Saturday, January 31, 2009

February New Albums Releases

This was a better than average January, with critics fawning over the new Bruce Springsteen, a pretty good debut from White Lies, and the long-awaited (although a bit disappointing) return by Franz Ferdinand. Lily Allen has this months hottest release. Here's what's on tap for February:

Feb 2/3

The Fray - The Fray. Denver-based band that wooed the world a couple of years ago with "How to Save a Life" returns with their second album. "You Found Me" is currently climbing the top 40 and Hot AC radio charts.

50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct. A little over a year after his third album, Curtis (the one that went head-to-head with Kanye West's Graduation), Fiddy comes out with his fourth release. The rapper's hit power was waned a bit of late. Curtis had only one major hit, the Justin Timberlake collaboration "Ayo Technology," and this new album has yet to land a major hit single.

The View - Which Bitch? Scottish band The View, who scored a Mercury nomination with their 2007 debut Hats Off to the Buskers, return with album #2. I'm not hearing much buzz about this, surprisingly.

Feb 9/10

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You. The buzz is deafening on this one. Certainly British pop singer Lily Allen's second album is the release of the month. This weekend, the album's first single "The Fear" looks set to top the UK's singles chart. The snippets I've heard are very promising.

Missy Elliott - Block Party. Finally this is supposed to be released, delayed almost a year now. No hit single in advance though, which isn't a good sign.

Feb 16/17

Morrissey - Years of Refusal. Morrissey returns with his 10th solo album.

Feb 23/24

Empire of the Sun - Walking on a Dream. Australian band Empire of the Sun serves up the sort of '80s-inspired psychedelia-laced pop melodies that propelled MGMT to stardom last year. They've already landed one important accolaide: making the BBC Sounds of 2009 top 10 at #4. I actually already have this album (I bought the Australian release), and it's pretty decent.

The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die. The Prodigy release their fifth album, the follow-up to 2004 release Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.

Erasure - Total Pop. In 1992, Erasure released Pop!, a collection of their hit singles to date. Now, 17 years later we get Total Pop, a two-disc set that features Pop! as its first disc and all their hit singles since 1992 as its second. Of course they haven't been as big during that time, but have a few notable hits like "Always," "In My Arms," and "Solsbury Hill."

Album review: Franz Ferdinand - Tonight (3.5/5)

Franz Ferdinand's enjoyable first two albums boasted a good dose of attitude and memorable pop hooks. Sadly, their new album, Tonight, features much less of both, and while the lack of the former may just be a sign of maturity, the lack of the second makes the album a disappointment, particularly after having to wait over 3 years since You Could Have It So Much Better.

That's not to say it's a bad album, it's just not what I was hoping for. "Ulysses" is the groovy opener, pulsing with synthesizer effects and the band's signature disco swagger; however, it lacks the energy of prior hits like "Do You Want to" and "Take Me Out," but it's pretty good. "Turn It On" has a little more energy, but still isn't very memorable. "No You Girls" is perhaps the first promising track here, it's got an assertive dance rhythm propelled by keyboard bass notes and drums and a good shake-your-ass and clap-your-hands chorus. "No You Girls'" energy drains away though for trippy "Send Him Away."

Piano and '80s keyboards form the backbone of "Twilight Omens," another of the album's better tracks. It's too short though, and followed by "Bite Hard," which is about as hard-hitting as anything here, but other than its transitional synth riff, lacks much melody. I'm not wild about "What She Came For," which is also surprisingly devoid of a good pop melody. "Live Alone," however, is pretty cool. It's upbeat and dance-y, but kind of dark, with a great melody.

The final third of the album, like the other two, is a mix of the good and the "just okay." Count "Can't Stop Feeling" in the second category, where an annoying raspy synth effect appears to have eaten the song's prospect for a proper chorus, as well as slow and dreary "Dream Again." Final track "Katherine Kiss Me," although also a slow song, but it's actually pretty lovely.

The real oddity here is "Lucid Dreams." The song was released as an early preview track in September, but on the album it gets a dramatic makeover, including a new intro, a very long (like 4 minutes) instrumental second half, and a sharper '70s-sounding arrangement. The constantly shifting song may seem a bit schizophrenic, but it's actually pretty exciting that there's something this experimental here.

If you listen carefully there are things to enjoy about Tonight, but for a band who once sang about "the dark of the matinee," I feel like I shouldn't have to work so hard. Their sense of fun was so prominent before, particularly on Franz Ferdinand, and disco/rock should be fun, so why does it sound so forced this time?

Best: No You Girls, Live Alone, Ulysses, Twilight Omens, Lucid Dreams

Best of 2000s: Radiohead - Kid A (4.5/5)

Kid A is a brilliantly weird album that took me about 3 years to embrace, but I'm so glad I finally did. The experimental album, a blend of electronic and traditional rock sounds, pushed Radiohead in a new and unusual direction with very positive results. "Everything in Its Right Place" is one of my favorite electronic sounds, a lovely almost eerie sound is achieved by the layering of synth chords and distorted voices. "How to Disappear Completely" is similar, but even more melancholic, opening with creepy synths and sad acoustic guitar strumming. Depression never sounded better. While a few tracks get a little too strange--"Treefingers" and "Kid A" sound like the kind of music that plays in the background of a weird modern art exhibit--the music works as a coherent album, despite all the different directions it takes.

Best: Everything in Its Right Place, How to Disappear Completely, The National Anthem, Morning Bell, Idioteque, Optimistic, In Limbo

Friday, January 30, 2009

Personal Chart, 1/30/2009

TW LW Title - Artist

1 .... 2 .... Single Ladies - Beyonce (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 6 .... The Fear - Lily Allen
3 .... 3 .... Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado
4 .... 1 .... Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis (2 wks @ #1)
5 .... 7 .... Issues - The Saturdays
6 .... 9 .... Circus - Britney Spears
7 .... 8 .... Heartless - Kanye West
8 .... 4 .... The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud
9 .... 5 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears (2 wks @ #1)
10 .. 12 ... Sober - Pink

Madonna loses dance record

A couple of weeks ago I jumped the gun in predicting that Madonna might score her 40th #1 hit on the dance chart. As it turned out, "Miles Away" peaked at #2, and this week falls out of the top 10. So far now, Madge still has (just) 39 #1 hits on the dance chart. This ends her run of 17 consecutive official singles that topped the dance chart (during that time, unofficial singles also charted on the dance chart, including one--"Impressive Instant"--that was also a #1 hit).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, 2/7/2009

1. My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson

I already wrote yesterday about this achievement and have nothing more to say, other than it's nice to see Kelly Clarkson bounce back from her near career-killing mistakes during the release of her last album, My December. My December is not a bad album--I rather liked it--but Clarkson did herself no favors when she publicly denounced Clive Davis, nor delivered a worthy follow-up single to "Never Again."

4. Heartless - Kanye West

Kanye West slips a notch, but he's still gaining on the chart, winning this week's airplay gainer for "Heartless."

8. You Found Me - The Fray

The Fray scores their third top 10 hit with "You Found Me," up eight spots to #8 and this week's sales gainer.

17. Untouched - The Veronicas

The Veronicas finally move into the top 20 with "Untouched." The single caught my attention about a month ago. It's had been steadily climbing at top 40 radio, although lately it's stalled a bit in the teens.

32. Poker Face - Lady GaGa

Just as she falls from #1, Lady GaGa shores up her chart prospects by landing her second top 40 hit with "Poker Face," up 16 notches this week.

35. Turnin' Me On - Keri Hilson Featuring Lil Wayne

After flopping with last year's "Energy," Keri Hilson finally lands a hit with "Turnin' Me On," which moves into the top 40 this ewek. Hilson is best-known for her 2007 #3 hit with Timbaland, "The Way I Are."

