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Adam Lambert: ‘Madonna is being p***ed on for her new music, not for being sexual in her sixties’

Adam Lambert: ‘Madonna is being p***ed on for her new music, not for being sexual in her sixties’

Ten years ago, Adam Lambert sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” for his audition on American Idol. He was labelled “theatrical” by Simon Cowell but spent the rest of the season racking up a huge fan base in Middle America. When Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor turned up to play “We Are the Champions” live in the final, Lambert duetted on vocals with winner Kris Allen. The runner-up would prove to be the real winner, though, when in 2011 he took over as frontman for the band, as Queen + Adam Lambert, and they’ve been selling out stadiums ever since.

“Of course, I’ve caught whiffs of pushback from people over the past 10 years,” Lambert tells me, brandishing a glass of rosé in the lounge of his London hotel. “Why is he doing it? Freddie is better,” he imitates his naysayers with a flip of his bejewelled fingers, “and it’s like, well yeah, of course Freddie was f***ing better. He’s Freddie Mercury!”

He’s very conscious, too, that it was the tragic death of Mercury from Aids in 1991 that gave him the chance. “I wish I didn’t have to, you know, but it’s the way the universe handed me this card.”

We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.

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Lambert was the perfect fit. On American Idol, he channelled the kind of camp glam-rock behaviour musicians had struggled to execute since Mercury’s death. And like the original Queen performer, he too had a life the masses once didn’t know about.

From left: Adam Lambert with fellow top five American Idol finalists Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, Danny Gokey, Matt Giraud in 2009 (Getty)

The first time Lambert came out, it was a pretty straightforward affair: a musically minded 18-year-old from California, keen to explore the queer side of West Hollywood, told his friends and parents he was gay. Nine years later, Lambert would have to do it again. Only this time it was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, shortly after American Idol wrapped.

In the months prior to that public revelation, in which Lambert, in his words, “confirmed I was out”, speculation surrounding his sexuality had dominated tabloids and gossip blogs. Looking back, the star has a different perspective on the “is he or isn’t he?” controversy.

“Disclaimer,” he announces, holding both hands up. “No one asked me to repress [my sexuality on Idol], and I don’t think I did!” A history of closeted stars in fear of public backlash has taught us to assume otherwise. “I look back and think, this is weird, [because] I came out when I was 18 and did Idol when I was 27. I spent the years in between that being very f***ing gay.”

“If [presenter] Ryan Seacrest had asked me about my sexuality, I would have been an open book,” he continues. “Maybe in the back of my head I knew the attitudes of America and the media at that time, and I just wanted to focus on the task at hand to get my record deal.”

It worked. Shortly after the show finished, he signed a contract with RCA in the States, released a warmly received debut album and, three years later, topped the Billboard 100 with its follow-up, Trespassing. He was the first openly gay male artist (“That phrase cracks me up!” he chuckles) in American chart history to do so.  

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1/43 Rina Mushonga – In a Galaxy

It’s not uncommon for an artist to be influenced by the place they grew up in. Yet few are likely to have as much inspiration to draw on as India-born, Zimbabwe-raised and now Peckham-based artist Rina Mushonga.

The singer-songwriter’s nomadic personality is reflected in the vast scale of reference points on her new record, In a Galaxy. It’s technically a follow-up to 2014’s The Wild, the Wilderness, but the newfound boldness on this new work is startling.

Since that first record, Mushonga has begun to incorporate themes of empowerment into her work. On “AtalantA”, she showcases her muscular vocals, which are capable of switching between an airy lilt to a deep, emotional moan, as she sings lyrics inspired by the Greek hunter goddess who refused to marry. In a Galaxy is a record that takes you far beyond the borders of the world you’re familiar with, and into something altogether more colourful. (Roisin O’Connor)

2/43 Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

On Deerhunter’s eighth album, frontman Bradford Cox takes on the role of war poet, documenting the things he observes with a cool matter-of-factness, and heart-wrenching detail. Death is everywhere on Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, as much as others may refuse to see it.

Already Disappeared is not an easy album. It’s often bleak and experimental: Cox’s vocals burst through like distorted, burbling fragments of static, or appear muffled amid the instrumentation. This is a new side of Deerhunter that gives the listener much to contemplate. (Roisin O’Connor)

3/43 Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

After a period of tumult, Sharon Van Etten’s fifth album is a reinvention. But beneath its hazy synths and electronics are songs of endurance and inner peace, of settling after a flurry of activity.

On Remind Me Tomorrow, written during her recent pregnancy and the birth of her first child, Van Etten dims her spotlight on toxicity and instead casts a warm glow behind the record’s psychic overview.

The anxiety and pride of impending parenthood converge on “Seventeen”, a paean to the invincibility and melancholy of adolescence. Addressing a younger version of herself, the 37-year-old sings of the carefree young and their mistrust of those defeated by time.

After years making peace with drift and uncertainty, she’s never sounded more sure of anything. (Jazz Monroe)

Ryan Pfluger

4/43 Bring Me the Horizon – Amo

BMTH frontman Oli Sykes wants to assert the fragility of the boundary between love and hate. Amo is a way of exploring that, even down to the title itself.
Closer “I Don’t Know What to Say” is cinematic in its symphonic drama – perhaps inspired by their 2016 shows at the Royal Albert Hall that featured a full orchestra and choir – and becomes the album’s most moving song. Over urgent, darting violin notes and soft strumming on an acoustic guitar, Sykes sings about the loss of a close friend, building to a hair-raising climax where he screams out the song’s title one last time. Amo won’t satisfy all of BMTH’s fans, but it’s certainly accomplished, catchy and eclectic enough to bring in some new ones. (Roisin O’Connor)

5/43 Nina Nesbitt – The Sun Will Come Up, the Seasons Will Change

Nesbitt is back with her second LP, switching to a brand of soul and R&B-fused pop that feels bang on time, and suits her far better. The Sun Will Come Up, the Seasons Will Change has slick, polished production from Fraser T Smith (Adele), Lostboy (Anne-Marie), Jordan Riley (Zara Larsson), and Nesbitt herself.

Several tracks tap into a Nineties R&B sound that UK women, from Mabel to Ella Mai, are excelling at right now. Assertive tracks “Loyal to Me” and “Love Letter” nod to TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”, but there is vulnerability, too, in the acoustic guitar-led neo-soul of “Somebody Special”, and the tender heartbreak on ”Is it Really Me You’re Missing”. (Roisin O’Connor)

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6/43 Better Oblivion Community Center

This self-titled record, a loose but beautifully crafted collection of folk-rock songs, explores the kinds of anxieties intrinsic to the modern age – the longing to be at once noticed and invisible; the paralysing effects of limitless information, and the desire to do good versus the desire to be seen doing good.
As if to hammer home their parity, they even largely sing in unison – which might have had a plodding effect if the pair’s voices weren’t so distinct: Bridgers sings with a hazy assurance, Oberst with an emotive tremor. And when Bridgers’ melody does sporadically glide above Oberst’s, it is all the more potent for it. (Alexandra Pollard)

7/43 Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next

The album is packed with personal confessions for the fans – “Arianators” – to pick over. It lacks a centrepiece to match the arresting depth and space of Sweetener’s “God Is A Woman”, but Grande handles its shifting moods and cast of producers (including pop machines Max Martin and Tommy Brown) with engaging class and momentum. One minute you’re skanking along to the party brass of “Bloodline”; the next floating into the semi-detached, heartbreak of “Ghostin’”, which appears to address Grande’s guilt at being with Davidson while pining for Miller. She sings of the late rapper as a “wingless angel” with featherlight high notes that will drop the sternest jaw. (Helen Brown)

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8/43 James Blake – Assume Form

The perma-brilliant James Blake has flooded his fourth album – Assume Form – with euphoric sepia soul and loved-up doo-wop. His trademark intelligence, honesty and pin-drop production remain intact. But the detached chorister vocals of a decade in which he battled depression have thawed to reveal a millennial Sam Cooke crooning: “Can’t believe the way we flow, way we flow, way we flow…”

The warm splashes of piano that washed over that song break through the anxious rattle of dance beats on the album’s eponymous opener, the singer so regularly reviewed as “vaporous” promises to “leave the ether, assume form” and “be touchable, be reachable”. His own sharpest critic, he winks at the journalists who’ve called him glacial as he drops from remote, icy falsetto into a richly grained, deeper tone to ask: “Doesn’t it seem much warmer?” (Helen Brown)

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9/43 AJ Tracey – AJ Tracey

While he recognises his roots and includes plenty of nods to grime, AJ Tracey’s magpie’s eye for a good melody or hook extends far beyond that. With the help of stellar producers like Cadenza (Kiko Bun), Swifta Beater (Kano, Giggs), and Nyge (Section Boyz, Yxng Bane), Tracey incorporates electronic music, rock, garage and even country on his most cohesive work to date.
The variety and scale of ambition on this album is breathtaking. Fans will be surprised to discover Tracey sings almost as much as he raps, in pleasingly gruff tones. Each track is a standout, none more so than “Ladbroke Grove”, a hat-tip to classic garage in which Tracey switches up his flow to emulate a Nineties MC. It’s a thrilling work. (Roisin O’Connor)

Ashley Verse

10/43 Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive

The album title of the year gives us an image of Brexit Britain trashed by Old Etonians David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but the fifth studio work from the punk duo has more than social commentary to offer. There’s some of that, as vocalist Jason Williamson skewers documentary-makers who take advantage of the poor in “Kebab Spider” – “the skint get used in loo roll shoes” – but elsewhere this is a record that expands the idea of what Sleaford Mods could be.

