Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chart News

  • The Sugababes landed their 6th UK #1 this week with "About You Now." The track arrives in stores tomorrow, so a second week at #1 would seem likely. This is the fourth time in a row that the lead single from a Sugababes album has topped the UK singles chart after "Freak Like Me," "Hole in the Head" and "Push the Button." They may also be headed for #1 on the UK airplay chart, where they are currently #4 and rising. That chart has been rather stagnant, with Plain White T's occupying the top slot for the fourth week with "Hey There Delilah."
  • After all the fuss over Kanye and 50 on the US albums chart last week, it comes as a surprise to see that neither is number one this week. Kanye got bumped from the top by Reba McEntire's Reba Duets, which features the recent country #2, "Because of You" featuring Kelly Clarkson. Kanye West's "Stronger" was also deposed on the Hot 100, with Soulja Boy reclaiming the top spot with "Crank That."
  • Pink is #1 this week on the US top 40 airplay chart with "Who Knew." It's her fourth #1 on this chart and the first time that she's scored two #1s from one album, in this case her fourth, I'm Not Dead. Her second album, Missundaztood, yielded three top 2 tracks, but only "Don't Let Me Get Me" made it to #1. Her other #1s are "U + Ur Hand" from earlier this year and her 2001 super collaboration with Christina Aguilera, Mya, and Lil Kim, "Lady Marmalade."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Album Review: Kanye West - Graduation (4 / 5)

I'm not much of a rap fan, but I thought I'd give Graduation, the latest from Kanye West, a shot. West is the most interesting of current rap artists, and he's managed the amazing feat of having both of his first two albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration, snag nominations for the Album of the Year Grammy Award. The way critics are singing the praises of this album, it seems a good shot it will follow the other two. While the album isn't amazing, it's not bad, in fact, it's pretty good.

The album opens with the mellow introduction "Good Morning," followed by retro-flavored "Champion," which borrows liberally from Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne," These tracks are fine, but not standouts, the first of which comes next.

"Stronger" is an electric, energetic track, a prime example of the current fusion between electronic music and hip-hop that's helping to propel rap back into the pop music spotlight. The electronica comes courtesy of dance master Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger."

The next three tracks are also among my favorites. Sample-heavy "I Wonder" ("My Song" by Labi Siffre) has a nice old school quality and welcome piano backing. "The Good Life" has a laid-back upbeat feel, "P.Y.T. (Michael Jackson)" samples, and surprising restraint in the product placement department, desipte this being a song about enjoying wealth and luxury. Darker "Can't Tell Me Nothing" would appear to send the mixed message that money can't buy happiness--West after all has just praised The Good Life--but even this more somber message is delivered with some brevity ("So if the devil wear Prada, Adam and Eve wear nada").

These are followed by perhaps my two least favorite. Tuneless "Barry Bonds" comes off like a big brag with no weight. "Here's another hit" he says, but I kind of doubt this track will be a hit. "Drunk and Hot Girls" is synth heavy but beat light, never mind misogynistic.

Thankfully two more standout tracks follow. "Flashing Lights" is totally cool. The kind of slower groove that still makes you want to move. It's typical celebrity stuff though--an anti-paparazzi rant about how all the "flashing lights" get him down, like a "Katrina with no FEMA." Then there's "Everything I Am," a slow, piano-laced track about being Kanye being true to himself.

Chris Martin of all people shows up for backing vocal duty on "The Homecoming." He's one among a long line of guests here, which includes T-Pain, Ne-Yo, John Legend, Lil Wayne, and Mos Def.

You have to admire him for admitting that he is who he is. He admits he's boastful ("with my ego, I can stand there in a Speedo and still be looked at like a...hero") he admits he likes to shop ("I shop so much I can speak Italian" he says in "Champion). He also loves to hand out free (or is it?) advertising. Louis Vuitton is the clear champion, mentioned in three tracks, followed by Christian Dior in two. Other product placements include Adidas, Bacardi, Delorean, Ferrari, Hugo Boss, Isotoner, Klondike, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Reebok, Speedo, Versace, and Volvo. Three films also get either direct or indirect mention: The Pursuit of Happyness, The Devil Wears Prada, and Snakes on a Plane.

