Sunday, November 29, 2009

UK Singles Chart, December 5, 2009

1. The Official BBC Children in Need Medley - Peter Kay's Animated All Star Band
2. You Are Not Alone - The X Factor Finalists

One novelty charity record replaces another at the top of the UK singles chart this week. Leading the pack is this year's Children in Need single, a medley of popular songs performed by popular, mostly British, children's television characters (familiar faces included Paddington Bear, Bob the Builder, Scooby Doo and the Teletubbies, among many many others). The medley is of The Jackson's "Can You Feel It," Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," AR Rahman and the Pussycat Dolls' "Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny)," Chumbwamba's "Tubthumping," Take That's "Never Forget," The Beatles' "Hey Jude," and Elbow's "One Day Like This." It's an unusual mix of songs, that doesn't quite go together, but the video is rather fun.

This is the first Children in Need single to top the chart since Girls Aloud's "I'll Stand By You" in 2004. The last couple of years in particular the annual single had lost its luster, as the Spice Girls' "Headlines" and McFly's "Do Ya" failed to reach the top 10. Credit goes comedian and Executive Producer Peter Kay, who's become quite the charity single maestro, being responsible for such big ones as Tony Christie's "(Is This The Way to )Amarillo," a Comic Relief single that was the biggest-selling single of 2005, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles" with the Proclaimers and Andy Pipkin," also a major #1 hit, and last year's reality TV singing competition spoof, "The Winner's Song."

Also worth noting is that this is the 7th week in a row that the #1 single has sold over 100,000 copies (, a stretch of 100K+ sellers unseen since early 2002, when singles from Enrique Iglesias, Westlife, Will Young and Gareth Gates. Finally, this is the first #1 hit since early October that didn't reach #1 after being performed on The X Factor.

5. Bad Romance - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa climbs three spots scoring her fourth top 5 hit.

6. Russian Roulette - Rihanna

Rihanna earns her 11th top 10 hit with "Russian Roulette," the first single from her fourth album Rated R. This is actually a bit low for her, as the first singles from her previous three albums all landed at #1 or #2. The song's dark themes have no doubt made it less commercial than her sunny previous hits--songs like "Umbrella" and "S.O.S." However, she performed this on The X Factor this weekend, which could boost the single next week, at least into the top 5.

7. Tik Tok - Ke$ha

Ke$ha holds steady this week on downloads but is in stores tomorrow. How high will it go next week? Could it be a #1? I would think a second week at #1 for Peter Kay would be more likely, but anything is possible.

9. Wild Horses - Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle--SuBo as she's sometimes referred to--has her first top 10 this week. Her album, I Dreamed a Dream, is an international smash hit, topping the UK albums chart this week with over 400,000 copies sold (in the US, it's expected to outsell Eminem's 600,000 bow with Relapse in May). "Wild Horses" is a lovely song, good enough to make me interested in what else her album holds.

16. Cry Me Out - Pixie Lott

Pixie Lott climbs four notches to #16 with her third single, "Cry Me Out." No physical release for this one--an odd choice, given that her last two singles were both #1s. Seems to indicate a lack of confidence.

19. I Want to Know What Love Is - Mariah Carey

This did a big belly flop in the US, but at least makes the top 20 in the UK. It's the first top 40 hit for Carey from her latest album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, which didn't get released in the UK until this week, despite coming out in late September or early October most other places. I don't think "Obsessed," was officially released in the UK, as it peaked at #52. Bought on imports maybe?

30. Telephone - Lady GaGa feat. Beyonce

Lady GaGa's next single, "Telephone," charts early due to being available as a download from The Fame Monster. It's her 7th top 40 hit.

37. I Dreamed a Dream - Susan Boyle

And finally, Susan Boyle charts with a second track, her version of "I Dreamed a Dream," the song she sang on Britain's Got Talent that made her famous.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Album Review: Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster (4/5)

At the beginning of the year when I reviewed The Fame, I was underwhelmed, finding much of to sound about the same. Ten months and four more hits later, my opinion of Lady GaGa's debut is still about the same. It's launched some great singles, but after that, the album is uneven and overlong.

Both of these shortcomings have been addressed on The Fame Monster, the stopgap follow-up originally envisioned as new tracks for The Fame's re-release, but which has taken on a life of its own as a long EP--long enough really to be considered a new album. At just eight tracks--the same number as on Madonna's 1983 debut--The Fame Monster is lean and mean with just as much (if not more) diversity of sounds than on The Fame.

"Bad Romance" is as stomping a dance track as anything we've heard from GaGa yet. "Alejandro" sounds like an unearthed Ace of Base song from the '90s, during which GaGa rejects the advances of a bevy of Latin lovers--Alejandro, plus his buddies Roberto and Fernando. "Monster," one of several very '80s-sounding tunes, continues the down with love vibe established by the first two songs ("he ate my heart...that boy is a monster"). "Dance in the Dark," also very mid-80s sounding, is ever darker with a fantastic synth refrain and spoken-word middle section clearly inspired by Madonna's "Vogue."

"Speechless" is the disc's only slow song, styled as a rock ballad like the kind Pink excels in, during which GaGa confronts a messy drunk (whom she's claimed is her father) with his "Johnny Walker eyes." "Telephone" is produced by Rodney Jerkins and opens with his trademark harp in the background. Beyonce shows up as a guest artist--returning the favor for GaGa appearing on Beyonce's own telecommunications song, "Video Phone." She's underutilized, singing only in the song's brief middle section.

Blatant narcissism never sounded as good as it does on "So Happy I Could Die," recalling Madonna's Like a Virgin-era sound. Swinging "Teeth" closes the album on a lively R&B note.

As much as anything, The Fame Monster advances Lady GaGa's apparent bid to become the new Madonna, taking several pages from the singer's '80s and early '90s playbooks. With Madonna moving on to do who-knows-what with the Live Earth people, its a role I'm happy to see someone take on.

Best: Bad Romance, Alejandro, Dance in the Dark, Monster, Speechless

Album Review: Rihanna - Rated R (4/5)

We all know the story. Nine months ago, just before the Grammy Awards, an argument between Rihanna and her then boyfriend Chris Brown escalated into violence. She was injured, he was arrested and eventually convicted. Both stayed out of the spotlight for some time. Now it's time for Rihanna to tell her side of the story, first through interviews and now this album.

Rated R could have been musical catharsis, but that's really not the Barbadian singer's plan. For the album is dark, angry and blantantly theatrical, from the title--a reference to the US movie rating for shows that aren't for kids--to the frequent hip-hop-style boasting and profanity. She's baring her teeth, not her soul.

In addition to her mood, Rihanna's sound has changed too. Where Good Girl Gone Bad was a dance pop album with a few other styles on it, Rated R is pop/R&B, with no dance pop to be found. It's hard, cold and edgy, with very little warmth. Introductory "Mad House" sets the mood, during which an announcer warns those easily frightened to turn away. A bit of foreboding music follows, further developing the carnival-like atmosphere. "Wait Your Turn" follows, an "I'm back" declaration over a minor-key electronic R&B production. Both of these tracks were produced by British DJs Chase & Status, who also turned out the rugged "G4L" (gangster for life), a song that includes one of the album's best lyrics ("I lick the gun when I'm done cause I know revenge is sweet").

New single "Hard" positions Rihanna in hip-hop territory, complete with typical boasting ("that Rihanna reign, just don't let up") and guest rapper Jeezy (minus the "young"--apparently showing his age). Slickly produced by The Dream and Tricky Stewart, it's another dark track blending hip-hop beats, piano and deep synth notes. "Rockstar 101" takes the hard-edged attitude even further: "feelin' so good, lookin' so bad....got my middle finger up, I don't give a fuck." Musically, it's little more than guest Slash's electric guitar chords over a modern hip-hop beat. When the more melodic middle section comes, it feels like relief.

"Stupid in Love," written and produced by Ne-Yo and Stargate, is the first song to allude to Rihanna and Brown's relationship. It's a bitter ballad, taking a typical Stargate piano and skittering beats production into much darker territory. Ne-Yo's lyrics rise to the occasion too ("my new nickname is 'you idiot'"). That song's direct approach contrasts with the metaphorical one in "Russian Roulette," also co-written by Ne-Yo, during which Rihanna contemplates her relationship like a game of Russian Roulette which, like the game itself, inevitably ends badly. This is pop music drama at its best, and its quite effective. The gunshot that closes the song still makes me jump.

"Fire Bomb" opens with chugging guitar, but mellows out with some '80s-style synths into one of the album's best tracks. It's warm melody makes it stand out from the mostly cold songs. Rihanna sounds great on it too, stretching her voice into some lower octaves and showing some strength. She's never been the greatest singer, but to her credit, she's getting better all the time. This song comes courtesy of Brian Kennedy, the man behind last year's "Disturbia." It should make a good hit single down the road.

