Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All Saints Return

The All Saints are back. I love their reunion single, "Rock Steady," which is already #3 on the UK airplay chart and hits stores next Monday. In a very crowded week of releases, which includes singles from Sugababes, Green Day & U2, and Westlife, I think they will be #1.

I have nostalgic memories for the All Saints, for their first #1 single, "Never Ever" was the #1 single my first weekend in London in 1998. Thus they were one of the first British pop acts not popular in the US (at least at that time) that I was introduced to. Before splitting up three years later, they scored four more #1 hits: a remake of Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge," which incidentally was #1 in May 1998 right as I was leaving London; "Bootie Call;" "Pure Shores," which was the second biggest selling UK single of 2000; and "Black Coffee," a William Orbit production and one of my personal favorites from the group.

The band released a greatest hits album in 2001 and then split up, reportedly on unfriendly terms. Two of the members, sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton formed a new group, Appleton, which had top ten hit with "Fantasy" and "Don't Worry." Nicole Appleton made tabloid headlines when she began dating Robbie Williams late in 1997, they got engaged, she got pregnant (and ended that with an abortion), and they finally split up. Her voice even appears briefly on his second album, saying "love you baby" at the beginning of "Win Some Lose Some."

In 2000 Nicole began dating Oasis member Liam Gallagher; the couple gave birth to son Gene in 2001 and plan to marry in the future.

The other two members went solo. Shaznay lewis hit the top 10 in 2004 with "Never Felt Like This Before," while Melanie Blatt hit the top 10 with the Artful Dodger on "Twentyfourseven," just before the band broke up.

The new album, Studio 1, is due November 13.

The Sound of Girls Aloud: Greatest Hits

Girls Aloud released their greatest hits on Monday, a 15-track set that includes all 12 of the band's singles from their three albums (all of which are top 10 hits, 2 are #1s), their new single, "Something Kinda Ooooh," and two new tracks, including a remake of Tiffany's "I Think Were Alone Now."

Five-piece girl group Girls Aloud formed in 2002, the product of British reality TV series Popstars: The Rivals, which sought to establish two competing supergroups, one with girls and the other with boys, who would release dueling singles seeking to be Christmas #1 for 2002. Girls Aloud's rival, boyband One True Voice, couldn't hold a candle to the girls, and their "Sacred Trust" was #2 to the Girls' massive #1 hit "The Sound of the Underground," which was not only Christmas #1, but stayed at the top for another three weeks.

While One True Voice is now long forgotten, having scored only one other top 40 hit, Girls Aloud have become genuine stars in their own right, hitting the top 10 with each of the 12 singles that followed their debut. Propelled by sharply produced pop songs, courtesy of Xenomania, the production team responsible for Sugababes hits like "Round Round" and "Hole in the Head," Girls Aloud have become known for their particular brand of hyperactive pop--fast tempos, loud synth and guitar-driven melodies, and an almost total disregard for verses in favor of sharp, hooky choruses. To this day, I cannot discern a verse from "Biology," but who needs verses when you're having this much fun.

"Sound of the Underground" now sounds tame next to some of their later singles, but it's still enjoyable, featuring some cool Pulp Fictionesque guitars. Follow-up "No Good Advice," hit #2, ensuring the band wasn't one hit wonders, and followed a similar formula. The girls slowed things down for third single "Life Got Cold," which hit #3 and stirred some controversy for sounding like Oasis' "Wonderwall." Their first album, Sound of the Underground, was re-released near the end of 2003 with a couple of new tracks including a high-energy remake of the Pointer Sisters' "Jump," which was included on the Love Actually soundtrack.

The Girls picked up their tempo even more for the first two singles from their second album, What Would the Neighbours Say? Released in the summer of 2004, "The Show" is a fantastic piece of stylish electronic pop, and gave the girls another #2 hit. Even better was guitar-driven, retro-styled "Love Machine," another #2 hit. Perhaps their best single ever, "Love Machine" is a joyous, unrelenting workout of a song. Girls Aloud then scored their second #1 hit later that fall with "I'll Stand By You," a remake of the Pretenders song, which was used as 2004's Children in Need official single for the annual BBC charity appeal. Final single from Neighbours, "Wake Me Up," became their lowest-charting single when it reached only #4, and I would agree that the darker, minor-key guitar melody doesn't match up to their other stuff.

Next up would appear to be a misstep. Far in advance of their third album, Biology, the band released "Long Hot Summer," and it just didn't catch on like their other releases, becoming their lowest-charting single at #7. Their next release, "Biology," was another fantastic single and has an unusual structure for a pop song, as it seems to have only one verse, and a very brief one at that. Chart momentum may have been lost though, as "Biology" hit only #4, and as such became the highest-charting Biology single, a far cry from the consistency of the releases from their other two albums. Still, Chemistry was released with rave reviews, and the group quickly followed "Biology" only four weeks later at Christmas with the ballad "See the Day." Biology's final single, ballad "Whole Lotta History" hit #6 in early April. These ballads are fine songs, but the band's strength is with their hi-tempo knockout numbers.

That brings us up to the present. "Something Kinda Oooh" continues in the vein of "Biology" as a high-energy, frothy pop number that really goes for it during the chorus. "I Think We're Alone Now" is as you'd expect, a remake of Tiffany's #1 hit from 1987 laced with the Girls' fuzzy electro pop production. Strange choice, but okay. The last new track is "Money," a bombastic, guitar-laden, horn-filled romp. The horns are a nice addition--otherwise this would just sound like more of the same from them.

They swear it's just a reflection and not a sign the band is breaking up. Still, would anyone be surprised if Cheryl Tweedy went solo next year? I wouldn't be.

Best tracks: Love Machine, The Show, Biology, The Sound of the Underground, No Good Advice, Jump.

Skip: See the Day

Happy Blog Birthday!

My blog turned 1 year old yesterday. Happy birthday blog!!!

My first post was a simple welcome, followed by a personal chart. Interesting that 3 of the artists in my top 10 a year ago are in the top 10 a year later (Sugababes, Robbie Williams, and Madonna).