Best tracks: Stronger, The Good Life, Flashing Lights, Can't Tell Me Nothing, Everything I Am, I Wonder

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Personal Chart, 9/29/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Stronger - Kanye West (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... The Way I Are - Timbaland Featuring Keri Hilson & DOE
3 .... 2 .... 1973 - James Blunt
4 .... 6 .... Who Knew - Pink
5 .... 7 .... Lovestoned - Justin Timberlake
6 .... 5 .... Suburban Knights - Hard-Fi
7 .... 4 .... Hold On - KT Tunstall (1 week @ #1)
8 ... 14 ... Young Folks - Peter Bjorn & John Featuring Victoria Bergsman
9 .... 8 .... With Every Heartbeat - Robyn with Kleerup
10 .. 10 .. Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (6 wks @ #1)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jamelia: Superstar - The Hits

Jamelia parted ways with her record company earlier this year, apparently over the mishandling of her last project, Walk with Me, which, while despite being a fantasic album, yielded few hits. So here they big a formal farewell by releasing 11 of Jamelia's more popular singles, omitting only a handful of the last popular. There are no new tracks.

From her first album, Drama (2000), we get "Money," collaboration with Beenie Man that served as her breakout single and first top 5 hit in the UK, and "Bout," for which she teamed up with Rah Digga. Both are from an era of British R&B where big sounds were really in, so you gets lots of loud beating bass drums and synth bursts. They're not bad, better than the mid-tempo "Call Me."

Almost half this collection consists of songs from Jamelia's second album, Thank You (2003), and for good reason. This was the peak of her career when Jamelia embraced a pop sound and scored a Mercury Music Prize nomination. "Superstar" remains her best single: funky, danceable, and irresistable. None of these singles are bad. "Thank You" is better than average empowerment pop. Her Chris Martin collaboration, "See It in A Boy's Eyes," is dark and funky but with a Coldplay piano pop touch. Bass-heavy "DJ" and soulful "Stop" were released together, and while not as good as these others, are still welcome.

Then finally there was Walk with Me (2006). Mid-tempo "Something About You" still sounds great, as does the "Personal Jesus"-sampling "Beware of the Dog." Releasing the over-produced "No More" as a single was a mistake though, as there were vastly superior choices from the album.

Best: Superstar, Thank You, Something About You, See It in A Boy's Eyes, Beware of the Dog

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Album Review: Mark Ronson - Version (3.5 / 5)

Mark Ronson is one of the most exciting producers at the moment. His biggest achievement in my mind is producing the better tracks on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, but he's also done good work recently with Lily Allen, Christina Aguilera, and Robbie Williams.

Version then in his album, a collection of covers--many of them very recent songs--each featuring a different collaborator, including most of the above-mentioned artists.

Most of the best tracks are up front. The vibrant instrumental take on Coldplay's "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" is fresh and fun. So is the jazzy Lily Allen version of Kaiser Chief's "Oh My God." The Smith's "Stop Me" medley with the Supremes' "Keep Me Hanging On" featuring vocals from Daniel Merriwether is another highlight, downbeat and insistent. The retro-flavored Amy Winehouse take on the Zuton's "Valerie" is likewise a winner.

For the re-work of Maximo Park's "Apply Some Pressure," Ronson went back to the source and got the band's singer Paul Smith to do the vocal. It's also good--very similar to the other tracks. That is sort of the double-edged sword of this album. Ronson's sound is hot and great, but here, after awhile, all the songs start to sound the same. I love swirling strings and blaring horns over hip-hop beats, but I'd like to hear what else he can do. Originators Kasabian also show up on Ronson's cover of their "LSF," which is fine, but not a highlight. Better is Kenna's take on Ryan Adams' "Amy," which has a very '70s feel to it.

In the bin "doesn't work" falls the Ol' Dirty Bastard/Tiggers take on Britney Spears' "Toxic," which loses its frothy drive in a hip-hop incarnation. "Just," a funky Radiohead remake with Alex Greenwald of Phantom Planet is too long and not meaty enough. Robbie Williams sounds bored on the remake of The Charlatans "The Only One I Know."
Taken as a producer's chance to have some fun with his friends and remake some of his favorite songs into his own style this works pretty well. It's expected that it wouldn't all be great--it's an experiment after all, and when it delivers it is a lot of fun.

