Before I actually sat down and decided to write this up, I thought “wow. What a crappy year 2008 was for music”. Such a crappy year, in fact, that I thought I was gonna have trouble coming up with a list of even 10 albums that I thought were worthy of mention.

Well I’ll be…by the time the dust had cleared, I had a shortlist large enough (is that a double negative?) that I wound up with a Top 25. I would have edited down further, but I just couldn’t remove anything. My apologies to Adele, Anthony Hamilton, Ben Folds, Eric Benet and My Morning Jacket, who just missed the final cut.

Enough of the prelude. Let’s move on to the first part of my list.

25. “Santogold” Santogold

Most people say Santogold reminds them of M.I.A., I beg to differ. Those of you who remember Res, who recorded one album seven or eight years ago, will realize that she and Santi White are sisters in music. Indie pop with a hint of soul, and Go Hard was just fine before Jay-Z decided to sample it for a Biggie tribute.

Shove It – Santogold

24. “Here I Stand” Usher

Now 30, married and a dad of two, the former prince of teen pop grew up on this collection of (largely) midtempos and ballads. Songs like His Mistakes and the title track won’t satisfy those who were grooving to Yeah! a couple years back, but will speak to anyone trying to mature in a committed relationship. Besides, Love in This Club, which I hated at first-largely due to the presence of Young Jeezy-turned into one of 2008’s biggest earworms for me.

23. “Something Else” Robin Thicke

Usher’s sometime collaborator Robin Thicke returned for Round 3 with a collection that sits somewhere between the slightly obtuse Prince-isms of his first album and the smoother Marvin Gaye-esque sounds of his breakthrough sophomore release. Songs like Tie My Hands and Dreamworld reveal a burgeoning social conscience, while Sidestep is the best grown-folks dance song since R. Kelly’s Step in the Name of Love.

22. “A Long Time Coming” Wayne Brady

Never in my life would I have imagined ever featuring a Wayne Brady album on a year-end list, but the actor/comedian/Renaissance man showed me a thing or two with his debut effort. Whether smoothing out a Beatles classic (Can’t Buy Me Love) or reminiscing about his childhood, Brady’s smooth and effortless vocals carried this solid collection of soul-inflected pop.

Back in the Day – Wayne Brady

21. “Lay it Down” Al Green

With some stellar assistance from ?uestlove, Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and Anthony Hamilton, the world’s greatest living male soul singer stepped in the wayback machine, and suddenly, it was 1974 all over again-minus the hot grits. Not many folks eligible for AARP and ordained in the ministry can make records that sound this sexy.

20. “Modern Guilt” Beck

You’ve gotta give Beck props for being, along with The White Stripes, The Roots and Kanye West, this decade’s most consistent artist. Modern Guilt is his fourth consecutive strong effort, and finds him joining forces with Danger Mouse for a collection that matches maturing lyrics with bouncy (for the most part) instrumental backing without the massive genre-jumps that marked his most recent two albums.

19. “It is Time for a Love Revolution” Lenny Kravitz

Lenny almost lost me for good with the travesty that was 2004’s Baptism, but the four years off did him a world of good. Dancin’ Til Dawn was a groover, even as it shamelessly ripped off The Rolling Stones’ Miss You. Songs like A Long & Sad Goodbye pushed emotional buttons while I’ll Be Waiting was the lighter-waving devotional ballad of the year, a fact reinforced when I found myself in a situation in which the lyrics applied perfectly.

18. “Rising Down” The Roots

It says something when The Roots’ least-essential album of the decade still winds up in my year end Top 20. Although I could have done without the abundance of guest appearances, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Styles P are among the featured artists who bring their A games, while the criminally underrated Black Thought is dependable as ever. Fellow Philly emcee Peedi Peedi defines himself on one track as “W.E.B. Dubois mixed with Heavy D & the Boyz” and that perfectly describes the sound of Rising Down.

17. “Gossip in the Grain” Ray LaMontagne

2008 was the year that the heart-on-sleeve singer/songwriter loosened up. Gossip contained the usual plaintive ballads, but Ray shined most on loose, country-flecked songs like Hey Me Hey Mama and the slightly disturbing love letter Meg White, a tribute to the distaff half of The White Stripes. If I was Meg, I’d make sure my doors were locked, but I’d still let Ray sing outside.

16. “Everything is Borrowed” The Streets

The States will never “get” Mike Skinner, so his success will never match up to the quality of his records, but oh well. He can continue being my (and the U.K.’s) secret. Skinner’s fourth effort finds the rapper tackling life, death and all the other big issues with the matter-of-fact cheekiness that’s become his trademark. The Escapist is unquestionably one of the year’s best videos.

15. “Viva La Vida or Death & All His Friends” Coldplay

Whether giving Lost! some hip-hop flavor (even before the Jay-Z remix), rocking hard on Violet Hill or getting all majestic with the title track, Chris Martin and company expanded their sound on Viva La Vida and wound up with their best effort since their debut. Credit some of that to the addition of Brian Eno in the producer’s chair and credit the rest to Martin’s commitment to quality songwriting and his decision to save the weepy piano ballads for the end of the album.

14. “Shine” Estelle

Shine is the first worthwhile album by a female artist who raps (at least part-time) since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and while the Brit can’t step into L-Boogie’s high heels, she does pretty good for herself. American Boy is yet another earworm (and finds Kanye at his most charming), Just a Touch has swagger to spare, and Pretty Please (Love Me) suggests she should do a whole album with Cee-Lo.

13. “Evolver” John Legend

Thankfully, Evolver was not exactly John Legend goes crunk. Despite the addition of a slightly more uptempo element, Legend’s dedication to classy R&B remains intact. Jumping from subgenres from light reggae to near-orchestral balladry (This Time suggests that an album-length John Legend/Trevor Horn collaboration would be magical), Legend takes yet another baby step towards justifying his name with his third album.

Next up-the mother of all mash-ups, my favorite Swedish cupcake, the year’s best covers album…my 12 favorite albums of 2008, coming up next.