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In a bold experiment, U2 (above), the world's biggest music group, gave away not one track but a whole album worth of songs while pop princess Taylor Swift abruptly pulled her entire back catalogue from Spotify, raising questions about the future of streaming.

BT_20141219_DTMUSIC19B_1420004.jpg
In a bold experiment, U2, the world's biggest music group, gave away not one track but a whole album worth of songs while pop princess Taylor Swift (above) abruptly pulled her entire back catalogue from Spotify, raising questions about the future of streaming.
YEARENDER - MUSIC

A year of flux

Dec 19, 2014 5:50 AM

MUSIC took a big step into the digital age in 2014 when U2 decided to give away their new album for free. The controversial move was a huge one for an industry and even though it cost iTunes users nothing to download it, not everybody was happy with having the Irish group's music shoved down their phones, tablets and computers.

Meanwhile, CD sales continued to slide, but there were at least a few silver linings in sight. The vinyl revival got bigger but it also hit a snag when pressing plants failed to cope with the demand for the format.

Streaming services became more popular, though some artists are resisting the move, casting doubts over how it will eventually benefit the industry. Coldplay, for instance, will only put their new music on streaming services weeks after its physical release; while Taylor Swift abruptly pulled her entire back catalogue from Spotify. What effect that will have on the future of streaming services remains to be seen.

But at the end of the day, it boils down to the music itself and 2014 definitely was a good year, judging by these quality releases.

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Market voices on:

Best pop album - Taylor Swift's 1989

Crossing over from country to pop, Taylor Swift scored her bestselling album to date. A confessional album, written after her breakup with One Direction's Harry Styles, it's slick and can sound slightly over-produced at times but the tunes are pure earworm. 1989, the year Swift was born, is also 2014's best-selling album.

Best local release - The Observatory's Oscilla

The Observatory's latest album is also their most ambitious to date. Recorded with yet another new line-up, Oscilla is a thundering and hypnotic piece of work that's to be expected from a band who obviously works without a musical template (that's a compliment, by the way).

Best marketing - U2's Songs of Innocence

In an unprecedented move, the world's biggest group gave away not one track but a whole album worth of songs. It's a bold experiment, to say the least, which the band's usually-outspoken singer-songwriter Bono later confessed was a little brash even by his standards. "It's like we put a bottle of milk in people's fridge that they weren't asking for," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "It is a gross invasion! But it was kind of an accident. The milk was supposed to be in the cloud. It was supposed to be on the front doorstep." The good news? At least the songs weren't half bad.

Discovery of the year - Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour

Who would have thought the year's blackest voice would come from the whitest boy in England? In The Lonely Hour is a stunning debut by Sam Smith; a soulful masterpiece for anybody who has ever fallen in and out of love. And that sublime voice is almost too good for pop.

Best comeback album - The Endless River

Seminal English band Pink Floyd brings the curtain down on their legacy with this largely instrumental album culled from outtakes of their last studio effort, The Division Bell (1994). It's not essential Floyd but the slow burning ambient jams are exactly what you'd expect for a swansong from the prog-rock pioneers.