Best: Stop Me, Valerie, Oh My God, God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, Apply Some Pressure

Album Review: Robyn - Robyn (4.5 / 5)

Good comeback stories may be a dime a dozen in the pop music world, but they are always interesting. Take Robyn, a young Swedish pop singer who charmed the world in 1997 with her brand of Swedish pop on the cusp of the Swedish-produced pop invasion that would be BSB and Britney. "Show Me Love" and "Do You Know (What It Takes)" were top 10 hits in the US, all but assuring a follow-up chance. But record label RCA took a pass, and after two subsequent albums, Robyn parted ways with corporate labels.
After starting up her own label, Konichiwa Records, Robyn released Robyn in 2005. It was very successful in Sweden, but not anywhere else. It did catch the ear of one notable US pop columnist, Fred Bronson, who named "Be Mine" one of his favorite singles of the year. Two years later now the album has been given new life after Robyn recorded a new song "With Every Heartbeat," which she released in the UK and was a smash #1 hit, her first #1 single in any country. Its success prompted a re-release of Robyn with some new tracks, which has already been released in the UK.
Despite it being two years old, listening to Robyn feels like listening to the future of pop music. She's at the top of her game on the album's upbeat electronic pop tracks, which comprise the bulk of the album. Her girlish voice is a striking contrast to her sometimes raunchy vocals and street pretensions. "Konichiwa Bitches," during which Robyn raps, should be just silly, but it's actually pretty fun. Bass-heavy "Cobrastyle," one of the new tracks, is good too.
The next six songs though comprise the core of the album, and all of them are fantastic pop recordings. "Handle Me," slated as the next single, marries cello over bass and electronic bleeps and serves as a kiss off to an egotistical ex. "Bum Like You" is a sweet guitar-driven love song about how much she loves her guy, despite him being broke and not particularly good looking.
"Be Mine" is smashingly good. Intense strings keep the rhythm over the beats and keyboards. "With Every Heartbeat" is one those deceptively simple songs that really gets under your skin after a few listens. It's an earnest love song put to a electronic dance rhythm. (To hear a different and equally compelling take on this song, listen to the slower piano-backed version Robyn sang recently on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge with Jo Wiley. It's stunning.) Rhythmic "Who's that Girl" and "Crash and Burn Girl" finish off this fine run of class-act pop songs.
Robyn wisely kept the slower songs at the back of the album, which, while not bad, aren't as interesting as her upbeat pop. Best of the bunch is slinky "Should Have Known." Then there's perhaps the album's only misstep, "Robotboy," a metaphorical ballad that's just too lean to stand up. The UK re-release added a bass line, which helps, but it still doesn't cut it.
It's a minor misstep though in an overall very strong pop album that shows a lot of creativity, diversity, humor, and drive. With any luck, "With Every Heartbeat" will be an international success, putting Robyn back on the pile of pop acts with worldwide appeal.

Best: With Every Heartbeat, Be Mine, Bum Like You, Handle Me, Who's That Girl, Crash and Burn Girl, Cobrastyle, Konichiwa Bitches, Should Have Known

