A Review of 2016’s Most Notable Ablums
2016 brought a gust of death over the entertainment industry, with the world losing greats like Prince and David Bowie. Despite this, the silver lining was that pop music saw a revival of sorts in quality and quantity. Both newbies and established acts released new material showcasing a growth in ability, quality popular music and structure. Here are some notable albums from 2016.
Glory – Britney Spears
Three years after the disastrous rollout and disappointing reception to her album Britney Jean, The Princess of Pop came roaring back with a radio-ready record. She began working closely with her collaborators, which included producers Max Martin, Cashmere Cat, Robopop and Pop & Oak. She also worked with rapper G-Eazy on the lead single “Make Me…(Oooh)” as well as singer Tinashe on the remix to the single “Slumber Party.”
Although the single stood strong on its own, the remix seems like a typical label-organized collaboration (both artists are signed to RCA). The rest of the album has its ebbs and flows of chilled-out synths and pads, reminiscent of The Weeknd, to high-energy but modern Britney-styled pop that’s seen on the track “Do You Wanna Come Over?” and “Hard to Forget Ya.” She also goes tri-lingual with tracks “Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)” and “Coupure Électrique.” The album does have its missteps as exemplified in the ill-fitting song “Private Show” that poorly and strangely follows the Doo-Wop formula that skyrocketed Meghan Trainor to fame.
The constant that makes the album a cohesive work, however, is the quality of Britney’s voice. Refreshing to the ears, she seems more centered vocally, providing a warmth that has not been heard since her “Toxic” days.
The Colour in Anything – James Blake
Electronic Art-Pop crooner James Blake released the follow-up to his sophomore, Overgrown, amid his collaboration with Beyoncé on her sixth album, Lemonade. In an emotional daze throughout the album, he beautifully navigates the trials of a breakup and finding happiness through it. Songs like “I Need a Forest Fire” allude to how disaster can bring new and majestic growth over time. Songs like “Radio Silence” and “Two Men Down” reinforce the break-up theme similarly.
The production and writing was mostly in Blake’s hands. However, he teamed up with Frank Ocean, Bon Iver’s frontman Justin Vernon and prolific producer Rick Rubin, which gave the album a more organic and emotional sound. Unorthodox sounds, vocal effects and old song loops added to atmospheric pads in the center of a progressive R&B inspired backing beat. This album provides both an in-depth look into Blake’s emotions as well as a display of his producing and writing abilities.
A Seat at the Table – Solange
In the socio-political climate that our country is currently in, the timing for this album was more than coincidental. The album provided a sound for the Black Lives Matter movement with songs like “Don’t Touch My Hair” getting straight to the point and expressing pride in the hair and culture of African Americans. “F.U.B.U (for us by us)” is another example of cultural pride with more straightforward lyrics such as “All my ni**as let the whole world know/Play this song and sing it on your terms/… /Don’t try to come for us.” The album also addresses the need to heal and escape from the slaughter of unarmed black men and youth, specifically on track “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care).” She also addresses personal indecision in regards to the music industry, detailing her struggle to decide if she wants to give in to the machine or branch out on “Don’t You Wait.”
The album also features interludes that stories experiences that both of her parents and Master P provide, bring more insight into the theme of the album and how to be proud of your culture. The production was helmed by Knowles, who claimed to have gone broke during production and recording. She also had help from fellow artists Frank Ocean, Tweet, Q-Tip and Raphael Saadiq. Organic instruments, as well as synths gave the album an added layer of color that made it fun to hear sonically and lyrically.
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
2016 proved quite trying for the Chicago-native West, who had to endure his wife’s being robbed and a mental breakdown. Despite all his personal struggles, he still managed to push out an album that matched the hype he gave his 2015 album.
Sonically, the album lacked a cohesive sound and theme, varying from gospel on the critically acclaimed song “Ultralight Beam” to classically boastful West on “I Love Kanye.” The productions on the album were very minimalist, even sounding almost unfinished. A prominent example of this is featured on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” where the song goes into the third chorus and then abruptly ends. This happens quite a bit on the album, nevertheless, this album gave the world a peek into the mind of West, even when it wasn’t directly an open view.
Lemonade – Beyoncé
At the top of February on a quiet Sunday afternoon, the world was ordered to get in “Formation” by Mrs. Knowles-Carter, and we’ve been there ever since. Presenting her second visual album on HBO, she allowed the public to take a glimpse into her relationship with Jay-Z and how they handled the act of infidelity committed by her husband. It was a deeper insight into the mind and thoughts of a black woman navigating a relationship in peril while also examining and embracing her blackness and condemning the murders of unarmed black men by law enforcement with songs such as “Freedom” and “Formation.”
The most remarkable part of “Lemonade,” outside of the stunning and poignant visuals that captured and commanded attention, is the album’s sequencing. It beautifully flows as if every track coincides with the process of healing, moving forward. The storytelling element of this work provided the listener with a concise beginning, middle and end that not only found the narrative of self-discovery and forgiveness easily accessible and relatable, but in a way, provides a prelude to her sister’s Seat at the Table.