Monday, May 31, 2010

Introducing: Janelle Monáe

I was hosting my mom this weekend, so I didn't have time to review a new album, a 1990 album (Madonna is up next) or analyze the British singles chart. I did, however, have time to start listening to the fantastic debut album from Janelle Monáe. Fans of R&B and genre-hopping take note: this is a real feast for the ears. Her album, The ArchAndroid, is an amazing blend of R&B, pop, old school soul, hip-hop, classical and progressive rock. Throw is a science fiction-inspired storyline, and you have a real concept album of album. I'll do a review in the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Music of 1990: May

United States

I already wrote about Madonna's "Vogue," but needless to say, it was the biggest hit in the U.S. in May 1990, spending 3 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100. The month's second-biggest hit was Heart's "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You," which tells the story of a woman so desperate to get pregnant that she has a one-night stand. As a kid, I didn't like this song, as I thought it was morally corrupt. But now I actually quite enjoy it. After their #1 hits "These Dreams" and "Alone," this was the band's third biggest hit (go about halfway through the video below to see it).

More one-hit wonders abounded in May 1990. Calloway, named not for Cab Calloway but the surname of the band's two members, hit #2 with "I Wanna Be Rich" (incidentally, around this time Cab Calloway did show up in the pop music world, appearing in the video for Janet Jackson's "Alright"). It was a decent, although by-the-numbers pop hit, and I was surprised they couldn't follow it up with another. Latin pop band Linear and their only major hit with "Sending All My Love," a top 5 single that I remember rather liking at the time.

Michael Bolton continued his early '90s hit streak, following up his #1 "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" with a #3 hit, "How Can We Be Lovers." Aerosmith also followed their recent top 10 hits "Love in an Elevator" and "Janie's Got a Gun," with another, "What It Takes." Desmond Child co-wrote this song and it's one of my favorites from them. Their were two videos for this, one is documentary style, featuring the band in the studio, while the other is more theatrical. As I recall, the studio version came out first, as the standard video wasn't ready, but ultimately, the studio one was the more popular of the two.

United Kingdom

"Killer" ruled the UK singles chart in May of 1990, hitting #1 the second week of the month and staying 4 weeks at the top. It was the biggest hit by British dance music producer Adamski, and the first single by its featured vocalist Seal. Seal, of course, would go on to be a big star on his own all over the world, most notably with his hits "Crazy" and "Kiss from a Rose." Today he's probably best known as Project Runway host and former model Heidi Klum's husband. For his debut album, Seal, Seal re-recorded "Killer," sending it back into the UK top 10 at #8. Then a few years later, George Michael remade it as a medley with Queen's "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."

Other dance pop singles were also quite popular that May. Kylie Minogue hit #2 with "Better the Devil You Know," the first single from her third album, Rhythm of Love. The Stock/Aitken/Waterman-produced single marked a slight change in Minogue's sound, toward a more mature dance pop (not unlike what Cathy Dennis was doing at the time). Among her singles released during the '90s, this is my favorite, and the song has become a longtime favorite among many Kylie fans. Nine years later, a remake of this song by Steps hit #4.

The Adventures of Stevie V also had a #2 hit with "Dirty Cash (Money Talks)." Later in the year this would be a minor hit in the US, and I remember really loving it. The song had quite a re-emergence recently, due to Dizzee Rascal. First, his mostly remake version of the song, "Dirtee Cash," hit #10 last year. And then early this year, he teamed up with Florence and the Machine on "You've Got the Dirtee Love," a mash-up of "Dirtee Cash" and Florence's "You've Got the Love," itself a remake of an early '90s dance hit.

Other hits in Britain in May included Paula Abdul's recent US #1, "Opposites Attract," which hit #2, the New Kids on the Block's "Cover Girl," which hit #4, and the debut single from En Vogue, "Hold On," which hit #5.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Personal Chart, May 29, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, June 5, 2010

1. OMG - Usher feat. Will.I.Am

Usher spends a third week at #1 with "OMG," despite facing strong challenges to #1 from B.o.B. and Katy Perry. Usher, when he hits #1, generally settles in for awhile. Only two of his nine #1 hits--"Nice and Slow" and "Confessions Part 2"--spent fewer than 3 weeks in the top spot. He's never had a single just spend 1 week at the summit.

2. Airplanes - B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams
3. California Gurls - Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg

B.o.B. and Katy Perry trade places, but both singles are still bulleted (of course, they are both fairly new), and Perry earns the Airplay Gainer. Both are contenders to hit #1 soon, and I wouldn't be surprised if both do it at some point in the next month or so.

4. Break Your Heart - Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris
5. Nothin' on You - B.o.b. feat. Bruno Mars

This two former #1 hits trade places, keeping the top 5 songs the same as last week. Interesting that the top 5 singles all have a "featuring" credit for a guest performer. I wonder if that's happened before.

6. Alejandro - Lady GaGa
7. Your Love Is My Drug - Ke$ha

Lady GaGa leaps over Ke$ha (yay!). Next week, GaGa is sure to have some additional songs in the top 40, although not performed by her. The Glee version of "Poker Face" is currently #5 (album track) and #16 (single release) at iTunes, while "Bad Romance" is charting too. Will the Glee exposure help "Alejandro" climb even higher next week?

8. Can't Be Tamed - Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus's new single debuts at #8, becoming her fifth top 10 hit. This is a sales-propelled debut, but this song is climbing swiftly at top 40 radio.

14. Bulletproof - La Roux

La Roux is up 5 this week and is the Digital Gainer. Nice to see them doing so well in the US.

26. Dream On - Glee Cast
31. I Dreamed a Dream - Glee Cast feat. Idina Menzel

Two more top 40 hits for the Glee Cast, bringing their US total to 13. This is the first top 40 hit for Idina Menzel, currently guest starring on Glee. Menzel is best-known for her work on Broadway, appearing in Rent and Wicked (along with another notable Glee guest star, Kristin Chenoweth). Menzel almost had a top 40 hit at pop radio in 1998, when her single "Minuet" peaked at #48. She's appeared on the dance chart twice, hitting #5 with a dance remix of Wicked's "Defying Gravity" and #3 with a remix of her 2008 single "Gorgeous."

June New Album Releases

It's a real dance pop month in June, as we see the release of the third album from the Scissor Sisters, which I'm most excited about, plus Christina Aguilera's fourth album and Robyn's fifth. Here's a rundown of the biggest new releases.

Scissor Sisters - Night Work (June 28). It's been four long years since Scissor Sisters released their second album, Ta-Dah. Since then they've kept a pretty low profile, with the most notable thing happening to them being the change of their drummer, as Paddy Boom left the band to be replaced by Randy "Real" Schrager. First single "Fire with Fire" is already starting to get airplay. The album is produced by Stuart Price, the famous British dance music producer who helmed Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor and the recent Killers album, Day and Age.

Christina Aguilera - Bionic (June 7/8). Pop megastar Christina Aguilera likes long spans between her albums. Her last major release, a 2008 greatest hits album, produced a minor hit, "Keeps Gettin' Better," but she hasn't put out an album in 4 years. Bionic is the follow-up to her 2006 double-disc concept album that saw Aguilera mine classic soul and '40s pop. For Bionic, she turns to the modern, teaming up with Polow da Don and Tricky Stewart, in addition to longtime collaborator Linda Perry. First single "Not Myself Tonight" has a flashy GaGa-esque video, but is already show signs of cooling on the chart, which is a bit premature.