Personal Chart, 11/4/2006

In honor of my blog's birthday, I'm publishing my entire top 40 for this week (click on the jump to see 11-40).

TW...LW...Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Too Little, Too Late - Jojo (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 5 .... Easy - Sugababes
3 .... 6 .... Jump - Madonna
4 .... 4 .... My Love - Justin Timberlake
5 ... 30 ... Rock Steady - All Saints
6 .... 3 .... I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters (10 wks @ #1)
7 .... 7 .... Wonderful World - James Morrison
8 .... 9 .... Nothing in My Way - Keane
9 ... 15 ... Lovelight - Robbie Williams
10 .. 11 .. Welcome to the Black Parade - My Chemical Romance
11 ... 2 ... America - Razorlight
12 .. 22 .. Coming Around Again - Simon Webbe
13 .. 17 .. Something Kinda Ooooh - Girls Aloud
14 ... 8 ... When You Were Young - The Killers
15 .. 20 .. Fergalicious - Fergie
16 .. 18 .. Hurt - Christina Aguilera
17 .. 12 .. This Is Not Real Love - George Michael & Mutya Buena
18 .. 10 .. It's Not That Easy - Lemar
19 .. 19 .. Ooh La - The Kooks
20 .. 13 .. LDN - Lily Allen
21 .. 14 .. Something About You - Jamelia
22 .. 28 .. Runaway - Jamiroquai
23 .. 21 .. Take a Chance - The Magic Numbers
24 .. 16 .. London Bridge - Fergie
25 .. 26 .. Irreplaceable - Beyonce
26 .. 37 .. Love It When You Call - The Feeling
27 NEW The Saints Are Calling - Green Day & U2
28 .. 35 .. Rehab - Amy Winehouse
29 NEW Set the Fire to the Third Bar - Snow Patrol
30 NEW Self Control - Infernal
31 .. 25 .. Sexyback - Justin Timberlake
32 .. 29 .. Beware of the Dog - Jamelia
33 .. 31 .. Lonely at the Top - Ordinary Boys
34 NEW Put Your Hands Up for Detroit - Fedde Le Grand
35 .. 27 .. Never Be Lonely - The Feeling
36 .. 40 .. Nobody Knows - Pink
37 NEW All Good Things (Come to an End) - Nelly Furtado
38 .. 34 .. Rudebox - Robbie Williams
39 NEW Bones - The Killers
40 NEW Lithium - Evanescence

Monday, October 30, 2006

New Music: 10/30/2006

A ho-hum week of new releases. Some interesting singles, but nothing compared to what's coming over the next few weeks. Critical darling Amy Winehouse is set to break out big with her second album, Back to Black. Amy's current in the top ten (for the first time) with "Rehab." Also out is the greatest collection for Girls ALoud, The Sound of Girls Aloud: Greatest Hits. It includes the band's 12 prior singles, plus three new tracks: "Money," current top 10 hit "Something Kinda Ooooh," and a remake of Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now."

The biggest single of the week is Bodyrox featuring Luciana. The new rave instrumental for "Yeah Yeah" gets a radio-friendly makeover with the inclusion of Luciana's kittenish rap. I think I prefer the original, as Luciana really gets on my nerves.

Simon Webbe returns with the first single from his second album, Grace, due next month. "Coming Around Again" bears more than just a passing resemblance to his last single, "After All This Time," with its handclaps, acoustic guitars, and lush arrangement. I'm totally won over though, because Simon Webbe has an awesome voice--he sounds a lot like the lead singer from the Lighthouse Family. Jamiroquai is back also, with "Runaway," in advance of his greatest hits collection out next month. "Runaway" is just what you'd expect from him, danceable, accessible, and retro.

Keane's "Nothing in My Way" is a darker, more Keane-like single than their last, the upbeat "Crystal Ball." It's a great single from them, with Tim Rice-Oxley's cascading keyboard chords melding with Tom Chapman's voice. According to Tim, it's inspired by Eminem's "Lose Yourself." Rui de Silva hit #1 five years ago with "Touch Me." Now the track's singer, Cass Fox, is re-releasing it. It's a solid House track, not bad, not exceptional. Also out is "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" by Panic!at the Disco and "Martyr" from Depeche Mode, from their forthcoming greatest hits collection.

Bodyrox Featuring Luciana (3/5), Simon Webbe (4.5/5), Jamiroquai (3.5/5), Keane (4.5/5), Cass Fox (3.5/5).

Sunday, October 29, 2006

UK Chart Analysis, 11/4/2006

Two weeks away from now from the 11/11 chart, which should prove to be the most exciting we've had in a long, long time. Next week we'll feel the first rumble, as downloads-only releases on that day become chart-eligible, namely, I expect we'll see the comeback single from the All Saints, "Rocksteady" in the top 10 next week. But, that's the future, on to this week...

1. Star Girl - McFly

Betting against McFly for #1 this week would be like betting against Will & Grace at Emmy time. By now, they should be stale and forgotten, yet their hardcore fanbase keeps delivering them hit after hit. "Star Girl," their 10th single, becomes their 10th straight top 10 hit and 6th #1, following "5 Colours in Her Hair," "Obviously," "All About You/You've Got a Friend," "I'll Be Okay," and "Don't Stop Me Now/Please Please." Like most of their singles, it's barely gotten any airplay, but that didn't stop legions of fans buying it up this week. Since it wasn't offered as a download last week, it becomes the first single with physical release to debut at #1 since...the boys did it last summer with "Don't Stop Me Now." Crazy.

2. Put Your Hands Up For Detroit - Fedde Le Grand

By it's name this sounds like it would be hip-hop, but it's actually a dance track (with a little dose of rap). I haven't heard it much, but it's not bad. The #2 placing is surely surprisingly high.

3. Something Kinda Ooooh - Girls Aloud

And this is surprisingly low. Girls Aloud debuted at #5 last week on downloads--a very high placing for downloads-only sales. Some were saying it would become their third #1 hit. Although I had my doubts, knowing that McFly was a better bet for #1, I thought it would surely be #2. Still, it's a higher placing than any of their last five singles, so they should be happy about it. The Sound of Girls Aloud: Greatest Hits is out tomorrow.

