Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy new year to all of you loyal readers. Thank you for all your comments and encouragement--I really appreciate it. I'm away this weekend, so apart from a couple of things in the queue for tomorrow, you won't be hearing from me until Monday at the earliest. Enjoy your parties tonight.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Personal Chart, Top 100 of the Decade (2000-2009)

Radio 1 Countdown of the Decade

BBC Radio 1 had a great 3-part show counting down the top 100 best-selling singles of the decade in Britain. Part 1 aired Tuesday, part 2 today, and part 3 is tomorrow (the first two parts are archived here). It airs at 1 p.m. GMT (8 a.m. EST).

We'll find out tomorrow, but I expect Will Young's "Evergreen" to be the decade's best-selling single. In fact, here's what I expect to see in the top 10:

1. Evergreen - Will Young
2. Unchained Melody - Gareth Gates
3. Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke
4. Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid 20
5. It Wasn't Me - Shaggy
6. Is This The Way to Amarillo - Tony Christie
7. Can't Get You Out of My Head - Kylie Minogue
8. Pure and Simple - Hear'Say
9. That's My Goal - Shayne Ward
10. Can We Fix It - Bob the Builder

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Glee - Don't Rain on My Parade

I was just listening to this on iTunes and it made me so happy to hear it again. So I decided to watch the video, which I found on YouTube. Isn't Lea Michelle amazing? It's so cruel that new episodes of this are months away.

Best TV of 2009 and the Decade

I'm not a major TV junkie, but when I find a show I like, I tend to really get into it. Here are my favorite shows of the year and of the decade:

Best TV of 2009:

1. Mad Men (AMC). This gorgeous period drama continued to excel in its third season, with Jon Hamm giving his best performance yet, and a season ender that promises to reinvigorate the show next season.

2. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi). The show reached its lowest point during the first half of season four (aired in 2008), but came back strong with the second half, upping the stakes for the show's surprising yet satisfying conclusion.

3. Glee (Fox). This year's best new show is charming, irreverent, funny and affecting. The characters embody certain archetypes, yet are written with flawed realism. The show can be uproariously campy, yet also presents true human drama. And then there are those song and dance numbers, set to some of my favorite pop songs. Plus several of the guys are really hot. What more could you want?

4. 30 Rock (NBC). Still ridiculous, still funny.

5. Parks and Rec (NBC). At first, I wasn't erally taken with Amy Poehler's new show, but it's grown on me quite a bit, particularly the strong supporting cast.

6. Lost (ABC). Lost has gotten so complicated that it really works best to not think about it too much and just enjoy the show's great actors, action and setting.

7. Project Runway (Bravo). The move to Los Angeles added nothing, in fact it crippled the show to some extent, since several of the judges--employed by New York-based publications or fashion hosues--were frequently absent. So when the show finally returned to New York for the finale, it felt right. Not the greatest season, but still a good show.

8. V (ABC). It aired only four episodes, but this attractive update of the '80s mini-series and show holds promise, particularly in that it prominently features Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell.

The worst: Melrose Place (CW). Who didn't want this reboot to be fun? But it was really just a mess. Heather Locklear sounds like she has marbles in her mouth. And the desperate medical student who became a hooker to pay off her bills seemed a little too skilled as a "pro."

Best TV of the Decade:

1. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi). Science fiction that is so much more than sci-fi. This gripping human drama drew on the post-911 stories of our time and provided new perspectives on the clash of cultures, religious vs. secular leadership and the politics of trust. All of the actors were amazing, particularly Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. Plus it also gave us Helo.

2. The Wire (HBO). The wire was gritty and gripping, showing the underside of urban life, with each season expanding the ring of action to a new sector of society, so that by the time the show ended, it effectively wove stories of detectives, drug dealers, politicians, union workers, educators and students, and journalists.

3. Mad Men (Bravo). Like I said above, sumptuously produced, beautifully shot, brilliantly acted. A true gem of a television show.

4. Sex and the City (HBO). Particularly good were the third and sixth seasons, which showed the depth of the characters while maintaining the show's frothy fun. The series finale was one fo the best ever.

