Sunday, January 8, 2012

The 50 Best Albums Of 2011

These lists drive me crazy. Since Christmas I've been frantically revisiting my favourite albums from 2011, trying to put them in some kind of order. The actual rankings are largely irrelevant. I love all of these, although I love the top 20 a tad more. Some of you will no doubt wonder where acts like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are. Firstly, I'd like to direct you to the name of this blog. Secondly, I find it incredibly pretentious to include artists I haven't featured throughout the year. Like certain shady fuckers I could mention. Anyway, here are my top 50 predominantly pop albums of 2011. Let me know what you think in the comments!

50. Femme Fatale - Britney Spears (US)

Must hear: "Til The World Ends", "Trip To My Heart" and "Criminal".

In 2011 Britney transformed into the world's first virtual pop star. The 30-year-old has never been particularly involved in her music but the people around her always did a good job of choosing songs that at least seemed to have a personal connection - be it young love ("Sometimes"), loneliness ("Everytime") or media harassment ("Piece Of Me"). This time around, they don't even bother. "Femme Fatale" is a disturbingly impersonal experience but there's no denying the quality of the songs. The Ke$ha-penned "Til The World Ends" stands toe-to-toe with the best of Brit's back catalogue, "I Wanna Go" boasts one of the year's catchiest hooks and the underperforming "Criminal" is something of a guilty pleasure if you ignore the vomit-inducing video. What you're left with is an eerily detached but ultimately accomplished pop album that has nothing to do with the person who allegedly recorded it.

49. Alexander - Alexander (US)

Must hear: "Awake My Body", "Bad Bad Love" and "Truth".

Alexander is better known as the man behind Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Their 2009 opus "Up From Below" is a huge favourite of mine and I was excited about this solo project. As it turns out, "Alexander" is something of companion piece to the band's last offering. It explores similar sounds and themes but doesn't quite match the psychedelic highs of that gem. Not that it's a total waste. The kooky songwriter's sun-drenched songs of love and loss are magical in their own right. This musical equivalent of watching a '70s road movie on acid.

48. Saxobeats - Alexandra Stan (Romania)

Must hear: "Get Back (ASAP)", "Mr Saxobeat" and "Show Me The Way".

I love this hot Romanian tranny and her dated saxobeats! Inna could never.

47. The Great Impression - Sparkadia (Australia)

Must hear: "Talking Like I'm Falling Down Stairs", "China" and "Mary".

While a much-deserved commercial breakthrough continues to elude Sparkadia, they won a lot of new fans with their excellent sophomore set. I think the band's problem is that they are essentially genreless. Their brand of darkly beautiful soft-rock/pop (for want of a better description) isn't exactly typical radio fodder but I can't get enough of it. From The Cure meets Hurts synth-adventure of "Talking Like I'm Falling Down Stairs" to the gloriously morose "China", Sparkadia has earned their spot at the forefront of Australian pop.

46. Oh Land - Oh Land (Denmark)

Must hear: "Sun Of A Gun", "White Nights" and "We Turn It Up".

My only problem with Oh Land's icily beautiful self-titled album is that it took five or six listens to fully appreciate. While I respect the subtle production and experimental flourishes, the Danish diva's less-is-more approach to pop demands a level of attention I would never usually show a new artist. And I really would have hated to miss out on the Oh Land experience. She somehow manages to walk the line between Robyn's commercial electro-pop and Lykke Li's depressed art-pop. The result is dreamy and magical. Start with singles "White Nights" and "Sun Of A Gun" before wading into the slightly muddier waters of "Lean" and "Break The Chain".

45. Too Cool To Care - New Boyz (US)

Must hear: "Better With The Lights Off", "Backseat" and "Meet My Mom".

I probably should be embarrassed to like this album as much as I do. New Boyz are the rap equivalent of LMFAO - a tongue-in-cheek duo, who appeal to the lowest common denominator with their unashamedly low-rent tunes about clubbing and fucking. But I'm on board as long as they keep churning out killer jams like "Better With The Lights Off" - Chris Brown's best song in years - and "Backseat" (Dev's finest feature of 2011). To get some idea of the Boyz's surprising versatility, check out the light-hearted "Meet My Mom" and gritty Sabi-assisted "Tough Kids". It's no "Watch The Throne" but I like it!

