I know I am behind on this, but better late than never. The year was pretty interesting musically for me, and part of that was the surprises that came out of left field, and the revelations on artists that I previously knew of, but didn’t really care for. Muse, The Gossip, and Neko Case all came to the forefront of my musical world this year, and Lady GaGa, whose first CD I liked but didn’t love in 2008, now has my favorite CD of 2009. Biggest disappointment? Definitely Mr Hudson, who couldn’t deliver on the brilliance of “Supernova”. Here’s my top 20:
1. Lady GaGa/The Fame Monster – Consistently the most brilliant pop album this year. “Monster”, “Alejandro”, “Teeth”, “Telephone” and most importantly “Bad Romance” showed that GaGa could take her already-successful formula and expand it out to have a more sonically diverse album. Here’s hoping she gets the chance to continue to evolve.
2. The Gossip/Music For Men – Rick Rubin brought the magic to the Gossip. Too bad the rest of the label could not bring the magic to its promotion. “Dimestore Diamond” contains my favorite bassline of 2008, and “Pop Goes the World” is the epitome of power pop. At least we may still get a video for “Pop”.
3. Pet Shop Boys/Yes – I admit that I’m guilty of thinking PSB was past their prime, but I was pleasantly proven wrong with Yes. It was a challenge for me to select one song from this record to feature on the best songs, since “Love Etc”, “All Over the World” and “More Than a Dream” all rocked my world. “Did You See Me Coming” was the most fun I’ve heard the Boys have in years, though.
4. Muse /The Resistance – Muse are huge in the UK, but they are primarily seen as an alt-rock group here. No longer, as “Uprising” is now firmly embedded on many pop radio stations across the country. The Resistance harkens back to a more progressive-rock model, with even a three movement symphony at the end of the record. But any band that can go from the grunginess of “Uprising” to the electro-groove of “Undisclosed Desires” and do them both well gets mad props from me.
5. Noisettes/Wild Young Hearts – When I first heard “Don’t Disturb the Rhythm”, I thought it was okay, but not necessarily worth the deafening praise that accompanied its climb toward the top of the UK charts. Fortunately, I dug deeper and found that the rest of the record contained a very contemporary yet faithful updating of that classic R&B sound that we all know. Hearts stands on its own as a solid pop album that grabs multiple influences to create a solid all-around effort. [Side note: can we stop referring to any modern R&B album in terms of Amy Winehouse? The comparison, no matter how appropriate, is beyond played out.]
6. Neko Case/Middle Cyclone – My first exposure to Neko occurred when the HBO series Big Love used “John Saw That Number” as the closing song for an episode back in 2007. The song was good, and really worked well in context to the show, but I didn’t give it much thought after that. Fast-forward two years, and I happened to catch a making of video for Middle Cyclone, and being a sucker for behind-the-scenes type info, I watched. The recording was done in her barn, and the music they played was stunning, so I picked up the full-length. If you’re looking to expand your pop horizons, I highly recommend it.
7. Blake Lewis/Heartbreak on Vinyl – 2007 also saw Blake Lewis debut with ADD, and after debuting in the Top 10, it sank like a stone with virtually no label support. That was a huge shame, because it was arguably the most coherent and original album from an American Idol winner or runner-up to that point. Now on Tommy Boy Records, Blake appears to be in with people that really get his vision, because he’s taken his funky beatbox and smooth vocals and laid them over even more electric grooves. Heartbreak continues to get my vote for Best Dance Album of the year, even against the David Guettas of the world.
8. Mika/The Boy Who Fell to Earth – Let’s be honest…I was completely underwhelmed by “We Are Golden”, but I also appear to be immune to the Glee phenomenon, so that might be the reason. Mika’s debut was among my favorite CDs of 2007, so I was not going to give up on him quite that easily, and I am glad I didn’t. CD #2 found Mika branching out a bit sonically while still remaining true to his quirky pop roots. Highlights for me are “Rain” and “Blame It on the Girls”.
9. Lily Allen/It’s Not You, It’s Me – Let’s get past the whole “I can’t stand Lily Allen” argument and get down to the music. It’s good, it’s solid, and it’s so damn hook-ish that you can’t resist. The shock value of some lyrics is probably a blessing and a curse at this point, but would she stand out as much as she does without it? Probably not, but I’m glad to endure it if she keeps on coming up with songs like “22”, “Not Fair”, and “The Fear”.
10. Sugarland/Live on the Inside – I did a full review back in August, but this ranks among my all-time favorite live CDs. It is heavier on the covers than I would have expected, but when a country-pop group can take diverse songs like Edie Brickel & New Bohemians’ “Circle” or Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and make them their own, you should pay attention. My personal highlight is their cover of REM’s “Nightswimming”, which segues into their own “Joey”.