Monday, February 28, 2011

March New Album Releases

Although the surprise releases from Radiohead and Jessie J made February more exciting than I expected, it still pales by comparison with March, which looks downright like a fall month, so packed it is with big-name new releases. A big question mark looms over the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration, which was supposed to come out in March, but now I'm not sure.


Britney Spears - Femme Fatale (March 28). Who'd have thought 12 years ago that the teen pop sensation with the coy #1 single "...Baby One More Time" would still be going strong today? Of course she's one of the hottest properties in pop music, having staged a comeback the last few years after hitting bottom in the 2005-07 timeframe, wracked by bad tabloid press and personal troubles. This album's first single, "Hold It Against Me," became her third #1 hit in 3 years, following "3" and "Womanizer." The producers list reads like a who's-who of contemporary music: Max Martin, Danja, Bloodshy & Avant, Will.I.Am, Rodney Jerkins, and Stargate, among others.

The Strokes - Angles (March 22). The Strokes took an extended 5-year break after their third album, First Impressions of Earth, which was released in 2006 and wasn't quite as successful as their classic 2001 album, Is This It?, or even its positively received 2003 follow-up, Room on Fire. The band has promised this album will be a return to the simple rock sound of their first album that made them among the forerunners of the 2000s indie rock movement. First single, "Under Cover of Darkness," appears to deliver on this promise, bristling with a simple rock melody, low-fi production, scratchy guitars and a catchy tune.

R.E.M. - Collapse into Now (March 7). The Athens, Georgia-based band is now 31 years and 15 albums into its very successful run. Although they faltered a bit with their 2004 album, Around the Sun, they got back on track with the muscular, guitar-driven sound of 2008's Accelerate, an album I liked but didn't love. From what I've heard about this album though, I'm hoping it will be really great. The band has said they want to do something more varied and expansive, as well as personal, which brings to mind their 1992 masterpiece, Automatic for the People. If that's a reference point, it wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Quite a few tracks have already been released off of this, including "It Happened Today," a lovely, layered track that does indeed recall the band's early '90s work, but lean rocker "Mine Smell Like Honey" sounds like the band going even further back.

Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys! (March 7). British alternative rockers Elbow reached a career high with their fourth album, 2008's The Seldom Seen Kid, which won the Mercury Award and became the group's best-selling album. Given that album's success, I would expect this album will sound similar, although the band, which self-produced this album (like their last), said it intends this work to appeal to older fans. First single "Neat Little Rows" sounds like a pretty typical song from them.

The Vaccines - What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? (March 14). The London-based indie rock group finished second on the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll, but that didn't help push their recent single single "Post Break Up Sex," which despite being pretty fun peaked at a lowly #32. But rock bands are about albums, right? So it's still possible they'll be a big hit when this debut comes out. I haven't heard new single "If You Wanna" yet, but I'm looking forward to it, as well as the album.

Avril Lavigne - Goodbye Lullaby (March 7). Four years is a long time to wait for a new pop album, and this one has apparently been in the works for some time, with a release date once scheduled as early as 2009. But it's been a tumultuous time for the Canadian singer, who separated from and divorced her husband, Sum 41 member Deryck Whibley, last year. Butch Walker, who produced hit tracks on her last two albums ("My Happy Ending," "When You're Gone"), contributes only one song here, while the bulk of the album is produced by Lavigne herself; her ex-husband; or Swedish pop producer Max Martin, who helmed the album's first single "What the Hell."

Other releases:

Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth (March 7). British indie folk band best known for their hit "5 Years Time (Sun Sun Sun)," release their third album.

Lupe Fiasco - Lasers (March 8). American rapper comes out with his third album.

Pitbull - Planet Pit (March 8). Following last year's Spanish album, the rapper follows with an English one, featuring current single "Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)" with T-Pain.

The Naked & Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You (March 14). This New Zealand alternative/electropop band's debut was a big hit down under last year. Now it's gets its UK release, featuring singles "Young Blood" and "Punching in a Dream."

The View - Bread & Circuses (March 14). Scottish band delivers its fourth album.

Rise Against - Endgame (March 15). Sixth album from the American punk rock band.

Chris Brown - F.A.M.E. (March 21). Chris Brown releases his fourth album, featuring hit singles "Yeah 3x," "Deuces" and "Look at Me Now."

Green Day - Awesome as F**k (March 22). Live album from the might rock band featuring mostly songs from 21st Century Breakdown but with some older favorites too.

Panic at the Disco - Vices & Virtues (March 22). Third album from the alternative rock band best known for their hit "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."

Snoop Dogg - Doggumentary (March 8). The rapper a U.S. senator once referred to as "snoopy snoopy poop dog" releases his 11th album, hot on the heels of last year's big hit with Katy Perry, "California Gurls."

A look ahead to April isn't nearly as interesting, but the highlights are shaping up to be Foo Fighters, Alison Krauss, Katy B, Glasvegas and Jamie Woon.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

UK Singles Chart, March 5, 2011

1. Someone Like You - Adele

Adele holds the #1 spot for a second week with "Someone Like You." She also manages to keep her other single in the top 5, "Rolling in the Deep," which holds at #4. On the albums chart, 21 spends a fifth week at #1, while her 19 climbs two spots to #2, the highest that album has charted since its release 3 years ago.

3. S&M - Rihanna

Rihanna climbs 3 spots to #3 making "S&M" her third consecutive top 5 hit from Loud, making that album her first to score three top 5 hits in a row. "S&M" is the only new track in the top 5 this week.

6. Good Girl - Alexis Jordan

New face Alexis Jordan follows her recent #3 hit "Happiness" with a second top 10 hit, "Good Girl." Both are from her self-titled debut, released tomorrow.

8. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga takes a 5-spot tumble with "Born This Way," the only single from last week's top 5 not to stay there. The track's 3-3-8 chart record has to be seen as a bit disappointing for such a key release. They better get the video out quick.

10. F**kin' Perfect - Pink

Pink climbs into the top 10 for the first time with "F**kin' Perfect," making the single her 15th top 10 hit. Her last single, "Raise Your Glass," missed the top 10, peaking at #13.

22. Singin' in the Rain/Umbrella - Glee Cast feat. Gwyneth Paltrow
(31. Forget You - Glee Cast feat. Gwyneth Paltrow)

Gwyneth Paltrow's guest appearance on Glee was a big hit (a second appearance is scheduled for this spring), so it's no surprise that it gives Glee the highest-charting single of the second season so far.

23. The Last Dance - Clare Maguire

British pop singer Clare Maguire makes her top 40 debut with "The Last Dance," the second single from her debut album, Light After Dark, out tomorrow.

Essential Albums of the '80s: Pet Shop Boys - Please (1986)

The Pet Shop Boys were the best among the '80s purveyors of synth pop, electronic music sitting somewhere between the intersection of new wave and dance pop. Please was their first album and immediately established the blueprint that has changed little in the 25 years since.

Contrast has definitely been a characteristic of their work and that is reflected here, as boldly dramatic pop songs like "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" sit nicely with quietly romantic songs like "Later Tonight." Upbeat pop melodies like "West End Girls"--their best-known song--and downbeat tunes like "Violence" (later remixed as b-side to 1993 single "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing") help establish their range of moods. Lyrically, you never quite know what you'll get with them. Are they being ironic or sincere? Sometimes its hard to tell, but many of the themes that resonate throughout their music start here, from the personal romantic yearnings "Love Comes Quickly" to the light social commentary of "Suburbia."

Although I wasn't into Pet Shop Boys in the '80s, I later became a big fan of theirs in the mid-'90s (they were big at my college) with Very (my favorite of their works) and their greatest hits Discography being my first tastes of their compelling sound. I have all of their albums since.

Best: West End Girls, Opportunities, Love Comes Quickly, Violence, Suburbia

Further Listening - Actually (1987)
Released a year later, Actually isn't much different from Please, embodying a similar mix of upbeat, downbeat, flow, fast, sincere and ironic songs with top-notch synth-pop production work. "It's a Sin" became their second UK #1 and third US top 10 hit, although the song I like best on this album is their Dusty Springfield collaboration, "What Have I Done to Deserve This," which after "West End Girls," is their second-best single from the '80s. Best: What Have I Done to Deserve This, It's a Sin, Heart, Rent, King's Cross

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, March 5, 2011

1. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga spends a second week at #1 with "Born This Way." The track is still #1 on iTunes and going strong at radio, although it's growth at radio has slowed quite dramatically, with her last 7 days spin gain at top 40 radio only about 300 spins at present. I think everyone's just catching their breath.

2. F**k You! - Cee Lo Green

It's great to finally see this single charting really high on the Hot 100. "F**K You!" was a #1 hit in Britain last fall and although it had been released in the U.S. late in the summer, it never really took off here. It never went away though and continued promotion has given it little bursts of strength until it's finally become a massive hit. First there was Gwyneth Paltrow's performance of the song on Glee, which resurrected it but didn't quite send it into the stratosphere. Green and Paltrow's Grammy Awards performance was what has really done the trick, pushing the track into the top 10 last week and up 5 spots to #2 this week. It's this week's Airplay Gainer. Read my post about recent profane pop music.

