Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Album Releases April 2011

April is pretty tame compared to March, which might make it an opportunity for some unexpected surprises.

Jennifer Lopez - Love? (4/22). A year ago it looked liked Jennifer Lopez was in real trouble. This, her seventh album, had been slated for an early 2010 release, but after its first two singles "Fresh Out of the Oven" and "Louboutins" failed to become hits, it was shelved indefinitely. Things are different now for Ms. Lopez, who has reinvigorated her career with a so-far successful run on American Idol and a new single, "On the Floor," that become her first top 10 hit in years. L.A. Reid (also now a reality music competition show host) is executive producer, with songs helmed by RedOne, Danja, The Dream and Tricky Stewart.


Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting (4/11). British singer-songwriter Jamie Woon is the last of the BBC Sounds of 2011 top 5 to release an album, a set that's produced some promise (James Blake, Jessie J) and a bit of disappointment (The Vaccines, Clare Maguire). Maybe Woon will be the one to release a really killer album. Certainly the ingredients are there--the Brit School graduate has toured with his schoolmate Amy Winehouse, turned out a pretty smooth single last year in "Night Air" and now is set to gain more mainstream exposure with his soulful, electronic "Lady Luck." The Washington Post compared him to James Blake, but noted his sound is more soul than dubstep.

Glasvegas - Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\ (4/3). With a new drummer in tow, the Scottish foursome that was one of 2008's indie breakouts returns with its second album. Their first, Glasvegas, delivered melodic rock with an everyman sensibility and garnered them a Mercury Prize nomination. I haven't heard much about the sound of this new album, but if its first single "Euphoria, Take My Hand" is any hint, it doesn't sound like they are straying far from the winning sound of their debut. Even if it isn't that great, they still get credit for the most interesting album cover art so far this year.

Gorillaz - The Fall (4/18). Damon Albarn's (Blur) cartoon band released this, its fourth album, as a digital special for fans in December. Now everyone will get the chance to hear it after it is fully released. Reviews have been fairly good, although not stellar. The album apparently features more experimental sounds and fewer collaborations than Plastic Beach, an album I was underwhelmed by.

Katy B - On a Mission (4/3). British R&B and dance singer Katy B, who hit the top 10 last year with "Katy on a Mission" and "Lights On," releases her debut album.

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (4/11). Seventh studio album for the Foo Fighters, following their Grammy winning Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.

Alison Krauss & Union Station - Paper Airplane (4/12). Bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss follows her 2007 collaboration with Robert Plan, Raising Sand--winner of the Grammy Award for Album of the Year--with her 14th studio album.

Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What (4/12). The rock/folk legend releases his 12th solo album.

3 Doors Down - Time of My Life (4/12). Is anyone at all interested in this?

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light (4/12). Critical indie darlings release their fourth album, the first since the lead singer married Rachel.

Chipmunk - Transition (4/17). British rapper releases hits second album, featuring recent hit with Chris Brown, "Champion."

Dr. Dre - Detox (4/20). Dr. Dre releases his third album (he's had surprisingly few, yes?). It features current hit "I Need a Doctor" with Eminem and Skylar Grey.

May brings the third album from Lady Gaga, plus releases from Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, Moby and a comeback for The Cars.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Katy Perry's Teenage Dream scores 4 #1s


Tomorrow, Katy Perry's "E.T." will reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 becoming the fourth single from her album Teenage Dream to top #1, following last year's "California Gurls" (6 wks), "Teenage Dream" (2 wks) and "Firework" (4 wks). Billboard is reporting that it's only the ninth album to generate four #1 singles. There's a bit of a caveat on this one, which is that the version of the song that is #1 is not the album version, but that's a small caveat in my opinion (there is a bigger one--see Usher). Here's a rundown of the first eight albums to achieve this amazing feat.

Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack (1977). Soundtracks weren't a major force in pop music until this set came along and redefined how to cross market a movie on the pop charts--something many films would succeed at in the next couple decades. The compilation is often associated with the Bee Gees, who contributed about half the songs on it, including three of its #1 hits: "How Deep Is Your Love" (1977, 3 wks), "Stayin' Alive" (1978, 4 wks), and "Night Fever" (1978, 8 wks). The fourth, "If I Can't Have You" (1978, 1 wk) was written by the Bee Gees but recorded by Yvonne Elliman.

Michael Jackson - Bad (1987). There would be a 10 year wait for the next album to score at least four #1 hits, and it would do one better and break the record by scoring five. Although Thriller is widely regarded as Jackson's biggest album, Bad was his album with the most #1 hits. They were all consecutive releases too starting with "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (1 wk) and "Bad" (2 wks) in 1987, and then followed in 1988 by "The Way You Make Me Feel" (1 wk), "Man in the Mirror" (2 wks) and "Dirty Diana" (1 wk). Bad is the only album to have sent five singles to the top of the Hot 100.

Whitney Houston - Whitney (1987). The late '80s and 1990 were the heyday of albums with lots of #1 hits. Six of the nine albums to achieve this feat come from this period. The second was Whitney Houston's second album, Whitney, which achieved its four #1 hits consecutively starting in 1987 with "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" (1987, 2 wks) and "Didn't We Almost Have It All" (2 wks) and continuing in 1988 with "So Emotional" (1 wk) and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" (2 wks). The four #1 hits continued Houston's streak of #1s from her first album, giving her 7 consecutive #1 hits in a row.

George Michael - Faith (1987). Faith's first single stalled at #2, but after that it scored four consecutive #1 hits starting with "Faith" (4 wks) in 1987 and continuing in 1988 with "Father Figure" (2 wks), "One More Try" (3 wks) and "Monkey" (2 wks).

Paula Abdul - Forever Your Girl (1988). Abdul had her first #1 hit in early 1989 with "Straight Up" (3 wks) followed by "Forever Your Girl" (2 wks) and "Cold Hearted" (1 wk). The album's first single broke her string of #1s when it peaked at #3, but the album's final single, "Opposites Attract" spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1990.

Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989). Rhythm Nation is the only album with seven top 5 hits, but it's also among this set of albums with four #1, probably spread out the most timewise, starting in 1989 with "Miss You Much" (4 weeks), then in 1990 "Escapade" (3 wks) and "Black Cat" (1 wk), and finishing in 1991 with "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" (1 wk). The run was not consecutive, but it's pretty cool that an album's sixth and seventh singles could both be #1 hits.

Mariah Carey - Mariah Carey (1990). The songbird's first album, like Teenage Dream, scored four consecutive #1 hits. Carey was the last female artist to score four #1 hits from an album and, after Abdul, the second artist to do so with their debut. Unlike Abdul, Carey's #1 hits were consecutive, starting with 1990's "Vision of Love" (4 wks) and "Love Takes Time" (3 wks) and followed in 1991 by "Someday" (2 wks) and "I Don't Wanna Cry" ( 2ks).

Usher - Confessions (2004). During the mid and late '90s, major acts tended to release fewer singles from the albums, so there's a big gap before the next album would score four #1 hits. That album was Confessions, Usher's fourth album. The album's first three singles dominated the #1 spot in rapid fire, with only 1 week between February 28 and July 31 where the #1 spot was not held by Usher. First up with "Yeah!" (12 wks), then "Burn" (8 wks) and "Confessions Part II" (2 wks). The album's fourth single, "My Boo," (6 wks) hit #1 in late October, however, "My Boo" was not included on Confessions when first released but added for the special edition re-release. So, while still impressive, I don't think Confessions deserves to be on this list as much as the other albums.

Singles Serving

Bright Lights Bigger City - Cee Lo Green. So massive is his single "Fuck You" that few people realized he released a single in December ("It's OK," which only reached #20 in the UK). Well this single deserves to be heard. It's got a "Billie Jean"-style bass line underpinning a disco-ish strings melody. Really great stuff.

Broken Record - Katy B. Katy B offers up her third single, and it's just as much fun as her first two with a dance beat that alternates between house and drum 'n' bass.

No Sleep - Wiz Khalifa. I wasn't really into "Black and Yellow," but "No Sleep," Wiz Khalifa's follow-up, is better. Certainly more tuneful with a mid-tempo beat and synth-heavy melody...i.e. it sounds like just about anything else at top 40 right now, but it's decently executed.

Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & Goonrock. This looks set to be a top 10 hit in Britain this weekend. It's good a retro-clubby feel to it (retro to the late '90s/early 00s). Not a dance classic, but appealing enough to get on your playlist as spring arrives.

