She’s still a teenager. And she wrote or co-wrote every one of the nicely sung pop songs on her sophomore album. When you think about it, that may be the most amazing thing about Taylor Swift. Kanye West’s observations aside, Swift has a real talent for writing and singing to her peers and a refreshingly age-appropriate approach to teen pop.
Producers: Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift. Engineer/Mixers: Chad Carlson, Nathan Chapman and Justin Niebank,. Mastering: Hank Williams.
I Am... Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé (Music World Music/Columbia)
With so many producers and engineers stirring the pot, Beyonce’s latest is surprisingly cohesive. Tracks are divided into two groups. The “I Am” songs are pop ballads; they’re not all as tight as the Record of the Year–nominated “Halo,” but all are well-crafted power pop tunes featuring, of course, Beyonce’s spectacular pipes. “Sasha Fierce” is supposedly Beyonce’s alter ego, and while the songs on the Sasha side aren’t actually terribly fierce, they all hang together as strong dance tracks, the best of which (“Diva,” “Single Ladies [Put a Ring on It]”) have a nice reggae groove.
Producers: Shondrae "Mr. Bangledesh" Crawford, Ian Dench, D-Town, Toby Gad, Sean "The Pen" Garrett, Amanda Ghost, Jim Jonsin, Beyoncé Knowles, Rico Love, Dave McCracken, Terius "The Dream" Nash, Radio Killa, Stargate, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Ryan Tedder and Wayne Wilkin. Engineer/Mixers: Jim Caruana, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Toby Gad, Kuk Harrell, Jim Jonsin, Jaycen Joshua, Dave Pensado, Radio Killa, Mark "Spike" Stent, Ryan Tedder, Brian "B-LUV" Thomas, Marcos Tovar, Miles Walker and Wayne Wilkins. Mastering: Tom Coyne.
The E.N.D., The Black Eyed Peas (Interscope Records)
When they say The E.N.D., they actually mean quite the opposite. “E.N.D.” is supposed to stand for “Energy Never Dies,” and that’s for sure. The members of Black Eyed Peas (will.i.am, apl.de.ap, Taboo, Fergie) inject seemingly boundless energy into their enjoyable, and occasionally topical, hybrid of hip-hop, pop and techno. will.i.am told Billboard when the album was released last June, “I'm trying to break away from the concept of an album. What is an album when you put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs? That's not an album. There is no album anymore." Whether or not listeners agree with this sentiment, they can certainly hear that the approach to The E.N.D. bears it out; any one of the danceable songs on this collection stands up as a single.
Producers: Apl.de.ap, Jean Baptiste, Printz Board, DJ Replay, Funkagenda, David Guetta, Keith Harris, Mark Knight, Poet Name Life, Frédéric Riesterer and will.i.am. Engineer/Mixers: Dylan "3D" Dresdow, Padraic "Padlock" Kerin and will.i.am. Mastering: Chris Bellman.
The Fame, Lady Gaga (Streamline/Interscope/Konlive/Cherrytree)
The overall impression of Lady Gaga’s smash The Fame is of sort of a bent, tongue-in-cheek take on ‘80s pop/new wave. Musically, the tracks are driving electronic dance tunes—more than a bit too heavy on the metallic-sounding voice manipulation—but lyrically there’s extra attitude between the lines. Lady Gaga is a self-invented complex character with a real voice behind the plug-ins and costumes, and with any luck her music will keep getting more interesting.
Producers: Flo Rida, Colby O'Donis & Space Cowboy, featured artists; Brian & Josh, Rob Fusari, Martin Kierszenbaum, RedOne and Space Cowboy. Engineer/Mixers: 4Mil, Robert Orton, RedOne, Dave Russell and Tony Ugval. Mastering: Gene Grimaldi.
Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, Dave Matthews Band (RCA Records/Bama Rags Recordings LLC)
The Dave Matthews Band was in the midst of recording a new album when their bandmate, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, died in an ATV accident. As a result, the tone of this release is fairly dark, but also heartfelt. Tuneful songs are expanded with the bandmembers’ trademark jams—many with syncopated rhythms and jazz or R&B leanings. Matthews’ restrained vocals give a tightness and edge to the broad arrangements. There’s a lot of interesting musical contrast within these tracks and a surprising amount of air for such a big rock album.
Producer: Rob Cavallo. Engineer/Mixers: Chris Lord-Alge and Doug McKean. Mastering: Ted Jensen.