Wednesday, December 14, 2011

30 Best Album Tracks Of 2011

Is 2011 really almost over? I feel like it flew by at double speed! Anyway, it's time to let my OCD run wild and put together my annual 'best of' lists. I thought I'd begin with something a bit different this year. Listed below are my 30 favourite album tracks - songs that really should have been released as singles but weren't either due to bad timing, lack of interest or sheer stupidity. I shied away from including gems from recently released triumphs like Kelegend's "Stronger" or Mary J's epic "My Life II" because I'm still hopeful my faves will be sent to radio. Instead, I focused on albums that have more or less finished their run or, in some cases, are awaiting a re-release. There's no real science to this, so take it with a grain of salt. Here goes!

30. Starting Over - Jennifer Lopez (Listen)

Album: Love?

The words "uneven mess" spring to mind when I think of Jenny's comeback album but it does harbor a couple of gems. My favourite non-single has to the Wynter Gordon-penned mid-tempo ballad "Starting Over". This is the perfect fit for J.Lo's restricted vocal range and the lyrics bring an unusually adult perspective to the end of a relationship. Kudos to Danja for actually trying to make the song sound like it was recorded after 2007 - unlike the vast majority of the album!

29. What's A Girl Supposed To Do - Nikki Jean (Listen)

Album: Pennies In A Jar

For someone who was briefly hailed as the next big thing, Nikki Jean came and went with little fanfare. It's a shame because her quirky debut is jam-packed with great tunes. Any number of songs could have made this countdown but I keep coming back to "What's A Girl Supposed To Do". This breezy piece of retro-pop perfection was co-written by the legendary Jeff Barry (Ike and Tina's "River Deep, Mountain High" and The Monkees' "I'm A Believer" to name but two) and it's not an embarrassment to his legacy. High praise indeed.

28. Run - Jessica Mauboy (Listen)

Album: Get Em Girls (Re-Release)

J. Malley hooks up with the producer behind Heidi Montag's "Superficial" album. Lightning strikes twice.

27. Trip To Your Heart - Britney Spears (Listen)

Album: Femme Fatale

With the exception of the heinous "Hold It Against Me", Britney got the singles right this time. The rest of the album is as vacant as the heavily-medicated diva's stare but I have a soft spot for "Trip To Your Heart". This sounds like a reject from "Oops!... I Did It Again" and I mean that as a compliment. It's nice to hear Brit return to the innocent, bubblegum-pop of her hey day. A late fifth single maybe?

26. I'm Not Leaving - Sneaky Sound System (Not uploaded to YouTube)

Album: From Here To Anywhere

I love Sneaky's new album. It's a master class in constructing a cohesive electro-pop opus but - apart from the exquisite "Big" - there aren't a lot of viable singles. That makes the decision not to release "I'm Not leaving" all the more perplexing. This is the big gay anthem that could set fire to the clubs and actually be played on the radio. Think Whitney meets Kylie for some idea of the track's greatness.

25. You Will Be Mine - Lenka (Listen)

Album: Two

Australia's indie-pop princess embraced synths on her sophomore album. She couldn't give it away with a free copy of "21" but I fully approved of her move towards the dancefloor. Particularly, the icily beautiful "You Will Be Mine". Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Britney and Robyn) knows how to craft a killer pop song and Lenka's quirkiness brings out the best in him. Perhaps the album would have shifted plastic if this was sent to radio instead of the title track. Who knows? It's a chart-topper in my book.

24. Springsteen - Eric Church (Listen)

Album: Chief

Apart from being the sexiest man in music, Eric Church also delivered one of the best albums of 2011. "Chief" is the country equivalent of cock-rock. You know, songs about drinking too much and get getting into trouble with the law. It's great from beginning to end but "Springsteen" stands out as the highlight. Given the snail's pace of country music releases, I'm still hopeful this will be a single. The nostalgic anthem is the crossover track that Eric needs to mix it up with the likes of Lady A and Jason Aldean. I can't recommend this highly enough.

23. Cut Straight To The Heart - Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Listen)

Album: Make A Scene

This delicately crafted synth-ballad reminds me of Sophie's 2003 anthem "Nowhere Without You" - AKA the best single she never released. Unfortunately, history repeated itself and the song is destined to be forgotten by everyone except the handful of desperate MAGs that bought her album. How depressing.

22. Heartbreak Down - P!nk (Listen)

Album: Greatest Hits... So Far!

