Saturday, March 31, 2007

Album Review: Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (5/5)

In 2006, it took almost the entire year before I found an album worthy of a 5-star review; this year it came in the first quarter. Amy Winehouse’s sophomore album, Back to Black, is a stunning collection of perfectly crafted pop/R&B that’s both enjoyably retro and engagingly modern. Take the best of Lily Allen’s foul-mouthed British sensibility, but leave it in a dirty ditch with even more lurid lyrics, and the best of Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics retro-soul but make is smokier and darker, and you’ll get close to the vibe of this brilliant disc. Musically, it sounds like the follow-up to Miseducation that Lauryn Hill never made, but lyrically unlike anything I can think of. Does anyone else truly revel in being bad like she does?

Case in point is opening track and first single “Rehab,” a true story about her refusal to seek treatment for alcoholism, despite urgings by her management. The seemingly serious subject is belied by an upbeat mix of retro R&B sounds—girl group background harmony, hand claps, chimes, strings and tinkling piano—sounds that permeate many of the songs on the album, particularly those produced by Mark Ronson, which, no surprise, produced several tracks for both Lily Allen and Christina Aguilera’s recent albums, as well as Robbie Williams (Ronson’s own single, “Stop Me,” out now is also great).

Rhythmic “You Know I’m No Good” follows, clearly keeping up the bad girl thing. The song features sharp beats, raspy retro horns, and distant fuzzy guitars, like those from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. “Me and Mr. Jones” opens like many a sweet ‘60s Motown girl group song, until Winehouse intones “What kind of fuckery is this? You made me miss the Slick Rick gig,” putting her own spin on the situation. “Just Friends” continues the R&B groove although smoother. It’s the fourth great song in a row on the album, which features no duds among the eleven tracks.

But as good as those opening four tracks are, the song that really shines on this album is its title track, “Back to Black,” a gorgeous, dark tale of the pain and shame of being the other woman (“You go back to her, and I go back to black”). The song saunters along with hard piano chords, vibes, scratchy distant guitars, and swells with strings during the choruses. Winehouse sounds fantastic on it too. The song gets really quiet after the second chorus before building back up again—perhaps the loveliest part in this amazing song. It gives me chills with each listen—it’s that good.

“Love is a Losing Game” is a lovely old school ballad that finds Winehouse toning down the lyrics in favor of honest melancholy. “Tears Dry on Their Own,” picks up the tempo then, another Motown-esque number backed by a brassy ‘60s-sounding band. “Wake Up Alone,” another Ronson track, is lovely doo-wop flavored balladry.

Effective instrumentation is a hallmark of many of the album’s songs; “Wake Up Alone” opens with sharp, plucky bass, “He Can Only Hold Her” is punctuated with horns. Final track “Addicted,” inexplicably omitted from the U.S. release, is an ode to marijuana, which she says does more for her than, well, that particular part of the male anatomy. It closes the album in signature ‘60s swinging style.

At times dark and dirty, at other times light and funky, Back to Black is a brilliant merger between old school ‘60s R&B and contemporary production sensibilities, tied together perfectly by Winehouse’s deep, husky voice and boundless personality.

Best Tracks: Back to Black, You Know I’m No Good, Me are Mr. Jones, Rehab, Love is a Losing Game, Tears Dry on Their Own, Addicted.

Recent and Upcoming Album Releases

March 26:

Hilary Duff - Dignity. The Disney constituency's favorite pop singer returns with her third album, featuring pretty decent first single "With Love."

Jennifer Lopez - Come Una Mujer. Lopez drops her first Spanish language album, her first release since the rather unsuccessful Rebirth from 2005.

April 2:

Timbaland - Shock Value. Producer-of-the-moment responsible for recent big hits for Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado releases his first solo album in years, featuring a line-up of guest stars to rival the Grammy Awards, including Timberlake and Furtado (on first single "Give It to Me"), Missy Elliot, Fall Out Boy, Elton John, 50 Cent, and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.

Melanie C - This Time. By all measures, the Spice Girls' time is up, but some are still trying to hold on. Melanie C, arguably one of the more successful at making a solo career, releases her fourth album, featuring light first single "I Want Candy" along with a Guy Chambers/Cathy Dennis-penned "Protected."

Now That's What I Call Music Vol 66. All your faves.

April 9:

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga. Conor Oberst's band drops its 7th studio album.

