Sunday, November 30, 2008

UK Singles Chart, 12/6/2008

Here it is! The chart resulting from what I declared would be the most competitive chart week of the year so far in the UK. Two weeks ago I made my prediction of where all the big new singles would land. The week rather significantly ruined the chart records of several major artists. Let's see how well they (and my predictions) did...

1. Greatest Day - Take That

The reunited Take That contines to prove they are still a potent pop force, scoring their 11th #1 hit, third since they reunited 2 years ago. "Greatest Day" is the first single from the band's fifth album The Circus, out tomorrow. This was an easy pick, of course I knew it would be #1.

3. Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna

T.I. and Rihanna climb back up to #3 with the physical release of their single, "Live Your Life." Two weeks ago the single peaked at #2, and I had predicted it would be back up there, so I was close.

4. Human - The Killers

Despite all the new releases, The Killers managed to hold their position in the top 5 with their single, "Human," slipping just a notch to #4 in its third week. The Killers also top this week's album's chart with Day & Age, their third album and third to hit #1. The albums chart was also pretty competitive this week, with The Killers selling more records than Guns N' Roses' first album in 15 years, Rhydian, and Kanye West (poor Kanye wasn't even in the top 10).

5. Hot N Cold - Katy Perry

Katy Perry's been selling so well on downloads that she manages to hold steady at #5 this week with the release of the single's CD. Exactly where I thought she'd be.

7. Womanizer - Britney Spears

Britney climbs up a bit with the full release of "Womanizer," but still short of the #4 peak the song reached on downloads. Despite this being touted as a comeback for the singer, it ties "I'm a Slave 4 U" as the lowest-charting first single from any of her albums. I had higher hopes for Brits, predicting she'd be back up at #4.

9. Right Now (Na Na Na) - Akon.

Akon lands his 8th UK top 10 hit with "Right Now (Na Na Na)," the first single from new third album, Freedom. Akon had one #1 hit from each of his first two albums, "Lonely" from Trouble was a #1 hit in 2005, and "Smack That" from Konvicted hit #1 in 2006. I predicted this would be in the lower half of the top 10--good job me.

12. I Hate This Part - The Pussycat Dolls

The Pussycat Dolls get a bit of a lift, up four spots to #12 with "I Hate This Part." As such, it just misses the top 10, becoming the group's first single to do so after six top 10 hits. I had thought they'd go top 10, so I just missed this one too.

13. We R One - Same Difference

The siblings duo Same Difference, Former X Factor contestants, land at #13 with their debut single, "We R One." Midweek results showed this would be in the top 10, so I don't know what happened, although I had predicted it would be Top 15, so I got it right in the end. Too bad, as I was actually hoping they'd be in the top 10.

15. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
17. Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon continue to climb on pre-release downloads, pushing "Use Somebody" to a new peak at #15. Meanwhile, the group's last single, former #1 "Sex on Fire," refuses to be buried, slipping only four spots this week.

18. Da Ya/Stay With Me - McFly

Now here's a rather spectacular flop for several reasons. After 15 straight top 10 hits McFly miss the top 10 by rather a large measure, debuting at #18 with their double-A side single "Do Ya/Stay With Me." The single also manages to earn the distinction of the lowest-charting Children in Need charity single, performing even lower than last year's #11 flop, the Spice Girls' reunion single "Headlines." I thought McFly + Children in Need would be an irresistable combination that would send this to #3. Boy was I wrong.

24. Rehab - Rihanna

It's not coming out until next year, but already Rihanna's moving enough downloads for her new single "Rehab" to debut at #24. As such, it becomes the 8th top 40 hit from her album Good Girl Gone Bad--a very impressive run. It's also one of her three entries on the chart this week, along with her T.I. collaboration at #3 and her old single "Disturbia" still on the chart at #27.

37. All I Want for Christmas - Mariah Carey

Here she comes. Mariah Carey re-enters the top 40 with her seasonal hit "All I Want for Christmas." How high will it get this year? Last year it hit #4.

39. Miles Away - Madonna

Poor, poor Madonna. Not only did her divorce recently become finalized, but now the singer must suffer the indignity of her lowest charting UK single ever. "Miles Away" flops and rather spectacularly for Madonna. Her previous low water mark was #16, reached by both "Take a Bow" in 1994 and "Oh Father" in 1996. Such a shame, for its a really great single. But why wasn't there a video? That was a huge mistake I think. I wonder if this means no more Hard Candy singles? It wouldn't surprise me if that was the case. I predicted this would be top 20, thinking that was pretty low, but didn't imagine the news would be this bad.

Next week--still an exciting week. Leona Lewis will mount a potent challenge to Take That with the download release of her hotly anticipated new single "Run." Hoping to land in the top 10 are Oasis, with "I'm Outta Time" and Will Young with "Grace."

Album Review: Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak (4.5/5)

Eminem was the decade's most "important" rapper until he couldn't find anything else to rap about except how wonderful his daughter is and how wonderful his wife is not. Thankfully a new face emerged in 2004, Kanye West, who has since worn the mantle as the decade's biggest star in hip-hop. All three of his albums--the university-themed The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation--were nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. None of them won (and he was famously vocally upset when Late Registration lost to U2), but he keeps trying, delivering not just critically acclaimed music, but big hits too, like his Jamie Foxx collaboration "Gold Digger" or the Daft Punk-sampling "Stronger."

West's writing, sampling and songcraft is a cut above most of his peers. Although I'm not a big rap fan, but I've always liked his stuff. With his new album 808s & Heartbreak, rather than go on to graduate school, West takes a new direction. Most notably he's singing this time, but there are other important differences too. Gone (mostly) are the boasts about how wonderful he is, the interlude skits and the endless shopping trips down Fifth Avenue (if hip-hop is a materialistic medium, then West is its biggest purveyor of luxury goods).

The mood is more somber too, and with good reason. Since Graduation came out last year, he broke off a long-term engagement and dealt with the unexpected death of his mother. The album opens with "Say You Will," a lament for an ended relationship that has a meditative quality from its repetition of electronic bleeps, strings, drum programming and choir voices that make up its musical structure. The equally down "Welcome to Heartbreak" follows with a fantastic keyboard (both tinkling and bass) and drumbeat melody reminiscent of '80s Depeche Mode. It's another lament: this time West ponders his life choices to pursue a career over a family. The song shows his usual talent for turning clever lyrics ("my friend showed me pictures of his kids, and I all I could show him was pictures of my cribs").

"Heartless," the new single, is a little more upbeat, but also more stripped down, with just a keyboard and drum machine backing. The auto-tune effect (you know it--listen to Cher's "Believe" or anything from T-Pain), used throughout the album, is turned up full here for the choruses. "Amazing" takes a break from the wallowing to briefly boast about his career ("my reign is as far as your eyes can's amazing'). The keeps the same haunting sound, backed by piano and choir. Young Jeezy shows up too, delivering one of the album's few raps, all of which are from guests.

Next comes my favorite two songs on the album. First is "Love Lockdown," the single that a few months ago announced the new direction the album would take. I remember it being controversial, and I wasn't sure if I liked it, but it grew on me and now I love it. It's a very appealing song that is again, quite simple: just piano chords, deep bass beats, and a thundering drumline during the chorus. "Paranoid" though is the album's true gem. It's the only truly upbeat moment here, and it's a lot of fun, embodying a electric '80s dance pop beat.

"Robocop" provides the album's most humorous moment. Over a bright and prominent strings arrangement, West tells the story of a woman who was "a drama queen that a turn my life into Stephen King." Uh oh! When she won't give up prying into his business, he retorts "I don't need no Robocop." "Street Lights" and "Bad News" see the darker tone return. These songs are pretty good, but not highlights. Better is "See You in My Nightmares," a similarly dark piece that features Lil Wayne. Final track, "Coldest Winter" is a reworking of Tears for Fears' "Memories Fade" It combines the thundering drums of "Love Lockdown" with the somber mood of the opening tracks. It's a sad song and would be a fitting closing number, although its followed by "Pinocchio Story," which would be a good closing number except that it's a live recording and the somber mood is broken by the clearly ecstatic screaming fans that punctuate it.

Despite a bit of sagging at the end, this is for the most part a really enjoyable album. As a pop music fan, it's my favorite thing he's done. The sad songs are quite lovely and feel genuine; the few upbeat numbers, especially "Paranoid," are a lot of fun.

Best: Paranoid, Love Lockdown, Welcome to Heartbreak, Amazing, Heartless, Say You Will, Robocop, Coldest Winter

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Album Review: Britney Spears - Circus (3/5)

The trials and tribulations Britney Spears faced in 2007 has been well documented, so I'm not going into it here. I generally like to stick with the music, so in that regard all I'll mention about that dreadful year in her life was the release of her fifth album Blackout, which was mostly a dreadful, phoned-in affair. Thankfully Circus is an improvement, but it's still not a knockout. She's trotted out many of the same producers she used on Blackout, and Britney sounds better this time--certainly more present. When she gets a great song, she soars, and there are a few here, but more often than not she's playing second fiddle to producers who seem more interested in showing off their studio skills than helping Britney deliver a great pop hook.