Friday, September 21, 2007

Chart News

  • Britney Spears' "Gimme More" climbs five spots to #20 on the Radio & Records top 40 this week, making it a bigger hit at top 40 radio than Kelly Clarkson's "Never Again," which only managed #22. If "Gimme More" reaches the top 10, it will be only her 8th top 10 single. Among recent female pop artists, Britney is behind Christina Aguilera's 11 top 10 hits and Pink's nine.
  • Timbaland (Featuring Keri Hilson) is #1 on the R&R Top 40 for a third week with "The Way I Are" and also has this week's highest debut at #29 with "Apologize," which features Onerepublic.
  • Kanye West's "Stronger" topped the Billboard Hot 100 this week, propelled by the release of his album Graduation. This is West's second #1 single after 2005's "Gold Digger," third if you count his appearance on Twista's "Slow Jamz." Kanye also scores this week's Billboard Hot 100 Hot shot debut at #14 with Graduation album track "Good Life (featuring T-Pain)." Graduation's first single, "Cant Tell Me Nothing," which initially flopped at #80, has recently been climbing up the chart and gets a boost up to #41 this week. The release of Kanye's rival 50 Cent's album Curtis has helped his singles too. "Ayo Technology (featuring Justin Timberlake)" vaults up 14 spots to #5 while his other single, "I Get Money" enters the top 40 at #20.
  • Pink's "Who Knew" climbs five spots to #9 on the Hot 100, matching the peak of her last single "U + Ur Hand." This single was originally released last year, but failed to make the top 100. Given new life after the unexpected success of "U + Ur Hand," "Who Knew" looks set to become the album's biggest hit. It's currently #2 at Top 40 radio.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Personal Chart, 9/22/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Stronger - Kanye West (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... 1973 - James Blunt
3 .... 6 .... The Way I Are - Timbaland Feat. Keri Hilson & DOE
4 .... 1 .... Hold On - KT Tunstall
5 .... 4 .... Suburban Knights - Hard-Fi
6 .... 8 .... Who Knew - Pink
7 ... 10 .... Lovestoned - Justin Timberlake
8 .... 9 .... With Every Heartbeat - Robyn (with Kleerup)
9 .... 5 .... Tears Dry on Their Own - Amy Winehouse (3 wks @ #1)
10 .. 7 .... Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (6 wks @ #1)

Kanye Wins

In the Kanye West vs. 50 Cent contest to see who's album would be #1 tomorrow, the winner is overwhelmingly Kanye West, who's Graduation moved nearly 1 million copies, beating the almost 700,000 sold by 50 Cent's Curtis. Word is out on whether 50 Cent will honor his promise to retire--something tells me he won't. According to Billboard, Kanye's total of 957,000 is the 15th best one-week sales week for an album since Soundscan starting tracking album sales in 1991. The last artist to sell as many copies of one album in one week was 50 Cent, with his 2005 release, The Massacre. We'll find tomorrow whether the releases push these artists current singles up the Hot 100, at #2 last week, Kanye West's "Stronger" looked like a good contender for #1.

Peter Bjorn and Friends

"Young Friends" by Peter Bjorn and Friends (featuring Victory Bergsman) is the hot new track in the UK right now. The song's on the Radio 1 A-list, is currently #15 on airplay and rising fast, and was released Monday. The video is really cool too:

Back from New York

I'm back from New York. The trip included the obligatory stop in Times Square's Virgin Megastore, my favorite music store in the U.S. Great sale there now. I picked up Mark Ronson's Version and the remastered re-release of Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Personal Chart, 9/15/2007

I'm gone the next few days, so the blog will be taking a break.

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Hold On - KT Tunstall (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 5 .... Stronger - Kanye West
3 .... 7 .... 1973 - James Blunt
4 .... 6 .... Suburban Knights - Hard-Fi
5 .... 1 .... Tears Dry on Their Own - Amy Winehouse (3 wks @ #1)
6 .... 3 .... The Way I Are - Timbaland Feat. Keri Hilson & DOE
7 .... 4 .... Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (6 wks @ #1)
8 ... 10 ... Who Knew - Pink
9 .... 8 .... With Every Heatbeat - Robyn (with Kleerup)
10 ... 9 ... Lovestoned - Justin Timberlake

Monday, September 10, 2007

Kanye vs. 50

Tomorrow is the start of the first week sales showdown between rappers 50 Cent and Kanye West, both of whom are releasing their third albums, Curtis and Graduation, respectively. 50 Cent told the press he would stop putting out albums if Kanye beat him in first week sales. Let's see how they stack up:

Sales: 50 Cent. Kanye sold 5.8 million copies sold in the US of his first two albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration, compared to the 13 million copies 50 Cent sold of Get Rich or Die Tryin' and The Massacre. Based solely on past sales, 50 has the advantage here.

