Sunday, December 31, 2006

In and Out: 2007

In: Post-apocalyptic futures, a la Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Alfonso Cuaron's Childen of Men
Out: Mel Gibson

In: Rappers guest starring on pop singers' songs
Out: Pop singers guest starring on rappers' raps

In: Melody
Out: Beats without melody (I'm crossing my fingers on this one)

In: What the Arctic Monkeys will do next
Out: What The Strokes will do next

In: Lard
Out: Trans Fat

In: Hot Urban AC (several stations changed their format to this last year)
Out: Rap (sales were way down last year)

In: Nick Lachey
Out: Jessica Simpson

In: Hoping Whitney Houston can make '07 a comeback year
Out: Hoping Janet Jackson can make '06 a comeback year

In: James Bond martinis, shaken not stirred
Out: Smoking (banned in DC bars and restaurants as of 1/1/07)

In: The Dixie Chicks
Out: Toby Keith

In: The '90s
Out: The '80s

In: iTunes Store (Fergie gets accidentally deleted one week and she plummets on the charts)
Out: Tower Records (Rest in peace)

Personal Chart: Top 50 of 2006

Tabulated from my weekly charts throughout the year, here is my top 50 singles of 2006. Singles peaking at #1 or #2 have their weeks at their peak in parentheses, video links included for the top 10:

Rank....Peak.....Title - Artist
1 .... 1(3) .... Unwritten - Natasha Bedingfield

2 .... 1(4) .... Promiscuous - Nelly Furtado (featuring Timbaland)

3 ... 1(10) ... I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters

4 .... 2(2) .... Get Together - Madonna

5 .... 1(2) .... Ain't No Other Man - Christina Aguilera

6 .... 1(1) .... SOS - Rihanna

7 .... 5 .... Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol

8 .... 1(2) .... Too Little, Too Late - Jojo

9 .... 4 .... Walk Away - Kelly Clarkson

10 .... 3 .... My Love - Justin Timberlake (featuring T.I.)

11 .... 1(3) .... Is It Any Wonder? - Keane
12 .... 1(3) .... All Time Love - Will Young
13 .... 2(2) .... Maneater - Nelly Furtado
14 .... 2(2) .... Sexyback - Justin Timberlake
15 .... 4 .... Unfaithful - Rihanna
16 .... 2(2) .... When You Were Young - The Killers
17 .... 2(2) .... Put Your Records On - Corinne Bailey Rae
18 .... 1(2) .... You're All I Have - Snow Patrol
19 .... 1(4) .... Sorry - Madonna
20 .... 1(2) .... Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
21 .... 2(2) .... Never Be Lonely - The Feeling
22 .... 3 .... No Tomorrow - Orson
23 .... 1(2) .... Hips Don't Lie - Shakira (featuring Wyclef Jean)
24 .... 8 .... Be Without You - Mary J Blige
25 .... 1(2) .... Stickwitu - The Pussycat Dolls
26 .... 3 .... Buttons - The Pussycat Dolls
27 ... 11 ... What's Left of Me - Nick Lachey
28 .... 2(1) .... Fill My Little World - The Feeling
29 .... 4 .... Check On It - Beyonce (featuring Slim Thug)
30 .... 1(2) .... Sewn - The Feeling
31 .... 4 .... Who Am I - Will Young
32 .... 8 .... Hurt - Christina Aguilera
33 .... 5 .... You're Beautiful - James Blunt
34 .... 1(1) .... Smile - Lily Allen
35 .... 2(2) .... Nature's Law - Embrace
36 .... 5 .... Who Knew - Pink
37 .... 1(1) .... Fergalicious - Fergie
38 .... 4 .... You Give Me Something - James Morrison
39 .... 2(1) .... It's Not That Easy - Lemar
40 .... 2(2) .... Red Dress - Sugababes
41 .... 3 .... Jump - Madonna
42 .... 2(1) .... The Hardest Part - Coldplay
43 .... 2(2) .... Ugly - Sugababes
44 .... 2(3) .... Easy - Sugababes
45 .... 4 .... Stupid Girls - Pink
46 .... 3 .... She Moves in Her Own Way - The Kooks
47 .... 4 .... Lovelight - Robbie Williams
48 .... 2(1) .... Irreplaceable - Beyonce
49 .... 2(2) .... Push the Button - Sugababes
50 .... 6 .... In the Morning - Razorlight

Disappointments of 2006

Briefly, here are my biggest disappointments from the entertainment industry. I won't brand these the "worst" of the year, since I try to be pretty selective in what I watch and buy, so hopefully I've avoided the real crap.

Disappointing album and single: Janet Jackson - 20 Y.O. and "So Excited."

I used to love Janet Jackson. Rhythm Nation 1814 was my favorite album for a long time, and I loved Janet, especially "If." Even The Velvet Rope was a favorite, but her career has been in a decline now for years. All For You was a commercial success, but not as compelling as her earlier stuff. Damito Jo was a real disappointment, but it at least had a handful of good tracks. Sadly, I could find only one worthy song on 20 Y.O. ("Enjoy" - should be a single, it's fantastic). Everything else sounded so tepid, especially "So Excited," where she bored.

Disappointing new TV show: Ugly Betty

Admittedly, there were surely far worse shows that I completely avoided, but I was really excited about Ugly Betty, and it let me down. It played out like a TV version of The Devil Wears Prada, but without Meryl Streep. The same thing again and again, eventually I quit watching.

Disappointing movie: Bobby

It's got an A-list cast including Oscar winners (Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt) Oscar nominees (William H Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Sharon Stone), and lots of other big names, including Demi Moore and her husband Ashton Kutcher along with Lindsay Lohan, Joshua Jackson, Martin Sheen, Freddy Rodriguez, Heather Graham, Elijah Wood... I could go on and on. And its an interesting subject--what happened the day Bobby Kennedy was killed. But with too many characters and meaningless subplots, the movie completely lacks focus and provides little reason to care about most of the stories. Too ambitious for Emilio Estevez's first major outing as director.

Best TV of 2006

1. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi)

I hadn't watched this show until this year; what was I thinking? This is fantastic television: thought-provoking stories with parallels to current global events, well-drawn characters, superb acting from a uniformly good cast. It doesn't get better than this.

2. Project Runway (Bravo)

What does it say that my two favorite shows of the year were from cable networks? Project Runway really hit its stride in its third season. It's the most compelling "reality" TV because it blends creativity and goes easy on the fake drama. Tim Gunn provides a warm presence, and Heidi Klum is a real ham ("You're Aut!").

3. 24 (Fox)

24 had a watershed year in its fourth season and managed to keep it up for season five. The only downer was the last 2 minutes--can't Jack get a break?

4. Lost (ABC)

In its third season now, Lost is sadly waning, but still manages to be pretty good. We just need something to happen.

5. 30 Rock (NBC)

I watched the pilot and didn't think much of it. Then my partner had me watch another episode, and I thought it was hilarious, and every other episode I've watched since then has been too. Alec Baldwin and Jane Krakowski are particularly funny.

6. The Sopranos (HBO)

This season was a sharp fall off in quality for the Sopranos, but when it's starting point is so high, even a so-so season of the Sopranos is better than the majority of other TV shows.

7. The Office (NBC)

Last season of the office was great; this season hasn't been that good, and I can't quite put my finger on why. Still worth watching.

8. The West Wing (NBC)

Prior to this year, I'd watched maybe one or two episodes of this, but my partner was really into it, so I started watching it, and it was actually pretty good, due to the election story with Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits.

9. Arrested Development (ABC)

What a tragedy this show didn't make it. So offbeat and fun.

10. 30 Minute Meals (Food Network)

I got into this while working out at our former gym, and I love it. Rachael Ray has a great approach to food: no snobbery, top quality ingredients, and a willingness to experiment. Credit her for taking a winning approach to get people back in the kitchen.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Album Review: Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/Love Sounds (3.5 / 5)

What's the symbolism of Justin Timberlake stomping on a disco ball for the cover of his new album, FutureSex/LoveSounds? Disco died years ago (and has been subsequently resurrected), and I doubt he wants fans to just sit around and listen to his album, since it's full of futuristic hip-hop club filler.

Timberlake's status as the new King of Pop appears safe for the moment, guided once again by Timbaland to release a collection of cutting edge pop so of-the-moment that if you blink you really will miss it. First single "SexyBack" pulses with deep bass beats, keyboard bursts, and computer-processed vocals. That signature Timberlake falsetto? Missing on this song, although it does appear in others, namely the album's winning second single "My Love." Perhaps the album's best track, "My Love," also pulses with deep bass beats and synthesizer bursts, but also features a more traditional structure and an actual melody. The only drawback is the tedious minute and a half intro you have to sit through to get to the song--why not make that it's own track so I could just skip it?

Opening track "FutureSex/LoveSound" swaggers out with a fairly minimal production of bass beats and percussion that bursts forth with rich keyboard chords for the chorus. It's another of the album's highlights, along with "What Goes Around...," which is surely destined to become FutureSex's third massive hit. It has the lushest production of the set--a mid-tempo number with beats, subtle guitar, and a great strings section.

Similarly, "LoveStoned" (does the space bar not work at Timberlake's record studio?) also has a good beats and strings production, along with what sounds like human-generated sound effects, which Timberlake used famously when in NSYNC and on his previous album. It also has an interlude attached to, "I Think She Knows," which is actually quite good, taking lines from the song and putting them over a lush strings and piano arrangement.

Also good is "Damn Girl," a soulful, jazzy throwback with a great beat that's got to be a real thrill to see live, as Timberlake imbues it with so much energy. "Losing My Way" is a pretty ballad, breaking into strings and choir about two-thirds through, but its serious subject matter--drug abuse--strikes an off tone amid all the party and sex songs. Closing track "(Another Song) All Over Again" is a lovely, soulful ballad that ends the album on a nice mellow note.

