‘Baby Come Home’
Night Work was an artistic triumph, so what happened to Magic Hour? I wanted to like it so much but it just wasn’t working for me. The band just felt so uninspired on the record, and the utterly reductive (look it up) and irritating ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’ only made matters worse. I’ll always love the Scissor Sisters though, they’ve made some of the best pop of the last decade, and ‘Baby Come Home’ was an undeniably strong track on a weak album.
‘Burn It Down’
A storming track from a very underrated record.
CARLY RAE JEPSEN
‘Tiny Little Bows’
I have no clue what this song is about, all I know is that it is some amazing nonsense.
‘Light Up The World’
Because Steps were known as the Queens and Kings of balladry, ‘Light Up The World’ was their first single in a decade, and it is of course an untamed, unashamed cheesefest. Not as compelling as their reunion TV series, but better than their cheapo cover of ‘Dancing Queen’ from last year.
THE BEACH BOYS
‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’
Stunning retro pop from the kings of summer. Kind of makes me wish I didn’t hate sand, water or being outdoors so much.
‘Got Me Good’
Poor Ciara. If she can’t get a hit with this, what could she get a hit with? This is truly excellent and it pains me to see ol’ CiCi – who has made her fair share of good material over the years, much more than reputation would have you believe – keep throwing out great tracks to no avail. Save the Princess of Crunk-n’-B!
‘Wish You Were Here’
An emotional ballad from the Australian Celine.*
*Delta is not as good as Celine.
OWL CITY & CARLY RAE JEPSEN
I loved ‘Fireflies’, but then I assumed that Owl City fell off the face of the earth. Of course he did keep releasing stuff and unexpectedly scored another hit this year with the feel good banger ‘Good Time’. Carly Rae helps him out and together they create one of the breeziest, lightest pop songs of the year.
MELANIE C & EMMA BUNTON
‘I Know Him So Well’
I think this gif says it all:
JENNIFER LOPEZ FT. PITBULL
It’s no ‘Papi’ or ‘On The Floor’ but it’s good enough – ‘Dance Again’ was the shining light in the shitstorm that was the J.Lo greatest hits. Why did I just remind myself of that tracklist? Why?
‘Dancing With A Broken Heart’
Crying at the discotheque realness that deserved to do much better.
A 14-minute, 45-verse, no-chorus epic ballad about the sinking of the Titanic, released in the 100th anniversary year of the disaster. Has anything ever been more relevant to my interests?
The Veronicas “go dubstep” on their comeback single and it works – but I shouldn’t be surprised, as this duo are seriously underrated as songwriters.
‘Part Of Me’
Who would’ve thought back in 08 that Katy Perry would save pop? ‘Part Of Me’ was her 217th huge hit in a row and if she keeps pumping out songs like this, long may she reign.
WILL.I.AM FT. BRITNEY SPEARS
‘Scream & Shout’
At first I thought this was shite but then I saw the video and heard it again and again and it all fell into place. Britishney is hypnotic, will.i.am remains one of my favourite current producers, and this minimalist club hit grew on me like a beautiful fungus. Plus, I know it’s juvenile and dated to compare them, but I’ll never get over how Britney can sing a few lines in a funny accent, do some Official Armwaveney Armwaving in the video and head to number one all around the world while Christina Aguilera languishes at the bottom of the charts even when she sells her soul to Max Martin.
ALL EYES ON ORSE.
Not just a highlight of MDNA but of Madonna’s entire last decade, ‘I’m Addicted’ was a glorious mess of Benny Benassi’s scorching beats and the queen having a bit of a freakout over the top.
For a song that sold 600 copies in the UK after a high-profile X Factor performance, it sure feels like ‘Looking Hot’ was talked about a lot. Here’s a quick summary:
- This song is good
- They’re going to be on X Factor
- Oh here’s the video
- Gwen looks amazing
- This could be a bit controversial though
- But doesn’t Gwen look exactly the same as she did 15 years ago
- Oh the video’s been pulled
- But they’ve still got X Factor
- Oh here they are on X Factor
- 600 copies
- 600 copies?!
- Surely that can’t be right
- Seriously, 600 copies?
- 600 copies :(
ELTON JOHN & PNAU
‘Good Morning To The Night’
Euphoric. Speaking of…
I managed to have a proper Eurovision experience this year at my stunning friend Adem‘s house, complete with European food and people from Europe. And how nice that this year, the stunning ‘Euphoria’ was the winner. A colossal pop song no matter which way you slice it, if stuff like this keeps winning I might actually become a fan of Eurovision, a pop tradition that I’ve never really gotten into.
