Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Willie Nelson's "The Scientist" for Chipotle

Chipotle, my favorite fast-food restaurant (and really the only one I will eat in), has this fun new video to promote their philosophy about sustainable food. It features country legend Willie Nelson covering Coldplay's 2002 hit "The Scientist."

Album Review: Foster the People - Torches (4/5)

Foster the People's Torches is a fine debut, boasting the year's most shamelessly fun collection of head-nodding pop-rock songs. "Helena Beat" and "Pumped Up Kicks" open the album in fine form, sounding a lot like MGMT's fun side, a la "Kids" or "Time to Pretend." In fact, that's what I think of with this band: MGMT but without psychedelic hoo-hah. Good-natured "Helena Beat" is particularly great with its slamming beat, guitar, synths and "wee-ooh" lyrics. "Pumped Up Kicks" is the aforementioned breakthrough hit currently storming the charts.

Moving on from there, there's little not to like here, as all the songs have something good going for them, many recalling sounds inspired by or lifted from other notable acts. I particularly like the jazzy piano posturing of "Call It What You Want," the Coldplay-reaching chine-enhanced sound of "Waste," the laid-back Maroon 5-ish pop sound of "I Would Do Anything for You," and the dance-club vibe of "Miss You." But all the other songs are good too.

To think I almost missed the boat on this one. Well, I think I got on just in time, right as Foster the People transitions from being an indie to a mainstream band--for what rightfully "indie" band can claim a top 3 hit? A real find for pop lovers.

Best: Helena Beat, Pumped Up Kicks, Waste, I Would Do Anything for You, Miss You, Call It What You Want

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kelly Clarkson - Mr. Know It All

Today, Kelly Clarkson released "Mr. Know It All," the first single from her upcoming fifth album, Stronger. What do you think? I quite like it. Very tuneful. It's produced by Brian Kennedy, who produced Rihannna's "Disturbia" and co-produced Chris Brown's "Forever," which are both great songs too. He also did Joe Jonas' recent single, "See No More"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Album Review: Will Young - Echoes (4.5/5)

Why do I find Will Young so compelling? He's attractive, although not conventionally so. And yes, he sometimes sounds a bit like Mickey Mouse, but he can sing circles around most any other guy trying to score a pop hit in the last 10 years. And in fact, it's his unusual voice used so well that makes him so appealing. Sexy even.

My passion for Young remains hotly ignited with Echoes, his fifth album. This time he's gone out on a limb and teamed up with dance producer Richard X as the album's sole producer and first time Richard X has produced a full album. The resulting sound is an appealing landscape for Young’s songs, more love-burned and less lovelorn this time. Yes, it's more electronic than any of Young's prior albums, but I wouldn't call it dance music per se. Maybe the kind of dance music you put on but don't dance to. It's far too moody for that. Far better to glare across the room at some hot guy you've been pining for who won't give you the time of day. At least that's how I imagine first single "Jealousy" unfolding, a gorgeous, glittery upbeat number that ranks among the best of Young's album's first singles.

"Come On" is another stunner, a boisterously upbeat but not exactly happy song, as it sounds like it's about a break up--always fodder for a good hit, which this could certainly be if it's chosen as a single. "I Just Want a Lover" is another gem from the album's first half with a Scissor Sisters-worthy disco stomp over which brokenhearted Young pines for an easy lay to take the mind off his pain. It's the first of several tracks that recall the Bronski Beat-tinged sound of Young's recent Groove Armada collaboration, "History."

That sound continues into the album's solid second half with tracks like "Losing Myself," whose prominent synthesizer melody definitely nods to Bronski Beat's classic "Smalltown Boy." The driving closer, "Safe From Harm," is in a similar vein. It's not all retro dance though. "Hearts on Fire" has a more modern sound akin to Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor, seemingly blooming into the dance pop song you weren't sure it would be at first. "Good Things" too sounds like something that Madonna could have put out.

