Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Album Reviews

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (4/5). Fleet Foxes' 2008 self-titled debut was a lush, layered take on folk meets classic rock that resulted in a rather beautiful sound, particularly on "White Winter Hymnal." This second album finds them in fine form, exploring similar territory with their mix of unusual acoustic instruments and varied styles of yesteryear. "Montezuma" begins the album with frontier-like sounds of guitar and harmonized male vocals. "Bedouin Dress" follows with its quirky violin taking the lead in the melody parade that features all sorts of stringed instruments. Gentle plucky instrumentation contrasts with dramatic strings on "Sim Sala Bim," which later morphs into a guitar jam session worthy of Mumford & Sons. In fact, those who might avoid this thinking it will be dull should check out the lively, sunny title track or dramatic multi-movement composition "The Shrine/An Argument," whose concluding experimental jazz-style horn solo sounds like Radiohead at its Kid A oddest. Hopefully they'll also be enticed by the cinematic beauty of instrumental "The Cascades," as rustic a tune as the title would suggest. Upbeat piano jam "Battery Kinzie" is just as welcome as flower-power love song "Lorelai." Best: Helplessness Blues, Sim Sala Bim, Montezuma, Bedouin Dress.

Moby - Destroyed (2.5/5). Being the world's leading purveyor of sleepy electronica comes with the risk that you might put your audience to sleep, which is what Moby does on his rather bland 10th album, Destroyed. Apparently recorded while on tour during bouts of insomnia, the set recycles the sounds of dreamy synths, old-school dance beats and soul samples Moby has used before. Nothing sounds new and most of it has sounded better before. After the lovely grandeur of 2009's Wait for Me, Destroyed feels uninspired. Best: Be the One, Victoria Lucas.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Album Review: Lady Gaga - Born This Way (4.5/5)

Raised expectations can be a bitch, and sophomore albums are notoriously difficult, especially after a first album is so well received. Lady Gaga's 2008 debut, The Fame, produced four massive hits and created the most recent pop superstar, a game-changer of an artist who has redefined what it means to be a pop performer while taking a page or two (or more) from acts like Madonna and Elton John--artists who previously served in that role.

With the release of Born This Way, Lady Gaga's second album, the pop singer shows no fear in the face of those typical stumbling blocks. In fact, prior to its release, she talked the album up so much herself that it seemed impossible it would be as good as she thought it was. And frankly, it's not the best pop album ever, or even the best pop album released so far this year. But compared to her prior work, it definitely exceeds expectations. Against any meaningful measure, Born This Way is a triumph, continuing to push the boundaries of pop music (as well as a few buttons).

"Marry the Night" starts the album quietly with brooding synths and vocals and then quickly transforms into one of the album's biggest powerhouse dance pop tracks. It's a great song--one I expect will be a future single. The albums' highlights tend to be these high-energy numbers, particularly the songs we've already heard (the title track, "Judas" and "The Edge of Glory"). "Born This Way" is particularly great, better for its incessantly addictive rhythm than its social message (we're all born the way we are, so let's just all accept it and love one other--well-intentioned, but hardly groundbreaking).

As you would expect, the production here is top-notch electropop, churning out every conceivable type of electronic beat, bleat or synthetic keyboard creation you can imagine. "Judas" bristles with fuzzy synths and booming bass. It's such a great power pop song; I still can't fathom why it's become her first single to flop. That she's still drinking from the '80s synth-pop well is not surprising. She continues to do so effectively, even making a compelling argument for bringing back the saxophone on songs like "Hair" (which I'm liking more and more lately) and the current feel-good hit single "The Edge of Glory," which closes the album on a high note. "Bad Kids" and "Fashion of His Love" derive their appeal from the pulsating sound of mid-'80s dance pop--the kind that Madonna and Whitney Houston excelled at circa 1984-1988.

Gaga is a strange lady, so there are quite a few weird numbers in the mix. "Government Hooker" is an odd one for sure, sounding a bit like Britney Spears' "Gimme More." I've listened to it several times and read the lyrics and still can't tell you what it's about. It references JFK, so is she trying to pretend she's Marilyn Monroe? Well, Marilyn never sounded like this. I'm not sold on it yet, and neither am I really digging the Latin turn on "Americano," although I do appreciate the effort to mix in some Flamenco styling. I do, however, quite like "Scheiße," her foray into '90s European techno ("sheiße" is German for "shit"). "I don't speak German but I can if you like," says Gaga during the energetic dancefloor-ready tune before launching into a few lines of German a good source tells me is mostly nonsense, but fun nonetheless.

There are a few slower-by-comparison songs on the album to help break up what would otherwise be a pretty exhausting listen, although I wouldn't call any of them ballads. "Bloody Mary" is ominous synth-pop, but one suspects in a tongue-in-cheek way similar to what the Pet Shop Boys were doing in the '90s. "Black Jesus + Amen Fashion" also sounds kind of PSB-ish with its grandiose posturing and '80s keyboard melodies. "Electric Chapel" is in this vein too, maybe a little more toward Depeche Mode in its nod to gothic synth pop. Mutt Lange shows up to produce "You and I," which, with a different arrangement, could have been sung by his ex-wife Shania Twain. It's the only song that feels out of place here.

Lyrics aren't Gaga's strong suit, although she frequently turns out some memorable phrases. On "Judas," she uses Christian imagery to portray her love of the bad boy ("Jesus is my virtue, but Judas is the demon I cling to"). Hardly the religious statement some believed the song would be, it's just a simple metaphor. That her songs' substance frequently fails to achieve a deeper level of meaning isn't necessarily a bad thing. Do we really want dance pop music as social commentary? Seems like it can strive to be merely fun and really achieve exactly what it should. So when religious icons show up in other songs ("Bloody Mary," "Black Jesus + Amen Fashion" and "Electric Chapel"), they're there more for window-dressing than to make some big statement.

The album can be a bit grueling to get through. At 14 tracks (17 if you get the longer version), it's not a quick listen. That was one of the things that was so nice about Fame Monster--all eight of its tracks were winners. At this length, you're more likely to encounter a few duds. That said, Born This Way is an overall stronger listen than her first album, The Fame, which lost steam quickly beyond its mega-hit singles. Born This Way offers up gems and surprises all over the place, broadening the singer's sound while solidifying her dance pop base. It's a solid effort, one destined become one of the year's defining hit albums.

