1. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Invasion of Privacy is an honest, catchy and grounded rap-pop album that lays its heart on its sleeve. The 13-track ode to making it against all odds marks the Bronx rapper’s first full-length record. Yes, a rudimentary quality runs through some of Cardi’s lyricism — “my heart is like a package with a fragile label on it” — but her flow is fun, straight-shooting and distinct. It’s impossible not to celebrate her success with her. Our stand-out single has to be the boisterous and triumphant Best Life ft. Chance the Rapper.
2. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
The combination of glossy production, old school influence, sticky hooks and Monae’s airy delivery make this album an easy listen. Dirty Computer is a nostalgic pop lover’s dream, with 14 tracks flying by like a breeze. The album can come off as too polished at times, veering from suave into slippery, but it asks little more of its audience than to shimmy along and enjoy the ride.
3. Black Panther: The Album – Kendrick Lamar
Who knew one of the best albums of the year would be a soundtrack? Black Panther: The Album is a visceral, cohesive record that might convince you of your own invincibility. It also revives the lost art of delivering a score that is as powerful as the film that inspired it. With features from SZA, The Weeknd and Future, this isn’t an album you want to miss.
4. Justin Timberlake – Man of the Woods
Perhaps Man of the Woods was intended as Justin Timberlake’s reincarnation — his chance to become a contemporary pop star who’s up-to-date on his 2018 references and terminology. The result is contrived at best and cringe-worthy at worst, failing pretty much every genre it attempts. Say Something, the lead single, is the only good thing about it (and that’s partially due to Chris Staples’ feature). Timberlake has earned a few stumbles in his career, but hopefully, something more authentic next.
5. The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy
The Weeknd’s vices have always seemed easier to lay bare than his virtues, and My Dear Melancholy is no different. The EP is an open wound of a break-up album that cements Abel Tesfaye as one of the more compelling storytellers of our time. Six tracks stretch like taffy, with Tesfaye’s electro-R’n’B sensibilities firmly intact. But unlike previous records, you get the feeling that his target is singular here. On track number three, he declares, “I ain’t got no business catching feelings.” Yet he catches feelings left and right, resulting in a downtempo EP that weeps and bleeds in all the right places.
6. Drake – Scorpion
Keke, do you love me? Even if you haven’t heard Drake’s new album, you’ve probably come across a meme of In My Feelings. That’s Drake for you: king of viral content. Screenshots of his Hotline Bling music video are still circulating the web two years on. Even still, Scorpion is a predictable, sample-ridden affair, filled with Drake’s tried-and-tested me-against-the-world rhetoric (e.g. “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid.”) The double-sided album is catchy, yes, but it leaves something to be desired despite its hour and thirty minute runtime.
7. Florence and the Machine – High as Hope
On the band’s fourth LP, Florence Welch transforms to her most stripped-down form. No tricks, no grand theatrics, just the simple truth couched in Welch’s penetrating vocals. The English singer drifts somewhere between dream and reality, but never quite commits to either. And though there are suggestions of aggression every few tracks, the album is far more suited for relaxed listening.
8. The Carters – Everything is Love
As always, The Carters — that’s Jay Z and Beyonce Knowles — blessed their fans with this slick nine-track collaboration with no prior notice. The result is a deliciously sharp and silky-smooth summer album, twisting and turning up the funk at all the right moments. Songs like Nice, 713 and Lovehappy teeter on belligerence, with plenty of fighting words to prep you for the demise of your enemies. When Beyonce wins, we all win.
9. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Frontman Alex Turner, utilising a piano he was gifted on his birthday a couple of years ago, makes a quiet comeback with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. It’s the band’s first album since 2013’s AM. But the album doesn’t suggest five years of growth. If anything, the band reverts to dated and fun-free melodies, as Turner’s vocal performance channels Frank Sinatra-lite. The album received generally positive reviews, but if you’re looking for that wide-eyed, hungry hostility from the band’s early days — or even their coy banter — you’d be better off listening to older records.
10. Christina Aguilera – Liberation
In a competitive soundscape that can force pop stars to chase cookie-cutter glory, it’s refreshing to hear an experimental vein run through Christina Aguilera’s Liberation. The 15-track album is filled with unlikely collaborations — Demi Lovato, Ty Dolla $ign, 2 Chainz — and ranges from sensual to striking, soul to rap, pop to hip-hop. Despite a jarring change in tone somewhere down the middle of the record, it comes off as effortless overall.
11. Craig David – The Time is Now
Craig David’s still got it. There’s something about listening to the English hit-maker’s distinct flow that will take you right back to the mid-noughties. Starting off with a banger in Magic, before leading us through to his finger-snapping single Heartline, David proves right off the bat that he hasn’t lost his touch. And somehow, nearly 20 years on, he manages to sound just as young and fresh as the moment he hooked us with Walking Away and 7 Days.
12. Charlie Puth – Voicenotes
The disappointment of Charlie Puth’s debut album Nine Track Mind was inescapable, but Voicenotes makes up for it plenty with its heavy-hitting earworms. There’s an addictive quality to Puth’s smoky vocal performance. But the pop star finally manages to amount to more than just his singles as he lets well and truly loose on album tracks such as The Way I Am, LA Girls and BOY. It’s nice to see Puth put down his wall enough to experiment with his musical identity.
13. Camila Cabello – Camila
After years with girl group Fifth Harmony, Camila Cabello broke off to be the first to release a solo record. And it seems the split came right on time for Cabello, who sounds in her element on Camila. The Cuban pop star’s playful vocals shine through, layered over fusion-pop beats. At 37 minutes and 11 tracks long, the album is short and concise, but suggests that Cabello is on her way to carving a space for herself in the pop world.
14. Kanye West – Ye
Ye was mired in controversy since day one, as Kanye West made himself plenty of enemies via his political Twitter rants and the ludicrous suggestion that slavery was a choice. But even without all that, Ye would have likely fell flat, paling compared to West’s previous efforts. Despite debuting at No 1 on the Billboard 200, the album polarised reviewers and listeners, leaving it with an overall lukewarm reception.
15. Shawn Mendes – Shawn Mendes
There’s a reason Shawn Mendes’ third album is his self-titled one. The Canadian pop star finally comes into his own on this 14-track effort, ditching his over-commitment to ballads and the confines of the singer-songwriter genre. Pure pop songs like Nervous and Queen show Mendes’ youthful side, while Lost in Japan borrows a page from Frank Ocean’s book. Meanwhile, In My Blood serves to remind us of Mendes’ vocal prowess. Another solid album from Mendes, and perhaps his most balanced yet.