The 20 best albums of 2014

Seeing as I did the singles a week-or-so ago, here are the best albums of the year:

fka twigs lp120. FKA Twigs – ‘LP1’

Right, so the thing with the FKA twigs album is that it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before, and it works as a whole ‘album experience’. Which is a polite way of saying: “it’s really fucking weird.” And while I do really like it, it’s one of those albums that I listen to every now and then, enjoy it, but then never listen to single tracks in between. It’s like the time I bought marmite chocolate. I love marmite and I love chocolate. It was obviously completely bizarre, and although I was rather confused, I really enjoy it. That’s pretty much how I feel about ‘LP1’.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Two Weeks’

The Pinkprint19. Nicki Minaj – ‘The Pinkprint’

Much like the FKA twigs album, ‘The Pinkprint’ is a hell of a lot to take in. Mainly because I’ve had days at university  that haven’t lasted as long as this album. But still, I’ve had a week to take this in now and it’s really good. I particularly like ‘The Crying Game’ (what a Nicki Minaj mid-tempo should sound like) and ‘Get On Your Knees’ (what a Nicki Minaj up-tempo should sound like). I know the Iggy comparison is a bit old now, but ‘The Pinkprint’ could do with a couple of ‘Fancy’s’. Equally, ‘The New Classic’ could do with a few (a lot of) ‘The Crying Game’s’ and ‘I Lied’s’.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Bed of Lies’

Nick Jonas

18. Nick Jonas – ‘Nick Jonas’

Whilst I’m writing this, I’m listening to the Tinashe remix of ‘Jealous’ (should be the album version, tbh). The YouTube comments underneath are almost all about Nick ‘doing a Cheryl’ and using the word ‘fucking’ in the chorus. While these commenters are wrong (swearing in choruses is the best), it sums up the album. As solid as it is (‘Dark Horse’-pt-4 ‘Numb’ is my favourite), it’s a ‘Stars Dance’ moment and not a ‘Bangerz’ one. Which is for the best as there wasn’t a demand for a Nick Jonas album in January. Let’s hope the nude latex moment is coming.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Avalanche’

Foxes17. Foxes – ‘Glorious’

Something I love almost as much as a good album is a good cover (ok so maybe a bit more). The Tinashe album has a bad cover. The Foxes album has a very good cover. It’s the kind of cover you’d put on the coffee table so people could see you have taste. Anyway, I like ‘Glorious’ because it sounds like Kylie doing Florence + The Machine. ‘Youth’ still sounds incredible, proving that songs that are one big crescendo are the best (see: ‘Love U More’). ‘Glorious’ and ‘Let Go For Tonight’ are pretty special too.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Glorious’

Lana16. Lana Del Rey – ‘Ultraviolence’

I think this album sounds like sludge. It sounds heavy and it’s not always that easy to get through, but it feels really fulfilling once you’re home and cleaning said sludge off a boot. Still, it feels like a massive step up from ‘Born To Die’, which began to sound a little like a parody by the end of it all. Although it lacks the immediacy of its predecessor, I like that this album sounds like a whole thing. ‘Shades of Cool’ and ‘Brooklyn Baby’ go close to the six-minute mark, but nothing feels unnecessary.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Ultraviolence’

Katy B15. Katy B – ‘Little Red’

One thing that this and ‘Ultraviolence’ have in common is that both campaigns were killed off far too early. I know it’s pretty hard to come back from a #112 smash, but ‘Hot Like Fire’, ‘Emotions’ and ‘Aaliyah’ are undeniable hits. Whilst ‘On a Mission’ does feel a bit more effortless to these ears, I like that this album has more ambition than the first one. By that, I mean that the choruses feel bigger and the whole thing has a pop sensibility.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Emotions’

Sia14. Sia – ‘1000 Forms Of Fear’

2014 was definitely the year of the cut-way-too-short album campaign. Arguably the most criminally cut-short one is ‘1000 Forms of Fear’ by Sia. Admittedly there aren’t that many more hits here, and Sia herself hates being a popstar, but ‘Fire Meets Gasoline’ would have been globe-conquering. I almost wish she gave this album away to someone else because it feels like a bit of a waste. Props to Sia though: the bit on ‘Big Girls Cry’ that sounds like Jojo is incredible.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Fire Meet Gasoline’

Banks13. Banks – ‘Goddess’

I like this Banks album because it’s as weird as the FKA twigs album, but Banks doesn’t need to visit Nik and Eva Speakman with a phobia of big choruses. ‘Beggin’ For Thread’ in particular has a massive chorus, and it sounds equally like a Bond theme and a Rihanna single. The softer moments are just as good though; I had trouble sleeping at around the time this came out and it helped me fall asleep nightly. Which may be why it’s quite low on this list (I overplayed it :().

