Wednesday, March 31, 2010

1990 Album Review: Depeche Mode - Violator (4.5/5)

In 1990, gloomy synth-pop/rock band Depeche Mode released their greatest album. The modern rock darlings had skirted with fame with "People Are People," their first U.S. top 40 single, and their great 1987 album, Music for The Masses, but Violator was the band at their creative and commercial peak. The album is an effective, accessible blend of styles--rock, pop and dance in particular--with the group's trademark dark and synth-driven sound. What it lacks in experimentation, Violator delivers in confidence, kicking off the album with an appropriately downbeat yet upbeat dance pop track, "World in My Eyes." From there we get the moodier and more satisfying "Sweetest Perfection," with its grinding deep synth notes and strings, it's quite a sexy song. It's followed by the grandeur of Western-leaning "Personal Jesus," with its now-famous exhortation to "reach out and touch faith." While it's grainy video got a decent amount of MTV airplay, it was nothing compared to its follow-up, the thoroughly gorgeous "Enjoy the Silence," one of my very favorite singles ever from this group and definitely among my 10 favorite hits of 1990 (keep track of how many times I claim this and once I get to 15, somebody slap me), in fact, it's probably one of my all-time favorite songs ever. Really, really great song. In general, I like the faster songs here, so the strutting "Policy of Truth," another hit single, and sinister "Halo" are also highlights. Slower songs like "Waiting for the Night" and "Clean" are good too, but not standouts. Total as a whole though, this is a very satisfying listen. Good enough to make me a life-long fan of this group. Depression never sounded so good.

Best: Enjoy the Silence, Policy of Truth, Personal Jesus, Sweetest Perfection, Halo

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Feels Like a Prayer

This is fun...a mash-up of Meck and Leo Sayer's "Feels Like Home" with "Like a Prayer." This will be released as a single soon.

Music of 1990: March

United States

Through most of March 1990, America was rejoicing to the frothy dance pop of Janet Jackson's "Escapade." It was the third and biggest of Rhythm Nation's seven top 10 hits, spending 3 weeks at #1. The song's colorful Mardi-Gras-inspired video, filmed outside, was a departure from the black-and-white indoor videos for "Miss You Much" and "Rhythm Nation." There's also less emphasis on synchronized dancing, and Janet looks happy throughout the video. All in all, the song's lighter mood and festive sound was the perfect hit to transition from winter to spring. The song was inspired by Martha and the Vandellas' "Nowhere to Run"

Canadian Alannah Myles had the month's second-biggest hit with "Black Velvet," her soulful, sultry ode to Elvis Presley. I remember not caring for this song back in 1990, as I thought it sounded a bit country (and I didn't like country at all back then). It's grown on me significantly since then, and I'd probably include it on a list of my 10 favorite songs of the year. A shame she never had another major hit in the US.

After scoring two #1 hits in 1989, Swedish duo Roxette had a third top 2 hit in March 1990 with "Dangerous." After the ballad "Listen to Your Heart," it was the duo's most upbeat single yet. Also following up a successful 1989 single with another hit was the B-52s, who hit #3 with "Roam," the follow-up to their #3 hit "Love Shack." Although "Love Shack" has been remembered as their most iconic song, I've always rather liked "Roam," which had a cool video.

Madonna scored a fourth top 10 hit from Like a Prayer with "Keep It Together." Although known for her videos, this was one of several Madonna hits to not have one, along with "Angel," "Hanky Panky" and "Rescue Me." Also scoring a hit at this time was Madonna's ex-husband's big brother, Michael Penn. I've always really liked this song, as well as its video, which won him an MTV VMA for best new artist.

Finally, this was the time American got its introduction to Cathy Dennis, appearing with her group D-Mob in "C'mon and Get My Love," which hit #10. Dennis would go on to score three top 10 solo hits the following year, including #2 single "Touch Me (All Night Long)." As her recording career wound down, her writing and producing career took off, and she has gone on to helm a number of major hits, most notably Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," as well as the theme song to the Idol franchise. Pity she hadn't yet found the outfit with the chest cutout when she made this video.

United Kingdom

Britain's biggest hit of March 1990 was "Dub Be Good to Me" by Beats International, which spent 4 weeks at #1. The song was written and produced by Norman Cook, better known these days as Fatboy Slim, and co-written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, best known at the time for their work with Janet Jackson. Dub is a sub-genre of reggae that relies heavily on samples. While Dub is generally instrumental, this song incorporates a vocal from the SOS Band's "Just Be Good to Me," re-recorded by Lindy Layton, as well as a sample of "Jam Hot" by Johnny Dynell. The song also samples the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" and the theme music from Once Upon a Time in the West by Ennio Morricone. Although a massive hit in Britain, the single was not big in the US, although it did hit #1 on the dance club chart.

Reaching the top of the chart the last week of March was "The Power" by German dance act Snap! Like "Dub Be Good to Me," it also features a number of samples which, since unauthorized, landed the group in a bit of trouble. In particular, Jocelyn Brown, who's refrain "I've got the power" from her "Love's Gonna Get You" is used extensively as the song's title, sought legal action against the song. Chill Rob G, whose "Let the Words Flow" is also used extensively, retaliated by recording his own version of "The Power," lifting additional elements from the Snap version not present on his "Let the Words Flow." "The Power" would go on to be a major hit in the US, hitting #2 in August and topping the dance chart one week before "Dub Be Good to Me" in June.