Robyn - Bodytalk Pt. 1 (June 14/15). Having dramatically revived her international pop career with Robyn, an album promoted and released in different countries over the course of 2005 through 2008, the Swedish dance pop singer follows that up with Bodytalk Pt. 1, a collection of just nine tracks, that Robyn has said is the first of three such sets due to be released over the course of the year. First single is "Dancing on My Own." Robyn scored big internationally in 1997/98 with hits like "Do You Know (What It Takes)" and "Show Me Love," but had few hits outside of Scandinavia after that until "With Every Heartbeat" hit #1 in Britain late in the summer of 2007.

Oasis - Time Flies...1994 - 2009 (June 14/15). Oasis, who called it quits last year, is set to release a 2-disc comprehensive greatest hits collection spanning the band's career from its first single, "Supersonic," to its last, "Falling Down." From what I've seen it has everything, including their eight UK #1s, "Whatever," their first top 5 hit that has been unavailable from a digital store, and, on the US version, "Champagne Supernova," which despite being their second-biggest American hit, was not released as a single in Britain.

Glee Cast - Glee: The Music, Journey to Regionals (June 8). This will mark the third month in a row with a Glee release. This is the EP that accompanies the first season finale, including a new version of "Don't Stop Believin," "To Sir, With Love" and "Over the Rainbow." Glee's been picked up for two more seasons. So expect lots of releases to continue coming next fall.

Eminem - Recovery (June 22). American Rapper Eminem had promised to follow-up Relapse with a sequel, but instead takes a new direction with Recovery, featuring recent #1 hit "Not Afraid."

Miley Cyrus - Can't Be Tamed (June 22). The Disney pop star returns with her third studio album, preceded by its title-track single.

3Oh!3 - Streets of Gold (June 29). Third album from the American pop/rock band features single "My First Kiss" with Ke$ha.

The Chemical Brothers - Further (June 7). The British electronic duo releases its seventh album.

Sia - We Are Born (June 7). Sia's fouth album follows her 2008 breakthrough, Some People Have Real Problems.

Drake - Thank Me Later (June 15). Canadian rapper releases his full-length debut album featuring hit singles "Over" and "Find Your Love."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Album Review: Glee Cast - Glee: The Music, Vol. 3 - Showstoppers (4/5)

I've had "This House Is Not a Home" stuck in my head for the last week. As sung by Glee's Chris Colfer (Kurt), delivering his best vocal performance yet, it's given me a new appreciation for Burt Bacharach, from whom Glee used two songs for the episode "Home." Kristin Chenoweth (April) also appeared that week, proving again that she is one of the most appealing guests stars to have appeared in the series. "This House..." makes a second appearance as as second half of a medley with Bacharach's "One Less Bell to Answer" sung as a duet between Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester). It's a gorgeous duet on which both Broadway veterans sound great. Chenoweth is also really good on "Home" (from "The Wiz"), pushing the hairs on my neck up when she hits that final high note.

These are just three of many highlights on Glee: The Music, Vol. 3 - Showstoppers, which, although it arrives just one month after The Power of Madonna EP (and one month before the season finale EP, Journey to Regionals, is more than a welcome addition. Jonathan Groff, added to the cast as Rachel's (Lea Michele) romantic interest and male counterpart in rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline, appears on several tracks, most notably a stirring rendition of Lionel Richie's "Hello," sung with Michele. Also making a wonderful addition to the cast is Idina Menzel (anyone recall her 2008 pop single "Gorgeous?") as Vocal Adrenaline coach Shelby Corcoran and (spoiler alert) birth mother of Rachel Berry. Menzel and Michele team up for a quite delightful re-arrangement duet of Lady GaGa's "Poker Face." The other GaGa song, "Bad Romance," as performed by Kurt and the girls, is fine, but sticks to the original sound of the song; however, it was a lot of fun on the show. Then there's Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Doogie Howser MD), also a Broadway man, who duets with Morrison on Aerosmith's "Dream On," another memorable moment.

While these dynamic guest stars contribute to many of the best moments on this album, the cast proper has quite a few winning numbers too, particularly their take on "Total Eclipse of the Heart," and a bouncy Rachel-led rendition of All-American Rejects' "Gives You Hell." Mark Salling (Puck) gives his Robbie Williams best on "The Lady Is a Tramp," giving the now mohawk-free bad boy a great stand out number. He's less effective, but still fun to listen to on the Kiss ballad "Beth." A few numbers are a bit pedestrian, such as Amber Riley's (Mercedes) rendition of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," or the group's take on U2's "One." Fine songs, but Glee doesn't offer much new for them.

As the show wraps up its award-winning and now quite popular first season the music continues to sound great, if not improve.

Best: Hello, Poker Face, One Less Bell to Answer/This House Is Not a Home, This House Is Not a Home, Home, Dream On, Total Eclipse of the Heart. The Lady Is a Tramp, Gives You Hell

Will Young on American Idol

I'm not watching this season of American Idol, but I was quite pleasantly surprised to catch the last few minutes of it last night as I turned on the TV to watch Glee and saw...Will Young! I knew that his "Leave Right Now" had been chosen as Idol's "exit music" this season, but I didn't expect he'd be appearing on the show. "Leave Right Now" is #25 on iTunes this morning.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Listening to this week...

Lots of great music out there these days.

California Gurls - Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg. "California Gurls'" instant success has been a real assault on the charts. It's still gaining well over 2000 spins her week at top 40 radio. At this rate it will be #1 within a few weeks.

Dirtee Disco - Dizzee Rascal. I imagine some of Dizzee Rascal's fans think he's sold out these days. But who cares when he's producing pop songs as great as this. He continues in his dance/rap vein, this time turning to '70s disco for a real stomping early summer song. The sample is from The Staple Sisters' "I'll Take You There."

All Night Long - Alexandra Burke feat. Pitbull. Now that the Pitbull version is out, I've been listening to that mostly and I've come to like it just as much (if not more) than the original.

Tell 'Em - Sleigh Bells. This band is the hot, hot, hot new thing. This is from their debut album Treats, which I'll probably review soon. Like every other hot band, they are based in Brooklyn. Such an original sound, like feedback-laced M.I.A. with a rockier edge.

Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever) - Muse. Muse turns out a big rockin' love ballad from the forthcoming Eclipse soundtrack. Ends with a nice classical flourish like a lot of their last album.

Sorrow - The National. This is one of my favorite tracks from The National's new album High Violet, which I reviewed over the weekend. Stunning, beautiful song. Here's a live version:

Commander - Kelly Rowland. After the success of "Work" and "When Love Takes Over," Kelly Rowland embraces her dance diva side for this new single from her forthcoming third album.

Poker Face - Glee Cast (feat. Idina Menzel). Lea Michele and Idina Menzel are really great on this reworked arrangement of Lady GaGa's biggest hit. Can't wait to see this in a couple of weeks.

On and On (UK Radio Edit) - Agnes. "On and On" gets a remix for its UK single release. Too bad this didn't manage to give sweet Agnes another hit there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

UK Singles Chart, May 29, 2010

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

American rapper B.o.B. unseats British hip-hop group Roll Deep, scoring his first UK #1. A recent #1 hit in the US, its the 11th #1 single this year in Britain and the third (after "Fireflies" and "OMG") that were also #1 hits in America.

