2016 albums

2016 Album Poll results

Thanks to everyone who voted in our 2016 album poll! The votes have been counted, the results are in and while there may be a few surprises in the top ten, there was an almost inevitable runaway winner. We’ll come to that in a bit, but here’s the full top ten as voted for by you!

10: RICK ASTLEY – 50

Rick Astley - 50Well, this is a turn up and no mistake. Our review of Rick’s comeback album was easily the most popular post on The Sound of the Crowd in 2016 and it’s one of only two albums in our list to reach the top 20 best selling albums of the year, yet it barely registered on this poll. Seems Rick’s peculiarly English gospel set wasn’t to everyone’s taste. A high quality pop album, but maybe next time Rick should concentrate less on the overarching religious imagery and more on how he’s never going to give you up. Wait a minute… what if Never Gonna Give You Up was actually about God too? Have we been Rickrolled again?
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9: MEGADETH – Dystopia

Megadeth - DystopiaA somewhat unexpected entry in our top ten, it has to be said, but the people have spoken and no doubt Dave Mustaine will be delighted to have beaten Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct in the popular vote, especially as he once advocated the building of a wall along the US-Mexican border. At least Mustaine hasn’t followed Astley down the overt Christian imagery route; instead we get tortuous religious metaphors, blustering pro-American rhetoric and a couplet that seems to have been borrowed from the Spice Girls (“Who do you think you are? Some kind of superstar?” on The Emperor). Still, at least on a musical level, Dystopia is Megadeth’s heaviest record in years and a real return to form.
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8: IGGY POP – Post Pop Depression

Iggy Pop - Post Pop DepressionIncredibly Post Pop Depression became Iggy’s first ever top twenty hit album in the UK when it reached number 5 at the end of March. Written and recorded in collaboration with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal), it’s a lot more restrained and polished than you might expect from either party – not in the same way as previous attempts at commerciality like Blah Blah Blah, Pop’s 1986 collaboration with Bowie during his mid-80s slump, but in a way that finally provides a contemporary-sounding outlet for Iggy’s garage rock heritage. Iggy Pop is relevant again, who’d’ve thought it?
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7: SHAKIN’ STEVENS – Echoes Of Our Times

Shakin' Stevens "Echoes Of Our Times"An unexpected comeback, both in terms of the length of time since his last release and the music contained therein. Shaky may have been the most consistently successful hitmaker of the ’80s but, as de facto keeper of the rock ‘n’ roll flame, the albums of his heyday were very firmly rooted in the pre-Beatles tradition – a few hit singles buried among a lot of filler. For his first LP in over a decade, however, Stevens delivered an astonishingly personal set inspired by the hardships his ancestors endured, be it in the trenches of the First World War or the copper mines of Cornwall. Combine this with some of the most authentic blues, cajun and country music ever heard on one of his records and you have the most rewarding album of Shaky’s career to date. It may be too late for a full career reappraisal but let’s hope there’s more to come.
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Related:  Chart Watch & New Releases: 25 March 2016

6: KATE BUSH – Before The Dawn

Kate Bush - "Before The Dawn"It says a lot about the esteem in which Kate Bush is held that she can reach the top five of the album chart (and take 6th place in this poll) with a triple live album recorded two years earlier which doesn’t even have her name on the front cover. As a document of her 2014 Hammersmith Apollo residency, it’s as vague and ethereal as Bush herself these days; pieced together from several shows, it’s not so much a definitive record of what happened as a suggestion of how Kate would like you to remember it. There’s a version of Never Be Mine which definitely wasn’t performed in the live show… or was it? In the absence of any evidence from the audiences themselves (they largely heeded Bush’s pleas not to film any of the show on their phones, so don’t bother checking YouTube) no-one can really say for sure. Maybe you missed it, or it was dropped the night you were there, or it was only performed once when the show was filmed for the mythical DVD which never materialised. In fact, given that the album is credited to “The K Fellowship”, there’s a distinct whiff of the KLF’s involvement – did the shows actually happen? Perhaps it was all an elaborate hoax. You never can tell.
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5: DEXYS – Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul

Dexys - "Let The Record Show Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul"More than most of his ’80s contemporaries, the work of Kevin Rowland has always been an acquired taste. The idiosyncratic mannerisms, the whooping and hollering, the sudden unannounced diversion into completely different musical territory seemingly on a whim; all these traits have come to define Rowland’s career and polarise opinion of his work. It’s understandable that many music lovers feel alienated by his attitude, yet those who understand him are some of the most passionate fans imaginable and have stuck with him through three very different Dexys Midnight Runners albums and even the cross-dressed karaoke of 1999’s My Beauty, to be rewarded with the triumphant return of Dexys with One Day I’m Going To Soar in 2012. Let The Record Show… keeps up the standard and succeeds where My Beauty floundered, Rowland confidently interpreting standards from Forty Shades of Green and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes to a staggering reading of LeAnn Rimes’ How Do I Live and a joyous Grazing in the Grass. Kevin Rowland is enjoying himself. About time too, he deserves it.
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Related:  Chart Watch and New Releases: 10 March 2017

4: PET SHOP BOYS – Super

Pet Shop Boys - "Super"The thirteenth studio Pet Shop Boys album, all of which have reached the top ten – you can’t argue with that. Lead single The Pop Kids hides its wistfulness under a veneer of rose-tinted nostalgia and despite the inevitable moments of melancholy on Sad Robot World and The Dictator Decides, this is a largely upbeat set. The defiantly optimistic opener Happiness (with a chorus that sounds like it could have been sampled from an American sitcom theme tune) heralds an album peppered with floor fillers like Groovy, Pazzo! and Inner Sanctum, the latter two harking back to 1993’s dancefloor experiment Relentless. Remarkably, after thirty years the Boys are still right on top of their game.
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3: MADNESS – Can’t Touch Us Now

Madness - Can't Touch Us NowEven the Nutty Boys couldn’t find much to be nutty about in 2016, so the puffed up title track and the exuberant Mr Apples are very much in the minority on this eleventh studio album. Elsewhere we find Madness in reflective mood with poignant song portraits of Camden Town characters (Pam The Hawk and Blackbird which details a chance meeting with Amy Winehouse), cautionary tales of protective parents (Herbert), political satire (Mumbo Jumbo), tender love songs (You Are My Everything) and general 21st century disillusionment (Good Times). If we consider earlier post-reunion albums such as Wonderful and The Liberty of Norton Folgate to be roughly equivalent to One Step Beyond… and 7, Can’t Touch Us Now sees the band moving back into Keep Moving territory. Madness have always had a dark side bubbling under the surface; it’s divine to see it break through now and then.
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2: ABC – The Lexicon Of Love II

ABC - The Lexicon of Love IIDeclaring your new album a sequel to your first, most successful and best known set (some thirty-four years after its release, let’s not forget) was always going to be a risky move, especially without the magic touch of Trevor Horn at the controls, but nobody should have doubted that Martin Fry was up to the task. While it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the first album, The Flames of Desire, The Ship of the Seasick Sailor and Viva Love are among the best songs ABC have released since their début. Lexicon II is a great ABC album, but so were their previous two Traffic and Skyscraping and they got precisely nowhere, so if linking this album back to the band’s biggest triumph is what they have to do to get these songs the recognition they deserve, so be it. Where ABC go from here remains to be seen, but if there’s any justice they’ll be able to maintain this level of success without having to brand their next release The Lexicon of Love III.
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Related:  New Releases: 18 March 2016

1: DAVID BOWIE – Blackstar

David Bowie - BlackstarFrom the moment voting began there was little doubt that ★ was going to end up a clear winner. In truth, the album deserves to be up there on its own merits; the circumstances surrounding its release (and its creator’s death two days later) risk overshadowing the music itself. It’s a fascinating, occasionally baffling, but always rewarding piece of work. Stark electronic jazz stylings melt into heartbreaking melodies which give way to defiant rhythms – and that’s just the opening track. Blackstar and Lazarus have become two of 2016’s best known singles, even though neither of them reached the top forty, while Sue (Or In a Season of Crime) is ripped from its original free jazz backing and stapled to a powerful new drum and bass arrangement which opens a tiny passageway into its complex structure. If any other artist has bowed out with a more affecting and powerful epitaph, I’ve yet to hear it.
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