Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grammy Nominees Prediction

Yikes. This caught me off guard, and I don't have time to go through all the categories thoroughly, although I did go through all of them when the eligibility lists were made available in October. Here's my predictions:

Album of the Year

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Eminem - Recovery
Carole King and James Taylor - Live at the Troubadour
Lady Antebellum - Need You Now
Sade - Soldier of Love

Last year, I did a big analysis of how to predict album of the year. The key is to identify the biggest album in the most popular music genres. With that, I have King and Taylor for pop, Sade for R&B, Lady Antebellum for country, Eminem for rap, and Arcade Fire for alternative. I feel pretty good about this, but a slight unease that there's no "rock" category pick. But what would that be? Pearl Jam? Muse? Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers? Other possibilities: Lady Gaga gets the pop spot instead, Miranda Lambert gets the country spot, and Janelle Monae sneaks in somehow.

Record of the Year

Michael Buble - Haven't Met You Yet
Eminem feat. Rihanna - Love the Way You Lie
Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind
Lady Antebellum - Need You Now
Lady Gaga - Bad Romance

Two ladies lead the pack this year--Antebellum and Gaga. Both are shoo-ins. Then two rap/sung combinations, which is gutsy, but I can't imagine one without the other being nominated. The last slot is tricky. I'm going out a limb to say it will be Michael Buble, since Grammy usually has something a little more adult oriented in the lineup. But that means that summer's biggest hit, Katy Perry's "California Gurls," doesn't get a nod, and I still wouldn't count out King and Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" or Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." Some say Florence & the Machine has a shot with "Dog Days Are Over," but I really doubt it.

Best New Artist

Justin Bieber
Florence & the Machine
Vampire Weekend
The XX

Yes, Vampire Weekend was eligible, despite having had a hit album in 2008. I put Drake as the most likely adult male, but B.o.B., Taio Cruz or Jason Derulo could have a shot too. Don't look for Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj or Janelle Monae, as they were not submitted.

Rock Album

Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns
Muse - The Resistance
Pearl Jam - Backspacer
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Mojo

This is what I'd like to see, and it ignores some of the "legends" that could get in, like Lynard Skynard and Neil Young.

Alternative Album

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The Black Keys - Brothers
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
The National - High Violet
Vampire Weekend - Contra

Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend are the frontrunners. If The National doesn't get a nod here, I'll be really irritated. Would love to see Broken Bells make the cut.

Pop Vocal Album

Jack Johnson - To the Sea
Carole King and James Taylor - Live at the Troubadour
Lady Gaga - Fame Monster
Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea
Rihanna - Rated R

Pop Female

Ke$ha - Tik Tok
Carole King - So Far Away
Lady Gaga - Bad Romance
Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
Pink - Glitter in the Air
(If they go 6, add Rihanna - Rude Boy)

Pop Male

Michael Buble - Haven't Met You Yet
Taio Cruz - Dynamite
Bruno Mars - Just the Way You Are
John Mayer - Half of My Heart
James Taylor - Carolina in My Mind

Pop Duo/Group

Maroon 5 - Misery
La Roux - Bulletproof
OneRepublic - Secrets
Paramore - The Only Exception
Train - Hey, Soul Sister

Pop Collaboration

B.o.B., Hayley Williams and Eminem - Airplanes II
Carole King and James Taylor - You've Got a Friend
Lady Gaga and Beyonce - Telephone
Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg - California Gurls
Usher & Will.I.Am - OMG

Glee "Special Education"

Friction is high between the members of New Directions leading up to sectionals. Despite the number of songs in this episode, it's actually pretty plot heavy, with almost all of the music coming in the second half, during the sectionals competition.

For the sectionals set list, Will shakes up the club's usual lineup by giving Sam and Quinn the duet instead of Finn and Rachel. This leads to a fight during with Santana reveals to Rachel (and everyone else) that she slept with Finn. Rachel and Finn attend counseling with Emma, but it doesn't seem to help heal the rift that has formed between them.

Kurt attends his first meeting of the Dalton Academy Warblers, during which he's indoctrinated by being given a parakeet to take care of. He's also got some ideas for sectionals, but is quickly (but politely) silenced by the group's leadership; however, Blaine tells him they want to give him a chance to audition for a sectionals solo. He doesn't get it though. Blaine counsels him to try harder to be team player and assures him he'll fit in soon enough.

Brittany is nervous that her dance moves will be featured in sectionals. To bolster her confidence, Artie makes up a story about his "magic comb" and gives it to her for good luck. Tina tells Artie that Brittany and Mike are doing more together than just rehearsing.

To fill Kurt's absence, Will asks Puck to recruit some new members. He tries to convince the rest of the football team to join, but they don't go for it and stuff him in a port-o-potty. A strange and portly girl saves him and he convinces her to join New Directions.

All this stirs the pot leading up to...sectionals! It all boils over in the green room right before they have to perform. Will pulls them back together enough to go on. Artie accuses Brittany of "adultery," but she doesn't understand what me means. They figure it out and make up.

Third place goes to The Hipsters. And the winner is...it's a tie. The Warblers and New Directions will both go to regionals. The happiness doesn't last long though, as Emma reveals to Will that she and Carl got married in Vegas. Rachel and Finn make up and he tells her that he loves her. Then Rachel drops her bomb...while she and Finn were fighting she tried to sleep with Puck. Finn is very hurt and dumps her.


Don't Cry For Me Argentina - From "Evita" (Rachel and Kurt). Rachel sings this for Kurt to inspire him for his Warbler's solo audition, and Kurt sings it for his audition, with the two parts edited to make a duet. Rachel even finds a balcony to sing from!

The Living Years - Mike + The Mechanics (The Hipsters). The old folks turn in a pretty stirring rendition of this late '80s classic. It's truncated for the show.

Hey, Soul Sister - Train (Dalton Academy Warblers). Blaine takes center stage for this one. They sound good, although it's not as good as "Teenage Dream" was. They should be commended though for how well they make acapella sound like full accompaniment. It's really quite cool.

I've Had the Time of My Life - Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes (Sam and Quinn with New Directions). Wow. Great number. It's almost as good as last year's sectional show-stopper, Rachel's "Don't Rain on My Parade."

Valerie - Zutons/Amy Winehouse (Santana with New Directions). Great to see Santana sing a major solo. She's a nasty girl, but she's got a great voice. The dancing in this number is fantastic. Another highlight.

Dog Days Are Over - Florence + the Machine (Tina and Mercedes with New Directions). The group celebrates their regionals victory with an uplifting rendition of this offbeat hit.

Brittany's best line (referring to sectionals): "If we lose, we should throw possums."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Album Review: Ne-Yo - Libra Scale (3.5/5)

On 2008's rather pleasing Year of the Gentleman, R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo offered up a winning mix of dance tunes and love songs in praise of the opposite sex. For his efforts, and his falsetto vocal, he drew many comparisons to the infamous gloved one, Michael Jackson. Libra Scale varies little from that album's musical sound--it sounds almost exactly the same actually--save for one key missing element: spark. Except for a few upbeat songs, the album is underwhelmed by its slow songs, many of which lack much in the way of interesting melody or lyrics.

Lyrics, in particular are disappointing here. Although not a strong suit for Gentleman, I was expecting something interesting this time, given Libra Scale's apparent concept: a trio of garbage men, including Ne-Yo, become superheroes to protect their city in exchange for forgoing love; however, Ne-Yo can't help himself and falls in love anyway, putting the whole thing in jeopardy. I only know this, however, because I read Wikipedia and the comic included in the liner notes, for the songs themselves hint little at this. Thematically, the songs just sound like typical R&B-pop fare.

Things start off promisingly with "Champagne Life," a mid-tempo kin to "Miss Independent," the best track from his last album. Unfortunately, after that the album declines and stays that way for awhile. "Makin' a Movie" is also uptempo, but not a very interesting song. Much of the album's middle consists of mostly uninteresting slow songs until you get to the charged dance pop hit, "Beautiful Monster," but by then the album's almost over.

Not everything in the middle is bad though. "Genuine Only" has a compellingly uplifting melody that recalls a romantic John Barry film score (there's my soft spot for John Barry orchestration rearing itself again. Tsk tsk). "One in a Million" has a sexy mid-tempo groove and I like the romantic, retro sound of "Know Your Name," but the song goes on too long without much variation, ultimately losing my interest. "Telekinesis" finds our superhero protagonist having used his superpowers to lure some chick to his "gentleman's lair" for some hanky panky. Sounds like a superhero's ethical lapse to me. Sadly for our hero, the album ends on kind of a downer with "What Have I Done?," his girl having apparently turned into the "Beautiful Monster" of the hit single. What a shame.

I think I may be being a little too hard on this album. I don't dislike it. It's just that I'm a bit disappointed, as I was hoping for something really great, and the results just don't live up to that. The melodies are generally silky smooth, and Ne-Yo sounds as good as ever. I'm still waiting for him to really live up to these Michael Jackson comparisons though and give us a real "thriller" of an album. Does he have it in him? We'll see.