Best: Born This Way, Judas, Marry the Night, Scheiße, The Edge of Glory, Fashion of His Love, Black Jesus + Amen Fashion

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Enya - Watermark (1988)

Last week I profiled the '80s biggest heavy metal album. This week I take the most significant about-face possible and look at the decade's most popular new age album.

Enya's Watermark may not have set the pop charts on fire, but pretty much everyone seems to have one of her albums lying around someplace. Many people consider it to be merely inoffensive, which isn't fair really, since that downplays how quite lovely it is. Versatile too. I'm sure millions of people have enjoyed as the soundtrack to dinner, evening reading, massage and sex.

To say it's a "quiet" album is to skip over the growing intensity of "Carsum Perficio." To say it all sounds the same is to miss how much that song contrasts with the gentle synth-based track "On Your Shore" that follows. The albums most pop-leaning track, "Orinoco Flow," was a major international hit for the star, and while it's great, it's one of many highlights here. I'm particularly taken by the sensual instrumental title track.

Although Enya is often referred to as a new age artist, the Irish singer's sound is really a clever hybrid of new age, pop, electronic, and world music. What really sets her apart though is her signature multi-tracked vocals, as if we're listening to not one Gaelic chanteuse but an army of them. Thus her voice becomes an instrument on par with any other sound she wants to throw in the mix. Even the booming drums on "Storms in Africa" are no match for her.

Watermark put Enya on the map and she stuck around for quite some time, releasing similar albums of lushly orchestrated vocal-electronic music. Most significantly, her 2001 single, "Only Time," became a major hit after its emotional message resonated with the public following 9/11.

Best: Orinoco Flow (Sail Away), Watermark, Storms in Africa, Carsum Perficio

New Album Releases June

Get ready for Beyoncé, who leads June's list of new releases, which also features the latest from Bon Iver, Arctic Monkeys and (finally) Sophie Ellis-Bextor (as well as a new album from her husband's band).

Beyoncé - 4 (June 24). This is the biggest album slated for summer so far, the fourth release from one of the world's biggest female pop stars. Last time out, she gave us a concept album of sorts, a two-disc set divided into calmer pop ballads and livelier upbeat songs. I Am...Sasha Fierce was another tremendous success for the former Destiny's Child frontwoman, nabbing her many Grammy nominations and three monster-sized global hits ("If I Were a Boy," "Single Ladies" and "Halo"). For this album, there's just one disc, but based on what I'm reading, it will be much more musically varied than Sasha, with Beyoncé naming influences like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill--signaling perhaps more retro and hip-hop sounds--as well as Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. So far I've heard three songs from the album and they're all quite different. First up was "Run the World (Girls)," which had an explosive rhythm but failed to connect well with the public. Second single "Best Thing I Never Had," which I've only heard once but liked. And then there's "1+1," the album's first track, a guitar-backed ballad in the vein of "If I Were a Boy" available from iTunes as a preview track.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver (June 21). Bon Iver's 2008 debut For Emma, Forever Ago, isn't the sort of thing I'd usually be attracted to. It's woodsy folk/rock recorded in rural Wisconsin doesn't seem like music for pop fans. Yet Bon Iver's gorgeous melodies are quite compelling and, although I didn't get this album until late last year, I've definitely fallen under its spell. And I'm not the only one. Bon Iver attracted the attention of Kanye West, who featured the band on several songs from last year's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, most notably on "Lost in the World," which heavily samples Bon Iver's "The Woods." This albums first single, "Calgary," includes synthesizers, which is a big departure from the sound of For Emma. Definitely interested in hearing what they do this time.

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See (June 6). Based on what was being written in the British press, Arctic Monkeys arrived in late 2005 as the saviors of alternative rock music. Of course, nobody can live up to that kind of hype, but their 2006 debut and its 2007 follow-up were both satisfying sets of short, explosive songs. By the time they released their third album in 2009 though, they'd lost much of their luster. With this fourth album, it sounds like they may be taking a new direction. At least that's my impression from its first single, "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair," which sounds totally different, with louder, deeper guitars and a more measured approach. The album is produced by James Ford, who produced their last two albums.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Make a Scene (June 5). It's been 4 years since Ellis-Bextor's last album, Trip the Light Fantastic. Since then there's been much uncertainty about what we'd get from her next. At one point there was going to be a greatest hits set, then a new album, which got pushed back, and changed its name, etc. Finally it looks like we're going to get this album, Make a Scene, which has already been released in Russia. It features new single "Starlight" plus the several tracks Ellis-Bextor has put out the last few years, "Bittersweet," "Not Giving Up on Love" and "Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)." The production lineup features big names like Calvin Harris, Freemasons and Richard X, and Cathy Dennis co-wrote two of the album's tracks.

My Morning Jacket - Circuital (May 31). American rock band releases its sixth album, the follow-up to the acclaimed 2008 disc, Evil Urges.

All Time Low - Dirty Work (June 6). American punk-rock group releases its fourth album.

Nerina Pallot - Year of the Wolf (June 12). British singer-songwriter releases her fourth album.

Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful (June 14). After breaking through big with the single "Fireflies" from their last album, Owl City returns with his third album of electropop.

The Feeling - Together We Are Made (June 19). British band releases its third album.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV (June 21). Lil Wayne's 2008 album Tha Carter III was a massive hit, scoring the #1 single "Lollipop" and earning a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. Since then, he's put out the comparatively underwhelming "rock" album, Rebirth, and last year's I Am Not a Human Being. So this could be a return to form, although it's yet to generate a hit single.

Vanessa Carlton - Rabbits on the Run (June 21). Remember "A Thousand Miles" from 2002? That was from Carlton's first album--this is her fourth.

Weird Al Yankovic - Alpocalypse (June 21). The king of pop music parody releases his 13th album, his first in 5 years. This time he takes on Lady Gaga ("Perform This Way," "Polka Face"), T.I., White Stripes and Taylor Swift, among others.

Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra (June 28). Sixth album.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, June 4, 2011

1. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

It's a third week at #1 for Adele and "Rolling in the Deep," which earns Airplay Gainer for a fourth week in a row. She also claims the #1 spot on the Digital Songs chart for a third week, while reaching #2 with a bullet on the airplay chart. Her album, 21, spends a 5th consecutive week at #1 for 9 weeks total now as America's favorite album. The last album to spend that many consecutive weeks at #1 was last summer's Recovery by Eminem, which lodged 5 weeks-in-row at #1 and7 weeks total. Next record-holder (album-holder?) for 21 to take on is Taylor Swift's 2008 release Fearless, which spent 11 weeks at #1 including 7 consecutive weeks.

3. Give Me Everything - Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer

Pitbull climbs a notch to #3 with"Give Me Everything." That's just one notch below the #2 peak of his "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)," which is Pitbull's highest reach on the Hot 100. Although he may appear to be closing on Adele, he's still got quite a ways to go, as "Give Me Everything" is selling about 80,000 copies less than "Rolling in the Deep" (about a third less in volume), according to Billboard, and trails at radio where the single is #6. This may be a #1 hit, but it will be a few weeks before it's a serious contender.

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

"Party Rock Anthem," already a #1 hit in Britain, spends its first week in the US top 10, up 12 spots this week to #8. Already there's talk that this could be one of the big "hits of summer." We'll see--summer's biggest hit probably hasn't come out yet. The song is this week's Digital Gainer.

9. The Show Goes On - Lupe Fiasco

Rapper Lupe Fiasco scores his second and biggest top 10 hit, as "The Show Goes On" climbs 3 notches to #9. That beats the #10 peak of his first top 10 hit, the 2007 single "Superstar" featuring Matthew Santos.

12. Hair - Lady Gaga
(19. The Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga)

Lady Gaga's "Hair" debuts on the Hot 100 at #12. Although it misses a top 10 debut like her last three singles, this is still pretty decent when considering that it's just a preview track and not an official single. The shuffle of "The Edge of Glory" for "Judas" appears to be complete. At top 40 radio (Mediabase), "Judas" is nowhere to be seen, while "The Edge of Glory" has already reached the top 20. "Glory" takes a big dive on the Hot 100--down 16 spots from last week's #3 debut--but will likely regain some of that ground as its airplay continues to grow and sales return. "Hair" is Gaga's 11th top 40 hit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lady Gaga: Born This Way

Lady Gaga's second full-length album arrived in stores today (for as little as $1 at Amazon.com, which is a pretty amazing deal). I listened probably 3 times through today. Generally I'm pretty pleased, although it's not perfect. It's a pretty relentless album but it has a lot of variety, so I'm not suffering listener fatigue as yet. Here some initial impressions:

Marry the Night: Great choice for an opening track. Starts quiet and dramatic before bursting forth with a charging beat drenched in '80s electro dance-pop. An instant favorite and certainly a future single. Produced by Garibay, who is the most prominent producer on Born This Way, showing up on 11 of the 17 tracks.

Born This Way: It has its detractors, but I still love it.

Government Hooker: This is an odd one. Not sure how I feel about it yet. The JFK reference doesn't seem very natural. It sounds a bit like Britney Spears' "Gimme More."

Judas: This is the first RedOne-produced tracks on the album. Another one that I really love.

Americano: It's got a Latin thing going on, which is different for her. Still a bracing piece of dance pop. Quite over the top.

Hair: The saxophone makes its entrance on this second RedOne production. Nice melody and I like the little touch of piano, but the lyrics are pretty silly even for her.

Scheiße: "I don't speak German, but I can if you like" says Gaga at the top of this harder club-oriented song. Got a real '90s dance music sound to it, which is fun. Among the tracks so far that aren't singles, this is probably my second favorite after the opening track.

Bloody Mary: There's a lot of religious imagery on this album, but that's it--it's just imagery and nothing really deep (I don't think, will have to check out the lyrics to know for sure). Slower and theatrical. Reminds me of Pet Shop Boys in a way.

Black Jesus + Amen Fashion: This is one of the extra tracks on the longer edition ( after buying the $1 Amazon version, I cherry-picked the three additional tracks from iTunes, so we're looking at about $5 total for this). Surprised this isn't just on the album proper. It's pretty cool. A bit disco-ish. This is produced by DJ White Shadow, who shows up as co-producer on several other tracks.

Bad Kids: This is another self esteem pop song in a vein similar to "Born This Way." Her message of universal love for all the outcasts doesn't really seem that genuine, but I guess it's a good sentiment.

Fashion of His Love: Another bonus track. This is very '80s, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood style '80s. Fun song. Again, this is better than some of the album proper tracks, so I definitely recommend getting the 17-track version of this.

Highway Unicorn (Road to Love): Kind of messy production here, making the song go all over the place. Then the very melodic chorus breaks through the mess like a breath of fresh air. Not sold on this one yet, but it does have a pretty good beat.

Heavy Metal Lover: It's got a synth-based beat like "Born This Way," but otherwise sounds pretty different. Despite the title, this is dance pop through and through.

Electric Chapel: Here's the electric guitar along with some strings. Nice musical intro that segues into some pretty strong electronic keyboards. This song has a lot going for it actually, despite being buried back toward the end.

The Queen: Another bonus cut. Odd chimes at the beginning--like the sound the trolleys make in San Francisco. Then the tempo speeds up and we get upbeat dance pop.

You and I: Mutt Lange produced this song and it totally sounds like it, riding that country/rock/pop sound he does so well. I wonder if, in another world, this appeared on a Shania Twain album. Tempo wise, this is probably the slowest the album ever gets.

The Edge of Glory: The current single. I like this song, but not as much as "Born This Way" or "Judas." Still, I find myself singing it odd times, so it's definitely sunk in.

So, there you have it. It's pretty long, but I wouldn't characterize much of it as filler. Certainly far less so than The Fame. A proper review should follow this weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

UK Singles Chart, May 28, 2011

1. Give Me Everything - Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer

Pitbull scores his first UK #1 hit as lead artist as "Give Me Everything" climbs three spots to #1. Pitbull was #1 a month and a half ago as a guest rapper on Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor," which is still in the top 10 (#10 this week). This is Ne-Yo's fourth appearance at #1 after his own singles "So Sick," "Closer" and "Beautiful Monster."