April 16:

Avril Lavigne - The Best Damn Thing. Lavigne releases her third album, preceded by hot single "Girlfriend" (Top 10 this week in America and Britain), and including a new version of single "Keep Holding On."

Mark Ronson - Version. The other producer-of-the-moment (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams, etc.) releases his solo album with lots of guest stars doing "funky" covers.

Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero. Yes, they're still around.

Infernal - From Paris to Berlin. Danish dance group's 2004 album finally gets a UK release, featuring hit title track and "Self Control"

DT8 Project – Perfect World. Atmospheric trance--a bit of a throwback, but enjoyable. First single "Hold Me Till the End" is getting some play on BBC Radio 1.

April 23:

Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare. Last year's indie darlings return with their second album, preceded by single "Brianstorm."

Blonde Redhead - 23. New York-based indie band release their 7th album.

Beyonce – B’Day [Deluxe Edition]. Beyonce's 2006 album gets the deluxe edition treatment, with new single "Beautiful Liar (featuring Shakira)" and a second disc of Spanish versions.

April 30:

Natasha Bedingfield – NB. Bedingfield's second album, featuring first single "I Wanna Have Your Babies."

Amerie – Because I Love It. Amerie's new album, featuring cool first single "Take Control."

Personal Chart, 3/31/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 5 .... Glamorous - Fergie (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani featuring Akon
3 .... 1 .... Shine - Take That (2 wks @ #1)
4 .... 3 .... What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 wk @ #1)
5 ... 14 ... Stop Me - Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather
6 .... 2 .... She's My Man - Scissor Sisters
7 .... 6 .... Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk @ #1)
8 ... 11 ... Walk This Way - Sugababes vs. Girls Aloud
9 .... 7 .... Read My Mind - The Killers
10 . 10 .. Acceptable in the '80s - Calvin Harris

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lookin Back: March 1987

Club Nouveau's "Lean on Me" was the big hit of March 1987. I remember this song being very popular, but frankly it doesn't hold up. It's okay, but too repetitive. It was their only major hit.

Huey Lewis & The News has its third #1 hit with "Jacob's Ladder," which is a pretty typical example of late '80s pop/rock. Not bad, but not that memorable.

Probably the most interesting single from March 1987 was Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait Awhile," the fifth Control single. By 1993 she'd want it "Any Time, Any Place," but this ballad was a blunt message for sexual abstinence. It's hard to remember a time when sex-obsessed Jackson didn't want to do it, which makes this single refreshing when compared to her more recent works like "Throb," "Moist," "When We Oooh," "Sexhibition," "Rope Burn," Etc. The song Also had a lovely black & white video with a new mix of the song. It's even letterboxed, who was doing that back then?

In contrast, the Jets' "You Got It All" has an exceedingly silly video, set in a diner, with the waitress doing the singing. The fashions are fantastic. This is actually a pretty good song--a great typically '80s ballad.

Yet another ballad was big in March, Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram's "Somewhere Out There" from the film An American Tail. It sounds just a little too slow now. The Beastie Boys had their first and biggest hit, "You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party." Bruce Hornsby hit the top 10 with the lovely "Mandolin Rain," which sounds a lot like his bigger previous hit "The Way It Is." Finally, Peter Gabriel was in the top 10 with "Big Time."

Album Review: Air - Pocket Symphony (3 / 5)

French duo Air’s 2004 album Talkie Walkie was one of my favorite releases of that year, and they spent the time between that and their new album, Pocket Symphony, working on other projects such as a good solo album for Jean-Benoit Dunckel and producing an ever better album for French singer/actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. So why am I not more excited about Pocket Symphony, the group’s fifth album?

Instrumental “Space Maker” is all lovely acoustic guitar over faraway percussion smooth and distorted synths and a dose of piano. “Once Upon a Time” is distorted percussion over repetitive tinkling piano. Groovy “Napalm Love” is repetitive piano chords over distorted synths and other repetitive keyboard effects. These three songs that open the album are all good, but none are standouts. “Redhead Girl” falls along those lines too—nice, but just not memorable.

