Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nerina Pallot LIVE

Well it seems like someone from the Lowry must indeed have a deal with the Pizza Express dudes, because for the second Lowry concert in a row, we found ourselves having a meal with the artist we were going to see.

Ok, "having a meal" is a bit misleading. "In the same restaurant" would be more appropriate, but as Nerina had the Lasagne just like me, the phrase "I had Lasagne with Nerina Pallot" may be misleading, but you can't say I'm not telling the truth. ;-)

And another point, before we even get to the venue, since when has Nerina been so small? It threw me at first because despite having met her on a few occasions, I never realised she was so tiny. Anyway...

Over to the venue it was, where I spent £1 on some Nerina Pallot stickers, which I now seem to have lost. Ah well, at least I got some badges. There was just time for Gee to fail to respond to being chatter up, us to notice that "Mandy" from Hollyoaks was in the hiz-ous and for me to fail to get over to Andy but then wave to him anyway before we settled into our row E seats.

And from that point on, well what can I say. In a year of great concerts so far, this was another superb one to add to the list. She kicked off with one of my favourites, If I Know You, and there wasn't a duff or dull moment from that point onwards.

It wasn't only the songs either. Unlike a lot of modern day "pop-stars" Nerina has intelligencee and humour to burn. I doubt there will be many other concerts in which the star regales you with tales of shopping, accessories, hermit crabs, Alice Cooper, the Mercruy Music Prize, red wine, Faith Hill, god and Rachel Stevens just to name some of the topics covered. In fact the only really unneccesary thing was the bit about Spurs. No need for that love.

Of course there was also the Suzanne Vega reference, which even though it probably blatantly wasn't directed at me, could actually have been a reference to me so I'll count it ;-)

Still all of this would have been pretty superfluous if not for the quality of the songs. It was nice to hear a couple of DFS (Dear Frustrated Superstar, not the sofa showroom) tracks, and the version of Confide In Me is a classic. Throw in "I'm Gonna Be Your Man" (a "new" track that prior to this show she seemingly didn't want to sing when I was at a gig) and "Grace" and you had the unmistakable experience of a performer at the very top of her game.

And with any luck, this just might be the beginning of something really big.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Single Releases 29/05/06

Don't have much time this week for my usual in-depth reviews. So it's time for the rapid-fire reviews round.

Is It Any Wonder (Keane) - Better than their other stuff.

Who Knew? (Pink) - Turgid.

Trouble Sleeping (Corinne Bailey Rae) - Dull.

All Over Again (Ronan Keating ft Kate Rusby) - Better than you'd expect.

Faster Kill Pussycat (Paul Oakenfold ft Brittany Murphy) - Awesome.

Fury (Prince) - Auto-pilot Prince, but better than when he was a squiggle.

Checkmarks (The Academy Is) - Not bad.

And It Feels Like (LeAnn Rhimes) - Not going to do a "Can't Fight The Moonlight".

Excuse All The Blood (Betty Curse) - I can't help liking this.

Girlshaped Lovedrug (Gomez) - Infuriating.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Like LIVE

...again :D

Although if Z-Berg's "Goodbye...forever" comments at the end of the show are in any way symptomatic of anything then it may well have been the last time we'll ever see them!

A few nice bottles of Magners with some "Down" fans in the Oxford and we headed to the venue right on doors opening time...and found ourselves once again right at the front. I took the executive decision to stand on the left hand side for once, although really I should have stood in the middle to get a better view of my Tennessee. It did mean however that I was able to get a lot of nice pictures of Charlotte, some of which are reproduced here.

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Still I managed to baffle the stage-guy (who seemed quite surprised when I muttered out loud as he put the set-lists down that the girls weren't doing Too Late) and fail miserably to chat up those two French birds.

Hilarity ensued from the onset as Tennessee, in a perfect Spinal Tap-esque style, couldn't find her way to her drum kit! I think the set list was as it was last week which was a minor disappointment, but I love 'em anyway.

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There seemed a bit of joviality going on, especially when Z-Berg started playing the wrong song and it was another enjoyable night. It was also notable that it was being filmed (for Channel M - come on Telewest, get your act together) not least beacuse one of the camera men was right beside me. It then became even more apparent that he was occasionally filming me, probably because I seemed to be the only person there who actually knew who The Like are, so anyone with that channel, be sure to check out The Like when they're on and let me know if I do indeed appear.

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Of course, this being the Gee's favourite band the frivolity didn't end when the set did. I tried to grab Charlotte's set list, but couldn't. Thank the lord that he made Gee so tall as he was able to reach over and get it for me. An aborted look for the merchandise table later and we found ourselves back in the venue itself.