4. I Need a Dollar - Aloe Blacc

Nice climb for this song, up 5 more spots this week.

6. The Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga
8. Judas - Lady Gaga
13. Hair - Lady Gaga
16. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

It's a Lady Gaga world and we're just living in it. At least that's what it feels like looking at the chart this week, where the American singer lodges four singles in the top 20 this week on the eve of the release of her new album, Born This Way. "Judas" has basically flopped in the US, and while it looked like it was headed there in the UK, makes a nice turnaround this week, climbing back into the top 10 for a new peak at #8. Meanwhile it's replacement single, "The Edge of Glory" holds at #6, preview track "Hair" debuts at #13 and old single "Born This Way" rebounds nicely, up 8 spots to #16. Still, there's no #1 hit in this pack, which has to be disappointing.

27. Right There - Nicole Scherzinger feat. 50 Cent

Ms. Scherzinger returns with the third single from her debut album, Killer Love. Last time out, she landed her first #1 hit, "Don't Hold Your Breath." I'm skeptical this will match that success. In fact, the first time I heard it, I didn't particularly care for it, although it's grown on me since then.

29. We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off - Jermaine Stewart

Okay sure. Why not.

36. California King Bed - Rihanna

Rihanna's fourth Loud single is her 25th appearance in the top 40. Her last three singles have all been major hits. "Only Girl" and "What's My Name" hit #1 and while "S&M" reached #3, it's the fifth best-selling single so far this year.

Essential Albums of the '80s: AC/DC - Back in Black (1980)

Hair bands dominated the hard rock scene in the '80s ranging from the more serious (Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi) to the less so (Poison), but in the early '80s AC/DC ruled the metal scene with this release, their sixth album released globally.

Ominous chimes open the album during "Hells Bells," which later segues into "Shoot to Thrill," a more light-hearted and upbeat track. Despite being "heavy" metal, what I'm struck by most about this album is that the band doesn't shy away from quiet moments, even within songs that can rev up the volume, making for the kind of musical "peaks and valleys" that is so rare in popular music today. Kind of refreshing actually. I've read that, unlike most heavy metal bands, they weren't as big of posers, although they still partied hard, a fact celebrated on Back to Black. Track 8, titled "Have a Drink on Me" seems quite tasteless when you consider that this album followed the band's previous lead singer's death by alcohol poisoning.

They can get pretty taudry too. "Let Me Put My Love Into You" is about exactly what you'd expect and sails along on a sea of confident guitar licks. One night stands get one of their best odes ever in "You Shook Me All Night Long," perhaps the most classic track the band ever recorded.

Worldwide, Back in Black is the second best-selling album of all time behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. In the US--where the album is 22 times platinum--it's fifth, but that still puts it just behind Thriller as the second biggest album of the decade. The album was produced by Mutt Lange, who in addition to producing the best-selling album of all time in the US by a band also produced the best-selling album of all time by a woman, his (now former) wife Shania Twain's third album, Come on Over.

Best: You Shook Me All Night Long, Shoot to Thrill, Let Me Put My Love Into You, Back in Black

Friday, May 20, 2011

Personal Chart, May 21, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Take That - Progressed

I still listen to Progress a lot, but it's singles have cooled significantly on the charts. So...time for a follow-up EP. Here then is Progressed, eight new tracks including the X-Men movie tie-in "Love Love." Like Progress, all the tracks are produced by Stuart Price. Check it out June 13.

Singles Serving

The Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga. So "Judas" tanks, which is ridiculous, because it's a great song. Whatever. This is good too. It's not as in-your-face as "Born This Way" or "Judas," but it's a smart pop song with a bubbly keyboard melody. The song's most interesting feature is its saxophone middle-eight, evidently the best effort yet to bring back the '80s most overused instrument for pop music bridges. Love it or hate it, it's got style. Count me in the former.

Love Love - Take That.
It's no "The Flood," but "Love Love" is a worthy upbeat entry in the Take That canon. Thundering synth bass beats give this a real pulse of a beat. And who's doing the lead? It's not readily apparent to my ears (apparently its Gary and Mark, just like on "Kidz"). It's not on Progress--look for it on the soundtrack to X-Men: First Class and the upcoming Take That EP, Progressed.

Finish Line - Yasmin. When I wrote my UK Singles Chart summary this week, I noted this was more conventional than her last single. While that's true, I didn't mean to sound dismissive about it, for it's a really great track, with an interesting rhythm section that sets its apart from other similar synthesizer-based R&B-ish pop. It's pretty dreamy actually. She may actually be one to watch.

Give Me Everything - Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer. Ne-Yo features prominently on Pitbull's new single, which just might be the most fun I've had yet with a Pitbull single. It's a clubby track with a good beat, but avoids sounding too harsh, softened by keyboards and Ne-Yo.

California King Bed - Rihanna. It sounds an awful lot like Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," which means it will probably be a big hit, timed as Rihanna's fourth single (just like "Big Girls" was from Fergie's The Dutchess).

Calgary - Bon Iver
. This is the first single from the indie folk bands upcoming second album, Bon Iver. This is much more rock-oriented than we've heard from them before with synthesizers and a sharper beat underlying the typically sleepy vocals. Nice song. Looking forward to the album.

Busy - Olly Murs. Olly picks up an acoustic guitar (or maybe someone near Olly), giving up as a breezy California-style pop ditty in the vein of Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson. Not bad really. Better than "Thinking of Me," which I wasn't really crazy about.

Still Got Tonight - Matthew Morrison. Speaking of male pop singers on a California kick, here's the new single from Matthew Morrison. It's quite a lot better than "Summer Rain" actually, with a more assertive melody. Reminds me of Beautiful World-era Take That (before they hooked up with Stuart Price).

I Can - Blue. I really don't get Eurovision. What's the point of it? If it was the best of the best, it would be interesting. If it was new, fresh faces, it would be interested. But a reunited boyband that was never one of the more interesting ones to begin with? The song is merely okay, it's nothing special.

