The Renaissance (Universal, 2008): It was such an agile record at the time of its release; buoyed by a spirit of playfulness with just a dollop of social consciousness―Q-Tip mesmerized me in 2008. This album was the last hip-hop album that I personally felt was an event when it debuted to public consumption.
Long Gone Before Daylight (Stockholm, 2003): Next to No Doubt, The Cardigans were the most versatile alternative pop outfit hustling in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Like most Americans I had been won over with “Lovefool”. Many years later, when I was in a very unhealthy relationship, I turned to this album for solace. The blend of the wounded lyrics and the country / folk music tones were a salve.
Mesopotamia (Warner Brothers, 1982): An EP from their post-Wild Planet (1980) period and pre-Bouncing Off the Satellites (1986) LP―its playing (and sonic) expanse gave it the feel of an album. Mesopotamia had The B-52’s get a little more linear, but much to my joy they stayed wacky as ever.
Walking with the Night (Expansion, 2010): “Remember the Love” danced through my television speakers as the theme to ‘Noah’s Arc’ 10 years ago and I was hooked. Evans straddled jazz, hip-hop and sweetfaced R&B like no other singer I’d experienced. When I came across this LP, it deepened my affection toward the singer’s penchant for modern soul with a classic rinse.
White Lilies Island (RCA, 2001): Like a lot of people in the late 1990’s, I knew Imbruglia from her debut Left of the Middle (1998). White Lilies Island contained more of Imbruglia’s spirit and it translated in the performances contained on the long player―if someone was stuck on “Torn,” the album surpassed that right away with “Wrong Impression”.
Scream If You Wanna Go Faster (EMI, 2001): Splashy, sensitive and smart―no one really made pop the way Geri Halliwell did. That juggling act between frivolity and reflection led me to keep Scream If You Wanna Go Faster close. As the years have gone on, especially in light of how far pop continued to fall, its abilities haven’t dated.
The Curse of Blondie (Epic, 2003): This was the very first Blondie LP I ever bought. Its lead single “Good Boys” piqued my curiosity with the punkers. Needless to the say, the record delivered the goods and though they had others winners in their discography, Curse remained my favorite.
Me Myself I (A&M, 1981): Getting into Joan Armatrading was a real pleasure. Much like another act featured on this list (Hall & Oates), you could divide Armatrading’s catalogue into (almost) two distinct sides. The folky, jazz-lite ’70’s stuff and the power pop, reggae inflected ’80’s material. Me Myself I was the pivot point between the two periods and is required listening for anyone curious about her.
Chaka Khan (Warner Brothers, 1982): For a bit, this record was unattainable due to being out of print and costly. Once I was able to finally snag an affordable copy―I think I paid $40 for it in 2010―the purchase was more than worth it. Khan had a sleekness to her R&B that managed to be forward thinking, but approachable. “Bebop Medley” changed my life, no lie!
Food (Ninja Tune, 2014): Always loved Kelis, but nothing prepared me for what she had up her sleeve last year with Food. Despite being preceded by the thoroughly impressive Flesh Tone (2010), that Kelis could revamp the R&B she began with so naturally with a lyrical poise…just extraordinary.
Blowout Comb (Pendulum, 1994): If you like music, you will like this album. A combination of sampled and live instrumentation, fantastic flows and a subtle theme really made the Digable Planets second (and sadly) final album hit a home run.
Emerald City (Epic, 1986): The dark sensuality of Emerald City moved me 10 years ago. Critics and fans alike wrote the long player off unfairly in 1986; Teena’s only mistake was the music was a year out of fashion when the record debuted. Outside of that, she was at her mightiest.
The Love Movement (Jive, 1998): Tribe never crafted a dud out of the five studio albums they recorded between 1990 through 1998. Sadly, The Love Movement received the brunt of criticism for their cooler technological advancement that started with its predecessor, Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996). I enjoyed how ahead of the curve Tribe sounded.
Under Rug Swept (Maverick, 2002): Morissette went from strength to strength post-Jagged Little Pill (1995)―mind you, one must be an objective Alanis fan to see that. Under Rug Swept sported a “less is more” approach than the record before it, so in my mind I heard Morissette in peak form as a result of her restraint. Probably only matched by Flavors of Entanglement (2008).
Firecracker (Geffen, 1997): “I Do,” my favorite Lisa radio jam, was only one of many joints on Firecracker. As an album, Loeb’s second effort expounded on her initial vibe with a few frills. I thought the fusion fizz of “Dance with the Angels” was a surprise tucked away on the album unexpectedly.
The Hush (Mercury, 1999): One of my favorite blue-eyed soul albums. The Hush cemented Texas’ transformative sound and presented their lead vocalist Sharleen Spiteri sublimely.
Vows (Warner Brothers, 2012): Pop had me down for so long that Kimbra seemed like a mirage when a good friend introduced us. Kimbra’s music was smart without affectation and soulful. Just a slice of her aural fantasia in the opener “Settle Down” did not prepare me for the rest of Vows and its muse.
The House (Dramatico, 2010): The House was a great compromise that pushed established Katie Melua-isms into new spaces. “The Flood” ranked as one of the and sadly overlooked singles of this decade; yet, that song only skimmed the surface of the remainder of the LP’s contents.
Mad Love (Asylum, 1980): Linda Ronstadt aligned herself with the various AOR formats of the 1970’s, but eschewed trends that sullied other contemporaries. I had the jones for Mad Love because Ronstadt acclimatized perfectly with new wave―a sneak move considering her aforementioned habits. But damn it man if she didn’t put it to work for her!
Wendy & Lisa (Columbia, 1987): These women weren’t eye candy, they were musicians who influenced Prince’s most fertile era from 1982 through 1986. When they struck out alone, they fell right into their own thing. The coolness of Wendy & Lisa was unstudied, but articulated. Plus I mean, how many people could name a song “Honeymoon Express” and have the song live up to its title?
[Editor’s Note: Please visit your local record store or online retailer for information on availability.-QH]