I cornered Tennessee to sign my set list (and I hope she didn't hear me swearing, if indeed I did swear) but she was as sweet as ever. Then I wandered over to get Charlotte to sign not only my set-list but also the CD booklets I hadn't been able to get signed by her last week. Then, despite saying I wouldn't smile the next time I had my picture taken I did indeed smile and, as you can see below, managed to once again look like a complete gifford.

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Then, in a highly deflating moment if your name is Gee, Z-Berg recognised me (it's the pens) and flashed a cheeky smile and what have you at me. I think, in something I haven't done for about 10 years, I winked back at her. Of course someone had to borrow my magical pens again and after a last gasp effort to get young Xav to have his pictures taken with them (he wouldn't) it was off to the Pizza place (stopping only to steal a Cara Dillon poster) and then back home.

Another top night of entertainment. Let's hope they come back soon.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Girls Aloud LIVE

Exactly a year to the day after the sublime "front row" Girls Aloud experience it was time for the Manchester date of the Girls' first (and no doubt last) Arena tour.

An early start (in the pub for 3pm, not including my pre-meeting Brocket liquid lunch) meant that I was suitably oiled for the show itself. And once again, if I dare be so vain as to say so myself, the ticketmaster pulled through with some cracking seats which, if I didn't know that my camera has a crap flash, would have made me regret not taking my camera.

Now we all know that I've been on a bit of a downer as regards the Girls, but I stand by it. Disregarding the quality music, the Off The Record documentary did the girls no favours by not only showing them at their worst, but also stripping away any mistique they had and revealing them to be ever so slightly dull. Although if you were to take the time to check out my 2005 concert reviews, I pretty much said the same thing then. As a five-piece manufactured pop act they have a certain "stars" in their own right they are pretty unremarkable.

Still, it seems as if the Girls Aloud "team" realise this. Banter inbetween the songs is kept to a minimum (and is more often that not limited to the usual banal "is everybody still having a great time?" stuff) and for the most part the songs are aloud to speak for themselves. Which is no bad thing.

Kicking off with Biology, a good idea being that it's one of the best songs of the 21st Century so far, the Girls started off in a, high concept here, Chemistry lab with one of the dancers overdosing on medicine at one point. Anyway...killer versions of No Good Advice and Waiting followed, and this part of the set was finished off with a less than stellar version of Love Machine (but more on my general gripes at the end).

Then we switched to bikini tops and hot pants for what one could term the "Hot Summer" portion of the concert. So inevitably this bit kicked off with Long Hot Summer, which once again proved that it's not as bad a song as people make out, before, as ever pop band who's ever sung a ballad these days has to, they proved they could really "sing" by doing a largely acoustic version of Whole Lotta History. Watch Me Go followed and then they played this section's trump card, the cover version of I Predict A Riot. The Kaiser Chiefs have never sounded better, even if a band who say "shit" in at least two of their songs and have lyrics like "a PHD with her legs apart" somewhat surprsingly refused to say the word "condom", instead replacing it with "bus." Way to go; regale impressionable young girls with tales of cheap tarts and whores, but whatever you do, don't mention condoms.

Off it was for another costume change, and a beautiful version of See The Day. Sound Of The Underground then followed, to a great reaction before they annoyed me completely by a superfluous "musicals" medley. Off for another costume change and the jewel in the crown of The Show. Models and Racy Lacy raced by, to be finished off with I'll Stand By You. And yes, ISBY is pretty ropey on record, but live, you have to give credit here, it's pretty powerful.

The encore finally sent me wild by starting off with Wild Horses, but then they annoyed me by only doing about a third of it before it morphed into Wake Me Up. Finish off with Xavi's favourite Jump and you have a pretty good evening's entertainment. The snotty critics won't like it at all of course, but music isn't purely about erstwhile singer-songwriters plucking their guitars to morose tunes. And as an afficianado of pop extravaganza's, I've seen few arena shows that matched this one for entertainment.

Of course, I cannot be wholly positive. As ever the eternal quandry of having to have a live band for a show proved problematic (I want to hear, for example, Love Machine as a pop record, not one bastardised by being played "properly") and again, in between the songs the girls show little personality. Still I doubt many in the audience cared, or even noticed. I doubt anyone went away from the MEN disappointed. And lets face it, will there be another concert this year where you can hear 5 (No Good Advice, The Show, Wake Me Up, Love Machine, Biology) classic pop singles in one night? With the exception of the Pet Shop Boys probably not....