4. All Night Long - Alexandra Burke feat. Pitbull

With the single finally available at retail, Alexandra Burke climbs four spots to #4. "All Night Long" is her third top 5 hit, after #1 hits "Hallelujah" and "Bad Boys." Like "Bad Boys," she's paired with a hip-hop star, this time Cuban-American rapper Pitbull. He's no stranger to the chart, having scored top 10 hits last year with "I Know You Want Me" and "Hotel Room Service." Incidentally, "All Night Long" is #1 this week in Ireland.

10. Leeds Leeds Leeds (Marching on Together) - Leeds United Team & Suppoters

Oh look a football (soccer) song. Snore.

11. Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever) - Muse

Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight quadrilogy, is a major Muse fan. She's said to have listened to the band while writing key scenes in the books. After their release, Meyer published playlists on her website of music she suggested fit the mood of her books, which include Muse songs for each story ("Time Is Running Out" for Twilight; "Hyper Music," "Apocalypse Please" and "Unintended" for New Moon; "The Small Print," "Newborn," "Hysteria," "Yes Please," "Blackout" and "Falling Away from You" for Eclipse; and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Intro (Absolution)," "Take a Bow" and "Assassin" for Breaking Dawn). Along with Muse, other bands from her book playlists that found their way onto the soundtracks for the corresponding films include Linkin Park, and Collective Soul, whose "Tremble for My Beloved" was on Meyer's Twilight playlist and appeared in the film. so how cool it must be for her that Muse has appeared in the soundtrack for each film. "Neutron Star Collision" is from the upcoming film Eclipse, the third in the series. Despite its title, musically it's the most conventional song I've heard from Muse.

13. Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart - Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys scored five top 10 hits in the US with singles from her first two albums, among which only one--"Fallin'"--was a also a top 10 hit in Britain. Her chart fortunes have reversed quite a bit of late. Among the five singles released in the US from The Elements of Freedom, the highest any have charted on the Hot 100 is #27 (this single). Yet in Britain, she's as hot as ever, as "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart," her third single there, climbs 7 spots this week to #13. The single is released tomorrow, so this could be top 10 next week. Her last single, "Empire State of Mind II," peaked at #4 and is one of the five best-selling singles so far this year.

14. Te Amo - Rihanna

Rihanna continues to climb, up 5 this week. This had been slated for a physical release tomorrow, but my latest source no longer indicates that. Did it get pulled? Perhaps. doesn't appear to have it, except digitally.

26. Guns and Horses - Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding's second single doesn't make magic like her first. "Starry Eyed" hit #4, but this follow-up doesn't even make the top 20.

33. Jessie's Girl - Glee Cast

13th top 40 hit from Glee, which is also a top 40 hit in the US this week (a littler higher at #23).

35. The Flood - Katie Melua

Katie Melua lands her 6th top 40 hit, the first from her fourth album, The House. Great video too.

44. Love Is a Hurricane - Boyzone

During their mid-to-late '90s heyday, no Boyzone single among their 16 released in the UK charted lower than #4. Since reuniting, the best they've done is #5, and this week "Love Is a Hurricane" becomes their first to miss the top 40 (unless it climbs next week, which is unlikely). This is sad to see actually, as I rather like this song. Take That reunited with such great success. Shame that Boyzone couldn't too.

Album Review: The National - High Violet (4.5/5)

High Violet, the fifth album from Brooklyn-based The National, is a surprise highlight for me this year. I've never listened to the band before, but this album got incredibly good reviews and is selling well (it debuted at #3 on the Billboard 2000). I can't say I'm disappointed in the least. This is the kind of album I've been waiting for to come along this year. Namely, a true rock album that scores with stately melodies.

"Terrible Love" quickly establishes its layers of sound--some distorted--but none overplayed, so the effect is a hush rather than a wall of sound. Piano first and then guitar come to the fore, followed later by woodwinds and big drums. There's a lot going on here if you listen carefully, yet the result is never overwhelming, quite the latter actually. It's followed by "Sorrow," which is one of the most lovely songs and this quite lovely album. Matt Berninger's distinctive baritone voice serves this song well. He's got a nice deep, rich voice--no falsetto from this guy. The song's music establishes a mood of longing effectively partnered with its lyrics ("I don't want to get over you"). Great song. "Anyone's Ghost" is another keeper and was chosen as the album's second single.

"Little Faith" starts with a single tone, some discordant chords over distortion before resolving into its piano, synths and strings melody. As moody as "Sorrow" is, "Little Faith" may be even moreso ("I'm stuck in New York and the rain's coming down, I don't feel like we're going anywhere"). This is dark, but beautiful stuff. Paranoia darkens the mood even further on "Afraid of Everyone," which has prominent bass underpinnings. It's got some pretty cool drumming at the end too, picking up tempo as the song progresses. "Bloodbuzz Ohio," which was the album's first single, flexes a little more rock muscle than the previous songs, but its grandeur still feels like comes from a dark place. More Springsteen than U2 and certainly not Coldplay.

Berninger's appeal as a singer is broader than just his deep voice. He can sound like totally different singers on different songs. On folksy "Runaway," he sounds like an old weathered rocker, complementing the song's bleak atmosphere. "Conversation 16" is more upbeat, or should I say more uptempo, for there's nary a major key to be heard on this album.

Lyrically, the album can get a little weird at times, but such phrases are among its most memorable. "We'll play nuns versus priests until somebody dies" sings Berninger on "Little Faith." On "Conversation 16" the band goes Hannibal Lector ("I was afraid I'd eat your brains, 'cause I'm evil"). Yikes.

Rich piano and strings open "England," a song that just builds and builds, as does "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks," the final track, which is nice but a bit too plodding. These are my least favorite songs on the album. Not bad, but the album lacks a big finish.

High Violet is a striking album that insists on multiple listens to sink in. It imbues its songs with stadium-baiting grandeur, yet reserves quiet moments for them too. I'm definitely going to check out some of their earlier works, starting with their 2007 album, Boxer. I expect to spend a lot of time with High Violet this year. Definitely the best of the year so far.

Best: Sorrow, Little Faith, Terrible Love, Anyone's Ghost, Afraid of Anyone, Conversation 16

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Brittany and Beyonce

I just read in this week's EW that Heather Morris, who plays Glee's queen of one-liners Brittany, danced with Beyonce during live performances of "Single Ladies" (she is not in the video). Here is an example:

She's Always a Woman to Me

The full version of Fyfe Dangerfield's "She's Always a Woman to Me" is quite lovely, but as Chris pointed out to me this morning, the lyrics don't always match the upstanding image of the woman in the John Lewis ad:

"She'll carelessly cut you, and laugh while you're bleeding."

"She is frequently kind and she's suddenly cruel."

"She steals like a thief."


But I guess the song is meant to suggest that, while she's not perfect, he loves her anyway, flaws and all. Still--would you really still love someone who would slash you with a knife and then laugh about it? "Oh look, I stabbed you, ha ha ha." I don't think so.

Incidentally, the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street appears in the novel I'm currently reading. First it's destroyed during the London bombings of World War II and then later a character visits the store searching for a colleague (that both of these things are possible in that order is due to the fact that the book is about time-traveling historians, Connie Willis' Blackout--quite entertaining).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Songs of My Lifetime/Music of 1990: Madonna - Vogue

No single represents 1990 more significantly to me than Madonna's "Vogue." Madonna has long been my favorite popular artist, and 1990 was a watershed year for her, coming off of the success of Like a Prayer, having a hit movie in Dick Tracy (one of few for her), a big world tour, Blonde Ambition, and this amazing dance pop single from her album I'm Breathless, a concept album inspired by the music of the 1930s era of Dick Tracy and including a few songs from the film. She's had a lot of great singles, and if I had to pick her absolute best, in my mind, this is the top, edging out "Like a Prayer" and "Frozen" (which I also adore, of course).

