Albums of the Decade
IN THIS PHOTO: Kendrick Lamar/PHOTO CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
and I am pretty sure there will not be many contenders that will challenge this list. Speculated albums from Madonna and The 1975 might be in with a shout of being the albums of the decade but I am carrying on the rundown with a look at the best albums from the three-year period that covered 2016 to 2018 (inclusive). Every decade boasts terrific records but this decade has been really strong and seen some truly unexpected revelations. Here are the fifteen albums that made the years 2016 through to 2018 wonderful. Future parts will bring us right up-to-date but here, in this third part, we can see albums that helped make this decade...
IN THIS PHOTO: Lorde/PHOTO CREDIT: Dean Chalkley/NME
SUCH a winner.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Spotify/Getty Images
David Bowie - Blackstar
Release Date: 8th January, 2016
Producers: David Bowie/Tony Visconti
Key Cuts: Blackstar/Girl Loves Me/I Can’t Give Everything Away
Standout Track: Lazarus
“Only seven tracks and 42 minutes long, Blackstar is impressively hard to place in his back catalogue and feels completely self-contained. It has some of the off-kilter character of his late Seventies Berlin trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger) but little of their electronic flavour.
It is shot through with a late-life melancholy that sits intriguingly with the jazzy modulations. Beneath the swooning cinematic rush of Dollar Days beats a gorgeous, bittersweet piano ballad on which Bowie proclaims himself “dying to... fool them all again and again” but the phrase breaks apart until he sounds like he might be singing “I’m dying too” – The Daily Telegraph
Beyoncé - Lemonade
Release Date: 23rd April, 2016
Key Cuts: Hold Up/Don’t Hurt Yourself/Freedom
Standout Track: Formation
“Her voice though, in its rawness of emotion and tear duct-filling emotion, pushes at the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. Likewise, 6 Inch where her voice starts to crack and falter, sounding oddly vulnerable.
In a week where we have has to come to terms with the loss of one more explosive and unpredictable and talented and genius pop star, it is so reassuring to know that Beyoncé is still among us – and from the sounds of this – has still yet to reach her peak. Both Prince and Nina Simone (whose voice also features here) passed away on April 21. Sometimes it feels like Beyoncé is determined to pick up the mantles of both” – The Independent
Buy Album (Lemonade is not available on Spotify): https://www.beyonce.com/album/lemonade-visual-album/songs/
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Release Date: 8th May, 2016
Producer: Nigel Godrich
Key Cuts: Daydreaming/Decks Dark/Ful Stop
Standout Track: Burn the Witch
“And then there’s “True Love Waits.” It’s an old song, one that has been around in various forms for over two decades, but unlike “Burn the Witch” or the other teased sketches and scraps that Radiohead diehards pick apart on forums, it’s long been a part of their canon. It appeared on the 2001 live album I Might Be Wrong and, dragged into 2016, feels like a relic from a different geological era. “I’ll drown my beliefs,” Yorke sings, “just don’t leave.” It is the message they leave us with, this very open-hearted song that has always felt like an open wound in their discography, a geyser of feeling erupting out of scorched earth. Its very inclusion is a striking moment of transparency” – Pitchfork
Solange – A Seat at the Table
Release Date: 30th September, 2016
Key Cuts: Rise/Don’t Touch My Hair/Scales
Standout Track: Cranes in the Sky
“In "Borderline," a chugging machine beat and a lilting piano line form the backdrop of a scene where Knowles and her partner tune out the world for the sake of their sanity. Then, after Nia Andrews and Kelly Rowland's half minute of proud harmonic affirmation, along comes "Junie," a squiggling jam on which André 3000 makes like the track's namesake (Ohio Players and Parliament legend Junie Morrison), where Knowles delivers a sharp metaphorical smackdown of a cultural interloper like it's merely an improvised postscript. All of the guests, from Lil Wayne to Kelela, make necessary appearances. The same goes for Knowles' parents and Master P, who are present in the form of short interludes in which they discuss segregation, self-reliance, cultural theft, and black pride. These segues shrewdly fasten a cathartic yet poised album, one that weighs a ton and levitates” – AllMusic
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service
Release Date: 11th November, 2016
Producers: A Tribe Called Quest/Q-Tip/Blair Wells
Key Cuts: Solid Wall of Sound/Dis Generation/The Killing Season
Standout Track: We the People....
“Q-Tip, the group’s leader and politically conscious straight man to Phife’s ribald sports fan, takes on subjects from gentrification to the mis-sold dreams of African American youth. He calls out to those he sees as his heirs – from Kendrick Lamar to Earl Sweatshirt – to keep the Tribe flame alive. The album closes on The Donald, a tribute to Phife (not the new president), and there is a real sense of this being the group’s final testament. At times the album can seem tired and mid-paced, and some of the collaborators (Andre 3000, Anderson Paak) are more effective than others (Talib Kweli, Jack White). But for those who value Tribe’s contribution to music, this is a record to be grateful for” – The Guardian
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Release Date: 14th April, 2017
Labels: Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg
Key Cuts: DNA./LOYALTY./GOD.