Best: Beautiful Monster, Champagne Life, Genuine Only

Sunday, November 28, 2010

UK Singles Chart, 12/4/2010

1. Heroes - The X Factor Finalists

Predictably, the X Factor Finalists are #1 this week with their charity single, "Heroes." You'll be forgiven for thinking this is a re-release of the X Factor Finalists' single from 2 years ago. That was "Hero," the remake of Mariah Carey's hit single; this is "Heroes," the remake of David Bowie's hit single. It's just as much of a snooze, and a real shame to see it at #1.

2. Your Song - Ellie Goulding

Another remake is in second place, although it's far better. Ellie Goulding's take on Elton John's "Your Song" is actually quite well done. Too bad it didn't beat X Factor to become her first #1 hit.

4. Thinking of Me - Olly Murs

Olly Murs' scores a second top 5 hit with his single single, "Thinking of Me," from his debut album, Olly Murs, out tomorrow. Like his recent #1 hit, "Please Don't Let Me Go," there's a bit of reggae flavor on this single. It's fine, but not as good as his last.

9. Make You Feel My Love - Adele

"Make You Feel My Love" returns to the top 10 yet again. This is its third week there. The song is threatening to overshadow the fact that Adele is gearing up to release her second album soon, although I imagine once X Factor is done in a few weeks everyone will forget about this.

10. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

With her recent #1 hit, "Only Girl," still in the top 10, Rihanna climbs 8 spots to #10 with her new single, "What's My Name," which becomes her 15th top 10 hit.

25. Do It Like a Dude - Jessie J.

Introducing Jessie J, British singer/songwriter who's generated some buzz for this first single. She's had some success as a songwriter, including co-writing Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA."

33. More - Usher

Having scored a couple hits earlier this year by throwing in a decent dance beat, Usher keeps the tempo up on this new single. It was a bonus track on the original release of Raymond v. Raymond and also appears on the deluxe version that includes the Versus tracks.

37. Doncamatic - Gorillaz (feat. Daley)

Both of Gorillaz' first two albums had several top 10 hits, but their third, Plastic Beach, released earlier this year, failed to even score a top 40 single. Now the album is being re-released with this one additional track, a pretty decent tune, finally giving the album a top 40 hit, albeit a pretty small one.

40. Better than Today - Kylie Minogue

Kylie debuts at #40 with "Better than Today." Hopefully it will climb over the next couple of weeks. It's the Australian pop singer's 46th top 40 hit, third from her album Aphrodite.

Upcoming Singles

Nov. 29

Coldplay - Christmas Lights (Dec. 1)
Pet Shop Boys - Together
Mark Ronson & the Business Intl (feat. Boy George) - Somebody to Love Me
James Blake - Limit to Your Love
Alesha Dixon - Radio

Dec. 6

Michael Jackson (feat. Akon) - Hold My Hand
Willow - Whip My Hair
Flo Rida - Turn Around (5,4,3,2,1)
Nelly Furtado - Night Is Young
Joe McElderry - Someone Wake Me Up
Kylie Minogue - Better than Today
Manic Street Preachers (feat. Ian McCulloch) – Some Kind Of Nothingness
Kings of Leon - Pyro
Shontelle - Perfect Nightmare
Robyn - Indestructible
Freemasons (feat. Wynter Gordon) - BelieverPlan B - Love Goes Down
KT Tunstall - Fade Like a Shadow
Eric Prydz (feat. Jan Burton) - Niton (The Reason)
Sandi Thom - The House of the Rising Sun
Maroon 5 - Give a Little More
Paolo Nutini - Coming Up Easy

Dec. 13

X Factor Winner
Shakira (feat. Dizzee Rascal) - Loca
Cee Lo Green - It's Okay
Rumer (feat. Burt Bacharach) - Some Lovers/Alfie
Eva Cassidy - Silent Night
Katy B (feat. Ms. Dynamite) - Lights On
Usher - More
N-Dubz - Girls
Bryn Terfel & Bing Crosby - White Christmas
Alicia Keys - Wait 'til You See My Smile/Unthinkable (I'm Ready)
George Michael - December Song 2010: I Dreamed of Christmas

Album Review: Robyn - Body Talk (4.5/5)

Robyn caps a rather exciting year with her third release, Body Talk, a full-length album that includes five tracks from each of her Body Talk EP releases (Part 1 and Part 2) released earlier this year plus five new songs (A Part 3 EP was released separately that includes only the five new tracks from the album).

The album generally represents the best of those two EPs, plus five new songs, all of which pretty upbeat dance pop tracks that deserve their inclusion alongside the others. "Indestructible" is particularly good, it's electronic version surpassing the acoustic one included on Part 2. "I let the bad ones in and the good ones go," sings Robyn, her refusal to give up on love sounds even more emphatic over the insistent dance pop beat. I love the strings in the middle section, which sound much brighter in this version.

"All I want is a DeLorean," declares Robyn on "Time Machine," a typically bracing dance pop track with a deep bass beat. "Call Your Girlfriend" pairs that deep bass beat with retro synthesizer blasts. She's advising some guy about how to break up with her and let her down easy--because he's fallen for Robyn! "Stars 4 Ever" closes the album on a sweet note of uplift.

Since only five tracks from the first two Body Talk EPs were included, some tracks were omitted. I most miss "Cry When You Get Older," which was one of my favorites from Part 1. But the most essential tracks are here, including the single version of "Dancing on My Own," "Hang with Me," "In My Eyes" and "Fembot," making Body Talk one the year's most essential pop albums.

Best: Indestructible, Dancing on My Own, Hang with Me, Call Your Girlfriend, In My Eyes, Fembot

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Album Review: Take That - Progress (5/5)

The cover of Progress features Take That posed as the "ascent of man" diagram, a fitting title and image for their sixth album, which has Robbie Williams finally reunited with his former bandmates and represents another evolution in the group's sound. While the former was expected, announced months ago, the latter was not, making Progress not only an exciting album for Take That fans, but for fans of pop music in general. Where Beautiful World and The Circus were expertly crafted, lovey-dovey, ballad-heavy adult pop, Progress is messy, neurotic, up-tempo electronic pop. Truly exciting stuff.

The first half of the album is vocally collaborative, with Robbie, Gary Barlow, and to a lesser extent, Mark Owen, sharing lead duty on each song. It also has the more accessible songs, such as the grand first single, "The Flood," which is quickly becoming my favorite song of the year. The lovely "Wait" is a dramatic dance pop song with a '90s dance beat that recalls Jocelyn Enriquez's "A Little Bit of Ecstasy" and sad strings that sound very Pet Shop Boys. "Pretty Things" is lighter synth pop, a bit Erasure-esque. All of these are just great songs.

"SOS" and "Kidz" are more manic and dark, with the former tying together fuzzy synths and electric guitar amid Mark and Robbie's insistent vocals, and the latter going for a sort of '80s new wave electro with a marching beat and even fuzzier production. Either would make a good second single for the album. Lyrically, I'm not sure what these opening songs are about (even though I have the lyrics sheet!). They seem to impart general vibes rather than a coherent message--something a bit political (taking a cue from the recent Linkin Park album, there's a JFK sample in "SOS"), self-referential ("The Flood" sounds like it's describing some angst related to the band) and apocalyptic.

The second half of the album gives each member a chance at lead vocal, and thematically these songs are generally easier to wrap your head around, the exception being Robbie's "Underground Machine," during which he sings "oh what a beast, oh what a man" over ominous, strutting electro. It's a weird, but great song. Mark's "What Do You Want from Me" packs an emotional punch, especially if you're aware of his struggles with fidelity and addiction over the past year. Although he's said the song was written before those times, you can't help but think it informed his performance. "Affirmation" and "Flowerbed" find Howard Donald and Jason Orange struggling with their own personal insecurities over a pulsing dance beat and a softer electronic haze, respectively.

"Eight Letters" is worth special mention. It's clear that Robbie wrote this song, as it directly reflects his decision to leave the group and, looking back, how he never acknowledged his emotions when doing so, having been so angry at the time. Sure it's a bit sappy (the "8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning" clearly mean "I love you"), but it's a nice catharsis to close the album. Importantly, despite the song representing Robbie's point of view, Gary sings the lead vocal, a tacit acknowledgment of them having healed the rift between them. If "Shame" was their way to wink and make up, "Eight Letters" is the more meaningful representation of their reconciliation. We can only hope it holds, so that in 2 years we get another brilliant follow-up album.

Worth checking out if you're really into Take That is the recent ITV documentary Look Back, Don't Stare. It covers the last year of the band's life from the time Robbie rejoined the group through the production of Progress, providing a deeper appreciation for this album and what it took to get the group to the point that it could make it.

Progress cements what I find most interesting about Take That. When the group was formed in the early '90s it was as a pre-packaged product (which the group acknowledges in Look Back)--a group of five fresh-faced young men who could sing (mostly) and dance (generally) well enough to sell a few records to teenage girls. Of course, they became a phenomenon, despite representing what many would call the worst impulse of mainstream pop music. Yet through the years they have evolved into genuinely talented pop musicians. Gary Barlow was always interested in songwriting, but through the years the others have become so as well. It's great to see (at least as depicted in the film) that their music has become a true collaboration, especially given that the dominance of certain members (Gary, this means you) was one of the principal reasons they broke up in 1996.