The song opens with a dramatic flair, slowly introducing the layers of the song's melody: first it's just the synth chords; then the bass line, bongs and snaps kick in; and then finally the drum machines and vocals as Madonna commands the listener to "strike a pose." It's certainly one of her most iconic musical openings. Later that year, an even longer version was created for The Immaculate Collection, which starts with a spoken "what are you looking at" and extends the opening layering by separating the snaps, bongos and bass line, which all came in at once in the original version. There's also a shorter single version which skips the layered opening all together and has a slightly different bass line.

The production is typical of dance pop at the time--frenetic drum machine programming over layers of synth melodies that build to bigger choruses. It's similar to the dance remix of "Express Yourself," as well as the sound on her next album, Erotica--both of which were the product of producer Shep Pettibone (although the original version of "Express Yourself" was produced by Stephen Bray). It was her 11th #1 hit on the Billboard dance club chart (she scored her 40th #1 on this chart last year with "Celebration").

A particular highlight of the song is its bridge--a rapped list of famous screen icons from the past, many of which were notable for their dance skills ("Greta Garbo and Monroe; Dietrich and DiMaggio..." etc.). At the time, 9 of the 16 entertainers mentioned were still alive; today, only Lauren Bacall is still living.

The video for the song is particularly great. Shot in black and white and directed by David Fincher, the imagery is inspired by old Hollywood glamour, with Madonna's wardrobe expressing a mix of feminine and masculine identities, ranging from the bra-less see-through blouse to the pinstripe suit. As music videos go, it's a hands-down classic.

On the personal side, "Vogue" was rather, shall we say, inspiring for me in my youth. Back in 1990, I was 13 when the song came out toward the end of 7th grade. I loved the video, which I got to see plenty of on MTV after school. I thought the dancing was so cool that I taught myself the moves. Then one day during the break between English and social studies classes, I announced to the students that I would perform the dance and proceeded to do so. What would possess me to do this? Well, as a 13 year-old, I didn't really fit in, but I also didn't have a fear of standing out, so while I was very studious, I always liked attention. Whether because they thought it was fun or just bizarre, it became a "thing." I was asked to do it repeatedly, and students from other classes even started showing up.

Then there was the end-of-the-year school dance. Picture the darkened junior high gymnasium with DJ equipment at one end blaring Technotronic, Rob Base, and "Stairway to Heaven." Then "Vogue" comes on--the extended dance remix....uh oh. Suddenly I was surrounded by a deep circle of teenagers shouting "Andy! Andy! Andy!" They wanted me to dance, and while I had no problem doing so for small groups, in this big crowd I panicked. I froze! Thankfully, a 9th grade savior yanked me from the circle. I ran out of the gym and down the hallway...chased by the mob! I hid in the boys' room (not very creative, but leaving the building seemed like a bad idea). The music stopped and the gym lights came on. Apparently the teacher-chaperons thought there had been a fight. But no, it was just me and my "Vogue," or rather non-vogue that night.

Eventually, I got over my performance anxiety and vogued quite freely at parties and other occasions. Ten years later, while doing some volunteer campaign work with a group of D.C. gay and lesbian politicos in Machester, New Hampshire, I sang and danced to "Vogue" during a lesbian bar's karaoke night. I was pretty fresh from college at that point and it helped make a good impression on the group, many of whom I saw frequently during those years when I worked in politics. They were certainly a more appreciative audience than junior high kids.

Personal Chart, May 22, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, May 29, 2010

1. OMG - Usher feat. Will.I.Am
2. California Gurls - Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg

So Katy Perry wasn't #1 after all but a return to the top for "OMG," which spends a second nonconsecutive week at #1. He is the airplay gainer, so despite Perry's big first-week sales and rapidly rising airplay, he's too far ahead on the airwaves for her to catch him (this week). But Perry does pretty well, debuting at #2. It's her fourth top 10 hit, first single last year's "Waking Up in Vegas" hit #9. It features Snoop Dogg, whose last top 10 hit was "Sensual Eruption (or Seduction)," which hit #7 a couple of years ago.

3. Airplanes - B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams
4. Nothin' on You - B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars

B.o.B. goes back-to-back with his new single "Airplanes," up 2 to #3, and his recent #1 hit "Nothin' on You," down 1 this week.

7. Your Love Is My Drug - Ke$ha
8. Alejandro - Lady GaGa

Ke$ha's "Your Love Is My Drug" has always been ahead of "Alejandro" on the charts, but Lady GaGa has caught up, climbing 3 spots to #8 to score her 7th top 10 hit. I'd love to see GaGa overtake Ke$ha next week.

19. Bulletproof - La Roux

La Roux climbs into the top 20, up 4 this week to #19.

20. Find Your Love - Drake

Drake is this week's Digital Gainer and biggest mover within the top 40, up 14 spots to #20.

23. Jessie's Girl - Glee Cast

The Glee kids have yet another top 40 hit. "Jessie's Girl" was top 10 at iTunes much of the week, but that wasn't good enough to give them back-to-back top 20 hits (following last week's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which hit #16). This is the 11th top 40 single from the popular show.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Katy Perry - California Gurls

Since its release last week, "California Gurls" has been #1 at iTunes and has experienced incredible gains at radio. At top 40, it's already #20, up from #40 a week ago, and gaining over 2700 spins from last week, making the song an instant hit. I'd be pretty surprised if this isn't #1 on the Hot 100 tomorrow. Certainly it's a strong contender for the first song of summer 2010.

The song is produced by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco. It reminds me a bit of late '90s daft punk. This is the first single from Perry's next album, Teenage Dream, with features a real dream team of behind-the-booth collaborations (the aforementioned plus Cathy Dennis, Tricky Stewart, Guy Sigsworth, Greg Wells, Ryan Tedder, Rodney Jerkins, Greg Kurstin and Rivers Cuomo from Weezer).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Album Review: Keane - Night Train (4/5)

Perfect Symmetry, while a decent album, failed to connect with the public, generating only one top 40 hit in Britain. I liked the album's turn toward '80s synth-pop, but missed the elegant piano pop-rock of their first two albums. Here then is Night Train, an eight-track EP that finds the band experimenting with different sounds, perhaps trying to find themselves a new voice.

After the seemingly pointless instrumental opener "Horse Lights," (which to me doesn't set up the album or the next song) "Back in Time" is the first proper song. It's got an ominous melody and guitar--a rarity for the band. I'd like it better if the maniacal keyboard effects during the chorus didn't drown out the rest of the song.

Then there's "Stop for a Minute," which despite sounding like a grab for the OneRepublic sound, manages to be quite a great pop song. It's been in my head a lot lately, although I still find K'naan's rap at the end to be a bit out of place. "Clear Skies" gives us the biggest dose of guitar ever from Keane, with an acoustic one prominently featured among the layers of keyboard, bass and beats (including claps). It's an interesting song; different for them.

"Ishen Denshin (You've Got to Help Yourself)" sounds very much like '80s-style Pet Shop Boys pop, bumping along with its jaunty synth bass beat. It also features Japanese female vocalist Tigarah. All this shifting duty at the mic even gives another Keane man besides Tom Chaplin a turn at lead vocal. Yes, that's keyboardist/songwriter "Tim Rice-Oxley" doing the duty on "Your Love," another '80s-sounding synth-based pop song, although moodier and darker than "Ishen Denshin."

