Lovers – aren’t we all glad 2016 is over?
Too many greats have left us this year – and with George Michael and Prince gone, Madonna and Janet Jackson are the only remaining 80’s legends who are still giving us new music and tours (and babies). It’s a scary thought, really – especially when you see ‘songs'(?!!) like ‘Bad And Boujee‘ leading the Billboard Charts these days.
Musically, 2016 has been a not-so-interesting year – I cannot deal with the confusing and annoying fuckery of the Billboard Charts anymore. Streaming is the way to go these days (RIP downloads) – and I’m all for including streams for the Hot 100 Singles Chart. But blending in streaming data with album sales have led to some of the most mismatched chart placements of albums in the history of EVER on the Billboard 200. For example, professional clown Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo‘ has sold a measly 45,000 copies in the US so far, but including streaming and downloads of individual songs – the total ‘album equivalent units’ sold are almost 800,000. I do not see the justification of boosting an album’s sales just because one song off the album has been streamed eleventy million times. Thankfully the UK Top 40 Charts look and sound much better.
Just 10 songs from 2016 topped the Billboard Hot 100 this year, with an eleventh (Adele’s – ‘Hello‘) carrying over from 2016. Barely a few were good (‘Cheap Thrills‘, ‘Work‘, ‘Pillowtalk‘). Britain, irrespective of Brexiting, provided better # 1 songs – as per usual (‘7 Years‘ – Lukas Graham, ‘Say You Won’t Let Go‘ – James Arthur, ‘Shout-out To My Ex‘ – Little Mix).
As always, here are my top 50 albums of the year – a list that comprises of music that I have personally enjoyed the most and have been inspired/affected/moved in some way, and not albums that dominated the charts worldwide (well, some did). Enjoy!
50. How To Be A Human Being – Glass Animals
49. Cartwheels – Ward Thomas
48. 7/27 – Fifth Harmony
47. No Hard Feelings – Dreezy
46. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
45. Day Breaks – Norah Jones
44. It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense – Ingrid Michaelson
43. Emily’s D + Evolution – Esperanza Spalding
42. Mind Of Mine – Zayn
41. More Issues Than Vogue – K. Michelle
40. The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West
39. Here – Alicia Keys
38. Idina – Idina Menzel
37. Joanne – Lady Gaga
36. Still – SWV
35. Milestone – Chrisette Michele
34. Long Live The Angels – Emeli Sande
33. Nothing’s Real – Shura
32. Glory Days – Little Mix
31. Remember Us To Life – Regina Spektor
30. E. Mo. Tion Side B – Carly Rae Jepsen
29. Hamilton (The Mixtape) – Various Artists
28. The Definition Of – Fantasia
27. Thank You – Meghan Trainor
26. This Is What The Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani
A special shout-out to the coveted top 25!
25. Mad Love – JoJo
With label issues holding her career hostage for a decade, an empowered pop veteran JoJo (13 years already – bow down lessers) makes a triumphant return with her feverishly anticipated third studio album ‘Mad Love‘. The feisty slice of sass ‘F.A.B (Fake Ass Bitches)‘ featuring another veteran making a comeback, rapstress Remy Ma, pretty much sums up the mood of JoJo’s most endearing and heartfelt album of her career.
24. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
The force behind Solange’s ‘Losing You‘, MKS’s ‘Flatline‘ and Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘All That‘ – Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange is the underdog that songbird supreme Sia used to be back in the day. Wait for him to blow up, and until then give his third studio effort ‘Freetown Sound‘ a listen. An ambitious amalgamation of sparse, unconventional avant-pop and blurry yet fragile melodies – the gorgeous ‘But You‘ and ‘Hadron Collider‘ featuring Nelly Furtado easily stand out.
23. Starboy – The Weeknd
Bolder, slick and sonically miles ahead of its predecessor ‘Beauty Behind The Madness‘, ‘Starboy‘ is easily the best The Weeknd has come up with. A well deserved # 1 album and single.
22. Glory – Britney Spears
Firstly, Poutney needs to go. Bring Britney back. Secondly, I’ll never get over the tragedy that ‘Do You Wanna Come Over?‘ wasn’t a single (yet). ‘Glory‘ is a good Britney record – it could have easily been so, so much better! Le sigh…
21. Lady Wood – Tove Lo
Swedish songstress Tove Lo’s sophomore effort ‘Lady Wood‘ is every bit as flaw-free as the dark, textured, atmospheric and melodic alt-pop mess that was her début album ‘Queen Of The Clouds‘. She sets the record straight on the ethereal and mystic album opener ‘Influence‘ – ‘You know I’m under the influence, so don’t trust every word I say‘, she teases. The standout cut ‘Imaginary Friend‘ proves why Tove Lo is one of Scandinavia’s prime Pop exports of all time.
