Friday, July 31, 2009

Personal Chart, August 1, 2009/Hiatus

This will be my last post for awhile, as I will be on vacation all next week. There will be a Best of 2000s review this Saturday and next, but that's probably all I'll put up until next Monday.

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Lovegame - Lady GaGa (2 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
3 .... 5 .... I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
4 .... 8 .... You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift
5 ... 10 ... Beat Again - JLS
6 .... 3 .... Bulletproof - La Roux (2 wks @ #1)
7 .... 6 .... Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Feat. Kanye West & Ne-Yo
8 .... 4 .... Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
9 .... 7 .... Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada
10 .. 15 ... Remedy - Little Boots

Madonna and Whitney Houston updates

It seems like all I wrote about now is Madonna and Whitney Houston. Ha! I'm in pop music heaven. So "Celebration" the single is available for sale now from iTunes in the US (not sure if abroad too, but probably).

Also, I've found myself singing Whitney Houston's "I Look to You" quite a bit the last couple of days, so I actually must like it. Chris and I were just saying that perhaps the fact that's is rather understated is a good thing.

August New Releases

The dog days of summer are certainly appropriately named when it comes to music--this time of year is always slow--although I must admit that this summer was certainly better than last year's, with strong releases from La Roux, Little Boots, Moby, and Florence and the Machine, among others. And this month actually looks more like a fall month, with the long-awaited release of Whitney Houston's 6th studio album, plus a new albums from Arctic Monkeys, and...well, just look below.


Whitney Houston - I Look to You (Aug. 31/Sept. 1) After 7 dark years of decline, drugs, and divorce, Whitney Houston--one of the greatest pop stars of our time--is due to finally, finally, finally release her 7th studio album. Let's hope it's a good one, for Whitney Houston albums are few and far between, and the last one, 2002's Just Whitney, was rather disappointing. She's certainly lined up all the right names to make it success. Shephered by Clive Davis, the reigning king of the music industry, I Look to You features production and/or songwriting from Will.I.Am, Stargate, Alicia Keys, Dianne Warren, Ne-Yo, John Legend, R. Kelly, and David Foster, who famously produced several of Whitney Houston's biggest hits from The Bodyguard Soundtrack, including "I Will Always Love You." It's still up in the air what the first single will be: "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" was released and appeared to be the first single, but it's lukewarm reception may have led to some fast juggling, for I've read that "Million Dollar Bill" or possibly even "Call You Tonight" might get the honor instead.

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (Aug. 24/25)
Other than Coldplay, no British band has had as successful a launch this decade as Arctic Monkeys, whose first two albums were both big sellers and critically acclaimed. Following a bit of a hiatus, during which member Alex Turner formed The Last Shadow Puppets, the Monkeys are back with their third album. James Ford, who produced their second album, as well as the Klaxons' Myths of the Near Future (and is The Last Shadow Puppets' drummer) is back for production duty along with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme. First single "Crying Lightning" finds the band within their usual groove, churning out a tight little number with a prominent bass line and minor-keyed guitar melody.

Calvin Harris - Ready for the Weekend (Aug. 17) Since this is probably the only album released in August that will already have had two #1 hits--last summer's "Dance Wiv Me" with Dizzee Rascal and this spring's "I'm Not Alone"--Dance act Harris' second album promises to achieve a much bigger profile than his 2007 debut, I Created Disco. Third single, the title track, is hitting radio in the UK now.

Other releases:

Frankmusik - Complete Me (Aug. 3). Stuart Price (Madonna, Seal, The Killers) produces the British electro/pop artist's debut; includes current single "Confusion Girl."

Mr. Hudson - Straight No Chaser (Aug. 3). A Kanye West protege, British singer Mr. Hudson, releases his second album (first as a soloist without his band The Library). First single "Supernova" (featuring Kanye West) is A-List at BBC Radio 1.

Cobra Starship - Hot Mess (Aug. 11). The band behind hit single "Good Girls Go Bad" releases its third album.

Tinchy Stryder - Catch 22 (Aug. 17). Mr. Stryder releases his major label debut, featuring recent aptly titled #1 hit "Number 1," "Take Me Back" with Taio Cruz, and new single "Never Leave You" with Sugababe Amelle Berrebah.

Athlete - Black Swan (Aug. 24). Athlete follows up Beyond the Neighbourhood with its fourth album. First single, "Superhuman Touch," is due out the previous week.

David Guetta - One Love (Aug. 24). David Guetta's fourth album features quite a few high-profile guests. In addition to Kelly Rowland--who appeared on his recent #1 hit "When Love Takes Over," as well as another track on the album--look for Black Eyed Peas and Will.I.Am, Akon, Estelle, and Chris Willis (the vocalist on Guetta's "Love Is Gone").

Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Aug. 24). Another Kanye West protege releases his debut album, including hit single "Day N Nite."

Dolores O'Riordan - No Baggage (Aug. 24). Lead singer of The Cranberries releases her second solo album.

Imogen Heap - Ellipse (Aug. 24). Her third album.

Sean Kingston - Tomorrow (Aug. 24). Currently riding high with hit single "Fire Burning," Sean Kingston returns with his second album.

[Addendum: My fourth "highlight" album, Mariah Carey's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, got moved to September.]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, August 8, 2009

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
2. Best I Ever Had - Drake

Black Eyed Peas spend a 5th week at #1 with "I Gotta Feeling," again it's this week's airplay gainer and Drake, at #2, has lost his bullet, so I don't think he'll be eclipsing the peas. As Billboard is reporting, this makes 17 consecutive weeks at the top for the group, breaking the 16-consecutive week record for a duo or group being at #1, set in 1994 by Boyz II Men (and equaled by them in 1996). They are still 2 weeks shy of Usher's overall 19-week record.

3. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo
4. You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift

This one I'm still not counting out though. After 5 weeks at #4, Hilson finally climbs back up to #3. She "knocks" down Taylor Swift one spot to #4, although both songs are bulleted.

5. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon make an impressive leap into the top 10, scoring their first top 10 and top 5 hit with "Use Somebody," which is this week's digital gainer.

9. Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry

Katy Perry finally climbs above #10 with "Waking Up in Vegas." The single reached its former peak position 9 weeks ago and never climbed any higher until now.

10. Battlefield - Jordin Sparks

Jordin Sparks scores her third top 10 hit with "Battlefield," which climbs 15 notches. Two years ago she hit #8 with "Tattoo," and last year #3 with her Chris Brown duet, "No Air." That puts her in third place among American Idol winners for the most top 10 hits:

1. Kelly Clarkson (8)
2. Carrie Underwood (4)
3. Jordin Sparks (3)
4. Ruben Studdard (2)
5. Fantasia (1)
5. Taylor Hicks (1)
5. David Cook (1)
8. Kris Allen (0)

15. Here We Go Again - Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato makes a comfortable 9-spot jump to #15 with "Here We Go Again." I'm a little surprised to see it do so well. Perhaps I should go listen to it.

17. Obsessed - Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey rebounds 3 places to #17 after falling 9 spots from #11 to #20 last week.

39. That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings

The Ting Tings score their first top 40 hit with "That's Not My Name," up 2 spots this week. The band's first single, "Shut Up and Let Me Go" peaked at #55 over a year ago. "That's Not My Name" was a #1 hit in the UK in May....of 2008.

40. Ego - Beyonce

"Ego" finally cracks the top 40, becoming Beyonce's 17th top 40 hit. Strange that "Sweet Dreams" hasn't appeared on the Hot 100 yet.

