Friday, April 05, 2013

Best 50 Pop Albums from 2000-2009: #10-#1

This is the final entry in this week's countdown of the top 50 pop albums of the 2000s. The links for #50 - #11 are at the bottom of this post.

10. Yelle - Pop Up (2007)

If a 22-year old Madonna had been a hipster in the 21st century, she might have sounded something like this. The debut album from this French trio was an adventurous and sarcastic trip that was heavily influenced by house and a few strands of DNA from the early works of Cyndi Lauper and the aformentioned Madge. At its best, Pop Up yielded propulsive DJ staples such as "Je Veux Te Voir" and "A Cause Des Garçons" that had vocalist Julie Budet's sassy vocals to distinguish them along with some colorful splashes of 1980s electropop. Other rainbow-flavored cuts like "Mali Puli," "85A" and "Ce Jeu" provided the perfect excuse to bounce around with Pixy Stix as the drug of choice, while at the other end of the spectrum, the album's slower moments were equally captivating as well with the tender "Tu es beau" and the first half of "Tristesse/Joie." For an album attempting to bottle as much as sweat as Pop Up, slow songs usually produce a lull. That turned out to not be the case since there's rarely a duff moment to be found here.

Key tracks: "Je Veux Te Voir," "Tristesse/Joie," "Ce Jeu," "A Cause Des Garçons"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

9. Girls Aloud - What Will The Neighbours Say? (2004)

On the surface, What Will The Neighbours Say? is about what one would expect from a pop album to the undiscerning ear and eye. Girls Aloud fit the image of stylish bombshell beauties that have come to define the genre and it would be easy to brush them off as some cheery group after just a sampling of a verse and chorus. But to the refined and seasoned ear, WWTNS?—and the Girls Aloud discography at large—is some of the most purely executed pop this young century has seen so far. Delirious tracks such as "Graffiti My Soul" and "Love Machine" showed just how progressive Brian Higgins and his Xenomania production crew was, including oddball punk and skiffle riffs that could have easily ventured into goofiness, but were charmingly quirky. Xenomainia were an essential part of pop music in the previous decade, working alongside other acts as Sugababes and Kylie Minogue, but they never had a more suitable, willing canvas than Nadine, Sarah, Kimberley, Nicola and Cheryl. WWTNS? did fulfill expectations on a basic level of what pop appears to be, yet also at a higher level than most of its peers.

Key tracks: "Love Machine," "The Show," "Graffiti My Soul," "Wake Me Up"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

8. Kylie Minogue - Fever (2001)

The story of how America came to fall in love again with international superstar Kylie Minogue can be summed up in just seven words: "Can't Get You Out Of My Head." With that "velvety robo-disco track" (as I described it a year ago), Minogue was able to crossover for just a short while before reverting back to cult heroine. With an instantly recognizable chorus and Kylie in pure sex-kitten mode, it would have been a shame if the U.S had not embraced it, but it's not the only reason why Fever has still held up. Boasting a murderers' row of lively singles that included "In Your Eyes," "Love At First Sight" and "Come Into My World," Minogue's eighth album had a sound that was sonorous as it was elegant. One of the key attributes to her enduring success is how she has managed to sound youthful despite being beyond the age of an average pop star's prime. With that experience and guile, Fever was an example of how to mature gracefully while still creating robust tunes for the dancefloor.

Key tracks: "Come Into My World," "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," "Love At First Sight," "Burning Up"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

7. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)

While Justified did boast a bounty of quality tracks, it was Timberlake's second album that seemed less like a play for credibility and more of an artistic vision. Gone were the straightforward Michael Jackson tributes, which were now replaced by subtle interludes, experimental touches and an all-around sexier vibe. Take "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" for instance: it's a recording that's typical of the daring choices that JT, along with album producers Timbaland and Danja, were willing to make. What started off as a deceptively simple, beatbox-heavy groove melted into a lush coda filled with strings, taking you from the club to a late-night drive all over the course of seven minutes, which tested the traditional pop format of 3:30 or less. Similarly ambitious were "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around," the T.I.-assisted "My Love" and the title track, which all showcased a confident sensuality within its soundscape without resorting to being obvious. Moments like those further defied expectations of what an album from a former 'N Sync-er should sound like and firmly etched the Timberlake brand as chic and enduring.

