Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best of 2007: Music (Albums)

Two albums this year really transcended the pack for me. First their was Amy Winehouse's awesome modern/retro, clever/tragic, brassy/tearful masterpiece Back to Black, which, at least in the UK, just kept spitting better singles all year long. The other was Radiohead's In Rainbows, which made headlines for its buy it on-line and pay what you like strategy, but should be remembered for being a fantastic album--their most mainstream and accessible since The Bends, but built upon all their years of electronic experimentation that followed that 1995 disc. A couple of British bands whose first albums I liked--Hard-Fi and Kaiser Chiefs--released better second albums; Robyn, Girls Aloud, and Kylie released the year's best pop albums; X Factor winner Leona Lewis released a surprisingly good debut to mark her as the new Mariah Carey; and I was pleasantly surprised by albums by established bands I hadn't paid attention to before--Rilo Kiley, Wilco and Spoon. I even came around to appreciate the Arctic Monkeys album, after giving it a so-so review.

The year's 25 best albums (click on the titles to read my original reviews):

1. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
If a train wreck could be simultaneously beautiful, vulgar and classy it would be like Amy Winehouse singing her smoky modern jazz tunes with a retro sensibility. Essential cut: Back to Black
This is a close second, and I wrestled for awhile with putting it at #1. I've been a casual Radiohead listener since OK Computer, but this put me solidly in the fan category. Every song is fantastic, and are the closest to traditional songs Radiohead has been since The Bends. Essential cut: House of Cards

A lot of British acts fell prey to the dreaded sophomore slump this year, but not Hard-Fi, who delivered a confident, diverse set that surpassed their 2005 debut. Essential cut: Tonight
This was a late-in-the-year discovery for me, but I was really won over by the upbeat, melodic set and its lead singer, Jenny Lewis. Essential cut: Silver Lining
A virtual unknown since 1998, Robyn returned to the English-speaking world this year with her massive comeback "With Every Heartbeat," leading an invigoration of her 2005 self-titled album with new cuts to make it the year's best pure pop album. Essential cut: Be Mine

Wilco's album was about the music of rock and delivered a lot of soul, with varied instrumentation but an emphasis on good guitar playing. Essential cut: Impossible Germany

Kaiser Chiefs, like Hard-Fi, delivered a sophomore album that outshined their recent debut, going for a richer sound with more depth. Essential cut: Love's Not a Competition (But I'm Winning)

Another great pop gem, Girl Aloud's Tangled Up surpassed their last album by combining their producer's innovative sound with the necessary pop hooks that were previously absent. Essential cut: I Can't Speak French

The return of Kylie wasn't as big a deal as it should've been ("2 Hearts" only peaked at #4 in the UK), but this electro-flavored album has enough good songs to still generate some major hits. Essential cut: 2 Hearts
Another end of year discovery that I really loved. It's nice to hear upbeat indie rock that doesn't feel like it needs to ape The Killers or Coldplay. Essential cut: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
Gorillaz never really did it for me, so it's nice to see Blur's Damon Albarn embark on another, more traditional, side project, channeling the experimentalism of that cartoon band into more conventional rock. Essential cut: Green Fields

Sometime the fall, after giving this album another chance, it finally clicked for me as something inventive and fun that's meant to deliver it's joy, sarcasm and wit in short bursts. Not the Beatles, but not bad. Essential cut: Fluorescent Adolescent
More confident than Songs About Jane, it's an all around great pop/rock album. Essential cut: Makes Me Wonder

Surprisingly good debut from last year's UK X Factor winner. Might have what it takes to be the first UK artist with a reality show past to cross the pond successfully (sorry Will). Essential cut: Bleeding Love
Kelly Clarkson learned her lesson this year: Don't piss off Clive Davis. This is still a pretty decent album, incorrectly labeled as have no upbeat pop songs that could have been singles. Essential cut: One Minute
Rihanna finally made a full album of good material that's already generated four hit singles and has the capacity to unlease more. Essential cut: Don't Stop the Music

Upbeat Brit rocker party music that's probably best heard in a pub when everyone's drunk but still sounds good on a album. Essential cut: Baby Fratelli

I'm not a rap fan, but I actually thought this was pretty good, with some great electro and '80s samples. Essential cut: Stronger

This is very traditional rock, but well done, with interesting storytelling. Essential cut: Devil's Arcade
Note that it's not in my top 10 (too pretentious for that), but it's still pretty good when it doesn't drown itself out. Essential cut: Black Mirror

Her star has faded a bit, but that may not be a bad thing, since she appears more willing to experiment on this third album than she did on her last. More folk than jazz now. Essential cut: Not My Friend

After the less successful departure of their last album, Jack and Meg are back to the stomping soulful minimalism they're known for. Essential track: Icky Thump
Soulful Annie delivers her best album in 12 years (that just means its better than Bare), a dramatic collection of upbeat and retro pop. Essential track: Love Is Blind
The city in question is London and the weekend is about partying, fame, terrorism, consumerism and love. Essential track: I Still Remember
Travis delivered another lovely collection that was more upbeat than I expected. Essential track: Selfish Jean

Also good:
Bat for Lashes - Fur and Gold
Blonde Redhead - 23
Fall Out Boy - Infinity on High
Feist - The Reminder "1234" is a clear highlight.
High School Musical 2 Soundtrack A guilty pleasure or for sure.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand Laid back folk/rock.
The New Pornographers - Challengers
The Rakes - Ten New Messages
Mark Ronson - Version Don't miss the Amy Winehouse version of the Zutons' "Valerie."

Air - Pocket Symphony. This reallly bummed me, since I loved their last album, Talkie Walkie, but this one was just dull.
Mutya Buena - Real Girl. Contains two awesome songs--"Real Girl" and "Song 4 Mutya"--and the rest was just sad filler.
Celine Dion - Taking Chances. Proves more than ever that Celine peaked in the mid 90s.
Hilary Duff - Dignity. What I said: "there's little else (besides a handful of tracks) I found very distinctive or interesting about this album."
The Editors - An End Has a Start. Another disappointing follow-up to a great album, The Back Room.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Trip the Light Fantastic
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (No review, I couldn't bring myself to listen closely enough. I'll just say that I thought it was boring, and I'm determined to never buy another nerdy electronica album, because after Junior Boys, Hot Chip, Mylo, Postal Service, and Tiga, I've figured out that it's just not my thing).
Mika - Cartoon Motion. What I said: "There are some other winners...but too many songs take the party a little too far."
Seal - System. What I said: "Plays like a lightweight retread of (Madonna's) Confessions on a Dancefloor."
Britney Spears - Blackout. Do I really have to explain why?

Number One Singles of 2007

The "official" singles charts for the US and the UK both had exactly 17 new number ones this year, including four singles that topped both charts (Timbaland's "Give It to Me," Rihanna, Kanye West, and Sean Kingston). Rihanna had the longest run in the UK with 10 weeks, and tied with Soulja Boy for the longest US run with 7 weeks.

US - Billboard Hot 100 (airplay and sales)

0. Irreplaceable - Beyoncé (7 weeks, continuing run from 2006 for total of 10 weeks)
1. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 wk)
2. What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 wk)
3. This Is Why I'm Hot - Mims (2 wks)
4. Glamorous - Fergie f/Ludacris (2 wks)
5. Don't Matter - Akon (2 wks)
6. Give It to Me - Timbaland f/Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake (2 wks)
7. Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne (1 wk)
8. Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5 (3 wks)
9. Buy U a Drank - T-Pain f/Yung Joc (1 wk)
10. Umbrella - Rihanna f/Jay-Z (7 wks)
11. Hey There Delilah - Plain White Ts (2 wks)
12. Beautiful Girls - Sean Kingston (4 wks)
13. Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (1 wk)
14. Crank That (Soulja Boy) - Soulja Boy (7 wks)
15. Stronger - Kanye West (1 wk)
16. Kiss Kiss - Chris Brown f/T-Pain (3 wks)
17. No One - Alicia Keys (5 wks)

UK - Official Chart (sales)

0. A Moment Like This - Leona Lewis (2 wks, continuing run from 2006 for a total of 4 wks)
1. Grace Kelly - Mika (5 wks)
2. Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk)
3. Shine - Take That (2 wks)
4. Walk This Way - Sugababes vs. Girls Aloud (1 wk)
5. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - Proclaimers f/Brian Potter & Andy Pipkin (3 wks)
6. Give It to Me - Timbaland f/Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake ( 1 wk)
7. Beautiful Liar - Beyoncé and Shakira (3 wks)
8. Baby's Coming Back/Transylvania - McFly (1 wk)
9. Umbrella - Rihanna f/Jay-Z (10 wks)
10. The Way I Are - Timbaland f/Keri Hilson & DOE (2 wks)
11. With Every Heartbeat - Robyn f/Kleerup (1 wk)
12. Stronger - Kanye West (2 wks)
13. Beautiful Girls - Sean Kingston (4 wks)
14. About You Now - Sugababes (4 wks)
15. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks)
16. What a Wonderful World - Katie Melua & Eva Cassidy (1 wk)
17. When You Believe - Leon Jackson (2 wks)

My personal chart #1s
Here's my list and how it compares to those two charts as well as the UK airplay chart and the US Radio & Records top 40 airplay chart. Three of my #1s were not #1 on any of those four charts: Keane, Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," and Mutya & Groove Armada.