The Brit Awards formed the basis of #2 hit "The Brits 1990," a megamix dance medley of hits nominated that year put together by Jonathan King. I can't say I recognize any of them, but medley mixes were big at the time, particularly those by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, who hit #4 in March with "That Sounds Good to Me," the group's fourth single and first to not top the UK singles chart.

"Blue Savannah" became synth-pop duo Erasure's 8th top 10 hit in March, hitting #3. It was the third and most successful single from Wild!, the act's fourth album. Dance act Candy Flip had their only major hit, a #3 remake of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" featuring the very famous Clyde Stubblefield drum rhythm from James Brown's "Funky Drummer."

Instrumental singles have always fared better in the UK than in the US, so it's no surprise that "Lily Was Here," one of the few instrumentals to chart fairly well in the American, did even better in Britain, hitting #6 in March. The composition, created by David A. Stewart and featuring newcomer Candy Dulfer on saxophone, is from the soundtrack to Dutch film De Kassiere. In 1991, the single hit #11 in the US. I've always really loved this, particularly the DNA remix that was included on the US single.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

April New Releases

Wasn't March great? Broken Bells, Two Door Cinema Club and Goldfrapp were all winners. And although they didn't win me over completely, Alphabeat and Ellie Goulding weren't bad either.

April, in contrast, is relatively tame.

MGMT - Congratulations. The most anticipated album of the month is the sophomore release from New York-based MGMT, the uber-hyped duo were 2008's indie band to love, winning over audiences with pop-leaning songs like "Time to Pretend" and "Kids," the latter of which has been a favorite by others to cover (including the Chiddy Bang remake, "Opposite of Adults"). I've read that this album will be less "pop" than Oracular Spectacular. I've also read that, in a Kid A-like move, there won't be any singles released (although in the digital age, that doesn't really mean anything). These could be red flags--signs the band's fame has quickly gone to their heads--or perhaps not. Perhaps this will be brilliant. Stay tuned, and for the time being, check out first taste, "Flash Delerium." (April 12/13)

Hole - Nobody's Daughter. It's been 12 years since Hole released Celebrity Skin, during which time the band was kaput from 2002 until last year, when it re-formed. During that time, it's famous lead singer Courtney Love spent some time in rehab, which, at Linda Perry's encouragement, gave her time to write some new songs. Love sounds like she's in fine form on first single, "Skinny Little Bitch." (April 23)

Scouting for Girls - Everybody Wants to Be on TV. The British band, known for hits like "She's So Lovely" and "Elvis Ain't Dead," returns with their second album. (April 5)

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim - Here Lies Love. David Byrne of Talking Heads fame and Fatboy Slim teamed up with a bevy of female singers (Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Nellie McKay, Sia, Santigold, etc.) on this concept album about....Philippino Imelda Marcos. No joke! (April 5)

B.o.B. - B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Atlanta rapper releases his debut featuring the better-everyday single "Nothin' on You" featuring Bruno Mars. (April 27)

Bonus: Natalie Imbruglia - Come to Life. Last year's fantastic album gets a UK release April 26.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Album Review: Goldfrapp - Head First (4/5)

As a synth-pop group, the '80s have always been a reference point for Goldfrapp, but on Head First, they deliver a literal reading of that decade's now ubiquitous sound. This album's '80s influence is definitely early '80s; in fact, I think I can peg most of it specifically to 1983, the year of the Flashdance soundtrack, the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams and Madonna's debut.

It's a welcome shift from the underwhelming synth-folk of their last album, Seventh Tree, which delivered a few good songs but didn't live up to the bar set by their amazing second and third albums, Black Cherry and Supernature. However, that Head First is so clearly derivative also handicaps it a bit. While their best albums were original syntheses of pop, dance and electro, lots of acts these days are making '80s-clone albums (like last year's phenomenal debut from La Roux). Thus Head First finds Goldfrapp joining the pack, rather than leading it.

Yet there's plenty to enjoy here, and it's nice to welcome Alison and Will back to the dance floor. The album opens with a trio of winning dance pop songs: "Rocket" is the shimmery first single, while "Believer," with its killer chorus, is even better. "Alive" sounds like its got an even earlier influence--disco. The album sags a bit with its slower, darker songs, like "Dreaming" and "Hunt," but picks up again with synth-heavy "Head First" and undeniably great "I Wanna Life."

Also harking back to the early '80s is the album's length. It's just nine songs, which was much more common back then. I have no problem with that. I like a short, tight album that delivers the best rather than giving us too much filler. Head First isn't all wonderful, but there's quite a bit to like.

Best: Believer, I Wanna Life, Rocket, Head First, Alive

Billboard Hot 100, April 3, 2010

1. Rude Boy - Rihanna

The Hot 100 is dated to my birthday this year, and leading the list is Rihanna for a second week with "Rude Boy," also the Airplay Gainer. The last time the chart fell right on my birthday was April 3, 2004, when Usher and Ludacris were #1 for a 6th week with "Yeah!"

2. Nothin' But You - B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars

B.o.B. and Bruno Mars climb 3 spots to #3. Definitely a #1 contender at this point.

3. Telephone - Lady GaGa feat. Beyonce

GaGa and B climb 6 spots to #3. This chart is the first full week after the release of this single's video, so I was expecting a decent climb.

17. Over - Drake

Drake climbs 18 spots to #17 and is this week's Digital Gainer. "Over" is the first single from his first album. Apparently everything that came before were considered "mix tapes" and not albums. Who knew?

