Albums of the year: Rock, pop and dance
From an electro Scandipop queen to grizzled old-timers
Sunday 26 December 2010
The bolt-from-the-blue new arrival of the year was Janelle Monae, the bequiffed Nu Soul starlet and Outkast protégé whose The Archandroid was a brain-boggling, genre-melting suite of Afro-futurism, Sign o' the Times meets Metropolis – and gave the lie to the lazy assumption that the entire hip- hop/R&B sector is an imagination-free machine churning out cliché-ridden chart fodder. If she can do even better next time, everyone's a winner.
The crossover avant-garde release of the year – although the self-styled "anti-experimentalists" would probably despise the term – came from Southend band These New Puritans, whose bracingly brilliant second album Hidden defied the usual audience limitations associated with "difficult" music to become the arthouse record that pretty much everyone with a functioning pair of ears and an open mind agreed on. Using Foley sound effects and neo-medieval instrumentation, borrowing ideas from stadium hip-hop and 20th- century classical music, it sounded like Dr Dre time-machined back to the English Civil War, or the early Banshees scoring a truly terrifying horror movie.
James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem said their farewell with a third and final studio album, This is Happening, whose greatness history will only fully assimilate when the shadow of its predecessor, Sound of Silver (itself probably the greatest album of the century so far) recedes. Daringly expansive, outrageously melodic and often painfully candid, drawing on influences ranging from Heaven 17 to Heroes-era Bowie, it was Murphy's exasperated but nevertheless generous way of saying to the world: here, have this, and if you don't like it, I give up.
Biggest British newcomers were suave, classy Mancunian duo Hurts, whose somewhat ironically titled Happiness was simultaneously as sharp as singer Theo Hutchcraft's cheekbones and as slick as synth player Adam Anderson's hairdo. Also in an electronic vein, Scandipop queen Robyn dropped not one but three new albums in the form of her stunning Body Talk trilogy.
Bacharach-approved Karen Carpenter soundalike Rumer pleased the Radio 2 demographic with her not-at-all guilty pleasure Seasons of My Soul, while the ever-underrated Magic Numbers perfected the art of gentle beauty on their third, Bee Gees-meets-Prefab Sprout album The Runaway.
It was a very good year for the wisdom of elders, with the Fall's post-hospitalisation rock'n'roll rumble Your Future Our Clutter and jazz/blues auteur Gil Scott-Heron's typically thought-provoking I'm New Here, while Paul Weller's rightly acclaimed Wake Up the Nation was better than it had any right to be.
Arcade Fire's third album The Suburbs was the proverbial Stunning Return to Form, revisiting the Texan teenage years of Win Butler and painting a bleak landscape of shopping malls stretching like "mountains beyond mountains".
Another concept album came from hoodie-wearing-rapper-turned-suited-and-booted-soulman Plan B, whose pulp-fiction narrative The Defamation of Strickland Banks deserved, but didn't get, the Mercury Prize. It's not too late for a Brit.
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