From Katy Perry’s complete fizzer to Kylie Minogue’s incredible release, here are the standout albums of 2020 and the ones that didn’t make the grade.
From Katy Perry’s complete fizzer to Kylie Minogue’s incredible release, here are the standout albums of 2020 and the ones that didn’t make the grade.

The best and worst albums of 2020

It was the year we turned to music, but what were the best albums 2020 gave us?

National music writer Cameron Adams picks out some of the finest, and a few of the duds.

1. THE AVALANCHES - WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU

2020s best album is also peak 2020. Melbourne duo The Avalanches created this third album in lockdown - funded by JobKeeper - while working remotely with musicians around the world. And it delivered the deeply immersive soul-hug and long-overdue hit of joy we'd all earned. As expertly curated as an art house movie, you'll get Jamie xx speeding up a beat or Johnny Marr's guitar fingerprints and the most glorious cast of vocalists. It's melancholy but still euphoric, with fewer samples and more instruments but sky-high unrestrained vision. The masterpiece no one saw coming this year.

Melbourne duo The Avalanches released the best album of 2020. Picture: EMI
Melbourne duo The Avalanches released the best album of 2020. Picture: EMI

 

2. TAYLOR SWIFT - FOLKLORE/EVERMORE

Even Taylor knew she was running on fumes with her last pop album Lover. Like Madonna in her imperial period, Taylor uses her immense, loyal popularity to take musical risks. But while she could master pop, few pop stars could master feelings-filled, indie alt-folk. We had some awful surprises in 2020, but Swift managed to drop two secret pastoral pop records so understated they even avoid capital letters in their titles. As sister records, evermore is the Jan Brady - it's a little moodier - while working with Bon Iver (and the National) meant she finally passed Triple J's hallowed gatekeepers. They weren't the only ones who suddenly became Swifties this year, and hello to all the Swifties working their way through The National's majestic back catalogue.

 

3. JESSIE WARE - WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE?

With her passion for music reignited by, of all things, a food`n'chat podcast with her mum, UK soul singer Ware's fourth album knelt at the shrine of electronic music. Not just disco, although Spotlight, Save a Kiss and Mirage are certified bangers, but everything from the digital gloom of Grace Jones to the experimentalism of Brian Eno, with the sass of Chaka Khan and Mary Jane Girls. For the epic closer Remember Where You Are (one of Barack Obama's most-played of 2020) she's Donna Summer, Minnie Riperton and Vangelis all floating in outer space. Dream big.

 

4. ROISIN MACHINE - ROISIN MURPHY

A lifelong student of the dancefloor, Murphy did some serious educating here. With partner in rhyme DJ Parrott, this roped in their previous extended workouts (Incapable and Narcissus always deserved to be on an album) joined by new treats polished off in UK lockdown. From Murphy's Law's sly but stoned funk groove to the dark disco of We Got Together, bank this as the ideal soundtrack to future parties and raves.

Kylie Minogue’s Disco was a 2020 staple. Picture: Darenote Ltd
Kylie Minogue’s Disco was a 2020 staple. Picture: Darenote Ltd

 

Jessie Ware soundtracked home dancefloors in 2020. Picture: Universal
Jessie Ware soundtracked home dancefloors in 2020. Picture: Universal

 

5. KYLIE MINOGUE - DISCO

Surely it's no surprise by now that Kylie knows what she's doing. She returned to the dancefloor, but on her own terms. Instead of chasing trends, these songs were instant but work on a deeper level - the adult pop she's been gravitating towards for a few years. From the heartbreak funk of Real Groove to the uplifting euphoria of Celebrate You and iso-anthem Say Something, it wasn't just another Kylie dance album. There was also impressive attention to detail in warm disco vibes on Miss a Thing or the Prince-on-speed Dance Floor Darling. Imagine this album on tour.


6. RUN THE JEWELS - RTJ4

Dropped literally amid the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter rallies, this was protest music in real time. El-P continued to distance himself from the pack with his beats, his wide taste ranging from sampling Gang Starr and Gang Of Four or getting Mavis Staples and Josh Homme together on a track, or Pharrell Williams with Zach De La Rocha on JU$T.

7. MIIESHA - NYAARINGU

Miiesha comes from a small Aboriginal community of Woorabinda in Central Queensland and is a gust of fresh air into the our music industry. Her debut album is refreshingly simple, just her stories and beats (plus words of wisdom from her late Grandmother) where she moves from reflective to resilient.

 

 

Miiesha’s debut album Nyaaringu won her ARIA Awards and acclaim. Pic: Supplied.
Miiesha’s debut album Nyaaringu won her ARIA Awards and acclaim. Pic: Supplied.

 

8. DUA LIPA - FUTURE NOSTALGIA

This album was too strong to be paused by a pandemic. Cementing the Brit as a superstar not just a pop star, Dua had a vision and it's unmistakably her album, despite the litany of people in the credits. With Don't Stop Now as a first impression (and the perfect sonic signpost, cowbell and all) listening to it at the bitter end of 2020 it's basically a greatest hits set: Hallucinate, Love Again, Physical, Break My Heart. Could Levitating be her finest single to date?

 

9. THE STROKES - THE NEW ABNORMAL

In April, when were looking for familiar things to comfort us, The Strokes finally release a new album that sounds like a return to form without lazily recycling past glories. With flashbacks to Psychedelic Furs and Generation X songs, Julian Casablancas still got to explore his keyboard hijinks but they sound like a functional and functioning band again.

The Strokes made a return to form in 2020 with The New Abnormal. Pic: Sony
The Strokes made a return to form in 2020 with The New Abnormal. Pic: Sony

 

10. WASHINGTON - BATFLOWERS

Megan Washington's return was triumphant in its own way, but the intimacy on this album really resonated this year - the sound of someone looking inside and finding themselves again. You're drawn down a rabbit hole on the bruised rave comedown of Not a Machine, treated with tenderness on Catherine Wheel. But most of all it's that voice and that trademark honesty.

 

ALSO

Lianne La Havas - Lianne La Havas

The Chicks - Gaslighter

The Weekend - After Hours

Bruce Springsteen - Letter To You

Something For Kate - The Modern Medieval

Paul Epworth - Voyager

Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

Haim - Women in Music Pt. III

Megan Thee Stallion - Good News

Braille Face - Original Cast Recording

 

 

WORST ALBUMS OF 2020

 

KATY PERRY - SMILE

After her "experimental" album flopped and sent her into a tailspin, Katy desperately needed an album of undeniable pop hits. This wasn't it.

 

LOUIS TOMLINSON - WALLS

Credit for trying something different to his One Direction bandmates, sadly his songwriters served up Aldi Oasis.

Katy Perry’s Smile was a downer. Pic: Tim Sekiguchi
Katy Perry’s Smile was a downer. Pic: Tim Sekiguchi

 

 

NIALL HORAN - HEARTBREAK WEATHER

Harry Styles totally eclipsed Niall's beloved American-tinged pop simply by having much better songs.

 

MEGHAN TRAINOR - TREAT MYSELF

Still looking for that next hit. It wasn't here. Last seen doing a Christmas album

 

JUSTIN BIEBER - CHANGES

Biebs moaned that the Grammys classified this record as pop not R & B. The main shock is that these tuneless dirges were nominated at all.

 

Tones and I's surprise return to her busking roots

 

Originally published as Best and worst albums of 2020