Hits: 50 Cent. Kanye's "Gold Digger" is the single biggest hit between them, which spent 10 weeks at #1, but that's far and away Kanye's biggest hit, who, not counting featured appearances, has had only two other top 10's: the current "Stronger" at #2 this week and the #7 hit "All Falls Down." In contrast, 50 Cent has had three #1 singles--"In Da Club," "21 Questions," and "Candy Shop," plus four other top 10s.
Awards: Kanye West. If 50's a rapper for the masses then Kanye's a rapper for the critics, garnering far more awards than 50. 50's had 11 Grammy nominations--all but one in the rap categories--but he's never won. Kanye's won 6 Grammys, spread over rap and R&B categories for both performing and writing, plus he's been nominated in the general albums category twice and record of the year for "Gold Digger.

Current Single: Kanye West. Both artists stalled a bit getting their latest singles on the charts. Kanye's first Graduation single, "Can't Tell Me Nothing," stalled at #62 on the Hot 100, but he's rebounded with "Stronger," currently #2. It took 50 Cent four tries to find a single that appealed to a broad audience; "Ayo Technology" featuring Justin Timberlake is #18 and rising this week.
Verdict: 50 Cent. Personally I like Kanye West better. "Gold Digger" was great, and I'm really into "Stronger" right now. "Ayo Technology" isn't bad, but "Stronger's" better, so personally I would consider buying Kanye's new album, but probably not 50's. However, I think the sales record here is pretty clear, and that's what's at stake. And although Kanye is leading in iTunes presales (#2 right now, vs. #9 for Curtis), once the discs are in stores I bet 50 Cent will be the bigger seller when the Billboard chart is revealed next week.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Personal Chart, YTD 2nd Quarter 2007

As of the end of the June, these were the biggest hits of the year so far on my personal chart.

#...Peak Pos....Title - Artist
1 ... 1(1) ... Glamorous - Fergie
2 ... 1(3) ... The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani Featuring Akon
3 ... 1(1) ... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado
4 ... 1(1) ... What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake
5 ... 1(2) ... U + Ur Hand - Pink
6 ... 1(1) ... Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs
7 ... 1(2) ... Shine - Take That
8 ... 1(4) ... Grace Kelly - Mika
9 ... 1(1) ... Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5
10 ... 3 ..... Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Album Review: Hard-Fi - Once Upon a Time in the West (4.5 / 5)

My definition of a really good album goes something like this: At first listen a few tracks stand out as instantly likable. Upon repeat listens, the appeal of other tracks emerges, while the first favorites don't wear out their welcome. You can see yourself listening to this for years to come.

That's what we have with Hard-Fi's second album, Once Upon a Time in the West, a confident, sweeping second album from the English band who debuted 2 years ago with the impressive Stars of CCTV. In a year packed with second albums from British groups--Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Editors--it's the best of the bunch, surpassing the band's first disc.

"Suburban Knights" opens with its best foot forward. It's upbeat, loud, brash, fun, marked by sharp electric guitar, a strong chorus (backed by a choir of "hey hey hey, oh oh oh, ah ah ah"), electronic keyboards, and even some strings to punch up the end. It even touches on suburban apathy toward the war on terror.

"I Shall Overcome" is also bold, but different, with alternating passes from electric and acoustic guitars. The strings and choir show up here too, but are used differently to underscore the chorus, vaguely sounding like a rock version of a dark disco track. Other songs embody a dance aesthetic too, like "Television," which I could almost imagine being a Pet Shop Boys track with a different arrangement. Piano and keyboards open this, and sound like their headed toward a clubby track, but then the song takes a punky pop/rock turn into its chorus.

"Tonight" is the second obvious highlight. It's a bold rock ballad, with big chorus, piano, strings. I like though, that it retains an electronic sheen pervasive through most of the album. Even the drum line sounds more like something from an electronic album than a rock album, which sets this apart from something that say Embrace or Coldplay would do. It seems like an obvious choice for third single.

The album shows remarkable musical diversity. The dark, string-laden "Watch Me Fall Apart" reminds me of early '90s Depeche Mode. Cheeky "I Close My Eyes" is a cacophony of percussive noise interlaced with insistent electric guitar and harmonic choruses. The lyrics long for escape from life's annoyances ("the boss is on my back"..."the phone keeps ringing"), but taunt the singer too with some "nyah nyah nyah."

