When my Top 11 Albums Of 2010 was published on Teentoday, all I heard was abuse from bitter Wanted fans angry that I didn’t give their beloved boys the top spot. One claimed this list was ‘the biggest pile of shite I’ve read in years’, which is always a delight to read when you’ve spent weeks slaving over something. That The Wanted weren’t number one was no fault of their own – one of the strongest unashamedly pop UK boy band albums in recent memory, as anyone who actually read my mini review would have found out – but down to the intense competition that 2010 offered. Read on and, if you’re a Wanted fan, feel free to register yet more vehement disapproval here too…
Note: these write-ups are longer than usual because I didn’t do many proper album reviews in 2010. Enjoy!
1. Robyn – Body Talk
This year, Robyn was the gift that kept on giving. Some artists struggled to get one great song on a full-length album, Robyn churned out 3 EPs with an almost annoyingly high hit rate – c’mon Carlsson, give everyone else a chance! Body Talk saw Robyn continue to hone her trademark of dancefloor heartbreak to perfection – we’ll be sobbing into our cocoa whilst simultaneously attempting to bust some moves to the likes of Dancing On My Own, Indestructible, Love Kills and Cry When You Get Older for many years to come. But mastery of one genre was not enough, as she managed to work her elusive magic on (take a deep breath) straight-up pop, clubby dance beats, minimalist electro, atmospheric melancholy, too-cool-for-school rap, a skittish Snoop Dogg duet, playful ska, emotion-laden orchestral numbers and, wait for it, even a Sweden folk song too. We’re out of breath just thinking about it, she seemed to barely break a sweat. An astonishing body of work, Body Talk cemented Ms Carlsson’s place as the one to beat. The number one spot was never in doubt.
2. Tove Stryke – Tove Stryke
As if Robyn hadn’t bestowed us with enough treasures this year, here’s the best Robyn album that Robyn never made. Tove Stryke has the same innate sense of coolness, the same electro-dance-pop sensibilities and the same desire to chase an amazing beat at all costs. But what is uniquely hers? Sweet vocals, dreamy production and an album that feels like you’re floating amongst silvery clouds and shooting stars. A reverie of eleven quixotic tracks, it feels as light, fresh and airy as if it had been spun by fairies with cobwebs. But that makes it sound horrifically twee when in fact, it’s the perfect marriage between pulsating persistent beats and uplifting enriching melodies. The most gorgeous daydream you ever had eventually culminates in the power-pop explosion of White Light Moment, a dazzling diamond of a track that in some alternate reality has been number one for weeks on end. Tove Stryke makes you float away and never want to come back.
3. Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels
Is it Shakira? Catherine Zeta? Actually, her name’s Marina and being mentioned in the same breath as fellow Sound Of 2010 Ellie ‘hit the snooze button’ Goulding almost proved to be the kiss of death for Marina Diamandis as far as I was concerned. That and getting nine out of ten in NME, obviously. However, The Family Jewels turned out to be a rich decadent delight, a sumptuous medieval banquet, preferably with a giant succulent roast hog in the middle. In short, it’s anything but boring, anything but one-dimensional and anything but insular indie. Dodging every attempt to pigeonhole her, Diamandis hops, skips and jumps joyously between riotous pop (Girls, Oh No!), glittering Abba-esque choruses (Shampain), introspective baroque ballads (Obsessions, Numb) and pretty piano jaunts (I Am Not A Robot). The result? Whip-smart lyrics, highly palatable pop melodies and layer upon layer of glorious production combining to create an opulent ornate aural tapestry. Factor in Marina’s idiosyncratic vocals, pitched somewhere between Gwen Stefani’s gluey style, Kate Bush’s histrionics and Dory trying to speak whale in Finding Nemo, and you have an album that couldn’t possibly be made by anyone else.
