Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Personal Chart, top 100 of 2008

For the fourth year in a row, a female artist tops my year-end personal chart. Plus Rihanna scores her third year-end top 10 hit:

TY PK Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Mercy - Duffy (6 wks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... Pocketful of Sunshine - Natasha Bedingfield
3 .... 1 .... No Air - Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 1 .... Viva la Vida - Coldplay (4 wks @ #1)
5 .... 2 .... Better in Time - Leona Lewis
6 .... 2 .... American Boy - Estelle Featuring Kanye West
7 .... 3 .... Leavin' - Jesse McCartney
8 .... 1 .... Forever - Chris Brown (3 wks @ #1)
9 .... 1 .... Disturbia - Rihanna (2 wks @ #1)
10 .. 4 ... Closer - Ne-Yo

11 ... 1 .... Take a Bow - Rihanna (1 wk @ #1)
12 ... 1 ... 4 Minutes - Madonna and Justin Timberlake (7 wks @ #1)
13 ... 2 ... Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna
14 ... 1 ... Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (2 wks @ #1)
15 ... 1 ... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks @ #1)
16 ... 1 ... Warwick Avenue - Duffy (2 wks @ #1)
17 ... 1 ... So What - Pink (1 wk @ #1)
18 ... 1 ... I Kissed a Girl - Katy Perry (2 wks @ #1)
19 ... 6 ... See You Again - Miley Cyrus
20 .. 1 .... The Promise - Girls Aloud (2 wks @ #1)

21 ... 1 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
22 ... 3 ... Black and Gold - Sam Sparro
23 ... 8 ... Stop and Stare - OneRepublic
24 ... 1 ... Chasing Pavements - Adele (3 wks @ #1)
25 ... 1 .... Wow - Kylie Minogue (1 wk @ #1)
26 ... 3 ... Touch My Body - Mariah Carey
27 ... 1 .... Girls - Sugababes (2 wks @ #1)
28 ... 1 ... Clumsy - Fergie (3 wks @ #1)
29 ... 3 ... Human - The Killers
30 ... 5 ... With You - Chris Brown

31 ... 1 .... Changes - Will Young (1 wk @ #1)
32 ... 1 .... Violet Hill - Coldplay (2 wks @ #1)
33 .. 10 ... Miss Independent - Ne-Yo
34 ... 4 ... Forgive Me - Leona Lewis
35 ... 3 ... Love Song - Sara Bareilles
36 ... 4 ... Love Lockdown - Kanye West
37 ... 8 ... Love in This Club - Usher Featuring Young Jeezy
38 ... 2 ... Give It 2 Me - Madonna
39 ... 1 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears (1 wk @ #1)
40 ... 6 ... Cry for You - September

41 .... 2 ... I Thought It Was Over - The Feeling
42 ... 3 .... Cold Shoulder - Adele
43 ... 1 .... Believe Again - Delta Goodrem (2 wks @ #1)
44 ... 3 ... All Summer Long - Kid Rock
45 .. 10 ... Low - Flo Rida Featuring T-Pain
46 ... 4 ... Never Miss a Beat - Kaiser Chiefs
47 ... 8 ... One Step at a Time - Jordin Sparks
48 ... 1 .... If I Were a Boy - Beyonce (1 wk @ #1)
49 ... 3 ... The Man Who Sold the World - The Script
50 ... 1 .... Greatest Day - Take That (1 wk @ #1)

51 .... 7 ... Shut Up and Let Me Go - The Ting Tings
52 ... 5 ... Work (Freemasons Remix) - Kelly Rowland
53 ... 2 ... Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls
54 ... 3 ... Take Back the City - Snow Patrol
55 .. 10 ... The Shock of the Lightning - Oasis
56 ... 7 ... When I Grow Up - The Pussycat Dolls
57 ... 4 ... A&E - Goldfrapp
58 ... 1 ... Valerie - Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse (1 wk @ #1)
59 ... 4 ... That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings
60 ... 4 ... No One - Alicia Keys

61 ... 5 ... Sweet About Me - Gabriella Cilmi
62 ... 7 ... Daylight - Kelly Rowland Featuring Travis McCoy
63 .. 14 ... Damaged - Danity Kane
64 .. 20 .. Like You'll Never See Me Again - Alicia Keys
65 ... 1 .... Run - Leona Lewis (2 wks @ #1)
66 ... 5 ... Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon
67 ... 7 ... Labels or Love - Fergie
68 ... 7 ... Stepping Stone - Duffy
69 ... 2 ... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
70 ... 5 ... The Boy Does Nothing - Alesha Dixon

71 ... 4 ... Rain on Your Parade - Duffy
72 .. 13 .. Piece of Me - Britney Spears
73 ... 4 ... In My Arms - Kylie Minogue
74 ... 6 ... Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna
75 ... 7 ... Love Is Noise - The Verve
76 .. 14 .. Summertime - New Kids on the Block
77 .. 15 .. Dance Wiv Me - Dizzee Rascal Featuring Calvin Harris & Chrome
78 ... 7 ... Can't Speak French - Girls Aloud
79 ... 8 ... Superstar - Lupe Fiasco Featuring Matthew Santos
80 .. 13 .. Another Way to Die - Jack White & Alicia Keys

81 ... 4 ... The One - Kylie Minogue
82 .. 13 ... If I Never See Your Face Again - Maroon 5 Featuring Rihanna
83 .. 10 ... Be Mine - Robyn
84 ... 7 ... Without You - The Feeling
85 ... 8 ... I'm Outta Time - Oasis
86 .. 16 ... Feedback - Janet Jackson
87 .. 10 ... Spiralling - Keane
88 ... 8 ... Jigsaw Falling Out of Place - Radiohead
89 .. 10 ... Always Where I Need to Be - The Kooks
90 ... 9 ... I Decided (Freemasons Remix) - Solange

91 .. 14 ... Now You're Gone - Basshunter
92 .. 18 ... Bye Bye - Mariah Carey
93 ... 9 ... Hometown Glory - Adele
94 ... 6 ... The Journey Continues - Mark Brown Featuring Sarah Cracknell
95 .. 15 ... The World Should Revolve Around Me - Little Jackie
96 .. 12 ... Lost! - Coldplay
97 .. 14 ... Right Now (Na Na Na) - Akon
98 .. 14 ... Infinity 2008 - The Guru Josh Project
99 .. 17 ... Time to Pretend - MGMT
100 .. 17 .. Spotlight - Jennifer Hudson

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Films of 2008

This is a preliminary list. I'll do a full rundown later. I still need to see Revolutionary Road and The Reader at least before I can have a final list of the year.

1. Slumdog Millionaire
2. Milk
3. Gran Torino
4. Doubt
5. Man on Wire
6. Frozen River
7. The Wrestler
8. Burn After Reading
9. Rachel Getting Married
10. Vicky Christina Barcelona

Honorable Mention: American Teen, Happy Go Lucky, Sex and the City, Wall-E

Overrated: The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Amazing lead performances:

1. Sean Penn in Milk
2. Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino
3. Meryl Streep in Doubt
4. Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long
5. Melissa Leo in Frozen River
6. Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky
7. Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
8. Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
9. Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon

Amazing supporting performances:

1. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis and Amy Adams in Doubt
2. Elsa Zylberstein in I've Loved You So Long
3. James Franco and Josh Brolin in Milk
4. Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire
5. Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married
6. Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona
7. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (He was good, even if I wasn't wowed by the film)
8. Bee Vang and Ahney Her in Gran Torino
9. Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Billboard Hot 100, 1/3/2009

1. Single Ladies - Beyonce

New year, but no new single at #1, as Beyonce holds the top spot for a third week with "Single Ladies." Two year's ago Beyonce was #1 the first week of the year with "Irreplaceable," also a #1 holdover from the previous year.