PET SHOP BOYS
Is it hypocritical of me to praise this as the second-best song on Elysium then criticise the album for similarly paced ballads? The glacial ‘Invisible’ has something that many of those other songs didn’t – that old PSB spark, engaging lyrics and a haunting vocal performance from Neil.
I’d really love to fly the flag for the “go back to straight hip-hop, Nicki” campaign but she’s going to need to stop making amazing pop songs like this first.
‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’
MADONNA FT. NICKI MINAJ & M.I.A.
‘Give Me All Your Luvin”
What a romp! Madonna and her much older friends Onika & Mathangi teamed up to deliver this sunny bubblegum track. It reminds me of a simpler, pre-MDNA time in all of our lives when everything felt more innocent, when you woke up in the morning and looked out the window, just glad to be alive. Now Nicki won’t return Madonna’s calls, M.I.A. is sending muffins to the NME offices to win back some of her indie cred and Lola has to deal with being on rapper-watch to find the collaborator for Mommy’s next lead single (Madonna ft. Psy, coming 2014!). But let’s remember the good times.
‘Every Now And Then’
I was hoping for at least one new boo-hoo-but-let’s-dance song on the Girls Aloud greatest hits, and praise MJ, we got two. ‘Every Now And Then’ is a crushing disco ballad worthy of inclusion on Tangled Up, and to think that of four new tracks, this was only the third best.
JUSTIN BIEBER FT. NICKI MINAJ
‘Beauty And A Beat’
Buns out, wiener
But I gotta keep an eye out for Selena
Lyric of the year.
A touching look inside Christina’s lotus, ‘Blank Page’ proves that nobody does an introspective power ballad quite like Xtine.
Better than ‘You Know My Name’ and ‘Another Way To Die’ but not as good as ‘GoldenEye’ or ‘Die Another Day’. Pretty much as good as I had hoped for, then.
If Girls Aloud hadn’t conveniently returned to pee on their party, this would effortlessly be the best girl group single of the year. Current with retro stylings, and well-sung by great vocalists, ‘Wings’ was a ray of sunshine in a UK girl group scene that has been dominated by The Saturdays (who have had some great songs, don’t get me wrong) for the past few years. Can they keep it up in 2013?
MARIAH CAREY FT. RICK ROSS & MEEK MILL
‘Triumphant (Get ‘Em)’
This international number one hit was roundly criticised for featuring “too much rap”, but that’s crazy talk and I’ll tell you why:
ONE. Mariah has had rappers on her songs for a very long time, way before every diva stuck the hip-hop star of the moment onto the end of their songs to try and appear urban. This isn’t Madonna circa-Hard Candy we’re talking about here. This is Moo. Nobody is more urban than Moo. She has friends called Shawntae and Mae-Mae. Feel free to have a seat.
TWO. Rick Ross and Meek Mill are good rappers. It’s not like she drafted in Vanilla Ice and Petey Pablo.
THREE. There isn’t even that much rap on this song – Mariah still sings the bulk of the track. She can’t help if she’s urban!
Most importantly, ‘Triumphant’ is a triumph! The chorus is stunning, Mariah sounds great and she’s so busy being fabulous and urban than she hopefully won’t notice that the song only sold about fourteen copies worldwide. The injustice of the world today.
‘Move In The Right Direction’
Why wasn’t this bigger than ‘Heavy Cross’? An addictive pure pop song with a huge chorus, and a featured spot in the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race! What more promotion could you possibly wish for?
Thankfully this wonderful song (what a chorus!) sold more than 600 copies.
‘Pound The Alarm’
The robotic command to “PONNND THE ALEERM” followed by a monumental freakout is a call to arms like no other this year.
MARINA & THE DIAMONDS
Yep, I rolled my eyes at the title too, but then I heard the song and my eyes were immediately unrolled. A relentless storm of a track on a fantastic album, ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ is hook after hook after hook, a glorious 2 minute 34 second punch in the face.
Hey! Say! HEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAY!
I don’t care if it wasn’t the global number one it should have been, ‘Your Body’ is an anthem. Even if Xtine might be hating every minute of it, she delivers this as passionately as she would one of her Sia ballads. That’s the great thing about Christina – fucking a stranger is just as important a subject as self-worth or a broken marriage.
‘Flavor (Orchestral Version)’
I’m cheating a bit here, and I’m sorry to Kate Bush, whose ‘Running Up That Hill’ 2012 remix would have easily made the cut if I’d allowed new versions of old songs on here. But when I was making this list, I included ‘Flavor’ without a second thought, having completely forgotten that it didn’t actually originate on Gold Dust, but a few years ago on Abnormally Attracted To Sin.
