The best albums of 2022 – and the worst

Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Kanye West all released albums this year - Lillie Eiger/ Renaissance Press/ Jean-Baptiste Lacroix / AFP
Harry Styles, Beyoncé and Kanye West all released albums this year - Lillie Eiger/ Renaissance Press/ Jean-Baptiste Lacroix / AFP

The best

10. Yard Act: The Overload

The Leeds quartet’s wiry bass-driven and angular guitar sound reaches back to post punk, offering a declamatory platform for smart-arsed frontman James Smith. Their thrilling debut conjured 11 razor sharp musical vignettes bursting with sonic ideas and energy, whilst Smith’s bone dry northern accented vocals punch from the front, dripping with tones of smarmily seductive sarcasm. There is a sophistication and irony that facilitates impactful messages whilst being delivered with a great spirit of humour and even joy.

9. Father John Misty: Chloë and the Next 20th Century

Dialling down some of the archness, cynicism and meta self-consciousness for his fifth outing as Father John Misty, American multi-instrumentalist singer songwriter Joshua Tillman dips into vintage musical styles from jazz to Americana on a lusciously melodic, sumptuously arranged and sweetly sung collection of lyrically audacious songcraft. Imagine a cross between Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, with an ironic 21st Century twist. Pure class.

Father John Misty
Father John Misty

8. Little Simz: No Thank You

Britain’s answer to Kendrick Lamar, Simbiatu Ajikawo makes sure every word lands in ambitious raps that employ street wit and poetic flourish to advance serious, philosophical ideas. Stormzy released a sad, smoky grime torch album, This Is What I Mean, but Simz made the most powerful UK rap album of 2022, a laser sharp takedown of corrupt music business practices, careless capitalism, and how institutional and generational racism impacts mental health. All set to the funky grandeur of producer Inflo’s classical soul stew.

7. Beyoncé: Renaissance

Welcome to Beyoncé’s superclub, in which the world’s biggest, brassiest R’n’B superstar hits the dancefloor with a starry cast of VIP guests for a streamlined set of unapologetic post-lockdown escapism, channeling 70’s disco via nineties house souped up with hip hop attitude. “Move out the way!” as Beyoncé, Grace Jones and Tems sing on bossy banger Move. “I’m with my girls and we all need space.”

6. Florence + the Machine: Dance Fever

On imperious opening track King, Britain’s most artily cerebral pop diva ponders her artistic ambition, rejecting traditional female archetypes (“I am no mother, I am no bride”) before declaring “I am king!” She remains one of Britain’s most distinctive artists, and her bold and typically superb 5th album did not get enough attention. Shifting sinuously between the delicate and the huge, Welch’s baroque blend of epic Gothic pop and melodic folk asked questions about women’s roles in the world of art and answered them masterfully.

5. Harry Styles: Harry’s House

We’re just wild about Harry, and rightfully so. With stadium shows, movie stardom and the year’s most insidious earworm hit, As It Was, the former 1D star kept the UK flag flying on the world’s pop stage. Harry’s House was his third album in a row of sinuously smart, sexy and cool adult pop music, packed with elegantly constructed songs reconstructing influences from classic seventies harmonic soft rock and funky eighties pop for a new generation. Every track sounds like a hit in waiting.

4. Wet Leg: Wet Leg

British indie at its perkiest, the Isle of Wight duo made being in a rock band look fun again. Their debut is an absolute blast, a crunchy, punchy, deliciously goofy and deceptively smart charge through fuzzed up new wave pop rock replete with earworm hooks, snappy choruses and the delightful sense that the duo at its heart are having such a hoot they don’t really care what anyone else thinks.

Wet Leg
Wet Leg

3. Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

The 35-year-old American is perhaps the most technically skillful, intellectually rigorous, philosophically deep, politically engaged and lyrically audacious rapper of all time. His fifth album is not an easy listen, effectively a double concept album set around a transformative psychoanalytical session, exploring themes of black male identity, historical racism and personal responsibility set to a dynamic range of sound and styles, from baroque classicism to steamy funk and harsh electro. Challenging but astonishing.

2. Weyes Blood: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

If literate, melodious, emotional and epic songcraft is your thing, America’s Natalie Mering produced another masterclass on her fifth album, in which a critique of climate change capitalism is rooted in personal narrative and astute poetic detail, delivered by a sublime voice. Echoes of 70’s Laurel Canyon and a songcraft to rival Jimmy Webb.

1. Rosalía: Motomami

The weakening of pop’s Anglo-American power bloc allowed artists of different musical, rhythmic and cultural heritages to flourish. Latino rap-singer Bad Bunny scored the most streamed album worldwide of 2022, with Un Verano Sin Ti. But for flamboyant musicality, experimental inventiveness and supernatural singing, it would be hard to surpass Spanish electro flamenco superestrella Rosalía’s stunning third album Motomami. Like Madonna meets Björk in the bullring with Celia Cruz.

And the worst

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Return of the Dream Canteen

The LA superstar quartet’s second album of 2022 followed hot on the heels of the 17 track Unlimited Love, with another 17 tracks of virtuoso jamming and throwaway lyricism. Ardent fans might disagree, but that’s a lot of jam, even if you like a bit of chili with your funk.

4. Post Malone: Twelve Carat Toothache

The facially tattooed rap singer pitched for serious artist status by turning away from hip hop to deliver a whole album showcasing his miserabilist campfire folktronica side. Underwritten, over-autotuned, and about as much fun as a visit to the dentist.

3. Van Morrison: What’s It Gonna Take?

Whatever happened to the mystic Van, once one of the most moving singers and songwriters on the planet? He’s churning out music these days (this is his 43rd career album, and 10th in ten years) with ever diminishing returns as he sinks deeper and deeper into conspiracy theory mania. Voice still sounds great. Shame about the banal lyrics.

2. Drake: Honestly, Nevermind

The Canadian rap superstar struggled to raise the tempo on his 7th album (14th if you include mixtapes) with a limpid attempt at House music, drained of all dancefloor joy by melancholy melodies, dull lyrics and terrible processed vocals. For a man who releases so much music, Drake is sounding increasingly bored with himself. The only good thing to say about this is that his other 2022 album, Her Loss, a collaboration with rapper 21 Savage, might be even worse. Honestly, I do mind.

1. Kanye West: Donda 2

Releasing his most self-indulgent, shambolic and miserable album was hardly the worst thing the mentally unstable rapper did in 2022. Donda 2’s saving grace was that listeners had to purchase a fidgety £200 device called the Stem player to hear it, so not many people did.