2011 was undoubtedly a good year for albums of all genres. Perhaps we’re living through somewhat of a resurgence for the album format after fears it would die away amidst the late-noughties rise of the digital age. Or perhaps artists just care more now about the album being greater than the sum of its tracks. Yes a single hit can make you appreciate an artist but it is invariably albums that make you love an artist. A lone page will fall unnoticed in the trash whilst a mighty book will stand proud on a shelf, taken down again and again to be read until it is agreed to be a classic.
The trouble with the book analogy, though, is that you can’t read a book whilst driving (please don’t try it!) You can, however, appreciate an album that much more when driving – the album becomes you companion and the flow of tracks parallels the physical journey you are taking. Without distractions, you find yourself at one with the road and the album, and for that reason I have decided to run down my ten personal favourite driving albums of 2011. Naturally, this is a very personal list and I would love to hear what others think – I’ve tried to avoid too many mainstream albums so as to hopefully introduce people to some great new albums. I’ve also tried to cover a variety of genres so there is (a) something for everyone and (b) a variety of albums suitable for whatever mood you’re in when you take the wheel. They’re not in any order either as they are so varied it’s impossible to compare – I can assure you they are all great driving albums though.
Amy Winehouse – Lioness
It would be hard not to include this album after the tragic demise of Amy last summer. This is a surprisingly good listen and will be particularly good for long drives where you think you are likely to get bored. Listening to a posthumous Winehouse is interesting and rightly or wrongly, you will pay more attention to this album than any of her previous records. But that will make you appreciate her genius more and her voice will transport you from your car to a place of calm and comfort – that’s how good she is. “Wake up Alone” has a beautiful feel to it and leads nicely into “Half Time, a track which sounds particularly good on the move.
Birdy – Birdy
It was hard to avoid Birdy’s cover of “Skinny Love” in 2011 and for someone so young to record a cover of such a well-loved Bon Iver song (surely the well-loved Bon Iver song) is remarkable.
Even more remarkable, though, was the consistent quality of the rest of the album. She’s covered everything from the XX’s “Shelter” to the Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” and it’s often genuinely hard to decide which to prefer, hers or the original. You’re better off not trying to decide and just enjoying a fantastic voice and a really rather well produced album.
Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix
This was a great year for Bombay Bicycle Club and they were announced on Radio 1 as Zane Lowe’s band of the year. This album really comes into its own when listened to from start to finish and an ideal place to do that is from behind the wheel. The driving rhythm of “Lights Out, Words Gone” will feel like it’s steering the car through you. Find a nice open road for this one.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
The eponymous second album from Justin Vernon and co speaks volumes about the band. After the phenomenal success of 2008’s “For Emma, Forever Ago”, it would have been very easy to end up making something too similar. Or too different. But instead Justin produced something that is perhaps more summer-y – unlike “For Emma, Forever Ago” this is a record best heard on a June drive, which is incidentally when “Bon Iver” was released. Surely never before has a band captured the mood of the seasons so well; perhaps it is because of their name, semi-French for “good winter”. The only place better than a car journey to hear this album is live, which I did twice last autumn. The show is incredible – managing to be both stadium-spectacular and wonderfully intimate. Check out “Perth”, “Hinnom, TX”, first single “Calgary” and “Beth/Rest”. On second thoughts, don’t do that. This more than any other album in this list works best as a start-to-finish journey – don’t spoil it by dissecting it.
Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
Of course, 2011 was a Coldplay year, and just when you thought they couldn’t possibly go in yet another direction, they sort of did a bit. The energy of “Hurts like Heaven” instantly makes you take notice and want to hear the rest of the album. Of course “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” and “Paradise” were fantastic singles but just as in 2008 with “Viva La Vida”, Chris Martin’s band has delivered an album that goes above and beyond just the singles.
Drake – Take Care
Okay, so this is an album not to put on if your gran is in the car with you. And you probably have to be in the right frame of mind for it too. It’s explicit and at first may seem so for the sake of being explicit but after a few tracks you really start to appreciate this guy’s talent. What he says lyrically is very easy to relate to once you get used to it and the production on tracks like “Take Care”, Drake’s famous Rihanna collaboration, make this album really very listenable. Check out the Lil Wayne collaboration “HYFR” towards the end of the album and you will see where this record fits in with the rest of rap music in this new decade.
In part two: Ed Sheeran, Example, Frank Ocean, Frank Turner, Ghostpoet, Girls and Kanye and Jay-Z.