Madonna "Celebration"

EEK! It's finally out. Here's Madonna's new single, "Celebration." Pretty good, huh?!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whitney Houston "I Look to You"

Whitney Houston is offering her new single "I Look to You" as a free download on her Web site until Friday. While I think this is a better choice than "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," I can't say I love it. Chris and I just listened to it and then right after to "I Will Always Love You," and she really doesn't sound like the same singer anymore. Not by a long shot. Still, I'm hopeful there will be some good songs on this album.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Celebration Track List

A purportedly "official" track list of Madonna's Celebration is circulating the Web. Is it legit?

2-CD Edition


“Express Yourself”
“Into the Groove”
“Papa Don’t Preach”
“La Isla Bonita”
“Lucky Star”
“Like a Virgin”
“Material Girl”
“Crazy For You”
“Open Your Heart”
“Like a Prayer”
“Justify My Love”
“Deeper and Deeper”


“Get Together”
“Hung Up”
“Ray of Light”
“Beautiful Stranger”
“Don’t Tell Me”
“Human Nature”
“Take a Bow”
“American Life”
“Die Another Day”
“4 Minutes”
“Give It 2 Me”

1-CD Edition

“Express Yourself”
“Into the Groove”
“Papa Don’t Preach”
“La Isla Bonita”
“Lucky Star”
“Like a Virgin”
“Material Girl”
“Crazy for You”
“Like a Prayer”
“Hung Up”
“Ray of Light”
“Don’t Tell Me”
“Take a Bow”
“4 Minutes”

The 1-CD versions comes in at a whopping 21 tracks. There will have to be some serious editing to accommodate that. As the title suggests, the set favors Madonna's upbeat music, with the only slow songs making the list are "Crazy for You," "Rain," and "Take a Bow."

Major omissions then include most of her other big hit ballads ("Live to Tell," "This Used to Be My Playground," "I'll Remember," "You'll See," and "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."). Once again, the Who's That Girl singles miss out (I was really hoping for them to appear this time).

To get something really comprehensive would have required 3 or even 4 CDs (or as Paul suggests, a box set with 5!). Still, while "Everybody" and "Give It 2 Me" found there way on here, many other smaller hits did not ("Angel," "Dress You Up," "Gambler"--not a US single, "True Blue"--a UK #1 and Immaculate Collection orphan, "Keep it Together," "Hanky Panky," "Rescue Me," "Bad Girl," "Bedtime Stories," "You Must Love Me," "Drowned World," "The Power of Goodbye," "Nothing Really Matters," "American Pie"--a UK #1, "What It Feels Like for a Girl," "Me Against the Music"--her little fling with Britney, "Jump," and "Miles Away").

Also, I would have lobbied for some dance remixes, which in of themselves could easily have filled 2 CDs.

Monday, July 27, 2009

UK Singles Chart, August 1, 2009

1. Beat Again - JLS

JLS spends a second week at #1. If you consider that Take That is a really a "man" band now, this is the first boyband to the top the UK singles chart since Westlife hit #1 in November 2006 (although they're pretty much a "man" band now too).

2. Supernova - Mr. Hudson Featuring Kanye West

Despite beyond fronted by a Mr. Ben Hudson, Mr. Hudson apparently refers to a band, and not him alone. They crash into the chart at #2 with their first top 40 hit. The band is signed to Kanye West's label, making them the second Kanye West protege to score a major UK hit this year--the first being Kid Cudi, who also hit #2 with "Day N Nite." Both acts also appeared as guests on Kanye West's last album, 808s and Heartbreak.

7. I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - Pitbull

"I Know You Want Me" climbs another two spots to #7. The single is out today--could it be a #1 contender this weekend?

9. Sweet Dreams - Beyonce

Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams" climbs 4 spots to give the singer her fourth top 10 from the I Am...Sasha Fierce album and her 15th top 10 hit overall.

11. Battlefield - Jordin Sparks

Jordin Sparks climbs four spots back up to #11--the third time she's hit #11. This single wants into the top 10 so badly, but just can't make it.

17. In for the Kill - La Roux

La Roux climbs back up 6 spots to #17 in its 19th week on the chart. This single never gets old, and in fact, despite the 35 times I've heard it (according to iTunes), I still love it more and more.

21. Never Forget You - Noisettes

This single is real fighter. After making its top 40 entry at #31, the single fell out of the top 40 for a week, then climbed back in last week, and now jump up 9 places to #21. It's a rather decent song, although still nowhere near the hit that "Don't Upset the Rhythm" was.

29. Confusion Girl (Shame Shame Shame) - Frankmusik

Frankmusik scores his second top 40 hit. His first, "Better Off as Two" hit #26 in the spring, and I'm a little surprised this didn't do better, considering its exposure (it's #6 on the airplay chart this week--a surprisingly high placing). His album has been delayed a bit and won't come out until August 3.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Coldplay "Strawberry Swing"

Coldplay has come out with a really great video for "Strawberry Swing," one of my favorite tracks from Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The YouTube versions seem to have a timing problem, so check the video out from Coldplay's Web site here. Thanks to rcLoy for posting this.

Whitney Houston "I Look to You"

After the poor reception of "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," rumors have been circulating about what the first I Look to You single will be. While it's been suggested that it could be upbeat "Million Dollar Bill" or "Call You Tonight," rap up is reporting it will be the R. Kelly-penned title track.

Interesting choice. For a Whitney Houston ballad, "I Look to You," is rather understated, with no final act key change or soaring orchestra flourish (there's a little flourish, but not like she's done in the past). I guess this is a better choice than "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," but I'm still looking forward to hearing "Million Dollar Bill," which sounds like a great song.

Album review: Jordin Sparks - Battlefield (3/5)

After Jordin Sparks won American Idol, her first couple singles failed to ignite my interest in her. That was until her Chris Brown duet, “No Air,” came along. The song was one of last year’s best pop moments. Clearly producers are looking to recapture that magic with Battlefield, but unfortunately fall short, as if they weren’t quite sure what it was about that song that made it a hit.

They, and Sparks herself, also seem unclear what type of pop star she should be, and too frequently she chases the sound of her prominent contemporaries. Is she a slinky electro-pop goddess like Rihanna? A rock-leaning pop belter like Kelly Clarkson? A lovelorn adult-pop balladeer like Leona Lewis? Many of the songs here try to cast Sparks in all three roles, without developing a niche of her own.

Most of the best tracks come in the first half. Two songs in particular do a much better job than the others of creating something distinctive. First there’s “S.O.S (Let the Music Play),” which effectively recycles Shannon’s 1983 hit to make a fun, upbeat song. Second there’s “Watch You Go,” which pushes Sparks closer to R&B with a cool beat and is the album’s best track. The cliché “I hate to see you leave, but love to watch you go” gives the song a good hook, and it’s nice to hear Sparks sound a little flirty (albeit mildly), since everything else comes across as so sanitized.

Other songs are fine, but not very distinctive. They push the right buttons, but we’ve heard them before. The Kelly Clarkson-like “Walking on Snow” opens the album on an upbeat note, driving the melody with guitar and synths. “Battlefield” is the Ryan Tedder-penned hit we’ve all heard, and while it’s a fine song, it’s not a knockout. “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head” is an obvious attempt at recreating the grandeur of “No Air.” While it has a nice sound, the chorus lacks a solid hook, so “No Air” it is not. “It Takes More” is another synth-based pop song; fine, but not distinctive.

