Here's my annual round up of this year's albums. It's most of the albums I got this year, except Arctic Monkeys and Tiga, which I found too disappointing to review. I still might look into getting Justin Timberlake's or the Dixie Chicks' albums, so this list is subject to change. I was worried I wouldn't find a true standout album--many of my reviews were 4.5 out of 5--but I finally found a 5-star album this month in Muse. Click on the links to read my original reviews:
British rock band Muse delivered the year's best, most consistent album. A gothic journey of war, aliens, Mars, and love built on influences ranging from classical music and Mexican folk to Depeche Mode, Queen, and Radiohead. Nothing was more flawlessly executed this year.
(Best: "Map of the Problematique," "Starlight," "Take a Bow," "Invincible," "Supermassive Black Hole," "Assassin," "Knights of Cydonia")
Scissor Sisters returned with another dose of solid, campy pop, although with a darker lyrical undercurrent. This time with Elton John in tow, the band touched on themes of loneliness, anger, and even Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans.
(Best: "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," "She's My Man," "Land of a Thousand Words," "Kiss You Off," "The Other Side")
Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell and former Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan blended her angelic voice with his raspy one, together crafting a haunting and surprisingly beautiful collection of country and '60s-influenced dark pop.
(Best: "The False Husband," "Black Mountain," "Deus Ibi Est," "Honey Child What Can I Do," "Revolver")
Like the Scissor Sisters, 2004 breakout band Keane returned this year to deliver it's "difficult" second album. Exploring similar, but darker and more experimental territory, the album delivered my favorite song of the year, the stunning "A Bad Dream," slated as the album's fourth single early next year.
(Best: "A Bad Dream," "Is It Any Wonder?," "Nothing in My Way," "Atlantic," "Leaving So Soon")
British singer Jamelia delivered this year's best pure pop album, an ode to melodic '90s pop and R&B, with apparent influences from En Vogue to Depeche Mode, that stands refreshingly in sharp contrast to the beat-driven pop/R&B that's so fashionable these days.
(Best: "Beware of the Dog," "Something About You," "Do Me Right," "Window Shopping," "Ain't a Love")
Mercury Prize-nominated Editors album The Back Room is good, technically-proficient rock music in the best traditional sense: dark, insistent melodies, dueling guitars, and a lead singer that can actually sing.
(Best: "Munich," "All Sparks," "Bullets," "Lights," "Camera")
Breaking from the quiet tedium of their last album, Final Straw, Snow Patrol this year delivered a great set chronicling a relationship journey from love through dysfunction to ultimate resolution that really rocks.
(Best: "You're All I Have," "Hands Open," "Chasing Cars," "Set the Fire to the Third Bar")
"Retro" to most artists this year meant the '80s, but British pop/rock band The Feeling went even further back to the '60s and '70s exploring those eras feel-good pop delivered by acts like Supertramp, 10cc, and Electric Light Orchestra.
(Best: "Never Be Lonely," "Love It When You Call," "Fill My Little World," "Sewn")
The Killers moved in a new direction for their second album, taking on the challenge of aping U2 and Bruce Springsteen for a broader rock canvas than they delivered with their '80s-influenced debut Hot Fuss, although thankfully some of that New Wave influence lives on here too.
(Best: "When You Were Young," "Bling (Confessions of a King),"Read My Mind," "Bones")
The better of the two Air side projects this year finds them crafting lovely electronic melodies for French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of one of the band's favorite musical influences.
(Best: "The Songs That We Sing," "5.55," "Everything I Cannot See," "Tel Que Tu Es")
After some disappointing efforts, Pet Shop Boys were firmly back on track this year, with a moody synth-driven collection taking them back to their ‘80s roots.
(Best: "I'm With Stupid," "I Made My Excuses and Left," "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show," "Psychological")
Robbie's best album since Sing When You're Winning is a campy collection of electro, dance-pop, and remakes so loaded with cheekiness it almost lacks any seriousness at all, which makes it Williams’ most honest album yet.
(Best: "Lovelight," "She's Madonna," "We're the Pet Shop Boys," "Viva Life on Mars")
Critics were too kind to Stefani's messy first album, but may be too harsh to this one, a fun collection of Gwen's now signature '80s-style pop and hip-hop lite, that's more consistently good than Love.Angel.Music.Baby.
(Best: "4 in the Morning," "Fluorescent," "Early Winter")
Like a more accessible Mike Skinner or a more mainstream Nellie McKay, Lily Allen uses her sweet voice and dirty mouth to tell stories about her life as a young Londonite chased by dirty men, dining al fresco, and partying, all while taking note of the stories that unfold around her as well.
(Best: "LDN," "Smile," "Littlest Things")
As improbably as it sounds, Embrace delivered a bigger, grander, more epic sound than an any previous album, channeling U2 now more than Coldplay to deliver anthemic, stadium-ready rock.
(Best: "Nature's Law," "I Can't Come Down," "Target")
Timbaland gave a much-needed jump start to Nelly Furtado's career this year, giving her huge international smash hits with "Promiscuous" and "Maneater." While some of the R&B/pop doesn't work, much of it does, and when it's on, it's on.
(Best: "Promiscuous," "Afraid," "Maneater," "All Good Things")
Christina Aguilera went really high-concept this time with her double album that's at first an ode to soul and later a mish-mash of Linda Perry-produced oddities. It's ambitious, has some great moments, but could use some cutting.
(Best: "Ain't No Other Man," "Hurt," "Back in the Day")
18. Shiny Toy Guns - We Are Pilots
I haven't written a full review for this, but trust me, it's good. Male and female voices weave over electronica and dark retro-'80s dance/pop.
(Best: "You Are the One," "Le Disko," "Don't Cry Out," "Rainy Monday")
19. Darkel - Darkel
The other Air project, Jean-Benoît Dunckel's solo project under the pseudonym "Darkel," isn't as satisfying as the Gainsbourg set, but it's still pretty good, and even gets more experimental, sometimes moving beyond the "Air" sound of many of its tracks.
(Best: "At the End of the Sky," "Be My Friend," "Bunny Girl")
Hollywood-based Orson made a big splash in Britain this year, hitting #1 with debut single "No Tomorrow." Their debut album delivers what you’d expect—a 10-song collection of the kind of retro/funk/pop/rock reminiscent of Maroon 5 or the Killers, although not quite up to par with those bands, at least not yet.
(Best: "No Tomorrow," "Bright Idea," "Happiness")
After losing her momentum with third album Trouble, Pink regains some ground with her fourth album, hitting the right blend of pop, rock, and R&B that made her second album such a hit, while managing to make quite a few statements about politics and deadbeat guys.
(Best: "Stupid Girls," "Who Knew," "Dear Mr. President")
Razorlight's album was a disappointment for me, but still had some great moments. Their problem is the lead singer--he just can't sing that well--but sometimes he manages to sound okay, so when the rest of the band really soars, such as on "In the Morning," they work great.
(Best: "In the Morning," "America," "Who Needs Love?")