Andrew Fearn’s beats are no longer just the backdrop, they’re threatening to take over this album. Surprising influences creep in, from Eighties R&B to the Human League, and on “When You Come Up To Me”, Williamson not only sings but there’s a melancholy tone breaking through the anger. “I don’t want to flip the page/ Of my negative script,” he intones on the final track, but there’s just a hint that he does. (Chris Harvey)

11/43 Julia Jacklin – Crushing

“Do you still have that photograph?/ Would you use it to hurt me?” asks Australian indie rocker Julia Jacklin, against the menacing throb of “Body”. The tension is stormy: imagine a mid-period Fleetwood Mac song, covered by Cat Power. It’s a masterclass in narrative songwriting.

Those who fell for Jacklin’s 2016 excellent debut, Don’t Let the Kids Win, will find a continuity of alternative attitude and vintage influences.
But there’s a deeper sense of personal connection to anchor Jacklin’s lyrical and melodic smarts. That snare drum keeps a relentless, nerve-snapping pulse throughout, with Jacklin sounding more confident in her contradictions: at once yearning to comfort a lover she’s dumped and then, on “Head Alone”, declaring: “I don’t wanna be touched all the time/ I raised my body up to be mine.”
Ah. Shucks. Grunge-rinsed, feminist-flipped, upcycled Fifties guitar an’ all: Crushing is a triumph. (Helen Brown)

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12/43 Little Simz – GREY Area

With praise from Kendrick Lamar, five EPs released by the time she was 21, tours with Lauryn Hill, collaborations with Gorillaz and two critically praised albums – including 2017’s excellent concept album Stillness in Wonderland – fans and critics alike wondered what else Little Simz could do to find the kind of mainstream success enjoyed by so many of her male peers.
Yet you’d be hard pushed to find a moment over the past few years where Simz has commented on this issue herself. Instead, she’s been busy honing her craft for Grey Area, which sees her land on a new, bolder sound assisted by her childhood friend – the producer Inflo [Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate] – for a record that incorporates her dextrous flow and superb wordplay with an eclectic range of influences. The album takes in everything from jazz, funk and soul to punk and heavy rock, plus three carefully chosen features.
(Roisin O’Connor)

Jen Ewbank

13/43 Solange – When I Get Home

Solange Knowles has never been coy about the intent behind her music. Beautiful arrangements and seamless production notwithstanding, you get the sense, each time she drop a project, that it serves a distinct, zeitgeist-shifting purpose.

This time, with When I Get Home, Solange has effectively given us permission to rest. Echoing similar movements seen in recent years, such as Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta’s “Black Power Naps” exhibition – which speaks to and hopes to remedy the socio-economic problem of higher rates of sleep deprivation among black people – the album has a calming, blissed-out quality, with its layers of sound and enveloping harmonies.

And where better to dream than from the comfort of your own digs? Whether it’s in the physical structure of a property that’s shaped you over the years, or in the familiar sounds of the music and culture that your people have crafted, there seems to be a call to return to what is familiar. (Kuba Shand-Baptiste)

Max Hirschberger

14/43 Foals – Everything Not Saved Will be Lost (Part 1)

FoalsMerging their asymmetrical early math pop with the deep space atmospherics of Total Life Forever and Holy Fire, plus added innovations – ambient rainforest throbs on “Moonlight”, deadpan EDM on “In Degrees”, Afro-glitch Radiohead on “Café D’Athens” – they’ve created an inspired album of scorched earth new music that, in all likelihood, will only really be challenged for album of the year by Part 2. (Mark Beaumont)

Alex Knowles

15/43 Dave – Psychodrama

Tracks are at once astute and deeply personal in how they capture vignettes of everyday life and spin them into important lessons. “Black”, the most recent single from the record, considers what that word means to different people around the world, as well as to Dave. “Voices” has him singing over an old-school garage beat, fighting off personal demons.

“I could be the rapper with a message like you’re hoping, but what’s the point in me being the best if no one knows it?” he challenges on “Psycho”, which flips scattershot between beats and moods as though the track itself is schizophrenic. Dave spends Psychodrama addressing issues caused by the generations who came before him. By the end of the album, he sounds like a figurehead for the hopeful future.

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16/43 Sigrid – Sucker Punch

At her best, Sigrid throws out precision-tooled high notes like icicle javelins into vast, blue Scandi-produced skies. Then she growls like an Icelandic volcano preparing to disrupt western civilisation until we sort ourselves out.

l enjoyed the muted, Afro-tinged authenticity of “Level Up” and the conscious, pasty-girl reggae of “Business Dinners” (on which she refuses to be an industry angel) and I loved the Robyn-esque rush of “Basic” (which sees her yearning to shed love’s complications).

Sigrid has a raw energy and emotional briskness that can make you feel like you’re doing aerobics in neon leg warmers atop a pristine mountain. (Helen Brown)

Francesca Allen

17/43 Karen O and Danger Mouse – Lux Prima

Lux Prima was born just over a decade ago from a drunken phone call from Karen O to Danger Mouse – real name Brian Joseph Burton – during which the pair vowed they would work on something together. It wasn’t until after O had given birth to her son, though, that recording finally began, and there is a beatific sense of contentment on songs like “Drown”, with its Kamasi Washington-like choirs and stately horns.

Danger Mouse is known for genre-hopping collaborations with artists such as Beck, the Black Keys and CeeLo Green, and he applies that approach here, too: the album is an impressive mix of blissed-out synths, psych-rock guitars and trippy hip-hop beats.

Lux Prima is an accomplished record – proof that two wildly different minds can work seamlessly together. Maybe drunk-dialling isn’t always such a bad idea. (Roisin O’Connor)

Eliot Lee Hazel

18/43 The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe

This is an ambitious creation, meticulously crafted and assembled. For a start, the range of guest performers is a cornucopia of contemporary soul and hip-hop collaborators: vocalists Moses Sumney, Roots Manuva, Heidi Vogel, Grey Reverend and Tawiah; strings player Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and keyboardist Dennis Hamm – both of whom have worked with Flying Lotus and Thundercat.

Ma Fleur was emotive and piano-led, its themes of mortality and the passage of life captured so evocatively in the Patrick Watson collaboration “To Build a Home” – which went on to soundtrack every TV show from Grey’s Anatomy to Orange is the New Black. To Believe, however, feels more expansive in reach. (Elisa Bray)

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19/43 Lucy Rose – No Words Left

Rose – who found fame in the UK’s indie-folk scene as an unofficial member of Bombay Bicycle Club in 2010, only to walk away amid the band’s growing hype – is darkly compelling on No Words Left. Assisted by producer Tim Bidwell, who worked on Rose’s last record Something’s Changing, she sounds braver than she ever has before. There are moments that recall her Communion labelmate Ben Howard, on his latest album, Noonday Dream, and others that nod to the quiet stoicism of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. (Roisin O’Connor)

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20/43 Nilufer Yanya – Miss Universe

The record is loosely conceptual insomuch as it’s punctuated with mock adverts for “WWAY HEALTH, our 24/7 care programme”. But don’t be put off: Miss Universe is a brilliant collection of songs, an expansive melange of indie, jazz, pop and trip-hop that flits between a lo-fi sparseness and something The Strokes would play. Yanya – who is of Turkish-Irish-Bajan heritage – grew up in London on a mix of Pixies, Nina Simone, The Libertines and Amy Winehouse, and this unlikely combination is certainly reflected in the sound. (Patrick Smith)

Molly Daniel

21/43 Jenny Lewis – On the Line

Here, Lewis does what she does best: adds the glossy sparkle of Hollywood and a sunny Californian sheen to melancholy and nostalgia, with her most luxuriantly orchestrated album yet. Even when she’s singing, “I’ve wasted my youth”, it’s in that sweet voice, with carefree “doo doo doo doo doo doos”, and at a pace that’s so upbeat that it masks the sentiment. It’s a bittersweet mourning of her past. (Elisa Bray)

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22/43 Ty Segall – Deforming Lobes

Comprising songs from Segall’s eclectic (that’s putting it lightly) catalogue and performed by him and the Freedom Band (Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart, Emmett Kelly, and Ben Boye), the album is delightfully short and sweet. It is certainly a drastic switch-up from Freedom’s Goblin (2018), which had 19 tracks and ran for 75 minutes.

Opener “Warm Hands”, from Segall’s self-titled 2017 LP, is essentially an epic jam; he grinds out fuzzy distortion and squalling riffs for a solid nine and a half minutes with a gleeful lawlessness. “Love Fuzz”, which serves as the opposing bookend at the album’s close, is even wilder. This isn’t a “best of” selection – the band simply chose the tracks out of which they got the biggest kick. Deforming Lobes is unpredictable and invigorating – the best representation of Segall’s restless creativity to date, not to mention the most fun to listen to. (Roisin O’Connor)

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23/43 Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

If you want to know how hard it is to categorise Titanic Rising – the enthralling fourth album from Weyes Blood – look no further than the American musician’s own attempt to do so. It is, she says, “The Kinks meet the Second World War, or Bob Seger meets Enya.”