27. U Smile - Justin Bieber

Another top 40 hit from Justin Bieber, making its Hot 100 debut at #27. Is it wrong that I'm yet to be interested in Bieber? He's all over the place all of a sudden.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Album Review: Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (2.5/5)

There's a lot happening on Plastic Beach, Gorillaz' third studio album. Unfortunately, it's not great pop songs. Experimentation yes, but nothing as appealing as "Feel Good Inc." or even a "Dare" to make it memorable. I've listened to this album several times in the last few weeks, and it's yet to sink in at all, save for first single "Stylo," which at first I didn't care for, but grew on me over time. Few other tracks have.

The "Orchestral Opening" is an interesting start--movie-like strings play over the coastal sounds of birds and surfs. Reminds me a bit of the TV show Lost actually, which is a good start. It segues into "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," an old school rap track featuring Snoop Dogg that struts its stuff over heavily distorted songs. "White Flag" opens with the unusual combination of bongs, flute and strings, giving it a classical-meets-tropical feel, which segues into its more synth-based hip-hop core. Like the beginning, but it loses me after that. "Rhinestone Eyes" has the same vocalist as "Feel Good Inc.," but little of its charm. It's old school strut could have been fun, if only the song had some tempo.

"Stylo" however, is a pretty decent song. I like the deep bass beat and the soulful vocal from Bobby Womack (best known these days for having been name-checked in Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together"). "Superfast Jellyfish," the album's second single after "Stylo," starts with a kitschy TV commercial before its laid-back sea-inspired rap. It's not bad--at least it has a good chorus. "Empire Ants" features Little Dragon (whoever that is). It's a quieter, mellower song, that has a great disco-fied middle section. How I wish more of this album sounded like this. "Glitter Freeze" has an appealing stomp, but little melody, and features a stranger announcer halfway through as the only vocal.

"Some Kind of Nature" features the characteristic vocal of Lou Reed and piano over its processed beats. It's okay, but synth-based "On Melancholy Hill" is much better, one of the few songs with enough tempo to move to, as well as a nice vocal and melody. In short, it's a real pop song, of which there is a major shortage here, despite the album stretching over 16 tracks. "Broken" is nondescript--middling beat, middling melody. "Sweepstakes" gives us some sharp electronic blurts, a bunch of horns and guys yelling "sweepstakes!" It's a real mess.

"Plastic Beach" starts with some likable western romanticism, but doesn't sustain that sound, devolving eventually into high-pitched, unintelligibly distorted vocals. "To Binge" is slower, plodding and not very interesting. The sea comes back for "Cloud of Unknowing," as does Bobby Womack, a rather gentle song, with an orchestral second half that hearkens back to the orchestral opening. "Pirate Jet" closes the album with some slinky synths and beats.

I loved the video that was released ahead of this album, showing the three-dimensional rendering of the island and house on the album's cover. Too bad the visual side of Gorillaz scored better than its musical side this time. I guess that's to be expected of a cartoon band.

Best: Stylo, Empire Ants, On Melancholy Hill

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This and That

I was surprised to see Will Young's "Leave Right Now" show up in the featured new releases on iTunes this morning. Turns out the 2003 single was chosen as the exit music for this season's American Idol. Last year's exit song, Carrie Underwood's remake of Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home," peaked at #21 on the Hot 100.

Estelle's new single is out. "Freak," featuring Kardinal Offishall, is a pretty minimalist affair, mostly just Estelle rapping over beats with no tune. At some points the song interpolates Soul II Soul's 1989 hit "Back to Life." Here's the video:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

UK Singles Chart, March 27, 2010

1. Telephone - Lady GaGa feat. Beyonce

All week up to Friday Tinie Tempah's "Pass Out" was leading sales, but Gaga and B were gaining, closing the gap to mere hundreds of copies by Friday, a momentum that over the weekend saw them pull ahead in the race for #1. In the end, she finishes about 1400 copies ahead, selling 58,500 to Tinie Tempah's 57,100.

"Telephone" ups the ante for excitement around a Lady GaGa track, and in the run up to getting this chart-topper, did everything right. Holding the video while whetting our appetites with rumors about it was particularly brilliant, as the racy clip has certainly done its job to propel this track to #1. Pretty amazing when you consider it's been on the chart for 16 weeks, it's the second single from Fame Monster, and the 6th Lady GaGa single in just over a year. Interest is not flagging--she's as hot as ever.

This is GaGa's fourth UK chart topper, following last year's "Just Dance," "Poker Face" and "Bad Romance." It's also her fifth top 10 hit, a group that also includes "Paparazzi." Only "Lovegame" has underperformed, peaking at a rather lowly #19. Interesting, as it was as big a hit in the US as "Paparazzi." "Telephone" is Beyonce's fifth UK #1, following "Crazy in Love," "Deja Vu," "Beautiful Liar" and "If I Were a Boy." The singles leaps 11 spots to #1, the biggest jump Lady Gaga has had to the top spot, and none of her #1s debuted as such.

6. Parachute - Cheryl Cole

Cheryl Cole climbs two spots to #6, just a couple notches shy of the #4 peak of her last single, "3 Words." Although it may not peak as high, I see this song having more staying power, so ultimately it may be the bigger hit, as "3 Words" spent only 3 weeks in the top 10, a feat "Parachute" matches this week. "Fight for This Love" spent 7 weeks in the top 10 during the busy final quarter. "Parachute" is #1 on this week's UK airplay chart.