"Rudy Boy" is fairly breezy pop. The synth kettle drums recall Rihanna's island heritage (her accent comes through more on Rated R than it did on her last album--an artistic choice, perhaps aimed at making her delivery more personal). "Photographs" finds Will.I.Am again contributing a winning track to another pop singer (having recently produced the best songs on Cheryl Cole's solo debut). It's another failed relationship song, effectively using the old cliche about having nothing left but the photos. Both of these are good songs that would make good singles.

Stargate-produced "Te Amo" adds a little Latin spice, while recounting a same-sex dance floor flirtation. Lovely Spanish guitar underpins the melody. It's the album's last buoyant moment, which closes with two dark ballads. First is "Cold Case Love," produced by Justin Timberlake's production group, The Y's. A prominent violin adds the right note of melancholy while Rihanna sings "we lost our way, took this too far, and I'll never find the pieces of my heart." Lushly produced "The Last Song" is the perfect close to the album's narrative. The singer and her man in their last moments as she realizes their relationship is over and she needs to move on.

Rated R represents an interesting transformation for Rihanna. Previously she was a breezy island pop singer turned dance pop diva--a plaything for the latest crop of hot producers to ply their trade. She scored quite a few big hits, but she never had a story, a narrative, until now. This makes Rated R her first album in the truest sense of what an album is. It's an impressive switch that some pop artists go their whole careers without achieving. And while I admit to missing the dance pop, it makes sense to not have it right now, and I imagine we'll get some when the inevitable re-release, perhaps Rated R: The Director's Cut, comes out next year.

Best: Fire Bomb, Russian Roulette, Stupid in Love, Photographs, Cold Case Love, Rude Boy, Hard

Best of 2000s: Madonna - Hard Candy (4.5/5)

Madonna has always applied a shrewd calculating eye to her music, frequently anticipating the next big trend on which to latch her hooky dance pop. With Hard Candy, some felt she took this too far, working for the first-time with proven producers like Timbaland, Nate Hills and The Neptunes to ensure the album would deliver a US-friendly modern R&B/pop sound. The results were markedly different than the Eurodisco feel of her last album, Confessions on a Dancefloor. The calculus worked, at least for awhile, as her duet with Justin Timberlake, "4 Minutes," was her biggest US hit in 7 years, but the album failed to score any subsequent hits, with "Miles Away" becoming her lowest-charting British single ever. Still, I rather liked the album, which managed to retain a Madonna sound at its core, despite the big-name production. She also rather boldly trotted out the problems with her soon-to-be-over marriage on "Miles Away" ("You're always have the biggest heart, when we're 6000 miles apart").

Best: 4 Minutes, Miles Away, Give It 2 Me, Beat Goes On, Heartbeat

Friday, November 27, 2009

December New Releases

After the massive month of November, December calms down a bit. But there's still some big name stuff coming.

Alicia Keys - The Element of Freedom (Dec. 14). Alicia Keys, one of this decade's most successful R&B singers, releases her fourth album. It features first single "Doesn't Mean Anything," new single "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart" and "Empire State of Mind Part 2" (with Jay-Z).

Timbaland - Shock Value 2 (Dec.7/8). After some delays, it looks like this is a go. Features first single "Morning After Dark" with Nelly Furtado and SoShy. Previous Timbaland collaborators making an appearance include Justin Timberlake, OneRepublic, and Keri Hilson. Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Jet, JoJo, Daughtry and Drake also make appearances.

Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM (Dec. 7). The French pop singer and daughter of Serge Gainsbourg, who collaborated with Air for her last album, teams up this time with Beck. Features first single "Heaven Can Wait" (with Beck).

Mary J. Blige - Stronger with Each Tear (Dec. 16). The renowned R&B singer puts forth her ninth album.

Lil Wayne - Rebirth (Dec. 21). Original due out in April, the 7th album from Lil Wayne, reportedly his first forray into rock, will finally come out. Word is that there is rap here, but it is mostly rock. Includes single "Prom Queen" and "Hot Revolver."

Chris Brown - Graffiti (Dec. 8). Chris Brown puts out his third album, featuring first single "I Can Transform Ya." Without judging the music, I think it's too soon for him to be putting out an album.

The Bravery - Stir the Blood (Dec. 1). The New York band puts out its third album. I'm really enjoying first single, "I Am Your Skin."

30 Seconds to Mars - This Is War (Dec.8). American rock band releases its third album; includes first single "Kings and Queens."

R. Kelly - Untitled (Dec. 1). The oft-troubled American R&B singer releases his ninth album. First single "Number One" (feat. Keri Hilson) got nowhere near as high on the charts as its name guessed it would.

Grammy Nominations Prodictions

The 2010 Grammy Award nominations will be announced next week (Dec. 2). So it's time to make some predictions! I always have so much fun trying to guess who will be nominated. So much so that a few weeks ago, I wrote this post analyzing factors for predicting the Album of the Year category. Let's see whether I can put my own advice to work (and next week, how good it really was).

Album of the Year:
  • Beyoncé - I Am...Sasha Fierce
  • Lady GaGa - The Fame
  • Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night
  • Taylor Swift - Fearless
  • U2 - No Line on the Horizon
It's a harder than usual year for AOTY, as there weren't a lot of standout albums (further signs of the death of the album?). Leading the charge is young country star Taylor Swift's Fearless, which is the safest bet to get a nomination this year. After that, it actually gets kind of tricky. Although it was a great year for pop music, the year's biggest pop albums will actually be considered in othe genres, so I'm not including one in my prediction (a bold move, given that pop is AOTY's favorite genre). So into the mix goes Beyoncé's contemporary R&B album I Am...Sasha Fierce. Beyoncé has never been nominated in this category, and I see the consistently good and hit-filled Sasha Fierce as her best shot yet. Also, I expect Lady GaGa's The Fame to grab a nod, becoming the first electronic album to do so (like Fearless and Sasha Fierce, this is really a "pop" album, but isn't competing in that category). Because R&B usually gets a nod, I expect Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night to get a slot too. I was tempted not to include a rock album in my prediction, as it was a rather wan year for rock, but that would go against my advice to always include a rock album, so I was swayed to include perennial Grammy favorite U2 with their No Line on the Horizon.

Other than Taylor Swift, there really aren't any sure things this year. If a pop album does manage to make the cut, I expect it would be Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D.; however, this album did better as a source for hit singles than as an acclaimed album. There's a slight chance the pop album could be Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak, but his acclaim has gradually been eroding, and this album divided critics and fans alike, so I expect it will be his first album not to get an AOTY nod (ooh...he will be so MAD!). I loved Whitney Houston's I Look to You, but the album underperformed, and I expect Maxwell to get more love from the R&B segment. Because Fearless may be viewed more as a pop album, there is a chance that a second country album could appear, which would likely be George Strait's Twang, but two country albums have never been nominated together in this category, so it's really unlikely. If the rock slot doesn't go to U2, it could go to Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown, but just like U2, their album wasn't as well received as their last, the 2004 AOTY-nominated American Idiot. Bruce Springsteen deserves at least a mention for Working on a Dream, but if Magic couldn't get nominated in 2007, why would this newer, lesser album? It was such a weak year for rap, that there's not even an album worth mentioning. An alternative choice could be The Yeah Yeah Yeah's It's Blitz or Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but I would consider either very very unlikely. Finally, Bob Dylan could be spoiler here for Together Through Life. He's an old Grammy favorite, and it could make up for the 2006 snub of The Modern Times.

Don't look for: Kings of Leon (released too early), Jay-Z (released too late) or Britney Spears (get real).

Record of the Year:
  • Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling
  • Kings of Leon - Use Somebody
  • Lady GaGa - Poker Face
  • Maxwell - Pretty Wings
  • Taylor Swift - You Belong with Me
In comparison to AOTY, ROTY seems really obvious to me this year. In fact, if any one of the five songs listed above doesn't appear, I think it will be a big surprise. Surely Black Eyed Peas', "I Gotta Feeling," the year's biggest hit, is a shoo-in, as is Lady GaGa's "Poker Face" as the best-performing of The Fame's multiple hits. Since Kings of Leon's album doesn't qualify for AOTY, I expect they'll get love for their massive rock/pop crossover hit "Use Somebody." Finally, it's often that ROTY nominees are those from AOTY nominees, so I expect Maxwell and Taylor Swift to make the cut with their respective hits "Pretty Wings" and "You Belong with Me."

I think Beyonce would have had a good shot at this had she put up "Single Ladies," but she instead submitted both "If I Were a Boy" and "Halo," which could cancel each other out. Further hurting "Halo's" chances is the fact that Kelly Clarkson submitted "Already Gone," which is widely perceived as a "Halo" clone (credit Ryan Tedder for that--both songs are often considered "Bleeding Love" clones too). If a rock song sneaks in there it could be Green Day's "21 Guns" or U2's "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," but I wouldn't count on either, since they weren't big hits. Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" was another big hit for her, but it wasn't as much a standout as "I Kissed a Girl," which didn't get nominated last year. Other longshots: Jay-Z's "Run This Town," MGMT's "Kids," Owl City's "Fireflies," and Whitney Houston's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength."

