Our writers look back on some of the best pop albums of 2017.
Ctrl – SZA
Not simply your standard break-up album or self-empowerment piece, Ctrl is a tell-all open book to the artist’s personal life. Here Sza (pronounced ‘scissor’) sings, performs, and thrives in doing so.
An album of the year should be an album where nearly every song is such a success that you cannot pick one ‘favourite’. Just as Ctrl has a consistent beat from beginning to end, making a smooth transition from one song to the next leaving the skip button forgotten. Each song has its individual distinctive beat as none of the tracks overlap content-wise.
The LP is about having control as mentioned in its opening with Sza’s grandma coining: “If I lost control, or did not have control, things would be fatal.”
It’s a mixture of raw and stripped down music, and atmospheric R&B which is heard especially in tracks Love Galore, The Weekend, Garden (Say It Like Dat), Wavy (Interlude), and Broken Clocks, of which ex-US President Barack Obama included on his list of favourite songs of 2017. A lo-fi hip hop sound is incorporated into the album creating the hazy atmospheric nature of the LP, as heard on the dreamy backing track of Go Gina and Doves in the Wind.
Great artists such as Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar feature on the album of telling experiences which are in fact true events as Sza revealed to The Breakfast Club radio show in June of last year.
As soon as the chords for Supermodel and Drew Barrymore start playing it’s a lights-out, candle-lit setting with the choir of violins and lyrical ballads proving moving. Along with Normal Girl tapping onto heart strings with infectious drums, played out guitar chords and Sza’s sharp vocals.
Churning out one liners like ‘promise I won’t cry over spilt milk’, Sza has pieced together a brazen, unapologetic album and we love her for it. With Rolling Stone calling sixth track, The Weekend, a “side chick manifesto”, the album truly covers all bases.
Whether it be relatable, realistic or just a good bop, Ctrl –which is nominated for the Grammy’s best contemporary urban soundtrack- is a clear contender for album of the year.
The Thrill of It All – Sam Smith
After the roaring success of In the Lonely Hour in 2014, Smith’s second album needed to be as good as, if not better than its predecessor. Whilst it came out in November 2017, The Thrill of It All has shone through every other album released this year to be the album that defines 2017. Full of ballads such as ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ which was streamed over 4 million times in its initial week of release, Smith’s second album has taken the pop ballad genre to new heights. While ‘One Last Song’ was the second single officially released from the album, every song could be marketed as an individual single, due to the high quality of every performance that Smith gives on this album.
Smith’s vocals display an endless array of talents that the 25 year old has under his belt. Whether it be the Mississippi-Delta inspired vibes of HIM, the gospel-style vocals in Pray or the pure emotion exuded in Burning, Sam Smith really can do it all. My personal favourite off the album and one of my favourite songs of the year is ‘No Peace’, featuring the enchanting vocals of YEBBA. It’s a ballad that puts the likes of ‘The Prayer’ to shame. Smith said to Billboard that he felt like he had rebuilt himself as a “stronger thing”, and it’s fair to say this album shows just that. This album is so strong, you could build bricks with it and nobody could knock it down because the wall would hold so much power. The album may only be 49 minutes and 24 seconds, yet it’s a rollercoaster that takes us through the peaks and troughs of 2017.
Melodrama – Lorde
With her second album, Lorde had the difficult task of writing from a position of fame that her debut album, Pure Heroin, had criticised four years ago. Nevertheless, 20-year-old Ella Yelich O’Connor returned in 2017 with Melodrama, an album that shows that despite her new-found celebrity status she remains as unique and relatable as ever. Lorde’s character shines through as she twists the overdone themes of love, heartbreak and loneliness with insightful observations of the world and witty, poetic lyrics. Melodrama is obviously more pop than Pure Heroin, yet it feels self-aware of the influence of the pop genre on its sound, making it less of an album that is attempting to break into the mainstream and more of a challenge to what indie pop can and should be. There are subtleties to Melodrama that make the songs stand apart from the typical chart music. Small details like the sound of a trigger being pulled in ‘Perfect Places’ show that this is an album with cleverly hidden gems.
Her artistic growth is demonstrated by the variation of sound the album has to offer. From the dance anthem style ‘Green Light’ and ‘Supercut’ to the sombre ‘Liability’ in which O’Conner stands naked telling us that she is “a toy that people enjoy ’til all of the tricks don’t work anymore”. The stand out tune on the album is undoubtedly ‘Writer In The Dark’; with its raspy lament of a chorus reminiscent of Kate Bush and melancholic violins in the background it is a song that strikes a chord with any creative person who feels their mind is a little too much sometimes.
Melodrama is not only the album of 2017 but also proof of Bowie’s prediction that Lorde truly is “the future of music.”