37. Get On Your Boots - U2

U2 scores their first top 40 hit in over 4 years with "Get On Your Boots," a Hot 100 debut at #37. Their last appearance in the top 40 was with "Vertigo," the first single from their Grammy Award-winning album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (an apt theme for last night's Lost episode), which peaked at #31. It's been a long time since U2's had a major hit in the US. Even "Beautiful Day" only peaked at #21 on Hot 100.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kelly to top Hot 100, break record

Billboard has let us know early that Kelly Clarkson will top tomorrow's new Hot 100 chart with "My Life Would Suck Without You," the first single from her upcoming fourth album, All I Ever Wanted. The single, which was #1 at iTunes all last week and is gaining very quickly at radio, makes a 96-spot leap to #1 from last week's #97 spot, breaking the record for biggest jump to #1 (set recently by Britney Spears, who jumped from #96 to #1 with "Womanizer"). Eventually, as J.Mensah points out, someone will jump 100 to 1 and this whole "biggest jump to #1" record business will be moot.

This is Clarkson's second #1 hit, following her debut "A Moment Like This," which incidentally also broke the "jump to #1" record in 2002 when it moved from #52 to #1. While "Miss Indepedent" and her Breakaway singles (particularly "Since U Been Gone") are surely regarded as bigger hits, they all came out before the recent resurgence in singles sales (thanks to iTunes) and at that time would have had a hard time hitting #1.

Speech! Speech! has a different take on the significance of this #1 hit.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BRIT Award Nominees

I totally forgot to talk about the BRIT Award nominees over the weekend. They are out!

Best British Album:

Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
Duffy - Rockferry
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing

Isn't interesting how the criteria for the BRIT album and single awards are clearly quite different? While the singles list has a heavy sales component (almost exclusively it seems), the albums list takes a more qualitative approach. Hence Mercury-nominated Seldom Seen Kid elbows its way (he he) onto this list, as does Grammy nominee In Rainbows, along with Britain's best-selling album of 2008, Duffy's Rockferry, the top contender. However, don't count out Coldplay, who are also nominated for a best album Grammy (for the first time), and have won this BRIT award for every one of their previous three albums. How interesting would it be that the first time Coldplay doesn't win the BRIT they instead win the Grammy? The Ting Tings are happy just to be nominated. Take That were not nominated for Circus, but perhaps they will be next year (Beautiful World was nominated the year after it was released).

Best international album:

AC/DC - Black Ice
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The Killers - Day & Age
Kings of Leon - Only By The Night
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

This is a real mix of the super popular (Kings of Leon, The Killers) and the indie (Fleet Foxes, MGMT), all American this time, and all bands (No Pink or Ne-Yo). I suppose Kings of Leon is the obvious frontrunner, with MGMT the dark horse. (Addendum: As John points out, AC/DC is Australian, so this is like last year then, 4 Yanks and an Aussie--last year it was Kylie).

Best British single:

Adele - Chasing Pavements
Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Dizzee Rascal featuring Calvin Harris - Dance Wiv Me
Duffy - Mercy
Estelle featuring Kanye West - American Boy
Girls Aloud - The Promise
Leona Lewis - Better In Time
Scouting For Girls - Heartbeat
The X Factor Finalists - Hero

I love that this category generally has 10 nominees. It's pretty easy to predict: look at the list of the best-selling singles in the UK for the year. Start down the list and keep track of all the British acts, then switch up a couple. So we get Leona's "Better in Time" instead of her bigger hit "Run," and Scouting for Girls' "Heartbeat" instead of The Ting Ting's "That's Not My Name" (even though Ting Tings got an album nod...odd). "Mercy" seems the obvious frontrunner, but I wouldn't count out "American Boy."

What the world doesn't need...

...A Nick Lachey remake of Take That's "Patience."



...A Thriller musical (where Michael Jackson will "participate in every aspect of the creative process").

...Paris Hilton hanging out with Amy Winehouse.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 1/31/2009

1. Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis

Britain continues to be gaga over Lady Gaga, keeping her "Just Dance" at the singles chart summit for a third week. Could this be her last? She has a very serious challenge in Lily Allen's return single "The Fear," out in stores tomorrow.

3. Take Me Back - Tinchy Stryder Featuring Taio Cruz

The biggest mover within the top 40 is Tinchy Stryder's "Take Me Back," up 36 spots to #3. It straddles dance pop and hip-hop in a way that seems very hot at the moment. It's not too disimilar from this week's #2 single, Kid Cudi & Crookers' "Day 'N' Nite." With a little more Euro flair, T.I. could sound like this.

9. Sober - Pink

Another big mover on the chart this week is Pink, who rises 27 spots to #9 with "Sober," becoming her 14th UK top 10 hit. It follows up #1 single "So What." Dare I say that only #9 for this single is bit disappointing? As such, it's the lowest Pink has ever charted with an album's second single (If you count "Trouble" as the second single from Try This after the Charlie's Angels 2 release "Feel Good Time").

10. Heartless - Kanye West

Slowly but surely "Heartless" has been inching up the chart from #14 to #11 and now finally #10, making it Kanye West's 12th top 10 single (counting his featured appearances on other's works). Here's a rundown of his previous 11 top 10 hits:

Through the Wire #9
Slow Jamz (Twista) #3
All Falls Down #10
Talk About Our Love (Brandy) #6
Diamonds From Sierra Leone #8
Gold Digger #2
Touch the Sky #6
Stronger #1
American Boy (Estelle) #1
Homecoming #9
Love Lockdown #8

13. Breathe Slow - Alesha Dixon

Alesha Dixon's new single "Breathe Slow" looks ready to break into the top 10 well ahead of its Feb. 9 single release. It's up 10 notches this week.

20. Ulysses - Franz Ferdinand

British indie pop band Franz Ferdinand returns to the chart with the first single from their new album Tonight, out tomorrow. It's been two a half years since the band last had a single on the charts, having taken a significant break between their new album and their last, You Could Have It So Much Better. Sadly, their return doesn't seem very triumphant so far, as "Ulysses" limps into the chart at #20, a raher poor showing for the group. While the single is no "Take Me Out" or "Do You Want To," I'd have thought they'd have at least been good for the lower half of the top 10. Surely the album will do, but this signals a certain amount of disinterest in the band's return. Perhaps they were gone too long?

28. One Step at a Time - Jordin Sparks

Jordin Sparks is up 10 spots this week to #28 with her third UK single, following up "Tattoo," which hit #24. This single was released in the US last summer (and it was a big hit), so it doesn't excite me much at this point. It's no "No Air" for sure.

34. To Lose My Life - White Lies

The UK's newest indie rock band may have the country's #1 album this week, but its single just hasn't taken off, rising one place to #34. It's probably the album's best shot at a hit single too, so this is disappointing.

Album review: White Lies - To Lose My Life (4/5)


London-based White Lies is one of the first new acts of 2009 with a credible amount of buzz. Their debut album, To Lose My Life, is set to top the UK albums chart this weekend, despite their first single of the same name failing to become a major hit and somewhat lukewarm reviews. Perhaps critics are beginning to tire of all the new-wave indie rock bands--there certainly have been many lately. And while I may be looking for something new as well, I'm still willing to indulge a good jam session with a guitar and a keyboard.

"Death" is a pleasing opening track that transitions through electric guitar, synth and piano sections over a chugging guitar rhythm. "To Lose My Life" is even better--a pulsing new wave guitar and synths rhythm with a dark underpinning. The most obvious comparisons musically are The Killers or The Editors, but thematically White Lies takes a more goth approach, pondering mortality at every turn ("Let's grow old together and die at the same thing" is the wish expressed in the title track).

"A Place to Hide" is similar, with a bit of Arcade Fire flavor, dissolving into a distant rumble of guitar feedback at the end. "Fifty on Our Foreheads" shows more restraint, opening with bass guitar against a synth background. It's a good showcase for frontman singer-guitarist Harry McVeigh's vocals; he's got a pleasingly deep voice, but can also hit those high notes when needed. He's one-third of the band, which also includes Charles Cave on bass and Jack Lawrence-Brown on drums.

"Unfinished Business" has a good dramatic sweep to it, opening with organ and building with the guitars and drum flourishes later. It tells the story of a man about to die who pleads for more time with his girl so they can "dance" and "kiss like (they) used to." "E.S.T" also has a big, dark sound. They skirt close to Depeche Mode territory, but never seem to cross over, their light synths keeping the gloom in check just enough to stay upbeat. This could be a good thing or a failing, depending on whether you think the upbeat new wave sound is fitting or if it inhibits their music from matching the darkness of their lyrics.

