Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The 20 Best Albums Of 2008

There's something about the end of the year that brings out my obsessive compulsive streak and I tend to get a bit carried away making lists. They're completely arbitrary and takes ages to write but they are a hell of a lot of fun to look back on. I'm so proud that my best albums of 2006 countdown contained Katie Price, La Toya and Paris Hilton. That's just too fucking low brow - even by my standards! I went a bit upmarket in 2007 but Dannii still managed to feature twice with her cheap trash. This year, there's not a Minogue in sight (*sob*) but lots of trashy Spanish divas and ex-Destiny's Child members. While I think 2008 was a bumper year for great singles, consistently excellent albums were harder to come by. However, these twenty CDs will keep you enthralled from the first track to the very last. I promise!

1. Bring Ya To The Brink - Cyndi Lauper (America, #87 AUS)
1. Sin Miedo - Soraya (Spain, #21 ESP)

The best album of 2008 is a tie between "Bring Ya To The Brink" and "Sin Miedo"! After weeks of changing my mind about the winner, I finally gave up and decided that Cyndi and Soraya had produced equally brilliant albums. In some regards, the albums are actually quite similar. Both divas completely reinvented themselves in 2008 by delivering almost flawless sets of upbeat dance pop gems. Cyndi's album is more eclectic and adventurous, while sexy Soraya serves up a more cohesive record. Both are absolutely superb from beginning to end.

Essential tracks (Cydni) - "Into The Nightlife", "Rain On Me", "Lay Me Down", "Set Your Heart" and "Grab A Hold".
Essential tracks (Soraya) - "Para Ti", "No Siento", "Caminaré", "Piel Contra Piel" and "Ángel Caído".

Read my track by track review of "Bring Ya To The Brink" here.
Read my track by track review of "Sin Miedo" here.

3. Philadelphia Disco Party - Las Supremas De Móstoles
(Spain, Did Not Chart)

You simply haven't lived until you've had a Philadelphia disco party with Las Supremas! These sexy Spanish sirens are pop trash royalty. Their heavily accented Motown cover versions rocked my world and I got the chance to hang out with (and be fondled by one of) them in Madrid. Read about my adventures here. "Philadelphia Disco Party" is the most fun record of 2008. This fabaulous shit is pure musical MDMA. Best of all, you can download it from Aus iTunes.

Essential Tracks - "Sing A Happy Song", "Take Good Care Of Yourself", "Gonna Get Along Without Your Now", "Everlasting Love" and "Dirty Old Man".

Read my review here.

4. All The Way - CC Martini
(Australia, Did Not Chart)

CC Martini is the hottest bitch alive. I'm not just talking about her fire crotch but her attitude. From her wonderfully smutty lyrics to her unique brand of hip hop/pop, CC is always true to herself. "All The Way" was thrown together on a budget of nothing and occasionally you can tell. It's raw and more than a little rough around the edges. The ideas on display, however, are priceless. The album perfectly showcases CC's creativity and charisma. "All The Way" is a snapshot of a woman coming to terms with her immense talent. Hell, who else can claim to have a written a song titled "My Bush Would Make A Better President"?

Essential Tracks - "Double Dutch", "Dirty Thoughts", "I See You", "Everything" and "Be The One".

Read my track by track review here.

5. Bittersweet World - Ashlee Simpson
(America, #41 AUS)

People generally thought I had lost my mind when I started raving about "Bittersweet World" but almost a year later, I still love and play the album all the time. I honestly believe this is the album Madonna wanted for "Hard Candy". Ashlee worked with the same producers (Timbaland and one half of The Neptunes) but while she fed off their talent to create something fresh, fun and surprisingly edgy - Madonna transformed herself into the poor man's Keri Hilson. Go figure. "Bittersweet World" really is a weird and wonderful work. It covers dance, pop, rock and urban genres without ever sounding forced or desperate. Put your pre-conceptions on hold and give Trashlee a go. You might just be surprised.

Essential Tracks - "Boys", "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)", "Invisible", "No Time For Tears" and "Ragdoll".

Read my review here.