1. Irreplaceable - Beyoncé (2 wks; US #1)
2. A Bad Dream - Keane ( 1 wk)
3. Grace Kelly - Mika (4 wks; UK #1, UK airplay #1)
4. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (1 wk; US #1, US top 40 #1)
5. Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs (1 wk; UK #1, UK airplay #1)
6. What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake (1 wk, US #1, US Top 40 #1)
7. Shine - Take That (2 wks, UK #1, UK airplay #1)
8. Glamorous - Fergie f/Ludacris (1 wk, US #1)
9. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani (3 wks, UK airplay #1)
10. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (2 wks)
11. U + Ur Hand - Pink (2 wks, US top 40 #1)
12. Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5 (1 wk, US #1, UK airplay #1)
13. Real Girl - Mutya Buena (2 wks, UK airplay #1)
14. Umbrella - Rihanna f/Jay-Z (3 wks, US #1, UK #1, UK airplay #1)
15. Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (6 wks, US #1, US top 40 #1)
16. Song 4 Mutya (Out of Control) - Mutya Buena & Groove Armada (1 wk)
17. Tears Dry on Their Own - Amy Winehouse (3 wks, UK airplay #1)
18. Hold On - KT Tunstall (1 wk, UK airplay #1)
19. Stronger - Kanye West (3 wks, US #1, US top 40 #1, UK #1)
20. About You Now - Sugababes (2 wks, UK #1, UK airplay #1)
21. Valerie - Mark Ronson f/Amy Winehouse (1 wk, UK airplay #1)
22. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks, UK #1, UK airplay #1)
23. Apologize - Timbaland f/OneRepublic (2 wks, US top 40 #1)

Album Review: The Rakes - Ten New Messages (3 / 5)

See that clever album cover up there? That's "The Rakes Ten New Messages" spelled out in morse code. Remember another recent British band's album cover that consisted of its title in code? That would be Coldplay's X&Y, although they used the far less familiar baudot code, which, if you think about it, is actually more clever. And if The Rakes knew that I just compared them to Coldplay and they came up the lesser of the two I'd probably have a bloody nose right now (maybe not, they don't seem the violent sort; perhaps I'd just get some dirty looks).

My feelings on this album are that it's pretty good, but probably not something I'll turn to again and again. "The World Was a Mess but His Hair Was Perfect" is a great title; too bad the some doesn't measure up. It's okay, but nothing special. The album gets better from there though. "Little Superstitions" has enough atmosphere and melody to make it a standout. Better yet is "We Danced Together," the album's endearing first single. Energetic "Trouble" follows, not unlike an Arctic Monkeys track, bursting with guitar feedback, crazy drums and over quickly.

Then there's "Suspicious Eyes," which is the album's most interesting song. It delves into the post 7/7 paranoia of riding the Tube (July 7, 2005 was when the Tube, London's subway, was attacked by terrorists), telling the story from the point of view of three different riders--all suspicious of each other--performed by a male vocalist, female vocalist and a male rapper. "When Tom Cruise Cries" also delves into urban paranoia, but of a different sort: the inability to get hold of someone on the phone during a crisis. Living in DC on 9/11, I've felt both of these things. Final track "Leave the City and Come Home" is not bad, but the lead singer's voice isn't quite up to the task.

Thematically, the album touches on the usual: nights out at pubs and clubs, the world is a mess, and love is important but fleeting. No surprise then that the press has compared them to Bloc Party, as well as Arctic Monkeys, whose first album was produced by Jim Abbiss, who did this album. Worth a listen, but not a classic.

Best: We Danced Together, Little Superstitions, Suspicious Eyes

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chart notes

UK Chart:
  • For the third week in a row, the Christmas #1 is the debut single from the winner of the UK's answer to American Idol (which was the answer to the UK's now defunct Pop Idol). This year it's Leon Jackson, who is apparently the surprise winner, charting with his remake of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston's 1998 hit "When You Believe." Although it was a flop in the US, the Prince of Egypt Soundtrack single was a hit in the UK, hitting #4. The lyrics have been changed a bit for this solo version, but it's pretty much the same ballad/pop, soaring chorus routine. Last year's X Factor/Christmas #1 was also a remake, Leona Lewis' rendition of Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This." Shayne Ward's single, "That's My Goal," was an original. Both Leona and Shayne are around again this year--Leona with her massive former #1 "Bleeding Love," down a spot to #3 this week, and Shayne at #15 with his treacly ballad "Breathless."
  • The Christmas singles that had been surging up the chart the last few weeks actually abated a bit this week. Mariah Carey, Wham, and Wizzard all took a tumble, and Slade, Andy Williams, Shakin' Stevens, Band Aid, and Chris Rea hold or make only modest gains. The exception is The Pogues, who manage a four-spot climb to #4 to become the Christmas chart's biggest Christmas single with "Fairytale of New York." This is the third year in a row the single has made a year-end top 10 appearance, beating last year's #6 placing, but falling just short of the #3 spot it reached in 2005.
  • Amy Winehouse makes a return to the top 10 at #8 with "Valerie." The track has now spent 11 weeks in the top 10. I wouldn't be surprised to see this in the year-end top 10, despite it not having been at #1 hit.
  • Sugababes make a poor showing at #13 with "Change." The pre-release digital sales weren't that great, and the airplay wasn't that strong either. The last time the 'Babes tried a Christmas week release, "Ugly," it gave them a #3 hit, but back in 2003, their lauded release "Too Lost in You" made only #10. That "Change" follows their massive #1 hit "About You Now" makes its poor placement all the more disappointing.
  • Kylie Minogue makes an early appearance for her next single, "Wow," at #32, owing to her performance of the song during the last episode of X Factor. I expect this will fall out of the top 40 but reappear before its official release in late February.

US Chart:

  • Flo Rida has the first #1 hit of 2008 with "Low." This is the first year since 1991 that the first week of the year brings a new #1 hit rather than a continuation of the run of #1 hit from the previous year. In 1991, the new year began with Madonna's "Justify My Love" taking over for 1990's last #1, Stevie B's "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)." Flo Rida (a not so clever botching of the state name) ends the 5-week reign of Alicia Keys' "No One."
  • Fergie holds a third week at #5 with "Clumsy." It's the fifth top 5 hit from The Dutchess, giving Fergie a cheat feat not achieved since Janet Jackson scored 5 (or rather 7) top 5 hits from her album Rhythm Nation 1814 between 1989 and 1991.
  • New artist Sara Bareilles storms the top 10 at #9 with her first hit single "Love Song." The track debuted in the top 40 at #16 last week.
  • Britney Spears scores her 13th top 40 hit at #21 with "Piece of Me," the follow-up to her #3 hit "Gimme More" and Rihanna scores her 9th at #34 with "Don't Stop the Music." The track is second recent hit to sample a song from Michael Jackson's Thriller--due for a special 25th anniversary release early next year. The track samples "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." Kanye West's recent top 10 hit, "The Good Life" sampled "PYT (Pretty Young Thing."

Best of Lists - the 2000s

I'm prepped my list of the best albums of 2007. This will be the third year I've done it. Before I go out with my list though, I wanted to make top 10 lists for the other years this decade (and update 2005 and 2006):

Best of 2000
I was mostly listening to boybands and Britney Spears back then. Radiohead and New Pornoraphers are a more recent discovery. The album I listened to death that year was Madonna's.

  1. Madonna - Music
  2. Radiohead - Kid A
  3. Coldplay - Parachutes
  4. Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain
  5. Sade - Lover's Rock
  6. Kylie Minogue - Light Years
  7. Robbie Williams - Sing When You're Winning
  8. Enya - A Day Without Rain
  9. The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
  10. N Sync - No Strings Attached
Best of 2001
A weak year when I look back, save for Kylie, which is probably my favorite album of the decade. I generally wouldn't put a greatest hits album on a year-end list, but Steps collection is fantastic fun (and why would anyone buy a Steps album?).

  1. Kylie Minogue - Fever
  2. Dido - No Angel
  3. The Strokes - Is This It?
  4. Steps - Gold: The Greatest Hits
  5. Robbie Williams - Swing When You're Winning
  6. Airlock - Drystar
  7. Cher - Living Proof
  8. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
  9. Radiohead - Amnesiac
  10. Pink - Missundaztood
Best of 2002

  1. Coldplay - Rush of Blood to the Head
  2. Norah Jones - Come Away with Me
  3. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  4. David Gray - A New Day at Midnight
  5. Daniel Bedingfield - Gotta Get Thru This
  6. Moby - 18
  7. Justin Timberlake - Justified
  8. Sugababes - Angels with Dirty Faces
  9. Rilo Kiley - The Execution of All Things
  10. Shania Twain - Up

Best of 2003

Dido used to rule this list, but she's slipped in my mind of late, and the Goldfrapp album just gets better (I moved their 2005 album up that list too). I also moved the Kylie album down, which apart from the first few tracks, wasn't very strong.

