5. Lily Allen — Alright, Still
The latter half of the past decade saw no shortage of U.K. birds alighting on our shores, hungover from thwarted desire. But where Adele or Duffy or whoever mooned for a sonic ’60s when broken hearts were oh-so-simpler things, Lily Allen strolled confidently in front of a retro-fabricated backdrop that just accentuated what a modern gal she was — cheeky, I think they call that such attitude over there. A drag, yeah, that just two years later, on her grown-up follow-up, It’s Not Me, It’s You, she was already wondering if God was one of us, though I guess no one can make a career out of telling off dudes who deserve no better. After all, they’re too well-connected.
4. Rilo Kiley — Under The Blacklight
What I admire most about Jenny Lewis and her boys is their quaint insistence that major label cash can be put to aesthetic use–with Mike Elizondo and Jason Lader finessing the edges, this sorta-’80s tribute sounds like nothing so much as Tango in the Night. Lewis drifts through post-post-hippie L.A. decadence, amused by rather than oblivious to consequences, as blithely as Blake Sennet’s underrated sound-effect guitar encapsulates the essence of a genre in a lick or two, whether Merseybeat or Muscle Shoals. Note to those who consider the concrete directness of Lewis’s lyrics “shallow” (gosh!) as though lyrical opacity and depth were synonymous: “When you get uptight/ It’s such a drag.”
3. Lil Wayne — Da Drought 3
Weezy’s mushmouthed Martian shtick was worlds beyond cred-grubbing, beyond caring, beyond cool, a commercial cop-out and an aesthetic statement both. The best of his many mixtapes is the rap equivalent of a blowing session, its syllabic ingenuity reminding us why we used to call ’em rhymers, with off-the-dome misogyny and gunplay too self-evidently pure formal shitting around to offend. Doodling comments that I loved in the margins of professional beats I liked, Wayne offered a parodic subversion more MST3K than “Weird” Al, Maybe the low standards he has since set for guest-rap cash-ins are no less subversive in their bitchy way, but they’re way less fun. And I thank him for turning me on to his “nigga” Robin Thicke — “Wait… that nigga ain’t no nigga, huh?”
2. Gogol Bordello — Super Taranta!
You really want to bring the Pogues up, punk? God love him, but Shane McGowan’s brawlin’ ‘n’ bawlin’ cartoon paddy just accentuated how cheap nostalgia and cheaper booze have crippled Pan-Celtic culture. Contrast “Wonderlust King” Eugene Hutz’s “There were never any good old days,” and the non-coincidental superiority of polyrhythmic Gypsy churn to light-footed Gaelic reels when it comes to one-world free-for-all fusion. Whether sharing his “Supertheory of Supereverything” or enduring the tedium of an “American Wedding,” Hutz insists that anarchy needn’t be a path to self-destruction. And if he never ducks history, he never invokes history as an excuse either. He just, you know, makes it.
1. M.I.A. — Kala
She saves her biggest hooks for last: a sore-thumb Timbaland finale salvaged from the sessions meant to make her career, and “Paper Planes,” the global super-heroine boast that actually did the trick. But the heart of the decade’s sonically richest LP is Maya’s collaboration with fidget-house omnivore Switch, whose integration of Tamil film music, Burundi drums, and Blaqstarr’s spare Baltimore hip-hop has the same overheard feel as her verbal quotes from the Pixies and “Roadrunner” and the Clash. A third-world Barbarella too cool to model Rocawear, M.I.A. channels her voice into melodic rivulets with an amused confidence too warm to ever come off ironic or smug. Hello her friends yes it’s her.