Twenty Best Albums of 2011: #’s 10-12

12. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Another Harvey album reliant on a craftsmanship gimmick: White Chalk was her piano album, Let England Shake her autoharp one. The other striking thing about LES is too original to tag a gimmick: a song cycle about war and its discontents, which is the clue to why the album is superb without risking greatness. An album “about” England, “about” war without being suffused with them. She offers hints and portents over impressive backdrops; she’s never sung this well, but with so little sense of what the material demands.

11. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Her singles are events. Her album tracks are killers: the male chorus rising and falling as it sings GA-GA over the chorus of “Bloody Mary,” the guitar squeal in “Bad Kids,” another male voice squeaking “Wake up and turn around!” in “Governmental Hooker,” and the nonsensical, Nutrasweet-fueled rush of “Hair,” a far cannier anthem than the title track. She inspires people, I’m told.

Longer thoughts about Born This Way shortly after its release here.

EDIT: Ned as usual made salient remarks.

10. Diddy Dirty Money – Last Train to Paris

So buzzed was my circle by the December 2010 release of Diddy’s best album that lots of us squeezed, prodded, and pinched ballots to accommodate it. A year later and Diddy’s version of a 1965 Motown revue sounds fresh, each guest benefiting from the fecund environment: Usher (“Looking For Love”), Trey Songz (“Your Love”), and Justin Timberblake (“Shades”) give their most enthusiastic performances in years. Meanwhile the name above the marquee finally earns the billing: he’s the impresario and ringmaster, reveling in a vision of Euro-inflected R&B and hip-hop that is the aural equivalent of neon lights shining on puddles and Metro stations at dusk. Get your hands on the extended version: songs like “Sade” (the band not the author) work just like B-sides should.

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