5. Arrested Development (ABC). Jason Bateman and company made this zany comedy deliver surprise after surprise. It lasted only three seasons, but I hear a movie is in the works. Definitely a cult hit.

6. Lost (ABC). An incredible concept that subsequently became even stranger. It concludes next year and I can't wait to see where it's headed. Plus, Michael Emerson's Ben has to be the decade's best TV villain.

7. 30 Rock (NBC). With its blink-and-you'll miss it style, 30 Rock was a whole new type of TV comedy, with a fast, zany style built on nutty but believable characters.

8. Project Runway (Bravo). I find most reality TV quite insipid. This is the notable exception, a show about art, creativity and what it takes to make it in the fashion industry.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO). Larry David's hilarious spoof of himself was laugh-out-loud funny on frequent occasions.

10. Glee (Fox). A new show, but already quite loved in my household.

Honorable mention: The Sopranos, 24 (1st, 4th and 5th seasons), Six Feet Under and the short-lived Swingtown.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best Movies of 2009

Generally, when I've done a best movies of the year before the end of the year it's a preliminary list, as I'm waiting to see many of the Oscar hopefuls that have just been released. While I'll probably do an update in a few weeks, I'm not so sure that's needed this year, as many of the year-end Oscar hopefuls have turned out to be critical bombs (The Lovely Bones, It's Complicated, and most notably, Nine). It wasn't the best year from dramas either, with many of the year's best films actually coming from science fiction of all genres. As of now, my 10 favorite films of 2009:

1. Up in the Air. This smart film, half drama, half comedy, was refreshing, honest, stylish and fun. George Clooney excelled as Ryan Bingham, a man so adverse to commitment as to live his life without the attachments of family, friends or home, even "lecturing" about its perks to the self-help crowd. Both supporting actresses were ravishing too, breakout Anna Kendrick as the whipper-snapper younger woman who nails the early 20-something combination of ambitious and naivety, and Anna Kendrick as the lived-and-learned older woman still up for an adventure (one of my favorite scenes in the film is when the two women compare notes about what they look for in a man. Kendrick, like many of her age, has a laundry list of requirements, while Farmiga presents a shorter, more practical list, no doubt winnowed down by experience).

2. Avatar. I was too young to see Star Wars in the theater (a wee 2 months when it was released), but I've certainly seen its impact in movies during my lifetime. This is another one of those types of movies--something so different as to be a game-changer. Yes, Avatar has its flaws: cut-out characters, predictable story--but it's a gorgeous visual feast of a movie, with computer-generated landscapes that are breathtaking in their scope, color and detail, and, for the first time ever, CG-generated characters that are as believable as the screen's flesh-and-blood counterparts. James Cameron's movie is best experienced in 3D, which enhances the audience's participation in the characters' experience of a whole new world, as well as our own experience of a new kind of filmmaking.

3. (500) Days of Summer. This is the most original romantic comedy ever, a movie that far exceeds the boundaries of that limited genre to become something fresh, smart and charming. This film surprises at every turn, messing with the film's chronology, splitting the screen to show alternate realities, and breaking out in a joyous musical number. Dismiss it as a "rom-com" to your peril.

4. Star Trek. J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek with this thrill-a-minute vehicle that manages to capture many of the best attributes of Star Trek--including a cast who miraculously nods appropriately to its forebearers while making each character wholly their own--while presenting something new and exciting too. Chris Pine in particular is a brilliant captain Kirk, nailing his larger-than-life smart but reckless persona without it being a Shatner impersonation.

5. An Education. The relationship between an on-the-cusp-of-adulthood girl and a 30-something conman manages to be simultaneously charming and creepy in An Education, an enlivened look at British society just before the cultural revolution of the '60s. Peter Sarsgaard is fantastic as the con artist charmer, while Carey Mulligan gives one of the year's best breakout performances as the teen girl.

6. Inglourious Basterds. Quetin Tarantino's latest, a genre-blending World War II "revenge" film, found the director mellow his over-the-top visual style just a bit to inject this visually stunning film with enough realism to make it click. Christophe Waltz gives a truly creepy performance as "The Jew Hunter."

