5. Lana Del Rey, Born To Die
Hold up one second, you’re thinking to yourself right now. Didn’t Born To Die make Idolator’s 12 Best Albums Of 2012 … So Far list? Yeah, it did. It’s one of our favorites. But that doesn’t mean that we’re oblivious to its shortcomings — even if, after all the backlash and overwrought think pieces, we’re more inclined to come to LDR’s defense these days.
So, those shortcomings. For an album so hotly anticipated on the strength of one early, unintended single, Born To Die, as a whole, failed to hurdle the impossibly high bar set by “Video Games”. There was grace in that song’s simple, quotidian lyrics — “Open up a beer / and you say, Get over here / and play a video game” — something we hoped was/mistook for nuance, a studied restraint. Nope. Lana wasn’t writing from a distance to show us how unromantic modern romance is; she was right there living it, masochistically loving it even, her glass intermittently full of diet Mountain Dew and Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice, only half-understanding Nabokov’s Lolita before borrowing from it on not one, but two tracks. And then there were 13 more on which Lana, cast as that burnout groupie sex doll thing she plays, was still cooing at that bad, bad boy, and we just wanted her to be smarter. —NS
4. Miike Snow, Happy To You
Miike Snow faced a steep challenge in trying to progress from their adventurous 2009 debut album. Not just because it’s tough to write songs as endearing as “Animal” or as panoramic as “Silvia”, but because the band — despite its almost-hits — has yet to live up to the potential of its credentials. (It’s not hard to understand why expectations would be high for Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, who as Bloodshy & Avant produced Britney Spears‘ classic single “Toxic”, and New York electro-rock singer Andrew Wyatt).
Happy To You carried with it the promise that the band might introduce a more fully developed sound, but instead it muddies their identity yet further. In some songs, Wyatt’s whispery vocals aren’t the best match for Bloodshy & Avant’s jubilant pop orchestration (“Paddling Out” might be one of the year’s best songs — all it needs, basically, are better lyrics and a better vocalist). In others, the producers simply take on too much at once. The result is an album that tries to split the difference between joy and melancholy, and ends up exuding neither. —IS
3. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection
At what point does the quest for a #1 record become desperate? When Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” climbed to the top of the Hot 100 two summers ago, it was a given. This feat was repeated by “Teenage Dream”, and we cheered. Because let’s face it — that song is one damn fine jam. “Firework”, “E.T.” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” followed, et voila: The songstress had tied Michael Jackson‘s accomplishment of landing five #1s off one album.(MJ had done so with 1987′s Bad, which is being re-released upon its 25th anniversary this September.)
Now, we’re sorry that “The One That Got Away” proved to be just that. (It stalled, by Perry standards, at #3.) But was a re-release of Teenage Dream —with, mind you, a scant three new songs tacked on — completely necessary? Yeah, you got your sixth #1 out of it with “Part Of Me”, which, we’ll say, is no “Teenage Dream”. Hoo-ray. But this whole confection really just leaves a sour test in the mouth. —RD
2. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
Call us DJ Peter Rosenberg if you must, but Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded felt about as thrown together as the title. When the Barbz released the album’s teaser “Roman In Moscow” in late 2011 with it’s proud claim of “no bridge bitch…no mothafuckin hook…no mothafuckin’ third mothafuckin verse” we were hoping this meant that Roman Reloaded would be unlike anything we’d heard before — no rules, no holds barred. But the album is all over the place. Like that old phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none”, the LP is half pop, half rap, when Nicki’s gift is melding the two together with her unique sense of humor — a sense of humor evident not nearly enough on PF:RR.
We will always be the first ones on the dance floor when “Starships” comes on, but we’ll happily sit out her ’90s The Real McCoy/ Aqua-esque “Pound The Alarm” and “Automatic”. “Roman Holiday” and it’s frightening performance at the Grammys give us nightmares. “Roman Reloaded” felt like it was shooting blanks. Even shocking titles like “Come On A Cone” couldn’t get us excited. And sampling ’80s tunes on Pink Friday worked much better than an interpolation, as with “Beez In The Trap” (a reworking of Rob Roy’s “Fur In My Cap”). We guess we’re “not a believer” in this second studio offering, and we know what “Leader” Nicki will tell us to do about it. But one or two good songs does not a great album make. —EBA
1. Madonna, MDNA
We knew something was off about this Madonna era when the pop star made excuses for her highly bitched-about “molly” comments at Ultra Music Fest by saying she was referencing her friend’s movie, not drugs. Girl, your album is a barely veiled reference to ecstasy — what’s with the refusal to commit?
Madge’s lack of conviction is apparent throughout all of MDNA, an album that follows trends when we’re used to Madonna setting them. Her last electronic party, Confessions On A Dancefloor, was able to dive into dance culture in a mature, meaningful way, whereas the tired melodies, overproduced beats and simplistic-to-inane lyrics (see: all of “Superstar”) make this an empty listening experience. Even her few moments of depth (in “Love Spent” and “Best Friend”) are riddled with cliches.
If this album came from any other artist, we’d probably bop our heads along and not think too much about it. But this is Madonna, and the most surprising thing about this album is that she’s not really surprising us at all. —BB