Without further ado or much hoopla, here’s Part 1 (of 5) of the AdemWithAnE.com Top 25 albums of 2012. Let’s have a wide-eyed gander at Numbers Twenty-five through to Twenty-one.
25. NICKI MINAJ – PFRR: TR-U
The confusion behind Nicki Minaj’s albums remains one of the year’s most puzzling events in pop music. “Pink Friday” was released as an album in 2010/2011. Then, in the first quarter of 2012, Minaj released another album, full of new songs and no older ones; yet she named the record “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.” Even though the label on the tin would suggest it’s just ‘more of the same’, this was an entirely new record.
Then, just a few short months ago, Minaj once more began riding on the coat tails of her, er, only album, by re-releasing it and tacking on an additional 8 tracks; “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded – The Re-Up.”
The interesting thing about the records she’s released as albums this year is that, between them, there is actually ONE very good album buried deep amongst the two. Roman Reloaded in its original form threw a bunch of hip-hop Minaj with Radio-friendly Minaj; a song like “Starships” motioned her towards “Super Bass” territory commercially, whilst stuff like the psychotic “Roman Holiday”, “I Am Your Leader” and “Beez in The Trap” retained what was left of the ‘Old Nicki’. The fact that the album remains to be around 45-50% filler speaks volumes – but perhaps not as loudly as Minaj feeling obligated to re-release the same record with an additional eight new tracks (all of which range from Incredible to Decent) that really make the filler on the original Reloaded sound like some of the worst disposable trash you’ve heard in a while. Amongst the 31 songs (!!) that span over these two discs, there’s an incredibly solid 13-14 (hell, even 16) track album in here.
And it’s those 15 or so songs that make this album – in all its inceptions – one of the years best. The trick is that you just have to sit there and filter the good stuff out for yourself, because in 2012 it would appear that Minaj’s motto was to throw enough shit at a wall to ensure that something would stick. And a lot of it has; 2012 has been a very successful year for Nicki – this is an ideal approach if Minaj plans on replicating the careers of people like Rihanna, but if she’s looking for longevity and a legacy worth talking about in 10-15 years time then she’s going the absolute wrong way about it.
24. GOSSIP “A Joyful Noise”
It’s been three years between albums and a few solo ventures, but the launch of 2012 saw Gossip teaming up with Xenomania’s Brian Higgins and releasing one of the most exciting records of the year.
The fifth studio album from Gossip (and the first bunch of material from the band since front-woman Beth Ditto’s highly acclaimed solo E.P.) is a much more obvious slice of pop than any of their other long players. Between the massive success of Beth’s solo work with Simian Mobile Disco last year and 2009’s still brilliant (but at times heavily confused) “Music For Men” record which was, until A Joyful Noise, their most forward thinking pop moment to date, Gossip gathered up the necessary smarts and have delivered a proper, unadulterated pop record that is minus any filler. Clocking in at an impressive 11 tracks, lyrically the band are still as envelope-pushing as usual, particularly on the cut-throat “Get A Job” (which comes with the records second best middle-8).
But it’s floorfillers like “Move In The Right Direction” (AMAZINGLY GREAT RIFF ALERT and co-written by Dance Music God Fred Falke) – not only the best Gossip single since “Standing In The Way of Control” but quite possibly better than it – and the raverific throwback of “Get Lost”, which does more in under four minutes with the current wave of 1990’s influence than most have in all of 2012. The constant toying around with obvious Electronic Dance Music influences and the inclusion of Fred Falke – the bands greatest remixer – as a co-writer on this album hopefully shows signs of just exactly where the band (or Ditto as a solo star) are headed in the future.
