Sunday, March 29, 2009

Depeche Mode track by track

I found this article on The Quietus Web site that has a track-by-track preview of Depeche Mode's Sounds of the Universe. I've also found most of the tracks on YouTube, the album having leaked online recently.

New Releases April

We're a fourth of the way through 2009, and there's only been a few notable releases. March gave us new albums from U2, Kelly Clarkson, and Pet Shop Boys, but still no major "new" act has emerged yet this year.

However, good things are on the way! RollingStone has its spring music preview out, covering 45 albums released between April and August (stretching the definition of "spring" a bit, aren't they?). Here's some highlights from that, plus an in-depth look at April releases:

Coming Soon
  • Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown. Green Day's eighth release is a concept album telling the story of a struggling young couple in three acts. Promises to be another political album. First single "Know Your Enemy" is out in late April (May).
  • Eminem - Relapse. The prominent rapper finally releases his fourth album, almost 5 years since his last. "Crack a Bottle" has already been a #1 hit (May).
  • Lil Wayne - Rebirth. The acclaimed rapper shifts to rock with auto-tuned vocals. Early buzz has been that fans are disappointed with the new direction (May).
  • Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D. It's been 4 years since Monkey Business, during which Fergie became a massive solo star. Now the band is back with its fifth album, featuring current hit "Boom Boom Pow" (June).
  • The Dead Weather - Horehound. Jack White forms yet another band, this time a supergroup with members of his other band (Raconteurs), Queens of the Stone Age, and the Kills. First single "Hang You From the Heavens" backed with a remake of Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?" is already out (June).
  • Wilco - TBD. Their eighth album, following up 2007's Sky Blue Sky (June).
April New Releases

April 6/7

Doves - Kingdom of Rust. Acclaimed British band releases their fourth album, which is already getting very positive reviews. First single, the title track, is quite beautiful, chock full of instruments with a melancholy sound that recalls the loneliness of the western prairie.

Just Jack - All Night Cinema. Dance act Jack Allsopp's last album, Overtones, was his big break, landing the major hit "Starz in Their Eyes." Now he returns with his third album featuring current single "Embers."

Bat for Lashes - Two Suns. The eccentric singer follows up her 2006 Mercury Prize-nominated debut. First single "Daniel" is out now.

Prince/Bria Valente – MPLSoUND / LOtUSFLOW3R / Elixir. Prince releases his triple album, the third disc of which is by his latest protege, Bria Valente.

The Veils - Sun Gang. British band follows up 2006's Nux Vomica with its third album

Neil Young - Fork in the Road. Canadian singer-songwriter releases his latest.

Now 72 - self explanatory.

April 13/14

Lady Sovereign - Jigsaw. British rapper switches to singing on her electro-pop second album.

Madeleine Peyroux - Bare Bones. The American jazz singer releases her fifth album.

April 20/21
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe. For their 12th album, British synth-pop/rock band Depeche Mode has reportedly gone retro, using mostly older synthesizers, resulting in a sound closest to their 1990 high-water mark, Violator. First single "Wrong," while lacking the energy of a Violator track, does exhibit the band's signature dark sound.

Tinted Windows - Tinted Windows. This is a new supergroup formed from members of Hanson, Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne and Smashing Pumpkins. Their focus is reportedly guitar-driven pop, which first single, "Kind of a Girl" confirms.

The Noisettes - Wild Young Hearts. British band The Noisettes are currently enjoying the success of their biggest hit, "Don't Upset the Rhythm," the second single from this forthcoming second album.

Asher Roth – Asleep In The Bread Aisle. The "I Love College" act's second album.

April 27/28

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life. The folk legend releases his 33rd studio album.

The Enemy - Music For The People. British band releases its second album.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Album review: Pet Shop Boys - Yes (4.5/5)

My first and favorite Pet Shop Boys album was Very. Released in 1993, it was the perfect gay '90s dance pop statement--a collection of upbeat but brooding perfect pop songs. Since then, Pet Shop Boys have been uneven. While I loved the more worldly dance pop of Bilingual, and even enjoyed the dramatic flair of Nightlife, I was unimpressed with the MOR sound of Release. Fundamental was a welcome turn back to the band's synth pop roots, but it was also rather dark and political, which made it interesting, but not the frothy late night joy they'd once delivered. Certainly not as purely fun as Yes, which, even more than Fundamental, hearkens back to their early '90s elegant synth and dance pop roots. It sounds a lot like Behaviour and Very, which isn't a bad thing at all. It's also their most cohesive and enjoyable set since those career high points.

Yes opens with the atypical "Love Etc." It's rather dark and pessimistic when compared to the rest of the album. Frankly, I'm not really into this song. Like U2's No Line on the Horizon's "Get on Your Boots," I find it an odd choice for the first single. It's okay, but the next six tracks are much better. First up is "All Over the World," which proudly borrows from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, blaring its synth horns. It's quite fun, but nothing on the album compares to "Beautiful People," my favorite track. In the wake of Amy Winehouse and Duffy, we've heard more than our fair share of late '60s-curbing British pop, but this song is undeniably good, with its string touches and built up chorus.

Bubbly "Did You See Me Coming?" follows, announcing that "you don't have to be in 'who's who' to know what's what." It so very Very, which makes it quite lovable. "Vulnerable" slows the tempo down, but delivers another melodic highlight. Lyrically, it tells the story of a celebrity who declares to his lover that deep down he's emotionally vulnerable and needs love even though he projects a tough exterior in public. An honest confession or a play to get some action? From a band known for its irony, I'm willing to entertain it's the latter. This is another track that would have been at home on Very.

