THE BLACK ALBUM
OK, so the retirement didn't last long. Jay-Z's vaunted "farewell record" is still one of the greatest albums by the rapper who is (if he says so himself) "pound for pound . . . the best to ever come around." With a phalanx of production all-stars on hand (Just Blaze, Kanye West, the Neptunes, Timbaland), Hova gazed back and gloated — retelling the story of his rags-to-riches rise ("From bricks to billboards, grams to Grammys"), brushing the dirt off his shoulders, and body-slamming the critics, the police and just about everyone else in the walloping rap-rock epic "99 Problems." He should retire more often.
ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND
"We're re-applying for the job [of] best band in the world," said Bono in 2001. After a decade dabbling in postmodernism, electronica and orange goggles, U2 transformed back to a world-beating pop band on Behind, an album that oozed arena-scale romance. Joshua Tree producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois came back to the fold, and Bono was Bono again, at once grandiose, warm and optimistic. "Beautiful Day" and the rafter-shaking "Elevation" were vibrant hits, and every song seemed somehow offhand, making this U2's most casual-sounding album — and an astounding comeback.