4. Heartless - Kanye West

Kanye West moves up three spots to #4, the peak position the single achieved when it debuted 6 weeks ago. At that time though it was sales driven and now it's got airplay behind it (it's this week's Airplay Gainer) as "Love Lockdown" begins to fade.

19. Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects

All-American Rejects makes a hefty 18-spot jump to #19 with the Sales Gainer award to boot. This is the band's fourth top 20 hit. Their last, "It Ends Tonight," hit #8 just about 2 years ago.

32. I Hate This Part - The Pussycat Dolls

Pussycat Dolls score their 7th top 40 hit, following up recent #9 single "When I Grow Up."

34. Sober - Pink

Pink lands her 13th top 40 as "Sober" moves up 15 places to #34. It follows up her recent #1, "So What."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Personal Chart, 12/27/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Run - Leona Lewis (2 wks @ #1)
3 .... 9 .... Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke
4 .... 4 .... Love Lockdown - Kanye West
5 .... 3 .... Greatest Day - Take That (1 week @ #1)
6 .... 7 .... Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna
7 .... 8 .... Just Dance - Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis
8 .... 5 .... Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (2 wks @ #1)
9 ... 10 ... Single Ladies - Beyonce
10 .. 12 .. No Can Do - Sugababes

Best Books of 2008

My book list isn't necessarily books released in 2008, since being that current on books is more difficult than music or movies. So this is more the best books I read this year.

Recent Fiction (released in the last 5 years)

1. The Post-Birthday World - Lionel Shriver

In this remarkable novel, a device that at first feels like a gimmick is used quite effectively to show that while life is made up of choices, it isn't necessarily so that two different paths won't lead to the same place. That's not to say that life is guided by fate, but our natures (and the nature of others) remains largely the same, and they drive our experiences--how we interpret our choices--more than the choices themselves. That's my take at least on this story which starts with main character Irina, an American living in London with her long-term British companion (but not husband) Lawrence, who is faced one boozy night with the choice of sleeping with the couple's friend Ramsay Action, a sexy edging-past-his-prime snooker player...or not sleeping with him. After the evening in question (Ramsay's birthday) the novel unfolds on parallel tracks--one in which Irina leaves Lawrence to be with Ramsay and another in which she stays faithful to Lawrence. Irina is a wonderfully written character. She is passionate, certain of the rightness of her choices, even if their morality is questionable. She's a flawed yet deeply sympathetic character--in short, very human.

2. A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

If you're too put off by this book's 711 pages, you'll miss the year's most outlandish and extremely funny epic novel. The Booker short-listed novel tells the story of three Australian men that comprise the Dean family: deeply intellectual Martin, his famous athlete-turned-outlaw brother Terry, and his desperate-to-not-be-like-his-father son Jasper. Narrated in first person between Martin and Jasper, the story begins with Jasper narrating his father's life story from prison. From there we learn how Martin spent much of his first few years in a coma, permanently scarring his golden boy brother Terry. Sydney, Bangkok and a small Australian town comprise the setting for most of this hilarious novel, sprinkled with memorable characters like Anouk, who comes into the Deans' lives as their housekeeper when she keys Martin's car and he won't let it go.

3. Late Nights on Air - Elizabeth Hay

This winner of last year's Giller Prize (Canada's literary award) is about a quirky cast of characters working at a public radio station in Yellowknife, the largest town in Canada's very remote Northwestern Territories. The book takes an interesting turn for its final third, when a group of characters take an adventurous trek across the wilderness. An interesting glimpse into a part of the world few of us have been wrapped around a set of characters who, for varying reasons, have gone to this remote area to get away from something.

4. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski

Before it become an Oprah book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was just a touching story about a hyper-intelligent, mute boy named Edgar and his dog Almondine set in rural northern Wisconsin. If that sounds a little too saccharine, consider that it is also a murder mystery and an adventure story, all held together by Wroblewski's sensitive prose. [A side note: I got to meet Wroblewski at a book signing, and he was very genuine and charming. I hope he is enjoying his book's major success.]

5. White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

This year's surprise Booker winner was, like Slumdog Millionaire, a voyeuristic glimpse into life in modern India. Like that film, White Tiger portrays an India gripped by western modernization where every man it seems is out for himself. It's main character, Balram Halwai, comes from a small town servant-class family, but moves up in the world, first as a driver for a wealthy family living in Delhi, and then later as a wealthy entrepreneur himself (although at a steep price). A dark and humorous story.

6. Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

I found out about this book because it was on the Booker longlist. Generally its stocked in the "thriller" section of bookstores, but it's really more involved than your average book from that genre. Main character Leo is a an officer in the Soviet Union's state security force in 1950s, a brutal branch of the government meant to keep the peace by stopping (i.e. covering up) any potential problems. Generally that means imprisoning anyone who could be considered an enemy of the state (i.e. a free thinker), but in this story it also includes murder, uncovering a society so convinced of its perfection that it turns a blind eye to serial killing. That Leo begins to doubt this perfection, and act on that doubt, is what makes this more than just a gripping crime novel.

7. Twlight series - Stephanie Meyer

I read all four of these books in August. They are easy reads and surprisingly compelling. I don't need to say much about them, but I will point out how Meyer cleverly updated the vampire myth in a similar fashion as J.K. Rowling updated the wizard myth, albeit with less depth. The first and last books are the best, for setting up the story so effectively and taking it in an unexpected direction.

8. March - Geraldine Brooks

The Pulitzer Prize winner from 2006 takes a minor character from Little Women--the father, Robin March, and gives him his own Civil War story. Historical fiction at its best.

9. People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

Brooks' other entry in my top 10 is completely different. This is the story of Hanna Heath, a historian who specializes in restoring old books, who travels to Sarajevo to repair a Jewish religious text, the haggadah. As such discovers mysteries of the book, the story flashes back to tell the book's history. Some of the flashbook stories are more effective than others, but what I really liked was Hanna, a character so fully realized that her story reads more like a memoir than fiction.

10. City of Thieves - David Benioff

This farcical World War II story involves Lev, a young man from Leningrad, and Kolya, a charasmatic army deserter, who in order to escape punishment must travel the countryside in search of a dozen eggs--a difficult task in war-starved Russia. At times funny and harrowing, this was an enjoyable lark of a novel.


I'm more a fiction reader, but I throw in nonfiction every once in awhile. The best this year was Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, a fascinating look at America's food supply that delves into the myths and mysteries that drive large-scale agriculture, organic foods, and ask whether it's practical to be a hunter-gatherer of your own food (in short, it's not, but it makes a good story). A close second was Matt Frei's Only in America, reflections on life in the United States by a British journalist living in Washington DC, which blended humor and political commentary. It was more insightful than Sarah Lyall's The Anglo Files, which was basically the reverse: Reflections on life in the United Kingdom by an American writer living in London. Lyall's book goes more for humor whereas Frei managed both humor and insight.