Two more really great dance pop songs follow. "More than a Dream" is another winning early '90s-styled dance pop number, with a particularly good chorus augmented with handclaps and extra keyboard. It's good, but "Building a Wall" is even better. It has a great synth melody and features Neil Tennant's announcer-style rap that we remember so well from the band's earlier work. This is the album's most socially conscious moment, reflecting on anti-immigration policy. "Pandemonium" is another slice of charging electro dance pop, similar to "More than a Dream," but sunnier.

The latter half of the album features its slowest, most reflective tracks, which aren't bad, but not as good as the energetic dance pop that precedes them. "King of Rome" is a mellower, laid back synth pop song. It's the better of the album's slowest moments. "The Way It Used to Be" reflects on a broken relationship with a good dose of melancholy, synthesizers and piano. "Legacy" starts off with "that's it, the end," but not quite, as it goes on for over 6 minutes. It's kind of a mess, and definitely my least favorite track. Instead of going out with a bang like Very with "Go West," Yes ends on a whimper. Still, that's probably my only major gripe, as otherwise I like the album a lot.

Much has been made about the fact that Xenomania, the production house behind Girls Aloud among others, produced this album. I'm scratching my head to see what they contributed, as this sounds so much like old school PSB that I don't see why they couldn't have come up with this on their own. While drawing inspiration from mid '80s synth pop continues to be the sound du jour among many indie bands and pop starlets, it's nice to hear one of that sound's most prominent creators flex their old school muscle and show us all how it's done.

Best: Beautiful People, Building a Wall, Vulnerable, All Over the World, Did You See Me Coming?, More than a Dream, Pandemonium

Best of 2000s: Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head (5/5)

From the harsh opening notes of "Politik," it was quickly clear that A Rush of Blood to the Head was different sort of album from Parachutes. Where there debut was mellow "Yellow," the follow-up was bolder, more confident, and better. While mid-tempo "In My Place" and piano-based "The Scientist" showed they could still emote with the best of them, "God Put a Smile on Your Face" demostrated an improved sense of layered melody, and Grammy-winning "Clocks" became the band's new defining sound. Although all their albums have been good, this remains their best work, and of the very best albums of the decade.

Best: In My Place, God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, Clocks, The Scientist, Warning Sign, A Rush of Blood to the Head, Green Eyes, Politik

Friday, March 27, 2009

Personal Chart, 3/28/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... My Life Would Suck without You - Kelly Clarkson (3 wks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects
3 .... 8 .... Poker Face - Lady GaGa
4 .... 6 .... Right Round - Flo Rida feat. Kesha
5 .... 4 .... Circus - Britney Spears (1 wk @ #1)
6 .... 5 .... Just Can't Get Enough - The Saturdays
7 .... 3 .... Up All Night - Take That (1 wk @ #1)
8 .... 7 .... Sober - Pink
9 ... 12 ... Dead and Gone - T.I. feat. Justin Timberlake
10 .. 11 ... Mad - Ne-Yo

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, 4/4/2009

1. Right Round - Flo Rida Featuring Ke~ha
2. Poker Face - Lady GaGa

Flo Rida (let's call him F£o Rida) tops the chart for a sixth week with "Right Round." Lady GaGa is hot on his heels though, up one spot to #2 and the airplay gainer this week. While I wasn't very excited about "Just Dance," I actually like "Poker Face" quite a bit, and would love to see it become the fourth single to top both the UK and US charts this year.

9. I Told You So - Carrie Underwood Featuring Randy Travis

Carrie Underwood takes two giant leaps on the chart this week. Last week Carrie debuted at #21 with a remake of Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home," which plummets 41 spots to #62. But never fear Carrie Underwood fans! For she also leaps 48 spots up to #9 with "I Told You So," the fifth single from her second album, Carnival Ride. All the album's other four singles have hit #1 on the country chart, in fact, Underwood has had six country toppers in a row now. This is her fourth top 10 hit, following her #1 debut "Inside Your Heaven," plus "Before He Cheats" and "I'll Stand By You." Randy Travis was a major country star in the late '80s, but he's never had a Hot 100 top 10 until now.

25. Sugar - Flo Rida Featuring Wynter

Flo Rida is doing well these days. He lands the highest hot 100 debut this week with "Sugar," the follow-up to curent #1 hit "Right Round." This is his fifth top 40 hit.

26. If U Seek Amy - Britney Spears

Britney's up 9 places to #25 and is the sales gainer this week with "If U Seek Amy."

27. Love Sex Magic - Ciara Featuring Justin Timberlake

Ciara's last single "Never Ever" flopped at #72, but with Justin Timberlake on tap, she's got a genuine hit with "Love Sex Magic," up 59 spots this week, to become her 12th top 40 hit. This is Justin Timberlake's 16th top 40 hit.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I listened to Pet Shop Boys' new album probably 4 or 5 times today. It's great! I enjoyed Fundamental, but this is even better. It's certainly lighter and more fun. For the last decade, PSB's seemed trapped in the "drama" of it all, from the obvious theatrics of Nightlife to the moody political tones of Fundamental. Yes casts that aside in favor of sharp dance pop. I'll say little more, since I'll do a proper review before the end of the week. Highlights:

"All Over the World" - Uses a recurring riff from the Nutcracker with a handclap beat.
"Beautiful People" - Great guitar and horns melody and sharp lyrics, with a '70s (pre disco) feel to it.
"Did You See Me Coming?" - Very-ish upbeat dance pop.
"Building a Wall" - Surprisingly complex melody with a bit of mystery. Didn't stand out at first, but now is really growing on me.
"King of Rome" - Nice laid back synth groove.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 3/28/2009