  1. Goldfrapp - Black Cherry
  2. Dido - Life for Rent
  3. The White Stripes - Elephant
  4. Will Young - Friday's Child
  5. Dannii Minogue - Neon Nights
  6. Kylie Minogue - Body Language
  7. Sugababes - Three
  8. Evanescence - Fallen
  9. Amy Winehouse - Frank
  10. Snow Patrol - Final Straw

Best of 2004

I'd rate this the best year for music so far this decade. There's a lot of other good albums from this year--U2, Liz Phair, The Streets, Norah Jones, Nellie McKay, Jem, Natasha Bedingfield, Loretta Lynn, etc.

  1. Keane - Hopes and Fears
  2. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters
  3. Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
  4. Air - Talkie Walkie
  5. The Killers - Hot Fuss
  6. Embrace - Out of Nothing
  7. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
  8. Avril Lavigne - Under My Skin
  9. Delta Goodrem - Mistaken Identity
  10. Green Day - American Idiot

Best of 2005 (Click for original list)

  1. Coldplay - X&Y
  2. Madonna - Confessions on a Dancefloor
  3. Rachel Stevens - Come and Get It
  4. Goldfrapp - Supernature
  5. James Blunt - Back to Bedlam
  6. Natalie Imbruglia - Counting Down the Days
  7. Will Young - Keep On
  8. Supergrass - Road to Rouen
  9. Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better
  10. Hard-Fi - Stars of CCTV

Best of 2006 (click for original list)

  1. Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way
  2. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
  3. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas
  4. Scissor Sisters - Ta-Dah
  5. Keane - Under the Iron Sea
  6. Jamelia - Walk with Me
  7. The Editors - The Back Room
  8. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
  9. The Killers - Sam's Town
  10. The Feeling - Twelve Stops and Home

Friday, December 28, 2007

Album Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand (4 / 5)

Okay, so I'm not a fan of either Robert Plant or Alison Krauss, but I was intrigued by this album when it was released. Unusual pairings have resulted in some pretty cool music, such as Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave's "Where the Wild Roses Grow" or last year's fantastic album by Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell and former Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas.

Just who are these people? Robert Plant is a British rocker best known for being the vocalist in Led Zeppelin, but whose solo work has crossed a number of genres, including blues rock. Alison Krauss is a bluegrass singer (bluegrass is like country crossed with folk--mostly acoustic stringed instruments, or so Wikipedia tells me). An odd couple for sure, but so was smoky Lanegan and sweet Campbell.

The results aren't as delightful as what Campbell and Lanegan made, but they aren't bad, with songs that land somewhere between country, folk, and the blues (or bluegrass I guess). The production tends to be pretty simple and often quite moody, such as on the sultry opener "Rich Woman," which relies heavily on bass guitar.

The twangy guitar of "Killing the Blues" makes it sound more country. It's a mellow song, a harmonic duet ballad with a gentle rhythm. "Through the Morning, Through the Night" is another country ballad, with Krauss taking the lead on the verses and Plant joining her for the chorus. It's a lovely, if not sad, piece. While Plant and Krauss sing together on many songs, often one or the other takes the lead. Plant gets the duty on "Please Read the Letter," a more rock-oriented number with a plodding guitar and percussion melody.

"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" is the upbeat highlight, with a guitar line reminiscent of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now." It contrasts dramatically with the atmospheric "Polly Come Home," which is very, very slow, like it could be a track from the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack.

"Stick with Me Baby" has the strongest pop presence of any song. The duet has a warm sound and a nice, gentle melody, its guitar rhythm punctuated sometimes by cymbal. "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson," another upbeat track, has a similarly strong melody. "Your Long Journey" is a genteel closing number, a soft duet devoid of percussion.

Raising Sand is a gentle collection of folksy songs, many of them remakes, mostly featuring acoustic instruments. Though some songs have a darker edge, most have a reassuring warmth that makes this a comforting listen.

Best: Gone Gone Gone, Please Read the Letter, Killing the Blues, Through the Morning Through the Night, Rich Woman, Stick with Me Baby

Album Review: Fall Out Boy - Infinity on High (3.5 / 5)

Don't let the introduction by hip-hop master Jay-Z or the fact that R&B/pop producer Babyface helmed some of the tracks fool you--this is a good ol' rock album full of big sounding guitars, big choruses and drums hit until you're sure the skins will bust. "Thriller," named after the Michael Jackson classic in yet another pop/R&B reference, dials up the electric guitar and includes enough lyrical references about the trappings of fame to you let you know this is a band whose fame is fairly new--developed between this and their first album, From Under the Cork Tree. Similar "The Take Over, The Break's Over" follows with bursting guitar and drums.

As upbeat as the first two tracks are, they're pretty mid-tempo compared to the album's first gem "This Ain't a Scene It's an Arms Race," a dramatic rant against the "emo" scene that punches the first two words of the lyric "god damn arms race" to reinforce the swear before launching into a manic sped up chorus. It's the best power pop/rock song on the album. The album's other major hit, the upbeat "Thnks fr th Mmrs" (you fill in the vowels) is a dramatic hit with orchestral flourishes biding time before the big, guitar-drenched chorus.

Though they do it well, the band can do other than big, loud, brassy numbers. Mid-tempo "I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me and You)" has a plodding rhythm in the verses and a great hook in the melodic chorus. And "Golden" shows the band can also slow down the rhythm to do a lovely piano ballad, that, unlike a lot of bands that use perhaps a few chords or tinkles from a piano, actually manages to use a good deal of its dynamic range.

These songs, along with rollicking "Fame < Infamy," are my favorite tracks. A lot of the rest kind of sounds the same--loud, upbeat, guitar rock, such as "Hum Hallelujah," "The Carpal Tunnel of Love," and "Bang the Doldrums." The only other distinctive track for me was the final number, "I've Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None on My Fingers," which has a really cool opening with horns and uses piano throughout with little dramatic pauses.

Not a classic, but not bad. Probably one of the better hard rock albums I heard this year--certainly better than the disappointing An End Has a Start from the Editors. Seems a little too obsessed with singing about fame though; hopefully they'll grow out of it.

Best: Thnks fr the Mmrs, This Ain't a Scene It's an Arms Race, Me and You, Golden, Fame < Infamy, I've Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None on My Fingers

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Album Review: Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (4.5 / 5)

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a refreshingly good alternative album. Refreshing in that it works not because it's obsessed with being clever, but that it delivers good basic rock. The set is pretty much mid-tempo all the way--no swoony ballads, no clubby rock outs--and benefits from an excellent production. The bass guitars are prominent, the electric guitars crackle, the piano chords come through loud and clear.

"Don't Make Me a Target" is a great opener, with prominent bass guitar, rhythmic electric guitar, and sharp piano chords interspersed with hand claps. It has a staccato rhythm, and the punctuated sound permeates a lot of their songs, such as second track "The Ghost of You Lingers." The album title, according to Wikipedia, actually refers to their predilection to use staccato prominently. Here it's layered piano chords, which is a cool sound, but this is actually my least favorite song on the album, since I feel like it doesn't really go anywhere besides having cool piano chords.

Spoon gets back on track with "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," the album's best track. This upbeat, soulful track adds horns to the mix, with piano still prominent. Melodic "Don't You Evah" is also quite good, with a plodding character driven by bass and guitar. I also like the darker "Rhythm & Soul," which again has a strong guitar and bass interplay.

Other highlights include "The Underdog," perhaps the album's most upbeat track, which again prominently features a horn set in addition to the standard guitar/bass/drum combo. Tambourines and hand claps lend a retro flair too, '60s-ish perhaps. The track that follows, "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" is quite a contrast, but I love it too. A leaner production and synth bursts give it a nice atmospheric quality. The bass guitar comes through great here too.

There's really nothing bad here at all. Strutting "Eddie's Ragga" reminds of Hard-Fi, whom I adore; "Finer Feelings" (not a Kylie remake) adds some electronic bleeps to the guitar, bass and hand claps mix, along with a harmonized vocal; and final track "Black Like Me" finishes the set on a quieter note with acoustic guitar and piano.

This is the Austin, Texas band's sixth album and a bit of a commercial breakthrough for them (it hit #10 on the Billboard 200). I'd never heard of them before, but I thought it was really cool.

Best: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb, Don't Ya Evah, The Underdog, Don't Make Me a Target, Rhythm & Soul, My Little Japanese Cigarette Case.