"Looking Back" uses a really cheesy sample--the theme from the movie Rocky--but I think it actually works really great in this upbeat piano-based song, which also features rapper K'naan. "My Shadow" is probably the most traditionally Keane-sounding song here, a lovely piano ballad that nicely closes this mini album.

While a full new album might have been nice, I certainly don't mind getting an EP if it means the band is focused on producing their best work, and Night Train lives up to the quality of previous Keane material. It doesn't hit any dizzying heights, but I do like the band's willingness to push themselves into some new sounds while still showing a knack for what they do best.

Best: Stop for a Minute, Looking Back, Your Love, My Shadow

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kylie returns

Some of my blog buddies have already written about this, but I can't let it go by without saying something too....Kylie is back!!!! Rejoice from the highest mountains, ring all the church bells, pinch all the little children, and get those disco balls spinning.

The single is "All the Lovers," the first from her new album Aphrodite. It's pretty much in keeping with recent hits like "I Believe in You" and "The One." Nicely dance pop.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

UK Singles Chart, May 22, 2010

1. Good Times - Roll Deep feat. Jodie Connor

Roll Deep fends off the would-be challengers to remain at #1 for a third week. In a year of rather steady turnover at the top of the chart, "Good Times" is only the second single to spend 3 weeks at #1, the first having been Owl City's "Fireflies" back in January and February. The last British artists to spend at least 3 weeks at #1 was Taio Cruz with "Break Your Heart" last September.

2. Ridin' Solo - Jason DeRulo

Jason DeRulo follows up his recent #1 hit, "In My Head," with "Ridin' Solo," climbing 10 spots to #2. This gives DeRulo his third consecutive top 3 hit. The physical release isn't out until the end of the month, so this is now a hot contender for future #1.

4. Stereo Love - Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina

Go Romania! Just weeks after the success of Inna's "Hot," the eastern European country produces another top 10 hit. "Stereo Love" was originally released in October and now becomes a top 10 UK hit. The song samples a piece by an Azerbaijani composer, giving this an even broader international pedigree.

7. She's Always a Woman - Fyfe Dangerfield

Guillemots founder Fyfe Dangerfield steps out solo with "She's Always a Woman," up 7 spots this week. The song is a remake and the Billy Joel original charted at #29 a few weeks ago. The success of both tracks is due to the Dangerfield version appearing in an ad for British department store John Lewis. I just watched the ad, and it is rather cool:

8. All Night Long - Alexandra Burke

Alexandra Burke climbs eight notches to score her fourth top 10 hit, matching the peak of her last single, "Broken Heels." The new version of the song, featuring rapper Pitbull, is out tomorrow, so I expect this to definitely appear in the top 5 next week. I doubt it will be hot enough for #1, but one can hope.

9. Total Eclipse of the Heart - Glee Cast

Glee scores its third top 10 hit with "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which charts similarly high in the US this week, hitting #16. Glee's had quite a few top 40 hits--12 now as of this week--but hasn't had a top 10 hit since the Glee girls' "Halo/Walking on Sunshine" mashup quite a few months ago. It's interesting that out of all the potential singles from Glee, the ones that have done well on the US and UK charts have tended to be the same songs. The few exceptions are "True Colors," which was bigger in the UK and "Sweet Caroline," which was bigger in the US. Otherwise, most of the tracks that have made it into the top 40 in either country are the same.

12. Not Myself Tonight - Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera misses the top 10 with "Not Myself Tonight, the first single from her upcoming fourth album, Bionic. It hasn't done that well in the US either, peaking at #23. We'll see if the new video can help it out at all.

27. Run Joey Run - Glee Cast

Another Glee single in the top 40.

40. Stop for a Minute - Keane feat. K'naan

Keane makes the top 40, just barely, with their new single "Stop for a Minute" from the Night Train EP. This is the band's 10th top 40 hit.

Album Review: MGMT - Congratulations (3.5/5)

In late 2007, early 2008, fresh-from-college indie rockers became the toast of the town with Oracular Spectacular, their cheeky debut of pop-leaning, psychedelic rock. They won over fans and critics alike with danceable stuck-in-your-head tunes like "Time to Pretend" and "Kids."

Well, Congratulations, the difficult follow-up to that successful debut, ain't that. Rather than mine their enjoyable pop instincts, they've gone full throttle into the weirder side of their sound. It makes for some nice moments, but there are few, if any, standout singles this time (and in fact, the band has said they don't intend to have singles for this album). Consequently, there's nothing here I expect would corner alternative and pop radio or have them flattered with a remake, a la "The Opposite of Adults," Chiddy Bang's recent take on "Kids."

A few songs do rise above the others though. I quite like "Brian Eno," a quirky tribute to the famous producer of bands like U2 and Coldplay ("We're always one step behind him, he's Brian Eno"). I also like the opening track, "It's Working," which goes for some high drama with its big guitars, harpsichord, echo-chamber vocals and intermittent tempo pauses. Ambitious "Flash Delerium" layers horns, multiple voices, over a shifting base of guitars and synths.

Elsewhere, some songs are better than others. "Song for Dan Treacy," another tribute, although to someone far less well-known, is sinister and weird in an enjoyable way. "Someone's Missing" builds slowly to a Motown-ish climax. The closing title track is pleasantly acoustic with revealing lyrics about the desire for approval ("I'd rather dissolve than have you ignore me").

But then there's the 12-minute, multipart, "Siberian Breaks," which manages to be not nearly as interesting as the band probably thinks it is, making it just pretentious, actually. I like the acoustic guitar opener for about 30 seconds, and then the song loses me. "Lady DaDa's Nightmare" seems pointed at Lady GaGa, but I don't see what she'd supposedly find so objectionable about this meandering instrumental.

This album required a close listen to appreciate it. I was actually going to give it a lower rating until I listened to it more carefully and found more to like than I'd heard at first blush. Still, that it requires such effort may be off-putting to some, especially those that enjoyed the band's first go-round most for the jumping joy of "Kids."

Best: Brian Eno, It's Working, Flash Delerium

Saturday, May 15, 2010

1990 Album Review: Wilson Phillips - Wilson Phillips (3.5/5)

It's hard to believe looking back, but Wilson Phillips was one of the biggest pop breakouts of 1990, hitting #1 with two singles that year, one of which, "Hold On," was the biggest hit of the year on the Billboard Hot 100. The trio was comprised of daughters of famous musicians--Carnie and Wendy Wilson, daughters of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, and Chynna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. Their videos were all over MTV and VH1. They sounded great, if not due to their singing talent, then to the expert production by Glen Ballard, best known for producing Alanis Morissette's breakthrough Jagged Little Pill.

"Hold On," in particular, is a standout, a breezy keyboard and guitar fueled romp of a song. Their ballads work well too, like "Release Me," their other 1990 #1 and seemingly thematic opposite of their first single. A third #1 ballad, "You're in Love," followed early in 1991, and it's another decent pop ballad. "Impulsive," a mid-tempo song, was another top 10 hit.

"Next to You" strives for some level of dramatic flair, but sounds like it's about 3 years too late. A remake of Rod Stewart's "A Reason to Believe" seems an odd choice, although they do harmonize nicely on it. The rest feels like filler. This album received a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year, which is a bit surprising, as there were surely better choices (Sinead O'Connor for sure), and while it does have some great singles, they were front-loaded on the album and it loses steam after that.