Billboard Hot 100, May 28, 2011

1. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

Adele lands a second week at #1. She's still #1 at iTunes, is this week's airplay gainer, and is on her way to being #1 at top 40 radio quite soon--probably next week. I think she could be settling in for a nice long run at #1.

3. The Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga turns around the apparent misfortune of "Judas," making a rather impressive #3 debut with "The Edge of Glory." It's her 10th top 10 hit and 6th to reach the top 3.

18. Dirty Dancer - Enrique Iglesias with Usher feat. Lil Wayne

Enrique Iglesias makes a strong entry with "Dirty Dancer," the third top 40 hit from his album Euphoria. This is the first Iglesias album to generate three top 40 hits since his 1999 English-language debut, Enrique. Two of the albums previous singles peaked at #4--"I Like It" (feat. Pitbull) and "Tonight (I'm Loving You)" (feat. Ludacris).

22. Super Bass - Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj makes a big splash in the top 40, up 26 notches with "Super Bass," the fifth top 40 hit from Pink Friday (albeit only on the deluxe edition).

29. Rolling in the Deep - Glee Cast
34. Friday - Glee Cast

I believe this is a first: The Glee Cast charts in the top 40 with their version of the current #1 hit. You can't get any more timely than that.

Also of note is the Glee Cast's version of Rebecca Black's "Friday," which, despite being an internet sensation, never cracked the top 40. Thus Glee Cast has actually out-charted the original version of the song, which is pretty impressive.

35. (It) Feels So Good - Steven Tyler

Not be outdone by his American Idol co-star Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler scores his own hit single, "(It) Feels So Good," the first solo top 40 hit for the Aerosmith frontman. It's been 10 years since Tyler's been in the top 40. Last time out was on Aerosmith's "Jaded," a #7 hit in 2001.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

UK Singles Chart, 5/21/11

1. The Lazy Song - Bruno Mars

It's a lazy Sunday evening in my house, so it feels appropriate to see this at #1, even if it is a little surprising. In the US, this isn't nearly as big as his other two recent hits, yet in the UK it becomes his third straight #1 hit. The last act to hit #1 with their first three singles from one album? That would be Black Eyed Peas, who hit #1 in 2009 with "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling" and "Meet Me Halfway," the first three singles from The E.N.D. "The Lazy Song" is also Mars' second #1 hit this year, making him the first artist to score a second #1 in 2011.

4. Give Me Everything - Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer

Pitbull climbs eight notches with "Give Me Everyting," tying "I Know You Want Me" as his highest charting single as lead artist. If you include his guest turns on Alexandra Burke's "All Night Long" and Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It," this is Pitbull's fourth #4 hit.

6. The Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga
(11. Judas - Lady Gaga)

Lady Gaga's record company seems determined to launch her new album next week with a hit. So quickly gears have shifted from the underperforming "Judas" to a new third single, "The Edge of Glory," which does successful manage to eclipse her last single's #9 peak, debuting at #6. Still, when you consider that "Born This Way" only peaked at #3, this still isn't the #1 hit you imagine she is looking for. "Judas" itself gets a bit of a bump this week, up 9 spots to #11.

9. I Need a Dollar - Aloe Blacc
10. Nobody's Perfect - Jessie J

Mr. Blacc climbs another notch with "I Need a Dollar" while new British superstar pop singer Jessie J trades places with him, dropping a notch to #10. Has this single already cooled off? I would have thought she'd be good for a top 5 hit at least.

13. Finish Line - Yasmin

British singer/DJ Yasmin didn't chart very high with her last single, "On My Own," hitting #39. I found this surprising, as I thought it had a rather cool trip-hop sound. She's done quite a bit better with the follow-up, "Finish Line," in at #13 this week. It's a more conventional sound, but not a bad one.

15. Love Love - Take That

After the relatively poor chart positions of "Kidz" (#28) and "Happy Now" (#52), it's nice to see them at least make the top 20 with this new single, "Love Love," which may have suffered from having been available only at midweek. It's not from their album Progress, but rather the soundtrack to the upcoming summer action flick, X-Men: First Class. Can I still hope for another decent hit single from Progress? We'll see what happens this summer.

17. Sun Is Up - Inna
18. Mr. Saxobeat - Alexandra Stan

Romanians are few and far between when it comes to the UK singles chart. So I imagine this has never happened before--two Romanian acts back-to-back in the top 20. Debuting at #17 is the new single from dance pop singer Inna, scoring her third top 20 hit. And at #18, the first hit single for singer Alexandra Stan, also a dance pop song, climbs 11 notches this week.

29. Just Can't Get Enough - Black Eyed Peas
30. Just Can't Get Enough - Good Child Foundation

These two songs actually have nothing to do with each other besides sharing a title. One is the Black Eyed Peas' recent top 10 hit, the other is a remake of Depeche Mode's '80s classic. But it's not just any remake or your ordinary charity tune for that matter. The song is performed by Thai Children for the Good Child Foundation, an organization that promotes education for underprivileged children in Thailand, with a particular emphasis on those with Downs Syndrome. There's more to the story though. This release is dedicated to the memory of Reamonn Gormley, a 19 year-old who was murdered earlier this year in an apparent act of street violence as he walked home from a pub. Gormley worked for Good Child Foundation, and the proceeds of this single will be split between that charity and a Scottish anti-violence charity.

Essential Albums of the '80s: Depeche Mode - Music for the Masses (1987)

Violator (1990) is Depeche Mode's most successful and highly regarded album, but Music for the Masses, released just prior to that landmark set, is quite worthy too. Musically, it's pretty similar, finding Depeche Mode exploring the dark synth-pop sound they are best known for. The beginning of the album is particularly strong. Charging synth-pop opener "Never Let Me Down Again" is among the best singles the band ever produced, second only to "Enjoy the Silence." It's followed by the mellower, moodier "The Things You Said," which sounds like the kind of music the people in Blade Runner would listen to. "Strangelove" has a sharper beat, an obvious forerunner to "Personal Jesus." "Little 15" isn't an obvious highlight, but I like how it's foreboding melody drives to a richer instrumental climax during the bridge. Some of the songs in the second half are kind of strange, like "I Want You Now," which featuring wheezy, heavy breathing. Closing instrumental "Pimpf" is bold and dark, a bit over the top. But don't miss "Nothing," a driving synth-pop tune that probably could have been a single had they needed another one. Music for the Masses didn't generate any major hits, but as a solid entry in the DM catalog, it really should have.