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Waiting Game’

Kylie12. Kylie – ‘Kiss Me Once’

It’s weird that an album with so few true ‘Kylie moments’ could sound like such a pure Kylie album, but it does. ‘Kiss Me Once’ and ‘Into The Blue’ are the obvious highlights because they sound like the euphoric bits (the best bits) of the last ten years of her career. ‘Feels So Good’ is a nine too, and it’s the only song that is a step forward. It’s a bit by-numbers (I’m not convinced it’s Kylie’s favourite Kylie album), but hey, imagine if the next one sounded like ‘Sleepwalker’.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Kiss Me Once’ (mine, preferably)

Jessie Ware11. Jessie Ware – ‘Tough Love’

The Jessie Ware and Katy B albums are quite similar, aren’t they. Not musically (there are moments on ‘Tough Love’ that would more neatly fit on ‘The Pinkprint’), but both have more of a pop sensibility than their debuts. I don’t think ‘Tough Love’ is as good as ‘Devotion’ (it’s a little MOR in places), but songs like ‘You & I (Forever)’, ‘Pieces’ and ‘Champagne Kisses’ are amongst her best. See also: ‘Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe’, which could pass as an early noughties R&B song (pretty ideal, tbh).

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Pieces’

Lykke Li10. Lykke Li – ‘I Never Learn’

One very good thing about the Lykke Li album is that the album cover looks like the ‘The Fame Monster’ cover, which is one of the best albums of the century. Musically, this album is fucking miserable, to the point where I want to send her a copy of ‘Finest Selection’ so she can cheer up. ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone’ is a highlight; managing to make an acoustic song sound interesting. And obviously ‘Gunshot’, which would work as a Bond theme (if they don’t want ‘Beggin’ For Thread’).

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Gunshot’

Nicole Scherzinger9. Nicole Scherzinger – ‘Big Fat Lie’

Here’s the thing with the ‘Big Fat Lie’: if you change the title to ‘The Girl With A Diamond Heart’ and forget that ‘On The Rocks’ was a single, there’s a really good album here. ‘Big Fat Lie’ (the song) sounds like a call to arms, ‘Electric Blue’ is almost like Janet Jackson 2014 and ‘Run’ is just a good ballad (which should have smashed if Labrinth’s ‘Jealous’ could). Yes, I know there’s no room for shit on an 11-song album (‘Bang’ is quite lethargic), but it feels like a proper album (unlike the last one).

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Run’ (with lasers)

Tove Lo8. Tove Lo – ‘Queen of the Clouds’

If there’s one popstar I’ve written a lot about at university this year, it’s Tove Lo. I feel it’s only fair that I give the lecturers something good, even if what I’ve written it’s a steaming turd. Each time, I’ve written about what a good chorus she can write because her choruses are just the best. The best one on here is ‘Thousand Miles’, which is at Wembley Stadium levels of anthemic. I heart ‘Moments’ too, which sums up insecurity remarkably (the best since ‘Hope There’s Someone‘, tbh).

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Thousand Miles’

Ariana Grande7. Ariana Grande – ‘My Everything’

It’s a rare thing in pop for new artists to get second chances. It’s quite refreshing to be honest that someone saw potential in Ariana and gave her a budget. The four singles all sit somewhere between nine and ten out-of-ten, and ‘One Last Time’ is a ‘crying on the Bakerloo’-version of ‘Euphoria’. My only wish (this year) is that the rest of the songs were slightly better. There’s a ‘Battlefield’-sized moment buried in ‘Why Try’, and ‘Hands On Me’ could have been dirtier. But still, ‘Break Free’.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘My Everything’

La Roux6. La Roux – ‘Trouble In Paradise’

This album reminds me of sweating. By that, I mean sitting in the sun, but still. There’s something very confident about a popstar releasing a nine song album that sounds like it could have been released thirty years ago, but La Roux does it so well. ‘Tropical Chancer’ would have made the perfect counterpart to ‘La Isla Bonita’, for example. The best bit though is when the music cuts out in ‘Let Me Down Gently’, before the glitter canon explodes in your face. Pop perfection.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Let Me Down Gently’