1. Poker Face - Lady GaGa
2. Right Round - Flo Rida Featuring Ke%ha
3. (Barry) Islands in the Stream - Vanessa Jenkins & Bryn West Feat. Tom Jones and Robin Gibb

Yet again, we have a genuine surprise at the top of the UK singles chart this week. Conventional wisdom would have favored the Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West Comic Relief charity single for a second week at the top, yet "(Barry) Islands in the Stream" falls to #3. If you were watching the midweeks reports you'd have known that would probably happen; however, you also probably expected Flo Rida to reclaim the top spot with "Right Round." In the end, a surprising surge from Lady GaGa finds her second single "Poker Face" at #1, giving the dance pop singer her second UK chart-topper. Coming about 2 months after her debut, "Just Dance," topped the chart, makes Lady GaGa the first act to have multiple #1 hits this year--a feat no one achieved last year. The last time an act had multiple #1 hits in one calendar year was the Sugababes in 2007, who topped the chart early in the year with Girls Aloud around this time of year with their Comic Relief single "Walk This Way," and then again in October with "About You Now." Since we're on this track, when was the last time an artist scored 3 #1 hits within one calendar year? Well Elvis did it in 2005 with his re-releases of "Jailhouse Rock," "One Night" and "It's Now or Never," but a more satisfying answer would probably be 2002, when Will Young and Gareth Gates both had 3 #1 hits, one of which they scored together with their remake of "The Long and Winding Road." That Sugababes, Eminem and Westlife all also had 2 #1s each in 2002 made it quite the year for artists with multiple chart-toppers.

9. Halo - Beyonce

Still selling just on downloads and weeks away from its physical release, Beyonce's "Halo," climbs 11 spots to #9. Go B go!

11. In for the Kill - La Roux

Here's an exciting debut! La Roux is a British synth pop duo, selected as one of the BBC "Sounds of 2009" acts. Their single from last year, "Quicksand," has been available for awhile, but this is the act's first new hit since the buzz-generating BBC pick. After Lady GaGa's two #1s, this is the highest a Sounds of 2009 act has charted thus far.

14. Love Etc. - Pet Shop Boys

Their new album, Yes, is out tomorrow. Released just 1 week in advance is the Pet Shop Boys' latest single "Love Etc." Probably would have liked a top 10 placing, but this isn't too bad for a band that's been around 25 years now. Their last album, Fundamental, yielded three top 40 hits, including #8 single "I'm with Stupid."

20. Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny) - AR Rahman & the Pussycat Dolls

"Jai Ho" was recently a top 40 hit in the US, and so it is now in the UK, debuting this week at #20, giving The Pussycat Dolls their 9th UK top 40 hit. So far, it's their lowest-charting single, but it doesn't come out until April 13, so there's a good chance it will be climbing.

27. No You Girls - Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand's last single, "Ulysses," peaked at a disappointing #20, so it's nice to see that "No You Girls" may be poised to correct that oversight, as it jumps into the top 40 on downloads at #27, still 2 weeks away from its physical release. While the top 10 is still a ways away, it's not an impossibility.

30. Takin' Back My Love - Enrique Iglesias feat. Ciara

Enrique Iglesias' pop music career is holding on for dear life these days. Sure he made a minor comeback in 2007 with "Do You Know (The Ping Pong Song)," but last year's first greatest hits single, "Away," was DOA. So he gets another reprieve, however slight, with "Takin' Back My Love," which features hot pop artist Ciara (hot in comparison to poor Enrique, who is, by now, quite cold I'm afraid).

Billboard Hot 100, 3/28/2009

1. Right Round - Flo Rida Featuring Ke#ha
5. My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson

Flo Rida leads the Hot 100 for a fifth week. It's another rather uneventful week, which finds the same 10 songs in the top 10 as last week. The biggest move within the top 10 is Kelly Clarkson, up four spots to #5. After hitting #1 awhile back, the single had been slowly sinking as its initial sales surge wore off. It's airplay has been steadily gaining though, and the album release likely gave her a good boost this week. Still, with Flo Rida doing so well, and T.I. and Lady Gaga the closest challengers, I don't expect a return to #1 for Kelly.

11. Here Comes Goodbye - Rascal Flatts

Outside the top 10, much of the action this week comes from country music. The biggest debut within the top 40 comes rom Rascal Flatts' "Here Comes Goodbye," the first single from their forthcoming sixth album, which moves up 65 places to land just outside the top 10. While Rascal Flatts has been a big force in country music this decade, they're also known to pop audiences for their remakes of "What Hurts the Most" and "Life Is a Highway."

21. Home Sweet Home - Carrie Underwood

The highest debut on the Hot 100 comes from country star and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. Underwood recorded this year's American Idol send-off song, a remake of the Motley Crue classic. This is Underwood's 11th top 40 hit.

35. If U Seek Amy - Britney Spears

Britney Spears' controversial third Circus single debuts in the top 40 this week, up 18 spots. It's been edited to "If U See Amy" for radio, which kind of spoils the joke, but at least gets it play. So far only the original naughty version is available at iTunes. This is Britney's 16th top 40 hit.

40. You're Not Sorry - Taylor Swift

Finally, Taylor Swift's "You're Not Sorry" returns to the top 40 this week. The single initially peaked at #11 when it was released as one of the promotional pre-release tracks for Fearless. It returns to the top 40 this week in a new form--a pop remix heard recently on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Album review: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (3.5/5)

Full disclosure: Other than "Maps," I've never listened to Yeah Yeah Yeahs before. So while I've read that It's Blitz is a return to form after their divisive second album, I cannot attest to it personally.