"From the Stars" is a slower track, and I thought it unimpressive until the stringed middle section, which is a cool touch. "Farewell to the Fairground" kicks the tempo back up with bursts of electric guitar during the chorus constrasting with the dreamier synth-backed verses. Here they sound a bit like The Cars, with McVeigh intoning "keep on running, there's no place like home."

"Nothing to Give" shuts off the drums and turns up the synths as McVeigh goes for the album's most emotional moment. It's a grand gesture some may find grandiose, but I actually don't mind it. I particularly like the second verse through the chorus, which has mysterious synth chords and a nice musical build through the chorus. It's probably the best of the album's latter tracks, which aren't bad, but not quite as good as the first half. Final track "The Price of Love" starts with a dark Western sound before picking up the guitar tempo after the first chorus and later mixing in the strings for an earnest big finish.

To Lose My Life isn't a knockout, but it is a worthy first effort. Another decent '80s-loving new wave indie set.

Best: To Lose My Life, Death, Unfinished Business, Nothing to Give, The Price of Love

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Press Reviews of Upcoming New Albums

Reviews are trickling in for high-profile album releases over the next few weeks:

Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Reviews appear to be mostly positive, however not as glowing as they were for their debut or second albums. Spin gives it a 3.5/5, calling it the band's "boldest attempt at a full-on disco record." The Guardian is less enthusiastic, giving it 3/5 and saying "You sense that compromises have been made between the desire to do something artistically challenging and the desire to retain both continuity and fanbase, and that, often, the compromise reached is the wrong one." EW gives it a B+ and says "New sounds show up gradually over the course of Franz Ferdinand's third album," but "those flourishes never add up to a radical reinvention."

Working on a Dream - Bruce Springsteen. RollingStone gives the album 5 stars--a rating that no new album received last year, in fact the last album that earned 5 stars was Bruce Springsteen's Magic. RS says the disc is "the richest of the three great rock albums Springsteen has made this decade with the E Street Band"--the others being Magic and The Rising. Spin isn't nearly as kind, giving it 3 stars and saying it "plays like the sunlit counterpart to (Magic)," but "bliss isn't the Boss' bag."

It's Not Me, It's You - Lily Allen. Finally, The Observer posted a very early and very flattering 5-star review of Lily Allen's new album, saying "It's Not Me, It's You is a wonderful record, and, better than that, a pop album brave enough to have a go at defining the times."

Best of 2000s: Madonna - Music (5/5)

Music was Madonna's first collaboration with Mirwais, who would go to also produce most of American Life. The album is one of the singer's best, further exploring a European dance pop sensibility, but with a rougher, rawer sound than she created with William Orbit on Ray of Light. While that album opened with the subdued "Drowned World," Music takes us straight into the action with the hard-hitting title track, to date Madonna's last #1 hit in the U.S. Clubby "Impressive Instant" follows. Other highlights are the upbeat guitar-oriented "Don't Tell Me" and the mellower acoustic guitar-backed "I Deserve It," the Orbit-produced "Amazing" (which sounds a lot like "Beautiful Stranger") and the slower songs "What It Feels Like for a Girl" and "Gone." Bottom line--this is the best album Madonna has released this decade.

While I generally don't form strong associations with albums, this is an exception. In October 2000, the organization I worked for sent me to Portland, Oregon to work on a campaign against an anti-gay ballot measure, and I listened to this constantly driving to and from work, so I always really associate Music with the "No on 9" campaign. I'm sure Madonna would approve.

Best: Music, Don't Tell Me, Amazing, I Deserve It, What It Feels Like for a Girl, Impressive Instant, Gone

Friday, January 23, 2009

Personal Chart, 1/23/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis
2 .... 4 .... Single Ladies - Beyonce
3 .... 3 .... Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado
4 .... 5 .... The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud
5 .... 2 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears
6 .... 8 .... The Fear - Lily Allen
7 .... 12 ... Issues - The Saturdays
8 ... 10 ... Heartless - Kanye West
9 ... 11 ... Circus - Britney Spears
10 .. 6 .... Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Nominees!

The Oscar nominees were announced today. Since I did an exhaustive post predicting the nominees, I'll go over what I thought were the biggest surprises and snubs:

Surprises

1. Best Picture: The Reader. I'm not a big fan of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon or The Dark Knight, so going into the nominees I was hoping one would be knocked out in a surprise upset. Thankfully I got my wish as The Reader, not a top favorite, but a worthy movie, knocked the caped crusader from the list.

2. Best Actor: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor. I was crossing my fingers he'd get in and he did. If you haven't seen it, this is a great movie, and Jenkins is fantastic in it.

3. Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader. It's no surprise Kate Winslet got a best actress nomination, but most people were expecting it would happen for Revolutionary Road, due to her studio pushing her for supporting actress for The Reader in an effort to keep her from competing with herself. The Academy saw through this ploy and honored her work in the lead category it deserves. And frankly, while she was amazing in both movies, I'm glad she got in for this one.

4. Best Actress: Melissa Leo, Frozen River. After Sally Hawkins won the comedy/musical globe, I was sure she'd have the best shot of landing a nomination from a smaller film, but instead it's Leo, which I'm very happy with, as I loved Frozen River. I was pleased the film got a screenplay nod too.

5. Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road. The buzz was that Dev Patel would be in the "fifth" slot, and while I really liked him a lot in Slumdog Millionaire, I'm glad Shannon got recognized, as he was excellent.

6. Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Doubt. With Winslet's The Reader out of the running, Amy Adams is the winner, joining her co-star Viola Davis in the category.

Snubs

1. Gran Torino. This was one of my favorite films of last year, and it didn't get a single nomination.

2. Best Picture: The Dark Knight. It's not a snub I'm upset about, but a lot of people were hoping it would happen.

3. Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino. He was amazing in this film, which he's indicated will be his last major role. He should have been in there instead of Brad.

4. Best Actress: Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long. Thomas has been in the limelight much since her best actress nomination in 1997 for The English Patient, but this was a really great role for her, and it should have been recognized. I haven't seen Changeling, but is Angelina really more deserving? (Brangelina made out well today, to my chagrin).

5. Original Screenplay: Vicky Christina Barcelona. Woody Allen usually does well in this category, and I expected he'd show up again.

Other observations:

Doubt received four acting nominations but not a best picture nomination, which hasn't happened before in my lifetime. Several films have had three acting nominations without a best picture nod: Iris, Adaptation, Bullets Over Broadway, Victor Victoria, and Only When I Laugh

Billboard Hot 100, 1/31/2009

1. Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis

Not much excitement on the Hot 100 this week. The top 5 stays exactly the same with Lady GaGa spending a third week at #1.

6. Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects

All-American Rejects are up four spots to #6 this week, making "Gives You Hell" now their highest charting single ahead of "It Ends Tonight," which peaked at #8.

11. I Hate This Part - The Pussycat Dolls

Pussycat Dolls are this week's Sales Gainer, up seven places to #11, on the cusp of scoring their fifth top 10 hit.

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

T.I. and Justin Timberlake are up 12 spots to #18 and earn the airplay gainer this week. Who doesn't think this has a shot at being a future #1?

37. Diva - Beyonce

The album's only been out for 2 months, but Beyonce's already moved on to her third top 40 hit from I Am...Sasha Fierce. This one's from the Sasha side, heavy with beats and attitude. "Diva" is Beyonce's 15th top 40 hit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kelly's "Suck" off to a good start

"My Life Would Suck Without You" has become an instant hit. The track was made available for sale iTunes yesterday, and it's already #1 on the iTunes chart. The track has been at top 40 radio for just a week now, and it's already #26 on the Mediabase top 40 airplay chart.

Although her last single, "Never Again," jumped up to #24 by its second week on the top 40 chart--and never went higher than #22--something tells me this time will be different. No video yet.

Album review: Lady GaGa - The Fame (3/5)

After seeing her fame slowly build last year Lady GaGa is red hot at the moment, with her first single "Just Dance" currently #1 in both the US and the UK. It's an infectious accessible dance pop with a hard electro edge. Not a classic, but certainly easy to like. Much of her debut album The Fame has a similar sound. In fact, without repeated listens, songs like "LoveGame" and "Poker Face" are barely distinguishable, despite being some of the album's better tracks.