Some of the other tracks, while not bad, aren't quite as interesting. "Sexy Ladies" has a fun swagger, but doesn't amount to much musically. "Chop Me Up" sounds like typical popular hip-hop, bathed in an over-repetitive production, that gets old really fast. Similarly, "Summer Love" would be better a song if it wasn't just the same thing over and over again throughout much of the song, although I guess it wouldn't feel as great when the bridge comes like a breath of fresh air. "Until the End of Time" is enjoyable because it sounds like an imitation of a Prince ballad, but don't listen to the banal lyrics. Timberlake gets briefly distracted at the beginning by "disaster in the world" before turning his attention to more important things, namely the pursuit of some damsel.

Best tracks: My Love, SexyBack, FutureSex/LoveSound, What Goes Around..., Damn Girl

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Breakthough Artists

The Feeling

I had a hunch early on that British band The Feeling would be something special, and I wasn't disappointed. Their debut single, "Sewn," however, didn't at all indicate the direction most of the band's music would take. While "Sewn's" piano balladry evoked Coldplay and Keane, the rest of the band's 2006 singles, "Fill My Little World," "Never Be Lonely," and "Love It When You Call" showcased the band's knack for catcy, joyful retro pop/rock. They're my pick for best new artist of 2006.


Orson was the other hot new band of the year. Despite being quite popular in the UK and still unheard in the US, they hail from Hollywood California. "No Tomorrow" remains their best release, but "Bright Idea" and "Happiness" weren't bad. Like The Feeling, Orson never heard a pop hook they didn't like.

Lily Allen

Lily Allen was this year's hottest new solo artist. She burst on the scene during the summer with #1 hit "Smile," about taking pleasure in an ex's folly, followed quickly by "LDN," her ode to London.

James Morrison

James Morrison and Paolo Nutini were the male troubadour singers duking it out this year for James Blunt's crown. James Morrison won, at least in my book. "You Give Me Something," "Wonderful World" and "The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore" were all great soulful pop singles, each one better than the next. I almost bought his album...almost.

Gnarls Barkley

The Danger Mouse / Ceee-Lo combination was this year's Gorillaz; the alt pop/rock/rap group that defied genre categorization while delivering the critics' favorite track of the year in "Crazy," (this year's "Feel Good Inc.") also the biggest selling single in the UK of the year. I guess it comes as no surprise that Danger Mouse was also the producer of Gorillaz's 2005 album, Demon Days.

Corinne Bailey Rae

The other fresh female voice from Britain was far more sincere, and garned a lot of attention for her breezy debut single, "Put Your Records On," which received a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year.

The Kooks

UK rock band The Kooks had big hits this year with "She Moves in Her Own Way" and "Naive," both great tracks. Another act whose album I was this close to purchasing.

Arctic Monkeys

Admittedly, the Arctic Monkeys' debut album just didn't do it for me, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize they were an important force this year, picking up the Mercury Music Prize and landing on a slew of critics' year-end lists. My favorite release from them so far was the post-album (non-album) summer hit, "Leave Before the Lights Come On," so perhaps they're second album will be even better.

Personal Airplay 2006

This is my personal airplay chart for 2006, based on my iTunes play count. I had to do some estimating for tracks purchased in 2005 that I listened to a little bit that year, but this is probably pretty close (spins in parenthesis, ties broken because I said so):

1. Sorry - Madonna (47)
2. I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters (45)
3. Ain't No Other Man - Christina Aguilera (45)
4. Get Together - Madonna (41)
5. Nature's Law - Embrace (40)
6. SOS - Rihanna (38)
7. Unwritten - Natasha Bedingfield (36)
8. All Time Love - Will Young (36)
9. Crazy - Gnarls Barkley (36)
10. Promiscuous - Nelly Furatdo (34)
11. No Tomorrow - Orson (34)
12. You're All I Have - Snow Patrol (33)
13. Who Am I - Will Young (33)
14. Put Your Records On - Corinne Bailey Rae (32)
15. It's Not That Easy - Lemar (32)
16. You Got the Love (New Voyagers Remix) - The Source Feat. Candi Staton (30)
17. Sewn - The Feeling (30)
18. Red Dress - Sugababes (28)
19. Is It Any Wonder? - Keane (27)
20. Never Be Lonely - The Feeling (27)
21. A Bad Dream - Keane (26)
22. Easy - Sugababes (26)
23. Jump - Madonna (26)
24. Ugly - Sugababes (26)
25. Maneater - Nelly Furtado (26)
26. My Love - Justin Timberlake (26)
27. Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol (25)
28. Walk Away - Kelly Clarkson (25)
29. Land of a Thousand Words - Scissor Sisters (25)
30. In the Morning - Razorlight (24)
31. The Hardest Part - Coldplay (24)
32. Nothing in My Way - Keane (24)
33. Stupid Girls - Pink (24)
34. Bright Idea - Orson (24)
35. When You Were Young - The Killers (23)
36. Lovelight - Robbie Williams (23)
37. Rock Steady - All Saints (23)
38. Fergalicious - Fergie (23)
39. Hung Up - Madonna (23)
40. Crystal Ball - Keane (23)

Monday, December 25, 2006

UK Chart Analysis, 12/30/2006

Drumroll...The UK Christmas #1 for 2006 is:

1. A Moment Like This - Leona Lewis

Sadly, the Christmas #1 is no surprise at all. As early as 9 days ago when Leona Lewis was crowned the winner of this year's musical reality show, The X-Factor, really a slight reformulation of precursor Pop Idol (which spawned the wildlly successful US version, American Idol), the fate of this year's Christmas #1 had been sealed. Weeks ago it was announced that the winner of X-Factor, whoever that would be, would release their debut single the week before Christmas. Shortly thereafter it was announced what song it would be, a remake of American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson's US debut, #1 hit "A Moment Like This."

So how about the song? Leona Lewis sounds like she's a good enough singer, but "A Moment Like This" is a rather foolish choice. First off, as a song, it is merely mediocre to begin with. Second, in the hands of the very accomplished Kelly Clarkson, it managed to rise slightly above mediocre because Kelly sings it so earnestly, but Lewis, while good, is no Kelly Clarkson. So the song pales by comparison, making it a poor launch for a new artist whose cards are already stacked against her.

Stacked against her? Quite so. Sure she's Christmas #1 this week, but a quick glance at the fortunes of prior X Factor contestants shows that she'd better enjoy her 15 minutes before they're up. First season winner Steve Brookstein hit #1 with a remake of "Against All Odds," never to be heard from again. Second season winner hit #1 last Christmas with "That's My Goal," then #2 with "No Promises" before getting a disappointing #14 with "Stand By Me." Unless he puts out a real winner of a second album, his hour is probably up too. It seems for every Will Young, there's a Gareth Gates, for every Liberty X, a Hear'Say, and for every Girls Aloud, a One True Voice. So while some reality TV-generated acts have gone on to surpass their origins to actually become stars, winning a reality show is a guarantee of only a good launch, not lasting success.

3. Sorry's Not Good Enough - McFly

McFly's 11th single keeps up their perfect record of top 10s. Were it not for the #9 placing this week last year of "Ultraviolet/The Ballad of Paul K," the band would have a perfect record of top 5 hits. At #3, this second attempt at getting a Christmas #1 fares significantly better than last year's release, and manages to be one of the better songs the band's released.

4. I Think We're Alone Now - Girls Aloud

Also keeping up their perfect record of top 10s is Girls Aloud, who scores their 14th top 10 hit with "I Think We're Alone Now." Originally a #4 hit in the US by Tommy James and the Shondells in 1967, it was '80s pop artist Tiffany who made the song a massive #1 hit in 1987. Girls Aloud do a pretty good job of it too, translating it into their hyperactive electro-pop style that has suited them so well on songs like "Biology," "No Good Advice," and "The Show."

6. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues

Is someone not paying attention? Don't the chart rules specific that after 52 weeks without a re-release songs are not eligible to chart? Apparently The Pogues have been granted a reprieve, rising four spots to #6 with "Fairytale of New York," a #3 hit a year ago this week that recently charted again on downloads sales. It's even getting a good dose of airplay, all the way up #3 this week.

17. Before I Fall to Pieces - Razorlight

#2 on the airplay chart isn't enough to give another top 10 hit to Razorlight, who have to settle at #17 with "Before I Fall to Pieces." Some may bemoan this, but not me, as I find this song merely so-so, certainly not as good as their current album's first single, "In the Morning."

30. The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore - James Morrison

Also charting surprisingly low is James Morrison's third single, "The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore." Now this is a disappointment, as I really like this song, and it deserved to join his other two singles as a top 10 hit.

33. MJB Da MVP - Mary J Blige

And another disappointment. This is a fun single that namechecks Blige's biggest hits and albums to tell the story of her career, all set to the tune of the Game's "Hate It Or Love It." I shouldn't be too surprised though, as Blige is not a major chart force in the UK. "One" hit #2 earlier this year, but that might have more to do with Bono's presence on the single than her star power. Even "Be Without You," a massive American hit, peaked at only #32 in the UK.

Best Books of 2006

Best books lists are always the hardest, simply because unlike albums, movies, and TV shows, it's harder to consume them in mass quantities, especially just ones that came out this year. So my best books list are the best books I read in 2006, not necessarily released in 2006.

Unfortunately, my reading volume was significantly down this year, probably because I spent so much time writing on my blog. No regrets there though, as I love writing and I love getting a chance to express myself.

Four books elevated themselves above the pack this year. My favorite was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Released in 2005 and a Booker Prize finalist, it is a magnificent book that crosses genres traditionally out-of-sync with literary fiction, namely sci-fi and boarding school melodrama, to tell a touching yet unsentimental story about a mysterious group of youngsters growing into adulthood. To say their youth is the best time of their lives is an understatement, as these youngsters are "special," and doomed to a cruel, unthinkable fate I won't give away here. At times charming, twisted, and ultimately heartbreaking, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.

In second place was David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, a portrait of a year in the life of a boy (I think he was 12) on the brink of becoming a teenager. The book perfectly captures what a tumultuous time that is--struggling with burgeoning adult feelings and sexuality like a man, while still wanting to run, play, and explore like a boy. The book has genuinely funny and also quite sad moments too, sometimes coming at almost the same time, just like the flood of mixed emotions experienced by a pre-teen boy. Excellent book set in 1980s English small town.