Other songs are sadly, just dull. “One Hell of a Party,” certainly isn’t. The song, which features vocals from Jarvis Cocker and has an Asian sound to it, is just too slow to be interesting. On the opposite end of the tempo spectrum is “Mer du Japon,” the album’s only really upbeat track, but which fails to connect with me, and has this strange fade-out during the last minute where a Japanese stringed instrument is briefly heard, before going back to the up-tempo—as if someone had changed the radio station. “Lost Message” is lovely, but I get this nagging sense it would be suited to score an ‘80s coffee commercial.

Still, some interesting, more experimental songs do appear. Such as mostly instrumental “Mayfair Song,” a great moody piece of layered synths, some sounding almost like voices, and space-age sound effects Air is known to sprinkle throughout its songs. I also really like the retro-sounding “Left Bank,” which exhibits such a lovely clarity of instrumentation—technical perfection shines throughout the album—but also a nice sense of intimacy, like it’s just a guitarist and singer Dunkel sitting together playing.

Dark “Photograph” is a bit unnerving at first, but on repeat listens reveals subtle harmonies and even hope. “Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping,” which features vocals from the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, is another good track. A dramatic blend of folksy guitars, dramatic movie-like strings, and Asian influences.

Much of Pocket Symphony sounds similar to the quieter territory explored in Talkie Walkie, as well as Darkel and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 5:55, but without those album’s punchier standout songs. By comparison, Pocket Symphony is mellower—better certainly for late night background chill music—but ultimately less memorable.

Best tracks: Mayfair Song, Photograph, Left Bank, Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

UK Chart Analysis, 3/24/2007

1. Walk This Way - Sugababes vs. Girls Aloud

Comic Relief, the bi-annual British charity event, once again dominates the singles chart with its official release tie-in, a remake of the 1980s Aerosmith/Run-DMC classic "Walk This Way" (itself a remake of Aerosmith's sole verison from the '70s), this time performed by two of the UK's hottest girl groups, Sugababes and Girls Aloud, who re-enact the '80s video in their new version, which find the bands recording in adjacent studios unable to hear themselves sing because the other is too loud. This time, instead of Steven Tyler, it's Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding who breaks through the wall.

Every official Comic Relief single released since 1995 has hit #1, are generally remakes by then-hot artists, and many went on to be among the best-selling singles of the year; those singles include "Love Can Build a Bridge" by Cher, Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry, and Eric Clapton (1995); "Mama"/"Who Do You Think You Are" by Spice Girls (1997), "When The Going Gets Tough" by Boyzone (1999), "Uptown Girl" by Westlife (2001), "Spirit in the Sky" by Gareth Gates and the Kumars (2003), and "All About You"/"You've Got a Friend" by McFly (2005).

"Walk This Way" is the fifth #1 hit from the Sugababes and their first since 2005's "Push the Button," which spent 3 weeks at the top. The single expands their collection of top 10 hits to 13. It's the third #1 and 15th top 10 hit for Girls Aloud.

The single has fallen under significant criticism for not being that great. Sure it's not very original, but as others point out "it's for charity." Even Girls Aloud when interviewed on the radio remarked they preferred the 1986 version to their own, but acknowledged doing it for a good cause.

2. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani feat. Akon

If it weren't for charity, Gwen Stefani would be enjoying her first UK #1 hit. Since climbing up to #3 the week of its physical release, the single has moved up to #2 where it spends a second week this week. It's now clearly her biggest UK solo hit, surpassed only by the #1 with her group No Doubt, "Don't Speak."

3. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers featuring Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin

With the official Comic Relief single sitting at #1 the "unofficial" release sneaks in at #3 on downloads alone. This is the second year where such an unofficial release accompanies the official one, and just like last time--when Tony Christie's "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo" far outpaced the popularly of McFly's "All About You" in 2005--this track looks likely to do the same. Expect an easy #1 next week.

4. Shine - Take That

After 2 weeks at the top, Take That's "Shine" falls to #4, but manages to top this week's airplay chart.

10. Acceptable in the '80s - Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris rises 8 spots with his aptly '80s-influenced "Acceptable in the '80s," a great dance/pop track. The Scottish singer/producer is supposedly working with Kylie Minogue on a track for her forthcoming album.

18. Destination Calabria - Alex Gaudino featuring Crystal Waters

Debuting at #18 is a new version of the 2004 dance single "Destination Unknown," now retitled "Destination Calabria," presumably "calabria" refers to whatever new elements have been mixed in. Crystal Waters was originally from New Jersey but was based in Washington DC when she had her big break in 1991, landing a top 10 and #1 dance hit with "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)," which also hit #2 in the UK. Her last appearance in the top 40 was as the featured vocalist on Dutch's "My Time," which hit #22 in 2003.

