Winter 2010

The Best & Worst Albums of 2009

By Steven Housman

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the new Alicia Keys album, The Element of Freedom, her fourth studio set. I think it's her best complete album, period. "Empire State Of Mind (Pt. II) Broken Down" and the first single, "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart," are standouts. This is one of the best album releases of 2009!

But what happened to Mariah, Whitney and Mary J? This is a real step down from what I've been accustomed to. Jennifer Lopez can join this group. If her first single "Louboutins" is any indication of what's to come, her recording career is ovah! Time to start reading the scripts again, Miss Lopez. You're lucky Hollywood is still on the phone.

As for Whitney Houston – the track selections have to be one of the most baffling, considering that she was making her big "comeback" with I Look To You. The material wouldn't have even flown on her older albums when her vocals were in tip-top shape. Clive Davis may have been a master and will go down as one of the great music moguls of the late 20th century and beginning of the 2000s, but this latest release, and his former "girl-wonder," have me wondering if he's finally stayed too long at the fair.

As far as Taylor Swift is concerned, I started off the year not caring for her music at all. I surprised myself when I started getting hooked on her album Fearless, about four months ago. This girl, who just turned 20, has had a year most artists don't see in a lifetime. She also has longevity, and a large part of her success has to do with her crossover appeal from country to pop.

Another favorite pop album of mine is Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted, with great songs such as "Already Gone," "I Do Not Hook Up," "Save You" and the infectious "My Life Would Suck Without You" as the highlights. The latter is classic Kelly and a great song lyrically. The title of it may sound sophomoric, but the meaning behind it is completely authentic.

Adam Lambert's For Your Entertainment did not disappoint me. It covers several pop genres, from disco-synth to power ballads to glam rock, and his voice is clear as it soars to the heavens. This is a guy who's also in it for the long run.

Rihanna's Rated R was a great follow-up to 2007's "Good Girl Gone Bad." It's hardly a surprise that this release is much darker and richer considering the type of year she's had, and it shows a much more mature artist than I've ever seen in her before. Jay-Z has a great knack for choosing great artists, and Rihanna has another winner on her hands. We'll be counting her Grammy nominations and wins in 2011.

The music artist of the year goes to Lady Gaga. She is what many have called "The Madonna for this generation," but it's not just because of her performance art – this woman has enormous vocals and a knack for writing killer pop hooks that can make you dance or just listen with your heart to her intense and street-savvy lyrics. The industry has another truly unique star with Lady Gaga, and I predict that she will be another artist who will not only be around for the long haul, but will be an artist that surprises the industry when she's still relevant 10, 15, 20 and 25 years from now. Remember what they said about Madonna when she began? Gaga has already surpassed everyone's expectations with her consecutive #1 singles from her debut set, The Fame, and the additional songs on The Fame Monster. Whoever calls her the "flavor of the year" or a "flash in the pan," remember that when she's still turning out hit records in a decade. I hardly think that anyone with a pop musical ear hasn't already said "remember when I told you so" when it comes to Lady Gaga.

The expression "save the best for last" is most relevant for my final choice. Barbra Streisand is a recording artist who signed her first record contract in 1962. Since her first album release, The Barbra Streisand Album in 1963, she has released 63 albums, which includes 51 gold albums, 30 platinum albums and 13 multi-platinum albums. Her latest, Love Is The Answer, is a jazz-influnced laid-back set brilliantly produced by Diana Krall and Tommy LiPuma. The selections are top-notch, ranging from jazz standards such as "Here's To Life" and "Here's That Rainy Day" to pop gems including "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The latter is a true highlight on an album of highlights.

In 1987, the last time Ms. Streisand won a competitive Grammy Award for The Broadway Album (she's a ten-time Grammy honoree), she commented that it had been "24 years since I won my first Grammy" and finished her statement by saying "with any luck, I'll see you 24 years from tonight." With her #1 debut for this latest album and the critical acclaim it has received, I expect her "luck" will become a reality when the 2011 Grammy Awards roll around in about 13 months.

Bravo, Barbra! Streisand is the only artist that has had record-breaking#1 albums in five consecutive decades, and the only artist who can still top the pop charts at 67 years-old.

In a time when most artists have to resort to gimmickry to keep their name in the news, Streisand has only had to rely on one thing, her sheer talent. Thank goodness that in a year offering only a handful of unique artists, Streisand still takes top billing.

Farewell to the Greatest Musical Entertainer of All Time –
You Are Sorely Missed

Michael Jackson
August 29, 1958 - June 25, 2009

© 2010 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.