Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Best of 2011: The Best Albums I Heard

As I recently posted, I attended many tremendous concerts in 2011. Coming soon, I'll also post about the best musicals I saw, several of which were similarly outstanding.

So I can't say that this was truly a bad year for music, at least on a personal level. But in the realm of recorded music, especially in the rock genre, 2011 was far from a watershed year. 

This is in stark contrast to 1991. As commemorated by several anniversary re-releases, 20 years ago there was an avalanche of great, even groundbreaking albums.

Many have become such classics that it's unnecessary to cite the artist when mentioning works like Nevermind, Ten, Achtung Baby, Out of Time, Badmotorfinger, Use Your Illusion and Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

1991 also brought Metallica's biggest (and possibly best) album, debuts from The Smashing Pumpkins and Blur, swan songs from Queen and the Pixies, personal favorites from Dinosaur Jr. and Material Issue and key era and/or career-defining works by My Bloody Valentine, Matthew Sweet, Spin Doctors, Primal Scream, Jesus Jones, Fishbone and Teenage Fanclub. I won't pretend that rap has ever done much for me, but should recognize Ice-T, P.M. Dawn and Public Enemy as also having important releases in 1991. Even Michael Jackson and Prince put out albums that some consider their last true vestiges of greatness. And though I avoided it, Garth Brooks' Ropin the Wind was the year's top seller.

2011 has Adele.

Sure, I'll manage--after much exploration in recent weeks--to give you a Top 10 list plus several other albums I've liked from this year. But right now, the only one I'm perceiving as a classic is Adele's 21. Though not exactly in my wheelhouse--and as a consequence, I came to the Adele party way late--it is clearly the best album I've heard this year.

You might find it hard to believe--I do, as 21 is the best selling album in many a year and spawned two giant hits--but I hadn't knowingly heard an Adele song until this month. But now that I "get it," even well beyond chanteuses who have had breakthrough success in recent years--Dido, Duffy, Norah Jones, the late Amy Winehouse--I perceive Adele as a transcendent vocal talent, possibly along such exalted lines as Billie Holiday and Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. And she's still only 23, so hopefully her voice can fully recover from recent throat surgery, enabling her career to further evolve & flourish.

With all due respect to still-great rock bands like Wilco, Foo Fighters and the now retired R.E.M., no rock artist put out an album in 2011 that showcased comparable greatness. Sure, it's a different world now, ruled not only by Adele but women like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and Rihanna, but if guitar-driven rock wants to remain a relevant musical form, somebody soon is gonna have to blow my mind like it's 1991 again.

But just because 2011 seemingly wasn't a classic year for rock albums--and admittedly, this list represents my tastes, which is why you won't find the Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration or some other highly regarded releases in various realms--doesn't mean there wasn't some good stuff. I very much enjoy & recommend the albums below and hopefully some will continue to grow on me. Though after the top slot, the order in which these are ranked is largely inconsequential.

The Best Albums of 2011 

1. Adele – 21

2. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

3. The Nightwatchman – World Wide Rebel Songs

4. Wild Flag - Wild Flag

5. Wilco – The Whole Love

6. Willie Nile – The Innocent Ones

7. The Black Keys – El Camino

8. The Decemberists – The King is Dead

9. Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

10.  Florence & the Machine - Ceremonials

Honorable Mention 

Lindsey Buckingham – Seeds We Sow

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Smoking Popes – This Is Only A Test

R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

The Cars – Move Like This

Yuck - Yuck

My Morning Jacket – Circuital 

The Bangles – Sweetheart of the Sun 

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

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