What I can say, is that It's Blitz is a mostly enjoyable new wave-influenced alternative album that fits in nicely with the current onslaught of indie/punk bands that have been so attuned the mid ‘80s sound. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are more than just a wannabe '80s band though. At their core, they are experimenters, albeit bound my enough convention that they never veer too far into the avant garde.

"Zero" features a danceable drumbeat within layers of synths that form the song's pulsing rhythm and its melody. It's a great upbeat intro. “Heads Will Roll” also has a prominent synth melody, but also includes some guitar. It’s upbeat as well, although not as energetic as “Zero.” “Soft Shock” is mellower, moodier, and slower, but not as slow as “Skeletons,” which goes for an understated, yet epic sound, stripping back the drums to just the occasional dramatic pound.

"Dull Life" opens sparsely with guitar and quiet vocals before a sudden uptake in volume. This song has a darker mood than those precede it and a fairly decent chorus. I suppose because it's more of a pop song, it's one of my favorites so far. "Shame and Fortune" turns up the bass amid highly repetitive guitar riffs and vocals. Both of these songs effectively explore the contrasts between quiet/loud and sparse/layered.

While much of It's Blitz uses synthesizers, "Runaway" starts off with a piano, adding in guitars later. It's a striking melody, perhaps the most beautiful one here. Then its back to the early '80s DJ studio for "Dragon Queen," another cool number of synth melodies and beats.

The band really mellows out for the last two tracks. "Hysteric" is a gentle mix of synth noise, chords and effects that builds up only at the end for a big finish. "Little Shadow" is even mellower with just organ, acoustic guitar and vocals at the beginning, picking up volume but not tempo after a few minutes with some electric guitar and percussion. If you could play a lullaby in a big concert venue, it would sound like this.

At first, I didn’t like this as much as I was hoping to, but I think that was because I was expecting it to be more pop than it is. As such, I’d characterize it more was “indie alternative new wave revival” rather than “indie pop new wave revival.” There's a lot of interesting stuff going on, which translated into a lot of good songs and even a few great ones.

Best: Zero, Dull Life, Runaway, Heads Will Roll, Dragon Queen

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Best of 2000s: Sugababes - Angels with Dirty Faces (4.5/5)

Although the cover looks like an early '70s throwback, Angels with Dirty Faces is a squarely modern affair that catapulted Sugababes into the A-list on the backs of inventive #1 hits "Round Round" and "Freak Like Me," a mashup/remake of "Freak Like Me" and "Are Friends Electric." As good as those tracks are, my favorite single was "Stronger," a darkly appealing downbeat pop track recallng Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy." The 'Babes would record similar songs, but none as good as "Stronger." What Spice Girls were to girl pop in the '90s, so have been Sugababes this decade.

Best: Stronger, Freak Like Me, Round Round, Blue, Supernatural, Angels with Dirty Faces, Shape

Friday, March 20, 2009

Personal Chart 3/21/09

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... My Life Would Suck without You - Kelly Clarkson (2 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects
3 .... 2 .... Up All Night - Take That (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 3 .... Circus - Britney Spears (1 wk @ #1)
5 .... 5 .... Just Can't Get Enough - The Saturdays
6 .... 9 .... Right Round - Flo Rida
7 .... 6 .... Sober - Pink
8 ... 10 ... Poker Face - Lady GaGa
9 .... 7 .... The Fear - Lily Allen (3 wks @ #1)
10 .. 8 .... Heartless - Kanye West

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

UK Singles Chart

1. Islands in the Stream - Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West featuring Tom Jones and Robin Gibb

While The Saturday's Comic Relief single missed out on #1 last week, the follow-up "funny" single manages to debut at #1 this week. It is, of course, a remake of the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers classic, which was sort of covered by Mya in 1998 as "Ghetto Superstar," which used "Island's" tune with some new lyrics for the chorus. While the original hit #7 and Mya's sort-of-remake #2, the single finally hits #1. That this Comic Relief single outperformed last week's "official" Comic Relief track has made it 3 Comic Reliefs in a row where this has happened. In 2007, while Girls Aloud and Sugababes had the official single with their "Walk This Way" remake,
the "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" remake by the Proclaimers, Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin was a much bigger hit, and in 2005, while McFly had the official single with "All About You"/"You've Got a Friend," Tony Christie and Peter Kay's "Is This the Way to (Amarillo)" was also a much bigger hit--the biggest of the year in fact.

8. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" returns to the top 10 this week--almost 6 months on the chart for this now. Meanwhile their new single "Revelry" fails to get a lift from last week's #29 peak, dropping two spots to #31 this week.

10. Falling Down - Oasis

Oasis's third Dig Out Your Soul single manages to reclaim some face lost by their last single, "I'm Outta Time," which hit only #12, becoming their first single in 14 years (basically since they became big) to miss the top 10.

14. Can't Get Over - September

Top 5 hit "Cry For You" was one of last year's most enduring dance pop hits, but September's decdidedly inferior follow-up "Can't Get Over" can't get into the top 10, debuting at #14 this week with its physical release.

20. Halo - Beyonce

Beyonce makes a big 20-spot leap with "Halo," still a month away from its CD release.

27. Thinking of You - Katy Perry

Katy Perry's latest single performs similarly in the UK as it did in the US by not becoming a big hit like "I Kissed a Girl" or "Hot N Cold." I actually like this song, but it took awhile to grow on me, not being instantly likable like her other hits.