Which brings me to my one area of criticism with this album, which is its ballads. None of them are particularly memorable for me, which is surprising given that sound of my all-time favorites by him are slow songs ("Leave Right Now," "Love Is a Matter of Distance," "All Time Love" and "You Know Me," in particular). They aren't bad by any means, but "Lie Next to Me" and "Silent Valentine" feel somewhat slight against the boldness of the dance pop tracks. And "Outsider" is just too melancholy for me. Young tries to express vulnerability on these songs, but I actually think he comes across as more vulnerable on the songs where’s he’s trying to mask his pain rather than revel in it.

Better is the downbeat “Happy Now,” which, doesn’t at all live up to its name, sounding like moody early ‘90s Pet Shop Boys (and nothing like Take That’s recent single of the same name), and “Runaway,” which I guess isn’t really a ballad, but serves the same purpose with its hushed vocal and gentle melody, despite the dance beat.

I was going to give this a "4," as I feel it isn't quite as good as Friday's Child or Let It Go, but I think it deserves to be more in the company of those superior albums than From Now On or Keep On, Young's enjoyable but less fully formed first and third albums. It's possible it will continue to grow on me, as I find I'm liking it more and more with every listen.

Best: Jealousy, Come On, I Just Want a Lover, Losing Myself, Hearts on Fire

Sunday, August 28, 2011

UK Singles Chart, September 3, 2011

1.(NEW) Heart Skips a Beat - Olly Murs (feat. Rizzle Kicks)
[8.(8) Down with the Trumpets - Rizzle Kicks]

The charts this week are dominated by former reality show contestants who have all moved on in one form or another, making for some interesting contrasts. On the singles chart, it was the old versus the new as Olly Murs, one of the biggest male soloists to emerge from The X Factor, battled with first Pop Idol winner Will Young, the first star among the recent slate of acts to get his start on a reality show and certainly the one with the most enduring career.

In that race, Murs is victorious, scoring his second #1 hit exactly a year after topping the chart with his first single, "Please Don't Let Me Go." "Heart Skips a Beat" is presumably the first single from his upcoming second album and it's a real charmer--by far the best song he's put out so far. I'm happy to see it at #1. This is Murs' fourth top 40 hit, his only single to fall short of that was his last, "Busy," which peaked at #45. "Heart Skips a Beat" is also a second top 10 hit for Rizzle Kicks, whose own single, "Down with the Trumpets," is still firmly planted in the top 10 at #8--its peak position where it's now spent 3 consecutive weeks.

2.(NEW) Feel So Close - Calvin Harris

David Guetta may be the reigning king of dance music these days, but Calvin Harris is still very much a going concern, scoring his second consecutive #2 hit this week, just a couple months after last single "Bounce." This is his sixth single to reach the top 3, ninth to reach the top 40.

5.(NEW) Jealousy - Will Young

So Will Young loses out on scoring a #1 hit, but frankly I'm quite surprised (in a good way) to see that "Jealousy" has done as well as it has, becoming his first top 5 hit in 5 years. The lead single from Young's last album, "Changes," was an airplay #1, but became the lowest-charting among his albums' first singles when it peaked at only #10--and subsequent singles from Let It Go charted far lower than that. So it's nice to see his chart fortunes turn around a bit, showing that there's still quite a bit of interest in the 32 year-old singer.

Over on the albums chart, the story is even better, where Young's fifth album, Echoes, debuts at #1, becoming his third chart-topper--first since 2003's Friday's Child. With Radio 1 having taken a pass on "Jealousy," and with generally less airplay than he's had in the past, it would appear that Young is being fashioned now as an albums artist, or at least an adult pop artist, which is probably perfectly fine, since he excels at it.

On the albums chart, there was yet again a contest among former reality show performers, as Joe McElderry, winner of The X Factor two seasons ago, was also set to chart with his second album. On paper, Young and McElderry are as similar as possible--both are fresh-faced, seemingly nice guys who also both happened to come out after winning their respective shows. In Young's case, this didn't hurt his career at all, in fact, it may have helped him earn a dedicated fan base, as he saw his post-Idol pop career take off quite spectacularly.

McElderry, on the other hand, didn't do so well, as his first album was pretty much a failure, getting him dropped from his label. Credit him then for re-emerging as a kind of classical pop singer, appearing on--and winning--the second season of Popstar to Operastar. Without missing a beat, his second album, Classic, a covers collection, is released less than a year after his pop debut, Wide Awake, charting at #2, higher than Wide Awake's #3 peak. Despite this seeming like a strange choice, at least for now, it appears to have been a good one.

