Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Releases October

October continues the typical fall schedule of big new releases. November promises to be even better (Robbie Williams, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Norah Jones and the debut from Adam Lambert).


The Flaming Lips - Embryonic (Oct. 12). Following up their 2006 album At War with the Mystics and last year's film, Christmas on Mars, comes The Flaming Lips' 12th studio album. The band has said the style of this album will be different from their last two. Previews demonstrate this to be true, with slower, sparser arrangements as well as more free-form experimentation, although the "music from outer space" motifs are still apparent. MGMT, whose debut was produced by longtime 'Lips producer Dave Fridmann, makes an appearance.

Cheryl Cole - 3 Words (Oct. 26). Girls Aloud member Cheryl Cole is on the cusp of making a major name for herself apart from the band. Already a judge on UK's The X Factor, she will release her debut solo album this month featuring first single "Fight for This Love," already making waves at British radio. Recent Will.I.Am collaboration, "Heartbreaker" is also included. Other collaborators include Taio Cruz, Xenomania, and Bloodshy & Avant. Rumor has it she may also appear as a judge on the US version of X Factor, currently under negotiation.

Alexandra Burke - Overcome (Oct 19). Speaking of The X Factor, here's last year's winner and Cheryl Cole-mentee Alexandra Burke with her debut release. The album boasts an impressive but expected array of top-notch producers and songwriters, such as Akon, Taio Cruz, Freemasons, RedOne, Stargate, and Pharell Williams. "Bad Boys," the first single featuring Flo Rida, is rapidly climbing the UK airplay chart ahead of its release. The album also includes her first single, last year's Christmas #1, "Hallelujah."

Natalie Imbruglia - Come to Life (Oct. 4). Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia, whose last album Counting Down the Days wowed...well, me, and unfortunately few others...returns four years later with her fourth album. Since Days, she's parted ways with her record company and appears on a new label. Chris Martin contributed several of the album's tracks, including co-writing first single "Want." Imbruglia has said the album has more electronic sounds and dance beats than her prior work. (Note: The UK release of this has been pushed back to February, but it is still currently slated for an October release in other European countries as well as Canada).

The Saturdays - Wordshaker (Oct. 12). Last year, The Saturdays emerged as a viable challenger to Sugababes and Girls Aloud's status as Britain's leading girl groups. They scored four top 10 hits from their debut, Chasing Lights, with fourth single and Depeche Mode remake "Just Can't Get Enough" hitting #2 as the official Comic Relief single. This second album, coming out just under a year after their first, features first single "Forever Is Over," which exhibits a more downbeat sound than their previous hits.

Mr. Hudson - Straight no Chaser (Oct. 6). British pop/R&B act Mr. Hudson releases their second album, co-produced by Kanye West who has said the band (or is it just one guy--unclear) has the potential to be one of the most important artists of his generation. While such promotion from West may not be as valuable at this particular point in time, Mr. Hudson showed great promise with "Supernova," their first major hit.

Other releases:

Oct. 5

Shakira - She Wolf. Shakira unleashes her wild third English-language album, containing the current hit title track, quite a few tracks produced by The Neptunes, and a duet with Wyclef Jean.

Air - Love 2. French electronic duo releases its sixth album, including early release "Do the Joy" and single "Sing Sang Sung."

Basshunter - Bass Generation. Eurodance artist releases his latest set including first single "Every Morning."

Backstreet Boys - This Is Us. Backstreet Boys release their 7th album--3rd since reuniting in 2005 and second since the departure of Kevin Richardson. Includes current hit single "Straight Through My Heart."

Oct. 6

Blake Lewis - Heartbreak on Vinyl. American Idol runner-up releases his second album.

Oct. 9

Michael Buble - Crazy Love. Latest release from the popular Canadian jazz/pop standards singer.

Oct. 12

Taio Cruz - Rokstarr. British R&B singer-songwriter releases his second album, which includes current UK #1 hit "Break Your Heart" (which was originally written for Cheryl Cole, but she took a pass).

Editors - In This Light and on This Evening. British band releases its third album with first single "Papillon." While I loved their first album, I was disappointed with their second one, so I'm interested but not committed to this.

Oct. 13

Mario - DNA. Mario releases his fourth album, following his pretty much hitless third one.

Oct. 19

Annie - Don't Stop. The Norwegian singer releases her second album following critical (but not commercial) favorite Anniemal.

Joss Stone - Colour Me Free. Joss Stone offers up her fourth album. Snooze.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Madonna: Celebration

Madonna's Celebration arrived in stores today. Wanting the physical CD, I waited until after work and picked it up at Best Buy (sadly, the only place convenient to my home for buying music). Here's my track-by-track rundown of what it includes, what it doesn't and an analysis of the stats behind these hits.

Overview: The 2-disc version includes 34 remastered greatest hits and two new tracks, split evenly over 2 discs with one of the new songs on each (an additional new track, "It's So Cool," is available with the online version). The tracks are not presented in chronological order, although generally the older ones come before the newer ones. The 1-disc version has 17 hits plus "Celebration."

In general, the set favors her dance pop hits over her ballads, particularly the 1-disc version, whose only slower song is "Frozen," picked over other major ballads like "Crazy for You," "Live to Tell" and "Take a Bow," which are only on the 2-disc set.

Track-by-track: Let's get into it. Here's my breakdown of each track, which version is included, and how it charted in the US and UK (tracks with an asterisk appear only on the 2-disc version):

Disc 1:

1. Hung Up (2005, US: 7, UK: 1). Album version.

2. Music (2000, US: 1, UK: 1). Album version.

3. Vogue (1990, US: 1, UK: 1). This is the extended version that appeared on The Immaculate Collection with the "what are you looking at" opening and extended intro.

4. 4 Minutes (2008, US: 3, UK: 1). "4 Minutes" has been cut almost a minute to 3:10 (kind of odd to cut this one, given its title).

5. Holiday (1983, US: 16, UK: 2). Album version--all 6 minutes of it.

6. *Everybody (1982). Here's one of the album's selling points for fans--a nice single edit version of Madonna's first single, edited to 4:11 from its original 6:03 length.

7. Like a Virgin (1984, US: 1, UK: 3). This is the edited and slightly remixed version from The Immaculate Collection.

8. Into the Groove (1985, US: 5--as the b-side to "Angel", UK: 1). Thankfully, this is the original 1985 single version and not The Immaculate Collection remix/edit. It's nice to have this remastered, as the version from the "Angel" single doesn't sound that great anymore.

9. Like a Prayer (1989, US: 1, UK: 1). Here's a disappointment for me. This is the album version, which is an improvement over what we got on The Immaculate Collection, but I was really hoping for the slightly different single version (which I don't own, unfortunately).

10. Ray of Light (1998, US: 5, UK: 2). This is the same radio edit that appeared on GHV2.

11. *Sorry (2006, US: 58, UK: 1). Single edit.

12. Express Yourself (1989, US: 2, UK: 5). Here's another bonus. It's the dance version, which I love, but not The Immaculate Collection edit, but rather the version that appeared in the video, which is way better.

13. Open Your Heart (1986, US: 1, UK: 4). It's an edit, the same as was on The Immaculate Collection. As far as I can tell though, it's not a remix, as the True Blue tracks weren't remixed for The Immaculate Collection (at least they sound the same to me).

14. *Borderline (1984, US: 10, UK: 2). It's The Immaculate Collection version, which was edited and slightly remixed.

15. *Secret (1994, US: 3, UK: 5). Single edit, maybe even a little shorter than the edit from GHV2.

16. *Erotica (1992, US: 3, UK: 3). Radio edit, same as was on GHV2 with a few more seconds shaved.

17. *Justify My Love (1990, US: 1, UK: 2). Slightly edited--7 seconds shorter than The Immaculate Collection original.

18. *Revolver (feat. Lil Wayne). New track.

Disc 2:

1. Dress You Up (1985, US: 5, UK: 5). Album version. There's something a little funny with it though. When I first uploaded it, the first few second were garbled with "Revolver," which isn't even on the same disc. I uploaded it again, and there's still a bit of a glitch at the beginning, although not as bad. Quite strange.