39. Shining Light - Annie Lennox

"Shining Light," the new track from Annie Lennox's recent greatest hits collection, climbs into the top 40 this week (up 11). Amazingly, this is her first solo top 40 since "Waiting in Vain" from Medusa hit #31 in October of 1995. None of the Bare releases were official singles and her two Songs of Mass Destruction singles were flops. It's worth nothing too that her 1999 Eurythmics reunion yielded the #11 hit "I Saved the World Today," and when she and Dave put out their hits collection in 2005, scored at #14 hit with "I've Got a Life."


For the last few days I've been a bit bored with current music. Nothing exciting was released this week on iTunes. No interesting new singles from the UK--just "Love Etc." from Pet Shop Boys. Hopefully their new album out next week will bring back my mojo.

In the meantime, I've been spending more time listening to '90s music, trying to expose myself to different albums I didn't pay much attention to then. Despite the '90s being all about alternative rock, I spent most of that time listening to pop and dance. It's rather shocking when you consider that in 1995 I was 1) in college, 2) attending college in the state of Washington, and 3) a music fan in general. Sure I listened to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Cranberries, but that was about it. Most of the time it was Madonna, Janet Jackson, Celine Dion and Pet Shop Boys 24/7.

So what have I been listening to? A number of different things. Sunday on MySpace Music I listened to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, which was Spin's best album of 1993. Much different than her recent eponymous disc with "Why Can't I." I'd like to listen to this more. My Bloody Valentine's Loveless (1992) was interesting, although a little too odd and drowned-out sounding. The few tracks I heard from Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted (1991) were interesting, and I might get that album. I went ahead and ordered Beck's Odelay (1996), Tricky's Maxinquaye (1995), and Pearl Jam's Ten (1991), the last of which I had on tape but have long since lost.

From my own collection, I gave Hole's Live Through This (1994) a fresh spin. It's quite good! "Violet" is a tight song, "Miss World" starts off sounding maudlin, but picks up. I love the bass in "Asking for It," and "Jennifers Body" is a another good rocker. Most of the time way back when I only listened to "Doll Parts," which I still love. I also listened to Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (1990) and Depeche Mode's Violator (1990)--both of which I've always loved. Today I listened to Nirvana's Nevermind (1991), which is, of course, classic, as well as R.E.M.'s Out of Time (1991).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Album review: Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted (4/5)

With All I Ever Wanted, Kelly Clarkson makes an all-holds-barred push to return her music to top 40 radio, following the relative failure of the darker, edgier and more personal material from My December, which was tarnished by her public spat with record exec Clive Davis over the direction of that project. He wanted her to work with the hottest songwriters and producers and produce another Breakaway; she wanted more control and to do something more personal. She got her way and delivered a set with only one hit ("Never Again"). Now Davis gets his way, assembling an army of today's greatest pop craftsmen, and all the right ingredients to get your songs on the radio are here:

Max Martin? Check. He's behind Clarkson's bubbly hit "My Life Would Suck Without You," currently riding high at top 40 radio (it's #3 and rising), and recently was #1 in both the US (her first since her first single) and the UK (her first ever). Pedigree and chart placings aside, it is a great single, repeating the winning formula of Clarkson's previous Max Martin-produced hit, "Since U Been Gone," but with even more energy and a poppier beat.

Kara DioGuardi? Check. The American Idol judge, who until that TV gig was better known as one of pop's hardest-working songwriters, is co-writer on "I Do Not Hook Up," a charging up-tempo, guitar-fronted pop song that finds Kelly declaring to her potential suitors that she is not an easy lay. DioGuardi is pretty much the only person invited back from My December, on which she co-wrote that album's most uptempo moment, "One Minute"--probably because she was also on board for Clarkson's wildly successful second album, Breakaway, for which she co-wrote half the songs, including the hit "Walk Away."

Ryan Tedder? Check. The songwriter and OneRepublic frontman responsible for his "Apologize," Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love" and Beyonce's current hit "Halo," co-writes and produces four of the tracks here. Tedder's been getting a bit of flack lately since a lot of his songs sound alike, but is that really fair? That's a pretty common trick in pop music--Tedder just happens to do it well. So Clarkson gets slick ballad "Already Here," which yes, sounds a lot like "Halo" with its amped up drumset and layered strings backing, but that doesn't mean it's a bad song, allowing Clarkson to dial back her vocals a bit to a more restrained and higher register. Tedder deserves credit for stepping outside that "Bleeding Love" box on "If I Can't Have You," a frothy, in-your-face dance pop cut that finds Clarkson strutting around like Lady GaGa. Then there's "Save You," which halfway through turns back the knobs for a piano and strings interlude after which Clarkson turns up her pipes full blast, delivering an effectively emotional ballad. My favorite Clarkson/Tedder match up is "Impossible," an effectively moody upbeat piece backed by piano, synths and electric guitar with a beat reminiscent of Rihanna's "Umbrella."

On three songs, Clarkson works with the production-songwriting team of Louis Biancaniello and Sam Watters, with whom she hasn't been paired since her debut album's "Anytime." Their best effort is the title track, which, after the lead single, is my favorite song here. "All I Ever Wanted" has a great rock stomp and a powerful chorus with the electric guitars and Clarkson's voice at full throttle. While I'm expecting "I Do Not Hook Up" and at least one of the Tedder tracks to be future singles, I hope this gets a a shot. It's far superior to the other two tracks they collaborate on. "Whyyawannabringmedown" attempts a pop/punk style, which Clarkson doesn't quite nail. Sixties-inspired "I Want You" is too cutesy, a mismatch with the album's mostly rocky girlpower feel.