The band deserves much credit for this gutsy move away from MOR balladry to a more cutting edge, experimental sound. Credit Gary and company for their willingness to take the risk, Robbie for his penchant for pop weirdness and producer du jour Stuart Price for pulling them together into a bold, updated sound that makes the group sound fresher than they ever have before. After helming brilliant albums for Scissor Sisters and Kylie Minogue (and a less brilliant but still enjoyable album for Brandon Flowers), Price is undoubtedly the most exciting producer of the year.

Best: The Flood, Wait, Eight Letters, Kidz, SOS, What Do You Want from Me?, Happy Now, Affirmation

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Personal Chart, 11/27/2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, December 4, 2010

1. Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna

Really, it was only a matter of time. This week Rihanna's "Only Girl (in the World)," after 11 weeks on the chart, finally climbs to #9, giving the singer her 9th #1 hit and fourth chart-topper this year. In doing so, she achieves both a chart milestone and a chart first.

First the milestone: it is Rihanna's fourth #1 hit within the 2010 calendar year, following "Rude Boy," "Love the Way You Lie" and "What's My Name." Scoring three #1 hits in one year is a remarkable achievement and it happens fairly frequently (although not every year), but scoring four #1 hits within one year is exceedingly rare. The last artist to do so was Usher in 2004 with "Yeah!," "Burn," "Confessions Pt. II" and "My Boo." Nobody did it in the '80s or '90s. The last artist before Usher was The Jackson 5, who had four #1 hits in 1970: "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There." As proof of just how big they were there in their day, The Beatles had six #1 hits in 1964 ("I Want Your Hand," "She Loves You" and "Can't Buy Me Love," which were consecutive #1 hits, plus "Love Me Do," "A Hard Day's Night" and "I Feel Fine") and then four #1 hits in 1965 ("Eight Days a Week," "Ticket to Ride," "Help!" and "Yesterday").

And then the chart first. According to Billboard, this is the first time that an album's first single has hit #1 after its second single also hit #1. The circumstances that allowed this were the unusually short time between the release of "Only Girl" and its follow-up, "What's My Name"--just 7 weeks, as well as better first-week sales for "What's My Name" than "Only Girl." "Only Girl" made a big bang in its first week, but it was only good enough to put the single at #3. Although it fell a bit after that, it's been steadily climbing in airplay with its sales staying pretty consistent (it's in the iTunes top 10). Then 2 weeks ago, "What's My Name," which had been charting in the lower half of the Hot 100 on airplay, vaulted to #1 when the track was made available as a single ahead of the release of the album, Loud. That was really more of a fluke than anything, as "Only Girl" was still getting more attention at radio, and this week finally climbs to #1.

2. Raise Your Glass - P!nk

P!nk climbs two notches to #2, scoring what is only her third top 2 hit. Could #1 be in the cards? Possibly.

8. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

"What's My Name" drops a notch to #8 but is still gaining and, in fact, is this week's Airplay Gainer.

9. Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green
11. Forget You - Glee Cast (feat. Gwyneth Paltrow)

Like "Teenage Dream" last week, "Forget You" was #1 at iTunes most of the week, but unfortunately, its sales weren't enough to send the track into the top 10. Still, it's the third-highest-charting Glee single ever. However, the song's appearance on Glee is enough to push the original single into the top 10 for the first time, as "Fuck You!" climbs 13 notches to #9 as this week's Digital Gainer.

17. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars' new single "Grenade" made a 13-spot climb to #17. "Just the Way You Are" is still in the top 10, but not likely to remain there long.

18. Umbrella/Singin' in the Rain - Glee Cast (feat. Gywneth Paltrow)

As if we didn't have enough Rihanna and Glee news earlier, here they are together as the Glee version of her "Umbrella" (mashed up with the musical classic "Singin' in the Rain") is the show's 7th top 20 hit.

Album Review: Rihanna - Loud (4/5)

Rihanna continues her winning musical streak with Loud, her fifth album, which follows just a year after her dark turn on the brilliant Rated R. This album retreats from that album's artistry to safer mainstream dance pop territory--closer to Good Girl Gone Bad--but still more fiery than her older work.

Fittingly titled Loud is an assertive pop record from its high-octane production to its leading lady's vocal. Rihanna sounds different these days--there's definitely more heft in her voice, evident from the get-go on first track "S&M," a brassy dance pop number over which Rihanna sings that "sticks and stones may break my bones by chains and whips excite me." It feels more like a command than a come on though, as the song does not feel particularly erotic, despite its apparent subject. Similarly, Rihanna really belts out the chorus of "Only Girl (in the World)," a stomping dance floor hit to rival "SOS" and "Don't Stop the Music."

But don't think the album is too in your face. A lot of it displays a good sense of fun. "Cheers (Drink to That)," for example, is just silly fun with a warm guitar-driven melody over a mid-tempo beat and a sample of Avril Lavigne's "I'm with You" (it's just "yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah). "What's My Name" is a typical mid-tempo Stargate production: not original, but certainly an enjoyable song. Rihanna reveals her Caribbean accent show on these songs ("don't let the boss-turds get ya down"), a nod to her roots that's been mostly missing from her last two discs.

Slow songs have been a mixed bag for Rihanna in the past and that doesn't change here. "Complicated" is a bit shrill and "Skin" is just odd (in a similar vein to Good Girl Gone Bad's oddball track "Question Existing"). "Fading's" airy synth melody sounds like it was stolen from Enya and mixed with a hip-hop beat. I like the idea of this song, and while it's got a lovely tune, I think the beat overpowers the melody a bit. Much better is "California King Bed," a classy heartbreak ballad that starts with intimate acoustic guitars and pumps up the bigger choruses with electric ones. Rihanna's vocal is the best she's ever sounded on a slow song.

The album ends with a new version of "Love the Way You Lie," which features more Rihanna and less Eminem. The dark domestic violence drama feels really out of place here, ending what's been an album of dancing, drinking and sex on a down note. I guess the message is clear though: she may be having fun now, but she hasn't forgotten.

Best: Only Girl (in the World), California King Bed, What's My Name, Cheers (Drink to That), S&M

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Glee "Furt"

It's another story-heavy episode this week, with a marriage theme.

Finn's mom and Kurt's dad are getting married. Kurt seems excited but Finn seems hesitant. Sam presents Quinn with a "promise" ring, which apparently is some sort of "this-isn't-an-engagement-ring-because-we're-too-young-but-someday-maybe" ring. Seems very strange. The closeted gay bully, Dave Karofsky, showed up and was really weird around Kurt--he took the wedding cake topper Kurt was holding. When Kurt complains about it to Sue, who is apparently still principal, she bullies him as well. Finn is conflicted about his role in all this. He hasn't really defended Kurt, which Kurt's dad isn't happy to find out. Dave's father is called in for a meeting with him, Kurt, and Kurt's father in front of Sue, which results in Dave's expulsion.

With so much love in the air, Sue decides she'll get married...to herself. Carol Burnett shows up playing Sue's Nazi-hunter mother. She's just as nasty as her daughter, although she's got something really odd going on with her mouth (and I'm guessing that's not part of the story). Harry, Artie, and Sam stand up to Karofsky in the locker room and tell him to stop bullying Kurt. A fight ensures that Bieste comes in to break up. Wow--20 minutes in and still no song yet.

The wedding is nice, especially the reception, at which Finn gives a heartful speech paying tribute to Kurt and promising to "have his back" from now on. It segues into "Just the Way You Are," which is really great. Sue's wedding is a one-woman show, where Sue plays bride, bridge and minister witnessed by her mother and sister Jeanie. Sue confronts her mother for being a bully and missing so much of her and her sister.

It turns out the Karofsky won't be expelled, as the school board voted against it. Kurt and his family aren't happy about it, but there's nothing they can do. Sue resigns in "protest," but she's probably just tired of being in charge. The episode ends with Kurt announcing to the Glee club that he intends to transfer to Dalton Academy. The kids in the club are not happy about it and try to dissuade him, but he leaves anyway. Of course, it's a teary farewell, but from an audience perspective it can only mean one thing...more Blaine!

This episode was pretty good, but not as good as the last two. The stuff with Kurt, Finn and their families was great, but the Sue storyline wasn't as strong. Carol Burnett was fine, but no Gwyneth Paltrow.


Ohio (From "Wonderful Town") - Sue's mother (Carol Burnett) and Sue. They sing this on the auditorium stage. It's fine, although not as cool as it could be. They aren't the best singers really and this isn't the most interesting song. And the presentation isn't that interesting either.

Marry You (Bruno Mars) - New Directions. The glee club kicks off the wedding of Finn's mom and Kurt's dad with a festive rendition of Bruno Mars's song from his recent album.

Sway (Pablo Beltrán y Su Orchestra) - Will Schuester. Mr. Schue sings an abbreviated version of this Latin number at the wedding.