6. September - September
(Sweden, AUS Did Not Chart)

September's Australian debut was ironically released the same week that Central Station (her label) folded. Not the most auspicious start to her Oz campaign but there's no denying the poptastic brilliance of "September". This album is basically comprised of the best tracks from Petra's last two albums, "In Orbit" and "Dancing Shoes". It provides a great overview of her recent European career and holds up as a fantastic pop album in its own right. The filler is gone, so you're left with all the hits and best album tracks. Consider this a mini-greatest hits package from one of Sweden's most successful pop stars.

Essential tracks - "Cry For You", "Satellites", "Because I Love You", "Looking For Love" and "Midnight Heartache".

7. 2 - Sneaky Sound System
(Australia, #1 AUS)

Sneaky Sound System's second album is a glorious addition to the ever growing canon of local electropop. I really liked their first album but this is a massive step forward. The annoying urban influence is gone, Connie takes lead vocals on all ten tracks and their songwriting has improved profoundly. My only qualm with this entire project is the abysmal choice of singles. "Kansas City" was an ok, if uninspiring, selection but "When We Were Young" is possibly the worst song on the album. "I Want Everything" (a song that Kylie stupidly rejected for "X") is epic, "Lost In The Future" blows my mind, while "It's Not My Problem" is their finest mid-tempo moment. Hopefully, they'll get it right for the UK release.

Essential tracks - "It's Not My Problem", "I Want Everything", "Lost In The Future" and "Because Of You People Say I'm Crazy".

8. I Am... Sasha Fierce - Beyoncé
(America, #8 AUS)

If I could have creatively re-edited "I Am... Sasha Fierce" according to my own fabulous taste, the album would feature even higher on the list. The two disc approach doesn't really work for me but the great thing about iPods is the ability to make your own playlist - and there really is something for everyone on this album. I love the urban dance tracks ("Radio", "Single Ladies", "Sweet Dreams" etc), a handful of the ballads ("Halo", "Disappear" and "Smash Into You") and even the fierce bonus tracks ("Why Don't You Love Me?" is well worth hunting down). "I Am... Sasha Fierce" is a bit of a mess but it has flashes of real brilliance. This is Beyoncé's first really great album.

Essential tracks - "Halo", "Radio", "If I Were A Boy", "Sweet Dreams" and "Why Don't You Love Me?"

Read my track by track review here.

9. Power Dance - Gloria Arana
(Spain, Did Not Chart)

I don't want to write too much about "Power Dance" because I plan to devote a full post to this hot tranny mess in the near future. From the moment I saw the cover in FNAC, I knew Gloria would be right up my trashy alley and my 6th sense for low brow music proved accurate yet again. I can't even describe Gloria's sound - it would fit under the broad banner of dance music but it varies from Spanish techno to cheesy pop that pays homage to Stock Aitken Waterman. Hell, one song even has a vocodered rap! I really need to research this amazing diva but at the moment I would say she's Spain's answer to Bionda or Linni Meister. Yes, she's THAT classy!

Essential tracks - There are only 7 songs and they're all essential!

10. E=MC² - Mariah Carey
(America, #2 AUS)

I'm so fucking annoyed. I finally migrate to camp Mariah and her career falls apart. Again. "E=MC²" is another fine album that was destroyed by bizarre single choices. Why on earth were "Migrate" and "I'm That Chick" overlooked? Both tracks had the potential to be HUGE. The biggest irony is the fact that "E=MC²" radically improves on "The Emancipation Of Mimi". The production is crisper, the boring slow jams have been kept to a minimum and Mariah reigns in her pipes for most of the album. This is American pop at its best.

Essential tracks - "Migrate", "I'm That Chick", "Thanx 4 Nothin'", "Touch My Body" and "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time".

Read my track by track review here.

11. Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke
(New Zealand, #16 AUS)

There's not much left to say about Ladyhawke. The hype surrounding her debut album has been positively deafening. Thankfully, this is one of the rare occasions when all the praise has been well and truly deserved. I still remember Pip as the lead singer of Sydney band Teenager and it's great to see how far she's come. "Ladyhawke" is a really great pop album. Yes, it's dressed up with some indie flourishes to keep the try hards happy but if you take away Pip's cooler than cool image you're left with a bunch of catchy pop tunes written by Kylie's old collaborators. The amazing Pascal Gabriel ("Your Love" and "Tightrope" on "Fever") is responsible for some of the album's best tracks including "My Delirium", "Magic" and "Dusk Till Dawn". Paul Harris (co-writer of Kylie's "In My Arms") delivers the brilliant "Better Than Sunday", while Greg Kurstin ("Wow") contributes "Professional Suicide". My only criticism is the lack of variety. The sound is a little too uniform and a couple of the tracks bleed into each other. Still, that's a small price to pay for pop gems like "Crazy World".

Essential tracks - "My Delirium", "Crazy World", "Magic", "Better Than Sunday" and "Back Of The Van".

12. The Fame - Lady Gaga
(America, #5 AUS)

Judging by the comments left in my best singles of 2008 post, the Lady Gaga backlash is in full swing. I really don't get it. Sure, she's a bit pretentious but so is Robyn and that doesn't stop everyone fawning over her. Maybe it's the fact that Lady Gaga is actually selling records that gets people riled. I'm convinced if she were Swedish, the same haters would be hailing her as the second coming. Personally, I think Lady Gaga has produced a breathtakingly good dance-pop album. This a genre that doesn't lend itself to a lot of consistency but "The Fame" has no filler. It's jam packed with new ideas, fresh sounds and catchy tunes. Hopefully Lady Gaga's success in Australia (two #1 singles, a top 5 album) will inspire some local divas to follow in her electropop footsteps.

Essential tracks - "Boys Boys Boys", "Just Dance", "Poker Face", "Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" and "Summerboy".

13. Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams - Solange
(America, #9 US)

I really think I should have placed this higher in the list. At its best, "Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams" is better than most of the albums in my top 10. The retrotastic Motown vein that Solange mines in tracks like "Sandcastle Disco", "I Decided", "T.O.N.Y." and "Would've Been The One" is simply superb. They are some of my favourite tracks of 2008. However, for each wonderful musical experiment that Solange pulls off ("Cosmic Journey") - another falls flat ("This Bird"). "Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams" is perhaps a little too audacious for its own good but that's also what makes it brilliant. Solange has taken risks and forged her own path. The album might not have been greeted with the success it deserved but Solange has finally emerged from Beyoncé's shadow. Which I think was the whole point.

Essential tracks - "Sandcastle Disco", "T.O.N.Y.", "I Decided", "Cosmic Journey" and "Would've Been The One".

14. Been Waiting - Jessica Mauboy
(Australia, #16 AUS)

I have to get this off my chest. "Been Waiting" has one of the ugliest covers in Australian music history. Jessica looks like she's just stepped away from the cash register at K-Mart. She's such a gorgeous girl, was it really so hard to put her in a pretty dress and hire a professional to do her hair? That's not even mentioning the hideous font and layout. It looks like a visually impaired 5 year old whipped it up using Microsoft Paint. Sony might have saved some cash on the artwork but they really went all out on the music. As with Ladyhawke's album, there's also a strong Minogue connection on "Been Waiting". Jonas Jeberg ("All I See" and "Like A Drug") contributes the current single "Burn", which was co-written by La Toya's nephew Taj Jackson! Karen Poole also raises her ugly head on "Let Me Be Me". With the exception of those international contributions, "Been Waiting" is very much a local album with a global sound. The title track and "To The Floor" are so very now with their urban dance sound, while the synth heavy ballad "Because" wouldn't be out of place on the US charts. This is a fantastic urban pop album.

Essential Tracks - "To The Floor", "Burn", "Let Me Be Me", "Been Waiting" and "Because".

15. Dolce - Ami Suzuki
(Japan, #26 JAP)

The Japanese Dannii is back! From the moment I first heard "Free Free", I knew Ami Suzuki was the J-Pop diva for me. My girl knows how to belt out a trashy dance anthem and "Dolce", her 6th album, is full of them. High energy gems like "Super Music Maker", "Feel The Beat" and "The Weekend" have earned Ami the title 'Queen of Techno' (She really IS the Japanese Queen of Clubs!) but the album also proves that she's no one trick pony. There are sample heavy electro tracks, a great cover of Aly & AJ's "Potential Break-Up Song", a lovely ballad ("If") and one of the quirkiest examples of 60s retro pop that I've had the pleasure of hearing ("2人はPOP"). I have no idea what that fabulous song is about (or the rest of the album for that matter) but I love it. Ami's poptastic genius crosses language and cultural barriers like no other diva.