There was a time when I would cut a bitch for bad-mouthing P!nk. "Try This" ruled my world for most of 2003-2004 and I stayed loyal until she re-released "I'm Not Dead" under the new title of "Funhouse" in 2009. Anyway, my point is that I was pretty much done with Alicia until I heard "Heartbreak Down" on her GH. Butch Walker beats Dr Luke at his own game with his slick production and the lyrics pack a deceptively strong punch. I hear you, sister!

21. The Moon's A Harsh Mistress - Rumer (Not uploaded to YouTube)

Album: Slow (B-Side)

I avoided Rumer for as long as I could but eventually gave in and listened to "Seasons Of My Soul". The English chanteuse sounds eerily similar to Karen Carpenter - so I was basically sold immediately. Any number of tracks should have had Adele-esque success but the balladeer stayed underground. At least in this country. I put it down to the fact that she looks like an extra from Cell Block H. As for "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress" - the B-Side to single "Slow" - Karen is resting her bony arse on a cloud in heaven, listening to this gorgeous cover on repeat.

20. Relapse - Zoë Badwi (Listen)

Album: Zoë

A little birdie told me that "Relapse" is far from Zoë's favourite track on her stunning debut but it pushes my buttons. Sounding like something Sirens could have recorded after putting the finishing touches to their classic Sara-Marie duet, this shot of Hi-NRG pop is more infectious than athlete's foot on a hot summer's day. It's also more radio-friendly than most of the album and would have lent itself to any number of risque video treatments - such as Zoë lounging around in a white latex straight-jacket in a mental asylum. See, I thought of everything!

19. Fuck Him He's A DJ - Ke$ha (Listen)

Album: I Am The Dance Commander + I Command You To Dance: The Remix Album

Everything K$ touches turns to gold - including this three-year-old demo she rescued from the recycle bin on her laptop to pimp out "I Am The Dance Commander". Could your fave?

18. Everybody Needs Love - Jennifer Hudson (Listen)

Album: I Remember Me

Jennifer Hudson's sophomore effort is one of 2011's most perplexing albums. It was bogged down by generic filler and ultimately doomed to failure by some of the craziest single choices in recent memory. BUT the misunderstood opus also boasts flourishes of unmistakable brilliance. Take this sublime Alicia Keys-penned disco anthem. Think of "Everybody Needs Love" as the fabulous sequel to Whitney Houston's "Million Dollar Bill". The song has everything - uplifting lyrics, gargantuan vocals and a funky groove that Loleatta Holloway would have been proud to call her own. Prepare to swoon.

17. Bad Kids - Lady Gaga (Listen)

Album: Born This Way

"Bad Kids" is the kind of music Lady Gaga should be making. It's experimental without sounding like a SNL parody and expertly taps into the near universal theme of teenage alienation. The splashes of '80s rock work surprising well against Fernando Garibay's cute beats and the chorus is something of a triumph. Most of all, I buy this Gaga. I'm sure people hated her at school (probably for being a pretentious cunt), so this track actually feels authentic. A rare commodity on "Born This Way".

16. Mama Hold My Hand - Aloe Blacc (Listen)

Album: Good Things

This is the "Someone Like You" for mama's boys with deep-seated emotional issues. As such, it pretty much destroys me every time I hear it.

15. I Love You - Avril Lavigne (Listen)

Album: Goodbye Lullaby

It boggles the mind that Max Martin and Shellback can churn out a seemingly endless stream of generic radio-hits for Britney but also manage to craft something as simple, pared-back and intrinsically Avril as "I Love You". There's not a bad song on "Goodbye Lullaby" (AKA the "4" of whiny guitar-pop albums) but this is definitely my favourite non-single. It's sweet, honest and just kind of washes over you in a very pleasant way with a minimum of fuss or bother.

14. Miles - Christina Perri (Listen)

Album: Lovestrong

I still can't decide if I love or hate Christina Perri. That stupid blond streak makes me want to slap her and "Jar Of Hearts" is absolutely ridiculous but I loved "Arms" and latched onto this cut from her uneven debut. "Miles" benefits from the guidance of the ever-reliable Greg Kurstin, who reigns in her love of bad metaphors and tendency to ramble. The result is an unusually perky mid-tempo love song with a suitably depressing twist. Please let this be her next single.

13. Dancin' Away With My Heart - Lady Antebellum (Listen)

Album: Own The Night

Country music made a huge impact on my iPod this year, with the all-conquering Lady Antebellum leading the charge. Not since the glory days of Shania Twain has an act walked the fine line between country and pop so effortlessly. I love every song on "Own The Night" but this nostalgic gem makes me melt. It was released as a pre-album promo single but surely a full release beckons? "For me you'll always be 18 and beautiful and dancin' away with my heart". Sigh.