Sad Song - The Cars. They haven't released an album since the '80s and judging from "Sad Song," their comeback single, they seem content to forget about all the changes in popular music they may have missed since then. In a land of '80s-loving pop singles, it's fun to hear one of the masters show how it's done.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

UK Singles Chart, April 2, 2011

1. Someone Like You - Adele

Adele reclaims the #1 spot with "Someone Like You," extending the single's reign at the top to 5 weeks. That's the longest a song has stayed at #1 since Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" did 5 weeks in the summer of 2008. The single sold another 82,000 copies this week, which will put it close to being the best-selling single of the year so far (it will likely be able to make the claim next week). The champion as of last week is Bruno Mars' "Grenade," which has sold over 630,000 copies. On the albums chart, Adele's 21 continues to reign supreme for a 9th consecutive week, which is the longest an album has stayed at the top consecutively since The Beatles' 1 began its 9-week run at #1 in late 2000. 21 is the best-selling album of the year with almost 1,000,000 more copies sold than #2 (Rihanna's Loud). Adele's other album, 19, is #2 this week, the third week that Adele has occupied the top 2 positions on the albums chart.

3. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas follow up their recent #1 hit, "The Time (Dirty Bit)" with their 13th top 10 hit, climbing 12 spots this week with "Just Can't Get Enough."

11. I Know Him So Well - Peter Kay & Comic Relief Presents Susan Boyle & Geraldine McQueen

A Comic Relief charity single, a remake of "I Know Him So Well," is the week's highest debut at #11. This is Susan Boyle's third top 40 hit.

12. Sweat - Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta
15. Buzzin' Remix - Mann feat. 50 Cent
14. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. - Noah & The Whale
16. C'mon (Catch 'em By Surprise) - Tiesto vs. Diplo feat. Busta Rhymes
19. All of the Lights - Kanye West

Lots of singles climbing in the top 20 this week. The most dramatic of this set is Kanye West's "All of the Lights," which climbs 13 notches to #19. This is the first single from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to reach the top 20.

23. Thriller/Heads Will Roll - Glee Cast

The is the second-highest charting Glee single from the second season, just shy of the #22 peak of another mashup--"Singin' in the Rain/Umbrella."

Looking WAY Ahead: Grammys 2012

Last year around this time I did an early look at what albums and singles released so far might emerge as contenders for the Grammy Awards. The end of March marks the end of the first half of the Grammy eligibility period.

By this time last year, eventual ROTY nominee "Empire State of Mind" and ROTY winner "Need You Now" had been big chart hits while "Nothin' on You" was becoming one. Among the AOTY nominees, the ladies (Gaga and Antebellum) were out. I was certain Rihanna would be a contender in the major categories, and I should've listened to John who said otherwise.

Last year, I noted that a strong rock contender had not yet emerged and that there always is one. Of course that eventually became the third album by Arcade Fire, which went on to win AOTY. I feel the same way this year, unless The Strokes' new album manages to really gain some traction, so I'm counting on the summer to offer something up.

Here are some potential 2012 Grammy contenders:

Adele. With 21 being an international sensation, Adele, who got some Grammy love in 2008, is the surest bet for both an AOTY nod for 21 and a ROTY nod for "Rolling in the Deep." I'd be pretty surprised if she's not the pop act to beat for next year's awards. Expect her to also dominate Best Pop Vocal Album and Pop Female Vocal Performance.

Kanye West. Even though it hasn't generated any major hits, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was widely heralded as Kanye West's best album yet. Considering that his first three all got AOTY nods, I think his latest has a good shot as well.

Taylor Swift. Swift was the Grammy darling of 2010. Although I don't expect she'll be cleaning up next year like she did last year, her third album, Speak Now, was another pretty big crossover hit and garnered enough acclaim that it should be considered a strong contender. She's less of a lock in ROTY, as the album has so far failed to generate a major crossover hit. For now, I'd say "Back to December" is at least in the running, but probably not for long.

Bruno Mars. Doo Wops & Hooligans is proving to be a major hitmaker, which could make the album a good contender for AOTY. "Just the Way You Are" was submitted for ROTY last year, so don't look for it this year. However, "Grenade" is a possibility. I think he's also a lock for Best New Artist, which he wasn't yet eligible for last year.

Nicki Minaj. She was the talk of last year, but wasn't eligible for Best New Artist since her album hadn't come out yet. I expect her to be duking it out with Bruno Mars in that category next year. She could also be a possibly AOTY contender, although not a strong one.

Pink. She didn't have a new album last year, but the singles from her greatest hits set, "Raise Your Glass" and "Perfect," have both become major hits for her. One or the other could be a potential ROTY contender, a category she's not yet appeared in.

Lady Gaga. We haven't yet heard her third album, but given her profile, I think it's safe to assume it will be a contender unless it isn't very good. Its first single, although a bit polarizing, has spent 6 weeks at #1, so I think it deserves to be considered a contender for now.

Best shots so far:

Album of the Year

Adele - 21
Bruno Mars - Doo Wops & Hooligans
Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday
Taylor Swift - Speak Now
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

(A strong rock contender is needed, which would likely bump Minaj or Mars. If Lady Gaga's third album is as good as her first two, it could push in here too)

Record of the Year

Adele - Rolling in the Deep
Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Bruno Mars - Grenade
Pink - Raise Your Glass
Taylor Swift - Back to December

(Whatever emerges this summer will likely knock a few of these off, with Adele being the most safe in my mind.)

Album Review: The Strokes - Angles (4.5/5)


It's been 5 years since The Strokes released an album, and that one, First Impressions of Earth, underwhelmed critics and music fans alike, raising questions whether the band could ever again achieve the level of greatest they did on their first album, 2001's Is This It?, which has since become an essential recording of modern-day rock and widely regarding as one of best albums of the last decade.

I'm happy to report that Angles is a rather impressive album that has definitely exceeded by expectations. It manages to effectively recall the simple rock sound that made their debut such a great listen while also pushing their sound in new directions. Tracks like first single "Under Cover of Darkness," "Taken for a Fool" and "Gratisfaction" recall the tight bursts of simple guitar and drum melodies of their early work, but the most interesting songs are the ones that don't try to sound like Is This It?.

"Machu Picchu," for example, has more of a new wave sound akin to Franz Ferdinand (a band who itself would probably have not been as big had The Strokes not come first). The guitar melodies on that song are particular strong. The structured melodies of "Two Kinds of Happiness" also evoke new wave, sounding like an unearthed track from The Cars souped up with more electric guitar. It's brightness contrasts with the paranoia of "You're So Right," whose layering, indistinct vocals and drum programming (I assume it's programming) reminds me a bit of Radiohead. "Metabolism" emerges dramatically from the dark shadowy territory of Muse.

"Games" is another New Wave-ish tune with synthesizers and hand claps at the fore, although it has a dark undercurrent to it as well. "Call Me Back" represents a slower tempo from the band's typically upbeat style. Last track, "Life Is Simple in the Moonlight" is a real hodgepodge of the aforementioned sounds--a bit new wave, a bit moody--closing the album

Like most Strokes albums (except for their last), Angles clocks in with a lean running time below 40 minutes. It's a good mix of sounds with the band back in fine form. Even if making this record was reportedly very arduous for the band, I'm certainly glad they managed to pull it off.

Best: Machu Picchu, Under Cover of Darkness, Two Kinds of Happiness, Taken for a Fool, Games

Album Review: The Naked and Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You (4/5)


When I first heard New Zealander band The Naked and Famous last year, I was interested but skeptical whether their debut album would be worthwhile. That first taste, "Punching in a Dream," was a hook-filled New Wave-inspired synth-based tune--in other words, not unlike a lot of indie pop/rock of late and sounding an awful lot like MGMT and its imitators (Empire of the Sun, I'm talking about you). Passive Me, Aggressive You turns out to be a rather enjoyable listen. It takes what has been good about much of the New Wave revival stuff and puts the emphasis on having great pop tunes.

Although the album's sound is cohesive, it takes enough interesting twists to keep it fresh throughout the somewhat lengthy set of 13 tracks. "All of This" kicks the album off with a prominent bass line, but withholds the power pop force that comes with later songs like the aforementioned "Punching in a Dream," which turns the amps up fall on the fuzzy guitars while melding female and male vocals, and "Young Blood," a breezy slice of synth and guitar-fueled pop that most recalls the head-bouncing appeal of MGMT's "Kids." "Frayed" keeps the volume up high while going a bit darker in tone. "The Sun" maintains an ominous mood but goes more electronic, delivering an unexpected but welcome late-night moodiness. Then "Eyes" lightens the tone with '80s pop optimism. "No Way" releases propulsive bursts of piano and electric guitar between its quieter vocal parts.