Of the album’s second half, “No Parade” is the strongest track. It’s a torchy strings-and-piano ballad that allows Sparks to demonstrate her vocal chops moreso that than the mid-tempo and upbeat tracks that mostly populate Battlefield. She even sings in a lower register than usual, and it’s nice to know she has the range. Elsewhere she evokes Leona Lewis on the organ-fueled power ballad “Let It Rain,” and Rihanna on the synth pop “Emergency (911),” which has a decent beat but suffers from disruptive telephone sound effects. The album closes with three ballads, none of which manage to generate much musical spark or interesting lyrics. “Show me where it hurts, and I know that I can be the medicine that you need,” she sings on the last track, “The Cure.” With imagery of war, emergency services and pharmaceuticals in tow, Sparks' lyricists should work on more appropriate metaphors.

While it’s not a bad album, it suffers from too much calculus, as if it’s trying to appeal a little bit to everybody, rather than be a really great album for one audience. Consequently, too much of Battlefield chases other great singers without allowing Sparks to develop her own pop persona. Apart from “Watch You Go” and “S.O.S.,” there’s little here to distinguish Sparks from the pack. The album is also overproduced—Sparks clearly can sing, so why is her voice frequently tweaked with auto-tune and other studio tricks? The singer has potential, but too much of Battlefield is holding her back.

Best: Watch You Go, S.O.S. (Let the Music Play), Battlefield, Walking on Snow

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, August 1, 2009

Billboard revealed a newly revamped site this week, which now includes the ability to research artists' previous hits and chart placings, courtesy of the "visualizer" tool. It's a bit clunky to use, but may come in handy. The entire Hot 100 is now also available on the Web site.

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas hold the #1 spot on the Hot 100 for a fourth week, extending their run of consecutive weeks at #1 to 16. The track is also this week's airplay gainer, further ensuring that it will likely continue to be #1 for at least a few more weeks.

3. You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift

Unless Drake can manage it, Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me" may be the next logical challenger for #1. The song is moving up the top 40 airplay chart rather swiftly (he he), and if it can continue selling well, it could have a chance before the end of the summer (releasing the "pop" version of the track heard in the video and at top 40 radio would help). The track climbs three spots to #3, beating the #4 peak of "Love Story" to become Swift's highest-charting single thus far.

10. Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry

Katy Perry's "Waking Up in Vegas" dips its toe into top 10 waters for the third time, returning the top 10 after spending the last couple weeks just outside it.

11. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon look set to finally break out in the US the way they did last year in the UK. "Use Somebody" has been performing impressive on the charts, climbing 10 spots to #11 this week. Top 10 next week would seem like a good bet.

12. Good Girls Go Bad - Cobra Starship

Also looking to score their first top 10 hit next week are Cobra Starship, up 12 spots to #12 this week.

24. Here We Go Again - Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is this weeks "digital gainer," a new Hot 100 designation (presumably similar to "sales gainer"). The single is up 42 notches, giving Lovato her second top 40 hit.

27. No Surprise - Daughtry

A few weeks ago, it looked like this single was done, but "No Surprise" has found a second wind, climbing 10 spots this week. It's rebounded similarly at top 40 radio.

29. I'm Yours - Jason Mraz

Jason Mraz looks poised to soon break a key Hot 100 record--most weeks on the chart. "I'm Yours" logs its 66th week on the Hot 100 this week, edging it one week ahead of Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me/Foolish Games." It needs only 4 more weeks to beat the frontrunner: Leann Rimes' 69 weeks with "How Do I Live." Judging from the fact that the single is bulleted this week, rising 3 spots, it seems quite likely this will happen. By comparison, "How Do I Live" spent its 66th week at #42, down one spot.

31. Hotel Room Service - Pitbull

Pitbull follows up his recent #2 hit "I Know You Want Me," rising 20 spots to #31 with "Hotel Room Service," his fifth top 40 hit.

34. She Wolf - Shakira

Shakira has the Hot 100's highest debut with "She Wolf," the first single from her upcoming third English-language album. This is Shakira's 6th top 40 hit, the last being her #3 duet with Beyonce in 2007, "Beautiful Liar."

Best of the 2000s: Kanye West - Late Registration (4.5/5)

No retrospective of the essential pop albums of the 2000s would be complete without an entry from producer turned rapper turned singer Kanye West. But which to choose? Remarkably, all of his albums have been quality works, with only the recent 808s and Heartbreak spawning much division among critics. Among his other three works, Late Registration stands out the most, for it was with this album that West really gained crossover pop appeal, hitting #1 with the appealing "Gold Digger"--one among several great singles. While his newer work features more futuristic electronics, this, like The College Dropout, wass more old-school, stripping sharp hip-hop beats over '70s-styled sounds like "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," which uses Shirley Bassey's James Bond theme to explore the ills of the conflict diamond market, and soulful "Touch the Sky," which samples Curtis Mayfield. Other social issues pop up in songs like "Crack Music" (drugs) and "Roses" (health care), but the music doesn't get buried in the message. With a string of effective guests (Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z, Brandy, Maroon 5's Adam Levine, among others), this is a party worth staying for.

Best: Gold Digger, Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Heard 'Em Say, Touch the Sky, Roses, We Major, Crack Music, Bring Me Down

Friday, July 24, 2009

Madonna Celebration

Details about Madonna's upcoming greatest hits collection are trickling out. Check out the cool retro cover for one. In addition to new tracks "Celebration" and "Revolver," it's been confirmed that "Everybody," "Express Yourself," "4 Minutes," and "Vogue" will be included. Additionally, the album will be released in 1-CD and 2-CD versions, as well as a DVD of her videos.

I'm surprised to hear that "Everybody" will be included, since, although it was Madonna's first single, it wasn't a major hit. Certainly we can assume "Holiday" will appear, given the title, and what Madonna greatest hits set wouldn't be complete without classics "Like a Virgin," "Material Girl," "Papa Don't Preach," and "Like a Prayer?"

But if a single like "Everybody" can show up, can other more obscure singles appear too? How about "Gambler," a great track that never got a US release. Or "Spotlight," a personal favorite. Perhaps there will be different tracklistings in the US and the UK--a US collection would be incomplete with "Take a Bow," her longest-running US #1, but that was hardly a major hit in the UK, where "Sorry" and "American Pie" were #1 hits, despite never making the US top 40.

Let's guess a little bit:


1. Celebration
2. Revolver
3. 4 Minutes
4. Hung Up
5. Music
6. Ray of Light
7. Frozen
8. Take a Bow
9. This Used to Be My Playground
10. Justify My Love
11. Vogue
12. Like a Prayer
13. Papa Don't Preach
14. Live to Tell
15. Crazy for You
16. Material Girl
17. Like a Virgin
18. Holiday


1. Celebration
2. Revolver
3. 4 Minutes
4. Sorry
5. Hung Up
6. Die Another Day
7. Don't Tell Me
8. Music
9. Beautiful Stranger
10. Ray of Light
11. Frozen
12. Don't Cry For Me Argentina
13. Take a Bow
14. I'll Remember
15. Deeper and Deeper
16. Erotica
17. This Used to Be My Playground
18. Justify My Love

1. Vogue
2. Cherish
3. Express Yourself
4. Like a Prayer
5. Causing a Commotion
6. Who's That Girl
7. Open Your Heart
8. Papa Don't Preach
9. Live to Tell
10. Into the Groove
11. Crazy for You
12. Material Girl
13. Like a Virgin
14. Lucky Star
15. Borderline
16. Holiday
17. Everybody

Personal Chart, July 25, 2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Lovegame - Lady GaGa (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
3 .... 1 .... Bulletproof - La Roux (2 wks @ #1)
4 .... 3 .... Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
5 .... 7 .... I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
6 .... 5 .... Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo
7 .... 8 .... Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada
8 ... 10 ... You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift
9 .... 6 .... When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
10 .. 34 .. Beat Again - JLS

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mercury Prize Nominees

Well, getting three of my four "sure bet" nominees isn't bad. La Roux, Kasabian, and Florence and The Machine made the list, along with Glasvegas, who I hadn't considered since their album was released so long ago, Bat for Lashes, who is lucky to receive her second nomination, and Friendly Fires, whose "Paris" is a rather great song.

