I hope this isn't premature. After all, the magazines have started issuing their picks for albums of the year. Ususally I am a bit later, but this time I wanted to compile and collate all on my own without the outside influence of other...influences. In other words, let me guide you through the waters that were the rough & tumble of the past 12 months, including some of the best pop (and decidedly non-pop) music ever made. Let's just say that a global recession breeds harder-working popstars.
Without further ado, here is your guide:
1) LADY GAGA--The Fame Monster
This may come as a shock, but I really didn't care for LG much until about two months ago. I suddenly came to the realization that she is just about the hardest working woman in showbiz. Then "Bad Romance" leaked--a song that made her international smash "Poker Face" seem like child's play. Nonsensical rhymes, booming drums, buzzing synths, a chorus ABBA could have written, and the best video of the past decade... all came together. The Fame Monster, originally intended as an answer to her debut album, The Fame, was a mere 8 tracks whipped into shape to be sold as bonus tracks for The Fame re-release. Wisely (in America, anyway), Gaga campaigned (aka fought) her record label, liberating The Fame Monster as its own entity (you could still purchase it with the debut for a fraction of the cost). These songs could more than stand on their own...they tell a concise story, devoid of filler, as Gaga puts her best feet forward to show just how far she has come. A 35-minute album may seem short by today's standards, but with the limited attention span of the modern listener, Lady Gaga has single-handedly redefined what an album can be in the 21st century (well, along with Maxwell's new 37-minute offering). If anything, this goes back to the length of early albums from the 50's and 60's, or art-school albums from 70's artists like Kraftwerk and David Bowie, who would sometimes only feature 6-8 songs per album. Even into the 80's, early Madonna records would only feature 8 or 9 songs, Like a Virgin in particular featuring only one song reaching just over the 5-minute mark. Only when the CD was introduced as a format did musicians think they needed to fill out every corner with material nobody really wanted to revisit (yes, I am talking to you Tori & Alanis). Now that downloading seems to have taken hold, the definition of "album" has once again been defined by Lady Gaga, as we now can excise those songs we do not care for from our iPod playlists.
Now, about the music. "Bad Romance" is the biggest sounding record I heard all year. RedOne's production has grown by leaps and bounds, as he was able to bring his year of growth and experience back to camp Gaga as well. The spoken bits are great too--no lyrics about soy lattes aloud. Even the edited version is funny, with "bitch" being replaced by "bit", making me think of bits and bytes, and how Gaga is some kind of computer-generated version of Stefani Germanotta. This was followed by "Alejandro", my favorite non-single single of the year, and definitely a candidate for one. If ever a song screamed Ace of Base (by way of ABBA) meets "La Isla Bonita", this is it. Latin speaking fans will go nuts! "Monster" completes the head-scrambling tri-fecta of the first three songs, all 80's 808's and Lisa Lisa riffs, aided in the chorus by Gaga-speak ("ma-ma-ma-monster"). There's also something very sinister about that Eurythmicized synth-bass--it kills me every time. Speaking of killing, "he ate my heart and then he ate my brain" is a decidedly horrifying yet simultaneously humorous image. Rounding out "Side 1" is "Speechless", a rock ballad that might feel out of place to some, but to me, I feel like I've just heard the first side of my favorite new record, and what an excellent glam-ballad to end it with. Let's not forget the top-notch performance Gaga turns in as well--one could go so far as to say that, throughout The Fame Monster, she has finally found a voice with some character, an affliction suffered by The Fame's more simple, more generic construction. The Fame was pleasant, FMonster grabs you by the throat.
"Side 2" kicks off with the delicious "Dance in the Dark", a morbid, gothic dance-track to set the Twilight fans alight. A spoken-word middle-8 name-checking dead women from Princess Diana to JonBenet Ramsey is startling as well, yet somehow, this song makes you feel good. "Telephone" is already a huge hit on the internets, with Beyonce's bit a fun little addition--not one which would have been missed had it not been there, but still fun. "So Happy I Could Die" is more reflective, and a bit sad, but still has a foot on the dancefloor. The final song, "Teeth", manages to do in 4 minutes what it took Christina Aguilera an entire double album to do--even the vocals are a bit reminiscent of Christina's more melismatic style, albeit with more menace (what is "bad girl meat" anyway?). By the time the album ends, we are left wanting more. When is the last time you could really say that about an album? I'd rather be left wanting more than wanting less.