44. From Here To Anywhere - Sneaky Sound System (Australia)

Must hear: "Big", "I'm Not Leaving" and "The Colours".

For a master-class in pulling together a cohesive electro-pop album that manages to explore a variety of sub-genres without ever straying from its core concept, look no further than "From Here To Anywhere". There's not a bad song on this. It's just a shame that with the obvious exception of "Big", which should have been bifger than "Party Rock Anthem", and the poptastic "I'm Not Leaving", there aren't a lot of singles to choose from. I'm not even going to comment on "Really Want To See You Again" going to radio. What the fuck?

43. To The Horses - Lanie Lane (Australia)

Must hear: "That's What You Get", "What Do I Do" and "What Trouble Is".

I like to listen to Lanie's critically acclaimed debut when I'm stoned. There's not much else to say.

42. Unreleased - Nicole Holness (Canada)

Must hear: "Epic", "Pop Yo Bottles" and "Still The One".

I almost passed out when I saw "Unreleased" in Canadian record store earlier this year. Lead single "Epic" came to my attention on the Pop Panel way back in 2009 and means a lot to me for a lot of different reasons. I thought Nicole - an MTV host, as far as I can tell - was a one- or no-hit wonder, who dropped off the face of the earth after revolutionising pop music with the aforementioned synth-ballad but she finally got around to releasing an album in 2011 and it was worth the wait. The whole affair is let down by sub-standard production but the pride of Canada has a surprisingly warm voice and puts her own spin on slutty club-bangers ("Pop Yo Bottles" and "Watch Me") and pretty slow jams ("Still The One" and "Come Find Me"). I would love to see what Nicole could deliver with different collaborators but until then I'm going to cherish this underappreciated gem.

41. Nothing But The Beat - David Guetta (France)

Must hear: "Night Of Your Life", "Titanium" and "Repeat".

David Guetta makes me queasy but "Nothing But The Beat" is already a veritable greatest hits compilation. "Titanium" is easily the best song the French DJ has ever produced. "Without You" is Usher's best song in a decade. "Little Bad Girl" is more of the same from Taio Cruz but I'm not complaining. The scary thing is that there are at least two more killer singles waiting for release. Jessie J's "Repeat" is better than anything on her own album and Jennifer Hudson delivers a monster vocal on the divalicious "Night Of Your Life". I have a feeling this will date less gracefully than Madonna but for now it's a strikingly good snapshot of where dance music is at circa 2011.

40. En Vivo Desde Paris - Shakira (Colombia)

Must hear: "Hips Don't Lie", "Je L'aime A Mourir" and "Sale El Sol".

Missing out on Shakira's "Sun Comes Out" tour is one of my biggest regrets of 2011. Particularly after hearing this electric live recording of her Paris show. The Colombian superstar performs all the hits from her latest album as well as reviving old classics like "Whenever Wherever" and "Underneath Your Clothes". Other highlights include new French single "Je L'aime A Mourir" and finally hearing "Waka Waka" live. I love that the concert hasn't been doctored to sound better on record. This is raw and a little rough in places, which makes it all the more exciting to hear.

39. Two - Lenka (Australia)

Must hear: "Heart Skips A Beat", "You Will Be Mine" and "Everything's OK".

After making huge international waves with "The Show", Lenka was singled out by many as Australia's next big thing. Unfortunately for the pop veteran, her sophomore album sank without a trace. Which is rather shit because it's a big improvement on debut. The highlights come from super-producer Guy Sigsworth (Britney, Robyn and Madonna), who tries to direct the quirky diva towards a more commercial sound. "You Will Be Mine" is one of the year's best electro-pop songs, while "Heart Skips A Beat" is only slightly too understated for mainstream success. If you miss the relentless sunniness of "The Show", then check out "Everything's OK". It pretty much picks up where her breakout hit left off.

38. Pennies In A Jar - Nikki Jean (US)

Must hear: "What's A Girl Supposed To Do", "Rockaway" and "Mercy Of Love".

