Top 25 albums of 2017

For the last couple of years I’ve #SHUNNED a conventional “Top X albums…” list in favour of a straightforward ranking of each and every one I listened to. I heard 50 in 2017 and started typing out a ranked thing, but honestly this has been such a shrug-worthy year for full-length records that I got bored halfway through and decided to keep it to a condensed Top 25 instead.

These are the albums I’ve stuck at No1 in the past. Some… curious choices, I think you’ll agree:

2010: Lights – Ellie Goulding
2011: 21 – Adele
2012: Electra Heart – Marina and the Diamonds
2013: Salute – Little Mix
2014: 1989 – Taylor Swift
2015: Breathe In Breathe Out – Hilary Duff
2016: Lemonade – Beyonce

Back to 2017, and I’ve put a Spotify playlist at the bottom containing my favourite track from each album, don’t you worry.

Oh and I hit publish on my Top 50 singles list yesterday – you can read that here.

So here we go…

25. Nervous System – Julia Michaels

I toyed with putting a few other albums here instead of Nervous System, just because it’s only a seven-track long “mini-album”, but to be fair it’s a great mission statement from Michaels, and it has more good songs on it than many full-length releases I’ve heard this year ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. If you don’t like the sound of her voice, this won’t change your mind; but while Uh-Huh does flirt quite dangerously with pure irritation, the rest is great. Worst In Me is my favourite, but Make It Up To You and Issues are also well worth a visit.

24. Harry Styles – Harry Styles

When Sign Of The Times came out, I was a bit 😑 – but it makes a lot more sense in the context of this self-titled album, which won’t land Styles on the cover of Q any time soon but is still a commercially bold album with some commendable highs. Two Ghosts is my personal fave.

23. Strange Words and Weird Wars – Marnie

I’d never heard of Marnie before, I just spotted this album on Popjustice’s rolling list of great albums and gave it a spin. Can confirm it is v good, if all a bit samey by the end.

22. Witness – Katy Perry

HERE’S THE THING, RIGHT. I remain convinced that there is a brilliant EP somewhere on Witness. And the singles were all pretty good, right? Roulette is a corker? A messy era, for sure, but one with many more redeeming qualities than I think have been appreciated.

21. Flicker – Niall Horan

I really didn’t expect to like Flicker as much as I did, and that’s even after Slow Hands made me re-evaluate my feelings towards the whole Niall Solo Thing. It’s just a very likeable listen, tbh, and good for him. Anecdote enthusiasts will be pleased to know I had a lovely autumnal walk to this.

20. Glasshouse – Jessie Ware

I worried when Midnight came out that I wouldn’t love this new era, but Glasshouse is reliably good. Alone is the standout for me, but Your Domino is also worth checking out; and generally this is just a very good advert for a lovely long-term relationship.

19. Beautiful Trauma – Pink

This is a great album but it doesn’t hit the bullseye quite as convincingly as Pink has done in the past, ‘imo’. Compared to, for example, The Truth About Love; it just seems to take itself a tiny bit more seriously, and have a bit less fun in the process. But it’s still a keeper: the title track is much better than lead single What About Us, and stuff like Secrets and Whatever You Want also hit the spot.

18. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey

With Lauren Jauregui collaboration Strangers the jewel in its crown, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom more than makes up for that motherfucking inescapable Chainsmokers collaboration last year. Lots to love.

17. Fifth Harmony – Fifth Harmony

Against the odds, this is the embattled group’s most cohesive album yet. It’s just a shame they forgot to put any big hits on it to help, yaknow, sell any copies. Camila’s absence is noticeable but I hope this isn’t the end of the road.

16. Fake Sugar – Beth Ditto

If you’ve slept on Fake Sugar, give it a spin: Ditto is a powerful vocalist and on this debut solo album she’s got a lot of great material to work with. Fun in places, affecting in others, she even leaves U2 rotting on stuff like We Could Run.

