sulky lipwobble. It's like that Harry Potter book where JK Rowling suddenly remembered teenagers can get sullen and self-involved, so every other paragraph said, "Harry was consumed with frustration" or "I just feel so angry, all the time".
If you're in the mood to wrap yourself in a duvet and stare vacantly out the window thinking about the sheer futility of existence, here's the perfect soundtrack.
ARTIST: WILLOW SMITH (yes, that Willow Smith) Title: Sugar And Spice Really deep lyric: "I tried to be Sugar and Spice, but I'm melancholy and can't do anything right" Reasons to be cheerful: Samples Radiohead's gloomy Pyramid Song Misery rating: 9/10
ARTIST: SKY FERREIRA Title: Everything Is Embarrassing Really deep lyric: "I've been hating everything" Giving the game away: About 3'28" into her debut TV performance, Sky breaks character with a brief dance flourish. Hang on - she's not glum at all, is she? Misery rating: 6/10
ARTIST: ALUNAGEORGE Title: Thinkin' About You Really deep lyric: "My eyes don't shed tears but, boy, they bawl" Wet blanket bonus: AlunaGeorge are covering "boo-hoo" songmeister Frank Ocean Misery rating: 8/10
When the new David Bowie single exploded onto the world wide web this morning, one of my colleagues harrumphed "Bowie should have stopped after two albums".
Despite general murmurs of discontent he persisted with the argument. In fact, it didn't just apply to the Thin White Streaky Bacon from Mars but to every artist ever in the history of music. If he had his way, there’d be no Heroes, no Kid A, no Sgt Pepper and, most importantly of all, no Emancipation Of Mimi.
The conversation led to much shouting in the office (someone else suggested a cut-off point of six albums for "really, really good bands like Marillion"). But I think Bowie’s elegant, moving new song (link here - no embedding allowed) shows how artists can still produce something magical late into their career, especially when they stop trying to keep up with the kids, and acknowledge their age and mortality.
And Bowie’s not the only one at it.
Last time we heard from Prince, it was with a terrible, lacklustre dirge called Rock and Roll Love Affair (trust me, it’s even more clunky than the title). But a new track, “leaked” onto YouTube, reminds me of why I loved him so much in the first place.
Called Same Page, Different Book, it’s a plea for understanding between the world’s major religions. “There’s only one God, whatever name he took,” sermonises the Purple maestro.
It’s a return to the stripped back retro-funk of his albums at the turn of the millennium - Musicology and Rainbow Children. More importantly, it’s one of the rare occasions where Prince wears his musical genius lightly. Relaxed and groovesome, enjoy it before his lawyers whip it off YouTube.
I had an awful tumbleweed moment with Mutya Keisha Siobhan (aka The Origibabes, aka The Un-Sugababes) last year. See if you can spot the moment where the wheels came off this red carpet interview at the Q Awards:
Wow. I never thought I’d be interviewing the three of you together.
Mutya: I know! We’re really excited to be back. It’s been an exciting year.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Keisha: Honestly, just making sure on the business side that we don’t make the same mistakes as we did in the past, and that’s been the hardest part.
When are we going to get to hear some music?
Keisha: It’s coming soon. You’ll hear some stuff soon. It’s important to us that we get it right. We’ve had so much support from our fans. The general public really want this to happen, and so do we. We’re really excited.
You must have options for the first single. How many tracks are you choosing from?
Siobhan: I think we know what the first single will be but for us it’s been a real focus on making a real album, a body of work that we are proud to stand by.
Girls Aloud announced they were reuniting on Friday. You must have been like, “you bitches – this was our year!”
Mutya: [Long, shocked pause] Nooo... Not at all.
Keisha: We’re friends with Nicola and Kimberley personally, outside of work. So just like they’ve known about this for a long time before everyone else,
I knew about them – and I think it’s great.
Mutya: It’s all exciting stuff.
Anyway, back before Keisha gave me the evils, the band were talking about their comeback single. Sadly, we're still waiting for the big reveal - but the girls have finally broken their silence to post a new track on YouTube. It's called Boys, and it appears to have been filmed in a mirror (look at the text in the poster over Keisha's shoulder).
Very catchy - but without hearing the backing track, it's hard to judge whether the song is an powerful peal of pop thunder, or a dismal R&B slowjam.
Your fears should be allayed by the fact it's been produced by Richard Stannard and Ash Howes and Mnek (Three producers? Were they playing Twister on the mixing desk?) And if that's not enough, Mutya Keisha Siobhan are "allowing" you to sample three seconds of the finished track on Soundcloud.