Standout Track: HUMBLE.
“Lamar’s gift is not just that he can say why he’s the best (“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA”), but also that he articulate how this responsibility feels (“I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em/But who the fuck prayin’ for me?”). He can paint pride and agony with the same brush, and it’s that ability that makes “Fear” probably the most emotionally rich song in his entire discography. Like Sigmund Freud meets Scarface, Lamar connects the dots from the seven-year-old terrified of catching a beating from his mother to the 17-year-old terrified of being murdered by police to the 27-year-old terrified of fame. “I practiced runnin’ from fear, guess I had some good luck,” he raps with ease. “At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged.”
Much like the recent A Tribe Called Quest record, Damn. is a brilliant combination of the timeless and the modern, the old school and the next-level. The most gifted rapper of a generation stomps into the Nineties and continues to blaze a trail forward. Don’t be confused if he can’t stay humble” – Rolling Stone
Lorde – Melodrama
Release Date: 16th June, 2017
Key Cuts: The Louvre/Liability/Writer in the Dark
Standout Track: Green Light
“It’s a rudely excellent album, introspective without ever being indulgent, OTT in all the right ways, honest and brave, full of brilliant songs with lyrics to chew over for months. The message might be that Lorde considers herself wild and flawed and bruised (“I’ll love you till you call the cops on me,” she sings, on the deliciously bitter ‘Writer In The Dark’), but we all do sometimes. That’s the neatest trick the album pulls off – universal connection, in spite of the squad and the praise and the superstardom and the pressure. Humanity intact. Artistry assured. Brilliance confirmed” – NME
St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
Release Date: 13th October, 2017
Label: Loma Vista
Producers: Jack Antonoff/St. Vincent/Lars Stalfors/John Congleton
Key Cuts: Sugarboy/Slow Disco/Smoking Section
Standout Track: Pills
“Clark recently told Buzzfeed that Masseduction asks, “What does power look like, who wields it, how do they wield it—emotionally, sexually, financially?” Exploring those balances of power gives Masseduction its inherent tension and anxiety. But it also doesn’t let instability win. The final song, “Smoking Section,” talks about going to the edge, nearly giving in to violent and dark tendencies, then deliberately taking a step back. “It’s not the end,” Clark repeats, in a weary and increasingly faded-sounding voice, as ghostly pedal steel smoke rings curl up around her.
Defeated as she sounds, it’s an unmistakable declaration of power—an emotional cliffhanger that leaves the door cracked for new beginnings. Masseduction is a manual on how to go through hell and back, then emerge stronger than ever. It’s a record that wrests control from turmoil and believes that a different, better future is possible. It’s the best encapsulation of her vision to date, here fully under her control” – The AV Club
Thundercat – Drunk
Release Date: 24th February, 2017
Producers: Flying Lotus/Sounwave/Thundercat
Key Cuts: Show You the Way/Day & Night/Walk on By
Standout Track: Friend Zone
“The presence of yacht rock kingpins McDonald and Loggins may indicate at first glance that Bruner is taking the current vogue for cheesy soft rock to new heights. Yet there’s considerable merit to how the supple and hugely earwormy Show You the Way works in relation of the rest of the Thundercat universe.
Changes shares a title with a Buddy Miller album and a sample from the Isley Brothers’ Footsteps In the Dark as its enticing R&B pounce and prowl builds and develops with added elevation from a slippery Washington sax line. The Turn Down has Pharrell showing he can do art-pop as well as pop-pop, while Friend Zone is a Valentine’s Day card for all the jilted would-be lovers pining for those who just want to be friends.
The only soundtrack you’ll need for the year of the ’Cat” – The Irish Times
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Release Date: 10th March, 2017
Label: More Alarming Records
Producer: Blake Mills
Key Cuts: Wild Fire/Don’t Pass Me By/Nouel
Standout Track: Soothing
“Some things have changed, though. Marling has a new producer in Blake Mills (Conor Oberst, Sky Ferreira) and together they create a motley set of textures. ‘Always This Way’ delivers its rueful tale with a muted acoustic thrum; ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ ripples with glum reverberation; ‘Next Time’ hints at inner conflict with some somersaulting fretwork straight out of a bizarro Joanna Newsom composition. It all adds up to the most serene, stylistically varied album Marling has ever created – and that’s surely the point. “Fickle and changeable are you,” she smiles to a dear girlfriend on ‘Nouel’, “and long may that continue”. Hear that, Virgil?” – NME
Christine and the Queens – Chris
Release Date: 21st September, 2018
Producers: Christine and the Queens/Cole M.G.N.