2004's Booker Prize winner, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty is also set in 1980s England, but centers not around common countryfolk but the posh people of London--the gays, the rich, the powerful--and finds them perfectly pleasant on the surface while all harboring a tragic level of selfishness and compulsions of betrayal. All expect for main character Nick Guest. Just graduated from college and from a squarely middle-class background, Nick moves in with his friend Toby's family, wealthy Londoners with an MP (Tory) father, and is instantly seduced by the glamour, wealth, and power that surrounds them. At odds with this bourgeois lifestyles is his gay life, which they don't mind as long as it stays mostly closeted, as well as his naivety that he's entirely dispensibe at the first sign of trouble. Well-written and thoughtful.

Finally, the best non-fiction book I read this year, Joan Didion's memoir about the loss of her husband (author John Gregory Dunne), The Year of Magical Thinking, is an unbelievably naked portrait of loss and grief, made even sadder by the fact that her daughter, who is ill throughout the story, died subsequently as well.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

UK Chart Analysis, 12/23/2006

It's the last week before the Christmas chart. Sadly, we all already know who will be #1 next week: The X Factor winner, Leona Lewis, with her remake of Kelly Clarkson's first single, "A Moment Like This." This week though it's a fourth week at the top for...

1. Patience - Take That

Holding strong on a fairly competitive week, Take That scores a fourth week at the top with their big comeback single, now clearly one of the biggest singles of the year. By spending four weeks at the top, it matches the 4-week peaks of their two previous singles to spend the longest at the top, "Pray" and "Back For Good." Their new album, Beautiful Life, spends a third week atop the albums chart, giving them a 3-week triple. According to one chart source, this is the first time someone's done that in 10 years, when the Spice Girls topped the singles chart with "2 Become 1" and the albums chart with Spice. While their album is probably safe at the top for another week, their single will surely succumb to young Leona Lewis's debut.

2. 21st Century Christmas / Move It - Cliff Richard

Cliff Richard holds the record for most UK #1 singles. Luckily he doesn't extend that run with "21st Century Christmas," perhaps the most poorly titled Christmas song in recent memory. I haven't heard it, but it sounds really cheesy. His last top 5 hit was another Christmas song, 2003's "Santa's List."

3. Wind It Up - Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani climbs to #3, giving her the highest-charting solo hit of her career. In the US it's her second-highest charting hit, hitting #6 a couple of weeks ago, although it's top 40 airplay hasn't been so hot.

4. Truly Madly Deeply - Cascada

Cascada hit the top 10 in both the UK and the US with her first single, "Everytime We Touch." Luckily she's remained a one-hit wonder in the US. This is a tepid remake of Savage Garden's massive 1998 hit, set to a hi-NRG House beat. Boring.

7. You Know My Name - Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell's Casino Royale Bond Theme scores another top 10 hit for the international spy thriller franchise. I made a mistake in my discussion a few weeks ago about Bond themes. "Licence to Kill" was recorded by Gladys Knight, hitting #6 in 1989. So that makes "You Know My Name" the 11th Bond theme to hit the top 10. Here are the others, in descending peak order:

A View to a Kill - Duran Duran #2 (1985)
We Have All the Time in the World (From "On Her Majesty's Secret Service") - Louis Armstrong #3 (1969)
Die Another Day - Madonna, #3 (2002)
The Living Daylights - A-ha #5 (1987)
License to Kill - Gladys Knight #6 (1989)
Nobody Does it Better - Carly Simon #7 (1977)
For Your Eyes Only - Sheena Easton #8 (1981)
James Bond Theme (From "Tomorrow Never Dies") - Moby #8 (1997)
Live and Let Die - Paul McCartney #9 (1973)
Goldeneye - Tina Turner #10 (1995)

8. Tell Me - P Diddy Featuring Christina Aguilera

He's known now in the US as "Diddy," but in Europe he's still "P Diddy," due to some legal rights to the name "Diddy." One wonders why he finds "Sean Combs" so objectionable, but that's his choice. This single peaks one spot higher than his last single, "Come to Me," his collaboration with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. This is Christina Aguilera's third appearance as a featured artist following her appearance on Ricky Martin's "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely (#4, 2001) and Nelly's "Tilt Ya Head Back" (#5, 2004).

10. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues

The Pogues rise into the top 10 on downloads this week. Supposedly, this song won't be chart eligible next week, so expect it to vanish next week, despite the fact that the week before Christmas it will probably sell even better than it did last week. It will vanish because current rules allow a single to chart no longer than 1 year after it's release, and this single was re-released last year at exactly this time.

12. A Whole New World - Katie Price & Peter Andre

People buy this? For real? Why? Peter Andre is a has been beefcake popstar, whose biggest contribution was a couple of #1 hits in the mid '90s. Katie Price, also known as Jordan, is a well-endowed model and tabloid fodder. They're married now, and this is from an album full of duet remakes from them.

16. Last Christmas - Crazy Frog

Wham's original version of "Last Christmas" is readily available at on-line shops (and would probably be charting in the top 20 this week, if it was allowed), so why on Earth would anyone want this? Christmastime seems to really bring out the worst in the singles-buying public's taste.

21. Littlest Things - Lily Allen

Meanwhile, Lily Allen scores a disappointingly low #21 with "Littlest Things," the lovely and earnest ballad that's the third single from her debut album, Alright Still, but becomes the first to chart outside the top 10, following #1 hit "Smile" at #6 "LDN."

34. Illegal - Shakira Featuring Carlos Santana

"Hips Don't Lie" may have been an international #1 hit, but "Illegal" scores a lowly #34, strengthening the argument that "Hips Don't Lie" was a one-off for her. Perhaps a Wyclef Jean collaboration album will be in the works?

42. Land of a Thousand Words - Scissor Sisters

Normally I ignore anything outside the top 40, but I had to note the dismally fast decline of the Scissor Sisters' latest single, "Land of a Thousand Words," which plunges from its lowly peak ot #19 all the way to #42, making it the only Scissor Sisters single to spend only 7 days in the top 40. Meanwhile, their last single, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin" is riding high at #27 and is still in the UK airplay top 10. What went wrong with this release? Hopefully they'll turn things around with the third single, which I'm hoping will be "She's My Man."

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Music Monday, 12/18/2006

Settle in for what will surely be a good run at #1. Leona Lewis beat Raymond Quinn Saturday night to become this years winner of The X Factor, Britain's popular reality gameshow that effectively replaced Pop Idol a few years ago. Leona's debut is a remake of Kelly Clarkson's first single, "A Moment Like This," which was originally released by Clarkson in 2002 shortly after she was crowned the first winner of American Idol. As such, it's an inspired choice for a release; couldn't Jörgen Elofsson have written something new like he did last year for Shayne Ward? Given that "A Moment Like This" was never released in the UK, this will be new for anyone who doesn't own Clarkson's first album. It's a pretty good rendition of the song, but that's only because it's not that much different than Clarkson's. Very ho-hum, and certainly not better than Clarkson's original.

So who else has a shot at being in the Christmas top 10? Several other artists come to mind, primarily McFly, who've never had a single not land in the top 10. "Sorry's Not Good Enough" is actually their most decent single in a while. It's a got a good hook in the chorus; good enough to take them into the top 5. Girls Aloud also offer up a new single, the second from their recent greatest hits album. It's a remake of Tiffany's '80s classic, "I Think We're Alone Now," souped up in modern Girls Aloud style by producers Xenomania. Opt for the new single mix, which has superior keyboards to the original album version (trust me, it's better).

Rock band Razorlight scored a massive #1 hit with their last single, "America," and are looking for another top 10 with "Before I Fall to Pieces," a fun single, but as I've said in other reviews, suffers from the poor vocal performance from the band's lead singer--his first line has an obviously off-key delivery, not a good sign. It's too bad, because otherwise this would be a really great song.

James Morrison returns with the beautifully soulful "The Pieces Don't Fit Here Anymore," perhaps his best single yet. Mary J. Blige offers "MJB Da MVP;" originally from her last album, The Breakthrough, the song also appears on her new greatest hits collection, and appropriately so, given that the song charts her rise as a popular hip-hop/R&B artist, naming her albums and major singles in the process, all over a generous sample of The Game's "Hate it or Love It." All Angels covers Robbie Williams' "Angels." Given that no one else should be singing that song (certainly not Jessica Simpson), skip that, in favor of the other track on the double-A, a lovely version of "Silent Night."

Leona Lewis (3/5), McFly (3.5/5), Razorlight (3/5), James Morrison (4/5), Mary J. Blige (4/5), All Angels (3.5/5)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Best Albums of 2006

Here's my annual round up of this year's albums. It's most of the albums I got this year, except Arctic Monkeys and Tiga, which I found too disappointing to review. I still might look into getting Justin Timberlake's or the Dixie Chicks' albums, so this list is subject to change. I was worried I wouldn't find a true standout album--many of my reviews were 4.5 out of 5--but I finally found a 5-star album this month in Muse. Click on the links to read my original reviews:

1. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

British rock band Muse delivered the year's best, most consistent album. A gothic journey of war, aliens, Mars, and love built on influences ranging from classical music and Mexican folk to Depeche Mode, Queen, and Radiohead. Nothing was more flawlessly executed this year.

(Best: "Map of the Problematique," "Starlight," "Take a Bow," "Invincible," "Supermassive Black Hole," "Assassin," "Knights of Cydonia")

2. Scissor Sisters - Ta-Dah

Scissor Sisters returned with another dose of solid, campy pop, although with a darker lyrical undercurrent. This time with Elton John in tow, the band touched on themes of loneliness, anger, and even Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans.

(Best: "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," "She's My Man," "Land of a Thousand Words," "Kiss You Off," "The Other Side")

3. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas

Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell and former Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan blended her angelic voice with his raspy one, together crafting a haunting and surprisingly beautiful collection of country and '60s-influenced dark pop.