8. Hot - Inna

How often does a Romanian score a UK top 10? Although she is a new face in the UK, Inna--full name, Elena Alexandra Apostoleanu--has been all over the continent with this one, which was first released in 2008. Dance pop like this generally comes from a fairly anonymous singer, so it's interesting to see a female vocalist fronting such a clubby track.

11. Rock that Body - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas climb 4 spots to #11--just one notch shy of scoring another top 10 hit.

35. True Colours - Cast of Glee

The Glee kids score their 7th top 40 hit. This one missed the top 40 in the US, peaking at #47.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Album Review: Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History (4/5)

The world is filled with post-punk, '80s new-wave-revival indie pop/rock bands. Yet it seems there is still room for more, especially when they produce albums as enjoyable as Tourist History, the delightful debut from Two Door Cinema Club.

The first two tracks get the album off to a good start. "Cigarettes in the Theatre" delivers energetic guitars, while "Come Back Home" goes for stronger, strumming guitar chords. The Killers and Interpol are obvious influences on these, short propulsive songs.

The album really starts to take off with "Do You Want It All," which starts the strong six-song stretch that forms the core of the album. It's a bit repetitive, but that only helps it get under your skin. It builds to a hefty electric guitar middle. "This Is the Life" is a bit mellower, but no less immediate, with a striking guitar melody that alternates electric and acoustic riffs. Lead singer Alex Trimble also plays guitar, along with Sam Halliday, so I presume this is a joint effort. It's not unlike the kind of appealingly melodic rock that fellow Northern Irish band Snow Patrol can deliver on its most uptempo days.

The albums three most radio friendly tracks follow. "Something Good Can Work" is the kind of song that would love to front an iTunes ad. It's lively, warm, upbeat and fun. It's followed by "I Can Talk," an even more irresistible track. Trimble's vocals get a bit of process on these verses here, adding a touch of whimsy to propulsive song's rapid-fire bass rhythm (courtesy of of bassist Kevin Baird) and drum beats (courtesy of a drum program presumably, as the band has do drummer). "Undercover Martyn," the group's most recent single, is another punchy winner. As is, "What You Want," whose slow vocal and fast tempo create a great sing-along hook.

"Eat that Up, It's Good for You" has the most '80s-sounding synths here. After the long stretch of great songs, this quieter (relatively) song is merely fine. "You Are Not Stubborn" closes the set on a typically upbeat note, mixing up the layered rhythm at the end for a good finish.

At barely over 30 minutes and 10 tracks, Tourist History is over fast. They pack a lot into these little songs though, which, even though all are under 4 minutes (some under 3), feel quite complete, never lacking in melody or pay off.

Best: I Can Talk, This Is the Life, Something Good Can Work, Undercover Martyn, What You Want

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, March 27, 2010

1. Rude Boy - Rihanna

Barbadian pop singer Rihanna climbs three spots to #1, scoring her 6th #1 hit with "Rude Boy," which is also this week's Airplay Gainer. It's the third single from Rated R, far outpacing the album's first two singles, "Russian Roulette" and "Hard," which peaked at #9 and #8 respectively. Since last week's #1 hit, "Break Your Heart," was by Brit Taio Cruz, this is the second single in a row to top the Hot 100 by a non-American. Last time that happened was 2 years ago, when Rihanna's "Take a Bow" claimed #1 the week after Brit Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love."

2. Need You Now - Lady Antebellum

That means Lady Antebellum is once again the bridesmaid, holding at #2 as another single jumps over it. Unlike "Break Your Heart," which snagged #1 on strong first-week sales, "Rude Boy" is an established single at this point, so more likely to stay at #1. There's also Lady GaGa and Beyonce's "Telephone" to contend with, which could get a good boost from its attention-grabbing video. So Lady Antebellum still has a shot at #1, but this would have been a good week for them to make their move.

5. Nothin' on You - B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars

Atlanta-based rapper B.o.B. is this week's Digital Gainer, climbing 11 spots to #5. It's his first top 10 hit.

9. Telephone - Lady GaGa feat. Beyonce

"Telephone" finally climbs into the top 10, up 2 this week. The single is now #4 at iTunes, so I expect a good climb next week, probably into the top 5 at least. The eyebrow-raising video--the first event video in a long time--will surely help this single next week.

33. American Honey - Lady Antebellum

Since "Need You Now" came out awhile ago, country has already moved on to the next single, "American Honey," which enters the top 40 this week, becoming the group's third top 40 hit. "American Honey" is currently #8 at Country Songs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Looking WAY ahead: Grammys 2011

Sure the Grammy Awards were just given out a few weeks ago, but we're actually more than halfway through the eligibility period for next year's awards (assuming they don't change it again). Here are albums and songs released since 9/1/09 that I think might be top contenders for next year:

Jay-Z. This year's Grammy slate was relatively devoid of rap, with Kanye West doing pop (and not getting nominated in the top general categories) and Eminem's album rather bombing. Next year, I expect Jay-Z could turn that around with The Blueprint 3. The album has been quite acclaimed and generated a number of hit singles, including "Run This Town" with Rihanna and "Young Forever" with Mr. Hudson. His collaboration with Alicia Keys is the one I expect to get the most attention. Certainly, it must be a top contender to win Rap/Sung Collaboration, and I could easily see it on the Record of the Year list.

Lady Antebellum. The country threesome has proved to be a potent country and crossover force this year, with Need You Now topping the albums chart and "Need You Now" certain to eventually top the Hot 100 and maybe even at top 40 radio.