11.(18) Marry You - Bruno Mars

Mars gets close to scoring his sixth top 10 hit, as the lovingly retro "Marry You" climbs 7 notches this week.

15.(NEW) The Death of You and Me - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Former Oasis member Noel Gallagher's post-Oasis debut lands at #15, a fair bit better than his bandmates did when they regrouped as Beady Eye and hit #31 with "The Roller" earlier this year. This sounds very much like an Oasis song--as much as Beady Eye does as well. Although interesting that where Oasis was always good for a top 10 hit, apart, these acts can't rustle up one.

16.(21) Who's Laughing Now - Jessie J

Jessie J continues to climb with her fourth single. I think it's officially out tomorrow, so we'll see if it can become her fourth top 10.

18.(NEW) Party All Night (Sleep All Day) - Sean Kingston

Eventually the Jamaican rapper will release a third album, although I haven't read there are plans for it yet. This follows a year after his Justin Bieber collaboration, "Eenie Meenie," which hit #9.

24.(NEW) What the Water Gave Me - Florence + the Machine

Florence + the Machine was a hot breakout act in 2009 and 2010, hitting #5 with her remake of "You've Got the Love" and then #2 with a remake of that featuring Dizzee Rascal, "You Got the Dirtee Love." They also scored a hit in the US last year, with "Dog Days Are Over," which hit #21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Now Florence returns with the first single from her second album, which is due in November.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Huey Lewis & The News - Sports (1983) and Fore! (1986)

To be sure, Huey Lewis & The News were not my thing back in the '80s, nor can I say listening to their two big albums from the '80s have made a fan of me today. However, I found their music interesting if only because it so unlike any current pop music. They were purveyors of a sort of “macho” pop-rock sound. The kind of band that could play in a bar but also score top 40 hits. And score many they did--the group had 12 top 10 during the '80s, including three #1s, most of which were the singles from these two albums.

They broke out big with their third album, Sports, and continued that success with the following album Fore!, between which they scored a #1 hit with “The Power of Love,” which was prominently featured in the film Back to the Future. Between the two there were lots of hit singles: four US top 10 hits from Sports and five top 10s from Fore!, including two #1 hits, “Stuck with You” and “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Sports begins on a typically upbeat note with “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” the album’s third single. It’s guitar-keyboard-drum melody, while not exactly original, is quite inoffensive. “Heart and Soul,” the album’s first top 10 hit, is similar in tone and sound but has a better hook. “Bad Is Bad” aims for a more bluesy sound but misses before getting back on track with “I Want a New Drug,” which sounds suspiciously like Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters”—enough so for Huey Lewis & the News to sue. “Walking on a Thin Line,” the album’s fifth single and only one to miss the top 10 has a pulsing bass line under its synths and guitar chords, as does the bracing “You Crack Me Up.” “Finally Found a Home” starts with good guitar and bass interplay but then dates itself once those signature keyboards start up. “If This Is It,” which was the album’s fourth consecutive top 10 hit, has warm, retro flavor.

Unsurprisingly, Fore! is pretty similar to Sports. “Jacob’s Ladder” strikes a confident pose with its amped guitars and plodding drums. “Stuck with You” has a little more heart, even if its lyrics about a couple considering divorce but deciding it’s not worth it are ridiculous. “Whole Lotta Lovin’” has a ‘50s melody and a bit of doo-wop (an obvious nod to Back to the Future). “Doing It All for My Baby” tries to be sincere but comes off sappy. Yet maybe that’s okay for a band who’d put out a song called “Hip to Be Square” as a single (and see it reach #3). The song sounds a lot like “Power of Love.” “I Know What I Like” has a nice groove with a warm melody.

Some ‘80s music ages well and, even it sounds dated, is still quite fun, especially that which sounds like the ‘80s-leaning sounds that are so popular these days. This sound is not one of those, so unless you were a Huey Lewis fan back in the day (which I wasn’t), this doesn’t have much to offer, other than a chance to scratch your head and wonder why this was such a big deal 25 years ago.