The album's showcase ballad is "Cry," a dramatic lament that effectively goes through the typical strings and electric guitar chorus highs and acoustic guitar verse lows you would expect from this kind of song. It will probably be a single too (the third I'm guessing). It's produced by Howard Benson, who with five of the songs here to his name, is the album's most-used producer. Another winner under his belt is "Long Shot," a very in-your-face piece of power pop verging on alternative rock. "Don't Let Me Stop You" is fine, but unexceptional, and I'm not really feeling the album's other '60s throwback, the lightweight "Ready." The album closes with gentle ballad "If No One Will Listen," which Clarkson produced all by herself.

In general, this is a very good pop album, which will achieve its purpose: returning Kelly Clarkson to a massive mainstream fan base. While I'm all in favor of that (if that's what she wants), I can't help but feel a bit bothered by how this is a retreat to the familiar. I was one of those who applauded Clarkson for taking a risk on My December, which I thought effectively proved that she was an artist and not just a product, a difficult label to shake given her origins on reality TV--one of the most manufactured forms of entertainment around. And I liked My December, which was wrongly accused of not having any fun songs (did they not listen to "One Minute," "Don't Waste Your Time," "How I Feel" or "Can I Have a Kiss?") and delivered some effective personal moments like "Maybe," "Be Still" and "Sober." I hope Clarkson isn't afraid to someday probe those dark elements of her personality again. Until then, I'll be content to rock out to All I Ever Wanted with the rest of them.

Best: My Life Would Suck Without You, All I Ever Wanted, Cry, I Do Not Hook Up, Impossible, Already Here, Long Shot

Best of 2000s: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (4.5/5)

I reviewed this album about a year ago, having just discovered it thanks to a friend's recommendation, so I won't say much more, other than that I still love its blend of melodic rock and bizarre outer-space sound effects.

Best: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1, Do You Realize??, Fight Test, In the Morning of the Musicians, Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, All We Have Is Now, Are You a Hypnotists?

NY Times lauds Britney

Britney Spears's tour got a nice write-up in the New York Times this week. The writer, recalling her dreadful MTV performance in the fall of 2007 says "That she might attempt a tour on the scale of the one that arrived at the Nassau Coliseum here on Wednesday night would have appeared laughable and worrying. That she pulled it off was nothing short of a shock." Sounds like a good show.

Billboard Hot 100, 3/21/2009

Kind of a boring chart this week, as pointed out by J. Mensah. Here are the few highlights:

1. Right Round - Flo Rida Featuring Ke&ha
3. Poker Face - Lady GaGa

"Right Round" conquers America for a fourth week, leading a top 5 that is exactly the same as last week. "Poker Face" gets the airplay gainer, but doesn't budge. Still, I'm not writing this off yet as a potential #1, as its sales are still strong too.

6. The Climb - Miley Cyrus

The most notable news of the week is Miley Cyrus's #6 debut with "The Climb," the single from her forthcoming Hanna Montana movie. With airplay building steadying, the withholding of the single until last week paid off big on the chart, making "The Climb" Cyrus's highest-charting single, surpassing the #9 peak of "7 Things" and #10 hit "See You Again."

10. Blame It - Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain

Jamie Foxx scores his fourth top 10 hit as "Blame It" climbs two spots to #10. It's T-Pain's 12th appearance in the top 10. I just listened to this for the first time and I wasn't impressed. It's about hooking up with a drunk woman.

17. I Love College - Asher Roth

Asher Roth's "I Love College" rises five spots to #17 and is this week's Sales Gainer. With Spring Break immiment, expect a top 10 placing soon.

37. Halo - Beyonce

Beyonce land's her 16th top 40 hit with "Halo," the fourth single from I Am...Sasha Fierce, following the relatively unsuccessful "Diva," which peaked at #19 and this week drops 2 more places to #23. "Halo" is looking good at top 40 radio, so I think this may eventually reach the top 10. on the Virgin closings

Since John and I have been lamenting the apparent end of store-based music retail, I thought I'd link to this interesting account about it from that my partner found: Like a Virgin Megastore, shut for the very last time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Personal Chart, 3/14/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Up All Night - Take That (1 wk @ #1)
3 .... 2 .... Circus - Britney Spears (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 6 .... Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects
5 .... 12 ... Just Can't Get Enough - The Saturdays
6 .... 5 .... Sober - Pink
7 .... 4 .... The Fear - Lily Allen (3 wks @ #1)
8 .... 8 .... Heartless - Kanye West
9 ... 11 .... Right Round - Flo Rida
10 .. 15 ... Poker Face - Lady GaGa

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

UK Singles Chart

1. Right Round - Flo Rida Featuring K3$ha
2. Just Can't Get Enough - The Saturdays

It was a real battle for the UK #1 this week. Early in the week, The Saturdays had the lead, but late in the week Flo Rida and Ke$sha pulled ahead, in the end outselling the girl group by about 8000 copies, giving Flo his first #1 hit. He came close about a year ago when "Low" hit #2, kept from #1 by Estelle and Kanye West's "American Boy."

In second place then are The Saturdays with "Just Can't Get Enough." It's the band's fourth consecutive top 10 hit, each of which has placed higher than the previous--#8 for "If This Is Love," #5 for "Up," #4 for "Issues" and now #2. That they didn't reach #1 is a bit shocking, considering that the single is this year's Comic Relief charity single. The last time an official Comic Relief single missed #1 was when Right Said Fred's 1993 release, "Stick It Out," hit #3.

Finally, this week's chart shows clearly that the '80s influence in today's pop music is still alive and strong, with "Right Round" drawing heavily on Dead or Alive's 1985 #1 hit "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and The Saturdays doing a straight up remake of Depeche Mode's top 10 from 1981.