2. Material Girl (1985, US: 2, UK: 3). Album version.

3. La Isla Bonita (1987, US: 4, UK: 1). Album version.

4. Papa Don't Preach (1986, US: 1, UK: 1). Album version.

5. Lucky Star (1984, US: 4, UK: 14). The edited and slightly remixed version from The Immaculate Collection.

6. *Burning Up (1983). Album version. Still an interesting choice to include this early non-hit over later major hits.

7. *Crazy for You (1985, US: 1, UK: 2). Edited version, at 3:44 it's shorter than the Something to Remember (4:11) and Immaculate Collection (3:46) versions.

8. *Who's that Girl (1987, US: 1, UK: 1). Album version. Nice to see this here, as I've always loved it, since it was my introduction to Madonna.

9. Frozen (1998, US: 2, UK: 1). This track appears in different forms, depending on which version of the album you get. On the 1-disc set, it's the shorter single edit that appeared in GHV2. On the 2-disc set, it's the longer original album version.

10. *Miles Away (2008, US: failed to chart, UK: 39). Single edit. Other than "Everybody" and "Burning Up," which didn't chart in either the US or UK, this is the lowest-charting track to make it on the set.

11. *Take a Bow (1994, US: 1, UK: 16). Album version.

12. *Live to Tell (1986, US: 1, UK: 2). Album version.

13. *Beautiful Stranger (1999, US: radio only, UK: 2). Album version.

14. *Hollywood (2003, US: failed to chart, UK: 2). Album version.

15. *Die Another Day (2002, US: 8, UK: 3). Album version. I'm surprised they included the full-length versions of "Beautiful Stranger" and "Die Another Day" but not "Lucky Star."

16. *Don't Tell Me (2000, US: 4, UK: 4). Radio edit.

17. *Cherish (1990, US: 2, UK: 3). This is an edit, but it's not the edit that appeared on The Immaculate Collection, since that version was also slightly remixed, but this edit is based on the original album version.

18. Celebration (2009, US: 71, UK: 3). New track and current single.

Stats and exclusions:

Decade breakdown - The set favors the '80s. On the 2-disc version, half the tracks (18) are from the '80s, with 8 from the '90s and 10 from the '00s. Even more so on the 1-disc version, which has 11 tracks from the '80s, only 3 from the '90s, and 4 from the '00s.

Number ones - The 2-disc version includes 11 #1 hits from the US and the UK (missing US #1 "This Used to Be My Playground" and UK #1s "True Blue" and "American Pie"). The 1-disc version is friendlier to UK #1s, dropping only "Sorry" and "Who's That Girl," while dropping 5 US #1s--"Crazy for You," "Live to Tell," "Who's That Girl," "Justify My Love," and "Take a Bow."

Albums - Madonna rules, having contributed 5 tracks to the set. True Blue has 4; Like a Virgin and Like a Prayer 3; Bedtimes Stories, Ray of Light, Music, American Life, Confessions on a Dance Floor and Hard Candy each contribute 2, I'm Breathless and Erotica just 1. One the 1-disc version, Like a Virgin and True Blue are still represented by 3 songs each, while Madonna and Like a Prayer drop to 2. Ray of Light stays at 2, and every other album gets 1 track except Erotica and Bedtime Stories, which get none.

Previous collections - 16 songs from The Immaculate Collection appear here--all but "Rescue Me." In contrast, there are only 8 of the 15 songs from GHV2. Three of the seven songs from You Can Dance appear and only 3 songs from Something to Remember.

Top 10 US hits excluded from Celebration (11):

#1 "This Used to Be My Playground"
#2 "I'll Remember"
#2 "Causing a Commotion"
#3 "True Blue"
#5 "Angel"
#6 "You'll See"
#7 "Deeper and Deeper"
#8 "Don't Cry For Me Argentina"
#8 "Keep It Together"
#9 "Rescue Me"
#10 "Hanky Panky"

Top 10 UK hits excluded (30!):

#1 "True Blue"
#1 "American Pie"
#2 "American Life"
#2 "Hanky Panky"
#2 "Me Against the Music"
#3 "Rescue Me"
#3 "This Used to Be My Playground"
#3 "Don't Cry For Me Argentina"
#4 "Gambler"
#4 "Causing a Commotion"
#4 "Bedtime Story"
#5 "Angel"
#5 "Dear Jessie"
#5 "You'll See"
#6 "Deeper and Deeper"
#6 "Fever"
#6 "The Power of Good-Bye"
#7 "Rain"
#7 "I'll Remember"
#7 "Another Suitcase in Another Hall"
#7 "Nothing Really Matters"
#7 "What It Feels Like for a Girl"
#7 "Get Together"
#7 "Give It 2 Me"
#8 "Human Nature"
#9 "The Look of Love"
#9 "Jump"
#10 "Bad Girl"
#10 "You Must Love Me"
#10 "Drowned World/Substitute for Love"

Madonna: Immaculate Collection and GHV2

Later I will regale you with everything you need to know about Madonna's new greatest hits collection, Celebration, released today in the United States in multiple physical and digital formats. But first, I want to look back at her other greatest hits collections in order to provide proper context for the new set.

The Immaculate Collection (1990)

Simultaneously perfect, yet deeply flawed, The Immaculate Collection was a landmark greatest hits album that represented one of the '80s most essential pop artists at the top of her game. Yet a closer inspection of the choices is cause for some head-scratching. On the one hand, it deftly collects 15 of Madonna most beloved hits, which stood as a testament to the best of '80s dance pop (plus the brilliant 1990 hit "Vogue").

Yet, in a rather remarkable move, most of the songs of have been remixed and thus are present in neither their original album or single versions. While editing for length is to be expected, many of the songs boast minor remixes that likely go unnoticed by a casual listener--some additional percussion in "Borderline," an extra keyboard effect on the "Like a Virgin" chorus, etc. Slightly more dramatic were the inclusions of edits of "Holiday" and "Into the Groove" based on their You Can Dance remixes. Perhaps the boldest move was including a dance remix of "Like a Prayer" that is quite different from the album or single.

As such, The Immaculate Collection could legitimately be said to be a remix album, rather than a greatest hits, since it includes no album or single versions of the any of the songs included, save for the two new tracks. It's an unusual choice in retrospect. Why not just start with the single versions and edit for length as necessary? Still, in 1990 I thought it was amazing, as it put almost all my Madonna favorites together in one place, gave me "Crazy for You" for the first time, the dance single version of "Express Yourself," which I'd always preferred, and two great new tracks.

GHV2 (2001)

As compared with The Immaculate Collection, GHV2 was disappointing. It was better from a purists perspective, since this time all the tracks were either album versions or single edits, but the omissions were more pronounced: no "I'll Remember" or "This Used to Be My Playground," yet we got "Drowned World" and "What It Feels Like for a Girl." "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" appeared in its original ballad version rather than the popular Miami Mix promoted as the single. "Human Nature's" profanity was edited out. And there were no new tracks, which was a shame, for it meant the collection got little promotion. Probably the best thing about this set was the single version of "Deeper and Deeper," which is slightly different than the Erotica album version. Despite these disappointments, this is probably still a good deal for a casual fan who wants to explore Madonna's '90s work, but isn't ready to commit to her albums, since Celebration gives short shrift to this era of Madonna's career, including only eight tracks on the 2-CD version and a measly 3 on the single disc set.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Album Review: Mariah Carey - Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (3/5)

"Imperfect" is definitely the right word to describe Mariah Carey's new album. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, her 11th album of new material, starts out strong but quickly sinks into a quagmire of mediocre R&B pop before pulling itself out of the slump with a rather grand finish.

The album is generally much darker than most of her work, particularly at first with opening track "Betcha Gon' Know," a deliciously downbeat piano ballad over which Carey sings with a decent vocal range. It sets the stage for the album, telling us some sad story, while name-checking a bunch of talk show hosts. Next is first single "Obsessed," a stomping pop ditty about the famous singer being stalked by a nutty fan (or Eminem, as some reports have said, and Carey herself won't deny). "H.A.T.E.U." follows, a lovely ballad about a failed relationship which like the opening track finds Carey making good use of her range by singing in her lower register as well as her "whisper" voice.

