Grim though it has been in most ways, the pandemic has done recorded music a power of good.
The more cooped up we are, the more we need the things that music brings – the buzz, the freedom, the fellow feeling. You can lose yourself in it, and find yourself too.
Being stuck at home turned many musicians back into struggling artists, pouring their frustrations into song. The consequence was a bumper crop of albums that should continue into 2022.
Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever
At just 19, Eilish is already a wise old soul. Working almost telepathically with her brother Finneas, she makes electro-pop that is deft, decisive and doesn’t do too much.
At just 19. Billie Eilish (above) is already a wise old soul. Working almost telepathically with her brother Finneas, she makes electro-pop that is deft
The Anchoress: The Art Of Losing
After paying her dues as a touring keyboard player for Simple Minds and Manic Street Preachers, Catherine Anne Davies became a star herself with her second album, writing, singing, playing and producing some majestic electro-pop.
After paying her dues as a touring keyboard player for Simple Minds and Manic Street Preachers, Catherine Anne Davies (above) became a star herself
Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Spanish Model
Working with his producer Sebastian Krys, Costello went back to a classic album, This Year’s Model (1978), and gave it a spectacular makeover.
The lyrics are now in Spanish, the singers are Latin pop stars, and in several cases, as Costello says, ‘songs I wrote about girls are sung by girls’. Yet the music remains the same, pulsating with the energy of a driven young man.
Joan As Police Woman, Tony Allen and Dave Okumu: The Solution Is Restless
In the 2020s, music lost two legendary drummers: Charlie Watts, the mainstay of The Rolling Stones, and Tony Allen, the master of Afrobeat.
Joan Wasser, who had been jamming with Allen in Paris, builds on his rippling polyrhythms to make an album of sensual jazz-soul.
Tim Finn & Phil Manzanera: Caught By The Heart
The singer from Split Enz and the guitarist from Roxy Music turn a concern for nature into a Latin-flavoured sound that glows with humanity.
Dave: We’re All Alone In This Together
Dave Omoregie may be Britain’s most gifted rapper. His second album appeals equally to heart and brain.
Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend
Ellie Rowsell and co try a little bit of everything, and it works because they hurl themselves into it.
Celeste: Not Your Muse
In a vintage year for young British soul singers, Celeste’s debut album combines the poise of Billie Eilish with the pain of Billie Holiday.
In a vintage year for young British soul singers, Celeste’s (above) debut album combines the poise of Billie Eilish with the pain of Billie Holiday.
James Blake: Friends That Break Your Heart
The most influential figure in 21st Century music writes songs that are like a walk in the winter sunshine – bracingly beautiful.
James Blake is the most influential figure in 21st Century music – and he writes songs that are like a walk in the winter sunshine
Foo Fighters: Medicine At Midnight
When you’ve had enough of sad songs, send for Dave Grohl. His heavy rock now comes lightened by a love for David Bowie’s Let’s Dance.
Self Esteem: Prioritise Pleasure
Rebecca Taylor tackles today’s gender politics and turns a minefield into a party.
Her lyrics are fearless and funny, and she gives synth-pop a lift by adding the euphoria of gospel.
The break-up album of the year was expected to be Adele’s 30, fuelled by her divorce.
Instead it turns out to be Thea Gilmore’s searing memoir of an abusive marriage.
She looks back in anger, but also in more muted shades of regret, and always with a warm intelligence. Never mind the break-ups: here’s the album of the year.