That's she's willing to break this mold sometimes is promising. Mid-tempo "Paparazzi," one the better tracks of the first half, manages to score with a sinister verse and a warm chorus. It has a stronger '80s vibe, as does "Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)," which has a lighter touch than most of the tracks. "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich" has cool little bursts of piano among the electronic beats. "The Fame" features an appealing guitar strut and vapid lyrics ("all we care about is runway models, Cadillacs and liquor bottles").

While fun she may be, original she is not, mining many of the best in female dance pop. "Money Honey" celebrates materialism in the same vein as Madonna did with "Material Girl," although I bet it's without irony when GaGa declares "It's good to live expensive." Although she's been compared a lot to Christina Aguilera, I think she's a lot closer to Gwen Stefani, certainly in her choice of material.

Because so much of her music sounds the same, during the second half I start getting bored. "Starstruck" starts with urban beats and computer-processed vocals. Haven't we already heard this? "Boys Boys Boys" combines '80s synths with hard electro beats. "Summerboy" goes for the rockin' vibe (she really sounds like Stefani on this one). "Brown Eyes" is her attempt at a piano ballad, which just really doesn't fit the mood.

The second half has some highlights though, such as "Paper Gangsta," which finds GaGa rapping over piano and muffled beats. I also don't mind "I Like it Rough," which, although it fails in its attempt to be shockingly sexual, has a pretty cool melody.

My overall opinion is that this is better than I expected it to be, but it's not a dance pop classic. The superiority of Madonna, Kylie and friends are safe...for now.

Best: Just Dance, Paparazzi, Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say), Poker Face, LoveGame, The Fame

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For the major awards, I'm going to list what I predict will be nominated as well as what I would vote for if I were an Oscar voter

Picture

Prediction:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has emerged the clear favorite of the awards season this year, making it the Best Picture frontrunner. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button also looks like a sure bet for a nomination, as it has the potential to draw support from all over the academy. Frost/Nixon and Milk are looking like likely bets at this point too, despite no Globe for Milk and receding buzz for Frost/Nixon. The fifth spot is a little harder, but at this point, the best bet is The Dark Knight, the year's highest grossing picture and probably the best-reviewed superhero film ever. It would appear to have the edge over the actor-friendly Doubt, Revolutionary Road, which has failed to generate expected buzz, animated favorite Wall-E, and The Reader, which caused a stir last week when it received a BAFTA nod instead of Dark Knight. Clint Eastwood films have a tendency to sneak in late during the awards season--both Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima rode mounting buzz to successful nominations--but Gran Torino looks to be getting too few accolades to repeat that feat.

My picks:

1. Slumdog Millionaire
2. Milk
3. Gran Torino
4. Doubt
5. Man on Wire

Given that I only love two of the Best Picture frontrunners--Milk and Slumdog Millionaire--I'd love to see an upset this year. In fact, there are probably a dozen films I'd rather see nominated than Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and The Dark Knight, all of which I thought were pretty good but disappointing and not best picture material. I'm rooting heavily for Gran Torino, but I'd also be happy with Doubt, The Reader or Revolutionary Road getting in there (as well as The Visitor, Rachel Getting Married, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Burn After Reading, The Wrestler, Frozen River, and Happy-Go-Lucky). I recognize that Man on Wire doesn't have a chance, but I thought it was a remarkable film.

Actor

Prediction:

Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Except for supporting actor, the acting races are much more open this year than in recent years. Sure there are still frontrunners. Sean Penn is probably still in the lead for actor, even though he didn't win a Globe, although the man he lost too--Mickey Rourke--should definitely consider it a boost to his chances. Frank Langella should be pretty secure in getting a nod too. There's really four other actors vying for the other two slots: Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly a respected actor, but his costars are getting better buzz than he is for Revolutionary Road. Brad Pitt is talked about a lot for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but I really hope he doesn't get it. What was so great about his performance? It was all special effects. I'm hoping the Academy agrees with me and decides to reward its buddy Clint Eastwood a nod for what he says will be his last major role in Gran Torino and Richard Jenkins extraordinary portrayal of a lowly college professor whose life is re-energized when he becomes involved in a Syrian family's immigration struggle in The Visitor.

My picks:

1. Sean Penn, Milk
2. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
3. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
4. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
5. David Kross, The Reader

I hope Sean Penn wins, as he was so wonderful in Milk. Mickey Rourke and Clint Eastwood were really good too. I was pleasantly surprised by Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, which was a really great movie, and new face David Kross was really quite remarkable in The Reader as a teenage German boy who has an affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet) and later, as a law student, witnesses her trial for having served as a Nazi officer during World War II. Since I know Kross doesn't have a shot, I'd be happy with Langella or DiCaprio getting a nod, but I really don't want Pitt in there (sorry Brad).

Actress

Prediction:

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

The actress race is a lot like the actor one this year--three frontrunners without a clear favorite. Those would be Anne Hathaway's stunning turn in Rachel Getting Married, always-good Meryl Streep in Doubt, and Kate Winslet's Globe-winning portrayal of a depressed '50s suburban housewife in Revolutionary Road. Then again like the actors there seems to be four actresses most likely to get the last two slots. Sally Hawkins won the comedy/musical Globe (and she was fantastic), making her the mostly likely of the four to get a nod. Angelina Jolie has a strong chance for Changeling, which I didn't see, but I don't remember it getting good reviews, and Jolie was overlooked last year for A Mighty Heart (although that could be a reason to not overlook her this year). I'm hoping instead of Jolie the Academy is wowed by Kristin Scott Thomas's brilliant acting in I've Loved You So Long. She really was quite extraordinary. It's probably too much to hope that Melissa Leo would be recognized for her portrayal of a desperate working mother in Frozen River. Cate Blanchett should also be noted as an outside shot for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

My picks:

1. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
2. Meryl Streep, Doubt
3. Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
4. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
5. Melissa Leo, Frozen River

It's a hard choice to pick just five, since that means I couldn't include Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, who was also fantastic, as was Kate Winslet for The Reader (yes, I know she's being pushed for supporting, I'll get to that in a minute).

Supporting Actor

Prediction:

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

This one is no contest this year. Give it to Heath Ledger now, since we all know he is going to win. The race here is who else gets nominated, as it is fairly competitive. The buzz favors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Brolin, and Robert Downey Jr. as likely nominees, leaving a last spot that three actors seem to be competing for: Dev Patel, as the most central character in ensemble Slumdog Millionaire, James Franco in Milk, and Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. I'm betting it will be Shannon, who was really quite extraordinary as the mentally disturbed adult-child of the Wheelers' neighbor-realtor (Kathy Bates). Running a distant fourth for that last slot is Eddie Marsan as the cranky driving instructor from Happy-Go-Lucky.

My picks:

1. Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
4. Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
5. James Franco, Milk

My list is pretty different, isn't it? I was really blown away by Michael Shannon, who'd I've never heard of before. I agree Ledger deserves a nomination and he probably deserves to win too, but I'm just not a big Dark Knight fan. Hoffman was good as usual. I wasn't a fan of Tropic Thunder, so no Downey Jr. for me. I like James Franco better than Josh Brolin in Milk. I thought Dev Patel was excellent in Slumdog Millionaire, delivering its most uplifting scenes. Not on my list, but also good this year was Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. I thought Pitt was really great in that movie. I'd much rather see him recognized for that uncharacteristic work than for Benjamin Button, which seemed like "business as usual" for him. I'd also like to give a shout out to endearing newcomer Bee Vang as the neighbor boy Eastwood takes under his wing in Gran Torino.