"Womanizer" is a great opener. It starts with sirens blaring to announce the arrival of Miss Spears and she really has arrived with this swaggering, electronic pop confection. "Circus" is good too, a little leaner, but still a pretty throbbing electro-pop song. It's produced by Dr. Luke & Benny Blanco, the production duo responsible for Katy Perry's big hits this year. They also helm "Shattered Glass," another winner, and Dr. Luke does duty on groovy "Lace and Leather," one of the better songs on the album's second half.

"Out from Under" is a rare ballad from Britney (there were none on Blackout), and it's not bad. It's produced by Guy Sigsworth, who did her "Everytime" from In the Zone. It's certainly better than the other ballad he produces for her here--the treacly "My Baby," which is about one of her babies. It tries to be profound, but comes off trite. I'll give Britney credit for attempting a couple of ballads this time. They require more work from her, and she sounds good on both of them.

"Kill the Lights" is a Nate "Danja" Hills production, and as such sounds a bit like "Gimme More," but isn't as appealing. The chorus in particular isn't very memorable, lacking a good hook, and Britney gets buried in the thumping beats. His other contribution, "Blur," is a little bit better. At least it has a melody, but it still isn't a standout.

These are better, however, than the album's lowest marks. First there's "If You Seek Amy," which is a rather shocking piece of pop trash courtesy of Max Martin. It has a nice stomp to it, but the banality of the lyrics make it a real loser. "If You Seek Amy" sounds like "F-U-C-K Me," the same stupid effect that The Script went for on "If You Say Kay." We get it, and it's not that clever. "Mmm Papi" is an interesting experiment musically, but again, the silly "mmm papa love you" lyrics kill it for me, as well as her attempt at being kittenish.

Bloodshy & Avant, the producers of "Toxic" and "Piece of Me," have another good time with Britney on "Unusual You." It's a great dance pop number wrapped in a distorted beat and piano; subtler than the other songs they've done with her. "Mannequin" had the potential to be something really cool--it has an interesting sound--but again, where is the killer chorus a good dance pop song needs?

Circus has some decent dance pop moments, but let's face it: Britney Spears is not an amazing pop singer. Away from the PR machine, she's a stand-in for whatever the latest and greatest producers want to put together. Britney's appeal is like a car wreck--we know it isn't good to watch, but we can't help but do so. When it comes to music, if she didn't have such talent backing her, she'd be forgotten by now. If this is Britney at her best, then it really just goes to show how limited her appeal is in comparison to the likes of say Pink, Beyonce or Christina Aguilera.

Best: Womanizer, Circus, Unusual You, Lace and Leather, Shattered Glass

Grammy Predictions - Pop

Pop Female
  • Sara Bareilles - Love Song
  • Natasha Bedingfield - Pocketful of Sunshine
  • Duffy - Mercy
  • Leona Lewis - Bleeding Love
  • Pink - So What
As you'd expect, this is fiercely competitive. The only sure thing I see is Leona Lewis for "Bleeding Love," for the year's biggest pop hit by anyone--man, woman, group, meerkat. I also think Natasha Bedingfield could make it in for "Pocketful of Sunshine," despite its overexposure. I'm giving Duffy's "Mercy" the edge over Adele's "Chasing Pavements," although that could easily go the other way. For something with a harder edge Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" could be a possibility, but could be shunned as a novelty. Instead I'm going with Pink and "So What," one of her best singles ever. For something with that "singer-songwriter" bent, Sheryl Crow could get in with "Love Is Free" or Sarah McLachlan with "You Want Me 2," but neither feel as right as Sara Bareilles's "Love Song," which was a much bigger hit. Still, I couldn't find room for Rihanna's "Take a Bow"--a massive hit, Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy," which sounds like a strong contender, Mariah Carey's "Bye Bye"--a weak song, but she's been nominated here eight times before, or Christina Aguilera's "Keeps Gettin' Better," a popular artist and a respected song despite its poor chart performance.

Pop Male
  • Kid Rock - All Summer Long
  • John Mayer - Say
  • Paul McCartney - That Was Me
  • Jason Mraz - I'm Yours
  • Ne-Yo - Closer
As usual, this isn't nearly as competitive as the female category, since male pop artists just aren't the hitmakers the ladies are. In some ways, this makes it harder to predict, since while there are fewer potential nominees there are also fewer standouts. I think John Mayer's "Say" is an easy pick--Grammy loves him, and I'd expect Jason Mraz "I'm Yours" to be a shoo-in too. Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" was a respectable hit that cleverly incorporated two classic rock songs, which should get some attention. With those three out of the way I expect one slot to go to someone young and hip and the other to somehow who is, well, not. For the young one, Jesse McCartney is a slight potential for "Leavin;" better would be Chris Brown for "With You," but I think the strongest contender is Ne-Yo with "Closer." For the veteran, Neil Diamond is an option for "Pretty Amazing Grace," but I think Paul McCartney has a better chance with "That Was Me." Other potential contenders: Gavin Rossdale ("Love Remains the Same"), Josh Groban ("Awake"), and John Johnson ("If I Had Eyes"). Finally, a potential spoiler, Kanye West's "Love Lockdown"--not sure how Grammy will react to his new sound.

Pop Group
  • Coldplay - Viva La Vida
  • The Eagles - Waiting in the Weeds
  • Glen Hansard And Marketa Irglova - When Your Mind's Made Up
  • OneRepublic - Apologize
  • The Ting Tings - Shut Up and Let Me Go
Coldplay was apparently submitted in the pop category, so I think it will make it in. OneRepublic should appear as well--I'd thought it would be for "Stop and Stare," but apparently they put up "Apologize" here instead (which I thought would be in the collaboration category, go figure). Then there's The Eagles, which I think will make it in, and apparently submitted "Waiting in the Weeds" and not "Busy Being Fabulous," which is the ROTY contender. Because it isn't a busy year for this category, I'm going to go out on a limb for my last two predictions and go with Glen Hansard And Marketa Irglova's "When Your Mind's Made Up," a beautiful song from their musical Once, and The Ting Ting's "Shut Up and Let Me Go." Other potential nominees are Grammy favorite Maroon 5 with "Won't Go Home Without You," The Pussycat Dolls for "When I Grow Up," and Flobots with their interesting single, "Handlebars."

Pop Collaboration
  • Alicia Keys & John Mayer - Lessons Learned
  • Madonna & Justin Timberlake - 4 Minutes
  • Maroon5 & Rihanna - If I Never See Your Face Again
  • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Rich Woman
  • Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown - No Air
This seems like a pretty easy category to predict this year. Alicia Keys & John Mayer is a no-brainer, since Grammy worships both of them. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss are a shoo-in, although it's interesting they submitted "Rich Woman" over "Please Read the Letter." Madonna had her most electric single in years when she teamed up with Justin Timberlake on "4 Minutes," so it should make it in. Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown's "No Air" was a beautiful pop ballad and a major hit. Last spot could go to John Legend & Corinne Bailey Rae--both prior Grammy nominees--for their cover of Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is The Love," or the nostalgia factor could work for Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole's "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." But I'm going with Maroon 5 and Rihanna for "If I Never See Your Face Again," since I think it's possible their individual songs will get passed over.

Pop Album
  • Adele - 19
  • Duffy - Rockferry
  • The Eagles - Long Road Out Of Eden
  • Leona Lewis - Spirit
  • Sheryl Crow - Detours
Finally, the pop album category. The Eagles, since they will likely be in AOTY, will definitely appear here. I think Duffy and Sheryl Crow are pretty likely nominees too. Leona Lewis's Spirit is a strong contender too, despite mixed reviews. Adele, whom I think will get overlooked in the general categories and pushed out of pop female has a better chance here, since the field isn't so crowded. Also in the running: Madonna's Hard Candy, Jack Johnson's Sleep Through the Static, and OneRepublic's Dreaming Out Loud (if it was submitted, I'm not sure).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Grammy Predictions

Nominees for the 51st annual Grammy Awards will be announced December 4. Unlike last year, I wasn't able to get the lists of all the songs submitted for contention in the major races, so my predictions are based more on opinion and what others (who say the lists) are saying.

Album of the Year
  • Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
  • The Eagles - Long Road Out of Eden
  • Alicia Keys - As I Am
  • Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
  • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
If there's one lesson I've learned from Grammy it's that nostalgia rules. Frequently in recent years the winning album has not served to award the hottest new sound but to honor a veteran artist putting in a late-career (and sometimes final) effort. Herbie Hancock over Amy Winehouse (2007), Ray Charles over Kanye West (2004), Steely Dan over Eminem (2000). With that said, the album most likely to get the nostalgia nod this year is The Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden, which looks like a lock. If voters are feeling really nostalgic, they may also decide to honor BB King for One Kind Favor or, and its a real long shot, Al Green's Lay It Down. I'm expecting just one though, as Grammy likes to spread the wealth.

