2014′s Best Albums: Idolator Editors Pick Their Favorite 10
7. Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive ChanteuseReleased: May 27
Spare us the over-the-top grief about Mimi’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” performance: She’s been using those golden pipes for over 20 years, and she’s still supplying greatness today. Case in point? Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse, her most insanely-titled record to date, and certainly one of her most true to her artistry.
From throwback R&B (“Dedicated”) for the nostalgia to breezy summer jams (“#Beautiful”) to breakdown balladry (“Cry.”) to oh-so-shady, technologically savvy kiss-offs (“Thirsty”) to the rare disco moment or two (“You Don’t Know What To Do”), the LP is a surprisingly varied and rich experience. As with the album’s oft-delayed campaign, Mariah takes her time through her 14th studio album, allowing her mature pipes time to warm up and really blow. Mariah is the very definition of a true diva, and she’s got nothing to prove considering her historic career — and yet, she still does. This is real, quality R&B at its finest in 2014. — BRADLEY STERN
6. Mary J. Blige, The London SessionsReleased: December 2
The first words we hear out of Mary J. Blige’s mouth on this, her 13th studio album are these: “Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy? Why would I spend the rest of this year alone? / When I can go to therapy, when I can go to therapy, when I can go to therapy two times a day.” It turns out, for Blige, therapy was time spent in the studio during a career-renaissance jaunt to London to write and record with the likes of Sam Smith, Naughty Boy, Emeli Sande, James Napier and Disclosure — key players in a bulk of hits that came out of the UK over the past couple years.
One would have expected The London Sessions to be a stomping house music throwdown, given the pop output from the UK in 2014. Yet in the lead-up to the album’s release, Blige teased us with slow, pensive R&B numbers like “Therapy,” “Whole Damn Year” and “Not Loving You.” Don’t let that fool you, though; The London Sessions is a well-orchestrated balance of balladry (“When You’re Gone”) and beats (“Right Now”), with the glorious centerpiece being balls-to-the-wall deep house jam “My Loving.” Welcome to Mary, reinvented. — ROBBIE DAW
5. Lana Del Rey, UltraviolenceReleased: June 17
If you were expecting a by-the-numbers sequel to Born To Die, Lana Del Rey’s sophomore set must have come as a bitter disappointment. Ultraviolence excised the pop sensibility of her debut (no radio hits here!) and opted for fuzzier, lo-fi production. It sounds like a career-killing misstep, but the quality of the 29-year-old’s songwriting and the clarity of her artistic vision resulted in one the most cohesive, ambitious and uniformly excellent LPs of 2014.
Ultraviolence is a concept album of sorts. It’s an anthology of tales about strong, desperate and often nihilistic women. Take the title track. Lana documents her lover’s abusive behavior (“he hit me and it felt like a kiss”) on the year’s most sinister ballad. That’s followed by “Shades Of Cool,” a lush, cinematic ode to being in love with a drug addict. Titles like “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When You Cry” speak for themselves, while “Old Money” is told from the perspective of an elderly socialite looking back on her empty life.
It’s not exactly party music but the perennially-depressed diva’s ability to bring these characters to life makes Ultraviolence a uniquely affecting listening experience. — MIKE WASS