At this time of year everyone writes their Top Ten albums of the year, and I usually do the same. However it has often occurred to me that my most listened to album of the year was sometimes NOT an album that made my top albums of the year article. I decided this year I would just share those albums I actually listened to most. My list is an eclectic collection of music genres and artists, and some weren't even released in 2009. Also I decided not to limit myself to 10 but instead decided to share all 11 of my favourite albums. Why 11, you may ask? And I would answer, why not 11?
There were a few I decided not to mention in detail, mostly because I couldn't put into words, or didn't want to, why I loved the albums so much (Moby's Wait For Me, Marilyn Manson's The High End of Low) or they were just too old to mention (Evanescence's The Open Door, A Fine Frenzy's One Cell In The Sea). I also want to add that these albums are in no particular order. It is really all about my mood, the weather, and what I'm doing while listening, i.e. driving, writing, cleaning the house, exercising, having sex… you know the sort of thing.
Kings Of Leon – Only By the Night
I love this album. Actually I adore this album. This is the album that transitioned Kings Of Leon to a stadium band. Only by the Night's classic rock with a prog rock twist sound is so retro it's cool… again. It seems to be loved much more in the UK, by both the media and the general public, than in the band's native USA – although that's probably because Americans are so used to homogenised, committee-chosen music they don't understand cutting edge retro when they hear it (I knew X-Factor and American Idol would ruin you Yanks).
There isn't a moment on this album that doesn't make my toes curl with delight. It is pure rock 'n' roll magic beginning to end. I would just say however, for health and safety's sake, that if your sex is on fire, you should most certainly see a doctor.
Everlast – Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford
Possibly best known for his days as frontman of hip-hop group House Of Pain, or his participation in hip-hop supergroup La Coka Nostra, but that is only a small part of the musical map of this tremendously talented singer-songwriter and musician. Although the hip-hop attitude and even a bit of the hip-hop sound resounds through parts of Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford, you'll hear more blues rock and even some Americana. It's a truly American sound, hip-hop styled productions, blues rock guitar and vocals all shaded with Americana guitar.
As scary as all that may sound, Everlast really makes it work for him and for Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford. Make sure you pay attention to “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Die in Yer Arms”, “Stay”, “Dirty”, and “Saving Grace”. If you are unfamiliar with Everlast's blues music you may also want to try Whitey Ford Sings The Blues and White Trash Beautiful, but definitely don't let Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford pass you by.
Paloma Faith – Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?
This year seems to have been the year of retro jazz music, a la Amy Winehouse, and Paloma Faith is easily one of the best of that pack – second only to Imelda May, mentioned later. Her debut Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? was released this year and has already spawned the hit songs "Stone Cold Sober" and "New York", but no doubt there are many more to come. Although her sound is reminiscent of Winehouse, it most certainly is not the same, not by any stretch of the imagination. There is far less of Winehouse's heart-of-darkness melancholia, cynicism, and drug dependency, and more freshness, whimsy, and more general poptasticness.
Lily Allen – It's Not Me, It's You
I was not a fan of Allen's début album, the ska and reggae influenced Alright, Still. Written when she was just 17 or 18 it is a product of the angry, immature, privileged rich girl she was (her father is the legendary Welsh actor and comedian Keith Allen), and her début expressed all that acrimoniousness. However It's Not Me, It's You is a completely different direction for Allen, musically, lyrically, and personally.
Gone are the ska and reggae twangs, to be replaced by very danceable, catchy, electro-pop sounds. Allen has also shed the childishness; that chip on her shoulder is directed in a more mature direction, i.e. war/political figures (“Fuck You”), vacuous society wannabes (“The Fear”), bad boyfriends (“Not Fair”, “Never Gonna Happen”, “I Could Say”), and even her own past behaviour (“Back to the Start”). In the track “I Could Say” Allen sings, “Since you've gone I've lost a chip on my shoulder, since you've gone I feel like I've gotten older,” and this sentiment is obvious throughout this intelligent, witty, sarcastic, touching, sometimes even heartwarming album.
David Guetta – One Love
David Guetta is a French house DJ and his album reflects this heavily, but with guest vocalists like the Black Eyed Peas (“I Got A Feeling”), Akon (“Sexy Bitch”), Kelly Rowland (“When Love Takes Over”, “It's the Way You Love Me”, and “Choose” with Ne-Yo), and Will.i.am (“I Wanna Go Crazy”), you definitely feel the R&B/hip-hop influence. Euro elctro-dance, AKA house music, mixed with R&B and hip-hop seems to be the new trend in music in the UK and no one does it as well as David Guetta has with One Love.