In conclusion, this is not a passing fad. Germanotta has transformed herself into the persona Gwen Stefani wanted to be, but was afraid to upset her No Doubt fans (funny how "Stefani" is in both of their names). The Fame Monster was far more deserving than a set of bonus tracks, and now Gaga has set the bar quite high to match this for her next release, supposedly coming in the next 12 months. Hopefully she has learned something about what can make a successful album as well. Does the woman ever take a day off? (Her recent admission to Jay Leno that the most disturbing internet rumor she had heard about herself was that she was from Yonkers had me rolling, especially since nobody believes her age (23), or that she's not a man).
2) PET SHOP BOYS--Yes
While this may come as a shock to some, Yes was a great album. A really great album. Containing nine pop songs of varying moods and colors, Pet Shop Boys rarely disappoint these days (maybe Release). "Love, Etc.", "Did You See Me Coming", and "All Around the World" were three of the best singles of the year. Add great album tracks like "Pandemonium", "More Than a Dream", and "The Way It Used to Be", and the album is one strong song followed by another. Matching that was the great visual campaign (used to much better effect than Depeche Mode's similar Sounds of the Universe cover), and great visuals on the tour, the best they've done in nearly 20 years. This is one more jewel in their crown. Where are their O.B.E.'s?
3) ANNIE--Don't Stop
I purposefully waited to include this album until 2009, as I never heard most of the leaked 2008 version, and I felt Annie needed an official validation. Thankfully, Don't Stop does not disappoint. While there may have been a couple songs that hit the cutting room floor bewilderingly (in particular, the singles "I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me" and "Anthonio"), Don't Stop's mix of producers still manages to produce a streamlined perfect pop record. Highlights include Richard X's "Songs Remind Me Of You" (candidate for song of the year), Timo's haunting "Marie Cherie", Xenomania's energetic "My Love is Better", "Bad Times", and "Loco", and (especially) Paul Epworth's three new contributions, the rousing "Hey Annie", the insistent "Don't Stop", and the even-better-than-"Girlfriend", "I Don't Like Your Band" (like "Chewing Gum" with balls). After being delayed a year, this album has been more than worth the wait. Next, please...
4) LA ROUX--La Roux
Elly & Ben together as La Roux created one of the most electrifying debuts of 2009. Once the listener acclimates themselves to Elly's sometimes strident vocal acrobatics, there are some real moments of touching electro-beauty, and a depth not present in many other youthful debuts. There is something akin to a brittle Yazoo-ish quality in these proceedings, especially on "Bulletproof", one of the best singles of the year. Even songs like "Tigerlily" seem to combine a creepy "Thriller"-ish vibe with an 80's Yazoo feel. Sometimes La Roux can even channel something tender, such as on the lovely "Cover My Eyes", featuring a gospel choir over glassy synths, locating a heart in the machine. A great debut, one which makes me excited to see what they come up with next.
What a great album this was. Robyn, Karen from the Knife, Anneli Drecker, Lykke Li...all incredible Scandinavian artists, all wonderful additions to Junior. Supposedly there was an additional album of slower material recorded that has yet to surface. No matter. This album can stand fine on its own. A bit more synthy and less sample driven than previous efforts, this is an excellent electronic record that is also an excellent pop record. "Royksopp Forever" features no vocals, yet is a lush, orchestral highlight.
6) DRAGONETTE--Fixin to Thrill
If there were any reservations about Dragonette being able to follow up Galore with a worthy succesor, those fears were dashed with this great album. It seems horrendously unfair that Dragonette are not sitting on top of the world right now--I imagine if this album had come out 8 years ago, it would have been released by a major label, had millions spent on videos, and gotten onto dance as well as rock radio stations. While you can hear bits of influences throughout Dragonette's sound, whether it be No Doubt, Daft Punk, or Pat Benatar, they remain entirely original. Much of this is down to Martina Sorbara, a magnetic front-woman who morphs effortlessly from the driving intensity of the title track, to the country-romp of "Gone Too Far", to the electro-throb of "Liar". Add another notch in Dragonette's belt--now the world needs to hear them.
7) FLORENCE & THE MACHINE--Lungs
What can be said about Florence that hasn't been said already? She's won many awards for her blustery brand of orchestral pop, laced with tribal beats and twinkly harp. "Kiss With a Fist" remains a bit of a red herring, not really representative of what lies within. "Rabbit Heart", the first official single, was much more worthy of inclusion here, so much so that the newly assigned Sugababes V4.0 covered this song acoustically as one of their first promotional moves. There are loads of great songs here--"Howl", "Drumming Song", "Cosmic Love", "Hurricane Drunk", and the cover of "You've Got the Love" being particular highlights. What shines above all else though is that incredible voice. The US needs to wake up and listen...talk about lungs...