Remember when Nikki Jean was hailed as the next big thing? No? Don't worry, you're in the majority. Needless to say, things didn't really work out for soul singer, which is a shame because "Pennies In A Jar" is a quirky gem. A concept album of sorts, Nikki's debut had the plucky songbird travelling across America to work with legendary songwriters like Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jeff Barry, Carly Simon and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. If those names mean anything to you, chances are you'll love this Motown-inspired collection of sweet soul tunes. If not - then cut your losses and move on.

37. Victorious - Soundtrack (US)

Must hear: "Beggin' On Your Knees", "Best Friend's Brother" and "All I Want Is Everything".

Selena Gomez had better watch her back because Victoria Justice is coming for her wig! The 18-year-old Nickelodeon starlet's second soundtrack album is surprisingly strong thanks to contributions from Max Martin and Shellback. "Beggin' On Your Knees" is the best thing the super-Swede has written for a non A-Lister, while tracks like "Best Friend's Brother" and "You're The Reason" wouldn't sound out of place on an early Miley Cyrus album - a huge compliment indeed!

36. Take Care - Drake (Canada)

Must hear: "Doing It Wrong", "Look What You've Done" and "Hyfr (Hell Ya Fucking Right)".

Drizzy is the best thing to happen to hip-hop since Khia! I don't know what I expected from "Take Care" but it wasn't this surprisingly frank batch of songs that intimately document Drake's rise to and subsequent struggle with fame. There are tracks about family support ("Look What You've Done"), groupies ("Hyfr") and failed relationships ("Doing It Wrong"). Hell, the Canadian even manages to make Nicki Minaj sound good on "Make Me Proud"! Great stuff.

35. Ayer Y Hoy - Ninel Conde (Mexico)

Must hear: "Vivir Así Es Morir De Amor", "Chica Material (Material Girl)" and "Venus".

Mexican pop goddess Ninel delivered one of 2011's campest albums with her fabulous collection of '70s and '80s cover versions. The production is a bit rough in places but you haven't lived until you hear the diva's interpretations of "Venus", "Material Girl" and "Gloria" en español. Think of this as the Latin equivalent of Marcia Hines' legendary "Discotheque" album. Yes, it's that amazing!

34. Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? - Cosmo Jarvis (UK)

Must hear: "Gay Pirates", "Blame It On Me" and "She Doesn't Mind".

I love Cosmo. The very heterosexual 22-year-old not only crafted the year's best gay anthem in the form of "Gay Pirates" but also managed to cover Kylie and share a beer with me at his industry showcase in Neutral Bay. Unfortunately, the Englishman's sophomore set drew mixed reviews - many critics had issues with his eclectic style and rapping - but I love that "Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange?" is a jarring melting pot of different genres and sounds. It's not a complete mess. There is an overarching theme (disenchantment and disillusionment) and Mr Jarvis knows how to knock out a memorable lyric better than most. Expect album number three to be an absolute corker.

33. Love CPR - September (Sweden)

Must hear: "Microphone", "Party In My Head" and "Resuscitate Me".

Petra continues to rule the Scandipop landscape with her tried and tested brand of upbeat pop. And while "Love CPR" doesn't quite hit the same heights as "Dancing Shoes" or "In Orbit", it's still better than anything else made in Sweden this year.

32. Love? - Jennifer Lopez (US)

Must hear: "Papi", "I'm Into You" and "Starting Over".

"Love?" is such a frustrating album. One the one hand it's an unforgivably lazy mess that mixes ancient demos with bottom of the barrel contributions from usually reliable producers. On the other, it delivers the odd hit of top-notch pop and serves as a reminder that Jennifer Lopez was an incredibly fun pop star in her hey-day. Highlights include mega-hit "On The Floor", the generic but frankly amazing "I'm Into You", "Papi" and the Wynter Gordon-penned mid-tempo ballad "Starting Over". It's not a perfect album by any means but I hope Jenny's comeback has done well enough to prompt a swift follow-up.

31. Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor - Caro Emerald (Netherlands)

Must hear: "Back It Up", "That Man" and "Stuck".