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers

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I suppose I come to this from a pretty unique persepective. I don't particularly care for Jack White and his White Stripes, and I've never really heard all that much of Brendan Benson. So really, the whole "supergroup" thing completey passes me by.

Much like Gnarls Barkley, the problem with the album is that the single, Steady As She Goes, is the best thing on it by a mile; the good news however is that, very much unlike Gnarls Barkley, its not the only good track on there.

Together is a mellow and atmospheric effort, even if it is undermined by the kind of 6th Form Poetry lyrics you'd expect from Coldplay, and Intimate Secretary manages to draw together the Kinks and the Beatles for three and a half minutes of great fun.

Still there is no real feeling from this collection that The Raconteurs have any unique sound of their own. If someone told me this was a long lost collection from some 70's rock band, I'd have believed them. And whilst "homage" is not always such a bad thing, when it's done in a mediocre fashion, as a good half of this album is, then the results aren't really worth listening to...much like a good half of this album.

So in the final analysis its good, but far from great, and there is just far too much filler (which is even more criminal given the brevity of the album). Given that it's a "side-project" you could almost forgive them but given the superb single it all ends up being a vast disappointment more than anything else.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Gnarls Barkely - St Elsewhere

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First things first, Crazy. I know I was a bit down on it in my single reviews, but it is a fantastic pop single and you can't argue with 8 weeks (and counting) at number one can you?

But therein lies the problem. Crazy is a fantastic slice of pop (and ladies and gentlemen, just like the new Muse single it is indeed pop) and will indeed be remembered as one of the singles of 2006. The problem is that nothing at all comes remotely close to matching it.

Smiley Faces is decent but aside from that there's not really anything else I feel the urge to go back to. Overhyped, underimaginative and only as big as they are over here because they are American.

I'd write more, but to be honest I don't think you'd find "*INSERT SONG TITLE HERE* is pretty crap" repeated ad nauseum very interesting to read.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Single Releases 22/05/06

What a decent week for singles this is folks.

Everybody's Gone To War (Nerina Pallot) - Not only is this a brilliant song and well worthy of the great success it's surely going to have, it also brings a nice warm feeling to my heart. I've liked Nerina since her first album totally and utterly bombed, so seeing this chart highly (Top 20 according to early estimates) will fill me utterly with joy; joy of a kind not witnessed since the clamour for her CD's at that Suzanne Vega concert. Plus, they quoted me on the TOTP website about this. "Single of the week by miles".

Up All Night (Matt Willis) - So the fat one (was he even fat? I don't think he was was he) decided to do exactly the same type of music with Son Of Dork....the posh Tory voting one thought he was being cool by doing all his death metal noise what is left for the other one. Well on the basis of this he may just be the one who "does a Robbie" and leaves the others for dead.

Nine 2 Five (The Ordinary Boys ft. Lady Sovereign)- Look, I still think that Preston is a bit of a nob, but he's giving Lady Sov a bit of a boost which is fine by me. Even if Lily Allen makes Lady Sov look rubbish, I still like her. And I like this tune too if you take the pointless extra verse off where young Prezza is moaning.

The Otherside (Breaks Co-Op) - Journalist integrity goes out the window here. Zane Lowe has something to do with him, and if there is one man I hate on this planet, well let's just say he's right up there.

Girlfriend (The Darkness) - Aww, bless em. Still trying to make a go of it. You have to admire a tryer, even if what they are trying with is a great big fat slice of sub-par Bon Jovi mediocrity.

Sin Sin Sin (Robbie Williams) - This is the sort of thing that will tide him over very nicely until he does that album with the Pet Shop Boys that he keeps threatening to do. Go on Robbie, you know it makes sense.

Fill My Little World (The Feeling) - Sorry I just don't see why these guys are getting the critical acclaim that they are. They're just dull.

Upside Down (Jack Johnson) - Speaking of critical acclaim I can't understand here is Jack Johnson. He's dull. He's a one trick pony. Why bother listening to any more than one of his songs?

Country Girl (Primal Scream) - AKA the sound of Bobby Gillespie on auto-pilot. The video and song remind me of a Rolling Stones late 90's effort, and that was crap too.

I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (Sandi Thom) - I'm a bit put-off by the whole "concerts in the bedroom" thing (or was it basements, I forget) because whilst a smart marketing move, does it really make the music any more worthy? The answer is no. This is a decent enough tune, but there are far better "undiscovered" acts out there.

Skip To The End (The Futureheads) - And that's what I did.