Best: Never Let Me Down Again, The Things You Said, Strangelove, Nothing

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Album Reviews

Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' (4/5). R&B singer Raphael Saadiq's Stone Rollin' pulses with energetic retro rock and soul flourishes. It reminds me a bit of Plan B's excellent retro soul offering from last year, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, although Saadiq's retro sound derives from a much broader range of styles. "Go to Hell" builds its sound with horns, strings and female backup singers, and "Over You" goes for wall-of-sound with its layers of guitar, keyboard, drums and vocals. Then the title track follows, with a simpler, bluesier approach. "Radio" reaches back to the 1950s, with a lo-fi recording style to match its guitar rhythm. "Day Dreams" sounds '50s-ish too but with a much faster, joyful tempo. "Movin' Down the Line" has a great groove, as if it reaches back to the sounds that would later inspire elements of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall and Thriller sounds. This is a solid album, although not necessarily the kind of thing I'd see myself going back to again and again. Definitely worth checking out though. Best: Go to Hell, Heart Attack, Movin' Down the Line, Just Don't.

The Kills - Blood Pressures (3/5). I first learned of Alison Mosshart of The Kills when she joined up with Jack White to form The Dead Weather, which has been my least favorite Jack White group so far. I like her better here, although I can't say I'm in love. On Blood Pressures, the group's fourth album, they churn out pretty consistent moody, raw, bluesy sort of indie rock. Opening track "Future Starts Slow" has bold drums and a prominent bass. It's restraint creates tension and teases of more to come. Closing track "Pots and Pans" delivers on that promise, with its dramatic build up, vibrating bass notes and clever lyrics with a culinary take on the challenges of romance ("I can't find enough pots and pans--let alone knives--in my kitchen to keep you cookin'"). The restrained tempo works in the favor of songs like "DNA," which sounds very southern, and on "Damned If She Do," whose languid beats come so slow as if to sound like the song is in danger of defaulting on its own tempo. Generally, I like the more tuneful, upbeat stuff like "Nail in My Coffin" and the raw and rough "Heart Is a Beating Drum," which has a great guitar solo that's probably longer and even better live. It's all very cool and generally likeable, despite the obvious posing. Best: Pots and Pans, Nail in My Coffin, Future Starts Slow.

Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave (3.5/5). Compared to The Kills, Danish duo Raveonettes are more my style. From the opening track, "Recharge & Revolt," it's clear what you'll get: strong melodies that effectively blend chilly synths and raspy electric guitars in a package that nods to the '80s but isn't consumed by them. "War Is Heaven" is darker and dramatic, interrupting its guitar melody with some airy vocals and then a decent bass line. Bass is prominent too on hopeful "Forget that You're Young," contrasting with the moodier "Apparitions," with its great '80s beat. "Summer Moons'" sweet melody feels a bit too slight against the mostly darker tracks, but I like its minimalism. "Evil Seeds," in contrast, pushes its foreboding synths to the fore, crowding out the receding guitars. The album doesn't get too gloomy though, as evidenced by the more upbeat tunes like "Ignite." Although closing the album with an elegant slow-dance of a song like "My Time's Up" may be a cliché, it's one that almost always works. Best: Recharge & Revolt, Apparitions, My Time's Up.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Personal Chart, May 14, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, May 21, 2011

I had this all written out last night but couldn't post it 'til now, since Blogger apparently had some sort of massive failure. Yikes.

1. Rolling in the Deep – Adele

Three cheers for Adele! The British pop singer scores her first US #1 this week with “Rolling in the Deep,” climbing a notch to #1 as this week’s Airplay Gainer. Adele is the first British act to hit #1 this year and the first British female artist to hit #1 since Leona Lewis topped the chart 3 years ago with “Bleeding Love.”

Adele’s music career is red hot this year. Probably way hotter than she imaged. Her album, 21, has spent 7 weeks at #1 in the US, which is pretty amazing considering how fast the album chart’s top spot generally turns over. In the UK, she’s spent 14 weeks at #1 with 21, and although “Rolling in the Deep” peaked at #2, her other single, “Someone Like You,” is the year’s biggest hit.

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

So Perry loses her perch at the top but picks up a significant milestone. Billboard has reported that this week she becomes the first artist ever to lodge 52 consecutive weeks in the top 10--a whole year we've gone now with Perry having a top 10 hit starting with "California Gurls" a year ago, followed by "Teenage Dream," "Firework" and "E.T."

3. On the Floor – Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull

J.Lo climbs four notches to #3, scoring a new peak with “On the Floor,” this week’s Digital Gainer. She’s got a big hill to climb if she’s going to steal #1 from Adele, but still, Lopez hasn’t been this high on the chart in 8 years.

7. Just a Kiss – Lady Antebellum

Just a year after their mainstream breakthrough album and single of the same name, Need You Now, Lady Antebellum returns with the first single from their upcoming third album. This is the country trio’s second top 10 hit.

8. Give Me Everything – Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, AfroJack & Nayer

Pitbull scores his seventh top 10 hit with “Give Me Everything,” the second single from his latest album, Planet Pit. This is good news for Ne-Yo, who gets his 10th top 10 hit. He needs it, since his last album, Libra Scale, did a big ol’ belly flop and produced no hits.

14. Where Them Girls At – David Guetta feat. Flo Rida & Nicki Minaj

French DJ David Guetta scores his fourth top 40 hit with “Where Them Girls At,” which debuts at #14.

19. Judas – Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga’s “Judas” rebounds a notch to #19, but I think it’s over for this song. The track just lost its bullet at #15 at top 40 radio. Gaga may have an ace up her sleeve though. Even though it’s just a promotional track, “The Edge of Glory” looks set to chart higher than “Judas” next week. It’s #2 at iTunes and top 5 in the UK’s midweek chart.