The Gathering - Anne Enright. This was last year's Booker Prize winner, and I didn't like it much at all. I was so glad to get through it. I thought it was dull and I didn't like the characters.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Singles of 2008

1. Duffy - Warwick Avenue

"Mercy" is more in-your-face, but this gorgeous lament was my favorite single of the year. Duffy sounds amazing, the arrangement is stunning, and the stripped down video is genuinely affecting.

2. Coldplay - Viva la Vida

Where's the guitar? The piano? The drums? The traditional elements of rock have been replaced by a lush arrangement of strings, chimes, and percussion, yet it's still undeniably Coldplay and surprisingly upbeat.

3. Estelle Featuring Kanye West - American Boy

This funky transatlantic tale of romance between a British girl and her "American Boy" was a whole lot of fun, full of great lyrics from both Estelle ("Don't like his baggy jeans, but I might like what's underneath them") and Kanye ("Dress smart like a London bloke, before he speak his suit bespoke").

4. Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown - No Air

"No Air" was one of the best pop ballad duets to come along in quite awhile. Sure the lyrics are rediculous--not only are they out of air, but apparently gravity as well (I still get visions of them sitting around gasping wildly). But it's a gorgeous production and Jordin and Chris sound really great together.

5. Delta Goodrem - Believe Again

That part of me that not so secretly loves big, over-the-top, dramatic pop songs (oh Guy Chambers, what are you doing these days?) derived a lot of joy out of this song when it was finally released in the US in July. Gorgeous.

6. Rihanna - Disturbia

Rihanna had an amazing year with lots of great singles (her Maroon 5 collaboration "If I Never See Your Face Again" should have been a bigger hit). This driving, electro-pop single, added with her album's re-release, was her best.

7. Black Kids - Hurricane Jane

In a year of a lot of new wave-flavored indie pop, this tale of a Friday night search for companionship was my favorite.

8. Sam Sparro - Black and Gold

Another straight-from-the-'80s single that really caught my attention this year. Consider it "Tainted Love" updated for a new millennium.

9. Girls Aloud - The Promise

Girls Aloud, whose sound is generally very modern, turn to a swinging '60s sound on this swirling pop number that sounded soooo perfect in London this year.

10. Ne-Yo - Closer

Push pop/R&B away from the territory of thuggish hip-hop and back toward melodic dance pop was the year's smoothest move from one of pop music's smoothest, classiest acts. Well done.

11. Kylie Minogue - The One

"Wow" and "In My Arms" were pretty good, but "The One" was the year's best single from Kylie. It wasn't a major hit (in fact, it is her lowest charting single in the UK), but that shouldn't deter you from embracing it's warm bass beat, insistent synth effects, and "love me, love me, love" chorus.

12. Fergie - Labels or Love

That this never became a proper single was a real disappointment, for it was a clever merger of the Sex and the City theme and the style of Fergie's 2007 hit "Glamorous."

13. Pink - So What

Pink delivered one of her best ever singles this year, the in-your-face post break-up punch of "So What," where she tries to humor herself and convince herself she's still on top, despite the loss.

14. Oasis - I'm Outta Time

Noel refreshingly takes over vocal duties on this plodding, dark piano ballad. Oasis at their Beatles-esque best.

15. Leona Lewis - Run

Leona Lewis finished the year with a surprise #1 hit--a stunning remake of Snow Patrol's "Run." This is why she is one of the world's hottest new pop acts. We can't wait for album #2.

16. Madonna and Justin Timberlake - 4 Minutes

Madonna teamed up with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland to update her sound, but Madonna's knack for great dance pop with a killer hook didn't suffer one bit.

17. Kanye West - Love Lockdown

The opening few seconds are just electronic bass, but it sets the mood perfectly for this moody, stripped down affair. Haunting and lovely, which I never thought I'd say about Kanye West.

18. Kaiser Chiefs - Never Miss a Beat

The best single ever from the Kaiser Chiefs used an effective call-and-response structure to celebrate ignorance ("it's cool to know nothing"), ironically of course, and afternoon tea.

19. Solange - I Decided (Freemasons Remix)

Too bad the rest of her album wasn't nearly as good as this upbeat pop romp.

20. Womanizer - Britney Spears

First Britney Spears single I really liked since "Toxic." Fantastic comeback.

Honorable mention: Duffy's "Mercy," Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold," Natasha Bedingfield's "Pocketful of Sunshine," Will Young's "Changes," Sugababes' "Girls," Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent," Madonna's "Miles Away," Adele's "Chasing Pavements," Coldplay's "Violet Hill," The Ting Tings' "Shut Up and Let Me Go," Chris Brown's "Forever," Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy" and "Single Ladies," and MGMT's "Kids."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Clarkson single on the way

Billboard is reporting today that Kelly Clarkson's first single from her fourth album will hit U.S. radio January 19 in advance of the album's March release. The single is eloquently titled "My Life Would Suck Without You." Perhaps she is referring to Clive Davis, and this is a major attempt to kiss ass.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Britney Retrospective

Reading my review of Britney's new album Circus and last year's review of Blackout, you might think I dislike Britney. I really don't; I just think her career has seen better days. Here's a quick round up of her first five albums, most of which are better than what she's been doing lately.

...Baby One More Time, 1999 (4/5)
Britney's debut came when Jive was a powerhouse of teen pop music. Having made a fortune with the Backstreet Boys, they used the same Swedish producers, notably Max Martin, who became a superstar producer. The album opens with the masterfully perfect piece of late '90s pop, "...Baby One More Time," a peak from which poor Britney could only fall. Overall, the album isn't as strong as the similar material from the time, but "Sometimes" is a good mimic of the mid-tempo Backstreet sound, and "Born to Make You Happy" is great too. Ballads have never been Britney's cut of tea, but "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" wasn't bad. Check out the heavy use of keyboard effects. The guitar-backed "I Will Be There" is pretty good too, as is tuneful "I Will Still Be There," the duet with Don Philip (whoever that is). She misfires when it gets too cutesy, such as on "Soda Pop," her pointless remake of "The Beat Goes On," or "Email My Heart" (Email was still somewhat of a novelty back then)"Crazy" was better after its remix. Best: ...Baby More More Time, Born to Make You Happy, Sometimes, From the Bottom of My Broken Heart, I Will Be There, I Will Still Love You.

Oops!...I Did It Again, 2000 (4/5)
Having struck gold with her first album, Jive quickly got her back in the studio and just over a year later released a follow-up. The results are just as good, if not better than her first album, pushing her in a slightly more edgy direction. "Dear Diary" is too sappy for Britney, and her "Satisfaction" remake is unsatisfying. But other than that, everything else here works, despite much of it being poured from the same mold as her last album. The fantastic title track sounds like a remake of "One More Time," "Stronger" like a new version of "Crazy," and "Lucky" like a retread of "Sometimes," albeit with a trappings-of-fame story. Most of the rest is pretty decent, upbeat pop, like "Don't Go Knockin' on My Door," which sounds like it could have just as easily appeared on 'NSync's No Strings Attached. Best: Oops!...I Did It Again, Stronger, Lucky, Can't Make You Love Me, Don't Go Knockin' on My Door.