The other six nominees are people I haven't heard of, making this year's list a bit more "out there," from my pop-based perspective. Last year, I owned most of the nominees at the time they were announced--this year just two (and I purchased Flo & Co. just after).

Full list:

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
Glasvegas – Glasvegas
Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
La Roux – La Roux
Led Bib – Sensible Shoes
Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew
Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men
The Horrors – Primary Colours
The Invisible – The Invisible

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mercury Prize Predictions

The Mercury Prize nominees list comes out tomorrow. Who will be nominated? While there's always some pretty unusual choices (Anyone know who Laura Marling, Basquiat Strings or Seth Lakeman are?), there's generally some popular ones too. Last year's shortlist included #1 albums from Adele, Radiohead, and Last Shadow Puppets, and the album that ultimately won the Album of the Year Grammy (Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's Raising Sand), was also in the mix.

Here's some (probably way off) predictions:

Most likely to be nominated:

La Roux - La Roux. La Roux is the biggest breakout pop act of the year, and the album has gotten a fair share of acclaim. Plus Goldfrapp, Britain's last major she-voice he-twiddler pop act was nominated for their 2000 debut Felt Mountain. Why they'll be nominated: Adele, Joss Stone, and Amy Winehouse all saw their debuts nominated. Why they won't: Duffy, Dido, and Lily Allen did not.

Florence and the Machine - Lungs. Another hot breakout, with enough quirkiness to make this an attractive choice. Why they will: Offbeat female singers like Bat For Lashes, Amy Winehouse, and Isobel Campbell have done well here. Why they won't: Can't really think of a reason, this should be a shoo in.

Kasabian - West Ryder Lunatic Asylum. Sure this is the band's third album, but it's elevated the band to a new commercial and critical peak, something the Mercury has rewarded in the past (Elbow, British Sea Power, Snow Patrol). Why they will: This would seem like just the right popular rock album to go with. Why they won't: Again, looks like a pretty good choice, given the history.

Doves - Kingdom of Rust. Why they will: They were nominated before and everybody loves this album. Why they won't: They were nominated before, and it was awhile ago.

In the running:

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You. Lily Allen's second album has already proven itself a hitmaker (#1 single "The Fear") and received a good deal of acclaim. Why she'll be nominated: Her 2006 debut was overlooked. Why she won't: Because her debut was not, and back then she was seen as more indie and less mainstream than she is now.

White Lies - To Lose My Life. Another hot breakout act. Why the'll be nominated: The View, Editors and Franz Ferdinand all saw their debut albums nominated. Why they won't: Critical response was lukewarm, and no one likes them as much as The View, Editors or Franz Ferdinand.

V.V. Brown - Traveling Like the Light. Why she will: Jamelia and Estelle were nominated and her music is in their vein. Why she won't: Jamelia and Estelle were both more popular.

Little Boots - Hands. Why she will: She's another big breakout and electro-leaning quirky pop has performed well (Neon Neon, Hot Chip). Why she won't: If it comes down to her or La Roux, La Roux has the critical and commercial edge (Adele got it over Duffy last year, and had only one of those).

Probably not:

Alesha Dixon - The Alesha Show. Too mainstream and while critics liked it, they didn't love it.

Franz Ferdinand - Tonight. Although their awesome debut won this award in 2004, its worthy follow-up did not, and Tonight isn't nearly as good as either of those were.

The Script - The Script. Not enough street cred, even with the urban pretensions.

Kings of Leon - Only by the Night. Despite Britain's love affair with this album, Kings of Leon are an American band, and therefore not eligible.

Take That - Circus. Please. They wouldn't dare.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

UK Singles Chart, July 25, 2009

1. Beat Again - JLS

Leaping straight in at #1 are JLS, last year's X Factor runner-up act. JLS, also known as Jack the Lad Swing lost to Alexandra Burke, who promptly became quite famous with her Christmas #1 "Hallelujah." JLS are the second non X Factor winners to score a #1 hit. Chico Slimani had a #1 hit in 2006 with "It's Chico Time."

3. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyes Peas make a 7-spot jump to #3. #1 is looking surer and surer. The CD single is out August 10.

7. Poppiholla - Chicane

Chicane scores a top 10 debut with "Poppiholla." The single is a bit of a rarity these days--a top 10 instrumental dance hit. The song is of course instantly familiar, being a dance reworking of Sigur Ros's "Hoppipolla," which hit #24 in 2006 and has been featured in quite a lot of advertising. This is Chicane's fourth top 10 hit, their last being "Stoned in Love," which also hit #7 back in 2006.

9. I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - Pitbull

Pitbull climbs into the top 10. This single is out in a week.

13. Sweet Dreams - Beyonce

Beyonce makes a rather surprisingly strong leap into the top 40 at #13 with "Sweet Dreams," the fourth I Am... Sasha Fierce single. The single is due for release August 3.

17. Hush Hush; Hush Hush - The Pussycat Dolls

The Pussycat Dolls reach a new high-water mark with "Hush Hush," up 6 spots to #17 this week. A lot of singles are rebounding this week--probably because the recent run on Michael Jackson singles really wore off this week. While "Man in the Mirror" is still top 10 (at #8), he's down to just four other singles in the top 40, none of which chart any higher than #28.

21. Don't Trust Me - 3Oh!3

Upbeat pop/rock single "Don't Trust Me" debuts at #21 this week. The track recently topped the US top 40 radio chart. Look for a possible top 10 placing next week as the single hits stores tomorrow.

40. 21 Guns - Green Day

Green Day score their 22nd top 40 hit with "21 Guns," up 20 this week.

Album review: Wilco - Wilco (The Album) (4/5)

Back in 1987, I thought all albums were named after a song on the album (most are, after all), so I was a little surprised to find that Whitney Houston's album Whitney didn't actually contain a song called "Whitney." Of course, I since learned how foolish my thinking was, but I can't help but enjoy the fact that Wilco's seventh album, the eponymous Wilco (The Album), also actually contains a song called "Wilco." Somebody actually went and did it!

The band's last album Sky Blue Sky (2007) was my first exposure to them, and they won me over with its laid back melodies and inventive song structures. On Wilco, the melodies aren't quite as grand, and the songs follow generally very traditional forms, but it's still a pretty decent outing.

"Wilco" is a short and sweet upbeat opener about how when all else fails "Wilco will love you." Nice to know bands appreciate their fans as much as fans appreciate them. "Deeper Down" is appropriately darker and mysterious sounding. It has a lovely strings and electric guitar center, although on Sky Blue Sky, such a passage would probably have been more interesting (and four times longer). "One Wing" is a forlorn breakup song. It has a pleasing melody that, in Wilco style, takes off during the middle section.

While the opening songs are good, the songs in the middle are the strongest. "Bull Black Nova" builds its sound upon staccato guitar and piano chords, layering sounds through the song's cool instrumental sections. This was the kind of song I really appreciated on Sky Blue Sky (see "Side with the Seeds" or "Shake It Off"). "You and I," a duet with Feist, has a sweet acoustic melody, and Jeff Tweedy sounds great with her. "You Never Know," the album's first single, is the album's most upbeat moment with an assertive piano backing and harmonized vocals.