Neither of those is a particularly accurate description, but they do at least fit the album’s refusal to loiter in any one genre. Slide guitars give way to violas, which usher in eerie synths. Organs crop up throughout, evoking both Renaissance music and a fairground attraction. The fragmented strings in “Movies”, a song about the falsities of Hollywood romance, recall the chaotic minimalism of Arthur Russell.
And then there’s that voice – at once warm and haunting, controlled and untethered. It’s no wonder she’s lent it to the likes of Perfume Genius, Drugdealer and Ariel Pink: it adds a touch of profundity to everything it meets.
Titanic Rising isn’t Bob Seger meets Enya. It’s better. Alexandra Pollard

24/43 Chemical Brothers – No Geography

Tension aside, there’s a great sense of fun here. The title track is pure euphoria, as restless synths of a Utah Saints or Orbital rave break into swelling bass and melody. And they create the full club experience with “Got to Keep On”, on which the four-to-the-floor beat, funky rhythm guitar, sweet backing vocals and chiming bells make way for the simple sounds of happy party-goers; just as the anticipation builds, so does the instrumentation into a hypnotic crescendo. It’s masterful production. (Elisa Bray)

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25/43 Anderson .Paak – Ventura

Six months after the release of Oxnard, Anderson .Paak returns with another Dr Dre-produced record, Ventura. Where the former was overflowing with choppy, experimental sounds, guest appearances and clumsy attempts at Gil Scott Heron-esque revolutionary lyrics, the sequel – recorded around the same time – streamlines .Paak’s sound, making for a tightly packaged, melodic and danceable album.

Rather than being an album of Oxnard offshoots, Ventura instead borrows heavily from .Paak’s consistently brilliant 2016 record Malibu, itself a fresh slice of soulful funk. The singer croons over disco-infused, Quincy Jones-inspired trumpets on “Reachin’ 2 Much”, masterfully interplays vocals from Smokey Robinson with violin flourishes on “Making it Better”, and playfully raps about global warming on “Yada Yada”. As .Paak sings on “Winners Circle”, “They just don’t make them like this anymore”. Considering how few artists have such command of their craft as .Paak, he’s not wrong. (Jack Shepherd)

26/43 Loyle Carner – Not Waving, But Drowning

Two years after the release of his Mercury Prize-nominated debut Yesterday’s Gone, the south London hip-hop artist unveils its follow-up, Not Waving, But Drowning. And if any two records could portray how quickly someone can grow from a boy to a man, it’s these.
Familiar faces and themes serve as his trademarks. Fellow Mercury Prize nominee Jorja Smith and winner Sampha sound like old friends in their guest spots – they fit comfortably into Carner’s landscape, built from classic hip-hop beats and warm piano loops. Over all of it, he raps with an easy flow in gruff yet honeyed tones.
Above all, he is conscious of what family means to him, and so bookends the album with a poem from him to his mother Jean, and one from his mother to him. Not Waving, But Drowning has an emotional intelligence that shows just how strong Carner is when he’s at his most vulnerable. (Roisin O’Connor)

27/43 Lizzo – Cuz I Love You

No one could accuse Lizzo of holding back. Not when it comes to her voice – which is raw and rowdy, so laden with personality even the vulnerable moments are a joy to listen to – and certainly not when it comes to her message of unabashed self-love. That’s the predominant theme of the singer / rapper / flautist-extraordinaire’s hugely likeable third album, Cuz I Love You.
When Lizzo played Coachella earlier this week, her set was plagued by technical problems. “When I’m headlining next time,” she announced, “I’m gonna need my motherf**king ears to work.” Judging by the strength of her third album, that might not be such an implausible assumption. (Alexandra Pollard)

Luke Gilford

28/43 Fat White Family – Serfs Up!

It seems as likely as Old Man Steptoe dining with the Rees-Mogg, but this new tactic of burying their confrontational gruesomeness beneath a veneer of alt-rock respectability for album three works well for Fat White Family. Drenched in chamber strings and celestial harmonies, the plush yet sinister “Oh Sebastian” could be Pet Sounds selling its soul to the devil. “Fringe Runner” is so sleek and funksome it could be a New Romantic “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”; “Kim’s Sunsets” is a piece of refined cosmic reggae resembling a blissed-out “Bankrobber”.
Tarantino bossa novas and Velvets drones are all imbued with a luminous, cultured seediness, like the entire Cannes Film Festival owning up to its social diseases. Wonderfully unsettling. (Mark Beaumont)

Morbid Books

29/43 Cage the Elephant – Social Cues

On Cage the Elephant’s fifth album, Social Cues, frontman Matt Shultz reacts to the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of three close friends. He undergoes a kind of Jekyll and Hyde transition through the 13 tracks, the result of which is the band’s best work to date.

Assisted by producer John Hill, whose previous credits include co-writing Portugal. The Man’s mega-hit “Feel it Still”, the Kentucky-formed, Nashville-based Cage the Elephant remain faithful to their neo-soul influenced brand of garage rock but move to something darker and far more visceral.
Single “Ready to let Go” is by far the most explicit – a moody swamp-rock jam where Shultz comes to terms with his impending divorce. “House of Glass” is a sequence of frenzied mutterings with a buzzsaw guitar cutting through his attempts to convince himself of love’s existence.
Social Cues is an album where Shultz bares his soul, and apparently shakes off a few demons in the process. (Roisin O’Connor)

Neil Krug

30/43 SOAK – Grim Town

SOAK reaches to outsiders once again on her new album.
Musically, she’s developed her arrangements and become bolder, too. The tempo-shifting country-folk song “Get Set Go Kid” layers guitar, keys and subtle, harmonising backing vocals, unexpectedly building towards a cacophony of syncopated piano and saxophone. “Crying Your Eyes Out” appears to be a sombre piano ballad until it ramps up the angst with plaintive vocals, conjuring up a storm with swirling rhythms.
On the melancholy, gently strummed guitar and piano-led “Fall Asleep, Backseat”, Monds-Watson reflects on pretending to sleep as her parents make the painful decision to divorce. In a way, Grim Town portrays the journey from adolescence into young adulthood – with all the introspection, resignation and wide-eyed forays into love that entails. (Elisa Bray)

Charlie Forgham Bailey

31/43 The Cranberries – In the End

There’s a cruel irony that the release of The Cranberries’ final album should come just a week after journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead by the New IRA during a riot in Londonderry. “Zombie” was a protest song written by the band’s late frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan after two children were killed by IRA bombs – was released. She was deeply affected by the deaths, and would no doubt have been devastated by recent events in Northern Ireland as well.
“Wake Me When it’s Over”, the third track on In the End, could be “Zombie”’s twin. On it, O’Riordan, who recorded demos for the album’s 11 tracks before her death in January last year, sings: “Fighting’s not the answer/ Fighting’s not the cure/ It’s eating you like cancer/ It’s killing you for sure.”
The band have spoken about how O’Riordan was singing about leaving many of the negative things in her life behind. It sounds like The Cranberries found some kind of closure in this last record. Hopefully fans will, too. (Roisin O’Connor)

(Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)

32/43 Aldous Harding – Designer

On her third record, Aldous Harding combines the gothic folk of her self-titled 2014 debut with the dramatically intimate tones of her follow-up album Party.

The New Zealand artist seems to derive a particular glee from unsettling her audience. Her Medusa’s stare – witnessed at her live shows as well as in her music videos – has become the stuff of legend. She switches her vocal style song to song, moving from a lilting croon on “The Barrel” to the quirky elocution of the title track.

She joins forces once again with PJ Harvey collaborator John Harvey, and also enlists Welsh musicians Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo) and Huw Evans (H Hawkline) plus Clare Mactaggart on violin, giving Designer a generously textured feel. It’s layered with whimsical flutes, intricate guitar picking and sombre bass lines that meander with casual abandon. At an age where the pressure is on to have everything worked out, Harding sounds delightfully free. (Roisin O’Connor)

Claire Shilland

33/43 Big Thief – UFOF

Big Thief’s frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has an uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re in on a secret. Her whispering, spectral delivery and deeply personal lyrics are the key to this. Even on the band’s third album UFOF, with an audience that has grown exponentially in the past few years, the songs are still immensely intimate affairs.
Often, Lenker offers the same kind of symbolic fatalism as the poetry of Christina Rosetti: “We both know/ Let me rest, let me go/ See my death become a trail/ And the trail leads to a flower/ I will blossom in your sail,” she sings on “Terminal Paradise”.
This deathly intrigue is drawn from Lenker’s own personal traumas, which she successfully spins into something that feels universal. But you don’t come away from this record feeling downcast. It’s more a reminder of how fleeting yet beautiful life is, and an appeal to make the most of it. (RO)

34/43 Collard – Unholy

On his debut album, the 24-year-old Collard mixes sultry jams that recall the electronic funk of MGMT with nods to the greats: Prince, James Brown, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. Throughout, Collard exhibits his extraordinary voice, which swoops to a devilishly low murmur or soars to an ecstatic falsetto.

Guest rapper Kojey Radical takes on the role of preacher for “Ground Control”. There’s a sax on “Sacrament” that’s loaded with longing, while the grunge-gospel stylings of “Merciless” offer ominous guitars and Collard’s reverent croons. On the lustful “Hell Song” he sings “less is more… but more is good”. You’re inclined to agree with him. (RO)

35/43 Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

Dedicated covers the full, but generic, spectrum of relationships: dizzying love, lust, and break-ups. But whether she’s pining for the return of a former love in the funky disco banger “Julien”, or singing about masturbating post-break-up in lead single “Party For One” (“I’ll be the one/ If you don’t care about me/ Making love to myself/ Back on my beat”), the vibe remains positively jubilant.