8) LILY ALLEN--It's Not Me, It's You
Ah, Lily. You were angry this record did not come out in 2008 when it was completed, so you let us hear some of the songs in rough states months before the release. I am happy to report that her sophomore effort did not disappoint upon arrival, with songs like "The Fear" being even better in their finished, polished state. That being said, "Fuck You" was a particular highlight, slamming the Bush administration, "Everyone's At It", and "Back to the Start" jittery electro-anthems, and "I Could Say" and "Chinese" being rather grown-up reflections on facets of love. One criticism that gets placed on this album is Greg Kurstin's reliance on computerized beats, but I felt they supported Lily's vocals effortlessly and were more modern sounding, and Lily proved she was more than able to navigate the ska-less waters. A definite step forward.
I think many who heard Cicada's wonderful Roulette album when it came out early in the year have now likely placed it aside. Why do I believe this? Because it seems like people don't generally take Cicada seriously as a band. They began as a group of DJ/remixers, doing some wonderful work for artists like Depeche Mode and Client, but when Heidrun Bjornsdottir joined as a go-to singer, things really changed for them. This is their second album featuring Heidrun as the primary vocalist (once in a while somebody else steps in, such as Tom Smith from the Editors on "Executive"), and even though Heidrun is currently on hiatus to have a baby, the music that Cicada makes with her is quite special. "Love Don't Come Easy" and "Don't Stare at the Sun" are two particular favorite songs of mine from this year, and "Metropolis" and "Psycho Thrills" also made great singles. The album operates in a similar realm to the Royksopp album, but a bit more dance driven. Don't forget about them, or the fact that Heidrun also co-wrote all of the new Paul Epworth tracks added to Annie's Don't Stop.
10) LITTLE BOOTS--Hands
Poor Little Boots. She has been raked across the coals for not being indie enough, not being pop enough, too contrived, too safe, and too boring. I beg to differ. Victoria Hesketh is a talented young lady who is still trying to find her singular voice, but she did turn out a stunning electro-pop album in the process. The very personal "New in Town", with its funky electro beat, may seem at odds with "Stuck on Repeat"'s glitchy robo-pop, but they are really two different angles on the same face. "Remedy" was a Greg Kurstin production that was also one of the catchiest songs of the year (America will get this track pushed more in 2010). "Earthquake" was quite Gary Numan-esque, while "Symmetry" is the second-best Phil Oakey duet of the year (and quite a coups for Boots as well). So give Little Boots a break. She made a damn good debut record--one hundreds of other artists would KILL to make.
11) GOSSIP--Music for Men How can so few people make so much noise? Deserving of so much more attention.
12)DAVID SYLVIAN--Manafon Companion piece to Blemish, this one outdid that through sheer beauty and audacity. A staggering piece of art.
13) PREFAB SPROUT--Let's Change the World With Music Paddy wanted to change the world in 1992--it would take another 17 years to do it.
14) ARCTIC MONKEYS--Humbug Bah, this is a rifftastic album!
15) IAN BROWN--My Way Apparently his way does not include a Stone Roses reunion and does include a Zager & Evans cover. All the better...
16) EMILIE SIMON--The Big Machine What an amazing talent, she should be much more widely known. Ladies & gentlemen, meet the new Kate Bush (no, SERIOUSLY...)
17) BAT FOR LASHES--Two Suns Comparisons to Kate Bush and Bjork nonwithstanding, Natasha Khan speaks with a unique voice of her own. Brilliant Scott Walker cameo too.
18) PALOMA FAITH--Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? Unfairly slagged for lacking cred, Paloma is the full package--great looks, great songs, great voice. What's not to love?
19) YEAH YEAH YEAH'S--It's Blitz! Or where Nick Zinner declares his boredom with indie rock. Their best album yet (sorry purists...)
20) FILTHY DUKES--Nonsense in the Dark DJ collective makes a song-based album that is catchy AND well-written. Nice to know it is still possible in 2009.
21) CALVIN HARRIS--Ready for the Weekend Harris' sophomore effort is such an improvement from his first album, I don't even think it needs comment. And hey, he can be a charming vocalist too.
