Home Music Music Lists

50 Best Albums of 2014

U2 unleashed a brilliant surprise, Bruce Springsteen hit a new peak, St. Vincent made deliciously weird noise and more

Some of the 50 best albums of 2014

2014 was another phenomenal year for music, illuminating darkness when it often seemed that the only light was from buildings burning in Ferguson, Missouri. Veterans like U2, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and Leonard Cohen were showing the youngsters how it's done, but classic rock was being revived in more unlikely ways too: the Eighties impressionist guitar choogle of the War on Drugs, Ought's word-drunk post-punk, Perfume Genius' arty glam rock and Eric Church's country arena-rock.

The year was dominated on nearly every other front by young women: Charli XCX's reinvention of punk-pop, Miranda Lambert's Nashville platinum-blonde ambition, St. Vincent's indie-rock apotheosis, FKA Twigs' haunting avant-R&B and, above all, Taylor Swift's unstoppable pop juggernaut. The politically charged hip-hop of Public Enemy found a new-school parallel in Run the Jewels, the storytelling Los Angeles breeze of Dr. Dre found new life in YG and Flying Lotus took rhymes and beats into spectacularly abstract territory. Here's 50 albums that we wouldn't turn down.

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence
7

Lana Del Rey, ‘Ultraviolence’

Del Rey silenced her detractors with an intoxicating collection of indie-noir anthems. With more live instrumentation in her smoky glam grooves, she plays enough characters to fill a Raymond Chandler novel: On "Sad Girl," she's a sultry mistress; on "Brooklyn Baby," she's a snarky kid. Most of all, she's a pop voice like no other.

Charli XCX Sucker
6

Charli XCX, ‘SUCKER’

Charli XCX is the pop star 2014 was waiting for: a badass songwriting savant who's the most fun girl in any room she steps into. The 22-year-old Brit came into her own with SUCKER, a middle-finger-waving teenage riot packed into 13 punky gems. It's a dance party, a mosh pit and a feminist rally – Charli's definitely in charge.

Miranda Lambert Platinum
5

Miranda Lambert, ‘Platinum’

Lambert began as a mainstream-country bad girl. This year, she became an institution. Platinum smoothly balances solo-act introspection with A-list ring grabs, co-starring the likes of Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town. Notably absent, though, is superstar hubby Blake Shelton – sister's doin' it for herself.

St. Vincent
4

St. Vincent, ‘St. Vincent’

After her string of increasingly excellent records, indie guitar heroine Annie Clark's fourth solo album felt like a coronation: a masterful set of skewed but sticky pop hooks, subtly sexy electro-funk grooves and Dada poetry that aches for real. And her fiery guitar solos are sharper and more surprising than ever. Bow down.

The Black Keys Turn Blue
3

The Black Keys, ‘Turn Blue’

The Keys and Danger Mouse spool out everything from Seventies funk to disco throb to drive-time guitar grind, making music that could evoke lonely late nights or burnt-rubber desert highways, jittery paranoia and boundless possibility. It's the sound of America's most innovative arena rockers in full command.

Bruce Springsteen High Hopes
2

Bruce Springsteen, ‘High Hopes’

This new peak in Springsteen's 21st-century hot streak is his most gloriously loose, vibrant album in years. In the past, Springsteen would never have allowed himself to release an album that includes two covers and reworked versions of his own older tunes, let alone give Tom Morello license to splatter virtuoso wah-wah'ed madness over much of it – but Springsteen was so much older then. Now he's more unpredictable than ever, and it's working: Despite the varied origins of the songs, High Hopes hangs together with striking sonic and thematic consistency, finding fresh angles on his central concern: the fault lines in the American dream. Springsteen worked on much of the album during his year-and-a-half-long Wrecking Ball world tour, and the expansiveness of that tour's 19-piece incarnation of the E Street Band – featuring a horn section, backup singers and a percussionist – carries over to the big, bold arrangements of tracks like "High Hopes" (first recorded in the early 1990s by an obscure L.A. punk crew called the Havalinas), the bar-band romp "Frankie Fell in Love" and the gangster's portrait "Harry's Place." The revamped version of "American Skin (41 Shots)" – a song about police shooting a young black man, originally echoing the killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999 – proved to be a tragically prescient choice for the year of Ferguson. But the album's high point is the Morello-Springsteen duet on "The Ghost of Tom Joad," where Morello's rage-filled, celestial solo is a song in itself. The whole thing runs together like a marathon gig, united by a hard eye on the national condition and the fire in Springsteen's voice.

U2 Songs of Innocence
1

U2, ‘Songs of Innocence’

There was no bigger album of 2014 – in terms of surprise, generosity and controversy. Songs of Innocence is also the rebirth of the year. Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. put their lives on the line: giving away 11 songs of guitar rapture and frank, emotional tales of how they became a band out of the rough streets and spiritual ferment of Seventies Dublin. This is personal history with details. In the furiously brooding "Cedarwood Road," named after Bono's home address as a boy, he recalls the fear and rage that drove him to punk rock. "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" is a glam-stomp homage to the misfit voice that inspired Bono to sing. And that's his mother, who died when Bono was 14, still guiding and comforting him in the chorus of "Iris (Hold Me Close)."

This is a record full of the band's stories and triumph, memory and confession detonated with adventure and poise. In its range of sounds, there may be no more complete U2 album: The band bonded its founding post-punk values with dance momentum in "Volcano" and the raw, jagged "Raised by Wolves," and humanized the digital pathos of "Every Breaking Wave" and the harrowing "Sleep Like a Baby Tonight" with the vocal folk-soul warmth of The Joshua Tree. "I have a will for survival," Bono sings in the closing track, "The Troubles." Songs of Innocence is the proof – and the emotionally raw rock album of the year, at any price.

Show Comments