With that in mind, expect the other four albums to each come from a different genre. From rock, I expect to see Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's Raising Sand; they one the Pop Collaboration award last year for one of the album's tracks, "Gone Gone Gone." From alternative, I expect we'll see Coldplay with Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Coldplay have never been nominated in this category, and this album, which produced their biggest hit ever ("Viva la Vida") looks like their best chance yet for a nod. Going with the one-album-from-a-genre theory means that the year's other potential alternative contender, Radiohead's In Rainbows, will probably be sadly overlooked. Beck's Modern Guilt would be a real longshot.

Moving on to rap and R&B, Kanye West has a been a popular choice of late, but his 808s and Heartbreaks won't qualify until next year, leaving the door open for someone else to represent the genre. Lupe Fiasco could do it for Lupe Fiasco's the Cool; he won the Urban/Alternative award last year for "Daydreamin'," but I don't think this album made a big impression. T.I.'s certainly got the hit factor going for Paper Trail, but I don't think the critics liked it enough. The best bet would seem to be Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III; the album was a big hit and got a lot of acclaim. The only downside may be that while Grammy sometimes likes to edgy (Eminem, Kanye West, etc.), the overtly sexual album may be too edgy. In R&B, I see Alicia Keys having the best chance with As I Am. Although, if BB King or Radiohead can get into the mix, I would hope Keys' album, which isn't nearly as good as her last, would be the one to be nudged out. Mariah Carey's E=MC2 didn't make a good enough impression to get a nod like her last album did, and while Ne-Yo's The Year of the Gentleman may be his best album yet, I don't see it as being Album of the Year worthy.

I don't expect to see pop or country represented this year, but there are some long shots. Leona Lewis, Duffy, and Adele were all big breakouts this year, and while one or two of them may be in the Record of the Year category, I don't see any of their albums (Spirit, Rockferry, and 19 respectively) having the chops to show up here. Country's biggest potential lies with Sugarland's Love on the Inside, but again, it doesn't seem likely.

Finally, while I think my prediction looks pretty solid, Grammy has a way of throwing a real curve ball in this category. Frequently the choice the critics seem to think will surely be there is missing (In 2006 it was Bob Dylan's The Modern Times, last year it was the Boss's Magic), replaced by something odd like Vince Gill or Gnarls Barkley.

Record of the Year
  • Coldplay - Viva la Vida
  • Estelle Featuring Kanye West - American Boy
  • Leona Lewis - Bleeding Love
  • M.I.A. - Paper Planes
  • Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic - Apologize
Usually there is some overlap between record and album of the year, and the act most likely to achieve that distinction this year is Coldplay. Not only was their album celebrated, it's title track, "Viva La Vida" was a renowned smash hit that gave the band their first #1 hit in both the US and the UK. It was as inescapable during the summer as another British Act, Leona Lewis, was in the spring with her massive number one hit "Bleeding Love." Both are the surest bets to get nods here this year. In a year where British acts reclaimed their competitiveness on the American charts, one more--Estelle--could also get a nod, for her Kanye West-collaboration "American Boy." In slot number four, I'm expecting to see Timbaland and OneRepublic's "Apologize," another massive hit that also achieved some acclaim.

The last one then is a tough one. If the Brit love continues it could go to Duffy for "Mercy" or even Adele for "Chasing Pavements," but really these songs did not have much impact in the US beyond VH1. One of the year's big pop hits could be a contender--Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown's "No Air," Madonna and Justin Timberlake's "4 Minutes," Sara Bareilles' "Love Song," Rihanna's "Take a Bow," or Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." For various reasons though, I don't think it will be any of these. No one seems to be mentioning Kid Rock's clever reworking of "Werewolves of London" and "Sweet Home Alabama" into "All Summer Long,"--perhaps it wasn't submitted?

Another way to go could be to consider songs from the album of the year contenders. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's "Please Read the Letter" is a great song, and it could be in here. It should have a better chance than The Eagles' "Busy Being Fabulous," which didn't have much impact. Alicia Keys's album's big hit, "No One," was in contention last year, so that album can only offer "Like You'll Never See Me Again," which isn't up to par. Actually I'm thinking the last slot will go to a hip-hop song. Lil Wayne's "Lollipop?" (too suggestive). Kanye West's "Love Lockdown?" (not really hip-hop). No, I think it will to critics' darling M.I.A., who scored her first popular hit with "Paper Planes."

Best New Artist
  • Duffy
  • Estelle
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Leona Lewis
  • OneRepublic
The British ladies will be leading this category for sure this year, with Leona Lewis sure to get a nod, followed by likely choices Estelle and Duffy. Less likely but still possible is a spot for Adele. American ladies Katy Perry and Sara Bareilles are possibilities, but I don't think they're held in as high of esteem. I think the other two spots will go to groups. Perhaps Jonas Brothers, but probably too "teen oriented." Perhaps The Ting Tings, but not important enough. Best chance goes to OneRepublic, if only because the band includes Ryan Tedder, who has become a potent force in rock music (arguably just he should be nominated). Since I don't see country getting a nod in the album or record categories, I expect Lady Antebellum to get a new artist nomination.

Take That reviews point to promising album

Reviews are appearing for Take That's new album, The Circus, coming out Monday. This wasn't one I was automatically going to snatch up, but I'm seriously considering it now.

calls the album "pretty damn amazing," singling out the title track and ballad "What Is Love" and comparing "The Garden" and "Holding Up the Light" to "Rule the World," noting they have the "same magical feel." They particularly praise "Up All Night" as "complete with a proper oom pah pah band and skip down the street chorus."

The Mirror calls it as a "polished follow-up" to their last album that "skillfully stage-managed theatrical pop which succeeds in emphasising both individual personalities and their newly-established group democracy." They also single out "Up All Night" and "What Is Love," as well as "How Did It Come to This," which they describe as "angst-ridden" and "soul-baring."

Not everyone's as happy about it tough. Time Out gave it only 2 out of 6 stars (who uses a six-star scale?), calling "Hello" a "confused blend of Blur and Slade."

Personal Chart, 11/29/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... If I Were a Boy - Beyoncé (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (2 wks @ #1)
3 .... 9 .... Greatest Day - Take That
4 ... 15 ... Run - Leona Lewis
5 .... 3 .... Human - The Killers
6 .... 5 .... The Boy Does Nothing - Alesha Dixon
7 .... 8 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears
8 .... 4 .... Rain on Your Parade - Duffy
9 ... 11 .... Love Lockdown - Kanye West
10 ... 6 ... The Promise - Girls Aloud (2 wks @ #1)

Billboard Hot 100, 12/6/2008

1. Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna

T.I. and Rihanna stay at #1 for a fifth week. T.I's other single, "Whatever You Like," take a bit of a tumble, ending his run of holding the top 2 spots.

2. Single Ladies - Beyonce
3. If I Were a Boy - Beyonce

It looks like another artist could be contender for holding the Hot 100's top 2 spots. With Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce released this week, Beyonce's other single, "Single Ladies," finally became available for sale at iTunes, propelling the popular track up 26 spots to #2. While it's biggest boost this week is from sales (it debuts at #1 on the Digital Sales chart), it's also doing quite well at radio, having already firmly established itself in the R&B market (where it is #1 this week on the airplay and overall charts) and growing strongly at top 40. It's this week's Airplay Gainer.

It will be interesting to see if either of these will unseat T.I. next week. "If I Were a Boy" is the more popular track at top 40 currently, but "Single Ladies" is bigger at R&B radio, and therefore overall. Both are ranked in the top 10 for digital sales (#1 and #2) and Hot 100 airplay (#6 and #9) with "Single Ladies" ahead on both feeder charts. If "Single Ladies" goes no higher, it will be Beyonce's first #2 hit, joining her four #1s, three #3s, and three #4s. A good track record for sure.

7. Just Dance - Lady Gaga featuring Colby O'Donis

American singer Lady Gaga scores her first top 10 hit this week with "Just Dance." The single was a #1 hit in Canada late in the summer, slowly gaining popularity in the US and recently surging forth quite forcefully. The track is up 9 spots to #7 this week. It's also the first top 10 hit for Colby O'Donis, whose single from earlier this year, "What You Got," topped out at #14. Much has been written about Lady Gaga on pop music blogs (including this humorous one from Chart Rigger about Christina Aguilera's confusion about Lady Gaga's gender).

9. Miss Independent - Ne-Yo

"Miss Independent's" lost its bullet, but slips up two back into the top 10 this week.