22) DAVID MCALMONT/MICHAEL NYMAN--The Glare Creating an entirely new genre by singing news stories over repetitive classical figures, McAlmont's search for new and stimulating forms of song are ever-expanding. Not to everyone's taste, but brilliant nonetheless.
23) YUKSEK--Away From the Sea In a year devoid of music from Daft Punk or Justice, Yuksek filled the void nicely...some might say handsomely, and to better effect. A fantastic debut album.
24) MARY ONETTES--Islands The 80's live! Mary Onettes succeed at Scandi-melancholy mixed with Bunnymen ambience, like a bigger sounding Shout Out Louds. If you ever liked Echo or the Cure, you really should hear these guys.
25) THE MUMMERS--Tale to Tell Singer Raissa takes chamber pop to new levels with full on band & orchestra arrangements to beautiful tunes of escapist melodrama. Amazing results.
26) POSTMARKS--Memoirs at the End of the World Florida's own have grown by leaps & bounds in just a couple of years, marrying old-school noir arrangements to little girl lost vocals. Scott Walker would have been proud.
27) MUSE--The Resistance Matt Bellamy & Co. get their full on Queen-via-classical music. Big, bold, pompous, pretentious, and irrepressable, this is not music for wallflowers. And yet, it works.
28) MARC ALMOND--Orpheus in Exile Thankfully Almond did not completely abandon his Russian song exploration before this fine album too shape and found a release. A beautifully personal collection of songs that would have been lost on the western world.
29) A-HA--Foot of the Mountain Returning from a long break, only to announce they are breaking up, A-Ha managed to come up with their finest full album in 25 years. Mining the electronic style they began with, at a simple 10 tracks, there is no filler here.
30) EDITORS--In This Light & On This Evening Guitar-goths hit the synthesizer highway in this delicious and dark new effort. The songwriting remains in place, but the music has more buzz and beat than it used to.
31) CAMERA OBSCURA--My Maudlin Career Camera Obscura operate like Belle & Sebastian fronted by Tracey Thorn, and on this latest effort, they are in very fine form. One of their best efforts, this is the sound of melancholic 2009.
32) LUKE HAINES--21st Century Man Bile never tasted so good. With odes to Peter Hammill and Klaus Kinski, Haines expresses his disdain with the lack of respect awarded to the 20th century as well as citing many hangovers we are still feeling. Another great album from one of the sharpest pens around.
33) SALLY SHAPIRO--My Guilty Pleasure One might not put Italo-disco and Sweden together, but maybe one should. Great sophomore effort from reclusive indie-dance maven & her producers.
34) THE HORRORS--Primary Colours Produced by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and (of all people) video director Chris Cunningham, the sophomore release from the Horrors was truly one of the pleasant surprises of 2009. Gone were the gothic punks, in were Can and Joy Division. One of the best examples of bootstrapping in a while.
35) EMPIRE OF THE SUN--Walking on a Dream Funny that it took these Australians to unite over some modern dance beats to make an album worthy of both of their talents. Silly but fantastic cover images sealed the deal. Hopefully they will make another???
36) JACK PENATE--Everything is New Similar to the Horrors' story, Penate scored producer Paul Epworth to help with his sophomore album, and what an improvement it was. It didn't sell loads, but it should have. Bringing African and tropical influences to the proceedings made this play like the less punky sister to Vampire Weekend.
37) ZOOT WOMAN--Things Are What They Used to Be Finally Stuart Price's band has made an album worthy of his name. Producer extraordinaire (Madonna, Killers, Seal, etc.), Zoot Woman always seemed a bit second rate until now. Great to see them finally get some recognition after three albums and nearly 10 years of work.
38) ROBBIE WILLIAMS--Reality Killed the Video Star After going away to find himself, apparently Robbie found a much calmer, more reflective soul. Trevor Horn lends big production, yet the songs seem very personal. Not his catchiest effort, but an interesting step.
39) FEVER RAY--Fever Ray Not for the faint of heart, Fever Ray is basically the side project of Karin from the Knife. Herein lies many songs about everything and nothing--songs that can soothe and songs that frighten. Uncompromising and monochromatic.
40) BASEMENT JAXX--Scars Jaxx have been entertaining for the better part of a decade now, and this latest effort is no exception, returning in some ways to their club-based roots. Guests include Sam Sparro, Lightspeed Champion, and a 76-year-old Yoko Ono. You can't accuse them of being lazy...
41) RAVEONETTES--In and Out of Control How could a band that writes a song called "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)" be anything less than incredible? Their catchiest effort to date.
42) ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS--The Crying Light I cannot help but be sad every time this album comes on. "Everglades" is simply heartbreaking. This is the kind of music Antony was made to sing.
43) GLASVEGAS--Glasvegas Really a 2008 album that wasn't released stateside until 2009, there was something mightily endearing about Glasvegas epic style of guitar pop. Another incredible debut.
44) MARSHEAUX--Lumineaux Noir A couple Grecian girls do some of the best English-speaking electro-pop of the year, simultaneously making it damn hard to actually get a physical CD. Still, this was a special surprise.
45) ENGINEERS--Three Fact Fader Or where said shoegaze-y band returns from beyond the grave. I was wondering what Engineers were doing in the four years since their great debut. Now I know they were working on creating an even better followup. Parts make me long for a Cocteau Twins reunion--love that guitar work.
46) LEAVES--We Are Shadows Another Icelandic band that used to release CDs with regularity. Two albums ago, Breathe was released in the US, the last one only in Europe, and their latest is currently download only, with physical copies being available from a special internet store. Shame, really, as there is no excuse this album should not be outselling the latest Coldplay release. Imagine the Elbow fronting the Beatles with "Aeronaut"--hear "Planets" and "All the Streets Are Gold"--it doesn't get much better than this.
47) PARRALOX--State of Decay Yet another record available as a download, but apparently they only made 1000 CDs, available exclusively from them. Why are all of these great bands not getting heard more by the masses, or reaching the sales they should be? Because the world sucks and people are generally vipers who suck the lifeblood away from these artists' future careers. That said, this is an excellent album--a bit like old-school Madonna meets the Human League.
48) THE BIG PINK--A Brief History of Love Another great band arrives out of nowhere. A great mix of rock, electronics, and sheer nerve, Big Pink make a sound that wouldn't be so unique if they didn't write such great songs. The combination is their ace in the hole, and "Dominos" is an excellent single that is just the tip of this iceberg.
49) FRANZ FERDINAND--Tonight: Franz Ferdinand There was so much expectation placed on this record, and after over three years of toiling, we got an album that basically sounded like (drumroll, please)...Franz Ferdinand. Add a few licks from a keyboard here, a slightly reggae-fied beat there, this was still the Franz show, and was another very good album in a career with no discernable lows.
50) NOISETTES--Wild Young Hearts Another great sophomore album from a band who could have easily been written off as one trick ponies. Quickly taking things to the next level, this band made one of the most listenable and most easily revisited album of the year. Plus, Shingai Shoniwa is a fantastic live singer, who can do justice to just about any song. Excellent.
Other Honorable Mentions:
DOVES--Kingdom of Rust
I AM X--Kingdom of Welcome Addiction
BRENDAN BENSON--My Old, Familiar Friend
RICHARD HAWLEY--Truelove's Gutter
WENDY & LISA--White Flags of Winter Chimneys
LIGHTNING SEEDS--Four Winds
RUMBLE STRIPS--Welcome to the Walk Alone
CRIBS--Ignore the Ignorant
WHITE LIES--To Lose My Life
THE VEILS--Sun Gangs
PHOENIX--Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
MADNESS--Liberty of Norton Folgate
PATRICK WOLF--The Bachelor
CUT OFF YOUR HANDS--You & I
PATRICK WOLF--The Bachelor
CUT OFF YOUR HANDS--You & I
ZERO 7--Yeah Ghost
U2--No Line on the Horizon
MIKA--The Boy Who Knew Too Much
MORRISSEY--Years of Refusal
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO--Temporary Pleasure
DEPECHE MODE--Sounds of the Universe
Really, there weren't many true disappointments in 2009, and even these albums have some bright spots. I really hate calling out Imogen Heap because she is a musical genius, and I felt like I was one of her biggest fans when Speak for Yourself was released, but Ellipse just feels like she spent so much time obsessing over details that the energy was sucked straight out of the record. While the sleeve was great, the first video was a bit disappointing (especially after Es Devlin's fantastic work on the Pet Shop Boys tours), and there weren't enough songs with the weight to pull you back for repeated listenings. One to admire then. Unfortunately the Mika album experienced similar issues, and it doesn't help that he refuses to grow up. I mean, how long can you go on being a 7ft. string-bean singing like a castrato dancing around in your "bedroom" in overalls? Not quite the artistic leap we were all hoping for, and certainly not the hit he was the first time around. Will he survive as an artist if he makes another like this? Who will take him seriously? America has Adam Lambert now...time for a rethink.
