Some music came late to me in 2011, but these are the top played and loved albums of 2011 for me.
Album of year 2011 goes to….
Peter Gabriel – New Blood
New Blood features re-imagined arrangements of many of Peter’s songs which dispense with the traditional weapons of the rock armoury – no guitar, or drum kits – the lyrics are exposed and laid bare, often taking new meaning with the passing of the years.
Other works I have enjoyed and loved in 2011 are….
Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
As anyone who watches QI will tell you, the Inuit language does not actually have 50 words for snow. It’s a myth, but one so pervasive, so pretty, you feel it ought to be true. On the title track of her 10th album, Kate Bush obliges with a flourish. As some sparsely funky electronics percolate behind her, Bush goads QI host Stephen Fry to compile 50 words for the cold white stuff – stuff whose meanings (purity, death, frigidity, fun) can shift and drift, just like the blown flakes themselves. “Icyskidski” is rather fun, but “mountain sob” takes the prize.
Adele – 21
Her voice is a thing of wonder. There is warmth, power and vulnerability, sometimes in the same note. She has less of the unpredictable edge of Amy Winehouse, or the am-dram cool of Florence Welch, but she has a far greater range and subtlety than either, and hers is a voice that seems to go right to your heart.
Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials
The production is high-church – harps, bells, shimmers, strings and keyboards that seem to breed over the course of the album. The cresting choruses are never less than heroic. As an arty eccentric, Welch is sometimes lazily compared to Kate Bush. Here, though, that tenuous link works. The album’s boofing drum sound comes straight out of Bush’s 80s output; on balance, a neat trick.
Bjork – Biophilia
The biggest artists in the world might look on in envy at the advance publicity for Björk’s eighth album, Biophilia. It’s been heralded not merely as an important new release but the future of the entire record industry. “Björk Fights to Save Music” offered the headline in Mojo, not a magazine renowned for working itself up into a state of breathless over-excitement. According to a cover feature in Wired, it represents not merely an attempt to “define humanity’s relationship with sound and the universe” but also to “pioneer a music format that will smash industry conventions”, neither of which are claims anyone was in a hurry to make for, say, Beady Eye’s Different Gear, Still Speeding.
Rebecca Ferguson – Heaven
It is not often you hear someone in a song moaning about that most unglamorous of British life experiences: the queue. The opening lines of Rebecca Ferguson’s debut find her sighing wearily about “Standing in a line wondering why it don’t move” while an acoustic guitar strums. The song unfolds with a simple, stately gospel-soul backing, and you can almost feel the shuffle of the dole queue, the deadening weight of a life of benefits, as the plucky singer tries to lift her troubles by proudly declaring “nothing’s real but love”. It is an interesting notion for someone who comes from so-called reality television.
Daughtry – Break The Spell
Daughtry certainly knows how to cover the bases. “Break the Spell,” the third album by the band fronted by 2006 “American Idol” finalist Chris Daughtry, isn’t quite all things for all people. But it comes pretty close. The quintet brings its best Bon Jovi-style power drive on rockers like “Renegade,” “Outta My Head” and “Louder Than Ever.” And delivers cellphone-waving power ballads in the first single, “Crawling Back to You,” and “Crazy,” while the emotive “Gone Too Soon” is a genuinely heartbreaking ode to a dead child.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You
I’m With You is their 10th album and features their seventh guitarist. The relative stripling Josh Klinghoeffer (at 31, he was only four years old when the band formed in 1983) has replaced the experimental virtuoso John Frusciante, with the result that the power has shifted towards Michael “Flea” Bazary’s power bass. Ethiopia opens with long-standing producer Rick Rubin calling out, “It starts with the bass,” and indeed most of the material here is driven along by lean, loping, slap-and-tickle disco grooves, with Klinghoeffer’s atmospheric guitars washing around the edges.
Kate Bush – Director’s Cut
When Deeper Understanding emerged as the first evidence of Kate Bush’s new album of revisions, the instant reaction was surprise tinged with anger. How dare she play with our memories? How dare she use Auto-Tune on the chorus vocal? “Butchered” and “almost unforgivable” cried the fansites. But as Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens have already shown, Auto-Tune – a pitch-shifting tool typically used to mask defects – can also be used for beauty. It’s not as if Bush’s own vocal was altered. Instead, it’s just the song’s computer voice, which now resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 rather than a demo on a kid’s Casio. A bonus two-minute coda of Talk Talk-style folk-jazz floatiness extends the mood of blissful angst. Butchered? More like reborn.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
“(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine,” announces a song title on Noel Gallagher’s first post-Oasis LP. Wrapped in guitars, strings, brass and reverb like a psychedelic Union Jack, he’s in full flashback mode. Arrangements conjure Sgt. Pepper and T. Rex; each song fades Pink Floyd- style into the next. That’s no complaint: Cooking down the Beatles’ LSD pop into MDMA head-rushes like Oasis did, he does his old band proud. “Shout it out for me!” he declares in “Dream On,” making you want to do just that.
Lady Antebellum – Own The Night
In appearance, the Grammy-winning, millions-selling country-pop trio Lady Antebellum can seem perennially fun-loving, even goofy. Think of the video for last year’s hit “Our Kind of Love”, with them joking around on playground equipment, or past songs like “Lookin’ for a Good Time”. They’ve built their success—and they have been hugely successful, more so with each album—on a good-natured, “universal” appeal. Their biggest hit so far, though, was the moody drunk-dialing ballad “Need You Now”, the title track of their second album. Their third album, Own the Night, takes its cues from that song more than their others, perhaps wisely. Its mission seems to be to expand upon the melancholy demeanor of that song; to take the waiting-room soft-country ballad and make it gloomier; to make sadness stylish, like on the album cover, where they’re at a beach dressed in black, Hillary Scott’s dress billowing like a harbinger of death.