Saturday, April 23, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Barbra Streisand - Guilty (1980)

The Bee Gee's Barry Gibb is so essential to the sound of Barbra Streisand's Guilty that he earned himself a spot on the album's cover. Even though the work itself is solely credited to Streisand, this really is a collaboration, and the Bee Gee's signature pop sound is unmistakable throughout. Dramatic "Woman in Love" was a #1 hit, while "Guilty" and "What Kind of Fool" both reached the top 10. "Guilty," a duet with Gibb, is a particularly nice slice of breezily romantic 1980s pop. It won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo/Group. A lot of the music here is in that vein--laid back, groovy love songs. Things get a little funkier on "Promises," and "Life Story" is a bold mix of guitar, brass and synths. But mostly it's the love ballads with their soaring strings that make this album memorable, like "What Kind of Fool," another Gibb duet, and "The Love Inside," which threatens to climb the raptors but actually manages to reign itself in as a nicely understated love song. The team-up with Gibb proved a major success for Streisand, making Guilty her most successful album.

Best: Guilty, Woman in Love, What Kind of Fool

Friday, April 22, 2011


I'm on vacation this week, so I don't expect to post anything other than this weekend's Essential Albums of the '80s post until the following weekend.

Album Review: Glee: The Music Presents - The Warblers (4/5)

Glee has churned out a quite a few fun songs, but it hasn't produced a true album until now. The previous Glee releases--all collections of songs from the previous few episodes aired--sound like the soundtracks that they are: a mixed bag of styles and quality. The Warblers is different, for it focuses only on the music of Blaine Anderson and the Dalton Academy Warblers, who are, in real life, actor/singer Darren Criss and the Tufts University Beelzebubs, an a cappella men's singing group. Thus it sounds not just like a soundtrack, but an actual album, since it adheres to a more consistently style musically--that of the mostly a cappella Warblers--with Darren Criss doing lead vocal duty on almost all the tracks (Chris Colfer gets a few leads too, but this is Criss's show).

Let's pause a moment and consider Mr. Criss. Remember that episode when her first appeared singing Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream?" That remains one of the series best moments, and this set is wise to capitalize on it by putting that track front and center. From there we get the rather fun a cappella renditions of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" and Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills." A lot of the fun of this album is trying to discern to what extent its sound are instruments or clever vocal acrobatics. Clearly there's quite a lot of the latter--another reason why musically this set is a cut above what we've gotten previously from Glee.

Glee recently showed that it could hold its own with original songs, and it's a shame there aren't any here. Instead we get mostly top 40 covers, which is fun, but wouldn't it be great to hear what The Warblers could come up with on their own? At least there are some bonus gems that haven't appeared on the show, like a stirring remake of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," which I think is slated to appear in a future episode, and the album-only tracks "What Kind of Fool" (Barbra Streisand) and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (Rod Stewart). These are all great and make up for the album's few low points, such as "Silly Love Songs." The songs that Colfer leads or shares with Criss are largely not as compelling either, save for "Candles," which has some really lovely melodies.

Mark Salling and Matthew Morrison are the first Glee stars to release solo albums, but I think Darren Criss will likely be in the pike quite soon (along with Lea Michele, who is also such a fantastic performer).

Best: Teenage Dream, Somewhere Only We Know, Bills Bills Bills, Hey Soul Sister, Raise Your Glass.

Personal Chart, April 23, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, April 30, 2011

1. S&M - Rihanna (feat. Britney Spears)

Madonna. Whitney Houston. Mariah Carey. Janet Jackson. That's the list of the biggest female pop stars of all time. That circle widens today to admit a new member: Rihanna. With "S&M," Rihanna joins the elite club of 10 artists that have scored 10 or more #1 hits on the Hot 100. She is, of course, the 5th female artist to do so. The other five are groups or men: The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder.

Rihanna amassed her 10 #1s in a pretty short period of time. The Beatles got theirs in a mere 20 months, but among the ladies, Rihanna wins the race. Janet: 15 years between "When I Think fo You" and "All for You." Madonna: 8 years between "Like a Virgin" and "This Used to Be My Playground." Whitney: 6 years between "Saving All My Love for You" and "I Will Always Love You." Mariah: 5 years and 6 months between "Vision of Love" and "One Sweet Day." Rihanna? She comes in at just under 5 years between "SOS" and "S&M"--how appropriately similar these songs are titled.