Sports Best: Heart and Soul, I Want a New Drug, This Is It
Fore! Best: Jacob’s Ladder, Hip to Be Square, I Know What I Like

Sunday, August 21, 2011

UK Singles Chart, August 27, 2011

1.(NEW) Don't Go - Wretch 32 (feat. Josh Kumra)

After a couple of ho-hum weeks, the British singles chart bounced back nicely this week with an exciting race to #1. Sales have slumped a bit--summer has delivered three #1 hits with 100,000+ copies sold in their first week, but Cheryl Lloyd's "Swagger Jagger" moved only about 67,000 and last week Nero's "Promises" had the year's lowest #1 sales tally of just under 47,000. Although I haven't seen the sales figures for this week yet, having three solid contenders for #1 meant that at least it was an interesting race this week.

The victor is British hip-hop artist Wretch 32, riding a nice upward trajectory that began with #5 hit "Traktor" from the beginning of the year and spring's #2 single, "Unorthodox." The appropriately summerly "Don't Go," his best single yet, continues this year's interesting trend of hip-hop/dance singles. Wretch 32 is the third BBC Sounds of 2011 longlister to score a #1 hit this year, coming directly after the second one (Nero).

2.(NEW) Heaven - Emeli Sandé

Emeli Sandé comes in at #2, which I can't help but feel a little disappointed about, since I adore the song, and would have loved to see it reach #1. This is Sandé's first solo single, although she has visited the top 10 twice before as a featured vocalist on Chipmunk's "Diamond Rings" (#6) and Wiley's "Never Be Your Woman" (#8).

3.(NEW) Moves Like Jagger - Maroon 5 (feat. Christina Aguilera)

I haven't been as excited about a Maroon 5 single in years. "Moves Like Jagger" rounds out an all new top 3 this week, hitting the same mark in Britain as the song achieved on the US Billboard Hot 100 this week. This is Maroon 5's third top 3 hit, tying the #3 placing of "This Love" and just short of #2 hit "Makes Me Wonder," their biggest UK release. For Aguilera, this is a return to form. From her 1999 debut to 2006, she scored 14 top 10 hits, but none in the last 5 years as her last album, Bionic, had pretty dismal chart prospects. Interesting that this is the second top 10 hit in recent weeks to pay tribute to Mick Jagger, after Cheryl Lloyd's recent #1 "Swagger Jagger."

6.(7) The A Team - Ed Sheeran

This single just won't give up, despite Sheeran having lined up its follow-up "You Need Me (I Don't Need You)," which I think is quite superior really to this song, which is okay, but I don't see why it's so appealing as to have become the oldest song in the top 10 and 17th-biggest hit so far this year.

18.(28) Marry You - Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars climbs 10 notches with his latest single, "Marry You," the follow-up to his recent #1, "The Lazy Song." This song isn't catching on the US, which surprises me, since it's another great release from Mars, covered memorably on the last season of Glee, which hit #51 earlier this year.

21.(37) Who's Laughing Now - Jessie J
22.(38) Wet - Nicole Scherzinger

Jessie J and Nicole Scherzinger make twin 16-spot leaps this week, both with the fourth singles from their respective albums. Both saw their prior three releases reach the top 10, with one #1 hit each. Hmm... This is sounding so curiously identical.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Personal Chart, August 19, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Michael Jackson - Bad (1987)

Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller is hands-down the biggest pop album of all time. How do you follow that? You can’t, even if you’re a studio perfectionist like Jackson it’s going to fall short. But nonetheless, Bad doesn’t live up to its name, even if it doesn't live up to Thriller. In fact, it can claim a chart feat Thriller cant, which, until this week, was that it was the sole album ever released that scored five Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits. The dance pop on Bad has a harder edge than Thriller and if those songs fall short, it’s only by a hair. The pulsing keyboards of the title track, the rolling melody of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and the dark sheen of “Smooth Criminal” make those songs almost in league with “Thriller” or “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’” And the ballads are actually better than those on Thriller, particularly the album’s first single and Siedah Garrett duet, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” and the classic “Man in the Mirror,” which was the album’s biggest hit and the best of Jackson’s “change the world” songs. However, the obligatory rocker track, the paranoid “Dirty Diana,” doesn’t come close to bliss of “Beat It” (it’s amazing it was the album’s fifth #1 hit). The album hits its lowest points on the weird racing car-themed “Speed Demon” and, surprisingly, the Stevie Wonder duet “Just Good Friends.” In Britain, those are the only two tracks that weren’t released as singles. In addition to the seven tracks released in the US, Brits also got bonus track “Leave Me Alone” and breezy “Liberian Girl,” whose video featured, well, everybody. Best: Man in the Mirror, Bad, The Way You Make Me Feel, I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, Smooth Criminal.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Billboard Hot 100 - August 27, 2011

1.(2) Last Friday Night (TGIF) - Katy Perry

Earlier this week I was convinced this wasn't going to happen. For weeks, I've been noting how this single was on the brink of hitting #1, which would make Teenage Dream only the second album ever to score five #1 hits, but then it stalled at #2 behind LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" for 3 weeks. As this week began, its top 40 airplay had started to decline, and iTunes showed it outside the top 5 earlier this week. So early Wednesday, I was resigned to this not happening. And then, miraculously, I was proven wrong, and we have chart history. What a delight! Katy Perry is now tied with Rihanna for most #1 hits this decade, with five each.

3.(8) Moves Like Jagger - Maroon 5 (feat. Christina Aguilera)

Maroon 5 vaults up five spots to #3 with "Moves Like Jagger," a song that at first seemed like just a novelty but has actually become a major hit. And deservedly's a great song! This is Maroon 5's fourth top 5 hit and their second-highest-charting after their only #1, "Makes Me Wonder." For Christina Aguilera, this represents a pretty major comeback. Although it's her 7th top 5 hit, she hasn't had one since "Beautiful" hit #2 in early 2003. If it goes #1, it will be her first chart-topper in 10 years. This week the song is both the Digital and Airplay Gainer.

4.(3) Super Bass - Nicki Minaj

Probably not going to be #1 now, but still a major showing for Minaj. Great song too. I'm really glad she managed to pull a proper hit from Pink Friday. It's still bulleted but slips a notch this week.

8.(13) Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People

Foster the People, this year's big indie breakout band, jump five notches to #8, scoring their first top 10 hit. That's a pretty significant accomplishment for such a band. In fact, we probably can't call them an "indie" band anymore. After all, a top 10 hit is not something that can be claimed by Arcade Fire, Phoenix, Grizzly Bears, MGMT, or Vampire Weekend--other notable "indies" of recent years.

10.(11) Good Life - OneRepublic

Further proving that when this band scores a hit, it just sticks around...forever...and won't go...away.

13.(NEW) Headlines - Drake

Big Hot 100 for Drake this week, scoring his 15th top 40 hit. This is the first single from the Canadian's upcoming second album.

18.(17) Best Thing I Never Had - Beyonce
22.(19) Motivation - Kelly Rowland feat. Lil Wayne

So it looks like neither of these songs is going to be a really big hit, which is shame. And Kelly Rowland has to be ticked off that once again her more famous cousin outdid her--"Best I Never Had" peaked at #16 while "Motivation" only managed to reach #18. Still, this is pretty bad news for Beyonce, who has now released two singles from 4 without scoring a top 10 hit. Not good. For Kelly, it's not as bad a deal, since this is her third-highest charting hit. It's all about perspective.

25.(50) Cheers (Drink to That) - Rihanna

Rihanna takes a big leap into the top 40 with "Cheers," a song I'm really loving this summer--perfect release timing. This is Rihanna's 24th top 40 hit.

39.(NEW) It Girl - Jason Derulo

Jason tries a ballad this time with "It Girl," and frankly, it's not up to par, so I expect it will under-perform like "Don't Wanna Go Home" did. Sorry Jason.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Katy Perry Achieves Hot 100 History

Congratulations are due to Katy Perry, who tomorrow, will become only the second artist in history to have an album generate five #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. After having been held at bay by LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)" will top the Hot 100 tomorrow, becoming the fifth single from her album, Teenage Dream, to achieve that feat.