Halfway through the album's second half, the band shoots for its edgiest, loudest material with "Spank" and "Wolf in Geek's Clothing," which I don't like as much, although I do like the mellower, anthemic closing track "Girls Like You." Although they aren't taking a wholly new direction with their debut, they are mining familiar territory with skill, creating an engaging, enjoyable album.

Best: Young Blood, Punching in a Dream, All of This, The Sun

Essential Albums of the '80s: Toto - IV (1982)

One of the most striking things about '80s popular music is how different the decade's rock music is from that of today. The '90s alternative revolution really changed the sound of mainstream rock. Listening to the styles from the '80s--new wave, heavy metal, and soft rock--they sound so tame by comparison. Soft rock was particularly popular in the early and middle part of the decade--a sort of tuneful pop/rock sound characterized by bright melodies of guitar, keyboard and other instruments. Toto's IV was one of the most popular of such works. The album was the group's most successful, going triple-platinum and winning the Album of the Year Grammy award in 1983. The album's two major hits bookend the work--the upbeat, heavily produced "Rosanna" and the more downbeat, keyboard-heavy "Africa." In between you get upbeat songs like "Make Believe," with its lively saxophone, guitar and keyboard effects, and slightly funky "Good for You." A standout is the rather lovely piano-and-strings ballad "I Won't Hold You Back" (later sampled by Roger Sanchez for "Another Chance," a 2000 #1 hit in Britain), which was also a top 10 hit. It doesn't set the world on fire, nor does it seem that was even the goal, but rather to just make something with commercial appeal that a mass audience would enjoy.

Best: Rosanna, I Won't Hold You Back, Africa

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, April 1, 2011

1. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" spends a sixth week at #1. It's a pretty remarkable run for the single, which debuted at #1 and has stayed there ever since. Under current chart rules, when singles debut at #1, it's because there is built-up expectations leading to massive first-week sales. Thus inevitably, songs that debut at #1 spend only a week there, as their second-week sales drop off causes them to plummet, since their airplay hasn't built up yet (if it ever does). The last seven singles that debuted at #1 before "Born This Way" all spent just the 1 week at the top, with Clay Aiken's "This Is the Night" being the last to spend more time (although just 2 weeks). "Born This Way" benefited from having unusually strong sales and fast growth at radio, so by the time its sales started to slack, airplay had picked up to keep the song charting at the top. This week "Born This Way" climbs to #1 on the Radio Songs chart, while falling a notch to #4 on Digital Songs.

"I'm Your Angel" was the last #1-debuting single to spend 6 weeks at #1, but its debut at the top was due to older chart rules that stipulated songs had to be available commercially before they could chart. Thus, although the song was in the top 40 for airplay by the end of October, it wasn't eligible to chart until its single was released, allowing it to debut the week of December 5, 1998. Interestingly, that was the week this rule was phased out, so had the single been released a week later, it would have likely debuted Dec. 5 at a much lower spot due to airplay only and then jumped up Dec. 12 with combined sales.

2. E.T. - Katy Perry feat. Kanye West
3. S&M - Rihanna

Perry and West climb a notch to #2 with "E.T.," now very competitive for #1. Could see it summit next week. "S&M" climbs back to #3 and is also a strong #1 contender, being top 5 at both sales and airplay ("E.T." in contrast is #1 at sales, but not yet top 10 at airplay). "S&M" is this week's Airplay Gainer.

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

Looks like this is going to peak at #2, as it falls to #4 this week with no bullet.

5. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas score their 10th top 10 hit and 7th top 5 hit with "Just Can't Get Enough," this week's Digital Gainer. It follows "The Time (Dirty Bit)," which peaked at #4. Perhaps this will peak higher.

6. Loser Like Me - Glee Cast

Glee's regionals competition episode translated into a big sales week for the show. Just when it seemed that Glee songs were not doing as well chart-wise, they go and score their second-biggest sales with "Loser Like Me." It doesn't move as many copies as "Teenage Dream" (#8) did last year, but it did outsell "Don't Stop Believin'," which is still their highest-charting single (it reached #4). This is their third top 10 hit.

8. Look at Me Now - Chris Brown feat. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes

Chris Brown scores his 10th top 10 hit with "Look at Me Now," the single from his new album F.A.M.E., which is out this week.

16. Get It Right - Glee Cast

Another Glee single--their 9th to reach the top 20.

36. Raise Your Glass - Glee Cast
37. Blackbird - Glee Cast

More Glee. Four singles in the top 40--ties with the four singles that made the top 40 for the second season's first episode, although none of those charted in the top 20.

39. Written in the Stars - Tinie Tempah feat. Eric Turner

British hip-hop star Tinie Tempah makes his US debut with "Written in the Stars," a #1 hit in Britain last year.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Singles Serving

Happy Now - Take That. Comic Relief delivered up some great nuggets this year. I just have to mention the quite awesome Downton Abbey parody, "Uptown Downstairs Abbey." Another was the sudden release of Take That's third Progress single, "Happy Now," featuring a video where comedians try out to be in "Fake That," a Take That tribute band. That aside, "Happy Now" is a really great song, and I'm pleased it was chosen as the next single. It's not as in-your-face as "Kidz," but it's certainly still in the new electronic vein of much of the album. I'd even say it's a bit downbeat, despite the "happy" title. "Kidz" underperformed on the singles chart; let's hope this returns them to the top 10 where they belong.

I Know Him So Well - Peter Kay & Comic Relief presents Susan Boyle & Geraldine McQueen
. In addition to the "official" single, it seems there are always a few "special" Comic Relief ones too--sometimes they even become bigger hits than the "official" singles (see "(Is This The Way to) Amarillo").

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. - Noah & the Whale. This is the kind of easy-going pop-rock single that could end up sticking around the singles chart for a very long time. It's already showing unusual longevity, having been out for almost 2 months and generally climbing each week during that time.

Sweat (David Guetta Remix) - Snoop Dogg. David Guetta takes a pretty minimalist production and gives it dance floor flair on this pretty groovin' remix of "Sweat," also known in its original version as "Wet" (please--is that really so dirty as to warrant an alternate version)?

Strangers - White Lies. I doubt this will be a big hit, since they seemed destined to never have one. Such a shame, for this is a really great song. Great synthesizer melodies underpin a pretty energetic track.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

UK Singles Chart, March 26, 2011


1. Don't Hold Your Breath - Nicole Scherzinger

After 4 weeks at #1, Adele's "Someone Like You" is dethroned by Nicole Scherzinger's first solo #1 hit. A solo career has long been the goal for Scherzinger, frontwoman of The Pussycat Dolls. But there was a time it looked like it wasn't in the cards. In 2007, in anticipation of releasing her solo debut album, Her Name Is Nicole, Scherzinger released two singles, "Whatever U Like" and "Baby Love," neither of which really took off (the former was a #14 hit in Britain). Importantly, neither single was at all popular in the US. Ultimately, this led to her debut being canceled with song of the songs reworked for the 2008 Pussycat Dolls album, Doll Domination, which, like its predecessor, continued giving the group hits.

Three and a half years later and Scherzinger finally has the solo success she had been looking for. First came "Poison," which hit #3 late last year, and now she has her first solo #1. Her first album, Killer Love, is out tomorrow.

3. Gold Forever - The Wanted

Friday was "red nose day," part of Britain's every-other-year Comic Relief charity fund raising effort, and The Wanted's "Gold Forever" is this year's official Comic Relief single. After the unfortunate blip of "Lose My Mind" hitting only #19, this returns the band to the top 5, giving them their third such hit.

9. I Need a Doctor - Dr. Dre feat. Eminem & Skylar Grey

This single climbs for a fourth week, reaching the top 10 for the first time this week. This is Dr. Dre's 10th top 10 hit (5th as lead performer).

10. Louder - Parade

With Girls Aloud, Sugababes and The Saturdays quiet for now, the apparent "hole" in the pop music world for British girl groups has for now been filled by Parade, who charge into the top 10 with their first single "Louder." At first, I wasn't into this, but it's actually not bad. Pretty typical of current international R&Bish electro pop.

15. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas

The Peas climb 12 notches to #15 this week. Top 10 here they come as this gets its official single release this weekend.

16. Sweat - Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta

By itself, "Sweat," or in its original form "Wet," is a sparse beats production by the Cataracs that sounds a lot like what Will.I.Am does, but in David Guetta's hands, it become a Euro-flavored stomper. Not bad.