Lady Gaga. That other lady. Since The Fame was an Album of the Year nominee last year, I kind of doubt Fame Monster will rally enough support for AOTY. But "Bad Romance" should certainly be a strong contender for Record of the Year, and, "Telephone" could possibly even be, depending on how big it becomes.

Michael Buble. The Canadian adult pop singer scored his biggest hit yet with "Haven't Met You Yet," which, in my mind, makes it a strong contender for Record of the Year next year. His album, Crazy Love, might also be, but I think it's a long shot.

Rihanna. Rihanna is a popular singer who's been around for awhile but was considered a relative lightweight until 2007, when Good Girls Gone Bad became a massive hitmaker-album. She followed it with the rather gutsy Rated R, explicitly addressing her Chris Brown problem, but, as demonstrated by "Russian Roulette," "Hard" and "Rude Boy," was still able to generate the hits. That sounds like Grammy gold to me.

Sade. Soldier of Love gave them another hit album, their first in a long time. I would be seriously surprised to see this as an AOTY nominee, but I'm sure they'll be good for Pop Album, an award they won in 2002 for Lovers Rock.

Train. They were a nominee for ROTY in 2002 for "Drops of Jupiter," and "Hey, Soul Sister" could be their comeback hit.

What's missing? There hasn't been a big rock album yet, and there is ALWAYS a big rock contender. Alternative hasn't really flexed its muscle yet, unless Vampire Weekend shows some major staying power. We'll see. Here's my ranked list of what I think might be top contenders a year from now:

Album of the Year:

Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
Rihanna - Rated R
Lady Antebellum - Need You Now
Sade - Soldier of Love
Michael Buble - Crazy Love

Record of the Year:

Lady Antebellum - Need You Now
Jay-Z & Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind
Michael Buble - Haven't Met You Yet
Lady GaGa - Bad Romance
Train - Hey, Soul Sister

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This and That

Sugababes' 7th album Sweet 7 came out yesterday, and its looking to be the first Sugababes album I don't buy. The reviews are not great, the singles have been ho-hum--they aren't what they used to be--quite literally actually. Such a shame. Last week walking home one day I was listening to their 2003 album, Three, and thinking about how many great album tracks it had that would have been great singles--"Million Different Ways," "Conversation's Over," "Whatever Makes You Happy." How far they have fallen.

Making up for this bit of sadness are the tracks I've heard from Goldfrapp's new album out next week, Head First. I'm really enjoying what I hear, and I think this will make up for Seventh Tree, which was okay, but not as good as any of their prior albums.

Apparently, "Talk Me Down," isn't going to be Westlife's next single. Too bad. There isn't anything on the new release calendar from that at the moment. This is very strange. "What About Now" was a #2 hit and hang around the chart for quite awhile. So why isn't their album being promoted?

Kelly Clarkson's "All I Ever Wanted" just entered the pop radio top 50. I was concerned it was going to flop, as I'd have expected it to show up by now. My fears are thankfully for naught, as it rockets up from #82 to #50. Should be in the top 40 next week.

Monday, March 15, 2010

1990 Album Review: Sinéad O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (5/5)

Before she ripped up the pope and then later became a Catholic priest, before she declared herself a lesbian and then married a man, before she faded from the spotlight, Sinéad O'Connor released this absolutely stunning album. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got is easily my favorite album of 1990. It's lushly orchestrated, varied yet cohesive, and musically complex yet easily memorable. Stunning and unforgettable are just a couple words to describe the wonder of O'Connor's second album, by far the most successful of her career.

"Feels So Different" opens the set on a somber, understated note with O'Connor's vocal front and center over a classically composed strings arrangement. It's a gorgeous song, immediately establishing the album's strong sense of melody and envelope-pushing tendencies. "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" is also quite minimalist, but quite different. O'Connor's vocal is almost a chant, delivered over the beats and sparse instrumentation, which picks up only for a fiddle solo at the song's conclusion.

"Three Babies" features another string arrangement, but this time it serves to add warmth rather than drama, a contrast to the song's lyrics of regretful abortion. "The Emperor's Clothes" is one of the album's more upbeat moments, and was the follow-up single to "Nothing Compares 2U," but didn't become a hit. "I will live by my own policies...I will sleep with a clear conscious...I will sleep in peace" she sings unapologetically to any would-be detractor. As personal as many of these songs are, they are political too, such as folksy guitar-based "Black Boys on Mopeds," which targets racism in Britain.

As good as the first half of this album is, the second half is no less satisfying. It doesn't hurt that it starts with "Nothing Compares 2U," the Prince-penned song that was one of 1990s defining musical moments. I'll probably write a whole entry about this song soon, so all I'll say now as that it's easily one of the five most beautiful pop songs ever recorded.

Chugging guitars propel "Jump in the River," the album's most rocking moment. This would have a made a good single, and it's shame the album lost momentum after "The Emperor's New Clothes" failed to catch on. It's fire is followed by the contrasting cool of "You Cause as Much Sorrow," over which O'Connor tames her signature wail to almost a hush.

The album concludes strongly with "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," which starts softly but builds to a dramatic conclusion, and the gentle a capella title track.

Even if you dismiss O'Connor as a kook...and she probably'd be doing yourself a major disservice to dismiss this affecting and finely crafted work. One of my all-time favorite albums.