Not submitted for consideration: Single Ladies, My Life Would Suck Without You

Song of the Year:
  • Adele - Hometown Glory (Adele)
  • Billie Joe Armstrong - 21 Guns (Green Day)
  • Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill - Use Somebody (Kings of Leon)
  • Beyoncé Knowles, Christopher Stewart, Terius Nash, and Kuk Harrell - Single Ladies (Beyoncé)
  • Maxwell and Hod David - Pretty Wings (Maxwell)
The songwriters award is hard to predict. Usually there's some overlap with record of the year (generally favoring the rock or adult pop nominees), so I threw in Maxwell and Kings of Leon, thinking that the poppier songs by Black Eyed Peas, Taylor Swift and Lady GaGa are unlikely to also score writing nods (although of those, I think Taylor Swift would have the best shot). Adele's "Hometown Glory" is a hauntingly beautiful song, and because I don't think Green Day's "21 Guns" will make ROTY, I think it has a better shot here. Beyoncé Knowles, Christopher Stewart, Terius Nash, and Kuk Harrell's "Single Ladies" (Beyoncé) wasn't submitted for ROTY, but was for SOTY, so I think it will make the list. Dianne Warren's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" (Whitney Houston) is a lovely song, but I found some if its lyrical phrasing awkward (particularly the chorus), and it wasn't a hit. Singer-songwriter Diane Birch's "Nothing But a Miracle" could get a shot, if Grammy is willing to recognize an under-the-radar newcomer. A longshot choice would be Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe for "The Climb" (Miley Cyrus), but given the recording artist's lack of critical credibility, I think it's quite unlikely.

Best New Artist:
  • Diane Birch
  • Bon Iver
  • Laura Izibor
  • MGMT
  • Zac Brown Band
Not exactly the hottest Best New Artist slate. Lady GaGa was the year's biggest new artist, but because "Just Dance" was nominated last year, she's not eligible. Such a challenge to determine when someone is "new" since, after all, all of these people have been performing and recording for years up to now (calling it "breakthrough" would be more accurate). Other possibles: Keri Hilson, Owl City, The Script, and The Ting Tings.

Pop Vocal Female Performance
  • Adele - Hometown Glory
  • Beyonce - Halo
  • Whitney Houston - I Didn't Know My Own Strength
  • Katy Perry - Waking Up in Vegas
  • Taylor Swift - You Belong with Me
  • (If 6 nominees) Pink - Sober
The male and female pop vocal categories remind me of the Emmy Awards--once you get nominated, you tend to get nominated again and again. In the last decade, Britney Spears and Pink have been nominated 3 times each with no wins, so both could be up, but competition this year is tight, so I'm actually not predicting either. However, Adele, who won last year, and Katy Perry, who was nominated, look like strong choices. Beyonce's "Halo," which could get an ROTY nominee, should be a shoo-in here, as is Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me," which I think will get ROTY. Even though it wasn't a hit, I imagine Grammy voters couldn't resist putting up 3-time winner and 6-time nominee Whitney Houston for "I Didn't Know My Own Strength." Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone" could be in, but I give similar "Halo" the better shot. This category is generally dominated by big names, but if a lesser known is given a shot, it could mean a nod for Regina Spektor or Diane Birch.

Pop Vocal Male Performance:
  • Maxwell - Love You
  • Seal - If You Don't Know Me By Now
  • Rob Thomas - Her Diamonds
  • James Taylor - Wasn't That a Mighty Storm
  • Kanye West - Heartless
Nothing underscores the fact that female pop stars are bigger than their male counterparts than by comparing the Grammy award categories. It's hard to predict the females because there are so many good choices. It's hard to predict the males since there are so few. And no John Mayer this year (that's always an easy call, he's been nominated 5 times and won 4). I think Kanye West's "Heartless" should have a good shot as the biggest hit of the likely nominees. James Taylor is a perennial favorite, so I think he'll be in. Seal's been nominated 3 times this decade, so look for him too, as well as boring ol' Rob Thomas. As long as this is shaping up to be a major snooze fest, let's also throw out Jason Mraz's "Make It Mine" and Stevie Wonder's "All About Love Again," and hope that the more interesting choice, Maxwell's "Love You," is the one that gets in.

Pop Duo/Group with Vocal:
  • 3Oh!3 - Don't Trust Me
  • The All-American Rejects - Gives You Hell
  • Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling
  • The Fray - Never Say Never
  • The Pussycat Dolls - I Hate This Part
Kind of boring category this year, with Black Eyed Peas sure to win. Bon Jovi's "We Weren't Born to Follow" is also a possibility. Longshots include Keane's "The Lovers Are Losing" and The Script's "The Man Who Can't Be Moved."

Pop Vocal Album:
  • Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D.
  • Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted
  • Pink - Funhouse
  • Rob Thomas - Cradlesong
  • Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak
I expect Kanye West and Black Eyed Peas, who are possible for AOTY, to be the frontrunners here this year. There's generally several adult pop nominees, so Rob Thomas's Cradlesong will probably get a nod. I'll give the last two slots to the big female contenders, Pink and prior winner Kelly Clarkson. Seal, Diane Birch and Regina Spektor and longshots.

Other predictions, without commentary

Dance recording:

Black Eyed Peas - Boom Boom Pow
Cascada - Evacuate the Dancefloor
David Guetta & Kelly Rowland - When Love Takes Over
Lady Gaga - Poker Face
Britney Spears - Womanizer

Electronic album:

The Crystal Method - Divided by Night
Lady GaGa - The Fame
David Guetta - One Love
Pet Shop Boys - Yes
Royksopp - Junior

Rock album:

Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
Guns N Roses - Chinese Democracy
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
U2 - No Line on the Horizon

Alternative album:

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
Bjork - Voltaic
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

Contemporary R&B album:

Beyonce - I Am...Sasha Fierce
The Dream - Love vs. Money
Jamie Foxx - Intuition
Keri Hilson - In a Perfect World
Trey Songz - Ready

R&B album:

India Aire - Testimony 2
Whitney Houston - I Look to You
Laura Izibor - Let the Truth Be Told
Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night
Chrisette Michele - Epiphany

Personal Chart, November 28, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, December 5, 2009

Why am I ravenously hungry this morning? You'd think after yesterday, I'd never want to eat again. But you're not here to hear about that...

1. Empire State of Mind - Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys spend a second week at #1, ending the rapid-fire #1 turnover during the last 7 weeks. Two of Alicia Keys' three other #1 hits topped the charts this time of year--"My Boo" with Usher in 2004 and "No One" in 2007.

2. Bad Romance - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa jumps up 9 spots to #2 earning this week's digital gainer. The track is currently #1 at iTunes, and I would imagine it has a good shot at #1 next week. This is GaGa's fourth top 5 hit--only "Paparazzi" missed the top 5, peaking at #6.

5. Tik Tok - Kesha

I resisted this song, but it won me over recently. This week its up 5 spots and earns the airplay gainer.

7. Sexy Chick - David Guetta feat. Akon

David Guetta nabs his first US top 10 hit as "Sexy Chick" rises five spots to #7. The dance track was a #1 hit in the UK late this summer. "Sexy Chick" has far outpaced "When Love Takes Over," Guetta's other recent UK #1, which peaked at #76 in the US.

25. Half of My Heart - John Mayer feat. Taylor Swift
40. Two is Better than One - Boys Like Girls feat. Taylor Swift

John Mayer scores a second top 40 hit from his Battles Studies album and Boys Like Girls score their second top 40. No doubt Taylor Swift had something to do with it. How many top 40 hits has she had this year? 14!

Love Story (#4 in January)
White Horse (#29 in March)
You're Not Sorry (#40 in March; had hit #11 in November 2008)
Crazier (#17 in May)
You Belong with Me (#2 in August)
Jump then Fall (#10 in November)
Untouchable (#19 in November)
The Other Side of the Door (#22 in November)
Superstar (#27 in November)
Come in with the Rain (#30 in November)
Forever and Always (#34 in November)
Fifteen (currently #26)
Half of My Heart (currently #25)
Two is Better than One (currently #40)

31. Happy - Leona Lewis

So "Happy's" US chart performance is no longer a complete disaster, as this week the single takes an unexpected climb to #31, up 28 spots, and spending its first week in the top 40. It's cold at top 40 radio now, but with the album out, Leona did some heavy promotion last week, playing The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Dancing with the Stars. After "Bleeding Love" and "Better in Time," this is Lewis' third top 40 hit.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Music Snob's Best Albums of the Decade

I've been working on my list of the best albums of the decade and checking out what lists have been published so far. Since I'm an unashamed pop music fan, there will definitely be pop albums on my list--the kind that don't make the music critics' lists. But what will such critics be singing the praises of as they tally their lists of the best albums of the decade? Here are 30 albums that are sure to appear on many, many lists (including perhaps mine):

Outkast - Stankonia (2000) and Speakerboxx/The Love Below (2003). Both generated big hits, and Speakerboxx, in particular, was also a major commercial success, in addition to both being reviewed quite favorably.