31. Motivation – Kelly Rowland feat. Lil Wayne

Go Kelly! I didn’t even know she had a new single out. And she manages to chart higher than the overhyped new single from her more-famous cousin Beyonce, “Run the World (Girls).” Not bad Kelly.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are two of the biggest names in pop music. By any measure they are among the best-selling and most acclaimed female pop singers in recent years.

Yet, they both appear to be faltering with their latest singles. Gaga's "Judas" debuted at #10 and then began to plummet on the chart. At top 40 radio, it looks set to level out at about #15, a very poor showing if you consider that seven of her nine singles to date have hit #1 (only "Alejandro" missed out, peaking at #4). Beyoncé seems to be doing even worse. "Run the World (Girls)" debuted on the Hot 100 at a rather lousy #33 a couple weeks ago before falling out of the top 40 last week. At top 40 radio--where Beyoncé has had 11 top 10 hits--the song has barely climbed within the top 40 with a rather unimpressive weekly spin gain.

From a PR perspective, some record execs have to be sweating right now. Both of these singles were intended to launch their upcoming albums. Despite a robust sales market for singles, albums are struggling, and it's clear from the way they are promoted these days that they're expected to perform well right out the gate. Long-term sales are no longer a guarantee.

In both cases, I chalk this up to pushing the envelope just a bit too far. The religious imagery of "Judas" has turned people off, and the edgy beat-driven tune of "Run the World" lacks the kind of pop hook we expect to launch an album on. It's not a question of playing it to safe, but rather the opposite. This is an example of risk and risk doesn't always pay off.

On the one hand, that's what makes them a cut above the rest of the pack. Katy Perry and Rihanna are big too, but their music is pretty conventional by comparison. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are pop music leaders--a role that can reap both accolades and derision. Madonna, for example, was similarly risky with her music, which generally served her well...until it didn't (see Erotica).

When you're on top, unfortunately, your choices are to stay there or fall, and everyone falls a bit eventually. For every "One Sweet Day" there's a Glitter Soundtrack; for every "I Will Always Love You" a Just Whitney; for every "Baby One More Time..." a "Do Somethin'." You get the picture.

If I had to choose between them launching their albums with something different that doesn't quite catch on or something conventional that sounds like everything else, I'll choose the former any day. Besides, I imagine both of these albums will have plenty of surprises before all is said and done.

Even the PR guys can be assured this story isn't over. Beyoncé has the chance to make up for it by putting out something more conventional between now and when her album is due for release this summer. And Gaga appears set to release a new single each week, and this week's release "The Edge of Glory," looks like a winner.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Tina Turner - Private Dancer (1984)

Tina Turner made a name for herself in the '60s and early '70s singing alongside her husband on memorable hits like "Proud Mary" and "River Deep, Mountain High." Theirs was a tempestuous relationship, well documented in the 1993 biopic, What's Love Got to Do With It. That film's name came from this album's biggest hit, a #1 hit for Tuner in 1984 that cemented her musical comeback intended by this release. For Private Dancer, Turner's first album in 5 years, the singer veered away from soul toward more rock and pop territory, creating a fine album of memorable '80s tunes. She rocks out on the very '80s-sounding "Show Some Respect" and "I Might Have Been Queen," and really lets loose on "Steel Claw," belting out the lyrics like only Turner could. As fun as those songs are, the album's best moments are its quieter ones, like the moody come on of "What's Love Got to Do With It," keyboard-heaving "Just Can't Stand the Rain," and heartful remake of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," a version almost as famous as the original. The best song though is the title track. Like Houston did later on "Saving All My Love for You," Turner takes the persona of a downtrodden woman--this time a prostitute/stripper--and makes you really feel for her. At over 7 minutes, the song is sensual, sad and powerful. It made a saxophone sound more amazing than any other '80s pop song.

Best: Private Dancer, What's Love Got to Do With It, Just Can't Stand the Rain, Show Some Respect, Let's Stay Together, Better Be Good to Me.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

UK Singles Chart, 5/14/11

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

LMFAO gets a fourth week at #1 with "Party Rock Anthem," becoming the second-longest running #1 hit of the year behind Adele's 5 weeks with "Someone Like You." It's now lengthy run at the top has me somewhat perplexed. The song is fine but...4 weeks at #1? Really?

3. Where Them Girls At - David Guetta feat. Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj

Further proving his elite status among current hitmakers, David Guetta nabs yet another top 10 hit with the #3 debut of "Where Them Girls At." That gives him two top 10 hits at the moment, as his "Sweat" remix with Snoop Dogg falls a notch to #6.

9. Nobody's Perfect - Jessie J

Jessie J scores her third top 10 hit as "Nobody's Perfect" climbs 9 notches to #9. I expect it will continue to climb as the single gets additional promotion. The singer is definitely this year's hottest new act and has successfully crossed over to the US with her last single, "Price Tag," which may eventually reach the Billboard top 10.

10. I Need a Dollar - Aloe Blacc

American R&B singer Aloe Blacc scores his first top 10 hit with "I Need a Dollar." It's a cool song that manages to sound both retro and modern. With its soulful vocal and modern beat, it reminds me a lot of the sound of Moby's 1999 album, Play. The song is featured over the opening credits of HBO show How to Make It in America.

12. Give Me Everything - Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer

It's been awhile since Pitbull's had a hit of his own. He was #1 about a month ago on Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor," and reached the top 10 last year as guest on Alexandra Burke's "All Night Long," Usher's "DJ Got Me Falling in Love" and Enrique Iglesias's "I Like It." But his own recent single, "Hey Baby (Drop it to the Floor)," stalled at #38. In contrast, "Give Me Everything" is pretty hot: rocketing up 13 notches this week, it's poised to reach the top 10 next week. If it can do that, it will give the rapper his third proper top 10 hit.

16. I Can - Blue

Remember Blue? They were a late-breaking boyband from 2001 that managed a string of 11 top 10 hits between then and 2004, include three #1s. Their members embarked on solo careers of varying success, collectively scoring 12 top 40 hits, but few top 10s. Now they reunite for that annual European tradition known as Eurovision, carrying the flag for Britain with this entry, which will also serve as the first single from their forthcoming comeback album. Surely a Blue comeback was just what everyone has been waiting for this year.

