Well I’ll cut to the chase lads: it hasn’t been a banner year for pop albums. It’s not that they’ve all been crap (“U SURE ABOUT THAT?!?!” – boring people), it’s just that so few of them – if any – have been completely devoid of filler, and a few of these rankings you’re about to skim over mid-poo really are very rough. So if you’re gonna backchat me with the usual “WHY IS X LOWER THAN Y?!?!?!” business, know that my response will likely be “\_(ツ)_/”.
But enough hyping-up!!! Let’s get on with it.
For reference, my No1 albums in the past have included:
2010: Lights – Ellie Goulding
2011: 21 – Adele
2012: Electra Heart – Marina and the Diamonds
2013: Salute – Little Mix
2014: 1989 – Taylor Swift (doesn’t 2014 Taylor feel a MILLION MILES from 2016 Taylor?!)
2015: Breathe In. Breathe Out. – Hilary Duff (‘tbf’ I would’ve felt like I was cheating if I put you-know-what at No1 when BIBO had a significantly higher Play Count in my iTunes library)
So what of this year? Let’s go…
52. Butch Queen – RuPaul
I love Sissy That Walk as much as the next gay but honestly I could barely get to the end of this.
51. Thank You – Meghan Trainor
Let’s look for positives: No is good. Better is also fine, and Champagne Problems is… not completely awful. The rest is mostly just the world’s least convincing A-list popstar being as engaging and exciting as Tess Daly doing stand-up.
50. A Wonderful World – Susan Boyle
I do have a soft spot for SuBo, and this is a pleasant – if remarkably low-key – festive listen.
49. Nobody But Me – Michael Buble
Inoffensive and predictably well-sung, but I just can’t get excited about the Bube. At all. EVEN AT CHRISTMAS.
48. Sing My Heart Out – Sam Bailey
The title track from this album is WONDROUS, but the rest of it… not so much. Props to her for getting a record of originals out at all, though.
47. Back From The Edge – James Arthur
In all fairness, there’s some good stuff on here, and I say that even as someone naturally averse to Sincere White Men With Acoustic Guitars.
46. Perspective – Lawson
You know where you stand with Lawson: dependable, straight-down-the-middle pop-rock. I think I’m one of about six people who heard this album :(
45. Unfinished Business – Nathan Sykes
Amazing voice, just not really my thing in terms of the actual songs. Tears In The Rain is good, though.
44. Beautiful Lies – Birdy
I can’t think of anything to say about this except that it sounds exactly like you expect a Birdy album to sound.
43. The Heavy Entertainment Show – Robbie Williams
It’s becoming fashionable to think Robbie Williams is too old to be Robbie Williams – the type of criticism normally reserved for female acts like Madonna – but I absolutely don’t agree. Even so, whilst this has its moments, he’s made far better.
42. Wrong Crowd – Tom Odell
I can barely remember any of this, but I do remember it being a nice soundtrack to a long writing session, which has to count for something?!?!
41. Piece By Piece Remixed – Kelly Clarkson
TIGHTROPE (LIVE VERSION).
40. Wings Of The Wild – Delta Goodrem
Not as good as Wings, Dear Life and opener Feline got me expecting, but still a solid comeback record.
39. 24 HRS – Olly Murs
As with all Olly Murs albums, there are some good songs and there are some shite songs. But when 24 HRS is good, it’s good; and You Don’t Know Love is the best song he’s ever recorded.
38. Following My Intuition – Craig David
Always have a soft spot for a Comeback Arc, me; although it’ll take a lot more to make me forget those incredible Instagram posts.
37. HERE – Alicia Keys
Nothing tops that criminally forgotten Beyoncé duet (still not over it) but this is a really slick, cohesive collection with a lot to say.
36. Oh My My – OneRepublic
Their best album for me is still Waking Up, but we all know Ryan Tedder knows his way around a pop song and there’s plenty to love on Oh My My.
35. Illuminate – Shawn Mendes
I had a really nice walk in the fog one day listening to Ruin. It’s the anecdotes that count, guys.
34. Version Of Me – Melanie C
The greatest Solo Spice achieved her best commercial performance in a decade with this album, which is wonderful. I personally don’t think Version Of Me is her finest work, but its more dance-oriented direction was certainly welcome, and there are some fantastic deep cuts to be enjoyed.
33. 24K Magic – Bruno Mars
Heterobangers, heterobangers, so many heterobangers. I’m never gonna get too worked up about songs referring to “bad bitches and ya ugly ass friends,” but the production is slick, Bruno’s an undeniable showman and there are a few songs on here I do genuinely really like. It’s a very well made album, it’s just not particularly up my street.
32. Night Swim – Josef Salvat
31. Wild World – Bastille
I feel like I’d hate the ‘clientele’ of a Bastille gig but they continue to walk the line between pop and whatever-genre-some-of-their-fans-would-rather-call-it very well indeed.
30. Remnants – LeAnn Rimes
Much like Mendes, Rimes makes very good music to walk in autumn to.
29. Honey – Katy B
Let it be known that I am terribly disappointed with how this campaign played out. Little Red hit No1, but this – despite also being very good (and despite having the huge KDA collab behind it) peaked at No22, and I don’t know if many people even know it exists…?