27. True Faith - George Michael

It's not everyday you see a new single on the chart by George Michael, who takes advantage of Comic Relief to turn out a single other than his Christmas single that has kept popping up the last few years. This is a remake of New Order's #4 hit from 1987.

Album Review: The Vaccines - What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? (3/5)


Remember the Arctic Monkeys 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, that's What I'm Not? The Vaccines 2011 debut, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?, reminds me a lot of that: British rock band emerges on the scene with a lot of hoopla, releases lo-fi recording of short (generally less than 3 minutes), propulsive (no slow songs) rockers. Although there hasn't been as much hoopla, The Vaccines are launching behind their #3 placing on the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll, which certainly has given them a good push, even if they aren't sending their singles very far into the top 40.

Several of the songs manage to clock in not just below 3 minutes but below 2! First track "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)," all of 82 seconds, is a burst of energy that is literally over before it even gets started. It's followed by the more substantive "If You Wanna," and then the quite decent "A Lack of Understanding," which delivers an earnest pop melody and a decent bass line.

Besides Arctic Monkeys, the Vaccines' debut recalls other prominent post-punk rockers from the last 10 years. Recent hit "Post Break-Up Sex" sounds a lot like vintage Strokes material. It's a fun song with a tune that suggests an earnest love song, but lyrics that betray that the band's intention is just getting laid. "Wetsuit" goes for a bit more grandeur, similar to Glasvegas' debut. "All in White" strives for rock grandeur too, but misses the mark. "Family Friend," which clocks in over 4 minutes longer than the first track, is better, building a nice warm vibe over gentle guitar melodies that turn bolder later as the tempo gradually increases to break-neck pace.

I know the lo-fi sound goes with the territory for this kind of music, but frankly I'm getting a bit tired of it. "Blow It Up," for example heavily distorts what would otherwise be a nice guitar layering. Music from long ago sounded this way because they couldn't get their hands on better recording equipment. Today there is no excuse.

The album is not bad, but it's not breaking any ground that hasn't already been fully and more skillfully covered by other recent acts.

Best: Post Break-Up Sex, A Lack of Understanding, Family Friend

Essential Albums of the '80s: Debbie Gibson - Out of the Blue / Tiffany (1987)

Debbie and Tiffany were to 1987 what Britney and Christina were to 1999--two teenage girls that emerged on the scene with big pop melodies that quickly won the hearts of teen and tween girls (and, ahem, a few boys) all across the country and even around the world. True, Britney and Christina are 12 years later still going strong (Christina less so at present), while Debbie and Tiffany's time in the spotlight was basically done by 1990, but in late '87 to early 1989, that would not have been apparent, as the two continued to lob hit after hit and had very successful albums as well.

Although the two peddled similar keyboard-driven pop with catchy melodies, there were some interesting differences between them. Debbie leaned more toward slickly produced dance pop, while Tiffany's songs had a rockier and more downbeat edge. Debbie had a slicker image too--her videos showed her romping through Central Park and waiting in Manhattan cafes whereas Tiffany's generally less well-produced videos had her hanging out in second-rate shopping malls and working in a diner. On their album covers Debbie's jeans appear strategically ripped, while the hole in Tiffany's sweater just makes it look like she couldn't afford a new one.

Musically, their debut albums are both pretty strong, but I give the advantage to Gibson's Out of the Blue. It opens with a trio of upbeat tracks, bright and shiny "Out of the Blue," followed by dance pop hit "Staying Together" and then the album's real gem, the irresistible "Only in My Dreams." In the late summer of 1987, this, along with Madonna's "Who's that Girl" and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's "Lost in Emotion," was one of the songs that really got me hooked on pop music. The album's big ballad, "Foolish Beat," follows. It's a sad tale of teenage love gone sour, notable for being Gibson's first #1 hit and the fact that she has sole credit for its writing and production, which made Gibson the youngest person to write, produce and perform a Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit. Other dance pop cuts "Shake Your Love"--one of the album's four top 5 hits--and "Red Hot" are enjoyable too. The album sags a bit in its second half, particularly with mid-tempo "Wake Up to Love," which feels slight next to all the great dance pop, and "Between the Lines," the closing ballad, which again feels quite undercooked next to the album's other grand ballad. Those are minor quibbles though. Given that this was the first full album of popular music I ever owned, it holds a special place in my heart.

While Out of the Blue has its hits upfront, Tiffany withholds its two #1 hits until the end of the album, a strategy no pop album would employ today. The album opens with the guitar-driven, mid-tempo track "Should've Been Me," a song that has grown on me as listened to the album over the past week. "Danny" follows, a darker, also guitar-driven track. It was the album's first single, although it was not a hit. After a good opening, the album sags a bit through the middle with songs like "Spanish Eyes," "Kid on a Corner" and "Johnny's Got the Inside Moves," although I do like downbeat ballad "Feelings of Forever," which was the album's fifth single, but was not a major hit. All of these songs are just killing time before you get to "I Think We're Alone Now," the brilliant dance pop cue that attracted people to Tiffany in the first place. It's got such a great beat and I love the synth horns in the middle section. Almost 20 years later, British pop group Girls Aloud would remake this and release it in Britain as a top 5 hit. Piano ballad "Could've Been" closes the album. It's a big ballad of a song, really stretching Tiffany's vocal ability, but is nonetheless the album's other memorable moment.

Out of the Blue (1987). Best: Only in My Dreams, Shake Your Love, Foolish Beat, Out of the Blue, Red Hot

Tiffany (1987). Best: I Think We're Alone Now, Could've Been, Danny, Should've Been Me, Feelings of Forever

Further Listening
Debbie Gibson - Electric Youth (1989). Gibson followed up Out of the Blue with Electric Youth, which kept up her streak of hits, in fact giving her the biggest hit of her career, "Lost in Your Eyes." It's a lovely piano ballad of a love song that effectively riffs on mundane phrase "lost and found" as a simple, yet clever pop lyric ("I'll be found when I'm lost in your eyes"). A bit cheesy, but Gibson delivers the song with such sincerity that it works. "No More Rhyme" was another good ballad (and hit single). Interesting that the ballads are strong suit here, given that it was the reverse on her debut. However there are plenty of bouncy upbeat numbers too, like "Electric Youth," "Who Loves Ya Baby?" and "Helplessly in Love." Although it didn't have as many hits as Out of the Blue, Electric Youth was still a double-platinum album and, on balance, just as good if not better than its predecessor. Best: Lost in Your Eyes, No More Rhyme, Electric Youth, Who Loves Ya Baby?, Helplessly in Love, Silence Speaks (a Thousand Words).

Tiffany - Hold an Old Friend's Hand (1988). Unlike Electric Youth, Tiffany's second album was not a major hit and started a downward spiral for her popularity. Particularly ego-busting must have been the fact that her tour's opening act--New Kids on the Block--traded places with her as the tour's headliner in the summer of 1989, as their popularity soared and hers tanked. The rock-leaning sound of her debut has been buried by less distinctive synthesizer pop. It's not bad, but it's not as interesting. After the opening ballad "All This Time," which was the album's only top 10 hit, there's little more that stands out. Best: All This Time, Drop that Bomb.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, March 26, 2011

1. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga manages to stay at the Hot 100 summit for a fifth week, despite being neither the airplay nor sales leader at the moment. She happens to be #3 on both charts, benefiting from the fact that the songs with more airplay are pretty old and no longer strong sellers, while the songs with stronger sales are newer and their airplay is still building. This moves her ahead of Bruno Mars' "Grenade" to make "Born This Way" the longest-running #1 hit so far this year.

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

Katy and Kanye jump 5 spots to #3, making "E.T." the fourth consecutive top 5 hit from Perry's Teenage Dream album. I believe the last album to score such a feat was T.I.'s Paper Trail from 2008. "E.T." is this week's Digital Gainer. Wouldn't it be something if it hit #1? It would make Perry the first artist in 7 years to score four consecutive #1 hits.

4. S&M - Rihanna

Rihanna slips a notch to #4 due to Perry's big sales gain, but is still doing well on its own, earning this week's Airplay Gainer. Don't count this one out just yet.

9. Till the World Ends - Britney Spears

Britney climbs 11 notches to #9 with "Till the World Ends," which seemed to get a slower than expected start, but now appears on track to be quite big. It's currently the fastest gaining track at top 40 radio. This is Britney's 10th top 10 hit, half of which she's scored in the last 3 years alone. She's made quite the impressive comeback after her mid '00s slump.