4. I Need a Doctor - Dr. Dre (feat. Eminem and Skylar Grey)

Last week's chart showed a little influence from the Grammys, but with that airing Sunday night and the chart week ending late Monday, there was only little more than a day for the show's awards and performances to have impact, so this week's chart demonstrates the effect much more prominently. This was performed at Grammys as a medley with Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie," which has a similar sound. Both songs were produced by Alex da Kid. The single makes a bold 28-notch leap to #4, the second-highest position a single with Dr. Dre as lead performer has ever reached, behind his #2 placing for "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" in 1993. Two years ago he hit #1 on Eminem's "Crack a Bottle."

8. Never Say Never - Justin Bieber (feat. Jaden Smith)

Also getting a nice push from his Grammy performance is Justin Bieber, whose latest single climbs 17 spots to #8. Top 40 radio may have soured on this, but fans are snapping it up, making it the Canadian teen singer's second top 10 hit.

26. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

Adele's recent chart fortunes in the UK have been well-documented here and in other places. Apparently Americans love her too, as Adele gets ready to assault the US with her new album, 21, which was released here Tuesday. Expect this to climb next week, as over at iTunes it's #3 right now, while her album 21 is #1, and in similar surprising fashion to what happened in Britain, 19 is #4! This is Adele's second top 40 hit after "Chasing Pavements," which hit #21 in 2008. I expect this will climb much higher.

27. The Cave - Mumford & Sons

Arcade Fire may have won Album of the Year, but the indie band that most impressed the Grammy audience was Mumford & Sons, the British indie/folk group that gave an astounding performance with Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers. This was the song they performed, which was #68 last week and shoots up to #27. Their album, Sign No More, has been #2 the last two weeks. They had a rather incredible week last week, also winning the Brit Award for Best British album. "The Cave" is their first top 40 hit. Additionally, "Little Lion Man" re-enters the chart at #45.

28. E.T. - Katy Perry (feat. Kanye West)

Katy Perry scores her ninth top 40 hit with "E.T.," the fourth single from last year's album Teenage Dream. For its single release, the song has been updated with a guest rap from Kanye West. Surely it will be another hit for Perry, who's seen her last three consecutive singles reach #1.

32. Blow - Ke$ha

Ke$ha's latest single moves into the top 40 this week, up 19 spots. This is her 8th top 40 hit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Singles Serving

Adele - Someone Like You. Accelerated into the limelight because of her live performance at last week's Brit Awards, "Someone Like You" has quickly overshadowed its predecessor "Rolling in the Deep." Comparisons to "Hometown Glory" are easy, but inaccurate, for "Someone Like You" is a superior song. It's just Adele and a piano, and that's all you need. Brilliant.

Take That - Kidz. Probably the edgiest you'll have ever heard the Mancunian former boyband. It's a great single, with a dirty electro stomp. Too bad it's probably not going to be a hit, as the midweeks show this only making the top 30. A video was filmed...why isn't it out?

Alexis Jordan - Good Girl. Alexis Jordan's second single isn't quite as clubby as "Happiness," but it's still definitely dance pop. I'm quite curious whether her debut album, out next week, will be all dance pop or span a range of pop styles. Not as glorious as "Happiness," but still pretty decent.

Clare Maguire - The Last Dance. On the basis of her dark and mysterious first single "Ain't Nobody," I wasn't sure that Clare Maguire was deserving of her 5th place finish on BBC Sounds of 2011. With this bold second single, awash in keyboards and power vocals, I can see it. Great song.

Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull - On the Floor. It's been 6 years since J.Lo's had a top 20 hit at pop radio and her last two singles, "Fresh Out of the Oven" and "Louboutins," generated very little heat. With Pitbull in tow, whose managed to guest star on basically every major pop hit of the last year, she may have finally found a winning formula. It does sound suspiciously like "Stereo Love," but it's her best single in a long time.

What the F**k?!

This week's Billboard Hot 100 singles chart has a rather unusual feature--three songs within the top 10 that include the f-word in the title, making it the most profane top 10 ever. Profanity in popular music is certainly not something new, but shouting it so prominently by making it part of the title isn't exactly commonplace for major mainstream hits.

The trend started last summer when Cee Lo Green released his rather shockingly titled "F**k You!," which, although it caused a few hands to clutch the pearls, has ultimately turned into a major international smash due to its memorable, cheeky premise. Then more recently, P!nk's greatest hits set's second single, "F**kin' Perfect" became a major hit, almost at the same time as Enrique Iglesias's "Tonight (I'm F**kin' You)."

Now I'm no prude and I've certainly never been a fan of musical censorship, but this degree of foul-tongued songwriting has even me feeling a bit school marmish. Dropping the f-bomb is supposed to add particular emphasis, but if it's this common now, does it lose some of that power?

The extent to which the f-word in these songs is resonant depends a bit on its use, which, in the case of these songs is different for each word. The f-word is a remarkably flexible term, embodying clear and varying meanings even within its verb, noun and adjectival forms.

It's most obvious form is as a verb to indicate coitus, which is how it's used in the Iglesias song. This use is considered obscene and frankly, most people I know when they use the f-word, it isn't in this manner. As such, the Iglesias song as actually the most offensive of the lot. I would definitely recommend avoiding having it play on your office iPod speakers.

When used as a command, as in Green's song, the f-word doesn't seem as obscene, although it is still clearly vulgar. Although technically this is still a coitus usage, I doubt most people think of it that way, and mean it just to say "I really don't like you" but in a nastier way.

P!nk's use of the f-word is adjectival, purely to provide extra emphasis, and as such doesn't really mean anything. Consequently, her use of the f-word in "F**kin' Perfect" is the least vulgar, although it is also the least meaningful.

Being as they are commercial-minded pop singers, all three of these songs showed up in radio friendly versions: "Forget You," "Tonight (I'm Loving You)," and simply "Perfect" (any airplay chart that claims stations are playing "F**k You!" instead of "Forget You" is lying). In these sanitized forms "Perfect" suffers the least, since frankly, the f-word serves little purpose in that song. "Tonight" becomes a typical pop music come on, rather than a really slutty one. But "Forget You," while fun, is a shadow of the greatness of "F**k You," since here the contrast of the sweetly retro melody and a sharp profanity serve the song well--a contrast that disappears with "Forget You," making the song's protagonist sound weak and undeserving of the woman he has been pursuing.

The moral of all this, if there is one, is that if you're going to drop an f-bomb in a pop music song and expect me to like, you'd better make it count. Otherwise, I'll be seeking out a more office friendly version.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adele Makes Chart History

I didn't realize when I recapped the UK singles chart on Sunday that Adele had actually made chart history by becoming the only living artist to simultaneously have two top 5 singles and two top 5 albums. On the singles chart, her "Someone Like You" made a dramatic leap to #1 from #47 (the second-biggest leap to #1), while her last single, "Rolling in the Deep," climbed a notch to #4. Meanwhile, on the albums chart, her new album 21 spent a fourth week at #1, while her 2008 album, 19, climbed two spots to #4.

John Lennon was the last artist to have such a double chart double. In the weeks after his death in 1980, his album, Double Fantasy, quickly shot to the top of the chart. In the week of February 7, 1981, it was #1, while Lennon's 1971 album, Imagine, was #5. On the singles chart, The Double Fantasy release "Woman" was #1, while the "Imagine" single was #5. Interesting that in both cases, the albums and singles occupied the same chart positions--1 and 4 for Adele, and 1 and 5 for John Lennon.

Here's a clip of Adele's lovely Brit Awards performance of "Someone Like You."

Glee Recap: "Blame It on the Alcohol"

A scourge of underage drinking at McKinley High sets the stage for this week's episode.

Rachel begins her effort at songwriting, giving Finn a preview (and a hug...aww. Can they get back together? They are so cute). After Finn convinces her to do a little living, Rachel decides to throw a party while her dads are away on the Rosie O'Donnell cruise. Rachel serves wine coolers at the party and all of her guests seem...bored. Puck convinces her to turn up the music and break into the liquor cabinet, which leads to some real high school debauchery.

Blaine gives Rachel a surprisingly sensual kiss during "spin the bottle" and then duets with her, but wakes up in Kurt's bed the next morning. The next day she calls Blaine and asks him on a date and he says yes. It annoys Kurt, but Blaine finds it all quite confusing as he considers he might be bisexual. Rachel later tells Kurt that she really enjoyed the date, relating that they saw Love Story and dressed up like the characters. Kurt tells her this is really "gay," but she perseveres and declares that she will kiss him sober and see if the spark is still there.

Will, upset over his recent divorce and Emma's marriage, dons a cowboy hat and goes out with Bieste for a night of drinking and karaoke at a honky-tonk. This sets up a fun musical number, but is otherwise a throwaway scene. Bieste takes a rather inebriated Will home, who tells her it was the most fun he'd had in a really long time. He then proceeds to keep drinking, grades some papers (A+ for everyone) and then drunk calls Emma. Or at least he thought it was Emma; apparently it was really Sue.

