Well, more or less, the answer has come down to two well-deserving, if not obvious, choices. One with Amy's depth, the other with her charm, but both falling a bit short in her shadow.
Duffy first came to my attention earlier this year, after I had been avoiding Mercy like the plague. Something about the vintage feel of the song's first few seconds, and Duffy's near-jazz vocals made me think the song would be a little too old-school for me. It wasn't until the ballad Warwick Avenue that I fell in love with her. The song is simple enough, but as heart-felt as anything from Back to Black. Duffy approaches the song with a subtle confidence at first, but loses composure as the second verse closes. By the final bridge, tears are imminent as she laments the end of a relationship, and is finally forced to let go of any lingering optimism that the union will see better days. In Stepping Stone, she reclaims the stride that heartbreak took from her, confidently informing a former lover to "take it all, or leave me alone." Of the 10 songs on Duffy's Rockferry, only two are worth skipping. With Syrup and Honey she takes on a pseudo lounge singer persona that doesn't particularly compliment the rest of the album, and the title track is simply dull. The rest of Duffy's Rockferry beams with a satisfying blend of charm and sincerity that makes it easily one of the best albums of the year.
What 19-year-old Adele lacks in charm, she makes up for in depth. Listening to her debut album 19 can be daunting. At times the writing is a little too self-sorrowful (I'm making that a word), and her vocals aren't the most inviting. But, 19 remains an enjoyable listen, if only because it's tremendously relatable. There's a sense of loss that resonates throughout 19 that most anyone who's ever left something or someone behind can approach with empathy. Lead single Chasing Pavements is good, but it's the album's second single, Cold Shoulder, that sees Adele at her best. I often tend to relate music, especially soul or R&B, to every-day life, and taken as reality, Cold Shoulder is perhaps the bravest plea for love gone stale that I've ever heard. In it, Adele confronts a lover who has obviously lost interest, admitting that "when you look at me, I wish I was her." That's the sort of confession that takes a lot to admit to anyone, and it's that same vulnerability that makes the song as heartbreaking as it is enjoyable. By the song's climax, Adele leaves the listener wondering if she is indeed the main event, or possibly singing the song from the perspective of a woman who's grown tired of playing on the sideline, "Time and time again I play the role of fool, just for you." The rest of 19 is full of angst ridden confessions and sorrow drenched vocals, which don't necessarily make it fun, but fulfilling none-the-less.
Oh, and Leona Lewis is boring…vocally…visually...generally. Boring. But Better in Time might be my shit.