Depression ballad "Help Me Please" tones down the exuberance of the previous tracks, but this is short-lived. The slight reggae and disco touches of slated second single "Can't Get Along (Without You)" reminds me of Smash Mouth. Following down-trodden "Help Me Please," it oozes joyous celebratory energy. Then there's "We Need Love," which pulses with a prominent electronic bass reminiscent of Goldfrapp's last album. My hometown gets a mention, along with New York, Glasgow, Liverpool, San Salvador, and London.

"Little Angel" is much brasher than its title would imply; another good sing-along number (if you know the lyrics). Final track "The King" is yet another winner. Darker and brooding ("With you I was The King, But now my story's done"), but lovely and melodic too. A bonus acoustic version of "Tonight" demonstrates that even without its heavy production, the song still holds up.

Not a bad track in the bunch, and quite a few really good ones. Once Upon a Time in the West is a very good sign that Hard-Fi will be around for awhile. I'd give this a "5," except for the fact that I'm not quite convinced it has "classic" potential. I therefore reserve the right to amend my rating.

Best: Suburban Knights, Tonight, I Shall Overcome, Can't Get Along (Without You), The King, Television, Little Angel, I Close My Eyes, We Need Love, Watch Me Fall Apart.

Natalie Imbruglia - Glorious: The Singles 1997 - 2007

The fall season for greatest hits releases is here. First up is Australian actress turned singer Natalie Imbruglia with Glorious: The Singles, the sort of hybrid greatest hits collection that's be in vogue lately, along the lines of what we got from Dannii Minogue and Hilary Duff: not quite substantial a catalog for a proper greatest hits but not enough new material to make a full album.

Glorious features all nine of Imbruglia's previous singles; new release "Glorious," which made a tepid bow at #23 on the UK singles chart last week; and four other new tracks. Included of course is her massive breakout, "Torn," which made her an instant international star. Unfortunately, she never lived up to it, and her third and very likable album, Counting Down the Days, never saw a US release. Here are the highlights:

1. "Torn" (from Left of The Middle). This 1997 single, her debut, became a massive hit in Britain, hitting #2 and spending 11 weeks at #1 on the airplay chart. A few months later it became a massive hit in the US, also spending 11 weeks at the top of the airplay chart. It's since earned a permanent home at adult top 40 radio stations, where the upbeat, easy to sing with track will always have a home.

2. "Shiver" (from Counting Down the Days). Something went terribly wrong with the promotion of her third album. "Shiver" is a glorious pop single, one of my favorites from 2005, and deserved to be an international smash on par with "Torn." It has a cool video too--a spy-themed chase across Europe in the vein of the Bourne films. It became a #1 hit on UK radio, but managed only #8 on the sales chart. Sadly, it was never released in the US, where I swear it would have been a hit. Interest in the album quickly waned as second single "Counting Down the Days" was released rather late and didn't chart well. We never whether "Perfectly," "Sanctuary," or "Starting Today" could have been hits.

3. "Beauty on the Fire" (from White Lilies Island). Imbruglia's second album wasn't nearly as successful as its first, and this, its third single, is the lowest charting of her 10 singles in Britain. Too bad, as the darker track with a mild downbeat influence, was the best single released from White Lilies Island.
4. "Big Mistake" (from Left of the Middle). This was the moody UK follow-up to "Torn," which followed its predecessor to #2. Strangely, it wasn't released in the US, in favor of "Wishing I Was There." Too bad, because it was much better. More of a rock song than poppy "Torn," it was also all over UK radio.
5. "Wrong Impression" (from White Lilies Island). A modest hit in both the UK and the US, this was the best White Lilies Island could offer. Not a classic, but a good song nonetheless.

Friday, September 07, 2007


The good news: Atonement looks absolutely stunning. The bad news: It doesn't get a US release until December. Arg!!!!! Atonement debuted in Britain today to universal acclaim; it gets a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating based on its 14 mostly British reviews. The Guardian said "there are moments - delirious, languorous, romantic moments - when this film appears to have the lineaments of a classic."