Britney Spears deserves some credit for giving Rihanna an assist. It was sales of the new remix with Spears that sent the single over the top this week (and made the song this week's Digital Gainer). Billboard is listing this track now as "Rihanna featuring Britney Spears," so I suppose we can also count this as Spears' fifth #1 hit.

2. E.T. - Katy Perry feat. Kanye West

Perry falls a notch to #2, but is still a strong gainer, earning this week's Airplay Gainer. The song has over 14,000 spins at top 40 radio. I don't think I've ever seen a song get so much airplay. It's possible she'll top 15,000. There must be more top 40 stations these days. That's really impressive airplay.

6. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

Adele climbs 4 spots to #6 with "Rolling in the Deep." Something I should mention about her that has nothing to do with the Hot 100....So much attention on 21 lately, but I think 19 deserves some mention too. That album debuted at #1 in Britain in 2008, yet it's sold more copies this year than it did 3 years ago and has spent twice as much time in the top 10 in 2011 than it did in 2008. Considering that is has no current singles--and hasn't for years--that's really impressive. For a new album to be so popular as to serve for very effective promotion of an old album is pretty impressive. 21 was #1 in the US last week, but falls to #2 this week because of Foo Fighters (who also took the #1 spot from Adele in Britain). 19 isn't nearly as popular in the US--it is #42 this week.

10. Judas - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga debuts at #10 with "Judas," the follow-up single to her recent #1 "Born This Way," which falls out of the top 10 this week. "Judas" is the Lady's 9th top 10 hit. It's #10 debut isn't as impressive as the #1 debut of her last single, but it's still not bad. "Born This Way" had an unusual chart run--that doesn't mean "Judas" can't have a more normal but still impressive one.

24. Price Tag - Jessie J feat. B.o.B

Jessie J makes an impressive jump, up 16 notches to #24. It's top 40 airplay isn't growing so fast these days, but could turn around.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Singles Serving

Judas - Lady Gaga. Clearly the big new single of the week. Lady Gaga returns with the second helping from her upcoming album, Born This Way. It's edgier than "Born This Way," although still very much in her usual vein of electro-dance pop. This "Bad Romance" only a bit dirtier ("Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind"). Definitely another winner.

Turning Tables - Glee Cast feat. Gwyneth Paltrow. Gwyneth Paltrow tackles an album track from Adele's 21 and manages to pull the song off quite well. It makes me hope Adele releases this as a single soon. Such a beautiful song. It is odd that I think Gwyneth sounds a bit like Chris Colfer?

Unorthodox - Wretch 32 feat. Example. Wretch 32 is the year's hottest new British rapper. He hit #5 earlier this year with "Traktor" and returns with this superior single. It doesn't move the Earth, but it's enjoyable enough upbeat hip-hop track with a little taste of reggae melody underpinning it.

Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair - Arctic Monkeys. Remember when Arctic Monkeys delivered tight little explosive bombs masquerading as rock songs? Well, they don't do that anymore. Not that this is a bad song--the deep bass guitar growl recalls '90s-style alternative--but they aren't as much fun anymore. This is the first single from their upcoming fourth album.

Telling the World - Taio Cruz. This song is pretty cheesy, but I actually kind of enjoy it. Taio Cruz backed with piano and soaring synth-based melodies is a winning enough combination. Then the chimes come in...and you know you're in for the kind of song that works well in advertisements. It is, after all, from the soundtrack to the film Rio. Enjoy it for what it is.

Stop and Stare - Fenech-Soler. Fenech-Soler is a British electropop group from Northhamptonshire (isn't that a great name for a place to be from?). Not a bad bit of dance pop. Still, it's a genre that's been worked over of late, and while enjoyable, this isn't adding anything new to the conversation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Glee, "A Night of Neglect"

It's Gleefully good week. The Warblers' Glee album is pretty great, but I'll get to that later (like hopefully before the end of the week).

New Directions needs to raise funds for traveling to Nationals. They agree to also help the academic club, which most of the kids and Will didn't realize was made up of Mike, Artie, Tina and...Brittany. Will wants them to sell saltwater taffy as a fundraiser. If finances weren't hurdle enough, Sue calls on the Vocal Adrenaline coach, Dustin (hottie 30 Rock guest star Cheyenne Jackson), Will's predatory predecessor and Will's ex-wife Terri to concoct a plot to bring Will down. Will's girlfriend Holly (the ever fabulous Gwyneth Paltrow) convinces Will to hold a "Night of Neglect" fundraiser, during which they will honor neglected musicians.