The Caro Emerald phenomenon hasn't reached Australia yet but the Dutch diva has already conquered Germany and England with her snappy jazz tunes. My first taste of "Deleted Scenes" was the swing-tastic "Back It Up" and while nothing else matches the commercial appeal of that killer anthem, the rest of Caro's debut is a classy delight. If people still threw dinner parties, this would be the perfect soundtrack.

30. Nightshades - Cobra Starship (US)

Must hear: "Disaster Boy", "Fool Like Me" and "Anything For Love".

This ranks as the year's biggest surprise for me. I've never been a particularly big fan of Cobra Starship and pretty much hated the album's generic lead single. So imagine my shock when I heard the rest of "Nightshades" and fell head-over-heels in love. There's so much going on here. From the New Order tribute otherwise known as "Anthing For Love" to the sublime retro-stylings of "Fool Like Me", the band's fourth offering is an almost flawless display. If you don't believe me, check out "Disaster Boy". This is the kind of nuclear-powered pop that Alphabeat briefly teased us with before becoming shit.

29. Brava! - Paulina Rubio (Mexico)

Must hear: "Me Gustas Tanto", "Heat Of The Night" and "All Around The World".

Paulina Rubio gets the RedOne songs J.Lo and Kat DeLuna rejected on her latest bi-lingual pop opus. That might sound like a diss but the Swedish super-producer always saves his best material for the Latin ladies and this is no exception. The rest of the album sounds a bit dated in comparison but fans of the Mexican diva will find a lot to love.

28. Selection - Ami Suzuki (Japan)

Must hear: "Love The Island", "Free Free" and "Delightful".

Japanese pop queen Ami Suzuki finally deigned to release a greatest hits package this year. I'm still crying and shaking!

27. Chief - Eric Church (US)

Must hear: "Springsteen", "Drink In My Hand" and "Hungover & Hard Up".

Ok, I admit it. I only bought this CD for the cover! But happily, Eric's testosterone-soaked country-rock anthems - about getting drunk and chasing women - are almost as hot as his face.

26. Gloria - Goria Trevi (Mexico)

Must hear: "Fuego Con Fuego", "Sobrenatural" and "La Noche".

The best Mexican pop album of 2011.

25. El Camino - The Black Keys (US)

Must hear: "Lonely Boy", "Gold On The Ceiling" and "Run Right Back".

I'm not going to pretend I'm a Black Keys fan from way back. I can usually take or leave them but "El Camino" has wormed its way under my skin mainly due to the fact that one of my best friend's has been playing it non-stop in her car since the day of release. While nothing has else the pop appeal of the awesome "Lonely Boy", I recommend checking out "Gold On The Ceiling" and "Run Right Back" for similar rootsy goodness. A total grower.

24. I Remember Me - Jennifer Hudson (US)

Must hear: "Where You At", "Gone" and "Everybody Needs Love".

"I Remember Me" is probably how "4" would have turned out if Beyoncé settled for generic mainstream producers and was half as talented. That sounds like a whopping insult but even the poor man's equivalent of King B's genre-defining masterpiece is a very good thing. I love that Jennifer serves up some old school soul with "Where You At" and "I Got This" as well as unexpectedly throwing in some disco in the form of the epic "Everybody Needs Love" and even going gospel on "Believe". The album is less successful when Jen tries to sound current ("I remember Me" and "Angel") and falls particularly flat with mid-tempo R&B dirge like "Don't Look Down" and "Still Here". The album's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I like it. A lot.

23. Zoë - Zoë Badwi (Australia)

Must hear: "Freefallin'", "Relapse" and "One Step Behind".

Zoë Badwi flew the flag for homegrown dance music in 2011, pulling together twelve classy floorfillers on her hugely enjoyable debut. While "Freefallin'" towers above the other tracks in terms of commercial appeal, clubbers will find a lot to love on "Zoë". The Hi-NRG explosion that is "Relapse" pushes all my trashy buttons, while "One Step Behind" finds the diva in an unusually demented mood. At one point a re-release was in the works and I really hope that's still happening. This gem deserves a bigger audience.