(Best: "The False Husband," "Black Mountain," "Deus Ibi Est," "Honey Child What Can I Do," "Revolver")

4. Keane - Under the Iron Sea

Like the Scissor Sisters, 2004 breakout band Keane returned this year to deliver it's "difficult" second album. Exploring similar, but darker and more experimental territory, the album delivered my favorite song of the year, the stunning "A Bad Dream," slated as the album's fourth single early next year.

(Best: "A Bad Dream," "Is It Any Wonder?," "Nothing in My Way," "Atlantic," "Leaving So Soon")

5. Jamelia - Walk With Me

British singer Jamelia delivered this year's best pure pop album, an ode to melodic '90s pop and R&B, with apparent influences from En Vogue to Depeche Mode, that stands refreshingly in sharp contrast to the beat-driven pop/R&B that's so fashionable these days.

(Best: "Beware of the Dog," "Something About You," "Do Me Right," "Window Shopping," "Ain't a Love")

6. Editors - The Back Room

Mercury Prize-nominated Editors album The Back Room is good, technically-proficient rock music in the best traditional sense: dark, insistent melodies, dueling guitars, and a lead singer that can actually sing.

(Best: "Munich," "All Sparks," "Bullets," "Lights," "Camera")

7. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open

Breaking from the quiet tedium of their last album, Final Straw, Snow Patrol this year delivered a great set chronicling a relationship journey from love through dysfunction to ultimate resolution that really rocks.

(Best: "You're All I Have," "Hands Open," "Chasing Cars," "Set the Fire to the Third Bar")

8. The Feeling - Twelve Stops and Home

"Retro" to most artists this year meant the '80s, but British pop/rock band The Feeling went even further back to the '60s and '70s exploring those eras feel-good pop delivered by acts like Supertramp, 10cc, and Electric Light Orchestra.

(Best: "Never Be Lonely," "Love It When You Call," "Fill My Little World," "Sewn")

9. The Killers - Sam's Town

The Killers moved in a new direction for their second album, taking on the challenge of aping U2 and Bruce Springsteen for a broader rock canvas than they delivered with their '80s-influenced debut Hot Fuss, although thankfully some of that New Wave influence lives on here too.

(Best: "When You Were Young," "Bling (Confessions of a King),"Read My Mind," "Bones")

10. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5.55

The better of the two Air side projects this year finds them crafting lovely electronic melodies for French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of one of the band's favorite musical influences.

(Best: "The Songs That We Sing," "5.55," "Everything I Cannot See," "Tel Que Tu Es")

11. Pet Shop Boys - Fundamental

After some disappointing efforts, Pet Shop Boys were firmly back on track this year, with a moody synth-driven collection taking them back to their ‘80s roots.

(Best: "I'm With Stupid," "I Made My Excuses and Left," "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show," "Psychological")

12. Robbie Williams - Rudebox

Robbie's best album since Sing When You're Winning is a campy collection of electro, dance-pop, and remakes so loaded with cheekiness it almost lacks any seriousness at all, which makes it Williams’ most honest album yet.

(Best: "Lovelight," "She's Madonna," "We're the Pet Shop Boys," "Viva Life on Mars")

13. Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape

Critics were too kind to Stefani's messy first album, but may be too harsh to this one, a fun collection of Gwen's now signature '80s-style pop and hip-hop lite, that's more consistently good than Love.Angel.Music.Baby.

(Best: "4 in the Morning," "Fluorescent," "Early Winter")

14. Lily Allen - Alright, Still

Like a more accessible Mike Skinner or a more mainstream Nellie McKay, Lily Allen uses her sweet voice and dirty mouth to tell stories about her life as a young Londonite chased by dirty men, dining al fresco, and partying, all while taking note of the stories that unfold around her as well.

(Best: "LDN," "Smile," "Littlest Things")

15. Embrace - This New Day

As improbably as it sounds, Embrace delivered a bigger, grander, more epic sound than an any previous album, channeling U2 now more than Coldplay to deliver anthemic, stadium-ready rock.

(Best: "Nature's Law," "I Can't Come Down," "Target")

16. Nelly Furtado - Loose

Timbaland gave a much-needed jump start to Nelly Furtado's career this year, giving her huge international smash hits with "Promiscuous" and "Maneater." While some of the R&B/pop doesn't work, much of it does, and when it's on, it's on.

(Best: "Promiscuous," "Afraid," "Maneater," "All Good Things")

17. Christina Aguilera - Back to Basics

Christina Aguilera went really high-concept this time with her double album that's at first an ode to soul and later a mish-mash of Linda Perry-produced oddities. It's ambitious, has some great moments, but could use some cutting.

(Best: "Ain't No Other Man," "Hurt," "Back in the Day")

18. Shiny Toy Guns - We Are Pilots

I haven't written a full review for this, but trust me, it's good. Male and female voices weave over electronica and dark retro-'80s dance/pop.

(Best: "You Are the One," "Le Disko," "Don't Cry Out," "Rainy Monday")

19. Darkel - Darkel

The other Air project, Jean-Benoît Dunckel's solo project under the pseudonym "Darkel," isn't as satisfying as the Gainsbourg set, but it's still pretty good, and even gets more experimental, sometimes moving beyond the "Air" sound of many of its tracks.

(Best: "At the End of the Sky," "Be My Friend," "Bunny Girl")

20. Orson - Bright Idea

Hollywood-based Orson made a big splash in Britain this year, hitting #1 with debut single "No Tomorrow." Their debut album delivers what you’d expect—a 10-song collection of the kind of retro/funk/pop/rock reminiscent of Maroon 5 or the Killers, although not quite up to par with those bands, at least not yet.

(Best: "No Tomorrow," "Bright Idea," "Happiness")

21. Pink - I'm Not Dead

After losing her momentum with third album Trouble, Pink regains some ground with her fourth album, hitting the right blend of pop, rock, and R&B that made her second album such a hit, while managing to make quite a few statements about politics and deadbeat guys.

(Best: "Stupid Girls," "Who Knew," "Dear Mr. President")

22. Razorlight - Razorlight

Razorlight's album was a disappointment for me, but still had some great moments. Their problem is the lead singer--he just can't sing that well--but sometimes he manages to sound okay, so when the rest of the band really soars, such as on "In the Morning," they work great.

(Best: "In the Morning," "America," "Who Needs Love?")

Album Revew: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations (5 / 5)

Finally, I found my album of the year, and why didn't I find it earlier? Why did I ignore Q Magazine's 5-star rating, one of only three they gave out this year? Why did I ignore my friend, who recommended this months ago? Muse's Black Holes and Revelations is a masterpiece album, a perfect blend of rock, pop, and electronica; high concept and cheese; mellow, plaintive moments and bombastic wall-of-sound bursts.

"Take a Bow" opens with film score-like synths and then builds to a faster, almost clubby mid-section before bursting forth with Queen-like guitars and multi-tracked vocals. It's totally absorbing, weird, and cool at the same time, a stunning opening track. It feels like something Radiohead might do, but just as you think you're settling in for some gothic allegory of death and outer space--themes that will be revisited later--Muse snaps you back with "Starlight." A lovely, conventional, mid-tempo pop-rock love song. Little bursts of piano underscore the chorus, hand claps drive the rhythm throughout, while Matthew Bellamy's plaintive vocals, work well over the changing soundscape. He does vaguely sound like Thom Yorke, which is why the Radiohead comparisions are easy.

"Supermassive Black Hole" and "Map of the Problematique" both sound Depeche Mode-inspired, albeit by different periods of that band's career. Swaggering "Supermassive Black Hole" pulses with hard electric bass bursts, scratchy electric guitars, and synths. Think DM's 1993 album. "Map of the Problematique" is a real standout among standouts. It sounds more like Violator-era Depeche Mode, opening with a really cool synths, guitar, and piano sound environment, which builds before the first verse hits. I did a little research while reviewing this album, as there are lots of interesting trivia about it. Great example in this song: Opening line "Fear and panic in the air" is a reference to the planet Mars, a recurring theme on the album, and the setting of the cover photo; Mars' twin moons are Phobos and Deimos, the Greek gods of fear and panic, respectively. I cast my vote here for fourth single.

Mellow "Soldier's Poem" gives us a short break from the hard-hitting first four tracks. War is a theme in several songs, most obviously in this track, which evokes a similar sentiment as Keane's "A Bad Dream," that of the melancholic soldier fighting a war in foreign territory: "How could you send us so far away from home when you know damn well that this is wrong?" In keeping with the military idea, "Invincible" opens with marching drums and lyrics like an encouragement to the soldier in the previous track ("Don't give up the fight; you will be all right..."), but then adds some space-age electronic to take this struggle to galactic levels ("...'cause there's no one like you in the universe."). Musically, it's quite a beautiful track, that turns a really interesting corner during it's bridge that reminds of something from an '80s sci-fi movie.

Anarchic "Assassin" comes on strong, fast, and loud with staccato electric guitar. Again there's some touches of Queen-like vocal tracking. The opening of "Exo-Politics" reminds me of Weezer's "Tired of Sex," (A song my former band once covered, incidentally), with its sharp drums and a strong bass line, before it gets to the melodic choruses. It's about an alien invasion from the Zeta Reticulans. Not sure who they are, but it makes for an interesting song.