Just the Way You Are (Bruno Mars) - New Directions. Finn takes the lead on this one, a song that he directs at Kurt. Wow, they even dance together. It's very sweet. Then they dance with thie parents. Everyone seems so happy.

Best line (Kurt): "My power rangers got married and divorced in so many combinations they were like Fleetwood Mac."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

UK Singles Chart, 11/27/2010

1. Love You More - JLS

Think boybands are a thing of the past? Think again. Four of this week's top 10 hits are from Boybands, all of which come from a different ilk, so to speak. At the top is JLS, scoring their fourth #1 hit with "Love You More," a pretty decent pop ballad that makes up for their embarrassing last single, "The Club Is Alive." Yes, it was #1, but it dropped pretty fast after that. This one I expect will stick around for awhile. When boybands were are their hottest in the 1995-2000 period, they pretty much all looked the same--a set of 4 or 5 scrubbed probably white teens or early twenty-somethings singing bubblegum dance pop or treacly ballads. Today, boybands have diversified a bit. JLS fulfills the role of the urban-leaning boyband (which I guess makes them the new Blue). Further down you have the rock-leaning band (McFly), the newly electro-leaning band (Take That in yet another reinvention) and the band that doesn't know they should have thrown in the towel years ago (guess who...more later).

2. The Flood - Take That

Take That holds at #2 this week, while the song that beat it to #1 last week, Rihanna's "Only Girl (in the World)" falls to #4. I was disappointed "The Flood" didn't reach #1, and my friend Paul suggested it could be that people were waiting to buy the album. Well, he was right, quite spectacularly so actually, as Take That's album Progress bowed with 518,601 copies sold in its first week. Let's put that in perspective: 1) It's by far the largest one-week sales tally of any album this year, with the second-biggest sales week going to Kings of Leon's Come Around Sundown, which sold 183,000 copies in its first week--roughly a third of what Take That did, 2) By selling that many copies, Progress is instantly the 9th best-selling album of the year, and over the course of the 5 or so remaining weeks of the year, will likely climb much higher on that list (potentially to #1), 3) It's the biggest 1-week sales of any Take That album, 4) In fact, it's the second-biggest 1-week sales tally for as far back as I can find research (sometime in the '80s), second to Oasis's Be Here Now, which moved a staggering almost 700,000 copies in its first week.

Albums with biggest 1-week sales above 300,000 copies, last 10 years (albums listed only once with biggest sales week):

2000 - Oasis - Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (311,265)
2000 - Robbie Williams - Sing When You're Winning (313,585)
2000 - The Beatles, 1 (422,042)
2000 - Westlife - Coast to Coast (305,247)
2001 - Hear'Say - Popstars (
2001 - Robbie Williams - Swing When You're Winning (365,208)
2002 - Robbie Williams - Escapology (310,237)
2003 - Dido, Life for Rent (400,351)
2004 - Robbie Williams - Greatest Hits (320,081)
2005 - Coldplay, X&Y (464,471)
2005 - Robbie Williams, Intensive Care (373,832)
2005 - Eminem - Curtain Call (314,553)
2006 - Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, that's What I'm Not (363,735)
2006 - Take That, Beautiful World (443,070)
2007 - Leona Lewis - Spirit (375,872)
2008 - Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (302,074)
2008 - Take That, The Circus (432,490)
2009 - Susan Boyle - I Dreamed a Dream (411,820)

3. Your Song - Ellie Goulding

Just when it looked like Ellie Goulding may be on the way out, she turns around and sends a remake of an Elton John classic to her highest chart position yet. Goulding had a good start when her first single "Starry Eyed" hit #4 earlier this year, but its two follow-up singles didn't come close to the top 10. "Your Song" will appear on a re-release of her album Lights.

6. Like a G6 - Far*East Movement (feat. Cataracs and Dev)

This week's #1 hit in the US becomes a top 10 hit in Britain. This is Far*East Movement's first hit single.

7. The Time (Dirty Bit) - Black Eyed Peas

After the surprisingly low debut of "The Time" at #11 last week, the single climbs 4 spots to #7, becoming Black Eyed Peas' 12th top 10 hit.

10. Safe - Westlife

So here's that other boyband I mentioned. Westlife got their start in 1999--kind of late in the cycle of boybands at that time--but have been going strong ever since. However, lately they are showing signs of edging closer to irrelevance. Until 2008, every Westlife single (all 22 of them) was a top 5 hit. Then in 2008, the second single from Back Home, "Us Against the World" peaked at #8. That album was also their first to not contain a #1 hit. Then last year, "What About Now" peaked at #2 and they never bothered with a follow-up single (which was really strange actually). Now they are back with yet another album, and they debut in their lowest position yet. "Safe" is a fine song, but it really lives up to its name. It's not particularly interesting and charts no new waters for this kind of music. Meanwhile, JLS and The Wanted have positioned themselves as the hot new boybands, McFly seems to be staging a renaissance with a new sound, and Take That (version 2.1) is the hottest thing in pop music. Westlife seriously needs to innovate or get out of the way. And I say this as a longtime fan--I've been with them since "Swear It Again"--who'd like to see them succeed and stay relevant.

18. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

With Loud out this week, consumers could cherry-pick this song, slated to be her next single and already a #1 hit in the US. Certainly it will be around for awhile and climb much higher in the following weeks.

40. Hey Jude - The Beatles

Apple hasn't made any big waves on the chart lately, but they do so this week. When Apple announced unexpectedly on Tuesday that "Tomorrow is just another day...that you will never forget" there was a flurry of speculation to guess what it the announcement would be. Cloud storage? iTunes streaming service? MacBook pros that float in midair? Nothing so fancy as that, just the availability of the Beatles catalog on iTunes for the first time. This also meant that consumers could buy individual Beatles tracks for the first time. Quite a few Beatles songs chart below the top 40, but only this one, a former #1 hit, made it back in the top 40.

Next week...

The X Factor finalists' remake of David Bowie's "Heroes" looks like an easy #1, but expect strong challenges from Olly Murs's new single "Thinking of Me," and Duffy's "Well Well Well."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Album Review: Rumer - Seasons of My Soul (4.5/5)

No singer has come along this year with a voice as instantly captivating as Rumer's. Her rich, soulful sound has been frequently compared with that of Karen Carpenter, but its touches of sadness also recall Dusty Springfield (a la "The Look of Love") and k.d. lang.

Although she's hitched herself onto the late '60s new soul bandwagon, she's far less brassy than someone like Duffy and certainly less brash than Amy Winehouse. "Am I Forgiven" is a bright introduction, seemingly effortless effervescent old school pop. "Saving Grace" trots out that old '70s pop standby--the harmonica--while gliding along a sweet multi-instrumented backdrop.

It's the slower songs though that the real highlights. In particular, there are three that I think are just out of sight good. Of course "Slow," the first single that introduced us to Rumer is one of these highlights. Then there's "Come to Me High," which is dark and seductive with a downbeat melody and touches of light jazz that recall George Michael's romantic early-to-mid '90s work. It's just a lovely, sexy song; every time I listen to it I feel transported. "Aretha," a touching tribute to soul singer Aretha Franklin, is another amazing song. This one tells the story of a teenage schoolgirl who comes from an unpleasant home life. Although she "doesn't have the right shoes" and her mother doesn't notice her, she's got Aretha on her headphones to confide in as she walks to school in the morning. Even if this isn't based on a real experience, it feels poignant and honest.

Other highlights include lovelorn "Take Me As I Am," with its rich instrumentation of guitar and strings, and soulful, sad "Blackbird," which segues into the gauzy "On My Way Home," the track on which she sounds most like lang, backed by slow guitars and a bit of country twang. Don't miss bonus track "It Might Be You," a remake of the theme from the classic '80s film, Tootsie.

Like a comfortable chair you never want to get up from, Rumer's debut album will be welcome on replay and entices us for more. A glimpse into Rumer's backstory hints that there are many more tales to tell. Certainly a Pakistani-born Brit whose parents split after returning to England and it was discovered that her father was actually the Pakistani family cook has some angst to draw on.

Best: Slow, Aretha, Come to Me High, Saving Grace, Take Me As I Am, Blackbird

Friday, November 19, 2010

Personal Chart, 11/20/2010

Take That - The Circus (2008)

Beautiful World was good, but The Circus was even better, pushing the band's adult pop sound in new directions with more upbeat songs and some '70s-style pop balladry. The album starts with "The Garden," which I know has its fans, but I've never been one of the them. I prefer "Greatest Day," the album's first single, which became the group's 11th #1 hit.

But the real fun begins about halfway through the album, with bright, upbeat tracks and ballads that rank among the group's best work, each of which is sung by a different member of the group. "The Circus" is a lovely, understated piano ballad sung by Gary. It sounds heartful and genuine, resisting the too common temptation to send the song soaring into the stratosphere with a wall of sound finale. "How Did It Come to This," a rare solo turn from Jason, bristles with energy (I still think it's a pop music crime that it wasn't a single). Campier "Up All Night" finds Mark leading the album's sunniest moment, a clear nod to "Shine," a #1 hit from their last album. Howard-led "What Is Love" is another quiet ballad that really takes flight with its gorgeous middle section. The album's end is good too, particularly "Hold Up a Light," another joyously upbeat track.