The original version isn’t bad by any means, now that I’ve remembered it exists and everything, but it was wasted on that forgettable album and the orchestral version on Gold Dust reveals it to be one of Tori’s finest recent songs. “Raining flay, flay, flayvahhhhhh” might make about as much sense as Tori’s new face, but somehow it all comes together in the end. Gorgeous.
PET SHOP BOYS
Classic, classic Pet Shop Boys. A stunning, uncomfortable look at the end of a relationship, set to a pulsing backbeat and with a ridiculously catchy chorus. This is the PSB I love.
Yes! What a comeback. Well, I don’t know if it’s the actual comeback single or what the hell is gonna happen with the new album (out soon! out later! out soon! out later!) but ‘Woman’s World’ is a pulsing club track that brings the iconic sound of Believe and Living Proof up to date. Let’s party like it’s 1998-2002! Have a truth! (I know she’s saying “tell the truth” but in my heart it’s the infinitely better “have a truth”, so shoosh.)
LANA DEL REY
‘Born To Die’
Oh, the drama. This depressing anthem makes me want to move to the desert, stick my lips in a beehive and bend over a pinball machine while wearing the American flag as a David Lynch film plays on my black and white TV.
A pulsating electro mood piece, ‘White Light’ wouldn’t sound out of place on 2004’s masterful Patience. When is Georgios going to bless us with a new album? It’s been like nine years already. He’s clearly still got the tunes and the voice, so let’s go. George To The Top in 2013! Take that, Elton!
I absolutely adore this harsh sound, and would take it over any one of Nicki’s radio hits. ‘Stupid Hoe’ is a tossed salad of unfinished ideas, vicious disses and ear-splitting production, and while I realise it isn’t for everyone, it was a clear favourite from the moment I heard it. Absolutely addictive.
Cause these hoes so busted
Hoes is so crusty
These bitches is my sons
And I don’t want custody
CARLY RAE JEPSEN
‘Call Me Maybe’
The pop song of the year in many ways for many people. This will be remembered as the track of 2012, especially when ‘Gangnam Style’ becomes one of those embarrassments everyone pretends they avoided when really they were on YouTube every night pressing repeat on the video while doing the horse dance alone in their bedrooms.
If Carly never has another hit she’s surely set for life from this, and I can’t wait to see it and it’s glorious chorus on many a “Hits Of The 2010s” compilation in years to come.
A strange, dark twisted fantasy in which Madonna gets her NRA on while play-murdering ex-husband Guy Ritchie, who ironically would have directed a great video for this. The opposite of reductive.
A touching ballad that is generally assumed to be about Kylie’s longing for a child, ‘Flower’ is the kind of rare introspective moment that seemed to have been left behind after Impossible Princess. The other half of ‘Timebomb’s upbeat rush, this and The Abbey Road Sessions proved once again that Kylie has more to her than most people give her credit for.
‘King Of Hearts’
Where the fuck did this come from? I’m still trying to figure it out. Cassie came out of absolutely nowhere to deliver the R&B track of the year with the incredible ‘King Of Hearts’. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard it and I’m still getting over it now. So good.
No song this year was more of an epic singalong than ‘Try’. Pink gets a lot of hate – some of it with a point, but most of it unjustified – but I’ve always liked her, and songs like this are the reason why. An amazing pure power-ballad.
‘On The Metro’
The melancholy of ‘The Loving Kind’ meets the rush of ‘Untouchable’ meets the pulse of ‘Something New’. The new benchmark for emo disco. An instant classic.
I have one thing to say:
LANA DEL REY
Oh, Lana. This is so beautiful. And I’m not just talking about your lovely hair. ‘Ride’ is an emotional journey, a scene from a gorgeous film that doesn’t exist in full. Like the bitch in high school drama who upstaged everyone on monologue day by bringing in some Fads candy to use as fake cigarettes, Lana blew all the other pretenders to the Drama Queen throne right out of the bong water.
‘Girl Gone Wild’
Let’s all have a quick chat about ‘Girl Gone Wild’. If I was in an embarrassing Scissor Sisters song, I might even say “here’s the tea”. If Rihanna or Britney or Beyoncé had sung this song (and don’t try and say Beyoncé would be above it – I’m sure whatever she does will be stunning but after 4 4lopped I bet she comes back with a song more generic than Guetta), the gays would have shit themselves, the blogs would have had a collective seizure and it would still be at number one. But like with ‘You Rock My World’ by Michael Jackson, there’s a weight of expectation that dictates Madonna is somehow “too good” for a straightforward, basic (yes I’ll admit that it’s basic) song like this one.