Britney, 2001 (3/5)
For her third album, Britney started moving away from bubbly Swedish teen pop to a harder R&B-tinged sound. Max Martin is still here, but he's joined by top-notch urban producers The Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins. It makes for a disjointed album, an uneasy blend of tarty beat-driven songs ("I'm a Slave 4U") and girly sweet ones ("Anticipating"). The best song here is surprisingly a ballad, co-written by Dido of all people. "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," is a lovely song, and perhaps unintentionally captures the struggle this album faces between Britney's teen sound and trying to find a more adult pop sound for the then 19-year-old. Best: I'm Not a Girl Not Yet a Woman, I'm a Slave 4 U, Anticipating.

In the Zone, 2003 (4/5)
For Britney's fourth album, she ditched Max Martin altogether in favor of more cutting edge producers like Bloodshy & Avant, who delivered "Toxic," her biggest hit in years, and Tricky Stewart who helmed the underappreciated Madonna collaboration, "Me Against the Music." Big names show up too, like R. Kelly on "Outrageous" and Moby on "Early Morning." If she wasn't quite a woman yet on Britney, she certainly is on In the Zone, cooing sexily on the throbbing "Breathe on Me," another fantastic track, or the Matrix-produced "Shadow." Although not wildly better than her first two albums, this may qualify as her best work. Best: Toxic, Breathe on Me, Me Against the Music, Everytime, Outrageous, Shadow.

Blackout, 2007 (2/5)
Not a complete disaster, but certainly the most disappointing entry in her catalog. Chock it up to a really bad year and a phoned-in performance. Where it's saved, on energetic tracks like "Piece of Me," "Break the Ice," or "Heaven on Earth," it's because of the great producers she manages to attract. Best: Piece of Me, Gimme More, Heaven on Earth, Break the Ice.

Top 40 radio and Britney make up

It's official--Britney has staged a successful comeback. After scoring her first Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit in 10 years, she's also managed to finally return to #1 at her bread-and-butter format--top 40 radio. Radio wasn't too keen on the Blackout singles: "Gimme More" peaked at #17, "Piece of Me" at #28 and "Break the Ice" at #22. Now with "Womanizer," she's got her first #1 hit since "Toxic."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

UK Christmas Singles Chart - 12/27/2008

1. Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke

Merry Christmas! For the fourth year in a row, the UK's Christmas #1 is the winner of the annual X Factor reality TV singing competition. This year the honor goes to the 20-year old, London-born Alexandra Burke, who clenched her victory the other week over boyband JLS. In keeping with tradition (broken only by Shayne Ward), Alexandra's first single is a remake--this year the somewhat holiday themed "Hallelujah." The song is a great choice, for although known, has never been a major hit until now. Canadian Leonard Cohen originally penned and recorded the song in 1984, but until now it was perhaps best known for the 1994 cover by Jeff Buckley, which has seen a resurgence in popularity due to Alexandra's version (more on that in a minute).

Alexandra's position at #1 is quite firm, with over 576,000 copies sold. That puts her in second place among the X Factor Christmas #1s. Shayne Ward's "That's My Goal" moved the most units, bowing with nearly 750,000 copies sold its first week, followed by Leona Lewis's "A Moment Like This" with a little over 570,000 and then Leon Jackson's "When You Believe" with just over 275,000 copies last year, a rather paltry total for a Christmas #1.

2. Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley

Whether its because the song was chosen as the X Factor victory single or in spite of it, a great many people have also decided to buy Jeff Buckley's version, making the 14-year song a top 40 hit for the very first time. Way down at #36, the original Leonard Cohen version also manages to become a top 40 for the first time too. Any campaigning to try to tip this as Chritmas #1 instead of Alexandra was clearly in vain, as it sold about 80,000 copies--a very distant second.

3. Run - Leona Lewis

Snow Patrol released a new single this week, but the only appearance they made in the top 40 was as the original writers of the song at #3, Leona Lewis's gorgeous cover of "Run," which falls this week from #1 to #3. Meanwhile Snow Patrol's new single "Crack the Shutters" arrives just outside the top 40 at #43. Sorry guys.

5. Once Upon a Christmas Song - Geraldine

Peter Kay's transgender reality TV show parody act Geraldine lands a second top 10 hit, this time with the recording of an original Christmas tune. It's not as great as "The Winner's Song" was, but good enough to land in the top 5 at Christmas.

6. Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado

Here's a surprise. After debuting last week at #18, James Morrison's "Broken Strings" soars 12 spots to #6, becoming his fourth top 10 hit and second highest charting single after his first, "You Give Me Something," hit #5 in 2006. It's also the 8th top 10 hit for Canadian singer Nelly Furtado.

8. Listen - Beyonce

It's not enough that influence of the X Factor is responsible for this weeks top 2 singles, but also manages to propel a nearly 2 year-old Beyonce single, "Listen," back onto the chart and into the top 10 for the first time. "Listen" was the single released from Beyonce's 2006 critically acclaimed musical, Dreamgirls, and hit #16 when it was released in early 2007. The American singer appeared on the X Factor, singing this with winner Alexandra Burke, creating a renewed interest in the song. Beyonce has two other hits in the top 20 this week--"If I Were a Boy" rebounds up five spots to #4, and "Single Ladies" is up four spots to #20.

12. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl
13. Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth - Bandaged
17. All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey
22. Warm This Winter - Gabriella Cilmi
27. Last Christmas - Wham
33. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard

The Pogues miss out on the top 10 this year (although there still is next week, with most of the week falling before Christmas). In fact none of the slate of new or resurgent holidays tunes managed to crack the top 10 this week.

32. I Miss You - Basshunter
35. Jingle Bells (Bass) - Basshunter

Swedish dance act Basshunter scores double debuts this week, landing at #32 with his latest dance single "I Miss You" and #35 with his remake of popular Christmas song "Jingle Bells" (with the subtitle "bass" added, just in case we forget what kind of "Jingle Bells" would come from a guy like Basshunter). While having two new singles debut in the top 40 is pretty cool, by now he's probably wishing he could get just a little bit closer to where he was 11 months ago--sitting at #1 with "Now You're Gone."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best TV of 2008

1. Mad Men (AMC)

This gorgeously produced, wonderfully acted, and beautifully written drama captured my attention so fully this year that it's a serious contender to be my favorite show of the decade. Regrettably, I didn't pay any attention to this show when it debuted last year, but after watching season 1 on DVD this summer, I awaited every episode of season 2 with baited breath (which I had to buy from iTunes because Comcast canceled our AMC service--with no commensurate reduction in our service rate I might add). There are so many great performances here too, particularly the women--January Jones' quietly unhinged Betty Draper, Elisabeth Moss's pre-feminist pioneer Peggy Olson, Christina Hendricks' "with it" yet downtrodden Joan Halloway. But its Jon Hamm's Don Draper that is the heart of this show's split portrayal of both the changing nature of the workplace and the home during the early 1960s. It's truly masterful television.

2. Lost (ABC)

After a rocky second season, Lost regained a lot of ground this year, with a short, but action-packed season that relied less on the character-driven flashbacks of previous years and more on the continuous suspense-driven arc of how six of the castaways manage to escape back to civilization. Told through present, past, and future segments, the season managed to answer many questions this year while still keeping me on the edge of my seat wanting more. Particularly good this year was Michael Emerson, who gives creepy Ben Linus enough depth to actually make him a sympathetic villian.

3. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi)

While Lost was on the way up, Battlestar Galactica--generally my favorite TV show--stumbled a bit this year, mired in too many subplots involving rebel Cylons and Baltar's religious sect. Despite this, it's still a cut above most other shows, with actors like Mary McDonnell, Katie Sackhoff, Edward James Olmos, and Michael Hogan who continue to excel in their complex roles.

4. Swingtown (CBS)

CBS is generally the network I never watch, but this summer series that purported to be about "swingers" but was really about the changing nature of gender roles in the 1970s was an underappreciated gem. The three women leads were particularly good, the sets and furnishings were awesome, and the stories, while not always "deep," were enjoyable and sometimes enlightening.

5. 30 Rock (NBC)

Tina Fey became a superstar this year for her portrayal of Sarah Palin on her former show, SNL, threatening to overshadow her successful two-time Emmy Best Comedy-winning series. Fey is the heart of this (almost) always funny show, which also features great performances from Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, and Tracy Morgan.

6. 90210 (CW)

I was a big fan of Beverly Hills 90210 during its high school years, so it's great fun to have a new version of the show back on the air, complete with a few now adult characters from the original show (Kelly and Brenda). Sure it's soapy (more so than the original, which featured stories mostly contained to individual episodes), but it's a lot of fun, which more emphasis on the material comforts of Beverly Hills than the original. While Brandon, Brenda and bunch mostly hung out at each others' houses or the local diner, these kids prefer swanky nightclubs and high-priced shopping trips.

7. Saturday Night Live

Speaking of Tina Fey and SNL, with the presidential campaign reaching all-consuming heights this fall, Fey's dead-on portrayal of Palin really revived the relevance of this show, while also featuring great turns from Amy Poehler (sadly now departed from the show), Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Andy Samberg.

8. Project Runway (Bravo)

While it's starting to get a little old, it's still the best reality TV show there is. I didn't connect much with this season's participants, but I still like the creative challenges. And Tim Gunn is still so cool, how could you not love him?

9. True Blood (HBO)

I only saw the pilot for this, which was available from Netflix (Comcast does not allow non-digital customers to subscribe to HBO) but I really enjoyed this modernized vampire story set in rural Lousiana. Similar yet different from the modernized Twilight vampire saga.

Billboard Hot 100, 12/27/2008

What an interesting chart this week. In what surely must be a Hot 100 first, no less than four acts have two hits each in the top 10--an extraordinary amount of concentration.

1. Single Ladies - Beyonce

Leading the way this week is Beyonce, who regains the #1 throne after being deposed last week by T.I. and Rihanna. "Single Ladies" is now clearly emerging as the more popular of her initial I Am...Sasha Fierce singles, and its is about to overtake "If I Were a Boy" at top 40 radio. That single is down three spots at #9 this week.

2. Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna

So T.I.'s "Live Your Life" falls to #2 this week and his "Whatever You Like" holds at #5. Among the four artists with two top 10s this week he is the only one without a bulleted single.

3. Just Dance - Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis

Lady Gaga is one of the two acts with only one single in the top 10 this week, the other being Katy Perry at #8 with "Hot N Cold." "Just Dance" is up one spot this week.

4. Circus - Britney Spears
6. Womanizer - Britney Spears

After a remarkable #3 debut last week, Britney's "Circus" slips a notch to #4, no doubt due to the fact that her big debut was driven by a surge of first week sales. The single is performing strongly at top 40 radio, so I expect that once the airplay catches up this single will be rising again. Meanwhile, Britney's other single in the top 10, "Womanizer," rises four spots to #6 and is on the verge of becoming her first #1 hit at top 40 radio in 4 years (it is a mere 60 spins behind T.I. and Rihanna). While Britney's only other Hot 100 chart topper before "Womanizer" was "...Baby One More Time," she's been #1 at top 40 radio with "...Baby One More Time," "Oops!...I Did It Again," and "Toxic."

7. Heartless - Kanye West

Kanye West's "Heartless" returns to the top 10 this week, up 9 spots and earning this week's Airplay Gainer. "Love Lockdown" falls two spots to #10.

34. Right Here (Departed) - Brandy

Brandy scores her first top 40 hit in 4 years with "Right Here (Departed)," the first single from her new album Human. Once a fairly formidable chart force, lately Brandy's had a hard time scoring hits. Her last album's only top 40 was "Talk About Our Love," which peaked at #36. Brandy's first album gave her three top 10 hits ("I Wanna Be Down," "Baby," and "Brokenheated") and her second two #1s ("The Boy Is Mine" and "Have You Ever").

40. Untouched - The Veronicas

Recently I posted about this single, which I think is really great. This week The Veronicas score their first top 40 hit with "Untouched."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Personal Chart, 12/20/2008

My own personal Christmas #1....

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Run - Leona Lewis (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears
3 .... 2 .... Greatest Day - Take That (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 6 .... Love Lockdown - Kanye West
5 .... 5 .... Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (2 wks @ #1)
6 .... 3 .... If I Were a Boy - Beyonce (1 wk @ #1)
7 .... 9 .... Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna
8 ... 11 .... Just Dance - Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis
9 NEW> Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke
10 .. 14 ... Single Ladies - Beyonce

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

12 Years of UK Christmas #1

#1 Spice Girls "2 Become 1"

This was the year the Spice Girls, the pop act that would rule the pop chart for 3 years, broke out big with their debut #1 single "Wannabe" and its follow-up #1 "Say You'll Be There." So it's quite fitting that they scored the year's Christmas #1. This doesn't appear to have been a particularly competitive year. The only other debut in the top 20--surely what must have been considered the competition--was Madonna's "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" at #3. Last week's #1, Dunblame's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door/Throw These Guns Away" was unseated by the Spices at #2.

#1 Spice Girls "Too Much"

This was just a couple weeks before I arrived in London for my semester abroad, so I remember hearing all of these on the radio. Again, it doesn't appear to be terribly competitive, with the Spice Girls debuted at #1 with "Too Much," their sixth #1 hit and second consecutive Christmas #1. The only other top 10 debut was Mase with "Feel So Good" (remember Mase? The song that lifted from Gloria Estefan's "Bad Boys?"). The closest competition would appear to have been the last two #1 hits--the Teletubbies "Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh" and the charity remake of "Perfect Day," which featured an all-star line up. "Perfect Day" would actually rebound to #1 just 2 weeks later (the week I arrived in London in fact).

#1 Spice Girls "Goodbye"

Third year in a row the Spice Girls had Christmas #1. This should have been their swan song--they came back for one more album and one more #1 hit. "Goodbye," their eighth #1 hit, was a message not to the fans but to the recently departed Geri Halliwell. This was the first single without Geri.

This actually was a competitive year, with the Spice Girls beating out Chef, the South Park character, at #2 with "Chocolate Salty Balls," which would climb to #1 the week after Christmas, and Channel 4 presenters Denise Van Outen and Johnny Vaughn, who remade Kylie and Jason's "Especially for You" at #3.