7. Precious. It's a little over-the-top, but I still really enjoyed the human drama and spirit of Precious. Gabourey Sidibe was amazing as the title character, and Mo'Nique deserves all the praise she's received as the unbelievably cruel mother, but I also really liked Paula Patton as the bleeding heart teacher.

8. The Hurt Locker. This movie was hard to watch, which was why it was so good. It really brought the horrors of war to life firsthand with an ensemble of actors that showed the cracking strains of human despair beneath their shields of soldiery bravery.

9. District 9. One of the year's biggest surprises, District 9 is shot like a low-budget documentary yet its visual effects are marvelous. The story about an alien spaceship hovering over South Africa while its inhabitants struggle below in a detainee camp feels wholly new and original, despite cribbing from sci-fi classics like V, Aliens and The Fly. It's creepy and gross but also heartwarming.

10. Invictus. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon deliver strong performances in this--the other great film this year set in South Africa--telling the story of Nelson Mandela's efforts to unite the post-apartheid country.

Honorable mentions: A Single Man, Tom Ford's gorgeous directorial debut; The Messenger, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson's take on war-bruised men on a thankless errand; the delicious cooking of Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia; and the heartwarming Up!.

Disappointments: The colorless, by-the-numbers Watchmen adaptation; the pretentious and boring Away We Go; and the too weird A Serious Man.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Essential Albums of the Decade: 1 to 20

1. Kylie Minogue - Fever (2001). No other album captured my attention as consistently these last 10 years as Kylie's Fever. It could quite possibly be the perfect dance pop album, balancing the right blend of pop hooks, dancefloor precision and tongue-in-cheek fun. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" in particular, shook dance floors around the world harder than any other song this decade. Best: Can't Get You Out of My Head.

2. Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002). Parachutes was an intriguing debut, but with their second album, Coldplay distanced themselves from the pack of bleeding-heart British bands. From the sonic onslaught that opens "Politik" to the slow build of the track, A Rush of Blood to the Head showed Coldplay expanding on the lovely guitar rock of their first album with bigger sounds, more complicated emotions and fewer barriers. Best: God Put a Smile Upon Your Face.

3. Madonna - Music (2000). After the pristine beauty of the William Orbit-produced Ray of Light, Madonna got a little funkier and dirtier with French producer Mirwais on this, the pop singer's ninth album, and second album to explore a mostly European, electronic sound, particularly on the title track, also with touches of acoustic guitar on songs like "I Deserve It" and "Don't Tell Me." Best: Music.

4. Keane - Hopes and Fears (2004). Producing one of the decade's best rock albums without a guitar may have been a neat trick, but the more impressive feat of this work is the consistent quality of strong songwriting--courtesy of Tim Rice-Oxley, the band's keyboardist and principal songwriter--with melodies that truly engage and soar. Best: Bend and Break.

5. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (2006). Amy Winehouse's voice and personality go together like honey and vinegar. But mix long enough and you'll have something good. Certainly that's the case on her magnificent second album, which effortlessly blended '60s soul and modern pop while cheekily battling some pretty serious demons. Best: Back to Black.

6. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007). The songwriting strength of The Bends and the experimentation of Kid A came together beautifully on Radiohead's seventh and best album. I particularly enjoy the part of the album that starts with the austere, beat-heavy "Reckoner," followed by the warmer guitar-driven "House of Cards" and concludes with the dark and forceful "Jigsaw Falling Into Place." More accessible but no less interesting than their other albums released this decade. Best: House of Cards.

7. The White Stripes - Elephant (2003). On their fourth album, the White Stripes deliver the maximum of emotions and energy on the minimum of instrumentation. Frequently it's just guitar, drums and vocals, but that's all they need to create their unique brand of lean but muscular tunes. Best: Seven Nation Army.

8. Scissor Sisters (2004). The Scissor Sisters' debut was campy, high-energy fun, mixing '70s and '80s disco and glam elements with mostly upbeat results. Songs like "Take Your Mama" and "Filthy/Gorgeous" are pure party, while torchy ballad "Mary" shows the band has a more serious side too. Best: Take Your Mama.