And it’s a real shame, as ‘Girl Gone Wild’ is light years above most tracks released this year by just being pure fun. There’s nothing to think about here – it just sounds amazing while it’s playing and makes you (well, me, at least) want to reach for the repeat button again and again. She looks amazing in the video, the chorus is huge, the beats are hot and as usual, Madonna challenges perceptions of how women are supposed to behave after a certain age.
Relentless, euphoric, and the best song of the year. Pop doesn’t get much better than the way this builds and builds to an unbelievable climax, with layers of vocals and beats crashing into each other to form this ultimate high. This is their ‘Spice Up Your Life’, a frantic battle cry that decimates everybody else in the game. Follow the leader.
2012 was a shit year for albums. It might be just me, and I’ll admit that I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to albums this year, but I see quite a few people I trust around the internet also saying that it was a terrible year for the LP.
It feels like all of my faves either took the year off or delivered crushing disappointments. That said, a few albums, some by unexpected artists, did catch my attention and the year wasn’t completely void of quality full-lengths. Here’s my ten favourites.
THE BEACH BOYS
That’s Why God Made The Radio
These legendary senior citizens released their first album in 20 years to coincide with the 50th anniversary of their debut, and managed to recapture the gorgeous, sun-drenched sound of their iconic early hits. The title track and first single was surprisingly strong and set the tone for this traditional throwback. Of course, I wasn’t around for the Beach Boys’ heyday, so I can’t exactly say it takes me back to a time and place, but anybody who appreciates retro vocal pop and old-fashioned storytelling will find a lot to love here. Sometimes you don’t need to live through something to feel nostalgia for it.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
What a mess. And I don’t just mean the cover – is Nicki better as a rapper? A singer? Is she better on her own songs or as a featured artist? How old is she really? Is ‘Massive Attack’ still the pinnacle of her career? (Yes.)
Despite her reputation and arguments about her worth as an artist overshadowing her music, there’s still a lot to love on the second instalment of Pink Friday, from the pure pop of ‘Starships’ and ‘Turn Me On’ to the frantic ‘Pound The Alarm’. Other standouts include ‘Marilyn Monroe’ (co-written by LEAH HAYWOOD), ‘Whip It’ and ‘Beez In The Trap’. Early Nicki even gets a look-in on the hot mess that is ‘Stupid Hoe’, the most addictive trash of the year. Much of Roman Reloaded is pretty underwhelming but there’s still enough good stuff here to make this an enjoyable snapshot of 2012.
Push And Shove
No Doubt have one of the strongest singles collections in pop history, and the pressure was very much on for Push And Shove to live up to the albums that produced some of the best radio hits of the nineties and early 2000s. While the album isn’t exactly bursting with number ones, as has been seen by the disappointing chart returns, I still think this is a very solid effort and one that consistently reminds us that Gwen is a talented if limited vocalist and that the band are always stronger together. I think that reuniting and going on tour a couple of years ago killed a bit of the buzz for this record, as it wasn’t really a reunion anymore, and the album release was met with more “oh, they finally finished it” than excitement about them being back. I do hope that they stick together this time and keep giving us new material despite what the chart positions might look like.
MARINA & THE DIAMONDS
I’m not really here for Marina’s Geri Halliwell-esque thoughts about society and the world of commercial pop. I’m just here for the music, as Paula Abdul might say. And thankfully there’s lots to enjoy on Electra Heart, the strong follow-up to surprise hit debut The Family Jewels. While nothing here approaches the sheer rush of ‘Oh No!’ or ‘Hollywood’ from that first record, songs like ‘Primadonna’, ‘How To Be A Heartbreaker’ and especially the super-fun ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ have solidified Marina as the one girl from that “British female weirdo” boom of a few years ago who truly knows her way around a pop song.
I bought this, Bob Dylan’s one millionth studio album, on the same day that I bought Elysium by the Pet Shop Boys, otherwise known as the official Disappointment Of The Year. I certainly didn’t expect Tempest to become my favourite of the two, but it happened and it was largely down to the dark tone of the (excellent, as usual) lyrics and the very traditional style of the music within. This was like the solo equivalent of That’s Why God Made The Radio for 2012 – a vintage artist throws back to their glory days while still sounding creative and vital. It might have been a tad too long, and of course Bob has never been the easiest vocalist to listen to, but Tempest was much more interesting and engaging than I expected.