23. Landslide - Glee Cast

Glee singles haven't has as easy a time charting this year. This is only the third top 40 hit the show has had since January, the other two being "Thriller/Heads Will Roll" (#38) and "Firework" (#34). I'm glad to see this rise above those, for it was an unexpectedly great musical moment from the show. Expect to see more Glee in the top 40 next week though--"Loser Like Me" has been #1 at iTunes the last 2 days.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms (1985)

Those who know Dire Straits mostly for their iconic MTV video "Money for Nothing" will, like me, probably be surprised by this, their most notable album. First off, it's pretty laid back, like a soundtrack to your island vacation or perhaps the last few slow dances at a wedding reception. "Money for Nothing" is by far the most "up" track here, along with "Walk of Life," which is one of those songs that gets a lot of play on '80s-leaning "adult pop" stations. "Money for Nothing" is a cool song, although I'm troubled by the lyrics about the "little faggot" millionaire with the earrings, makeup and jet airplane. It's hard to imagine that was entirely acceptable back in 1985, but perhaps it (sadly) was. After "Walk of Life" the tempo slows way down for the next four songs until "One World." This romantic '80s rock sound is interesting, although it's difficult for me to see how this captured audiences enough to make it one of the decade's best-selling albums.

Best: Walk of Life, Money for Nothing, So Far Away

Singles Serving

Don't Hold Your Breath - Nicole Scherzinger. The Pussycat Dolls' lead singer releases another great solo single. In fact, the upbeat, grinding tune is her best yet, and looks on course to knock Adele from her perch atop the British singles chart this weekend. This would work great in the US too. How long before its a hit here as well?

Gold Forever - The Wanted. With "Lose My Mind" having underperformed on the chart, we may not be getting any more singles from The Wanted's pretty decent debut album (too bad, I was really hoping for a great video for "Let's Get Ugly"). Moving on then, we get this new track, the "red nose" day single tie-in for comic relief. It's no "All Time Love" or even a "Heart Vacancy," but it's not awful. Should be better though. Sounds an awful lot like "Forever Young" with its tinkling piano refrain.

Louder - Parade. Introducing Parade: the new British girl group with an eye to fill the whole currently left by Girls Aloud (pursuing solo projects), The Saturdays (between albums) and Sugababes (who knows). This first single is fine, but not particularly memorable. Sounds like any electro-leaning R&Bish pop song you've heard before.

The Lazy Song - Bruno Mars. When I reviewed Doo Wops & Hooligans last year, I noted that I didn't care for the reggae-inspired tracks. Now one is out as a single, and I still feel this isn't nearly as great as "Just the Way You Are" or "Grenade." If you're going to add Caribbean flavor to your pop music, leave it to an experts (i.e. Rihanna). I do appreciate the sentiment though.

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. - Noah & the Whale. Folksy British rock group Noah and the Whale has struck the right note with this new single, which is the kind of song you imagine will kick around the singles chart for an awful long time.

My Boy - Duffy. Sadly, this chapter in Duffy's music career looks to be done. "My Boy," track one from her promising but commercially disappointing second album, isn't grand enough to push her back into the spotlight. It lacks the kind of heft you'd expect from her, I loved her last single, "Keeping My Baby," but it failed to make any waves at all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Glee "Original Song"

It's regionals, which means a songs-heavy episode. Despite that, this week managed to pack in quite a bit of story too, including the birth of a new romance between two key characters.

Kurt confronts Blaine about the fact that the latter gets every Warblers solo--a fact many viewers have commented on, so it's nice to see the show acknowledge it. Kurt's parakeet dies, putting him in a sad mood, but also empowering him to demand the chance for a solo. Later, Blaine convinces the Warblers that he and Kurt should have a duet in the regionals set list. Afterward, when they're alone, Blaine confesses to Kurt that the reason he chose Kurt to duet with is that he's finally realized that he has feelings for Kurt too and it's an excuse to spend more time together. The two kiss and Kurt looks over the moon. (!!!!)

Quinn begins strategizing about how she'll ensure that she and Finn can be prom queen and king. She decides she needs to get close to Rachel, so when Rachel proposes again that they should sing original songs at regionals (after My Chemical Romances sends them a "cease and desist" letter against using "Sing"), Quinn sides with Rachel and convinces every else that they need original songs. The two decide they will write a song together.

The New Directions kids audition their various original songs for the group, although none really rise to occasion. Mercedes comes close, but it's not quite right. Mr. Schuester encourages the kids to channel their anger over all the mean things Sue Sylvester does to them and they come up with the title "Loser Like Me." After having pretended to be her friend, Quinn admits to Rachel that she isn't her friend, that she knows she and Finn are meant to be married and have a family and that Rachel is standing in the way. Rachel, however, refuses to give up on Finn and goes off to finally write a good original song, "Get It Right."

Oral Intensity and The Warblers both perform good sets before New Directions takes the stage with their original songs. They win over the crowd and the judges--they're going to nationals! Sue slugs the woman who made the announcement, which wasn't funny and was actually rather disturbing.

The episode was good, but not great. It felt anticlimactic. I'm glad Kurt and Blaine got together, although that means the "will they/won't they" tension is gone.

Songs:

Misery (Maroon 5) - The Warblers feat. Blaine. Starting off with a song this time. I wonder why they didn't do this a cappella? As much as I like The Warblers, having them singing in school in their uniforms isn't interesting anymore.

Only Child (Rachel) - Rachel. Three minutes into the episode and already on song #2. It's Rachel's first stab at an original song. It's still, but the lyric "I'm the only Berry on my family tree" is a cute line.

Blackbird (The Beatles)- The Warblers feat. Kurt. Nice to hear Kurt sing. Seems like it's been awhile. He sounds great over this acoustic guitar-backed classic. Love it.

Troutie Mouth (Santana--The character, not the Latin rock guitarist) - Santana. Santana turns out a sassy, sexy vocal that amounts to a major put down about Sam's big lips.

Big Ass Heart (Puck) - Puck. Puck's song is a soulful rocker that he dedicates to Lauren in hopes that it makes up for "Fat Girl."

Hell to the No (Mercedes) - Mercedes. Mercedes' original song, one of the three commercially available, is a pretty old school R&B number complete with a modern rap bridge. Pretty fun stuff.

Jesus Is a Friend of Mine (Sonseed) - Oral Intensity. Sue's glee club has flashy choreography and a snappy, albeit conservatively themed, tune.

Candles (Hey Monday) - The Warblers feat. Kurt & Blaine. Not a song I'm familiar with, but it's fun to see these guys duet with the backing of their immensely talented glee club.

Raise Your Glass (P!nk) - The Warblers feat. Blaine. New Directions has their original loser anthem coming up, but this is a tried and true one. It's fun and the crowd loves it, but it doesn't quite rise to "Teenage Dream" quality.

Get it Right (Rachel) - New Directions feat. Rachel. Rachel's solo is a quality piano pop ballad. Although "Loser Like Me" will get more attention, this song is nice too. Rachel does a good job with it too.

Loser Like Me (New Directions) - New Directions feat. Rachel & Finn. New Directions turns out a high-energy performance of their big number. It's a fun song, although it doesn't quite become the moment I was hoping it would be.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

UK Singles Chart, March 19, 2011

1. Someone Like You - Adele

Adele continues to dominate the British charts, maintaining #1 on the singles and albums chart this week, plus also seeing "Someone Like You" climb to the top of the airplay chart. This is the single's fourth week at #1. No single spent as long at #1 last year. Lily Allen's "The Fear" was the last single to spend 4 weeks at the top, doing so in early 2009.

2. Price Tag - Jessie J feat. B.o.B
3. S&M - Rihanna
4. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

It's a static top 4 this week, as these other female artists hold their ground. Adele's other current hit, "Rolling in the Deep," falls out of the top 5 to #9.

5. Black & Yellow - Wiz Khalifa

The recent US #1 makes its UK bow at #5, giving Wiz Khalifa his first top 10 hit.

11. I Need a Doctor - Dr. Dre feat. Eminem & Skylar Grey

Dr. Dre climbs four notches to #11, close to the top 10. Will it continue to climb?

16. What the Hell - Avril Lavigne

This single's been bouncing around in the 20s the last few weeks, but spikes up to #16 this week, up 9 places.

19. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. - Noah & The Whale

This single has been bouncing around in the 30s and looked like it was going to fall off the chart before rebounding to #30 last week and now up 11 spots to spend its first week in the top 20. The group hit #7 a few years ago with the single "5 Years Time."

20. Heart on My Sleeve - Olly Murs

The law of diminishing returns strikes pop acts hard this week. First up is Olly Murs, who hit #1 with his first single, "Please Don't Let Me Go," and then #4 with its follow-up, "Thinking of Me," but barely manages to brush the top 20 with his third. What do you bet there isn't a fourth single from the album unless it's paired with something new?

