Quite simply, this is one of the most powerful and best Foo Fighters albums ever. That is a cause for celebration. Much of the album is powerful rock, but it will appeal to pop fans who like to hear a rock edge.
It squeaked in at the end of the year, but that doesn't make the Black Keys seventh studio album any less deserving of a place among the best of the year. Seriously noisy rock with huge pop hooks is the mode of operation here. Everything about El Camino is just more of what has made the Black Keys great in the past.
There were certainly flashier debut albums in 2011, but it is James Blake that will cast a long shadow in your musical memory. His songs are always in search of the most minimal presentation possible which only makes them more haunting. Seek out the music videos accompanying the singles as well. Later in the year he proved that his style plays well with others, too on the Bon Iver collaboration "Fall Creek Boys Choir."
Drake's #1 debut album Thank Me Later set up powerful expectations for his sophomore release. Take Care lives up to those expectations in a downbeat, sometimes moody fashion. There is real complication and self-examination in the lyrics. However, Drake never forgets the need to engage his listeners with a listenable hook.
Kelly Clarkson continues to make the argument that she is one of the most skilled female vocalists in all of pop music. This is her most confident album yet. The work is cohesive and bathed in romantic angst, but Kelly Clarkson is nothing if not resilient. This is an album that is not about taking risks, but instead is about honing one's craft.
"Otis" is worth the price of admission and "Niggas in Paris" puts it over the top. Then there is plenty left to indulge in on this mega-collaboration between two of the most acclaimed artists of all time. Expectations were extremely high for Jay-Z and Kanye West, and they met them, not through bombast, but largely through playfulness and humor. There is seriousness here, but the swagger is always underlined by an engaging self-awareness and, occasionally, ability to laugh.
At age 69, the legendary Paul Simon returned with an album that shows he can produce contemporary pop just as well as any other current artist. He incorporates the songwriting capabilities he has demonstrated in his entire career with Graceland - era rhythmic sensibility and a strong awareness of current digital music. The result is one of the very best albums of his solo career.
The first three songs on Ceremonials amount to the most powerful 15 minutes of the year in pop music. It is no surprise that the intensity wanes a bit as the album continues. However, Florence and the Machine deliver powerfully on the promise of the first album Lungs. There is a punch to the music here that is truly bracing.
Lady Gaga told us this would be the album of the decade. That may be overstating the fact a bit, but Born This Way is a pop landmark. This collection of songs is a wild rollercoaster ride of music wrapped around a powerful argument for personal freedom. Born This Way firmly establishes Lady Gaga as an artist with the power to move the entire music industry.
1. Adele - 21
Anyone who heard Adele's debut album 19 knew she was capable of an album this powerful. Compared with her debut, the songs here are stronger and more resonant and the production enhances instead of obscures any of the power of Adele's voice and delivery. 21 has made Adele an international pop sensation for good reason. This is the album of the year.