Welcome to the second installment of my review of the best albums (according to critical consensus) of the 2010s. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. This is one of three musically-themed blog series I’m doing this year. You may also be interested in my review of the reputed 20 best albums of 2020 (latest edition here), and my search for the 21 best albums of 2021 (January edition here).
To quickly review methodology, I took “best of decade” lists from the AV Club, Billboard, Jim DeRogatis, Greg Kot, the New Yorker, New Music Express, Paste, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Vice. For any album that appeared at least once in these lists, I tallied up votes between them. Albums getting 4 votes and up totaled 52, which was close enough to a top 50 that I decided to go with that as a cutoff.
I’m doing 10 total posts of 5 each (or actually 6 on the last two) and then a final wrap-up. And now, without further ado, here’s Part II!
Anti (Rihanna, 2016, 7 votes)– There’s musical and lyrical sophistication here, and songs that are sometimes more conventional, sometimes more personal and confessional. It’s very well produced, but I don’t know that it makes the level of a “best album” of the decade. It is, par excellence, what a big chunk of the decade sounded like. But I’m not sure it holds up to the best of other soul/R&B/dance albums from the same time period.
Art Angels (Grimes, 2015, 4 votes)– The ethereal disembodied first track almost sent me away, but then the variability and verve of the subsequent efforts brought me back. Quirky music, quirky vocals, very upbeat. She knows pop music, and then keeps ‘effin with it with dissonant choices, which I appreciate. If this was the average level pop music was landing at, it would be a grand thing!
Beyonce (Beyonce, 2013, 6 votes)– From the first track, which tackles body image and social pressure, this is a pop album in service of a higher purpose. Whether tackling social issues, personal biography, or emotional confession, track after track aims for import. In lesser hands, this could be an unwieldy exercise. But given skill and vision, it can be pulled off, and is amazing when it works (cf. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation). Beyonce’s hands are not lesser- between mastery of the musical idioms of soul and R&B, by turns soaring and subtle vocals, rich production, and incisive lyrics, she delivers.
Blackstar (David Bowie, 2016, 6 votes)– As a David Bowie fan, I had been curious about his final album. The opening/title song is mesmerizing and self-valedictory, in the course of 10 minutes, it tries out styles from throughout his long career. Subsequent tracks stick more to a unified musical theme, with healthy portions of dissonant art rock and electronic beats. Vocally and musically the tracks are unsettling in the way many a Bowie song can be unsettling, and then on top of that there is an obvious concern with history, legacy, and mortality throughout. It’s a powerful thing to do with a record and makes for a fitting swan song.
Blonde (Frank Ocean, 2016, 8 votes)– Is it just me, or does the first track sound like an autotuned chipmunk? Real vocals kicked in midway, but the sound was still very autotuned. Which is a shame, because musically it’s making many unusual and interesting choices for R&B. Dammit, it’s growing on me. The arrangement and production is actually really, really good. Except for the occasional dip back into autotuned chipmunk. But this is a fun and unusual sounding album. I can see why it ended up on so many lists!
And that’s it for Part II. Ten down, 42 to go! Which means we may learn the secret to Life, the Universe, and Everything…