19. Glamorous - Fergie

Fergie moves up another 3 spots with "Glamorous," which should jump into the top 10 next week on physical sales. The single has been climbing slow and steady within the top 40 over the last month. It's her second UK solo single following "London Bridge," which hit #3 in September. "Fergalicious" was not released in the UK.

21. New Shoes - Paolo Nutini

Despite getting top 10 airplay Paolo Nutini once again misses out on having a top 10 hit, jumping up 14 spots to #21 on physical sales with "New Shoes." This his fourth top 40 single, but his third to miss the top 10. Only his first, "Last Request," was so lucky, hitting #5.

22. Candyman - Christina Aguilera

"Candyman" rises another two spots to #22. The fate of its physical release appears to be up in the air. The single had been slated for release next week, however, it's disappeared from the new releases list. If so, it could peak here, making it Christina Aguilera's lowest-charting UK chart single.

24. Baby Fratelli - The Fratellis

Scottish rock band the Fratellis scores their fourth top 40 with "Baby Fratelli," which misses out on the top 10, which they achieved with their last two singles, "Chelsea Dagger" (#5) and "Whistle for the Choir" (#9).

32. Wide Awake - The Twang

The Twang debut on downloads at #32 and should rise on their physical release next week. "Wide Awake" is very U2-sounding. Good song.

37. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers

Fueled by the sales for the Comic Relief version, the Proclaimers original version of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" also re-enters the top 40. The single hit #11 in 1988 and became a top 10 hit in the US in the '90s after being featured in the film "Benny and Joon."

Personal Chart, 3/24/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Shine - Take That (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... She's My Man - Scissor Sisters
3 .... 2 .... What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 6 .... The Great Escape - Gwen Stefani Featuring Akon
5 .... 7 .... Glamorous - Fergie
6 .... 4 .... Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk @ #1)
7 .... 5 .... Read My Mind - The Killers
8 ... 13 ... No More - Jamelia
9 .... 8 .... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 wk @ #1)
10 .. 18 .. Acceptable in the '80s - Calvin Harris

Saturday, March 17, 2007

US Chart (Billboard Hot 100) Analysis, 3/24/2007

1. Glamorous - Fergie

Fergie lands her second #1 hit with "Glamorous," this week's sales gainer winner and her third top 2 hit in a row following "London Bridge," which spent 3 weeks at #1 last August, and "Fergalicious," which hit #2 in January. All three of Fergie's solo singles have now charted higher than her highest-charting hits with Black Eyed Peas--the #3 hits "Don't Phunk with My Heart" and "My Humps."

3. Don't Matter - Akon
4. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani (featuring Akon)

Akon keeps his bullet, winning the airplay gainer award even, but still slides back a spot to #3, pushed back by the seven-spot leap by Fergie. "Don't Matter" is Akon's third top 2 hit since November, when he hit #2 with "Smack That" and #1 with "I Wanna Love You." Akon is also at #4 this week, featured on Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape," down one from #3 this week. The single is Stefani's second highest-charting single after #1 "Hollaback Girl."

7. It's Not Over - Daughtry

Daughtry climbs back into the top 10 with "It's Not Over," propelled by ever increasing airplay. The single had climbed as high as #4 a few weeks ago, mostly on sales. "It's Not Over" is a major top 40 hit, in fact, it now tops the Mediabase Top 40 chart, making it a shoo-in to top the Radio & Records top 40 next week. When it does so, Daughtry will become only the second American Idol alumnus to do so, following Kelly Clarkson, who's topped the airplay top 40 four times ("Miss Independent," "Breakaway," "Since U Been Gone," and "Because of You"). Despite the intuitive link, American Idol artists have largely fared poorly at top 40 radio, but lately have turned that around, with three current top 40 hits: Daughtry at #3 this week, followed by Carrie Underwood at #27 with "Before He Cheats" and Katharine McPhee at #29 with "Over It"--both of which are quickly rising up the chart. The only other acts to hit the airplay top 40 from the show have been Clay Aiken (#17 in 2003 with "Invisible") and Kimberly Locke (#19 in 2004 with "Eighth World Wonder").

9. Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne

This single is more noteworthy for what it did last week, when it debuted at #5 to become Lavigne's 5th top 10 hit and 3rd to hit the top 5. Her last single, ballad "Keep Holding On" is still in the top 40, slipping 6 spots to #32 this week.

28. Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood rises 9 spots this week with "Before He Cheats." The single, which peaked at #16 back in November when it was a hit at country radio, is enjoying a second wind, now as a top 40 radio hit--her first.

31. Candyman - Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera lands her 14th top 40 hit this week with '40s-styled "Candyman," rising 16 notches this week to #31. Her last top 40 single, "Hurt," peaked at a disappointing #19 following the #6 peak of "Ain't No Other Man."

36. U + UR Hand - Pink

Pink returns to the top 40 this week with "U + Ur Hand," which makes a 26-spot jump to #36. This is Pink's 9th top 40, her last being last year's #13 single "Stupid Girls." Pink has had a difficult time on the chart lately, although the signles from her latest album did chart very well in the UK. Her last single, "Who Knew" failed to make the Billboard Hot 100, but was a top 5 hit in Britain. "U + Ur Hand" is doing very well at top 40 radio, where it's the third-biggest gainer in the top 20 this week, moving up 4 spots to #15, besting the #17 peak of "Stupid Girls."

Personal Chart, 3/17/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Shine - Take That (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 wk @ #1)
3 .... 6 .... She's My Man - Scissor Sisters
4 .... 2 .... Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk @ #1)
5 .... 4 .... Read My Mind - The Killers
6 .... 9 .... The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani (featuring Akon)
7 .... 7 .... Glamorous - Fergie
8 .... 5 .... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 wk @ #1)
9 .... 8 .... Lil Star - Kelis (featuring Cee-Lo)
10 .. 13 .. She's Madonna - Robbie Williams (featuring Pet Shop Boys)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Singles Reviews

Walk This Way - Sugababes vs. Girls Aloud (3/5)

This year's Comic Relief charity single delivers a big dose of attitude, a remake of the Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. 80s classic that re-envisions the musical duel between two of Britain's hottest pop acts, girl groups Sugababes and Girls Aloud. Girls Aloud even breaks through the wall at one point, just like Aerosmith. Musically inspired? Not in the least, but as everyone says "it's for charity."

Give It To Me - Timbaland Featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake (4/5)

Timbaland spun chart gold for Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake over the last year, and they return the favor by appearing on this first single from Timbaland's forthcoming solo album. Both singers namecheck their own songs, "Promiscuous" and "Sexyback," and Justin delivers a real slam to some unnamed pop star: "We missed you on the charts last week--Damn that's right, you wasn't there." The charm is Furtado and Timberlake; the hard beat, electro bass, and infectious chorus is all Timbo.

Shine - Take That (4.5/5)

Don't hate--embrace. This is a joyous springtime pop song that easily be "cool" if the Scissor Sisters were singing it, but Take That are back in a big way--it's already #1 in the U.K. Gary Barlow doesn't sing lead either, which is another good reason to like it. I wonder what other pop gems the album is hiding?

She's My Man - Scissor Sisters (4.5/5)

"Land of a Thousand Words" was a chart disaster, and unfortunately "She's My Man" fared even worse--making only #29 on the U.K. chart last week, likely it's peak position. This is such a cool song! At least radio came around this time--it's #3 on U.K. airplay. It's not as good as "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," but this upbeat ode to New Orleans is pretty great, one of the album's standouts.

The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani Featuring Akon (4/5)

I didn't like this song for awhile, but I'm actually coming around to it now. Akon annoys me, but Gwen sounds great on it, and I love the '80s-drenched keyboards during the chorus. It's got a good toe-tapping beat too.

Stop Me - Mark Ronson (4.5/5)

This sounds like it was produced by the guys responsible for the remixes of Candi Staton's "You Got the Love" Trip-hop beats and very prominent strongs create a great soundmix. The only drawback is the singer--his raspy voice isn't that great--otherwise I think this is really great.

Acceptable in the '80s - Calvin Harris (3.5/5)

Sounds like Prince leftovers--which is pretty good eating if you think about it. Not bad, but at 5:35 it gets old before it's over.