You Can't Fool Me Dennis (The Mystery Jets) - No you can't Dennis. You may wish me to dimiss this tune but I'm not going to. This is actually shockingly decent.

Pet Shop Boys - Fundamental

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Yes I haven't been this excited by an album since the track by track rundown in BACK bey-beh.

1. Psychological
The most blatantly Kraftwerk-esque song they've ever done (with the possible exception of the David Morales So Hard mix) and a nice slow-burning start to the album.
2. The Sodom and Gomorrah show
Ever since someone pointed out to me that you can sing the chorus to Disco 2000 over the introduction music that's all I can think about in regards this song. It's a reet stomper though.
3. I made my excuses and left
Oh this is such a sad song. I'm not quite sure what the opening two minutes of instrumental have to do with anything but this is one of those mellow "you don't really love me" songs that PSB can do so well.
4. Minimal
The next single and I can see the radio friendly appeal of this one. I can just see everyone walking down the street singing M-I-N-I-M-A-L to themselves.
5. Numb
The inclusion of this reeks of contractual obligations. The idea of the boys writing a song with Dianne Warren was intriguing, but as it becomes clear that she merely gave them this track the end result is pretty underwhelming.
6. God willing
It's like Please all over again. Most bands would have this kind of thing as an introduction. But PSB are not "most bands" and so have this as an interlude.
7. Luna Park
If there is a better ballad in the PSB canon than this, I can't think of it at this time. Gorgeous from start to finish.
8. I'm with Stupid
Their best single in over a decade, and remarkably it's one of the weaker tracks on the album. Which is not to say this is anywhere near a bad track
9. Casanova in hell
Erm, although this is an interesting track I'm not sure it's all that good. The lyrics can get pretty cringeworthy and its hard to take this track seriously after the orchestral instrumentation that follows the line "he couldn't get an errection".
10. Twentieth century
I love this one. The hushed vocals and the mellow, yet danceable, beat make this a real winner in my book.
11. Indefinite leave to remain
Who else in pop music could write a song like this which marries the idea of a love affair and asylum seekers? It's genius folks.
12. Integral
This is the album's absolute disco stomper and really should be a single. It probably won't (I doubt we'll get to a third single this time around) but it's an absolutely stunning end to a cracking album.

This is the best collection of remixes they've ever released in my opinion, and the Richard X produced Fugitive is probably the best track on the whole collection (and may well be the only western pop song ever sung from the perspective of a terrorist). Well worth the extra £4 or so it will cost you to get the special edition.

So overall this is a triumph. It's sort of the missing link between Very and Behaviour style wise and with only one complete miss it's their most complete album since 1993's Very. In fact it's up there with the best they've ever done. Welcome back boys.

The Divine Comedy LIVE

So back it was on the East-Lancs road. Poolstock was so ram-packed that I didn't even make it to that road as I took another route which wasn't quite so packed. I know, your're thinking to yourself, "why doesn't he always go that other way then", but believe me folks, its not that simple.

So to the Oxford it was. They told me they had no Magners when it was clear there were at least 15 bottles of it on the shelf. I didn't cause a scene though, and it was perhaps as well because by the time I'd got off the Stella's and had me some Coca-Cola, I ended up winning two prizes in the World Cup draw; a whistle and a rattle. COME ON INGERLUND!!!!

Anyway, we got to the venue just in time to miss the support act and that was ram-packed too. Despite having the bastard child of the Kooks and the Flaming Lips in front of me, I could occasionally see the stage. Not that that really mattered though for two reasons; a) it wasn't teasely so who cares about the view and b) the music was that good that it made no difference!

I suppose you can say it's a sign of quality when a concert filled with "new" tracks is still brilliant. Occasionally, as on record, the songs drifted off course a little too much but new songs such as Diva Lady, A Lady Of A Certain Age and To Die A Virgin are instant Neil Hannon classics. Add those to some earlier classics (including the incomparable Something For The Weekend) and you have a great night of poptastic fun. When Mr Hannon is on form like this, he's irresistable.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Like LIVE

Thankfully the vestiges of the Big Run had cleared and it was a painless trip to Manchester for the first concert of the mad fortnight.

A quick walk to the venue to see what time The Like were on was a waste of time due to the fact that there were no signs up but the walk back to the Oxford did gain us yet another Moso Moso celebrity spotting. Yes, the lovely Tennessee and Charlotte were obvioulsy going over for some stewed bean curd or something. We didn't go over to them (not least because I wasn't drunk yet) although Daz Sampson did try and thrust his miniscule Like badge in their general direction hoping they would notice....they didn't.