Unfortunately after "H.A.T.E.U." follows a long stretch of songs that are rather unimpressive and all rather similar, probably the result of Carey having relied almost solely on producers Tricky Stewart and The-Dream--the men responsible for her last album's only hit, "Touch My Body." "Candy Bling" is first, and although it has a bit of a retro vibe to it, the song never goes anywhere interesting, delivering a continuously unvaried level of sound. These guys aren't much interested in exploring all the hills and valleys Carey's voice can deliver, and consequently we're left with a bunch of bland tunes none of which are too fast or too slow and generally have the same Butterfly-era skittering beats (a rhythm she's used a lot in the last 12 years).

In fact, I find little to distinguish "Ribbon," "Inseparable," and "Standing O," all of which have about the same middling tempo, synths over piano chords tune, and little vocal variation. "It's a Wrap" opens with some wine being poured--and you'll want one too by then, a little Mariah screech and some piano before bringing in its mild R&B beat. It has a bit of retro flavor, but it's otherwise pretty thin. The repetition wears even thinner on "Up Out My Face" (mid-tempo, piano, skittering beats) and "More Than Just Friends" (mid-tempo, piano, skittering beats)--is there no other sound worth making anymore Mariah? The answer comes with plodding "The Impossible."

The album's last stretch though manages to yield a few successes. "Angels Cry" and its prelude, "Angel," are sweet mid '90s-era Mariah slow jams, that brings a bit of warmth and sweetness missing from the album's middle section (and a similar melody to "H.A.T.E.U.," the early slow jam that I actually liked)." This part of the album finds each song divided by a prelude or a reprise, most of which are generally related to the song being introduced or reprised, save for "Languishing," which stands on its own. This is actually one of the album's strongest moments, and its a real shame it wasn't fully developed into a song, for it's quite lovely.

Carey finishes her set with "I Want to Know What Love Is," a power ballad in the grand old style of power ballads she used to make in the '90s. It's quite tuneful and majestic, with Mariah's vocal soaring at the end with the matching choir. It's delightful pop at its cheesy best.

When I heard the album hearkened back to the '90s, and then this was released, I was really hoping the would be a strong return to her adult pop roots. Unfortunately it ended up not being that, and while her efforts to be a little more personal and a little less trendy are respectable, I wish it would have been backed with a stronger set of songs that didn't all basically sound the same. Still, the best moments show she's still got some range in her, there just aren't enough of them here.

Best: I Want to Know What Love Is, Obsessed, Languishing, Betcha Gon' Know, H.A.T.E.U.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

UK Singles Chart, Oct. 2, 2009

1. Break Your Heart - Taio Cruz

For the first time in over 2 months a single occupies the top spot for a second consecutive week. The honor goes to Taio Cruz, who finishes nearly 10,000 copies ahead of David Guetta and Akon at #2.

3. Empire State of Mind - Jay-Z Featuring Alicia Keys

This is set for a physical release...but not for 2 months. Is it going to stick around in the top 5 until then? If so then Jay-Z and Alicia have a major hit on their hands. This is Jay-Z's 7th top 3 hit.

4. She Wolf - Shakira

Shakira climbs a notch to #4 this week.

11. Dirty Cash - Dizzee Rascal

Here's a rather amazing placement for an album track from Dizzee Rascal's recently released new album. While I hear this is slated for release, it's a long way off, so there must be something other than just curiosity that drove this track all the way up to #11 this week. It liberally remakes/samples The Adventures of Stevie V's "Dirty Cash (Money Talks)," a #2 hit in 1990.

12. Sweet Disposition - Temper Trap

Australian band Temper Trap is up 4 this week with "Sweet Disposition."

17. Every Morning - Basshunter

Basshunter returns with his 6th top 40 hit, the first single from his upcoming new album. It's a far cry from the #1 hit he had a year and a half ago in "Now You're Gone," but I doubt he'll ever get close to a #1 again.

20. Watch the Sun Come Up - Example

Example is a 42 year-old British rapper who released his first album in the late 80s, but it wasn't until this week that he had a top 40 hit.

35. My Man - Jade Ewen

Jade Ewen's solo career is now on hold, although that wasn't yet known when "My Man," her second single was released on Monday. As of that day, she is the newest member of the Sugababes, replacing Keisha Buchanan--the last remaining original member of the group. Ewen's first single, "It's My Time," hit #27 earlier this year when it was Britain's entry in the annual Eurovision contest.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Album Review: Muse - The Resistance (4.5/5)

If Radiohead was the closest kin to Muse in the past, on The Resistance its Queen from which the band appears to now be drawing the most inspiration, pushing its sound to even headier epic heights. As big as their sound was on 2006's Black Holes and Revelations, they set the bombastic bar even higher here, expanding their gothic rock scope to encompass many classical elements, as well as more contemporary ones.

"Uprising," the first single, is a fairly conventional blend of Muse's usual foreboding sound with an upbeat rhythm arrangement, not too dissimilar from Black Holes single "Starlight." "Resistance" is somewhat similar, although with a prominent piano melody. Both are good songs, but more interesting is "Undisclosed Desires," which unexpectedly takes its rhythm arrangement from contemporary pop/R&B and blends it with a lovely synth-based tune (think late '90s Timbaland meets Depeche Mode). This is my favorite of the album's more conventional songs.

"United States of Eurasia/Collateral Damage" is the first song to incorporate an obvious classical element--an excerpt from Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat Major Opus 9 Number 2. In a nod to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," the song is composed of distinct and varied movements. The first section is sweet piano, strings and vocals; the second brings in the band for a louder guitar and drums rock sound; and then the third gives us the classical Chopin piano piece. "Guiding Light" snaps us back to the present with a dramatic stadium-rock beat over prominent synths and soaring guitar riffs.

The next few songs are the album's least interesting. "Unnatural Selection" puts its focus on its guitar melody more so than any other track. "MK Ultra" is also guitar-based rock, while "I Belong to You/Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" is a two-part song consisting of a piano-based, over-the-top segment with self-referential lyrics ("You are my muse") and a second part in French.

The album concludes with a big finish though, the three-part classical/rock composition "Exogenesis." According to the band, the piece is inspired by Rachmaninov, Chopin, Richard Strauss and Pink Floyd, and tells the story of how humanity, realizing its imminent demise, sends astronauts into space to find another habitable planet (and they fail). Alright! Part 1, "The Overture," is mostly instrumental and ominous, with a strings-driven melody followed later by electric guitar. Quite gorgeous Part 2, "Cross-Pollination," opens with romantic Rachmaninov-esque piano chords and strings before shifting to piano-backed vocals. This movement explodes about halfway through as the vocal heightens and the drums and guitar swoop in. The romantic piano returns before the transition to Part 3, "Redemption," fnishes the suite with a soft, melancholy piano and strings tune reminiscent of a film score. Once again about halfway through the band pops in full. "Exogenesis" is a surprising and lovely blend of rock and classical styles with long instrumental passages that are quite lovely.

The Resistance continues to showcase Muse as a boundary-pushing band comfortable with sounds contemporary, classic, and now even classical. If it's not quite as grand as Black Holes and Revelations it's because a few of the early tracks are perhaps too similar to that album's style and it sags a bit in the middle. But the creative blending of styles on "Exogenesis" and songs like "Undisclosed Desires" and "United States of Eurasia" make for an ambitious and exciting listen.

Best: Exogenesis, Undisclosed Desires, United States of Eurasia, Uprising, Resistance, Guiding Light

Best of 2000s: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations (5/5)

Muse's fourth album pushed the band out of Radiohead's shadow and into the limelight with its epic sound, a blend of pop, rock, and electronic elements. With lyrical content ranging from your typical love song to your atypical alien invasion, the album's content is as broad as its sound, which ranges from conventional songs like "Starlight" to the gothic, 6-minute "Knights of Cydonia." Other highlights include sexy, strutting "Supermassive Black Hole," Depeche Mode-ish "Map of the Problematique," strange but gorgeous "Invincible," and Western-influenced "Hoodoo." The best album yet from a band that continues to surprise and amaze.