Key tracks: "My Love," "Lovestoned/I Think She Knows," "Futresex/Lovesound," "Sexyback"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

6. Destiny's Child - Survivor (2001)

I've long held the belief that if Survivor had stopped after track 10, it would have been a near perfect album. It's an incredible run of singles and potential singles that didn't make its relentlessness apparent until "Dangerously In Love" permanently took the steam out of an unstoppable locomotive going full speed. For most of the album, there was a vivacity and defiance that Destiny's Child had promised since they first arrived, but wasn't made fully indelible till the ladies had something to prove. As their first album with the new line-up, Survivor laid down the gauntlet early and often with an opening trio of "Independent Women Part I," "Survivor" and "Bootylicious," as if to hit home the fact that business would go on as usual without the former members and that Beyoncé was headed for stardom regardless. Those opening tracks set the tone and template for a buoyant ride that featured a pristine and polished version of R&B that was even more accessible to the mainstream than their prior work.

Key tracks: "Bootylicious," "Fancy," Survivor," "Independent Women Part I"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

5. Robbie Williams - Sing When You're Winning (2000)

For a while, it looked as if Robbie Williams and producer Guy Chambers were going to be this generation's Elton John and Bernie Taupin. They had certainly been able to capture some of the melodic earnestness that had made that classic partnership so fruitful and if Sing When You're Winning was any indication, they still had plenty of gas left in the tank before Chambers became less involved with subsequent Williams' albums. While at the time, it might have been seen as a lesser album when compared to the success of Life Thru A Lens and I've Been Expecting You, Sing When You're Winning was still a worthy addition to the Williams/Chambers canon. In a world that saw pop being handed over to the teenyboppers of the late '90s/early '00s, Williams took on the role of seasoned pop star, one that wasn't afraid to use lush orchestration and be coarse about sex without batting an eye. Part of Williams' charm has long been that he could portray a sensitive side, as seen here on the yearning in "Better Man" and "Singing For The Lonely," while also supplying arena-ready anthems like "Kids" and "Forever Texas" that celebrated his boorish ways. With that, SWYW was never short on individuality and songs engineered with sophistication for fans of smart pop music.

Key tracks: "Kids," "Let Love Be Your Energy," "Forever Texas," "Better Man"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

4. No Doubt - Return of Saturn (2000)

In retrospect, this decade will probably be more remembered for Gwen Stefani's solo output instead of her work with No Doubt. The singles from Love.Angel.Music.Baby had the kind of longevity that would have earned the album diamond certification in healthier times for the music industry, just to put a perspective on things. Stefani's knack for seamlessly switching genres also gave her an endless appeal, but artistically she reached her peak with the help of her bandmates on the introspective, yet sweetly despondent, Return of Saturn. Compared to Tragic Kingdom, Saturn was seen as a disappointment, lacking the breeziness and the hits of its predecessor. An overlooked factoid to the success of No Doubt and Stefani in general is that she's always appeared younger than she really is, an attitude that had played a huge role in their sound. With this album, No Doubt gave in and took a stab at maturity, creating songs of deep longing and heartache that made "Don't Speak" look like child's play. It's pain without the sacrifice of tunefulness, as tracks like "Ex-Girlfriend" and "Six Feet Under" kept the group's polished pop approach intact while cranking up the sorrow. Stefani crafted some fine hits on her own, but the choruses were never as full as they were here with the crunch and heftiness provided by Tom Dumont, Adrian Young and Tony Kamal.