The Morrissey had some rather excellent moments like the interesting "When Last I Spoke to Carol", the lovely single, "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris", and the epic "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore", but much of it came off rather ham-fisted and lacking in the grace or elegance he once maintained so effortlessly. (I am very sorry Mr. Morrissey...I know you don't like critics or criticism, but take solace in the fact that I truly love most of what you have done...this one just wasn't for me.) The Simian Mobile Disco had some great tracks, especially "Cruel Intentions" with Beth Ditto, but the rest just lacked the punch of their debut, which is odd considering how in demand James Ford is as a producer for hire.
Air cut some of the electronic elements, and unfortunately lost some of the sonic wonder that made them so special. The other problem this created was their exposure to a lack of lyrics expressing any sort of depth, showing them to be extremely thin on the songwriting side ("Be a Bee"? "Sing Sang Sung"?). Zero 7 didn't fare much better in their quest to distance themselves from Air's shadow. They flung themselves further into R&B territory, creating a rather unfocused effort that didn't seem to appeal to anybody, really. Maybe excising all the known and liked vocalists (Sia, Mozez, Jose Gonzalez, Tina Dico, Sophie Barker, etc.) has left them with little identifiable stamp. Three years on and it looks like it's back to the drawing board.
U2 split their fanbase with an album that didn't really embrace much of anything excepting what they do best. Horrifying lyrics like "Get On Your Boots" (we don't care what it means, Bono--it just sounds dumb), a single called "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (Morrisey would throw that out immediately), and an amorphous stadium single with no real hook ("Magnificent"), add up to an album with no real staying power on the airwaves. Add in a bunch of songs with lyrics about the God and the Middle East (heck, one even cribs the melody of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"), and you've got a letdown of an album that many of their fans wouldn't even buy. It's obvious they painted themselves into a corner with the last two albums, being SO U2, that they had to begin painting themselves out, and forgot to write any hit songs in the process. I would say they don't care if they have hits or not, but they would probably enjoy the boost on tour that a hit song can provide. Desperate cries from camp U2 began leaking soon after the album's release, saying they had enough material left over for part 2 (no, please, no). I think U2 has a similar problem to that of Imogen Heap and Zero 7, where they took so long making an album that it sounded overworked and dull. They would be wise to release things more often in the future, without so much time spent reworking things.
As for the Depeche Mode, it is not overworked or dull. It is also not lacking in lyrics, nor does it lack their usual grace. What it does lack is melody. Martin Gore is one of the greatest songwriters of our generation (I firmly stand behind that statement), and while in the pursuit of the "Depeche" sound, some songs from Sounds of the Universe just feel half-written, while the best songs are scattered throughout with some filler inbetween. If they had cut "Hole to Feed" (sorry, terrible single--what's with that thwacking drum riff?), "Little Soul" (not feelin' it), "Come Back" (Dave's weakest lyric effort, and better as the demo), and "Miles Away" (Dave's vocals feel forced and strident), this could have been one of my favorite DM records ever (oh, I just realized three of those were Dave's writing contributions...sorry. I loved "Suffer Well"!). Instead, it feels like it goes on too long (even certain songs like "In Chains" have too much intro), and the mood doesn't vary enough. On top of that, while "Wrong", "Fragile Tension", "In Sympathy", "Peace", and "Corrupt" all make great album tracks, none are really strong enough to break through as hit singles like "Precious" did from Playing the Angel. I think the problem may lie with producer, Ben Hillier. He did bring them out of their clinical sound a bit after Exciter, but never have two consecutive DM albums sounded so similar, that it feels like they are treading water. Here are some suggestions for next time: Flood, Gareth Jones, Will Gregory, Ben Langmaid, Guy Sigsworth, Nellee Hooper. I know you guys don't want to admit you need to move on, but you should, even if it means working with an old ally who brought the best out of you. Personally, I think Will Gregory would be a great choice--look what he's done for Goldfrapp, and he would be in-house at Mute. Langmaid would definitely be a wildcard, as he is half of La Roux, and it would be interesting to see what he could bring to the table.
All this ranting and I have to admit that none of these albums are really bad. In fact, they are quite good in places. Even the Black Eyed Peas couldn't make a 100% bad album this year (but could you please stop now?), yet I do hope from listening to thousands of hours of music, I know what appeals to me and what does not. Take it or leave it.
Now, on to 2010!