Best: Map of the Problematique, Supermassive Black Hole, Invincible, Starlight, Knights of Cydonia, Take a Bow, Hoodoo

Friday, September 25, 2009

Personal Chart, September 26, 2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Celebration - Madonna (1 week @ #1)*
2 .... 1 .... I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas (6 wks @ #1)
3 .... 4 .... You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift (1 wk @ #1)
4 .... 2 .... Holiday - Dizzee Rascal
5 .... 5 .... Boys and Girls - Pixie Lott
6 ... 14 ... Million Dollar Bill - Whitney Houston
7 .... 7 .... Sexy Bitch - David Guetta feat. Akon
8 ... 18 ... Bodies - Robbie Williams
9 ... 10 ... Party in the USA - Miley Cyrus
10 .. 13 ... Obsessed - Mariah Carey

*Madonna's 20th #1 on my personal chart

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mariah Carey discography

Next week, Mariah Carey will release her 11th studio album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Like I did with Whitney Houston, here's a look back at the first ten:

Mariah Carey (1990). Is there a more lovely opening note to a career than “Vision of Love?” Nineteen years later, the soulful love ballad that launched one of the most successful pop careers of all time still gives me tingles. While it was the best song on her debut, Mariah Carey has a lot of good moments—mostly ballads like “I Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Love Takes Time,” but upbeat moments work great too like playful “Someday,” do-gooder “There’s Got to Be a Way,” and keyboard-heavy “All in Your Mind.” Best: Vision of Love, Someday, I Don’t Wanna Cry, There’s Got to Be a Way, Love Takes Time, All in Your Mind, You Need Me (4.5/5).

Emotions (1991). In contrast to her debut, Emotions kicks off with an energetic first single, and populated with several Clivilles and Cole-produced tracks, Emotions was a ploy to subtly shift the focus toward a younger audience than her adult-pop debut. Otherwise, Emotions sounds a lot like Mariah Carey, with big, baudy ballads like “And You Don’t Remember” and “Can’t Let Go.” While sounding similar, somehow the songs just weren’t as good this time. “You’re So Cold” is so over-the-top it’s corny, and “If It’s Over” sounds like “Vanishing” part 2. Dramatic “So Blessed” is a nice surprise though, underscored by a chord progression she would use again (“Forever” from Daydream). Best: So Blessed, Can’t Let Go, Emotions (3.5/5).

Music Box (1993). This was much better and broader, effectively incorporating both fun, upbeat songs like “Dreamlover” and memorable ballads like “Hero,” as well as R&B (“Never Forget You”). Even the dance pop was better this time, with the decent Clivilles & Cole productions “Now that I Know” and “I’ve Been Thinking About You.” My favorite track though is “Without You,” a power ballad that finds Carey singing in contrasting styles—her lowest register yet during the chorus and controlled soprano during the chorus. Best: Without You, Dreamlover, All I Ever Wanted, Hero, Now that I Know, Anytime You Need a Friend (4.5/5).

Daydream (1995). Although it’s not a personal favorite, Daydream is probably Mariah Carey’s most acclaimed album. It certainly produced the hits: its three U.S. singles collectively topped the Billboard Hot 100 for over 6 months. There’s really little difference between this and Music Box: frothy “Fantasy” serves as this album’s “Dreamlover,” “One Sweet Day,” her duet with Boyz II Men, it’s “Hero” power ballad, “Open Arms” its remake of a pop classic a la “Without You.” New touches include the lovely doo-wop ballad “Forever,” the clubby “Fantasy” remix “Daydream,” and a bit of R&B flavor to the upbeat songs like “Long Ago” and “Fantasy.” Best: Fantasy, One Sweet Day, Always Be My Baby, Forever, Underneath the Stars, Open Arms (4/5).

Butterfly (1997). As the ‘90s wore on and the mainstream embraced hip-hop while moving away from adult pop, Mariah Carey shifted her sound in that direction. Butterfly was her first album to feature rap guests, and quite frequently the marriage works well. Opening track “Honey,” which features Sean “Puff Daddy” “P. Diddy” “Diddy” Combs, is a particular delight—a breezy, groovy, upbeat pop song. The Bone Thugs-N-Harmony matchup, “Breakdown,” is also pretty good. Appropriately soaring “Butterfly” is one of my favorite Mariah Carey ballads, such a lovely song, although it’s a shame this where Carey introduced a nasal quality to her singing (perhaps because she was losing her ability to effectively sing in higher octaves?). “Whenever You Call” is another gorgeous love ballad, showcasing Carey’s vocal abilities. Lovelorn “My All” is also good and gave the singer her fifth consecutive #1 hit (her second run of five #1s in a row). “Babydoll” has a laid back vibe and skittering beats typical of R&B production of the time. The remake of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” is a little pointless, since it adheres so closely to the original. Best: Honey, Butterfly, Whenever You Call, My All, Breakdown, The Roof (4/5).

Rainbow (1999). Carey’s final Columbia release is a head-scratcher. Despite having been a fan from the beginning, I took a pass on this album, and I’m still not really interested in it. “Heartbreaker,” while a fun song, is basically a “Fantasy” repeat—in fact sampling the same song. “Thank God I Found You,” her collaboration with Joe and 98 Degrees, is uninspired. Her remake of “Against All Odds” is decent, but I like the duet version with Westlife better (not part of the U.S. release). Best: Heartbreaker (not rated).

Glitter (2001). Glitter was the much-maligned movie and album project that found Mariah Carey at a career lowpoint, best remembered for her wacky MTV popsicle appearance. Like many such supposed downfalls (think Madonna’s Erotica), it deserves a closer look, for Glitter—the album—is actually not bad. Nodding to the film’s setting, there are quite a few nice ‘80s touches—years before that was so in vogue. “Loverboy” is goofy but fun. “Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” has great ‘80s stylings in the vein of The Time, while with you, which features Eric Benet(!), features a cool late ‘80s pop production style that recent ‘80s-inspired work has overlooked. “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” is probably the least interesting of the ‘80s retreads, although it does feature an early appearance from Kanye West. “Lead the Way” is a lovely piano ballad, and “Never Too Far” succeeds with a classy strings and guitar arrangement. The lowpoint is the Ja Rule collaboration “If We,” which sounds like an uninspired “I’m Real.” Best: Lead the Way, Didn’t Mean to Turn You On, Never Too Far, Loverboy, With You (3.5/5).

Charmbracelet (2002). This is the other Mariah Carey album I don’t own. Following Glitter, she needed something to restore the public’ faith, but this didn’t do it. The reviews were not positive. What I’ve heard of the album is rather bland, and it’s only major single, “Through the Rain,” is just mediocre. Best: Through the Rain (not rated).

The Emancipation of Mimi (2005). The Emancipation of Mimi was a big comeback for Mariah Carey, who hadn’t had a major hit in years. The album’s effective blend of modern and old school styles introduced the singer to a new generation while still pleasing older fans. Upbeat hip-hop leaning tracks like “Shake It Off” and “Get Your Number” work as effectively as the modern ballads like “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us,” as well as the soulful older-sounding stuff like “Mine Again” and “Circles.” Best: We Belong Together, Shake It Off, It’s Like That, Mine Again, Say Somethin’, Get Your Number, Don’t Forget About Us (4/5).

E=MC2 (2008). When Mariah Carey hits on something that works, inevitably the album that follows is quite similar. Such is the case with E=MC2, which continued in the modern, R&B-flavored pop vein of The Emancipation of Mimi, although with fewer retro touches. Sadly, a mistimed single (“Bye Bye”) threw this project off, resulting in the album having only one major hit (frothy “Touch My Body”), but there are lots of good songs here, particularly “I Stay in Love,” one of her best love ballads. Best: Migrate, Touch My Body, I Stay in Love, I’ll Be Lovin’ U Long Time, Cruise Control, I’m that Chick (4/5).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

UK Singles Chart, Sept. 26, 2009

1. Break Your Heart - Taio Cruz

A surprise #1 this week. Taio Cruz comes seemingly out of nowhere (to me at least) and claims the top spot with the first single from his upcoming second album. Cruz's chart cache has been building the last two years. Although his first two singles peaked outside the top 20, his third, "Come On Girl," hit #5. Then earlier this year he hit #3 when featured on Tinchy Stryder's "Take Me Back." Now Cruz finally claims the top spot, beating out new singles from a pop music legend and newer popular female artist.

3. Celebration - Madonna

Here then is the legend, none other than Madonna. "Celebration" is the single promoting her upcoming career-spanning greatest hits collection. Coming straight in at #3, the new single has already charted higher than 10 of the tracks that will be included in the collection. This is Madonna's 15th top 10 hit this decade.