Monday, December 24, 2007

2007: The Year in Pop Music

Here's my rundown of the year's pop music stories, trends, quirks, and whatever else I feel like expounding on:
  • Amy Winehouse. How glorious a pop music figure is Amy Winehouse? Everything about her is this curious yin/yang balance. Back to Black was an amazing album, unspooling hit after hit--Rehab, You Know I'm Know Good, Back to Black, Tears Dry on My Own, Love Is a Losing Game--each one unique, clever, soulful, and sad. Her biggest hit of the year, "Valerie," began life as a Radio 1 Live Lounge performance before landing on her producer Mark Ronson's pet project, Version. She's got an amazing voice, but she sounds 34, not 24, which means she got that voice for some hard living. Her songs are witty, raunchy and in-your-face. But unlike many of her pop peers, she's not being ironic--she really does have substance abuse and emotional problems. "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no no no" sounds cool until you realize it's not just a lyric, with the bitter truth unspooling through the tabloids over the course of the year, bringing me too...
  • Tabloid queens. What is it with bad girl celebs this year? Winehouse excepted, it's like they realized their albums and movies would never be enough to net them publicity, so they ran around shaving their heads, driving recklessly, posing for mugshots, and serving time. Britney had perhaps the most amazing year of all, surprisingly capping it with an album that managed not to tank. The fate of her children though, remains in the balance, speaking of which...
  • Babies and bad lyrics. Babies were everywhere in pop music this year. Unfortunately, they weren't a cause for celebration. Britney Spears lost custody of hers. And Britney's little sister Lynn, having seen from her older sister's example how beautiful motherhood could be, announced that she will join those ranks next year. Maybe she thinks that since she's starting earlier (16), she'll be better off than Brit. Then there's the music, where babies lent some of the year's worst lyrics. Natasha Bedingfield's comeback flop "I Wanna Have Your Babies" has them "springing up like daisies." Shayne Ward, pining for a beautiful girl in "Breathless" said "And if we had babies they would have your eyes. I would fall deeper watching you give life." Mmm..hope he feels the same way about the ensuing diapers.
  • Attack on spelling and grammar. Pop music and spelling/grammar have never mixed well (remember Sinead's "Nothing Compares 2U?"), but this year had some particularly egregious fare. I love Timbaland's "The Way I Are," but every time I read the title I wince. Then there's Pink's equation song, "U + Ur Hand," which really needed an parenthetical answer ("= luv @ 1st site"). T-Pain scored a hit with "Buy U a Drank," the "U" aside, what exactly is a "drank?" Sounds like past tense of "drink," so does that mean it's an empty glass? Gee thanks T-Pain, thanks for this empty sticky glass you bought me. Next time I'll take a pint of ale.
  • British sophomore slumps. Sophomore slumps are, of course, well documented, but it seems like an inordinate number of British acts suffered them big time this year. Natasha Bedingfield's NB lacked a proper "These Words" or "Unwritten" hit, James Blunt's "1973" was no "You're Beautiful," KT Tunstall got airplay but no sales for "Hold On" or "Saving My Face." The bands fared similarly, many getting one big hit, but then tanking with all the rest, a la Kaiser Chiefs, Hard-Fi, The Editors.
  • R&B embraces electro and the '80s. After being dominated by the melody-free "beats" of the last few years, R&B & Hip-Hop took a nice turn back toward being tunesome this year, finding inspiration in the '80s, electro (or both), delivering such gems as Kanye West's "Stronger" and "The Good Life" and Rihanna's "Umbrella," "Shut Up and Drive," and "Don't Stop the Music." Even 50 Cent picked up on this trend, with the winning Justin Timberlake collaboration "Ayo Technology."
  • Clive Davis rules the industry. This truism was proven again and again this year. Kelly Clarkson dare speak out publicly against him? No hits for you Kelly! Her third album managed only the moderate hit single "Never Again," which she has since adopted as her mantra. In contrast, after third season X-Factor winner Leona Lewis caught his eye, she's on the way to becoming a massive international star next year.
  • The music industry (finally, maybe) embraces technology. There's still some ripples of angst on this issue, but things are starting to look better. ITunes began offering DRM-free tunes, at a premium for a while, but now at the same price. Radiohead famously released their album from their Web site, allowing fans to pay whatever price they wanted. More back catalogs got added to iTunes, including much of the Beatles' solo work (still not their catalog proper). Still awaiting Garth Brooks to throw his hat in the ring.
  • Female pop artists dominate. For every notable male pop artist I can probably name four or five female ones. This year was no exception, with Justin Timberlake being the only real male game in town. Compare that with the chart domination this year by Fergie, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Nelly Furtado, most of whom were still working last year's albums. Next year should be no exception, with new discs on the way from Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Dido by June.
  • The UK chart has gone crazy. For the first year since I started following the British singles chart, it actually produced the same number of #1 hits as the Billboard Hot 100--17 singles. That's down from a record 42 #1 hits in 2000. The change in chart rules that allows any track to chart led to a few oddities--singles charting way in advance of a physical release, the assault of seasonal tunes in December, and the few one-offs like the return of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" and the radio station promotion that returned Billie's 8 year-old "Honey to the Bee" to the chart.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Personal Chart, 12/29/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
3 .... 6 .... Clumsy - Fergie
4 .... 2 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks @ #1)
5 .... 9 .... Love Is a Losing Game - Amy Winehouse
6 .... 7 .... No One - Alicia Keys
7 .... 4 .... Change - Sugababes
8 .... 8 .... Valerie - Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse (1 wk @ #1)
9 .... 5 .... Hate that I Love You - Rihanna Featuring Ne-Yo
10 .. 14 .. Relax, Take It Easy - Mika

Best of 2007: Books

I love to read, but last year was just too crazy to do much of it. Consequently I only read 13 books last year, so this year I recommitted myself to reading and nearly doubled that. It's hard though with all the distractions of life (this blog being a primary one). Here's my list of the top 10 fiction I read this year released within the last two years:
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling. JK Rowling penned the perfect wrap-up to her monolithically popular series. With such weighty expectations, it would have been understandable if this fell short--even a little bit--but she met the challenge head on, pushing the story past its boarding school trappings into the larger, broader (and scarier) world beyond the Hogwarts school, as Harry, Hermione and Ron cross the threshold into adulthood. It's naturally the darkest book yet, with a body count and battle scenes to rival any action film. It revisits locales and characters from throughout the series, tying up loose ends here and there. And just as Order of the Phoenix burst Harry's romantic vision of his father by showing how even James Potter was once an arrogant teen too, here too-perfect Dumbledore is also revealed as having some skeletons in his closet (and no, I'm not referring to the post-publication revelation from Rowling that he's gay). That good guys turn out to be flawed and bad guys turn out to be penitent (sometimes) shows the extent to which this series isn't a simplistic morality tale, but a rich modern take on humanity.
2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid. A Princeton-educated Pakistani, living the American Dream as a successful New York businessman, confronts his place in the world following the changes in the U.S. and his home country after 9/11. The short, simple prose of this moving novel betrays its rich thought-provoking nature. It's not what I expected, and that I expected something different reveals on a personal level the now deeply rooted prejudices harbored by post-9/11 Americans.
3. The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta. Perrotta takes a defining issue of the so-called culture war and uses it to pit two opposing "warriors" against each other, who ultimately come to understand (and maybe love) each other. It's also laugh-out-loud funny, especially the chapter where a group of teachers attend a punitive weekend session for straying from their abstinence-only curriculum.
4. Finn - Jon Clinch. The trend of building a novel around the embellished story of a classic novel's minor character (Geraldine Brooks' March won the Pulitzer last year for doing so with a Little Women) continues with Finn, the dark tale of the origin and fate of Huckleberry Finn's father. Using modern language Clinch has effectively woven his own brutal story around the 19th Century Twain classic.
5. The Echo Maker - Richard Powers. At times humorous and gut-wrenching, this is the story of an urban woman who returns to her small town roots to care for her brother who, following a traumatic accident, suffers a brain damage condition where he can remember but not recognize those he loves.
6. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini. The follow-up to The Kite Runner manages to delve deeper into Afghan society, this time focusing on the evolving place of women in the country before, during and after the grip of the Taliban. It's predictable, but the emotions are genuine, and the story is satisfying.
7. The Road - Cormac McCarthy. Not recommended for the clinically depressed; McCarthy's bleak novel follows a father and his young son on a post-apocalyptic journey across the charred Earth to find the remnants of humanity--if they still exist.

8. The Emporer's Children - Claire Messud. Pampered twentysomethings manage to waste their lives striving to define themselves against the expectations built their whole lives that they are meant to be something more than anyone else. A good novel for anyone who wonders how the Manhattan set live.
9. The Ruins - Scott Smith. What starts off run-of-the-mill (two young couples take a boozy vacation in Mexico) quickly turns dark and terrifying as an afternoon expedition in the jungle turns into nightmarish science fiction, crossing the breaking points of human endurance, compassion, and suffering.
10. On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan. Ian McEwan continues to prove that he's one of the most important working novelists with this compact yet dense story of the breakdown of two newlyweds' relationship at the start of their honeymoon. I read this contemporary novel about a traditional 1950s British couple right before reading Revolutionary Road, a 1950s novel about a non-traditional American couple. Nice contrast.

Other books I read and loved. Nonfiction: Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson (a nugget-filled history of the English language), Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (the engrossing memoir of the now Gourmet editor's stint as the New York Times food critic), Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (examination of the growth, evolution and breadth of Mormon religion). Classic Fiction: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Disappointments: The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (noirish crime fiction, was fine until the disappointing conclusion), Consolation by Michael Redhill (cool premise weaving a modern story and a historical one both set in Toronto, but I never believed in the characters).

Album Review: Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight (4.5 / 5)

Rilo Kiley is a Los Angeles-based band that's grown steadily from its independent label roots to a mainstream major label rock band. Such an evolution usually draws ire from a group's early adopters, while picking up many more fans along the way. Since I'm in the latter category, no such ire from me, only adoration for this fantastic album, the band's fourth.

