Top 10 Albums of 2011
Anticipation was running high for the biggest releases of 2011, and artists didn't disappoint, with the year's strongest pop, R&B, and rap representing real masterpieces from the best acts in the game. To celebrate the best of LP's that were released in the past 12 months, check out our list of the 10 best albums of 2011.
J. Cole's breathless, packed-to-the-gills debut puts him on the map as a star to be reckoned with. 'Cole World' is a smart, slick record featuring high-profile collabs with A-listers like Jay-Z and Drake. J. Cole's clever rhymes tackle social and political issues — like his tortured relationship with his family on 'Breakdown,' or the thought-provoking meditation on abortion, 'Lost Ones' -- making this LP one of the top albums of 2011.
'Stronger' feels like the culmination of Kelly Clarkson's entire, wonderful pop career — smart and commercial but still a statement of her artistic intent. Crunchy pop hooks and Clarkson's always-flawless vocals lend the bracing theatricality of 'Honestly' and the bouncy synth jam 'You Love Me' extra power, making 'Stronger' one of the year's, well, strongest releases.
Lil Wayne's 'Tha Carver IV' wasn't the year's most consistent release, but its moments of greatness are unsurpassed — like the chatty singalong '6 Foot 7 Foot' and the unexpected ballad 'How to Love.' Weezy sounds less deranged and more thoughtful than normal, and this shift is welcome on 'Tha Carter IV,' making it a document of an artist who's maturing.
Beyonce's '4' didn't generate any major hits, but that shouldn't be a surprise. '4' is a doggedly anti-commercial album that's way more concerned with its own artistry than with producing radio candy, which is why is snags a spot on our Top 10 Albums of 2011 list. Ballad-heavy and frequently experimental, '4' matches Bey's magnificent vocals with often-surprising tracks, like the Prince-referencing 'Schoolin' Life,' rageful 'I Care,' and hilariously hyperactive 'Countdown.'
It's true what they say about that Rihanna reign (it won't let up!), and 'Talk That Talk' cements her position as one of the savviest voices in pop. It's easily her sexiest album to date, full of ribald come-ons and grinding beats, but the real standout is 'Where Have You Been,' a spinning, lurching house track with flamenco guitars and a storming dance break.
2011 was the year that found dubstep fully integrated into mainstream pop music, and Britney Spears' 'Femme Fatale' played a pivotal role in doing so, as that sleazy dubstep break in 'Hold It Against Me' first predicted. Packed with club anthems and unexpected turns — like that wistful flute on 'Criminal,' the slimy innuendoes of 'Big Fat Bass,' and the rawness of the Queen B's normally-processed vocals on 'He About to Lose Me' — 'Femme Fatale' is pop at its finest, snagging the No. 5 on our best albums of 2011 list.
Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' is messy, overstuffed, and self-indulgent — and it's a blisteringly brilliant masterpiece that perfectly represents a pop superstar at the top of her game. Somehow managing to be both futuristic in its glittering, galactic sound and nostalgic in its recreation of the dark glamour of the '80s, the unapologetic empowerment of the title track and the epic, chill-inducing choruses on songs like 'The Edge of Glory' and 'Scheiße' make Born This Way one of the year's strongest releases.
Bring the two biggest names in hip-hop together on one release and the results are bound to be memorable. Indeed, 'Watch the Throne' is a work of mad, marvelous genius from Jay-Z and Kanye West. A self-reflective commentary on consumerism, capitalism, and the rappers' own creativity, 'Watch the Throne' is as decadent as the rap lifestyle itself.
Even before he was a massive superstar, Drake was focused on fame's isolating vicissitudes, but 'Take Care' takes that theme to new heights. From the oft-covered drunk dialing anthem 'Marvin's Room' to the title track, an elegiac Rihanna collab, and the gorgeous, skittering 'Crew Love,' this top album of 2011 is an ode to emotional unfulfillment that we'll be playing for years. "Really I think I like who I'm becoming," he says on 'Crew Love' — yeah, us too, Drizzy.
Adele's total domination of 2011 was only possible because '21' is such a powerful album — and every bit of her success this year was deserved. The wrenching piano ballad 'Someone Like You' and jaunty yet haunting 'Rolling in the Deep' were inescapable in 2011, though we're still stuck on 'Set Fire to the Rain,' which might be Adele's most sonically sophisticated recording yet. However, '21' was also an impressively cohesive album, which shows Adele's masterful song craft, pristine vocals, and ability to turn heartache into incredible music — making it the best album of 2011.