5. She Wolf - Shakira

And the other popular female artist is Shakira, the Colombian artist that has scored major hits this decade like "Hips Don't Lie," "Beautiful Liar," and "Whenever, Wherever." "She Wolf" is the title track from Shakira's upcoming third English-language album.

6. Boys and Girls - Pixie Lott

Pixie Lott had last week's #1 hit, but this week takes the biggest dive from #1 this year, tumbling 5 spots to #6 in its second week. Coincidentally, Lott's debut album Turn It Up entered the albums chart at #6 this week.

15. Empire State of Mind - Jay-Z Featuring Alicia Keys

With the release of Jay-Z album's The Blueprint 3, "Empire State of Mind" has become an instant hit, debuting at #15. Although "Run This Town" is the current single, this future single has seen sudden popularity push it into the chart. I expect it will debut in the top 10 in the US next week.

21. New York - Paloma Faith

I was really hoping this would chart higher. It's a lovely song, yet it manages to chart even lower than her debut, "Stone Cold Sober," which hit #17. This doesn't bode well for a long-lasting career.

30. You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift

Country-pop singer Taylor Swift scores her second UK Top 40 hit. "You Belong with Me" was a major hit in the US over the summer. It follows "Love Story," which hit #2 in March.

Preview The Flaming Lips' Embryonic

Available this weekend on Stephen Colbert's Web site, you can stream Embryonic, the upcoming album from The Flaming Lips, which isn't due for release until October 13. I'm listening to it right now--first track "Convinced of the Hex" is an interesting blend of the band's usual space-age effects and a lot of lo-fi distortion. As is the second track "The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine," although it's more laid back. "Evil" is a haunting and lovely ballad with a sparse arrangement of mostly keyboards. Check it out today (I think it comes down tomorrow).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Best of 2000s: Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way (5/5)

I'm not a country fan, but I adore this album. The songwriting is top notch, particularly on the stick-to-our-guns "Not Ready to Make Nice," which tackled the band's infamous protest against President Bush and subsequent scandal it caused at country radio. The moment when the strings soar after the bridge is one of the best moments of pop music this decade. "The Long Way Around," a tribute to nonconformity, is a strong second best track. The album also has a wide range from the down-home rocker "Lubbock or Leave It" to the sweet folksy ballad "Bitter End." Among the albums that have won the Album of the Year Grammy Award this decade, it's a close race between this and Norah Jones' Come Away with Me as to which is my favorite.

Best: Not Ready to Make Nice, The Long Way Around, Easy Silence, Everybody Knows, Bitter End, Voice Inside My Head, Lullaby, Lubbock or Leave It

Friday, September 18, 2009

Personal Chart, September 19, 2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas (6 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Holiday - Dizzee Rascal
3 .... 5 .... Celebration - Madonna
4 .... 4 .... You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift
5 ... 13 ... Boys and Girls - Pixie Lott
6 .... 3 .... Get Sexy - Sugababes
7 .... 8 .... Sexy Bitch - David Guetta Featuring Akon
8 .... 6 .... Ready for the Weekend - Calvin Harris
9 ... 10 ... Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
10 .. 12 ... Party in the USA - Miley Cyrus

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Will Young's Greatest Hits

Thanks Paul for informing me that Will Young is releasing a greatest hits collection in November. While I'm a big Will Young fan, I can't help but feel this is a bit premature. I think he needs another album's worth of singles to be able to have a truly stunning set. As it is the set is a rather lean 12 tracks--3 from each album. Nonetheless, even this results in some omissions, for better or worse:

1. Anything Is Possible. Cathy Dennis penned this track for Will, but it was the single's other track--the remake of Westlife's "Evergreen"--that became the hit, while this barely received any attention. Still, it's not bad, although no Will Young "classic" for sure.

2. The Long and Winding Road. This was a #1 hit in 2002--Will's third--and an ill conceived Beatles remake turned love duet with Pop Idol buddy Gareth Gates. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but since then the folly has been revealed time and again.

3. Don't Let Me Down. This was the double-A side with "You and I," but wasn't included on From Now On, making it a rather hard-to-find release (iTunes doesn't have it, for example). It's a rather good song and was actually a slightly bigger hit at radio than "You and I."

4. Love The One You're With/Love Is a Matter of Distance. Friday's Child had only three singles, which was a real shame, for there were so many other potential hits--namely these two singles, the upbeat opening track and one of Will's most lovely ballads.

5. All The Things You Are. Will's forray into the movie musical (Mrs. Henderson Presents) included this song from him. Not bad.

6. Tell Me The Worst. Let It Go was such a good album. If this was a just pop music world, this album would have had 6 singles.

Here's what is included, plus two new tracks:

1. Evergreen
2. Light My Fire
3. You and I
4. Leave Right Now
5. Your Game
6. Friday's Child
7. Switch It On
8. All Time Love
9. Who Am I
10. Changes
11. Grace
12. Let It Go

Madonna "Revolver"

I wondered how long it would take for this to surface. It's not bad. Seems like it could be more likely to be a hit in the US than "Celebration," which unfortunately was DOA.

Billboard Hot 100, September 26, 2009

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas are still #1 for a 12th week, which makes "I Gotta Feeling" tied with the band's "Boom Boom Pow" for the longest-running #1 hit of the year...and we're up to 24 consecutive weeks at #1 for BEP. Oh, and they're this week's Digital Gainer! Still selling like hot cakes. Amazing. Quite impressive.

2. Down - Jay Sean
3. Party in the USA - Miley Cyrus
4. Run This Town - Jay-Z Featuring Rihanna and Kanye West
5. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Meanwhile, the would-be challengers to the BEP's throne are all lined up and bulleted. "Down" is this week's Airplay Gainer. Maybe eventually one of them will get to be #1. A strong contender is actually another track by Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind" (feat. Alicia Keys), which is currently #1 at iTunes.

18. Paparazzi - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa rockets up 26 spots to #18, scoring her fourth top 40 hit. GaGa has a habit of making big leaps into the top 40: "Just Dance" jumped 49-27 and "Lovegame" jumped 61-27.

19. Be on You - Flo Rida Feat. Ne-Yo

"Be on You" climbs 5 spots, becoming Flo Rida's 6th top 20 hit and Ne-Yo's 11th.

35. Already Gone - Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson climbs 8 notches to #35, nabbing her 11th top 40 hit. It's the third single from her fourth album, All I Ever Wanted. The track is co-written and produced by Ryan Tedder, the OneRepublic frontman who has become one of the hottest producer-songwriters in pop music. His recent works include Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield," Beyonce's "Halo," and Leona Lewis's new single "Happy."

39. Evacuate the Dancefloor - Cascada

Cascada scores their second top 40 hit with "Evacuate the Dancefloor," a recent UK #1. The German dance act hit #10 in 2006 with "Everytime We Touch."

46. Take a Bow - Glee Cast

Glee's back on the air now and if it becomes a hit (and I rather like it), I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the show scores another big hit. "Take a Bow" from last week's episode comes in just under the top 40. In the spring following the airing of the show's pilot, the cast hit #4 with "Don't Stop Believin'."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Madonna hits 40

Madonna has finally scored her 40th #1 hit on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart, with "Celebration" topping the chart that comes out tomorrow. She's 22 hits ahead of Janet Jackson in second place.

Billboard has a good article about it, which includes a list of all 40 #1s and how many weeks they spent at #1. Madonna's longest stays at #1 were 5 weeks with "Holiday/Lucky Star" and "Music." "Hung Up" and "Ray of Light" both spent 4 weeks at #1. American Life had the most dance #1s with 5 singles topping the chart, while singles from Music and Confessions on a Dancefloor collectively spent 9 weeks atop the chart for each album. Twenty-three of Madonna's dance #1s will appear on her upcoming greatest hits collection, Celebration.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

UK Singles Chart, Sept. 19, 2009

1. Boys and Girls - Pixie Lott

Pixie Lott forever ends her time as a one-hit wonder, blasting into the #1 spot with her second single "Boys and Girls" Her new album, Turn It Up, is out tomorrow, setting up quite a good battle on the album chart between that and Muse's new album, The Resistance. Three facts about "Boys and Girls": 1) It's the 21st single to top the UK chart this year--last year there were only 21 chart-toppers for the entire year, so 2009 is on course to have a lot more #1s than last year; 2) For the seventh week in a row the UK singles chart has had a different single at #1, the longest run since the beginning of 2005, when there was a span of 11 weeks where the #1 single was different every week; and 3) With this hit, Pixie Lott becomes the 6th artist to score a second #1 hit on the chart this year after Lady GaGa, Black Eyed Peas, Tinchy Stryder, David Guetta and Dizzee Rascal. That's quite a run of #1 multiples within a calendar year. Last year there were none. The record this decade was set in 2000 with 8: Westlife, Britney Spears, Madonna, Melanie C, Eminem, A1, All Saints, and Craig David.