Dramatic "City of Delusion" opens with acoustic guitar, switching to electric guitar during the chorus. The band throws in some fast strings and bass synths too, making it fairly manic, almost Middle Eastern sounding, but then there's some Mexican horns in the bridge. "Hoodoo" opens with tinny Spanish guitars like an old-fashioned western waiting for Clint Eastwood. Bass and strings further flesh out the beautiful melody. Then...surprise! Chord-heavy classical piano interrupts the mellow proceedings, sending us into melodramatic rock territory, before returning mellow again for the final bit.
Horses and ray guns open the sprawling, unusual "Knights of Cydonia." Apparently the cowboys from "Hoodoo" have been called in to fight the alien invasion from "Assassin." Cydonia, incidentally, refers to a rock formation on Mars that looked in a human face in an early NASA photograph, due to shadows at the time the photo was taken. So this is what the album cover is all about then: The four horsemen of the apocalypse, albeit with little plastic horses, defending Mars from the Zeta Reticulans. Got it! The track is mostly instrumental, fast-paced, and gothic. Drums, horns, synths, and heavy-feedback guitar forms the central melody. An unusual, but good choice for the album's third single--it became the band's third top 10 hit a couple of weeks ago.
Black Holes and Revelations is a real journey of an album. It's heavy on the drama, but doesn't take it too far, reigning in the band's excesses at just the right moments. It draws on a number of unusual sources, throws out both thoughtful and bizarre lyrics, but most importantly, is consistently interesting and enjoyable the whole way through, without a single bad track in the bunch.

Best tracks: Take a Bow, Starlight, Supermassive Black Hole, Map of the Problematique, Invincible, Assassin, Exo-Politics, Hoodoo, Knights of Cydonia

Friday, December 15, 2006

Billboard Hot 100, 2006

Billboard's Year-End Charts are here. The #1 single of 2006 is....Daniel Powter's "Bad Day." A huge hit in the UK in 2005, "Bad Day" was released in the US in February, and climbed to #1, where it spent 5 weeks.

Canadian Daniel Powter is the first non-American act to top the Billboard Hot 100 since Nickelback, also Canadian, topped the chart in 2002 with "How You Remind Me." Interestingly, the top 6 spots are held by foreigners this year, which is a Hot 100 first. In 1988, non-US acts held the top 4 slots--George Michael, George Harrison, and Rick Astley from the UK and INXS from Australia--but this year, the top 6 slots go respectively to a Canadian, a Jamaican, another Canadian, a Brit, a Colombian, and another Brit.

The top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles of 2006 are:

1. Bad Day - Daniel Powter (5 weeks @ #1)
2. Temperature - Sean Paul (1 wk @ #1)
3. Promiscuous - Nelly Furtado (featuring Timbaland) (6 wks @ #1)
4. You're Beautiful - James Blunt (1 wk @ #1)
5. Hips Don't Lie - Shakira (featuring Wyclef Jean) (2 wks @ #1)
6. Unwritten - Natasha Bedingfield (#5)
7. Crazy - Gnarls Barkley (7 wks @ #2)
8. Ridin' - Chamillionaire (featuring Kayzie Bone) (2 wks @ #1)
9. Sexyback - Justin Timberlake (7 wks @ #1)
10. Check On It - Beyonce (featuring Slim Thug) (5 wks @ #1)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

UK Christmas Number One 2006

This year's Christmas #1 is unfortunately a no-brainer. For the second year in a row, reality television has hijacked what should be a nail-biting contest to see what big name artist can come out on top with something really great. Think of 2003's holiday comedy Love Actually, which perfectly immortalizes the annual contest. Instead, a lot of the big names have cleared out of the way, releasing their singles in November or January so that The X Factor can claim Christmas #1.

Last year it was Shayne Ward with "That's My Goal," a mediocre Westlife-ish single. He followed it with slightly more decent "No Promises" before landing outside the top 10 with third single "Stand By Me."

This year the winner will either be 18-year old Raymond Quinn or 21-year old Leona Lewis. The winner will be announced this weekend, and their debut single will be in shops Monday. Of course, we also know what song it is, a remake of Kelly Clarkson's debut single, "A Moment Like This," which wasn't released in the UK. How boring can it get?

Reality TV has had its Christmas setbacks though. In 2003, the Pop Idol Finalists' remake of "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" looked like a shoo-in for #1, but was beaten by melancholy ballad "Mad World" by Gary Jules. Actually, at #5, it was also beaten by The Darkness ("Christmas Time, Don't Let the Bells End"), the previous week's #1 (Kelly and Ozzy Osbourne's "Changes") and Bo Selecta's "Proper Crimbo." Take that! First season X Factor winner Steve Brookstein had to endure the humiliation of having his debut single, "Against All Odds" released a week after Christmas to get out of the way of the mega-selling charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas 2004" by Band Aid 20.

Who's duked it out for Christmas #1 the last few years? Here's a rundown:

1996: Spice Girls beat Madonna landing at #1 with "2 Become 1" to her "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" at #3.

1997: It's the Spice Girls again with "Too Much," beating out the "Perfect Day" charity single and the Teletubbies.

1998: Three years in a row at Christmas #1 for the Spice Girls, who topped this year with "Goodbye" beating South Park's Chef's "Chocolate Salty Balls" at #2 and Denise and Johnny's remake of Kylie and Jason's "Especially For You" at #3.

1999: In a really competitive Christmas week, newcomer boyband Westlife was #1 with their remake of ABBA's "I Have a Dream," beating Cliff Richard's "Millennium Prayer" (#2), a re-release of John Legend's "Imagine" (#3), the Cuban Boys' "Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia" (#4), S Club 7's "You're My Number One" (#5), and Steps' "Say You'll Be Mine"/"Better the Devil You Know" (#7).

2000: In his second week on the chart Bob the Builder's "Can We Fix It" beats Eminem and Dido's "Stan" for #1. New entries for Robbie Williams ("Supreme," #4) and Kylie Minogue ("Please Stay," #19) also make the top 10.

2001: In their second week at #1 it's Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman's festive remake of "Somethin' Stupid," my personal favorite Christmas #1 in recent years. Gordon Haskell's "How Wonderful You Are" is #2 while Daniel Bedingfield's hot debut single "Gotta Get Thru This" is #3.

2002: Reality TV's first year of chart influence finds Popstars winners Girls Aloud at #1 with their first single "The Sound of the Underground" beating the show's other finalists, boyband One True Voice with their debut, "Sacred Trust."

2003: Perhaps the most surprisingly Christmas #1 is Donnie Darko soundtrack single "Mad World" by Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules. Goofy rockers The Darkness are #2 with "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)," while Pop Idol finalists are relegated down to #5 with their remake of "Happy Xmas." Atomic Kitten and Sugababes are also in the top 10.

2004: Far and away it's Band Aid 20's "Do They Know It's Christmas."

2005: X Factor winner Shayne Ward's "That's My Goal." Blah.

Air on the side of caution

Albums Reviews: Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5.55 (4 / 5); Darkel - Darkel (3 / 5)

French techno group Air released one of my favorite albums of 2004, Talkie Walkie, a divine collection of ambient and pop electronica. The band are due to release their fifth album in March 2007, but have hardly taken a break during the last three years, instead dabbling in side projects.

September saw the release of two such projects: An Air-produced album from French actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, followed two weeks later by Air-member Jean-Benoît Dunckel's first solo project, Darkel. Both albums embody a similar spirit to that of Air's last album, which makes them both an enjoyable listen, although Gainsbourg's album manages to soar above Darkel's, which manages to sound too much like Air outtakes.

Air has named Charlotte Gainsbourg's musician-father Serge Gainsbourg as one of their influences, and now they have chance to be the principal influence on his daughter's second album, the accomplished 5.55. Title track "5.55" opens with a soothing piano and synth combo under Charlotte's quiet vocals. The piano is particularly at the forefront in this track, which also features quite a few strings; it's an immediate standout on the album. "Af607105" in particular sounds like a Talkie Walkie outtake with Gainsbourg's vocals replacing Air's.

"The Songs that We Sing," another of the more upbeat moments, is loaded with urgent strings and punctured by quiet moments among the piano and percussive instrumentation. In contrast, restrained and plaintive "Beauty Mark" is sexy and mellow. "Everything I Cannot See" overlays dramatic piano with acoustic guitar, breaking into a Tori-Amos like staccato with Gainsbourg's chanting vocals during the chorus. It's another arresting number.

Other highlights include more upbeat and slightly sinister "The Operation" and "Little Monsters," the moody piano-heavy "Tel Que Tu Es," and etherial "Jamais." My complaints are really few. Repetitive "Night-time Intermission" goes on a little too long to be just an intermission. The only other drawback is that while quiet beautiful, the album feels a little too safe, focusing on the crowd-pleasing side of Air's music, without much experimentation.

In contrast, on Darkel, free of Nicolas Godin, Dunckel takes the opportunity to stretch himself, although many tracks also manage to sound like something Air could have thrown onto their last album. Dramatic, synth-heavy "Be My Friend" is a good opener in the traditional Air vein, but second track "At the End of the Sky" takes a new direction closer to pop and the '70s with piano and warm piano and guitar.

While I welcome the new direction with "At the End of the Sky," I find "TV Destroy" grating, like something from Fatboy Slim. "My Own Sun" is good though, another upbeat, fun, retro-styled pop song. "Earth," while kind of fun, is just too long. "Beautiful Woman" is boring.

The more familiar Air-sounding tracks by and large work very well. Romantic "Some Men" is lovely, although a little too plodding coming right after the raucous "TV Destroy." "Pearl" has a nice piano sound and I like the church bells (reminds me of the bells that start Jai's 1997 album Heaven), but it gets too repetitive quickly. "How Brave You Are," on the other hand, sounds like another great example of Air soundtrack music, and "Bathroom Spirit" captures their cool outerspace lounge vibe. Mellow piano-driven closer "Bunny Girl" has a great piano sound.
While either one would be great to just turn on in the background to chill to, only Charlotte Gainsbourg's album excels at actually being a really interesting listen. Darkel, while enjoyable, sounds more like just Air b-sides, which isn't as much of a slam as it sounds, since Air is fantastic. Still, hearing both albums has me thirsty for next year's proper Air project.

Best tracks: (5.55) 5.55, Tel Que Tu Es, The Songs that We Sing, Beauty Mark, Little Monsters, Everything I Cannot See; (Darkel) Be My Friend, At the End of the Sky, My Own Sun, Bathroom Spirit, Bunny Girl.