The STENCH of disappointment around this one. Madonna is my favourite living artist, the best female popstar in history, and she remains that way and probably will forever. Nobody else comes close. That’s why MDNA is simultaneously an all-time low and the fifth best album of the year. Madonna’s career lowlights are still better than the finest moments of most pop singers. Considering I didn’t review it upon release, I might just do a track-by-track, highlighting the really great songs here but also revealing the utter shit they were saddled against.
‘Girl Gone Wild': The best Madonna single since ‘Jump’. A worldwide #1 in the hands of anyone else. We’ll talk about this at length in my songs of the year post.
‘Gang Bang': Another stunning track, able to stand alongside the best of Madonna’s darkest moments.
‘I’m Addicted': Again, fantastic. Very forward-thinking and exciting. Isn’t this album sounding great so far?
‘Turn Up The Radio': Oh. A thoroughly “okay” song, a bad choice for third single, although she really could’ve released anything by that point in the “campaign” and nobody would have given a shit.
‘Give Me All Your Luvin”: Very fun, addictive and a great song. It fit the bill as a lead single and coincided great with the Super Bowl performance. It actually looked as though things were going to go really well from here.
‘Some Girls': Couldn’t tell you a thing about it.
‘I Don’t Give A': I listened to the Nekci Menij parody of this way more than the actual song.
‘I’m A Sinner': Now we’re talking again – pretty good.
‘Love Spent': Overrated, the ‘Miles Away’ of MDNA. Everyone says it’s classic Madonna when clearly ‘Girl Gone Wild’, the ‘Give It 2 Me’ of MDNA, is the proper classic here.
‘Falling Free': Really gorgeous, how I’ve missed Madonna doing good ballads.
‘Beautiful Killer’, ‘I Fucked Up’, ‘B-Day Song': There’s a reason previous Madonna albums have not required deluxe editions with bonus tracks.
‘Best Friend': A surprise highlight, too bad it’s buried as the last original track on the bonus disc.
So – ‘Girl Gone Wild’, ‘Gang Bang’, ‘I’m Addicted’, ‘Turn Up The Radio’, ‘Give Me All Your Luvin”, ‘I’m A Sinner’, ‘Love Spent’, ‘Falling Free’ and ‘Best Friend’ make this the fifth best album of 2012. All the rest, the aura of failure and the clear disinterest from Madonna make this one of the most underwhelming projects she’s ever undertaken. I love you, Madonna. You’re among the greatest that there ever was. Get it together.
A Joyful Noise
Not the soundtrack to the Dolly Parton film, although that would have certainly been interesting, A Joyful Noise is the perfect bridge between earlier Gossip records and the fantastic solo EP Beth Ditto did a little while ago. After scoring a pop hit with ‘Heavy Cross’ from their last album and Beth setting blogs on fire with solo track ‘I Wrote The Book’, they certainly moved in the right direction (LOLZ) with this album. ‘Move In The Right Direction’ is one of the best songs of the year, ‘Get A Job’ is vicious and funny, while the rest of the album veers between slick pop and songs that evoke the frightening cover art.
CARLY RAE JEPSEN
Here’s how shit the albums scene was for me this year – I literally bought this two days ago, and it has already slayed most of the competition for album of the year. I gave in and got it after seeing it in so many best-of lists and hearing endless raving about it from other pop fans. And it is so, so fun. Relentless from start to finish, Kiss is so pure and so pop that it seems as if it has been transported here directly from the year 2000. ‘Call Me Maybe’ is an obvious monster, ‘This Kiss’ and ‘Tiny Little Bows’ follow in that vein and there honestly isn’t a bad track to be found on the whole record. I’ve even grown to like ‘Good Time’ with Owl City. Owl. City.
LANA DEL REY
Born To Die
There are things about Lana Del Rey that I’m still not fully on board with, but when her music is this good, I can overlook them. The opening four tracks on Born To Die are the most exciting run of tracks to open any album this year and Lana keeps the quality up surprisingly well throughout the album, considering her schtick could get old really fast. But whether it’s on the dramatic ‘Born To Die’, the hipster anthem ‘Video Games’ or the faux pop opera of ‘Off To The Races’, this album consistently delivered some of the most creative and enthralling musical moments of the year.
So who was better than Lana Del Rey at the art of the album in 2012?
LANA DEL REY
Nobody. No one flew the flag for full length albums like Lana this year. I know Paradise was released only as a bonus disc on the Born To Die reissue in many markets but here in Australia it was released alone, and so I’m naming it the best album of the year. In keeping with Lana’s retro stylings, Paradise feels like an early eighties album in structure and sometimes in sound. At eight songs, it’s not too long and it’s not too short – it feels like it finishes exactly where and when it should. From the unbelievable ‘Ride’ to the haunting cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, Paradise continues the journey that began on Born To Die and makes me unbearably excited for where she’ll go next.