Baby Fratelli - The Fratellis (4/5)

Another good song from The Fratellis, more a party song than their last. Everyone says "Chelsea Dagger" is their best, but unfortunately I don't have it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

UK Chart Analysis, 3/10/2007

1. Shine - Take That

Take That are flying high as ever, scoring their second #1 single from their comeback album, Beautiful World, which itself rebounds to #2 on the albums chart this week. The accolades keep rolling in for Take That: 4 weeks at #1 for "Patience"--one of 2006's ten best-selling singles, 6 weeks at #1 for their album Beautiful World, a Brit Award win for Best British Single of 2006 for "Patience," and now a second #1 hit, their 10th overall and 6th consecutive chart topper. Following the by-the-numbers ballad "Patience," "Shine" is upbeat pop akin to what Scissor Sisters and Mika are doing.

2. Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs

So Kaiser Chiefs fall from #1 this week, but reclaim the #1 spot on the airplay chart ("Shine" is #2 there), and their second album, Yours Truly, Angry Mob debuts at #1 this week on the albums chart.

3. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani (feat. Akon)

Upon its physical release Gwen Stefani climbs to #3, matching the peak of her last single "Wind It Up," which is still her high-water mark on the UK singles chart. Only with her band No Doubt has she done better, hitting #1 with "Don't Speak" and #2 with "Hey Baby."

7. Standing in the Way of Control - Gossip

Rockers The Gosisp climb into the top 10 this week with their first single, "Standing in the Way of Control."

8. Miracle - Cascada

Annoying dance act Cascada scores its third straight U.K. top 10 with "Miracle," which thankfully has not been a hit in the U.S.

10. What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake scores his third top 10 hit from FutureSex/LoveSounds, which may shoot up still when the physical single comes out. In the U.S. last week, it became his third straight #1.

15. Read My Mind - The Killers

The Killers miss out on the top 10 with "Read My Mind." Too bad, as it's a much better single than "Bones," which also peaked at #15.

Personal Chart, 3/10/2007

TW LW ..Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... What Goes Around ... Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk @ #1)
3 .... 4 .... Shine - Take That
4 .... 6 .... Read My Mind - The Killers
5 .... 3 .... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 wk @ #1)
6 .... 9 .... She's My Man - Scissor Sisters
7 .. 10 .... Glamorous - Fergie
8 .... 8 .... Lil Star - Kelis Featuring Cee-Lo
9 ... 11 ... The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani Featuring Akon
10 .. 5 .... Catch You - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Upcoming Album Releases

Time to update the album releases list. January and February brought new releases from Norah Jones, Bloc Party, and the Kaiser Chiefs, along with Mika's debut album and the latest Damon Albarn side project, The Good, The Bad and the Queen. Here's what's coming in the next few weeks:

March 5:

Air - Pocket Symphony. Not counting soundtrack work, this is Air's fourth studio album, following 2004's remarkable Talkie Walkie.

Tracey Thorn - Out of the Woods. Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn releases her second solo album.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible. Arcade fire's sophomore album, following 2004's acclaimed (IMO overrated) Funeral.

March 12:

Joss Stone - Introducing. Third album from Joss Stone includes cool first single "Tell Me 'Bout It."

LCD Soundsystem - The Sound of Silver

March 19:

Good Charlotte - Good Morning Revival. Their fourth album, third since making it big in 2002 with the Young and the Hopeless. Features first singles "The River" (in the U.S.) and "Keep Your Hands Off My Girl" (in the U.K.)

March 26:

Jennifer Lopez - Como Ama Una Mujer. Her first Spanish-language album.

Timbaland - Timbaland Presents Shock Value. A rare solo album from the prolific hip-hop/pop producer.

April 2:

Now That's What I Call Music, Volume 66. Includes recent hits from Mika, Take That, Akon, Beyonce, many others.

Natasha Bedingfield's New Single

Natasha Bedingfield's new single "I Wanna Have Your Babies" can be heard here. In the media window on the right, first there's a clip of the video, and then below it you can hear the entire song.