The euphoric, Eighties synth-laden “Want You in My Room” is most distinctive, both vocally and melodically, and was co-written and produced by Jack Antonoff, indie tunesmith for fun. and Bleachers.
But “Party For One” remains the album’s highlight, harnessing the bouncy energy of Jepsen’s breakout hit. It is the perfect upbeat end to an album of polished pop. Perhaps this will put her at the top where she belongs. (Elisa Bray)

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36/43 Tyler, the Creator – IGOR

“I don’t know where I’m going,” Tyler, the Creator begins on the song “I THINK”. “But I know what I’m showing.” The US artist’s words ring true throughout his fifth studio album, IGOR, where he adopts the dark and twisted mutterings of the Frankenstein character from which the record gets its name.

The production here is superb. Tyler has never been one for traditional song structure, but on IGOR he’s like the Minotaur luring you through a maze that twists and turns around seemingly impossible corners, drawing you into the thrilling unknown. (RO)

37/43 Flying Lotus – Flamagra

It’s been a long wait for Flying Lotus’s new album. In fact, the LA producer has been masterminding Flamagra for the past five years – snatching moments between collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp a Butterfly, directing and writing the comic horror movie Kuso, producing much of Thundercat’s Drunk and growing his Brainfeeder label.

But it was worth the wait. Flamagra – a playful yet melancholic, skittish yet meditative 67 minutes of cosmic genius – is one of Flying Lotus’s most accessible releases. A 27-track masterpiece, the album features the likes of Anderson .Paak, Little Dragon, David Lynch, and Solange, and serves up a hot, textural mix of hip-hop, psychedelia, funk, soul, jazz and electro. (Ellie Harrison)

38/43 The Amazons – Future Dust

A heftier sound is never at the cost of melody, which shines through in Thomson’s vocals, the rest of the band’s backing falsetto, and the searing blues grooves stamped all over Future Dust. Those qualities are captured nowhere more satisfyingly than on “25”. “All Over Town” is their singalong anthem, neatly positioned in the middle to ease the pace.

If there’s a twist here, it’s final song “Georgia”, which takes its classic-rock licks straight out of the Eagles’ songwriting book. But this is an album that shows a band who’ve grown stronger and unafraid to flex their muscle. (Elisa Bray)

Alex Lake

39/43 Skepta – Ignorance is Bliss

In keeping with the relatively restrained guest spots, it’s heartening just how much Skepta has rejected overloading Ignorance is Bliss with high-profile producers, preferring instead to burrow into his own aesthetic. There’s no attempt to chase someone else’s wave here; no token drill, afroswing or trap beats to satisfy playlist algorithms. Instead, his cold grime sonics are rendered down to their no-frills essentials – brutalist blocks of sad angular melodies and hard, spacious drums.

The result is a quintessentially London record, as dark and moody as it is brash and innovative. “We used to do young and stupid,” Skepta concludes on “Gangsta”. “Now we do grown.” (Ian McQuaid)

Boy Better Know

40/43 Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. It’s the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, and it’s a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece.
Springsteen’s sublime portraiture of the American struggle – his protagonists walking with him through the ages of life as he goes – endures. “Hitch Hikin’” and “The Wayfarer” are both charmed odes to the lost and rootless.
Where most rock superstars sink into trad tedium by 69, Springsteen is still crafting sophisticated paeans of depth and illumination, a rock grandmaster worthy of the accolade. A must-have for anyone who has a heart. (Mark Beaumont)

41/43 Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings

A revolving door of female vocalists (A-listers, indie darlings like Angel Olsen and unsung songwriters) deliver heartbroken lines over big, shiny beats and synths. The emotional cohesion the record loses in its shifting cast of singers/songwriters/genres it makes up in DJ-savvy textural variety.
You’ll already have heard “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”, on which Miley Cyrus Bioreports the quavering, fearless bluegrass spirit of her godmother Dolly Parton over a briskly plucked guitar. Ronson’s production is so sharp that you all but see the steel strings rise like a hi-definition hologram from your speakers. It’s a style that makes fans of vintage engineering wince, but snags the ear like a fishhook. And those quicksilver hooks just keep coming. (Helen Brown)

42/43 The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger

Help Us Stranger reaches all corners of guitar rock: funky Detroit garage (“What’s Yours Is Mine”); country soul (“Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)”); psych (a cover of Donovan’s “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)”); blues and bluegrass (“Thoughts and Prayers”). A cornucopia of instrumentation is woven into its brisk 42-minute yarn.

From frenetic opener “Bored and Razed”, you can sense the compelling chemistry between Benson and White playing out on stage as the duo harmonise or sing in unison, and White strikes frenzied riffs alongside Benson’s melodic guitar chops.
The energy here is thrilling, the strong rhythm section provided by former Detroit garage band The Greenhornes’ bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler. The bass and riff-driven “Now That You’re Gone” feels stripped back by comparison; it’s perfectly crafted.
Help Us Stranger has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. (Elisa Bray)

David James Swanson

43/43 Hot Chip – A Bath Full of Ecstasy

When Hot Chip achieved chart success with their second album, 2006’s The Warning, it seemed more like a happy coincidence than a sign they were conforming to current pop trends. Since then, they’ve released a string of consistently great albums, from 2008’s Made in the Dark (featuring their only Top 10 single to date, “Ready for the Floor”) to this, their seventh and best record, A Bath Full of Ecstasy.
Philippe Zdar – one half of the French duo Cassius and producer for the likes of MC Solaar and Phoenix – helps the band reconcile their house and hip-hop influences. The late musician had a free-spirited approach that suits Hot Chip on the psychedelic “Clear Blue Skies”, and there are nods to early Nineties French house via the glitchy funk and vocoder effects of “Spell” (an album highlight)..
For all its glimmering synths and the robotic pathos of Taylor’s idiosyncratic vocals, this is a record with both heart and soul. (Roisin O’Connor)

Ronald Dick

1/43 Rina Mushonga – In a Galaxy

It’s not uncommon for an artist to be influenced by the place they grew up in. Yet few are likely to have as much inspiration to draw on as India-born, Zimbabwe-raised and now Peckham-based artist Rina Mushonga.

The singer-songwriter’s nomadic personality is reflected in the vast scale of reference points on her new record, In a Galaxy. It’s technically a follow-up to 2014’s The Wild, the Wilderness, but the newfound boldness on this new work is startling.

Since that first record, Mushonga has begun to incorporate themes of empowerment into her work. On “AtalantA”, she showcases her muscular vocals, which are capable of switching between an airy lilt to a deep, emotional moan, as she sings lyrics inspired by the Greek hunter goddess who refused to marry. In a Galaxy is a record that takes you far beyond the borders of the world you’re familiar with, and into something altogether more colourful. (Roisin O’Connor)

2/43 Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

On Deerhunter’s eighth album, frontman Bradford Cox takes on the role of war poet, documenting the things he observes with a cool matter-of-factness, and heart-wrenching detail. Death is everywhere on Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, as much as others may refuse to see it.

Already Disappeared is not an easy album. It’s often bleak and experimental: Cox’s vocals burst through like distorted, burbling fragments of static, or appear muffled amid the instrumentation. This is a new side of Deerhunter that gives the listener much to contemplate. (Roisin O’Connor)

3/43 Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

After a period of tumult, Sharon Van Etten’s fifth album is a reinvention. But beneath its hazy synths and electronics are songs of endurance and inner peace, of settling after a flurry of activity.

On Remind Me Tomorrow, written during her recent pregnancy and the birth of her first child, Van Etten dims her spotlight on toxicity and instead casts a warm glow behind the record’s psychic overview.

The anxiety and pride of impending parenthood converge on “Seventeen”, a paean to the invincibility and melancholy of adolescence. Addressing a younger version of herself, the 37-year-old sings of the carefree young and their mistrust of those defeated by time.

After years making peace with drift and uncertainty, she’s never sounded more sure of anything. (Jazz Monroe)

Ryan Pfluger

4/43 Bring Me the Horizon – Amo

BMTH frontman Oli Sykes wants to assert the fragility of the boundary between love and hate. Amo is a way of exploring that, even down to the title itself.
Closer “I Don’t Know What to Say” is cinematic in its symphonic drama – perhaps inspired by their 2016 shows at the Royal Albert Hall that featured a full orchestra and choir – and becomes the album’s most moving song. Over urgent, darting violin notes and soft strumming on an acoustic guitar, Sykes sings about the loss of a close friend, building to a hair-raising climax where he screams out the song’s title one last time. Amo won’t satisfy all of BMTH’s fans, but it’s certainly accomplished, catchy and eclectic enough to bring in some new ones. (Roisin O’Connor)

5/43 Nina Nesbitt – The Sun Will Come Up, the Seasons Will Change

Nesbitt is back with her second LP, switching to a brand of soul and R&B-fused pop that feels bang on time, and suits her far better. The Sun Will Come Up, the Seasons Will Change has slick, polished production from Fraser T Smith (Adele), Lostboy (Anne-Marie), Jordan Riley (Zara Larsson), and Nesbitt herself.