Besuited pop sophisticrats Hurts premiered their new single on Radio 1 this morning. It's called Miracle and it finds Theo under a dark cloud. "No love, no light, no end in sight," he intones ominously over a gloomy electro thrum. What a misery-guts, eh readers?.
To be fair, there's an attempt to lift the mood with some sprightly "hoping for a miracle" backing vocals, and the late addition of a tinkly piano riff - but all that achieves is to make the song sound like Keane doing a Depeche Mode cover.
So, Miracles won't damage Hurts's "big in Germany" reputation - but what will it do for their UK fanbase? The jury is out. Which is weird, because I don't think juries normally decide on that sort of thing. Your thoughts, please, in the comments section.
Hooray for Haim, who have topped the BBC's Sound Of 2013 list. This year's poll was an odd one. I can't see any of the artists in the top 15 shifting crateloads of CDs to Asda, in the way previous winners Jessie J and Adele (with the possible exception of Laura Mvula), but for the first time I genuinely like every act in the top five.
Haim, especially, have done something very special by cross-breeding Californian folk-rock and girlband R&B. Imagine The Mamas and The Papas covering Say My Name and you get the idea. Or maybe you don't. It might be easier if you just listen to their single, Don't Save Me.
I was lucky enough to interview the girls when they were in London last year - and that article is running on the BBC news website this morning. But I'm gutted I didn't get to attend the video shoot that runs alongside the text story, because Este Haim stood in Madam Tussauds and unabashedly performed the dance routine from Oops! I Did It Again for the camera. Twice.
The rushes are amazing but I'm afraid you'll have to make do with the edit. Here it is.
The "accolade" comes along with a big feature on the BBC News website and a video of Aluna and George visiting an aquarium, for no apparent reason. It's very cute, though. Especially when Aluna asks "Why are we so lame?"
2) Pulp release an excellent new single
"On the last night on earth, when the horses run free, the scriptures foretell of a party in Hackney". Amazing1,000,000,007
Apropos of nothing, Cheryl "this surname available for rent" put up a video for her Lana Del Rey-penned song Ghetto Baby on Christmas Day. It's the one that has the lyric "I know you're sick babe, I wanna get the flu," which is simultaneously genius and ridiculous.
But no-one's listening to the lyrics, they're just watching Cheryl in sweatpants doing crab bends on top of her boyfriend. Which is what everyone does on Boxing Day, right? RIGHT?
4) Miley Cyrus covers Jolene
Amazingly not shit. OK, The White Stripes version had more fire in its belly, and Laura Marling gave a more nuanced vocal performance - but this is a surprisingly powerful interpretation. Maybe Miley had a little help from her Godmother, a little-known songwriter called "Dolly Parton" (nope, me neither).
Miley is currently recording an album with the Neptunes. The mind boggles.
Understandably, Skrillex and his ex-girlfriend don't make an appearance in the video for Summit, but the visuals, by Aussie art magazine Pilerats, are quite diverting. I particularly enjoyed the bit where someone jumps out of a window on a skateboard.
As 2012 disappears in the rear view mirror, I've tackled my iTunes library to see which albums I listened to most. There are a few surprises (I don't remember listening to this much Michael Kiwanuka) and some glaring omissions (Emeli Sande - presumably because she was on TV so often it rendered the album redundant).
But I am glad to say the Frank Ocean album didn't make the top 10 because, let's be honest, it's patchy and inconsistent and that Forrest Gump song is utter balls.
10) Jack White - Blunderbuss
Where would rock be without failed relationships? From Fleetwood Mac's Rumours to Amy Winehouse's Back To Black, other people's tragedies have inspired some of pop's best songs. Jack White is no exception - his break-up from Karen Elson fuelling his first solo album. It is by no means a coincidence that it's his best work since The White Stripes' Elephant.
"When they tell you that they just can't live without you," he sings at one point. "They ain't lyin', they'll take pieces of you". The lyrics on this album prompted one newspaper to write a hysterical rant about White's supposed misogyny. Admittedly, it seems cruel that he made his ex-wife sing the backing vocals, but there's more to this album than a crude hatred of women. Blunderbuss is blistering with hurt, fury and cynicism - and it's all the better for it.
9) Scissor Sisters - Magic Hour
"You may not hear this on MTV," sings Jake Shears on Best In Me. "No big deal. Fine by me." Sadly, he was right - programmers on radio and TV never really threw their weight behind this album, leading the band to announce they were going on "indefinite hiatus" at the end of the year. If Magic Hour proves to be their swansong, at least it was a good one. Highlights included the Neptunes-produced Inevitable and the sleazy Shady Love, featuring Azealia Banks.
8) Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
Proving that singing like Kermit The Frog needn't necessarily be a handicap, Alt-J walked away with the Mercury Prize in November. An Awesome Wave is one of those records that makes awards committees feel smart, with its intricate pararhythms, lyrics about maths, and a capella interludes. But it wears it lightly, burying all the trickery beneath some gorgeous tunes, in particular the hit single Tessellate. Which is about interlocking body parts, of course.
7) Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
Poor old Michael Kiwanuka. A winner of numerous hyperbolic "sound of" polls in January, his profile seemed to flatline around Valentine's Day. He probably prefers it that way, though. Home Again is shot through with a sunny spirituality that megastardom would have destroyed... Listening back to the album this morning, I was struck by how the sepia-tinged Al Green grooves would have been the perfect soundtrack to the summer. If only we'd had one.
6) Grimes - Visions
Grimes is Canada's Claire Boucher, and Visions is her third album. It sounds so completely unlike anything else that critics all seemed to come unstuck trying to review it. "The sound of an internal war," said the NME. Pitchfork described it as "post-internet" and if you can work out what this reviewer (who actually uses the vomit-inducing phrase "wet dream pop") is on about, I will give you £10.
The Onion's AV Club got it right for me, calling the album "a cryptic blur of impressions" - capturing the way Boucher's floaty, ephemeral vocals and echo-drenched electro beats slowly coalesced into a work of sublime, unhinged genius.
5) Marina & The Diamonds - Electra Heart
Marina went off to LA to construct this album with top-flight songwriters like Greg Kurstin and Rick "Belinda Carlisle" Nowles and, by God, did it produce results. The first 30 minutes of the album are flawless - the best "side one" of the year.
Electra Heart was initially touted as a "concept" - something to do with American femme fatale archetypes - but, as Marina later confessed, all it's really about is "being young and being in love with someone who doesn't love you". It's the female counterpart to Jack White's break-up album - but with monstrous godzilla pop hooks destroying everything in their path. Awesome.
4) The Staves - Dead and Born and Grown
The Staves were my bandcrush of the year, even if everyone else ignored them (this album crept into the charts at number 42 for a single week). Three sisters from Watford, they perform bluegrass-inspired folk harmonies with unnerving clarity and beauty. Their debut album was produced by Ethan Johns (Laura Marling) and his dad Glyn (The Beatles) but all these veteran knob-twiddlers really had to do was sit back and let Staveley siblings sing. Uncluttered and beguiling, Dead And Born And Grown is like snuggling up under a warm duvet on a stormy night.
3) Regina Spektor - What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
At first it seemed underwhelming - Regina retreading old ground and even recycling old tunes (Ne Me Quitte Pas first appeared, in a very different guise, on 2002's Songs). But What We Saw From The Cheap Seats was one of those albums that kept calling me back. In particular, the heartbreaking ballad How, about fading memories of love, and All The Rowboats, written from the point of view of a painting in a museum. It's a subtle record, refining rather than reinventing Regina's style, but it will take root in your soul.
2) Jessie Ware - Devotion
People compared her to Sade. That was unfair. Jessie Ware's album had more blood and grit than anything Sade ever produced - from its rumbling sub bass, to the self-sacrifice in Taking In Water. The sensual Wildest Moments was my single of the year, while 110% is the best song about dancing on your own since Robyn's... Dancing On My Own.
One of the few R&B albums of the year to make any kind of attempt at melody, Devotion rivals Solange's Losing You in signposting where the genre should head in 2013.
1) Lana Del Rey - Paradise
What the top three albums on this list have in common is that the artist has carved out a sound that is instantly, undeniably their own. Lana Del Rey's debut album is equal parts 1950s torch songs, hip-hop insouciance, and the car crash scene from Great Gatsby. Half of the songs here wouldn't work if they were sung by a pitch-perfect X Factor melisma-meister - they need that louche, knowing wink that Lana delivers in her ridiculously affected drawl.
All the brouhaha about her "authenticity" seems ridiculous with the benefit of hindsight. In fact, the confidence and self-belief it took to construct Born To Die's noir pop aesthetic is more authentic than a million Jake Bugg albums. Oh, and the songs are amazing: Video Games, Off To The Races, National Anthem, Blue Jeans, Summertime Sadness. Brilliant work that reveals new secrets even on the 50th listen.