#1 Westlife - I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun

This was a very competitive Chritmas chart, with six entries in the top 10. Westlife were the triumphant winners of the week, landing their fourth #1 hit with their Abba remake "I Have a Dream." The single was the group's biggest hit, spending 4 weeks atop the UK singles chart. Their closest competition was the previous week's #1, Cliff Richard's "The Millennium Prayer," which does sound like a Christmas #1 even if it wasn't meant to be. The runners up included a re-release of John Lennon's "Imagine" at #3, the third S Club 7 single, "Two in a Million"/"You're My Number One" at #5 (proving that naming your song a number one hit is not enough to make it so), and Steps (sigh) at #7 with their double A-side release of "Say You'll Be Mine" and Kylie remake "Better the Devil You Know." There was also another South Park single, Mr. Hankey's "Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo."

#1 Bob the Builder "Can We Fix It?"

This gets my award for lamest Christmas #1 in recent memory--the theme song of a children's show. How embarassing for Westlife, who were laid waste by a cartoon to land at #2 with "What Makes a Man," the band's first single to miss #1 after seven consecutive chart-toppers. No other significant competition--Oxide and Neutrino debuted at #6 with "No Good 4 Me" and the Sugababes at #12 (before they were really big) with "New Year," their second single.

#1 Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman "Somethin' Stupid"

This is one of my favorite recent Christmas #1s. It still works at Christmas, despite not being a Christmas song (only one of these 12 songs really is an actual Christmas song). Robbie Williams was still a big star in 2001, and this was his fifth #1 hit. Plus it gave actress Nicole Kidman a #1 hit--I bet few people outside the UK know about that. Robbie and Nicole fended off a challenge from Gordon Haskell's sappy "How Wonderful You Are" at #2 and a former #1, Daniel Bedingfield's debut single "Gotta Get Thru This," at #3, which would later return to #1.

Girls Aloud "The Sound of the Underground"

This was the first of the now traditional reality show-based Christmas #1 dominators. Unlike with the recent X Factor winners, this was actually a competition. During the run of the show Pop Stars: The Rivals, two groups were selected--girl group Girls Aloud and boy group One True Voice. Both would release singles the week of Christmas, and whoever sold the most would be the winner. Pretty cool. In the end Girls Aloud triumped with their first single "The Sound of the Underground," and went on to become one of the decade's most successful pop acts, currently enjoying the success of their 19th top 10 hit (and fourth #1), "The Promise" and about to release new single "The Loving Kind." One True Voice were #2 with "Sacred Trust." They had another top 10 hit and were never heard from again.

#1 Michael Andrews Featuring Gary Jules "Mad World"

This is the only recent Christmas #1 upset, and it was truly great. Hoping to ride the Girls Aloud reality show success, the second season of Pop Idol contestants did a remake of John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." It should have been a slam dunk, but instead it landed a lowly #5, beaten by Bo Selecta's "Proper Crimbo" at #4, Kelly & Ozzy Osbourne's former #1 "Changes" at #3, The Darkness's rockin' Christmas single "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" at #2, and this dark and mysteriously beautiful single "Mad World" at #1. A remake of a Tears for Fears song, the track comes from the 2001 film Donnie Darko. Did I mention that Pop Idol never had a third season?

Band Aid 20 "Do They Know It's Christmas"

This star-studded remake of "Do They Know It's Christmas," recorded for charity to mark the 20-year anniversary of the original was an easy easy pick for Christmas #1. It had already been #1 for the 2 weeks before Christmas, and it was a sure bet for a third (even a fourth) week at the top. Ronan Keating and Yusef "Cat" Stevens were distant second at #2 with a remake of Boyzone's "Father and Son," which was a really odd single if you think about it.

#1 Shayne Ward "That's My Goal"

This was the first of the X Factor Christmas #1s. The show's first season winner Steve Brookstein wisely stayed away from Band Aid 20, releasing his first single "Against All Odds" the week after Christmas (and still hit #1). Second season winner Shayne then became the first to score a Christmas #1. He triumphed in a week of high-profile releases that included a re-release of the Pogues's "Fairytale of New York," which hit #3, Enimen's "When I'm Gone" at #5, and new singles from Girls Aloud, Coldplay and James Blunt which took spots #9 through #11. Also, I have to mention the single at #2, Nizlopi's "JCB Song." Some people hate this song, but I thought the story, told from the point of view of a little boy riding with his dad on a tractor, was sweet.

#1 Leona Lewis "A Moment Like This"

Here's the real superstar of the X Factor, Leona Lewis, with her first hit. Looking back, it's a pity they chose this song for her. Leona Lewis deserves to have had a song she could have made her own, not a remake of Kelly Clarkson's American Idol victory single. Still, Leona is the only X Factor contestant to score a second (and now third) #1 hit, so we can't fault it too much.

Leona beat the previous week's #1 hit, Take That's "Patience," which landed at #2, McFly's "Sorry's Not Good Enough" at #3, Girls Aloud's remake of "I Think We're Alone Now" at #4, and yet another resurgence of The Pogues at #6.

#1 Leon Jackson "When You Believe"

Leon remade Whitney and Mariah's 1998 Prince of Egypt theme song, changing a few of the lyrics along the way. Who did he beat? The Pogues of course, who were #4 this time, and the previous week's #1, the Katie Melua/Eva Cassidy single "What a Wonderful Life."

Monday, December 15, 2008

The race for Christmas #1

It's time for the UK's biggest chart week of the year--the race for Christmas #1. For the last three years the honor has gone to the recently crowned winner of The X Factor. This year looks no different as this year's show's winner Alexandra Burke looks set to easily take #1 with her remake of "Hallelujah." So really, I guess the race is for Christmas #2, as my partner Chris has pointed out. So here is the sure bet for #1 and the contenders for Christmas #2...

The favorite: Alexandra Burke "Hallelujah"

The underdog: Geraldine McQueen "Once Upon a Christmas Song"

Geraldine made a splash in the fall when (s)he sold more copies than what should have been Leon Jackson's "Bleeding Love." Will the reality show parody trick land another hit?

Last week's #1: Leona Lewis "Run"

She's got a head start and the momentum of having been #1 last week. Is it enough to let her be Christmas #2?

The clubby pick: Basshunter "I Miss You" or "Jingle Bells"

For those that like Basshunter, he's offering up not one but two Christmastime singles, a straight up dance hit, "I Miss You," and a eurodiscoed version of "Jingle Bells"

The rebel rockin' choice: Wombats "Is This Christmas?"

The charity release: Bandaged "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth"

This was out last week, but I suppose it could increase this week, although I doubt it has a shot at Christmas #2.

Other records out this week: Snow Patrol "Crack the Shutters," Kaiser Chiefs "Good Days and Bad Days," Britannia High "Watch This Space," Jason Mraz "I'm Yours," Katie Melua "Toy Collection," Outsiders Featuring Amanda Wilson "Keep This Fire Burnin'"

Billboard and R&R Year-End Charts

The year-end charts for Billboard and Radio and Records are out. There's more similarity between the Hot 100 and the R&R CHR/pop charts than there's been in years, which I think demonstrates a resurgence in pop music this year.