Several tracks tap into a Nineties R&B sound that UK women, from Mabel to Ella Mai, are excelling at right now. Assertive tracks “Loyal to Me” and “Love Letter” nod to TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”, but there is vulnerability, too, in the acoustic guitar-led neo-soul of “Somebody Special”, and the tender heartbreak on ”Is it Really Me You’re Missing”. (Roisin O’Connor)

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6/43 Better Oblivion Community Center

This self-titled record, a loose but beautifully crafted collection of folk-rock songs, explores the kinds of anxieties intrinsic to the modern age – the longing to be at once noticed and invisible; the paralysing effects of limitless information, and the desire to do good versus the desire to be seen doing good.
As if to hammer home their parity, they even largely sing in unison – which might have had a plodding effect if the pair’s voices weren’t so distinct: Bridgers sings with a hazy assurance, Oberst with an emotive tremor. And when Bridgers’ melody does sporadically glide above Oberst’s, it is all the more potent for it. (Alexandra Pollard)

7/43 Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next

The album is packed with personal confessions for the fans – “Arianators” – to pick over. It lacks a centrepiece to match the arresting depth and space of Sweetener’s “God Is A Woman”, but Grande handles its shifting moods and cast of producers (including pop machines Max Martin and Tommy Brown) with engaging class and momentum. One minute you’re skanking along to the party brass of “Bloodline”; the next floating into the semi-detached, heartbreak of “Ghostin’”, which appears to address Grande’s guilt at being with Davidson while pining for Miller. She sings of the late rapper as a “wingless angel” with featherlight high notes that will drop the sternest jaw. (Helen Brown)

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8/43 James Blake – Assume Form

The perma-brilliant James Blake has flooded his fourth album – Assume Form – with euphoric sepia soul and loved-up doo-wop. His trademark intelligence, honesty and pin-drop production remain intact. But the detached chorister vocals of a decade in which he battled depression have thawed to reveal a millennial Sam Cooke crooning: “Can’t believe the way we flow, way we flow, way we flow…”

The warm splashes of piano that washed over that song break through the anxious rattle of dance beats on the album’s eponymous opener, the singer so regularly reviewed as “vaporous” promises to “leave the ether, assume form” and “be touchable, be reachable”. His own sharpest critic, he winks at the journalists who’ve called him glacial as he drops from remote, icy falsetto into a richly grained, deeper tone to ask: “Doesn’t it seem much warmer?” (Helen Brown)

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9/43 AJ Tracey – AJ Tracey

While he recognises his roots and includes plenty of nods to grime, AJ Tracey’s magpie’s eye for a good melody or hook extends far beyond that. With the help of stellar producers like Cadenza (Kiko Bun), Swifta Beater (Kano, Giggs), and Nyge (Section Boyz, Yxng Bane), Tracey incorporates electronic music, rock, garage and even country on his most cohesive work to date.
The variety and scale of ambition on this album is breathtaking. Fans will be surprised to discover Tracey sings almost as much as he raps, in pleasingly gruff tones. Each track is a standout, none more so than “Ladbroke Grove”, a hat-tip to classic garage in which Tracey switches up his flow to emulate a Nineties MC. It’s a thrilling work. (Roisin O’Connor)

Ashley Verse

10/43 Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive

The album title of the year gives us an image of Brexit Britain trashed by Old Etonians David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but the fifth studio work from the punk duo has more than social commentary to offer. There’s some of that, as vocalist Jason Williamson skewers documentary-makers who take advantage of the poor in “Kebab Spider” – “the skint get used in loo roll shoes” – but elsewhere this is a record that expands the idea of what Sleaford Mods could be.

Andrew Fearn’s beats are no longer just the backdrop, they’re threatening to take over this album. Surprising influences creep in, from Eighties R&B to the Human League, and on “When You Come Up To Me”, Williamson not only sings but there’s a melancholy tone breaking through the anger. “I don’t want to flip the page/ Of my negative script,” he intones on the final track, but there’s just a hint that he does. (Chris Harvey)

11/43 Julia Jacklin – Crushing

“Do you still have that photograph?/ Would you use it to hurt me?” asks Australian indie rocker Julia Jacklin, against the menacing throb of “Body”. The tension is stormy: imagine a mid-period Fleetwood Mac song, covered by Cat Power. It’s a masterclass in narrative songwriting.

Those who fell for Jacklin’s 2016 excellent debut, Don’t Let the Kids Win, will find a continuity of alternative attitude and vintage influences.
But there’s a deeper sense of personal connection to anchor Jacklin’s lyrical and melodic smarts. That snare drum keeps a relentless, nerve-snapping pulse throughout, with Jacklin sounding more confident in her contradictions: at once yearning to comfort a lover she’s dumped and then, on “Head Alone”, declaring: “I don’t wanna be touched all the time/ I raised my body up to be mine.”
Ah. Shucks. Grunge-rinsed, feminist-flipped, upcycled Fifties guitar an’ all: Crushing is a triumph. (Helen Brown)

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12/43 Little Simz – GREY Area

With praise from Kendrick Lamar, five EPs released by the time she was 21, tours with Lauryn Hill, collaborations with Gorillaz and two critically praised albums – including 2017’s excellent concept album Stillness in Wonderland – fans and critics alike wondered what else Little Simz could do to find the kind of mainstream success enjoyed by so many of her male peers.
Yet you’d be hard pushed to find a moment over the past few years where Simz has commented on this issue herself. Instead, she’s been busy honing her craft for Grey Area, which sees her land on a new, bolder sound assisted by her childhood friend – the producer Inflo [Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate] – for a record that incorporates her dextrous flow and superb wordplay with an eclectic range of influences. The album takes in everything from jazz, funk and soul to punk and heavy rock, plus three carefully chosen features.
(Roisin O’Connor)

Jen Ewbank

13/43 Solange – When I Get Home

Solange Knowles has never been coy about the intent behind her music. Beautiful arrangements and seamless production notwithstanding, you get the sense, each time she drop a project, that it serves a distinct, zeitgeist-shifting purpose.

This time, with When I Get Home, Solange has effectively given us permission to rest. Echoing similar movements seen in recent years, such as Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta’s “Black Power Naps” exhibition – which speaks to and hopes to remedy the socio-economic problem of higher rates of sleep deprivation among black people – the album has a calming, blissed-out quality, with its layers of sound and enveloping harmonies.

And where better to dream than from the comfort of your own digs? Whether it’s in the physical structure of a property that’s shaped you over the years, or in the familiar sounds of the music and culture that your people have crafted, there seems to be a call to return to what is familiar. (Kuba Shand-Baptiste)

Max Hirschberger

14/43 Foals – Everything Not Saved Will be Lost (Part 1)

FoalsMerging their asymmetrical early math pop with the deep space atmospherics of Total Life Forever and Holy Fire, plus added innovations – ambient rainforest throbs on “Moonlight”, deadpan EDM on “In Degrees”, Afro-glitch Radiohead on “Café D’Athens” – they’ve created an inspired album of scorched earth new music that, in all likelihood, will only really be challenged for album of the year by Part 2. (Mark Beaumont)

Alex Knowles

15/43 Dave – Psychodrama

Tracks are at once astute and deeply personal in how they capture vignettes of everyday life and spin them into important lessons. “Black”, the most recent single from the record, considers what that word means to different people around the world, as well as to Dave. “Voices” has him singing over an old-school garage beat, fighting off personal demons.

“I could be the rapper with a message like you’re hoping, but what’s the point in me being the best if no one knows it?” he challenges on “Psycho”, which flips scattershot between beats and moods as though the track itself is schizophrenic. Dave spends Psychodrama addressing issues caused by the generations who came before him. By the end of the album, he sounds like a figurehead for the hopeful future.

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16/43 Sigrid – Sucker Punch

At her best, Sigrid throws out precision-tooled high notes like icicle javelins into vast, blue Scandi-produced skies. Then she growls like an Icelandic volcano preparing to disrupt western civilisation until we sort ourselves out.

l enjoyed the muted, Afro-tinged authenticity of “Level Up” and the conscious, pasty-girl reggae of “Business Dinners” (on which she refuses to be an industry angel) and I loved the Robyn-esque rush of “Basic” (which sees her yearning to shed love’s complications).

Sigrid has a raw energy and emotional briskness that can make you feel like you’re doing aerobics in neon leg warmers atop a pristine mountain. (Helen Brown)

Francesca Allen

17/43 Karen O and Danger Mouse – Lux Prima

Lux Prima was born just over a decade ago from a drunken phone call from Karen O to Danger Mouse – real name Brian Joseph Burton – during which the pair vowed they would work on something together. It wasn’t until after O had given birth to her son, though, that recording finally began, and there is a beatific sense of contentment on songs like “Drown”, with its Kamasi Washington-like choirs and stately horns.

Danger Mouse is known for genre-hopping collaborations with artists such as Beck, the Black Keys and CeeLo Green, and he applies that approach here, too: the album is an impressive mix of blissed-out synths, psych-rock guitars and trippy hip-hop beats.

Lux Prima is an accomplished record – proof that two wildly different minds can work seamlessly together. Maybe drunk-dialling isn’t always such a bad idea. (Roisin O’Connor)

Eliot Lee Hazel

18/43 The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe

This is an ambitious creation, meticulously crafted and assembled. For a start, the range of guest performers is a cornucopia of contemporary soul and hip-hop collaborators: vocalists Moses Sumney, Roots Manuva, Heidi Vogel, Grey Reverend and Tawiah; strings player Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and keyboardist Dennis Hamm – both of whom have worked with Flying Lotus and Thundercat.