Golden Globe Nominations

The Oscar Race is officially on with today's announcement of the Golden Globe Awards. Given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press (whoever that is), the Globes are the most recognized pre-Oscars indicator of who might be nominated. Although admittedly an imperfect indicator (major awards are split into drama and comedy/musical categories, and foreign-language films don't qualify for Best Drama or Best Comedy/Musical), it's still quite fun. Six of the last 10 Best Drama winners went on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Two of the four that won the Globe but not the Oscar were the victims of the biggest recent upsets: Brokeback Mountain and Saving Private Ryan, although perhaps it was their Globe wins that unnecessarily raised expectations.

Babel led this year's nominees with 7 nods, including 3 in supporting acting categories. The Departed got 6 nominations and Dreamgirls came in with 5, both of which got 3 acting nods. The Queen received 4. Here are the nominees with my observations; I bolded ones I didn't predict from yesterday.

Best Picture (Drama)

The Departed
Little Children
The Queen

Babel, The Departed, and The Queen were the three obvious nominees, so I'm glad they all got it. Little Children is a pleasant surprise, as I loved that film. Bobby is just plain a surprise. Bobby?! Really?! It's gotten mixed reviews. It's the only one I haven't seen here, but based on what I've read, I think there were more deserving films, most notably Flags of Our Fathers, which I'm disappointed and surprised didn't get it, particularly since Clint Eastwood was nominated for it for director (see below). Interesting that United 93 isn't in there. It's been getting a lot of critics list buzz, much more than I remember it getting critical buzz at the time it was released.

Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)

The Devil Wears Prada
Little Miss Sunshine
Thank You For Smoking

That fifth slot was the toughie here, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see the inventive Thank You For Smoking get it. Dreamgirls is the obvious frontrunner here, since it's the most talked about for getting a Best Picture Oscar nomination, which usually go to dramas. The only other one that may have a shot is Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Picture (Foreign Language)

Letters from Iwo Jima
The Lives of Others
Pan's Labyrinth

I didn't predcit Apolcalypto because I wasn't sure how the Globes would react to it, being as it is controversial, but there it is. No other surprises. Letters from Iwo Jima is the clear frontrunnter, as it is quickly emerging as a strong Oscar contender, stronger even than Eastwood's other film, Flags of Our Fathers. Interestingly, Letters won't get a foreign film Oscar nomination, since, as an American film, it doesn't qualify. For the Globes, a film has to be a in a foreign language; for the Oscars, a film has to be produced in a foreign country and submitted by some official entity in that country to be considered.

Best Actor (Drama)

Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
Peter O'Tool, Venus
Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker is the frontrunner to win, but look at Leo go with two lead nominations, something else that won't happen at the Oscars, as it's not allowed. Peter O'Tool seems like a really out there nomination to me, as I only vaguely remember Venus coming out. Too bad Ryan Gosling from Half Nelson didn't make the list, I still think he'll be an Oscar contender, given that only 4 of these nominations are.

Best Actor (Comedy/Musical)

Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kinky Boots
Will Ferrell, Stranger Than Fiction

The comedy acting categories can be tough to predict, as awards always focus more on dramas. Chiwetel Ejiofor is an interesting choice. I honestly haven't even heard of Kinky Boots, but he was great in 2002's Dirty Pretty Things. Johnny Depp for Pirates is a lame nomination though. Sure he got an Oscar nomination for playing this role two years ago, but this is the big-budget, less-regarded sequel. Come on.

Best Actress (Drama)

Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sherrybaby
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Kate Winslet, Little Children

I was 5 for 5 here; glad I went on a limb for Maggie Gyllenhaal. Although, sadly, I can think of few other performances worth highlighting. Maybe Cate Blanchett in The Good German? Helen Mirren has it in the bad though, she's been voted best actress among all of the critics groups so far, not even sharing the honors with anyone. The nice part is that she completely deserves it too.

Best Actress (Comedy/Musical)

Annette Bening, Running With Scissors
Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine
Beyonce Knowles, Dreamgirls
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Renee Zellweger, Miss Potter

Again, I nailed it 5 for 5. I must know my actresses. Or again, who else would you put up? Hollywood's sexism for lack of good female parts is really showing this year. My money's on Streep as the frontrunner here--she'll probably take Gyllenhaal's spot among the Best Actress nominees come Oscar time.

Best Supporting Actor

Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson, The Departed
Brad Pitt, Babel
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

This is a really tight race. With all these ensemble pictures this year (Babel, Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, Flags of Our Fathers) there's lots of smaller roles with actors that really shine. Ben Affleck is a surprise, but I didn't see Hollywoodland, so I can't judge if it's fair. Mark Wahlberg is a surprise too, although he did get at least one critics' group nod. Although I'm upset not to see the other three I predicted here, particularly Michael Sheen for The Queen, I can't really complain, as there are so many performances worth recognizing here. Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond is supposed to be fantastic, and he's been getting critics nods, so I expect he'll still get an Oscar nod. Jackie Earle Haley was fantastically creepy and complex in Little Children. Steve Carell was amazing against type in Little Miss Sunshine. Adam Beach was phenominal as an honored yet disenfranchised American Indian soldier in Flags of Our Fathers. Tough tough category.

Best Supporting Actress

Adriana Barraza, Babel
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Again, like the supporting actors, there's a lot of good performances that could have been recognized, so it's a tough call. I'm really glad Adriana Barraza got it for Babel. She was so good in that movie, and I felt that her performance was the most moving of any in the film. Emily Blunt is a nice surprise. I'd forgotten about her, and she was a lot of fun as a catty assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. I must say though that Anne Hathaway is probably tired of starring in films where all the other main players get awards recognition but her. Rinko Kikuchi is a nice surprise for Babel, who's character was probably the most unusual of any in that movie. Too bad that little Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine didn't make the cut. Her scene-stealing performance near the end of the film (you know what I'm talking about if you've seen it) is the funniest thing ever in a movie.

Best Director

Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Martin Scorsese is probably the frontrunner, as he is getting his due this year for The Departed, having played bridesmaid the last few years despite some amazing films (Gangs of New York, The Aviator). The double nomination for Eastwood is awesome. At age 76 he's become a directing powerhouse, making consistently honest, thought-provoking films. His two this year join the ranks of Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, and Unforgiven as some of the best films of the last 20 years. I'm glad Inarritu made it here too. No love for the comedies directors, but oh well, they know they're playing second fiddle to the dramas anyway. And of course there's always that question mark when a movie gets nominated for best picture, but it's director doesn't get recognized, in this case Bobby's Emilio Estevez. To me, it looks like the snub is Eastwood's lack of Best Picture recognition for Flags of Our Fathers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Personal Chart, 12/16/2006

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Land of a Thousand Words - Scissor Sisters (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... All Good Things (Come to an End) - Nelly Furtado
3 .... 6 .... Fergalicious - Fergie
4 .... 1 .... Patience - Take That (3 wks @ #1)
5 .... 7 .... Irreplaceable - Beyonce
6 .... 2 .... Love It When You Call - The Feeling
7 .... 9 .... Beware of the Dog - Jamelia
8 .... 5 .... My Love - Justin Timberlake (featuring T.I.)
9 ... 11 ... The Pieces Don't Fit Anymore - James Morrison
10 . 16 ... You Know My Name (from "Casino Royale") - Chris Cornell

UK Chart Analysis, 12/16/2006

1. Patience - Take That

Have a little patience, Take That remains on top of the UK singles chart for a third week. I think you won't have to wait long for a new #1 though, five of this week's debuts were on downloads only, so next week's chart should be really interesting. In their heyday, Take That had two singles that spent 3 weeks at the top--"Never Forget" and "How Deep Is Your Love"--bested only by the two singles that spent 4 weeks at the top, "Pray" and "Back for Good." They give up #1 on the airplay chart to Nelly Furtado, scoring her first airplay #1 of the year with "All Good Things (Come to an End)." This is her second airplay #1, after 2001's "Turn Off the Light."

2. Boogie 2 Nite - Booty Luv

Dance hit "Boogie 2 Nite" climbs a spot to #2 this week. That's pretty impressive to accomplish that during this most competitive time of year.

4. Bing Bang (Time to Dance) - Lazy Town

It's been awhile since I remember a children's show chart tie-in, but that's what we have at #4. Lazy Town is an unusual Iceland/US collaboration, airing on Nick Jr in the US and the BBC in the UK. Children's tie-ins have scored chart gold in the past--recent notables include #1 hits for The Teletubbies and Bob the Builder.

8. Wind It Up - Gwen Stefani

The highest of the five downloads-only debuts comes from Gwen Stefani. Her new album The Sweet Escape bows in on the albums chart at a disappointing #26, but the "Wind It Up" single has a surprisingly good showing on its first week downloads sales, indicating she's a strong contender for #1 next week. This is Gwen's fifth sixth appearance in the top 10 as a soloist. Her highest charting moment came just about a year ago at #3 as a guest on Pharrell's "Can I Have It Like That." Among her own hits, she's been to #4 twice, with "What U Waiting For" and "Rich Girl."

10. Beware of the Dog - Jamelia

Jamelia scores her second top 10 hit this year with the upbeat dance pop "Beware of the Dog." This is her 7th top 10 hit. The song includes liberal sampling of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," a #13 hit in 1989.

12. You Know My Name - Chris Cornell

Another downloads-only debut makes a big splash at #12. Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" is the theme to the 21st official James Bond film, Casino Royale. It's a great rock take on the Bond theme, fitting in perfectly with the film. If it goes top 5 next week, it will be among the highest-charting Bond themes. Here's the full Bond theme chart discography:

Die Another Day - Madonna, #3 (2002)
The World Is Not Enough - Garbage #11 (1999)
Tomorrow Never Dies - Sheryl Crow #12 (1997)
James Bond Theme (From "Tomorrow Never Dies") - Moby #8 (1997)
Goldeneye - Tina Turner #10 (1995)
License to Kill - Patti Labelle (not a chart hit, 1989)
The Living Daylights - A-ha #5 (1987)
A View to a Kill - Duran Duran #2 (1985)
All Time High (From "Octopussy") #75 (1983)
For Your Eyes Only - Sheena Easton #8 (1981)
Moonraker - Shirley Bassey (not a chart hit, 1979)
Nobody Does it Better - Carly Simon #7 (1977)
The Man with the Golden Gun - Lulu (not a chart hit, 1974)
Live and Let Die - Paul McCartney #9 (1973--remade by Guns N Roses in 1991, #5)
Diamonds Are Forever - Shirley Bassey #38 (1972)
We Have All the Time in the World (From "On Her Majesty's Secret Service") - Louis Armstrong #3 (1969)
You Only Live Twice - Nancy Armstrong #11 (1967)
Thunderball - Tom Jones #35 (1966)
Goldfinger - Shirley Bassey #21 (1964)
From Russia With Love (instrumental) - John Barry #39 (1963)
From Russia With Love - Matt Munro #20 (1963)
James Bond Theme - John Barry #13 (1962)

16. I Just Want to See the Boy Happy - Morrissey

Morrissey scores his fourth top 20 hit this year. Haven't heard it, and don't really care.