20. Smoove Jones – Mya
Easily one of R’n’B’s most under-rated veterans, Grammy-winning Soul chanteuse Mya has been in the game for almost 20 years. If you’re a 90’s baybeh like me – you’ll unsurprisingly have a cassette or a CD (remember those?) of 1998’s ‘Mya‘ and 2000’s ‘Fear Of Flying‘ lying somewhere in your closet. Her slickly crafted 7th studio album ‘Smoove Jones‘ is an intimate love affair between Mya and her fans – few can handle contemporary R’n’B so effortlessly as Mya. Her fans and critics seem to agree though – easily her most cohesive album in almost 16 years, ‘Smoove Jones‘ just earned a nomination at the upcoming 59th Annual Grammy Awards for Best R’n’B Album.
19. Hero – Maren Morris
Country music’s most critically hailed artist this year – Ms Maren Morris pulls of a Kacey Musgraves with her outstanding début album ‘Hero‘. “Boy, I’ve been cooking up one hell of a crush / I’ve got you on my mind the minute I wake up / You make the morning glow, make the rooster crow, get my juices flowing.” – she coos on the stellar album opener ‘Sugar‘. Boasting an impressive set of pipe, Ms Morris makes Country cussing sound so cool! Listen to the soaring ‘My Church‘ – the Platinum-certified lead single – and you’ll probably get the hoopla about the Grammy nominations, the accolades and the # 1 début atop the Billboard Country Charts. RIP Bro-Country.
18. 24K Magic – Bruno Mars
I really don’t care for Funk anymore, honestly it’s overdone and repetitive. The only reason Bruno Mars’ third studio album ‘24K Magic‘ makes it to the top 20 this year is because of the sublime, lush and dreamy ‘Versace On The Floor‘ – easily one of my favorite songs of the year! Not releasing this stellar ballad as a single would be criminal! More baby-making mid-tempo jams please, Mr Mars?
17. Reckless – Martina McBride
Country Icon Martina McBride has consistently delivered with each album that she’s released over a period of the last 25 years – her 13th album is no different. ‘Reckless‘ is easily her best offering since 2003’s Double-Platinum certified ‘Martina‘. Ms McBride embraces middle age while baring her soul for fans to see, especially on key tracks like ‘We’ll Pick Up Where We Left Off‘ and ‘It Ain’t Pretty‘.
16. Nightride – Tinashe
‘If there’s one thing I’ve learned, is that it’s up to me‘ – Alt-R’n’B songbird supreme Tinashe purrs seductively on the divine ‘Lucid Dreaming‘, the opening song on ‘Nightride‘, a mixtape/half-of-a-double-album/whatever she decided to bless us with until she releases her eternally delayed sophomore album ‘Joyride‘. Janet Jackson on amphetamines would have released ‘Nightride‘ as an entire B-Side album to ‘The Velvet Rope‘ in 1997. The foggy interludes and atmospheric melodies blend in seamlessly with the carnal yet lush vibe of ‘Nightride‘ – raising the bar for the highly anticipated ‘Joyride‘.
15. Views – Drake
‘Controlla, Controlla‘. ‘Nuff said.
14. AIM – MIA
Political activism cloaked in a beguiling mix of Alt-Electronica is MIA’s signature style. Her 5th studio album ‘AIM‘ is no different. ‘Foreign Friend‘, ‘The New International Sound‘ and ‘Ali R U OK‘ are the standout tracks. I do miss the sonic versatility on her first two albums ‘Matangi‘ and ‘Kala‘ though – a throwback to the same sound next time around maybe?
13. A Moment Of Madness – Izzy Bizu
One of the year’s most promising debuts – Brit singer-songwriter Izzy Bizu arrives with a triumphant mix of Jazz, Soul and Neo-Soul on her début album ‘A Moment Of Madness‘, a sound which may be described as a heady blend of Amy Winehouse and Lianne La Havas. ‘Lost Paradise‘ is the standout cut, showcasing her incredible vocal chops. She’s an artist you need to watch out for!
12. The Altar – Banks
With her sophomore album ‘The Altar‘, brooding Alt-R’n’B princess Banks solidifies her status as the Queen of everything gloomy. Uninhibited, raw and unapologetic – ‘The Altar‘ is an album you’ll certainly enjoy if you’ve liked her masterfully crafted 2014 début ‘The Goddess‘. ‘And to think you would get me to the altar, like I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water’ – she snarls on the album opener ‘Gemini Feed‘ – possibly her most radio-friendly offering till date. Euphoric indeed!