Vocal Adrenaline member Sunshine Corazon (Charice) shows up and offers to help New Directions sell tickets for their fundraiser. The kids are skeptical that she's trying to derail them, but give her chance to try out.

Emma tells Will that Carl has left her and asked for an annulment. It's caused her OCD tendencies to resurface in a big way. He consoles her but doesn't notice Holly looking in from outside the window--and she doesn't look happy about it. Holly then dresses up as Wallace Simpson (!) for her class after which Dustin hits on her. Will sees and doesn't look happy about it. It leads to a little tiff and Holly backs out of doing a duet with Will at the benefit.

Mercedes decides to do Aretha Franklin and then turns diva, insisting on a green room stocked with green M&Ms, humidifiers and a puppy (for drying her hands) and uses Lauren as a sort of interpreter for speaking with Rachel. How very odd.

Kurt brings Blaine to McKinley High to show him around the school before the benefit when they run into the closeted gay football player. Santana shows up and lays the smack down on him. Sunshine tweets that she's not going to the benefit and neither will any of her 600+ friends she promised would show up. Despite that, the show must go on. Tina performs first, but gets booed off the stage by Sue's hecklers.

Holly levels with the hecklers and tries to get them to turn their energy into cheering. They all decide to take off instead, but at least they aren't booing New Directions anymore. When it's time for Mercedes to go on she's missing; Rachel finds her sulking in her car, upset that she's not as big a star as Rachel. Rachel gives her a pep talk to convince her to go inside and sing.

Holly gives an emotional performance of Adele's "Turning Tables," followed by the finale performance by Mercedes. Afterward Holly breaks Will's heart when she tells him she's moving on to Cleveland for a new job and breaks up with him, but not before giving him a push to get with Emma. His "come back and visit" plea leaves the door open for some future guest turns from Paltrow (good idea).

Not a bad episode, but not really a standout either. The gimmick of having lots of guest stars meant that Gwyneth Paltrow wasn't used as much as she could've been.


All By Myself (Eric Carmen/Celine Dion) - Sunshine. Sunshine tackles the Celine arrangement of this epic lovelorn ballad. She nails the big note (if you know the song--you know the one). She's good, but I don't see that this performance adds much to the show, considering that she's not a very interesting character. Then Mike dances, and the hecklers are silenced by spiced taffy.

I Follow Rivers (Lykke Li) - Tina. Bold song choice, as Lykke Li isn't particularly mainstream, although her album has gotten good buzz. Too bad we didn't get to hear much of it.

Bubble Toes (Jack Johnson) - Mike Change. Mike does a dance-only performance. He's really good although the part where he dances with a mop is kinda bizarre.

Turning Tables (Adele) - Holly. Gwyneth deserves some major credit for tackling an Adele song. That's not easy. And she sounds great on it. Performance of the night.

Ain't No Way (Aretha Franklin) - Mercedes. Wow. Mercedes looks stunning. And backed by a gospel choir too (where did they come from?). Definitely soul-stirring.

Line of the week (Dustin): "I'm handsome, good looking and easy on the eyes. Also, I'm gorgeous."

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Beyonce Single Leaked

Beyonce's new single, "Girls (Who Run the World)" has leaked. Billboard has it here. My first impression is...not good. It's quite a mess, and I don't hear a good hook in there. The lead single from her last album was so great.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

UK Singles Chart, April 23, 2011

1. Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock

LMFAO scores their first official #1 hit as "Party Rock Anthem" ascends to the top of the chart this week. They appeared as guest vocalists on David Guetta's "Gettin' Over You," but now can claim a #1 hit as headliners. One of the featured singers on this track has an X Factor connection: Lauren Bennett was one-half of the duo Fusion that was rejected during the third season boot camp.

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

Katy Perry climbs three spots to #3, making "E.T." the fourth single from Teenage Dream to reach the top 3. Three is a magic number for Perry. In addition to "Teenage Dream," the two singles she lended guest vocals to in 2009 both peaked at #3 (3Oh!3's "Starstrukk" and Timbaland's "If We Ever Meet Again").

4. Sweat - Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta

Snoop Dogg's "Sweat" climbs 5 notches to #4. After "Signs," which peaked at #2, this is the second-highest Snoop Dogg has charted aside from featured appearances.

6. Someone Like You - Adele

Adele edges down three more spots on the singles chart, but the big news for her is the end of her consecutive run at #1 on the albums chart, as she sees 21 fall to #2 after 11 weeks at #1, as the Foo Fighters' Wasting Light becomes the first new #1 album since late January.