Supporting Actress

Prediction:

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

This category got a good shake-up recently, so it's probably the most up-in-the-air at this point. That would be Kate Winslet, winning the Globe for The Reader. I'm conflicted about this. I love Kate Winslet, and she was amazing in The Reader...But it was a LEAD ROLE! It's not fair to the other actresses. The Academy should really consider some better criteria for what constitutes a lead versus a supporting role, for certainly an actor who appears all throughout a film with many scenes and is central to the story should be considered a lead role, yes? I won't rant further. Penelope Cruz looks like a sure thing as a manic artist in Vicky Christina Barcelona, as does Viola Davis for Doubt, despite having really only one scene (but it was a really good one scene). I wasn't wowed by her, but Marisa Tomei looks like a likely nominee for The Wrestler. With Kate Winslet now firmly in the mix, I expect Amy Adams in Doubt will get squeezed out, with Taraji P. Henson getting the last spot for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I'd love to see Rosemarie DeWitt get recognized for Rachel Getting Married, but I don't think it will happen. Distant longshots include Kathy Bates for Revolutionary Road and Tilda Swinton for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

My picks:

1. Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
2. Elsa Zylberstein, I've Loved You So Long
3. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona
4. Viola Davis, Doubt
5. Misty Upham, Frozen River

In this category I depart quite a bit from I expect will be recognized. My two favorites were those playing sisters of troubled lead characters: Rosemarie DeWitt as the title character in Rachel Getting Married, who showed such grace as the "good" sister holding everything together for her wedding and family while her nutty sister threatened to tear it all apart. Elsa Zylberstein was remarkable too as the sympathetic and loving sister to Kristin Scott Thomas. I liked Viola Davis enough to give her a vote for Doubt, despite being in one scene. My last pick goes to Misty Upham, the American Indian woman who served as Melissa Leo's parter-in-crime in Frozen River--another star turn from an unknown. Also worth noting is Hiam Abbass as the mother in The Visitor and Evan Rachel Wood, whom I liked better than Tomei in The Wrestler, and Cynthia Nixon, who effectively reprised her Emmy Award-winning role in the Sex and the City movie.

Director

My prediction:

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

I think it's silly whenever this category doesn't align perfectly with Best Picture. How can you say a picture is worthy of winning the Academy's biggest award, but the person who directs the film isn't? So my prediction for director matches picture. Other possibilities would be Stephen Daldry for The Reader, Darren Aronofsky for The Wrestler, Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino, Woody Allen for Vicky Christina Barcelona, Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky, Jonathan Demme for Rachel Getting Married, and Sam Mendes for Revolutionary Road--mostly just because they are recognizeable names.

My picks:

1. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2. Gus Van Sant, Milk
3. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
4. John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
5. James Marsh, Man on Wire

These are my picks for director to match my picks for picture.

Adapted Screenplay

My prediction:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

The big question in this race is whether The Dark Knight will be nominated over The Reader. While The Dark Knight received a WGA nomination, I'm betting that the Academy will instead choose to honor The Reader's more intriguing story. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a shoo in, developing an epic film from a short story, as is Slumdog Millionaire. The last two slots go to this years big play-to-film adaptations, Frost/Nixon and Doubt. I don't expect to see Revolutionary Road in here, but it's also in the running in a year with relatively few prominent adaptations.

My picks:

1. Slumdog Millionaire
2. Doubt
3. Revolutionary Road
4. The Reader
5. Frost/Nixon

Original Screenplay

My prediction:

Milk
Vicky Christina Barcelona
The Visitor
Wall-E
The Wrestler

Among the top races, this is perhaps the hardest to call this year, with a plethora of choices and few obvious favorites. The real obvious favorite has to be Milk, the only top contender for Best Picture that isn't an adaptation. Woody Allen is frequently honored for screenplay writing--he's been nominated 14 times--so I expect we'll see his witty and sexy Vicky Christina Barcelona honored. Beyond those two, this is pretty open. The writers' guild honored Burn After Reading, The Visitor, and The Wrestler, making them all strong contenders, particularly the very human stories of The Visitor and The Wrestler. My guess is Burn After Reading will be overlooked in favor of Wall-E, following the tradition of Pixar's stronger offerings being nominated here, an honor Wall-E would share with Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Other potential nominees: tough family drama Rachel Getting Married, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, and Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. Further away, but still in the mention: In Bruges, Frozen River, and Synechdoche New York.

My picks:

1. Milk
2. Gran Torino
3. The Visitor
4. Frozen River
5. The Wrestler

Monday, January 19, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 1/24/2009

1. Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis
2. Day 'N' Nite - Kid Cudi vs. Crookers

Lady GaGa has the UK's #1 hit single for a second week as "Just Dance" holds off the challenge from newcomer Kid Cudi's "Day 'N' Nite." Both GaGa and Cudi made the top 10 of the BBC Sounds of 2009 poll at #6 and #8 respectively. Although the list is generally dominated by British acts, it's interesting that this year's top 10's two American acts are the first to score major UK hits. While Lady GaGa is currently a sensation in the US, Kid Cudi has yet to break at home.

4. Issues - The Saturdays

The Saturday's "Issues" climbs up two spots to #4, giving the girl group its second top 5 single. It bests the #5 peak of "Up" to become their highest charting hit yet, and it's a good sign that each of the group's successive singles have charted higher than the previous one. This single didn't wow me when it first came out, but it's been growing on me. It does have a very catchy chorus.

5. Let It Rock - Kevin Rudolph Featuring Lil Wayne
7. Single Ladies - Beyonce

Two other singles climb within the top 10 this week. Kevin Rudolph's "Let It Rock" is up 5 spots to #5 and Beyonce climbs another notch to #7. "Single Ladies" is apparently not getting an official single release in the UK--"Halo" is up next for her there.

10. The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud

This is a bit surprising. After having a massive #1 hit last quarter with "The Promise," Girls Aloud follows that up with a rather unimpressive #10 placing for "The Loving Kind." What happened? They should have had great momentum from "The Promise," "The Loving Kind" is a great track, it's #1 on the UK airplay chart. I'm hopeful it will move up, as many singles are lately; however, if it doesn't, it will become the group's lowest charting single yet, below the #9 placings they got for "See the Day" and "Can't Speak French." At least it still made the top 10, continuing their perfect record of top 10 hits, which now totals 20.

23. Breathe Slow - Alesha Dixon

This looks like it's teeing up to be a big hit. Alesha Dixon's "Breathe Slow" rises 16 spots to #23 this week, selling on downloads well ahead of its Feb. 9 physical release. The pop ballad is stylistically very different from the mambo-flavored "The Boy Does Nothing," which hit #5 last November.

24. Breakeven - The Script

For a single that's charted no higher than #21, "Breakeven" has sure stuck around a long time. It's in its 11th week in the top 40 this week. The Script's eponymous album is #1 on the UK albums chart this week.

30. Poker Face - Lady GaGa

So much love for Lady GaGa. Her album, The Fame, was released in the UK this week, charting at #3 on the albums chart. Fans have already cherry-picked her next single, "Poker Face," enough to make it her second top 40 hit.

35. To Lose My Life - White Lies

I was hoping for greater things for "To Lose My Life," White Lies latest single. The band's debut album, also called To Lose My Life, is out today.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2009 Oscar Nominees - Technical and other categories predictions

The Oscar nominees for 2008 films will be announced January 22. Here are my predictions for the 13 of the 16 minor categories (all but the shorts, which I have no idea about. Major categories will follow with more in-depth discussion):

Cinematography

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Millionaire and gorgeous With the relative lack of "sumptuous" period pieces this year, this is much easier than usual. These were the American Society of Cinematographers' picks, and I don't see why Oscar would stray from that. All these films were visually stunning, particularly the colorful SlumdogBenjamin Button, which I'm not a big fan of, but I won't deny it wasn't a beautiful film. Roger Deakins, a double nominee last year for No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, looks likely to again be a double nominee this year for Revolutionary Road and The Reader, the latter on which he shared duties with Chris Menges. Deakins has been nominated for this award seven times without a win.

Art Direction

Changeing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire

Benjamin Button and Slumdog again are the leaders here, both of which feature era-spanning and international appeal. Australia and The Reader would seem like candidates, but both were ignored by the Art Directors' Guild. However, that guild did honor Clint Eastwood's Changeling, which is unlikely to get many other nods, as well as Milk, which did an excellent job of recreating 1970s San Francisco. The Dark Knight should also get in for its fine balance of urban reality and fantasy.