24. Green Light - John Legend Featuring Andre 3000

John Legend's "Green Light" is up seven spots to #24 this week, tying his 2005 hit "Ordinary People" as his highest-charting single.

28. You Found Me - The Fray

The Fray returns to the Hot 100 this week, debuting at #28 with "You Found Me," the first single from the band's second album due early next year. In 2006 the band scored two top 10 hits with "Over My Head (Cable Car)" and "How to Save a Life."

34. Rehab - Rihanna

Rihanna's "Rehab" breaks into the top 40 this week, becoming the 7th top 40 hit released from her Good Girl Gone Bad album (if you count the two #1 hits from the "Reloaded" version). I'm having trouble verifying this, but I believe it is the first album in 17 years to score at least 7 top 40 hits (if you can think of another since then let me know). That last album was Michael Jackson's Dangerous, which began with a #1 hit ("Black or White"), scored three other top 10 hits ("Remember the Time," "In the Closet," and "Will You Be There") and three other top 40 hits ("Jam," "Heal the World," and "Who Is It"). Other albums to score 7 top 40 hits include Michael Jackson's Thriller and Bad, Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA (Thriller and Born in the USA have the further distinction of having all 7 singles reach the top 10, and Rhythm Nation the top 5). To my knowledge, no album has scored 8 top 40 hits.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Album Review: Dido - Safe Trip Home (3/5)

It's been 5 years since we've heard from Dido, the British singer who in the early '00s dominated the charts with her appealing singer-songwriter pop with a modern downbeat twist. Her 2001 debut, No Angel, and its 2003 follow-up, Life for Rent, were a similar mix of big-sounding pop hits, dance-oriented material and stripped-down ballads like her massive US hit "Thank You." While peers like Paula Cole or Jewel saw themselves relegated to adult contemporary radio (and their popularity fade), Dido managed to appeal to both the AC and top 40 audiences, even attracting attention from hip-hop fans as she saw her "Thank You" borrowed for Eminem's hit single "Stan."

Safe Trip Home takes a quieter approach than her previous work. Many of the same elements are here--opening track "Don't Believe in Love" blends heart-tugging strings and horns with a mid-tempo slightly '70s beat--but doesn't aim for the grandeur of her previous hits. Lyrically, she's more jaded now too, the sentiment of "Don't Believe in Love" being a far cry from the woman who refused to give up on a failing relationship in "White Flag."

"Quiet Times" is even mellower, a simple mid-tempo guitar ballad that also finds Dido in the troubled waters of love ("I can't have you, even when you're here"). "Never Want to Say It's Love" puts the strings and horns forward but continues to show a marked restraint. These songs aren't bad, but don't stand out.

"Grafton Street" however is a real stand out, perhaps the album's best. Here Dido ruminates on the recent death of her father. It's a clearly personal song, but it's also quite a beautiful blend of steady percussion, dramatic strings and flute, with a Celtic flavor, courtesy of renowned producer Brian Eno. The contemplative mood it creates is shattered by the charging beginning of the next song, "It Comes and It Goes," the album's most lively track--sometimes. The song alternates between big passages of deep piano chords, horns, drums, and strings and quieter parts that are just the strings and Dido.

"Look No Further" opens with Dido reflecting that she "might have been a singer who sailed around the world" among a host of other less plausible options for her life. It's about having chosen a simple home life instead--a bit disingenuous from someone whose first two tour-backed albums sold 21 million copies, but perhaps she's referring to what she's been doing the last 5 years since then. Again the production is quite simple with few instruments, mainly piano, some strings and a deep horn (trombone maybe? I'm not good at identifying specific brass instruments). "Us 2 Little Gods" brings the tempo back up with a hand-clapping rhythm, but isn't a very interesting song.

Dido returns to the subject of her late father on "The Day Before the Day," a simple guitar ballad that finds Dido singing barely above a whisper. It captures quite perfectly the mixture of feelings over the loss of a parent--how the world moves on around you, regretting unanswered questions that can now never be answered, etc. I lost my own father 2 years ago about the same time she lost hers; listening to this song this morning almost made me cry. She follows with "Let's Do the Things We Normally Do," recalling the time just before her father's death where she expressed a desire to enjoy their little time left by doing the normal stuff, not trying to sum up any life-long pride or regret. She tells him that "I'll say 'see you later'"--the implication being that she probably won't.

"Burnin' Love" is a real slow burner of a song, like something Sarah McLachlan would do. "Northern Skies" is the final track. Settle in for this one, for it's almost 9 minutes long. It's a mellow, plodding song. Nothing special. Of the bonus tracks, "For One Day," is the better of the two, featuring an eclectic percussion backing and sharp strings on the chorus, even synthesizer effects. "Summer" isn't a joyous ode to the warm months as you'd expect, but rather a lament for the colder, darker months that have now ended.

The songs are mostly fine, but I miss the more upbeat dance-influenced production of her previous work. I always felt that downbeat electronic touch was what made her stand out from the pack of female singer-songwriter pop artists. She's bared her personal side quite effectively where she explores the impact of her father's death, which results in most of the album's best songs, but many of the others are unremarkable and in general too restrained for my taste.

Best: Grafton Street, Don't Believe in Love, The Day Before the Day, Let's Do the Things We Normally Do, For One Day

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Madonna will be Miles Away from #1 this weekend

If the midweeks are to be believed, Madonna is set to bomb fantastically on the UK singles chart this weekend with her latest single "Miles Away." Both the Tuesday and Wednesday reports show it making the top 40 but just barely. Pity, for it's a great track--a real highlight on Hard Candy.

Have you seen the video for the song? Didn't think so. Despite being known as a top-rate video maker, Madonna has curiously decided not to do a video for Miles Away. Too busy finalizing that divorce I suppose.

Unless it rebounds, landing outside the top 30 will make "Miles Away" Madonna lowest charting single on the UK chart ever. Her previous low points were "Take a Bow" in 1994 and "Oh Father" in 1996, which both peaked at #16.

In the US, she's unfortunately become accustomed to not doing well on the Hot 100, as most of her recent singles have not fared well. While "4 Minutes" was a big hit #3 hit and "Hung Up" made a respectable #7, "Give It 2 Me" topped out at #57, just above "Sorry," which peaked at #58," and "Get Together," "Jump," "Nothing Fails," "Love Profusion," and "Holiday" all failed to crack the Hot 100 at all.

Leona Lewis "Run" video

Here's the "Run" video. Anyone doubting this will be the UK #1 single next week?

December new releases

After three amazing months of new releases, December is relatively quiet. Those that were smart released their albums in November to maximize holiday sales. Still, I wouldn't count out Take That's chance of racking up enough sales to still score one of the UK's top 10 albums of the year. Here's a look at the month's key releases:

December 1
Britney Spears - Circus. This is the month's biggest global release, the sixth studio album from the once mighty and later troubled pop singer. Signs point to this being a turning point for the singer, especially after her disappointing last album, Blackout, which was released just after a string of disastrous events such as her poor performance at the MTV VMAs, her shaved head incident, and her divorce and custody battle. Already though the album's produced her biggest hit in years. It's first single, "Womanizer," is her first top the Billboard Hot 100 in 9 years and her first to go top 10 at top 40 radio since "Everytime" in 2004.

Take That - The Circus. This has the potential to create some confusion. Both Britney Spears and Take That are releasing albums called "circus" on December 1. At least on the UK charts, Take That is sure to rule. Other boybands have reunited lately, but their comebacks have been novelties--a big tour, a new single, maybe a new album. Take That are the real deal--back and as big as ever. Their last album, Beautiful World, is by far their best-selling album, certified 7x platinum in the UK. It spawned two #1 hits, "Patience" and "Shine" both of which won the Brit award for best British single in 2006 and 2007 respectively. The Circus's first single, "Greatest Day" is sure to top the UK singles chart this weekend.

Same Difference - Pop. The former X Factor siblings duo release their debut album. Their frothy sound is a like a cross between Steps and High School Musical. It includes several remakes: HSM ballad "Breaking Free" and Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now--both of which they performed on the TV show--plus Kylie's "Turn It Into Love." It also has their first single "We R One."

Akon - Freedom. R&B singer/producer Akon releases his third album. It features current hit single "Right Now (Na Na Na)." At one point this was rumored to contain a duet with Michael Jackson, but it's not on the track list.

Glasvegas - Glasvegas/A Snowflake Fell. This album came out just 3 months ago, but already is being re-released as a special edition with a second EP of mostly holiday-themed songs. The single "Please Come Back Home"/"A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" will be released digitally the same day.

December 8
Brandy - Human. Brandy was a big deal in the '90s, particularly with her second album, which scored the major #1 hits "The Boy Is Mine" and "Have You Ever." Since then, her popularity has waned considerably, so I'm expecting much from Human, her fifth album. So far, there's been little interest in this album's first single "Right Here (Departed)."