With The Circus, the group continued to hone its adult pop instincts to tremendously pleasing results. At present, having still not heard Progress, this is my favorite Take That album.

Best: How Did It Come to This, The Circus, Greatest Day, Up All Night, What Is Love, Hold Up a Light, Said It All (4.5/5)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, November 27, 2010

1. Like a G6 - Far*East Movement (feat. Cataracs and Dev)

With this week's chart, the Hot 100 2010 chart year comes to a close. Returning to #1 is Far*East Movement's "Like a G6," spending a third nonconsecutive week at #1, a run interrupted by Ke$ha and Rihanna. After Usher's "OMG," this is the second single this year to have an interrupted run at the top.

2. Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna

Next week will be this single's best chance yet to hit #1, as it climbs to a new peak at #2. That her album Loud is out this week and sure to top the Billboard 200 next week should only raise its profile.

4. Raise Your Glass - P!nk

P!nk's "Raise Your Glass" climbs 3 spots to #4, becoming her fifth top 5 hit. Previously she's hit #1 with "Lady Marmalade" and "So What" and #4 with "Most Girls" and "Get the Party Started."

7. What's Your Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

So here's something very strange. "What's Your Name" falls from #1 to #7 this week, yet it's shown as "bulleted," meaning that its one of the singles whose airplay and sales has shown the biggest gains over the previous week. Meanwhile, four tracks that charted lower than "What's Your Name" last week appear higher on the chart this week yet are not bulleted, including this week's #1 single (as well as Bruno Mars, Nelly and Ke$ha). How is this possible? It really makes no sense to me. I've actually submitted a question about this to Ask Billboard. We'll see tomorrow if they address it. I'm guessing it has something to do with vastly different sales and airplay tallies. "What's Your Name" had a sales surge last week, but dropped off a lot this week. Meanwhile, the single's airplay has continued to grow and earns this week's Airplay Gainer.

8. Teenage Dream - Glee Cast (feat. Darren Criss & the Tufts Unversity Beezlebubs)

Glee scores a major pop hit this week as "Teenage Dream" debuts at #8 to become the show's second top 10 hit. They haven't had one since "Don't Stop Believin'" from the show's 2009 spring pilot hit #4. Although it charts lower, "Teenage Dream" sold more, moving 214,000 copies to become Glee's biggest 1-week sales tally. 17Of course, the song has minimal airplay, hence the lower chart placement even though it is this week's top seller. The song, from the episode "Never Been Kissed" helped make guest star Darren Criss an overnight sensation for his role as Blaine who sings lead on this. Really looking forward to hearing more from him.

12. The Time (Dirty Bit) - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas debut at #12 with their new single, "The Time (Dirty Bit)," the first release from their upcoming album, The Beginning. It interpolates the 1987 #1 hit "I've Had (The Time of My Life)" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, made famous as the theme from the hit film Dirty Dancing. This is the group's 14th top 40 hit.

17. Stuck Like Glue - Sugarland

Country duo Sugarland climb 8 notches this week, earning the Digital Gainer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Take That - Beautiful World (2006)

I used to not care for this album so much, but listening to it over the last week in preparation for this article, I've actually grown to appreciate it more. I still think it suffers from a bit of sameness among the songs, especially the first few, which all could be classified as mid-tempo, rock-leaning pop with quality, epic-sounding productions. But the songs are well done and enjoyable. Importantly, as pop songs they are top notch, with memorable hooks and great melodies. "Reach Out" is bright and confident; it's a shame it wasn't a single. "Patience" was the major hit, one of the group's biggest. The title track is similar to these two and could easily have been a single as well.

"Id Wait for Life" is another fine ballad; it's piano-based melody recalls the John Lennon-style ballads Oasis sometimes do, particularly their 2005 effort, "Let There Be Love." It's one of Gary's best vocal performances, and while he generally does lead vocal duty, the others all get a turn too. Mark Owen has some particular standouts, such as the swinging "Shine," the album's most uptempo moment, "Hold On," a slower song with a lush, romantic melody that recalls winter nights kept warm by the fire, and "What You Believe In," which delivers some string-laden sadness. Howard shines on "Mancunian Way" while Jason gets his first turn ever at lead vocal on folksy "Wooden Boat."

Looking back, it's amazing both how great this album is (it is among their best) and how well it did commercially, becoming by far their best-selling album and one of the 10 biggest albums of the last decade. Other bands had reunions, but none of them were nearly this successful (does anyone even remember at this point that Spice Girls reunited around the same time?). Beautiful World is a bold, confident step that credibly re-created Take That as an adult pop group. What a rare and exciting achievement.

Best: Patience, Shine, Reach Out, I'd Wait for Life, Hold On (4/5)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Glee "The Substitute"

Chris Martin's wife, aka Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, is the big guest star on tonight's Glee, starring as the substitute teacher with Will Schuester succumbs to a cold going around the school that has also felled Principal Figgins, into whose shoes Sue Sylvester has stepped. Will hallucinates all the glee club members into little children, which is cute. Then Will's awful ex-wife shows up to take care of him.

When Gwyneth shows up, she's Holly Holiday, subbing for Will's Spanish class, teaching the kids how to discuss Lindsay Lohan's rehab visits en Español. Kurt breaks in and asks her sub for glee club too and she agrees. Turns out she's a real nut, who quickly becomes buddy-buddy with Sue, passes Puck the answers to a quiz she's giving later, and tells Rachel she's a killjoy.

After Sue takes away the cafeteria's tater tots, Mercedes stages a Norma Rae style protest. She's also a bit miffed that Kurt's been spending so much time with Blaine instead of her. Kurt tries to set her up, but she doesn't go for it, but instead accompanies them on a non-date evening and is completely the third wheel (Darren Criss as Blaine is just as charming this week as he was last week).

Forget You - Cee Lo Green (Holly Holiday and New Directions). Those of you who saw Duets remember that Gwyneth can sing and she really knocks this one out. Great fun with clever choreography too. Of course it's the radio version, giving everyone the opportunity to sing "ain't that some shhhhhh."

Make 'em Laugh - From "Singin' in the Rain" (Will Schuester). In an even more than usually randon excuse for a musical number, Will dreams that he's singing this, while he and Mike do some amazing dancing, although only Will is singing.

Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag - From "Chicago" (Rachel and Holly). The ladies don sequined dresses with HUGE furry red boas for this Chicago homage that plays out pretty like it does in the movie. Great fun.

Singin' in the Rain (From "Singin' in the Rain)/Umbrella - Rihanna (Holly Holiday and New Directions). Have they done this yet? Mashed up a musical song with a pop song? It works great musically, thematically and with the rain and umbrellas for choreography.

Another great episode. Gwyneth was fun guest star.

Best lines (right before "Forget You"):
Santana: What would you know about Cee Lo? You're like 40.
Holly: Top 40 sweet cheeks. Hit it!

Take That - Nobody Else (1995)

Apart from "Back for Good," still the group's biggest hit, probably the best thing about Nobody Else is its cover, featuring posed actions figures of the group. Nobody Else was the end of the Take That, at least for awhile, and unfortunately they went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

The album abandoned the dance pop sound dominant on their first two albums in favor of a fairly even mix of upbeat, urban-leaning pop and MOR slow songs. Sure, these were two of the early '90s dominant pop trends, but by 1995, they sounded a bit played out. So after a pretty good start with both sounds--"Sure" embodying the best of the former and "Back for Good" the best of the latter--the rest of the album is a bit of a snooze. The only other thing that really stands out is "Sunday to Saturday," an upbeat, jazzy number that includes a surprisingly lengthy improvisational horn solo.

As far as I know, this was their only album released in the US, but by then the party was over. By the time "Back for Good" became a major US hit, Robbie had left and the band was just about to break up.

Best: Back for Good, Sure, Sunday to Saturday (3/5)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Take That - Everything Changes (1993)

A year after their debut, Take That came back with their second album, Everything Changes. By the time this came out, the group were bona fide stars, having scored a #2 hit with a new version of "Why Can't I Wake Up With You," plus #1 hits "Pray" and "Re-Light My Fire," which teamed the group with '60s pop singer Lulu.

Their second album had a more mature sound, but only slightly so. It was still dominated by dance pop, perhaps more akin to Cathy Dennis than the C&C Music Factory--less bubble gum, but still bubbly. The production moves toward urban too, appropriating some New Jack Swing sounds so popular in American pop at the time (see Color Me Badd). Overall, the production was better, as was the songwriting. The group even tried their hand at some genuine drama with the ballad, "Babe," which finds a guy searching for his lost lover (how hard that must have been before cell phones and Facebook), whom he finds...along with his son (surprise!).

A major thing that set Take That apart from other pop groups of the time was Gary Barlow. Not content to just sing other people's material, like most such acts did, Barlow actually wrote almost all the early era Take That songs, even most of the first album. That's pretty impressive, given the pressure to ensure hits often led to the producers of such group to seek material from established hitmakers. New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys, for example, only occasionally participated in songwriting.