22. Make A Scene - Sophie Ellis-Bextor (UK)

Must hear: "Starlight", "Cut Straight To The Heart" and "Bittersweet".

The depressing state of Sophie Ellis-Bextor's career is one of the world's great mysteries. This woman should be bigger than Madonna. Instead, she's been reduced to releasing Russia-only albums. What the fuck? On the bright side, "Make A Scene" is a typically flawless collection of understated pop gems that stands out as the second best album of SEB's career - just behind the criminally underrated "Shoot From The Hip". From the gorgeous "Bittersweet" to the synth-drenched, Sally Shapiro-pop of "Starlight", this is solid as a rock. Maybe it's time for Sophie to lower her standards and call RedOne. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

21. Watch The Throne - Jay-Z & Kanye West (US)

Must hear: "H.A.M.", "Lift Off" and "Made In America".

I'm going to be honest. I probably wouldn't have even bnthered listening to "Watch The Throne" if Beyoncé hadn't lent her exquisite vocals to "Lift Off". The quality of that trippy track peaked my interest and I was blown away by the album's raw ambition and seamless blend of featured artists and obscure samples. While I find it difficult to identify with the full-throttle rap of "Niggas In Paris" or "H.A.M.", I can appreciate the dizzying skill on display but the album really works for me when it veers into pop territory on killer tracks like the aforementioned "Lift Off", Mr Hudson-assisted "Why I Love You" and the beautiful "Made In America". Somehow it actually lives up to the hype.

20. Young Foolish Happy - Pixie Lott (UK)

Must hear: "You Win", "Birthday" and "All About Tonight".

Leave Pixie alone! The glamorous English songbird has become the most hated woman in pop (after Jessie J) - a situation I find completely baffling. She's pretty, has a good voice and doesn't pretend to be bisexual to sell records! Anyway, the haters can choke on the musical brilliance of her stunning sophomore album. Lead single "All About Tonight" is a dazzling floorfiller but it's not indicative of the rest of the album, which finds Ms Lott mostly in mid-tempo, retro-mode. That sounds vile but the material is consistently excellent. "You Win" is a swoon-worthy ballad, "Kiss The Stars" is upbeat pop at its cutest and "We Just Go On" is a genuinely touching break-up anthem. Admittedly, there are some fails - misguided second single "What Do You Take Me For?" and downright dire "Nobody Does It Better" - but this is a massive step in the right direction. I just hope they start choosing better singles before this ends up in the bargain bin next to "Talk That Talk".

19. Tell Me - Jessica Lea Mayfield (US)

Must hear: "Our Hearts Are Wrong", "I'll Be The One That You Want Someday" and "Blue Skies Again".

Jessica Lea Mayfield is my favourite clinically depressed singer-songwriter. Her debut made all the right people take notice but "Tell Me" is on another level entirely. There isn't a dud track on this brutally honest collection of ominous poems loosely set to music by Black Keys' frontman Dan Auerbach. The talented 's bleak opinion of love and relationships comes to the fore on such downbeat fare as "I'll Be The One That You Want Someday", "Nervous Lonely Night" and "Run Myself Into The Ground". A dark and moody treat for fans of morose alt-country.

18. No Boys Allowed - Keri Hilson (US)

Must hear: "All The Boys", "Lose Control" and "Beautiful Mistake".

I'm so embarrassed. I bought a Keri Hilson album and I (really) liked it! This bird-brained diva is the Jessie J of R&B - talented but delusional and completely unaware of her lowly position in the musical hierachy. Be that as it may, "No Boys Allowed" is all killer no filler. Strippers will be working that pole to sexy club-bangers like "Gimme What I Want" and "Drippin'" for years to come, while Miskeried unexpectedly shows her softer side on pretty ballads like "All The Boys" and "Hustler". Perhaps the biggest surprise is the pure-pop of "Beautiful Mistake" and "Fearless". Hell, the album even includes the trashy German remix of her international smash "I Like"! There really is a lot to love about "No Boys Allowed". If Skeri would just shut her mouth and sing, she might not be a complete joke. 2011's ultimate guilty pleasure.