Radiohead - Kid A (2000) and In Rainbows (2007). Both are excellent and will definitely appear on my list.

Bob Dylan - Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), and Together Through Life (2009). It's shameful that I'm not familiar with Bob Dylan. I've never heard any of these, but they were all very highly regarded.

The Strokes - Is This It (2001). NME named in the album of the decade. I wouldn't be surprised if Spin and Rolling Stone don't do that too. I actually rather like this album. It will probably appear pretty high on my list.

The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (2001) and Elephant (2003). These two albums represent the band at its critical peak, with Elephant also being its commercial one. I love Elephant, and although I haven't listened to White Blood Cells as much, I'm trying to give it a fair chance to make my list.

The Streets - Original Pirate Material (2002) and A Grand Don't Come for Free (2004). British lists in particular will definitely be including these. I have his second album, which is pretty good, although I doubt it will make my decade list.

Wilco - Yankee Foxtrot Hotel (2002). I'm more into Sky Blue Sky, but this one is good too. I haven't listened to it a whole lot.

Bruce Springsteen - The Rising (2002) and Magic (2006). Alternative pubs will probably not highlight him, but traditional rock outlets (like Rolling Stone) will likely give these prominence. Both are fine, but not among my favorites.

The Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2007). This band was a critics' darling this decade, with both albums being quite lovingly reviewed. I think I like Neon Bible a better than Funeral, although Funeral has their best song, "Power Out."

Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (2004). On a lark it seems, Jack White of The White Stripes produced the decade's most critically celebrated country album. This one gets a lot of play in my house (Chris loves it). I like it a lot too.

Kanye West - The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005). Critics seemed to cool on him after the first two albums, which is fairly typical. The College Dropout in particular seems to have been the best reviewed, even though it wasn't as big a hitmaker.

Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel the Illinoise! (2005). I bought this album, since it got so many great reviews, but never got into it, aside from "Chicago." This was supposed to be the second in a series of state-themed albums (it followed 2003's Michigan)

Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005). I got this when it came out, since it got such good reviews. Then I never really got into it. I think I might have liked his other album better that came out at the same time, but I never got it (it was more electronic).

Arctic Monkeys - Whatever I Say I Am, that's What I'm Not (2006). Another one that the British lists will definitely have. I liked their second album better, but this one's okay.

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (2006). This is one of the few pop albums that music critics seemed to really like. I love it. Definitely a classic. Definitely will be placed very high on my list.

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (2006) and Dear Science, (2008). I have both of these, and I just don't get what the fuss is. Not my thing.

M.I.A. - Kala (2007). This is something I'd like to hear more of. I have a few tracks, and I enjoyed the hit single "Paper Planes."

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007). I could never get into this. What's so great about it?

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand (2007). This won the Grammy Album of the Year earlier this year--along with Outkast's 2003 album, it's probably the highest regarded album to do so. I like this. It's definitely grown on me since I first got it for Christmas 2 years ago.

Vampire Weekend (2008). Gag. Not into them at all.

Fleet Foxes (2008). This I like better. It's unusual and folksy, but pretty. We'll see. It could make my list.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beyonce and Lady GaGa Hung Up on Phones

There's not one but two songs out by Beyonce and Lady GaGa about telephones. From Beyonce (feat. Lady GaGa) there's the new remix of the I Am...Sasha Fierce track "Video Phone," which is B's new US single (it's available from iTunes as part of the I Am...Sasha Fierce Bonus Tracks EP). Then on Lady GaGa's Fame Monster's there's "Telephone" (feat. Beyonce). Which do you like better?

Video Phone:



Telephone:



What's next..."Mobile Phone?"

New Albums This Week

November is the biggest month for new album releases. And this week is the biggest week of the month--making it one hell of a week for new music. Here's the biggest releases out in stores this week:

Rihanna - Rated R
The Barbadian pop singer breaks her silence with this dark fourth album. It follows Good Girl Gone Bad, the album that transformed Rihanna from merely a successful pop artist to a pop megastar, giving her #1 hits around the world in songs like "Umbrella," "Don't Stop the Music," "Take a Bow" and "Disturbia." Although it had a good variety of songs, it was most notable for its R&B-flavored dance pop. Rated R is instantly notable for its lack of such good times, focusing on edgier R&B and rock sounds. Although it doesn't directly address the end of her abusive relationship with Chris Brown, it does so indirectly through songs like "Russian Roulette" and "Stupid in Love." It's a move reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson's My December--a darker, more personal album following a mega-successful pop album. Will it pay off for Rihanna in ways that it didn't? We shall see; however, "Russian Roulette" is already performing on the charts exactly like Clarkson's "Never Again" did--"Never Again" debuted at #8 on the Hot 100 due to strong sales, but fell off after that and stalled at #22 at top 40 radio after a fairly rapid rise. Similarly, "Russian Roulette" reached #9 on the Hot 100, but has slipped to #16 this week, while the track climbed quickly at top 40 radio only to peak at #21. Could this be a sign? Immediate standouts: Stupid in Love, Rockstar 101, Russian Roulette, Fire Bomb

Adam Lambert - For Your Entertainment
Expectations are high for Adam Lambert's debut album. This year's American Idol runner-up developed quite a following for his flamboyant style. His debut certainly lives up to his image. These are big, over-the-top pop songs in the vein of Queen and Mika. Immediate standouts: Broken Open, Music Again, Fever

Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster
This is officially an EP, but can't we consider it an album? Sure it's only got 8 tracks, but in the '80s that was pretty common (Madonna's Madonna, Wham's Make It Big and Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down each had only 8 tracks). While most albums now have an average of about 13 tracks, sometimes this isn't a good thing, as a shorter album of all good songs is often preferable to something bloated that's a mix of good songs and filler. That was kind of how I felt about The Fame, which opened strong with her four big hits but was a mixed bag after that. This leaner follow-up all sounds pretty good so far and no less diverse. Immediate standouts: Bad Romance, Alejandro, Dance in the Dark, Speechless

Those were the albums I bought this morning. Two more releases worth noting:

Susan Boyle - I Dreamed a Dream
Who's got a better rise to fame story than Susan Boyle? The plain, middle-age nobody who became a star in Britain on Britain's Got Talent and the rest of the world via YouTube. I Dreamed a Dream is her debut, a collection of remakes she chose herself to express what she's gone through. Of course it includes the title track, a Christmas song ("Silent Night"--I think a whole album of Christmas music from her would be worth getting), a Madonna remake ("You'll See") and a rather grand Streisand-like first single, "Wild Horses," which is quite beautiful. This broke the record for most pre-ordered album at Amazon.com. Check out: Wild Horses.

Shakira - She Wolf
I'm not a Shakira fan, but I know she has a rather rabid following. This is her third English-language album following in the wake of hits like "Whenever, Wherever," "Underneath Your Clothes," and "Hips Don't Life." I've read reviews that just salivate over this and others that declare it a hot mess. Check out: Give It Up to Me

So how are they stacking up at iTunes so far? Here's the current placings:

1. Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster (EP version)
2. Susan Boyle - I Dreamed a Dream
3. Lady GaGa - The Fame Monster (Deluxe EP + The Fame)
4. Rihanna - Rated R (Explicit)
6. Adam Lambert - For Your Entertainment (Deluxe)
8. Adam Lambert - For Your Entertainment
14. Shakira - She Wolf (Deluxe)
29. Shakira - She Wolf
58. Rihanna - Rated R (Censored)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UK Singles Chart, November 28, 2009

1. You Are Not Alone - The X Factor Finalists

To no one's surprise, the X Factor Finalists top the UK singles chart this week with "You Are Not Alone," their remake of the 1995 Michael Jackson #1 hit. The power of the X Factor has been a recurring theme on the singles chart this fall, which has been dominated by tracks performed by established artists (Alexandra Burke, Cheryl Cole, JLS, Black Eyed Peas in particular, who saw their singles hit #1) and re-entries from the original artist's versions of songs the contestants sang on the show. Finally the contestants themselves get a crack at the chart, selling over 193,000 copies, more than twice what Black Eyed Peas' "Meet Me Halfway" sold to be this week's #2.

As great as that sounds though, this is actually not as wonderful as it could have been. For one, it's a far cry from the 312,000 that the 2008 X Factor Finalists sold last year of "Hero" in its first week. When "Hero" hit #1, it did so with a week's worth of sales that was about 5 times bigger than any other single had done that year. In contrast, this year's finalists did about as well as Alexandra Burke did a few weeks ago with "Bad Boys," and about 100k less than Cheryl Cole did recently when she bowed with "Fight for This Love." Could the show's popularity be slipping a bit? After all, this even had the Michael Jackson nostalgia factor going for it (this is the first remake of a Michael Jackson song to hit #1). Of course the real test will be how the winner does Christmas week--less than 1 month away now.