12. Unbroken - Demi Lovato (Listen)

Album: Unbroken

As one third of this generation's holy trio of teen-pop icons (along with Selena and Miley), expectations were high for Demi's post-breakdown comeback. I missed the edgy pop-rock of her earlier albums at first but eventually came around to "Unbroken" and now recognise it as a future classic of "When The Sun Goes Down" proportions. It's hard to pick a favourite but the Leah Haywood-penned title-track definitely stands out as a future hit. This towering synth-pop anthem reminds me of Ricki-Lee's stunning "Raining Diamonds" - only with meaningful lyrics and an even better chorus.

11. Every Rose Has Its Thorn - Miley Cyrus (Listen)

Album: Can't Be Tamed

I know this was released in 2010 but I developed a whole new appreciation for "Can't Be Tamed" after her Australian tour in June. There were a lot of potential singles on that album but her cover of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" could have been massive. This is such an improvement on the original and leads me to believe that a collection of '80s hair-rock anthems should be high on her 'to do' list.

10. All The Boys - Keri Hilson (Listen

Album: No Boys Allowed

How do you solve a problem like Miss Keri Baby? She is an embarrassment to the human race but I can't help but like her music. Take "All The Boys". This is one of the prettiest ballads in recent memory. I love the romantic sentiment and understated production. It's perfectly tailored to Keri's half-octave vocal range and ranks as a career highlight alongside "Knock Me Down" and "I Like".

9. Gone - Jennifer Hudson (Listen)

Album: I Remember Me

J Hud teams up with openly homophobic super-producer Polow Da Don for an epic re-make of Beyoncé's "Halo". There's no excuse for this not being a single. The mid-tempo ballad is irresistible radio fodder that shamelessly yanks at your heartstrings with its emotional lyrics and soaring, synth-drenched chorus. The line "Can you picture yourself getting older dear with someone else?" is particularly devastating. If Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson ballads float your boat then check this out.

8. I Care - Beyoncé (Listen)

Album: 4

Speaking of King B, you didn't think I'd forget the 16-time Grammy winner/most successful artist of the millennium did you? I had to restrain myself from including every track from "4" and focus on the absolute highlights. One of the songs that grew on me more with each listen is the Jeff Bhasker-produced gem "I Care". This is a downright eerie pop song. The subject matter is unusually dark and destructive yet completely relatable. "I know you don't care too much but I still care" howls Bey against ominous beats and the year's quirkiest guitar solo. I feel her pain.

7. Still Getting Younger - Wynter Gordon (Listen)

Album: With The Music I Die

Wynter Gordon teams up with Australian electro-pop band Pnau for one of 2011's best dance anthems. This really is a marriage made in heaven. Winnie channels her inner-Donna Summer, while the producers take inspiration from "Fever"-era Kylie to deliver a knock-out punch. I know this was considered for the album's third single but was overlooked in favour of the admittedly fabulous "Buy My Love". Surely, there's still time for "Still Getting Younger" to have its moment in the sun? Discerning pop fans need this on their iPod.

6. Superman - Taylor Swift (Listen)

Album: Speak Now

"I watch Superman fly away, you got a busy day today" chirps Tay Tay annoyingly in this ridiculous piece of country-pop fluff. Listen, I'm not proud that this stunning bonus-track got lodged in my brain and refused to leave. After all, I have fully-formed boy parts and remember the '90s. But after months of fighting the urge to play this trash on repeat, I finally gave in. And you know what? I'm no longer ashamed. Team Taylor for the win!

5. Say Yes - Nicole Scherzinger (Listen)

Album: Killer Love

How many singles did my best friend Nicole release in 2011? 4 or 5? I've lost count. Most of them were solid choices but there's still no excuse for overlooking "Say Yes" - AKA the best RedOne song not stolen by Lady Gaga in 2011. Everything about this is epic. From the pleading chorus to Hitzinger's soaring vocal, this is top-notch pop and would have been massive.

4. End Of Time - Beyoncé (Listen)

Album: 4

I could, and probably will at some point, write a thesis about Beyoncé's bizarre choice of singles this era. The world just wasn't ready for next-level pop like "Run The World (Girls)", while "Best Thing I Never Had" was a tad too safe by comparison but nothing sticks in my craw like the shocking failure to release "End Of Time". This was the album's big radio hit. A glorious pop anthem with a monster chorus drenched in brass and interesting beeps and bleeps courtesy of Diplo and Switch. I really hope Bey makes a video for this triumphant masterpiece after giving birth to baby Jayoncé - from her vagina because she's really pregnant, haters! - in the same way she knocked out a last-minute clip for "Why Don't You Love Me?" This game-changer deserves to be heard.