17. With The Music I Die - Wynter Gordon (US)

Must hear: "Still Getting Younger", "Til Death" and "Buy My Love".

Wynter took Australia by storm last summer with her triple platinum smash "Dirty Talk" and kept the momentum going with "Til Death". Things seem to have died down a bit for her since then - I blame that hideous duet with Marvin Priest - but there's no denying that "With The Music I Die" is one of the most accomplished dance-pop albums of the year. Apart from the stellar singles, "Still Getting Younger" is an absolute triumph and "Rumba" single-handedly made Ace Of Base relevant again. There are a couple of songs that haven't held up particularly well ("Drunk On Your Love" and "Don't Stop Me") but this demands a re-release, even if Neon Records just tack on some of her fabulous leaked demos. "Wonderland" and "I Like Your Noise" pretty please!

16. My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1) - Mary J. Blige (US)

Must hear: "Mr Wrong", "The Living Proof" and "Need Someone".

Releasing a sequel to one of the most influential R&B albums of all time was always going to be a hard ask but the Queen of soul pulls it off. That's not to say that "My Life II" is perfect. I have issues with generic club-bangers like "Feel Inside" and "Next Level". They are clearly beneath a legend like Mary J and let's not even mention that embarrassing cover of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody". The album comes into its own, however, with hot slow jams - "Mr Wrong" and "Someone To Love Me (Naked)" - and killer collaborations with hip-hop royalty like Rick Ross ("Why") and Beyoncé ("Love A Woman"). Even better are the stripped-back ballads. "The Living Proof" is gorgeous, while the almost country-tinged "Need Someone" is easily the best song on the album.

15. Metals - Feist (Canada)

Must hear: "The Bad In Each Other", "How Come You Never Go There" and "Bittersweet Melodies".

"Metals" is a tricky little album. It's not the easiest listening experience but Feist's languid tunes work their way further under your skin with each listen. The Canadian does self-reflection better than anyone and this time around she's really wearing her broken heart on her sleeve. Tracks like "The Bad In Each Other" and "Comfort Me" are the kind of songs Adele will be writing for "29" and "31" - you know, when she's lived a little and has learned to lower her expectations. Feist is touring Australian next month and I can't wait to hear how the songs evolve when she performs them live. Her best album to date.

14. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming - M83 (France)

Must hear: "Midnight City", "Reunion" and "New Map".

M83 is stage name of French electro-pioneer Anthony Gonzalez. He has been churning out amazing synth-drenched gems for over a decade but finally scored a much-deserved commercial breakthrough in 2011 with the glorious "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming". This is the prettiest piece of music released this year. Dappled synths mix with acoustic guitar and piano to create a dreamy sound palette that Air could only dream of. With the exception of the brilliant "Midnight City", there aren't a lot of stand-out tracks. This is one of those old-fashioned albums that demands to be played as a whole. M83's Australian tour can't come quick enough.

13. Here I Am (UK Edition) - Kelly Rowland (US)

Must hear: "Motivation", "Heaven & Earth" and "Turn It Up".

I'm here for Ms Kelly. I really am. Destiny's Child is my favourite musical act of all time and I've remained loyal to the girls - well, except for LeToya and Farrah but those bitter hoes don't deserve it. My point is, Kelly is one of my leading ladies and I was genuinely ecstatic when "Motivation" exploded in America. That song will go down as one of the hottest babymakers of all time and introduced the diva's super-moist vagina to the world. A body part that dominates "Here I Am". There are songs about being fucked in the club, gang-banged and fisted. So if you need a soundtrack to your next orgy - look no further! While I love Kelly in gangsta slut mode, I prefer the classy R&B of "Keep It Between Us" and "Heaven & Earth" (best song on the album). I'm also partial to her amazing dance output ("Forever & A Day" and "What A Feeling"), which makes the UK edition vastly superior to the slow jam-heavy US and Australian editions.

12. Unbroken - Demi Lovato (US)

Must hear: "Unbroken", "Fix A Heart" and "My Love Is Like A Star".