3. Whatcha Say - Jason DeRulo

A recent US #1 becomes a UK #3 as Jason DeRulo's "Whatcha Say" debuts at #3. This is DeRulo's first hit single.

8. Bad Romance - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa climbs back into the top 10 at #8, achieving a new peak position. Her new EP The Fame Monster hits stores next week. Will it push the single up even further? In the US, "Bad Romance" is currently #1 at iTunes.

15. To Love Again - Alesha Dixon

Alesha Dixon debuts at #15 with "To Love Again," the new single to promote the re-release of her album The Alesha Show. I'm surprised to not see this in the top 10, as it's a pretty decent song. At #15, it charts lower than the three singles from the original version of the album. "To Love Again" is co-written by Take That member Gary Barlow.

16. You've Got the Love - Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine scores her second top 40 hit with "You've Got the Love," a remake of the Candi Staton dance classic, "You Got the Love." The single first emerged in 1986, but wasn't a hit until 1991, when a remix of the song--credited then and afterward to The Source featuring Candi Staton--hit #4. Six years later, a new version, the "Now Voyagers Remix" hit #3. Seven years after that in 2004, the Now Voyagers Remix was featured in the final moments of the last episode of Sex and the City. Then in 2006, another remix, the "New Voyagers Remix" came out, sending the single once again into the top 10 at #7. Florence misses the top 10, but does gives us the fourth top 40 version of this song--the first by a different artist.

23. Baby By Me - 50 Cent (feat. Ne-Yo)

50 Cent lands his 19th top 40 hit. Ne-Yo nabs his 10th.

40. I Need You Now - Agnes

Somebody has messed up big time. No other way to explain how Swedish pop singer Agnes, who had a major summer hit with "Release Me," now gets a flop follow-up. Here are the mistakes as I see them: 1) Failing to capitalize on "Release Me." "Release Me" was a great single--good enough to launch the album Dance Love Pop (it's not like it wasn't ready to go, it came in Sweden over a year ago--I have it, it's great). At a minimum, there should have been a follow-up single sooner. 2) Remixing a slow song. Even dance pop artists need to show some diversity, and it's a common practice to release a ballad as a third or fourth single after a few uptempo hits. "I Need You Now" is one of Dance Love Pop's great slow songs, but by turning it into a dance tune--of which there were already several other great choices--they lost the opportunity to use the song in that manner. 3) Lack of promotion. "I Need You Now" is only #45 on the UK airplay chart and it's not on either the BBC Radio 1 or Radio 2 playlists. Isn't anyone doing PR for her? I hope this doesn't spell an end to Agnes' chances of getting her album out in the UK.

Album Review: Leona Lewis - Echo (4/5)

One can forgive Leona Lewis for basically remaking Spirit in Echo. After all, her 2007 debut has become the 27th best-selling album of all time in Britain (not a small feat considering the current state of album sales). Led by "Bleeding Love," which was the #1 single of 2007 in Britain, the biggest pop single of 2008 in the U.S., and a #1 hit in just about every country that tracks such things, the album was a success on a level unexpected for a new artist, even one launched with the help of Simon Cowell. After Kelly Clarkson, she became the second major international superstar launched from his Idol/X-Factor machine.

The similarities are apparent right off the back with "Happy," produced and co-written by Ryan Tedder, the OneRepublic frontman who, since producing and co-writing "Bleeding Love," has become one of the hottest commodities in pop music. "Happy" is "Bleeding Love" mark 2, a soaring, high-production ballad with the same thundering beat Tedder employs for these sorts of songs (see also Beyonce's "Halo" and Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone"). Just because its similar doesn't mean it's bad though, as the song is gorgeous, backed as it is by a string section, tinkling piano refrain and background singers (it's a shame "Happy" has failed in the US, charting lower at top 40 radio than even Spirit's third single "I Will Be").

Ryan Tedder shows up for two more songs that are decent, although not quite as grand as the opener."You Don't Care," another typical Tedder-ish ballad with that booming rhythm section and some woodwinds added to the strings, and "Lost Then Found," on which Tedder joins Lewis along with the rest of his band. It sounds like a pretty typical OneRepublic song--grand gestures and hooks that, for some reason, just don't add up like it should.

After "Happy," many of the tracks that follow at the beginning of the album are among its strongest. I absolutely adore "I Got You," a mid-tempo love song that unleashes Leona and the backing musicians during the strong chorus. This would make a perfect second single. It's produced by Arnthor Birgisson, who also helms another highlight, the tender "My Hands." "Can't Breathe" pushes the production flourishes a little more toward contemporary R&B with its synth layering and electronic bleeps and stutters. Elegant "Brave" exudes a Middle Eastern vibe.

"Outta My Head" represents one of Echo's key departures from Sprit--the inclusion of some dance pop. Produced by the Swedish team of Max Martin and Shellback, it's an enjoyable high-velocity, synth-based ditty. Also pushing up the RPMs are "Love Letter," a pop-rock song in the Kelly Clarkson mold produced by Kevin Rudolf ("Let It Rock"), and the rockin' also Clarkson-ish "Naked." All these songs are good, but particularly enjoyable is the '80s-mining "Fly Here Now," which has a really compelling beat.

Among the album's remaining slow songs, the best is "Stop Crying Your Heart Out," a remake of the 2003 Oasis hit, which manages the similar feat of turning a rock ballad into an atmospheric pop song that Lewis achieved last year with Snow Patrol's "Run." I'd be surprised if this wasn't released as a single in Britain, although I don't understand why this was omitted from the US release (similarly, I don't see why "Fly Here Now" wasn't included on the UK version).

The other ballads are fine, but not stand outs. "Broken" is supposed to be a sad lost-love type song, but it production is so overblown it comes across as angry. "Don't Let Me Down" is co-written by Justin Timberlake, and features him on backup vocals, but that doesn't save this from being an unremarkable Timbaland wannabe. "Alive" is not bad, but it comes rather late in the album to make it a standout against earlier, similar songs.

On balance, Echo is a slight improvement over Spirit, but not dramatically so. I like the broader mix of sounds, particularly the more up-tempo stuff, but there's still this nagging sense of a lack of artistry from Lewis herself. She's got a gorgeous voice, no doubt, and she can sing lots of different kinds of songs (she wouldn't have won X Factor if that wasn't the case), but I'm still not getting a sense of her in all this. Who is Leona Lewis? Where does her passion lie? I'm afraid she's getting lost among all this technical proficiency and elevated expectations for global domination. When Lewis was recently assaulted during a public appearance it was rather shocking, not just because it was a crazy, mean thing to do, but because who can get so worked up over a singer so seemingly innocuous?

Best: Happy, I Got You, Stop Crying Your Heart Out, Brave, Outta My Head, My Hands, Can't Breathe, Fly Here Now, Naked

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Best of 2000s: Duffy - Rockferry (5/5)

If Amy Winehouse cornered the bad-girl retro '60s market in 2006, Duffy showed there was room enough for a good-girl competitor in 2008. On the back of her heady breakthrough single, "Mercy," Duffy delivered 2008's best album. Rockferry was a gorgeous, soulful debut, with many of the songs focusing on the desire to leave or move on from a toxic relationship. A smash success in Britain, Rockferry also caught on in the US, where "Mercy" was a minor hit and Rockferry went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Pop Album.

Best: Mercy, Warwick Avenue, Stepping Stone, Serious, Hanging on Too Long

NME's Best Albums of the Decade

New Musical Express has published its list of the 100 greatest albums of the decade. How exciting to see these start to come out! Being NME, the list is almost exclusively alternative rock. They've set up the article nicely with music clips and links to all the original reviews. Here's the top 10:

1. The Strokes - Is This It
2. The Libertines - Up the Bracket
3. Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
4. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell
6. PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
7. Arcade Fire - Funeral
8. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
9. The Streets - Original Pirate Material
10. Radiohead - In Rainbows

Other highlights

14. Radiohead - Kid A
16. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free
18. The White Stripes - Elephant
19. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
27. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
33. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
49. Muse - Absolution
51. The Good, the Bad and the Queen
55. Hard-Fi - Stars of CCTV
65. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
70. Glasvegas
77. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas
100. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

Friday, November 20, 2009

Personal Chart, 11/21/2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Billboard Hot 100, November 28, 2009

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

Jay-Z summits the Hot 100 for the first time as the lead performer with "Empire State of Mind," the lovely second single from The Blueprint 3. The single features female R&B singer Alicia Keys, earning her fourth #1 hit. Jay-Z has topped the chart three time previously as a featured rapper--all for very prominent female artists: with Mariah Carey in 1999 on "Heartbreaker," his wife Beyonce in 2003 on "Crazy in Love" and in 2007 with Rihanna on "Umbrella." This is the 7th week in a row that the Hot 100's #1 single has been something different than the previous week, a rate of turnover unseen since the advent of the Soundscan era in late 1991. The last time there was such a stretch was in the latter half of 1990, a 7-week period beginning with Nelson's "Cant Live Without Your (Love and Affection)" and ending with Mariah Carey's "Love Takes Time," which spent 3 consecutive weeks at #1. In 1989 there was an 8-week stretch beginning with Michael Damian's "Rock On" and ending with Martika's "Toy Soldiers."