4. The Wanted – The Wanted
Frankly, I thought British pop groups had forgotten how to make albums this good. It’s not three good singles with ten tracks of filler tacked on. It’s not got one eye obviously desperately trained on breaking America. It’s not so desperate at wanting to seem “credible” that members are busting out acoustic guitars, song-writing credits and tales of how they aren’t really ‘pop’ at every possible opportunity. And as a result of being none of those things, it’s exactly what it should be – an unpretentious unabashed example of a polished pop album that’s actually more daring than most indie types could ever dream of. With a debut single as arrestingly ambitious as All Time Low, it should come as no surprise that The Wanted dart between genres with all the agility of someone playing Knock Down Ginger. The sweet melodies of Heart Vacancy, the swooping angst of Lose My Mind, the choral simplicity of Hi And Low, the infectious marching rhythms of Personal Soldier, the glossy punch of A Good Day For Love To Die, the menacing verses that make way for a superb sing-along chorus on Say It On The Radio… there are too many great moments to mention. Suffice to say, The Wanted comes sprinkled with as much creativity and colour as a five year-old topping her cupcakes with generous helpings of hundreds and thousands. The best boy band record in a long long time.
5. Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite
After the oversexed and underpowered mish-mash of X, Kylie returned to claim her crown with this heavenly serving of exactly the sort of dance-pop she does best. Sounding like Fever’s guardian angel, never have synths sounded so easy or disco so effortless. With just one trademark Minogue swoon, she’ll have you smitten on tracks as beatifically breezy as All The Lovers and Can’t Beat The Feeling but keep those hotpants on-hand for irresistible calls to the dancefloor in the shape of Get Outta My Way and Put Your Hands Up. And just when you think you’ve second-guessed everything about this winsome wonder of an album, along comes the title track. Strutting and stomping its way onto the scene with the announcement that Kylie is ‘fierce and feeling mighty’, it’s a swaggering declaration of intent. Princess Kylie no more – only divine status will do. We had the ‘Goddess’ nametag ready all along.
6. Miley Cyrus – Can’t Be Tamed
Loudly proclaiming that she ‘can’t be tamed’ and isn’t ‘your robot’, I think it’s safe to say Hannah Montana is all grown up. About time too. No longer content with all-too short bursts of brilliance (a la See You Again and Party In The USA), Can’t Be Tamed marks Cyrus’ most convincing attempt at proper pop stardom. Despite featuring one too many soldiers in the sweeping ballad contingent (the echo-ey My Heart Beats For Love and heartfelt cover of Every Rose Has Its Thorn are the best of the bunch), Can’t Be Tamed boasts some of the finest frothy electropop of 2010, be it the raging rap of Liberty Walk, the rocky drama of Scars, the divine blast of Permanent December or the best non-Swedish penned chorus of the year in Two More Lonely People. We could have done with a bit less Autotune (I’ve always enjoyed Cyrus’ distinctive drawl), but if this is the sound of Miley shaking off her Disney shackles, long may it continue.
7. Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
There are people out there who will try to tell you that One Of The Boys is better than Teenage Dream. They are wrong. Whereas One Of The Boys was a wildly patchy debut with killer tracks that could be counted on one hand, Teenage Dream is a slightly less patchy sophomore effort with far more than its cotton-candy scented cover to recommend it. For those keen on the lurex-clad innuendo-spouting Perry, there’s a horrifically catchy song about cocks, the sunny bombastic beats of California Gurls and the feelgood sax solo and infamous ‘epic fail’ lyric of Last Friday Night. For those keen on the Perry who knows the meaning of words like ‘subtle’ and ‘nuanced’, there’s the golden-kissed swoons of Teenage Dream, Hummingbird Heartbeat and The One Who Got Away. And for those keen on the Perry who spurts pyrotechnics from her tits whilst making you feel better about yourself, there’s the Stargate-helmed uplift of Firework. In short, there’s a Perry for everyone and they’re almost all good. Apart from that angsty one with no tune obviously.
