Adele, Bon Iver Beat Coldplay, Chilis for 2011’s Top CD: Review

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Photographer: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images

Adele performs to launch her new album at The Tabernacle on January 24, 2011 in London.

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Photographer: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images

Adele performs to launch her new album at The Tabernacle on January 24, 2011 in London. Close

Adele performs to launch her new album at The Tabernacle on January 24, 2011 in London.

Source: Interscope via Bloomberg

The cover art for the CD "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga. The deluxe edition of the second studio album by the U.S. singer was released in 2011. Close

The cover art for the CD "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga. The deluxe edition of the second studio album by the U.S.... Read More

Source: XL Records via Bloomberg

The cover of Adele's album "21." The British singer's 2011 CD follows her 2008 debut "19," with both named for her age when she was writing the songs. Close

The cover of Adele's album "21." The British singer's 2011 CD follows her 2008 debut "19," with both named for her... Read More

Source: Jive Records via Bloomberg

The cover of "Femme Fatale" by Britney Spears, on Jive Records, is released in the U.S. on March 29. Close

The cover of "Femme Fatale" by Britney Spears, on Jive Records, is released in the U.S. on March 29.

Source: Shorefire PR via Bloomberg

The cover of the CD "Bon Iver" by Bon Iver. Wisconsin songwriter Justin Vernon has now added a whole backing band for his second album. Close

The cover of the CD "Bon Iver" by Bon Iver. Wisconsin songwriter Justin Vernon has now added a whole backing band for his second album.

Source: Sub Pop via Bloomberg

The cover of the CD "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes. The second studio album is the follow-up to the acclaimed ``Fleet Foxes.'' Close

The cover of the CD "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes. The second studio album is the follow-up to the acclaimed ``Fleet Foxes.''

Source: Anti-records via Bloomberg

The cover of the CD "Bad As Me" by Tom Waits. The U.S. songwriter's latest CD covers musical styles from his career, including blues, gospel and folk. Close

The cover of the CD "Bad As Me" by Tom Waits. The U.S. songwriter's latest CD covers musical styles from his career,... Read More

Source: Shorefire Publicity via Bloomberg

"Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down" by Ry Cooder. The album of protest songs confronts the financial system, the treatment of immigrants and the working class. Close

"Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down" by Ry Cooder. The album of protest songs confronts the financial system, the... Read More

Source: RMP London/Island Records via Bloomberg

The cover jacket of "Let England Shake" by U.K. singer P.J. Harvey. The CD is Harvey's eighth studio album. Close

The cover jacket of "Let England Shake" by U.K. singer P.J. Harvey. The CD is Harvey's eighth studio album.

Source: Island Records via Bloomberg

The cover of the CD "Ceremonials" by Florence and the Machine. The new CD includes songs such as "What the Warder Gave Me" and "Shake It Out." Close

The cover of the CD "Ceremonials" by Florence and the Machine. The new CD includes songs such as "What the Warder... Read More

Source: Press Here Publicity via Bloomberg

Anna Calvi is a singer feted by Brian Eno and Nick Cave. Calvi has released a self-titled debut album that has created a stir in Europe and been nominated for the U.K. Mercury Prize. Close

Anna Calvi is a singer feted by Brian Eno and Nick Cave. Calvi has released a self-titled debut album that has... Read More

Source: Anti Records via Bloomberg

The cover art of "50 Words for Snow" by Kate Bush. The album's suite of songs about sleet, snow, blizzards and ice was inspired by the 2010-2011 cold winter in the U.K. Close

The cover art of "50 Words for Snow" by Kate Bush. The album's suite of songs about sleet, snow, blizzards and ice... Read More

Source: Sony via Bloomberg

The cover of the Katy B album "On a Mission." The singer mashes dubstep music with club dance. Close

The cover of the Katy B album "On a Mission." The singer mashes dubstep music with club dance.

Source: Concord Music via Bloomberg

The cover art of the Paul Simon CD "So Beautiful or So What." The album is Simon's follow up to 2006's "Surprise." Close

The cover art of the Paul Simon CD "So Beautiful or So What." The album is Simon's follow up to 2006's "Surprise."

Source: Capitol via Bloomberg

The cover art of "Rome" by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi. The CD, released in May 2011, features musicians Jack White and Norah Jones. Close

The cover art of "Rome" by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi. The CD, released in May 2011, features musicians Jack White and Norah Jones.

Source: CDBaby/ Jon Regen via Bloomberg

"Revolution" by Jon Regen, the follow-up to his acclaimed ``Let It Go.'' The U.S. songwriter's album mixes pop with jazz and he is on tour to support it. Close

"Revolution" by Jon Regen, the follow-up to his acclaimed ``Let It Go.'' The U.S. songwriter's album mixes pop with... Read More

Source: Capitol via Bloomberg

The cover of "Hot Source Committee Part 2" by the Beastie Boys. The trio's eight studio album mixes ``old skool rap and obscure samples.'' Close

The cover of "Hot Source Committee Part 2" by the Beastie Boys. The trio's eight studio album mixes ``old skool rap... Read More

Source: RCA/ Roswell via Bloomberg

The cover of "Wasting Light" a studio album by the Foo Fighters. The record was made in group leader Dave Grohl's two-car garage, with Butch Vig producing. Close

The cover of "Wasting Light" a studio album by the Foo Fighters. The record was made in group leader Dave Grohl's... Read More

Source: Warner Brothers via Bloomberg

The cover art for the CD "I'm With You" by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Released in Aug. 2011, it is the band's first since "Stadium Arcadium" in 2006. Close

The cover art for the CD "I'm With You" by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Released in Aug. 2011, it is the band's first since... Read More

Source: Mercury via Bloomberg

The cover of the CD "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds." The U.K. songwriter's album teams him with a new band post Oasis. Close

The cover of the CD "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds." The U.K. songwriter's album teams him with a new band post Oasis.