17. Truly Madly Deeply - Cascada

Sadly, a downloads debut at #17 for Cascada's clubby remake of Savage Garden's 1998 hit "Truly Madly Deeply" means it will probably be in the top 10 next week. Oh well, you can't win it all.

19. Land of a Thousand Words - Scissor Sisters

Ouch ouch ouch! After scoring a massive, massive hit with "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," which spent 4 weeks at #1--the third longest run at the top this year--Scissor Sisters have the lowest-charting single of their career with "Land of a Thousand Words," the Ta-Dah ballad and that album's second single, limps in at #19. Their previous worst had been the #17 peak of their second single, "Take Your Mama."

20. Tell Me - P Diddy (featuirng Christina Aguilera)

Another downloads single that may go top 10 next week. Yawn.

22. Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
23. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues

Two Christmas singles make their way into the top 40 this week, both of which are quite old. First up at #22 is Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody," which was Christmas #1 in 1973 and spent 5 weeks at the top of the chart. The song has been an enduring Christmas favorite, having been re-released in 1980 (#70), 1981 (#32), 1982 (#67), 1983 (#20), 1984 (#47), 1985 (#48), 1986 (#71), and a new version in 1998 (#30). I'm not familiar with the chart rules from the '80s, so I don't know if each year it charted was an official re-release, but this year, the original has indeed been re-released, giving it it's second-highest re-release position, and third overall considering its original place at #1.

At #23 is The Pogues with "Fairytale of New York." Originally released in 1987 where it hit #2, the track was re-released last year and hit #3. Due to current chart rules that allow singles to chart up to a year after their release, this track is appearing on the chart again due to download sales. Once it hits 52 weeks, just before Christmas, it will vanish from the chart. Expect it to keep rising until that time though.

27. Rewind - Paolo Nutini

Given it's strong airplay, I thought "Rewind" would be the song to return Paolo Nutini to the top 10, but instead give him his lowest-charting single yet at #27. Keep trying Paolo.

Golden Globe Predictions

Yes, this is a music blog, but sometimes, especially during awards season, I like to write about movies too. The Golden Globe nominees come out tomorrow. Here's my predictions for who will be nominated:

Best Picture (Drama)
  1. Babel
  2. The Departed
  3. Flags of Our Fathers
  4. The Queen
  5. United 93
(other possibles: Little Children, Notes on a Scandal, and Blood Diamond)

Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)
  1. Borat
  2. The Devil Wears Prada
  3. Dreamgirls
  4. Little Miss Sunshine
  5. Stranger Than Fiction
(others: Thank You For Smoking, A Prarie Home Companion, and For Your Consideration)

Best Picture (Foreign Language)
  1. Letters from Iwo Jima
  2. The Lives of Others
  3. Pan's Labyrinth
  4. Volver
  5. Water

Best Actor (Drama)
  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
  2. Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  3. Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness
  4. Ken Watanabe, Letters From Iwo Jima
  5. Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland

Best Actor (Comedy/Musical)
  1. Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat
  2. Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking
  3. Will Ferrell, Stranger Than Fiction
  4. Jamie Foxx, Dreamgirls
  5. Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine

Best Actress (Drama)
  1. Penelope Cruz, Volver
  2. Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  3. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sherrybaby
  4. Helen Mirren, The Queen
  5. Kate Winslet, Little Children

Best Actress (Comedy/Musical)
  1. Annette Bening, Running With Scissors
  2. Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine
  3. Beyonce Knowles, Dreamgirls
  4. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  5. Renee Zellweger, Miss Potter

Best Supporting Actor
  1. Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
  2. Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  3. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  4. Jack Nicholson, The Departed
  5. Michael Sheen, The Queen
(Other: Adam Beach, Flags of Our Fathers)

Best Supporting Actress
  1. Adriana Barraza, Babel
  2. Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
  3. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  4. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  5. Catherine O'Hara, For Your Consideration

Best Director
  1. Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
  2. Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima (or Flags of Our Fathers or both)
  3. Stephen Frears, The Queen
  4. Paul Greengrass, United 93
  5. Martin Scorsese, The Departed
(others: Pedro Almodovar, Volver and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Album Review: Sugababes - Overloaded: The Singles Collection

British girl groups are a dime a dozen, but this one is surely worth their weight in gold. Sugababes emerged in 2000, just before the demise of the "cool" British girl group the All Saints. The Sugababes quickly became the heir apparent to the cool girl group crown and continue to be my personal favorite among the lot that over the years has included Girls Aloud (their most obvious competition), Atomic Kitten, Mis-Teeq, and of course the group that started this round: the Spice Girls.

The bands line-up has shifted a bit through the years (Original member Siobhan Donaghy left after the first album, replaced by Heidi Range; Mutya Buena left last year, replaced by Amelle Berrabah), but their focus has remained constant: creating brilliant pop music with high-concept production, great hooks, and rediculous lyrics. Yes, rediculous, but that's part of their charm. When not filling clubs with Xenomania-produced dance pop, the 'Babes deliver dark downbeat ballads, drenched in synths and William Orbit-esque bleeps.

Sugababes first album, One Touch, wouldn't quite reveal the brilliance that would become their pop career. First single "Overload," a cool minimal groove of a pop single, was a top 10 hit and a Brit award nominee, but none of the other singles really caught fire. Overloaded smartly omits the girls' less noteworthy singles, including only "Overload" and the downbeat "Run for Cover" from One Touch. Both are good, but not nearly as fantastic as what would follow from their next three albums.

Despite the fairly positive reception of One Touch, the album didn't meet sales expectations, and the band was dropped from its record label in 2001. Amidst rumored in-fighting and depression, Siobhan left the group. The future looked grim.

Luckily, the group was able to get a new contract, a new member, (Heidi) and an enhanced team of producers, namely Richard X and Xenomania, both of whom were well-known as remixers, and would become two of pop music's hottest producers. Richard X worked with the girls on "Freak Like Me;" perhaps their most critically acclaimed single, the track is a mash-up of Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me" and Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?" The hard-hitting pop workout was a sensation, the band's first #1 single. It was followed by another #1 hit, the Xenomania-produced "Round Round," and then their second album, Angels With Dirty Faces, which also delivered the phenominal downbeat ballad, "Stronger," which remains my favorite Sugababes song.

Through Angels With Dirty Faces, third album Three, and fourth album Taller in More Ways, the band had its strongest line-up in Mutya, Heidi, and its third original member, Keisha Buchanan. Two more #1 hits would come out of this era, guitar-driven "Hole in the Head" and "Push the Button," their best frothy dance pop. Also good are Three's "Stronger"-like ballad, "Too Lost in You," and their girlpower body image song, "Ugly." Really, there are no bad Sugababes singles.

The collection's new track, "Easy," is another great slice of Sugababes pop. It's pared down minimalism during the verses contrasts nicely with the '80s power keyboards of the chorus. Not sure I can say the same about "Good to be Gone" though, which may be their weakest single ever. Still, it's not bad, but it sounds a little too much like something rival band Girls Aloud might come up with.

While subbing Heidi for Siobhan was a welcome change, losing Mutya is a real loss. She had the group's most distinctive voice, and added a good dose of personality. Their fifth album is supposedly in the works, following many assurances that Overloaded is not a break-up signal. Even if they did leave at this point, they certainly have left their mark.

Best tracks: Freak Like Me, Round Round, Stronger, Hole in the Head, Push the Button, Ugly, Easy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Q Magazine Best of 2006

Q Magazine has named their best albums of 2006. Here is the top 10, along with their original review ratings:

1. Artic Monkeys – Whetever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (4)
2. Muse – Black Holes & Revelations (5)
3. Razorlight – Razorlight (5)
4. Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Stadium Arcadium (5)
5. The Killers – Sam’s Town (4)
6. Keane – Under The Iron Sea (4)
7. Bob Dylan – Modern Times (4)
8. Kasabian – Empire (4)
9. Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah (4)
10. Gnarls Barkley – St Elsewhere (4)

Not too surprising. Some might quibble that they ranked 4-rated Arctic Monkeys above this years three albums to receive 5-ratings, but they've done that before (Keane's 4-rated Hopes and Fears was ranked above Franz Ferdinand in 2004, despite Franz Ferdinand's eponymous debut having been rated a 5). I'm glad to see Keane, The Killers, and Scissor Sisters sophomore albums all made the top 10. It's nice to see Muse at #2. I just got the album, and it is truly great.

It's cool that they did a top 100 this year, instead of just a top 50. Here's where some other albums ranked:

11. The Kooks - Inside In/Inside Out
12. Corinne Bailey Rae (self-titled)
14. The Feeling - Twelve Stops and Home
18. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
23. Pet Shop Boys - Fundamental
26. James Morrison - Undiscovered
35. Orson - Bright Idea
36. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds
40. The Strokes - First Impressions on Earth
48. Christina Aguilera - Back to Basics
55. Nelly Furtado - Loose
57. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
62. Jamelia - Walk With Me

Here's a the complete list. Be warned that whoever posted this made some spelling and word errors, but it's the best I could find.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

New Music Monday, 12/11/2006

It's the week before the big one--the week before the week before Christmas--traditionally the biggest week in music sales. It's a foregone conclusion what will be Christmas #1 this year, and it isn't pretty (I'll talk more about that later). Because of that, the next couple of weeks have a larger than usual dose of holiday cheese and fewer great singles by established artists. Much of what you would have expected to come out is being pushed to January--U2, Eric Prydz's return single, Siobhan Donaghy, Jojo, to name a few.