Breezy country-leaning "Silver Lining" opens the set like a breath of fresh air, swaggering onto the scene with twangy guitars, piano chords, and sharp percussion. It doesn't hurt that lead vocalist Jenny Lewis has a great voice too, and she sounds great throughout the album. Her combination of smoothness, restraint and heft reminds me a bit of Liz Phair, with a little folksy Sheryl Crow. "Close Call" contrasts the easy living feel of "Silver Lining" with a darker rock vibe, reminiscent of the early '90s. "The Moneymaker" also has a dark vibe, but an older rock strut.

Cutesy "Breakin' Up" is laced with electronic flourishes, similar to much of the songs from their second album, The Execution of All Things, although to my ear its '80s sound recalls Gwen Stefani's solo work more than the band's prior stuff. Closing track "Give a Little Love" has a similar sound.

"Under the Black Light" also opens with a dose of synths, but quickly shifts in a guitar-driven mid-tempo format. It's a richly melodic track and a definite highlight.

Critics have compared Under the Blacklight to Fleetwood Mac. Since I'm not familiar with them beyond the major hits, I won't go too far into that (my partner, who was a Fleetwood Mac fan in the '80s agrees the comparison is apt). I'm willing to bet that the atmospheric and plodding "Dreamworld" may be case in point, sounding somewhat like "Dreams" (certainly the title might indicate a connection). Lead guitarist Blake Sennett joins Lewis on this track, another winner.

The album sags slightly in the second half. "Dejalo" is an odd disco-funk number with a little Spanish thrown in. Countryish "15" about the loss of teen virginity is a little over the top and the horns come on a bit too strong. Thankfully these are short songs.

Things pick up again with upbeat, old school "The Smoke Detector," whose scratchy guitars and '70s swank sound like this could have played in that Pulp Fiction diner (can't you see John Travolta and Uma Thurman grooving to this?). Upbeat, twangy "The Angels Hung Around" is good too.

Mostly upbeat, but with some dark tracks too, Under the Blacklight has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a varied sound crossing elements of rock, country and dance from the '70s to today. At under 40 minutes, it's a fun, compact set.

Best: Silver Lining, Under the Black Light, Close Call, Dreamworld, Give a Little Love, Breakin' Up

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Best of 2007: Television

I'll start my best of the year lists with TV. With the writers' strike still unresolved, who knows if I'll even be able to do this list next year. I don't watch a lot of television, so in order to get 10 shows here, I have to include a couple that I at least watched, but was disappointed in.

1. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi). It took a bit of a dip in its third season, primarily from the set of stand-alone episodes in the middle of the season, but the new version of BSG continued to be television's most challenging show, offering socio-political commentary and multi-layered characters like no other show. The November special Razor wasn't as good as it should have been, but it was still a lot better than your average TV, and the longer DVD version helped flesh it out.
2. Lost (ABC). Lost really took a dip at the beginning of its third season, but about halfway through miraculously regained its footing, driving us toward a mindbending season finale that leaves the future of the show completely up in the air--the sort of cliffhanger on par with Battlestar Galactica's season 2 ending. Where will it take place? When? Are they in alternate reality now? Were they before? I cannot wait to get some of these answers.
3. Project Runway Canada (Slice). This is the Canadian version of the popular Bravo reality series, which debuted in October while I was vacationing there. Fortunately, some wonderful soul put the series on YouTube, which just concluded this week. While the U.S. version is having trouble finding its footing this year (and showing its age), this Canadian take revived the format's freshness, giving us a fantastic host (Iman), another genteel mentor (Brian Bailey), and a likable set of drama-ready contestants. They got it right with the final three, and the show's finale was really quite good. I was almost moved to tears when Elle Canada editor Rita Silvan gushed over Lucian Matis' collection, and his rival Evan Biddell, who'd picked on him all season, embraced emotional Lucian. And who couldn't love perky Marie Genevieve?
4. 30 Rock (NBC). The second season opener with Jerry Seinfeld was a clunker, but most of the rest of the episodes have been consistently laugh-out-loud funny. The cast continues to shine, particularly Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.
5. The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (PBS). This PBS import of last year's BBC miniseries broke the stuffy stereotype of Masterpiece Theatre. This show was fast-moving, modern, quirky, and, as a show about a grocery store manager who becomes Britain's prime minister, political. Jane Horrocks gave a fantastic performance in the title role. Shame on the Golden Globes for snubbing her.
6. Kathy Griffin: Life on the D-List (Bravo). Kathy Griffin's reality series was a lot better than I expected it to be. It was hilarious, but also touching, due to the unexpected death of Kathy's father. Is she really still on the D-List? I'm guess she's a solid B by now.
7. Project Runway (Bravo). So far this season isn't as good as the last two, but it's still decent television. What it needs is to focus on the contestants, who I haven't yet developed a reason to either love or loathe.
8. Pushing Daisies (ABC). Visually stunning, but already this new show is getting stale. Still, I do love the lead characters Ned and Chuck.
9. 24 (Fox). The fifth season was awesome, so how disappointing that the sixth was terrible. I'll keep watching out of loyalty, but season 7 better show some marked improvement quickly.
10. Chuck (NBC). This was the other new show I watched this fall, but I gave up on it after about five episodes. It was cute, but just not going anywhere, and the spy-lite formula isn't enough to sustain a series.

Album Review: The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (4/5)

Now that it's the end of the year, I'm turning my attention to albums I missed earlier in the year, that now for a variety of reasons--awards, year-end lists, friends who insist--I feel I should review. Last week I wrote about Bruce Springsteen's Magic, arguably the year's most acclaimed rock album. Canadian collective The Arcade Fire's second album, Neon Bible, is looking like the year's most acclaimed alternative album (sorry White Stripes). I was disappointed in their first album, 2005's Funeral, which had one great song ("Power Out"), but was largely unfocused.

Neon Bible is an improvement over Funeral, but I'm still not ready to give the band the same pedestal many critics have. There are several good songs, but I feel like too much of it--particularly the second half--sounds the same: a chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga rhythm over a layered soundscape with an overly dramatic male vocalist whose voice is merely so-so.

The albums starts off great though. "Black Mirror," my favorite track, is propulsive, building a great dramatic soundscape through a variety of instruments, including a fantastic strings section that comes in sharply half way through. Upbeat "Keep the Car Running" is good too. It has a similar big sound--as do many of the songs--but comes off hopeful in comparison to the darkness of "Black Mirror." "Neon Bible," at barely over 2 minutes, feels more like an interlude than a song. It dispenses with the usual bombastic arrangement in favor of a few stringed instruments and a chant-like vocal.

The "break" of "Neon Bible" quickly gives way to the church-like "Intervention," which announces itself immediately with pipe organ. Then this vibrating instrument comes in (I'm not sure what it is, but it appears to be an Arcade Fire favorite, showing up throughout the album), followed by the drums and strings and the big sound is back. "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" reminds me of the New Pornographers, having at first a female lead vocal and then later the male when the song takes a sudden turn. It's an interesting track, dramatic, dark, and romantic. I like that bass guitar gets the spotlight at the beginning of "Ocean of Noise," which has a simpler arrangement (bass guitar would be completely drowned out in most of these songs). Then that same high-pitched vibrating instrument shows up (what is it?).

It's in the next three songs that the album lets me down. None are bad, but they all repeat elements we've heard in the earlier better tracks. "The Well and the Lighthouse" has the same plodding rhythm as "Black Mirror," and it was at this point where the male lead's lack of vocal talent started to get to me. "Antichrist Television Blues" has the similar upbeat feel of "Keep the Fire Running," but is less interesting. "Windowsill" has that chuga-chuga-chuga rhythm, but at least it comes from a different instrument, and I like the use of strings and horns in its second half.

"No Cars Go" is better. Yes that vibrating thing is there, but musically this is a good track. I like the combination of the male and female voices and the symphonic touches. Final track "My Body Is a Cage" is slower, darker, and again features organ, giving it a hymn-like quality.

Neon Bible is a good album, but I don't think it's a masterpiece by any means. I didn't pay much attention to it lyrically (it's just generally not what I do), but what I did hear was pretty dark. The lush soundscapes are interesting, but at times threaten to overpower the music, and too many of the songs have the same plodding rhythm. Where there is variation though, they succeed quite well.