Billboard Hot 100 (top 10 of 2008)

1. Low - Flo Rida Featuring T-Pain
2. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis
3. No One - Alicia Keys
4. Lollipop - Lil Wayne
5. Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic
6. No Air - Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown
7. Love Song - Sara Bareilles
8. Love in This Club - Usher Featuring Young Jeezy
9. With You - Chris Brown
10. Forever - Chris Brown

R&R CHR/Top 40 (top 10 of 2008)

1. Low - Flo Rida Featuring T-Pain
2. Leavin - Jesse McCartney
3. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis
4. Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic
5. Forever - Chris Brown
6. Take a Bow - Rihanna
7. No Air - Jordin Sparks & Chris Brow
8. No One - Alicia Keys
9. Love Song - Sara Bareilles
10. With You - Chris Brown

Sunday, December 14, 2008

UK Singles Chart, 12/20/2008

1. Run - Leona Lewis
2. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Leona Lewis retains the #1 spot for a second week with "Run," fending off the challenge from Kings of Leon's second single from their latest album, Only By the Night. "Use Somebody" has been steadily climbing the charts for the last 3 months since it became available as a download when the album was released, and finally makes a big jump to #2 with its CD single rlease. It's rather surprisingly, isn't it, that an indie rock band like Kings of Leon has, in the last few months, become the hottest rock act in the UK?

3. Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth - Bandaged

Here's an interesting holiday release. It's credited to Bandaged, a charity project sponsored by BBC Radio 2. This single, a remake of the classic '70s track Bing Crosby and David Bowie recorded, is done by Terry Wogan (a long-time radio personality) and Aled Jones (also a radio personality and singer too). Proceeds go to Children in Need, whose "official" single this year, McFly's "Do Ya," bombed last month when it peaked at a lowly #18. Good to know they found another single that would actually raise some money.

12. All I Want for Christmas - Mariah Carey
13. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl

Here they come! Lots of other old Chritmas favorites are climbing the chart this week, led by these two perennial favorites. While I love "All I Want for Christmas," I don't understand the appeal of "Fairytale of New York."

18. Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado

James Morrison climbs 13 spots to land at #18 this week with "Broken Strings," his fifth top 40 hit and second single from his second album, Songs for You, Truths for Me. The single also features Canadian pop singer Nelly Furtado, making her first chart appearance since appearing with Justin Timberlake on Timbaland's #1 hit in the spring of 2007, "Give It to Me."

22. Better - Boyzone

It's a pity when these pop band reunions--while fun and nostalgic--ruin chart records. As is the case this week with Boyzone, who see their perfect run of 17 top 5 hits come to an end as their latest single, "Better," can manage no higher than #22 upon its physical release. This is a remake of a song by Tom Baxter, which came out just about a year ago. His version, which was great, didn't crack the top 40.

30. Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley

This is an appropriate note for me to end on, given that this song will likely be #1 next week. Not this version mind you, but the newly recorded version from this year's winner of X Factor, Alexandra Burke. Jeff's version dates back to 1994 but the song was originally done by Leonard Cohen in 1984.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

I reviewed an even 50 new albums this year. Here are my 25 favorites, plus other recommendations, others I reviewed, and the 5 worst. Click on the title to read my original review; click on the album cover to link to an on-line store where you can buy the album.

1. Duffy - Rockferry
Once again, my favorite album of the year is by a female British singer. Rockferry came out early in the year, and I loved it all year long. Duffy's soulful, '60s-tinged pop was like the tonic to Amy Winehouse's gin. "Mercy" was the standout track, but her affecting ballads like "Warwick Avenue" and "Stepping Stone" were almost as unforgettable. What I said: "a gorgeous and swinging piece of retro pop." Essential track: Mercy

2. Madonna - Hard Candy
Madonna and Timbaland and Pharrell could have been a disaster, or at least just a retread of Nelly Furtado's Loose. Thankfully, it turned out to be a lot of fun, imbuing Madonna's sound with a contemporary freshness missing from Confessions on a Dancefloor. It's the year's best dance pop album. What I said: "double entendres, naughty lyrics, and delicious hooks permeate throughout." Essential track: 4 Minutes

3. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
The new class of alternative/indie/'80s-worshiping pop/rock acts churned out a lot of great moments this year. Taking the cake are this Floridian band's upbeat, fun-loving debut. There were a lot of '80s-aping discs released this year, and none were better than this. Like Duffy's Rockferry, this was produced by Bernard Butler, two very different but both brilliant albums. What I said: "this is joyful, upbeat modern pop music, perfectly timed for summer." Essential track: Hurricane Jane

4. Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
Coldplay continued to prove why they are the world's greatest rock band this decade. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends saw the band stretch their safety zone more than on previous albums, most notably in restraining their stadium rock pretensions. What I said: "Coldplay delivers the sort of lovely pop/rock we've come to expect from them tweaked with little surprises here and there." Essential track: Viva la Vida

5. Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
I know I'm late to the party, but this was the year I finally became an Oasis fan. While not a popular choice, I loved Dig Out Your Soul. It's the kind of (at this point) old school rock album that's hard to hate from rockers like "The Shock of the Lightning" to gentle piano ballad "I'm Outta Time." What I said: "There are a few ballads here, but most of the songs are charging rock numbers that retain a mostly standard simple formula." Essential track: I'm Outta Time

6. Will Young - Let It Go
Breaking up is hard to do, but it makes great music. Will's breakup album--and Pink's divorce album further down my list--finds the young artist doing his most personal work yet, ever much as tuneful as everything he's given us before. What I said: "a brilliant exercise in retro soul-drenched modern pop that is at times uplifting, at time sad, and genuinely affecting." Essential track: You Don't Know

7. Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak
This was the year's biggest surprise. The decade's biggest hip-hop artist, who just last year released the acclaimed Graduation, abandoned rap and started singing the blues (the breakup blues yet again), albeit blues drenched in electronic synths and manufactured Roland 808 beats. What I said: "The sad songs are quite lovely and feel genuine; the few upbeat numbers, especially 'Paranoid,' are a lot of fun." Essential track: Paranoid

8. Beyoncé - I Am ... Sasha Fierce
The world's biggest female pop artist released her third hit album. Look past the silly alternate identity and double-album marketing ploys and you'll find Beyoncé's best collection yet, a remarkable blend of high-class ballads and upbeat fluff. What I said: "She sounds as good belting out 'If I Were a Boy' as she does on the lightly breathy 'Disappear,' the soaring 'Ave Maria,' and the restrained 'Satellites.'" Essential track: If I Were a Boy

9. Kaiser Chiefs - Off with Their Heads
The British rock band brought in big-name Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson for their third album, who helped steer this upbeat set in a less serious direction than last year's, Yours Truly Angry Mob. What I said: "There's a pleasing amount of warmth to this album, particularly from the rich strings arrangement of 'Like It Too Much' and the acoustic guitar melody of 'Remember You're a Girl.'" Essential track: Never Miss a Beat

10. Glasvegas
This Glaswegian band's debut was a good counterpoint to the Mancunian party scene overworked by Arctic Monkeys. They exude a similarly raw and youthful sound, but use their music to tell meaningful stories about social problems. What I said: "The band's earnestness sets it apart from the popular pack of current indie rockers (as does having a female drummer, Caroline McKay)." Essential track: Daddy's Gone

11. The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the Understatement
Speaking of Arctic Monkeys, lead singer Alex Turner's side project (with Rascals member Alex Kane) blended the gritty rock of the 'Monkeys with '60s pop influences. A nice stopgap before the band's next album. What I said: "'Like taking the Arctic Monkeys and parading them through Amy Winehouse and Duffy's recording studios, with a little dose of John Barry for inspiration." Essential track: Standing Next to Me