Best: Nothing Compares 2U, Feel So Different, The Emporer's New Clothes, Jump in the River, The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, I Am Stretched on Your Grave, Three Babies

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Album Review: Broken Bells (4.5/5)

Danger Mouse made a name for himself in 2004 with the The Grey Album, a clever but illegal mashup of The Beatles White Album and Jay-Z's The Black Album. Since then, he's gone legit, becoming quite the successful producer, responsible for Gorillaz' Demon Days; Gnarls Barkley; The Good, the Bad and the Queen; and Beck's Modern Guilt. His sound is quite distinctive, and although it varies among these works, generally contains elements of hip-hop and soul, '60s rock, and electronic pop.

This time he's teamed up with James Mercer, lead vocalist and guitarist for The Shins, to form Broken Bells and release its eponymous debut. It's an instant success, evocative of his earlier work, particularly Gnarls Barkley and The Good, the Bad and the Queen, but distinctively its own sound too, one that is generally mellower than his previous works.

"The High Road" opens the album with a series of electronic blurts before settling in to its layered guitar and keyboard melody and rolling beat. A sing-along ending gives lifts the generally bitter vibe of the song to a warm conclusion. "Vaporize" is scored by organs, horns and raspy beats. It's fairly upbeat, but certainly not a balls-out rocker. This is one of the songs that reminds me of "The Good, the Bad and the Queen," along with the mellower "Sailing to Nowhere," which has a great middle section of wacky synths, acoustic and electric guitars, which transitions to the song's strings-dominant final act. The album's strong opening songs effectively set the stage for truly great "Your Head Is on Fire," featuring a lush, '60s-style wall-of-sound arrangement of vocals, synths, drums and strings.

"The Ghost Inside" picks up the tempo with a beat not dissimilar to Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," and does some crazy stuff with Mercer's vocal halfway through the song, finishing with a marching flourish of strings, piano and guitar. A '60s vibe also inhabits "Trap Doors," another clear highlight, one with a stronger pop sound and a sense of heft. The following track "Citizen," in contrast, is light and airy--a mellow, acoustic number.

"Mongrel Heart" is another uptempo song with a minor key. It delivers some dark, Muse-like synths and a dramatic middle section of soaring strings, horns and background choral. The album's final track is also good, opening with a romantic, cinematic strings arrangement then transitioning to guitar rock.

It's hard to pick highlights on this album, since so much of it is good. Danger Mouse's influence is very clear, but there's a lot of contrasts here too, conveying an effective range of moods. It's definitely my favorite album of the year so far.

Best: Your Head Is on Fire, Trap Door, The Ghost Inside, Mongrel Heart, The High Road, Vaporize, Sailing to Nowhere

Friday, March 12, 2010

Album Review: Alphabeat - The Beat Is... (3.5/5)

Since I'm reliving 1990 on my blog this year, the timing of the release of Alphabeat's second album, The Beat Is... is just perfect. The Danish band's second album sounds like deliciously reheated leftovers of early '90s dance pop acts like Seduction, Black Box and The Real McCoy. As kitschy retro-pop bands go, this is pretty lightweight. Scissor Sisters they are not. But that doesn't mean they aren't a good bit of fun.

The album is typically front-loaded with the best songs like "The Spell," a clever double entendre on the band's name that draws its inspiration from early '90s hits like "Two to Make It Right." When released in some countries in the fall, this was the title track--a far better name I think, although this album's title track is a pretty decent confection of synthesizers and drum programming, with some vocal auto-tuning to add a modern touch. "DJ" is predictably dancier dance pop, while "Hole in My Heart" has a hooky chorus to make it a worthy second single.

After a great start, the album loses steam with slower, less enticing numbers like "Chess" and the quite dreadful "Q&A." But upbeat songs like "Heat Wave" and "Always Up with You," with its very '90s-styled electronic keyboards, keep the party fire sufficiently stoked. Not a gem, but certainly far from a lump of coal.

Best: The Spell, Hole in My Heart, The Beat Is, DJ

Personal Chart, March 13, 2010

Lady Gaga and Beyonce's "Telephone"

The new Lady Gaga and Beyonce video is finally out. Be's quite edgy. I like the moment when Beyonce first appears, as well as the Kill Bill homage.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Billboard Hot 100

1. Break Your Heart - Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris

Didn't expect to see this atop the Hot 100 this week. Taio Cruz thunders into the top 40, climbing 52 notches to land his first top 40, top 10, top 5 and #1 hit in one fell swoop. The single was a #1 hit in Britain last year. This US version is slightly remixed and features popular rapper Ludacris. It's also this week's digital gainer.

2. Need You Now - Lady Antebellum

Cruz's unexpected success is Lady Antebellum's downfall, for the rather sudden drop in placement for Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Be" (down 4 to #5) would have given them a shot at #1. They still very well could hit #1 soon, since "Break Your Heart's" sales could slide off before it hits big on radio.

4. Rude Boy - Rihanna

Rihanna's "Rude Boy" climbs 4 spots to #4 and is this week's airplay gainer. It's her first top 5 hit as the lead performer since she hit #1 late in 2008 with "Disturbia." Include her featured appearances, she's now had nine top 5 hits--including five #1s.