At an anti-alcohol assembly, a cop shows slides of alcohol-related accidents, while backstage the glee club gets drunk, making a mess of their "Tik Tok" performance. Afterward, Sue gets on the P.A. system and plays Will's drunk voice message for the whole school. In the end though, Principal Figgins congratulates the group, thinking their on-stage drunkenness was an act to scare the school straight, which they apparently did. Despite the happy ending, Will is really unhappy about the club's antics, chews them out for drinking at school and vows that he will stop drinking and makes them pledge that they won't drink too.

Rachel and Kurt go to the coffee shop to ambush Blaine. Rachel walks up to him and plants a kiss on him, to which Blaine declares that he's 100% gay and thanks Rachel for clearing it up. Rachel is ecstatic though, since she now has good songwriting material.


My Headband (original) - Rachel. Rachel's lyrics need some work, for sure, rhyming a lot of words without much feeling. Finn gives her an honest critique and she agrees it needs work.

Don't You Want Me (The Human League) - Blaine and Rachel. Blaine apparently has the hots for Rachel now. Nice to hear Rachel singing some '80s dance pop. They sound pretty good together actually.

Blame It (Jamie Foxx ft. T-Pain) - Glee Cast. I'm not generally a fan of this song, but they have fun with it.

One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (Amos Milburn) - Will & Bieste. Musically this episode is all over the map: British '80s new wave pop, followed by American '00 R&B and then old, old, old country. This is Dot-Marie Jones' first Glee musical performance.

Tik Tok (Ke$ha) - Glee Cast. The kids do a rather energetic, Brittany-led rendition of the dance pop hit. Pretty fun, although clearly a very inappropriate choice that ends with Brittany and Santana puking on stage.

Best line: (Principal Figgins, referencing Ke$ha): "Performing the hit single from kee-dollar sign-ha..."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

UK Singles Chart, February 26, 2011

1. Someone Like You - Adele
2. Price Tag - Jessie J (feat. B.o.B)
3. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Hasn't the UK singles chart been full of surprises lately? Four weeks ago it was how Bruno Mars kept heavily hyped Adele from #1, then last week how Chipmunk and Chris Brown looked headed to #1 until a weekend surge kept Jessie J at the top for a second week.

This week has to be the biggest surprise yet though.

Going into the week, it was pretty clear that the #1 single was going to be Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." After 3 days of sales, the song managed to reach #3 last week, so the pretty well reasoned assumption was that after a full week of sales it would be vaulted to the top spot. That's really not even an out-there assumption. After all, the track has topped the charts all over the world and represents the first taste of a new album from one of the world's hottest acts. But it seems that everything works fast for Gaga these days...including the speed of her backlash. The naysayers seem to be gaining the upper hand, as "Born This Way" does not claim the easy #1 spot this week, and in fact can't even be #2, beat as it is by last week's #1 single by Jessie J that drops to #2.

So what emerged as the #1 single this week wasn't another new single or even a recent hit returning to the top but a rather unusual surge in popularity for Adele's "Someone Like You," the 21 album cut slated as the album's next single that was popular enough to chart in the lowest fourth of the top 40 the week the album was released and the week after. But Adele's apparently moving performance of the song on the Brit Awards this week pushed the track into the stratosphere. Wednesday it was in the top 20, Thursday it was #3, and Friday it was less than 200 copies behind "Born This Way." I hadn't been aware of this, and I actually listened to the last hour of the UK top 40 this afternoon, so it was a great surprise indeed to hear "Born This Way" at #3, which sent me scrambling to figure out what along with Jessie J was vying for #1.

Congratulations then to Adele who finally scores her first #1 hit after seeing "Chasing Pavements" and "Rolling in the Deep" reach #2, as well as last year's amazing run for "Make You Feel My Love," which got as high as #4. It is a pretty fantastic song and I expect it's going to stick around for awhile. But as this week's chart shows, there's no sure thing anymore.

6. S&M - Rihanna

Global pop sensation Rihanna climbs into the top 10 this week with "S&M," the third single from Loud, her fifth album, which was released late last year. This is her 17th top 10 hit.

8. Eyes Wide Shut - JLS (feat. Tinie Tempah)

JLS finally charts with the single version of "Eyes Wide Shut," having been in the top 40 the last 5 weeks with the album version that does include Tinie Tempah. Perhaps because so many people already shelled out for that version, or the fact that it's just not a very interesting song, leads it to become the group's lowest charting single, below last year's #6 peak for "One Shot." Still, they are 6 top 10 hits for 6 singles, which isn't bad.

14. Rocketeer - Far*East Movement (feat. Ryan Tedder)

Not quite the hit that "Like a G6" was, but not a major bomb either. This is the first solo appearance on the chart for Ryan Tedder, best known as one of pop music's most prolific hitmakers, but also as lead singer of the group OneRepublic, who hit the top 40 last year with "All the Right Moves."

31. Kidz - Take That

This single is out tomorrow, but charts this week on sales of the album track. For Take That 2.0, follow-up singles have been a mixed bag. The lead singles from their last two albums both hit #1, a feat that sadly Progress's brilliant first release, "The Flood" did not achieve, but while their 2006 album's second single, "Shine," also hit #1, their 2008 album's second single, "Up All Night," didn't even reach the top 10. I really hope "Kidz" can make the top 10, as it is another great single from them. It's #9 on the airplay chart, so at least there is some support there, although not as much as there was for "The Flood," which spent 5 weeks at #1 on the airplay chart.

36. Teenage Dream - Glee Cast

I'm sad to see this didn't chart higher. Is Glee no longer a major hitmaker in Britain? They seem to be flagging a bit in the US too, although this song was their best-selling US release, peaking at #8 last year. Nothing so far this season has sold all that well, with their highest-charting second season single so far being "Telephone," which hit #25.

Essential Albums of the '80s: Talking Heads - Remain in Light (1980)

When I think of New Wave music it isn't this, which is probably why I was surprised by it when I gave it a first listen recently. Much of the New Wave revival of the last few years was driven more by the genre's later years, when synth pop was more at the forefront. From what I've read, the term was first used for rock music that was experimental and distanced from punk, incorporating electronic and other influences. Remain in Light was the fourth and most acclaimed of the American New Wave band's albums (Rolling Stone named it #4 on their list of the best '80s albums), although the albums that followed after this were more commercially successful. The music is highly repetitive, relying on loops and African rhythms moreso than pop melodies, which are largely absent. It's funk influence is pretty evident too, such as on "The Great Curve," which uses a funky guitar lick, looped throughout with tribal beats, layers of vocals and some synthesizer blasts. "Once in a Lifetime" is the most recognizable track, having been used in the opening of Down and Out in Beverly Hills. The album's closing track, "The Overload" is its most foreboding, although I wouldn't call it moody. Interesting music, but probably not what I'm into.

Best: Once in a Lifetime, The Great Curve, Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Album Reviews

James Blake (4/5). British dubstep musician James Blake has named The XX as an inspiration, and certainly that is evident in his minimalist approach, but his rootsy approach is more akin to that of a plugged-in Bon Iver. "Lindisfarne I," for example, recalls Bon Iver's "Woods," consisting almost solely of an a Capella auto-tuned vocal. "Lindisfarne II" brings in the spare electronic melody making the parallel with The XX clearer. "Unluck" begins with electronic textures akin to LCD Soundsystem but Blake's soulful style pushes music somewhere closer to old school R&B. "The Wilhelm Scream," named after the infamous sound effect popularlized by Star Wars, is a gorgeous piece of electronic melancholy. The background textures start off light and clear, becomingly increasingly deep and murky, like Blake himself is sinking deeper into a muddled despair. Blake sounds best on his remake of Feist's "Limit to Your Love," having removed the auto-tune to let the slight rasp of his voice add a personal touch to the song's interplay of prominent acoustic piano and electronic bass. That the songs on the album's latter half are less grand than the first is not a major problem, since they adhere to the album's general mood and sound. Best: The Wilhelm Scream, Limit to Your Love, Unluck.

