20 Best Pop Albums of 2014

From Taylor Swift’s platinum victory to Kitten’s under-the radar triumph, the year in huge hooks

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Sam Smith, 'In the Lonely Hour'

14. Sam Smith, 'In the Lonely Hour'

In the Lonely Hour is the year's plainest appeal — its young English star sheepishly grasps the mic, tenderly empties his heart and makes us bawl buckets of empathy. Whether the song's a towering, time-stands-still ballad (the omnipresent "Stay with Me"), a skittering house track (Disclosure's "Latch," his own "Money on My Mind"), or a pint-nursing pub plaint ("I'm Not the Only One"), Smith's elegant quaver swells with desire, regret and despair. The album's narrative — Smith pleads, seethes, bottoms out, exults in independence and pleads all over again — mirrors the arc of feckless, devastating young love. Adele, you're up. C.A.

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