5. Irreplaceable - Beyonce

Beyonce's second B'Day single leaps 9 spots to #5, her fifth top 5 single. "Irreplaceable" is an enjoyable mid-tempo number, much better, in my opinion, ,than first single "Deja Vu," which hit #1 a couple of months ago.

7. Rehab - Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse received critical notice and several Brit awards for her 2003 debut album Frank, but chart success was lacking, as none of that album's singles hit the top 40. Her cheeky take on refusing drug rehab corrects that with her first top 10 and top 40 hit.

11. Yeah Yeah - Bodyrox Featuring Luciana

I don't know who Luciana is, as there's barely any vocal on this most instrumental electronic dance hit. It's being called "New Rave," the vein of electronica popularized by acts like Hot Chip and Junior Boys. Expect it to be top 3 next week.

12. Long Way 2 Go - Cassie

American pop/R&B singer Cassie misses out on the top 10 with her second single, the follow up to "Me & U," shoots up 26 places this week.

16. Take a Chance - The Magic Numbers

Massive airplay wasn't enough to give critical darlings The Magic Numbers their first top 10 hit. "Take a Chance" settles in 4 places below their highest-charting hit, 2005's #12 "Love Me Like You." The song's pretty good, but not as good as I would've liked.

17. We Ride - Rihanna

After two #2 hits in "SOS" and "Unfaithful," Rihanna's latest, "We Ride," manages to make only #17. Not a surprise really. It pales in comparison to those two tracks, and was a flop in the US too. Maybe this is sign that she just got lucky with the Soft Cell sample.

20. Oooh La - The Kooks

Unlike Rihanna, this should've followed their last two singles into the top 10. The Kooks have become breakout stars this year, with notable hits in "Naive" and "She Moves in Her Own Way." This is good too.

While the releases of 11/6 are the big event, there are some notable singles next week vying for top 10 placement, namely Simon Webbe's first single from his second album, "Coming Around Again," and the physical release of Bodyrox's "Yeah Yeah." Also out are new singles from Keane, Jamiroquai, Cass Fox, Depeche Mode, and Basement Jaxx.

Finally, a comment on the albums chart, where a hot battle was brewing this week. The winner was, surprisingly (but not undeservedly) Robbie Williams with Rudebox, giving him his 8th chart-topping album, a feat he's managed with every release except his live album, which made a lowly #2. He beat out My Chemical Romance, who I thought was sure to take #1, given the mixed reviews for Rudebox. Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell III was #3.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Album review: Lily Allen - Alright, Still (4/5)

Lily Allen is the daughter of Keith Allen, which means little outside of Britain, and should only be regarded as the foundation of her popularity, for Lily Allen has the potential to be a worldwide star in her own right. Like a more accessible Mike Skinner or a more mainstream Nellie McKay, Lily Allen interjects sharp wit, old-fashion melody, and a modern sensibility into songs, each of which tells a different story about what it’s like to be her—a young British woman living in London, chased by dirty young men, dining alfresco, etcetera. The stories are pretty universal for young women living everywhere trying to establish themselves and make their way. She has a sweet voice and a dirty mouth—a calculating combination she effectively uses to unsuspectingly jab anyone and anything that dare cross her.

Alright, Still hit #1 upon its release in the UK on the back of one of summer’s biggest hits, the breezy, cheeky “Smile,” which spent six weeks at #1 on the airplay chart. However sweet it sounds, “Smile” is a song about revenge, about taking joy in seeing a former lover cry after he’d jilted her. Any girl that’s ever been hit on in a bar by some sleaze can relate to rap-like “Knock ‘Em Out,” where Allen makes up obvious excuses as to why she’s not giving out her phone number.

The album’s shiniest moment comes next with “LDN,” short for London, it’s an ode to the big city she calls home and chronicles the singer riding her bike through the city on a summer day and realizing that seemingly normal events aren’t so normal if you take a second look. Like “Smile,” it has a breezy, jaunty melody, but it’s even better and quite humorous. It even includes a rhyme between “al fresco” and grocery store “Tesco.”

‘60s-ish “Everything’s Just Wonderful,” is of course the opposite of how things really are, like how she wants to get a flat but can’t secure a mortgage because she has bad credit and how she wants to eat “spaghetti bolognaise” and not feel bad it about for “days and days.” “Not Big” refers to exactly what you think it might, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg here—a rant to an ex-lover about how bad he is in bad that’s so mean it surely reduces his ego to the size of, well, what the title refers to.

The focus for many of the songs is the story and not so much the music, which is mostly pretty simple to allow Allen’s sing/rap blend to radiate to the forefront. “Friday Night” is about an evening at a nightclub where some “girl on the guest list dressed like a c***” decides, against better judgment, to pick a fight with Miss Allen. Brassy “Shame for You” is another song--this time directed to the guys—about how they’d better not cross her. It’s musically not very interesting, until the big chorus hits, which makes up for it.

“Littlest Things” is another standout, if only because it does pay more attention to the melody than many of the other tracks, and because it breaks from her “I’m a bitch and you’re gonna get it” mode. Like “Smile,” it’s a break-up song, but instead of joy, here’s she’s feeling sadness, lamenting the absence of the little things that made the relationship special. It’s a touching moment that displays she’s not a one-note, and not to be underestimated. It’s just a moment though, and rocky next track “Take What You Take” gets Allen back to ranting and raving about life and fairness and people that piss her off. Short, goofy “Alfie,” about her little brother smoking pot, wraps up the album.

Alright, Still is a strong pop debut, clearly showcasing Allen’s strong songwriting talents for spot-on humor, creative rhymes, and poignancy. After the initial chuckle wears off though, too many of the songs come across as rants—rants against boys, girls, and life in general. But Allen is young, and isn’t afraid to let her youthful immaturity show, so even that really isn’t too strong a criticism. It will be interesting to see how her music matures.