The film is based on Ian McEwan's acclaimed 2002 novel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, an honor he earned yet again this year for his novella On Chesil Beach. Aside from Harry Potter, Atonement is my favorite novel so far this decade, an epic World War II romantic tale about how the lie of a barely adolescent girl can forever change the lives of those close to her. The book, and I hear the film too, ends with a delicious twist.
The movie stars Oscar nominee Keira Knightley and James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland). Joe Wright, who helmed the lovely but light 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, which also starred Knightley directs. Clearly, this is the most obvious early shoo-in to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination. That the early reviews are all stellar bodes well for it, as well as Knightley, McAvoy, and Wright.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Personal Chart, 9/8/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Tears Dry on Their Own - Amy Winehouse (3 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 5 .... Hold On - KT Tunstall
3 .... 3 .... The Way I Are - Timbaland Featuring Keri Hilson & DOE
4 .... 2 .... Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (6 wks @ #1)
5 .... 6 .... Stronger - Kanye West
6 .... 8 .... Suburban Knights - Hard-Fi
7 .... 7 .... 1973 - James Blunt
8 .... 4 .... With Every Heartbeat - Robyn (with Kleerup)
9 .... 9 .... Lovestoned - Justin Timberlake
10 .. 14 .. Who Knew - Pink

Klaxons Take Mercury Prize

Newcomers The Klaxons picked up the Nationwide Mercury Prize last night, Britain's prestigious music award that is supposed to honor the quality of the music, as opposed to the Brits, the more mainstream award that also figures in popularity and sales. The Klaxons released their debut Myths of the Near Future early this year. The album has scored four top 40 singles including the top 10 hit "Golden Skans" and their most recent single, a remake of the '90s dance hit "It's Not Over Yet."
Oddmakers had tipped Bat For Lashes' Fur and Gold to win. Other popular nominees included the latest from Jamie T, The View, and Arctic Monkeys, who won the Mercury Prize last year for their debut, Whatever It Is You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.

The evening's highlight was said to be Amy Winehouse's rendition of "Love Is a Losing Game," from her nominated album Back to Black, during which one British journalist said the room fell absolutely silent. It was Winehouse's first live performance since her recent spat of trouble, which has left her bloodied, in rehab, and contributed to the cancellation of US tour dates and her scheduled appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards. See the video below--I agree she is mesmerizing, and it would appear, sober.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Personal Chart, YTD 1st Quarter 2007

I'm finally getting around to recording the points from my weekly top 40 charts to calculate the biggest hits of the year. I'm up through March. These were the top 10 hits of the year, as of 3/31/2007:

1. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 week @ #1)
2. What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 wk @ #1)
3. Grace Kelly - Mika (4 wks @ #1)
4. A Bad Dream - Keane (1 wk @ #1)
5. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani ft. Akon (#2, later 3 wks @ #1)
6. Patience - Take That (4 wks @ #1)
7. Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk @ #1)
8. Shine - Take That (2 wks @ #1)
9. Irreplaceable - Beyoncé (2 wks @ #1)
10. Glamorous - Fergie (1 wk @ #1)

Looking Back: Summer 1987


The summer of 1987 kicked off with several upbeat #1 hits. First their was Kim Wilde with her energetic remake of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On" followed by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's first and biggest #1 hit "Head to Toe." Both still sound great today.

Summer's biggest dance pop landed at #1 at the end of June, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston. It was the first single from Whitney's second album, Whitney, and Houston's 4th consecutive #1 hit--a run that would last for three more singles, setting up a still unbroken record seven # hits in a row. "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" is tuneful, joyous, frothy pop at its best and remains one of my favorite singles from 1987. It was the year's fourth biggest hit. Check out her poodle 'do in the video.

Other big hits from June include Atlantic Starr's #1 ballad "Always," Genesis's fifth and final Invisible Touch single, "In Too Deep," and Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive." Somewhat forgotten it would seem was Herb Alpert Featuring Janet Jackson's top 10 hit "Diamonds" (video above). I hadn't even heard this song until recently, and it's not bad. It was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, so musically it goes quite well along the Control singles of the era. This song is not available on iTunes and was not included on Janet Jackson's 1995 greatest hits collection.


With Whitney remaining at #1 for a second week, the only new #1 single for the month of July was "Alone" by Heart, which spent 3 weeks at #1 becoming the year's second biggest hit. It was heart's second (and last) #1 hit, following "These Dreams" from 1986. It's a great '80s big rock ballad.

