20. Emeli Sandé Our Version of Events “All I can do is sing my heart out,” declares Emeli Sandé. Well, that’s clearly not all she can do. Writing credits for everyone from Susan Boyle to Wiley and scoring a number two hit with her debut single “Heaven” are proof of that. As are the 24-year-old Scottish former medical student’s Critics’ Choice Brit award, and the fact that she counts among her fans Alicia Keys, Chris Martin and... Simon Cowell.
Sandé’s debut album arrives haloed by “classic” R&B/soulpop expectation. It’s solid, accomplished and highly polished, but falls short of the classicism of artists that Sandé – and every other female singer-songwriter of her ilk – namechecks, ie Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys. Sandé’s soul-blues voice is well-controlled and extraordinarily powerful, her strings-heavy music scaled to fit, but it impresses in much the same way as a force-12 gale impresses – prompting you to seek shelter. Sharon O’Connell
Chart source: Virgin Megastores
19. Katy Perry Prism This is Katy Perry. A California girl who’s not just Russell Brand’s ex, but a mighty pop giant in her own right. And with her third album ‘Prism’ you shall hear her roar!
The diva has done away with her multi-coloured wigs and cupcake costumes, dyed her hair black and written (alongside songwriters including Emeli Sandé and Sia) an entire record about how independent a woman she is. It might not be an original subject, but it makes a welcome change from the teen naivety.
Perry’s made it very clear she’s now ‘dancing to her own beat’ (so she sings on ‘International Smile’), albeit one that amalgamates a few influences. Disco, for instance, is all over ‘Prism’ – the only exceptions being the standard-fare piano ballads, such as post-divorce confessional ‘By the Grace of God’. Vocally, Perry is, by her own admission, going for a form of ‘Mariah Carey-oke’ – and she achieves it. Her singing is stronger and more emotional than ever before.
Don’t be fazed by all this change, though, because ‘Prism’ keeps Perry exactly where she has been for a while – at the top of the charts. It might be KP’s most grown-up album, but there are still enough pop hooks here for her to hang her entire wardrobe on. Danielle Goldstein
18. The Piano Guys The Piano Guys Five guys from Utah caused a YouTube sensation with their uplifting (and piano led) takes of everything from Beethoven to David Guetta. A sheeny mix of pop, classical, New Age nonsense which is good for the car but lacking in depth.
17. Mumford & Sons Babel Considering they started out as alt folk darling Laura Marling’s backing band, Marcus Mumford and his lot haven’t half done well for themselves, yet it still seems like they have something to prove. Yes, ‘Babel’ matches the deftness of their first offering – 2009’s ‘Sigh No More’ – there are poignant tales of love (radio hit ‘I Will Wait’), foot-stompers (‘Babel’) and brittle acoustic cuts (‘Reminder’) – but is it refreshing enough to excite? Not really.
The four-piece have been trying hard to establish a new sound, splitting ‘Babel’s recording over four studios, and utilising a ‘ten-song’ method, whereby each band member wrote ten tracks in a short amount of time to see what came out. The results, however, are prosaic. Apart from stand-out track ‘Broken Crown’ – which Marcus’s affecting, grizzly strain turns beautifully menacing – this is a carbon-copy of ‘Sigh…’, and no amount of speedy string-diddling is going to change that. Danielle Goldstein
16. Selena Gomez Stars Dance Now the former Disney kid is going solo, dumping the trashy Euro-pop beats of her teens in the process. These days she’s all dubstep drops (no doubt inspired by the Skrillex soundtrack to her last film ‘Spring Breakers’) and Rihanna B-sides (well, she did work with the same production team). But it’s not just the ‘na na nas’, ‘rum pa pa pumpas’, or even the dancehall/reggae inflections (‘Like a Champion’) that reek of Ri Ri; Gomez even adopts something close to a Bajan accent.
It’s all a bit karaoke considering the 21-year-old singer was born and raised in Texas. And when she’s not being Rihanna, she’s being Ellie Goulding, as on the record's breathy title track where she comes close to Goulding's nasal tone. ‘Stars Dance’ is full of personality. It’s just a shame none of it belongs to Selena Gomez. Danielle Goldstein
15. Alicia Keys Girl on Fire You’ve heard the title track on the radio a thousand times. You might have even gone to her at Media City in November. After drafting in young blood for her fifth studio LP – collaborations alongside Bruno Mars, Babyface, Frank Ocean and Jamie Foxx – Keys was rewarded with her biggest hit single since 2007’s ‘No One’.
