2008 leaps out as being a really poor year for albums, so much so I resorted to putting an album that wasn’t even technically released on here! Only the top five of this list really stand out; the rest are three (and a half) star albums at best that wouldn’t make the cut in any other year, with Jenny Lewis and John Legend even having better albums under their belt that didn’t make the charts in other years.
Still, enough with the cryptic clues. For better or worse, I present you with my Top 11 Albums Of 2008.
1. Britney Spears – Circus
Not as good as Blackout, but then again, what is? Whilst Blackout was an unrelenting dance nirvana, Circus is more a collection of great songs, with a couple of stinkers thrown in for good measure. [How did the teeth-gnashingly awful My Baby, with its nauseating lyrics about smelling breath ever leave the demo stage? And Mmm Papi is so shudder-inducingly cringe-making, you’ll hang your head in shame at how annoyingly catchy it is.] The sirens of Womanizer signal that Britney is back with bells on; tracks like Kill The Lights (heralding the return of ‘Princess, now Queen of Pop, Miss Britney Spears’), the strangulated vowels of Shattered Glass and the winking thrust of If U Seek Amy may steal the limelight but the experimental stutters and squeals of Mannequin and hypnotic seduction of Unusual You reveal their lustre on later listens. Meanwhile, my two favourites are mere bonuses – the Lady Gaga-penned (listen out for her on backing vocals) jaw-droppingly lovely Quicksand, which feels like it just rains gooey gorgeousness at every listen and the retro butterscotch charms of Amnesia (I could write an essay on this song – stuttering on the word ‘stutters’, the way that ‘butterflies’ is fragmented into two lines, that the song is about how hot some guy is that Brit ‘gets amnesia’ and then he comes to her and tells her that he can’t ‘forget about her’… that’s clever pop for you, and it’s utterly blissful). Welcome back Britters!
2. Lady Gaga – The Fame
At times, Lady Gaga really annoys me – ridiculous crotch-thrusting outfits, too much make-up, hair like straw, insisting that she’s 22 when she looks about 40. But then I remember how great her songs are. The Fame is a remarkable debut, with barely a duff track, and the seamy seedy edge added by lyrics detailing an obsession with fame or a predilection for rough sex complement the killer choruses (more than most artists manage in an entire career) perfectly. Suddenly, her ‘I’m outrageous, me!’ get-up just doesn’t matter anymore.
3. Girls Aloud – Out Of Control
Tame by Girls Aloud’s standards, bloody brilliant by anyone else’s. Lacking the genre-pogoing bravery of Tangled Up, Out of Control still has its fair share of electrifyingly eclectic moments in Miss You Bow Wow (a seemingly endless segue of stunning choruses), Revolution In The Head and Live In The Country. The rest of the album may see the girls on more mellow mainstream form – yet on tracks as genuinely lovely as Rolling Back The Rivers, the magnificent melancholy of The Loving Kind and whirling ecstasy of Untouchable, who’s complaining?
4. Same Difference – Pop
If you like your music to come with bigger smiles than a sales assistant on commission, then this is the album for you. This is pop in primary colours with hundreds and thousands sprinkled liberally on top, with surprisingly strong vocals from the siblings (so clean-cut that they make the Andrex puppy look a little sordid in comparison). Pop has had epic key changes thrown at it like confetti – the elongated one in Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now should be framed and hung up in a gallery, it’s that amazing. From the glorious cover art, to the perfectly-picked material, Pop practically wags its tail with pure unadulterated joy. It’s as if Steps never went away.
5. Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke
Does the album get a bit samey after a while? Yes. Does Ladyhawke’s ‘couldn’t give a shit, might as well be singing about what I need to get from Tesco later’ vocal delivery diminish the songs’ brilliance? Yes. But is this still a pretty great, cohesive, synthy sumptuous banquet of electro-indie? Yes. And is Paris Is Burning a sleazy adrenaline rush like no other? Of course.
6. Lemar – The Reason
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: thank God for Lemar. The man is single-handedly keeping male British soul/r n’ b alive. His albums are always consistent, his voice is gorgeous and well, he seems a thoroughly nice chap. At ten tracks, The Reason never outstays its welcome and is a smoothly impressive record; in fact, Lemar out-sings, out-funks and out-does John Legend’s Evolver at every turn. Little Miss Heartbreaker is just crying out, in fact wailing loudly and bashing its fists against a wall, to become a massive hit and this album, like Catfights, deserves so much more success.
7. Sugababes – Catfights And Spotlights
I can’t pretend that the Sugababes abandonment of electropop didn’t disappoint – and without the Red Dresses, Holes in The Heads and Push the Buttons of the world, Catfights does suffer. The resulting energy drought will have you clinging as desperately onto the sole stomper (Hanging On A Star) as a bunny boiler to their ex – however, nothing but nothing will compel me to look on Girls with anything other than contempt. A gaping creative trench of a song, built solely around the strength of its sample and with little consideration for including a decent anything else, it’s a nadir in the Babes’ career. But Catfights does serve as a reminder that, once upon a time, the Sugababes (in whatever previous incarnation) were just as effective at ballads and midtempos as rave-ups. A quietly good album with some great vocals; Can We Call A Truce is heartbreaking pared-down beauty and Heidi has never sounded so heart-achingly gorgeous.
8. Annie – Don’t Stop
Not technically released [it eventually saw the light of day in late 2009, a ridiculous 18 months after the Interwebz got their first taste of Don’t Stop], but it seems churlish not to award Norwegian pop sprite Annie her place in the top 11. Don’t Stop boasts songs lighter than spun sugar, a fair smattering of wit and depth that many of her contemporaries lack and the occasional utter leftfield spark (ice cream chimes in I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me). Annie’s feather-light delivery perhaps lacks the appropriate punch for power-pop like My Love Is Better but juxtaposes against the rocky duet I Can’t Let Go nicely and is the perfect fit for dreamy epics like Songs Remind Me Of You and Marie Cherie.
9. Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Lewis just has a voice that makes you melt – she just seems to sing with such simplicity and feeling that it delves into parts of your soul you weren’t sure existed. Not an album that will have you raving it up until poppers o’ clock but a master-class in breathtaking beauty all the same.
1o. John Legend – Evolver
I’ve long said that Legend could read the dictionary over a backing track and I’d still be in thrall to that honeyed voice. But Legend’s attempts to become the next Marvin Gaye are wearing a little thin because he has not yet managed to match the majesty of 2005’s wondrous Get Lifted. Green Light, propelled by Andre 3000’s cheeky chutzpah (btw where is he?! I need another Outkast album!), offers a tantalising glimpse of what could happen if Legend veered in a slightly funkier direction. Sadly, nothing on Evolver, despite the progressive sounding title, comes close to even trying. His piano-led ballads are still beautiful (This Time = Evolver’s Ordinary People), but you hear me Legend, I want more!
11. The Saturdays – Chasing Lights
The Saturdays are being touted as the great white hope of girl bands – the last bastion if the Sugababes and Girls Aloud should disappear. On the basis of Chasing Lights, I’m worried. Yes, there are some great tunes on here (I have a huge squidgy soft spot for the monumentally cheesy Why Me, Why Now) but they would be great tunes if my wall sung them to me – in fact, they might even be better. The Saturdays are in desperate need of personality and spark in order to elevate their slick yet serviceable pop to the next level. Up is still bloody good though.