Best: Black Mirror, Keep the Car Running, Intervention, Black Wave/Bad Vibrations, No Cars Go, Ocean of Noise

My Year-End Lists

I'm prepping my year-end media lists. I'll be doing TV, books, movies, albums, and possibly singles. I'll probably do TV and books first. I have three more albums to review before I can do my albums list. Movies is trickier, since there are 5-6 recent releases I'd really want to see before commiting to that. I might have to do a provisional movie list and update it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

UK Chart Notes

  • It's a surprise #1 this week for Katie Melua and Eva Cassidy's remake of "What a Wonderful World," a charity release to benefit the British branch of the Red Cross. The story behind this single is rather remarkable. Eva Cassidy was an American singer from Bowie, Maryland, that according to Wikipedia, was mostly unknown outside the Washington, D.C. area when she died of cancer in 1996. In 1998, a posthumous release of her tracks called Songbird was released in the UK, and 3 years later became at #1 hit after promotion of the video for "Somewhere Out There" on the BBC television show Top of the Pops 2. Katie Melua is a british pop singer, frequently noted as the British version of Norah Jones, who first hit the top 10 in 2003 with "The Closest Thing to Crazy," followed by four other top 40 hits. The song "What a Wonderful World" was first recorded by Louis Armstrong and became a #1 hit in the UK in 1968. Almost 40 years later it becomes by far the biggest single by either Katie Melua or Eva Cassidy, knocking Leona Lewis from her 7-week run at #1 with "Bleeding Love."
  • Katie and Eva dash any hope of Soulja Boy sneaking in a #1 hit before the big Christmas week. "Crank That" moves up seven spots to #3.
  • Christmas favorites continue their charge up the UK chart. Leading the pack of 10 entries--a whole fourth of the top 40--is Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," up four to #4, followed by the Pogues at #8 with Fairytale of New York, Wham! at #14 with "Last Christmas," the Wizzard at #16 with "I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday," Andy Williams at #21 with "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Slade at #22 with "Merry Xmas Everybody" and the similarly titled Shakin' Stevens track "Merry Christmas Everyone" at #23, Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas at #27, Chris Rea's "Driving Home for Christmas" at #35, and finally John and Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band at #40, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."
  • German dance act Cascada scores its fourth top 10 hit at #10 with "What Hurts the Most," the remake of the single popularized in American by Rascal Flatts.
  • Following the successful run in 2005 of re-releases of Elvis Presley's #1 hits, another run of singles was released one per week over the last 18 weeks--this time singles that did not hit #1. The last of which, "Burning Love," hit #13 last week, so in theory, this should have been our first Elvis-free week in some time. But coming along nicely to prove there is no such thing as popular music without Elvis, Scouting for Girls enters the top 40 at #33 with "Elvis Ain't Dead."
  • So next week is the big Christmas week. Leading the pack is the X Factor winner Leon Jackson, with his remake of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston's 1998 single, "When You Believe." Anything is possible, but realistically new singles by Sugababes, Filo & Peri, Kate Nash, and The Killers really don't have a chance. Expect "When You Believe" to easily top the chart this weekend.

Personal Chart, 12/22/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks @ #1)
3 .... 3 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
4 ... 10 ... Change - Sugababes
5 .... 5 .... Hate that I Love You - Rihanna Featuring Ne-Yo
6 .... 7 .... Clumsy - Fergie
7 .... 9 .... No One - Alicia Keys
8 .... 6 .... Valerie - Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse (1 wk @ #1)
9 ... 14 ... Love Is a Losing Game - Amy Winehouse
10 .. 4 .... 2 Hearts - Kylie Minogue

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Album Review: Bruce Springsteen - Magic (4/5)

I bought this album in anticipation it would be nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award. That it was passed over came as a surprise to me and the pundits, although, I suppose not to the music industry itself, since they didn't vote for it. Still, while this is not my typical listening fare, I ended up liking it quite a bit, for it is a classy, if not classic, rock affair that blends upbeat music with brooding lyrical themes.

"Radio Nowhere" kicks off the collection with a jolt of fuzzy electric guitar and prominent drums, getting an infusion of blaring horns at the bridge. While the music is upbeat, the lyrics tell another story--one of disconnection and disillusionment, explicitly from the music on the radio, but implicitly from life as well. "You'll Be Comin' Down" similarly contrasts upbeat instrumentation with a dark lyric, this time about the fleeting nature of happiness. Joyous-sounding "Livin' in the Future" combines its rock swagger with such uplifting couplets as "The earth it gave away, the sea rose toward the sun. I opened up my heart to you it got all damaged and undone."

"Your Own Worst Enemy" changes course a bit, turning down the volume and adding a sharp string instrumentation. It's also vaguer lyrically, although (no surprise) that worst enemy is yourself. It's one of my favorites, as is "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," which manages (for awhile) to actually be both uplifting in tone and theme. Then there is a brief acknowledgement of lost love, and you know this song has its dark side too.

Harmonica begins "Gypsy Biker," which returns Springsteen to a common setting, small town America, to explore the pain of losing a soldier-brother to war, the storyteller turning to drugs to deal with the despair. The small town setting is also key to "Long Walk Home, " conveying that place as once welcoming but now lonely, suffering from disillusionment. It doesn't take a genius to know that driving "Last to Die" is also about the disillusioned America of post 9/11.

Many of these songs are big and loud, even when exploring dark personal territory. So when Springsteen finally slows down the tempo on meditative "Magic," it's a nice change of pace. The strings and acoustic guitar track is brief, but lovely. "Devil's Arcade" also touches on the impact of the Iraq war, told from the point of view of a woman whose soldier-lover has returned from war alive but damaged. It is a potent highlight, building from a gentle strings beginning to an angry guitar-filled middle, with Bruce repeating "the beat of your heart."

Bruce Springsteen is frequently hailed as a living legend. A "genius" of good ol' rock-n-roll. It is also said though that geniuses are often unhappy people, plagued by the knowledge of things the rest of us can never know. Springsteen delivers both with Magic. Listen to its surface and you hear a confident arena-ready rock album. Dig into the lyrical themes of war, loss, disillusionment, and strained relationships, and it tells another darker story.

Best: Devil's Arcade, Your Own Worst Enemy, Girls in Their Summer Clothes, Radio Nowhere, Magic, Livin' in the Future

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rolling Stone top 10 albums of 2007

1. M.I.A. - Kala
2. Bruce Springsteen - Magic
3. Jay-Z - American Gangster
4. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
5. Kayne West - Graduation
6. Radiohead - In Rainbows
7. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
8. Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight
9. Against Me! - New Wave
10. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

No surprise that M.I.A. and Bruce Springsteen top the list, although interesting that M.I.A., which they gave 4.5 stars, is above Bruce Springsteen, which was the only new album to get 5 stars (a "classic" rating) from them. Some usual suspects: Arcade Fire, Radiohead and LCD Soundsystem.

NME, Mojo and Uncut Albums of 2007

Here's NME's top 10:

1. Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future
2. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
3. Radiohead – In Rainbows
4. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
5. Les Savy Fav – Let’s Stay Friends
6. Kings Of Leon – Because Of The Times
7. MIA – Kala
8. Biffy Clyro – Puzzle
9. The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Woman’s Needs, Whatever
10. Battles – Mirrored

So they went with the Mercury Prize winner as their top album, beating out Arctic Monkeys, who topped their list last year. Glad to see Radiohead so high, as it is a fantastic album.

Here's Mojo's top 10:

1. Radiohead - In Rainbows
2. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
3. Bruce Springsteen - Magic
4. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
5. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
6. The Good, The Bad & The Queen - The Good, The Bad & The Queen
7. The White Stripes - Icky Thump
8. PJ Harvey - White Chalk
9. Robert Wyatt - Comicopera
10. Kings of Leon - Because of the Times

A good deal of overlap between NME and Mojo, with four albums in both top 10s and close calls for LCD Soundsystem (#11 on NME) and Klaxons (#11 on Mojo). Apparently NME couldn't be bothered with Bruce Springsteen, who makes a prominent appearance here, and I suspect on many year-end lists. Glad to see Radiohead at #1 and some recognition for The Good, the Bad & The Queen, which is a great album.

Finally, here's Uncut's list:

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
2. Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
3. PJ Harvey - White Chalk
4. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
5. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
6. Robert Wyatt - Comicopera
7. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
8. The White Stripes - Icky Thump
9. Radiohead - In Rainbows
10. Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future

Again, a fair amount of overlap, with Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead appearing on all three top 10s. LCD Soundsystem...hmmm...I know a lot of people liked this album, but I was so disappointed with it that I didn't bother to write a review. A real love it or hate it album I guess. Glad to see Wilco here--great album.

Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart 2007

Billboard's year-end charts are out this week. Topping the Hot 100 for 2007 is Beyoncé with "Irreplaceable." The single spent 10 weeks at #1 early in the Billboard chart year, which runs from the beginning of December 2006 to the end of November 2007. Beyoncé appeared in the year-end top 10 in 2003 at #4 with her first solo #1, "Crazy in Love" and last year at #10 with "Check on It." As a member of Destiny's Child she's appeared twice, at #6 in 2000 for "Say My Name" and #10 in 2001 for "Independent Women Part 1." She also appears this year at #62 with Shakira on "Beautiful Liar."
Here's this year's top 10:
1. Irreplaceable - Beyoncé (#1, 10 wks)
2. Umbrella - Rihanna Featuring Jay-Z (#1, 7 wks)
3. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani Featuring Akon (#2, 1 wk)
4. Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie (#1, 1 wk)
5. Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin') - T-Pain Featuring Young Joc (#1, 1 wk)
6. Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood (#8)
7. Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's (#1, 2 wks)
8. I Wanna Love You - Akon Featuring Snoop Dogg (#1, 2 wks)
9. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado (#1, 1 wk)
10. Glamorous - Fergie Featuring Will.I.Am (#1, 2 wks)
Fergie and Akon each appear twice within the top 10, and Akon was close to getting a third (his "Don't Matter" is #11). Fergie also appears at #19 with "Fergalicious," while Akon also appears at #15 with "Smack That" and #33 on T-Pain's "Bartender," giving him five entries total. Two artists tie for the most entires on the chart, with seven each. T-Pain is at #5 and #33 mentioned above plus #49 on R. Kelly or Bow Wow's "I'm a Flirt," #60 on Plies' "Shawty," #84 on Baby Bash's "Cyclone," #88 on Bow Wow's "Outta My System," and #93 on Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss." It's notable that he's a guest on six of his seven entries. Justin Timberlake also has seven hits on the chart, at #21 on Timbaland's "Give It to Me," #22 "What Goes Around...Comes Around," #26 "My Love," #39 "Summer Love," #63 "Sexyback," #87 on 50 Cent's "Ayo Technology," and #96 "Lovestoned." Carrie Underwood scores the rare and impressive feat of landing higher in the year-end survey (#6) than she ever actually did during the year (#8), owing to her single's amazing chart longevity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

UK Christmas #1

So, just like the last 2 years, it's pretty clear this year's Christmas #1 will be the single released by this year's winner of The X Factor. The winner will be declared this weekend. It will either be Rhydian Roberts, Leon, or Same Difference, pictured above from left to right. Whichever one wins will release their debut single on monday, which will be a remake of this song:

Golden Globe Predictions

The Golden Globe award nominees come out tomorrow. Although harder to predict than the Oscars, I'm going to give it a shot...Why not? Sometimes the Globes include 6 instead of just 5 nominees, so my sixth is in parentheses.