21. Till the World Ends - Britney Spears

Britney enters the top 40 at #21 with her new single "Till the World Ends," which debuted at #55 last week on its partial-week sales, after having been released on the previous Friday. #21 isn't very good for an artist who should be hitting the top 10, although a look at her record shows that Spears has been struggling a bit on the UK singles chart lately. Many of her recent singles have charted quite a bit higher in the US than in the UK--a reversal from mid '00s, where the situation was quite the opposite.

27. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas

The latest from Will, Fergie and crew debuts at #27. I imagine this will be climbing. Most of their recent singles were #1 hits.

35. That's the Truth - McFly

Another pop act suffering the law of diminishing returns, as McFly's third single from their fifth album charts at a rather measly #35. Their previous low-water mark was the #18 peak of "Do Ya," the third (and last) single from their previous album. All 17 of their other singles were top 10 hits.

So, will this be Adele's last week at #1? The Wanted have a new single out that's from their recent album and it's a tie-in with the Comic Relief charity effort.

Album Reviews

Clare Maguire - Light After Dark (3.5/5). With her solid debut, Light After Dark, British singer Clare Maguire makes a convincing bid to be the next Annie Lennox, her deep, expressive vocals and rich melodies clearly evoking the Eurythmics singer's style. "The Shield and the Sword" and "The Last Dance" open the album with forceful tunes about the end of love, liberally arranged with swirls of strings, piano, synthesizers and drums. "I Surrender" matches her big sound with a modern synth pop dance beat. Makes sense that it works when you remember the album's producer is Fraser T. Smith, the man behind most of the Taio Cruz and Tinchy Stryder hits. Despite having some good songs, there are a couple of key problems with this album. First, its musical arrangements don't vary significantly, so while I'm always up for a nice strings and keyboard tune, they get old after awhile when there's nothing else. Second, the album has a singular focus on being big and bold--rarely are their quiet moments. Coupled together, the album can be exhausting to listen to in long stretches. That said, if you feel like giving up at the halfway point, come back later for the trip-hop leaning "Sweet Lie" and sinister "Ain't Nobody." Best: The Last Dance, The Shield and the Sword, I Surrender, Sweet Lie.

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now (3/5). How does a band who had its creative peak in the '80s and its commercial peak in the '90s stay relevant? It's a question that's vexed R.E.M. for the last 15 years. After stumbling through the early '00s, they delivered a pretty decent set in 2008 with the moody rocker Accelerate. On Collapse into Now, they attempt to broaden their sound more. Where Accelerate was lean and focused, Collapse Into Now is all over the place, mining the band's history to explore sounds from their most successful periods. "Discoverer" sounds like '80s R.E.M, "All the Best" like the fuzzier rock of the mid '90s, and "Uberlin" is a close study of the band's 1992 track "Drive." That mandolin that made "Losing My Religion" so memorable? Hear it on heartfelt ballad "Oh My Heart." "Blue" stands out as something different with Stipe's spoken-word segments alternating with Patti Smith's gentle vocal, although I can't say it's a song I particularly like. Although It's fun to hear all these sounds come together on one album, it makes me realize I'd be having even more fun if I was listening to their older LPs instead. Best: Uberlin, Discoverer, Oh My Heart.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, March 19, 2011

1. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" spends a fourth week at #1. It's still #1 on the Digital Songs chart, although it is no longer #1 at iTunes. It's airplay has caught up though and it will likely top the pop radio airplay chart soon. This is the longest a Lady Gaga song has been #1, and the track ties Bruno Mars' "Grenade" for the most weeks at #1 this year.

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

Cee Lo holds at #2 and is this week's airplay gainer. He really wants a week at #1. Will he get it?

3. S&M - Rihanna

Rihanna climbs two spots to #3, the same position the song occupies in the UK.

5. On the Floor - Jennifer Lopez (feat. Pitbull)

Jennifer Jennifer Jennifer Lopez! She's got to be excited to land her 8th top 5 hit. This song is on fire--it's this week's Digital Gainer and #1 at iTunes (beating Britney, surprisingly).

7. Blow - Ke$ha

Promoting "Blow's" a job Ke$ha has apparently excelled at, sending the hit single into the top 10, becoming her 8th top 10 hit.

20. Till the End of the World - Britney Spears

Brit Brit's second single from Femme Fatale was released unexpectedly late last week, so it debuts at #20 on only a partial week of sales. It's already hot at radio though, so expect it to be another hit from her.

33. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas

This uncharacteristically slow song from Black Eyed Peas annoyed me at first, but now it seems to be growing on me, as I don't mind it anymore. This is their 14th top 40 hit.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Singles Serving

Summer Rain - Matthew Morrison. Lots of original music coming out of Glee this week, although this is official not Glee-related but rather the solo debut of Glee star Matthew Morrison. He's gone the male troubadour route, a la Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson, delivering a breezy slice of pop backed by acoustic guitar, live drums and later some (possibly synthesized) strings. Morrison co-wrote the track with Norwegian production due Espionage, who have written or co-written a number of major hits (Beyonce's "Irreplaceable, Train's "Hey, Soul Sister"). Although it's not what I would have expected him to do, it's not bad. A bit of a grower, but good. Who wouldn't want to make love with Matthew Morrison on a rooftop in the rain?

Loser Like Me - Glee Cast. This is from next week's episode, "Original Song," and as that title suggests, this is the first music out of Glee that isn't a remake. Of course it's expertly produced and co-written by Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin. The club's stars take the lead on this one, and Lea Michele in particular sounds great as usual over the bubbly pop track with an appealing guitar grind under its chorus. Would love to see them score a genuine hit with this. Also out is an original ballad, "Get It Right," which also features Michele, and is quite lovely.

You'll Be Mine - The Pierces
. The Pierces are a sisters duo from New York. They've been around for awhile, but with Coldplay bassist (hottie) Guy Berryman producing their new album, they're getting a lot more exposure. "You'll Be Mine" is a great song with a downbeat '70s pop vibe over a richly produced acoustic instrumentation. Definitely whets my appetite for an album.

Till the World Ends - Britney Spears. Longtime Spears songwriter, Swede Alexander Kronlund and pop singer Ke$ha co-wrote this new single for Britney, produced by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Billboard (not the magazine). What ensues is another pieces of electro-dance pop not unlike "Hold It Against Me" really. Although it isn't breaking any new ground clearly, it's another fun single from the Blonde singer.

Heart on My Sleeve - Olly Murs. For his third single, Murs turns away from the reggae fusion sound of his last two singles toward more traditional pop territory. The song is produced and co-written by John Shanks, who produced the last two Take That albums before Progress. So it sounds a lot like that stuff, especially "Rule the World." I wasn't really into "Thinking of Me," but I like this better, even if it sounds like Take That from 3 years ago (that was, after all, a sound I liked).

Moment 4 Life - Nicki Minaj feat. Drake. Nicki Minaj was a big breakout star last year with a lot of great buzz, but lacked a major hit under her belt. "Moment 4 Life," the fourth single from her album Pink Friday may finally be just that hit. The song contrasts a dark, downbeat melody with an uplifting lyric. Minaj sounds a bit like Rihanna on this one.

That's the Truth - McFly. For a brief moment, it looked like McFly might get interesting. Then they give us this utterly derivative piece of fluff. It's not bad, it's not really good either. It just sort of "is" if that makes sense. It probably sounds familiar, because elements of it sound like about 40 other songs that have been hits in the last 5 years.

Young Blood - The Naked and Famous. This New Zealand group broke out big in their homeland last year and this is the catchiest song I've heard from them so far, with a pretty irresistable synth-based tune. So what if it sounds just like another recent band from down under (Empire of the Sun) who, like this band, was also riding the MGMT bandwagon. You'll be bumping along to it anyway until the next hot new thing comes along.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Glee, "Sexy"

Holly Holiday (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns and Emma Pilsbury finally gets some screen time as the schools new mascot for celibacy. Since Paltrow teaches sex ed, this puts them at odds with Will in the middle, who of course is sexually interested in both of them.

Santana invites Brittany over for a make-out session but the latter confides that she thinks she's pregnant, which quickly spreads all over school including to her boyfriend, Artie. Although it turns out she only thinks so because a stork is building a nest outside her window. Oh Brittany.

Holly convinces Will that his Glee club is particular devoid of accurate knowledge about sex, so she volunteers to come by and explain the birds and the bees rather graphically.

