Earlier this year, I was visiting my mother’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and I stopped by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the umpteenth time. (Despite my article for the Post’s Travel section on the city’s interesting activities, there isn’t really that much more to see after 29 years of visits.) Nevertheless, the HoF’s current exhibit, “Women Who Rock,” is unique and, as I wrote, “tracks the fairer sex’s contributions to rock, from Billie Holiday to Lady Gaga.” It also, quite presciently, served as a harbinger of the women who were about to kick the men’s asses in 2011.
In case you’ve been too busy Occupying Wall Street, Adele’s “21” has been perched in the Top 20 longer than, well, the tent-dwellers camped out in Zuccotti Park. She’s been the all-around breadwinner of the year, a pants-wearer if there ever has been one: worldwide sales for the album are at 10 million when albums simply don’t sell 10 million copies anymore, let alone one million. And despite its ubiquity — a too-often encounter of “Rolling in the Deep” at an Urban Outfitters here or a Starbucks there — and pop charm, there’s artistic merit to “21.” Adele’s got serious pipes with range, subtlety and finesse. Here’s hoping for a full recovery from her recent throat surgery; songs like “Turning Tables” and “Someone Like You” can make a grown man cry. We need more pop virtuosos like Adele.
(Gaga, of course, has been all over the place, too, this year with the release of “Born This Way.” And she may have just been sticking it to the men of the music business when she opened the VMAs this year dressed as one.)
When compared with Adele’s straightforward structures — or, for that matter, Lady Gaga’s rock operas — a Lykke Li song exclaims with pronounced idiosyncrasies. And the Swede’s live show, which comes to Denver and the Ogden Theatre on Friday, is bedeviling. Yet, her release from this year, “Wounded Rhymes” — which is just as enthralling as her 2008 debut, “Youth Novels,” — is accessible. Songs like “I Follow Rivers” and “Love Out of Lust” have gigantic rhythms at their backbone that obscure much of the deeper challenges within.
Some other women that have shined in 2011 — Annie Clark of St. Vincent, Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, Lia Ices, Julianna Barwick and PJ Harvey — aren’t concerned with accessibility. And that’s welcome news; each released a magnificent record this year.
One lady who has divided the blogosphere this year is Lana Del Rey. A well-heeled New Yorker, Del Rey grew up as Elizabeth Grant before releasing her first tunes as Lizzy Grant in 2009. After consultation from the same kind of guys who put N*Sync together and told Garth Brooks that Chris Gaines was a good idea, Grant was rechristened (and re-branded) as Lana Del Rey. The authenticity alerts sounded and she was skewered before her songs “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” even had the chance to sell-out on “Gossip Girl” and suburban mall speakers. But, guess what? “Video Games,” in particular, is a fantastic song. It’s crestfallen, sultry and catchy. (The video isn’t hurt by the fact that Del Rey is a stone-cold fox with over-sized, poutful lips.) Del Rey just signed to Interscope for a full-length release due early next year. Step aside, boys: 2012 is Del Rey’s for the taking.