28. Last Year Was Complicated – Nick Jonas
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for a song by a straight man, Under You is a brilliant anthem re: taking deliveries round the back passage (by which I of course mean the bum).
27. This Is Acting – Sia
Made up mainly of songs turned down by other artists, it’s inevitable that This Is Acting isn’t quite Sia’s best work, but it’s still loads better than its “REJECT SONGS!!!” label suggests.
26. Stranger Things Have Happened – Clare Maguire
Clare passed me by first time around, but this album is gorgeous – especially Elizabeth Taylor.
25. Long Live The Angels – Emeli Sande
Emeli’s better than you think she is (I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING!): singles Hurts and Breathing Underwater are both great, while Gardens and Lonely also hit a sweet spot.
24. Emotion Side B – Carly Rae Jepsen
Emotion was OBVIOUSLY a sensational listen, and this too is a right treat: a load of tracks that didn’t make the cut first time around but are still beyond decent. Cry is my personal favourite but Body Language and Fever are also way up there.
23. Joanne – Lady Gaga
It is, in a compared-to-past-work sense, the least “Lady Gaga” of Lady Gaga’s non-jazz albums, but I still was really charmed by Joanne. The title track in particular is really touching, and I didn’t even think Perfect Illusion was the disaster it was made out to be.
22. Night Driver – Busted
I didn’t think I’d be particularly thrilled by the Busted comeback but this album does a really, really great job of slotting them into the 2016 pop scene. New York, Thinking Of You and Without It in particular are outstanding.
21. The Dreaming Room – Laura Mvula
‘Unique’ is a word that gets thrown around far too often in pop, and usually it just means Girl With A Voice Like Diana Vickers, but The Dreaming Room is quite literally unique. Mvula obeys none of the standard pop rules but not to be showy; just to follow her own ~artistic vision~. The Dreaming Room is absolutely not for everybody; I’m sure some people think it makes no sense whatsoever. But I’d take my hat off to it if I was the hat-wearing sort.
20. Choreography – Bright Light Bright Light
To repeat what I thought when BLx2 released an underappreciated major-label album a few years ago: this guy should be huge.
19. Mind of Mine – Zayn
It’s hard to picture any other 1D soloist topping Zayn in terms of quality of output (although I’m sure Harry will give it a damn good go). It may have hit No1 on a quiet sales week but Mind Of Mine is fully deserving of all its success: from the delicacy of It’s You to the adrenaline rush of Like I Would, its only let-down is the daft way all the tRaCk tITLEs aRe fORmaTTeD wITH raNdOm caPPED-up LeTTeRs.
18. Starboy – The Weeknd
Gorgeously produced from start to finish, Starboy is candy to the ears. Secrets, False Alarm and the title track are highlights for me – and if anything, I just wish it had a tiny bit more fun to it.
17. Chaleur Humaine – Christine and the Queens
When I compiled my year-end singles list I knew there was a corker I had completely forgotten. I’ve just realised it was Tilted.
16. Love You To Death – Tegan and Sara
These two are exceptional makers of pop music with a big beating heart at the middle of it, and Love You To Death is a brilliant listen. BWU is my highlight.
15. Mad Love. – JoJo
It’s been a long time coming, this, and it was more than worth the wait. From Vibe to Good Thing to that fucking ACE lead single, Mad Love. is an A-list pop record, and it’s just a shame it didn’t sell like one.
14. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975
A slight whiff of self-indulgence (running time, album title) scupper this slightly, but I liked it 104958294843 times more than I ever expected to.
13. Royal Blues – Dragonette
You’re never going to get a bad album from Dragonette, really, and Royal Blues is another bullseye. Note especially Detonate and the title track.
12. All I Need – Foxes
All the best songs on this stupidly overlooked LP were made singles or teaser singles prior to release (Amazing! Wicked Love! Feet Don’t Fail Me Now! If You Leave Me Now!), leaving only the less memorable moments like Money when the full package was finally put out. At the time, the result was a hint of disappointment – but looking back on the whole collection now, it is really strong; buoyed by the exceptional Body Talk and kept afloat by the likes of Cruel, Better Love and Devil Side.
11. 7/27 – Fifth Harmony
It’s a shame the wheels have come off the Fifth Harmony wagon so spectacularly because they really find their footing on 7/27. It sold a fraction of the amount achieved by its predecessor Reflection in the US but it’s so much more cohesive; bursting with bangers to the point where even the sort-of-ballads (Write On Me, Squeeze, Dope) are sort-of-danceable. Apparently Epic are due to make a decision on whether or not to option a third, Camila-free effort within the next few days, so it’ll be interesting to see where the whole dumpster fire goes from here.
TOP 10 HO!!!
10. Superwoman – Rebecca Ferguson
When R-Fergz released Lady Sings The Blues last year I assumed it was curtains for her originals, but Superwoman is wonderful. It may not be quite as flawless as 2011’s Heaven but it’s still a very special album: from the delicacy of The Way You’re Looking At Her to the wallow-a-long gorgeousness of Pay For It, it’s dripping with genuine human emotion (GHE) and, as ever, Rebecca’s sensational voice gives all of it an extra kick. Mistress needs to be a single ASAP.