3. Hair - Lady Gaga (Listen)

Album: Born This Way

It really pains me to say nice things about Lady Gaga but "Born This Way" was worth the $0.99 for this song alone. "Hair" shits all over rubbish like "Marry The Night" and "Judas". RedOne's best non-Kat DeLuna production of 2011 should have been the lead single, followed by "Edge Of Glory" and then "Bad Kids" or that lame (but secretly amazing) song about unicorns. That would have made this era bearable. But back to "Hair". The craziest thing about this anthem is that people still think it's about follicles. Gaga is clearly using hair as a metaphor for freedom and identity - two themes that make the track both powerful and uplifting.

2. Burn - Clare Maguire (Listen)

Album: Light After Dark

Sounding like Sophie Ellis-Bextor's earthier, chain-smoking cousin, Clare Maguire made a lot of people sit up and take notice with "Light After Dark". Unfortunately none of the singles made a huge splash on the charts, which probably has something to do with the fact that the best song on the album was relegated to bonus track status. "Burn" is - hands down - one of the best pop songs of 2011. It's a beautifully written synth-pop anthem with an unusually wistful chorus that showcases Clare's powerful pipes. I've had this on repeat all year and still love it as much as the first time I heard it. Very highly recommended.

1. Schoolin' Life - Beyoncé (below)

Album: 4

The best album track of 2011 - by quite some margin - is "Schoolin' Life". Bey's educational anthem sums up everything I love about "4". It cleverly mixes influences from pop giants like Prince, Michael Jackson and La Toya to create something completely untamed and original. Which other major pop diva would dare to release a meandering retro-pop tune that hands out life advice against a bed of synths not heard since 1984? It's brave, different and completely uncommercial. Every line is quotable and I love the rich vein of humour that runs through the song. When all is said and done, I don't care that "4" is only the 7th highest selling album of 2011. My fave guided the masses to happiness and fulfilment in five incredibly catchy minutes. Yours had to run around naked in a field, singing generic trash to get a hit. I win. Bye.


16 comments:

John said...

I'm sad. Not because you included LaToya in the same breath with MJ and Prince, but that you thought Own the Night was a solid album. As for your #1, I'm completely on board. That and "Lay Up Under Me" were robbed by not being included on the main CD. While agree about "Springsteen" being a great song, it will never get worked as a crossover. Eric would probably rather go gay than go pop.

The Music Messiah said...

I'm still in total shock that Taylor Swift made this list. My baby certainly grew onto you and today she celebrates her 22nd birthday!

The Queen shall remain on her throne and chirp away on her cake while your faves continue to wash her guest's dishes. Bye.

SilverScreenSlags said...

You forgot La Toya's comeback smash, Starting Over. Love the inclusion of Clare Maguire & Scherzinger, both so underrated.

noelster said...

cheers for including 'fuck him he's a DJ' worth the price of admission ALONE! this could not have been an easy list to compile, but i have no disagreements.

Bruce said...

Great list!! Lots of songs I had never heard of, all of which I will be legally download immediately!

Admit it tho, Mike, this was all concocted just to put "Schoolin' Life" on the top of a list! Which why isn't the song caleld "Schooled in Life" since that's what she sings? And it probably remains unreleased since she advocates NOT getting a school education!

Raising my class and laughing like a muhuh huhhuh!

Cyber said...

Any positive list with Clare Maguire on it gets a star from me! Light After Dark is one of my favourite albums of the year.

Steve said...

Great stuff! Cant wait for best singles and albums!

Anonymous said...

Another hard hitting post, I see? Always giving such eloquent commentary with absolutely no bias.

Too much Gaga for my tastes, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm pleasantly surprised that you included Clare Maguire in the list! Nice to occasionally see some non-trashy class on this blog (not that there's anything wrong with non-classy trash!!!)

Mike said...

Thanks for all the comments and nice to see some Clare fans out there!

Calen said...

Absolutely love Clare Maguire. Her entire album was fantastic. So underrated.

Nicole Scherzinger said...

Funny how Bey clogs up this list... 4 was an album full of ALBUM TRACKS.

Stef-Z said...

'' My fave guided the masses to happiness and fulfilment in five incredibly catchy minutes. Yours had to run around naked in a field, singing generic trash to get a hit. I win. Bye. ''

MIKE, YOU ARE THE KING!! :D

Anonymous said...

Er, "Everybody Needs Love" by Jennifer Hudson wasn't just an album-track...it was a single!

It had Moto Blanco remixes commissioned and everything!

Damien said...

Jessica Mauboy's Run? Seriously, you guys should look up "Like This feat. Iyaz". Its wicked!

Anonymous said...

Poor.