Essential tracks - "Free Free", "Potential Break Up Song", "2人はPOP", "新しい日々" and "If".

16. Get Me Home - Jade Macrae
(Australia, Did Not Chart)

Jade Macrae's second album was released to very little fanfare while I was overseas. By that stage "Get Me Home" had been delayed for almost 11 months and more than a year had passed between the first and second singles. Not surprisingly, it completely tanked. It's a shame because "Get Me Home" is a huge improvement on Jade's debut. She has mixed pop, dance and electronic elements into her usual urban sound and when it all comes together properly (as it does on the title track, "Run To You" and "I Wanna Be In Love") this rivals anything released by Beyoncé or Rihanna in 2008. The ballad "Shoulda Loved You More" is particularly stunning. Disappointingly, the album falls down somewhat with the more straightforward R'n'B tracks like "Next To Me" and "You're Gone". They're not bad by any stretch but they sound like Deni Hines circa 1997. As a whole, "Get Me Home" is a rough diamond but it's definitely worth hunting down.

Essential tracks - "Get Me Home", "Run To You", "I Wanna Be In Love", "In The Basement" and "Shoulda Loved You More".

17. Premiere - Edurne
(Spain, #39 ESP)

Edurne is one of my favourite Spanish pop tarts. Her last offering, "Ilusión", was a tight, taut and terrific pop album. "Premiere", on the other hand, is a so bad it's amazing collection of showtunes - sung in Spanish and heavily accented English. This really does constitute a huge step back but I can't help but love it. "Premiere" is like musical crack for trash fans. It's cheap, cheerful and obscenely camp. I just love the song selection. Edurne covers Liza twice in English ("Cabaret" and "All That Jazz"), Olivia Newton-John twice in Spanish ("You're The One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted To You") and delivers a stunning rendition of "Seasons Of Love" from Rent. I'm just disappointed that a Barbra Streisand classic missed out on the Edurne treatment. It's probably for the best. A Spanish version of "Hello Dolly" would have probably thrown me into a trash coma!

Essential tracks - "Sigo Enamorada De Ti", "Seasons Of Love", "All That Jazz", "Tu Seras Para Mi" and "Bella Y Bestia".

18. Unexpected - Michelle Williams
(America, #42 US)

This was perhaps the year's biggest surprise. Even after falling in love with "We Break The Dawn", I ignored Michelle's album assuming it would be rubbish. When I finally did give "Unexpected" a listen, I was blown away. This is one album that more than lives up to its title! I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't a ruthlessly upbeat collection of dance gems with the occasional pretty ballad thrown in for good measure. This sounds a lot like the Sasha Fierce disc on Beyoncé's latest album, which isn't suprising given the fact that both divas employ the same producers. Stargate, Jim Jonsin and Rico Love all make contributions. "Unexpected" lacks the variety of "I Am... Sasha Fierce" or the originality of "Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams" but it's easily disgestible pop at its most entertaining.

Essential tracks - "We Break The Dawn", "Lucky Girl", "Unexpected", "Hello Heartbreak" and "Till The End Of The World".

19. Sexy As Hell - Sarah Connor
(Germany, #3 GER)

I have a soft spot for Germany's Sarah Connor. I love her white trash scandals and bad reality tv shows but her music is decidely hit and miss. When Sarah gets it right ("From Zero To Hero", "Let's Get Back To Bed - Boy!" and "Bounce"), the results can be fabulous. Thankfully, "Sexy As Hell" is something of a return to form after the dire mess that was "Soulicious". It seems Sarah has finally realised that she's not black. There are no duets with dead soul legends (don't ask) or bad interpretations of R'n'B classics. Instead, Sarah has hired Remee & Troelsen - the Danish team behind Monrose's "Hot Summer" and Christine Milton's "Superstar" - to give her a funky new pop sound with an urban twist. They contribute the title track and the amazingly catchy "See You Later", which could be a sequel to Miley Cyrus' "See You Again". My personal favourite is "Beautiful View", which reminds me of Kylie's "Still Standing". The album isn't perfect but this is a masterpiece by Sarah's standards.