Destroyer - Kaputt (3.5/5). Kaputt is the ninth album from Canadian indie pop group Destroyer, a band I'd never heard of before until this album, which has gotten generally favorable reviews. This morning, that this album came on right after Pet Shop Boy's Please and I didn't notice the difference until the vocals came in should you give you an idea about the signposts for this work. Think sophisticated adult-oriented '80s pop with some hints of jazz. The first few songs pop along in this vein, and then comes the rather arresting "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," a dramatic, track with an effective extended instrumental opening, even if its synth flute sounds like it should be backing some sort of sleazy made-for-TV melodrama. "Poor in Love" and the title track are lovely too, with a more expansive sound augmented by some horns. They're probably the most pop-oriented song of the set. The dreamy synth-based sound is interesting, but I can't see myself making this a must-listen later in the year, and other groups have mined the '80s synth-pop sound enough that this doesn't add anything significant to the conversation. Best: Kaputt, Poor in Love, Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, February 25, 2011

1. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga scores the biggest #1 hit in recent memory with "Born This Way," the title track from her upcoming album due in May. It's hard to believe that the song still isn't a week old, having debuted around the world last Friday. It's #1 placement reflects just 3 days of sales and airplay, during which is sold 448,000 copies, the largest weekly digital sales by a female artist and third best 1-week tally overall. It's impact at radio was just as instant, where it debuted at #6 on Billboard Radio Songs (a record) and #14 on Pop Songs (second highest after Mariah Carey's #12 debut in 1993 for "Dreamlover"). As if those records aren't enough to distinguish it, it's also the 1000th #1 hit on the Hot 100, giving it a special place in history. I expected this song would do well, but to watch it become the fastest hit I've ever seen is pretty amazing. Of course its short history has already drawn a backlash, with naysayer poo-pooing it for sounding too much like Madonna's "Express Yourself" (as if that would be a bad thing). And her Grammy Award performance of the song Sunday night also drew mixed reviews, although the performance itself was overshadowed by her odd costume and apparent story that she spent the 72 hours leading up to the performance in that egg from which she "hatched." She is an odd one for sure, but she's certainly doing something right.

2. Firework - Katy Perry

Nothing else really matters besides Gaga this week, but there are a few other tidbits to note. One is the resurgence of Katy Perry's former #1 "Firework," which is bulleted and climbs back up a spot to #2. She owes this either to her song appearing on Glee, her performance at the Grammys or both. The song has spent 12 weeks in the top 3 now.

5. F**kin' Perfect - Pink
6. Tonight (I'm F**kin' You) - Enrique Iglesias (feat. Ludacris)
7. F**k You! - Cee Lo Green

It's official. All three F-word songs appear together in the top 10 this week, all lined up in fact from #5 to #7. Pink's drops a notch to #5 but is nonetheless bulleted and earns this week's airplay gainer. Cee Lo's hit reaches a new peak position at #7, buoyed no doubt by his rather lively Grammy performance with Gwyneth Paltrow. It's been on the Hot 100 for 25 weeks now.

8. S&M - Rihanna

Rihanna zooms up 23 notches to #8, scoring her 28th top 10 hit with "S&M," the third single from her album Loud. Rihanna has now scored three top 10 hits from every one of her albums except her debut, which had only the one ("Pon Da Replay").

11. What the Hell - Avril Lavigne

Canadian singer Avril Lavigne makes an impressive 12-spot climb to #11 with "What the Hell," her comeback single. If it can reach the top 10 next week, it will become her 6th single to do so.

18. Hit the Lights - Jay Sean (feat. Lil Wayne)

Jay Sean returns with little fanfare as he unveils the new single from his upcoming second album. It makes a pretty impressive top 20 debut, despite not having much impact at radio yet, far surpassing the peak of his last release, "2012 (It Ain't the End of the World)," which managed to only reach #31 despite getting a fair amount of radio and having a guest rap from Nicki Minaj.

19. Moment 4 Life - Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake)

Speaking of Miss Nicki Minaj, she climbs into the top 20 this week with "Moment 4 Life," which recently became her first #1 hit on the R&B chart.

23. I Do - Colbie Caillat

I don't.

25. Never Say Never - Justin Bieber (feat. Jaden Smith)

Bieber's new single finally lands in the top 40, up 24 spots to #25 on the back of his Grammy performance Sunday. I actually really enjoy this song. Probably my favorite from him so far. It's surprising that it flopped at top 40 radio, where it peaked at a a lowly #34. You'd think he'd be really hot at top 40, but despite all his press, he's still not had a really big hit.

34. Firework - Glee Cast
38. Thriller/Heads Will Roll - Glee Cast

The Glee kids land a couple more top 40 hits. "Thriller/Heads Will Roll" probably would have charted higher had its appearance on the Super Bowl Sunday special episode of Glee not messed up the timing of its sales chart-wise.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lady Gaga - Billboard's 1000th #1

So, Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is the 1000th #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. That's a pretty momentous milestone for the chart, which goes back to 1958, the early days of the rock era. Billboard has a fun feature to celebrate the event. Here's a look back at some of the previous milestone #1s.

1. Poor Little Fool - Ricky Nelson (August 4, 1958). 18 year-old Ricky Nelson had been a child on his parent's television series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet before he became a pop star. "Poor Little Fool" is a sweet little love song with a gentle guitar melody and rhythm good for slow dancing. Nine years after putting out this single, Nelson would give birth to twin sons Gunnar and Matthew, who would grow up to score the 727th #1 hit in 1990, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection." Nelson himself would have one other #1 hit, "Travelin' Man" in 1961.

100. Deep Purple - Nino Tempo & April Stevens (November 16, 1963). Hear that harmonica? That's the sound of a good early '60s hit. This was the first and only #1 hit from the brother-and-sister duo from upstate New York. This also has a gentle, laid back feel compared to the pop music of today.

200. Honey - Bobby Goldsboro (April 13, 1968). "Honey" was the second and biggest top 10 hit for Bobby Goldsboro, a Floridian who later hosted a variety show. The song has a lush, strings-laden melody typical of the late '60s. This single spent 5 weeks at #1 and also topped the country chart. Despite this, the song is often derided as one of the worst of all time.

300. The Morning After - Maureen McGovern (August 4, 1973). "The Morning After" was the love theme from the film The Poseidon Adventure, a late 1972 release that became one of the most popular films of 1973, grossing nearly $100 million and garnering a best picture nomination. The song itself was nominated for the Best Song Oscar, but lost to Michael Jackson's "Ben," the 281st #1 hit. This was McGovern's only major hit--she had a second single that hit #18 in 1979, "Different Worlds."

400. Kiss and Say Goodbye - The Manhattans (July 24, 1976). That deep, silky spoken word intro screams "'70s R&B" I don't know much about The Manhattans--they only had one other top 10 hit. This seems like a pretty mellow song.

500. Keep on Loving You - R.E.O. Speedwagon (March 21, 1981). "Keep on Loving You" was the major hit from R.E.O. Speedwagon's Hi Fidelity, one of the biggest hit albums of the early '80s. This sounds like pretty typical early '80s rock. Not really what I'm into. The band would have a second #1 hit in 1985, "Can't Fight This Feeling."

600. There'll Be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry) - Billy Ocean (July 5, 1986). I remember Billy Ocean, but I can't say I remember this one. This was his second #1; his third, "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" in 1988 was a bigger hit.

700. Right Here Waiting - Richard Marx (August 12, 1989). Only 3 years spanned between this and the 600th #1 hit, owing to the rapid turnover at the top of the chart in the late '80s. This song was a massive hit in 1989 and became a staple slow song of school dances (I remember that well).

800. You Are Not Alone - Michael Jackson (September 2, 1995). This was Michael Jackson's final of 13 #1 hits, a run that started with "Ben" (see above). The R. Kelly-produced ballad was the best thing about Jackson's uneven 1995 album, History.

900. The Way You Move - Outkast (February 14, 2004). The Valentine's Day #1 hit from 7 years ago was the last '00 #1. Outkast's "The Way You Move" was the second single from their massively successful 2003 album, Speakerboxx/The Love Below, and the follow-up to the bigger #1 hit, "Hey Ya!" (#899), one of the decade's defining pop songs.

Singles Serving

Lady Gaga - Born This Way. Lady Gaga's new single has taken the world by storm as I expected it would. Tomorrow, it will become the 1,000th #1 hit in America. It will also debut at #6 on the Billboard Radio Songs chart, the highest a track has ever debuted on that chart, beating the #9 debut in 2001 by Janet Jackson's "All for You." It's an epic dance pop track, which is what you would expect. Some people are disparaging it for sounding like Madonna's "Express Yourself," which I think is silly because 1) I don't think think it sounds like "Express Yourself" and 2) even if it did, so what? "Express Yourself" was a great song...and so it this.

The Strokes - Under Cover of Darkness. The Strokes are getting ready to release their first album in 5 years. This sounds remarkably like anything they would have done in 2001 and that's probably a good thing, given that their popularity took a dive with their third album. I enjoy this song, but it's not a classic. It does have a nice guitar solo and a carefree feel.

Chromeo feat. Elly Jackson - Hot Mess. "Hot Mess" was not a standout track for me on Chromeo's Business Casual, but this new version with Elly Jackson of La Roux, which adds a new chorus with her vocals, is top notch synth pop. Really loving this single this week. It also fits right in with all the '80s music I've been listening to lately.

JLS feat. Tinie Tempah - Eyes Wide Shut. With this new single, JLS continues to prove the unfortunate fact that their music can be hit or miss. Last summer they released the pretty dreadful Sound of Music-inspired "The Club Is Alive," followed by the rather grand pop ballad "Love You More." Now we're back to mediocrity with this single, which sounds just like a slew of other upbeat synth-based, electro-tinged, dance-pop leaning, R&B-ish pop. When I try to recall in my mind what this song sounds like, I often end up with Chris Brown's "Yeah 3X" stuck in my head instead, since the songs are so interchangeable (and they're not even produced by the same person).