3. Poker Face - Lady GaGa
4. My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson

While Kelly Clarkson takes a tumble from #1, Lady GaGa's "Poker Face" manages to be the only single from last week's top 3 to appear there this week.

13. Beautiful - Akon Featuring Colby O'Donis

Akon's latest single looks set to not follow his last hit, "Right Now (Na Na Na)" into the top 10, rising 17 spots to #13 with its physical release.

14. Up All Night - Take That

Take That may be "up" all night, but their latest single is definitely down, climbing a mere 3 places with its physical release to #14. While "Patience," "Shine," and "Rule the World" were major hits, their Circus releases aren't faring as well. "Greatest Day" was a #1, but it was nearly the seller that "Patience" was, and that album's second single "Shine" was also a big #1--and like "Patience" a Brit Award winner (making Beautiful World the only album ever to contain two tracks that won the Best British Single Brit award).

29. Revelry - Kings of Leon

Here's another follow-up single to chart surprisingly low; however, here it may be due to the enduring popularity of their last two hits, which are still on the chart--higher even than their new single, with "Use Somebody" at #11 this week and "Sex on Fire" at #22.

31. Weight of the World - Lemar

Lemar's chart fortunes seem to be drying up, with his latest single limping in at #31. Remember when he had top 10 hits?

40. Halo - Beyonce

Beyonce debuts at #40 this week--over a month away from her single's physical release. Like Kings of Leon, she's got 3 entries in the top 40 this week, with "Single Ladies" at #17 and "If I Were a Boy" at #39.

58. Let It Go - Will Young

Finally, let's pull out our sad violins for Will Young, who manages to miss the top 40 all together this week with his latest single "Let It Go." I'm really scratching my head over why his popularity has dried up so much lately. Anyone want to venture a guess why? His 2003 and 2005 albums were pretty good hitmakers, but Let It Go's singles have not performed well, with "Changes" managing only #10 and "Grace" a dismal #33. "Let It Go" is Will's first single to miss the top 40.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Preview Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz

The new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, It's Blitz, is now available for preview on MySpace. MySpace has redone its music player--I'm not sure I like the changes, as it opens a new window now when you select an album to listen to.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Album Review: U2 - No Line on the Horizon (4.5/5)

U2 seems to have become to rock music what Ernest Hemingway is to literature. Ever since The Joshua Tree, they've been the gold standard, scoring critical and commercial hits with Achtung Baby, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. While I own five U2 albums, I've never really been gaga over any of them. Up to now I've viewed them in the same way I view Bruce Springsteen--something I should appreciate, even if it doesn't move me to my core.

Things have changed though with No Line on the Horizon, the first U2 album I'm happy to report I really enjoy. It's enough to make me want to revisit the rest of their catalog and see if I can discover what everyone else has always thought was so wonderful.

The first half of the album is particularly impressive, especially the first two tracks. "No Line on the Horizon" has an assertive beat over synths and fuzzy guitars and a vaguely Middle Eastern melody. It's a really fantastic opening track, even if the lyrics are a head-scratcher ("You could hear the universe in her sea shells"...okay Bono). Second track "Magnificent" is even better, its layered rhythms of guitar, drums, synths and sonic build-up are very typical U2, which isn't a bid thing when the band is in as good a form as they are here. This must be the next single, for to deprive radio of this song would be a sin. Can't you already see the kaleidescopic video?

"Moment of Surrender" slows the tempo down, but not the intensity, with Bono's vocals sounding very strained--like it takes him every bit of possible effort to push the lyrics out. Much of U2's music is like that, as if they are putting every bit of themselves possible into what aren't just song but grand gestures. "Unknown Caller" is another high point. It's a song about breaking free, utilizing as many metaphors as possible, including Mac parlance ("force quit and move to trash"). A choir of voices punch up the chorus, and church organ and horns add an extra umph to the bridge, a real feat considering how "big" U2's sound is throughout the rest of the song.

The middle section of the album consists of three songs that are its most upbeat, but also its weakest. The best of these is "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," which features a winning guitar/strings combo and offers up some great lyrics "every beauty needs to go out with an idiot," "the right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear." "Get on Your Boots" is a head-scratcher of a first single. It's not bad, but there are certainly better singles here than it, and it's underperformed dramatically, hitting only #12 on the UK singles chart, a real failure when you consider that every U2 album since Rattle & Hum has had it's first single hit #1 (except Zooropa, where "Numb" was not given a single release). Still, I like it better than "Stand Up Comedy," which is my least favorite song on the album, if only because it doesn't have anything particularly special going for it.

"FEZ-Being Born" begins the album's final, darkest chapter, opening with a sinister synths and beats melody while lines from "Get on Your Boots" float in and out. The sound of a radio being tuned marks the transition to the song proper, a sharp guitar, piano, and synths number with long instrumental stretches. The dark mood continues on "White as Snow," the album's slowest song about a soldier dying in Afghanistan set to the melody of a traditional hymn. "Breathe" lightens the third act's mood with a good dose of up-tempo guitar rock, before the album settles into its lovely Radiohead-like closer, "Cedars of Lebanon." It's a brooding way to finish the album, told again from someone else's point of view--this time a foreign correspondent reporting from a troubled place.

On "Magnificent," Bono sings "I was born to sing for you," a bit trite, but it's hard to argue with. Thirty years into their career now, with No Line on the Horizon the band proves, amid formidable competition from Coldplay in particular, that they still deserve the mantle of the world's greatest rock band. Best album of the year so far.