Best: Hold On, Release Me, You're in Love, Impulsive

Friday, May 14, 2010

Personal Chart, May 15, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, May 22, 2010

1. Not Afraid - Eminem

On the back of particularly strong sales, Eminem sails to #1 with "Not Afraid," the first single from his upcoming seventh album, Recovery. The single sold 379,000 copies, the fourth most first-week sales tally and just slightly less than Eminem scored with his last #1 debut, "Crack a Bottle," which moved 418,000 in its first week. It's the first single to debut at #1 this year, the last since Britney Spears did so last October with "3." Eleven years since first hitting it big with "My Name Is," Eminem has been pretty much a constant chart fixture, although it's a bit surprising to note that this is only his third chart-topper, following the aforementioned "Crack a Bottle" and "Lose Yourself."

2. OMG - Usher feat. Will.I.Am

So Usher gets pushed down to #2 after just 1 week at #1, but I suspect he'll be back up there. The single is nowhere near losing its bullet, and is, in fact, this week's greatest Airplay Gainer.

5. Airplanes - B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams

B.o.B.'s second single climbs into the top 5, as his first, "Nothin' on You," inches down a notch to #3. "Nothin' on You" is still growing at Top 40 radio, where it is currently #1, although likely to yield to Taio Cruz's "Break Your Heart" soon.

9. My Oh My - 3Oh!3 feat. Ke$ha

3Oh!3 hit #7 earlier this year when they appeared on Ke$ha's "Blah Blah Blah." Now they return the favor, hosting Ke$ha on their "My Oh My," their third top 10 hit. This is the first single from their upcoming second album, Streets of Gold.

11. Alejandro - Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa climbs 5 spots to #11 earning this week's Digital Gainer, putting her on the cusp of scoring her 7th top 10 hit. Surely it will do so next week.

12. Young Forever - Jay-Z feat. Mr. Hudson

Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson appeared on the Betty White-hosted SNL this week, but it didn't do much for "Young Forever," which falls out of the top 10 this week, down 2 to #12.

16. Total Eclipse of the Heart - Glee Cast feat. Jonathan Groff

Glee scores its biggest hit since the pilot's "Don't Stop Believin' hit #4. No other Glee single has been in the top 20 until now. This is the 10th Glee top 40 hit.

36. Rock that Body - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas score their 13th top 40 hit, fifth from last year's Grammy Award-winning The E.N.D. Black Eyed Peas member Fergie's album The Dutchess also scored five top 40 hits (both albums also each contain three #1 hits).

Sunday, May 09, 2010

UK Singles Chart, May 15, 2010

1. Good Times - Roll Deep
2. OMG - Usher feat. Will.I.Am
3. She Said - Plan B

Roll Deep holds #1 for a second week with "Good Times." In doing so, it keeps Usher's "OMG" in second place for a third consecutive week. "OMG" has now spent 5 weeks in the top 2, longer than any other Usher single. Plan B holds at #3 for a completely static top 3.

4. Watercolour - Pendulum

Australian rock band Pendulum has the week's highest debut. "Watercolour" is the first single from their upcoming third album, Immersion. Their last, 2008's In Silico, gave them two top 10 hits, including their first top 10 single, "Propane Nightmares." At #4, "Watercolour" is now their highest-charting hit.

5. Candy - Aggro Santos feat. Kimberly Wyatt

Clubby rap continues to be the sound du jour, with Roll Deep still at #1, the top 5 now welcomes a second such single, Aggro Santo's "Candy." This is his first top 40 hit. Kimberly Wyatt is a former member of the Pussycat Dolls, having left the group earlier this year.

6. Dirty Picture - Taio Cruz feat. Ke$ha

Taio Cruz climbs four notches to #6 with "Dirty Picture," his fourth top 10 hit. It features American pop starlet Ke$ha, who hit #4 earlier this year with "Tik Tok," a #1 hit in many other countries.

12. Ridin' Solo - Jason DeRulo

Jason DeRulo's is this week's big climber, up 26 spots to #12 with his third top 40 hit, the follow-up to #1 single "In My Head." This gets a physical release at the end of the month, so expect it to slip into the top 10 next week and stay there a bit.

16. All Night Long - Alexandra Burke

Alexandra Burke climbs 18 notches to #16. While fans await the release of the new single version featuring Pitbull, the original album cut has managed to chart quite nicely. Said single is still a week away, so there's one more week for "All Night Long" to potentially chart as a top 10 hit, and then again when the new version is out. Will the Official Chart folks treat these as two separate songs? Past history would seem to indicate that they will.

25. Bittersweet - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Only #25? C'mon! This a great song. I've been really into it lately. Shame to see that the first single from her fourth album, Straight to the Heart, can't even beat the rather underwhelming #23 peak of the second single from her last album, "Me and My Imagination" (another great song that deserved better). I guess she's just not hip anymore.

30. Te Amo - Rihanna

Rihanna scores her 18th top 40 hit with "Te Amo," the third British single from Rated R, following "Russian Roulette" and "Rude Boy," which both hit #2. The physical single is out in 2 weeks. I would imagine this is good for the top 10. In the US, the next single will be "Rockstar 101," which isn't as good IMO. When it was released Rated R seemed like it might not generate the hits like Good Girl Gone Bad, but time has proven that wrong, with the above mentioned having done well, as well as "Hard" which was US top 10 hit. Plus there are potential singles in waiting--perhaps "Photographs," "Stupid in Love" or "Fire Bomb?" I could hear all of those on the radio.

Music of 1990: April

Yikes. I'm a bit behind in getting this out, but I'm still dedicated to the 1990 project. I just had a really busy April.

United States

The biggest thing in music in April was Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2U," which hit #1 mid-month and stayed there for 4 weeks, the first of three singles that would spend as much time at #1 that year. I already wrote about the song specifically, so I'll move on.

Two other singles were #1 hits in April. The first was Taylor Dayne's "Love Will Lead You Back," a very radio friendly love ballad written by Diane Warren, one of the most prolific songwriters of the '90s (her lengthy hit catalog includes Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me," Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart," Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," and Ace of Base's "Don't Turn Around"). This was Dayne's 6th top 10 hit and the only time she ever hit #1 on the Hot 100. I actually still quite like this song.

The other chart-topper was "I'll Be Your Everything" performed by teen heartthrob Tommy Page and written and produced by members of New Kids on the Block, whom Page toured with at the time. The song is typically treacly, and frankly, I was never a fan of it, although I did like Page's next single, "When I Dream of You."

More deserving of #1 in my opinion was Canadian singer Jane Child's "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" (it did top the pop airplay chart as it stalled at #2 on the Hot 100). The song has a fantastic, energetic production. Child didn't exactly look the part of a pop singer, more like a bad-girl punker, with her nose-ring and earring connected by a chain. Either do to that or lack of other good material (I considered her album for a 1990 album review, but after listening to it, I decided to pass, as it is not good), she was a one-hit wonder.

Lisa Stansfield, who'd scored big in Britain in 1989, took her soulful pop sound to the states in 1990, hitting #3 with "All Around the World." It was her only top 10 hit. Technotronic scored a second top 10 hit with "Get Up (Before the Night Is Over)." This time the actual featured rapper/vocalist Ya Kid K got her due, with full credit and even appearing in the video. Although it wasn't as big a hit as "Pump Up the Jam," it's a tough call to say which song is better. I often prefer the brighter, poppier sound of this single.