Black Eyed Peas - Just Can't Get Enough. I was expecting this to be another remake of Depeche Mode's classic single. Too bad that's not what we get with this tepid ballad. Yes, you heard me, ballad. Not what you usually get with BEP, but they try a slow song here, and it really isn't very interesting. Even the video game sound effects can't save it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Glee Recap: "Comeback"

Sue tries to kill herself because she has nothing left to live for after the Cheerios lost their championship. Emma decides Sue should join the glee club to get over her funk. It doesn't seem to warm her heart, but then will takes her to a pediatric cancer ward so they can sing for sick kids. In the end though, Sue betrays New Directions to go coach a rival glee club.

Sam fears he's losing Quinn to Finn, so he turns to Justin Bieber for some musical inspiration. Intrigued by the apparent power of Justin Bieber to make girls swoon, the guys tell Sam they want to join his one-man Justin Bieber tribute band. At first, Quinn is taken, but then Santana intervenes and Sam decides to dump Quinn for Santana.

Rachel turns to Brittany to help her build her brand as she is focusing on her career and trying to forget about boys. Rachel gets Brittany to dress like her, but everyone just thinks Brittany is the trend-setter with a Teen Vogue fashion shoot while Rachel is still fashion-challenged. Rachel decides to write an original song (something I've been waiting for them to do for some time) to get her spark back.


Baby (Justin Bieber). Sam picks up a guitar for this acoustic rendition of the Canadian teen's biggest hit. He doesn't get much of it out before being mobbed by tween girls. He takes another stab at it in the rehearsal room in front of the Glee club. Sam pushes his hair forward in Justin Bieber style. Since Blaine came on the scene, I'd forgotten that Sam is pretty cute too.

Somebody to Love (Justin Bieber). Sam, Artie, Puck and Mike join up for this energetic, although minimally staged take on Bieber's second-biggest hit. Not sure why they are blowing chalk dust around. This is fun, but "Baby" was better.

Take Me or Leave Me (from "Rent"). Mercedes and Rachel have a "diva-off," which Sue manipulated into being. I don't care for the song and they seem to be duetting more than dueling. I guess that's the point, since at the end of the song they end up laughing and making up.

This Little Light of Mine (Harry Dixon Loes). Will on ukelele plus Sue and a group of cancer-stricken children makes for a nice moment.

I Know What Boys Like (The Waitresses). Is this Lauren's first song? I think it is, and she turns out a pretty sassy performance.

Sing (My Chemical Romance). Rachel and Finn kick it off and then everyone, including Sue--complete with plaid tracksuit--joins in.

As usual, the show is enjoyable, although I think this was definitely one of the season's weaker entries. Best line: (Rachel, describing her fashion sense) "Sexy schoolgirl librarian chic."

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Radiohead Saturday

Radiohead has announced it will release it's eighth album this Saturday. Titled The King of Limbs, there's not much information about it yet. Just like last time, although it's been rumored as being in the works, they've dropped it as a bomb without much pre-release fanfare. It can pre-ordered from their website.

Radio Gaga for 'Born This Way'

Lady Gaga's new single has zoomed up the radio airplay charts in the U.S. this week. If you thought Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" was impressive during it's first week, this is an order of magnitude bigger.

At top 40 radio, Britney's track opened with 619 spins on day 1, gaining an average of about 660 spins per day during its first week to clock in at 4618 on day 7, which put it at #16 on the chart.

"Born This Way" started with 1838 spins on day 1--about 3 times what Britney did--and 2 days later is up to 5190 spins after just 3 days, meaning she's gaining over 1700 spins per day right now. If she can keep that up over the next few days, the track should end up in the top 10--maybe even the top 5--at the end of its first week of airplay. That's pretty amazing. The top 40's second fastest gainer right now is Pink's "Perfect," which has gained about 1400 spins in the last 7 days. So Gaga's daily increase in radio plays is more than any other single's weekly increase at present. Very, very impressive.

Billboard has reported that the track is set to debut at #14 on the Pop Songs chart this week.

Grammy Awards

I watched about 2 hours of the Grammy Awards, which is more than I usually do. As you'd expect, the performances were a mixed bag, but generally entertaining. I thought Cee Lo Green and Gwyneth Paltrow were particularly fun. I thought the Aretha Franklin tribute was nice, although a little long. Recap of the night's big winners:

Arcade Fire: So the top award goes to...Arcade Fire! What a major surprise and a great one too, as this was my favorite album nominated. It's interesting that they won AOTY but lost their genre category, as The Black Keys' Brothers snagged Best Alternative Album (Arcade Fire also lost to Black Keys in the Rock Duo/Group category). The last time an album won without also winning a genre award was the O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack 9 years ago, which did win the soundtrack award, but "soundtrack" isn't really a music genre. Three of the other four AOTY nominees won their genre awards: Lady Gaga for pop (beating Katy Perry), Lady Antebellum for country, and Eminem for rap.

Lady Antebellum: Snagged both Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "Need You Now." First time in 3 years both awards went to the same song, Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" being the last such double winner. The ROTY win continues the trend of the winner being single that did not hit #1 on the Hot 100 for the 11th year in a row. The country band was one of the night's biggest winners, scoring five wins including Country Album, Country Duo/Group, and Country Song.

Esperanza Spalding: The virtually unknown jazz bassist and vocalist from Portland, Oregon, was the surprise win for Best New Artist, beating Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence & the Machine. She was the only nominated act to not perform last night.

Lady Gaga: Three awards for Gaga, including Pop Album and Female Pop and Music Video for "Bad Romance." An emotional Gaga paid tribute to Whitney Houston when she accepted the pop album award, saying that when she wrote and recorded her new single "Born This Way," she envisioned Whitney Houston singing it because she didn't have the confidence in herself to envision her doing so. Interesting.

Jay-Z: Also won three awards, all in rap, including Best Rap Song and Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Empire State of Mind" (with Alicia Keys) and Rap Duo/Group for "On to the Next One," with Swizz Beatz.

Eminem: Although he lost the general categories, he did pick up Rap Album and Rap Solo for "Not Afraid."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: George Michael - Faith (1987)

It's hard not to feel a little sorry for George Michael. He was one of the '80s biggest pop acts, but lately he's not exactly setting the world on fire. His last top 10 hit in Britain was 7 years ago, in the U.S., it was 15 years ago. His most recent chart activity has been to re-release his 2008 Christmas single, which isn't anything near as grand as Wham's "Last Christmas." When he's in the news, it's usually for having done something risque, illegal or both.

So it's nice to see that this special remastered re-release of Faith has given Michael his best press in years. I opted for the 2-disc set with a DVD of his videos, but it's also available as just a 2-CD (original album plus a remixes disc) and a limited edition set with all sorts of memorabilia. I've seen lots of major outlets review the album, all generally lavishing it with praise as a landmark '80s pop album, which, frankly it is. Listening to it intently over the last week just underscored for me what a great work of pop music it is.

There isn't a bad track here, but mostly it's the singles that shine the brightest. From the opening church organ that kicks off the minimalist, uptempo title track, the album grabs your attention and never lets go. Seductive "Father Figure" is followed by controversial "I Want Your Sex" and then emotionally bare "One More Try." All of these are excellent songs--most of them were also #1 hits. Musically, it's clear this is an '80s album, but there is a timelessness to many of the songs as well. Only "Monkey" feels absolutely stuck in time, especially the Shep Pettibone remix, although that's not really a strike against it.

The album's second half isn't quite as golden as its first, but still offers quite a few decent tracks. Many people forget that "Hard Day" wasn't actually a single--had they released a seventh, it would have been the obvious contender. Silky "Hand to Mouth" glides along its mid-tempo drum programming and glossy keyboard chords. The more assertive "Look at Your Hands" offers up contrasting horns and electric guitar, although it sounds like it was recorded in a warehouse. Michael closes the set with "Kissing a Fool," a retro-sounding ballad that typifies the jazz-pop sound he would return to frequently on later albums.

As a solo debut after the collapse of Wham!, Faith proved without a doubt that George Michael was more than just a pretty face who could sell magazines to teen girls (and teen boys). He wrote and produced the album, which is quite an achievement, considering its varied sound. Although his next two albums, Listen Without Prejudice (1990) and Older (1996), were also quite good, it was Faith that was his crowning achievement.