My pick for single of the week is "Littlest Things," the third offering from Lily Allen. Lily made a big splash last summer with "Smile," and kept it up with fall release "LDN." While most of her songs find her in maneater mode, "Littlest Things" instead has her reminiscing nostalgically about a past relationship. Although her usual ways are fun, it's a refreshing touch of tenderness.

Chris Cornell's Casino Royale Bond theme, "You Know My Name," looked a few weeks ago like it might not get a release, but it will arrive in stores next week. It's a shame this song a) was getting a bad rap and b) was omitted from the soundtrack, because it's a great song. It fits perfectly with the movie. Although I didn't care for it at first, after having seen the film (which is fantastic), it's really grown on me. This marks the sixth Bond theme in a row to be recorded by an American (or prediminantly American) artist, following Patti LaBelle ("License to Kill"), Tina Turner ("Goldeneye"), Sheryl Crow ("Tomorrow Never Dies"), Garbage ("The World is Not Enough"), and Madonna ("Die Another Day"). It's also the first theme since "All Time Love (From "Octopussy") to not use the film's title in the song.

Gwen Stefani returns with "Wind It Up," the first single from her second solo album, The Great Escape. I reviewed the album earlier this week, and was pleased to find that it was pretty good. This is one of the better tracks, and probably the best among the hip-hopish set of songs. Some people are turned off by The Sound of Music reference ("The Lonely Goatherd"), but I think it's fun. Strange move though to release this the week after the album. It could have had a shot at #1, but now I'd be surprised to see it in the top 5.

Finally there's Shakira, who despite having initially botched the release of Oral Fixation Vol. 2 with the lousy lead single "Don't Bother," was able to turn the project into a big success by re-releasing it with the ubiquitous hit "Hips Don't Lie." Rather than follow that up logically with another single though, the project has again languished for months until now. We finally get a third single: "Illegal," a lukewarm collaboration with Carlos Santana. It's okay, not as bad as "Don't Bother," but this certainly isn't going to set charts on fire like "Hips Don't Lie" did. Lily Allen (4/5), Chris Cornell (4/5), Gwen Stefani (4/5), Shakira (2.5/5).

So that's that for the quality stuff. There's still eight more singles to talk about. A couple of hip-hop tracks could find chart gold this week, particularly a new single from Eminem. "You Don't Know" is from Eminem Presents the Re-Up, which is sort of a new Eminem album--he appears on 8 of 23 tracks, with the rest coming from his buddies. "You Don't Know" doesn't interest me at all, and I've actually found myself liking some of Eminem's older stuff, particularly The Eminen Show-era releases. The other is Diddy's collaboration with Christina Aguilera, "Tell Me," which sounds overcooked, not as good as his Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger collaboration.

Dance vixen Cascada offers a new single, an unnecessary dance remake of Savage Garden's "Truly Madly Deeply." Cascada previously turned awful "Everytime We Touch" into a massive hit in both the US, where pop charts usually avoid dance music, and the UK, where pop charts usually avoid bad dance music.

Then there's the Christmas releases. Cliff Richard still holds the UK record for the most #1 hits. Let's hope "21st Century Christmas" doesn't join that tally. Yikes. Crazy Frog returns with double A-side remakes of "Last Christmas" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Peter Andre, usually washed-up muscle head pop singer who managed to re-release his early single "Mysterious Girl" in 2004 and send it to #1, has teamed up with model/singer/tabloid fodder Katie Price (aka Jordan) to record an album of remakes, including "A Whole New World." Finally, previous X Factor contender Andy Abraham teams up with Michael Underwood to bring us "December Brings Me Back to You," which is actually pretty decent--the only decent song of this lot for sure.

There are no significant album releases this week or next week or the week after that. So there!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Billboard Hot 100, 12/16/2006

1. Irreplaceable - Beyonce

Beyonce rises to #1 this week with "Irreplaceable," scoring her fourth solo #1. Technically speaking, this is her first true solo #1, as she had an assistant rapper on each of her previous #1s: Jay-Z on "Crazy in Love," Sean Paul on "Baby Boy," and Slim Thug on "Check On It." This is Beyonce's second #1 hit this year, after "Check On It," making her the second artist, after Justin Timberlake, to score two chart-toppers this year. There are only two charts left in 2006, and judging from the historical longevity of Beyonce #1s, the lack of srong competition (now that Akon's 2 singles have lost their bullets), I think she'll be spending the rest of the year at the top. This is her third B'Day single and clearly the biggest. Finally, at 13 letters, "Irreplaceable" is the longest one-word title to hit #1. Beyonce, as a member of Destiny's Child, had been tied for the 12-letter record for "Bootylicious."

4. Fergalicious - Fergie

Fergie gets the Sales Gainer award this week for "Fergalicious," rising six notches following a week in which it plumetted five spots. I think that the Sales Gainer award is a technicality, as I suspect there was some kind of technical error over at iTunes that mysteriously caused Fergie's album to disappear for several days, thus the big chart decline last week. With Akon in decline, she has a shot of beating her previous #3 peak for this song, although I doubt it has #1 potential.

6. Wind it Up - Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani rises another notch with "Wind It Up," edging ahead of "Rich Girl" to become her second highest charting solo single, now only behind #1 hit "Hollaback Girl." Her band, No Doubt, had two higher-charting hits: #5 "Hey Baby" and the #3 "Underneath it All." "Don't Speak," while widely regarded as the band's biggest hit, didn't chart on the Billboard Hot 100, since it wasn't released as a single, and back then charting airplay-only tracks wasn't allowed.

12. Say it Right - Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado makes a big jump with "Say it Right," up 13 spots to #12, supassing the #16 peak of her last single, "Maneater." If it goes top 10 next week, it will become her fourth top 10 hit.

22. Keep Holding On - Avril Lavigne

Avril Lavigne makes a tremendous Hot 100 bow this week with "Keep Holding On," the single from the soundtrack to the forthcoming fantasy & dragons epic Eragon. This is Lavigne's 6th top hit. Her last Hot 100 single, "Nobody's Home," just missed the top 40, peaking at #41.

40. Wait a Minute - The Pussycat Dolls

The Pussycat Dolls score their 5th top 40 hit this week with "Wait a Minute," which moves up a spot to #40. Their last single "Buttons" peaked at #3, their third top 5 hit. In the UK "Wait a Minute" will be their 6th single; their fifth was "I Don't Need a Man," which was not released in the US. I believe this makes them the most recent act to score 5 top 40 hits from one album since Kelly Clarkson, who did it earlier this year with "Walk Away," the fifth Breakaway single.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grammy Nominations Announced

Nominations for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards were announced today. I'm going to go category by category and talk about them. First though, some overall observations. Mary J. Blige got the most nominations (eight), although surprisingly not the expected one for Album of the Year, although The Breakthrough was nominated for R&B Album of the Year. "Be Without You" was nominated for Record and Song of the Year, Female R&B Vocal, and Best R&B Song. "One," her collaboration with Bono and remake of the U2 hit was nominated in the Pop Collaboration category, "I Found My Everything," which features Raphael Saadiq, was nominated for Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Blige was also nominated along Jamie Foxx in the R&B Duo/Group with Vocals category for appearing on his "Love Changes."

The most interesting story was the industry's great show of support for the Dixie Chicks, who earned five nominations including Album of the Year and Country Album for Taking the Long Way and Record and Song of the Year for "Not Ready to Make Nice." These accolades come despite the rather public manner in which country radio has turned its back on the band during the last two years, despite the girls having been one of the biggest things in country music prior to that. Taking the Long Way is considered more of a rock/AC-oriented album than country, so it's nomination for Country Album of the Year is a surprise. Their previous three albums, Home, Fly, and Wide Open Spaces all won the Country Album grammy, while Home and Fly were nominated for Album of the Year. This is the group's first year being nominated in the song and record categories.

British pop artists fared quite well this year. James Blunt and Corinne Bailey Rae were both nominated from Record and Song of the Year for "You're Beautiful" and "Put Your Records On." Both were also nominated for Best New Artist, as was British singer Imogen Heap. Blunt was also nominated for Male Pop Performance for "You're Beautiful," and his album Back to Bedlam was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album. Natasha Bedingfield and KT Tunstall picked up nominations for Female Pop Performance for "Unwritten" and "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." I was surprised Tunstall didn't receive more nominations. Finally it was nice to see Keane nominated for Duo/Group Pop Performance for "Is It Any Wonder?" Last year they were a New Artist nominee.

Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds was nominated for Best Album and Best Pop Album. He was nominated in both categories 3 years ago for Justified, winning the latter award. Although "Sexyback" wasn't nominated for Record of the Year, it was nominated in the Dance category. His other recent hit, "My Love," was nominated for Rap/Sung Collaboration with Vocal. He's the only other veteran Album of the Year nominee, besides the Dixie Chicks. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have previously won only one Grammy (for "Give It Away") were nominated for Album of the Year for Stadium Arcadium.

Largely overlooked this year were Nelly Furtado, whose megahit "Promiscuous" was honored only with a Pop Collaboration nomination, and Bob Dylan, whose Modern Times had been expected to be nominated for Album of the Year, but has to settle for a nomination for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album. His song "Someday Baby" was nominated for Solo Rock Performance and Rock Song.

Last year's American Idol winner Carrie Underwood scored an impressive 4 nominations, including Best Female Country Vocal, Song of the Year, and Best Country song for "Jesus, Take the Wheel," and Best New Artist. That puts her one nomination ahead of the three earned so far by American Idol goddess Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson received her first nomination in 2003, forFemale Pop Vocal nomination for "Miss Independent." Last year she was nominated twice and won both awards, Best Pop Album for Breakaway and Female Pop Vocal for "Since U Been Gone."