Key tracks: "Bathwater," "New," "Suspension Without Suspense," "Home Now"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

3. Rachel Stevens - Come And Get It (2005)

Considering that Rachel Stevens got her start in teen pop collective S Club 7, expectations for her solo career were moderate at the most. In order to stake her own identity, this forced Stevens to become more leftfield with her choices, which resulted in the chilled and reserved sound of her second album. That sense of daring made Come And Get It one of the sexier pop albums of its day as it relied more on frost than steam. The frigid textures of the album did not automatically qualify Stevens as a fembot, since her airy, delicate vocals provided the right amount of resolve to differentiate herself from some of her more open-hearted peers, but it made her personality come off as more collected than her debut. Despite Stevens not being a fembot, Come And Get It was still one hell of a well-oiled machine, with its gears purring and growling healthily with workmanlike perfection in order to overpower the ears into submission. The crown jewel of it all was "Some Girls," a schaffel-aping Richard X production that made glamour feel dirty and just might have been the best pop record to come from the decade. Other icy delights included the titillating "Secret Garden" and the slyly seductive "Je M'appelle," just to name a few on an album spoiled with them.

Key tracks: "Some Girls," "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)," "Every Little Thing," "Je M'apelle"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify] 

2. Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad (2007)

There comes a time in every young burgeoning pop star's career where they have to figure out how to approach the issue of adulthood. It's a risky move for any entertainer who's considered the fickle teens of the world as their primary source of income. The options are to either delay growth by continuing in a state of stasis by appealing to a younger audience or challenging fans to accept a riskier, grownup version of the artist. For her third album, Rihanna moved closer to womanhood by opting to go for a route that channeled Janet Jackson's assertiveness on Control, TLC's sensuality on CrazySexyCool, and the willingness to experiment with new sounds, both pop and urban, such as on Aaliyah's 2001 self-titled album. The singles from the album, including the inescapable "Umbrella," and the thumping, MJ-referencing "Don't Stop The Music," were among some of the best pop music in the latter half of the decade and almost single-handedly guaranteed Good Girl Gone Bad a spot on this list, but the sequencing of the album is what made it so special. In the age of iTunes and mp3 players, it's never been easier to cherry pick the best bits of an album for your own enjoyment, leaving a method to music that can be satisfactory for listeners, but ultimately incomplete in regard to the artist's visions. Good Girl Gone Bad employed a sense of drama throughout that defied the standard pop album approach of "all killer, all the time" by rising and dropping the tension, such as the slow build that started off the second half of the album with the mellow "Say It" and culminated in the brass heavy Timbaland-produced "Lemme Get That." Nowadays, it's hard to picture Rihanna as anything but a singles artist, but for one moment in her career, she held our attention without being tempted to skip over the album tracks.

Key tracks: "Umbrella," "Breakin' Dishes," "Lemme Get That," "Shut Up And Drive," "Good Girl Gone Bad"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

1. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters (2004)

In just 50 minutes, five of New York's most flamboyant musicians gave us a tour of the sordid side of the city's nightlife, a ride that included glamour, sex, glitter, sweat and most importantly, fun. The self-titled debut album from Scissor Sisters presented moments of debauchery without being overtly graphic, making the songs more than just queer anthems but an exercise in pop songcraft for all to enjoy that could sit nicely along with the music that inspired it. As anyone knows, you can't spend every single minute on the dancefloor when at a party and by borrowing heavily from the Elton John playbook, breathers were provided in slower songs such as "It Can't Come Quickly Enough" and "Lovers In The Backseat" that provided depth without distracting from higher energy tracks such as their disco-fied take on Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" and the rollicking "Music Is A Victim." In the year of its release, there was nothing quite as brightly hued as Scissor Sisters and its mixture of 1970s pop with a winking modern sexual attitude. Today, the colors remain intact and are still as gaudy as before, but now that enough time has passed for the album to be separated from the gimmickry of their fashion sense and stage show, it's simply a testament to pop's power of producing memorable choruses and joyous times.

Key tracks: "Filthy/Gorgeous," "Music Is The Victim," "Take Your Mama Out," "Comfortably Numb," "Lovers In The Backseat"

[Amazon] [iTunes] [Spotify]

#50 - #41
#40 - #31
#30 - #21
#20 - #11

No comments:

Post a Comment