Best: Pray, Re-Light My Fire, Babe, Everything Changes, Love Ain't Here Anymore (4/5).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

UK Singles Chart, 11/20/2010 and New Releases

1. Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna
2. The Flood - Take That

National tragedy befalls Britain this weekend, as Rihanna's 3-week old single beats the brand new Take That track #1. "The Flood" is a brilliant pop single, one of my favorites this year, and the first Take That single to feature Robbie Williams in 15 years. But it's not as good as "Only Girl," according to the British record-buying public, who give the Barbadian pop singer's dance pop track a second week at #1. According to early sources, it wasn't even really that close, with Rihanna selling 93,000 to Take That doing just under 70,000. Considering that most big new hits have been clearing 100,000 lately and "The Flood" has had significant radio exposure, this is a real disappointment.

Rihanna's also #1 in the US this week, although with a different single, "What's My Hame." When did that happen last? It's quite rare actually. In 2006, two artists came close: Nelly Furtado and Akon were both #1 in the UK (with "Maneater" and "Smack That") and then a week later were #1 in the US with a different song ("Promiscuous" and "I Wanna Love You"), but not during the same week. That same year, Nelly was #1 in the US with "Grillz" and a week later appeared on Notorious BIG's UK #1, "Nasty Girl." Going back as far as 2002, I can't find another instance of this.

So Take That are at #2 then, a spot they've been in before with the first single from Everything Changes, "Why Can't I Wake Up With You" (held from #1 by 2 Unlimited's "No Limit") and 3 years ago with "Rule the World" (held from #1 by Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love"). Although I'm disappointed, I'm going to find a silver lining...somewhere. Perhaps it's reassuring that their biggest album of their early career, Everything Changes, was launched with a #2 hit. Perhaps Progress is destined to go on to greatness anyway. This is the group's 23rd top 40 hit and their 19th to reach the top 10.

3. Firework - Katy Perry

Still climbing this one, up another notch to #3.

4. Shine a Light - McFly (feat. Taio Cruz)

While one boyband I expected to do well this week fell short, another manages to do better than expected. McFly underperformed a bit with their last single, "Party Girl," the first single from their upcoming album, which missed the top 5 earlier this fall in uncharacteristic fashion for the group. They reverse their fortunes with its follow-up, "Shine a Light," which becomes their 15th top 5 hit. It's also reassuring for Taio Cruz; he had a guest appearance on a big single last week, but it only managed to reach #22 (and is gone from the top 40 this week).

9. Make Me Feel My Love - Adele

And the weirdness that is this week's chart continues. A 2-year old single that's been on the chart for 14 weeks total now climbs back into the top 10, beating out several key releases from major artists.

11. The Time (Dirty Bit) - Black Eyed Peas

While Adele basks in the top 10 sunlight, three big-name artists see their latest efforts fall just short of the top 10. First up is Black Eyed Peas, who last year scored three #1 hits, can't even land in the top 10 this week with the first single from their new album, The Beginning. Ouch. This matches the peak of "Rock Your Body," the fourth single from their last album, which came out earlier this year.

12. Gotta Be Somebody - Shayne Ward

The second X Factor winner returns after a 3-year hiatus with the first single from his third album. Surely a spot in the top 10 was hoped for, but alas, it is out of reach. This isn't "drop him now" bad, but he's got to pull a hit out of his hat next. Apart from the third single from his debut, every other Shayne Ward single has reached the top 10, and his first, "That's My Goal," was among the 10 best-selling singles of the last decade.

13. Raise Your Glass - P!nk

Although it's become a top 10 hit in the US, "Raise Your Glass" fails to do the same in the UK. The track is one of the new songs included on the singer's greatest hits collection, out next week. I'm really surprised this missed the top 10. Pink's generally good for a top 10 hit--all of her albums have had at least one.

20. 2 Minute Silence - British Royal Legion

How insulting would it have been if this had charted higher than some of these artists' new singles? I guess it is insulting to the new singles from My Chemical Romance and Ellie Goulding that appear below it...people would rather listen to literally nothing than listen to them. This has to be among the oddest things that ever charted. I know it's for charity, but really, selling silence is quite silly. Very "Emperor's New Clothes" of them to expect people would buy it.

New Releases:

Nov. 15

Love You More - JLS
Safe - Westlife
Like a G6 - Far*East Movement (download)
Heavy in Your Arms - Florence & the Machine (download)
Runaway - Kanye West feat. Pusha T (download)
Sister Marie Says - OMD (download)
Stay - Hurts
Two Lives - Example (download)
Infinity Guitars - Sleigh Bells (download)

Nov. 22

Heroes - X Factor Finalists
Well, Well, Well - Duffy
Thinking of Me - Olly Murs
Nothing - The Script (download)
The Sky's the Limit - Jason Derulo
Deja Vu - Inna feat. Bob Taylor
Boo000m Blast & Ruin - Biffy Clyro
I Speak Because I Can - Laura Marling
Logical World - Charlotte Church (download)

Nov. 29

Hold My Hand - Michael Jackson feat. Akon
Who's that Chick - David Guetta feat. Rihanna (download)
Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj
Turn Around (5,4,3,2,1) - Flo Rida
Falling in Love - Taio Cruz
Angel - Akon
Only the Young - Brandon Flowers
Poison - Nicole Scherzinger (download)
Together - Pet Shop Boys
Somebody to Love Me - Mark Ronson & the Business Intl. feat. Boy George & Andrew Wyatt
Under the Stars - Morning Parade
Indesctructible - Robyn
Fancy/Best I Ever Had - Drake
Radio - Alesha Dixon
Limit to Your Love - James Blake
Haters - Kelly Rowland

Dec. 6

Whip My Hair - Willow
Night Is Young - Nelly Furtado
Someone Wake Me Up - Joe McElderry
Better than Today - Kylie Minogue
Perfect Nightmare - Shontelle
Pyro - Kings of Leon
Give a Little Love - Maroon 5
Love Goes Down - Plan B
Fade Like a Shadow - KT Tunstall
Do It Like a Dude - Jessie J
Niton - Eric Prydz

Dec. 13

The X Factor Winner
Loca - Shakira feat. Dizzee Rascal
It's OK - Cee Lo Green
More - Usher
Lights On - Katy B feat. Ms. Dynamite
Girls - N-Dubz
Who Owns My Heart - Miley Cyrus (download)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Take That - Take That and Party (1992)

Continuing with the Take That festival, it's time to break out their old albums.

Take That's first was released in the summer of 1992, after the group had already put out 5 singles. It took awhile for them to catch on--their first three singles were not big hits, but by the time this came out, they had scored their first top 10 hit with "It Only Takes a Minute." Two more would follow later, including the ballad "A Million Love Songs."

Although love songs are characteristic of boybands in general, there are surprisingly few slow songs on this album. In fact, it's pretty high-energy dance pop not that different from what European "dance" acts of the time such as Haddaway or Black Box were doing. "Once You've Tasted Love," for example, has a very prominent dance beat. "It Only Takes a Minute" is also upbeat, although sounds more like something other later boybands would do.

"Could It Be Magic" has a retro-disco sound, complete with Bee Gees-esque harmonies. It's not a classic by any means, but it did its job to launch the group. Best: It Only Takes a Minute, A Million Love Songs, Once You've Tasted Love, Could It Be Magic (3/5).

Album Review: Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer (3.5/5)

Profanity has never sounded as good as did in the late summer hit "Fuck You!," a hot-tempered tale of spurned romance set to a bouncy retro beat. It was a moderate hit in the US and a major #1 hit in Britain. Almost as distinctive as the song's title was its voice, that of Cee Lo Green, best known up to know as part of Gnarls Barkley, who scored a major hit in 2006 with "Crazy." Green had released solo albums before, but now has a platform to make some real impact.

From the outset, it is clear Green is embodying a persona, a James Bond-style ladies man from the late '60s and early '70s." Well hello there, my name is...not important," he says over piano during the intro, which immediately slips into a '60s-styled guitar-fueled instrumental reminiscent of the James Bond theme. The spy influence reappears on "Love Gun," a forceful tune with an ominous guitar and strings arrangement. Film noir in general is embodied by "Bodies," a dramatic song with spoken word, horns and strings that sound lifted from some cheesy '70s flick.

Apart from the first single, my other favorite song is "Bright Lights Bigger City," which swaggers in on a bass-driven disco beat that would make the Bee Gees proud. Most of the rest of the songs are pretty upbeat, and frankly, tend to blend together a bit too much, relying on a dense mix of guitar, strings, horns and beats to create the now too familiar "retro soul pop" sound. "Satisfied," for example, sounds a lot like "Fuck You," which is followed by "I Want You" and "Cry Baby," both of which shoot for upbeat but laid back soul. A couple of the slower songs late in the album are a welcome break from the heavy-handed production--"No One's Gonna Love You," which reminds me of Plan B's last album, and "Old Fashioned," which has a sweetly romantic quality.

Critics seem to really like this, and it will be interesting to see if it has staying power. If so, it could be a major awards contender next year.