12. Estelle - Shine
With guidance from John Legend and a turn in American recording studios, Estelle's second album was an upbeat, soulful mix of old and new sounds that snagged her a Mercury Prize nomination. And it's big single--the Kanye West collaboration "American Boy" made her an international star. What I said: "Old school-flavored modern soul is what a lot of this album has on its mind." Essential track: American Boy

13. Take That - The Circus
While the sea of recent pop group reunions have seen many acts appear past their prime, Take That have proved they're still at the top of their game. This surprisingly good second album from the Take That reboot (their fifth overall) showed more range and better songs than their last, Beautiful World; a great mix of pop songs from the understated title track to the top-tapping "How Did It Come to This?" What I said: "The Circus proves that Take That's reunion isn't a novelty or quick cash grab, but the real deal." Essential Track: The Circus

14. Pink - Funhouse
After a commercial misstep with her third album, Pink has made a remarkable comeback that started with "U + Ur Hand" and continued this year with the international #1 hit "So What." The album is no less disappointing than that great single--a biting yet also vulnerable mix of emotions in the wake of her recent divorce. What I said: "(the 'So What') antics are a foil for the darker side Pink sometimes unveils throughout this 12-song set that chronicles her recent divorce from Carey Hart." Essential track: So What

15. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Just a few of years ago Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden were cocky college kids playing gigs at Wesleyan University. Then they had an EP and toured with Of Montreal. Now they are have NME's best album of 2008. That's quite a rise, but with a confident debut album as good as this, the best may be yet to come. What I said: "a modern, poppy set that shows its '70s and '80s influences on its sleeve." Essential track: Kids

16. The Killers - Day & Age
After the Springsteen-esque Americana of last album Sam's Town, The Killers returned to the less serious new wave sound that made them a hit with Hot Fuss, even expanding their musical palette to include world music-type sounds. This time with dance producer Stuart Price on board, the band delivered a third solid album. What I said: "The first three songs are instantly likeable--the rest of the album had to grow on me, but thankfully it has." Essential track: Spaceman

17. Mariah Carey - E=MC²
As its title implies, Mariah Carey's 10th album adheres closely to the formula of her last album, The Emancipation of Mimi, which brought her back to the spotlight after two albums that found her career in decline. E=MC² didn't land the singer as many hits as Mimi, but I actually prefer this album's more modern and upbeat sound. What I said: "E=MC² is a soundtrack for driving in the sun and going out with friends, despite some of its surprisingly personal more serious moments." Essential track: Migrate

18. Ne-Yo - Year of the Gentleman
Over the last few years, singer/songwriter/producer Ne-Yo has been steadily securing his status as one of the most influential rising stars of pop and R&B. This year he released his most accomplished album yet and landed a Grammy Album of the Year nomination for it. His winning mix of pop, R&B, and dance sounds, as well as his message about treating women as equals rather than sex objects, made him stand out. What I said: "he's the whole package." Essential track: Miss Independent

19. Adele - 19
British singer Adele Adkins got about as good a launch this year as a singer could hope for, being named the BBC Sounds of 2008 top new artist, getting strong promotion in both the UK and the US, and starting off with an amazing hit single, "Chasing Pavements." What I said: "19 is a soulful creation, showcasing Adele's powerful voice. It's not a magnum opus--most of the songs are about a young woman pining after boys--but why should it be?" Essential track: Chasing Pavements

20. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White sound best when he's jamming with ex-wife/sometimes sister Meg in The White Stripes, but this second album with his other band wasn't bad. It actually sounds a lot like a White Stripes album but with more instruments and a greater classic rock influence. What I said: "It's strength is its simplicity, built on great rhythms, guitar riffs and rock strut." Essential track: Consoler of the Lonely

21. Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree
Goldfrapp's fourth album toned down the sexy electro-pop of their last two albums. As such, it has more in common with atmospheric Felt Mountain than stompers Black Cherry or Supernature. It's also a step down from those fantastic two albums, but still pretty good. What I said: "First track 'Clowns' and first single 'A&E' are perhaps the two loveliest songs Goldfrapp has ever crafted." Essential track: Clowns

22. Keane - Perfect Symmetry
Also taking a step down from their previous albums but still good enough to land in my top 25 is the third album from Keane. Credit the band for breaking out of their piano-based rock comfort zone to incorporate guitar and new wave. Just too bad the melodies weren't as strong this time. What I said: "Despite their experimentation, which I applaud, much of this feels very familiar without being as interesting as what they've done before." Essential track: Spiralling

23. The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
There's nothing wrong with making upbeat fluffy pop/rock as long as it's done well. Not everyone's cut out to be U2, but just because an album may lack substance doesn't mean it can't exude melody, charm and fun, which The Ting Tings did quite successfully on their debut disc. What I said: "This isn't a serious work and it's not meant to be. The Ting Tings are clearly having a good time and so are we." Essential track: Shut Up and Let Me Go

24. Foxboro Hottubs - Stop Drop and Roll!!!
Green Day took a break from being Green Day, masquerading as the Foxboro Hottubs to deliver a quick and dirty set of fun jams far away from the social commentary of their epic 2004 award-winning album American Idiot. Like many of the year's best albums, the '60s and '70s were strong influences. What I said: "None of this is very substantive, but that's the point. It's just short, enjoyable bursts of '60s-flavored rock." Essential track: Mother Mary

25. Sheryl Crow - Detours
I associate this rather impressive and personal set from Sheryl Crow with a day last February when one weekend day I walked the two miles home from downtown through a cold but sunny DC winter's day. It was the perfect backdrop. What I said: "Sheryl draws on these life-changing events (her divorce, cancer and son's adoption) to give Detours a particularly personal depth, but she turns to the outside world too to give it political depth as well, touching on the war, the environment and our thirst for oil." Essential track: Shine Over Babylon

Also Recommended:
British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
Girls Aloud - Out of Control
Delta Goodrem - Delta
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
The Script
Sugababes - Catfights and Spotlights

Also Reviewed:
Dido - Safe Trip Home
Hot Chip - Made in the Dark
Ladytron - Velocifero
Mêlée - Devils & Angels
Moby - Last Night
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
Neon Neon - Stainless Style
R.E.M. - Accelerate
Sia - Some People Have Real Problems
Solange - Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams
Sam Sparro
Britney Spears - Circus
TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

Five worst of the year:

Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns Snow Patrol released a sleepy retread of their fantastic 2006 album Eyes Open. A real disappointment.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Dirt Devil This dark and too folksy follow-up didn't hold a candle to the duo's 2006 Mercury Prize nominee, Ballad of the Broken Seas.

Vampire Weekend This has shown up on every music magazine's year-end best list. Yet, I'm not changing my opinion that I thought it was pretentious, meaningless and boring.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!! Here's another critics favorite--"storyteller" rock that just doesn't appeal to me.

The Verve - Forth Not necessarily the year's worst album, but the biggest disappointment for me. After an 11-year break, The Verve re-formed to deliver this somber set of overly long, listless songs. "Bittersweet Symphony," "The Drugs Don't Work," and "Sonnet" were such magic moments on their 1997 album Urban Hymns. I was really hoping for a repeat and didn't get it--not even close.