Oh hi, I didn’t see you there. Welcome. Have a seat.
So after my best of 2011 list, I pretty much gave up on this blog. I wasn’t feeling the whole blogging thing at that time, and I didn’t have that… *dramatic voice* hunger to continue. Since then I’ve sorted myself out a bit, moved out of home, moved to a new city, got myself a squishy faced cat, and now I’m ready for a Cher-in-1998 (or at least 1987) style comeback with a new writing project on this site in 2013.
But I need to warm it up like Kris Kross first and so I’m doing a couple of abridged best-of lists for the year that has just passed.
To kick it off, here’s my pick of the “other” albums of 2012: hits collections, reissues, reinterpretations, box sets, anything that wasn’t a studio record. It’s been a great year for this sort of thing, possibly a better year for this than for actual albums (but we’ll get into that later).
ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS
Cut The World
Antony’s first full length live album coincided with the year I finally got to see him on stage in the wonderful Swanlights show. Perfectly capturing just how commanding his voice is both in concert and on record, Cut The World mixed some of his best known tracks (‘You Are My Sister’, ‘Cripple & The Starfish’) with some underrated early songs (‘I Fell In Love With A Dead Boy, ‘Twilight’). Also included was the new title song, and a seven-and-a-half minute monologue called ‘Future Feminism’, both of which, in their own abstract way, added to the strong Antony & The Johnsons songbook.
PET SHOP BOYS
There’s a kind of myth that the Pet Shop Boys have better B-sides than they do album tracks, or even singles. While I don’t agree with that, there’s no denying that when they collect them all together, like they did in 1995 with Alternative, the result is pretty impressive. The sequel to Alternative was released this year as Format, taking us from 1996 through to 2009. From the sleaze of the Bilingual era’s ‘The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On’ to the knowing parody of ‘The Formant Enfant Terrible’, this 2-disc monster is at best classic and at worst, simply daunting. There are missteps and tracks that sound like, well, B-sides, but on songs like ‘We’re The Pet Shop Boys’ (a cover, of course), ‘Friendly Fire’, ‘Sexy Northerner’ or the rendition of ‘In Private’ with Elton John, PSB sound as creative and as thrilling as ever.
Not many artists could release a collection of 11 outtakes and have it become an immediate Billboard top ten hit. But Babs isn’t most artists and Release Me isn’t your average cash-in. It’s a cash-in for sure, but one that really feels like a “gift” to the fans rather than a cynical stopgap between studio records. From the striking cover to the songs themselves, the strength of this material is a testament to the quality of the albums these were not cut out for, and to the care Barbra takes with her music. The liner notes refer to a forthcoming second volume of Release Me, and if it isn’t called Release Me, Two… as a homage to the classic My Name Is Barbra and My Name Is Barbra, Two…, I’ll be very upset.
I have written and will again write at length about The Visitors, one of the greatest albums of all time and ABBA’s full length masterpiece. In its original nine-track form, it was a towering artistic success, and that is only amplified by the CD reissues that include other singles and B-sides from this farewell era. The latest remaster of the album was the most ambitious so far, including seven bonus tracks and a DVD of relevant promos and performances. The bonus tracks run from indispensable singles like ‘The Day Before You Came’ to unreleased “demo medleys” that chart the evolution of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the gorgeous original album closer. Unless the albums get expanded to individual super-deluxe box editions in the future (and I wouldn’t say that is out of the question at all), this is the most lavish package dedicated to The Visitors yet, and it is a fitting tribute to one of pop history’s great underrated albums.
ELTON JOHN & PNAU
Good Morning To The Night
An inspired take on the concept of the remix album, Elton John gave Pnau access to his master tapes and from there they created this stunning collection of new tracks. Transporting classic Elton into the sound of modern dance-pop, Pnau didn’t simply rely on the tracks everyone knew, and the gamble that everybody involved took on this project paid off creatively and commercially. The collaboration resulted in a number one hit in the UK, positive critical praise, mainstream exposure for Pnau and more evidence for Elton as a supreme innovator and risk taker.
I think I’m ready to say that Tori Amos is back on the rails. She’d been going off them for quite a white, but “seasonal” record Midwinters Graces and classical concept piece Night Of Hunters were both pretty solid, and this latest project, Gold Dust, only continued this unexpected run of quality full-lengths. Reinterpreting a couple of her old hits and a bunch of album tracks as gorgeous orchestral pieces, the collection delivered haunting renditions of ‘Jackie’s Strength’ and ‘Silent All These Years’ while unearthing the forgotten album track ‘Flavor’ as a modern Tori classic. I’m not sure if or when she’ll return to making standard studio albums, but I’m finally back to being excited about Tori Amos as a current artist.
