The Five Must-Have Pop Albums of 2011
By Steven M. Housman
XL, Columbia Records
Original Release Date: February 22, 2011
Released nine months ago, Adele’s phenomenal sophomore album, 21, has already sold 4.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. So far, it has spent a staggering 14 non-consecutive weeks at #1 and has yet to fall below the Top 5. I recall listening to this album upon its release last February, and after just one complete session from beginning to end, I said “this is a contender for multiple Grammy Awards including Album of the Year.” After nine months, I can confidently say that it’s not just a contender anymore, but rather a surefire bet. The chart-topping “Rolling In The Deep” got this opus started to its follow-up #1 “Someone Like You,” through the scorching R&B laden-set, with one of the highlights among highlights, “Set The Fire To Rain” – these and its other nine tracks peg it as not only the finest album of the year, but as the best complete album of the past decade.
David Guetta: Nothing But The Beat
Virgin, EMI Records
Original Release Date: August 29, 2011
In 2009, David Guetta released his fourth album, One Love, which became his huge U.S. breakthrough. It included a trio of U.S. smash hit singles including “When Love Takes Over” featuring Kelly Rowland, and “Sexy Bitch” featuring Akon. His fifth album, Nothing But The Beat, negates the claim that his last album was a fluke and that his skills as a writer/producer were restricted to one international hit album. This disc has already produced three hit singles, although I contend that one of the discs’ greatest tracks, “Night Of Your Life” featuring Jennifer Hudson, is the real standout and is destined for topping the charts. The Deluxe Edition contains over 90 minutes of music, the first half featuring the vocals of Usher, will.i.am, Timbaland, Taio Cruz & Ludacris, Flo Rida & the incredibly talented Nicki Minaj, just to name a few. The second half of the collection is pure electronica at its best, with this dance collection living up to its title.
Tony Bennett: An American Classic – Duets II
Original Release Date: September 20, 2011
I typically prefer to give music enthusiasts an album that contains something for everyone, and if this album doesn’t fit that bill, nothing will. From Tony Bennett’s collaborations with old-school artists such as Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, and Willie Nelson to some of the current generation of superstars including a scrumptious Lady Gaga pairing on “The Lady Is A Tramp,” to John Mayer, Carrie Underwood and the final brilliant recording of Amy Winehouse on “Body & Soul.” This album really leaves all other classic American Songbook collaborations in the dust. This disc also includes Bennett’s umpteenth collaboration with the incomparable k.d. lang on the haunting Bobby Vinton 60s classic “Blue Velvet,” plus the baritone-laden Josh Groban and operatic favorite Andrea Bocelli. Other standouts include classics with Faith Hill, Queen Latifah and a sensational finale, “When Do The Bells Ring For Me,” with a spectacular vocal from Mariah Carey. All in all, Duets II manages to even outshine its predecessor five years ago when Bennett was a young man of 80!
Michael Jackson: Immortal
Release Date: November 21, 2011
With the arrival of the Cirque du Soleil Immortal Tour and its accompanying album, this Deluxe Edition beautifully reimagines over 40 of MJ’s greatest tracks. This is one of the finest mash-up, reinterpretations of classics since the Beatles’ Love disc by the Cirque peeps five years ago. Producer/Musical Designer Kevin Antunes’ creativity is a gorgeous display of love and affection for one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Immortal opens with a knockout reinterpretation of the 1979 HI-NRG “Workin’ Day And Night” and takes us through such redesigned highlights as “Scream,” “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal” with unique mash-ups featuring “Beat It/State Of Shock,” the underrated “Speechless” intertwined with the heartfelt “Human Nature,” a Jackson 5 mix that impresses listeners of the originals to new heights and climaxes with a hauntingly vivid redesign of “Remember The Time.” It must be noted that the nine-minute Immortal Megamix “Can You Feel It/Don't Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Billie Jean/Black Or White” is worth the price of admission alone.
Lady Gaga: Born This Way
Original Release Date: May 23, 2011
When this disc debuted last spring with one million copies sold in its debut week, it was clear that Lady Gaga (with only her second studio album) had already joined the ranks of past superstar pop icons – most importantly, her much talked-about predecessor, Madonna. With her Monster Ball Tour in high gear, Gaga was already releasing hit singles at the rate of one a month. It wasn’t until people stopped looking at the “shock factor” that Gaga possessed and started to really listen to Stephanie Germanotta, a singer/songwriter from the Upper West Side of Manhattan on YouTube, when naysayers had to admit, this girl can SING! Born This Way provided the gay community with its latest, and one of its most important, anthems in the title track along with already classic tracks that includes “Judas,” “Hair,” “You And I,” “Marry The Night,” and the infectious dancefloor highlight “The Edge Of Glory,” making Born This Way the greatest pop/dance album of 2011.