"Country Disappeared" is mellow, with a downbeat melody and lyrics about "crushed cities." "Solitaire" is mellow too, but with a lighter mood. "I'll Fight" opens with brief but nice acoustic guitar melody and then picks up with more energy than the previous couple of tracks. After the dark lyrics of several songs, "Sonny Feeling" is a refreshingly breezy song wtih Beach Boys-esque harmonizing. "Everlasting Everything," despite its dark (but true) lyrics about how "everything alive must die," professes to believe in everlasting love.

Wilco is an (almost) worthy follow-up to Sky Blue Sky, not quite as good, but still very enjoyable.

Best: You Never Know, Bull Black Nova, You and I, I'll Fight, Wilco

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Best of 2000s: Coldplay - X&Y (5/5)

Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head was a classic, but it's follow-up, X&Y, was almost as good, delivering a calculated yet powerfully emotional set from a band who, at this point, had been so praised that they could have had the biggest heads in the world. Yet, Chris Martin, ever the self-denigrating Brit he is, could still churn out a tender, doubtful love ballad like "What If" (this is Gwyneth Paltrow's husband, mind you). Melancholy aside, there's lots of great pop moments here too, like "Speed of Sound," which completely retreads the ground covered by "Clocks," but adds better hooks, and "Talk," which cleverly samples Kraftwerk. Elsewhere, it's clear that X&Y was developed to hit all the right notes, and because it does so, it's hard not to like, despite (or because of) its craftiness. I love how the powerful center of "Square One" is followed by a brief acoustic-based epilogue. I love the driving energy of "White Shadows." I love the obvious grab for stadium grandeur that is "Fix You." X&Y is very calculated, but well crafted, so it is quite enjoyable, even removed from the story that told us that by 2005 Coldplay was the biggest thing since U2. That U2's producer, Brian Eno, did their next album only reinforced the point.

Best: Speed of Sound, Talk, Fix You, White Shadows, The Hardest Part, A Message, Square One, What If

Friday, July 17, 2009

Personal Chart, July 18, 2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Bulletproof - La Roux (2 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Lovegame - Lady GaGa
3 .... 3 .... Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
4 .... 5 .... Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
5 .... 6 .... Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo
6 .... 4 .... When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
7 ... 10 ... I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
8 ... 13 ... Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada
9 .... 7 .... Please Don't Leave Me - Pink
10 .. 19 ... You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift

Madonna "Celebrate"

"Celebrate" will be the first single from Madonna's upcoming 2-CD greatest hits collection, Celebration. Here's a little taste that was released this week. Thanks to John for the heads up that this was floating around.

Annie Lennox Mashup

Arjan Writes posted this amazing audio and video mashup of Annie Lennox songs by DJ Earworm. The track, "Backwards/Forwards" features nine of Ms. Lennox's hits seamlessly blended together. It's really quite cool.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, July 25, 2009

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas spend a 3rd week at #1 with "I Gotta Feeling," and a 15th consecutive week at #1 on the Hot 100 when combined with the 12 weeks for "Boom Boom Pow," the #1 hit that directly preceded "I Gotta Feeling." That's the second longest one act has held #1 for consecutive weeks this decade, behind the 19 consecutive weeks Usher was #1 in 2004 with "Yeah!" (12 weeks) and "Burn" (7 weeks). The track is also this week's Airplay Gainer, is still #1 at iTunes, and likely to be #1 at top 40 radio soon. In short, this one's here to stay.

2. Best I Ever Had - Drake

Rising a notch to #2 is Drake, with "Best I Ever Had," a song that at first I didn't care for, but has grown on me. It spends its fourth week at #1 on the R&B chart this week, and it's also a rising star at top 40 radio.

5. Fire Burning - Sean Kingston

"Fire Burning" edges up one place to #5, giving Sean Kingston his second top 5 hit.

10. He Could Be the One - Hannah Montana

Hannah Montana, the television and film character portrayed by actress/singer Miley Cyrus lands her, um, first top 10 hit with "He Could Be the One," from the Hannah Montana 3 Soundtrack, which was released last week (hence the top 10 debut). While it's Hannah's first top 10 hit, it's actually Miley's fourth, following "See You Again," "7 Things," and the recent hit "The Climb."

11. Obsessed - Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey debuts at #11 with "Obsessed," the first single from her forthcoming 11th studio album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Billboard reported today that this is Mariah Carey's 40th Hot 100 single, a milestone achieved by only 7 other female artists: Dionne Warwick, Connie Francis, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Brenda Lee, and Diana Ross. This is the highest a Mariah Carey single has debuted since 1998, when "My All" debuted at #2.

22. Love Drunk - Boys Like Girls

Boys Like Girls score their second top 40 hit with "Love Drunk," which enters the top 40 one spot ahead of their previous hit "The Great Escape." "Love Drunk" is this week's sales gainer and the first single from their second album, also titled Love Drunk.

26. 21 Guns - Green Day

Green Day rises 11 notches to #26 with "21 Guns," surpassing the #28 peak of "Know Your Enemy" to become the biggest hit so far from 21st Century Breakdown.

37. No Surprise - Daughtry

After 7 weeks outside the top 40, Daughtry's "No Surprise" makes a return appearance, up 10 spots this week.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Album review: Moby - Wait for Me (4.5/5)

Little about Moby has changed since Everything Is Wrong, his 1995 release that, except for the soul samples Play would pick up in 1999, pretty has defined his sound ever since. That album was a blend of dance floor pop, hyper punk rock and chilly electronica. While albums like Play and 18 also contain a diverse set of moods and sounds, other albums focus on just one theme. So while Animal Rights was the miguided punk album, and Last Night the all-dance workout, Wait for Me is Moby at his chilly best. Since that's the Moby sound I've always preferred, this is to my ears the best of single-sound efforts, even if it isn't breaking any new ground.

"Division" is a gorgeous instrumental opener, an orchestra composition of synths and strings. "Pale Horses" is territory Moby has certainly covered before--mid-tempo beats, synths, and a soulful female vocal--but that doesn't make it a bad song, particularly when the middle section's synths send a melancholic wash over the track. "Shot in the Back of the Head" contrasts a backwards fuzzy guitar loop over its layered downbeat synths, which carry the melody. "Study War" sounds like it samples an old black preacher's anti-war sermon, joined with a lovely synths and piano tune over fairly upbeat tempo. So far, I like everything I've heard.

"Walk with Me" features Leela James giving an affecting vocal performance like a woman on the verge of breaking down. It's a lovely but sad song. In fact, Moby doesn't seem to be having much fun at all on Wait for Me, which radiates a mostly blue mood to match the slower tempos. Moby himself takes up vocal duties on "Mistake," but don't let that discourage you from enjoying one of the album's best tracks. The rich strings melody makes room for guitar and drums during the chorus, making it one of the poppiest songs on the album, but also one of the easiest to like. "Scream Pilots" follows, and its a perfect instrumental companion to "Mistake," building the melody with layers of guitar and synths in the same satisfying way "18" does.

"Jltf" creeps in like the score to that scene in a country drama where the two main characters--separated by fate--realize they should be together. It's a really beautiful song with a nice cinematic quality. And its singer, Melody Zimmer, sounds not unlike Dido. The church choir of "A Seated Night" gives it a dreamy, gothic air. "Wait for Me" showcases a repetitive piano melody, vocals and strings, and a synth-backed chorus that strikes just the right key change. It's another really interesting song that I really like.

"Hope Is Gone" is a languid, slow ballad, with a depressing lyric about someone closing the door on love. Radiohead-ish "Ghost Return" combines a tinny beat with distant-sounding piano and space-age synth effects. "Slow Light" is a rich synth instrumental over a pretty good drum beat. "Isolate's" guitar sounds like it was recorded years ago, with sharp bass guitar, synths and strings layered over it. Moby talks about how he wanted this album to sound older--not retro--but just like it was recorded in the past, which he achieves with this song, among others.