9. Duffy - Rockferry (2008). Along with Amy Winehouse, Duffy was one of the leaders of the British '60s soul-pop revival of the decade's latter half. On her solid debut, Duffy unleashed her unusual voice over strong melodies, giving us songs of heartbreak and strength. Best: Mercy.

10. La Roux (2009). By 2009, the '80s synth pop thing was at its peak, but La Roux mined the territory with such earnestness as to sound like it came straight from that time, not just influenced by it. Drum machine beats and synthesizer melodies never sounded so good. Best: In for the Kill.

11. Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway (2004). The first American Idol winner's second album sets her ahead of the reality TV pack with a rock-leaning pop album that produced hit after hit. It did for Clarkson what Friday's Child did for Will Young, proving that there is hope for reality TV stars becoming something that really is reality. Best: Since U Been Gone.

12. The Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way (2006). Country radio may have shunned them, but it was their loss, as Taking the Long Way is more than just a fantastic country album. It's an album for our times that doesn't flinch in the face of adversity. It's political, personal, but also quite fun, with many memorable songs like "The Long Way Around" and "Not Ready to Be Nice," which are so good they give me chills. Best: Not Ready to Be Nice.

13. The Strokes - Is This It (2001). Frequently heralded as the most influential rock album of the decade--a Nevermind for the 2000s--Is This It delivered tight, energetic rock melodies without unnecessary theatrics. It ushered in the post-punk revival, the new-wave influenced sound that became rock music's most prominent movement this decade, embodied by bands on both sides of the Atlantic from The Killers to Arctic Monkeys. Best: Someday.

14. Norah Jones - Come Away with Me (2002). Norah Jones took the world by storm in 2002 with her smoky voice singing folksy, light-jazz love songs. It's not the most revolutionary music, but when you want something warm and comforting, it hits the spot. Best: Come Away with Me.

15. Franz Ferdinand (2004). Franz Ferdinand's music lies somewhere between Arctic Monkeys and The Killers, with lean melodies that evoke an '80s new wave sensibility. Bold, brash and cheeky, it was the perfect counterpoint to the piano-rock majesty sweeping rock music at the time and another strong example of the post-punk revival. Best: Take Me Out.

16. Goldfrapp - Black Cherry (2003). Early in 2004, I embarked on an effort to expand my musical horizons by sampling new artists and styles, such as electronic music, which led me to Goldfrapp and this brilliant album. While their first album was a rather mellowed ambient affair, their second was more uptempo electro-pop with waves of synth melodies pushed through fuzzy beats. Imagine John Barry scoring a late-night lounge. Best: Tiptoe.

17. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations (2006). Strap yourself into your intergalactic rocketship fueled by '70s epic-rock fantasies of fighting an alien invasion from Mars and you'll have an idea of what it's like to experience Muse's best album, a tour de force of musical bombardment full of many odd moments, yet a strong pop sensibility too on hit tracks like "Starlight" and "Supermassive Black Hole." Best: Map of the Problematique.

18. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002). One night after a few too many margaritas, I asked me friend Erin to recommend an album to me that she thought I would like. We walked across the street to Best Buy, she picked this out, and I have loved it ever since. It has the sci-fi rock sound a la Muse, but keeps its melodies more grounded. Best: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1.

19. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights (2002). I didn't get into this album until recently, taking a chance on it after seeing it on several publications' best of the decade lists, but it has really become quite a favorite of mine the last few weeks. This is rock music at its moody, lovely best. Best: Obstacle 1.

20. Radiohead - Kid A (2000). At times haltingly beautiful, extremely weird or both, Kid A was Radiohead's grand experiment to stretch the limits of what music a traditional rock band could produce. This is a challenging album that demands to be listened to repeatedly and purposefully. It's not for everyone, but if it can get under your skin, it's worth it. Best: Everything in It's Right Place.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Personal Chart, December 26, 2009

Essential Albums of the Decade: 21 to 40

21. Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight (2007). With hints of country and Fleetwood Mac, Rilo Kiley's fourth album was its best and most accessible, with lovely melodic songs like "Silver Lining" and the title track, as well as a little rock swagger on "The Moneymaker" and "Close Call." Best: Under the Blacklight.

22. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic (2008). Black Kids' synth-driven indie pop was one of the best alternative music debuts of the decade. It's upbeat atmosphere gives way to the lyrical longing of songs like "Hurricane Jane" and "I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance." Best: Hurricane Jane.

23. Coldplay - X&Y (2005). A Rush of Blood to the Head was a hard act to top, and Coldplay didn't quite rise to the challenge on their third album. That said, it's still quite a beautiful work, darker and broader in scope than either of their first two sets, with heavier reliance on synthesizers and studio effects to round out its dramatic productions that strive for U2-like grandeur. Best: Talk.

24. Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008). Best: Strawberry Swing. That Coldplay turned to longtime U2 producer Brian Eno to helm their fourth album was further proof that the band's music was veering in that great Irish band's direction. While that seems like an obvious play, Viva La Vida holds more than its share of surprises, like the multi-part "42," strings-based rocker "Viva La Vida" and sumptuous "Strawberry Swing." Best: Strawberry Swing.

25. Madonna - Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005). Following the less than impressive results of American Life, Madonna teamed up with British dance producer Stuart Price, and made this--her first dance pop album since Erotica. Seamlessly mixed together like one continuous night of clubbing, Confessions reaffirmed Madonna's status as the greatest dance pop artist of all time. Best: Get Together.

26. Madonna - Hard Candy (2008). Despite being a major success in Europe, Confessions on a Dancefloor did not connect with Americans, who spent most of the 2000s listening to pop music with hip-hop and alternative flavors but little in the way of dance pop until Lady GaGa hit the scene. Always determined to have a hit, Madonna embraced the R&B-pop sound with this album, co-produced with Timbaland, Danja and the Neptunes. Despite some fan objections, it was still a Madonna album through and through. Best: Miles Away.

27. Air - Talkie Walkie (2004). French techno duo Air's fourth album featured otherwordly electronic compositions that also prominently featured acoustic instruments. The album is generally pretty mellow, save for '80s-esque synth-fueled "Surfing on a Rocket." Best: Surfing on a Rocket.

28. Dido - No Angel (2001). Dido's debut, No Angel, released in 1999 in the US but not until 2001 in the UK, could have sounded like any other female singer-songwriter work of the time if it wasn't for the appealingly dark downbeat production courtesy of Dido's brother and Faithless member Rollo Armstrong. Best: Here With Me.

29. Alexandra Burke - Overcome (2009). Exuding warmth, personality and versatility on Overcome, The X Factor's fifth winner, Alexandra Burke, made the best album to come from any of the show's famous alumni, effectively tackling big ballads ("Overcome"), frothy dance pop ("Broken Heels") and old school soul ("Six Feet Under"). Best: Bad Boys.

30. Goldfrapp - Supernature (2005). Goldfrapp's third album delivered much the same style of music as their second--slinky, mostly uptempo electro-pop--but with an eye for greater mainstream success, which they achieved with top 10 hits like "Ooh La La" and "Number 1." Best: Satin Chic.

31. Coldplay - Parachutes (2000). Coldplay became a major breakout in 2000 on the back of their debut album, a melodic set of relatively simple but well crafted guitar rock songs. It was a smash hit, especially in Britain, where it won the Brit Award for British Best Album (and award every Coldplay album but Viva la Vida has won). Looking back, perhaps the most interesting thing about this album was that it was the least interesting they would ever be. Best: Trouble.

32. Green Day - American Idiot (2004). Once just another goofy punk band, on American Idiot the punks matured into respectable rock musicians, delivering a politically charged concept album that explored the struggle of the common person in post-9/11 America--while winning much acclaim and popularity in the process. Best: Wake Me Up When September Ends.

33. The Killers - Hot Fuss (2004). New wave revival was one of the decade's biggest trends in alternative rock, and this was one of the first albums to bring the sound to a mainstream audience. The Killers scored big on their debut, with charging rockers set to '80s synth-driven melodies. Best: All These Things that I've Done.

34. Little Boots - Hands (2009). Little Boots made shimmery, '80s-style electro-pop on her debut, transforming herself from a quirky club act (where she liked to perform on stage with a Japanese gizmo resembling an '80s electronic toy) to a bona fide pop star. Best: Stuck on Repeat.