Sue shows up at Kurt and Blaine's coffee shop to give them "intel" on New Directions' new push to be sexy. Although Kurt is skeptical, Blaine appears to fall for her encouragement to get the Warblers to do something sexy. He arranges a performance for a girls' prep school choir to see if they are sexy enough. Kurt struggles with being sexy, so Blaine tries to coach him, but Kurt doesn't want to hear about sex. Blaine goes to Kurt's father and tries to get him to talk to Kurt about sex. Kurt's father gives Kurt some pamphlets to read but also talks with him about intimacy and how scary that can be. It's a surprisingly honest discussion. What a great moment.

Emma and Carl confide to Holly that even though they've been married 4 months they haven't had sex yet. Holly and Carl ask Emma if she's in love with Will and she confesses that she's unsure, although Carl indicates he's moving out of the house until she figures it out.

Brittany and Santana turn to Holly to discuss their same-sex attraction, which leads them to later sing a song together. It helps Santana figure out that she's more than just physically attracted to Brittany--that she actually feels something deeper for her and isn't really interested in the guys. But Brittany decides to stand by Artie and a tearful Santana refuses to be consoled.

Will and Holly's tango makes him hot under the collar but she rebuffs his advances. When it comes time for Holly's sub duty to end she changes her mind and gives Will a goodbye kiss with the prospect of more to follow.

This was a great episode--the best in weeks. Gwyneth Paltrow was fantastic, there were lots of funny lines, the subject matter was topical and well-handled, particularly Kurt's fathers talk with his gay son about sex. Santana finally showed some humanity and the songs were all pretty good too.

Songs:

Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) (Joan Jett) - Holly Holiday. Gwenyth...I mean Holly...works some pretty awesome leather pants in this rockin' sexy number. I hope she continues to come by. She's a great guest star.

Animal (Neon Trees) - Blaine, Kurt & the Warblers. Fun to see them do something isn't a capella for a change. And also nice to Kurt get a co-lead with Blaine, who always seems to get the Warblers solos.

Kiss (Prince) - Will & Holly. Mr. Schue and Ms. Holiday turn Prince's classic '80s hit into a sexy tango. They look great, but who are all these other dancers? Can't the kids tango?

Landslide (Fleetwood Mac) - Holly with Santana and Brittany. Holly grabs a guitar and does a nice, soulful rendition of this classic.

Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band) - Emma, Puck, Quinn, Rachel and Carl. Emma thinks the song is about sneaking an extra dessert in the middle of the afternoon. She's almost as clueless as Brittany.

Best line (Holly): Sex--it's just like hugging, only wetter.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Album Review: Jessie J - Who You Are (4/5)


I've read it suggested that Jessie J is the British answer to Lady Gaga. If that's the case, then I'm not sure what the question is, as she doesn't sound a thing like Lady Gaga to me. More like Katy Perry perhaps or even what Natasha Bedingfield would sound like if she was still famous.

In truth, it's probably not fair to try to pigeon-hole Jessie J so quickly. After all, a lot of people really believe she's the real deal--the X Factor without the reality show, if you will. She won the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll, making her the hottest new act of the year. On her debut album, she's nicely side-stepped the current dominant international pop sound--the soulless blend of electro, pop and R&B, to give us something rather unexpected: a true mix of sounds that's surprisingly downbeat and frequently retro.

In the latter category is the rather cool "Abracadabra," a fantastic dose of tuneful '90s-style R&B scored with piano chords, some funky guitar and a toe-tapping beat. I just gave a quick listen to some En Vogue, Keith Sweat and Toni Braxton, and would love this sound to make a comeback. "Casualty of Love" also fits nicely in this groove, reaching even further to deliver a nice piece of old school R&B balladry.

Too many slow songs drag this album down though. For someone billed as pop's next big thing, they feel out of place in a landscape dominated by Dr. Luke and Max Martin's uptempo studio wizardry. "Big White Room" for example is a nice enough song, but coming after three pretty great and upbeat songs it kills the album's mood. Later in the album, too many similar slowish tracks ("L.O.V.E.", "Stand Up" and "I Need This") are a poor introduction for what is a rather decent closing number in the title track, which also sounds like it is headed to radio soon.

More contemporary sounds include the current reggae-tinged hit, "Price Tag," and "Nobody's Perfect," which showcases some predictable beats and synths, but also showcases quite a bit of personality and a voice (and British accent) that can barely be contained. It screams "future single," and at the rate she's been releasing them, I imagine we'll be waiting weeks rather than months to hear this on Radio 1.

I'm recommending this album, but with reservations. The songs I like are totally solid, but the songs I don't are a real let down. In addition to the aforementioned, I have to also single out over-the-top "Mama Knows Best," which sounds like Christina Aguilera indulging her worst impulses. And I can do without the vocal hiccups on "Rainbow," a rather grating track. But then comes the rather cool strut of "Do It Like a Dude" to restore my confidence that she may just live up to her rather deafening hype.

Best: Price Tag, Abracadabra, Do It Like a Dude, Nobody's Perfect, Casualty of Love, Who You Are

Sunday, March 06, 2011

UK Singles Chart, March 12, 2011

1. Someone Like You - Adele
2. Price Tag - Jessie J feat. B.o.B
3. S&M - Rihanna

Adele holds the top spot for a third week with "Someone Like You," the first single to stay at #1 for that long since X Factor winner Matt Cardle did so with "When We Collide" in December. Amazingly, her sales have actually increased each week: 112k 2 weeks ago, 115k last week and 116k this week. Her album 21 also holds the top spot on the albums chart for a sixth week, tying the recent 6-week run at #1 by Take That's Progress. Such a long spell atop the albums chart is rare. Eminem spent 7 weeks at #1 last year with Recovery, but it took four turns to reach that total. The last album to spend more consecutive weeks at #1 was Michael Jackson, who topped the chart for 7 weeks with The Essential Michael Jackson in the summer of 2009 just after his death. The last living artist to have that many consecutive weeks at #1 was Leona Lewis, who spent the last 7 weeks of 2007 at #1 with Spirit.

It's a static top 3 with Jessie J holding at #2, giving her a fifth week in the top 2, and Rihanna at #3.

4. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Just when it starts looking bad for this single, it gets its second wind. After dropping 5 spots last week, Lady Gaga rebounds to #4 with "Born This Way." In the US, her airplay at top 40 had started to wane, but then turned around and is growing strong again. Once the video is out, it should give the song an extra push, although #1 is very much a longshot at this point.

22. Rope - Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters are back, but don't make a very big splash, debuting at #22 with "Rope," the first single from their upcoming album. Their last major hit was "The Pretender," which hit #8 in 2007.

30. Kidz - Take That

Doesn't look like this will be a hit for them. Too bad. I still like it. It peaked at #28 last week. One three Take That singles have charted lower and those were their first three before they became really big.

40. Who You Are - Jessie J

Will this be Jessie J's "Someone Like You?" The title track of her new album, an acoustic ballad that closes the album, sneaks in as a cherry-picked track at #40.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Madonna (1983)


By 1983 disco really was dead, but a new form of mainstream dance music, "dance pop," was taking off, thanks to artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna. It's hard to imagine a time when Madonna wasn't a worldwide star, but upon the release of her self-titled debut, the singer had under her belt only a couple of singles that were popular in dance clubs but were not mainstream hits. That all changed with the album's third single, "Holiday," which reached the top 20 in the US. She did even better with its follow-up, the mid-tempo love song "Borderline," which hit #10, and its upbeat follow-up, "Lucky Star," which hit #4--a chart progression that by the end of 1984 teed Madonna up for the significantly bigger impact she had with her second album, Like a Virgin.

Madonna effectively straddles both the dance floor and top 40 radio, perfectly embodying the emergent dance pop sound of the early '80s. "Lucky Star" sets the tone with its insistent beat, prominent bassline and irresistible hooks, although it is the trilling synthesizers that really make this song great. Most of the songs embody a similar feel except for "Borderline," which nudges ever so slightly toward love song territory and "Burning Up," which throws in some gnarly electric guitar for a rockier vibe. These songs, as well as most of the album were produced by Reggie Lucas, who was selected over previous Madonna collaborators to helm the album.