I initially thought I'd give this a "4," but while writing this, I realized how much I really like this album and bumped it up a half a point. It's really quite lovely, sad, interesting, and enjoyable. Best album Moby's made since Play.

Best: Mistake, Jltf, Wait for Me, Division, Pale Horses, Walk with Me, Shot in the Back of the Head

Sunday, July 12, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 4/18/2009

1. Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada

Cascada spends a second week at #1 with "Evacuate the Dancefloor." The track is the first #1 hit in almost a month to spend more than a week at #1. Although the turnover at the top of the singles chart has slowed in recent years, the last three #1s--La Roux, David Guetta/Kelly Rowland, and Pixie Lott--each managed just a single week at #1.

2. Bulletproof - La Roux

With "Man in The Mirror" falling to #3, La Roux climbs back up a notch to #2.

3. Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson

Interest in Michael Jackson's songs waned a bit this week, but buoyed by the midweek memorial service, he still manages to chart quite a few singles in the top 40 this week, including one that didn't appear last week. In addition to "Man in the Mirror" at #3, MJ also has:

20. Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson
21. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
25. Thriller - Michael Jackson
28. They Don't Care About Us - Michael Jackson (Up four places from #32 last week)
29. Black or White - Michael Jackson
31. Dirty Diana - Michael Jackson
32. Beat It - Michael Jackson
36. Who's Lovin' You - Jackson 5 (new entry)
39. Earth Song - Michael Jackson
40. You Are Not Alone - Michael Jackson

The most significant entry in the bunch is "Who's Lovin' You" by the Jackson 5. It owes its appearance in the top 40 this week to Britain's Got Talent competitor Shaheen Jafargholi's performance of the song at Tuesday's memorial service for Jackson at the Los Angeles Staples Center. Also, it's notable that for a second week, over 1/4 of the top 40 belongs to Michael Jackson, with 11 songs this week (13 last week).

4. Paparazzi - Lady GaGa

The pre-release download sales were so strong for this one that it's a bit surprising the single only manages to come at #4 upon its physical release. Still, it's GaGa's third straight top 5 hit, albeit not her third #1 as I thought it could be.

6. Diamond Rings - Chipmunk

Rapper Chipmunk scores his first solo top 10 hit this week with "Diamond Rings." Chipmunk first appeared in the top 40 earlier this year with "Chip Diddy Chip" (#21) and was featured on Ironik's "Tiny Dancer" (#3) with Elton John.

10. I Gotta Feelling - Black Eyed Peas

As if there was any doubt this would be another major hit for Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling" jumps 29 spots to #10 this week, becoming the group's 10th top 10 hit. The CD release is about a month away on this one, so it's a potential #1 contender. Although as GaGa showed above, such early sales may not necessarily point to an eventual #1 placing.

11. Battlefield - Jordin Sparks

Jordin Sparks misses the top 10 with fully released "Battlefield," climbing back up to #11 where it was a few weeks ago. Truthfully, while I like this song, I don't love it, and I'm disappointed she didn't lead her second album with a stronger first single.

12. Crying Lightning - Arctic Monkeys

This took me by surprise! I had no idea Arctic Monkeys had a new single out, and given it's pretty much immediate appearance this week (it debuted straight onto Radio 1's A-list on Wedensday), I suspect few others did too. Hence, it misses the top 10 this week, but surely can climb up next week (or in August once the CD is released).

13. I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - Pitbull

Pitbull climbs 15 spots to #13 with "I Know Yout Want Me," which will be looking to go top 10 next week. The CD singles is out July 27.

38. Shark in the Water - VV Brown

VV Brown makes a rather slight top 40 debut at #38 with "Shark in the Water." Her album is out tomorrow, but with such a poor showing for the single, I wonder how well it will do.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Best of 2000s: Natalie Imbruglia - Counting Down the Days (4.5/5)

Under-rated and mostly over-looked, Natalie Imbruglia's third album was a classy pop affair that suffered from bad promotion. While the album launched an the back of the brilliant first single "Shiver," it produced no other hits and quickly faded from the limelight, along with Imbruglia's career (we've barely heard a peep from her since). Too bad, for she's a pretty fantastic pop artist who deserves to be known for more than just "Torn." Most of the best songs on Counting Down the Days are bright-sounding blends of mostly acoustic instrumentation and Imbruglia's smooth vocals. Co-written by Kara DioGuardi, "Starting Today" is a delightful track that balances its guitar melody and with Imbruglia's clear voice. Upbeat "Satisfied" and "Sanctuary" are similarly, instantly likable. "Counting Down the Days," while a bad choice for a single, is not a bad album track, alternating between piano-backed versus and louder choruses. Slower songs are good too, like the moody "I Won't Be Lost." "Perfectly" sounds like it was made to air over TV promos for the CW, which is to say that it would sound great on the radio too. Quirky "Honeycomb Child" is less immediate, but give it a second chance and its music-box melody will charm you. In short, there's little not to like here.

Best: Shiver, Starting Today, Sanctuary, Satisfied, Perfectly, Counting Down the Days

Friday, July 10, 2009

Personal Chart, 7/11/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 5 .... Bulletproof - La Roux (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... Lovegame - Lady GaGa
3 .... 8 .... Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
4 .... 2 .... When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
5 .... 6 .... Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
6 ... 10 ... Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo
7 .... 7 .... Please Don't Leave Me - Pink
8 .... 4 .... Release Me - Agnes (1 week @ #1)
9 ... 16 ... Don't Trust Me - 3Oh!3
10 .. 21 .. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Thursday, July 09, 2009

VV Brown "Shark in the Water"

VV Brown's first major single "Shark in the Water" is out. While "Crying Blood" sounded a lot like Amy Winehouse, this shows a different, more modern side. Reminds me of Jamelia (whose last album I loved).

Billboard Hot 100, July 18, 2009

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
2. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyed Peas rule the top 2 for the fourth week in a row. "I Gotta Feeling" remains on top for a second week. A friend of mine recently declared this the best pop song released within the last 8 years. I don't know if it's that good, but I think I'm enjoying it more than "Boom Boom Pow" at this point.

9. You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift

"You Belong with Me" enters the top 10, becoming Swift's fourth top 10 hit. Her last and biggest top 10 hit was "Love Story," which peaked at #4. I'm really into the song right now and its cute cute cute video.

12. Falling for You - Colbie Caillat

Just when you thought you'd never hear from her again, Colbie Caillat makes a rather impressive Hot 100 debut at #12 with "Falling for You." I haven't heard this yet, but I really wasn't interested in "Bubbly" or "Realize," so my expectations are quite low.

37. 21 Guns - Green Day

Green Day scores their fifth top 40 hit with "21 Guns," the second 21st Century Breakdown single. It follows "Know Your Enemy," which hit #28.

Not a a particularly exciting Hot 100 this week. If only those Michael Jackson songs had been allowed to chart...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sugababes "Get Sexy"

Sugababes have a new single coming--due in late August. After the underwhelming performance of Catfights and Spotlights, they could really use a hit. This sounds like a more American R&B/pop direction for them. Interesting. I like it, but it's definitely different. Thanks to Fizzypop Paul for alerting me to this.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson memorial

I watched bits of the Michael Jackson memorial today. There were some great moments and some not so great ones. Mariah Carey didn't sound very good, but it was nice to see Trey Lorenz again. Jennifer Hudson did a good job with "Will You Be There." Brooke Shields did a nice job telling stories about the good times she and Michael shared, such as sneaking into Elizabeth Taylor's hotel room to look at her dress.