35. Kylie Minogue - Light Years (2000). After two less than stellar albums on the Deconstruction label, during which Kylie explored a new sound, she returned to making glittery dance pop, updating her sound for the disco-revival era with this campy, thoroughly joyous album. Best: Loveboat.

36. Beyonce - I Am...Sasha Fierce (2008). After two promising but flawed albums, Beyonce finally delivered the hit album we always knew she could make. Split into two, I Am...Sasha Fierce demonstrated Beyonce's continually improving vocal prowess over its gentle first disc as well as her immense talent as an uptempo performer on the edgier second disc. Best: Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).

37. The XX - XX (2009). Like a chill-out version of The White Stripes, London-based XX's debut album employed a minimalist approach to its finely crafted guitar-based melodies set amidst a late-night hush of plucked guitar, keyboard effects and contrasting male and female lead vocals. Best: Infinity.

38. Rachel Stevens - Come and Get It (2005). That Rachel Stevens didn't break out as a major star on the back of this pulsing dance pop album was one of the great pop music travesties of the decade. Trust me, this shiny dance pop album was more than just a stopgap between Kylie discs. Best: Secret Garden.

39. Will Young - Friday's Child (2003). Before Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Girls Aloud, Leona Lewis and Joe McElderry there was Will Young, winner of the first season of Pop Idol and the first winner of a reality TV singing competition to really go on and make a music career in his own right. On this, his second album, he showed that artists with such a start can move past their TV beginnings into true pop musicians. Best: Leave Right Now.

40. Hard Fi - Once Upon a Time in the West (2007). Bolder and grander than their 2005 debut, Hard-Fi's second album shows the band embodying a more mainstream British rock sound. Best: Tonight.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Essential Albums of the Decade: 41 to 60

41. Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul (2008). An all-around great rock album, Dig Out Your Soul finds Oasis continuing to demonstrate its excellence years past the Britpop heyday. Although they've mined the Beatles' sound extensively in the past, John Lennon's had no more fitting a tribute than "I'm Outta Time." Best: I'm Outta Time.

42. U2 - No Line on the Horizon (2009). Probably the least popular of U2's albums released this decade, but it was my favorite. In fact, I never really connected with a U2 album until I heard this one. Best: Magnificent.

43. Will Young - Let It Go (2008). Will Young continued to create infectious, soulful pop music on his fourth album, his most personal work to date. The mood get a bit on boisterous pop productions like "Love" and "Grace," but this album's best moments are its quiet, tender ballads like "Tell Me the Worst," "Disconnected," "You Don't Know" and the title track. Best: You Don't Know.

44. Robbie Williams - Reality Killed the Video Star (2009). Robbie Williams excels at making grand, sweeping pop songs, the kind that few male pop stars seem able to pull off. On Reality Killed the Video Star, he delivered the best set of them that he's done in many years. Best: Bodies.

45. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (2004). White Stripes' Jack White produced this album for Loretta Lynn, giving her the biggest hit she'd had in years and one of the decade's most acclaimed country albums. It also gets bonus points for giving my hometown a worthy anthem. Best: Portland, Oregon.

46. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (2007). The Chicago-based alternative band Wilco is best known for their 2002 album, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, but I much prefer this softer, later album, beautifully scored with long guitar, strings and piano passages. Best: Impossible Germany.

47. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand (2007). British Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and American bluegrass singer Alison Krauss teamed up to make this bluesy pop album. Much acclaim ensued, including last year's Album of the Year Grammy Award. Best: Please Read the Letter.

48. Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad (2007). Best: Umbrella. On her third album, Barbadian pop singer Rihanna made the transition to international pop star, with a mostly dance pop set that also showed her effectively tackling R&B and pop ballads. Best: Umbrella.

49. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (2007). The Arcade Fire's 2004 debut, Funeral, received a lot of acclaim, but didn't impress me. I much prefer this second album, which has better songs and a bigger sound, particularly on songs like "Black Mirror" and "Intervention," as well as the jolly "Keep the Car Running." Best: Black Mirror.