2. Sexy Bitch - David Guetta Featuring Akon

David Guetta's new single is showing some staying power, climbing back up to #2 this week.

4. We Are Golden - Mika

Mika returns to the chart with a decent, but somewhat less successful position than one would expect from a major breakout artist. Two and a half years ago Mika launched in early 2007 as one of the most buzzed about new artists of the year, quickly topping the chart with his first major release, "Grace Kelly." Three other top 10 hits followed, plus a final top 20 hit. "We Are Golden" follows in the same over-the-top pop vein as many of his previous hits.

7. Left My Heart in Tokyo - Mini Viva

This track his been kicking around most of the summer, finally getting a proper release. This is another slam dunk hit from production due Xenomania.

9. Uprising - Muse

Muse lands their fourth top 10 hit with the first single from their new album, out tomorrow. Muse singles have a tendency to plunge in their second week. So considering that the focus will turn to the album, don't expect to see this anywhere near the top 10 next week.

15. Sweet Disposition - Temper Trap

Australian band Temper Trap is up 14 places this week with their first single. The album, Conditions, hit #9 in their home country a few months ago but they've not yet had a hit single on the Australian ARIA singles chart.

25. She Wolf - Shakira

Shakira returns with the first single from her upcoming album. It debuts on downloads this week, with the physical release coming in just over a week.

29. Lovegame - Lady GaGa

Also due for release on 9/21 is the fourth single from Lady GaGa. It was recently her third top 5 hit in the U.S. It's up two this week.

32. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight - U2

U2's third No Line on the Horizon single debuts at #32 this week. Their last single, "Magnificent," missed the top 40 altogether.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Britney Spears Greatest Hits

It is rumored that Britney Spears will release a second greatest hits collection this fall. Since she's only had 2 albums since her last collection, I'm assuming this will be career-spanning. From what I've read, like Madonna, there will be a 1-disc version and a 2-disc special edition. And because I love guessing what should be on greatest hits sets, here's what I'd recommend:

1 Disc

1. ...Baby One More Time
2. Sometimes
3. (You Drive Me) Crazy (single remix)
4. Born to Make You Happy
5. Oops!...I Did It Again
6. Lucky
7. Stronger
8. I'm a Slave 4 U
9. I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman
10. Toxic
11. Everytime
12. Gimme More
13. Piece of Me
14. Womanizer
15. Circus
16. If U Seek Amy
17. (new track)
18. (new track)

Deluxe disc

1. From the Bottom of My Broken Heart
2. Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know
3. Overprotected
4. Boys (single remix)
5. I Love Rock N Roll
6. Anticipating
7. Me Against the Music
8. Outrageous
9. My Prerogative
10. Do Something
11. Someday (I Will Understand)
12. Break the Ice
13. Radar
14. (remix of a new track single)
15. Bonus new track

Album Review: Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (3.5/5)

Maturity can create some interesting choices for bands. The Arctic Monkeys--Britain's most successful post-punk band--were just 20 years old when they released their massively successful debut Whatever You Think I Am, That's What I'm Not in 2006. That work, and it's similar 2007 follow-up Favourite Worst Nightmare, were characterized by short songs bursting with energy and attitude.

Humbug takes a new direction, trading in that raw youthful energy for a moodier sound delivered at a slower pace. It's an appropriate step for a band now in their mid '20s, and exploring new sounds, but is it as much fun? Yes and no. While I wasn't a fan at first, I grew to enjoy the band's little rants about life and love--or rather the lack thereof. So don't go looking for a "Brianstorm" or a "I Bet that You Look Good on the Dancefloor" because you won't find much of that here.

"My Propeller" quickly establishes this new sound with a dark mood, driven by a strong emphasis on the bass melody and a hushed vocal delivered at a rather slow pace. A rat-tat-tat of drums and guitar punch things up nicely for the chorus. "Crying Lightning's" bass line is also quite promiment. I'm really not sure what the song is about. In the past, I had trouble understanding lead singer Alex Turner, due to his rapid-fire delivery and thick accent. Now that's he's singing clearly and slowly, I still can't make out what he's saying, even with the lyrics sheet in front of me. ("your pastimes consisted of the strange, the twisted and deranged and I hate that little game you had called ‘crying lightning.’" Huh????)

"Secret Door," the album's first ballad, has a romantic '60s quality to it, but still retains a bit of an eerie sound. It's lack of an obvious chorus also make it feel like a stream of emotion, rather than a premeditated poem.

Much has been written about "Cornerstone," surely a future single. It's the album's most lovely melody--a break from the generally darker tone--and it's kind of a sad story too about a guy who can't forget the memory of a former flame and therefore tries to project her onto other girls. It's sandwiched between sinister "Fire and the Thud," which ups the reverb and reigns in the guitar, and "Dance Little Liar," which burns slowly before shifting to a final act dance beat and guitar solo. These are rather moody song, but satisfying nonetheless.

"Pretty Visitors" is closer to the old Arctic Monkeys--rapid-fire drumming, loud half-spoken vocal from Turner--but also features creepy organ music throughout. It's an odd one for sure. As is the softer final track "The Jeweller's Hands."

Credit for the band's new direction goes, in part, to producer Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Interesting though, that all three tracks produced by James Ford (who also produced Favourite Worst Nightmare) are among my favorites. I'm glad the band is willing to experiment, but I like them best when they show a little warmth.

Best: Cornerstone, My Propeller, Crying Lightning, Secret Door, Fire and the Thud

Best of 2000s: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas (4.5/5)

Mark Lanegan's deep raspy voice and Isobel Campbell's sweet soprano go together like whiskey and coke on this moody, folksy collaboration. The songs, mostly written by Campbell, effectively traverse a range of styles while creating a cohesive package. Dark guitar and strings melodies underpin plaintive tracks like "Black Mountain" and "Revolver," while "The False Husband's" deep bass guitar invokes the old west. It's easy to compare Lanegan to Johnny Cash, particularly on opener "Deus Ibi Est" and strutting "Ramblin' Man." While brooding country-esque melodies are fun, Campbell and Lanegan can do sweet songs too, like love duet "(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?" "Honey Child What Can I Do?" appealingly invokes '60s pop. This was not a major commercial album, although it did receive a Mercury Prize nomination. Definitely worth a listen.

Best: The False Husband, Honey Child What Can I Do?, Deus Ibi Est, Ramblin' Man, Black Mountain, (Do You Wanna) Come Walk with Me?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Personal Chart, Sept. 12, 2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas (5 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... Holiday - Dizzee Rascal
3 .... 5 .... Get Sexy - Sugababes
4 .... 1 .... You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift (1 wk @ #1)
5 .... 6 .... Celebration - Madonna
6 .... 7 .... Ready for the Weekend - Calvin Harris
7 .... 3 .... Remedy - Little Boots
8 ... 10 ... Sexy Bitch - David Guetta feat. Akon
9 .... 8 .... Good Girls Go Bad - Cobra Starship
10 ... 9 ... Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Billboard Hot 100, September 19, 2009

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas spend an 11th week a #1 with "I Gotta Feeling." That's just one week shy of the longest-running #1 hit of the year--the 12 weeks they spent at #1 with "Boom Boom Pow." Both tracks are from the album The E.N.D., which is only the second album ever to score two #1 hits that spent 10 weeks or more at #1. Santana's 1999 album, Supernatural, spawned "Smooth" (feat. Rob Thomas), which spent 12 weeks at #1, and "Maria Maria" (feat. The Product G&B), which spent 10 weeks at the top. I think a 12th week at #1 is possible, although with songs 2 through 5 bulleted this week, competition is strong.