Finally, hairband rock continued its slow march to its demise, with both Kiss and Motley Crue scoring #8 hits with "Forever" and "Without You" respectively.

United Kingdom

Snap's "The Power" spent a second week at #1 during the first week of April, but Madonna's "Vogue" ruled the chart for most of the month, hitting #1 the week of April 14 and staying there for 4 weeks. I'll say more about "Vogue" later, as it is very near and dear to me.

Otherwise, April was actually rather unremarkable chart-wise in the UK. UB40 hit #4 with "Kingston Town," They Might Be Giants hit #6 with "Birdhouse in Your Soul," and Heart hit #8 with "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You," which would go on to be a big hit in the US later.

Perhaps the most interesting single was Happy Monday's "Step On," which hit #5 and was that band's biggest hit.

Music of 1990: Nothing Compares 2U

Often the biggest hits are the ones that defy the odds, for what were the odds that 1990's biggest global hit would be a Prince-penned ballad sung by a mostly unknown and eccentric bald Irish singer? When looking back at Sinead O'Connor's discography, "Nothing Compares 2U" is an outlier, for she never came even close to replicating its success, and perhaps didn't want to. It doesn't really fit with her flamboyant and often controversial blend of politics, folk and religion. In the US, she remains a one-hit wonder.

Prince wrote the song in the '80s but did not record it, intending it for his side project Family. For his effort, he was nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy Award in 1991 (the only time Prince was nominated for this award), but he lost to Julie Gold's "From a Distance." It was one of several songs he wrote for female artists at the time, which also including collaborating with Madonna on Like a Prayer's "Love Song" and penning "U" for Paula Abdul's second album, Spellbound. The track was also nominated for Record of the Year, but lost to Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise."

The song is quite gorgeous. It opens with a simple, lovely melody of strings and keyboard chords, over which O'Connor's vocals start somewhat hushed before she lets loose some wails later. It's stately imagery evokes loneliness--"I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant"--instantly brings to mind the image of a woman sitting alone in a grand setting, perhaps the only sole diner. Her heartbreak over having lost a lover drives her to depression and in the end, she's determined to win him (or her, it's never said) back.

The video, directed by John Maybury, is quite good too, much of which consists of a tight-focus shot of O'Connor's face against a black backround. She cries, and it's convincingly genuine. It won Video of the Year at the MTV Music Video Awards, beating clips for "The End of the Innocence," "Janie's Got a Gun" and "Vogue."

Friday, May 07, 2010

Personal Chart, May 8, 2010

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bilboard Hot 100, May 15, 2010

1. OMG - Usher feat. Will.I.Am

Usher scores his ninth US #1 hit this week with "OMG." That ties him with The Bee Gees and Elton John as the artist with the 10th most #1s. Among male soloists he's fourth (tied with John) behind Elvis Presley (17), Michael Jackson (13), Stevie Wonder (10). The single climbs 5 spots this week, also earning the airplay gainer. This is Will.I.Am's first solo appearance at #1. This is band, the Black Eyed Peas, he hit #1 three times last year.

10. Young Forever - Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson

Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson climb two spots to hit the top 10 with "Young Forever," a re-working of the 1984 single "Forever Young" by Alphaville. This is Jay-Z's third top 10 hit from The Blueprint 3, following "Run This Town" with Rihanna, which hit #2, and "Empire State of Mind" with Alicia Keys, which hit #1. This is the first American top 10 hit for British R&B singer Mr. Hudson, best known abroad for his recent hit "Supernova" with Kanye West.

28. Billionaire - Travie McCoy feat. Bruno Mars

Gym Class Heroes, who had a major hit a few years ago with "Cupid's Chokehold," see their lead singer go solo with "Billionaire," which enters the top 40 this week, up 13 spots. It features Bruno Mars, who was #1 last week with B.o.B. on "Nothing on You."

29. Bulletproof - La Roux

British synth pop group La Roux is up 6 spots to #29. Nice to see this in the top 30.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Album Review: Scouting for Girls - Everybody Wants to Be on TV (3.5/5)

Fresh off their first #1 hit, "This Ain't a Love Song," a song now headed to US radio, Scouting for Girls released their second album, Everybody Wants to Be on TV, to some pretty wretched reviews. Here's what Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian had to say about it:
"The success of Scouting for Girls continues to baffle. There's nothing to distinguish them from the hundreds of pub bands cranking out the same jaunty guy-rock every night of the week, yet their first album went double platinum, and they're currently No 1 in the singles chart."
Well, Ms. Sullivan, isn't the fact that, as you said, their first album went double platinum and that their latest single hit #1 fairly distinguishing? One would think so. The BBC's review by Chris Roberts was even harsher:
"It is extraordinarily lame. Think of Keane and remove the grit. Or think of Daniel Powter, tripling the irritation factor. These boys have nothing to say and say it in a manner that’s somehow both bland and offensive."
Yikes. Bottom line: Scouting for Girls isn't going to win a Mercury Music Prize anytime soon, but that doesn't mean they aren't cranking out some pretty enjoyable MOR pop/rock. Their music is lively, catchy, upbeat and fun. In short, it's a critic's nightmare, but it's a pop music fan's delight. When you're walking home from work after a skull-grinding day, isn't it kind of delightful to get a little pep in your step while listening to Roy Stride sing "And I'm a little bit lost without you, I'm a bloody big mess inside?" That's the pre-chorus hook from the Keane-ish piano-backed hit "This Ain't a Love Song?" It's rather British too, since Americans never say "bloody" unless it's in reference to a paper cut, a murder or open-heart surgery.

And so goes the rest of the album, which has the gall to stick auto-tune, the savior of American hip-hop, into the Maroon 5-ish "Little Miss Naughty." "Good Time Girl" is pretty similar--lively, minor-key melody with guitar and piano.

"Famous" returns to major-key melodies with a good dose of '80s-style synthesizer melody. It name checks Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis--signs that the band has done their homework and looked beyond the likes of Katherine Heigl and Angelina Jolie (I guess those are the types of actresses straight guys go for these days, I wouldn't really know). Despite its title, "Silly Song" is a slower, more earnest love song.

At just 10 tracks, the album is fairly short by today's standards. The second half offers up upbeat guitar-driven "On the Radio," (sadly not a Martine McCutcheon or Nelly Furtado remake), strings-laden "Blue as Your Eyes," and "Posh Girls," which sounds vaguely like Arctic Monkeys for like 2 seconds during the opening. "1+1" is the album's most rockin' tune, pushing the bass-line right to the front, while closer "Take a Chance on Us" exudes enough layered grandeur to make a credible case for a future single.

I hope you enjoyed this review. If it seems wittier than usual, it's probably because it was written after having had 4 0z. of gin and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. But hey, Scouting for Girls got their start in pubs, so I guess that was an appropriate way to enjoy them. I certainly had fun.

Best: This Ain't a Love Song, Little Miss Naughty, Famous, Silly Song, Take a Chance on Us

Monday, May 03, 2010

Listening to This week

Bittersweet - Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Love this. What a great single from her--probably her best in years. I thought "Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer" was a bit underwhelming. This is the real deal. Great hook in the chorus.

Stop for a Minute - Keane feat. K'naan. This is okay, but not great, which makes it a disappointment, considering that Keane was once my favorite band. It sounds like they're chasing OneRepublic now, when they could aim so much higher. Still, I'm up for the EP.