9. Bad Romance - Lady Gaga
11. Telephone - Lady GaGa feat. Beyonce

With "Bad Romance" ready to fall out of the top 10, "Telephone" is poised to take its place. The long-awaited video will finally debut tonight at midnight (Eastern time), and the single just climbed to #1 at pop radio (which won't be reflected on the pop chart until next week), making it the sixth consecutive Lady GaGa single to do so. GaGa's record at top 40 radio:

Just Dance #1(1 week)
Poker Face #1(5 wks)
Lovegame #1(3 wks)
Paparazzi #1(2 wks)
Bad Romance #1(2 wks)
Telephone #1(1 wk so far)

21. Never Let You Go - Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber scores his 6th top 40 hit. Bieber just turned 16 on March 1, although he still looks 12.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Saving All My Love For You

I was just listening to this song and thinking about how great it is, so I decided to share. It's about falling in love with...gasp...a married man. It was Whitney Houston's first #1 hit in the fall of 1985. I'd never seen the filmed-in-London video before, so I watched that too.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

UK Singles Chart, March 13, 2010

1. Pass Out - Tinie Tempah

Rapper Tinie Tempah tops the UK singles chart with first hit single. He's the first English artist to score a UK #1 hit this year. The 21 year-old Londoner, whose real name is Patrick Okogwu, isn't set to release an album until the summer.

2. Rude Boy - Rihanna

Rihanna climbs a notch to #2 with "Rude Boy." This is her 6th single to reach #2, matching the peak of her last single, "Russian Roulette."

8. Never Be Your Woman - Naughty Boy Presents Wiley feat. Emeli Sande

British rap makes a second appearance in the top 10 with the latest single from Wiley, best known for his 2008 #2 hit "Wearing My Rolex." Emeli Sande is--no joke--a medical school student from Glascow, Scotland. Surely the only one in her class to have a top 10 hit. The song "Never Be Your Woman" heavily interpolates the 1997 #1 hit "Your Woman" by White Town.

9. Gave It All Away - Boyzone

Irish boyband Boyzone debuts at #9 with "Gave It All Away," the first single from their forthcoming album Brother, their fourth album and first since 1998's Where We Belong. Although he appears briefly in this song, Stephen Gately will be mostly absent from Brother, due to his sudden death late last year. Boyzone reunited in 2008 for a reunion tour and greatest hits album, at that time scoring a #5 hit "Love You Anyway." This is the group's 19th top 40 hit, all of which but one ("Better") made the top 10.

10. Parachute - Cheryl Cole

Unless she reconciles with her husband, this may be the last single ever from Cheryl Cole, who has announced she is splitting from her husband Ashley Cole, and thus may once again be Cheryl Tweedy. "Parachute" is her fourth top 10.

12. Why Don't You - Gramophonedzie

This is a fun song, and the kind of thing I love to see on the British singles chart. "Why Don't You" is a dance remake of a 1930's American jazz-pop song.

13. Number One Enemy - Daisy Dares You feat. Chipmunk

Another new artist, Daisy Dares You, scores her first UK top 40 hit. She gets an assist from UK rapper Chipmunk, best known for his #1 hit last year, "Oopsy Daisy."

23. Rock that Body - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas climb 20 notches to #23, landing their 14th top 10 hit. It's the fourth single from their album The E.N.D. All of its other three singles hit #1 last year, "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling" and "Meet Me Halfway." Another track from the album, "Imma Be," is currently #1 in the US.

38. Defying Gravity - Glee Cast

Glee scores its 6th UK top 40 hit. "Defying Gravity," performed by Lea Michele and Chris Colfer (Rachel and Curt) was one of the first half of the first season highlights. It was also a top 40 hit in the US.

Oscar Predictions

Here's who I think will win:

Picture: Avatar
Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Supporting Actor: Christophe Waltz, Inglourous Basterds
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Original Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Animated Feature: Up
Foreign Film: El Secreto de Sus Ojos
Film Editing: The Hurt Locker
Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker
Sound Editing: Avatar
Visual Effects: Avatar
Cinematography: Avatar
Art Direction: Avatar
Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Makeup: Star Trek
Score: Up
Song: The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
Documentary: The Cove
Doc. Short: The Last Truck
Live Short: Kavi
Animated Short: Wallace and Grommit - A Matter of Loaf and Death

Friday, March 05, 2010

Album Review: Ellie Goulding - Lights (3/5)

Believe me, I want to love Ellie Goulding's debut album Lights. I generally go in for British female pop singers. Lots and lots of them fill my iTunes library. But I'm just not that into her. The album is fine, but not a knockout. I find her voice a bit grating--she reminds me of Cerys Matthews of Catatonia (oh how I do love "The Ballad of Tom Jones").

A few of songs are pretty good, but none of them rise to greatest. They certainly strive for it, produced to full effect with layers of acoustic stringed instruments, synthesizer riffs, and drum programming. But in the end, it isn't clear what kind of pop music identity Goulding is going for (if any), as if trying to straddle a lucrative Middle Earth somewhere between the offbeat lushness of Florence and the Machine and the electro sass of La Roux, but not really delivering on either.

Opening track "Guns and Horses" is one of the better tracks, pretty close to dance pop and awash in cascading synths and hand claps. "Starry Eyed," the album's current hit single is pretty decent too, although it took a long time for me to appreciate it. It's the album's most dance-driven song. "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)" has a nice bass beat and synth melody. I could see this as a future single. "Under the Sheets" struts along just fine with big bass beats and keyboard blips.

"The Writer" is the big piano ballad, coasting along with some '80s-flavored synth backing. It's a standout track here, even if the obvious metaphors of its lyrics are a bit cheesy. With repeat listens of this album, this was the first track that stood out.

"Every Time You Go" is a quirky mix of snaps, synths, piano and pop beats set to a minor key. It seems pretty forgettable, lacking a good hook to match its musical grandeur. Goulding's vocal is distorted on "Wish I Stayed," which has an interest beat recalling mid '80s Tears for Fears, and some decent insistent piano playing. Melodically, it's pretty interesting, but like many of these songs, lacks a good hook to make it a true pop song. "Your Biggest Mistake," however, does have a decent pop chorus to match its synth pop stylings, complete with '80s-pop strings (think the opening of "Papa Don't Preach").