One Direction5. One Direction – ‘Four’

‘Four’ feels, to these ears anyway, the first time that One Direction have made a good album rather than three good singles and a bunch of other stuff to fill out the disc. It’s odd that as the wheels are appearing to come loose on the One Direction machine, they’re getting tighter on the music thing. ‘Night Changes’ aside (it’s my favourite single of there’s now), ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ are particularly excellent, both sounding like the best bits of 1D x10.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Ready To Run’

Cher Lloyd

4. Cher Lloyd – ‘Sorry, I’m Late’

I wrote about why this album is so good back in July. All of that still stands, but here are some other things: ‘Bind Your Love’ is Gwen Stefani’s ‘Baby Don’t Lie’ but very good, the album could do with a massive song that radio would have had to play, ‘Alone With Me’ is a real ‘Ok, Cher Lloyd gets it’ moment. Although this album is stadium-sized (and sometimes pop doesn’t need to be), it only spent one week in the UK Top 100, which is a really pop travesty.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Human’

Tinashe3. Tinashe – ‘Aquarius’

The cover to the left is so much nicer than the real one, right? I’ve spoken about pop sensibility a lot, but Tinashe just gets pop. Yes there are some more leftfield moments (the promo video is some weird shit), but they’re balanced out with really good songs. The flute breakdown on ‘All Hands On Deck’ could be quite jarring, but Tinashe somehow carries it off. ‘How Many Times’ would be a stellar slag banger too, if they swapped Future’s sex noises for Nick Jonas. She should be the biggest popstar rn, tbh.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Wildfire’

Charli XCX2. Charli XCX – ‘Sucker’

Maybe I should have waited; I mean this isn’t out here until January. But solid gold (coins) shouldn’t be sat on, right? Zane Lowe did a re-imagining of the ‘Drive’ soundtrack this year, but ‘Sucker’ sounds like a re-imagining of the ‘Clueless’ soundtrack. Take ‘Need Ur Luv’: the sweet, almost motown-like quality would work during the wedding bit. Or the 10/10 ‘Famous’, which would soundtrack the party perfectly. The bit where she realises she’s in love with Paul Rudd (who isn’t): ‘Caught In The Middle’.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘Need Ur Luv’

Taylor

1. Taylor Swift – ‘1989’

I’m going to tell you a story.

During the ‘Red’ promo tour, Taylor Swift is in the back of an Uber. These were the dark days before the Spotify link-up, so Taylor is having to listen to the radio. The driver is listening to Radio 2. Sara Cox is on. “And here’s the new one from Taylor Swift,” she says. ‘Everything Has Changed’ plays.

“Do you mind if I turn over,” the driver asks, not realising who he is driving.

“That’s fine,” Taylor says.

“Thanks, hun.”

The driver switches over to Heart. It’s ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ o’clock.

“Banger,” the driver says.

It was at that moment Taylor Swift decided not to be MOR and chose to write a fucking amazing pop album.

Ok so that story was completely fictitious, but something happened between ‘Red’ and ‘1989’, and Taylor Swift decided to be incredible. There’s a line in ‘Welcome To New York’ where Taylor sings about “searching for a sound we haven’t heard before.” That’s what ‘1989’ is, despite the obvious 80s references, it sounds fresh and unlike anything in the charts right now.

Which is in part thanks to Max Martin, who is the best pop producer of all time. But it’s also down to Taylor, who is so good at writing hooks that it’s almost unfair on everyone else that she is a popstar. Take ‘Style’, which will almost certainly be the best single of 2015. It’s so simple, yet so well written that it sounds like an instant classic.

There isn’t a song on the album that doesn’t work, nor is there anything below a nine. Even ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘How You Get The Girl’, which are both there for the sake of being singles, make perfect sense in the context of the album.

There was a period a few months ago when I was thinking about a different career. There weren’t many exciting popstars, and I wasn’t sure whether I could make a career solely writing about Ariana Grande. However, this album got me excited about pop again. So thanks Taylor.

Nicki Minaj may have called her album ‘The Pinkprint’, but ‘1989’ is what every pop album should sound like.

Which song would be the best X Factor winner’s single?: ‘I Know Places’

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