09. This Is What The Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani
Tranter and Michaels, TAKE a goddamn BOW. Unspeakable heartache once again makes for golden pop music as Gwen Stefani makes a full solo return ten years after her last album. She’s still as ~spunky as she was in the mid-00s but slightly more vulnerable now, too: Truth, for one, is very sweet, and it would have been great if the brilliant single Used To Love You had made more of an impact.
08. ANTI – Rihanna
Five thousand years in the making, ANTI opens a new chapter for Rihanna; one where the chart-straddling anthems are under her belt and now it’s about treading a new path. Even bearing in mind that Work never really clicked for me, this album is A++ (Love On The Brain, Needed Me, Consideration, Kiss It Better…) – and despite all the max-quality jamzzzz on offer, the highlight is token piano ballad Close To You.
07. Nothing’s Real – Shura
Gosh, so many of the songs on this are incredibly special. The big single, What’s It Gonna Be?, is an obvious must-listen for anyone yet to jump on the wagon, but Kidz ‘n’ Stuff is elegantly beautiful, Indecision brings to mind the last La Roux album and Nothing’s Real could have been released and well-received in any decade since the 1970s. On the one hand, I wish this was enormous and Shura was ending 2016 as one of the country’s biggest artists, but on the other I kinda like that she’s a low-key gem; a special little secret walking the fine line between indie and mainstream.
06. Lady Wood – Tove Lo
Another year, another standout album from Tove Lo. Like Queen Of The Clouds, Lady Wood is split into clearly-defined sections (in this case Part 1 is about the highs of thrill-seeking; Part 2 the lows) – and, like Queen Of The Clouds, there’s euphoria to be found throughout. Highlights: absolute masterpiece single True Disaster, ode to a gut feeling Imaginary Friend, and the Wiz Khalifa-assisted Influence. This album only sold 2,000 copies (UK) on its first week of release – I really hope it finds a bigger audience next year.
05. Red Flag – All Saints
I’m not proud of the fact that back in the mid-00s I was probably more clued-up on the work of Atomic Kitten than the work of All Saints (I know, I know). In the years since, though, I’ve done my catching-up, and it’s such a relief that Red Flag is so slick. It’s not just a treat for anyone who’s ever liked an All Saints record (which in fairness is fucking loads of people anyway); it’s a treat for anyone with any passing interest in pop. Shaznay Lewis’s songwriting is still flawless (she’s credited on 11 of the 12 tracks, with Mel Blatt penning the remainder), the blend of voices still sounds perfect and – unlike much of their 2007 comeback attempt – the music makes sense in the contemporary market whilst staying loyal to the sound that made them big in the first place. Granted, Ratchet Behaviour is a tiny bit shit, but I’ll happily let that one slide.
04. Glory Days – Little Mix
Better than Get Weird and DNA but not quite up there with Salute, Glory Days contains some absolute 10/10s. Nothing Else Matters, No More Sad Songs, Power, Touch and Beep Beep are standouts, with You Gotta Not (fair play to ya, Meghan), Your Love and Private Show also worthy of spots on next year’s tour setlist. Admittedly Oops (featuring Charlie sodding Puth) is way below standard and Nobody Like You isn’t a patch on the girls’ best ballads, but when Glory Days is good, it’s near-fucking-perfect pop music.
03. Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
If the songs weren’t so damn good, the slight lack of cohesion on Dangerous Woman would be an issue: it does seem kinda odd that e.g. Let Me Love You and Greedy are on the same album, let alone directly one after the other on the tracklisting. But really, it’s hard to fault: Touch It! Thinking Bout You! Bad Decisions! Leave Me Lonely! Single of the year Into You! It’s basically great because more-or-less any bop would make a great single, and whilst in an ideal world it would have set the world ablaze a little bit more in terms of enormous smash hits, the fact it hit No1 in the UK and sold upwards of a million copies in the US at least indicates that Ari is starting to get the superstar status she deserves.
02. Glory – Britney Spears
It’s standard practice for artists to describe their current albums as “the best thing they’ve ever done” but when promoting Glory there was the genuine sense that Britney actually meant it. By all accounts, this is the record she’s been most hands-on with, and it shows: lyrically she’s as hungry for the D as she’s ever been been, but this time the songs are better than they have been for a while. Producers have ditched the will.i.am dispensibanger approach of 2013’s Britney Jean and put her right back where she was in her (ahem) glory days: at the front of the trends, rather than catching up with them. From the sensual Invitation to the sweet Man On The Moon and magnificently bonkers Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes), there are enough grade-A songs to make the occasional weaker moments (Private Show, What You Need) forgivable. I mean for fuck’s sake, guys, she even sings a song ENTIRELY IN FRENCH.
01. Lemonade – Beyoncé
I could write pages and pages about this album – its quality, its importance, its context, the sheer artistry of its accompanying film – and I’d never articulate it better than this spot-on piece I read the other day, so just read that instead and know that I agree with every word of it.