Costume Design

Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Sex and the City
Slumdog Millionaire

Like the Art Directors, the Constume Designers guild also divides its nominees into period, contemporary and fantasy categories, giving hints about who will make it to Oscar, but not as clear a picture as some other guilds. As usual, I expect the lavish period pieces to mostly reign, so in goes Changeling, Benajmin Button, and the Duchess. The less lavish period pieces Milk and Revolutionary Road could have a shot, but I think they may get squeezed out by the Indian costuming of Slumdog Millionaire and Patricia Field's contemporary fashion work for Sex and the City, where like in 2006's The Devil Wears Prada (also costumed by Field) fashion is such a crucial element of the film. I'm expecting superhero and fantasy films like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Chronicles of Narnia to be shut out.

Film Editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire

The American Cinema Editors picked these five films, which also happen to be the best picture frontrunners. If the film editing nominees match the best nominees exactly, it will be the first time that's happened since 2002.

Foreign Film

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
The Class (France)
The Departures (Japan)
Everlasting Moments (Sweden)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

With Italy's Gommorah out, Israel's animated documentary Waltz with Bashir would appear to be the frontrunner, with France's The Class (this year's Cannes Palm d'Or winner) close behind. I don't know much about the rest of the nine qualifying films, but action-packed The Baader Meinhof Complex looks interesting and I've heard it should be considered a top contender. I've also heard The Departures is supposed to be excellent. While I've heard the Austrian film Revanche talked about, I'm going with Sweden's Everlasting Moments as my fifth pick.

Score

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Andre Desplat)
The Dark Knight (Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard)
Revolutionary Road (Thomas Newman)
Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman)
Wall-E (Thomas Newman)

I love film scores, but only two really stood out to be this year: Andre Desplat's gorgeous and appropriately epic work for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Thomas Newman's Revolutionary Road (which reminded me a bit of his previous scores for Scent of a Woman and American Beauty, which I both liked). Desplat was nominated two years ago for The Queen and I think should have also been nominated for The Painted Veil. I don't really remember the Wall-E score, but I hear it's got a lot of buzz to give Newman a second nod this year. Slumdog Millionaire was a surprisingly musical movie, so it should get in, as should The Dark Knight from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, both 7-time nominees. John Williams has some buzz for Indiana Jones 4, but I'm thinking it won't make it, since this is hardly new territory for him.

Song

"I Thought I Lost You" Bolt
"Jai Ho" Slumdog Millionaire
"O Saya" Slumdog Millionaire
"Down to Earth" Wall-E
"The Wrestler" The Wrestler

In addition to being a great story and a visual feast, Slumdog Millionaire had great music--both a memorable score and great songs, so I expect two of them to show up here: "Jai Ho," the energetic number used during the very memorable end credits dance sequence, and "O Saya," another good song that includes M.I.A. Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" is a great song that fits the mood of the movie perfectly. Disney is generally strong, so I expect Peter Gariel's "Down to Earth" from Wall-E to be in. The fifth pick is hard. "Once in a Lifetime" from Cadillac Records may be disqualified, since apparently it was written before the film. "Gran Torino" is an option, although I don't think it has a lot of support. "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" from Hamlet 2 would certainly be an irreverent choice. I expect Miley Cyrus and John Travolta's "I Thought I Lost You" from Bolt will be in the last spot.

Documentary Feature

Encounters at the End of the World
I.O.U.S.A.
Man on Wire
Standard Operating Procedure
Trouble the Water

Two of the documentaries I saw this year, "American Teen" and "Religulous," didn't make the longlist, so don't look for them to be nominated. The third, "Man on Wire," is this year's documentary frontrunner. Timely and political "Trouble the Water" and "I.O.U.S.A." should make the list. For my other two picks I'm going with the Antarctic "Encounters at the End of the World" and "Standard Operating Procedure" over "Made in America" and the film about Philip Glass ("Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts").

Animated Feature

Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E
Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir looks interesting, but Wall-E is still the obvious frontrunner here. I'm going with Kung Fu Panda over Bolt for the third slot.

Sound

The sound awards tend to be a mix of the sweeping dramas and big action films (with more emphasis on the latter for the editing category).

Mixing:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Slumdog Millionaire
Wall-E

Editing:

The Dark Knight
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Quantum of Solace
Wall-E

Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

This seems pretty obvious when you look at the list of seven finalists (which did not include Indiana Jones 4). The other four films were Australia, Hellboy 2, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Mummy. I saw Iron Man last night and I liked it. Benjamin Button will probably win this one, as well as Makeup, for the combined achievement of aging/de-aging Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Tropic Thunder

The Reader and Synechdoche New York both made the final seven for their aging work, but Benjamin Button did it better. While The Dark Knight's Joker wasn't technically challenging, it was very effective and a new take on the character. Tropic Thunder transformed both Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. (or rather Robert Downey Jr.'s character).

In summary:

8 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8 - The Dark Knight
8 - Slumdog Millionaire
5 - Wall-E
3 - Iron Man
2 - Changeling
2 - Milk
2 - Revolutionary Road
2 - Waltz with Bashir
1 - Bolt
1 - The Duchess
1 - Frost/Nixon
1 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skill
1 - Kung Fu Panda
1 - Quantum of Solace
1 - The Reader
1 - Sex and the City
1 - Tropic of Thunder
1 - The Wrestler

MySpace White Lies Preview


MySpace Music has a preview of all tracks from White Lies' debut album To Lose My Life, out tomorrow. While they didn't bother replacing the "To Lose My Life" clip with a full-length version, all the other tracks are available in full.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Best of 2000s: Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain (4.5/5)

Goldfrapp's debut was a slinky introduction to the duo's divine sense for John Barry-esque melodies (isn't it a shame Goldfrapp hasn't been tapped to do a Bond theme?). While later works Black Cherry and Supernature pumped up the tempo and stomping electronica, this more subdued set's highlights are the otherworldly beauty of tracks like "Lovely Head" and "Pilots" that sound really good late at night. For something with a little more kick, "Utopia" is also quite satisfying, as is the loungy "Human." The only downside are the oddly carnival-like "Oompa Radar" and the incoherent title track.

Best: Lovely Head, Utopia, Pilots, Human, Deer Stop

Billboard Hot 100, 1/24/2009

1. Just Dance - Lady GaGa featuring Colby O'Donis
2. Single Ladies - Beyonce

No change at the top this week as Lady GaGa spends a second week at the top with "Just Dance" and Beyonce's former #1 "Single Ladies" holds at #2. "Single Ladies" could potentially reclaim #1. The song is losing steam on the sales chart, but continues to post big gains in airplay. This week "Single Ladies" finally ascends to #1 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart, and she's posting huge gains still at top 40. Over on the Mediabase top 40 chart the single is #2 with an amazing 1500 spin gain over the last 7 days.

3. Heartless - Kanye West

Kanye West's "Heartless" finally surpasses the #4 peak it achieved when it debuted 9 weeks ago, jumping two spots to #3 this week and earning the Airplay Gainer award. It matches the #3 peak of West's last single, "Love Lockdown."

10. Gives You Hell - All-American Rejects

The All-American Rejects earn the Sales Gainer this week, propelling their 8-spot jump into the top 10, scoring their third top 10 hit after "Dirty Little Secret" (#9) and "It Ends Tonight" (#8). This is the first single from the band's third album When the World Comes Down.

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

T.I.'s third Paper Trail single leaps 30 spots to make its top 40 debut at #30. It follow recent #1 hits "Whatever You Like" and "Live Your Life" with Rihanna. This time he has superstar Justin Timberlake as his guest; T.I. appeared as featured performer on Tmberlake's 2006 #1 hit "My Love." This is T.I.'s 21st appearance in the top 40 and Timberlake's 13th.

33. Mad - Ne-Yo

"Mad," Ne-Yo's third single from the Grammy Album of the Year-nominated Year of the Gentleman, makes its top 40 debut at #33, up 16 notches this week. Both of the album's previous singles--"Closer" and "Miss Independent"--peaked at #7. This is Ne-Yo's 11th top 40 hit.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Personal Chart, 1/17/2009

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Just Dance - Lady GaGa Featuring Colby O'Donis (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears (2 wks @ #1)
3 .... 7 .... Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado
4 .... 6 .... Single Ladies - Beyonce
5 .... 9 .... The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud
6 .... 4 .... Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna
7 .... 2 .... Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke (1 wk @ #1)
8 ... 10 ... The Fear - Lily Allen
9 .... 5 .... Run - Leona Lewis (2 wks @ #1)
10 .. 14 ... Heartless - Kanye West

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goodbye London Astoria

NME reported that the London Astoria, an old theatre turned nightclub venue in the London neighborhood of Soho, had it final performance evening last night. The old building is being demolished to make way for a new rail project.

