Lady Gaga is undoubtedly the breakout pop artist of 2009, and near the end of the year she elected release a selection of eight new songs, a short new album's worth, as The Fame Monster. The new songs amount to a cohesive work of pop art. The Lady Gaga aesthetic here combines the catchiness of the best in pop songs with pure, exposed emotion of some of the most enduring dance music classics. It's a no holds barred musical journey into the demons and monsters that haunt Lady Gaga's psyche. The conceptual approach here often seems reserved for rock and alternative albums. The Fame Monster is the most compelling pop concept piece in recent memory.
The true genius of the Black Eyed Peas in evidence on The E.N.D. is not a party attitude, Fergie's vocals or the audacity of will.i.am's sampling and borrowing from other recordings. It is that on The E.N.D. the Black Eyed Peas demonstrate that great pop music is ultimately constructed of the two primary elements of memorable melody and rhythm that produces a kinetic response. Both are in great abundance here. Look beyond the two singles that combined for six months at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and you have a wealth of pure pop pleasure.
Kelly Clarkson returned to the pop mainstream with arguably the top album of her career so far. Kicked off by the chart-topping single "My Life Would Suck Without You," All I Ever Wanted continued to reveal its richness as the year went on. Kelly Clarkson closed out the year with the majestic and incessantly sad "Already Gone" nearing the top 10.
Love Is the Answer will stand with the best albums in Barbra Streisand's career. A few of the tracks here like "Gentle Rain," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," and "Make Someone Happy" stand well with the greatest performances of her long, storied career. If you are looking for a musical collection that simply gathers powerful, but not bombastic or maudlin, vocals on some of the best pop standards of all time, Love Is the Answer delivers the goods. If you want the full experience, the deluxe version is a must.
On her second album It's Not Me, It's You, witty singer-songwriter Lily Allen shows that she has done some living since her first album Alright, Still. Autobiographical songs reveal grown-up feelings, but it's not at the expense of wit and fun. The pointed "F*ck You" proves she has a perky, bouncy way of redressing wrongs that will leave you feeling both vindicated and amused. She may be only 23, but here Lily Allen demonstrates a mature understanding of life animating her consistently clever, well-written songs.
As the title states, entertainment is the focus of this effort, and it hits the bullseye. From rousing club tracks to gloriously emotional ballads, Adam Lambert makes us want to listen to his music again and again. It is quite possible that the nearly over the top dramatics and air of sexual sleaze on some of the club tracks may not be exactly your cup of tea. However, if you listen with an open mind and let the music take you where it will, Adam Lambert is an outstanding tour guide for an evening of pure entertainment.
With her life touched by the pain of domestic violence, Rihanna delivers an album that isn't so much a tour through a theatrical horror show as it is a brittle, uncompromising look at the aftermath of love ending in violence. The consistent mood in vocals, instrumentation and lyrics on Rated R is impressive. Rihanna seems unconcerned here about commercial success. She even seems uninterested in any particular enjoyment from her listeners. She is here to lay bare the emotions and experiences she was forced to bear. It is both a musical cautionary tale, and a depiction that survival is possible.
On Cradlesong Rob Thomas proves that his success with the first solo album ...Something To Be was no fluke. If anything, Cradlesong takes a number of steps forward in polish and solid songwriting. In a pop music world dominated by female singers, Rob Thomas stands out as an artist who proves that male performers still have a key place and voice in today's pop music. This is an enduring, solid musical collection.
This is what rock heroes sound like. Song after song Green Day throw themselves into 21st Century Breakdown like a band that wants to and knows they mean something. The portrait they paint may be bleak, but it is a rich world of characters filled with love, menaced by betrayal, and fighting for hope to carry on. American Idiot gave us an idea this kind of document was on its way. It is sweet fulfillment to see it arrive.
Susan Boyle went from YouTube sensation in the spring to one of the world's biggest selling recording artists this fall. She has proven that solid songs sung simply and beautiful can still charm millions around the world enough to get them to go to a store and buy a CD. This is the most triumphant, heart-warming pop music story of the year.