Adele - 21
2011 was the year that the allure of Adele went global. Expanding on the success of her debut album 19, her sophomore release was produced by Rick Rubin and has earned the Londoner both success and credibility at once. With tracks like 'Rolling in the Deep' and 'Someone Like You' permeating every mainstream media channel going, Adele - once considered to be merely treading the path first worn by Amy Winehouse - is now leading the way for UK female artists.
Lady GaGa - BORN THIS WAY
Lady Gaga's follow up to The Fame Monster saw her expanding on the synth pop of her previous albums and incorporating genres such as metal, opera and disco. The album received three Grammy nominations and musically encapsulated the performer's lack of inhibition. Somewhat bizarrely, Bruce Springsteen seemed to be an overriding influence on this album, not least in the creation of her male alter-ego 'Jo Calderone' employed for the release of 'You And I'.
Rihanna - TALK THAT TALK
MTV's James Montgomery called it "not only the best effort of her career but arguably the best pop album of 2011. Combining underground credibility - referencing the styles of acts like SANTIGOLD and Mia - with mainstream appeal (see the lead single 'We Found Love' featuring Calvin Harris), Talk That Talk was yet more proof that Rihanna can do no wrong in the eyes of the record-buying public.
Coldplay - MYLO XYLOTO
Coldplay are still the band that the critics love to hate but the punters love to buy. Reviews of the album were lukewarm. Yet still it hit the number one spot in charts across the globe. Coldplay fans, it would seem, are impervious to the snarl of the unrelenting critic. They may never stray too far from the middle of the road but in Mylo Xyloto, they have managed to create a more industrial sound than their previous albums - enough to keep the punters interested.
Jay Z & Kanye West - WATCH THE THRONE
Jay Z may just have the edge on Kanye West in the popularity stakes (Jay Z is, after all, less likely to be caught publicly ruining a young girl's awards acceptance speech and making tearful apologies to his momma for his bad behaviour) but hip-hop fans the world over had the defibrillators on standby when news of this collaboration broke. Alexis Petridis praised its "restless creativity" in his review for The Guardian, whilst Pitchfork called it "two insanely talented guys' idiosyncratic vision."
Radiohead - KING OF LIMBS
Radiohead have been successfully straddling the divide between experimentation of mainstream popularity for some years and their star shows no sign of waning yet. The eighth studio album from the Oxford band and, rejecting the traditional album release treadmill once more, the album was released digitally first, with no preceding singles and then in physical form. Musically, the band experimented with recorded sounds such as birdsong and piano loops. Radiohead may have stopped concerning themselves with radio playlists some time ago but King of Limbs still went Top Ten across the globe, including a number three spot on the Billboard Chart.
Beyonce - 4
With a 2011 Glastonbury headline slot under her belt that will be talked about for years to come, this was Beyonce's first full-length release since a professional separation from her father/manager Matthew Knowles. The result, which was released after a period of reflection for the former DESTINY'S CHILD singer, revealed a newfound vulnerability and showcased influences from a range of genres and eras.
Foo Fighters - WASTING LIGHT
Hailed as their best album since The Colour and The Light, Wasting Light shows the Foo Fighters at their brutal best. Produced by BUTCH VIG (member of Garbage and producer of Nirvana's seminal album Nevermind) on analogue tape in Dave Grohl's garage, Foo Fighters let the songs do the talking here and it works. Packed equally with riffs and emotion, Foo Fighters retain their position as one of the world's best-selling rockers.
PJ Harvey - LET ENGLAND SHAKE
Winner of the 2011 Mercury Music Prize, this latest album from one of the UK's most enigmatic songwriters proved to be a gem. Pj Harvey admitted that this was her first attempt at being political and as the album's titled was echoed by the nation as the UK took to the streets, protesting and rioting - she could not have done so at a better time. Quirky and beguiling, there's a reason that Harvey is the only artist to have won the Mercury Music Prize twice.
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE - CEREMONIALS
The flame-haired singer may have confounded her die-hard fans by performing on X Factor but the record-buying public have long warmed to Florence Welch and her unique disco-histrionics. Drawing yet more comparisons to Kate Bush, Ceremonials defied the weight of 'difficult-second-album-syndrome' and leapt to the Top Ten of the UK album chart. It fared pretty well in the United States, too, reaching number 6 in the Billboard 200 charts.
UNDERRATED ALBUMS OF 2011
Those albums that might not make the best of lists but are deserving of a mention, nonetheless
THE WEEKND - HOUSE OF BALLOONS
Little is known about Abel Tesfaye (the man behind The Weeknd) but his mixtapes, released for free online, have had bloggers in a frenzy all year. House of Balloons, the first of the releases, chronicles a night on the tiles and the inevitable comedown. Potentially the underground R&B it of the year.
WILD FLAG - WILD FLAG
Rising from the ashes of Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag are a fascinating proposition in their own right and their debut album is a lively affair. You can hear the strains of their previous bands shining through but these four women have an identity of their own.
SBTRKT - Sbtrkt
Combining pop, soul and dubstep, Sbtrkt - bolstered by the likes of Sampha and Jessie Ware on vocals - released an album that works equally well in a sweaty club, a festival tent, or filtered through headphones late at night.
PORTUGAL. THE MAN - IN THE MOUNTAIN IN THE CLOUDS
The sixth album from this Portland band is a glam-psych powerhouse, notable for final track 'Sleep Forever' which transforms itself from quiet ballad to an explosion of musical delights
Dj SHADOW - THE LESS YOU KNOW THE BETTER
One of dance music's most progressive and innovative musicians, Dj Shadow wowed fans yet again with another impressive fusion of genres, yet never losing his own identity. Featuring cameos from Tom Vek and Talib Kweli, Shadow may not be the most prolific of producers but what he lacks in quality he more than makes up for in quality
ALEX CLARE - THE LATENESS OF THE HOUR
Alex Clare's debut album 'Lateness of the Hour' sees revered producers Diplo and Switch bring their dub-step and thundering basslines together with Clare's early affection for soul and blues to create an absolutely stunning record. Praised across the board by music critics, Alex Clare is definitely one to watch.
ST. VINCENT - STRANGE MERCY
Annie Clark (a former member of The Polyphonic Spree) released her third solo album this year. A leap in confidence, 'Strange Mercy' has been marked by many as St. Vincent's 'coming of age' album; sophisticated songwriting with a catchy edge.