Automatically a five-star greatest hits album and yet still a disappointment – this was the Celebration of 2012. The strength of Girls Aloud’s singles catalogue is legendary, so why does Ten feel a bit lacklustre? Possibly because great songs like ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Whole Lotta History’ were relegated to the deluxe edition bonus disc, while the incredible ‘Life Got Cold’ was shunned entirely. Let’s not even talk about the frankly revolting new track (thankfully one of four, imagine if it had been the only new song here) ‘Beautiful Cause You Love Me’. But that’s the bad. Onto the good – what is here, aside from that aforementioned new track, is some of the best pop music ever. The other new tracks are all good enough to stand alongside the classic singles and, taken as is without worrying about what’s been left behind, this is a staggering collection of amazing modern music. Plus, even if it is just on the bonus disc, Ten includes ‘Memory Of You’, which is of course among GA’s best songs.
The Abbey Road Sessions
The HILARIOUS K25 Time Capsule, a box of 25 mini-discs with two singles per disc which wasn’t even complete, will very much not be featured on this list. But that was a small (literally, I could probably fit the whole box set in my mouth) cock-up in an otherwise fantastic year for Kylie, her 25th in the music business and one that saw new singles, new compilations, a monumental Anti-Tour, and the long-threatened “jazz” album, The Abbey Road Sessions. Of course it isn’t really jazz at all, but just some slowed down reinterpretations of her classic hits. Unlike on Tori’s similar project, there is no room for dusty album tracks here, it’s all about the singles. Most of them work surprisingly well and the sheer volume of hits being jazzed up here is really pretty special. I would’ve liked to have seen ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ done a bit differently – I’ve seen it mentioned a couple of times around the net that Kylie & Nick should have switched roles, which would have been perfect – but I can’t complain much when The Abbey Road Sessions has given us beautiful new versions of ‘Confide In Me’, ‘Finer Feelings’, ‘On A Night Like This’ and of course the incredible new single ‘Flower’.
I still mourn MJ every day, and I’m so, so grateful that I can express my appreciation for his life and work monetarily with the constant flow of reissues and compilations. Every time I buy an album of questionably updated demos or the soundtrack to a Cirque Du Soleil show that I won’t get to see for years, if ever, I’m honouring Michael’s legacy. I can’t pretend that I don’t love the endless tat being released in Michael’s name though, because most of it is actually pretty good. This year the focus was on Bad, the follow-up to Thriller that spawned nine hits, including five US number ones.
The original album (still flawless, by the way) is of course here, but unlike Thriller 25, which was released while Michael was alive, this doesn’t feature old tracks remixed with new artists adding vocals (okay, it does, but that one track doesn’t take up half the reissue like with Thriller). Instead we actually get a look in at raw demos from the Bad sessions, including the great ‘Don’t Be Messin’ ‘Round’ and the absolutely incredible ‘Al Capone’, an early version of ‘Smooth Criminal’ that reiterates just what a relentless classic that track is.
There’s a remix featuring Pitbull which isn’t kill-yourself terrible but is still unnecessary, plus a great mix of ‘Speed Demon’ by Nero, and the fantastic outtakes that featured on previous Bad reissues. Also included is a full live show from the Bad tour on CD and DVD, which solidifies MJ’s reputation as the most exciting live performer of the modern pop era.
It would take a monster to beat this as reissue of the year…
The Complete Columbia Album Collection
I almost fainted when this was announced. I’m not exaggerating when I say that as a music collector and huge Johnny Cash fan, this 63 (SIXTY-THREE) disc box set is a dream come true. A colossal monument to the king of country music, this contains the bulk of his long career, from iconic early recordings to haunting gospel to collaborations to soundtracks to live albums to concept albums to Christmas albums to children’s albums to comedy albums to plain old studio albums. With the addition of an expanded version of his Sun Records debut and a 2-disc collection of non-album rarities from the Columbia era, this is a treasury of some of the most moving, thrilling, iconic music ever made. So many artists, especially in the country world, deserve a box like this to bring out-of-print and obscure vinyl-era recordings to CD, but perhaps nobody deserved it as much as Johnny, who pioneered the art of the country album in what was largely a singles-focused genre. Thank you Legacy, thank you Columbia, and thank you Jesus (the gospel albums are getting to me) for this collection. I’m going to go and hug it right now.