15. So Good – Zara Larsson

There seemed to be a lot of disappointment in the air when So Good didn’t quite live up to its name, but I’d still argue that it’s got a lot to offer. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it scores more than it misses: TG4M, Don’t Let Me Be Yours and What They Say all complement the big singles very nicely indeed.

14. Gone Now – Bleachers

Jack Antonoff’s worked wonders for Lorde and Taylor Swift, but he also kept some good stuff back for his own project: Gone Now is a very well produced record that sounds like the soundtrack to a 1980s teen comedy, and honestly the best decision he ever made was to put previous band Fun. on the backburner.

13. From The Outside – Hey Violet

The best way of describing Hey Violet’s output is the fact that they were snapped up by a record label division ~helmed by 5 Seconds of Summer. Peppy pop-rock with a slightly punky edge, it’s rammed with likeable tunes – My Consequence packs one hell of a chorus, and on All We Ever Wanted they even set their sights on the dancefloor.

12. LANY – LANY

I can’t remember who introduced me to LANY but I really like this album. Wistful indie-pop that sounds like it could have been released at any point in the last 30 years, it deserved more than the No90 chart position it got.

11. Number 1 Angel – Charli XCX

Technically a “””mixtape””” (what’s the difference again?) but still great: I don’t think Charli XCX is the everything-turns-to-gold genius she’s often hailed as but this is still a fantastic collection of songs; ILY2, 3AM, Dreamer and Emotional being my favourites.

10. Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa

I’ve only very recently returned to Dua’s album and decided I liked it. It’s taken a while for her to properly click with me as an exciting popstar: for a while she just sounded too ~cool for me to properly invest too much energy in, despite the slick tuneage at her disposal. But her eponymous debut is a winner: it’s waaaaay too long (17 tracks on the deluxe edition!) but there’s plenty to love. On top of the hits there’s Begging, IDGAF and No Goodbyes;  and even the Chris Martin-featuring Homesick is a delight.

09. Reputation – Taylor Swift

I still think 1989 is the best pop album of the decade so far, and even though the wheels have come off Brand Taylor so spectacularly in recent years, I was hopeful that Reputation would deliver more of the good stuff. And it did, but in a different way: I read a great quote that was like (I’m paraphrasing) “1989 and Red made you think, ‘this woman really understands the human experience’. Reputation makes you think, ‘this woman really understands the market’.” So while it IS strong, and it IS still one of my faves of the year, it’s just that little bit less heartfelt than before. But Getaway Car is amazing, King of My Heart and Delicate are real gems, and – once you decide to embrace Taylor’s new direction – the likes of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, …Ready For It and I Did Something Bad are also worthy 8/10s.

08. Ctrl – SZA

Apparently SZA created OVER TWO HUNDRED SONGS for Ctrl, and the 14-track final product is so good that I wouldn’t say no to a Carly Rae-style “Side B” situation in the near future. Ctrl is rooted in R&B but its neo-soul leanings are what give it its edge. Prom is a good introduction for pop fans, but honestly this whole set is more than worth 49 minutes of your time.

07. After Laughter – Paramore

Well I didn’t expect 2017 to end with me being a Paramore fan, but here we are: I loooove After Laughter. It’s an early-year highlight that I forgot a little over the summer, then revisited recently and fell in love with all over again. It’s just really, really good pop-rock; with new wave and synthpop influences that introduce the long-running group to a whole new audience. Hard Times, Fake Happy, Forgiveness, Pool and Grudges are the standouts.

06. Tears on the Dancefloor – Steps

Scared Of The Dark was a spectacular return to form, but what of the album? Could the most surprising full-time comeback stars of 2017 deliver a proper record? DAMN RIGHT THEY COULD. Happy is my personal highlight, and a video showing them going round London at night in secret agent attire solving mysteries would have been amazing, but not to worry. At only ten tracks long, Tears On The Dancefloor doesn’t outstay its welcome – and with more energy, fun and conviction than many of their younger rivals, I’m psyched to see where they go from here.

05. Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

I was nervous for this one. I used to be a properly keen Demi stan a few years ago, but the Confident era was pretty weak and it just didn’t sound like the singer herself was too fussed about reaching for the top anymore. But Tell Me You Love Me is a triumph, and it did take me a couple of listens to properly get my head around it. It’s quite different for her: whereas 2013’s Demi album sounded like a Now! compilation, this is much less hit-chasing, and ultimately more satisfying because of it. Daddy Issues and Sexy Dirty Love are magnificent bangers but the rest is influenced more by R&B than her Capital FM-targeted output of yore: among the highlights, Only Forever is dreamy, Hitchhiker is one of her best love songs to date, and Cry Baby is a stark reminder to never get on her bad side. The vocals are a bit OTT in places, but this is  a massive win for one of pop’s most underappreciated and unfairly mocked talents.

04. Meaning Of Life – Kelly Clarkson

I was interested to see the reaction to Meaning of Life. Among Kelly stans (which, full disclosure, is a group that includes myself), the consensus seemed to be that this was her best full body of work in YEARS; whereas others seemed to like it but not love it. Now I don’t subscribe to the belief that Kelly’s been off her game for a few years, because I thought Piece by Piece was full of great stuff, but Meaning of Life just sounds so good in Kelly’s hands. If some of it sounds a bit Meghan Trainor-y, it’s because it’s the kind of music she wishes she could pull off: Medicine, for example, is fun and commanding in Kelly’s hands, whereas Meghan’s personality-devoid tones would have had me rolling my eyes and grasping for the skip button. Elsewhere Heat is LOTS of fun, Would You Call That Love – produced by Greg Kurstin – is a great track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Piece by Piece or Stronger, and I Don’t Think About You is the big acrobatic ballad that would have gone down a storm on an X Factor results show. 15 years into her career, one of the best singers of our time is only just warming up.

03. Melodrama – Lorde

The Serious Critics’ darling of 2017, Lorde didn’t score as big #numbers with Melodrama as she did with Pure Heroine but this is muuuuch better, if you ask me. Supercut is pure and simply one of my favourite tracks of 2017, and could very possibly have been No1 on my year-end singles list if it hadn’t been kept as an album track. Elsewhere the double-headed Hard Feelings/Loveless is great, Green Light is glorious and Liability is a song many will easily relate to (though if you ask me, I prefer the Reprise).

02. Rainbow – Kesha

Now I did not expect Kesha to pull this out of the bag. Not because I doubted her ability, but because at one point it looked like her legal case against Dr Puke had got so ugly that she may never have been able to release any music again.

But Rainbow arrived, and it’s an absolute riot. When it does touch on the inevitable (as it does in triumphant lead single Praying), it does so in spectacular style. And elsewhere, she’s just back to her fun-loving best – but this time with much more artistic versatility than when she was shackled to Satan himself on her last two records. Collaborators vary from Dolly Parton(!) to Eagles of Death Metal(!!!!), and honestly it’s all superb. She tries on many different subgenre hats, and they all fit. If you’re yet to catch up and unwilling to sit through the whole set, make beelines for Hymn, Praying, Learn To Let Go and Spaceship.

01. About U – MUNA

I was introduced to the music of MUNA back in February when somebody tweeted about how great this album is, and within a month I (the most gig-reluctant music fan on this godforsaken planet) had booked to see them live.

About U is very special –  Katie, Josette and Naomi have crafted a string of pop songs that perfectly capture All The Feelings without ever getting dreary or sounding insincere. I Know A Place, the queer bar anthem, is all the more poignant in this post-Orlando world; Loudspeaker is hands-aloft feel-good euphoria; Winterbreak is bang-on when it comes to on-off love that’s doomed to fail but impossible to resist… honestly I could go through the entire tracklist.

This record didn’t bother the charts at all upon its release but I would ***heavily recommend*** checking it out on Spotify or whatever – the fact the group supported Harry Styles’ recent tour is an encouraging sign that there’s still some behind-the-scenes faith in them scoring wider commercial success, and I’m gagging to hear whatever’s next.

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