5. Need You Now - Lady Antebellum

Last week's Country Music Awards (CMA) had quite the impact on the Hot 100 this week--a rare showing for country, the Hot 100's 4th-place genre after R&B, pop and rock. Lady Antebellum was one of the evening's big winners, picking up single of the year (for "I Run to You") and best vocal group. "Need You Now" is the group's newest single and first to be in the top 10.

10. Tik Tok - Ke$ha

Ke$ha lands her first top 10 solo hit. I think I already mentioned she was #1 earlier this year as a guest on Flo Rida's "Right Round."

26. Fifteen - Taylor Swift

Nice jump for Taylor Swift's "Fifteen," up 12 to #26 (but wouldn't a 15-spot jump have been nice? Maybe it will land on #15 at some point).

31. Defying Gravity - Glee Cast featuring Chris Colfer and Lea Michele

Glee scores its 6th top 40 hit with "Defying Gravity," the subject of a diva-off between Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rachel (Lea Michele). Rachel won the contest when Kurt failed to hit the song's high note. The album version is actually different than what appeared on the show, as the song has been re-arranged to be a duet (and Kurt doesn't miss that note). Fun fact: Broadway star and Glee guest star Kristin Chenoweth sang this song as part of the cast of Wicked. Hopefully something from this week's Glee will appear in the top 40 next week--Rachel's disco-ey version of Jennifer Paige's "Crush?" Finn's goofy rendition of "You're Having My Baby" or, better, his version of The Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You?" Rachel and Mr. Schuester's lovely yet creepy "Endless Love?" or perhaps the full-cast finale of "Lean on Me?"

32. I'm Alive - Kenny Chesney feat. Dave Matthews
35. Do I - Luke Bryan
38. White Liar - Miranda Lambert
39. Consider Me Gone - Reba

Just look at all that country music. Perhaps the music industry just needs a few more awards shows.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songs of My Lifetime: Janet jackson - "If"


Doing the write-up of Number Ones put me in the mood to reminisce about "If," hands down my favorite Janet Jackson song ever. When Janet. came out in the summer of 1993, I listened to the whole album nonstop, but this was an early and immediate favorite. My friends and I used to try to copy the video's dance moves--particularly the robotic arm motions during the instrumental middle section.

A few years later while in college, my friend Layla, who was an extraordinary dancer (and now a DJ), got a group of us together to perform "If" at DragFest, our college's big spring gay dance--the social event of the season. We rehearsed daily for about a week leading up to the dance, and it was a lot of fun. I've always loved the videos with the big choreographed dance sequences--many of the best of which were Janet Jackson's (When I Think of You, Miss You Much, Rhythm Nation, and Alright, in particular). Thanks to Layla, I actually got to be part of one. Her choreography was pretty faithful to the video moves (see below). When we performed on stage at the dance, it was a big hit.

The song itself is pretty amazing dance pop. Its unrelenting tempo, heavy bass beat, layers of synths, and fuzzy electric guitar form the perfect background for Janet's horny declarations ("I closed my eyes and thought about us a hundred different ways") and thinly veiled allusions to oral sex ("your smooth and shiny feels so good against my lips, sugar"). Indeed. This is one to turn up--way up.

Janet Jackson - Number Ones


Like Madonna did recently, this week Janet Jackson released a 2-disc, career-spanning greatest hits collection. This is Janet's second retrospective, following Design of a Decade (DOAD), the 1995 release that included all the singles from Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, plus two new tracks. A drawback of that set was that since it was released on A&M, her former label, it included only one track from Janet., which had been released under her new label Virgin. So while it had "That's the Way Love Goes," it was missing "If," "Again," and "Any Time, Any Place," which were all major hits.

Number Ones corrects that oversight and more, delivering a satisfying and comprehensive set of Janet's remastered hits, spanning her A&M, Virgin and Island years from "What Have You Done for Me Lately" to new single "Make Me" Nothing from Janet Jackson or Dream Street is included, but that's no surprise, given that neither album generated any major hits. The concept behind Number Ones is that every track here was #1 on some Billboard chart, be it the Hot 100, dance club play or R&B chart (abroad, where Janet's chart prospects didn't fare as well, this is known as The Best).

Number Ones generally contains single versions, which is good, since Janet was notorious for putting out singles that differed--sometimes substantially--from the album version. "Alright," "Come Back to Me," and "Black Cat," Rhythm Nation's 4th, 5th, and 6th singles, in particular, were quite different from their album versions. DOAD generally included single versions, but here there are some nice touches that depart from DOAD, like using the video version of "Alright," which, in addition to having a different arrangement from the album version, also included a rap from Heavy D. Here's an era-by-era rundown of Number Ones:

Control (1986-1987)

Pros: All six Control singles are here, including the single version of "Let's Wait Awhile," which is nice, since that was one of the few single versions DOAD did not include. More significantly, "Diamonds," the 1987 top 10 hit with Herb Alpert, makes its first appearance on a Janet Jackson disc. This is probably the biggest treat of the whole collection, since "Diamonds" did not appear on DOAD (or Control), and has not been available from digital outlets. "Control" includes the spoken-word intro, which DOAD omitted.

Cons: It might have been nice to include the video version of "When I Think of You," which was slightly remixed from the original, but this is a small gripe.

Best: Nasty, When I Think of You, What Have You Done for Me Lately

Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989-1992)

Pros: The aforementioned rap version of "Alright," A different mix of "Rhythm Nation," that, unlike DOAD includes the spoken-word "Pledge" introduction, which DOAD omitted. It includes the same single version of "Come Back to Me" as DOAD and a similar single version of "Black Cat" (it has a shorter middle section guitar solo).

Cons: The album misses an opportunity to finally put out the radio version of "State of the World," the "United Nations Remix Edit." I would so love to have this, but alas, it wasn't ever #1. Also, I prefer the bubblier remix of "The Best Things in Life Are Free" to the album version which appears here.

Best: Rhythm Nation, Miss You Much, Love Will Never Do, Come Back to Me, Alright

Janet./Design of a Decade (1993-1995)

Pros: Finally, the Janet. singles appear. In my market, the pop radio station (Z100, Portland) played remixes of "That's The Way Love Goes" and "If." While I liked the former, the original version of "If" is superior, so I'm glad that appears here. "Any Time, Any Place" appears in its single version, the R. Kelly remix.

Cons: "You Want This" didn't make the cut, which is a shame, since the single version contains a rap by MC Lyte and would be nice to have. "Twenty Foreplay" was also significantly remade (and improved) for its single release, but that was such a minor release, I didn't expect it would be here.

Best: If, That's the Way Love Goes, Runaway

The Velvet Rope (1997-1999)

Pros: Interesting version of "Got 'til It's Gone," which includes a little intro from Q-tip, but is otherwise pretty close to the album version. Single edit of "Together Again" (not a remix, and there were some fun remixes of this song). "What's It Gonna Be" with Busta Rhymes makes an appearance, while the BLACKstreet collaboration "Girlfriend/Boyfriend" does not.

Con: One of the few times they didn't use a single version that I would have championed is the TNT Remix Edit of "I Get Lonely," which has a funkier beat and more prominently features BLACKstreet. I wouldn't have minded having her Shaggy collaboration, "Luv Me, Luv Me." And why oh why wasn't The Velvet Rope's title track a single? "Velvet Rope" is such a cool song.

Best: Got 'til It's Gone, Together Again

All for You (2000-2002)

Pro: The video version of "All for You" appears, which I've always championed to the single version since it has that fun middle-section interlude that interpolates little snips of "The Pleasure Principle" and "Go Deep." Also included is the original single version of "Doesn't Really Matter," which was always better than the ridiculous remix they put on the album.

Cons: No complaints here, but there were so few singles from All for You there's little to discuss.

Best: Someone to Call My Lover, All for You, Doesn't Really Matter

Nipplegate and beyond (2004-2009)

Pro: This is when Janet's career nosedived, along with the quality of her music, so despite what might have been an inclination to load this with the more recent but less popular singles, they resisted, and so we just get "All Nite," "Call on Me," and "Feedback." "Make Me" is a fun song, an ode to her brother Michael's #1 hit "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough."