December 15
Fall Out Boy - Folie à Deux. Alternative rock band returns with their fifth album. Their last, last year's Infinity on High, was a major hit, particularly its single "This Aint a Scence, It's a Arms Race." First single "I Don't Care" is already a hit at radio.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rihanna "Rehab"

Isn't it amazing how Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad has become the decade's biggest hit-making pop album? It's really unreal, when you consider her first album had only two singles before album two immediately followed, which had four. She's now up to single #8 from GGGB, "Rehab," a darker, mid-tempo number from the original release of the album.

Justin Timberlake lends his body, but not his voice to the video. Seems strange until you realize he co-wrote and co-produced the track (with his buddy Timbaland).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kanye West "Paranoid"

So today was a major day for new music. Not only is is the biggest week of the year for new singles in the UK (which I've written about extensively), but new albums from Kanye West and The Killers were released today, as well as Coldplay's EP Prospekt's March. I listened to Kanye's album the most today, and I like it a lot. Here's an immediate favorite, "Paranoid." Fantastic '80s sound.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

UK Singles Chart, 11/29/2008

1. If I Were a Boy - Beyoncé

Beyoncé knocks The X Factor finalists from #1, ending their 3-week run at the top. "If I Were a Boy" is her fourth UK #1, following "Crazy in Love," "Deja Vu," and last year's "Beautiful Liar." She's lucky to be #1 actually. First, it looked like Leona Lewis was going to release "Run" as a digital single, which surely would have topped the chart this week, but in apparent move to push the album, the record company withheld the digital single until December 1 (save for a 1-day snafu where it was for sale on 7Digital music stores, a lucky break for the vigilant). Second, Beyoncé's new album, I Am...Sasha Fierce, performed quite poorly on the UK albums chart, debuting at a measly #10, beat by Leona Lewis's special edition of Spirit at #1 (purchased by those who couldn't wait to download "Run"), Dido's first album in 5 years at #2, Nickelback's latest at #4, and another Simply Red hits collection at #9.

3. Human - The Killers

The Killers rise a spot to #3 with "Human." The album, Day & Age, is out tomorrow. This now ties "Somebody Told Me" as their second-highest charting single.

5. Hot N Cold - Katy Perry

Katy Perry reaches a new peak with "Hot N Cold," the physical release for which is out tomorrow. Last week, I commented on how tomorrow is a very crowded day for new singles in the UK. Despite this charting second highest of those singles out tomorrow (behind T.I. and Rihanna at #4), I think it will be lucky to be in the top 5 next Sunday. Regardless, next week we should see a lot of turnover in the top 10.

9. Womanizer - Britney Spears

Perry's got a better shot of being in the top 5 than Britney Spears, who falls further this week after an initial debut at #4.

15. Rain on Your Parade - Duffy

I would have thought this would have been a bigger hit. Duffy was one of the year's biggest new artists, having scored until recently the year's biggest hit with "Mercy" and a strong follow-up "Warwick Avenue," which hit #3. This song is not available on Rockferry, which I would have thought would have made it must have for the many that have bought the album. Apparently, it's not the case. To be honest, and I'm speaking as a Duffy fan, it's pretty good but not wonderful. It's rumored the song was recorded as a potential Bond theme, but was rejected in favor of "Another Way to Die."

20. Gotta Be Somebody - Nickelback

Nickelback return after a short stay away from the chart with the first single from their new album. They had a major hit earlier this year with "Rock Star"; the #2 hit is the UK's third best-selling single so far this year. This is the band's 9th top 40 in the UK. Interestingly, they've also had 9 top 40 hits in the US, but only 6 of those are common to both countries' charts.

21. Let Your Love Flow - Bellamy Brothers

The Bellamy Brothers novelty continues to grow in strength as the single climbs 7 spots this week to #21.

28. Run - Snow Patrol

So the inability to buy Leona Lewis's "Run" this week sent fans in search in other versions of the song. Many found the original Snow Patrol version. The single was the band's breakthrough hit in 2004, hitting #5. It was the band's first of five top 10 hits and still their second-highest charting single after "Signal Fire" (#4 in 2007). There's also a copycat version of "Run" at #54 by Ameritz, which proudly proclaims to be "in the style of Leona Lewis." While this may signal a missed opportunity for the label, it's hard to argue that point when Spirit, a year-old album, is back at #1 this week.

29. Dream On - Christian Falk Featuring Robyn

Robyn's revived career continues to produce hit singles. This time its her collaboration with Christian Falk. Falk originally released this with vocals from another Swedish singer, Ola Salo. The Robyn version first showed up on the US and UK special edition releases of Robyn. It's the singer's 8th UK top 40 hit, the biggest of which was last year's #1 "With Every Heartbeat."

45. All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey

It's that time of year again. Anyone want to bet on how high it will go this year? It was #2 the year it was released in 1994. Last year it hit #4.

So next weekend--who will be #1? (Probably Take That) Who will be be in the top 10? Who will flop? New singles out tomorrow from Akon (Right Now), Alphabeat (What Is Happening), Bob The Builder (Big Fish Little Fish), Britney Spears (Womanizer), Chris Brown and Keri Hilson (Superhuman), Katy Perry (Hot N Cold), Madonna (Miles Away), McFly (Do Ya/Stay With Me, this year's Children in Need single), N-Dubz (Papa Can U Hear Me), Pussycat Dolls (I Hate This Part), Same Difference (We R One), Solange (Sandcastle Disco), Take That (Greatest Day), and T.I. and Rihanna (Live Your Life). Next weekend's chart should be really really exciting.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Album Review: Pink - Funhouse (4.5 / 5)

"So What," the first single from Pink's new album Funhouse may start with a playground rant (na na na na) and continue with her propensity to namecheck celebs she doesn't like (this time its a table-stealing Jessica Simpson), but those antics are a foil for the darker side Pink sometimes unveils throughout this 12-song set that chronicles her recent divorce from Carey Hart. "So What" is fun and upbeat--a typically great pop/rock track from pink in the "U + Ur Hand" vein. It shows Pink trying to cover the pain of the breakup by bolding declaring "so what, i'm still a rock star, i got my rock moves, and i don't need you."

That tune quickly changes through the questioning "Sober," another awesome track, upbeat but with a somber strings arrangement. Following that, the realization of the pain breaks through on the most lovely ballad Pink has ever recorded, "I Don't Believe You." It's a tender, vulnerable piece with a lush backing of guitar and strings. These opening three songs capture perfectly why Pink is such a great and under appreciated pop artist. "So What" has her in "don't mess with me" rock mode, "Sober" is the more reflective Pink, and "I Don't Believe You" reveals her damaged inner self. All three would make great singles ("So What" has already become Pink's first song to top both the US and UK singles charts since her "Lady Marmalade" collaboration.)

"One Foot Wrong" is a dark rocker that explores paranoia from a bad choice (perhaps a bad drug experience?). "Please Don't Leave Me," is a good mid-tempo guitar pop number--like "Since U Been Gone" but with not quite as killer a chorus. Like "So What" and "I Don't Believe You," it's produced by Swedish superproducer Max Martin, who along with Billy Mann and Butch Walker helm most of the songs here. In a Pink first, she's used the same collaborators as she did last time on I'm Not Dead, her "comeback," after the relative flop of her third album Try This!

"Bad Influence" is a stomping track with a party strut that takes a break from the divorce story line to booze it up with friends. The story returns on "Funhouse," another upbeat romp that uses the carnival funhouse as a metaphor for her doomed relationship--"this used to be my funhouse, but now it's full of evil clowns." It's the most uptempo song of the album's second half, which is surprisingly heavy with ballads. Folksy "Crystal Ball" is the first of them, a stripped down "this is your life" kind of song with just acoustic guitar and vocals, including backing vocals by the song's producer, Billy Mann. Then there's "It's All Your Fault," which picks up tempo dramatically about halfway through for a rock out ending. Last track, "Glitter in the Air," is also kind of folksy, a piano ballad providing a bittersweet climax to the album. It tries to be poignant ending, but doesn't quite achieve that.

Countrified "Mean" is probably the highlight of the second half. The piano and guitar swagger of the song suits Pink well. Plus divorce is a subject that fits country well (ask a country fan, they will agree). Beyonce's new album contains a track called "Ave Maria" inspired by the classic aria; no such inspiration for Pink's "Ave Mary A," a curious track that starts out with a dark guitar and piano melody and then pumps up the rock guitars for the chorus.

I didn't buy Funhouse the week it came out, thinking I'd prefer the Snow Patrol and Girls Aloud albums more. Boy was I wrong, and I'm glad my partner surprised me with it last weekend. Funhouse is probably Pink's best album to date; it's certainly her most consistent--there isn't a bad track here, and several should serve adequately to continue her current streak of hit singles.