7. S&M - Rihanna

After spending a week outside the top 10, "S&M" rebounds up 5 notches to #7.

8. Beautiful People - Chris Brown feat. Benny Benassi

Chris Brown jumps 12 notches to #8 with "Beautiful People," which becomes his 7th top 10 hit. It follows "Yeah 3X," which hit #6.

14. Judas - Lady Gaga

Since this was released Friday, she only got 2 days of sales in, but that's enough to make "Judas" debut at #14. As great as that sounds, remember that "Born This Way" was similarly released on a Friday and debuted at #3--although then it never managed to climb any higher.

WA Post: Listening to every No. 1 song. Ever.

The Washington Post has a story today by a writer who listened to every Hot 100 #1 hit (all 1,001 of them) and then wrote about the experience. For pop music/chart fans, it's a real treat. The observations are interesting, particularly the one about how the musical trends that define various eras aren't necessarily reflected in what hits #1. The '90s are a good example. I think most people would agree that alternative rock was very central to the sound of '90s music, yet not a single #1 hit came of that genre, as the Hot 100's #1 spot was dominated by adult contemporary, soft R&B and rap for most of the '90s.

Album Reviews

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (4/5). Foo Fighters are another band that have been around a long time that I never really got into. Sure, I'd heard their big hit singles ("Big Me," "Best of You," "The Pretender"), but I've never listened to one of their albums before. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Wasting Light, the group's seventh studio album. Dave Grohl and company excel at muscular guitar rock that doesn't need to result to trends and tricks to be enjoyable. Songs like "Bridge Burning" and "A Matter of Time" have a frenetic pace fueled by tight guitar melodies and drum rhythms. "White Limo" rocks even harder with distorted, screeching vocals. "These Days," a relatively softer moment, seems like a sure bet for a future single, as does uplifting "Walk." The album was produced by Bruce Vig, who helmed Nirvana's Nevermind, but hasn't produced a Foo Fighters album before. That makes somber "I Should Have Known" as close as a Nirvana reunion as possible, since it also features Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and lyrically addresses the death of Kurt Cobain. Best: Bridge Burning, These Days, I Should Have Known, Rope, Walk.

Bill Callahan - Apocalypse (3/5). Apocalypse is a mixed bag of an album with some definite strengths and weaknesses. In the former category, is the singer's voice, which is deep and smooth--very appealing. I also like the rootsy guitar melodies, which I find very compelling on the opening tracks, "Drover" and "Baby's Breath." The album fails, however, when it tries to tackle protest music, such as the plodding "America!," which includes a cringe-worthy listing of notable global conflict zones of the last 40 years. I'm all for popular music tackling politics, but I think it can be done in a more interesting way than lyrics like "Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iran, Native American (spoken to sound like "con")." He slows the tempo down on the next couple of tracks, the second of which, the rather lovely "Riding for the Feeling," restores my faith in the album. Best: Drover, Baby's Breath, Riding for the Feeling.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Essential Albums of the 80s: Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction

A lot of '80s rock music sounds relatively tame to my post-grunge ears. Appetite for Destruction not so much. Guns N' Roses blustery 1987 debut was a sharp shot of adrenaline for hard rockers softened by too much makeup and too many synthesizers. "It's So Easy" has guitar and bass interplay that reminds me of a lot of '90s music. It was their first single, although not a hit. "Welcome to the Jungle," the band's second single was their breakthrough, signaling their shameless, high-energy style. "Nightrain," has a musical guitar melody courtesy of the band's guitarist Slash--one of few rock musicians that's not a singer to become a mainstream name himself. The band's other big name, its lead singer Axl Rose, sings with raspy mania, which he barely reigns in, even on the group's #1 hit, the more genteel love song, "Sweet Child O' Mine," or its radio-friendly follow-up hit "Paradise City." As explosive as this debut was, the band's subsequent career was underwhelming. After the epic two-part punch of 1991's Use Your Illusion albums, the band released a covers album and then didn't produce another album for 15 years, 2008's Chinese Democracy.

Best: Sweet Child O' Mine, Paradise City, It's So Easy, Welcome to the Jungle

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Single Serving

S&M (Remix) - Rihanna featuring Britney Spears. Musically this is a "soft" remix that sounds mostly like the original. The big difference is the addition of Britney Spears, turning a softcore fetishist tease of a pop song into the latest girl-on-girl come on. Britney's no stranger to that of course. Just as the song might start to fade on the charts, this fresh remix ensures it will stick around awhile longer. Great idea.