Con: A shame "Just a Little While" couldn't be here, as that's probably my favorite Janet song of this era (although I do love the groove of "All Nite").

Best: All Nite (Don't Stop)

So, overall a pretty decent set with no major missteps and quite a lot of nice inclusions, particularly if you're a fan with her albums but not her singles.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You Are Not Alone

The X Factor Finalists' single "You Are Not Alone" is out and selling like gangbusters. Today's midweek report shows its already moved 82,000 copies. That's about 3,000 copies less than Leona Lewis's "Happy" sold all last week. So obviously, it will be this week's #1 hit, and likely the biggest selling single to date this year (that is until one of these finalists releases his, her or their debut single Christmas week).

"You Are Not Alone" is, of course, a remake of Michael Jackson's 1995 #1 hit. Now that he's gone, I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more covers of Michael Jackson songs. There are relatively few major ones--the only other one that comes to mind is Alien Ant Farm's 2001 version of "Smooth Criminal," a #3 hit in the UK. Mariah Carey had a US #1 in 1992 with "I'll Be There," but technically that's a Jackson 5 remake.

Several of Jackson's or Jackson 5's songs have been sampled prominently: "Human Nature" on SWV's "Right Here (Human Nature)," "Can You Feel It" on The Tamperer feat. Maya's "Feel It," and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" on Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Black Eyed Peas #1 Hits

I failed to mention yesterday that "Meet Me Halfway's" appearance at #1 on the British singles chart signifies another important chart record: It makes The E.N.D. the first album this decade to generate three #1 hits.

Now, some of you may do some Google and Wikipedia searches and come up with some other examples, but....they all need asterisks, while The E.N.D. did it outright.

The other potential albums all included #1 hits that were #1s way before the albums were released (and thus conceptually weren't really part of the album), or were re-released with new tracks and one of the new tracks was #1 (and thus not part of the original album as released). Westlife's Coast to Coast and World of Our Own for example, depending on which version you have, may include "Uptown Girl," thus making three #1 hits on each. But "Uptown Girl" was a one-off and not really part of either album.

S Club 7's Sunshine had three #1 hits because it contained "Never Had a Dream Come True," a #1 hit from a year prior that first appeared on the re-release of their previous album, 7. Same goes for Dizzee Rascal's Tongue N' Cheek, which includes "Dance Wiv Me," a #1 hit a year before the album's release.

Will Young and Gareth Gates both scored three #1 hits from their debut albums, but in both cases the first two singles were recorded significantly ahead of the albums' releases.

McFly's third album, Motion in the Ocean, can count as having three #1 hits if you consider the re-released "tour edition" also included #1 hit "Baby's Coming Back." Nelly's Sweatsuit, a re-release of tracks from his albums Sweat and Suit, contains three #1 hits, including new track "Nasty Girl."

Two albums achieve the feat by having both #1 hits that were hits way before the albums were released and #1 hits that were new tracks added to a re-release. Daniel Bedingfield's Gotta Get Thru This included the late 2001 #1 hit "Gotta Get Thru This," the late 2002 #1 hit "If You're Not the One," released just after the album, and the summer 2003 #1 included on the re-release, "Never Gonna Leave Your Side." Leona Lewis's Spirit likewise includes her X Factor victory hit "A Moment Like This," proper album single "Bleeding Love," and re-release #1, "Run."

The '90s, particularly the late '90s, saw quite a few albums give us 3 or more #1 hits. This, despite the fact that back then there was none of this re-release nonsense to puff up albums. There were even a few that had 4 #1s! Here's a list of those in the latter half of the decade:

Westlife (1999): Swear It Again, If I Let You Go, Flying Without Wings, Fool Again

Geri Halliwell's Schizophrenic (1999): Mi Chico Latino, Lift Me Up, and Bag It Up

B*Witched (1998): C'est La Vie, Rollercoaster, To You I Belong, Blame It on the Weatherman

All Saints (1997): Never Ever, Under the Bridge/Lady Marmalade, Booty Call

Spice Girls Spiceworld (1997): Spice Up Your Life, Too Much, Viva Forever

Aqua Aquarium (1997): Barbie Girl, Doctor Jones, Turn Back Time

Spice Girls Spice (1996): Wannabe, Say You'll Be There, 2 Become 1, Mama/Who Do You Think You Are

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UK Singles Chart, November 21, 2009

1. Meet Me Halfway - Black Eyed Peas
2. Happy - Leona Lewis

Christmas is still a month away, but it's bah humbug anyway on the British charts this week. Both the single and the album I was hoping would be #1 got beat and both pretty late in the week. At mid-week, it looked like Leona Lewis would be earning her fourth #1 hit and Robbie Williams his 9th #1 album. But late in the week, there were upsets in both cases.

Thus Black Eyed Peas earn their fourth #1 hit and the third consecutive #1 hit this year, following "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling." In a year where no less than nine artists have scored two #1 hits, Black Eyed Peas become the first to land three chart-toppers. The last artist to score at least three #1 hits within a calendar year was Elvis Presley in 2005, who topped the chart with "Jailhouse Rock," "One Night," and "It's Now or Never."

Leona Lewis has to settle for runner-up then, debuting at #2 with "Happy," the first single from her second album Echo, out tomorrow. "Happy" is Lewis's 6th consecutive top 5 single. In the end it wasn't even really that close, with Lewis selling about 86k to BEP's 100k.

5. I Need You - N-Dubz

N-Dubz land their first solo top 10 hit. Earlier this year they were featured on Tinchy Stryder's #1, "Number One." Their previous best was "Papa Can You Hear Me," which hit #19 last year.

7. 3 - Britney Spears

Leona Lewis isn't the only female pop star to miss out an a #1 this week. "3" is the new single from Britney Spears' greatest hits collection released this week. It was a recent #1 in American, but in Britain it debuts at only #7. The lack of a physical release may have contributed to its misfortune, or perhaps it just isn't as interesting a single as her more recent bigger hits like "Gimme More" or "Womanizer." This is Britney's 20th top 10 hit.

8. About a Girl - Sugababes

Sugababes debut at #8 with "About a Girl," the follow-up to recent #2 hit "Get Sexy." "About a Girl" made a brief appearance on the radio in September with former member Keisha Buchanan, but was quickly yanked while it and the rest of the album could be re-recorded with new member Jade Ewen, following Bachanan's departure. "About a Girl" is the second single from the group's upcoming 7th album, Sweet 7, which was supposed to come out this month, but has been moved to March. "About a Girl" reverses the recent trend of Sugababes albums scoring only one top 10 hit. It's produced by RedOne, the man responsible for recent hits by Lady GaGa and Little Boots.

17. You Know Me - Robbie Williams

So Robbie Williams' Reality Killed the Video Star not hitting #1 on the albums chart was the week's other major chart disappointment. Instead JLS's debut album is #1, although only selling about 1,000 more copies than Robbie. Reality is the first Robbie album not to debut at #1 since his first album (not counting his concert album, which isn't really an "album" in the strictest sense). The album's release is good news for his new single, "You Know Me," which debuts on downloads about a month ahead of its scheduled Christmas week release.

25. Cry Me Out - Pixie Lott

Also debuting in the top 40 on downloads ahead of its release is the third single from Pixie Lott, the very retro sounding ballad "Cry Me Out." Great third single. Could be a #1 contender if everyone's done buying The X Factor Finalists' remake of "You Are Not Alone," which is out tomorrow and surely surely surely to be #1 next weekend.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Album Review: Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night (4/5)


Admittedly, this isn't the kind of thing I usually listen to, but I actually quite like Maxwell's album, BLACKsummers'night. Not sure what's going on with the album's oddly punctuated title, but the music itself hits all the right notes for a sultry, soulful evening. "Bad Habits" sets the mood--smooth, soulful and adult R&B, "Cold" adds a prominent brass section, and "Pretty Wings" is simply a lovely lovelorn ballad.

"Help Somebody" is a more forceful, backed strongly by the brass section, while "Stop the World" is mellower. Placed right next to each other, the songs create a question as to Maxwell's social motives. "Help Somebody" could be read as a humanitarian plea, but it could also just refer to himself, while "Stop the World" definitely aims to place all other concerns on hold in favor of a personal romantic pursuit. "Love You" charges ahead on its prominent beat and piano chords.

"Fistful of Tears" tells the story of a troubled relationship. Several reviews I've read really praised this song, but it doesn't really excite me, for its melody is awfully repetitive. I'm more partial to the next track, the quiet, acoustic guitar-backed "Playing Possum," with the cool horn solo. "Phoenix Rise" closes the album on a strong note, building a layered melody with synths, guitars and drums.

Most R&B I listen to is that which crosses over to top 40. It's nice to hear something different for a change--something that isn't punctuated by a third act rap or coated with aut0-tune. I read this is the first in a trilogy of albums Maxwell is planning, with the second album to focus on gospel and the third on slow jams. Gospel doesn't really interest me, but the slow jams album might be interesting. I started listening to this because I think it might be nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award, but over the last couple months I've been coming back to it again and again.