My personal story with Faith is worth sharing. Of course I wanted the album back in 1988, but my parents wouldn't let me have it because they thought it was too risque. This was unusual, as my parents weren't in the habit of censoring my media, but whatever. Sometimes parents just like to assert their parental authority. But the gay pop music gods were shining down on me. One weekend when my family was gardening in the front yard, my mom handed me a cassette someone had discarded in the bushes, and lo and behold, it was George Michael's Faith. "Do you know what this is?" asked my mother. I played dumb. "I dunno. I'll go inside and play it and probably throw it out." Of course I listened to it nonstop. The copy retrieved from the shrubs was missing the insert and I guess my mom didn't bother to look at the actual cassette itself. "I Want Your Sex" was a bit distorted at one point from the dirt that had caked onto the tape, but otherwise it played fine. Eventually I bought a better copy from, of all places, a church sale. I guess they took a broad interpretation to spreading "faith." And yes, I had George Michael's poster on my bedroom ceiling. Right next to Madonna.

Best: Faith, Father Figure, One More Try, I Want Your Sex, Hard Day, Monkey.

Further listening

Wham! - Make it Big (1984)

Definitely more carefree than Faith and although not as good, this was the album that made George Michael and his co-conspirator Andrew Ridgeley international stars. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Freedom" are '60s-kissed pieces of pop candy that taste great with every bite. Moodier "Everything She Wants" points more to George Michael's potential as a serious pop musician. I've always really liked it, actually, as it's a sexy song with great bass keyboards (we used to walk to it on the runway when I was a kid model). As good as that is, soulful closing number "Careless Whisper" is even better. A true '80s pop classic. Best: Careless Whisper, Everything She Wants, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Freedom.

UK Singles Chart, February 19, 2011

1. Price Tag - Jessie J (feat. B.o.B)
2. Champion - Chipmunk (feat. Chris Brown)

What a difference the weekend makes. Friday's midweek sales report showed Chipmunk headed into #1 and Chris Brown scoring two top 5 hits as a guest on Chipmunk's track as well as his own single moving into the top 5. Well, things changed in the last couple of days, as a sales surge from Jessie J means the singer gets to stay at #1 for a second week. Can't say I'm disappointed, as "Price Tag" is a fun song, whereas "Champion" is merely passable.

So Chipmunk misses out on a second #1, but he does get his seventh top 10 hit, which isn't bad. Meanwhile Chris Brown scores his sixth top 10 hit. He's still yet to reach #1. And his latest single almost was a top 5 hit, if it wasn't for the surprise at #3.

3. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

That would be Lady Gaga. This new single was expected to be released this weekend, but because she just couldn't wait any longer, Gaga sent this out a couple days early on Friday. So with just 2 days of sales, the track manages to debut at #3, becoming her 7th top 10 hit. Surely it will be #1 next week. But that means a few songs got pushed down below where they were expected to be.

6. Yeah 3X - Chris Brown

So Chris Brown is denied a spot in the top 5 this week, as his "Yeah 3X" climbs 3 spots to #6.

11. S&M - Rihanna

Also denied a better chart placing, is Chris Brown's ex Rihanna, whose "S&M" climbs 9 notches to #11, but would have been in the top 10 if it weren't for Gaga. This gets its official release in late March though, so it will likely appear in the top 10 at some point. Her last two singles, "Only Girl" and "What's My Name," were both #1 hits.

22. Moment 4 Life - Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake)

"Moment 4 Life" climbs 33 notches into up to #22 this week, becoming Minaj's fifth top 40 hit. This is also slated for a March 20 release.

45. Niton (The Reason) - Eric Prydz

The public is apparently no longer interested in Eric Prydz, as his single misses the top 40 this week. Too bad, as I really like this song.

Grammy Playlist

Put this playlist together to familiarize yourself with the major nominees and artists nominated in multiple categories:

1. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Rap Album Rap/Sung Collaboration, Rap Song, Music Video)

2. Need You Now - Lady Antebellum (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Country Duo/Group, Country Song, Country Album)

3. Bad Romance - Lady Gaga (Album of the Year, Female Pop, Pop Album, Music Video, RedOne - Producer of the Year)

4. California Gurls - Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg (Album of the Year, Pop Collaboration, Pop Album, Dr. Luke - Producer of the Year)

5. Ready to Start - Arcade Fire (Album of the Year, Rock Duo/Group, Alternative Album)

6. Nothin' on You - B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars (Record of the Year, Rap/Sung Collaboration, Rap Album, Rap Song, The Smeezingtons - Producer of the Year)

7. Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Urban/Alternative, The Smeezingtons - Producer of the Year

8. The House that Built Me - Miranda Lambert (Song of the Year, Country Female, Country Song, Country Album)

9. Beg Steal or Borrow - Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs (Song of the Year, Contemporary Folk Album, Best Engineered Album)

10. Baby - Justin Bieber (Best New Artist, Pop Album)

11. Over - Drake (Best New Artist, Rap Solo, Rap Album)

12. Little Lion Man - Mumford & Sons (Best New Artist, Rock Song)

13. Dog Days Are Over - Florence & the Machine (Best New Artist)

14. Haven't Met You Yet - Michael Buble (Male Pop, Traditional Pop Album)

15. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars (Male Pop, The Smeezingtons - Producer of the Year)

16. Half of My Heart - John Mayer (Male Pop, Pop Album, Best Engineered Album)

17. In for the Kill - La Roux (Dance Recording, Electronic Album)

18. Tighten Up - The Black Keys (Rock Duo/Group, Rock Song, Alternative Album, Best Recording Package, Danger House - Producer of the Year)

19. Resistance - Muse (Rock Duo/Group, Rock Song, Rock Album)

20. Shine - John Legend & The Roots (R&B Duo/Group, R&B Song, R&B Album)

21. Bittersweet - Fantasia (Female R&B, R&B Song, R&B Album)

Grammy Record and Song of the Year

Record of the Year

  • "Nothin' on You" - B.o.B feat. Bruno Mars
  • "Love the Way You Lie" - Eminem featuring Rihanna
  • "Fuck You!" - Cee Lo Green
  • "Empire State of Mind" - Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
  • "Need You Now" - Lady Antebellum
Recent Grammy history could be most instructive in determining who will win this. Based on my quick analysis, two rules stick out: 1) A #1 hit has not won this single since 2000, and 2) voters have shied away from more contemporary and cutting edge sounds, in favor of songs that lean toward rock, folk and old school sounds and away from contemporary R&B and hip-hop.

Rule #1 would mean strikes against "Love the Way You Lie," "Nothin' on You" and "Empire State of Mind." Additionally, "Love the Way You Lie," although a remarkable record, is probably too dark to win this. Conversely, "Nothin' on You" didn't have enough impact to pull it off. Of these three, I'd give the best shot to Jay-Z & Alicia Keys' feel good New York anthem, "Empire State of Mind," but then it's time to factor in rule #2. The record most affected by this is Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You!" Of course, it is the song that has had the biggest cultural impact, which could attract Grammy interest, although that criterion seems to apply more to the Song of the Year category. I think it's biggest strike against it is that it's also obscene, which will certainly turn off older voters. Yes, it has the old school flavor that voters like, but I think it's controversial nature ultimately works against it. The song then that best satisfies both my criteria is Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," a lovely country-pop mid-tempo love song of late-night desire. I expect Grammy voters will find this the song they most want to reward.

Will win: "Need You Now" Lady Antebellum
Should win: "Empire State of Mind" Jay-Z & Alicia Keys (or "Love the Way You Lie" Eminem & Rihanna)

Song of the Year

  • "Beg Steal or Borrow" - Ray LaMontagne (Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs)
  • "Fuck You!" - Cee Lo Green, Philip Lawrence & Bruno Mars (Cee Lo Green)
  • "The House that Built Me" - Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin (Miranda Lambert)
  • "Love the Way You Lie"- Alexander Grant, Holly Hafferman & Marshall Mathers, songwriters (Eminem featuring Rihanna)
  • "Need You Now" - Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott (Lady Antebellum)
This category is even harder to figure out. This is the songwriter's award, so as much as it's possible, try to divorce yourself from the artist's performance in judging this. Although less well-known songs often are nominated here, they never win, so cross of "Beg Steal or Borrow" and "The House that Built Me," although I must say that I just listened to the latter for the first time, and it is a particularly lovely song.

Of the three songs remaining, "Love the Way You Lie" is the most topical, effectively tackling a dark story of domestic abuse. Grammy has awarded songs with political and social messages, such as Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice," but it's not an overriding consideration. Love songs have fared well too, such as "Don't Know Why" and "Fallin,'" although it's been awhile. Voters have actually embraced more cutting edge sounds here than in ROTY, with Beyonce's "Single Ladies" having won last year, and Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" the year before. Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," a ROTY and SOTY winner, shows they aren't afraid to give the award to something cheeky. This could be good news for Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You!" which had the cultural impact and general social "buzz" this award seems to favor.

Will win: "Fuck You!" - Cee Lo Green, Philip Lawrence & Bruno Mars (Cee Lo Green)
Should win: "Love the Way You Lie"- Alexander Grant, Holly Hafferman & Marshall Mathers, songwriters (Eminem featuring Rihanna)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grammy Album of the Year

The Grammy Awards are tomorrow night, so like many observers, I'm thinking about who might win, as well as who should.

