Home Music Music Lists

50 Best Albums of 2011

The best albums of the year included Adele turning personal turmoil into a blockbuster for the ages on 21, Jay-Z and Kanye reveling in luxury rap on Watch the Throne and Lady Gaga channeling Springsteen on Born This Way.

Contributors: Stacey Anderson, Jon Dolan, David Fricke, Will Hermes, Monica Herrera, Jody Rosen, Rob Sheffield, Simon Vozick-Levinson

2

Jay-Z and Kanye West, ‘Watch the Throne’

The most anticipated event-album of 2011 was a sound-the-trumpets supergroup record of a magnitude scarcely seen. What could have been a crash-and-burn anticlimax turned out to be as fun as any record in a dog's age. From the cinematic "No Church in the Wild" to the Stax-soul update "Otis," Throne testifies to Kanye West's genius for beats both iconoclastic and pop-savvy. Amid all the litanies of private jets and gold watches, politics creep in: The pair frame their rise as an African-American Horatio Alger story on the impossibly fierce "Ni**as in Paris."

Related
Jody Rosen's Original Review: Jay-Z & Kanye West's 'Watch the Throne'
Kanye West and Jay-Z's 'Watch the Throne': A Track-by-Track Breakdown

1

Adele, ’21’

"Turn my sorrow into treasured gold," cried Adele Adkins on "Rolling in the Deep." It was a confession and a prophecy. 21 was this year's most stunning pop success, transmuting the young Brit's personal sorrow – the collapse of an 18-month relationship – into a 13-million-selling smash that leapt across borders and oceans and united everyone from teeny-boppers to baby boomers to hip-hop-heads. The sound is state-of-theart retro soul, with touches of Motown, bossa nova and 1970s piano pop. But at its heart was that voice: giant, classic-sounding, promising emotional depth way beyond its years. More than any other album this year, 21 made you feel its pain – from the triple-hankie tear-jerker "Someone Like You" to ripsnorting revenge songs like "Rumour Has It," where Adele rides a roiling groove and flattens everything in her path.

Related
Will Hermes' Original Review: Adele's '21'
Video: Adele on '21': 'The Songs on Here Are the Most Articulate I've Ever Written'