My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
West knew he would be facing the haters on his fifth album, calling himself “the abomination of Obama’s nation.” But if ever controversy fueled creativity, it did here, as West achieves a triumph of such epic proportions that only someone with his massive ego could have even imagined it. This is hip-hop as grand opera-from the orchestral majesty of the star-studded “All of the Lights” to the raw, romantic drama of “Blame Game,” a piano-sampling ballad that somehow weaves in both John Legend and Chris Rock. Twisted genius.
There’s something special around every corner in The Suburbs, which, with its shifting moods, peaks and then peaks again. The alluring atmospherics, providing the setting for some nostalgic lyrics, may have you rethinking that move to the big city.
Corinne Bailey Rae
While it came out way back in January-and, unjustly, didn’t get as much love as her self-titled debut-The Sea didn’t wash away from memory. A triumph of the human spirit, its heartbreaking beauty came out of the heartbreaking tragedy of her husband’s 2008 death. Somehow you just know she’ll love again.
If Arcade Fire made the best rock album of the year, then it’s only fitting that this like-minded indie band, which once opened for them, came in second. Songs such as “Sorrow” and “Afraid of Everyone” are gloriously gloomy.
For sheer audacity, Monae pulled a Kanye-in the best possible sense-with her genre-defying debut. Turning this album into her own personal sci-fi movie-Princess Leia is among her inspirations-this fembot has real soul, whether she’s getting funky or punky. It’s no wonder that Monae-a protegee of both Diddy and Big Boi-has been dubbed by Prince as “my favorite new artist.” How’s that for a royal blessing?
Cee Lo Green
The Lady Killer
Only Cee Lo could have gotten everyone and their grandmother gleefully singing “F- You” to each other. It was one of 2010’s small miracles. But it’d hardly be fair to stop there, as Green backed up that viral hit with the smoothest, sexiest album of the year. Part Al Green, part Barry White, part Curtis Mayfield, he was the year’s most unlikely stud.
JOHN LEGEND & THE ROOTS
The Roots had already put out one of the year’s best hip-hop albums in How I Got Over. Then they topped themselves by teaming up with killer singer Legend on this inspired-and inspiring-collection of socially conscious soul from the golden age of Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers. By revisiting the past, they provide much hope for R&B’s future.
The Guitar Song
In an era when much of country music is designed for bite-size radio consumption, this old-school outlaw-and Matthew McConaughey BFF-served up a meaty, 25-track double album that sticks to your bones.
After releasing the Body Talk Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 EPs in 2010, she put it all together on this dance-pop opus that, 12 years after “Show Me Love,” made her the coolest chick in the club. Who needs a meat dress with beats like these?
Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses
As if he needed to prove something for winning that Best Song Oscar in February, the alt-country troubadour with the gravelly voice weary beyond his years shows he’s much more than the Crazy Heart guy on this T Bone Burnett-produced set of true-grit tales.