Best: Magnificent, No Line on the Horizon, Unknown Caller, Moment of Surrender, I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight, Cedars of Lebanon, FEZ-Being Born

Best of 2000s: Norah Jones - Come Away with Me (4.5/5)

Norah Jones' debut, Come Away with Me, was the surprise hit of 2002, garnering both critical (6 Grammys) and commercial (10 million+ copies sold in the US) acclaim. It's charm comes from the simple melodies--a blend of pop, jazz and soul influences--and Jones' accomplished vocals. It's laid back atmosphere makes it a great late night listen with a good bottle of wine. Of particular note are the loungy "Cold Cold Heart," soulful "Turn Me On," the hit single "Don't Know Why," and the smooth "Come Away with Me." While her star power has waned since then, when this first came out it was massive.

Best: Don't Know Why, Come Away with Me, Turn Me On, Cold Cold Heart, I've Got to See You Again, Feelin' the Same Way, Lonestar

Friday, March 06, 2009

Personal Chart, 3/7/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Up All Night - Take That (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Circus - Britney Spears (1 week @ #1)
3 .... 5 .... My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson
4 .... 2 .... The Fear - Lily Allen (3 weeks @ #1)
5 .... 4 .... Sober - Pink
6 .... 8 .... Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects
7 .... 6 .... Breathe Slow - Alesha Dixon
8 .... 9 .... Heartless - Kanye West
9 .... 7 .... Single Ladies - Beyonce (1 week @ #1)
10 .. 10 .. I Hate This Part - The Pussycat Dolls

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, 3/14/2009

1. Right Round - Flo Rida Featuring Kə$h@

It's a third week at #1 for Flo Rida and his buddy Kə$h@. What more is there to say about "Right Round?" It's the third #1 hit in the last 5 years to be built around a hit from the '80s, Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round." It's an interesting trend, these songs that are more than samples but less than remakes. Two years ago there was "Beautiful Girls" by Sean Kingston based on BB King's "Stand By Me" (which was from the '60s, but was also a hit in the '80s thanks to the film based on Stephen King's story) and in 2006 we had Rihanna's "SOS," which borrowed liberally from Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."

3. Poker Face - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa is hot for #1, up 3 places to #3 this week.

15. Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny) - A.R. Rahman & The Pussycat Dolls Featuring Nicole Scherzinger

Here's a little bit of genius. Two weeks ago A.R. Rahman won 2 of Slumdog Millionaire's 8 Oscars for his score and the song "Jai Ho" from the film. Turning Oscar gold into chart gold, this week Rahman has his Hot 100 debut with "Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny)," an English-language remake of the Oscar-winning song featuring pop sensation The Pussycat Dolls. The track rockets 85 places to #15, making it the highest-charting Oscar-winning song since Eminem's "Lose Yourself" 6 years ago, which was a #1 hit. What gets me is why this is billed as The Pussycat Dolls Featuring Nicole Scherzinger. Isn't she part of the band? Doesn't she always sing lead for them? So what's the point? It's like when you see "Careless Whisper" billed as Wham! Featuring George Michael. Very odd.

Nothing else of note on the Hot 100 this week.

Yeah Yeah Yeah's It's Blitz

The Yeah Yeah Yeah's third album, It's Blitz, comes out next week. I haven't been a fan of theirs, but I'm interested in checking out this new album. Cool album cover, and I like the single, "Zero." Here's a fun animated version of it I found on YouTube:

Preview PSB Yes on 7Digital

7Digital has the 30 second clips from Yes up now. It sounds pretty good. "Did You See Me Coming?" and "Vulnerable" in particular sound like relatives of Very, which is my favorite PSB album. A strong dance pop vibe comes through--a good thing.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 3/6/2009

1. My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson

A lot of turnover in the UK singles chart this week. Leading the pack is American pop singer Kelly Clarkson, landing her first ever UK #1 hit with "My Life Would Suck Without You," debuting at #1. She is the first American Idol alum to score a #1 hit in Britain, and reclaims her title as the alum with the highest-charting UK hit, an honor Jordin Sparks took from Clarkson in July last year when she hit #3 with "No Air." Kelly's previously had four other top 10 hits, the biggest being "Since U Been Gone," which hit #5 in 2005. "My Life Would Suck Without You" hit #1 in the US a few weeks ago, and upon reaching #1 in the UK is the second single to top both country's singles charts this year, following Lady GaGa's "Just Dance."

2. Love Story - Taylor Swift

"Love Story" lands at #2, up 20 places. The American country singer's crossover release has already been a major hit in the US. 

3. Poker Face - Lady Gaga

Lady GaGa climbs 12 spots to #3, scoring her second UK top 5 hit. It's the follow-up to January's #1 hit "Just Dance," which is still in the top 10, down four places to #6 this week.

4. Dead and Gone - T.I. Featuring Justin Timberlake

T.I. and Justin climb 13 spots to #4 this week with "Dead and Gone," the follow-up to #2 hit "Live Your Life" with Rihanna. T.I. and Justin hit #2 together in 2006 on Justin's "My Love."

5. The Fear - Lily Allen

Due to all the big new releases, Lily takes a four-place tumble to #5 after spending 4 weeks at #1.

9. Whatcha Think About That - The Pussycat Dolls Featuring Missy Elliott

The Dolls and Missy are up another notch to #9 this week upon their physical release.

17. Up All Night - Take That

Take That climb 20 places to #17 this week with their upcoming single "Up All Night," out in stores tomorrow. It bears a strong resemblance to their 2007 #1 hit "Shine," but honestly I like it a lot better. It's #1 on the airplay chart this week. 

19. Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects

Speaking of airplay #1s, this single currently tops the US top 40 radio chart. It's up 4 places to #19 this week. The band's highest charting single was "Swing Swing," which hit #13 in 2003.