Album of the Year seems pretty sewn up this year, but I'd love to see a spoiler here. Three of the nominees are pretty easy to dismiss. Katy Perry's Teenage Dream didn't deserve the nomination in the first place, and I think a lot of Grammy voters would agree it is not deserving. Lady Antebellum's Need You Now isn't really my style, but from what I've read, it's not even the frontrunner for Best Country Album, let alone Album of the Year. And Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, despite being the best album here, isn't popular enough to generate widespread support.

That leaves Eminem and Lady Gaga duking it out for the win. Although relative newcomer Taylor Swift won the award last year, most recent honorees have been veterans, and believe it or not, Enimem is the most veteran act nominated this year. He was twice nominated before in 2000 for The Marshall Mathers LP and in 2002 for The Eminem Show, leading some voters to possibly view it as his "turn" to win. Recovery was also viewed as a comeback for him, giving him his biggest hit in years. It was also the best-selling album of last year, a factor that may have also worked in Taylor Swift's favor last year, as the music industry continues to struggle with album sales in the post-CD world. These factors will likely lead Recovery to victory tomorrow night, and it won't be Eminem's only statue either.

Yet, wouldn't it be grand to see an upset here? Yes, Eminem generated a lot of sales, but 12 years into the limelight now, he's just not that interesting. The figure who has most arguably reinvigorated pop music the most in the last 2 years is Lady Gaga, who just this week unleashed her latest sugary pop confection. Fame Monster was a lean and mean set of great pop songs. That it's considered an EP is probably a strike against it, as is her still "newcomer" status, but still, it's a much better album than most of the nominees.

Will win: Eminem
Should win: Lady Gaga (or Arcade Fire)

What I Said...

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (4.5). "The Suburbs is infused with that special type of youthful angst that the suburbs are adept at producing: an unholy blend of rage and boredom. Although the concept gets a bit heavy handed, particularly on closing duo 'Sprawl,' it serves to provide an interesting thematic thread through these songs, which deliver as much musical variety as we’ve heard from the band."

Eminem - Recovery (3). "Recovery has a lot of pop appeal, although it's an interesting twist of how hip-hop can appropriate pop into something dark and sinister. The kind of wicked goofiness that he showed on his earlier work, such as "Without Me" or "The Real Slim Shady" is missing here. Instead, the album is dominated by plodding, dark, guitar-driven songs that hybridize rap and pop, often with a great sample."

Lady Antebellum - Need You Now (3.5). "I'm not a big country listener, but I don't need a broad grounding in the genre to know this sounds very commercial. It's clearly meant to generate hits, which is a double-edged sword. Sure, it sounds slick, and there are some winners here, but there's also nothing really different or interesting that hasn't been done before."

Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster (4). "As much as anything, The Fame Monster advances Lady GaGa's apparent bid to become the new Madonna, taking several pages from the singer's '80s and early '90s playbooks. With Madonna moving on to do who-knows-what with the Live Earth people, its a role I'm happy to see someone take on."

Katy Perry - Teenage Dream (2.5). "With Teenage Dream, Katy Perry establishes herself as the poster child for prolonged adolescence, taking us through a carefree romp of drinking, flirting, and partying with hardly an adult consequence in sight. After [a] strong opening, the album goes downhill pretty fast, from a few more songs of mild interest, to quite a few that are just...well, dull."

Album Reviews

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (4/5). The Decemberists have been around for a long time, but this sixth album was my first exposure to them. They have an authentic rock sound that reminds me a lot of old school R.E.M., particularly on the gently rollicking "Calamity Song" (which actually, I just found out features R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, so no wonder). Generally though, they are a bit more backwater, with an acoustic instrumentation frequently composed of harmonica, fiddle and slide guitar. "Don't Carry It All" is almost country with its harmonica and fiddle, and the quieter "Rise to Me" or the more upbeat "All Arise!" twang enough to pretty much just be country. "Rox in the Box" is folksy and a bit darker, as is "This Is Why We Fight," which features great guitar work and gives the album some nice depth. Best: Down by the Water, Don't Carry It All, This Is Why We Fight, Rox in the Box.

Anna Calvi (3/5). British singer Anna Calvi's self-titled debut rides in on the moody wave of the Ennio Morricone-inspired instrumental "Rider to the Sea" and maintains an air of wicked austerity for much of its ten tracks. She's been compared to PJ Harvey because of her dramatic vocal style, but there's definitely some Spanish influence here as well. Songs like the seductive "No More Words" and "First We Kiss" burn with hushed vocals and prominent bass melody, while "Desire" lets loose at a higher throttle. Beat-heavy "Suzanne and I" strikes a nice middle ground with its spare but assertive guitars. These songs have their moments of weirdness and sometimes it gets a little too bizarre for my taste, particularly on the meandering closer "Love Won't Be Leaving," but poppier moments like "Blackout" make the set an overall enjoyable experience. Best: No More Words, Blackout, Suzanne and I.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Get Ready for Gaga

The most hotly anticipated new single of the year arrives tomorrow as Lady Gaga finally releases "Born This Way," the first single from her upcoming second album (third if you count Fame Monster as an album, which I think is reasonable).

The track will be made available at radio tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. EST and then go on sale at iTunes at 9 a.m. Not sure what the plans are for other countries, but I can't imagine they'll want to withhold it.

Although it will have missed 3 days of sales, I think it's a safe bet that "Born This Way" will sell bucket loads and likely top the Hot 100 next week as the 1000th #1 hit. She couldn't have timed it better.

Update: It's out! Listen here.

Billboard Hot 100, February 19, 2011

1. Black and Yellow - Wiz Khalifa

It's a new #1 this week, first time at the top for American rapper Wiz Khalifa. The song, "Black and Yellow" is not in reference to an apparent love of bees but rather a love of Pittsburgh. While their football team may not have won the Super Bowl, their latest hometown star claims the 999th Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit. So the next new #1 single will be the 1000th. Who will it be? More on that in the next post.

4. Perfect - Pink

After rocketing to #2 last week, this slips a bit to #4. Don't count it out yet though, as it's still growing strong at radio.

5. I Need a Doctor - Dr. Dre (feat. Eminem & Skylar Grey)

Dr. Dre returns to the top 10 this week with "I Need a Doctor," which debuts at #5 on the back of strong sales. Although he appeared on Eminem's 2009 #1 hit "Crack a Bottle," It's been 18 years since Dr. Dre had a top 10 hit as a lead performer, when his "Dre Day" hit #8 back in 1993. This is Skylar Grey's second recent appearance on the chart, after hitting #12 last year on Diddy-Dirty Money's "Coming Home." Back in 2006, using the name Holly Brookman, she hit #2 as a guest on Fort Minor's "Where'd You Go." This is Eminem's 14th top 10 hit.

11. Look at Me Now - Chris Brown (feat. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes)
(17. Yeah 3X - Chris Brown)

The aptly titled new single from Chris Brown debuts at #11. This man appears to have cemented his comeback, scoring two top 20 titles this week. He's also set to debut at #1 in Britain as a guest on Chipmunk's "Champion," while "Yeah 3x" looks like it might appear in the top 5 over there as well.

16. Fuck You!/Forget You - Cee Lo Green

Cee Lo's hit single continues to endure. This is its 24th week on the Hot 100 and it earns the Airplay Gainer! That's pretty amazing. It is the only nominee for the Record of the Year Grammy still in the top 40, which could possibly give it an edge this weekend.

22. Moment 4 Life - Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake)

It looks like Nicki Minaj may have finally found a song from Pink Friday that could become a major hit. It's up to #2 on the R&B chart, which is the highest any of the album's four singles has reached. Her more remarkable feat this week is over on the Billboard 200 albums chart, where Pink Friday is this week's #1 album despite being 11 weeks old and not having appeared at #1 yet. Lately, as in for the past 10 years, it's been a rare thing for an album to climb to #1 rather than debut there. Last year, there was only one album that did it, and it's been 6 years since an album took as long as this, when Ray Charles & Friends' Genius Loves Company hit #1 in its 25th week after winning the Album of the Year Grammy Award.

31. S&M - Rihanna

Rihanna vaults 35 spots to #31 as this week's Digital Gainer. "S&M" is the third single from Loud and the singer's 21st top 40 hit.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Singles Serving

Taio Cruz feat. Kylie Minogue & Travie McCoy - Higher. First there was the original album version, then the Kylie version, then the Travie version. Now there's the Kylie AND Travie version. The best of both worlds! This week it become Cruz's 7th top 10 hit and Kylie's first top 10 hit since "All the Lovers" last summer. A fun, breezy slice of European dance pop.

Eric Prydz - Niton (The Reason). Eric Prydz is back. I posted the video for this a few weeks ago. It's a great dance track. Shame it doesn't look like it's going to get anywhere close to the UK top 10 this weekend. His last single, "Pjanoo" hit #2 in 2008, but he's best known for his 2004 #1 hit, "Call on Me."