Don't Turn Out the Lights - NKOTBSB. New Kids on the Block plus Backstreet Boys equals the first ever boyband supergroup. I guess these guys are serious about their reunion efforts which, in the case of NKOTB amounted to a popular tour, but a not very successful album, and in the case of Backstreet Boys--who have actually been reunited for 6 years now--has definitely flagged after a promising start. So why not join forces? Sure, Donnie Wahlberg has a popular TV show, Blue Bloods, but it's not a hit series (yet), so he's got to keep the bread and butter alive. I've seen the press swoon over this, but frankly, Take That re-wrote the book on mature boyband music with Progress and this first joint offering pales in comparison to anything on that disc. Fun, but not a keeper.

Sweat (Remix) - Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta. Snoop Dogg is back on the pop charts big time. First he teamed up with Katy Perry on last year's biggest summer hit, "California Gurls," and now he joins forces with DJ-Producer David Guetta to deliver spring's biggest club jam. I'm quite enjoying this--best Guetta track since "When Love Takes Over."

Beautiful People - Chris Brown feat. Benny Benassi. Speaking of dance jams, Chris Brown takes his urban sound to the dance floor on this track from F.A.M.E. He's still on my s**tlist, but I can't deny this is great dance track. "Yeah 3X" may have been pretty bland, but he's quickly proving that this album has much to offer.

I Wrote the Book - Beth Ditto. A freebie on iTunes this week that's actually pretty decent. She exudes quite a bit of personality on this early-to-mid '80s-loving dance pop track. Check out the video, which pays homage to Madonna's "Justify My Love" and "Vogue" vids:

Monday, April 11, 2011

UK Singles Chart, April 16, 2011

1. On the Floor - Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull

Congratulations to J.Lo as she extends her run at #1 a second week. It's the first time she's managed to do so, since "Love Don't Cost a Thing" and "Get Right" each spent a solitary week at #1. That's still far less time she's spent at the top than with her American #1s, among which her shortest run was 4 weeks with "All I Have."

2. Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO

Britons must be gearing up for Easter holiday, as the dance tunes are ruling the chart this week. LMFAO climbs a notch to #2, and several party-friendly tracks move into the top 10 this week.

3. Someone Like You - Adele

It looks like Adele's time at #1 for "Someone Like You" has passed; however, her 21 retains its hold at #1 on the albums chart for an 11th consecutive week, just 1 week behind the 12-week record set by Bob Marley's Legend. I imagine this will be it's last week at the top (for now) as The Foo Fighters will present the best chance yet to end her reign.

5. E.T. - Katy Perry feat. Kanye West

Katy Perry climbs 7 notches to #5, making "E.T." the fourth consecutive top 5 hit from Teenage Dream. Including her two featured appearance singles, she's now had 8 top 5 hits.

6. Buzzin - Mann feat. 50 Cent

Mann climbs 5 spots to #6 with "Buzzin'," scoring his first top 10 hit. I really like this song, which makes liberal use of Portland, Oregon-based Nu Shooz's 1986 hit "I Can't Wait," which reached #2.

9. Sweat - Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta

Snoop "Doggy" Dogg scores his third top 10 hit as a lead performer with "Sweat," a remixed, radio-friendly version of hits current single "Wet." The track is courtesy of DJ extraordinaire David Guetta, who is no stranger to the top 10.

20. Beautiful People - Chris Brown feat. Benny Benassi

Even Chris Brown has the dance music bug with his decidedly uptempo track from F.A.M.E. debuting this week at #20. Along with his previous single "Yeah 3X" at #19 and his collaborations with Chipmunk at #26 ("Champion") and T-Pain at #40 ("Best Love Song"), he's one of two acts with four entries in the top 40 this week. The other? His ex, Rihanna, who also has two singles in the top 20--"S&M" at #12 and "All of the Lights (with Kanye West)" at #15--plus David Guetta's "Who's That Chick" at #28 and "Only Girl" at #38.