Madeleine Peyroux – Bare Bones
In this forth release from Peyroux she has written all the songs herself. Usually her albums include a fair number of French jazz classics, but not on Bare Bones. Peyroux is as well known for her smooth romantic sound – she has been referred to as a 21st century Billie Holiday – as for her personal eccentricities. After the release of her début album Dreamland in 1996 (four years before Norah Jones's début) Peryoux decided to take some time off and spent six years busking in Paris, and she did a similar runner just before the release of her third album.
But it seems to work for her and her sound. Bare Bones is easily her best release so far, maintaining that retro-French-jazz sound while also somehow feeling fresh, young and new. With all original music and lyrics Bare Bones also shows that Peyroux is capable of doing much more than just recreating someone else's success. Hardly a day has passed since it was released in March, that I haven't given it a listened.
Melody Gardot – My One and Only Thrill
I admit that I hadn't heard of Gardot until after hearing her second studio album My One and Only Thrill. In the same vein as Madeleine Peyroux, but with less French influence and instead with subtle elements of Brazilian and samba music. I fell in love with her smooth romantic voice, her dark piano jazz sound, and her playful way with lyrics on the first listen. If you haven't heard of Gardot, or listened to her two albums Worrisome Heart and My One and Only Thrill you need to hear these now.
Jace Everett – Red Revelations
You probably know his song “Bad Things”, which was chosen as the theme song for the HBO vamp-xplotation TV series True Blood, but Everett is capable of so much more than just the lyrical sexualisation of vampires. Although he seems to have been categorised as a country singer, his new album Red Revelations is more Americana/blues rock. Everett has a smooth, deeply textured, intense voice that seems to drip with dirty sexual desire and sheer naughtiness, particularly when mixed with these funky country-esque guitar riffs and blues basslines.
And that vampiric theme song “Bad Things” is just too sexy for words, but I think the lyrics speak for themselves. “When you came in the air went out/ And every shadow filled up with doubt/ I don't know who you think you are/ But before the night is through/ I wanna do bad things with you.” Those lyrics mixed with the slow-burning sexual tension in his voice and the hot, sweaty music to match certainly illicit a strong carnal response in me.
Imelda May – Love Tattoo
If Paloma Faith is the face/sound of modern poptastic retro-jazz, then Imelda May is the real thing. Modern but retro, pop without bubblegum, honest-to-god vocals to die for. A little bit big swing band style jazz, a little blues, a lot rockabilly, this Irish songstress is equal measures of style and substance. One moment she will have a belter of a track, all power and epic vocals and that big band rockabilly sound (“Feel Me”, “Love Tattoo” and my personal favourite “Smokers Song”); the next moment May is all silky-smooth, romantic vocals with more beatnik jazz and tinkly piano sounds (“Knock 123”, “Meet You At The Moon”, and “Falling In Love With You Again”) to fall in love to. Give Imelda May and Love Tattoo one good listen and her eclectic charms will soon have you under their power too.
The Saturdays – Chasing Lights
Okay, yes, I admit that The Saturdays are nothing more than a manufactured, chart-ready girl group, but sometimes that's not a bad thing – and to support this assertion I would offer the following as evidence: Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, and the Sugababes. The Saturdays have that extra, nearly indefinable something. I know it has something to do with their sound – electro-pop and dance-pop – and their interesting mix of voices without the overly produced feel, and over sexualised look, of girl groups like Girls Aloud – who I hate with the heat and intensity of a million burning stars – and Pussycat Dolls.
Chasing Lights is more straightforward both lyrically and musically than Girls Aloud, and ALL the girls can actually hold a tune, unlike PCD, and it's a consistently good album from beginning to end. I would certainly consider this a strong contender for pop album of the year. Most impressive is that they have only been a band for less than a year now and yet have no trouble competing easily with other UK girl groups who have had much more time to develop. The Saturdays' future looks bright.
Gossip – Music For Men
I know that Gossip aren't that popular with my American brethren, generally speaking, but I have always assumed that was because the rednecks/white trash can't forgive frontwoman Beth Ditto for being a fat lesbian. People who think that when a woman fronts a band she is meant to be a vacuous, vapid, over-sexualised shell of a person with big tits and a tight arse. Just ask Disney. So Gossip don't fall into any recognisable category and that's one of the reasons I really like them. I like a band, and a woman, who isn't afraid to be unapologetically who they are – that's a rare quality in our fame-obsessed society. And we have a lot to thank Gossip for — they are almost single-handedly responsible for putting post-punk, dance punk, and blues punk on the musical map.
Music For Men is Gossip's fourth studio album and it's as good as the albums before it. Gossip's sound is a strange, wonderful mixture of electro, gospel, soul, garage rock, punk, dance, and electro. A little bit The Birthday Party with shades of Siouxsie & the Banshees and Le Tigre, with a sprinkling of Scissor Sisters, but mostly it's just all Gossip which means loads of originality, passion and attitude. What's not to like?