Demi Lovato's third album is a career-defining triumph. I was initially annoyed that the second coming of Madonna turned her back on the edgy rock of her early albums in favour of mainstream pop but I was misguided. The damaged Disney diva has finally found her niche. "Unbroken" effortlessly taps into the 19-year-old's status as the poster girl for teen angst with emotional ballads showcasing her powerful pipes ("Skyscraper" and "Mistake") interspersed among catchy club-bangers ("Unbroken" and "All Night Long"). While the album occasionally sounds like an inferior copy of Nelly Furtado's "Loose", Demi effortlessly makes the transition from teen phenom to bonafide pop star. In fact, the only thing that could possibly make "Unbroken" better is a cover of "The First Cut Is The Deepest".

11. Light After Dark - Claire Maguire (UK)

Must hear: "Burn", "The Last Dance" and "This Is Not The End".

Sounding like Sophie Ellis-Bextor with a pack-a-day habit, Claire Maguire attracted a lot of press early this year with her sublime debut "Light After Dark". If poetic pop served with lashings of wit and melancholy appeals to you, then look no further. I wish this album had done better because the English diva is now talking about recording a rock album. Which makes my head spin. One listen to the grandiose chorus of "The Last Dance" is confirmation enough that Claire has already found her calling.

10. Own The Night - Lady Antebellum (US)

Must hear: "Dancin' Away With My Heart", "Just A Kiss" and "Cold As Stone".

Not since the glory days of Shania Twain has an act walked the line between pop and country with as much grace as Lady Antebellum. This is another ridiculously enjoyable collection of melancholy-soaked odes to lost love and perky pop tunes about new beginnings. Just buy it.

9. Goodbye Lullaby - Avril Lavigne (Canada)

Must hear: "What The Hell", "Wish You Were Here" and "Push".

After taking an extended break from music to make a bad perfume and release a flop clothing line, Avril returned this year with the most personal album of her career. I love "Goodbye Lullaby" but I understand why fans were put off by the mostly acoustic set of songs about the end of her marriage to that douchebag from Sum 41. The power-pop that made her a superstar is all but absent and she replaces her usual angst with confusion and regret. It's all very unexpected but somehow comes together perfectly. Who cares if "Goodbye Lullaby" sold ten copies? Avril had the balls to try something completely different while your fave is still peddling the same old shit. She wins.
8. Torches - Foster The People (US)

Must hear: "Pumped Up Kicks", "I'd Do Anything For You" and "Houdini".

Sounding like a cross between The Killers and MGMT, Foster The People came out of nowhere to become 2011's hottest new band. I fell in love with "Pumped Up Kicks" in LA - it will always remind me of waiting in line at In N Out burger! - but the rest of "Torches" is equally impressive. Particularly the brooding "Helena Beat", quirky "Houdini" and unashamedly romantic "I'd Do Anything For You". There isn't a dud track on this album, which makes it a very rare animal indeed.

7. When The Sun Goes Down - Selena Gomez & The Scene (US)

Must hear: "Bang Bang Bang", "Hit The Lights" and "Like A Love Song".

Selegend emerged from Justin Bieber's shadow in 2011 to hammer the final nail in Hilary Duff's coffin by releasing the year's best American dance-pop album. Aside from housing a flawless collection of future pop classics, "When The Sun Goes Down" also heralds the 19-year-old's transition from TV star to hitmaker. "Who Says" and "Like A Love Song" both went Platinum in the US and the best is yet to come with the amazing La Roux rip-off "Bang Bang Bang" and fabulous excursion into Miley Cyrus-esque pop/rock on "Middle Of Nowhere" and "That's More Like It". This is proof that you don't need a big voice to be a great pop star - just a superstar boyfriend and a bunch of tracks Britney erroneously rejected from "Femme Fatale". Special props for the amazingly incompetent Spanish bonus tracks. "Fantasma De Amor", in particular, makes my life!

6. Inside Out - Kat DeLuna (Dominican Republic)

Must hear: "Push Push", "Dancing Tonight" and "Rock The House".