Best: Fuck You, Bright Lights Bigger City, Old Fashioned, Love Gun, No One's Gonna Love You

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rihanna up to now

Rihanna's fifth album, Loud, is out next week. Here's a look back at the four albums that preceded it:

Music of the Sun (2005)

Rihanna's debut was a simply clever idea: fuse Caribbean sounds onto contemporary urban pop. In a way, the singer's debut made her rather faceless--she could be anybody singing these songs--although if you know her Barbadian background it makes a bit more sense. "Pon Da Replay" kicks the album off in style with a slamming dancehall beat that proved to be irresistible, making the song an international hit. After that, there's nothing nearly as good, although mellower second single, "If It's Lovin' that You Want" is decent enough, as is the title track, which has a laid back, sensual melody over a Caribbean beat. If "Pon Da Replay" hadn't become an international hit, this is the sound of what Rihanna would probably still be doing today. Best: Pon Da Replay (3/5).

A Girl Like Me (2006)

Having hit on a winning formula, producers Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken worked with Rihanna on this follow-up, which came out just 8 months after Music of the Sun. The album employs a similar formula, although with more variety, which is both its blessing and its curse. While the harder-hitting dance pop song, "SOS," is her best recording to date, she was also pushed to record quite a few ballads on this album, which, given her limited vocal abilities, were not her strong suit. Dramatic "Unfaithful" works fine, but other attempts like "Final Goodbye" and the piano ballad "A Million Miles Away" do not. Still, the album is overall a bit better than its predecessor. Tracks like "Kisses Don't Lie" employ a similar Caribbean vibe, but sound more confident. Best: SOS, Unfaithful (3.5/5).

Good Girl Gone Bad/Good Girl Gone Bad Reloaded (2007/2008)

If "Pon Da Replay" made Rihanna a star and "SOS" proved it wasn't a fluke, then Good Girl Gone Bad is when she became a superstar. While those albums did well, they pale in comparison to this pop masterpiece, one of the most successful pop outings of the decade. Rogers and Sturken, the producers who had guided most of the songs from her first two albums, took a back seat here to bigger name producers like Timbaland, StarGate, JR Rotem and Christopher Stewart. The party gets started with "Umbrella," an even bigger hit than her previous ones, which spent 7 weeks at #1 in the US and 10 weeks atop the UK singles chart, and then proceeds into heady dance pop territory with the next four songs, all of which work great, especially the Michael Jackson-sampling "Don't Stop the Music." "Hate that I Love You," a winning mid-tempo duet with Ne-Yo finishes the album's fantastic first half. While the second half of the album isn't as consistently good, it still delivers some gems, like "Rehab," which is the album's darkest song, as well as the title track, a characteristic StarGate production. There's barely any Caribbean influence on this album, which favors dance pop and urban pop much more so than her previous works. In 2008, a special edition added three new songs, all great, including "Take a Bow," a ballad that showcased her improved vocal abilities, and "Disturbia," a grinding dance pop track. Best: Umbrella, Don't Stop the Music, Hate that I Love You, Push Up on It, Disturbia, Take a Bow (4.5/5).

Rated R (2009)

Something awful happened to Rihanna early in 2009. I think everyone knows what it is, so I don't need to go into details. For better or worse, the experience emboldened Rihanna to make the most interesting album of her career. Rated R is still a work of polished urban pop, but it is far darker and riskier than her previous work. Gone is the sunny dance pop of Good Girl Gone Bad, replaced with a sound at varying times angry, wounded and defiant. Gritty urban numbers like "Wait Your Turn" and "Hard" vie for attention with vulnerable outings like "Stupid in Love" and "Cold Case Love." At its best, the songs are just potent, such as suicide-pondering "Russian Roulette," which is still hard to listen to, and "Fire Bomb," which I still feel was shamefully passed over as a potential single. Only "Rude Boy," the album's major hit, and sweet "Te Amo," provide some relief from the album's dark sound. Rihanna's always had a dark side (after all, in "Unfaithful," she's the one who cheated), but on Rated R, she really let's it all out there. Fantastically artistic and unforgettable. Best: Russian Roulette, Rude Boy, Fire Bomb, Photographs, Stupid in Love, Te Amo (4.5/5).

Personal Chart, 11/13/2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Take That Timeline

Continuing with my Take That festival, here's a timeline of the group's major achievements;

Take That: The Early Years

  • Nigel Martin-Smith forms Take That, who make their first TV appearance on The Hitman & Her.
  • First single "Do What U Like" released in July, stirs controversy for nudist video, fails to make significant chart impact (peaks at #82).
  • Second single, "Promises," becomes first top 40 hit in November.
  • After missing the top 40 with third single, "Once You've Tasted Love," their fourth single, "It Only Takes a Minute" becomes their first top 10 hit in June (#7).
  • First album, Take That and Party, is released in September. The album debuts at #5 and eventually peaks at #2.
  • The seventh and final Take That and Party single, "Could It Be Magic," hits #3 in January after a late 1992 release.
  • At the Brit Awards, three Take That singles are nominated for Best British Single: "It Only Takes a Minute," "A Million Love Songs," and the winner, "Could It Be Magic."
  • "Why Can't I Wake Up With You" is released in February and peaks at #2. Although a track from Take That and Party, the single is a new version that will ultimately appear on Everything Changes.
  • In July, "Pray" becomes the group's first #1 hit; it debuts at #1 and stays there four weeks.
  • The group teams up with Lulu for its October single, "Relight My Fire," which becomes their second #1 hit.
  • Second album, Everything Changes, debuts at #1 in October and is the third-biggest album of the year.
  • In December, "Babe" becomes their third #1, but it just misses Christmas #1.
  • "Pray" wins the Brit Award for Best British Single, the band's second time winning this award; they are also nominated for Best British Group.
  • "Everything Changes" becomes the group's fourth consecutive #1 hit in April.
  • Everything Changes' sixth and final single, "Love Ain't Here Anymore," hits #3 in July.
  • "Sure," an advance single from their third album, becomes their fifth #1 hit in October
  • "Back for Good" spends 4 weeks at #1 in April. The song is the group's biggest hit, selling nearly a million copies and hitting #1 all over the world.
  • Third album Nobody Else is released in May and becomes their second #1 album.
  • The album's third and final single, "Never Forget," hits #1 in August.
  • During the time "Never Forget" is being promoted, Robbie Williams announces he is leaving the group.
  • Nobody Else is released in the US in the fall, featuring a new cover image without Robbie, eventually peaking at #69.
  • "Back for Good" becomes the group's first and only US hit, peaking at #7 in November.
  • "Back for Good" wins Best British Single at the Brit Awards, their third win in this category.
  • In February, the group announces that it is breaking up.
  • A remake of the Bee Gee's "How Deep Is Your Love" is released as the group's final single in March, although without Robbie, since he'd already left. It spends 3 weeks at #1, the band's 8th #1 hit.
  • Greatest Hits is released in April, which debuts at #1 and spends 4 weeks there.
Solo Careers

  • Gary Barlow releases "Forever Love" in July, which hits #1. A month later, Robbie releases his remake of George Michael's "Freedom," which hits #2.
  • Mark Owen becomes the first group member to release a solo album, Green Man. Although the album isn't very successful, it generates two #3 hits, "Child" and "Clementine."
  • Robbie's second single and first from his upcoming album, "Old Before I Die," hits #2. The song is later nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Single.
  • Gary scores a second #1 hit a month later with "Love Won't Wait."
  • Gary's debut album, Open Road, is released in June and hits #1.
  • Robbie releases his debut album, Life Thru a Lens, in October. It debuts at #11 and 2 weeks later falls out of the top 40, with its most recent single, "South of the Border" having peaked at only #14.
  • Robbie releases a fifth single, the ballad "Angels." It debuts at #7, but shows surprising staying power (especially given the rapid chart turnover at the time), eventually climbing to #4 in early 1998. Although not a #1, the song goes on to become an enduring pop classic, selling over a million copies by 2009.
  • Gary and Robbie are both nominated for the Brit Award for British Male Solo; Finley Quaye wins.
  • Re-energized by "Angels," and its #3 follow-up, "Let Me Entertain You," Life Thru a Lens climbs back up the albums chart, eventually hitting #1 in April. It is the year's fourth best-selling album.
  • Robbie scores his first solo #1, "Millennium," and releases his second album, I've Been Expecting You, which is the year's fifth best-selling album (just behind Life Thru a Lens) and is nominated in 1999 for the Brit Award for Best British Album.
  • "Angels" wins the Brit Award for Best British Single, while "Millennium" is also nominated for that award and wins Best Video. Robbie wins Best British Male Solo Artist. He finishes the year with another #1 hit, "She's the One."
  • Gary Barlow's solo career takes a turn for the worse when his second album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, charts at only #35 and its first single, "Stronger," only reaches #16. His final solo single, "For All that You Want," hits #24.
  • Robbie continues to dominate charts worldwide (except in the US) with hits like "Kids," "Feel," and "Tripping." He wins the Brit Award for Best British single in 3 consecutive Years for "She's the One" and "Rock DJ" following the 1999 win for "Angels," and is his 2000 album Sing When You're Winning is nominated for the Best British Album award. "Somethin' Stupid" with Nicole Kidman is the 2001 Christmas #1. All of his albums released during this period hit #1 and rank among the top 3 best-selling albums of the year (Escapology was the #1 album of 2002). He hits #1 with "Rock DJ," "Eternity," "Somethin' Stupid" and "Radio." In 2004, he releases a Greatest Hits compilation.
  • Mark has a second solo album in 2003, In Your Own Time, with top 5 hit "Four Minute Warning."
  • With his solo career on hold, Gary becomes a successful pop songwriter, working with acts like Blue, Alesha Dixon, Lily Allen and Delta Goodrem.
Take That: A New Beginning