11. The Weight Of These Wings – Miranda Lambert
Following her high-profile public divorce with Blake Shelton, Country mega-star Miranda Lambert arrives with one of the most powerful releases of the year – her majestic 6th studio album ‘The Weight Of These Wings‘. A double-album split into two parts, The Nerve and The Heart – ‘The Weight Of These Wings‘ is not your average celebrity break-up album. Defiant, explosive, occasionally aimless yet resilient – the album chronicles the mess that her mind is in post break-up without venturing into a territory of gunpowder and lead fueled revenge. She feels, deals, heals and eventually moves on through the album. Bravo!
10. This Is Acting – Sia
Arguably one of Pop’s biggest forces, Australian wig-enthusiast Sia topped the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart for the first time with the ridiculously addictive Sean Paul-assisted Dancehall smash ‘Cheap Thrills‘ – an astounding feat considering that she pulled it off two decades into her career and at the age of 40. The last woman to have notched a # 1 single on the Billboard Charts above the age of 40? Madonna – 16 years ago with ‘Music‘ (‘ Ageism‘ and ‘Sexism‘ are definitely some terms I would associate with the Billboard Charts). ‘This Is Acting‘ is the former Indie chanteuse’s seventh studio album – and is a worthy follow-up to her moody masterpiece ‘1000 Forms Of Fear‘. ‘House On Fire‘ and ‘Reaper‘ should be the next singles.
9. Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
‘Wrist icicle, ride dick bicycle‘ – pure poetry! This ferocious declaration by Ms Nicki Minaj guesting on ‘Side To Side‘ is enough to get this album a top 10 placement. Pop Princess and donut connoisseur Ariana Grande announces her transition into a vixen with her third studio album ‘Dangerous Woman‘, a move successfully pulled off by generations of female artists trying to push the envelope – Selena Gomez (‘Revival‘), Christina Aguilera (‘Stripped‘), Janet Jackson (‘janet.’). The Macy Gray assisted ‘Leave Me Lonely‘ is the album’s highlight – Macy’s signature rasp remains legendary!
8. Undercurrent – Sarah Jarosz
With 3 nominations at the upcoming 59th Grammy Awards, immensely gifted and under-rated Folk singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz finally gets the recognition she so aptly deserves, with her fourth studio album ‘Undercurrent‘. Sarah’s impeccable vocals are a warm mix of Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, and songs like the absolutely dreamy and sparse ‘Take Another Turn‘ and the Sarah-Buxton co-written banjo-based ‘Lost Dog‘ literally made me reminisce about Krauss’s stellar 1999 album ‘Forget About It‘ (an all-time-fave). A must listen!
7. Chapters – Yuna
A mix of Brandy, Aaliyah and Sade on the same album? Stuff a 90’s baybeh could only dream of! Malaysian songstress Yuna unleashes a spectacular slice of Contemporary R’n’B in the form of ‘Chapters‘ – a worthy follow-up to her under-rated 2013 album ‘Nocturnal‘. Cleverly crafted quiet storm gems like the exquisite Usher-assisted ‘Crush‘, (my favorite song of the year) seamlessly blend in with slickly produced R’n’B cuts like ‘Mannequin‘ – a song that would have easily fit in on Vanessa William’s seminal album ‘The Comfort Zone‘ or Brandy’s 1998 classic ‘Never Say Never‘. If you’ve grown up watching TRL, the Billboard Countdown on Channel V, or have an Aqua/Brandy/Vengaboys/TLC cassette hidden somewhere in your closet – this album’s sure to strike a chord.
6. Waited To Exhale – Keke Palmer
What are the chances of an album that was never officially released making it to the year-end best-of list? Singer-songwriter-actress Keke Palmer recorded ‘Waited To Exhale‘, her second album, while on the sets of Nickleodeon’s ‘True Jackson, VP‘ in 2009. The then 16-year-old Keke never released the album – a glorious mix of good ol’ fashioned 90’s R’n’B instant mini aural-orgasms – thanks to label issues, until 2016. I can only imagine what the album might have sounded like if the album got a production upgrade to 2016 – think Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis. If the names Monica, Chante Moore, Nivea, Mya, Christina Milian ring a bell and gets you misty eyed – I’d suggest you give this album a listen immediately. ‘We Can Make Up‘ is my jam!
5. For All We Know – Nao
BBC Sound Of 2016 and Brit Award nominee Neo Jessica Joshua, aka Nao’s début album ‘For All We Know‘ sounds like a fascinating love child of FKAtwigs and Erykah Badu. Or maybe Macy Gray and Janelle Monae. Quite possibly Lauryn Hill and Kelela. You get the drift – ‘For All We Know‘ has approximately zero fillers, and showcases the East Londoner’s impressive ability to take on Retro-Soul and giving it a 2016 twist (‘Master of my school/Break the rules until I’m making them‘ – she snarls on the stellar ‘Inhale/Exhale‘). Unlike her Alt-R’n’B contemporaries Jhene Aiko, Kelela or Solange – Nao’s sound is not as glacially minimalist or sparse. The productions are crisp and loud (‘Adore You‘ and ‘Trophy‘) – jagged abrasive rhythms with a healthy dose of Funk blended in seamlessly with melismatic melodies. This is an album that would ideally be expected from the leading stalwarts of R’n’B Beyoncé or Rihanna. Or maybe Janet and Maxwell back in the day. An eclectic and propulsive body of work – Nao’s game here is promising.
