1 When Adele came by the office to preview her second album for me and a handful of staffers, it was clear that it was something special. That 21 would turn out to be such a phenomenon-a triumph of soul-baring songwriting and soul-busting singing-was beyond all expectation. Striking in its intimacy, it connected with the masses-especially anyone who’s ever been through a break- up. “We could have had it all,” she wails on “Rolling in the Deep.” In 2011 Adele did have it all.
2 In a year celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, Foo Fighters-recording on analog tape alongside Butch Vig, producer of that Nirvana classic-emerged from Dave Grohl’s garage with a beast of a rock album.
3 The title of Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later, suggested that there would be more to come before he was fully deserving of all the props he was getting from the hip-hop hype machine. Well, just a year later, the rapper-singer has taken it to the next level with an ambitious, Kanye-esque effort. Nearly 80 minutes, Take Care is one long, lush mood piece that is cohesively-and oh-so-meticulously-realized.
Florence + the Machine
4 Like both Adele and Drake, Florence Welch defied the sophomore slump in stellar style. Ceremonials possesses such transcendent power that you might think it had some divine assistance. (Actually, the album was produced by Paul Epworth, who also worked on Adele’s 21.) In the first three songs, Flo is by turns ethereal (“Only If for a Night”), tribal (“Shake It Out”) and gothic (“What the Water Gave Me”)-a goddess in every guise.
The Defamation of Strickland Banks
5 While 2011 saw Amy Winehouse leave us far too soon, another gritty Brit, Plan B, displayed a knack for Motown-inspired soul-pop with a hip-hop swagger. Rapping as well as crooning, he makes this concept album his own Back to Black.
6 Whereas Plan B puts a modern twist on retro sounds, Saadiq is strictly old-school mining the vintage R&B of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. In the spirit of Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, this is stone-groovin’.
7 For some it may still be difficult to separate the man from the music, but Brown delivered the kind of R&B-pop blockbuster that a young Michael Jackson might have made in 2011. Rocking the club (the pumping “Beautiful People”), the street (“Look at Me Now” with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes) and your heart (the Justin Bieber duet “Next to You”), he was a star reborn.
The King Is Dead
8 From Mumford & Sons to Bon Iver, it was a very good year for alt-folk. In all its rustic splendor, this R.E.M.-ish gem is a regal achievement.
9 Haunting and hypnotic, this Brit’s ambient debut transports you into the otherworld of dubstep, as electronic beats belie a soulful heart.
Four the Record
10 Lambert may have gotten hitched to Blake Shelton, but on her fourth album, the country star is still the “Fastest Girl in Town.” Songs like “Safe,” though, find the beauty in smelling the roses-instead of more gunpowder.
People TABLET BONUS VIDEO More on Chuck’s ’11 faves