Movie Categories

Picture, Drama

American Gangster
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
(Into the Wild)

Actor, Drama

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild
James McAvoy, Atonement
Denzel Washington, American Gangster
(Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah)

Actress, Drama

Halle Berry, Things We Lost in the Fire
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth - The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Angelina Jolie, A Mightly Heart
Keira Knightley, Atonement
(Jodie Foster, The Brave One)

Picture, Comedy/Musical

The Savages
Sweeney Todd
(The Bucket List)

Actor, Comedy/Musical

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Richard Gere, The Hoax
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Jack Nicholson, The Bucket List
John Travolta, Hairspray
(Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages)

Actress, Comedy/Musical

Amy Adams, Enchanted
Helena Bonham-Carter, Sweeney Todd
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno
(Keri Russell, Waitress)

Supporting Actor

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Havier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
(Russell Crowe, American Gangster)

Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
(Charlize Theron, In the Valley of Elah)

TV Categories

Drama Series

Grey's Anatomy
Mad Men
The Sopranos

Comedy Series

The Office
Pushing Daisies
30 Rock
Ugly Betty


The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (and Jane Horrocks for an actress nod)

Personal Chart, 12/15/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic
3 .... 6 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
4 .... 2 .... 2 Hearts - Kylie Minogue
5 .... 5 .... Hate that I Love You - Rihanna Featuring Ne-Yo
6 .... 4 .... Valerie - Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse (1 wk @ #1)
7 .... 8 .... Clumsy - Fergie
8 ... 10 ... Same Mistake - James Blunt
9 ... 14 ... No One - Alicia Keys
10 .. 20 .. Change - Sugababes

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Atonement is a masterpiece

I saw Atonement today and I was blown away, which is really saying something. I had very high expectations for this film, having anticipated it since the moment I heard it was being made. I was worried it wouldn't live up, even if it was good but not great, but those fears were easily assuaged. It was phenominal.

The book it is based on is one of my favorites, and the film is a wonderful adaptation of the novel, capturing its essence while making its own statement about the power of storytelling, be it for devious or benevolent purposes. The film is visually stunning, and, remarkably, aurally stunning too. The sound of typing exists in the reality of the scene but also as part of the score, merging the two quite effectively.

The actors are also extraordinary. I was particularly taken by Keira Knightley, who transforms so effectively from her early scenes as a vibrant girl on the cusp of womanhood--beautiful, wealthy, the world at her feet--to the struggling woman whose life was so severely knocked off course, who looks like she's had life itself sucked from her. All three Brionys were good too, and bear a remarkable resemblance to each other, both physically and in mannerism, so that they are completely believable. James McAvoy was fantastic too.

I've already posted about the amazing one-take Dunkirk sequence, which works great in the film. Another fine scene is the electric love scene between Cecilia (Knightley) and Robbie (McAvoy) in the library. Here's a bit leading up to that. Notice the beautiful green dress Knightley wears.

Expect this film to be showered with well deserved Oscar nominations, probably 12: picture, actor, actress, supporting actress, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, art direction, costume design, score, editing, and sound mixing.

UK Chart Notes

  • For yet another week, Leona Lewis maintains her hold atop the British charts, once again topping the singles, albums, and airplay charts. Now extending its run atop the singles chart to 7 weeks, "Bleeding Love" becomes the longest-running #1 hit by a British female act. The longest running #1 hit by any female is Whitney Houston's 1992 remake of "I Will Always Love You," which spent 10 weeks at #1. Leona's album Spirit spends a 4th week at #1 in the albums chart, becoming the longest-running #1 album of the year, ending what had been a 4-way tie between albums spending 3 weeks at the top by Take That, Amy Winehouse, Arctic Monkeys, and Paul Potts.
  • With Leona out of the way, I can focus on the other chart news of the week, the biggest being that with the download rules instituted this year, the December charts are being assaulted by Christmas singles like never before. Making the biggest splash is Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," climbing 15 spots to #8 this week. The single spent 3 weeks at #2 when it was first released in 1994. That it can still chart in the top 10 13 years later is a testament to its popularity as perhaps the only seasonal song of the last 15 years that's become a certified classic.
  • The Pogues also make a strong move with their seasonal favorite, "Fairytale of New York," up 21 spots to #12 this week. This track also hit #2 when it was first released in 1987, but unlike Carey's received official re-releases over the last couple years, hitting #3 in 2005 at #6 last year.
  • Dance act Cascada lands at #16 on downloads with "What Hurts the Most." The song was first recorded by US country singer Mark Willis for his 2003 album, but became a hit last year when Rascal Flatts covered it. Now it gets a high-energy Eurodisco retread from German dance act that conquered charts worldwide with "Everytime We Touch." Look for this in the top 10 next week.
  • Arctic Monkeys land their lowest-charting single yet at #20 with "Teddy Picker," the third single lifted from their second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Until now, they've actually never landed outside the top 5, hitting #1 with their first two singles.
  • Finally, lots of other Christmas tracks in the lower half of the top 40: Wham at #23 with "Last Christmas," Andy Williams is at #25 with "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Wizzard at #27 with "I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday," Shakin' Stevens at #33 with "Merry Christmas Everyone," and Band Aid at #38 with "Do They Know It's Christmas."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Grammy Nominees

The Grammy nominees were announced yesterday. There were some big surprises, most notably in the Album of the Year category, where Bruce Springsteen's Magic was passed over. This was an even bigger surprise than last year when Bob Dylan's The Modern Times didn't get a nod. Everyone was predicting a Springsteen nomination, that it would be his year. But it wasn't to be. Here's who did make the cut:

Album of the Year

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace - Foo Fighters
These Days - Vince Gill
River: The Joni Letters - Herbie Hancock
Graduation - Kanye West
Back to Black - Amy Winehouse

I predicted West and Winehouse, but the rest weren't on my radar screen at all. It's nice to see a rock album here, and I'm glad it's not Linkin Park. Vince Gill's album is a sprawling 4-disc set, and Hancock's is a jazz collection of Joni Mitchell covers that sounds like it might be pretty good. This is West's third nomination in this category, which is pretty remarkable. Other recent artists to score three best album nods in a row include the Dixie Chicks and Bonnie Raitt. The only artist to score more nods in the last 25 years is U2, who's been nominated four times (and won twice). With Springsteen out of the race, Winehouse moves to the front of the pack.

Record of the Year

Irreplaceable - Beyoncé
The Pretender - Foo Fighters
Umbrella - Rihanna Featuring Jay-Z
What Goes Around…Comes Around - Justin Timberlake
Rehab - Amy Winehouse

Some surprises here too, but not as shocking. I predicted Rihanna and Winehouse. Springsteen got shut out here too for "Radio Nowhere," as did Alicia Key's "No One," which I'm actually glad didn't get it. Try as I might to like that song, I just don't. Beyoncé is not a surprise; it would have been my 6th place pick. Justin Timberlake is a nice surprise. His flashier 2006 single, "Sexyback," was passed over last year, so I didn't expect to this--the best single from his latest album--among the nominees. Interesting that besides Winehouse, the only other artist to get nods both here and the albums category is Foo Fighters. Their song isn't that great. I'm rooting for Winehouse, but the award could probably go to anybody except Foo Fighters.

Song of the Year

Before He Cheats - Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins, songwriters (Carrie Underwood)
Hey There Delilah - Tom Higgenson, songwriter (Plain White T's)
Like A Star - Corinne Bailey Rae, songwriter (Corinne Bailey Rae)
Rehab - Amy Winehouse, songwriter (Amy Winehouse)
Umbrella - Shawn Carter, Kuk Harrell, Terius "Dream" Nash & Christopher Stewart,songwriters (Rihanna Featuring Jay-Z)

Ah, the elusive songwriters award. I thought for sure "Before He Cheats" would be a record nominee, but at least at ended up here. What is "Hey There Delilah" doing here though? It's not that great of a song, and is only passably enjoyable because of how sincere the performance is. I think this race is between "Rehab" and "Before He Cheats." I didn't predict this category.