Best: So What, Sober, I Don't Believe You, Mean, Bad Influence, Please Don't Leave Me

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sugababes find a new use for hot men

Thinking of redecorating this winter but bored with Crate & Barrel? Try half-naked, hard-bodied men as furniture a la the Sugababes in their new video for "No Can Do."

Same Difference covers High School Musical

How fun is it that one of the tracks from the forthcoming Same Difference debut album, Pop, is a cover of "Breaking Free" from High School Musical? Fantastic! Here they are performing it on The X Factor last year:

Here's Troy and Gabriella doing the original:

Personal Chart, 11/22/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 6 .... If I Were a Boy - Beyonce
3 .... 3 .... Human - The Killers
4 .... 5 .... Rain on Your Parade - Duffy
5 .... 9 .... The Boy Does Nothing - Alesha Dixon
6 .... 2 .... The Promise - Girls Aloud (2 wks @ #1)
7 .... 4 .... Forgive Me - Leona Lewis
8 .... 8 ... Womanizer - Britney Spears
9 ... 11 ... Greatest Day - Take That
10 .. 10 .. Miss Independent - Ne-Yo

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Billboard Hot 100, 11/29/2008

1. Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna
2. Whatever You Like - T.I.

T.I.'s "Live Your Life" rules the roost for a fourth week. That gives T.I. 11 weeks at #1 this year, edging him ahead of Flo Rida to be the artist who's spent the most time at #1 in 2008. "Whatever You Like" holds at #2 for a 4th week. T.I.'s held the top 2 spots with the same two songs for 5 consecutive weeks now. Few artists have achieved this feat. Ashanti did it (sort of) in 2002 with "Foolish" and her appearance on Fat Joe's "What's Luv," which held #1 and #2 respectively for 5 consecutive weeks. Before that, the Bee Gees did in in 1978 with "Night Fever" and "Stayin' Alive," both of which were #1s. The unbroken record for most consecutive weeks with the top 2 hits was set in 1964 by The Beatles with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," which held the top 2 spots for 6 consecutive weeks. Just like with T.I. and the Bee Gees, both singles had a turn at #1.

3. If I Were a Boy - Beyonce

That Beatles record is looking pretty solid though as Beyonce rebounds up two spots to #3 with "If I Were a Boy," this week's Sales Gainer. With heavy promotion this week for her new album I Am...Sasha Fierce (great album by the way), she may break through the T.I. roadblock into the top 2 next week.

13. White Horse - Taylor Swift

It's getting a bit rediculous with these Taylor Swift singles. With her album out this week, she managed to get 6 hot 100 debuts this week. Probably people who bought the singles cherry picking the rest of the tracks. Here's how singles and tracks from Fearless have charted:

1. "Love Story" #5
2. "Fearless" #9
3. "Change" #10
4. "You're Not Sorry" #11
5. "You Belong with Me" #12
6. "White Horse" #13
7. "Forever and Always" #49
8. "The Way I Loved You #72
9. "Fifteen" #79
10. "Breathe" #87
11. "Hey Stephen" #94

The album's remaining two tracks are "bubbling under" this week. So far then she's had six top 40 hits from the album--amazing how 5 of them cluster from 9 to 13 peaking in each position. That officially gives her the most Hot 100 hits from any album ever. I'm assuming the previous record was the High School Musical soundtrack, which had nine Hot 100 hits.

28. Single Ladies - Beyonce

Beyonce's other single, "Single Ladies" is up 11 this week, and the airplay gainer.

34. Chinese Democracy - Guns N Roses

Guns N Roses score their first top 40 hit since "November Rain" in 1992, which hit #3. This is the band's 9th top 40 hit.

35. If Today Was Your Last Day - Nickelback

And Nickelback score their 9th top 40 hit since I woke up this morning (at least it feels that way). Actually this really is the band's 9th top 40 hit. What took Guns N Roses 20 years though has taken Nickelback just 7.

7Digital offering "Run" today

For those of you who'd like to buy Leona Lewis's new single "Run" but don't want to shell out for the whole Spirit (especially if you already bought it) and don't want to wait until iTunes puts it out Dec. 1, check this out.

Update: This is gone now. Must have been a mistake, as now it's available only as a pre-order with a Dec. 1 release.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Run" delayed

So I got all excited over the last 2 days about Leona Lewis's new single "Run." Come to find out, it isn't actually being released today...not until December 1. Apparently the record company is only selling physical copies of the Spirit Deluxe Edition until then. Boo.

Will Young's "Grace" Video

Here's Will Young's new video, where he plays an equestrian. Perhaps inspired by the recent interest in Equus?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

UK Singles Chart, 11/22/2008

1. Hero - The X Factor Finalists

It's a third week at #1 for The X Factor brood, now officially the biggest selling single of the year, surpassing Duffy's "Mercy." A fourth week at #1 is a possibility, although they may be potentially unseated by another X Factor-related product. More on that in a bit at #10.

2. Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna

T.I. and Rihanna shoot up 37 spots to land at #2. While this may look like the sort of meteoric rise associated with first week sales from a physical release, this is still selling on early downloads, as the CD single isn't out until Nov. 24. This is a dramatically better showing than his last single, "Whatever You Like," which hit #47 last month. Both singles have recently been #1 in the US ("Live Your Life" is still). This is Rihanna's fourth appearance in the top 10 this year.

4. Human - The Killers

The Killers have this week's highest debut at #4 with "Human," the first single from their new album Day and Age that is out in 2 weeks. This is the band's fourth top 10 hit, the biggest being the first single from their last album, "When You Were Young," which hit #2.

5. The Boy Does Nothing - Alesha Dixon

Alesha Dixon rises three spots to just scrape into the top 5 with her mambo-inspired "The Boy Does Nothing." During the midweeks, this wasn't in the top 5--first it was Girls Aloud, then Katy Perry, so it's nice that come the weekend it pulled itself up. Great song.

10. Forgive Me - Leona Lewis

Second week on the chart and Leona Lewis's "Forgive Me" dives to #10. For those fearing Miss Lewis won't be around the chart this holiday season, never fear--for she already has a new single waiting in the wings. In fact, her newly recorded studio version of Snow Patrol's "Run" is out as a digital single tomorrow, and reportedly will get a physical release in December. Her performance of the song on The X Factor Saturday is sure to generate interest. It would be a really cool thing to see "Run" become a massive hit and unseat "Hero" next week. It's a long shot, but it could happen.

14. If She Knew - Lemar

Lemar, the former Face Academy contestant (yes, that other UK reality series that never had as much cache as Pop Idol or X Factor) misses the top 10 with "If She Knew," the first single from his fourth album. Frankly, the song is just okay, certainly no "If There's Any Justice" or even "It's Not That Easy," his last top 10 hit.

22. Rain on Your Parade - Duffy

Duffy's fourth top 40 hit debuts just one notch short of where her last single, "Stepping Stone," peaked. I'm hopeful this will be top 10 (top 5?) next weekend after it arrives in shops tomorrow.

24. Breakeven - The Script

After scoring a massive hit late in the summer with "The Man Who Can't Be Moved," the Script fail to make lightning strike twice with that single's follow-up, which rises 10 spots to #24 this week upon its physical release.

27. Chinese Democracy - Guns N Roses

It's been 13 years since Guns N Roses appeared on the UK singles chart. Their last was #9 single "Sympathy for the Devil" in 1995. They are now, after fits and starts, officially back, with their first album in 15 years, Chinese Democracy, finally getting a release later this month. This is the band's 17th UK top 40 hit. They've never had a #1, but they have had 12 top 10 hits including "Sweet Child O Mine" (#6), "You Could Be Mine" (#3), "November Rain" (#4), and "Knocking on Heaven's Door" (#2).

The most competitive chart week of the year in the UK?

November 24th is shaping up to be a highly competitive week for the UK singles chart--perhaps the most competitive of the year. Physical singles from a number of big-name acts are set for that date, which will compete for spots in the top 10 with the likes of the X Factor "Hero" single that is currently #1, Duffy's "Rain on Your Parade" (out Nov. 17), and Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy" (out Nov. 10). Here's my take on their prospects:

Take That - "Greatest Day" (#1). Take That's first new single in a year should easily be #1 on the Nov. 30 chart. It's highly anticipated, already getting massive airplay and is a pretty good song. Plus their recent track record has been very strong with two huge #1s ("Patience" and "Shine") and a #2 ("Rule the World") that was still one of last year's five best-selling singles.

T.I. Featuring Rihanna - "Live Your Life" (#2). With Take That an easy call for #1, #2 becomes very competitive. I'm giving the edge to T.I. and Rihanna, who on downloads are already #2. Still, the next three could be strong contenders too.

McFly - "Do Ya/Stay With Me" (#3). It's the Children in Need charity single, which generally does well and McFly's never landed outside the top 10. "Do Ya" is available now, but "Stay With Me" won't come out until the 24th, raising the bar for this to do better.