8. Kelis – Flesh Tone
The last time we paid any attention to Kelis, she was bragging about her milkshake being the best in yard and screaming about how much she hated us right now. How times have changed. Pregnancy has tamed the tigress, instead leaving us with purring Kitty Kelis – albeit a kitten with a fondness for electro-synth rave-ups of the highest order. Flesh Tone is nine tracks of unrelenting beats that pound throb and thump you into submission, but in the gentlest way possible. There hasn’t been an album full of this much dancefloor euphoria since Madge’s Confessions (it even does the continuous mix thing), yet Flesh Tone has heart too. Put simply, ‘Without you, my life was acapella’ is one of the loveliest lyrics of recent times – and that’s just one of many completely captivating moments on this giddy triumph of a record. Who wants that milkshake now?
9. Elin Lanto – Love Made Me Do It
Elin Lanto is one of those Scandipop stars who seems to be struggling to do the business charts-wise, yet keeps getting great songs regardless. Love Made Me Do It is solid pop bounty, half shiny sharp electro edges, half rough rocky ones, including the smitten eyelid-flutter of Tickles, the cocksure thrust and grind of Toy Boy, the Kylie-esque shimmy of My Favourite Pair Of Jeans and the 80s power-ballad melodrama of Give It All Up. Meanwhile, there are two tracks too stellar for the world not to be shouting from the mountains about. Funeral’s glittering melody, soaring chorus and delightful Swenglish lyrics about ‘dancing on your funeral’ are enough to make Abba proud whilst Love Made Me Stupid is an immaculately-crafted subversion of the typical pop song, detailing how love ‘made me mess up everything in my life’ (‘before I met you, everything was just fine’) with a chorus that socks it to you with a stunning slap in the face. Those pesky Swedes did it again.
10. Take That – Progress
2010 was the year that someone woke up Take That. It seems that person was Robbie Williams. Everyone’s favourite man-band returned sans Williams in 2006 and quickly eased their way into producing safely soporific albums, albeit with an average of three complete epics along the way. Suddenly, Williams returns and they’re all synthesizers, keyboards and music you can dance to – and guess what? It’s brilliant. Producer of the year Stuart Price (also responsible for 2010’s offerings from Kylie, Scissor Sisters and Brandon Flowers) has whipped the group into a frenzy, where souped-up stadium pomp and stomp (SOS, Kidz, Underground Machine) trades blows with silky sinuous melodies (Wait, Happy Now) to spectacular effect. Elsewhere, Mark Owen tears his heart out for your listening pleasure on What Do You Want From Me, Jason Orange unearths a piece of blissed-out beauty on Flowerbed and Gary Barlow makes a last-gasp dash for his piano with the soft and affecting Eight Letters. Alongside the truly epic The Flood, that only makes for two Take That traditional ballads. To be honest, I could have done with just one or two more but the absence of a few lighters-aloft moments seems a small sacrifice to make. Genuinely exciting, invigorating and unexpected. Progress indeed.
11. Animal – Ke$ha
Effective, efficient, instantaneous and easily disposable – no, it’s not Huggies new strapline but a few words to describe Ke$ha’s debut album. Beating out strong competition from Janelle Monae (overlong, inconsistent), Miranda Cosgrove (great songs, nowt to do with her) and Cee-Lo Green (everything else dwarfed by Fuck You) for the much-coveted eleventh place, pop’s resident skank arrived with an arsenal of heat-seeking missiles, locating pop’s catchiest choruses and claiming them all for her own. You might feel like you need a shower afterwards, but only the most dedicated wallflowers could resist finding their inner party girl to the likes to Tik Tok, Your Love Is My Drug and Kiss N Tell. But the highlight is the whooshy rush of Animal itself, a track tingly enough to make you weak at the knees. Seems there’s more than slurred raps, wasted moshing and playground lyrics (admittedly ones that are likely to get you grounded) to Ke$ha’s trashtastic image after all. Thank God.