2. Down - Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne
3. Party in the USA - Miley Cyrus
4. Run This Town - Jay-Z feat. Rihanna and Kanye West
5. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Here are those contenders. "Party in the USA" is still the biggest seller, but is behind in airplay. You'd think "Down" would have the strongest chance, being #2, but it is actually behind "I Gotta Feeling" in both sales and airplay. If I were a betting man, I'd say the Peas are a lock for a 12th week.

7. Obsessed - Mariah Carey

After spending the last 3 weeks at #11, Mariah Carey finally vaults into the top 10. This is her 27th top 10 hit. As first album singles go for Mariah Carey, #7 isn't too bad, and it will probably go higher. Her last, "Touch My Body," peaked at #1, but "It's Like That" managed only #16 (it was certainly no sign of what would come from The Emancipation of Mimi). All those blow "Through the Rain" out of the water, as it only peaked at a measly #81 (ouch).

9. Whatcha Say - Jason DeRulo

Jason DeRulo scores his first top 10 hit, as "Whatcha Say" climbs 4 spots this week.

39. Sweet Dreams - Beyonce

Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams" enters the top 40, up 7 notches. It is the 6th top 40 hit from I Am...Sasha Fierce; both of her prior albums managed just 4 top 40 hits each (and B'Day didn't get it until its special edition re-release). This is the singer's 18th top 40 hit.

Dance Chart

Over on the dance chart, I just wanted to note that La Roux has scored their first #1 hit in the US, as "Bulletproof" tops the club play chart this week.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Songs of My Lifetime: "Angels" - Robbie Williams

Angels (1997)
Written by Robbie Williams & Guy Chambers. Produced by Guy Chambers & Steve Power

Because Robbie Williams has a new album coming out soon, I decided to give his back catalog a listen. Walking home after getting off the Metro yesterday, "Angels" came on my iPod, and I was reminded of what a truly brilliant pop song it is. It has an absolutely gorgeous melody, composed principally of piano, but building with strings and eventually guitar during the choruses and middle section. It is a perfect embodiment of the "wall of sound" approach to pop music--the style that emerged in the '60s where a song adds layer after layer until it's hard to tell them all apart.

I first became acquainted with "Angels" in early 1998 when I was studying abroad in London. It was one of my favorite songs during that pivotal time, when I was truly introduced to British pop music, beyond the few songs that managed to cross the Atlantic to also become U.S. hits. It was on the radio constantly, and although it was never a #1 hit, I consider it the biggest hit during that time, and certainly many would agree it's among the greatest (if not the greatest) British pop songs released in the last 20 or so years (let the debate begin!).

"Angels" was also a pivotal single for the man himself. After launching his solo career with a remake of George Michael's "Freedom" and releasing the first Life Thru a Lens single, "Old Before I Die"--both of which peaked at #2--subsequent singles from Life Thru a Lens failed to match such success, with "Lazy Days" hitting only #8 and "South of the Border" landing outside the top 10. At the same time as his chart prospects spiraled downward, so did Williams' life, as he battled drug addiction and mental illness. "Angels" turned that all around though, cementing what has become a rather amazing solo career that actually (in my opinion) has managed to eclipse his time with Take That.

Any doubts about his viability vanished with this single, which was followed by a string of top 10 and #1 hits, as well as successful albums. In 1999, "Angels" became Robbie's first single to win the Brit Award for best British single--an award he won in 3 consecutive years for "She's the One" in 2000 and "Rock DJ" in 2001. Although Robbie has never managed to take off in the U.S., "Angels" was one of his few singles that actually charted in America, peaking at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #25 at top 40 radio. Due to his relatively unpopularity here, I was lucky to see him perform in 1999 at the 9:30 club in D.C., a rather small venue for such a major international star. I stood in the front of the balcony, and I remember "Angels" was the highlight of the evening as we all sang along.

Because I liked the song so much, I picked up the sheet music and learned to play "Angels" on my keyboard, and convinced my band to add it to our setlist (have I mentioned that I was in a band? That's a story for another time). Although it wasn't one of our strongest tunes, learning to play the piano part made me appreciate the musical structure of the song, particularly Guy Chambers' songwriting, which frequently produces strong piano-based melodies ("Demons" by Brian McFadden" or "Out of the Blue" by Delta Goodrem, for example).

Listening to "Angels" again yesterday, I was reminded of all these reasons why this is one of the great songs of my lifetime, so I decided to write about it in what will be the first of an occasional look at those songs I feel have had the most impact on me. But most of all, walking up Connecticut Avenue yesterday, I just enjoyed how good it is, with the hair on my arms literally standing on end during soaring instrumental section and final chorus.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Robbie Williams "Bodies"

So many great new songs coming out! Here's the latest from Robbie Williams, "Bodies," the first single from his first album in 3 years, Reality Killed the Video Star. There are snippets of the video floating around YouTube.

Leona Lewis "Happy"

Leona Lewis's upcoming single "Happy," the first release from her second album, Echo, is getting its Radio 1 premiere today during The Chart Show. It's already leaked on the Web though, so check it out. It's quite lovely. Sounds like another Ryan Tedder effort.

Album Review: Whitney Houston - I Look to You (4/5)

It's been about 10 years since Whitney Houston was a major presence in pop music. During that time, under the gaze of tabloids and her own reality TV show, Houston battled drug addiction and the crumbling of her marriage to Bobby Brown. At some points it seemed she had sunk so low--such as a public appearance where she appeared scarily thin--that I would not have been surprised to read an overdose headline with tragic consequences.

Thankfully, Whitney Houston proved herself to be a fighter, and over the course of the last few years has pulled herself and her career together, under the watchful eye of mentor/producer Clive Davis. Davis has been promising for years that Whitney was working on her great comeback album and that it would be a knockout. A knockout it is not, but a pretty great comeback it is.

I Look to You is populated with a mix of ballads and more upbeat songs, although generally the album's vibe is smooth R&B-flavored pop, so there's no real stompers. Nor are there any ballads with the soaring vocal histrionics that typified Houston's past work. It seems the physical abuse she's put her body through has taken its toll on her voice. It doesn't sound the same and doesn't seem able to achieve what it used to. It's still pretty damn great though and certainly better than many (when you start at the top, if you fall a little bit, you're still much higher than everyone else). If she's playing it safe in the middle, it's a good place for her to be right now.

Thematically, the songs are also a mix of those that address head on her life's experiences and those that are just fun pop songs. Opening track "Million Dollar Bill," written and produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, starts things off on the right foot. The upbeat track has a great bass line and fun retro-'70s sound. Whitney sounds--like she's having a lot of fun, and you will too. "Nothin' But Love," another upbeat track follows with a more purely modern production from Danja and Fernando Garibay. Although Whitney has never been a songwriter, its clear that many of these songs have been crafted to express the singer personally, and this song addresses how, despite her detractors and hardships, she won't let them get her down.

The next few songs are slower, smoother, but also satisfying. Stargate-produced ballad "Call You Tonight" is a sexy mid-tempo ballad with a minor key and a even a bit of twangy guitar to give it a slight country nod. While not an immediate standout, this song has really grown on me. "I Look to You," the album's first single, is a understated piano-based ballad about the power of faith. It's a simple, but lovely little song written by R. Kelly. "Like I Never Left" is a collaboration with Akon, a rather sweet song from an unexpected matchup that can be read as either a plea to a former or Houston's fans to give her a chance because she's back.

The torchy remake of "A Song for You" starts out a slow piano ballad and builds to a frothy disco chorus. "A Song for the Drag Queens" is more like it. It's the album's fastest song and quite a bit of fun. I wasn't really into "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" when it was leaked as a preview track over the summer, but really, it's not a bad song, and it's probably the album's most vocally challenging track.

It's in the last third that the album sags a bit. "Worth It" it is a smooth love song, not as good as the ones at the beginning of the album. It's followed by "For the Lovers," another Danja-produced dance pop track that is decent but unremarkable. Akon and R. Kelly also show again with "I Got You" and "Salute" respectively, neither of which are as good as the other tracks they produced.