London Astoria is best known to me as the former host of gay dance party G.A.Y. I went several times when I was a student in London in 1998. It was there I danced with a gay Member of Parliament. I saw the Weather Girls perform "It's Raining Men." I refused to drink the ₤2 Budweiser drink special (I don't drink Bud in the US--why would I drink it abroad?). Other memories I won't reprint...In short, it was a fun place and I'm a little sad to hear it will no longer be.

Kelly's new single out

Check out "My Life Would Suck Without You" at Kelly's Web site.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Here and There

Spin magazine calls Franz Ferdinand's new album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand the band's "boldest attempt at a full-on disco record." That sounds great.

I ordered an Australian copy of Empire of the Sun's debut, Walking on Dream, mostly because I think the cover is cool and I'd rather have a physical than a digital copy of this one.

Billboard
reported Friday that Kelly Clarkson's new album will be called "All I Ever Wanted."

J. Mensah's Billboard Files uncovered that Britney's next single will be "If You Seek Amy." C'mon radio--I dare you to play this. He's also doing a complete Britney retrospective, which is a great idea.

Reading John's Pop Music Notes, I just discovered a cool Danish band called Private. They have a nice mid '80s sound, sometimes a bit like Prince. Here's "My Secret Lover"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

UK Singles Chart, 1/17/2009

1. Just Dance - Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis

After a 3-week stay at the top, last year's X Factor winner, Alexandra Burke, sees her Christmas #1 and best-selling single of the year, "Hallelujah," dethroned by Lady Gaga and Colby O'Donis with the year's first new #1 single "Just Dance." The track is also #1 this week in the US, where it is also the first new #1 hit of the year. Lady Gaga landed at #6 on the BBC Sounds of 2009 poll and is the first artist in the poll's top 10 to have a major hit.

2. Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado

James Morrison and Nelly Furtado take "Broken Strings" to a new peak at #2. The single now far outshines Morrison's previous biggest hit, his first single "You Give Me Something," which peaked at #5. This is Nelly Furtado's first single to peak at #2; the Canadian singer has twice been to #1, with "Maneater" and with Justin Timberlake of Timbaland's "Give It to Me."

6. Issues - The Saturdays

The Saturdays score their third straight top 10 hit with "Issues," further solidifying that they are not just a drop in the bucket but a bona fide new pop act. They are certainly outshining the Sugababes, whose latest single "No Can Do" peaked at #23 last week. While the 'Babes have had singles chart as low as that before, generally they were the fourth singles released from an album; "No Can Do" is only the second single from Catfights and Spotlights.

8. Single Ladies - Beyonce

Beyone scores her 12th top 10 hit with "Single Ladies," which climbs six spots to #8 this week. The singer has back to back singles, as her recent #1 hit, "If I Were a Boy," falls three spots to #7. She's also at #40 with 3-year old single "Listen," which recently hit #8.

10. Let It Rock - Kevin Rudolph (featuring Lil Wayne)

Kevin Rudolph scores a top 10 with his debut single "Let It Rock." The single hit #5 in the US last year.

14. Heartless - Kanye West

"Heartless," Kanye West's second "single" (it doesn't have a physical release scheduled as yet) from 808s and Heartbreak makes a 24-place leap to #14.

16. Kids - MGMT

MGMT's third single "Kids" has been on the chart for 16 weeks now, but it's hotter than ever, rising 21 places this week to #16. I'm not sure what's responsible for the sudden surge in popularity of this single. It is now the group's first top 20 hit, surpassing #22 hit "Electric Feel" as the band's highest-charting single.

29. The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud'

Girls Aloud are up 10 spots to #29 with "The Loving Kind." The single is out in stores tomorrow, and is the biggest competition for Lady Gaga for #1 next week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

BBC Sounds of 2008: looking back

Since I've been writing so much about the new artists touted in this year's BBC Sounds of poll, I thought I'd look back at last year's list and see how well they did. Here's my ranking, along with how the BBC poll ranked them.

1. Duffy (BBC ranking: 2)

Could you ask for a better launch than Duffy got last year? Rockferry was a UK #1 album (#4 in the US) and the UK's biggest selling album of the year. "Mercy" was a massive #1 hit, followed by the beautiful #3 hit "Warwick Avenue." She received three Grammy Award nominations, for best new artist, female pop vocal performance and pop album. I'm sure she'll be a top contender at the Brit Awards this year (the nominees are announced January 20).

2. Adele (BBC ranking: 1)

Adele's "Chasing Pavements" was kept from #1 by the more popular "Now You're Gone" by Basshunter, but that didn't stop it from becoming a fairly notable song, picking up a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. That's one of four nominations Adele has at the Grammys this year, along with best new artist, song (again for "Chasing Pavements") and female pop vocal performance. Adele's album, 19, debuted at #1 on the UK albums chart, and just missed the top 10 in the US, peaking at #11. The album was also nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize, the only artist on this list who can claim that accomplishment.

3. Vampire Weekend (BBC ranking: 6)

While they weren't big hitmakers ("Oxford Comma" was a minor hit, landing at #38 on the UK singles chart), they certainly racked up the accolades. You'd be hard pressed to find a music critic's year-end list that didn't include their album. While I'm not a big fan, there are certainly many of them.

4. The Ting Tings (BBC ranking: 3)

Apart from Duffy and Adele, The Ting Tings are the only other act on this list to hit #1 on either the UK albums or singles charts. They did both, hitting #1 on the singles chart with "That's Not My Name" and on the albums chart with We Started Nothing. Another single, "Shut Up and Let Me Go," was a top 10 hit in the UK and a minor hit in the US, owing to its heavy exposure in iTunes advertising.

5. MGMT (BBC ranking: 9)

Like Black Kids just below on my list, MGMT was one of the year's most successful indie/pop/synth 80s-leaning bands that were just irresistibly fun. Their popularity appears to still be growing--their third single "Kids," which has been on the UK singles chart for 15 weeks, looks set to break into the top 20 this week, which would be a first for the group.

6. Black Kids (BBC ranking: 8)

This band's debut, Partie Traumatic, was one of my favorite albums of the year. It peaked at #5 on the UK albums chart and gave them two top 40 hits. They didn't make much impact in the states, although I have heard their songs on TV (90210) and in a film (American Teen)

7. Glasvegas (BBC ranking: 4)

Glasvegas saw their debut album hit #2 on the UK albums chart and landed two singles in the top 20 ("Geraldine" and "Daddy's Gone"). I really liked their debut, and I expect great things for album #2.

8. Santogold (BBC ranking: 10)

Like Vampire Weekend, Santogold hasn't been a chart force (yet), but she did receive a lot of acclaim for her debut album.

9. Foals (BBC ranking: 5)

Their album made it into the UK top 10, but the band didn't have any hits to speak of. Not much impact compared to all the above artists.

10. Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong (BBC ranking: 7)

Still no album and no top 40 hit singles. How did they make it on this list? Virtually no impact from where I'm sitting.

Little Boots wins BBC Sounds of 2009

British electronic pop artist Little Boots won this year's BBC Sounds of 2009 poll. Many recent winners went on to become big stars, including Keane, 50 Cent, Adele, Corinne Bailey Rae and Mika. I've been listening to Boots' "Stuck on Repeat" a lot this week, and I love it. I couldn't find a good recording of it on YouTube, but here she is performing "Meddle" live:



The full top 10 list of this year's BBC Sounds of 2009 poll:

1. Little Boots
2. White Lies
3. Florence and the Machine
4. Empire of the Sun
5. La Roux
6. Lady Gaga
7. VV Brown
8. Kid Cudi
9. Passion Pit
10. Dan Black

Best of 2000s: Kylie Minogue - Light Years (4.5/5)

The '90s were not good to Kylie. While in the late '80s she ruled the charts in Europe and Australia, the '90s found Kylie jumping to the Deconstruction record label to explore a more experimental sound that except for the intriguing "Confide in Me," yielded few hits for the singer. For Light Years, the singer staged a dramatic return to frothy dance pop, reaching back not to the '80s sound that made her famous but to the '70s, and in doing so created the decade's best disco album. Working with big names like Guy Chambers, Kara DioGuardi--even Paula Abdul and Robbie Williams--Minogue turned out a blend of contemporary, dance-floor ready pop, like her #1 hits "Spinning Around" and "On a Night Like This," and campy '70s-influenced tunes like "Loveboat" and "Your Disco Needs You." Except for a few ballads, which she wisely avoided on this album's even better 2001 follow-up Fever, the album works splendidly as dizzy, silly disco pop.