Despite Lucas's presence, much of the album's success is due to John "Jellybean" Benitez, the producer of "Holiday" whom Madonna had remix several of the Lucas-produced tracks she wasn't happy with--namely several of the aforementioned songs that became singles. Arguably, he deserves as much credit for this album as Lucas, although the liner notes relegate him to the role of remixer. "Holiday" in particular, although it wasn't a massive hit upon its release, has become the most enduring song from the album, showing up on the concert list of almost every subsequent Madonna tour. It's a breezy slice of synthesizer dance pop with a memorable keyboard solo. It's still routinely played on adult pop format radio. The album's third producer, Mark Kamins, was responsible only for "Everybody," the dance floor stomper that he produced as Madonna's first single, notable for its spoken-word sections. Stephen Bray, who had helped Madonna with her pre-Madonna demo was not selected to contribute to this album (he would get his chance later).

Among the tracks that were not hit singles, "Think of Me" really stands out for its unusual rhythm and saxophone solo. "I Know It" was a favorite when I was a kid, but it doesn't hold my interest as much know. "Physical Attraction" is nice enough dance pop, but not a standout either.

My first listen of the album was probably sometime in 1988. At that time, I was already a big Madonna fan, having started with Who's that Girl and then proceeded with You Can Dance, True Blue and Like a Virgin. I checked the vinyl LP out from the library and listened to this on my parent's record player. I think I got the cassette sometime in late 1988, perhaps for Christmas. Back then, I enjoyed it, but not as much as her other albums, and I still feel the same way today. It's gotten a lot of attention of late, and has probably aged the best of her '80s work, since it is most similar to the currently popular styles of electronic dance pop. But if I was told I couldn't keep all of Madonna's '80s albums, this would be the one I would let go first, as much as I love it.

Best: Lucky Star, Holiday, Borderline, Burning Up, Think of Me

Album Review: Radiohead - The King of Limbs (4/5)

A friend of mine who is a real audiophile recently explained to me opinion how music has suffered in general from the compression of dynamic range to make music sound better on portable devices like iPods. Since periods of relative quiet are annoying when canceled out by background noise and periods of ear-splitting loudness can be jarring, if not hazardous (especially if you turned the volume up to hear a quiet part), engineers are reducing the range of music so that everything falls in a comfortable albeit less interesting middle zone.

I don't mention this to comment on actual dynamic range of The King of Limbs, but something similar is going on with this 8th studio album from Radiohead. Whereas their last album, In Rainbows, as well as the others that came before it were marked with uptempo rockers ("Bodysnatchers," "Optimistic") and elegantly moody slow songs ("How to Disappear Completely," "No Surprises"), this album offers none of the former and little of the latter. Most of its rather short playlist of eight songs is fairly even-sounding, mid-tempo stuff.

There's also little focus on traditional melody and song structure; instead, Radiohead has really focused on the layering of sounds--mostly electronic, often distorted beyond recognition. Sounds loop over continuously in a way that actually quite reminds me of the new wave sound of Talking Heads' Remain in Light, the new wave classic I recently discussed for my Essential '80s Albums series. Radiohead's sound is more electronic though, evoking perhaps LCD Soundsystem.

None of this is said to disparage the album, for I find it rather enjoyable, although not as much as their greatest works (i.e. In Rainbows, Kid A, The Bends, OK Computer). A lonely piano trills through the beginning of "Bloom," whose sustained electronic notes would be expected to sustain perfectly but actually sometimes falter (purposefully presumed), while Thom Yorke's heavily reverbed vocal soars up through the piece. Horns weave through the song's second half, when the piano can once again be heard. "Morning Mr. Magpie's" layering of complex beats with bass, acoustic guitars and synthesizer effects creates a meditative quality. Guitar comes more to the fore on "Little by Little," which also has a complex, vaguely African beat to it (further reason for comparing this to Talking Heads) and an eerie middle section.

While the lyrics on "Little by Little" are mostly barely inaudible, they become fully incomprehensible on "Feral," which contains fragments of lyrics as if someone took a sonic eraser and smudged over the whole thing, leaving little traces that amount to whispers. It's a cool effect and a I rather like this song, despite it bearing little resemblance to a "song" at all.

"Lotus Flower" was selected as the album's single and it's as close as anything comes to being an actual song, although it's not a standout for me. What is though is "Codex," the album's most distinctive song, since it breaks the from the general layered focus of the other tracks to deliver something that is rather simple musically--it's mostly just piano and vocal with a few horns thrown and synth effects thrown in. Quite lovely, especially its instrumental climax. "Separator," the final track rolls along with surprisingly warmth and slightly retro feel, as if lightly kissed by some sunny '70s sun. Some surmise its title (along with the short running-time) suggests that The King of Limbs is the first of a two-part musical piece. If that's true, perhaps the rock 'n' roll is being saved for part 2? We shall see, but I don't need loud feedback to enjoy the ongoing musical exploration this group is taking is on.

Best: Bloom, Feral, Codex, Morning Mr. Magpie, Separator

Friday, March 04, 2011

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, March 12, 2011

1. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

A lot of upward moment on the chart this week, although the top 3 remains the same, giving Lady Gaga a third albeit non-bulleted week at #1 with "Born This Way." That matches the 3 weeks she spent at #1 with her first single, "Just Dance," so if it can manage another week, it will become her longest-running #1. Although its sales have slacked, it's still #1 at iTunes, and after waning a bit after its initial onslaught, its airplay has picked up significantly again, so a fourth is definitely possible.

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

Cee Lo holds at #2, earning this week's Airplay Gainer. If there's a threat to Gaga remaining #1 next week, it's this.

4. F**kin' Perfect - P!nk

Pink returns to the top 5 this week, up two spots. This single reached a #2 peak 4 weeks ago, but has been rebounding due to continued growth at radio.

5. S&M - Rihanna

S&M climbs two spots to #5, becoming Rihanna's 13th top 5 hit. This makes Loud her only album to score three consecutive top 5 singles. Although Good Girl Gone Bad had four top 5ers, they were not consecutive and in fact two of them didn't exist on the original release of the album.

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

Katy Perry makes a nice 20-spot leap to #8 with "E.T.," the fourth Teenage Dream single and fourth to reach the top 10 (the previous three were all #1 hits). The occasion is the release of the single version of this song, a new mix that features rapper Kanye West. This is Perry's 7th top 10 hit.

9. On the Floor - Jennifer Lopez (feat. Pitbull)

After having two singles fail to reach the top 100, Jennifer Lopez must feel good about seeing her latest debut within the top 10! From 1999 to 2003, J.Lo was a hot pop music property. But as her movie career soured, so too did her pop career, and prior to this, her last top 10 hit was as a guest on LL Cool J's "Control Myself" in 2006. Recent singles "Fresh Out of the Oven" and "Louboutins" were #1 dance hits, but failed to crack the Hot 100. Revitalized by her popular turn as a judge on American Idol and blessed with a pretty decent song this time around (as well as Pitbull, a man who recently contributed to the Enrique Iglesias comeback), she manages to score her 10th top 10 hit.

11. Blow - Ke$ha

Ke$ha makes a remarkable 21-spot jump to #11 this week, almost scoring another top 10 hit. Credit this to a big sales boost this week.

13. Rolling the Deep - Adele

Adele makes a nice 13-spot jump to #13, making "Rolling in the Deep" her biggest-charting US hit yet. Her album, 21, is #1 on the Billboard 200 this week.

31. All of the Lights - Kanye West (feat. Rihanna)

The song from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that I think has the best chance of being a major hit finally reaches the top 40. Despite its universal acclaim, West's fifth album is so far his only one to not score a top 10 hit.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Singles Serving

Christina Perri - Jar of Hearts. Introducing Christina Perri: a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia currently making waves with her first single, a lovely piano ballad underscored with some strings as well. Definitely a keeper even if it doesn't become a major hit.

Katy Perry feat. Kanye West - E.T. So, it's true I didn't really care for Katy Perry's album, Teenage Dream, even though I've liked all the singles from it so far. For its fourth single, "E.T.," she teams up with Kanye West to add some extra spice to a song that on the album showed some potential but as a single now really shines. Love the rapid fire stutter of the chorus "Take me, ta-ta-ta-take me..." Another hit for her for sure.

Breakage feat. Jess Mills - Fighting Fire. Gotta love Radio 1 for continuing to push dance tracks even though they generally aren't charting well these days. This one has a pretty rich bassline. Definitely fun, but not a must listen.

Dr. Dre feat. Eminem & Skylar Grey - I Need a Doctor. They performed this at the Grammys, which gave the song a pretty decent launch. I don't see this becoming a major hit though. It's not bad, but it rehashes the same territory that "Love the Way You Lie" covered much better.

Hurts - Sunday. This particularly upbeat track from Hurts was my favorite song from their album, Happiness, so it's nice to see it chosen as its fourth single. Bracing synth pop melody, decent beat, etc.