Key Cuts: Doesn’t matter/5 dollars/Feel so good
Standout Track: Girlfriend
“Crucially, Chris' purposeful sound doesn't come at the cost of Christine's vulnerability -- in fact, her newfound strength lets her dig deeper and reveal more. On "Whats-Her-Face," she brilliantly captures how teenage bullying can still feel like it happened yesterday. "The Walker" is an unbowed ballad that compares bruises to violets and wears them like badges of honor, while "Doesn't Matter" is a crisis of faith that's impossible not to dance to; even though she questions everything, Christine urges her listeners to find a ray of hope and run with it. As she examines what masculinity, femininity, strength, and vulnerability mean to her, Christine has never sounded more exposed -- or in control. A triumph, Chris reaffirms just how masterfully she engages minds, hearts, and bodies” – AllMusic
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Release Date: 17th August, 2018
Label: Dead Oceans
Producer: Patrick Hyland
Key Cuts: Geyser/A Pearl/A Horse Named Cold Air
Standout Track: Nobody
“Right from the overshot volume on the album's opening organ attack, abrasive sounds also put cracks in the surface. Stomping, clapping, and relentless keyboard bleeps permeate the brutal, danceable "Washing Machine Heart," evoking the appliance as well as the wife's frustration ("I'm not wearing my usual lipstick/I thought maybe we would kiss tonight"). Elsewhere, "Me and My Husband" opens unambiguously with a heavy sigh. After passing moments of more raucous rock, atmospheric synths, dance rhythms, irregular percussion, melodic sweetness, and dissonance, Be the Cowboy closes on the tender "Two Slow Dancers," the album longest track at four minutes. Wistful, string-like keyboard tones accompany sentimental lyrics that conclude that the couple has grown apart. In the end, rather than being a disappointment, Be the Cowboy's point of view provides a brilliant twist, one that channels all the unease, unpredictability, and intuitiveness of Mitski's previous work -- even for those who don't take in the lyrics” – AllMusic
Noname – 25
Release Date: 14th September, 2018
Key Cuts: Window/Regal/Part of Me
Standout Track: Blaxploitation
“Once again favouring the live instrumentation that intricately underpins her languorous delivery, the glacial elegance of ‘Regal’ and infectious funk strut of ‘Part Of Me’ finds Warner effortlessly flitting between two changes of pace, the latter buoyed by turns from Benjamin Earl Turner and collaborator Phoelix.
Even if the delivery is often delicate, the record’s deft lyricism is arresting and unflinching, exploring themes of police brutality on ‘Prayer Song’ and terminal illness on the impeccable ‘Don’t Forget About Me’, while firing the haters a stinging retort on ‘Self’: “Y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?”
‘Room 25’ should find few protesting” – CLASH
IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Release Date: 31st August, 2018
Producers: Space/Adam Greenspan/Nick Launay
Key Cuts: Colossus/Danny Nedelko/Television
Standout Track: Samaritans
“But he can also be laugh-out-loud funny. “You look like a walking thyroid / You’re not a man you’re a gland,” he sings at the small-town bully in Never Fight a Man With a Perm: “a Topshop tyrant / Even your haircut’s violent.” Conversely, June addresses the death of Talbot’s daughter at birth, with a version of the poignant, six-word poem often attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Baby’s shoes. For sale. Never worn.” The band tackle everything from I’m Scum’s Fall rockabilly to soul classic Cry to Me, previously recorded by Solomon Burke and the Rolling Stones. Idles won’t be for everybody: this isn’t good-time, aspirational, radio-friendly pop. But for anyone in need of music that articulates their concerns or helps them to work through their troubles – or anyone who simply appreciates blistering, intelligent punk – they might just be Britain’s most necessary band” – The Guardian
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Release Date: 11th May, 2018
Producers: James Ford/Alex Turner
Key Cuts: American Sports/Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino/Science Fiction
Standout Track: Four Out of Five
“Perhaps the great mystery of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is not its knotty themes or cryptic lyrics but what’s motivating Turner. With the keys to the most lucrative and well-oiled indie-rock band around, he’s regenerated Arctic Monkeys in service of a delirious and artful satire directed at the foundations of modern society. This is not an act of protest: Implicated in its sprawl are gentrification, consumerism, and media consumption, but rather than address these meaty topics, he strafes around them, admiring their transformation in the laboratory of his word tricks. In the end, his helpless struggle for meaning is what makes him relatable. For all this record’s hubris, the long-touted “generational voice” that is Alex Turner has never sounded more real, or more himself” – Pitchfork