Source: Parlophone via Bloomberg

The cover jacket of "Mylo Xyloto" by Coldplay. The new CD contains songs such as "Charlie Brown" and "Major Minus." Close

The cover jacket of "Mylo Xyloto" by Coldplay. The new CD contains songs such as "Charlie Brown" and "Major Minus."

Source: Radiohead via Bloomberg

The cover art for the CD "The King of Limbs," the eighth studio album by U.K. alternative rock band Radiohead. Close

The cover art for the CD "The King of Limbs," the eighth studio album by U.K. alternative rock band Radiohead.

The year started with Lady Gaga’s forecast that her new CD would be the century’s best.

Now 2011 ends with Gaga’s “little monster” fans resorting to Twitter sniping at her British rival Adele, whose “21” is the best selling album in four years, shifting more than 13 million copies worldwide, according to her record label, XL.

Adele’s commercial success has alienated those critics who shy away from recommending anything too obvious. Still, “21” remains the finest of the 1,000 or so new CDs I’ve heard in 2011, and a strong pick for Grammy and Brit award success in February. It’s retro in an Amy Winehouse way, right from “Rolling in the Deep” through to the closing “Someone Like You.”

Gaga’s “Born This Way” has its moments, with the title track all over the airwaves, and she certainly bettered Britney Spears, peddling the same disco vibe as Rihanna and Katy Perry.

Two relatively obscure bands, the Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, returned with challenging second albums. I loved “Helplessness Blues” by the Foxes from its first play and, like Adele’s, I gave it a ***** rating. While I initially awarded a less enthusiastic *** ½ to Bon Iver’s eponymous CD, I kept coming back to its subtle charms, whatever else was on the review pile. With a few months’ perspective, it’s a real grower.

No need for second thoughts on two U.S. veterans who released their finest work in years. Tom Waits growls his way to more greatness on “Bad as Me.” Ry Cooder gets rude about bankers on the Woody Guthrie-like “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down.”

English Roses

Exceptional CDs by British chanteuses included “Let England Shake,” P.J. Harvey’s concept album about war, which won the Mercury Prize. Florence Welch blasted out on Florence & the Machine’s poppy “Ceremonials” and Anna Calvi made an assured self-titled debut. Laura Marling’s thoughtful “A Creature I Don’t Know,” Kate Bush’s ambient “50 Words for Snow” and Katy B’s danceable “On a Mission” weren’t far behind.

While Winehouse’s posthumous “Lioness” was a patchy farewell, the great Gil Scott-Heron lived to hear the splendid remix of his work by Jamie XX, “We’re New Here.” He died shortly afterwards.

Those heading for the holiday sales won’t go far wrong by buying any of these impressive CDs: Paul Simon’s literate “So Beautiful or So What”; U.S. singer Eilen Jewell’s bluesy “Queen of the Minor Key”; Drake’s crooned “Take Care’; Danger Mouse’s filmic “Rome”; Leslie Feist’s moody “Metals” or pianist Jon Regen’s jazzy “Revolution.”

Loud and Proud

All of the above are good for late-night introspection. Those wanting something louder can opt for the Beastie Boys, who made some noise with “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” and Mastodon, making even more with “The Hunter.” Just a notch behind them, the Foo Fighters melted speakers with “Wasting Light.”

For those who got past the hideous Damien Hirst fly cover, the Red Hot Chili Peppers crank up their guitars on “I’m With You.” For my money, the best offering from a U.S. group in 2011 was “The Whole Love” by indie darlings Wilco, while “The King Is Dead” by the Decemberists was a pastoral delight.

There were some disappointments. Lou Reed and Metallica’s “Lulu,” Mick Jagger’s “SuperHeavy” project and the Strokes’s comeback fell short of their considerable hype. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative “Watch the Throne” failed to deliver on its boasted brilliance.

Bickering Brothers

There was as much braggadocio from the Gallagher brothers who used to be Oasis (and, it seems, will be again when they have finished bickering). Liam struck first with the half-baked Beady Eye. Noel did better with High Flying Birds.

British groups made some impressive music that’s worth a listen. Try “Skying” by the Horrors, “A Different Kind of Fix” by Bombay Bicycle Club, “The English Riviera” by Metronomy, “Suck It and See” by the Arctic Monkeys and “Build a Rocket Boys” by Elbow.

Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” has little to dislike and much to like. It’s professionally produced, tuneful and so safe as to be a little dull. Radiohead’s “King of Limbs” is a little more edgy -- the best rock is usually a little provocative. It’s what it’s there for, right?

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

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(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Mark Beech in London at mbeech@bloomberg.net or http://twitter.com/Mark_Beech

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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