Britney Spears - "Womanizer" (#4). So I expect "Womanizer" will land at #4, just below where "Gimme More" came in at about a year ago.

Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold" (#5). Katy Perry's hot, but not as hot as Take That or T.I. & Rihanna. Still, this could conceivably even beat Britney's "Womanizer." This assumes though that these five singles will push down a cooled off X Factor Finalists's "Hero," which could still be a top 5 contender 2 weeks from now.

Akon - Right Now "Na Na Na" (Top 10).
The Pussycat Dolls - I Hate This Part" (Top 10). Both these singles are getting a fair amount of pre-release download sales. Normally, I'd say they could be top 5, but given the competition, I expect they'll have to settle for top 10.

Same Difference - "We R One" (Top 15). This one is a bit of a wild card, since they are a new act. I'm going to say "top 15," since lately new pop act's first singles seem to do just okay, with later singles charting higher (I'm thinking of The Saturdays and The Script, and to a lesser extent Duffy and Adele, who's first singles were not major hits, but also weren't promoted to be so).

Madonna - "Miles Away" (Top 20). I think Madonna is going to end up being a casualty. "Miles Away" is the third single, and the chart drop-off effect of subsequent singles has been pretty pronounced lately (except for Rihanna). "Give It 2 Me" only managed #7, and that was during the summer when the chart wasn't nearly as competitive as it is currently.

Alphabeat - "What Is Happening" (Top 30). It's their fourth single and the last two landed outside the top 10. No chance for them at this point, despite another good song.

Bob the Builder - "Big Fish Little Fish" (???). An even bigger wild card than Same Difference is the new Bob the Builder single. The children's TV show character had two big hits early this decade: 2000's best-selling single "Can We Fix It" and in 2001 a #1 remake of "Mambo No. 5." Does he still have the cache to score a major hit today? We shall see.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Leona Lewis studio version of "Run"

It was just over a year ago I posted Leona Lewis's Radio 1 Live Lounge version of Snow Patrol's "Run." FizzyPop! has posted the new studio version that will appear on the UK special edition of Spirit released next week, along with the tracks recorded for the US release, "Forgive Me" and "Misses Glass." It's really quite stunning--definitely worthy of being a future single.

Christina Aguilera - Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits

Christina Aguilera's greatest hits collection, Keeps Gettin' Better, arrived in stores this week. While I'm not a die-hard Aguilera fan, I've generally liked what she's done. Despite having put out only three albums (Britney, by comparison will soon release her sixth), she's amassed enough hit singles to make this collection well timed.

What I find irritating about this release though is the extent to which her American fans are being given the shaft. In the US, this is only available at Target, and the US release does not include three key tracks the UK version does: her #1 hit Moulin Rouge collaboration, "Lady Marmalade," her Ricky Martin duet "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely," and her Stripped ballad "The Voice Within." The "Lady Marmalade" ommission is shocking, and the "Nobody Wants to be Lonely" ommission is disappointing, considering that it didn't appear on an Aguilera album nor the original release of Ricky Martin's Sound Loaded. Their inclusion may have made this an attractive package to a fan who already has her albums, but without them, you're just paying $14 for the four new tracks.

And speaking of those four new tracks, I'm not convinced the apparent new direction they point to is a good one. "Keeps Gettin' Better" is decent, but could have been better. The Goldfrapp-ish electropop sound is welcome but undercooked. The mix throughout the song is too even, never allowing the song to really "pop" as it should. "Dynamite" has a better mix, but lacks a good hook. The other two songs are electro remakes of her two biggest hits. "Genie 2.0" features a dark synth melody, but why not give us a new song with it? "You Are What You Are" is a space-age remake of "Beautiful." It's rather flat-sounding compared to the original, and she just sounds bored. Sure, Aguilera's been criticised for excessive melisma in the past, but becoming a robot is not a good solution to that problem. If this is the direction her upcoming fourth album will take, then count me out.

Album Review: Beyoncé - I Am ... Sasha Fierce (4.5 / 5)

This decade has seen the emergence of two major pop singers--a man and a woman--who used to front pop groups. The man is Justin Timberlake, who, since departing 'NSYNC, has had two massive albums and multiple #1 hits. The woman is Beyoncé, who since stepping out from Destiny's Child has had similar international success, hitting #1 in multiple countries with songs like "Crazy in Love," "Irreplaceable" and "Beautiful Liar."

Despite these massive hits, when looking back at Beyoncé's albums, they aren't as strong as you'd think they would be. The 2003 debut, Dangerously in Love, opened with several great upbeat tracks and then quickly slumped into ballads for the rest of the album. While "Be With You" and "Me, Myself and I" were pretty decent, most of the rest were a disappointment. B'Day, by comparison, only had a couple of ballads, one of which, "Irreplaceable," was a real gem. While overall a better album than her first, its formula of beat-heavy, retro-inspired ditties was a mixed bag of great treats ("Get Me Bodied, "Deja Vu," "Green Light") and those that were too thin musically ("Upgrade U," "Ring the Alarm").

With her third album, I Am...Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé tries to further her credentials as a diverse pop artist at home on formats from edgy R&B to traditional adult contemporary. It's an ambitious two-disc set, the first a set of pop ballads and the second consisting of more upbeat R&B/pop. As such, it merges the styles of her previous two albums, and here's the good news: both manage to succeed in ways I was concerned they would not.

Let's start with the first disc. Since I was largely dissatisfied with the ballads of Dangerously in Love, the prospect of sitting through a whole disc of them was daunting. I couldn't have been more wrong though. It's refreshing to see how much Beyoncé's grown as a ballads artist as they are the best songs here. Torchy "If I Were a Boy" is a strong opener, its gentle guitar-backed verses breaking forth with its powerful choruses. It's a call to men to treat their women better through the guise of Beyoncé proclaiming that if she were a boy, she would know how to treat her woman better.

Besides "If I Were a Boy," there are lots of other highlights on the first disc. "Disappear" is a wonderfully understated song, one of several that show Beyoncé understands (unlike some of her peers) that a ballad doesn't have to be belted out at full force to be an effective song. "Broken-Hearted Girl" sounds as obviously destined for radio as "...Boy," backed by a lovely melody of tender strings and plodding piano chords. "Ave Maria" is stunning, inspired by the classic aria of its moniker. "Satellites" is gentle, graced lightly by acoustic guitar and low strings.

One of the best aspects of these songs is how well they showcase the degree to which Beyoncé has grown as a singer. She sounds as good belting out "If I Were a Boy" as she does on the lightly breathy "Disappear," the soaring "Ave Maria," and the restrained "Satellites." Any critic who's previously asserted that her pipes aren't up to the task are proven wrong here. The only drawback of this disc is "Halo." Penned by Ryan Tedder ("Bleeding Love," "Apologize"), its attempt at an epic sound contrasts too harshly with the other, gentler tracks, making it come off as overly bombastic.

"Ave Maria" isn't actually a recording of the classic aria, but a piano-driven pop song inspired by it. It's actually pretty good too. And I don't think Beyonce has sounded as good on a ballad as she does on "Satellites," which also shows a restrained touch with an unusual arrangement of synths and acoustic guitar. This sounds like something from the '70s.

The Ryan Tedder-penned "Halo," however, is a disappointment--too bombastic. It's interesting hearing Beyonce put so much emphasis on ballads this time--giving them their own disc. In the past, they've been her weakest songs, especially on Dangerously in Love, although she made headway last time with "Irreplaceable."

Disc two begins with the delightfully frothy "Single Ladies (Put Your Ring On It)." It's hand-clap beats and quick-fire approach are reminiscent of B'Day's "Get Me Bodied," but with modern synth effects. It's a good beginning to the upbeat set that, while less consistently good as the first disc, explores a satisfying range of sounds. "Radio" is a charging swirl of beats, deep synth lines and electronic effects. "Sweet Dreams" is underpinned with a deep, very '80s synth groove.

Less satisfying is "Diva," Beyoncé's bid to be a hip-hop artist. She alternately sings and raps, mostly just saying over and over that "A diva is a female version of the hustler." Thanks for the insight B. Telecommunications has always been a special subject for Beyoncé (remember when Destiny's Child sang about canceling their MCI long distance service in "Bug a Boo?"), and she stays current with "Videophone," where's she's subjected to being taped by someone's cell phone. She coos about the event over a tuneless beat arrangement.

The standard version of this album is 11 tracks, but an expanded 16-track edition is also available. While I generally subscribe to the less-is-more philosophy, the additional songs are generally as good as the others, and in the case of the second disc, round the set out rather well. Of the two additional songs on the first disc, "Smash Into You" is the better of the two. While I like the guitar sound of "That's Why They're Beautiful," the song never takes off like it seems it should. Disc two's extras include old school- flavored "Ego," an engaging blend of horns and harmonized vocals and mid-tempo "Scared of Lonely," both of which give the "Sasha" half of this album greater depth than the party-minded songs that precede them. "Hello," however, suffers from an identity crisis as it mixes a sweet piano and strings melody with fast beats and lyrics, creating a disjointed tempo.