4. Before The Dawn – Kate Bush
British living legend Kate Bush’s creative genius shines through in the three disc set ‘Before The Dawn‘ – a live album documenting her sold-out 22 date residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. If you’re expecting a live version of ‘This Woman’s Work‘ – you’ll be disappointed. The lack of focus on her actual greatest hits is a boon here – we get a video for the stellar ‘And Dream Of Sheep‘ (from 1985’s ‘Hounds Of Love‘) leading a project that chronicles some of her most under-rated achievements picked from her grand catalogue, including the conceptual B-Side ‘The Ninth Wave‘ to ‘Hounds Of Love‘ as well as ‘A Sky Of Honey‘ – the second side to 2005’s ‘Aerial‘. In one word – extraordinary!
3. A Seat At The Table – Solange
With her robust third album ‘A Seat At The Table‘- a stunning ode to black womanhood – Solange pulls off a ‘Control‘ and announces her arrival as a bona fide superstar in an R’n’B world ruled by her sister Beyoncé. The sonic masterpiece roared in at # 1 on the Billboard 200 earlier this year to become her first number one album – leaving a stunned Bon Iver, who were poised to arrive at the top, reluctantly settling at the # 2 spot. Everything from the album’s chill-inducing productions and languid flow, to Solange’s airy, graceful vocals to the plethora of diverse guests (Kelly Rowland, Sampha, Tweet, Q-Tip, Raphael Saadiq) – is doused in a brutal dose of honesty. The intensely personal ‘Cranes In The Sky‘, ‘Don’t Wish Me Well‘ and ‘Don’t Touch My Hair‘ are rich expressions of black pride – there’s a bit of Minnie Riperton, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Lalah Hathaway in there. This Knowles sibling’s reign has just begun.
2. ANTI – Rihanna
Let’s face it – Rihanna is a true artist, as well as an accomplished vocalist. Who would have thought? ‘ANTI‘ is an expertly curated album that was initially projected to fall flat. Random singles ‘FourFive Seconds‘, ‘Bitch Better Have My Money‘ and ‘American Oxygen‘ were unleashed without a plan. The album seemed eternally delayed, and the semi-surprise release assisted with a free Samsung giveaway garnered some of the most underwhelming reviews of her career, along with her lowest sales since her 2005 début ‘Music Of The Sun‘. Irrespective of the messy roll-out, and rather unsurprisingly, Rihanna reshaped the musical landscape of 2016 with the Drake-assisted bouncy Dancehall cut ‘Work‘ – which reigned at # 1 (her 14th!!) for a stellar 9 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. A streaming force – ‘ANTI‘ garnered her the lengthiest reign within the top 10 among all her albums, topping the Billboard 200 for two weeks. The idiosyncrasy of ‘ANTI‘ is what makes the album so compelling – the hypnotic ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes‘, a remake of a Tame Impala song, is the album’s mellowest moment along with the soaring Doo Wop-kissed ‘Love On The Brain‘, the finest vocal delivery of Rihanna’s career. After a decade of relentlessly ruling the singles chart worldwide, Rihanna finally arrives as an accomplished albums artist with ‘ANTI‘.
1. Lemonade – Beyoncé
Fact : Beyoncé is NOT to be messed with #poorbecky. I could ramble on and on about what critics and fans have been harping on all year about the 20-time Grammy winner’s Magnum Opus – but I’ll just be wasting time repeating what has already been said. In an era where the art of making a complete album is all but lost – Queen Bey reminds us yet again (with her middle fingers up) that there’s no one quite like her when it comes to creating (as well as releasing) an album that is essentially a cohesive body of work to be enjoyed as a whole. ‘Lemonade‘ could well be renamed ‘Rhythm Nation 2016‘ – Beyoncé’s political agenda blends in seamlessly with tales of betrayal, marital infidelity, reconciliation and healing. There’s Rock, Pop, R’n’B, Neo Soul as well as a hint of Country (‘Daddy Lessons‘ was blessed by the Holy Trinity of the Dixie Chicks themselves) – all served with Beyoncé’s unparalleled brand of sass. Her 6th consecutive # 1 album, as well as the highest selling album of 2016 (behind Adele’s ‘25‘ released in 2015, and ahead of Drake’s ‘Views‘ – as per the United World Chart) with upwards of 2.5 million copies sold – ‘Lemonade‘ is Beyoncé’s boldest sonic adventure yet.
GIFs via GIPHY.