Justin Bieber feat. Jaden Smith - Never Say Never. Justin Bieber will be 17 on March 1, just in time to celebrate his new movie, from which comes this new track featuring the offspring of Will and Jada, whose little sister Willow recently scored her own chart hit, "Whip My Hair." Although I know everyone loves him, I'm not a major Bieber fan myself, although this song is decent enough and I think Jaden's rap is cute.

Chipmunk feat. Chris Brown - Champion. British rapper Chipmunk returns with a new single this week, featuring vocals from maligned American R&B singer Chris Brown. While Brown's been steadily making a comeback in the US, he looks set to make a big splash on the British singles chart this weekend, as this is headed to #1 while his own single, "Yeah 3X" looks like it will climb into the top 5. This is decent enough. There's an additional rap by someone with an American accent--is that Chris Brown?

Modestep - Feel Good. British dubstep group puts out their first single. The sample sounds familiar, but I can't identify it. Another good dance track here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Glee - The Sue Sylvester Shuffle Recap/ Silly Love Songs Live Blog

Sue Sylvester Shuffle (Recap)

The Super Bowl episode of Glee was really great fun. It was designed to stand alone as a "hook" for new viewers. Although its audience was about a 75 percent drop from the game itself, the nearly 27 million viewers was almost twice the show's next biggest episodes. I like the football focus, the "Thriller/Heads Will Roll" mashup was epic, and Puck and Rachel sounded great singing Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now." The weakest link was...Sue. I hate to say it, but her character has run its course. It's always the same shtick.

Silly Love Songs (Live)

Oh dear. It's Valentine's Day and it looks like a lot of heartbreak is in the works. Puck is in love with the new plus-size girl Lauren, Finn has decided to give Quinn another try, even though she's dating Sam, and Blaine tells Kurt he's interested in a guy he hasn't known long, which of course Kurt assumes is him.

The Glee Chrevolet ad is fun. I assume it debuted on Sunday (I know the ads are a big deal, but we didn't really watch them. For that matter, we didn't really watch the game either. Just talked, and ate, and drank. Your typical Super Bowl party for those who don't like football).

Blaine asks The Warblers to serenade his new intended love. They hesitate, but Kurt (thinking he's the one) steps in and supports the idea. It's going to be at The Gap! Because the guy is a junior manager. Dun.dun.dun. Kurt is NOT happy.

"Fat Bottomed Girs" (Queen). The guys with Puck in the lead give a choir room rock performance that doubles as a serenade to Lauren. The performance lacks much pep, although Puck does look hot. It backfires though. Typical Puck.

Finn sets up a kissing booth to deal with all the girls that are throwing themselves at him. Sam is jealous that Finn and Quinn are getting closer and goads her into getting a kiss from him in the booth. Rachel pays for a kiss and gets mad when he gives it to her on the cheek. They fight a bit, but then he gives her a necklace, a present he was going to give her for Christmas before they broke up. It's a sweet moment that serves to close off their least for now.

"P.Y.T." (Michael Jackson). Artie on vocal with Mike as backup dancer. This is pretty fun. I'm glad Artie's been getting to sing more lately (Kevin McHale was once in a boyband after all).

Lauren and Santana get into it over Puck. Too bad Glee already did "The Boy Is Mine." This would have been a good opportunity. Wow. Lauren throws Santana around like a rag doll.

"When I Get You Alone" (Robin Thicke). Blaine shows up in The Gap to serenade the junior manager who, frankly, isn't that cute, and doesn't seem that interested in Blaine (fool). Blaine is red hot. Interesting song choice. I've not heard this before. I like the Beethoven's Fifth interpolation.

Quinn and Finn meet after school in the auditorium for some hanky panky, although she says she won't dump Sam. Ooh! Doesn't Santana look hot as a candy strip(p)er. After figuring out that Finn and Quinn are up to something, she decides to seek revenge by trying to give Finn a communicable disease. Lauren agrees to date Puck. I can't imagine it will go well.

Kurt makes a bold move by confessing to Blaine that he was hoping Blaine was into him. Blaine tells him that he really cares about him, but he's worried he wouldn't be good to date. They don't get together, but they don't close off the possibility. Interesting.

"My Funny Valentine." Tina gets a rare solo. Can't say I'm a fan of this song. It sounds like a requiem. Then she starts crying. This isn't good at all.

Quinn and Finn both have mono. No surprise there. Now there's an ad for Quinn's movie, I Am Number Four, which looks awful. Adele should have not have agreed to let them use "Rolling in the Deep."

"Firework" (Katy Perry). Finn tells Rachel that he saw fireworks when he kissed Quinn but not when he kissed her. Rachel uses it as her inspiration for song selection. This is the second song performed this week by an artist who's song was used on Sunday. Did they get a two for one deal? Rachel sounds great on this. I like the song, but Perry's always sounded a bit shrill. Lea Michele doesn't as much.

"Silly Love Songs" (Paul McCartney & Wings). Kurt throws a "Lonely Hearts" dinner at Breadstix. Blaine and the Warblers give a fun rendition of the classic love song. Santana has her eye on Sam now it seems. But that's a future story.

Best Line: (Santana) "I've had mono so many times it turned into stereo."

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Lionel Richie - Can't Slow Down (1983)

Can't Slow Down was Lionel Richie's second and most successful album. It went 10 times platinum in the United States and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, beating landmark albums from Bruce Springsteen (Born in the USA), Prince (Purple Rain), Cyndi Lauper (She's So Unusual) and Tina Turner (Private Dancer). And looking back nearly 30 years later, I have to wonder...why. It just doesn't seem that spectacular to me. Sure, there are some fun songs here, but it doesn't generate much heat.

The Grammy Award is particularly vexing. Born in the USA and Purple Rain are generally cited as classic albums of the decade; She's So Unusual was, at the time, heralded as the way forward for female pop artists; and Private Dancer was a remarkable comeback for the then-faded Turner. Can't Slow Down is the least interesting of the bunch--an album that looked backward, rather than forward.

Before you think I just want to shred this album, I will acknowledge that it has its moments. "All Night Long (All Night)" is a fun, upbeat track, and "Running with the Night" is another enjoyable, very '80s uptempo number (today's pop music audience will recognize it as the source of Rihanna's "Push Up on It" sample). The title track is the kind of '80s tune that clearly served as the template for some of the recent '80s nostalgia pop, such as Chromeo. The album's one true moment of greatness is its closing track, "Hello," a strikingly austere, decidedly downbeat love song.

Best: Hello, All Night Long (All Night), Running with the Night

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Album Review: Adele - 21 (4.5/5)

When Adele released her debut album, 19, expectations were high for the young British singer, who'd basically been declared the hottest new act of the year. The album was a major success, garnered international sales and acclaim for the singer, particularly its hit single "Chasing Pavements."

Three years on and now she's released its follow-up, the similarly titled 21, which manages to consolidate and enhance what made 19 a success. As good as 19 was, it was sometimes inconsistent, suffering from the typical first-album fracturing when different sounds are foisted on a new voice to see what sticks. Kelly Clarkson's 2003 debut, Thankful, for example, suffered from this type of exploration, whereas Breakaway, her 2004 follow-up, was a better and more cohesive set. Similarly, 21, despite having twice as many producers as her first album, manages to sound more unified without a bad song in the bunch.

Thankfully, the highlights are also scattered throughout the album, making for a thorougly engaging listen from start to finish. The opening power pop first single, "Rolling in the Deep," is followed by the funky, upbeat "Rumour Has It," which features a piano & strings pause about two-thirds the way through its frenetic handclaps. "Set Fire to the Rain" is another power pop hit-in-waiting with a lushly layered musical arrangement that Adele's robust pipes match note for note.

In the wake of the success of piano ballads "Hometown Glory" and "Make You Feel My Love," we get more of those, and they're equally brilliant, if not better. Early track "Turning Tables" has a lovely strings section under the thundering keys and Adele's lovelorn vocal, and "Take It All" provides a delicious touch of classic soul. Even better though is the tender "Someone Like You," as a good a closing track of any pop album in recent years. Queued up as the album's second single, it's already selling strong on the British singles chart, reaching the 40 this week.

Adele's first album was released in the wake of Amy Winehouse's landmark second album, when everyone it seemed was trying to sound like they were straddling the '60s and the '00s. Adele's sound has moved on from neo-soul to a more timeless style of vocal pop, with a sound that spans decades of styles. She gives us a bit of country croon on "Don't You Remember," a touch of '70s soul on "He Won't Go," and some Sting-like downbeat acoustics on "Lovesong" (a Cure remake). If the production felt a little thin at times on 19, that's certainly not the case on 21, yet it never threatens to overshadow the singer's voice, as the backing and vocal are held in perfect balance, albeit a high-capacity one.

In a way, 21 is a concept album like 19 was, documenting a year in the life of a young singer. This time around she's famous of course, but that doesn't mean the heartbreak stings any less. Still, the ability to transform a dead relationship into top 40 gold has to provide some level of consolation. It's certainly given us 2011's first fine pop album.

Best: Someone Like You, Rumour Has It, Rolling in the Deep, Set Fire to the Rain, Lovesong