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Top 10 Pop Albums Of 2006

Here is my staff list for the top 10 pop albums of 2006. Keep in mind there are plenty of releases from alternate genres far ahead of some of these albums.
1Regina Spektor
Begin to Hope

It was near impossible to determine a top pop album for the year. I could fit a lot of records into the 2-5 range. But the top spot holds a special weight to it, as though it stands head and shoulders above second place in a way that 9 could never be distanced from 10. Begin to Hope doesn't deserve that kind of singular distinction, but it does have an it factor that places it above the other records on this list if only by the slightest degree. "Fidelity" is a song of the highest order, and along with "Breathe Me" and "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" can give chills no matter how many times it has been heard. "Samson" and "Apres Moi" aren't far separated from this category. Spektor's quirky accent is endearing, and while her voice isn't operatic it can at times be hair-rising. While occasionally she delves into straight up adult-contemporary pop, the best songs on the record a little less accessible, like "Lady". It's not the best record of all-time, but Spektor has created something special with Begin to Hope.
Highlights: "Fidelity", "Samson", "Lady"
2Christina Aguilera
Back to Basics

Pretend the first disc doesn't exist save for "Ain't No Other Man" and "Oh, Mother", and this is easily one of the best records of the year, regardless of genre. Since that type of selective exclusion could only have been performed before the release of Aguilera's latest record, we'll have to make do with just a very, very good double album. "Inheriting Madonna's chameleonic tendencies, for the third time in her short career Aguilera has adopted a new image and sound, but ultimately it revolves around the same pop pastiche as always. Where she revisits familiar territory, the album falters (as evidenced by the first disc). Where she steps out of her management- directed comfort zone and explores territory beyond over-singing white bread R&B, she shines. Highlights include the bombastic "Welcome", sultry "Nasty Naughty Boy", emotional "Hurt" and "Oh Mother", and the delightfully subtle "Save Me From Myself". While it's not the pre-war jazz epic her marketing promised listeners, it is a refreshingly different attempt at blending the new and old; it is not rooted in the past, present or future; it is simply captivating music - all gimmicks aside. "
Highlights: "Welcome", "Ain't No Other Man", "Hurt", "Save Me From Myself"
3Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere

This record will probably feature on most end-of-the-year charts, and deservedly so. As most of those chart blurbs will tell you, Gnarls Barkley are a band that can appeal to any music fan. Many have made comparisons between Outkast's genre-crossing classic "Hey Ya" and the biggest song of 2006, "Crazy". Again, these claims are spot on. St. Elsewhere is smart, infectious, diversified, and most importantly: fun.
Highlights: "Crazy", "Smiley Faces", "Who Cares?"
4Justin Timberlake

Despite the detestable first single and an underwhelming first listen, FutureSex/LoveSounds raises the bar quite high for rival pop singers. Upon inital listening I was underwhelmed; even after absorbing it enough to write a review I was still disappointed. But the record slowly asserts itself and as the flaws fade, the strengths come to the forefront. FutureSex/LoveSounds is inventive, insistent, and especially throughout the solid first half, impelling. At times his attempts to step out of the pop mold fail ("Let Me Talk To You Prelude"), but at times he succeeds so incontestably that you wonder how anyone could fathom disliking Timberlake ("I Think She Knows Interlude"). Take "Sexyback" and a few middling ballads out of the picture and FutureSex/LoveSounds is perhaps the strongest pop record of the year. But a few bland songs and some thematic missteps drag the album down some.
Highlights: "My Love", "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around", "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows", "FutureSex/LoveSounds"
5Butch Walker
The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker...

Despite the risk of ranking this album higher than our resident Butch groupie, Butch Walker... claims the midpoint of my pop list. While I've found Walker's previous records to be decent or slightly above average, this release struck all the right chords. It's all of the sleaze of glam without the shitty music. Rock on.
Highlights: "Hot Girls in Good Moods", "Ladies & Gentlemen...", "Too Famous to Get Fully Dressed", "Dominoes"
6 The Killers
Sam's Town

I feel like I've exhausted everything there is to say in my review. So I'll just repeat myself: it's Hot Fuss minus the filler and British affectation, balanced by an addition of songs about deserts, and slightly more importantly, consistent songwriting. While it doesn't have any surefire radio hits (aside from "When You Were Young"), the record is solid and advances into a supreme category for brief moments. "This River is Wild", "Why Do I Keep Counting", "Bling (Confession of a King)" will rank highly in their catalogue interminably; "When You Were Young" would be the best song this band has ever touched were it not for "All These Things That I've Done".
Highlights: "When You Were Young", "This River is Wild", "Bones"
7John Mayer

John Mayer might be a slightly confuzzled sea lion, but for every "Your Body is a Wonderland" there is a "Covered in Rain" which effectively nullifies all gripes against him. Continuum is a soft record, but Mayer masters adult contemporary pop to a degree he only hinted at being capable of on his previous hit records Room for Squares and Heavier Things. While his voice is still a hindrance to the enjoyment of his music for many, the musical quality of Continuum deserves recognition.
Highlights: "Gravity", "Belief", "Waiting on the World to Change"
8Scissor Sisters

In 2004 I wasn't sure if the Scissor Sisters were so successful in Britain because they're particular good or because their songs are so danceable. Easiest conclusion, only strengthened by their 2006 album Ta-Dah? Equal servings of both. They're musically proficient, can write hooks like nobody's business, and manage to meld queer-as-all-hell camp with palpable substance. Of course it isn't any surprise that I like these guys, who are not only clearly influenced by my musical idols the Bee Gees, Elton John and George Michael himself, but do them justice in their emulation. The Scissor Sisters don't do anything new or inventive, but it doesn't make this album as enjoyable as anything.
Highlights: "I Don't Feel Like Dancing", "I Can't Decide", "Paul McCartney"
9Lily Allen
Alright, Still

Furthering the oh-so-British pattern of coupling vitriolic or irreverent lyrics with blithe pop music, Alright, Still epitomises the apathetic buoyancy of youth, however paradoxical. The record is hardly a triumphant display of musical prowess, but with its cheeky nature and carefree effervescence it doesn't need to be. "Smile" is a sendoff fit to rival "You Oughta Know"; "The Littlest Things" harkens back to the heydays of morose British pop done right. Other highlights include "LDN" and "Everything's Just Wonderful". A perfect summer record due for American release in the most dreary of seasons, if nothing else it should brighten up some days.
Highlights: "Smile", "LDN", "Littlest Things", "Everything's Just Wonderful"
10Corinne Bailey Rae
Corinne Bailey Rae

This record surprised me some. After "Put Your Records On" unassumingly gained regular rotation on the local top 40 radio station, I picked up the album out of curiosity but with low expectations. Fortunately Corinne Bailey Rae is a quietly stirring record. There are no bombastic songs to be found; instead the album is just chill. Rae has an entrancing voice and an interesting playing style but she does nothing complicated or grandiose. This album is appropriate for fans of India.Arie, Erykah Badu, or a more temperate Alicia Keys.
Highlights: "Put Your Records On", "Like a Star", "Trouble Sleeping"
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