  • Gary, Howard, Jason and Mark re-form Take That.
  • Robbie's solo career falters a bit with Rudebox, which receives divisive reviews from critics and sells significantly less than his previous solo albums. Following this, he takes a 3-year break from recording.
  • Take That's first single in 10 years, "Patience," is a massive #1 hit, spending 4 weeks at #1 just before Christmas (it gets knocked from the top spot by Leona Lewis's "A Moment Like This").
  • The group releases its first album in 11 years, Beautiful World, to instant success. The album hits #1, generates two #1 hits, and goes on to become the group's best-selling album by far--8x platinum and one of the 10 best-selling albums of the 2000s in the UK.
  • "Patience" wins the Brit Award for Best British Single, the fourth win in this category.
  • "Shine," the second Beautiful World single, hits #1 in February. It is the group's 6th consecutive #1 hit.
  • A one-off single, "Rule the World," is released in October. It's kept from #1 by Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love," but nevertheless is actually the group's biggest hit of its second era, spending 72 weeks on the UK singles chart (the fourth-longest run ever), and becoming the 30th best-selling single of the 2000s. The song appears in the film Stardust, although not on its soundtrack.
  • "Shine" wins the Brit Award for Best British Single, the band's fifth win in this category. Beautiful World is nominated for Best British Album, the first time Take That has been honored in that category. They also win Best British Live Act and are nominated for Best British Group.
  • "Greatest Day" is released, becoming the group's 11th #1 hit.
  • The Circus, the group's fifth album, is released and like its predecessor, is another big hit, becoming 7x platinum and the year's second-best-selling album, behind Duffy's Rockferry.
  • Robbie rebounds with Reality Killed the Video Star and hits #2 with its lead single, "Bodies," and #6 with its second single, "You Know Me."
  • Take That announces that Robbie will return to the group.
  • Robbie and Gary bury the hatchet with cheeky duet, "Shame," a #2 hit released off of Robbie's 2-disc greatest hits compilation, In and Out of Consciousness.
  • "The Flood" is released in November as the first single from Progress. It the group's first single to include Robbie Williams since "Never Forget" in 1995.
  • Progress, the group's fifth album, is released to critical acclaim. It's upbeat, electronic production by Stuart Price signals a new direction for the group.

The Flood - Will it be #1?

On Tuesday, Take That's "The Flood" was in the lead for #1, but yesterday and today's midweek reports show it trailing last week's #1, Rihanna's "Only Girl." She apparently has only a 6000 lead right now though, which is really slim considering that both singles will likely move well over 100,000 copies this week. If you love this song and haven't purchased it yet, perhaps now is the time. I think it would be a shame (no pun intended) if "The Flood" isn't #1 on the UK singles chart this Sunday.

Preview Take That's Progress

British iTunes has 30-second previews now for all tracks on Take That's Progress (or you can listen via the YouTube clip below). Let's have a listen:

1. The Flood. Of course I like this one.

2. SOS. Very upbeat with a dance beat but also prominent electric guitar. Kind of a darker melody. I'm not entirely sold yet, but I've heard this song is really good.

3. Wait. This one has a sharp '90s dance beat, but the melody is very sweet and disco-ish. This sounds like an interesting one.

4. Kidz. Harder synth pop beat here, like something from the early-to-mid '80s. Also kind of dark sounding.

5. Pretty Things. Something lighter with a synth melody. Sounds a bit like Erasure.

6. Happy Now. More synth pop, although even dreamier than "Pretty Things." Sounds like Pet Shop Boys until the chorus starts.

7. Underground Machine. Prominent Robbie vocal with a marching beat and synth melody. More '80s sounds.

8. What Do You Want From Me? I see a pattern--more '80s synth-based dance pop sound. This sounds like it could be another standout.

9. Affirmation. More insistent dance beat with this one with prominent electronic melody.

10. Eight Letters. Finally a slower song. I guess with Stuart Price as producer you don't expect many (if any) ballads. Sounds like a good song.

11. Flowerbed. Dreamy synths and highly reverbed vocals on this one, another slow track.

The reviews I've read that say "The Flood" is the most conventional track here are probably right. Exciting and interesting stuff. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

Billboard Hot 100, November 20, 2010

1. What's My Name - Rihanna (feat. Drake)

Rihanna jumps to #1 with "What's My Name," the second single from her new album, Loud, out next week. It is the second single in a row to make an aggressive move #1, following Ke$ha's "We R Who We R," which debuted at #1 and falls to #5 this week. Her 59 place jump to reach the top spot is among the biggest moves to #1. She's no stranger to such jumps: "Take a Bow" moved 53-1 in 2008 and T.I. & Rihanna's "Live Your Life" moved 80-1 (the record is held by Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck without You," which moved 97-1).

This is Rihanna's third #1 hit this year, following "Rude Boy" and "Love the Way You Lie (with Eminem)," making her the first artist to score three chart-toppers this year. The last artist to do so was...Rihannna! In 2008, she hit #1 with "Take a Bow," "Disturbia," and "Live Your Life (with T.I.)." It's her 8th #1 hit overall, moving her ahead of Beyonce to become the female artist with the fifth most #1 hits (If you consider the two #1 hits by "Diana Ross and the Supremes" as solo #1 for Ross, then she's also tied with Rihanna at 8 #1s, although I think 6 is more appropriate). Ahead of Rihanna are Janet Jackson (10 #1s), Whitney Houston (11), Madonna (12), and Mariah Carey (18). Rihanna's amassed this total pretty quickly; it's been just over 4 years from her first #1, "SOS" in 2006 to today. Among these artists, from the time they had their first #1 hit to their 8th, Mariah Carey did so in 3 years, Whitney Houston in 5, Madonna in 6, and Janet Jackson in 11.

This is the first #1 hit for Drake, who's been in the top 10 several times, most notably for his solo hits "Best I Ever Had" (#2) and, earlier this year, "Find Your Love" (#5). Drake is Canadian; Rihanna is Barbadian, giving "What's Your Name" an usual international pedigree as a US #1 hit that's a collaboration between two artists from different countries neither of which are Americans. The last such pairing was Colombian Shakira and Haitian Wyclef Jean's 2006 #1 hit "Hips Don't Lie."

Finally, I want to pause just to note what a great year 2010 has been for Rihanna: 5 top 10 hits and 3 #1s, including one of the year's biggest hits ("Love the Way You Lie"). After last year, she deserved it.

4. Only Girl (in the World) - Rihanna

Not to keep harping on Rihanna, but her previous single is still bulleted at #4. The track is #3 and still gaining fast at top 40 radio, where it will likely hit #1 soon. Hitting #1 on the Hot 100 is still not out of reach for this song, which is this week's #1 hit in the UK.

10. Firework - Katy Perry
(12. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry)

Katy Perry earns the digital gainer this week, climbing 19 notches to score her sixth top 10 hit. This makes the singles from Teenage Dream more consistent than those from her last album, considering that the third single from it, "Thinking of You," was not a major hit. Perry actually replaces herself in the top 10, as "Teenage Dream" falls from 8 to 12.

22. Secrets - OneRepublic

OneRepublic climbs 9 notches to #22 with "Secrets." I'm scratching my head wondering why. The song's been out forever.

26. Felt Good on My Lips - Tim McGraw

Country star and actor Tim McGraw scores his 25th top 40 hit with the song from his new greatest hits compilation, Number One Hits (This has actually rather irritated me, since I used to be able to search Wikipedia with "Number One Hits" to pull up the page of Hot 100 #1s, but because of this title, that won't work anymore...thanks Tim).

31. Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj

Ahead of the release of her album, Nicki Minaj scores her 9th top 40 hit.

36. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars' follow-up to his #1 hit "Just the Way We Are," climbs 28 spots to become his 4th top 40 hit.

39. Hey Baby (Drop it to the Floor) - Pitbull (feat. T-Pain)

Pitbull scores his 7th top 40 hit, the first single from his new album Planet Pit. Pitbull's most recent hits were as guest rapper on Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It" and Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling in Love," both of which hit #4.

40. No Love - Eminem (feat. Lil Wayne)

With Rihanna at #1 beginning this entry, it's perhaps appropriate that Eminem is at #40 ending it, moving up 7 spots to #40 with "No Love," the follow-up to #1 hit "Love the Way You Lie." It's his 27th top 40 hit.