14. One Direction Up All Night Two years after its 2011 release, 1D’s debut album continues to sell in the UAE. Manicured beats and bop-a-long choruses rebound with the teens here, too.
13. P!nk The Truth About Love Thousands of panicked parents will surely be rushing to switch off stereos the moment their children hit ‘play’ on this album. The 33-year-old Philly girl has never been one to walk on the polite side of pop, as her 2006 single ‘Stupid Girls’ made clear: ‘I’m so glad that I’ll never fit in,’ she sang then. But such assertiveness doesn’t mean there’s no soft side to her; she just knows how to balance it, as ‘The Truth About Love’ demonstrates perfectly.
From the explosive chants of opener ‘Are We All We Are’, to the tenderness of acoustic ballad ‘The Great Escape’ – a song that shows off Pink’s impressive vocal range – the record slips between boisterous beats and subtle strings. It’s not a leap away from her previous five albums, but with plenty of those all-important pop hooks and a fresh batch of lyrics, Pink has once again managed to breathe new life into her tried-and-tested formula. Danielle Goldstein
12. Justin Bieber Believe Bieber is incomprehensibly huge – he has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the world, at 37 million and counting – but his appeal has been carefully crafted to target a specific age bracket. Those older than his own 19 years are likely to be scratching their heads at the teen phenomenon that has clocked three billion hits on YouTube.
All this was proved when 25,000 kids turned out to see him at Dubai’s Sevens Stadium over two nights in April. Perhaps it’s unsurprising they bought the album, too.
11. Celine Dion Loved Me Back to Life Blimey, 11 albums already? For her latest, Dion veers away from power balladry towards beats and retro-soul. It’s alright, if you like that kind of thing.
10. Michael Bublé To Be Loved What’s in a name? Received wisdom says ‘not much’, but when it comes to the smoother groover from Vancouver, it’s the secret of his success.
It’s pronounced “boo-blay”’ was the slogan used when his eponymous breakthrough album launched in 2003. Nothing has burst the Bublé bubble since. His consistent formula of big-band crooning and radio-friendly soft pop has generated huge sales, and, along with that playful name, has seen him become a Grammy machine. At 37 years old, he’s sitting pretty. The only thing that can scupper him is if his famously affable nature temporarily deserts him and he lashes out at a paparazzi, or worse, a punter.
Again, thanks to the name, it’s unlikely. A man named Bublé has, like Cyrano de Bergerac, heard every possible joke, slight and cuss imaginable and come out stronger as a result. We can only hope his sisters – actually named Crystal and Brandee Bublé – have the same resolve.
9. Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience (1 of 2) Music has become smarter since JT last released an album, with the Frank Oceans and Weeknds of the world setting a higher standard for modern R&B soloists. Timberlake, and his producer Timbaland, recognise this, and while it’s not excessively minimal or modern, the album they’ve made together is both blissfully nostalgic and coolly new.
A collective ‘meh’ of indifference might have greeted the brassy single ‘Suit & Tie’, but the absence of a ubiquitous smash hit has allowed Timberlake to spread his magic across an album consistently, rather than in bursts. Featuring melodies so pristine that Patrick Bateman would put them on in his living room (‘Don’t Hold the Wall’), almost all of Justin’s third solo glides by with escapist serenity. ‘The 20/20 Experience’ is pure pop for grown-ups. Harriet Gibsone
8. Justin Bieber Believe Acoustic Blimey, again? This cash-in acoustic copy of his third (?) proper crops up ahead of the original. Again, may we remind you of the 25,000 screaming kids? That’s it. Before the gig hundreds of even queued up at locations across the country for the opportunity to enter a video booth and record a personal message explaining why they’re a ‘Belieber’.
‘We sit down after the shows and watch the videos, and can’t help but be moved,’ said Virgin Radio DJ and Time Out columnist Kris Fade. ‘I ask all these fans, “What is it about this guy?” and they all say the same: “He inspires me. I think he’s hot. I love his music and it’s just him – I’ve been a Belieber for years, I’ve seen him grow up as I’ve grown up.”’ Sob.
7. Andrea Bocelli Passione At the tender age of fifty, Andrea Bocelli finds himself the biggest-selling classical soloist of all time. His album sales exceed 65 million copies, and he is a guaranteed sellout at concert halls the world over. Only the late, great Pavarotti came close to equaling these astounding figures. So no surprise his latest sold well on these shores.