Good Times - Roll Deep. A fun, frothy blend of Euro dance and UK grime rap. Sounds great actually.

Once - Diana Vickers. Still on the fence about whether I want to get the album (I'm trying to be more selective this year). I do like this song though.

OMG - Usher feat. Will.I.Am. This is probably the most enjoyable single Usher's ever done. I've never been a big fan of his, but I can't get enough of this.

Love Is A Hurricane - Boyzone. Boyzone's newest single makes them sound not unlike Take That did on Circus, which is a good thing. A good upbeat piano pop song from them.

Alejandro - Lady GaGa. Lady GaGa's about to score her 7th top 10 pop hit, and it's one of her best yet. Love it. The Ace of Base impersonation is perfectly timed as the '90s are starting to come in vogue.

Airplanes - B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams. B.o.B. isn't someone I would normally go for, yet here he is with a second single that I enjoy. Great, melody pop/hip-hop with a darker sound than "Nothin' on You."

All Night Long - Alexandra Burke. Still loving this and definitely into it more than I was into "Broken Heels" when it was a single. I haven't heard much of the Pitbull version though, since I have the album and the original is so great.

Impossible - Shontelle. Rihanna has some competition now in the Barbadian pop singer department. Great first single, a pop power ballad along the lings of "Bleeding Love" and "No Air."

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Album Review: Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks (4.5/5)

Persona-based concept albums are often a mistake (think Garth Brooks' Chris Gaines project), as well as blatant attempts to perform in a different genre (Brooks again, as well as Lil Wayne's recent "rock" album). Yet heretofore British rapper Plan B's second album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks succeeds on both accounts, dropping the hip-hop artist into the shoes of soul singer Strickland Banks and telling the story of how he goes to prison for a crime he did not commit.

The revival of '60s soul has been a hot trend in British pop ever since Amy Winehouse struck gold with it in 2006, and Plan B gives a pretty decent Motown impersonation, particularly on the first two tracks. "Love Goes Down" opens gently with strings and guitar before building up the old soul sound with horns on the chorus. "Writing's on the Wall" has a bouncier melody at times quite similar to The Source and Candi Staton's "You Got the Love." While the opening tracks are straight up old-fashioned, "Stay Too Long" and "She Said," the album's first two singles, incorporate more modern touches, namely bits of rap. "Stay Too Long" is hard-hitting garage rock, while "She Said" is the album's most effective pop song.

The prison aspect of the story starts with "Welcome to Hell" and proceeds through the rest of the album. Lyrically, the album leans a bit too much on its concept here, telling us nothing new about the perils of incarceration that we haven't already heard ("I put my brave face on, can't let them know that I'm scared"). Despite that, the music doesn't suffer at all, and great songs continue coming at a clip through the album's middle, like the plodding, layered "Welcome to Hell," which features some great low-end piano. "Hard Times" is a bluesy number scored with sweet strings and enough surface noise to remind us its supposed to sound like it came from 40 years ago. "The Recluse" is also scored prominently with strings but their purpose is quite different, combining them with harder beats and guitar to underscore Strickland's harsh mental anguish as he reaches his low point in the story.

Things look up a bit on the brighter "Trade in My Cigarettes," which is a sunny, '70s-era pop/rock melody, but then get darker again on "Darkest Place," which packs in quite a lot of '70s-style pop drama, with its cacophony of sounds, although it has a lot of rap on it too. In between them is "Prayin'," which effectively uses the modern soul sound perfected by producers like Mark Ronson. As does the doo-wop number "Free," on which Banks pleads for his freedom.

"I Know a Song" is a quieter love ballad, scored with acoustic guitar, bass and later strings. It's a really lovely little song, showing the artist's more tender side. "What You Gonna Do" is a punchy closer with hard-hitting hip-hop verses, on which Strickland seems hardened and resigned to his fate. Not exactly the uplifting finale I was hoping for, but probably more realistic.

This is a really great album, one that I enjoyed more and more with successive listens. None of the songs are bad, and although they explore different sounds, it all holds together quite well. Songs that don't jump out at first have a way of displaying their charms with subsequent listens. "She Said" has turned into one of the season's biggest hits, and I imagine there are more on the way later this year.

Best: She Said, Love Goes Down, Writing's on the Wall, Welcome to Hell, Hard Times, I Know a Song

Saturday, May 01, 2010

May New Album Releases

May is a month of interesting releases, although few "must have" albums. I'll be checking reviews on these to decide whether I want to get them.

Glee Cast - Glee: The Music, Volume 3: Showstoppers (May 18). Coming at the end of its first season run is the third full-length soundtrack album from Glee, featuring songs from 8 of the season's last 9 episodes (except for "The Power of Madonna" songs, which were released separately as an EP, currently sitting at #1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart). Highlights include "Gives You Hell," the Burt Bacharach numbers from last week's episode, and a couple of Lady GaGa tunes from the season finale.

Keane - Night Train EP (May 10). Testing the waters a bit after their underperforming third album Perfect Symmetry, Keane releases an EP of new songs, including current single "Stop for a Minute," which features Canadian rapper K'naan. Tim Rice-Oxley, the keyboardist and principal songwriter, takes a turn at lead vocals on "Your Love."

Diana Vickers - Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree (May 3). Step forward Diana Vickers, the third major act emerge from The X Factor's fifth season (the one that's already produced major stars in Alexandra Burke and JLS). Vickers hit #1 last week with her debut single, "Once," and although reviews for this first album appear to be mixed, I'm still interested.

Court Yard Hounds (May 4). Four years after releasing their Grammy Award-winning Taking the Long Way, two of three Dixie Chicks (minus Natalie Maines) have spun off this side project, named after a fictional book from David Benioff's City of Thieves (a pretty fun read, actually). "It Didn't Make a Sound" and first single "The Coast" are already available.

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening (May 17). LCD Soundsystem, the acclaimed Dance/punk project by New Yorker James Murphy, has announced that this third disc will be its last. Considering that the first two albums were widely praised by critics and nominated for the dance/electronic album Grammy, expect similar buzz from this as well. First single "Drunk Girls" is already out.

The New Pornographers - Together (May 4). Canadian rock band returns with their fifth album, first since 2007's game-changing Challengers. Listen for free at NPR.

The National - High Violet (May 10). Brooklyn-based indie rockers release their fifth album.

The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever (May 3/4). The fifth album from the American rock band--first without their keyboardist Franz Nicolay.

Stone Temple Pilots (May 25). It's been 9 years since the last STP album. The band, who broke up in 2003 but reunited in 2008, are releasing their sixth album, including recent US alternative #1 hit "Between the Lines."

The Dead Weather - Sea of Cowards (May 11). Jack White's third band released their first album last year, and it's follow-up comes less than a year later.

Against Me! - White Crosses (May 4). Alternative rockers release their fifth album, including current single "I Was a Teenage Anarchist."

Agnes - Dance Love Pop (UK Edition) (May 24). Agnes had a major UK hit last summer with "Release Me," and now finally sees her 2008 album released there. Also features "I Need You Now" and new single "On and On." It's been pushed back several times, with the tracklist getting reshuffled a bit. The UK version still includes new track "You Rain" but "Secret Love" is now missing, and the the set omits "Look at Me Now" (a shame, for it's a highlight), "Don't Pull Your Love Out" and "Open Up Your Eyes."

Personal Chart, May 1, 2010