32. Girls Fall Like Dominoes - Nicki Minaj

Minaj scores her fourth top 40 hit. Go Nicki!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Essential Albums of the 80s: Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA (1984)

"The time are tough now, just getting tougher" begins Springsteen on "Cover Me," the second track of Born in the USA. It sounds like a statement more apt for the '10s than the '80s which, after all, was the decade of excess. But despite the public's interest in Wall Street portfolios and shows like Dynasty, Springsteen kept the fire burning for the everyday working man, making the themes of class struggle his bread and butter. Compared to his previous work, Born in the USA takes a lighter approach musically even as it adheres to his typically gritty themes. Thus you get "Born in the USA," a defiant-sounding slice of synth-scored pop rock that has been (often inappropriately) appropriated by political campaigns that hear the song's refrain and think "patriotism" while missing its bitter message about the illusion of the American dream.

While social commentary creeps through many of its songs, so does the pursuit of romance, through which he finds success on "Cover Me," but ends up in the slammer at the end of the lively "Working on the Highway." Springsteen infuses a lot of sex appeal in his songs too, whether its the edgy romanticism of downbeat "I'm on Fire" or the propulsive vitality of "Dancing the Dark," the song that became the singer's biggest hit. Romance of a different sort combines with social commentary on "My Hometown," which chronicles the plight of a small town in decline while balancing the economic desire to leave with the nostalgic desire to stay.

I wouldn't generally consider myself a big Springsteen fan, although I am somewhat familiar with his more recent albums. That said, I really like Born in the USA, and its whetted my appetite to hear more of his earlier work. I appreciate that it managed to appeal both to the masses and the music critics--something few albums seem to do these days. That it scored a very impressive seven top 10 hits (a feat managed by only two other albums ever), makes it all the more notable, especially since he'd had only one top 10 hit prior.

Best: Dancing in the Dark, Born in the USA, I'm on Fire, Cover Me, Glory Days, My Hometown

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Album Reviews

Katy B - On a Mission (3.5/5). Programming those late-night dance shows on Radio 1 just got a lot easier. All that's necessary is to insert Katy B's debut album and press play. Over these 12 tracks, she explores a variety of contemporary and (recently) retro dance styles, including dubstep, garage, drum 'n' bass, etc. I'm not enough of dance music expert to tell which is which, but I do recognize the differences in the familiar sounds. The more upbeat tracks--"Katy on a Mission," "Lights On," "Power on Me"--contrast nicely with the mellower ones like "Movement" and closing downbeat track, "Hard to Get," during which she graciously thanks everyone who made her album possible. The perfect 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. soundtrack. Best: Lights On, Katy on a Mission, Why You Always Here, Movement.

Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys (3.5/5). With their last album, alternative band Elbow jumped a few notches up the popularity ruler going from modest success and a respectable following to enviable success and a mainstream following thanks to the success of The Seldom Seen Kid, which won the Mercury Award and went double-platinum in the UK. I enjoyed that album, but wasn't blown away by it, and my reaction to Build a Rocket Boys! is similar. I like the melodic build up on opening track "the birds," which is followed by the gentle optimism of "lippy kids." After those initial standouts, there's not much else that jumps out at me, although it's generally likeable, laid back rock. Best: the birds, lippy kids, with love.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, April 16, 2011

1. E.T. - Katy Perry feat. Kanye West

Katy Perry spends a second week at #1 with "E.T." Last week, I skipped a Hot 100 recap and instead wrote about her pretty amazing feat of having four #1 hits from one album, making Teenage Dream only the ninth album to ever do that. This week, it joins an even more exclusive club within that set, becoming one of just four albums with four #1 hits that all spent more than 1 week at #1, a feat she shares with George Michael's Faith, Mariah Carey and Usher's Confessions. As for Perry's guest star, Kanye West, this is his fourth #1 hit and his second as a guest performer after his first, "Slow Jamz" with Twista and Jamie Foxx. The track is this week's Airplay Gainer, and it's currently the fastest growing track at top 40, where it's gaining 2002 spins at present according to Mediabase. Surely it will also soon become her sixth #1 hit at top 40.

2. S&M - Rihanna
3. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas

Two singles are teed up to try to unseat Perry at #1. It will be a tough sell for either to accomplish this next week though. Perry is #1 at sales, #6 and airplay and the greatest gainer on both of those component charts. "S&M" is #1 at radio, but lagging behind the other two in sales. "Just Can't Get Enough" is second place at sales but not yet top 10 at radio. I think this all adds up to a third week at #1 for "E.T." next week.

6. Look at Me Now - Chris Brown feat. Lily Wayne & Busta Rhymes

"Look at Me Now" climbs a notch to #6. It's Chris Brown's 10th top 10 hit and his first since "Forever" hit #2 late in 2008. His last album, Graffiti, failed to chart any top 10 hits.

10. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

Adele scores her first US top 10 hit as "Rolling in the Deep" climbs 7 notches to #10. The single peaked at #2 in Britain, playing second-fiddle to her bigger #1 hit, "Someone Like You." Globally, "Rolling in the Deep" is the bigger single, having hit #1 in Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Switzerland.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Singles Serving

All of the Lights - Kanye West feat. Rihanna. Many more artist are featured on this track, but Rihanna's typically robotic vocal is the most prominent. With horns reminiscent of the Rocky theme and a propulsive rhythm section, it's one of the standout tracks from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Although the album continues to fail to produce a hit on par with "Gold Digger" or "Stronger," it's not the kind of album that really offers up pop hits--it's too deep for that. This is as close as he'll probably come to getting a big single from it.

Look at Me Now - Chris Brown feat. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes. I know I kind of made fun of this song last week by making it my April Fool's #1. But the joke may be on me. As much as I think that Chris Brown is a grade-A jerk (the fact that he titled his album "Forgiving All My Enemies" is further proof that he just doesn't get it), I can't help but like this song. The sparse, electro beats are fun, but the real appeal is in Busta Rhymes rapid-fire rapping skills, which are on impressive display here.

Girls Fall Like Dominoes - Nicki Minaj. This was a bonus track from Pink Friday, not included on all versions of the album (including the one I bought, unfortunately). The track is built around "Dominoes" by British electro-rock duo The Big Pink, making it a delightful merger of new wave-inspired indie pop and hip-hop.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s - Whitney Houston (1985)

It's been said that the '80s were the heyday of the blockbuster pop album. This was one of the biggest ones--the decade's best-selling album by a female artist and second best-selling debut album (behind Guns 'N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction). Whitney Houston wrote the book for crossover adult-leaning R&B/pop, a sound that would dominate pop music through the second half of the '80s and most of the '90s, paving the way for other similarly vocally gifted female artists like Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Toni Braxton.

Musically, Whitney Houston adeptly dispatches both its ballads and uptempo tracks. Houston became known for her torchy love songs, and these were among her first and best. "You Give Good Love" set the stage, while "Saving All My Love for You" became her first #1 hit, on which she takes the unusual role of the anti-heroine persona "the other woman." "The Greatest Love of All" was the album's biggest hit ballad, but the lesser-known "All at Once" and "Hold Me," a song that first appeared on duet partner Teddy Pendergrass's 1984 album Love Language and was released as a single, are also good too.

The uptempo numbers on the album don't shine as bright as the ballads with one notable exception, "How Will I Know," a real knockout of a dance pop single. "Thinking About You" and "Someone for Me," while fun, don't hold a candle to its carefree pop perfection (Houston would do generally better uptempo material on her 1987 follow-up, Whitney). Although Jermaine Jackson was surely included for some name recognition, hits two collaborations are the album's weakest material, but "Take Good Care of My Heart" does add some needed energy among the album's many slow songs.

The album Whitney was my first exposure to Houston and, while for nostalgic reasons it will always hold a special place in my heart, I've come to appreciate Whitney Houston more and more as the years go by, and would probably recognize it as the superior of the two sets.

Best: How Will I Know, Saving All My Love for You, You Give Good Love, The Greatest Love of All, All at Once

UK Singles Chart, April 9, 2011

1. On the Floor - Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull

Jennifer Lopez claims the #1 crown form Adele with "On the Floor," her third #1 hit. After struggling to find a hit with her last album--her first to lack a top 10 hit--Lopez is back in a big way with this new single from her upcoming album Love?. The song features rapper Pitbull, who scored three top 10 hits last year as a featured artist, although this is his first appearance on a #1 hit. "On the Floor" moved 130,000 copies, the second-highest tally for a #1 hit so far this year behind Bruno Mars' 145,000 copies sold for "Grenade" during its first week at #1.

2. Someone Like You - Adele

Thus Adele's "Someone Like You" is knocked to #2, but it achieves the significant feat this week of becoming the year's best-selling single. On the albums chart, 21 extends its run at #1 to 10 consecutive weeks. In terms of consecutive weeks at #1, 21 is now tied for second place with Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (1986) and Adam & the Ants' Kings of the Wild Frontier (1981). The record is held by Bob Marley's Legend (1984), which spent 12 consecutive weeks at #1. In terms of total weeks at #1, she's in a 6-way tie for 11th place; the leader is 15 weeks, shared by Phil Collins' ...But Seriously (1989) and Spice Girls' Spice (1996). Judging from the new release schedule, she should get 1 more week at #1 before she has to take on Foo Fighters.