Emma's Children in Need single

Emma Bunton has recorded this year's Children in Need single, a chartity record to accompany the BBC's annual fundraising appeal for disadvantaged British children. The single, "Downtown," out November 13, is a remake of the '60s classic by Petula Clark. It fits nicely with Emma's last album of '60s-inspired pop songs, Free Me.

Children in Need singles tend to chart rather well too, which could mean a return to #1 for Emma. Last year's Children in Need single was "A Night to Remember," by Liberty X, which hit #6. Other recent ones include Girls Aloud's "I'll Stand By You" (#1, 2004), TV star Shane Richie's "I'm Your Man" (#2, 2003), Will Young's "You and I"/"Don't Let Me Down" (#2, 2002), S Club 7's "Have You Ever" (#1, 2001) and "Never Had a Dream Come True" (#1, 2000), and the various artists' "Perfect Day" (#1, 1997).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Personal Chart, 10/28/2006

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Too Little, Too Late - Jojo (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 5 .... America - Razorlight
3 .... 1 .... I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters (10 wks @ #1)
4 .... 6 .... My Love - Justin Timberlake
5 ... 12 ... Easy - Sugababes
6 ... 15 ... Jump - Madonna
7 .... 8 .... Wonderful World - James Morrison
8 .... 4 .... When You Were Young - The Killers
9 ... 11 ... Nothing in My Way - Keane
10 .. 3 .... It's Not Easy - Lemar

Gwen + Keane = ?

Robin alerted me to the fact that Gwen Stefani is collaborating with Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley for her upcoming second solo album, The Sweet Escape, due December 4. Read it about in NME.

Interesting match-up. Gwen's electro pop of Love.Angel.Music.Baby doesn't on its face mesh well with Keane's melodic pop approach, particularly since her biggest hit was the all-beats-all-the-time "Hollaback Girl." Still, I always preferred her songs like "Cool" and "Serious," which sounded more like something Kylie would've done in the late '80s. Tim's a master songwriter, so I'm sure it will be good.

I heard the album's first single, "Wind It Up," on Radio 1 today. Interesting and weird. I need to hear it more before I can form a definite opinion. Listen to it here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

UK Chart Analysis, 10/28/2006

1. Welcome to the Black Parade - My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance holds at #1 for a second week with "Welcome to the Black Parade," but it is likely to be their last, as they will face stiff competition for #1 next week (and their album came out Monday anyway). More on that later. Also holding near the top at #2 is the former #1 "America" by Razorlight, who also tops the airplay chart for a second week.

3. Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now) - Bob Sinclar & Cutee B

Fourth week on the chart and its third week of growth, now up another place to #3, clearly Bob Sinclar's biggest hit. I'm still made "Changes" didn't become a big dance hit, as I like it far better.

5. Something Kinda Ooooh - Girls Aloud

The Girls have to be pleased by this. After a string of eight consecutive top 5 hits from their first two albums, Girls Aloud stalled a bit with the singles from their last album, despite Chemistry being arguably their best long player. Only "Biology" made the top 5, hitting #4. So this is something of a reversal for them on the singles chart then, as "Something Kinda Ooooh" charts all the way up at #5 on downloads alone, meaning it has a good shot at #1 next week. If it goes all the way, it will become their third #1, which is bittersweet in some ways. Sure they're a great group, this is a good song, but it's not their best, not nearly the caliber of say "Love Machine" or "The Show," both of which had to settle for #2.

6. It's All Coming Back to Me Now - Meat Loaf Featuring Marion Raven

Huh? That was my reaction too when I saw this in the top 10. I didn't even know it was coming out, but Meat Loaf has returned with number three in the Bat Out of Hell Series, and this remake of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." Originally a non-hit in 1989 by Pandora's Box, Jim Steinman took it to Celine Dion for her 1996 album, the Grammy-winning Falling Into You where it became an international hit as the album's second single. It seemed very Meat Loaf at the time--the over-the-top Jim Steinman sound, the gothic bombastic video--and now it becomes Meat Loaf. Surprisingly more restrained than Miss Dion's version too, but completely unnecessary.

8. Wonderful World - James Morrison

The heir apparent to James Blunt's status moves in inch closer to claiming that throne with "Wonderful World," an upbeat, soulful piece of British pop even more enjoyable than his first single, top 5 hit "You Give Me Something." It makes a strong move up from #20 to #8, thanks to its first week of physical release.

10. Lonely at the Top - The Ordinary Boys

Claiming their third top 10 single this week are the Ordinary Boys, ordinary no more it seems since they achieved top 10 status with "Boys Will Be Boys" thanks to their member's appearance on reality TV. It's a decent song too.

14. Irreplaceable - Beyonce

The second-highest debut on downloads only is Beyonce's second B'Day single, "Irreplaceable," an enjoyable piece of mid-tempo R&B pop. A top 5 contender for next week, but not for #1 I think.

19. Rehab - Amy Winehouse

Also a downloads-only debut. Should go top 10 next week.

23. Numb - Pet Shop Boys

I've long been a Pet Shop Boys fan, but I really can't get behind this dull Diane Warren-penned ballad. It's the weakest link from their latest album, which is full of much stronger possibilities for a single. "Integral," "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show," and "Psychological" all want some air time. It deserves this: their second-lowest charting single ever.

38. Long Way 2 Go - Cassie

Another downloads debut that will vy for the top 10 next week.

On that subject, next week promises to be a really hot week. The above 4 singles that debuted this week hope to become (or remain) top 10 hits next week and Girls Aoud have a good shot at #1. There's another single though that wasn't available as an advance download, and it's a real juggernaut of a release--the new McFly single "Star Girl." McFly's had five #1s so far, and they're hoping this will be the sixth.

And then in two weeks we have what is shaping up to be the most vicious week of single releases I can remember. November 6th brings new releases from All Saints, Christina Aguilera, George Michael & Mutya Buena, Gnarls Barkley, Infernal, Madonna, Sugababes, U2 & Green Day, and Westlife. What an exciting chart week that will be!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Music This Week (UK), 10/23/2006

After a dull week of new albums releases, this week promises quite the opposite as two big albums duke it out to be #1 next weekend.