Ma Fleur was emotive and piano-led, its themes of mortality and the passage of life captured so evocatively in the Patrick Watson collaboration “To Build a Home” – which went on to soundtrack every TV show from Grey’s Anatomy to Orange is the New Black. To Believe, however, feels more expansive in reach. (Elisa Bray)

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19/43 Lucy Rose – No Words Left

Rose – who found fame in the UK’s indie-folk scene as an unofficial member of Bombay Bicycle Club in 2010, only to walk away amid the band’s growing hype – is darkly compelling on No Words Left. Assisted by producer Tim Bidwell, who worked on Rose’s last record Something’s Changing, she sounds braver than she ever has before. There are moments that recall her Communion labelmate Ben Howard, on his latest album, Noonday Dream, and others that nod to the quiet stoicism of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. (Roisin O’Connor)

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20/43 Nilufer Yanya – Miss Universe

The record is loosely conceptual insomuch as it’s punctuated with mock adverts for “WWAY HEALTH, our 24/7 care programme”. But don’t be put off: Miss Universe is a brilliant collection of songs, an expansive melange of indie, jazz, pop and trip-hop that flits between a lo-fi sparseness and something The Strokes would play. Yanya – who is of Turkish-Irish-Bajan heritage – grew up in London on a mix of Pixies, Nina Simone, The Libertines and Amy Winehouse, and this unlikely combination is certainly reflected in the sound. (Patrick Smith)

Molly Daniel

21/43 Jenny Lewis – On the Line

Here, Lewis does what she does best: adds the glossy sparkle of Hollywood and a sunny Californian sheen to melancholy and nostalgia, with her most luxuriantly orchestrated album yet. Even when she’s singing, “I’ve wasted my youth”, it’s in that sweet voice, with carefree “doo doo doo doo doo doos”, and at a pace that’s so upbeat that it masks the sentiment. It’s a bittersweet mourning of her past. (Elisa Bray)

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22/43 Ty Segall – Deforming Lobes

Comprising songs from Segall’s eclectic (that’s putting it lightly) catalogue and performed by him and the Freedom Band (Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart, Emmett Kelly, and Ben Boye), the album is delightfully short and sweet. It is certainly a drastic switch-up from Freedom’s Goblin (2018), which had 19 tracks and ran for 75 minutes.

Opener “Warm Hands”, from Segall’s self-titled 2017 LP, is essentially an epic jam; he grinds out fuzzy distortion and squalling riffs for a solid nine and a half minutes with a gleeful lawlessness. “Love Fuzz”, which serves as the opposing bookend at the album’s close, is even wilder. This isn’t a “best of” selection – the band simply chose the tracks out of which they got the biggest kick. Deforming Lobes is unpredictable and invigorating – the best representation of Segall’s restless creativity to date, not to mention the most fun to listen to. (Roisin O’Connor)

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23/43 Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

If you want to know how hard it is to categorise Titanic Rising – the enthralling fourth album from Weyes Blood – look no further than the American musician’s own attempt to do so. It is, she says, “The Kinks meet the Second World War, or Bob Seger meets Enya.”

Neither of those is a particularly accurate description, but they do at least fit the album’s refusal to loiter in any one genre. Slide guitars give way to violas, which usher in eerie synths. Organs crop up throughout, evoking both Renaissance music and a fairground attraction. The fragmented strings in “Movies”, a song about the falsities of Hollywood romance, recall the chaotic minimalism of Arthur Russell.
And then there’s that voice – at once warm and haunting, controlled and untethered. It’s no wonder she’s lent it to the likes of Perfume Genius, Drugdealer and Ariel Pink: it adds a touch of profundity to everything it meets.
Titanic Rising isn’t Bob Seger meets Enya. It’s better. Alexandra Pollard

24/43 Chemical Brothers – No Geography

Tension aside, there’s a great sense of fun here. The title track is pure euphoria, as restless synths of a Utah Saints or Orbital rave break into swelling bass and melody. And they create the full club experience with “Got to Keep On”, on which the four-to-the-floor beat, funky rhythm guitar, sweet backing vocals and chiming bells make way for the simple sounds of happy party-goers; just as the anticipation builds, so does the instrumentation into a hypnotic crescendo. It’s masterful production. (Elisa Bray)

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25/43 Anderson .Paak – Ventura

Six months after the release of Oxnard, Anderson .Paak returns with another Dr Dre-produced record, Ventura. Where the former was overflowing with choppy, experimental sounds, guest appearances and clumsy attempts at Gil Scott Heron-esque revolutionary lyrics, the sequel – recorded around the same time – streamlines .Paak’s sound, making for a tightly packaged, melodic and danceable album.

Rather than being an album of Oxnard offshoots, Ventura instead borrows heavily from .Paak’s consistently brilliant 2016 record Malibu, itself a fresh slice of soulful funk. The singer croons over disco-infused, Quincy Jones-inspired trumpets on “Reachin’ 2 Much”, masterfully interplays vocals from Smokey Robinson with violin flourishes on “Making it Better”, and playfully raps about global warming on “Yada Yada”. As .Paak sings on “Winners Circle”, “They just don’t make them like this anymore”. Considering how few artists have such command of their craft as .Paak, he’s not wrong. (Jack Shepherd)

26/43 Loyle Carner – Not Waving, But Drowning

Two years after the release of his Mercury Prize-nominated debut Yesterday’s Gone, the south London hip-hop artist unveils its follow-up, Not Waving, But Drowning. And if any two records could portray how quickly someone can grow from a boy to a man, it’s these.
Familiar faces and themes serve as his trademarks. Fellow Mercury Prize nominee Jorja Smith and winner Sampha sound like old friends in their guest spots – they fit comfortably into Carner’s landscape, built from classic hip-hop beats and warm piano loops. Over all of it, he raps with an easy flow in gruff yet honeyed tones.
Above all, he is conscious of what family means to him, and so bookends the album with a poem from him to his mother Jean, and one from his mother to him. Not Waving, But Drowning has an emotional intelligence that shows just how strong Carner is when he’s at his most vulnerable. (Roisin O’Connor)

27/43 Lizzo – Cuz I Love You

No one could accuse Lizzo of holding back. Not when it comes to her voice – which is raw and rowdy, so laden with personality even the vulnerable moments are a joy to listen to – and certainly not when it comes to her message of unabashed self-love. That’s the predominant theme of the singer / rapper / flautist-extraordinaire’s hugely likeable third album, Cuz I Love You.
When Lizzo played Coachella earlier this week, her set was plagued by technical problems. “When I’m headlining next time,” she announced, “I’m gonna need my motherf**king ears to work.” Judging by the strength of her third album, that might not be such an implausible assumption. (Alexandra Pollard)

Luke Gilford

28/43 Fat White Family – Serfs Up!

It seems as likely as Old Man Steptoe dining with the Rees-Mogg, but this new tactic of burying their confrontational gruesomeness beneath a veneer of alt-rock respectability for album three works well for Fat White Family. Drenched in chamber strings and celestial harmonies, the plush yet sinister “Oh Sebastian” could be Pet Sounds selling its soul to the devil. “Fringe Runner” is so sleek and funksome it could be a New Romantic “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”; “Kim’s Sunsets” is a piece of refined cosmic reggae resembling a blissed-out “Bankrobber”.
Tarantino bossa novas and Velvets drones are all imbued with a luminous, cultured seediness, like the entire Cannes Film Festival owning up to its social diseases. Wonderfully unsettling. (Mark Beaumont)

Morbid Books

29/43 Cage the Elephant – Social Cues

On Cage the Elephant’s fifth album, Social Cues, frontman Matt Shultz reacts to the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of three close friends. He undergoes a kind of Jekyll and Hyde transition through the 13 tracks, the result of which is the band’s best work to date.

Assisted by producer John Hill, whose previous credits include co-writing Portugal. The Man’s mega-hit “Feel it Still”, the Kentucky-formed, Nashville-based Cage the Elephant remain faithful to their neo-soul influenced brand of garage rock but move to something darker and far more visceral.
Single “Ready to let Go” is by far the most explicit – a moody swamp-rock jam where Shultz comes to terms with his impending divorce. “House of Glass” is a sequence of frenzied mutterings with a buzzsaw guitar cutting through his attempts to convince himself of love’s existence.
Social Cues is an album where Shultz bares his soul, and apparently shakes off a few demons in the process. (Roisin O’Connor)

Neil Krug

30/43 SOAK – Grim Town

SOAK reaches to outsiders once again on her new album.
Musically, she’s developed her arrangements and become bolder, too. The tempo-shifting country-folk song “Get Set Go Kid” layers guitar, keys and subtle, harmonising backing vocals, unexpectedly building towards a cacophony of syncopated piano and saxophone. “Crying Your Eyes Out” appears to be a sombre piano ballad until it ramps up the angst with plaintive vocals, conjuring up a storm with swirling rhythms.
On the melancholy, gently strummed guitar and piano-led “Fall Asleep, Backseat”, Monds-Watson reflects on pretending to sleep as her parents make the painful decision to divorce. In a way, Grim Town portrays the journey from adolescence into young adulthood – with all the introspection, resignation and wide-eyed forays into love that entails. (Elisa Bray)

Charlie Forgham Bailey

31/43 The Cranberries – In the End

There’s a cruel irony that the release of The Cranberries’ final album should come just a week after journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead by the New IRA during a riot in Londonderry. “Zombie” was a protest song written by the band’s late frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan after two children were killed by IRA bombs – was released. She was deeply affected by the deaths, and would no doubt have been devastated by recent events in Northern Ireland as well.
“Wake Me When it’s Over”, the third track on In the End, could be “Zombie”’s twin. On it, O’Riordan, who recorded demos for the album’s 11 tracks before her death in January last year, sings: “Fighting’s not the answer/ Fighting’s not the cure/ It’s eating you like cancer/ It’s killing you for sure.”
The band have spoken about how O’Riordan was singing about leaving many of the negative things in her life behind. It sounds like The Cranberries found some kind of closure in this last record. Hopefully fans will, too. (Roisin O’Connor)

(Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)

32/43 Aldous Harding – Designer

On her third record, Aldous Harding combines the gothic folk of her self-titled 2014 debut with the dramatically intimate tones of her follow-up album Party.