Perry's previous four chart-toppers from Teenage Dream began hitting #1 last summer with the album's first single, "California Gurls" (feat. Snoop Dogg), which spent 6 weeks at #1, followed by the album's title track (2 weeks at #1), then "Firework," which spent 4 weeks at #1, and then spring's "E.T." (feat. Kanye West), which spent 5 weeks at #1.

The first album to have achieved this feat was Bad (1987), Michael Jackson's seventh studio album, which saw its first five singles reach #1: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (1 week), "Bad" (2 wks), "The Way You Make Me Feel" (1 week), "Man in the Mirror" (2 weeks) and "Dirty Diana" (1 week).

Although Bad scored its five #1 hits within a shorter period of time--about 9 months compared to Teenage Dream's 14 months--Teenage Dream's #1s have collectively spent many more weeks at #1--18 in total--versus the 7 weeks for Bad's singles.

Bad's haul in terms of weeks is actually quite small among albums with multiple #1s. Among those that have had four our more #1s, it ties Whitney Houston's Whitney (1987) for fewest weeks at #1 ("I Wanna Dance With Somebody"-2 weeks, "Didn't We Almost Have It All"-2 weeks, "So Emotional"-1 week and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"-2 weeks). Among such albums, Usher's Confessions (2004) reigns with 28 weeks at #1 for its four #1 hits ("Yeah"-12 weeks, "Burn"-8 weeks, "Confessions Part II"-2 weeks and "MyBoo"-6 weeks), which is the most weeks at #1 an album's singles have achieved, tied with The Black Eyed Peas' 28 weeks for its three singles from The E.N.D. (2009): "Boom Boom Pow"-12 weeks, "I Gotta Feeling"-14 weeks and "Imma Be"-2 weeks. Four other albums have had singles collectively spend at least 20 weeks at #1:
  • Mariah Carey's Daydream (1995), 26 weeks with 3 #1s ("Fantasy"-8 weeks, "One Sweet Day"-16 weeks and "Always Be My Baby"-2 weeks)
  • Santana's Supernatural (1999), 22 weeks with 2 #1s ("Smooth"-12 weeks and "Maria Maria"-10 weeks)
  • Monica's The Boy Is Mine (1998), 22 weeks with 3 #1s ("The Boy Is Mine"-13 weeks, "The First Night"-5 weeks and "Angel of Mine"-4 weeks)
  • Boyz II Men's II (1994), 20 weeks with 2 #1s ("I'll Make Love to You"-14 weeks and "On Bended Knee"-6 weeks).
Teenage Dream would be next in line with its 18 weeks, at least so far.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Whitney Houston - Whitney (1987)

This was one of the first albums I ever owned, so my absolute love for this album might have more to do with nostalgia than its actual quality, although I think it would be hard to deny this is a great pop album, even if it isn’t quite as consistent as Whitney Houston’s self-titled1985 debut. Pure pop pleasure “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” gets things rolling on really strong note. The song is pop perfection and my favorite track by Houston. From there on, the album follows a pretty predictable path, alternating almost track-by-track between big adult-leaning love ballads and frothier dance pop confections. Although the ballads may have shined more on her debut, there’s a definite push to grow her younger audience here with the upbeat songs, which are generally the better tracks. “So Emotional” in particular is a highlight, and I also quite like “Love Will Save the Day” and even find the ridiculous “Love Is a Contact Sport” to be a guilty pleasure. Two of the album’s ballads were US #1s, the better of which is “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” which was produced by Michael Masser, who produced several hits from Houston’s debut. The other, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” was produced by Narada Michael Warren, who produced most of the album. Among the album’s non-singles that dominate its second half, I’m particularly fond of the laid-back feel of “For the Love of You.”