Principally, this week marks the release of the sixth album (eighth LP counting his covers album and greatest hits) from Robbie Williams. Every single one of his previous seven releases has clocked in as one of the top 5 best-selling releases of the year--a remarkable achievement considering that most of these LPs were released in the last quarter. This year could be different though, as a change of direction in his music caused quite a few raised eyebrows. The reception of first single "Rudebox" was tepid--the single debuted at #4 but fell quickly and did not perform well on the airplay chart, a stark contrast to the first single from his last album, "Tripping," which hit #2 in sales and #1 in airplay. The second single, "Lovelight" is getting a warmer reception, and he may move enough discs on name alone to be #1. Personally, I'm quite eager to hear Rudebox, and I expect it to be a high-camp, dance-oriented retro album heavily influenced by the Pet Shop Boys and Scissor Sisters.

A #1 for Robbie Williams would be a sure thing if it wasn't for the appearance of another high-profile release, the third album from American rock band My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade. On it's face, this wouldn't sound like such a strong contender, however, the album has been getting extremely good reviews, and first single "Welcome to the Black Parade" has topped the UK singles chart for the last two weeks, noted by some music critics as an instant rock classic.

As it that's not enough, there's a few other high-profile releases that could be top 10 contenders. Starting those off is Meat Loaf's long-anticipated Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, featuring his recent top 10 single remake of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," which screamed Meat Loaf anyway when Celine Dion did it in 1996 owing to her over the top music video and its Jim Steinman origins. UK band Ordinary Boys releases How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted in Ten Easy Steps, which includes new single "Lonely at the Top" as well as "Boys Will Be Boys," which was on their last album. Mercury Prize nominee Isobel Campbell puts out her second album of the year, Mike White Sheets, which no one is expecting to live up to brilliant collaboration with Mark Lanegan from earlier this year.

In singles it's a hot week too, with a possibility of at least five new entries in the top 10. Leading the pack is Girls Aloud, who returns with the single from their upcoming greatest hits collection. Despite the fact that only one of the four singles from their last album, Chemistry, went top 5, this one has a good shot at becoming their third #1, owing to the fact that it debuted all the way up at #5 this weekend on downloads. It's a great track, much like last album's winner "Biology," being an irrepressible and irresistible energetic pop track.

Also expected to make a big splash is Beyonce's second B'Day single, "Irreplaceable." One of the album's slower numbers, it is a decent choice, and a far better choice for follow-up single than the dreadful "Ring the Alarm" that was released in the US. Amy Winehouse offers the quirky "Rehab," which is a cheeky, not serious, song, Cassie puts out her second single, decent but formulaic "Long Way 2 Go." DJ Fedde La Grande puts out hot dance track "Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit," The Kooks release their 6th single, winning "Ooh La," and The Magic Numbers return with "Take a Chance," from their forthcoming album, which is already getting heavy airplay for the enjoyable pop/rock track. Girls Aloud (4/5), Beyonce (3/5), Amy Winehouse (4/5), Cassie (2/5), Fedde la Grande (3/5), Kooks (4/5), Magic Numbers (4.5/5).

Also out is McFly's "Star Girl," which will compete with Girls Aloud for #1 (it will be their 6th if it makes it), Rihanna's "We Ride," and Raconteurs' "Broken Boy Soldiers."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Album Review: Jamelia - Walk with Me (4.5/5)

British R&B/pop singer Jamelia is completely unknown in the United States. It’s too bad, because her third album, Walk With Me, is a pop triumph. Since her 2000 R&B drama, which sounded just like any other R&B album of its time, this singer has strengthened her voice, widened her range, and blossoms into a true pop diva with this album. Unlike most contemporary US R&B, which has almost completely rejected the concept of melody in favor of crunk and Timbaland-style beats, Walk With Me shines with hit after hit of memorable pop, paving the way for the impending (we all know it’s coming) ‘90s revival. The sounds of ‘90s R&B greats like En Vogue, TLC, and Jade permeate the songs here, bringing back memories of when R&B-styled pop was more fun and more memorable.

First track and lead single “Something About You” sparkles with an effective blend of quieter R&B keyboard-driven verses and raucous electric-guitar backed choruses, in effect combining the best of Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson. The next two cuts, “Do Me Right” and “Window Shopping” derive more from contemporary R&B and dance, but don’t sacrifice the melody. The former has a sharp bass beat and a vaguely Middle Eastern sound, while the latter packs in attitude with its manhunting as shopping metaphor and breathy “uh uh uh uh” refrain.

Most of the album’s uptempo numbers are its greatest strength, like “Ain’t a Love,” which obviously borrows liberally from Jade’s ‘90s R&B/pop hit “Don’t Walk Away.” “Get Up Get Out” opens with cool electronically sampled strings and then kicks in with a sharp bass beat—a great R&B/dance pop track. Upcoming single “Beware of the Dog” takes a cue from Rihanna’s successful “SOS” by liberally sampling Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” while amping up the dance beats. Unlike Rihanna, however, Jamelia can really sing and really goes for it here. Another of the album’s triumphant moments.

The slower tracks are more of a mixed bag. Two of them in particular, the harpsichord-backed “No More” and very UK-ish sounding “Got It So Good” would both sound great on the radio, particularly the latter, which would sound so at home on Capital FM during the upcoming holidays. “La La Love” has a darker edge, like something the Sugababes would put out. While none of the album’s songs are bad, the weakest points are the album’s other two slower tracks, “Know My Name,” which has an annoyed rap chorus, and “Go,” which features a high-quality production, but is kind of a dull song.