While some songs are definitely better than others, there's no bad one here, a real improvement over her last, disappointing 2002 album Just Whitney. I'm really quite impressed that Whitney has mounted such a successful comeback with I Look to You. I've always been a big fan and I'm really glad she pulled it together. Grammy recognition is sure to follow.

Best: Million Dollar Bill, Nothin' But Love, I Look to You, I Didn't Know My Own Strength, Call You Tonight, A Song for You

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Album Reviews: Calvin Harris and David Guetta

Over the course of the last few years, dance music has lost its special place on the UK singles chart, with dance #1s being infrequent rather than a staple of the chart. This year, however, dance music has regaining a lot of ground on the charts, thanks to Calvin Harris, David Guetta, and (interestingly enough) Dizzee Rascal.

But while dance acts are great for the singles chart, they don't generally produce very satisfying albums. With Harris and Guetta's albums having been released recently (and Rascal's is on the way), I wanted to see whether they could buck that trend too. Unfortunately no, but that doesn't mean there is some fun to be had on both discs.

Of the two, Calvin Harris's Ready for the Weekend is the more satisfying. "The Rain" throws in a very '80s-sounding saxophone solo in the middle section, despite not sounding like an '80s dance song. Current hit "Ready for the Weekend" is a worthy, energetic follow-up to the album's best track, recent #1 hit "I'm Not Alone." "Stars Come Out" and "You Used to Hold Me" are similarly disco-fueled ditties, with sharp beats and synth effects. There's a definite pop sensibility to these songs, which is perhaps why they play so well on the radio. Aptly titled "Flashback" has a retro '90s vibe (it's the keyboards that do it). Speaking of Dizzee Rascal, his "Dance Wiv Me" shows up, since Harris produced it.

Less exciting are "Blue" and "Relax," which begin with guitar before transitioning to their its blurts, bleats, and beats, "Worst Day," which lacks as strong a melody of most of the earlier tunes, and "Burns Night," which goes for chill, but not impressively so. The latter half the of the album is generally not as strong as the first, although I do like the layered melody of "Limits" and the piano of "Siliconeater."

David Guetta's One Love arrives similarly with a #1 hit already under its belt--the likable Kelly Rowland collaboration "When Love Takes Over"--and recently scored a second #1, "Sexy Bitch" with Akon. While both artists are essentially DJ-producers, Guetta fades from the spotlight more than Harris, perhaps because he favors more famous guests (Kid Cudi, Ne-Yo, Will.I.Am and Esetelle, in addition to those already mentioned). "Gettin' Over" sounds suspiciously like Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." No surprise there, given that Guetta produced the Peas' massive current hit, which also shows up here in a (barely) remixed form. It's inclusion actually undermines the album a bit, making it feel more like a singles collection than a cohesive work.

"Missing You" is a pretty decent club track, with a charging synth beat and auto-tuned vocals. Kelly Rowland shows up again on the less interesting "It's The Way You Love Me," as well as the downright annoying "Choose," which benefits neither from her or Ne-Yo's efforts. "On the Dancefloor," not a Kylie remake, probably sounds great at 2 a.m. in a club when you're high out of your mind, but I'm too old and clean to confirm or deny that. In general, One Love is more straight up dance club than pop, and as such is less satisfying for me than Harris's record.

Ready for the Weekend (3.5/5). Best: I'm Not Alone, Ready for the Weekend, You Used to Hold Me, Flashback. One Love (3/5). Best: When Love Takes Over, Sexy Bitch, Missing You

Best of 2000s: Keane - Under the Iron Sea (4.5/5)

Keane almost fell apart around the time of this album. That there was trouble brewing is evident its overall darker tone and louder sound when compared to their ebullient debut, Hopes and Fears. Under the Iron Sea succeeds with a sound similar to its predecessor and strong songwriting. In particular, "A Bad Dream" is my favorite song Keane has recorded yet--a gorgeous and moving ballad about a soldier's wartime despair. The album opens with the rather experimental "Atlantic," followed by hit single "Isn't It a Wonder," an upbeat track much peppier than anything on their debut. "Put It Behind You" is another upbeat standout, not too dissimilar from a Hopes and Fears track ("Bend and Break"). Although their third album didn't nearly impress me as much as their first two, I'm hopeful they have another great album in them. Best: A Bad Dream, Atlantic, Isn't It a Wonder, Nothing in My Way, Put It Behind You, Leaving So Soon.

Billboard Hot 100, September 12, 2009

1. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" scores its 10th week at #1. This is only the second time in Hot 100 history that two back-to-back #1 hits have spent 10 or more consecutive weeks at #1. The last time it happened was the summer and fall of 2005, when Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together's" 10 consecutive weeks at #1 was followed by 10 consecutive weeks at #1 for Kanye West's "Gold Digger."

2. Down - Jay Sean ft. Lil Wayne
4. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Jay Sean is up a notch to #2. Will it be the one to finally unseat Black Eyed Peas? Maybe, although I have a suspicion that "I Gotta Feeling" is still way ahead of Sean in combined sales and airplay. Kings of Leon might be a better bet, who reach a new peak at #4 this week. This is the second week in row in which there are no new entries in the top 10.

11. Obsessed - Mariah Carey

Poor Mariah. This is "Obsessed's" fourth week at #1. It so desperately wants to be a top 10 hit, but just isn't.

13. Whatcha Say - Jason DeRulo

Jason DeRulo makes a nice 11-spot jump to #13 with "Whatcha Say," this week's digital gainer. Last week, I compared this to Imogen Heap, and I later found out that the song actually does sample her song "Hide and Seek."

18. Fallin' for You - Colbie Caillat

This single debuted at #12 weeks ago and then spent the last 6 weeks outside the top 40. It rockets back in a big way--up 28 notches.

27. Be on You - Flo Rida ft. Ne-Yo

Flo Rida scores his 6th top 40 hit and third from his second album. First time I heard this song I was rather taken aback for having mistaken the first letter of the title for a "p." This is Ne-Yo's 13th top 40 appearance.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Personal Chart, Sept. 5, 2009

By request, this week I'm posting the whole top 40:

TW ... LW .... Title - Artist
1 …. 2 …. You Belong with Me - Taylor Swift (1 week @ #1)
2 …. 1 …. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas (4 wks @ #1)
3 …. 3 …. Remedy - Little Boots
4 …. 9 …. Holiday - Dizzee Rascal
5 … 12 … Get Sexy - Sugababes
6 …. 8 .… Celebration - Madonna
7 … 10 … Ready for the Weekend - Calvin Harris
8 …. 6 …. Good Girls Go Bad - Cobra Starship
9 …. 5 …. Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
10 … 20 … Sexy Bitch - David Guetta Featuring Akon

11 … 4 …. Knock You Down - Keri Hilson Featuring Kanye West & Ne-Yo
12 … 13 … Never Leave You - Tinchy Stryder Featuring Amelle Berrabah
13 … 7 …. Beat Again - JLS
14 … 11 … 22 - Lily Allen
15 … 15 … Sweet Dreams - Beyoncé
16 … 18 … Down - Jay Sean Featuring Lil Wayne
17 … 22 … Party in the USA - Miley Cyrus
18 … 26 … Young Wild Hearts - Noisettes
19 … 19 … She Wolf - Shakira
20 … 14 … Waking Up in Vegas - Katy Perry

21 … 25 … Obsessed - Mariah Carey
22 … 16 … Lovegame - Lady GaGa (2 wks @ #1)
23 … 23 … Strawberry Swing - Coldplay
24 … 17 … Bulletproof - La Roux (2 wks @ #1)
25 … 21 … 21 Guns - Green Day
26 … 32 … We Are Golden - Mika
27 … 27 … Impossible - Daniel Merriweather
28 … 37 … I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight - U2
29 … 35 … Already Gone - Kelly Clarkson
30 … 24 … In for the Kill - La Roux

31 … 33 … Uprising - Muse
32 <> Million Dollar Bill - Whitney Houston
33 … 31 … Paparazzi - Lady GaGa
34 … 40 … Boys and Girls - Pixie Lott
35 … 34 … Get Shaky - Ian Carey Project
36 … 39 … The Day I Died - Just Jack
37 <> New York - Paloma Faith
38 <> Bad Boys - Alexandra Burke Featuring Flo Rida
39 <> I'm Not Your Toy - La Roux
40 … 28 … Battlefield - Jordin Sparks