Best New Artist

Taylor Swift
Amy Winehouse

I predicted Feist, Swift, and Winehouse, and I've never heard of the other two. I think Lily Allen should have gotten it over Feist, so it's too bad not to see her. Amy Winehouse has this one locked up for sure.

Female Pop Vocal Performance

Candyman - Christina Aguilera
1234 - Feist
Big Girls Don't Cry - Fergie
Say It Right - Nelly Furtado
Rehab - Amy Winehouse

No surprise here to see Winehouse, Fergie, or Feist, who I predicted. Nelly Furtado isn't a surprise either, although Christina Aguilera's kitschy "Candyman" is. I had predicted Lily Allen and Norah Jones, who have been shut out here as well as other categories. Again, I think Winehouse is the leader here.

Male Pop Vocal Performance

Everything - Michael Bublé
Belief - John Mayer
Dance Tonight - Paul McCartney
Amazing - Seal
What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake

Timberlake, Mayer, and McCartney get nods as I predicted. I thought Mika might get it for "Grace Kelly," but he got his nod in the dance category for "Love Today." Thankfully Elliott Yamin was passed over for Seal, although that was a surprise, as was Michael Bublé. This could be a tough race between Timberlake, the obvious frontrunner because he got a record nod, and McCartney, an old Grammy favorite who didn't. I wouldn't count Mayer out either.

Pop Duo/Group Performance

(You Want To) Make A Memory - Bon Jovi
Home - Daughtry
Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5

Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's
Window in the Skies - U2

Three seems to be my lucky number with the pop categories this year, as again, I predicted Daughtry, Maroon 5 and U2. I was hoping they wouldn't give a nod to Plain White T's, but my hope they'd nominate The Killers instead was overruled. They there's Bon Jovi, which was a surprise.

Pop Collaboration Performance

Steppin' Out - Tony Bennett & Christina Aguilera
Beautiful Liar - Beyoncé & Shakira
Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani & Akon
Give It To Me - Timbaland Featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake

Again I predicted three right, but it should've been four (I picked the wrong Alison Krauss collaboration, forgetting that her new album is a collaboration with Robert Plant, not John Waite). Tony Bennett & Christina Aguilera is a surprise--I've never even heard of this song--but given his pedigree, it just could be a frontrunner, along with Plant & Krauss.

Pop Vocal Album

Lost Highway - Bon Jovi

The Reminder - Feist

It Won't Be Soon Before Long - Maroon 5

Memory Almost Full - Paul McCartney

Back To Black - Amy Winehouse

Have you figured out how many of these I predicted right? 2? 4? No, 3 again! Crazy. Maroon 5, McCartney and Winehouse. No surprise to see Feist here, given the shunning of Norah Jones. But Bon Jovi? I was hoping Annie Lennox would get a nod. Again, this should be Winehouse's to collect, that is if she doesn't O.D. before the ceremony on February 10th. I'll revisit this again before then to see who's leading in the races.

Album Review: Celine Dion - Taking Chances (2/5)

Let's get this over quickly. Taking Chances is a disappointment. It has a few great songs and a handful of pretty good ones, but too many tracks are indistinct, unmemorable, and sound like they're performed by average session musicians rather than the great musical backing Celine's had for her previous albums.

It's too bad, because it wasn't always this way. In her 1990s heyday, Celine Dion was a pop force to be reckoned with. Take her masterpiece, Falling Into You (1996). The album was awesome, full of great moments like the dramatic Jim Steinman opus "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," the hook-laden balled "Because You Loved Me," the over-the-top remake of "River Deep, Mountain High," and that moment in "All By Myself" when she hits that note (you know the one) and the orchestra soars behind her. That was pop music at its cheesy, pull out all the stops and make you tingle best.

Sadly there are few if any truly special moments on Taking Chances, a misnomer for sure, as too many songs play it safe. Some critics have praised Celine for reining in her excesses, which I think is ridiculous. That's her strength! Give her a "My Heart Will Go On" and she goes for it, and nails it. Sure she's made as many detractors as fans in the process, but it works, where these songs just don't.

There's a pointless and unsatisfying remake of "Alone," produced by Ben Moody of all people. He also shows up as the producer and writer of "This Time," which sounds like it had the potential to be a dark, dramatic number, but rather than soaring, the backing band sounds strangely subdued, almost bored. Linda Perry contributes a stripped down, soulful "New Dawn," which showcases that Celine still has her pipes, but just repeats all the cliches Celine's spouted before: "A new day will come," "I am woman," etc. The piano and strings of "A Song for You" sounds like they were stolen from the soundtrack to some depressing WWII drama set in Eastern Europe.

The second half of the album really suffers from too much genre jumping, and whenever an album goes over 12 tracks--and this one has a whopping 16--I think it's a sign that the record execs have decided to give us quantity because they know that can't deliver quality. "A World to Believe In" is bland and when it reaches its peak, its not very satisfying. Celine sounds robotic on rock out number "Can't Fight the Feeling." "Right Next to the Right One," a remake of a 2002 song by Danish singer-songwriter Tim Christensen, sounds silly, even lazy. I can't find a reason to dislike frenetic "Just Fade Away," but I can't find a reason to like it either. Celine as a country crooner on "That Just the Woman in Me" just doesn't fit.

So what does work here? First single "Taking Chances" for one. The track, penned and originally performed by Kara DioGuardi and Dave Stewart is a satisfying pop/rock number that starts simply and builds to a satisfying finish. You can tell she's trying to fit in with Kelly Clarkson here, and she mostly succeeds. I also really like upbeat Middle Eastern-flavored "Eyes on Me," which interestingly is co-written by Australian singer-songwriter Delta Goodrem, and the piano and guitar ballad "My Love," which is melodic, simple, and has Celine singing in a lower than usual register.

Upbeat "Shadow of Love" is alright. It has that "on the road" feel like "I Drove All Night." I also don't mind the Ne-Yo-produced balled "I Got Nothing Left," which strikes the right balance of tenderness and modern production. And there's something sweet and retro about piano and string-backed "Skies of L.A." that reminds me of the kind of song Celine would have put on her 1992 self-titled album.

Taking Chances is Celine's eighth English language album, so of course there's going to be some sense of "been there, done that," but I can't help feeling that she's been there and done it so much better.

Best: Taking Chances, Eyes on Me, My Love

Friday, December 07, 2007

Personal Chart, 12/8/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (6 wks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... 2 Hearts - Kylie Minogue
3 .... 3 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic
4 .... 4 .... Valerie - Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse (1 wk @ #1)
5 .... 7 .... Hate that I Love You - Rihanna Featuring Ne-Yo
6 ... 10 ... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
7 .... 5 .... Rule the World - Take That
8 .... 9 .... Clumsy - Fergie
9 .... 6 .... Saving My Face - KT Tunstall
10 .. 14 .. Same Mistake - James Blunt

Monday, December 03, 2007

Introducing Tom Baxter

Singer-songwriter Tom Baxter is already making a splash on the UK airplay chart with his latest single, "Better." Check out the video only if you're in the mood for a sappy love song.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

UK Chart Notes

  • Leona Lewis adds another feather to her cap, spending a 6th week at #1 on the singles chart with "Bleeding Love." The track is still #1 at radio, and despite competition from new Shayne Ward and Kylie Minogue releases, her album Spirit remains atop the albums chart for a third week. Her run is sure to end by Christmas week, at which point her successor--the next X Factor winner--will very likely score a Christmas #1. But there's still two weeks between then and now. Is there room for another #1 hit this year? More later...
  • Girls Aloud vault up to #3 on physical release sales of "Call the Shots," the second single from their recent fourth album, Tangled Up. This is their 14th top 5 hit and 5th in a row, a run interrupted by three of the singles from their third album, Chemistry, although all 17 of the band's singles have been top 10 hits. Midweek this looked like it could hit #2, but it was in close competition with dance group T2's "Heartbroken," which remains in pole position.
  • Not much else of note on the chart this week, which is surprisingly slow for the first weekend of December. Soulja Boy's "Crank That" continues to rise in its pre-release download sales, up ten spots to #14. "The Racing Rats," The Editors' third single from their current album debuts at #26, which is one spot higher than their last single, "An End Has a Start," achieved.
  • So who, if anyone, can unseat Leona before the big Christmas chart? Not much in tomorrow's release list looks very promising, although there could be some top 10 debuts. New singles are out from Arctic Monkeys ("Teddy Picker,") Babyshambles ("You Talk"), James Blunt ("Same Mistake"), Peter Gelderblom ("Waiting 4"). Next week looks about the same, with new releases from Amy Winehouse ("Love Is a Losing Game"), Cascada ("What Hurts the Most"), David Guetta ("Baby When the Light"), Lee Ryan ("Reinforce Love"), Plain White T's ("Hate"), Newton Faulkner ("Teardrop," a remake of the Massive Attack classic), and the just in time re-release of the Pogues and Kirsty Macoll's "Fairytale of New York." I think the best bet is if Soulja Boy can climb to the top on downloads.