6. Daft Punk Random Access Memories It wasn’t hard for both listeners and critics to interpret Random Access Memories as a stand against the state of modern music. With its five year gestation period, huge budget, head-scratchingly diverse list of collaborators and – most of all – the French band’s decision to ditch the electro-wizardry of the previous three albums in favour of recording real, live, veteran session players, it seemed the duo’s enigmatic robot helmets were trying to communicate something. Something about the plasticity of music, perhaps, a barb in the back of the ‘EDM’ craze, which it arguably did more to inspire than anybody.
It sure is a curious feast, both a knowing homage to 70s disco and a vision of the future, splattered with orchestral interludes, solo piano improvs, an audio recording of the Apollo 17 space mission – and vocoders. All that money was well spent – it sound fantastic. The starring guests each leave an impressionable stamp. Over three tracks Nile Rodgers’ guitar playing is as sublime as iconic as ever.
RAM’s greatest failing is simply that is lacks any cohesive thrust, or indeed the statement it’s been (perhaps unfairly) tasked with making. While it was no doubt an adventure to capture all these jarring elements, together they often add up to less than the sum of their parts, and you can’t quite help wondering how such canny musical minds could end up so creatively confused. What we’re left with is a strange culture clash of Daft Punk’s newfound nostalgic disco aesthetic, its old futuristic house-pop ways and a whole load of other weird stuff. Rob Garratt
5. Bruno Mars Unorthodox Jukebox One of the biggest (and best) gigs of the year saw insanely talented pint-sized Hawaiian wonder Bruno Mars leap genres and bend sounds at Dubai Media City. The best moments were drawn from this, his far-stronger-than-the-first sophomore effort.
Mars’s ’80s newfound funk influences are refreshing, there are contemporary hip hop hints in the bassy beats of ‘Natalie’ and ‘Money Makes Her Smile’, and ska infusions with a steel pan/air horn mix on ‘Show Me’.
4. Adele 21 Heartbreak has always served as the grist for the finest songs in the pop canon and Adele Laurie Blue Adkins channelled the quashed dreams and drama of a shattered teen romance on her debut album ‘19’ with poignancy and class. Her soulful, timeless vocal made this Tottenham-born girl an award-winning international star, with ‘19’ going on to shift upwards of two million records. While Adele moves on to new musical territory – her American tourbus driver introduced her to Rascal Flatts, Wanda Jackson and Nashville drivetime faves Lady Antebellum – her subject matter remains entrenched in matters of the heart. This was another break-up to draw on and with the help of producers Paul Epworth and Rick Rubin, Adele is digging deeper and the results are simply stunning.
But don’t worry, it’s notall sodden tissues. First single ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Rumour Has It’ (with One Republic’s Ryan Tedder) are fierce, soul-bolstering shimmyshakers, with ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ adding a pinch of gospel and ‘Don’t You Remember’ showcasing her new countrytinged bent. Never once does Adele over embellish with superfluous wibbles and warbles. Showboating’s just not her style and her music is all the more powerful for it. We’ll be awaiting further instalments throughout Adele’s twenties with bated breath. Kim Taylor Bennett
3. Rihanna Unapologetic She might be the biggest female star in the world right now, and she played Abu Dhabi in October. No surprise that this latest release smashed the UAE charts, then. Oh, and remember ‘Diamonds’, right?
2. One Direction Midnight Memories Just one listen of ‘Midnight Memories’ suggests that One Direction’s previously pure form of tween pop has been exposed to one too many guitar riffs and ripped pairs of Levi’s. It’s transformed them into a teen-rock compound solid enough to bruise ticket sales for the McBusted tour.
This time round One Direction are getting serious. Delivering a ‘maturer’ sound, ‘Midnight Memories’ sees the boys rope in big drums and heavy handclaps to discuss the perils of heartache, jealousy and regret. Credit to the lads for not resting on their cringe-pop laurels (we’re looking at you, The Wanted), but it has to be said: One Direction haven’t gone totally off-piste, it’s just that they’re heading that tiny bit closer to adulthood – and that’s no fun at all.
1. One Direction Take Me Home What, One Direction make the top 20 three times, including the top and second spots, surely not?
We’re afraid so, folks, and we’re mourning the death of pop music too.
Quite why the second album, from 2012, outsells the new (and better) one from 2013, we just don’t know.