50. Dido - Life for Rent (2003). On her second album, Dido Armstrong continued in the same vein as her surprisingly successful debut, No Angel, giving us sing-songwriter pop with a lush, modern production. And anyone who dismisses Dido as too "sleepy" should check out "Stoned" and anyone who thinks "Don't Leave Home" is a sappy love song hasn't listened to the lyrics carefully. Best: White Flag.

51. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas (2006). Another winning trans-Atlantic male/female pairing, This time two former members of prominent alternative bands--the Scottish Isobel Campbell and American Mark Lanegan. They joined forces to deliver this lovely pop album, with shades of brooding country and folk. Best: The False Husband.

52. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open (2006). Between the lush, but unvaried Final Straw and the uneven A Hundred Million Suns, Snow Patrol released this amazing album, bristling with confidence, diversity and quality songcraft. The band proves itself as adept at upbeat rock on the driving hit single "You're All I Have" as they do at rock balladry on their international smash, "Chasing Cars." Best: Chasing Cars.

53. Kanye West - Late Registration (2005). For the first-half of the decade, hip-hop was dominated by thug-rap a la 50 Cent, party rap a la Nelly, tuneless crunk and whatever it is Eminem does. Then Kanye West came along with his tuneful, ambitious and pointedly mainstream take on the genre. Late Registration is my favorite of his works, imbuing tracks like "Heard 'Em Say" and "Touch the Sky" with an old-school feel and masterfully sampling Shirley Bassey's Bond theme "Diamonds Are Forever" into two versions of "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"--the remix, which explores the problems of African conflict diamonds issue, and the original, which is just a fun song. Best: Gold Digger.

54. Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak (2008). Kanye West's fourth album, his first to not be nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award, was controversial for its lack of rap, overuse of auto-tune and overall dark mood. I loved it. After the showiness of Graduation, this album felt much more intimate, exploring heartbreak from the loss of his mother and the end of a romantic relationship. Best: Paranoid.

55. Pet Shop Boys - Yes (2009). After delivering a mixed bag of albums for the last 10 years or so, Pet Shop Boys went back to the quirky dance pop of their landmark 1993 album Very on this, their 10th studio album. Best: Beautiful People.

56. Kings of Leon - Only By the Night (2008). Kings of Leon flew under the radar until last year, generating some buzz and a few hits in the UK, but little interest in their native US. That all changed with this album, particularly hits massive international hits "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody," taking this set of traditional but quality guitar rock songs to the top. Best: Sex on Fire.

57. Sugababes - Angels with Dirty Faces (2002). This was the best and biggest the Sugababes ever were. Having traded out early member Siobhan Donaghy for Heidi Range, the 'Babes sharpened both the quality of their vocal harmony and their songs, particularly on the innovative mash-up/remake of "Freak Like Me" (which was half Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric") and the gorgeously dark "Stronger," which borrows the sultry downbeat vibe of Massive Attacks's "Unfinished Sympathy." Best: Stronger.

58. The Editors - The Back Room (2005). The Editors made gorgeous guitar rock on their debut, tinged slightly with the synths of Depeche Mode and the beauty of Interpol. Highlights include the rousing opening track "Lights," bracing hit single "Munich" (which really reminds me of the best of Interpol's debut), and the plaintive "All Sparks." Best: Munich.

59. Dannii Minogue - Neon Nights (2003). Kylie Minogue made an electro-pop album in 2003, but her little sister made a better one with Neon Nights, the album which demanded that Dannii Minogue's musical career be taken seriously. Although she's too busy being an X Factor judge to make another album, Neon Nights at least proved she could do it right, delivering down-and-dirty electro-pop songs like "Creep," "I Begin to Wonder," and "Don't Wanna Lose This Feeling" (which was later brilliantly mashed up with Madonna's "Into the Groove"). Best: I Begin to Wonder.

60. Kaiser Chiefs - Employment (2005). This fivesome from Leeds delivered a charged debut, full of promise, energy and hooks, employing new wave touches on songs like the pulsing "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" and racing hit single "I Predict a Riot." Best: I Predict a Riot.