Best: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), So Emotional, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, Just the Lonely Talking Again, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, Love Will Save the Day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Paul Simon - Graceland (1986)

Graceland is probably Paul Simon’s most acclaimed work. His seventh studio album, it won the 1986 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and its title track won Record of the Year the following year. The album’s sound draws on a rich mix of instrumentation, most notably its use of South African musicians, but there are other sounds too like the accordion of “The Boy in the Bubble,” which begins the album on a buoyant, festive note. It’s easy to hear how groups like Vampire Weekend were inspired by the sound of songs like “Graceland,” ostensibly about a road trip to Memphis, but also about the loss of love, perhaps referencing the recent dissolution of Simon’s marriage with Carrie Fisher. “I Know What I Know” skewers Hollywood elitism (“Don’t I know you from that cinematographer’s party?”) contrasted with the far-from-Hollywood sound of South African musicians General M.D. Shiranda and The Gaza Sisters. “Gumboots” strikes me as a Woody Allen-esque moment, talking about sharing a taxi downtown with a friend having a breakdown. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” has an a cappella beginning that transitions to a laid-back vibe. “You Can Call Me Al” is the most recognizable of the album’s songs and its most mainstream sound. It’s rich horn-heavy production contrasts with the a cappella arrangement of the following track, “Homeless,” featuring African singers Ladysmith Black Mambazo. “Crazy Love, Vol. 2” is another bright, pop-oriented highlight.

Best: Graceland, You Can Call Me Al, I Know What I Know, The Boy in the Bubble, Crazy Love Vol 2.

Personal Chart, August 12, 2011

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Album Review: Bon Iver, Bon Iver (4/5)

The second album from Wisconsinite folk singer Justin Vernon is a curious departure from his beloved debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. Much of that album's appeal lied in its simplicity, which underscored Vernon's tender falsetto. His voice may sound the same on Bon Iver, but the production is dramatically different.

Those hoping for a second album of woodsy folk-rock will be disappointed by this album's bolder rock arrangements, particularly those at the end of the album that jump on the '80s revival bandwagon. "Beth/Rest," the album's divisive closer, is awash in synthesizers with bursts of electric guitar and saxophone--the sort of production that recalls late '80s Phil Collins, Don Henley or Bette Midler. Opinion seems to be divided whether this choice was bold and unexpected or brilliantly ill-advised (Given my current '80s focus, I happen to think it's fun). The album's single, "Calgary," is another indie rock trend rider.

The '80s focus constrasts sharply with much of the rest of the album, a work dominated by its emphasis on more and different sounds. "Perth" starts with gentle guitar--the album's closest moment to its predecessor--before stripping in some marching drums and rocking electric guitar. Blending an unusual mix of instruments is taken to an extreme on "Minnesota, WI," which tosses in some nice bass play, harp, layered saxophone, and banjo. "Towers" takes quite a few musical turns too, shifting from brooding rock to upbeat folk with a hint of country. "Wash." begins tenderly with piano, vocal and some far off strings, building later with deeper piano chords and strings.

Most of the songs are named for places, including some that don't actually exist ("Minnesota, WI"), as if the songs represent the unspooling of memories--not always accurate--from a recent tour. It's a journey that begins in Justin Vernon's backwoods cabin and ends, surprisingly perhaps disappointingly, in Bette Midler's recording studio, but takes some worthwhile turns along the way.

Best: Perth, Wash., Towers, Beth/Rest, Calgary

Friday, August 05, 2011

Vacation Stop

Back August 14.

Personal Chart, August 5, 2011

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, August 13, 2011

1.(1) Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO (feat. Lauren Bennett)

LMFAO spends a fifth week at #1 with "Party Rock Anthem." That ties it with Katy Perry's "E.T." for the second-longest #1 run this year.

2.(2) Last Friday Night (TGIF) - Katy Perry

Speaking of Katy Perry, she spends a second week at #2 and is the Airplay Gainer for a third consecutive week. She is now #1 at pop songs, where she now holds the record for most #1s from one album (5 with this song). Of course, that chart is only about 20 years old, and the real record will be if she can achieve that feat on the Hot 100. On Pop Songs, Perry's five #1s from Teenage Dream hold the distinction of being five of the six songs with the highest weekly plays (along with Pitbull's "Give Me Everything"), although I think that speaks more about the number of top 40 stations right now than the songs themselves.

3.(4) Super Bass - Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj is in the top 3. Go Nicki!

5.(6) How to Love - Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne climbs into the top 5 this week, his second appearance there after his #1 hit "Lollipop."