Best: Pretty Wings, Bad Habits, Stop the World, Cold

Grammy Album of the Year - Predicting the Nominees, an Analysis

Grammy Awards nominations will be announced December 2 and, like usual, I'll be making my predictions in the days ahead. First though, I wanted to do some analysis of the Album of the Year (AOTY) category--Grammy's biggest prize--to see if I can improve my chances of getting all 5 nominees right.

One of the most critical factors I've read about (and seen myself) is what I'll call the "genre theory." The genre theory states that AOTY generally favors spreading its nominees across multiple genres, rather than having multiple nominees of the same type of music. Accepting this, it would follow logically that the album that wins a genre category would be the most likely choice to also receive an AOTY nod.

I did an analysis of the last 5 years of nominees to examine this theory, and it holds pretty well, although there are some exceptions. My top observations:

1) Of the 25 albums nominated in AOTY, 21 of them won a best album award in a genre. The exceptions: Year of the Gentleman (2008), FutureSex/LoveSound (2006), Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005), Love.Angel.Music.Baby (2005).

2) In three of the five years, the AOTY nominees all came from different genres. The exceptions were 2005 and 2006, which both had two pop AOTY nominees--Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Love.Angel.Music.Baby in 2005 and FutureSex/LoveSounds and Continuum in 2006.

Let's look at those exceptions then more closely:

1) Year of the Gentleman. Ne-Yo's album was a contemporary R&B nominee, but it lost the award to Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains. I would chock this up to another important Grammy principle--one that's useful for predicting winners, but may generally be useful for nominees too--which is that the veteran has the advantage over the newbie. So Blige, who hadn't won in this category before, probably won based on her body of work. Ne-Yo actually won this award in the previous year for Because of You.

2) FutureSex/LoveSounds and Continuum. Justin Timberlake and John Mayer were both nominated in pop and AOTY categories. Mayer won the pop award. What strikes me is that although both "pop" albums, they are really quite different. This could be an argument for splitting the pop album award into two like R&B is--traditional (Mayer) vs. contemporary (Timberlake). So in a way, this still supports the genre theory.

3) Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Love.Angel.Music.Baby. This one is the most interesting exception. Both of these albums were nominated in pop and AOTY and won neither. Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway was a pop nominee, but didn't get AOTY. It's pretty amazing then two albums nominated in pop that didn't win made it through to AOTY. Like the 2006 nominees, the McCartney and Stefani albums support my within-genre theory (McCartney being traditional and Stefani contemporary). Clarkson sort of falls somewhere in between these two, being a new face, but singing pretty traditional pop/rock songs. Also Clarkson is the newbie of the bunch, with Stefani having been around since 1996 with No Doubt and McCartney being the music legend that he is.

Finally, I examined which specific genres performed the best. Here's the breakdown:

1) Pop - 6 nominees (1 winner)
2) Rock - 5 nominees--one each year--and 1 winner
3) Rap - 4 nominees (3 of which were Kanye West) and no winners
4) Contemporary R&B - 3 nominees (no winners)
5) Country - 2 nominees (1 winner).
6) Alternative - 2 nominees (no winners)
7) Contemporary folk - 1 nominee and winner
8) Contemporary jazz - 1 nominees and winner
9) R&B - 1 nominee

Here then are my five AOTY prediction principles derived from this exercise:

1) Make all 5 picks come from different genres.
2) If you are going to predict two albums from the same genre, they should be pretty different.
3) Include a rock nominee, and probably a pop one.
4) For split genres, favor a "contemporary" contender over a "traditional" one.
5) If it comes down to two similar albums from the same genre that both look like they have a fair shot, favor the veteran, which is the one most likely to win the genre and thus have the best shot of also being picked for AOTY.

Finally, if you want to start thinking about this and apply these principles yourself, here's a longlist of potential AOTY nominees with the genre (I believe) they were submitted under:

Beyonce - I Am...Sasha Fierce (contemporary R&B)
Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D. (pop vocal)
Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King (rock)
Bob Dylan - Together through Life (contemporary folk/Americana)
Eminem - Relapse (rap)
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (rock)
Whitney Houston - I Look to You (R&B)
Diana Krall - Quiet Nights (jazz vocal)
Lady GaGa - The Fame (electronic)
Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night (R&B)
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (alternative)
Regina Spektor - Far (pop vocal)
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream (rock)
George Strait - Twang (country)
Taylor Swift - Fearless (country)
U2 - No Line on the Horizon (rock)
Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak (pop vocal)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (alternative)

Best of 2000s: Radiohead - In Rainbows (5/5)

With In Rainbows, Radiohead blended the best of Kid A experimentalism with The Bends songcraft. The results are a quite satisfying mix of sonically ambitious yet accessible songs, ranging from the frenzied beats of opener "15 Steps," and rockin' "Bodysnatchers" to somber slow tracks like "Nude" and "All I Need." Best is the trio of songs in the second half--"Reckoner," "House of Cards," and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place"--that all typify the best of what the band can be, exhibiting warmth, depth and despair.

Best: House of Cards, Reckoner, 15 Steps, Jigsaw Falling Into Place, All I Need, Nude, Bodysnatchers

Friday, November 13, 2009

Album Review: Robbie Williams - Reality Killed the Video Star (4.5/5)

"Here I stand, victorious" were the first words Robbie Williams uttered on his 2005 album Intensive Care. At the time, he was Britain's biggest-selling pop artist, having scored six #1 hits during the previous 7 years and sold many millions of his albums (2000's Sing When You're Winning and 2002's Escapology were the #1 albums of the year when released). Around that time though, he started to lose some luster. "Tripping" was Intensive Care's only top 5 hit, and it wasn't a #1. Then came Rudebox, Robbie's great musical experiment that failed to connect with the public--it ended 2006 as only the 36th biggest album of the year.

Not so victorious anymore it seemed, a fact acknowledged in "Morning Sun," the opening track of Reality Killed the Video Star, during which Robbie reflects "A message to the troubadour: the world don't love you anymore." Hardly a wallow in self pity though, Reality is a triumph, Robbie's best album since I've Been Expecting You. "Don't call it a comeback" he says on "Last days of Disco," as if not wanting to acknowledge he's been away. But the 3 years have done him some good it seems, moving him past the vain experimentation of Rudebox or bloated exaltation of Intensive Care.

The album has a good mix of grandiose pop and mellow lounge-ish songs. Nothing is really rocking, which gives it a nice laid back vibe. "Morning Sun" and "Bodies" are more on the epic side, rolled up in waves of guitar, drums and stringed orchestration. Robbie has always excelled at these kinds of songs, and it's nice to hear a focused emphasis on making good pop hooks. As usual though, Robbie isn't always seriousness, lightening the mood with a nod to the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" during "Morning Sun's final third and provocative religious lyrics in "Bodies." "You Know Me's" lush instrumentation is tempered by its '60s doo-wop melody. It's a good choice for the album's winter single.

Guy Chambers, the longtime Williams collaborator who has been absent since Escapology, co-wrote "Blasphemy," a lovely piano and strings ballad that has clever, if meaningless, lyrical phrases ("What so great about the Great Depression?"). "Do You Mind," the album's rockiest tune, recalls the sunny, carefree pop rock of songs like "Jesus in a Camper Van" or "South of the Border."

"Last Days of Disco" transitions the album to its groovy late-night middle. It's heavy '80s-styled synths recall Pet Shop Boys, whom Williams worked with on Rudebox, but like every other song here, it's produced by Trevor Horn. I'm sure you've all read he was in the Buggles, and that's why the album's title nods to his band's breakthrough hit "Video Killed the Radio Star" as well as offering a commentary on the current state of British pop music (although the man himself wasn't above appearing on The X Factor to perform "Bodies").

"Somewhere" is a brief interlude of orchestrated drama before "Deceptacon," another lovely piano ballad, which has nothing to do with the Transformers, but rather lost love it seems. It's followed by the rather fabulous and very '70s sounding "Starstruck." It recalls the kind of stuff George Michael was doing in the '90s. That this lightly disco-ish track is followed by the album's most clubby entry, "Difficult for Weirdos." It's also PSB-ish and nicely sequenced the follow the disco track.

"Superblind" is a pretty gentle ballad with soft guitar and keyboards, as well as strings later in the song. "Won't Do That," a pretty upbeat and stagey number is the last song on the album, which closes the album with a pretty good whiz-bang moment before ending with a brief reprise of the darker opening track, "Morning Sun."

I'm really quite happy with this album. It's got a lot of gorgeous big pop moments, as well as quite a bit of nuance. Male pop stars are an endangered species these days, so it's nice to see one that's always shown such promise and talent not throwing in the towel but doing something really great.

Best: Bodies, Morning Sun, You Know Me, Starstruck, Blasphemy, Deceptacon