This album is a pop gem, and surprisingly so, just like last year’s Rachel Stevens album. Here’s to hoping it finds a broader audience than that fantastic yet neglected disc did.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Personal Chart, 10/21/2006

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters (10 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... Too Little, Too Late - Jojo
3 .... 2 .... It's Not That Easy - Lemar
4 .... 3 .... When You Were Young - The Killers
5 .... 9 .... America - Razorlight
6 .... 7 .... My Love - Justin Timberlake
7 .... 6 .... LDN - Lily Allen
8 ... 18 ... Wonderful World - James Morrison
9 .... 5 .... Something About You - Jamelia
10 .. 8 .... London Bridge - Fergie

Album Review: Razorlight - Razorlight (3/5)

Razorlight recently topped both the UK sales and airplay singles charts with “America,” the second single from their eponymous second album. It encompasses a lot about the album, both for good and bad. As one of the album’s better moments, it’s a fine song, although not as deep as its premise might seem. This is no scathing political indictment of the United States, but rather a quiet pop song with simple lyrics about the “trouble” and “panic in America.” It’s a nice enough melody, but too repetitive, and its simple arrangement shows that singer Johnny Borrell is, well, really not that great of a singer.

This was the same problem I had over and over again with several of tracks. Promising tracks like their R.E.M. tribute “Pop Song 2006” and “Before I Fall to Pieces” lose their momentum because Borrell just doesn’t sound very good. “Hold On” is downright dull and Borrell sounds his worst here.

Despite these flaws, there are some good songs here. Namely the first track and first single “In the Morning,” which is downright fantastic with its jaunty melody, two-part guitar, and driving staccato bassline. Also good are the abovementioned “America,” “Who Needs Love?,” an optimistic piano-backed piece with a retro feel that is just crying out to be their next single, and “I Can’t Stop This Feeling I’ve Got” that opens quietly with a guitar riff reminiscent of Big Audio Dynamite II and bursts forth with electric guitars about halfway through. Enigmatic “Kirby’s House” is good too, and Borrell sounds so much better here with softer vocals than with the wailing that he just isn’t cut out for.

I really wanted to love this album. I liked last year’s single “Somewhere Else” and “In the Morning,” and I had high expectations for this since Q Magazine gave it a 5-star rating, one of only three albums so far this year to earn that distinction (along with Muse and Red Hot Chili Peppers). Unfortunately, it delivers only one great moment, a handful of other pretty good ones, and a few that just don’t make the grade. Solidly middle of the road.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New Music This Week, 10/16/06

It's a dull week of new releases, with the only really interesting thing put out being James Morrison's second single. Badly Drawn Boy releases his fifth album, Born in the UK, and Diddy (aka P Diddy aka Puff Daddy aka Sean Combs) releases his fourth album, Press Play, both of which arrive from artists seemingly past their primes. Were I to buy a new album this week, it would probably be Roxette's Hits: A Collection of Their 20 Greatest Songs, just so I could get their original version of "Listen to Your Heart."

James Morrison is back with his second single, "Wonderful World," another slice of radio friendly soul/pop, perhaps even better than "You Give Me Something." The Ordinary Boys release "Lonely at the Top," and the Pet Shop Boys release the third single from their current album, the rather bland "Numb," penned by famous songwriter Diane Warren. Makes you wonder if this was a contractual obligation, since there are better tracks left on the album. James Morrison (4/5), The Ordinary Boys (4/5), Pet Shop Boys (2/5).

Also out, riding on the success of Ronan Keating's remake of their song "Iris," Goo Goo Dolls release "Stay With You" and "Iris" as a double-A release. And Australian pop act Rogue Traders offers their second single, "Watching You."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Album review: The Editors - The Back Room (4.5/5)

The Editors first garnered attention in early 2005 with the release of their singles, which preceded their debut album, The Back Room, which garnered a prestigious Mercury Music Prize nomination. The four-man band from Birmingham is frequently compared to Joy Division and Interpol. This is rock music in the traditional sense: dark, insistent melodies, technically proficient dueling guitar work, and a lead singer that can actually sing and does so in a commanding lower register.

Opening track “Lights” quickly launches into the song without much build up, establishing what this band is all about. It’s got a rawness to it, despite a fairly polished production value, consistent throughout the entire album. Second track “Munich,” is quick and insistent with great guitar effects. It was the band’s first (and so far only) top 10 single. “Bullets” exhibits a similar sense of darkness and speed. Next to “Munich,” my favorite track is “All Sparks,” which features particularly good vocals from frontman Tom Smith, showing a broad range and genuine emotion.

“Camera” takes a slower tack than the disc’s opening numbers, slowly building in grandeur. There’s even some Killers-esque keyboards in the bridge. In keeping with the Killers comparison, “Fingers in the Factories” harkens back to the ‘80s New Wave sound, but unlike the Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Tom Smith has the vocal chops to match with the song even at its most demanding moments.

The band’s power surges forward on “Bullets,” the band’s first single. “You don’t need this disease” sings Smith in quick repetition over layers of guitars and drums. “Someone Says” is similar to “All Sparks,” with its softer verses and harder drum staccato choruses. Comparably gentle “Distance” closes the album with guitar reverb, programmed percussion, and slow, haunting vocals. The Back Room is a very satisfying work of serious rock.

Personal Chart, 10/14/2006

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters (9 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... It's Not That Easy - Lemar
3 .... 2 .... When You Were Young - The Killers
4 .... 5 .... Too Little, Too Late - Jojo
5 .... 4 .... Something About You - Jamelia
6 .... 6 .... LDN - Lily Allen
7 .... 9 .... My Love - Justin Timberlake
8 ... 10 ... London Bridge - Fergie
9 ... 12 ... America - Razorlight
10 ... 7 ... Never Be Lonely - The Feeling

Monday, October 09, 2006

Album Review: Nelly Furtado - Loose (3.5/5)

Nelly Furtado was in danger of being forgotten. Her 2001 debut, Whoa Nelly!, launched her career fantastically with two big multinational top 10 hits, "I'm Like a Bird" and "Turn Off the Light." They established what Furtado was all about--a singer-songwriter blending traditional and cutting edge influences to make mature pop. Things didn't go as planned with the follow-up though. The more acoustic and rock-oriented Folklore failed to reach a big audience, despite having some pretty good singles in "Powerless" and "Try."