9.(11) I Wanna Go - Britney Spears

Britney Spears climbs two notches to #9 to score her 11th top 10 hit. It's the third from her latest album, Femme Fatale, which is now her first album to score three top 10 hits.

12.(47) Otis - Jay-Z & Kanye West (feat. Otis Redding)

Get ready for Watch the Throne, the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration album out next week. It's second single, "Otis," makes a big jump into the top 40 this week, up 35 spots as this week's Airplay Gainer. The album's first single, "H.A.M.," peaked at #23.

18.(29) Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People

This song is rising remarkably fast, up 11 notches to #18 this week.

21.(68) Marvins Room - Drake

Drake makes a big jump this week, up 47 spots to #21. This is his second single from his upcoming second album.

25.(41) Moves Like Jagger - Maroon 5 (feat. Christina Aguilera)

"Moves Like Jagger" returns to the top 40 this week. The song initially peaked at #8 on the back of strong first-week sales. Now it's coming back with airplay and sales.

Lastly, it's another week of annoying advertising on the Hot 100. Last time I was really irritated it was Chevrolet. This week it's Starburst, whose banner ad makes the Hot

Monday, August 01, 2011

New Albums, August 2011

After the maddenly dry month of July, August promises a few interesting releases.

Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne (August 8). The month's hottest release is one that's been generating buzz since the beginning of the year. It first it looked like it would come out in the spring on the back of single "H.A.M.," but that song never became a major hit, so it got shelved for a while so its superstar duo could do some retooling. New single "Otis" is a tribute to the late soul singer but also features his vocals. Surely "Lift Off," which features a vocal from Jay-Z's wife, will be a future single. Can't wait to hear it.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV (Aug. 26). It's been pushed back a bit, but it looks finally set to premiere later this month. This will be be Lil Wayne's ninth album and fourth in Tha Carter series, most notable for Tha Carter III (2008), which was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award and spawned the #1 hit "Lollipop." This albums comes on the heels of the poorly received rock album, Rebirth, and the lukewarm reception for last year's I Am Not a Human Being. But I expect this album will be treated differently. It's already got a hit single: "How to Love," currently climbing the top 10.

Will Young - Echoes (Aug. 22). Each of Will Young's last few albums has generally sold less than the previous one. Yet I'm glad he's not thrown in the towel yet, for all of them have proven to be great pop listens. On this, his fifth release, he's teamed up with producer Richard X, for what will surely be a more dance pop-oriented sound. First single "Jealousy" is certainly in that vein and already climbing the UK airplay chart.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm with You (Aug. 30). It's been 5 years since the last RHCP album. That was the double album Stadium Arcadium, the third major hit in a row for the group, which was also given a Grammy Album of the Year nod and included "Dani California," the group's second biggest hit after "Under the Bridge." I'm not sure whether we should expect anything really different from them musically, although they do have a new guitarist now, John Klinghoffer. "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" is the first single and sounds like a pretty decent tune.

David Guetta - Nothing But the Beat (Aug. 26). Dance music DJs generally spend their time in dance club booths, but every once in awhile one of them breaks free and becomes a star dance music producer-celebrity. David Guetta is the reigning king of that phenomenon right now. In fact, I can't think of a dance producer who's ever been this big. This fifth album of his arrives on the back of several big hits, "Sweat" with Snoop Dogg, "Where Them Girls At" with Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj, and "Little Bad Girl" with Taio Cruz and Ludacris. Other guests this time include Usher, Will.I.Am., Lil Wayne, Jennifer Hudson, Akon and Jessie J.

Joe McElderry - Classic (Aug. 22). The former X Factor winner, dropped from Simon Cowell's Syco label earlier this year for underwhelming sales, reemerges with a new label and a new sound, singing classic pop tunes. When the album was announced last month, it hadn't been recorded yet, so if this release date really holds it seems like a major rush job. I feel a bit sorry for Joe. I thought Wide Awake fell short of the mark but delivered a few really fun tunes ("Ambitions," "Fahrenheit" and "Someone Wake Me Up").

Barbra Streisand - What Matters Most (Aug. 23). Babs releases her 33rd album.