The most genuine moment of the event though, and it made me cry, was little 11 year-old Paris Jackson at the final moment of the memorial. Through tears, and comforted by aunt Janet, she told us simply that he was a wonderful father and she loves him. No matter how famous or how messed up Jackson was, his passing comes down to the fact that this sweet little girl lost her daddy the other week. Seeing him through her eyes for that brief moment made him more human to me than he's ever been.

Arctic Monkeys "Crying Lightning"

A nice little surprise greeted me this morning on iTunes' new music Tuesday: A new single from the Arctic Monkeys - "Crying Lightning." It's the first single from their forthcoming third album Humbug, due out in late August (that's the cover there up top). I'm pretty impressed with it. I like the dark sound.

Billboard on Thriller

Billboard has a really excellent feature story about the history and context of the album Thriller. I found it quite interesting. One particular tidbit was that Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones had to re-edit the album a bit after it was recorded to make sure it wasn't too long, since shorter albums sounded better on vinyl (because they could have wider grooves--who knew?). I wish there were features like this about other classic pop albums.

Taylor Swift "You Belong with Me"

While I found "Teardrops on My Guitar" mawkish, and "Love Story" bland, Taylor Swift has finally won me over with "You Belong with Me." It's got a great chorus, and I love the story. Sure, it's a teenage cliche, but one so many of us (including me) can relate to this situation. The video is really great too--very touching.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 7/11/2009

1. Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada

There was much discussion (and disdain) this week about how Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart would not reflect the amazing resurgence in sales of Michael Jackson singles, since older titles are not allowed on the chart. In the UK, however, there are no such rules, so the British music-buying public had the unique opportunity to honor Jackson with his likely final #1 hit. Faced with the choice between downloading "Man in the Mirror," a great track amazing overlooked in the UK when it was released in 1988 and only peaked at #21, or "Evacuate the Dancefloor," a fluffy, disposable piece of Euro-styled dance pop, must have felt something like this: "Hmmm...'Man in the Mirror' or 'Evacuate the Dancefloor.' I suppose I'd rather have 'Evacuate the Dancefloor.' Sounds like a classic in the making if ever there was one."

Hence Michael Jackson misses the chance of having "Man in the Mirror" top the charts one last time. Instead, German dance act Cascada scores its first UK #1. They've proven to be a surprisingly enduring dance act, having first hit #2 in 2006 with "Everytime We Touch," and three subsequent top 10 hits--dance remakes of "Truly Madly Deeply" and "What Hurts the Most" and "Miracle."

2. Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson
10. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
12. Thriller - Michael Jackson
13. Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson
19. Beat It - Michael Jackson
25. Black or White - Michael Jackson
26. Dirty Diana - Michael Jackson
32. They Don't Care About Us - Michael Jackson
33. Earth Song - Michael Jackson
34. The Way You Make Me Feel - Michael Jackson
35. You Are Not Alone - Michael Jackson
38. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson
40. Bad - Michael Jackson

Still, despite not getting #1 (and you can tell I'm irked by it), Jackson lands 13 singles within the UK top 40 this week, surely a record feat. He scores 9 others outside the top 40:

46. Ben - Michael Jackson
54. Rock with You - Michael Jackson
57. Wanna Be Startin' Something - Michael Jackson
60. You Rock My World - Michael Jackson
63. Heal the World - Michael Jackson
66. Leave Me Alone - Michael Jackson
70. Scream - Michael Jackson
73. Off the Wall - Michael Jackson
74. Give in to Me - Michael Jackson

Plus a few with the Jackson5/The Jacksons:

43. I Want You Back - Jackson 5
50. ABC - Jackson 5
55. Blame It on the Boogie - Jacksons
59. Can You Feel It - Jacksons
65. I'll Be There - Jackson 5

In total then, 27 of the 75 entries in the UK singles chart belong to Michael Jackson this week. Truly amazing.

15. Sticks N Stones - Jamie T

In other news, Jamie T scores his fourth UK top 20 hit with "Sticks N Stones." It's the first single from his second album.

22. Work - The Saturdays

The Saturdays' "Work" is fully released, but climbs only 7 spots to land outside the top 20 at #22. It's the band's fifth single, and while decent, single fatigue seems to have set in.

28. I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) - Pitbull

Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me" has been a hit in the US this summer, and looks headed to do the same in the UK. It debuts on downloads at #28; physical release comes end of the month.

39. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas re-enter at #39 with "I Gotta Feeling," which is surely destined to be a big follow-up to "Boom Boom Pow." It's currently #1 in the US.

Album Review: La Roux - La Roux (4.5/5)

Just last week I declared Little Boots' Hands my favorite pop album of the year, and already I have found its successor. La Roux is a brilliant debut album. Every song works well, revealing both great songwriting, appealing hooks and charming details.

Like a lot of recently launched British pop acts, La Roux's album has been preceded by an envious level of pre-release buzz, generated through key media and judicious release of a few singles (first the quiet release of "Quicksand" and then the full-scale release of "In for the Kill"). Thus duo Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid's debut arrives with quite developed expectations, seeing as their single "In for the Kill" is the third best-selling single of the year (behind only Lady GaGa's hits).

The album opens with a number of high-energy tracks, several of which have already been hits. "In for the Kill" possesses the best bass charge of any pop song released this year. This song has really grown on me over the months, becoming one of my favorites so far this year. "Tigerlily" has a similar charge, with even sharper beats over a more minimal synth melody. Near the end, the song includes a creepy "Thriller"-esque spoken word section. With Michael Jackson on everyone's mind at the moment, it's a nice reminder of his enduring musical influence. Even more so, La Roux's sound is deeply indebted to Thriller-era pop music.

"Quicksand" makes use of (synthetic?) kettle drums, which show up more prominently on "I'm Not Your Toy," giving it a breezy Caribbean flavor. "Bulletproof," the latest single and recent #1 hit, completes the opening energetic salvo, before La Roux shifts gears to moodier, quieter material.

"Colourless Color" has a darker sound, with slower verses that give way to quicker-tempoed choruses. My favorite part of the song is the middle eight, where a raspy synth line gets covered in successive layers of beats and bass. Very cool. "Cover My Eyes" is the album's first ballad. Normally, a song like this on a electronic pop album would be a low point, but credit La Roux for instead delivering a pop ballad with a great melody and genuine emotional punch. Jackson has said that a 5-year relationship (apparently a bad one) was the inspiration for many of these songs, and the heartache comes out loud and clear here.

"As If By Magic" returns us to the uptempo and very '80s side of La Roux. It's going to be hard to choose future singles from this album, because there's so many that would work well. This song has a particularly strong melody, although melody is not lacking on this album. "Fascination" works well too. "Armour Love" is an appropriately restrained closing number, with rich synths driving the melody.

Like a lot of pop duos (Goldfrapp, Roxette, Eurythmics), La Roux puts the lady out front, with the gent playing more of a supporting role. In their case, it may be the one thing that I'm not completely sold about. Elly Jackson is clearly a talented musician, but she's not the greatest singer. Her voice can be a bit shrill and doesn't seem to have much range. It's the only drawback in an otherwise completely satisfying package.