The New Zealand artist seems to derive a particular glee from unsettling her audience. Her Medusa’s stare – witnessed at her live shows as well as in her music videos – has become the stuff of legend. She switches her vocal style song to song, moving from a lilting croon on “The Barrel” to the quirky elocution of the title track.

She joins forces once again with PJ Harvey collaborator John Harvey, and also enlists Welsh musicians Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo) and Huw Evans (H Hawkline) plus Clare Mactaggart on violin, giving Designer a generously textured feel. It’s layered with whimsical flutes, intricate guitar picking and sombre bass lines that meander with casual abandon. At an age where the pressure is on to have everything worked out, Harding sounds delightfully free. (Roisin O’Connor)

Claire Shilland

33/43 Big Thief – UFOF

Big Thief’s frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has an uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re in on a secret. Her whispering, spectral delivery and deeply personal lyrics are the key to this. Even on the band’s third album UFOF, with an audience that has grown exponentially in the past few years, the songs are still immensely intimate affairs.
Often, Lenker offers the same kind of symbolic fatalism as the poetry of Christina Rosetti: “We both know/ Let me rest, let me go/ See my death become a trail/ And the trail leads to a flower/ I will blossom in your sail,” she sings on “Terminal Paradise”.
This deathly intrigue is drawn from Lenker’s own personal traumas, which she successfully spins into something that feels universal. But you don’t come away from this record feeling downcast. It’s more a reminder of how fleeting yet beautiful life is, and an appeal to make the most of it. (RO)

34/43 Collard – Unholy

On his debut album, the 24-year-old Collard mixes sultry jams that recall the electronic funk of MGMT with nods to the greats: Prince, James Brown, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. Throughout, Collard exhibits his extraordinary voice, which swoops to a devilishly low murmur or soars to an ecstatic falsetto.

Guest rapper Kojey Radical takes on the role of preacher for “Ground Control”. There’s a sax on “Sacrament” that’s loaded with longing, while the grunge-gospel stylings of “Merciless” offer ominous guitars and Collard’s reverent croons. On the lustful “Hell Song” he sings “less is more… but more is good”. You’re inclined to agree with him. (RO)

35/43 Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

Dedicated covers the full, but generic, spectrum of relationships: dizzying love, lust, and break-ups. But whether she’s pining for the return of a former love in the funky disco banger “Julien”, or singing about masturbating post-break-up in lead single “Party For One” (“I’ll be the one/ If you don’t care about me/ Making love to myself/ Back on my beat”), the vibe remains positively jubilant.

The euphoric, Eighties synth-laden “Want You in My Room” is most distinctive, both vocally and melodically, and was co-written and produced by Jack Antonoff, indie tunesmith for fun. and Bleachers.
But “Party For One” remains the album’s highlight, harnessing the bouncy energy of Jepsen’s breakout hit. It is the perfect upbeat end to an album of polished pop. Perhaps this will put her at the top where she belongs. (Elisa Bray)

Getty Images for Spotify

36/43 Tyler, the Creator – IGOR

“I don’t know where I’m going,” Tyler, the Creator begins on the song “I THINK”. “But I know what I’m showing.” The US artist’s words ring true throughout his fifth studio album, IGOR, where he adopts the dark and twisted mutterings of the Frankenstein character from which the record gets its name.

The production here is superb. Tyler has never been one for traditional song structure, but on IGOR he’s like the Minotaur luring you through a maze that twists and turns around seemingly impossible corners, drawing you into the thrilling unknown. (RO)

37/43 Flying Lotus – Flamagra

It’s been a long wait for Flying Lotus’s new album. In fact, the LA producer has been masterminding Flamagra for the past five years – snatching moments between collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp a Butterfly, directing and writing the comic horror movie Kuso, producing much of Thundercat’s Drunk and growing his Brainfeeder label.

But it was worth the wait. Flamagra – a playful yet melancholic, skittish yet meditative 67 minutes of cosmic genius – is one of Flying Lotus’s most accessible releases. A 27-track masterpiece, the album features the likes of Anderson .Paak, Little Dragon, David Lynch, and Solange, and serves up a hot, textural mix of hip-hop, psychedelia, funk, soul, jazz and electro. (Ellie Harrison)

38/43 The Amazons – Future Dust

A heftier sound is never at the cost of melody, which shines through in Thomson’s vocals, the rest of the band’s backing falsetto, and the searing blues grooves stamped all over Future Dust. Those qualities are captured nowhere more satisfyingly than on “25”. “All Over Town” is their singalong anthem, neatly positioned in the middle to ease the pace.

If there’s a twist here, it’s final song “Georgia”, which takes its classic-rock licks straight out of the Eagles’ songwriting book. But this is an album that shows a band who’ve grown stronger and unafraid to flex their muscle. (Elisa Bray)

Alex Lake

39/43 Skepta – Ignorance is Bliss

In keeping with the relatively restrained guest spots, it’s heartening just how much Skepta has rejected overloading Ignorance is Bliss with high-profile producers, preferring instead to burrow into his own aesthetic. There’s no attempt to chase someone else’s wave here; no token drill, afroswing or trap beats to satisfy playlist algorithms. Instead, his cold grime sonics are rendered down to their no-frills essentials – brutalist blocks of sad angular melodies and hard, spacious drums.

The result is a quintessentially London record, as dark and moody as it is brash and innovative. “We used to do young and stupid,” Skepta concludes on “Gangsta”. “Now we do grown.” (Ian McQuaid)

Boy Better Know

40/43 Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. It’s the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, and it’s a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece.
Springsteen’s sublime portraiture of the American struggle – his protagonists walking with him through the ages of life as he goes – endures. “Hitch Hikin’” and “The Wayfarer” are both charmed odes to the lost and rootless.
Where most rock superstars sink into trad tedium by 69, Springsteen is still crafting sophisticated paeans of depth and illumination, a rock grandmaster worthy of the accolade. A must-have for anyone who has a heart. (Mark Beaumont)

41/43 Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings

A revolving door of female vocalists (A-listers, indie darlings like Angel Olsen and unsung songwriters) deliver heartbroken lines over big, shiny beats and synths. The emotional cohesion the record loses in its shifting cast of singers/songwriters/genres it makes up in DJ-savvy textural variety.
You’ll already have heard “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”, on which Miley Cyrus Bioreports the quavering, fearless bluegrass spirit of her godmother Dolly Parton over a briskly plucked guitar. Ronson’s production is so sharp that you all but see the steel strings rise like a hi-definition hologram from your speakers. It’s a style that makes fans of vintage engineering wince, but snags the ear like a fishhook. And those quicksilver hooks just keep coming. (Helen Brown)

42/43 The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger

Help Us Stranger reaches all corners of guitar rock: funky Detroit garage (“What’s Yours Is Mine”); country soul (“Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)”); psych (a cover of Donovan’s “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)”); blues and bluegrass (“Thoughts and Prayers”). A cornucopia of instrumentation is woven into its brisk 42-minute yarn.

From frenetic opener “Bored and Razed”, you can sense the compelling chemistry between Benson and White playing out on stage as the duo harmonise or sing in unison, and White strikes frenzied riffs alongside Benson’s melodic guitar chops.
The energy here is thrilling, the strong rhythm section provided by former Detroit garage band The Greenhornes’ bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler. The bass and riff-driven “Now That You’re Gone” feels stripped back by comparison; it’s perfectly crafted.
Help Us Stranger has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. (Elisa Bray)

David James Swanson

43/43 Hot Chip – A Bath Full of Ecstasy

When Hot Chip achieved chart success with their second album, 2006’s The Warning, it seemed more like a happy coincidence than a sign they were conforming to current pop trends. Since then, they’ve released a string of consistently great albums, from 2008’s Made in the Dark (featuring their only Top 10 single to date, “Ready for the Floor”) to this, their seventh and best record, A Bath Full of Ecstasy.
Philippe Zdar – one half of the French duo Cassius and producer for the likes of MC Solaar and Phoenix – helps the band reconcile their house and hip-hop influences. The late musician had a free-spirited approach that suits Hot Chip on the psychedelic “Clear Blue Skies”, and there are nods to early Nineties French house via the glitchy funk and vocoder effects of “Spell” (an album highlight)..
For all its glimmering synths and the robotic pathos of Taylor’s idiosyncratic vocals, this is a record with both heart and soul. (Roisin O’Connor)

Ronald Dick

That fact is often overlooked in the discourse of contemporary “queer” pop, a musical sub-genre that has experienced a spike in success over the past three years. Many of its most famous torchbearers today – be it Sam Smith, Australian synth-pop star Troye Sivan or Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander – might’ve struggled to break through and find backing as openly gay men in mainstream music if Lambert hadn’t done it all first. In the UK, we have Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Elton John, two closeted gay men who discussed their sexuality later in their careers; both artists’ music took a commercial knock after they came out. In fact, only Smith has managed to have an enviable US chart presence as a gay solo pop star since. But the idea of assimilation into the straight world of male music, a necessity for some, wasn’t interesting to him. Lambert wanted to be “so gay it got me in trouble”.