Instrumental hits are rare, but Kenny G had one in 1987, "Songbird," his biggest single. Expose offered their second single, "Point of No Return;" better than "Come Go With Me," it became their second top 5 hit. The System offered poppy "Don't Disturb This Groove," which you wouldn't be faulted for thinking was titled "Hang This Sign Up on The Door."


August is key, for we're finally up to the point in 1987 that I started listening to popular music. And who was there to greet me at this critical juncture? Madonna of course, who had her 6th #1 with "Who's that Girl." The first of two US singles from the movie sountrack, "Who's that Girl" is slightly Spanish-influenced pure '80s dance pop, sounding similar to the music on her album from the previous year, True Blue. The video is one of Madonna's odder ones. She seems strangely serene for her, a frumpily dressed, and the clip seems more of an opportunity to showcase scenes from the film than scenes of her--something that future Madonna soundtrack singles would not do. While not a classic, it is a solid Madonna '80s single.

August had two other #1 hits, "Shakedown" by Bob Seger from the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II, one of the year's biggest hit movies, and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2's second #1 hit of the year and a Grammy nominee for record of the year. Like "With or Without You" it's a slow burning rock track that doesn't grab you at first, but sinks in after repeat listens.

"I Want Your Sex" was the height of controversy in 1987. George Michael's first single from his solo debut, Faith, the track and its sexy video pushed the limit of acceptable raciness. A closer listen to the lyrics though shows that those who criticized it probably weren't playing close attention--the song is a celebration of the joy of sex in a committed relationship ("Sex is best when it's one one one"), with Michael writing "explore monogamy" in lipstick on a model. Of course we since learned that he didn't actually want her sex, but that's a story for later.

August was indeed a busy month. Other notable tracks include Suzanne Vega's domestic abuse story, "Luka," also a Grammy nominee for record of the year; "Heart & Soul" by T'Pau, a band named after a Vulcan priestess from Star Trek; "The Pleasure Principle," Janet Jackson's final Control single; Jet's "Cross My Broken Heart"; and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," Gloria Estefan's first Let it Loose single, one of four from that album to hit the top 10.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Preview Hard-Fi

Hard-Fi's second album, Once Upon a Time in the West, can be previewed in its entirety on MySpace here. It's out Monday in the UK. I love first single "Suburban Knights," and the several other tracks I've listened so far are great, especially "Tonight." I'm very excited about this.

Album Review: Bat for Lashes - Fur and Gold (4/5)

Otherworldly is a good word to describe the debut album from British/Pakistani singer Bat for Lashes a.k.a. Natasha Khan. Moody soundscapes and a wide array of stringed instruments from violins to harpsichords to harps create a dramatic fantasy-land atmosphere. Her voice and general oddness evoke Bjork, although with more accessible songs. I have no idea what they're about lyrically--wizards, heaven, court jesters and even seals (see Feist) make an appearance.

Strong tracks "Horse and I" and "Trophy" lead the pack with dramatic almost theatrical touches of insistent harpsichord, marching drums, and hand claps. Khan's voice is pure and ethereal, also lending to the gothic atmosphere. Piano comes into play with the milder third track, "Tahiti."

The middle section includes the album's strongest tracks, such as "What's a Girl to Do," which pulses with prominent bass drums over (i think) harpsichord. "The Wizard"is another good one, albeit slinky and weird. Upbeat "Prescilla" features handclaps, stringed instruments, and piano.

The last three tracks are quite good too. Understated "Seal Jubilee" is a good contrast to the froth of most of the album, presenting a moody melancholy. "Sarah" opens with some space-age sound effects, has a good rhythmic vibe, and alternates between single and multi-voice vocal phrases. Final track "I Saw a Light" is a mellow piano-driven number that builds to a climactic middle.

The only tracks I don't really care for are "Sad Eyes," which is somewhat lackluster, and "The Bat's Mouth," which starts out well but gets too weird and cacophonous by the end.

Best: What's a Girl to Do, Prescilla, Sarah, Horse and I, Trophy, Seal Jubilee, The Wizard