Best: In for the Kill, Quicksand, Bulletproof, Colourless Color, Tigerlily, Cover My Eyes, As If By Magic, Armour Love

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Best of 2000s: Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway (5/5)

Kelly Clarkson's second album achieved a similar hat-trick for the artist as Jagged Little Pill did for Alanis Morissette--turn a pop starlet known mostly for her TV work into a credible pop artist. While Thankful had its moments, Breakaway was a stunning pop album that delivered the promise of American Idol while effectively showing that the singer was so much more than that pageant. Any of the first eight tracks could have been hits--and more of them were, particularly "Since U Been Gone," which became one of the decade's classic pop songs. These songs all sound great together, but each one is also very distinct, from the energetic rock of "Behind These Hazel Eyes" to the affecting balladry of "Because of You" and "Where Is Your Heart" (which really should have been a single). Also not unlike Jagged Little Pill, Breakaway is pop to the core with rock around the edges. Credit goes to the bevy of top-quality collaborators on hand here, including Max Martin, Ben Moody (Evanescence), and Kara DioGuardi (ironic that DioGuardi was one of the talents to help Clarkson "break away" from Idol and then ended up as one of its judges). If the album falls a little short in its final third, it's only because the first two-thirds are so perfect. While Avril Lavigne and Pink made similar rock-leaning pop albums this decade, Breakaway was the best of this sub-genre.

Best: Since U Been Gone, Because of You, Breakaway, Where Is Your Heart, Behind These Hazel Eyes, Gone, Walk Away, Addicted

Friday, July 03, 2009

Personal Chart, 4/1/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 NEW>Man in the Mirror - Michael Jackson (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... When Love Takes Over - David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
3 .... 5 .... Lovegame - Lady GaGa
4 .... 2 .... Release Me - Agnes (1 wk @ #1)
5 ... 10 ... Bulletproof - La Roux
6 .... 9 .... Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry
7 .... 8 .... Please Don't Leave Me - Pink
8 ... 21 ... Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
9 .... 1 .... Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh) - Pixie Lott (1 wk @ #1)**
10 .. 15 ... Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo

**I forgot to note last week that "Mama Do" is the 400th #1 on my personal chart. Other milestones:

1st - "Rhythm Nation" - Janet Jackson, 1990
100th - "Dreamlover" - Mariah Carey, 1993
200th - "What a Girl Wants" - Christina Aguilera, 2000
300th - "Gravity" - Embrace, 2004

Thoughts about current female pop stars

It's no surprise that I'm a big fan of female pop stars. Most of my favorite pop songs come from the ladies. I have, however, observed of late that it seems like their projects are being controlled by the same small set of pop producers. And frequently, it's the case that these people each contribute a few tracks to each album, rather than serving as a lead producer on most tracks. What you get is "producer potpourri," which eventually, if not already, may lead to everybody kind of sounding the same. That's partly why I'm not too jazzed about Jordin Sparks' new album, for I fear I will have already heard everything on it. Here's a quick analysis of producers that keep showing up again and again on such projects:

The Dream: Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Beyonce

Tony Gad: Natasha Bedingfield, Beyonce, Jordin Sparks

Greg Kurstin: Natasha Bedingfield, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears

Max Martin: Jordin Sparks, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Pink

Stargate: Rihanna, Leona Lewis, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Jordin Sparks

Tricky Stewart: Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Beyonce

Ryan Tedder: Leona Lewis, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks

It's not that these are bad albums--they are generally quite good--but throwing the same mix of people together tends to make the same kind of sound. I think it's nice when a singer works with one producer. It certainly makes for a more cohesive album. The multiple producer approach says to me "we're looking for the hottest hit sounds for singles, so we'll make sure to have as many as possible on major artist X's latest album." Definitely another sign in the decline of the album as musical art.

Madonna's had a lot of success without employing this trend, using generally only one or two key producers per album. Her only "producer-potpourri" album was Bedtime Stories (1994), which was one of her weaker discs. Look how great the Amy Winhouse/Mark Ronson matchup was, or the Lily Allen/Greg Kurstin pairing on her latest album.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Whitney Houston's new single

"I Didn't Know My Own Strength" is out and about now. Here's a link, but it might not last long (just search for it on YouTube). My initial reaction is that it's a bit disappointing. While Whitney sounds good, and the instrumentation is appropriately lush, the song seriously lacks a good hook. The lyric "I didn't know my own strength" is too much of a mouthful to make a good chorus. Hopefully, there's a big upbeat pop song waiting around the corner.

Billboard Hot 100, July 11, 2009

In a week where Michael Jackson ruled the charts for the first time in years--breaking records and outselling the competition all over the world--you wouldn't know it by reading Billboard. Due to rules about only current releases appearing on the main charts, you'll find no MJ on the Hot 100 or Billboard 200 (the albums chart). Billboard, has, however, reported that three Michael Jackson albums actually outsold this week's Billboard 200 chart-topper: Number Ones, The Essential Michael Jackson, and Thriller all outsold Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. (Billboard's comprehensive chart, which I never knew existed until this week, shows this).

On the singles side, there is no "comprehensive" list, so while "Rock With You" topped the recurrent airplay chart, and "Billie Jean" the recurrent singles chart (sales and airplay), there's no way to tell how they would perform if allowed on the Hot 100. Nevertheless, there are still signs of Michael Jackson to be found in the Hot 100. Curious? Read on...

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas
2. Boom Boom Pow - Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyed Peas trade places this week, ending the 12-week run at #1 for "Boom Boom Pow" and giving the group their second #1 hit with "I Gotta Feeling." In a week dominated by Michael Jackson, the Black Eyed Peas was the only major competition, both for singles and albums sales. According to the digital tracks charts, even "Thriller" didn't manage to outsell "I Gotta Feeling."

4. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo

Keri Hilson's "Knock You Down" holds at #4 this week. Not very interesting in itself; however, what is interesting is that this song mentions...Michael Jackson! Listen to Kanye's rap for the line "it's bad, real bad Michael Jackson"--a nod to Jackson's 1987 #1 hit, "Bad." Ne-Yo's image and sound is also clearly Michael Jackson-influenced, so this song scores twice on the MJ nostalgia meter.

9. New Divide - Linkin Park

Earning the sales gainer and rocketing up 21 spots in Linkin Park's Transformers II song, "New Divide." The single debuted at #6 a few weeks, falling for a couple weeks, but climbing back up the last 2 weeks.

10. Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry

Back into the top 10 for "Waking Up in Vegas," which spent the last 4 weeks just outside the top 10.

14. Halo - Beyonce

This is stretching things a bit (rather a lot actually), but "Halo" has a tenuous connection to Michael Jackson. Beyonce is basically this generation's Diana Ross. Ms. Knowles, like Ms. Ross, got her start in a popular girlgroup before making it big as a solo act with hits on the pop and dance charts plus appearances in movie musicals. Beyonce once duetted with Justin Timberlake--another pop star whose style and act is heavily MJ-influenced. Michael Jackson and Diana ross were good friends and appeared together in The Wiz. There you go. Like they said on Battlestar Galactica--"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."

24. D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune) - Jay-Z

Rapper/producer Jay-Z is the Hot 100's top debut this week with a song presumably about what's wrong with rap music today (starting with Auto Tune, which really is getting quite old at this point). I haven't heard this, but will check it out.

32. Her Diamonds - Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas enters top 40 at #32 with "Her Diamonds," his third hit single as a soloist. The Matchbox Twenty frontman hit #1 in 1999 as featured vocalist on Santana's massive hit "Smooth," and then hit the top 10 on his own in 2005 with "Lonely No More."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Best albums of the year so far

The year is half over now, amazingly. There have been a few good albums released so far this year, although nothing I'd rate as a 5-star classic. Here's the best of what I've reviewed....

1. Little Boots - Hands
2. Pet Shop Boys - Yes
3. Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
4. Agnes - Dance Love Pop
5. Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted

1. U2 - No Line on the Horizon
2. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
3. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
4. Doves - Kingdom of Rust
5. Passion Pit - Manners