23. TAYLOR SWIFT “Red”
It’s taken Taylor Squint just under six years and four albums to click with my listening habits. After living and loving through the infinitely better Pop/Country hybrid known as Shania Twain, Swift really had very little to offer that I was interested in, especially as she continued to release predictable tune after predictable tune. The whole drive behind Swift as an artist felt incredibly stale and, at times, embarrassingly forced. Up until “Red”, the music felt incredibly bland and as a pop star, she rarely gave good, engaging on-stage face. So many strikes against her name and yet with the birth of “Red”, Swift not only exceeded my expectations, she made me eat my words. And this is when I really enjoy being proven wrong because Swift came out guns-a-blazing for people like myself – those in the music market not in the slightest bit sold on this somewhat vanilla-seeming pop star – with the brilliance of “Red”, an album virtually full of possible hit singles. Teaming up with Max Martin was a clever trick to implement for this record too, with the Swede delivering by far and away some of Swift’s greatest moments to date.
First single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” threw Taylor directly into the pop sphere and finally showcased that the girl was not only exceptionally talented but actually very likeable, as does another Martin co-write on the record, the flawless “22.” Everything from that insanely good lyric about cooler Indie records, to the life-giving talky-bit over the middle-8, there’s something truly remarkably magical in the construction of the pop songs throughout this record, particularly that first single. “I Knew You Were Trouble” saw Swift take on the (much milder) pop-infested hybrid of the darned Dubstep genre and in turn supplied her with the second best song on the record. The record houses its finest moments within the stunning “Holy Ground”, which is the most accomplished thing I’ve heard this woman do and similar to what I want most of her next album to sound like, as is the hypnotic “State of Grace.” The ballads are nowhere near as unlistenable as her last few have been either; proof that as a songwriter, producer, artist and pop star, Taylor has finally come into her own.
22. BRUNO MARS “Unorthodox Jukebox”
Nobody is more surprised than I that a Bruno Mars album has landed itself in my records of the year list, but when you throw as many ideas as there are on Unorthodox Jukebox – and you can make all of these different ideas work in unison – that is more than enough to end up in this here list.
The genius of first single “Locked Out of Heaven” is a thick, Xerox machining of Sting & The Police’s Greatest Hits, which is a joy in itself when you realise nobody – including Sting and The Police – are making music like that anymore; this undeniable fusion of reggae with pop melodies and rock riffs. But there’s a lot more to Jukebox than just a great Police rip-off (although that being said, “Locked out of Heaven” remains its best track). A surprise production from Diplo on the ace, chaotic and – at times – Michael Jackson-esque “Money Make Her Smile” is hauntingly good, whilst second single “Young Girls” and the Mark Ronson produced “Moonshine” propel Mars into near-legendary status.
Nothing before this album really matters when it comes to assessing Mars as an artist, because on this well thought-out, 10 track long adventure, he does away with whatever misconceptions we’d had thanks to songs from his first album like “Grenade” and has given us the first glimmer in 2012 of real hope for Male-fronted solo pop music in the foreseeable future.
21. DRAGONETTE – Bodyparts
Canada’s Dragonette really came into their own with Bodyparts.
Their previous albums have – for the most part – delivered the listener with excellence but prior to 2012, the band had never managed to release a complete record free-of-flaw. Twelve tracks in length, the bands third long player packs strong punches and plays out as a record full of potential singles. The scenic “Run Run Run” opens the album beautifully; large synths, euphoric and triumphant drumlines with a killer chorus. The record is very current but still manages to have this Dragonette-only sheen over the top of it; the production levels within Body Parts are phenomenal; since their last album “Fixin To Thrill”, it seems the band have learnt a lot when it comes to pop production.
Stuff like “Let It Go” plays out like the kind of thing you’d hear on the next Katy Perry record, “Right Woman” is a club-ready monster-jam and “Untouchable” is this Caribbean-fuelled summer love song with enough perky peaks to make it a truly substantial listen. But the album really belongs to “Lay Low”, “Legs” and haunting album closer “Ghost” (complete with some very interesting and suspicious lyrics), all three of which really help propel the band into a higher league.
If they can’t make it as a global sensation off the back of this album, chances are they never will. Which is a shame because Dragonette happen to be one of the most exciting pop acts around – but hey, they can at least rest assured, should things not turn around for them, they’ve got an incredibly bright future writing for other pop stars. There are songs on this album that would be global #1 hit singles if they were fronted by an act with a bigger profile and unless they get the bug to keep releasing their own albums, it might be a wise investment for them to consider.