Best: Spinning Around, On a Night Like This, Loveboat, Disco Down, Your Disco Needs You

Friday, January 09, 2009

Personal Chart, 1/10/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Womanizer - Britney Spears (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke (1 wk @ #1)
3 .... 5 .... Just Dance - Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis
4 .... 4 .... Live Your Life - T.I. Featuring Rihanna
5 .... 3 .... Run - Leona Lewis (2 wks @ #1)
6 .... 7 .... Single Ladies - Beyonce
7 .... 9 .... Broken Strings - James Morrison Featuring Nelly Furtado
8 .... 6 .... Love Lockdown - Kanye West
9 .. 13 .... The Loving Kind - Girls Aloud
10 .. 11 ... The Fear - Lily Allen

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Madonna (almost) 40 at 50

Madonna turned 50 last year, but she's perhaps about to also turn 40...on the dance chart that is. "Miles Away" climbed three spots to #2 this week on the Billboard Dance - Club Play chart, and if it climbs to #1 next week, will become Madonna's 40th #1 hit on the dance chart. That's an unparalleled achievement for this chart. She already has more than double the number of #1 hits as the next act (Janet Jackson with 18). Madonna last 18 official singles have all hit #1 on the chart (from "Nothing Really Matters" through "Give It 2 Me"), and she's even landed on the chart with a number of promotion singles, including the #1 hit "Impressive Instant," and top 10 hits like "Buenos Aires," "Nobody Knows Me," and "Mother and Father."

Here's the Morgan Page Remix of "Miles Away":

Billboard Hot 100, 1/17/2009

1. Just Dance - Lady Gaga Featuring Colby O'Donis
2. Single Ladies - Beyonce

Lady Gaga climbs a notch to score the first new #1 single of 2009. The Yonkers, NY-born 22 year-old has been a blogosphere sensation the last few months, drawing comparisons to Christina Aguilera most notably. "Just Dance" has had a slow ascent to #1--it's been on the Hot 100 for 22 weeks. It's also a global smash, having already hit #1 in Canada and Australia and looking good to be the UK's #1 single this weekend. Gaga knocks Beyonce's "Single Ladies" from #1 after 3 weeks. If Beyonce doesn't return to the top, the single's 3-week run will be her shortest stay at the top.

4. Love Story - Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift's "Love Story" climbs another notch to #4 this week, earning the airplay gainer. The single is a bona fide crossover hit--it's top 10 at top 40 radio and almost there at AC and Hot AC. It's also her highest-charting single to date.

7 I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
9 Let It Rock - Kevin Rudolf Featuring Lil Wayne

Not much to say here--just that these singles are both back in the top 10.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More BBC Sounds of 2009

Empire of the Sun

They look set to become this year's MGMT, except perhaps even stranger (and from Australia). Scissor Sisters comes to mind too. From what I'm heard, they seem pretty impressive. Singles "Walking on a Dream" and "We Are the People" are a great start. The album gets a UK release February 16; I like the Star Wars-like cover. Here's the video for "Walking on a Dream":



The Temper Trap

I can't find much about them other than what BBC has written. All I know is they're also Australian, and their first album is being produced by Jim Abbiss, who's worked with Arctic Monkeys and Adele. Here's "Sweet Disposition":



Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine is fronted by 22 year-old Florence Welch. They seem kind of kooky, but not bad. No word on when album will be out yet, but singles "Kiss with a Fist" and "Dog Days Are Over" are already available. Here's the latter:



Kid Cudi

This guy's American (from Cleveland) and connected to Kanye West. His "Day N Nite," with Crookers, is currently a hit in the UK.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

January new releases

With new albums from Franz Ferdinand, Bruce Springsteen, and the debut from White Lies, January doesn't look like too bad a start to 2009.

Jan 5
Kylie Minogue - Boombox. Kylie releases a remix album. I like Kylie, but remix albums just don't do it for me.

Jan 6
Erin McCarley - Love, Save the Empty. They say she's the new Sara Bareilles and iTunes offered her song "Pony (It's OK)" for free recently. Her music appears on TV show like One Tree Hill and Grey's Anatomy, and "Pony," certainly does sound like something I'd expect to hear behind a CW promotional.

Jan 12

Now That's What I Call Music Volume 1 Special Edition. The British Now series has been going strong for over 25 years now (Volume 71 just came out in November). To celebrate the anniversary, they are re-releasing the series' first volume from 1983 featuring Phil Collins, Duran Duran, UB40, Bonnie Tyler, Tina Turner, Men without Hats and Culture Club.

Jan 19
White Lies - To Lose My Life. White Lies are one of the BBC Sounds of 2009 bands. It's not a bad thing they sound a bit like The Killers either. The album is preceded by the single of the same name, and other tracks "Death" and "Unfinished Business" are already available.

Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light. They won the 2005 Mercury Prize for I Am a Bird Now and return now with that album's follow up.

Jan 26
Franz Ferdinand - Tonight. After an over 3 year break, Franz Ferdinand returns with their hotly anticipated third album. We've already heard "Lucid Dreams" and "Ulysses," and I can't wait to hear more. I read that it's inspired by Jamaican dub, but I expect it won't sound too different from Franz Ferdinand and You Could Have It So Much Better, both of which were excellent albums.

Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream. The 2000s have been good to Springsteen. The Rising, Devils & Dust and Magic were all highly acclaimed albums, so expectations are pretty high. The album includes current title track single and, as a bonus track, the song he wrote for the film The Wrestler.

Jan 27
Ciara - Fantasy Ride. Ciara's third album had been slated for a late '08 release, but got moved to January.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Clarkson reveals life sucks


Kelly Clarkson has revealed the cover of her upcoming single, "My Life Would Suck Without You." Rolling Stone reports that the single and other tracks from her upcoming album, reportedly titled Masquerade, are pretty decent. The track hits radio in 2 weeks.

BBC Sounds of 2009

The annual BBC Sounds of 2009 list is out. Actually it came out about a month ago, but I didn't notice. Anyway, last year's list had previously unknown now big name artists like Duffy, Adele, The Ting Tings, Santogold, Black Kids, MGMT, Glasvegas and The Vampire Weekend (they did a really good job picking them, didn't they?).

This week BBC is revealing who their top 5 picks are. They already released the longlist of 15 artists. One act on the list, Lady Gaga, needs no introduction, but there are quite a few other interesting acts this year. Here's a rundown of some that already interest me:

VV Brown

Don't mistake the double-V for a W (even though, linguistically speaking that's the same thing). Vanessa "VV" Brown is a British singer who's sung backup for Madonna and the Pussycat Dolls, finally stepping out on her own this year. Surely, "Crying Blood" will be one of the year's first big hits in Britain. It sounds tailor-made for UK radio. Adele with more sass? Lily Allen with better pipes? Perhaps. A great start.



Little Boots

Little Boots is the stage name for British singer/electronic artist Victoria Hesketh. Although she's connected to Hot Chip, whom I don't really care for, I'm really enjoying Little Boots' single "Stuck on Repeat." One of her trademarks will surely get old really quick--she likes to play a flashing Japanese electronic instrument called the Tenorion. Here's a live rendition:



White Lies

White Lies are the latest London rock band to take a page from '80s synth pop and add it to their indie rock sound. Here's "To Lose My Life," The first single from their debut album of the same name out January 19. "Death" is another good track and it's already available from US iTunes.



La Roux

Another female/male British electronic pop duo. She's 20 year-old Elly Jackson. He's Ben Langmaid, apparently much older, as he went to school with Dido's brother (Rollo Armstrong of Faithless). "Quicksand" is a pretty cool single:



It's my bedtime. I'll write more about these people later.