21. Time - Chase & Status feat. Delilah

Chase & Status offer up another great dance track, "Time," which climbs 17 spots this week. It's the duo's fourth top 40 hit.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Billboard Hot 100, May 14, 2011

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

Katy Perry's "E.T." extends its run at #1 to 5 weeks, just a week shy of the 6 weeks she spent at #1 with "California Gurls," the first Teenage Dream single. The albums four singles have now collectively spent 17 weeks at #1. That puts the album second among the nine albums to have four or more #1 hits. In first place is Usher's Confessions, whose four #1 hits collectively spent 28 weeks at #1. The three #1 hits from Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. also spent 28 weeks at #1 collectively. Mariah Carey's Daydream comes close to this, with 26 weeks at #1 between its three #1s.

2. Rolling in the Deep - Adele

Adele holds at #2 this week. The single is #2 on Digital Songs, #7 on Radio Songs (entering the top 10 this week) and #1 at iTunes. I think she has a good shot at #1 next week.

3. Till the World Ends - Britney Spears

Britney climbs 8 notches to #3, earning this week's Digital Gainer, thanks to the new remix of this song featuring Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha. This is Spear's 3rd consecutive top 5 hit (7th overall).

5. The Lazy Song - Bruno Mars

Speaking of top 5 hits, Bruno Mars earns his fifth as "The Lazy Song" climbs a notch to #5. I'm still not really feeling this song. It's okay. I liked his other singles a lot more.

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

LMFAO charges into the top 40 at #38, up 14 notches. The single--currently #1 in the UK--is their first to reach the top 40, not counting the two singles they appeared on as guest vocalists.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Personal Chart, May 6, 2011

Thankfully, I'm done traveling for a couple weeks.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May New Album Releases

I'm going from vacation last week to work travel this week. That doesn't leave me much time to catch up, so this won't be as pretty as it usually is.


Lady Gaga - Born This Way (May 23). Lady Gaga releases her second full-length album (third if you count Fame Monster as an album, which I think is reasonable). It's easily the most anticipated release of the year. The title track was an instant hit earlier this year, spending 6 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100, while the second single, "Judas," debuted in the top 10. Sure she's being dogged by detractors who don't like the cover and claim she's ripping off Madonna or offending the church--but that's the kind of controversy that makes big pop stars stand apart from the pack, along with top-notch production and hooks, which I expect she'll deliver in droves.

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (May 2). The folksy Seattle band, whose lushly layered 2008 eponymous debut was a big hit with critics, tee up their second album. The band has said this second album would be more psychedelic and less pop-based. The last time I heard a band say that was MGMT with their second album, which I didn't enjoy as much as their first, but I'm still hoping this will be good, having enjoyed their first album, as well as works by other similar artists like Bon Iver.

Jennifer Lopez - Love? (May 2). After being pushed back from April (and originally a year ago), this will finally, finally, finally see a release. If you're hoping it will include the two singles she released a year ago, don't hold your breath. Despite having been #1 dance hits, "Fresh Out the Oven" and "Louboutins" failed to connect with the mainstream, so they have been discarded. It does include Lopez's biggest hit in about 8 years, the international smash "On the Floor" with Pitbull, as well as her new single with Lil Wayne, "I'm Into You." Sporting production from big names like Tricky Stewart, RedOne and Stargate, Lopez is gunning for a hit with this one, which, ironically, she doesn't need as much these days, considering her burgeoning TV career on American Idol.

Other releases

Stevie Nicks - In Your Dreams (May 3). Fleetwood Mac singer releases her seventh album.

The Cars - Move Like This (May 10). The notable '80s band returns with their seventh album.

Friendly Fires - Pala (May 16). British rock band releases their second album, the follow-up to their eponymous debut that offered up great songs like "Paris."

Moby - Destroyed (May 16). The bald wizard of techno returns with his tenth album, recorded late at night in hotels while on tour.

Mona - Mona (May 16). Buzz-generating American alternative band releases its first album.

The Pierces - You and I (May 23). New York sisters Catherine and Allison Pierce have been putting out albums since 2000, but make a ploy for mainstream success with this set, produced by Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman.

Matthew Morrison - Matthew Morrison (May 29). Glee star releases his debut.

Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys (May 31). Seven appears to be the lucky number this month, as the alternative band releases their seventh album.

Personal Chart, April 30, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy (1980)

Double Fantasy was released November 17, 1980, just 3 weeks before John Lennon was murdered. Although some initial reviews regarded the album as rather self-indulgent, as Lennon's final musical statement, it was critic-proof, becoming a major hit album and winner of the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

As its title suggests, Double Fantasy is a double album of sorts, an apparent collaboration between husband and wife, although they never perform together on any song--half the songs are written and performed by him and the other half by her, with the tracks generally alternating between them. Thus, they form a sort of "call and response," most evident on Lennon's "I'm Losing You" followed by Ono's "I'm Moving On," as well as "Beautiful Boy" (Lennon) and "Beautiful Boys" (Ono).

Although their intention was to showcase their happy marriage, the result really shows what an amazing pop talent Lennon was (and Ono was not). His knack for pop songcraft shines on #1 hits like "(Just Like) Starting Over" with its bright '50s bounce, and "Woman," a layered tune that's a rather sweet love song ("woman, I know you understand the little child inside your man"). Although clearly sentimental, even his "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" comes off not as sappy but as sweet and even a little sad when you consider it means he never got to see his son grow up.

In contrast, Ono's more avant garde style refuse to be turned into good pop music, and many of her songs come across as off-kilter filler. "Kiss Kiss" features her weird babble and finishes with her reaching orgasm. While his "Beautiful Boy" is lovely and melodic, her "Beautiful Boys" sounds kind of creepy (and what mother muses that her son will feel empty at age 40?). Her only entry that I kind of like is "Give Me Something," which, while a bit brash for this album, has a good bass beat with layered acoustic and synth melodies.

Best: (Just Like) Starting Over, Woman, Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), Watching the Wheels, Give Me Something