If the few songs leading up to it hint at pop greatness, but don't quite achieve it, "I'll Hold My Breath" delivers. This has the appealing '80s-style synth melodies, a warm melody and a decent crowning chorus. It's almost Kylie-esque. "Salt Skin" can't help but be a bit of a let down, but it's a nicely moody closer.

I was tempted to slam this album, but I won't go that harsh, as it does have some nice moments. But of all the new albums I've been listening to this week, it's definitely my least favorite. I liked Adele, swooned for Duffy, lobbied hardcore for Little Boots and La Roux, but Ellie's just not as magical to me. Frankly, neither is Marina and the Diamonds, the other new supposed next-best-thing in British pop. Maybe it will grow on me, but I kind of doubt it.

Best: This Love (Will Be Your Downfall), The Writer, I'll Hold My Breath

Personal Chart, March 6, 2010

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, March 13, 2010

1. Imma Be - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas rule the Hot 100 for a second week with "Imma Be." That's 28 weeks in total at #1 with singles from The E.N.D. That ties the 28 weeks that the four #1 hits from Usher's Confessions (with re-release) spent at #1. So one more week and I think they'll have the record. Mariah Carey's three #1 hits from Daydream spent 26 weeks combined at #1. I can't think of anything else that could come close here.

2. Bed Rock - Young Money feat. Lloyd
3. Need You Now - Lady Antebellum

That is, if "Imma Be" gets a third week at #1. Two very different singles are vying to compete for the top spot.

8. Rude Boy - Rihanna

"Rude Boy" makes another big jump, up 15 spots to #8 as this week's airplay gainer and greatest gainer overall. That makes the single her third consecutive top 10 hit from Rated R, quickly reaching the same position her last single, "Hard," peaked at. Clearly this will be a bigger hit than that or its predecessor, "Russian Roulette," which peaked at #9. Counting her featured appearances, this is her 14th top 10 hit.

18. Live Like We're Dying - Kris Allen
19. Breakeven - The Script

American Idol winner Kris Allen climbs another notch with "Live Like We're Dying," a song written by British pop band The Script, whose own hit "Breakeven" appears just one notch below it at #19, up three spots this week. I believe that's the highest a single from an Irish act has charted on the Hot 100 since Enya's "Only Time," which hit #10 in 2001. That is unless you count Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars," which hit #5 in 2006, but whether Snow Patrol is considered Irish or British is a bit political (their members hail from Northern Ireland and Scotland).

37. On to the Next One - Jay-Z feat. Swizz Beatz

Jay-Z lands a fourth top 40 hit from The Blueprint 3 as "On to the Next One" climbs spots into the top 40. Speaking of the next one, "Young Forever (feat. Mr. Hudson)," Jay-Z's next single, is up 19 spots to #78. It initially peaked at #41. It's also just climbed into the top 50 at top 40 radio.

40. Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home) - Usher

Another Raymond v. Raymond pre-release single finally cracks the top 40. "Papers," the first one released, peaked at #31, rather poor for Usher, followed by two more releases, "Lil Freak" and "There Goes My Baby," which missed the top 40. Remember in 2004, when he scored four consecutive #1 hits (referenced above, in fact)? Seems so far away now.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Albums Review: Yeasayer - Odd Blood (3/5)

Odd Blood is the second album from Brooklyn, New York, based Yeasayer. I'd never heard of them before, but this album is getting a fair amount of attention, so I decided to give it mine.

I like about half this album, and then the other half I find either too strange or too tedious for my taste. The first half of the album is generally where the best songs are found. After opener "The Children," which features a creepy distorted vocal and clattering production, the next four songs are quite good. They generally recall an early-to-mid-'80s new wave sound, particularly synth-heavy "Ambling Arp" and delightfully joyous "O.N.E.," which is their latest single. This song has an upbeat rhythm and an appealingly bubbly synth refrain. Drenched-in-synths "I Remember" sounds like a lost early '90s Erasure ballad. "Madder Red" goes for something a little more moody and grand.

It's a shame that things take a turn for the worse on the second half, particularly on "Rome" and "Mondegreen," which I find to be way too repetitive, to an annoying degree. Closing track "Grizelda" is a strange song, scored with gratingly long-held horn notes that remind me of dial tones and hand claps that recall the world music-ish sound of Vampire Weekend. After its way too long mostly instrumental opening, "Moody Girl," which is appropriately moody and recalls old school Depeche Mode, isn't bad. Neither is Middle Eastern-inspired "Strange Reunions," but neither of these songs reach the heights of the handful of tracks that make the first half great.

Best: O.N.E., Ambling Arp, Madder Red, I Remember

Preview Gorillaz and The Broken Bells

March is turning out to be quite the month for new music, and we're only on day 2. As if it wasn't enough that three albums I was really interested in came out this week--Two Door Cinema Club, Ellie Goulding and Alphabeat--two of the albums that come out next week are available for preview.

Gorillaz Plastic Beach can be heard on The Guardian's Web site, and Broken Bells's debut is streaming at MySpace. I listened to Broken Bells yesterday and really liked it. It reminded me a bit of The Good, the Bad and The Queen which, like Gorillaz last album, and Broken Bells, are all produced by Danger Mouse.

I just started listening to Gorillaz for the first time. So far, it's a blend of classical strings and hip-hop.