Whilst my rules on the top singles of the year have got stricter, my album lists have become freer. Most significantly, I’ve allowed international releases in with open arms.
My justification is a little woolly but makes sense in my head. Singles are inextricably bound up with charts (it’s almost their reason for being) and so it makes sense to take one country’s chart and stick with it. Obviously, living in the UK, I had an innate understanding of how the charts worked (with lots of easily accessible online data) and whilst I’d love to include my favourite Alcazar singles, I could never get a native-like grip over Sweden’s charts – and if I lived there, there’d probably be all sorts of obscure Swedish gems I’d know about, not just the few that I manage to pick up and unfairly focus on. And I’ve not even got started on the US charts, some including airplay or club-play, all with separate genres that manage to include songs apparently not even properly released! I could open up the lists to songs in general, but the idea of that is too huge to contemplate and leads to all kinds of questions about what year a song belongs to (when it leaks on the Internet? when it first appears on an album? when it’s released as a single?).
However, albums are an internationally-recognised format, a self-contained body of work. There’s no worries about it being a single, a buzz track, an album track that randomly charted or a single released only in certain places but not others. And thanks to the wonders of the Internet (or even a particularly well-stocked branch of HMV), I can buy that album anywhere, listen to it anywhere and it will be exactly the same album in England as it is in Outer Mongolia (probably).
…Oh well, it makes sense to me. And it’s essentially a long-winded way of saying, albums you might not be familiar with (and not originally included) are on this list, which is incidentally another of my favourites – deal with it! So sit back, relax and enjoy the Top 11 Albums Of 2006!
1. Margaret Berger – Pretty Scary Silver Fairy
Leave it to those pesky Swedes to produce an electropop record so catchy, so creative and so cohesive that everyone else might as well give up. Ten tracks of shimmery sparkly synthy goodness, delivered in Berger’s silvery tingly coo, mean it’s near impossible to pick a favourite. Oh well, if you’re gonna push me… it has to be Will You Remember Me Tomorrow. A twinkly treat set to swirl you straight to electro-disco heaven. Pretty Scary Silver Fairy is an utter joy from beginning to end, and all over again when you inevitably hit the replay button.
2. Gwen Stefani – The Sweet Escape
The Stefani is back – and who else would have the chutzpah and indeed, sheer craziness to sample yodelling from The Sound of Music on a comeback single?! Wind It Up might have initially sounded like a car crash but repeated listens showed it to be an infectious stomper enhanced by a quite brilliant video (Gwen is a nun! Gwen makes curtains! Gwen sings to harajuku girls dressed as children from Sound of Music who do demented clockwork dance!). Her second album trades the excited random energy of L.A.M.B for a more mature lush Cool-esque sound but it’s quietly just as good as her debut. And that title track is the best thing I’ve heard this year.
3. The Feeling – Twelve Stops and Home
Was there a more lovely, life-affirming album this year? (In case you’re wondering, the answer’s no). The equivalent of a ray of sunshine into even the most jaded record-buyer’s heart, The Feeling have produced an album of unadulterated, unpretentious joy. Ranging from the bubbly to the beautiful, it’s certain to put a smile bigger than Christmas on your face.
4. Lily Allen – Alright Still
If Lily Allen’s music wasn’t as good as it is, the gobby shtick of pop’s very own Vicky Pollard would have worn thin long ago. Instead, this album of delightfully light ditties was a breath of fresh air. Witty, original and most importantly, catchy as hell, Alright Still proved not just to be the soundtrack to the summer, but to life itself.
5. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds
If there was ever a man chosen to bring sexy back, aren’t you pleased it was Justin Timberlake? Shaking off the last vestiges of boy-band blandness (and all memories of that corkscrew perm he once sported), this album screams ‘SEX!’ very loudly. Trademark Timberlake delivery and the dirtiest basslines this side of a red-light district make for a superior Prince-esque album.
6. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
Whilst those of us in the know have long realised that Amy Winehouse was an amazing and talented artist, this was the year that everyone else actually sat up and took notice too. Back To Black may have marked a slightly new direction, veering from the witty jazz of debut Frank to more Motown influences, but she still has spadefuls of soul and an absolutely stunning voice. This has every chance of becoming a classic, if only she can stay sober long enough.
7. Nerina Pallot – Fires
Underrated and overlooked in favour of blander and faker female singer-songwriters, Nerina Pallot’s album is a series of extraordinarily lovely songs. It might not make break any boundaries, but it does middle-of-the-road extremely well, with far more depth and conviction than her counterparts. With songs this radio-friendly, and, in some cases, hauntingly beautiful, it’s a wonder and a real shame this album isn’t doing better.
8. Marie Serneholt – Enjoy The Ride
A perfect ten tracks of pure pop bliss. The blonde one from A*Teens strides out on her own – and how! From the ‘dum-di-dum’ deliciousness of Turkish Delight-flavoured That’s The Way My Heart Goes to the feelgood summer sunshine of I Love Making Love, the dreamy criminal metaphors of Calling All Detectives to the breathy sumptuous last dance of Oxygen, it’s all superb stuff. Did we enjoy the ride? No… we bloody flipping well loved it!
9. Jamelia – Walk With Me
Jamelia finally abandoned any pretence at R n’ B and embraced pure pop – only to be rewarded with absolutely no sales (I blame the awful album sleeve). C’est la vie, I suppose but totally undeserved since Walk With Me is one of the most solid and consistent albums of the year.
10. The Fratellis – Costello Music
More energy than a seven-year old stuffed with blue Smarties, this is one of the debuts of year. Ridiculously catchy, lively tracks like Creeping Up The Backstairs and Chelsea Dagger (destined to become a nights out sing-along classic) combine with the charming acoustic highlight Whistle For The Choir to create a frenetic, frantic and fun album, with guitar riffs and catchy hooks by the busload. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to dislike anything about such an upbeat album.
11. The Kooks – Inside In/Inside Out
This album has the advantage of having been out for practically the whole of 2006, hence allowing practically every song on it to seep gradually into the public consciousness. Yet the reason it has done this was not just due to the inescapable tv ads but because it’s a collection of charmingly fresh tunes. And sorry to all you Luke Pritchard haters out there, but that’s just the way it is.