3. Party Rock Anthem - LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & Goon Rock

LMFAO made it to #1 last year as a featured artist on David Guetta's "Gettin' Over You." On their own, they reached the top 10 with "I'm in Miami Bitch" a few years ago. Now they are back with their biggest hit yet, "Party Rock Anthem," which climbs 19 notches to #3 this week.

8. Broken Record - Katy B

On the eve of the release of her debut album, On a Mission, Katy B scores her third top 10 hit. It follows "Katy on a Mission" and "Lights," which both reached the top 5.

12. E.T. - Katy Perry feat. Kanye West

Nice jump for Katy Perry and Kanye West as "E.T." glides up 17 notches to #12. Her last three singles peaked at #1, #2 and #3.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Album Review: Britney Spears - Femme Fatale (3.5/5)

Does Britney Spears have anything to say? That seems to be the big question hanging over much of her music. She sings a lot, but she never manages to say anything. The beats on Femme Fatale are cutting-edge and polished to perfection by a cadre of today's top pop producers, but when it comes to personality, Spears once again manages to inject very little into the admittedly already crowded mix.

Despite her lack of skills as a songwriter, when she's at least put the effort into co-writing her music, it's resulted in generally better albums, the apex of which was her 2003 set In the Zone, an album for which she co-wrote two-thirds of the tracks. Spears also did a little bit of writing for her last album, Circus (2008). But like her soulless 2007 set Blackout, Femme Fatale is written only by others, further emphasizing it as more a showcase for producer talent than for Spears herself. More often than not her thin, girly voice fades into the background of the mix rather than be supported by it.

But if you're just looking for some glossy pop production, Femme Fatale has it in spades. It is Spears' most dance-floor-ready work yet. "Hold It Against Me" and "Till The World Ends" have already proven their worth on the charts. They are produced by master hit-makers Dr. Luke, Max Martin (a Spears collaborator going all the way back to ...Baby One More Time) and Billboard, a new voice from Canada that has worked with Robyn and Ke$ha. These producers also helmed "Inside Out," a less propulsive but also enjoyable number that pushes out rolls of jittering, synth based melodies that wash over like waves in a digital ocean.

Martin teams up with Shellback for two of my favorite tracks. "I Wanna Go" is another dance floor stomper that's basically about nothing--Britney just wanting to dance herself into an orgasmic frenzy--but she delivers her line "shame on me to need release uncontrollably" in a manner to elicit at least a little smile. "Criminal" is the album's sharpest departure. It's the only song that approaches a slower pace. Lyrically, it's close to a story song, one in which the singer can't help but love a guy she knows is wrong for her. Its mix of acoustic guitar with electronic synths and beats recalls Madonna's Music, and its middle section flute solo is the most unexpected musical element on the album.

"How I Roll" is an interesting song. It's quite beat heavy and mostly minimalist, with a chant-like quality that serves to showcase the keyboard-driven choruses well. It's co-produced by Bloodshy of the Bloodshy & Avant team that has been one of Spears' most successful collaborators ("Toxic," "Piece of Me"). Avant writes but doesn't produce on this album; instead Bloodshy is working with Henrik Jonback and Magnus Lidehäll--all Swedes presumably. Their other contribution, "Trip to My Heart," is a journey that lacks inspiration.

My least favorite tracks are "Beautiful (Drop Dead)," which I find to be pretty tedious, although I do like the hip-hop bridge by newcomer Sabi, who raps in a style that seems obviously inspired by Nicki Minaj, and "Big Fat Bass," Spears' first collaboration with Will.I.Am. It's a match that doesn't prove to a fruitful, as the song just sounds like something Fergie could have done but took a pass on. "Gasoline" has a good chugging beat, but is fueled by petroleum-based metaphors that burn out quickly (he he).

So try as a I might, I just can't give this album 4 stars, although she comes real close. I've come around to enjoy her last album, which is comparatively more interesting and, for her at least, more personal. This album is almost as good and certainly better than Blackout and Britney, as well as her earliest teeny-pop work. However, seven albums in, Britney continues to deliver great songs but has still yet to record a truly great pop album. Many, myself included, keep hoping she has it in her, but with Femme Fatale she's still not there yet.

Best: Hold It Against Me, Till the World Ends, I Wanna Go, Criminal, How I Roll

Personal Chart, April 2, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011