Since being exiled to Belgium, Kat DeLuna has gone from strength-to-strength artistically. RedOne's muse snatched Rihanna's wig on "Push Push", paved the way for J.Lo's "On The Floor" with the vastly superior "Party O'Clock" and took "Dancing Tonight" all the way to number one. On the Billoard club chart. Amazingly, the rest of the album is just as epic. "All In My Head" and "Rock The House" are full-throttle club classics, while the Dominican diva proves she's just at skilled at balladry by singing the fuck out of "One Foot Out The Door". I guess the Kat's out of the bag - "Inside Out" is the best dance album of 2011! Stay pressed, Lady Gaga.

5. 21 - Adele (UK)

Must hear: "Rolling In The Deep", "Someone Like You" and "Set Fire To The Rain".

There's nothing left to be said about this album. It's a gut-wrenching tour de force that changed the landscape of popular music forever. My problem with Adele is that she's a one trick pony. Nobody does brokenhearted better but can she mix it up and deliver the occasional upbeat track like Amy Winehouse did, for example? I guess we'll just have to wait for "23" to find out.

4. Stronger - Kelly Clarkson (US)

Must hear: "I Love You", "The War Is Over" and "I Forgive You".

I hate "Mr Know It All". I find "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)" slightly embarrassing. I would prefer to listen to Natalie Bassingthwaigthe's two hits on repeat for a week than hear "Einstein" ever again. They are my only complaints about Kelly Clarkson's fifth album. The rest is pretty much perfect. Kelegend is still the Queen of pissed off pop/rock and revisits familiar themes on "I Forgive You" and prematurely leaked gems "Let Me Down" and "Dark Side". Better yet are the tracks that allow the original American Idol to be vulnerable. "Breaking Your Own Heart", "Standing In Front of You" and "The War Is Over" are a revelation. Throw in her record-breaking country duet "Don't You Wanna Stay" and the best song of her career ("I Love You") and you've got one hell of a pop album.

3. Killer Love - Nicole Scherzinger (US)

Must hear: "Trust Me I Lie", "Say Yes" and "Don't Hold Your Breath".

How do you solve a problem like Nicole? She is the complete package as far as looks and talent are concerned and somehow managed to pull together the best mainstream pop album of 2011. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to care. At least outside of the UK. Why? I think it's a twofold problem. Bad single choices and the fact that she takes herself a bit too seriously. After meeting her in LA, I'm convinced Hitzinger is just misunderstood. She is very earnest about her profession but isn't that a good thing? Anyway, that's all beside the point. "Killer Love" is a scarily good pop album. The kind of once-in-a-career opus that Lady Gaga wanted "Born This Way" to be. If you pretend that "Poison" and "Wet" don't exist, this is a near flawless listening experience. "Don't Hold Your Breath" is a modern pop classic, "Right There" was one of the hottest urban jams of 2011, "Say Yes" would have been massive, "You Will Be Loved" is ridiculously beautiful and Nicky even makes Sting bearable on "Power's Out". When you add on the amazing UK bonus tracks, you're left with the unshakeable knowledge that Nicole Scherzinger quietly scalped your faves without breaking a sweat.

2. Starting Over - La Toya Jackson (US)

Must hear: Every track.

Three reasons why this was the second best recording of 2011:

- It's the official soundtrack to La Toya's second New York Times best-selling autobiography.

- The title track is a reworked version of a jingle the Pope of pop used to promote an alcoholic beverage.

- Most of the tracks were recorded in 2002.

Sorry but I have to ask. Could your fave?

1. 4 - Beyoncé (US)

Must hear: The whole thing from beginning to end. Repeatedly until it clicks and you accept Beysus into your heart.

I've already reviewed Beyoncé's game-changing masterpiece, ranted about it incessantly on Twitter and debated its virtues with Cameron Adams at a random pub in Melbourne - so I'll keep this short and sweet. "4" is the best album of 2011 because it had the audacity to turn its back on what's hot now and focus on making music that will stand the test of time. King B and her cannily selected team of experts returned to the roots of R&B to create something innovative yet strangely old-fashioned. Bey wrote what is essentially a love letter to Jay Z with heavy percussion, driving drums and staccato horns, while your fave waited for Dr. Luke to boot his computer. Take a fucking seat.