1. BRITNEY SPEARS – ‘Till The World Ends’
Wow. When I first heard this song, I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Thank you Dr. Luke, thank you Max Martin, thank you Ke$ha, thank you Britney, for this earth-shattering piece of music. There is something about ‘Till The World Ends’ unlocks a part of me labelled “pure heaven” and makes me feel all sorts of things that only the most elite pop songs have triggered before.
And it’s so simple. The wordless “woah-oh-oh-oh-oh”-ing sprinkled around the song is brain-infecting pop brilliance, Britney’s vocals are the most energetic and least robotic she’s sounded in ages, and it feels like everybody involved knows that this is big, big, big. On the chorus, Britney goes hard, and as the song goes on she only goes harder. The remix with Ke$ha (who also co-wrote the song) and Nicki Minaj is a great complement to the head-exploding original, with Nicki delivering the classic diss “you was hot when? Ricki Lake”.
“See the sunlight
We ain’t stoppin’
Keep on dancin’ till the world ends
If you feel it
Let it happen
Keep on dancin’ till the world ends”
In a year when the overarching theme was that everybody should be themselves because they were born this way, in a year when songs about being up in the club ruled the airwaves, in a year where we inched closer to marriage equality and where we took more and more steps to live in a society where we’re free to be true to ourselves and each other, “if you feel it, let it happen” seems like the perfect line to sum up 2011. A song about letting go, having fun and doing what makes you feel good, ‘Till The World Ends’ is the kind of song I want to live inside, and it made my year, and the year in pop, so much better.
2. DARREN HAYES ‘Black Out The Sun’
Let’s just get it out there: the 7th Heaven Club Remix of ‘Black Out The Sun’ is life changing. The original version of the song is merely life shifting. The original version is a symphony of beautiful noise with one of Darren’s most heartbreaking and moving set of lyrics. ‘Black Out The Sun’ is about the intense feeling that nothing is worth it without the one you love – a sentiment echoed in Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’, now that I think of it – and the vocals are just beyond gorgeous. As one of my favourite male vocalists of all time, Darren continues to surprise me again and again with just how versatile and emotional his voice can be.
The 7th Heaven mix takes that voice and sets it to a relentless, unforgiving club beat, sending this song into a new stratosphere of quality and easily becoming the remix of the year. There is a moment in the remix where the beat drops out and Darren is left alone, only for it to return as his voice rises higher and higher like the flock of birds in that image above. And it might sound cheesy and ridiculous but I swear to god my soul rises with them. I could have a cry about it right now. I LOVE MUSIC.
3. LADY GAGA ‘Judas’
The lukewarm reception to ‘Judas’ has proven to me once and for all that I will just never understand other pop fans. That’s it guys, I’m done trying to figure out what y’all are thinking. How could this, the sound of ABBA discovering the Bible and Marilyn Manson in the same day, be anything less than 10/10? Despite the fact that there are two songs to go I think I’m going to have to award Chorus of the Year to this monster (pardon the pun). The vocals are almost as good as the lyrics, which are almost as good as the melody, which is almost as good as the production… this is the sound of too much pop brilliance collapsing in on itself to cause an avalanche of amazing. This song is so great and it affects my mind so much that I just considered putting some sort “I don’t need an ear condom I want this song to fuck me bareback” comment in here. I just… I just really love this track, okay? I need a lie down.
OH GOD I’M LISTENING NOW AND THE “I CLING TO” BIT JUST HAPPENED OH MY GOD
4. KELLY ROWLAND ft. LIL’ WAYNE ‘Motivation’
In the style of Janice from Friends: Oh. My. God. I get sweaty every time I hear this song. I start eyefucking people on the train. I start involuntarily writhing around on the bus. God help me if I ever hear this in a restaurant or at a family occasion. To invoke one of songs of 2010, Kelly Rowland has reupholstered her… self (let’s go with that) and ‘Motivation’ is the uncensored, dripping, oozing, gushing proof. “Don’t you dare slow down”, “go longer”, “push harder”, “make mama proud” – this is an instructional video on how to pleasure Kelendria Trene and it feels at once completely inappropriate and so wrong its right. Lil’ Wayne shows up to give his male perspective, including some classic lines – “I turn that thing into a rainforest/Rain on my head, I call that brainstorming” and “When I’m done she hold me like a conversation, Weezy baby” being the two stand-outs. But, even without the lyrics making it super obvious, it is clear that this beat is the official Sound of Sex, and it is the real lead artist here. God bless this beat, God bless Lil’ Wayne and his way with words, and most of all God bless Kelly Rowland’s rampant vagina.