Personal Chart, 3/2/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake
3 .... 1 .... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 6 .... Shine - Take That
5 .... 5 .... Catch You - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
6 ... 10 ... Read My Mind - The Killers
7 .... 4 .... Grace Kelly - Mika (4 wks @ #1)
8 .... 9 .... Lil Star - Kelis Featuring Cee-Lo
9 ... 15 ... She's My Man - Scissor Sisters
10 .. 14 .. Glamorous - Fergie

Album Review: Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City (3.5 / 5)

So much has been written lately about the "difficult second album," with them coming out over the last year from acts like Kaiser Chiefs, Scissor Sisters, Keane, The Killers, and Justin Timberlake. These are acts whose debut albums were so massively popular that crafting the next disc presented a number of unusual challenges and questions: Should they basically do the same thing again and risk negative album reviews citing them as one-trick ponies? Should they go off in a new direction and risk their fans not liking it? The answer for most of these acts has been a combination of both: build off of the familiar song that won them acclaim in the first place, but try to expand upon those sounds and themes.

Bloc Party's first album, Silent Alarm, while not massive on the scale of the debut albums of the five acts listed above, did achieve its own level of acclaim, securing a Mercury Prize nomination and being named NME's Album of the Year for 2005. The album was notable for its energetic punk rock, some would call it "dance rock," but also featured some mellower tracks. Recognizing the dance potential of the tracks, the entire album was remixed and released just 6 months later.

So to answer that difficult question then, Bloc Party, rather than broaden their effort, have instead decided to make it more narrow, focusing A Weekend in the City on grand soundscapes evoking U2 and Radiohead influences, and weaving various lyrical subjects together around a central theme of a weekend of life in London, a theme played out in other recent works such by Lily Allen and The Good, the Bad, and the Queen.

"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)" opens quietly with light keyboards and almost whispered vocals before exploding forth with low guitar chords and forceful, repetitive drumming. Musically, it's a good song. Lyrically, it's a bit trying, it's theme being that the melancholic singer is "untouched" by the trappings of wealth his fame has brought, whether it be cocaine or foie gras. Snore; there's nothing more annoying than newly moneyed celebrities complaining about it. Similarly, "Hunting for Witches" is good musically, but not lyrically, touching on issues of contemporary response to terrorism--including the 2005 subway and bus bombings in London--but not saying anything original about them.

"Waiting for the 7.18" gives Sudoku its first mainstream musical reference, along with other commuting-related subjects such as subway noise, crosswords, and the regret of having not taken more risks in life--okay, I usually don't think about that while commuting, but you get the picture. Keyboard chords mixed with frantic electric guitars pump up the choruses here, contrasting with the mellower xylophone-sounding keyboards, somewhat like what the Killers do, but faster.

First single "The Prayer" is a standout track, opening with demanding drumming and low humming. The choruses shine forward with keyboards, quick bass pulses, and frenetic drumming. The subject here is a prayer to god for dancefloor supremacy, the terrorism concerns of the previous track apparently forgotten.

Cynical "Uniform" turns to consumerism and the "uniform" of rebellion marketed to young people, thinking they all look different, when really they don't, and then closing with the seemingly unrelated statement that "pop songs won't change the government." Not exactly wisdom, but interesting. Ominous "On" is about the allure of cocaine--how it gives you confidence, but then wears off and makes you feel even worse. The grand stadium sound evokes U2, and the strings lend a note of intimacy; it's an obvious choice for a follow-up single.

While most of the songs are more interesting musically than lyrically, "Where Is Home?" is an exception, tackling lead singer Kele Okereke's rumination on being the son of immigrant parents (his parents are from Nigeria) in a time when immigrant is a dirty word ("In every headline we are reminded that this is not home for us").

So, after the expensive dinner, terrorism, Tube trip, clubbing, shopping, cocaine, and racism, how does one finish off this weekend in London? Why with sex and love of course. Lovely "Kreuzberg" finds singer Kele--who's been firmly ambiguous in expressing his sexual orientation but seems pretty gay in these songs--yearning for love but finding only sex. Two teenage boys almost find love in "I Still Remember," where Kele laments the other boy (we know it's a British schoolboy, because he was wearing a tie) never having taken the first step ("You should have asked me for it") or himself ("I should have kissed you by the water"). This is all very familiar territory to any gay male who remembers the unrequited love of his youth; It's the highlight of the album's second half. "Sunday" finds Kele in love with someone, although hung over and strung out--better than nothing I guess.

A Weekend in the City is an ambitious second album, tackling both grand themes such as cultural conflict and the mundane boo-hoo of fame. It delivers a mixed bag, but earns marks for a worthy effort. Many of the songs lack distinction, even after repeated listens, but those that do (namely "Song for Clay," "The Prayer," "On," and "I Still Remember") are always enjoyable.