Brit Retrospect: Albums That Defined the Decade
Make no mistake; the British music invasion is evident wherever you may be in the world these days. With a slew of fantastic talents since The Beatles, England will always be known for their incredible contributions to the music industry. Over the years, these iconic artists have helped to open doors for other British acts to gain recognition within the music scene, in America and beyond. This is evident from the success of artists like Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding, Calvin Harris, Harry Styles, Rita Ora, Sam Smith, The 1975, Bastille and more.
Boy bands and girl groups, as well as Britpop bands like Blur and Oasis, dominated the charts during the 1990s. This inevitably led the way for newer bands like Travis and Feeder, as well as Coldplay and Snow Patrol. Electronic acts like Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy were also on top of their game during this time, gaining international success. Upon entering the new millennium, we saw more soul in the form of Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Adele, along with singer-songwriters like James Blunt, as well as the constant emergence of bands. Dance music was merged with hip-hop, garage and grime, which made it very exciting compared to the formulated American dance scene during the noughties.
After 2010, British acts ruled the music charts around the world, including US album chart domination by acts like One Direction, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Amy Winehouse, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay and more. The phenomenon and acceptance has allowed many UK acts to have a better chance of success beyond their own home country as we continue to witness the fantastic careers of producers Mark Ronson and Calvin Harris, as well as singer Sam Smith, just to name a few, in the American music arena.
In retrospect, let’s take a look at some of the incredible and monumental albums of each year that helped to define today’s Brit music.
2009: Florence and the Machine – Lungs
English band Florence and the Machine came into the scene, hot with their debut album Lungs which received great reviews and sold over 3,000,000 copies worldwide. The world fell in love with lead singer Florence Welch’s mezzo-soprano vocals over their grand and powerful singles like “Kiss with a Fist,” “Dog Days Are Over” and “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”, produced largely by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and Paul Epworth. Winning the inaugural Critics’ Choice Award at the Brit Awards in the same year, Lungs effortlessly takes you from soaring vocals to dreamy strings, in the span of a single album.
2010: Take That – Progress
The sixth album by renowned ‘90s Brit boy band, Take That, marked the return of their member Robbie Williams, who parted from the group in 1995 to pursue his solo career. Progress was also the final feature for member Jason Orange before his departure in 2014. Fusing pop with electronic and synthesizers, Progress became the biggest-selling album of the year with over 2.8 million copies sold in UK alone. The album later received a side EP release of Progressed with eight new tracks. Compared to their usual balladry, Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Jason Orange and Robbie Williams were definitely giving themselves a challenge with a more synth-pop approach on this album, making die-hard Take That fans swoon. And dare we say, the outcome is pretty worth it.
2011: Adele – 21
Adele became pop music’s vocal darling since she debuted in 2008 with the album 19. For her 21 album, her pain was evident in her songs about heartbreak after ending a relationship, resulting in incredible anthems such as “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You,” “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Rumour Has It.” She gathered producers Rick Rubin, Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Jim Abbiss and Dan Wilson to create this incredible album, which went on to win the Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards and Brit Awards.
2012: The xx – Coexist
Indie pop band The xx released their second album titled Coexist produced by Jamie Smith, also known as Jamie xx, the DJ behind many electronic music projects. This album explored the world of failed relationships and romance dynamics, receiving great reviews by critics everywhere through singles like “Angels” and “Chained”. With The xx’s penchant for soft electronic music with a tinge of R&B, Coexist is a very focused and beautiful album that is perfectly for any occasion.
2013: One Direction – Midnight Memories
UK boy bands have never been the same since the arrival of One Direction. Their third album Midnight Memories became the fastest-selling album in the history of Amazon UK, breaking their own record of the last release the year before. With singles like “Best Song Ever” and “Story of My Life,” the group lent a hand in making the music with this album, showing a more mature side. For 1 Directioners and non-Directioners alike, Midnight Memories is a cheeky pop and rock album that captures the boys’ personalities as they grow together with their fans.
2014: Ed Sheeran – x
Pronounced as “Multiply,” x is Ed Sheeran’s second studio album that made him one of the biggest male artists in the world today. It became the number one album in 15 countries and received the Album of the Year award at the Brit Awards, as well as two Grammy Award nominations. x gave us infectious pop tunes that will forever stay in our heads, like “Sing,” “Don’t,” “Photograph,” “Bloodstream” and the mega-hit “Thinking Out Loud.” In 2014, x was named the most-streamed album in the world by music streaming platform Spotify.
2015: Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Producer Mark Ronson took us on a funky pop ride with his fourth album, which was also dedicated to the late Amy Winehouse. Prior to the album’s release, he released the incredibly catchy “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars on vocals, which sent music lovers into a groovy frenzy. With guest artists from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Mystikal, Jeff Bhasker, Kevin Parker and Andrew Wyatt, the rest of the album was just as toe-tapping. This feel-good album is Ronson’s best work yet, and is definitely one of the best funk albums that the new generation can relate to. A must-play album to set the tone if you are throwing a house party.
2016: David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar)
This was legendary rock musician David Bowie’s 25th and last album, ★ (pronounced as “Blackstar”). The lead single “★” went on to win the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance at the Grammy Awards. Just like Bowie himself, the album is just as exciting and adventurous as you might expect, packed full of wide-eyed drama that goes beyond our imagination, giving us incredible singles like “Lazarus” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” It was unfortunate Bowie passed away two days after the album was released, but at least he gave us a collection of songs that are way ahead of their time, and will never go out of style.
2017: Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa
At just 21 years old, Dua Lipa released her self-titled debut album, which spawned eight singles including “Blow Your Mind (Mwah),” “IDGAF,” and “New Rules.” Her husky vocals are a breath of fresh air, especially when combined with the catchy pop tunes on the album, making in an incredibly strong release. The 2019 Best New Artist at the Grammys has proven herself to be the new pop princess in the music scene, and continues to show no signs of slowing down.
2018: Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
The beautiful singer-songwriter Jorja Smith burst onto SoundCloud with the release of “Blue Lights”, which caught the attention of many, including rapper Drake, who also featured her in his More Life release. Lost & Found received praises for its unique style, lyrics, composition and Smith’s incredible vocals. She went on to release “Blue Lights,” “Where Did I Go?,” “Teenage Fantasy” and “February 3rd” as singles from her promising debut album. Lost & Found is an incredible first draft by Jorja Smith, and we look forward to hearing her sophomore effort.
2019: James Blake – Assume Form
This fourth album by singer-songwriter and producer James Blake is more upbeat than his previous albums. Blake incorporates elements of R&B, hip-hop and electropop with guest artists Travis Scott, Rosalía, André 3000, Moses Sumney and producer Metro Boomin. Transitioning from his signature haunting and minimalist electronic vibe to a more soaring production that relates to the listener’s feelings, Assume Form is a representation of Blake’s decision to move forward and experiment with new sounds while retaining his electronic flair that we know and love. The result: a beautiful blend of music.
Cover Credit: LeeAnn Cline / Unsplash
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Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.