A “shocking” gay on-screen kiss during his performance at the American Music Awards in 2009 caused “outrage” among conservative members of the public; ABC reportedly received 1,500 complaints. “I hope I didn’t martyr myself in that moment,” he says on reflection, but he’s glad that the controversy is part of the past. “I’m happy to be in the game 10 years later where my sexuality doesn’t precede me. It’s just who I am.”

Which leads us to why we’re here today, to discuss Lambert’s new record, Velvet, which is due for release in September. It has been almost five years since his last album, The Original High, a relentless collection of glittering EDM produced by masters of pop Max Martin and Shellback, and a sonic switch-up has taken place. The tracks Adam plays me from Velvet – such as lead single “New Eyes” – feel more robust and expressive than his previous work, as if they were made by a man tired of trend-hopping.

He calls his inspirations “a combination of the past… and contemporary alternative”, crediting the discovery of Al Green, Brian Eno and Prince as a kid alongside exposure to groups like Jungle and The Black Keys. “I was over the EDM thing,” he says, admitting that “alternative playlists” on streaming services were a lifeline in the process of making it. “I’d hear stuff I’d never heard before, and it made me realise how much I missed blues and funk-based music played with real instruments. I realised I wanted to turn a corner and go into this world I’d been listening to for my whole life.”

That gear change stems, he insists, from an aversion to “the game” – a phrase Lambert uses a number of times throughout our conversation to describe the music industry’s desperate desire to replicate sounds that have led to success in the past. It’s an archaic way of thinking that works for some, but for artists on pop’s fringes it usually makes their work sound disingenuous, as if made by someone else. “It took the pleasure out of it,” Adam sighs. “I felt like I was trying to be something that wasn’t me. At the end of the day, if following my instincts means I’m not quite as current, f*** it. I just want to make music that I like, that I can get on stage and perform and not overthink.”

‘I’m happy to be in the game 10 years later where my sexuality doesn’t precede me. It’s just who I am’ (Joseph Sinclair)

The most dominant gay men present on planet pop these days have one thing in common, and Lambert has noticed it. “Did you read that article that’s like, ‘It’s the year of the twink’? It’s a great article.” The T Magazine piece went semi-viral last year after it highlighted the public’s fascination with young, hairless heartthrob types, whether they’re gay or straight. Olly Alexander responded by calling the phrase “myopic”. “There’s a point there,” he continues, “the Troye Sivans and Olly Alexanders. I’m thrilled that they are pushing things, and I’ve watched with glee and joy, [but] it’s a bit of a double standard with, you know,” he hesitates, keen to get this right. “We need to embrace queer people of colour and put them on the same playing field, because that’s where we’re at. You see it slowly moving, but it needs to be moving faster.”

We’re meeting in the middle of Pride month, an annual celebration of the LGBT+ community that gives Lambert hope, just as much as it reminds him of the hard work that still needs to be done. It’s been 50 years since Stonewall, and still the rights of the community are fair game for politicians and conglomerate companies, coercively using the rainbow flag as a shortcut to taking genuine action. I wonder if, like many other queer people, Lambert sees queer liberation as something of a myth.

“I think we have to hold on to an idealistic vision, otherwise, how are we going to reach towards hope?” he asks. “If we don’t, all of us will give up and be indifferent. We need to keep pushing, otherwise all the bigots are going to win! And we can’t let that happen.” He says he’s learnt a lot about talking to his trans friends (trans women are still disproportionately discriminated against; five trans women of colour have been murdered in Pride month so far). There’s also the issue of internalised division. “What’s interesting too, though, is that even within gay culture, there’s been segregation, racism, classism and all of this stuff,” he points out. “That bugs me.”

Lambert has been in a relationship with model Javi Costa Polo, whom he met on Instagram, since earlier this year. When you mention it, he smiles like a schoolkid; the lead single “New Eyes” is inspired by him. Finding love, I suggest, will have removed him from some of that bigotry. Online dating apps like Grindr are breeding grounds for the kind of exclusionary lingo (“No fats, no femmes”) that showcase the internalised hatred queer people experience. Has he ever used those platforms? “Oh yeah, I’ve definitely delved in that!” he says (I’m yet to meet a gay celebrity who hasn’t), but the culture of chasing sex online is definitely part of his past. “A friend of mine posted something the other day, ‘Thanks a lot Grindr for making us all shallow sex addicts’. He’s got a point but he’s younger and I wanted to say to him, [casual sex has] always been a [key component] of the gay man.”  

Lambert turned 18 in 2000, before Grindr and hook-up apps were a thing. He’s experienced both sides of the culture. “It wasn’t an app before, it was cruising in a bar or an alley; the same surface-level primal hunt. If it turns you on to function on visual – seeing a torso and finding a fantasy in that, and having great sex – great! Good for you. I’m not judging that. But I personally got to a point where I realised, after a while of the thrill of sex, I do think you [need to] start looking for a little depth. To each their own. I don’t judge.” His hands are up. “But for me personally, there needs to be a spirit connected to it now.” Whether you’re a camp gay white man, queer person of colour or, say, a woman remaining sexually liberated into her sixties – any hint of “other” in the pop world automatically opens you up to scrutiny. I wondered if Lambert – a gay musician who’s been shunned by a subsection of his own community, perhaps for being too effeminate, loud, glitzy or maybe even just for not fitting that problematic “twink” mould most gay men choose to rally behind – has learnt to deal with the backlash.

Madonna, one of Lambert’s idols, is a veritable icon, but is still dealing with a reprisal from the public for her care-free, sex-positive attitude four decades after she first broke out. “I’m a long-time Madonna fan for sure – but here’s my question,” he repeats that this is a “question”, a valid one, three times to ensure he’s not putting himself in hot water: “Does she? Or is she getting pushback because of the music she’s making? I love that she reinvents herself. I love her, and I think she’s brilliant,” he insists, “and I do think she’s pissed upon a bit, but I don’t think it’s because she’s a strong sexual woman.” Does he think it’s because she’s a strong sexual woman who’s 60 years old? “No, I think it’s because she’s making the music of 2019 that doesn’t fall quite in line with her legacy, perhaps. But I have to give it to her that she’s going for it, and she’s ballsy and she’s confident.”

Lambert’s experience of being screwed over by the music industry correlates almost perfectly with his identity as a pop music fan who knows what a fan base yearn for. What he says about Madonna isn’t rooted in lofty disdain but a common connection; he too knows what it feels like to be put through the music industry wringer by those who claim to know better. “I never want to turn around and realise that a project I’m working on is me trying too hard to be trendy or cool or young or any of those things,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m gonna sleep better at night knowing I made an album I like [that’s] true to my experience. Everyone has their own relationship with their own career and the music industry, but personally, I’ve played the game. I’m not done playing it; [my] music is still pop music – but it’s over here.” His fingers are pressing against his chest. “It’s in my world, and I feel good about that.”

When his publicist enters the room to let me know our 45 minutes together is up, Lambert asks for five more. He is, for better or worse, never quite done talking

I ask how touring with Brian May and Roger Taylor has informed the recording process of his new album, but sees them more as bandmates than mentors. “I’m trying to lead by example, instead of them saying to me, ‘Sit down young man, I’m going to teach you a lesson!’.” He shakes his finger, doing his best rockstar-slash-teacher impression. “Watching the way they don’t sweat the small stuff, hearing their stories and understanding their experience has been really valuable, especially in terms of the music business. I voice my frustrations and concerns, [but] they come from a different time. It reminds me that [the industry] is just going to change again.”

Adam Lambert (centre) performs with Brian May (right) and Roger Taylor (left) at The O2 Arena (WireImage/Getty)

Does it still feel like a pinch-me moment? He nods, smiling. “Especially given the circumstances. [Things like] the Oscars, Rock in Rio… we do these milestone performances and I’m like, how did I get this gig? I’m really fortunate, and I feel grateful and honoured to carry a torch for Freddie.” You can tell he means it. “I wish I knew him. I wish he were here. Whenever I’ve encountered any sort of speed bump on this journey I say, ‘What would Freddie do? He wouldn’t give a s**t, so why should I?’”

Time really is up now, and with that Lambert leaves the hotel lobby – fanfare free – and is ushered into a taxi waiting outside. He is a man hardened by an industry that’s both welcomed him with open arms and treated him like a has-been; a tribute act. But beyond all that, he’s stuck to his guns and caused a necessary scene, all while making the music that he’s happy with. I think Freddie Mercury would have liked him.

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