Essential tracks - "I Believe In You", "See You Later", "Beautiful View" and "Sexy As Hell".

20. Try To Remember Everything - Bic Runga
(New Zealand, Did Not Chart)

This is the odd album out in this countdown. Firstly, it doesn't really contain any new material (it's a compilation of sorts). Secondly, it's pretty fucking classy stuff. Bic Runga is one of the few highly acclaimed singers that I can stand. There's just something about that exquisite voice that leaves me mesmerised. I've said it before but in a perfect world, this woman would be a household name. "Try To Remember Everything" won't be the album that brings Bic to the masses but it is pure porn for fans. There are beautifully performed live tracks, unreleased gems, a fascinating demo and a new song. This is the perfect album for soothing late night listening.

Essential tracks - "The Daily Grind", "Autumn Leaves (Live)", "Everyone Must Love" and "Strangers Again".


These albums narrowly missed the cut. I highly recommend all of them!

Tarantula - Monica Naranjo
7 Vies - Tina Arena
Fallen Angel - 2 Girlz
It's Hyorish - Lee Hyo Ri
Hurricane - Grace Jones


tommie said...

I would've switched Beyoncé and Solange on that list.

Mike said...

I think Solange had way better singles - "I Decided" and "Sandcastle Disco" are superior to anything on Sasha Fierce but Beyonce's album has more tracks that I really love. It's hard... I do feel my Sol-Angel should be higher :(

tommie said...

Hm, but isn't that more because Beyoncé has SO many tracks though? Also, why no love for ChampagneChroniKnightCap (which is bizarrely added to iTunes as its own single and not a bonus track)?

BTW, did you hear La Toya is doing Celebrity Big Brother UK? I expect weekly PTA updates on her progress!

Jay said...

I'm delighted Bic made the cut - I've yet to track down a copy of her stunning collection of rejects.

I really should buy Gloria Arana next time I am in Spain, but I am not paying €15.95 for 7 tracks...

And one day I will see some Spanish Hip-Hop in this countdown!

*sends some Postcards From Puerto Rico*

Johnny D said...

I can't believe Grace Jones didn't make the cut! This crazy Diva really brought the goods. Try You-Tubing her on later eith Jools Holland - Fantastic in every sense of the word.

Mike said...

Jay - Gloria's album only cost me 6 Euros. That's less than a Euro for each glorious masterpiece! I think it's actually an EP, it was with the singles. As for Bic - I think it's a digital only release.

Johnny - I did include Grace. Check out the also rans at the bottom of the post. I do really, really like 'Hurricane' but it drags in places and is a bit too 'easy listening' for me at times. That said, I am dying to see her when she tours Sydney in a couple of weeks. I think it's going to be amazing!

Aaron said...

I would have picked Soraya as No 1 - but they were both quite good.....

I totally know what you mean with the Obsessive Compulsive streak!

I'm still a bit surprised with your Ashlee love - it's decent but nothing major...

September & 2 are masterpieces! Sasha Fierce is a bit hit and miss - but still rather good.

I was a little underwhelmed by The Fame - but I'm no real hater!

I quite like Been Waiting - can't believe Up/Down wasn't on your list!

I do want to give Unexpected a listen, as well as Sexy As Hell..

Justin said...

Michelle Williams, Solange, Mariah, Sneaky Sound System, Ladyhawke, Ashlee, CC, and Cyndi <33333333

Ro Ro said...

I love GaGa i can't get enough of her! CC is my fave of the year. I still listen to her. I agree with most on ur list except september i just couldn't really get into her.

Stop hating on GaGa!! all u lil haters embrace the Lady.

hugzz mike


Scarlett said...

What a neat variety of albums you chose! :) There are several albums there that I've been meaning to try out, and your thoughts on them have got me up and looking for 'em. :)

consistently excellent albums were harder to come by

I totally agree! So many albums I listened to in 2008 left me feeling... well, blah. Hopefully 2009 will yield some thoroughly excellent albums.