Enter hot hot hot producer of the moment Timbaland to jump start Furtado's career by infusing her blend of pop genres with a solid does of today's best hip-hop/R&B production styles. The results are a mixed bag of an album. When it works, it works great. But like a lot of beat-driven, rather than melody-driven pop, it's too easy to forget. After all, it's hard to sing a long to a beat.

The album opens strongly with its three best tracks. "Afraid" is a good opening track, establishing the R&B and dance pop influences that permeate the album. Sounds like something I've heard before, but can't place. "Maneater," also effortlessly blends R&B and dance pop influences with a harsh driving beat and chanting versus from Furtado. Third track "Promiscuous" is the album's gem. A flirtatious contest between Furtado and producer Timbaland set to an infectious beat with a hook-laden chorus complete with deliciously retro keyboard blasts. It's deservedly the biggest hit she's ever had.

Other good tracks include "No Hay Igual," her Latin-influenced dance number that was the album's first single in most Spanish-speaking countries. ("Promiscuous" or "Maneater" were the first singles in most other countries). "Say it Right," slated as the third UK single, has a cool, mysterious, worldly sound.

The album's few ballads mostly work well. Lovely ballad "Te Busque" is one of only two tracks not produced by Timbaland, and features Latino vocalist Juanes (there's also a Spanish only version of the song at the end of the album). The other non-Timbaland track, "In God's Hands," doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album, but is pretty good, even if it sounds like a reimagining of Jewel's 1999 single "Hands." "All Good Things (Come to an End)," penned by Chris Martin, has guitar and medieval-like flutes, along with a pretty melody.

There are a few duds though, tedious numbers lacking much musical interest. "Glow" gets on your nerves very quickly. Ballad "Showtime" is better, but still not very interesting. "Do It" seems to sample the sound effects from '80s video game Pitfall!, but has little else of interest. "Wait for You" throws in some Indian instruments but gets muddled down in too many competing sounds and lacks a killer chorus.

In all, a very sucessful ressurection that, courtesy of Timbaland, turned a middling popstress into an international phenomenon. Despite a few flaws, and an uneven sequencing, the album has some good highlights.

Introducing Jack Savoretti

There's a new troubadour emerging on the UK pop music scene. His name is Jack Savoretti, and unlike James Morrison or Paolo Nutini, he's a much more worthy candidate to carry the mantle of male pop balladry held so well last year by James Blunt. His beautiful first single, "Without" has a perfectly polished production (read my review). "Dreamers," also quite good, sounds similar. Guitar, strings, piano, and keyboard underlie his songs. Listen to "Without" and samples of three other songs plus see his vidoe for "Without" on his Web site. He's pretty cute too--always a plus. His MySpace Page features three other songs too. I'm now hotly awaiting the album release, but haven't heard anything about when that will be.

New Music Week, 10/9/2006

No significant album releases this week.

There's a very exciting single release this week. Newcomer Jack Savoretti releases his first single, "Without," a beautiful, polished pop gem that could have been mined from Dido or William Orbit rock. Strings, piano, drums, and keyboards meld effortlessly with Savoretti's distinctive voice.

American band My Chemical Romance returns with, "Welcome to the Black Parade," first single from their second album Black Parade. It's surprisingly good, with hints of Green Day influence. I like the piano opening and the bombastic ending. They've never interested me before. Also back is another act that's really never interested me before, Badly Drawn Boy, but I actually like his new single, the gentle, piano pop number "Nothing's Going to Change Your Mind." It's from his forthcoming 5th album, Born in the UK.

Corinne Bailey Rae's third single, "Like a Star" arrives without much fanfare. It's pretty enough--I like thecello and harp combo--but even quieter and slower than her previous two releases, so don't expect a massive hit. Beatfreakz, who delivered us a remake of "Somebody's Watching Me" earlier this year, now tackles the task of remaking Rick James' "Superfreak." It's not bad, for it actually is the song, not just a looped sample, and does some good stuff with the beat to update it for today. Not that interesting though. Finally Blazin' Squad is back, minus some of its members, with "All Night Long," a terribly boring mellowed out retro (i.e tired) party song.

Jack Savoretti (5/5), My Chemical Romance (4.5/5), Badly Drawn Boy (4/5), Corinne Bailey Rae (3.5/5), Blazin Squad (1/5).

Madonna's new vid

Check out "Jump"

UK Chart Analysis, 10/14/2006

1. America - Razorlight

Here's a surprise #1! Razorlight emerged in 2004 with their debut album Up All Night, whose fourth single "Golden Touch" hit #9, giving the band mainstream exposure. A year later, the album was re-released with new track "Somewhere Else," which hit #2 and was a big airplay hit. This year they released their second eponymously titled album Razorlight, which landed this summer with #3 hit "In the Morning." Although labelled an "indie" band in '04, the new album of solid pop/rock songs clearly marked the band's interest in generating broader mainstream appeal. And now they have their first #1. "America" is a traditional rock ballad told from the perspective of a Brit observing the "panic in America" during his life. Razorlight knocks 4-week running Scissor Sisters' "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" from #1 (who, however, spend a 9th week atop the airplay chart this week, becoming the longest-running #1 single of the year on that chart). Well done. Interesting that a song named "America" by a British artist leads a UK top 10 that features no less than 6 American acts this week.

3. Jump in My Car - David Hasselhoff

This makes me want to vommit. American actor David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider, Baywatch) is widely known to have a European pop music career that has thankfully NEVER graced the shores of his homeland. And, it should be known, that this aberration has barely graced the shores of Britain too (he hit #35 in 1993 with "If I Could Say Goodbye"). So why, oh why, is he sitting at #3 on the UK singles chart this week? I just listened to this song on MySpace...it's TERRIBLE. This is shameful. Shame shame shame. Brits everywhere are hanging their head for this one.

4. Come to Me - P Diddy Featuring Nicole Scherzinger

P Diddy returns to the UK chart with his 5th official top 10 hit. I say official because he's guest starred on more tracks by other artists than I care to count tonight. His best moment in Britain (as well as the US) remains his 1997 #1 hit "I'll Be Missing You," the ode to The Notorious BIG that effectively sampled The Police's "Every Breath You Take." "Come to Me" is certainly no "I'll Be Missing You," but it's not bad. Still, I feel like he needs to do better than this to remain hip-hop royalty.

5. Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now) - Bob Sinclar & Cutee B

French DJ Bob Sinclar scores his second top 10 hit this week, with an unspired remake of the C&C Music Factory's 1991 hit "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)." It tops the #9 peak of his summer single, "World Hold On," to become his biggest hit (of 2 so far).

23. Welcome to the Black Parae - My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance make a big downloads-only slash at #23 this week, setting them up for their first top 10 hit next week. I was very close to this band once. I'll tell the story next week.

24. When the Night Feels My Song - Bedouin Soundclash

This charted at #33 last week on downloads, and I thought for sure it would go top 10, maybe even challenge for #1. Guess I was wrong. Good thing, as I didn't like it much.

32. Sophia - Nerina Pallot

Nerina Pallot scores her second top 40 hit this week, but at a lowly #32. Such as shame for such a pretty song.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

UK Chart Analysis, 10/6/2006

1. I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters

The Scissor Sisters spend a 4th week atop the UK singles chart this week, holding off challenges by Lil Chris and Evanescence. The group is now tied with Shakira for second-longest run at #1 this year. They've got a ways to go before beating #1--Charles Barkley spent 9 weeks at the top with "Crazy," although they have a shot at a 5th week, unless Bedouin Soundclash really takes off. The 'Sisters also spend an amazing 8th week atop the UK airplay chart, tying it with "Crazy." And finally, they also spend a second week at #1 on the album's chart with Ta-Dah.

2. When You Were Young - The Killers

The Killers hold their own at #2. Next week their album, Sam's Town, will surely knock the Scissor Sisters from their perch on the albums chart, despite their single's failure to do so.

3. Checkin' It Out - Lil Chris

He's a TV star and now he has a hit single. Not very interesting in my opinion, but a pretty big hit for the rising star.

4. Call Me When You're Sober - Evanescence

Evanescence return to score their 4th top 10 hit. Not the megahit "Bring Me to Life" was--it spent 4 weeks at #1--but not too shabby. I was predicting it wouldn't make the top 5. They also made #6 with their first album's other 2 singles, "Going Under" and "My Immortal." A fourth single, "Everybody's Fool" peaked at #24.

6. LDN - Lily Allen

Lily Allen is back with her second single, "LDN," her cheeky ode to London. It's #6 placing may appear disappointing after hitting #1 with "Smile," but I suspect a lot of people have bought her album by now. This is such a winning track that it might stick around for awhile. Although, I must admit surprise that this didn't do better on the airplay chart (it didn't go top 5).

7. I Don't Need a Man - The Pussycat Dolls

American girl group The Pussycat Dolls score their 5th top 10 hit this week. An impressive achievement for sure, following their previous 4 top 3 smashes that included #1 hits "Don't Cha" and "Stickwitu." "I Don't Need a Man" is more pure-pop than their last two singles, "Buttons" and "Beep," that were more R&B influenced. It's a good song, instantly likable, and probably the last we'll hear from them until a new album is out. Five top 10 singles from one album is really quite impressive for a pop girlgroup, matching the success of groups like All Saints, Mis-Teeq, and Atomic Kitten.

9. Breaking Free - Cast of High School Musical

So now this is a hit in the UK too? In the US this was credited to two of the movie's stars, Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, although subsequently it turned out other singers appeared on it too, so just crediting it to the cast is probably more accurate. I should probably see this movie, as everyone thinks I would like it. To the Netflix queue it goes.

15. America - Razorlight

Razorlight makes #15 on downloads and will surely be top 10 next week. It's already #3 on airplay.

20. Jenny Don't Be Hasty - Paulo Nutini

A disappointing #20 position for Paulo Nutini, following the summer's top 5 placing for his first single "Last Request." At one point, he was being touted as the new James Blunt, a monicker more deserving for James Morrison (although he's not quite big enough to own it yet). I actually found myself bored with this single, so unless he can pull something more interesting out of his hat next, I think he might be history.

27. Changes - Chris Lake Featuring Laura V

My favorite dance single at the moment makes only a lowly #27. Boo hoo hoo. This a great song!! It's even been A-list at Radio 1 for like a month. Very surprised it didn't do better.

New music this week

This big story in new music this week is, of course, the release of Sam's Town, the second album from The Killers. Rolling Stone wasn't that excited about it, giving it only 2 stars, and saying that the group's attempt to sound like Bruce Springsteen is a bad move.

Also out is second album from Australian band Jet, Shine On, which includes great first single "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is." Jet's 2003 debut gained in steady popularity thanks to major hits "Look What You've Done," "Cold Hard Bitch," and "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?"

In the singles arena, the week's most anticipated release is Bedouin Soundclash's re-release of "When the Night Feels My Song," why this is, I have no idea, as it doesn't impress me that much. Gina G is back. The singer hit #1 in 1997 with "Ooh Aah...Just a Little Bit," and followed it with four other top 40 singles. Her new track, "Tonight's the Night" is ebullient dance music, but sounds like it could've been a lost track from the '97 recording sessions. Also reaching into the past is Bob Sinclar, whose new single "Rock This Party (Everybody Dance Now)" opens with an annoying repetitive clapping while someone says "soul clap" over and over. I don't have to point out its obvious inspiration. Once it gets going, it's not bad. Nerina Pallot's follow-up to last spring's "Everybody's Gone to War" is the lovely "Sophia." Forgive Pallot for her obvious channeling of Sarah McLachlan ("Sophia" sounds like the cousin to "Adia"), for it is an enjoyable and beautiful song. Razorlight's ballad "America" is a decent enough song, but I don't like it as much as "In the Morning." P Diddy is back too with his new single "Come to Me," which is merely OK, and nothing to shout about, but does manage to throw in a pretty good chorus amongs the harsh mechanical beats.

Bedouin Soundclash (2.5/5), Gina G (2.5/5), Bob Sinclar (3/5), Nerina Pallot (4/5), Razorlight (4/5). P Diddy (2/5).