Despite the fact that having the songs separated into the slow and fast buckets allowed me to evaluate Beyoncé's growth in both modes, I think this album would have been stronger had she mixed them together into one cohesive package and jettisonned the weaker tracks. And the gimmicky "Beyoncé" vs. "Sasha Fierce" persona division is really pointless, as Beyoncé has always been a rather private star, so the first disc isn't revealing in the manner its been purported to be, and Beyoncé's never hidden by a personal before when she's churned out stompers like "Crazy in Love" or "Deja Vu." As a marketing gimmick, it isn't needed in this era of download sales where most people listening to this will have all the songs in one playlist anyway. Overall though this is a really strong album that succeeds in showing off Beyoncé as a multi-faceted pop act.

Best: If I Were a Boy, Ave Maria, Disappear, Satellites, Broken-Hearted Girl, Single Ladies, EGO, Radio, Smash Into You, Sweet Dreams

Friday, November 14, 2008

Billboard Hot 100, 11/22/2008

1. Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna

T.I. spends a third week at #1 with "Live Your Life." This is the artist's 10th week atop the Hot 100 this year, tying Flo Rida's 10 weeks at #1 early in the year with "Low." One more week and he'll be the longest running #1 artist of the year. That honor for the last few years fell to:

2007: 7 weeks (tie), Rihanna and Soula Boy Tell 'Em
2006: 10 weeks, Justin Timberlake
2005: 15 weeks, Mariah Carey
2004: 28 weeks, Usher
2003: 17 weeks, Beyoncé
2002: 17 weeks, Nelly
2001: 7 weeks, Janet Jackson
2000: 12 weeks, Santana
1999: 10 weeks, Santana
1998: 18 weeks, Monica

4. Heartless - Kanye West
13. Love Lockdown - Kanye West

Kanye West's second single from his upcoming 808s and Heartbreak makes a surprisingly big debut at #4. His last single, "Love Lockdown" made its debut very high too at #3, but that was the first single and it had much more airplay support. That single is actually this week's sales gainer, moving up one spot to #13 this week. This is West's 9th top 10 hit. Needless to say, anticipation for the new album is quite high.

12. You Belong to Me - Taylor Swift
14. Love Story - Taylor Swift

Another week another Taylor Swift single. Isn't it time for this album to come out yet? Fearless has now charted five top 40 singles, only one of which, "Love Story," has had radio support, making it the "official" single. That single is up 2 spots to #14 this week.

21. Just Dance - Lady Ga Ga Featuring Colby O'Donis

"Just Dance" was a #1 hit in Canada earlier this year, and it has finally found an audience in the US, rising 6 places to #21 this week.

39. Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) - Beyoncé

Beyoncé's other single, "Single Ladies"--the one promoted to R&B radio, as opposed to "If I Were a Boy," which is the top 40 hit--makes its top 40 debut at #39. This is Beyoncé's 14th top 40 hit.

Personal Chart, 11/15/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (1 wk @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... The Promise - Girls Aloud (2 wks @ #1)
3 .... 5 .... Human - The Killers
4 .... 4 .... Forgive Me - Leona Lewis
5 ... 13 .... Rain on Your Parade - Duffy
6 ... 12 .... If I Were a Boy - Beyonce
7 .... 2 .... So What - Pink (1 wk @ #1)
8 .... 9 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears
9 ... 37 .... The Boy Does Nothing - Alesha Dixon
10 .. 10 ... Miss Independent - Ne-Yo

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

MySpace previews new Beyoncé album

MySpace Music has the entire new Beyoncé album, I Am...Sasha Fierce available for free preview. Aside from the dual personality gimmick (which I think is really stupid--Beyoncé didn't have to pretend to be someone else to sing "Crazy in Love"), the album is good--perhaps her best yet. My first thoughts about it:

Slow disc: Overall, very good, and definitely more a pop than R&B sound.
Good: If I Were a Boy (fantastic), Disappear (refreshingly restrained), Broken-Hearted Girl (obvious future single), Ave Maria (gorgeous), Satellites (also a nice gentle touch), Smash Into You.
Skip: Halo (too bombastic), That's Why You're Beautiful (odd).

Upbeat disc: This is more R&B leaning, mining the current beat and electro trends with some retro stuff too. As such it's good, but I'm partial to the slower first disc, surprisingly.
Good: Single Ladies (like something from B'day but with video game sound effects), Radio (sound effects rich and made for its moniker), Sweet Dreams (cool '80s vibe from deep synths), Ego (playful and old school). Scared of Lonely (cool synth melody).
Okay: Hello (big sound, but quotes Jerry Maguire)
Skip: Diva (annoying and tuneless), Video Phone (same gripe).

I'll do a proper review soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Album Review: Girls Aloud - Out of Control (4/5)

Seemingly disposable pop acts rarely make it this far. Even the greats of the last 10 years really only had a few good years in them each. Spice Girls, Steps, Blue, Atomic Kitten and All Saints quit after 3 albums; S Club 7 after 4. Only Sugababes--with their 6 albums and Westlife with their (gulp) 8--can lay claim to having had a longer continuous career than Girls Aloud, who this month deliver Out of Control, their fifth studio album, and first to top the UK albums chart.

Remarkably, they've yet to show any signs of getting stale. If anything, the group gets more interesting with each album. What Will the Neighbors Say? was their first Xenomania-produced album and bolder than their debut. Chemistry was a pulse-pounding workout of a pop album (with a few dud ballads). Tangled Up, their best yet, was a mix of such hard-edged pop and more restrained numbers like "Call the Shots." That great single appears to be the template for much of Out of Control, which largely steers away from the hyper-kinetic stuff sound embodied on tracks like "Biology," "Love Machine" or "Sexy (No No No)," to something a little more restrained, but still definitely upbeat. Like Tangled Up, Out of Control is also thankfully ballad free and has a decent diversity of sounds both very contemporary and retro.

"The Promise," the group's first #1 hit in 4 years, may be the most delightful single Girls Aloud have ever recorded. This track eschews their usual edgy electronic sound for something softer--a breezy, soulful throwback to '60s girlgroup. Horns, strings, synths, tambourines, and the girls blend together into a seamless mix. Mining the '60s is perhaps the biggest pop cliche of the last 2 years, but here it's done so well as to negate any potential scorn for jumping on this bandwagon. And then there's that most wonderfully satisfying of all pop cliches--the last act key change....Ah.

The rest of the album proceeds along more traditional GA territory--modern electro pop, although it has a darker, less frothy mood than previous albums. The Pet Shop Boys show up as guest co-writers on "The Loving Kind," a warm pop number bathed in rich synthesizer chords. Despite being produced by Xenomania--as all their songs are--it still has that evident PSB touch. "Rolling Back the Rivers in Time" is a pleasant mid-tempo number, awash in guitar and keyboards.

With "Love Is the Key" they get into something a bit harder. It starts with chanting monks, but quickly kicks into a hard-driving tempo heavy with guitar and spoken-word verses. "Turn to Stone" is fairly traditional territory for GA--clearer beats with electronic melody. It has a trance-like chorus of airy vocals and synth effects. "Untouchable" has a light guitar melody not unlike what graced Kylie's "Love at First Sight," building from a quiet opening to a clubby Eurobeat. At almost 7 minutes, its surprisingly long, but works quite well. "Fix Me Up" has a funky '70s strut, but is probably my least favorite track so far, suffering from a curious lack of melody.

"Love Is Pain" has an intense '80s presence, owing to its sharp synthesizers. It's got a rather dark melody, like something borrowed from Depeche Mode. The very upbeat "Miss You Bow Wow" is a frenetic mix of guitar, keyboards bordering on a video game-like quality and rapid-fire vocals. This track is the most like something from Chemistry. "Revolution in the Head" is a odd one--hand claps, synth effects, acoustic guitar strums, and not much melody.

"Live in the Country," which uses a drum n' bass beat with heavy synth melody, is the highlight of the album's second half, complete with closing farm animal sounds. "We Wanna Party" though is a rather by-the-numbers closer. Probably could have been cut.

If it's not as good as last year's Tangled Up, it comes pretty close. The first half is especially enjoyable, with an interesting mix of upbeat but gentler (for this group anyway) pop songs, any of which could be future singles. Out of Control is experimental as any Girls Aloud album should be, even if not all the experiments work as well this time.

Best: The Promise, Love Is the Key, The Loving Kind, Rolling Back the Rivers in Time, Untouchable, Turn to Stone, Live in the Country