After getting caned on the golf game at the pub (losing all three rounds) it was gone seven o'clock and I thought we'd better check if the times were up at the venue yet. And a good bloody job it was too that we did check seeing that The Like were on at the terribly early time of 7.15pm.

I'd not even returned from the pisser by the time they were on stage, and it seemed that there were about 4 of us in the audience who actually knew who the girls were. A fact that actually got us recognition from Charlotte herself. There was some dude at the front bopping up and down, who she thanked for knowing who they were, and then when Gee and I waved as well, she said hello to us. Sure it's not quite up there with Courtney Cox in that Springsteen video, but I'll take it.

The set was short (half an hour or so) and they didn't do my favourite (Too Late) but it was a good little show as you would expect.

Of course we had to stick around afterwards to try and get our bits and pieces signed but it wasn't looking good. Thankfully I didn't listen to Gee and leave once the second support act came on because there was the lovely Tennessee at the bar living out some Artic Monkeys fantasy by having a Smirnoff Ice. Which she paid for herself may I add!

Anyways, I went over and asked her to sign my CD booklets and then she went off in search of Z-Berg to do the same, but Z was busy being chatted up by the Gee. Then there was the comedy of Gee's fancy new gold pen being rubbish. Ok, it wasn't rubbish and just needed some work to get it going, but after the story of how Gee was so glad he'd unwrapped these bloody pens before taking them to the concert, it was funny to see that he'd forgotten to check the working parts of the pen beforehand.

Of course, this was The Like so the pen-related buffoonery didn't stop there. More and more people came up to Z-Berg (Tennesse had buggered off by this point) to ask her to sign stuff, but I seemed to be the only person within a 10 mile radius to actually have a pen worthy of the job. So there was the repeated hilarity of Z keeping coming up to me asking me for my pen and giving me the kind of fluttering eyelashes look that sends me weak at the knees.

Then it was time for the picture, and all credit to the Gee for ONCE AGAIN managing to not work my camera properly first time around which meant more quality time with my arms around a nice young lady. Although once again as you can see below, I look like a complete and utter gifford.

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So that was that, back home for just after half 9 after a good fun night out. Roll on next week, "upstairs" if you will.....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Zutons - Tired Of Hanging Around

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First things first, I've never really liked The Zutons. I dismissed them as Coral clones in the beginning (not that I ever liked The Coral) and although the odd single occasionally catches my ear I can never really bring myself to like them.

Indeed my one abiding memory of seeing them support REM at Old Trafford Cricket Ground is the sound of them being taunted by a large vocal group of Mancunians.

So really I'm probably not the best person to be reviewing a Zutons long player. But you know me, I won't let my preconceptions get in the way of giving it a fair listen.

The lead single, Why Won't You Give Me Your Love, was decent, and benefitted from the increased vocal presence of saxophonist Abi Harding. Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done!) is another grower and is perhaps the most "upbeat" track on the disc. Valerie is another nice track, and a decent enough single, but after that things get a little less decent.

Too much of the rest sounds like The Zutons trying to be someone else and there is just far too much of the "woe is me" style ramblings about the pressure after delivering one hit record. The title track is a turgid slice of rock, and It's The Little Things We Do isn't much better and indeed may have some of the worst lyrics you have ever heard in a pop song.

So all in all, I still don't "get" The Zutons. Too much of this album meanders around without ever quite reaching any discernable destination.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Corinne Bailey Rae - Corinne Bailey Rae

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I do catch up with all the hot trends eventually you know.

Anyway, I waited a long time to get around to listening to this, which as we know is "the" sound of 2006. But really, once you strip away the hype is it really up to much? Well as ever the answer is not a black and white one.

The first thing is obviously the voice. And yes, it is a great voice. In fact it's a voice that is worthy of all the hype...which makes it all the more disappointing that the album as a whole is ultimately unworthy of the hype.

It's not that it's a bad album, just that on the whole its a fairly unremarkable one in terms of the songs themselves. Bland just about covers it. If you were being particularily unkind, the phrase "musak" would spring to mind. Despite her wonderful voice the whole thing sounds remarkably souless, as if the bottom line is the money rather than any other more artistic motivation. Many will point the finger at the record company (as they perphaps well should) but we must not lose sight of the fact that Rae has been a willing part of the scheme. She has co-writes on all of the tracks and has perhaps compromised artisic integrity in the short-term with the hope that in the future that she can really break out.

Or maybe its just that her talent really doesn't stretch any further than having a good voice. Stranger things have happened.

I for one hope that this is just somewhat of a false start, albeit a fairly lucrative one. Although the album is at times souless and languid, you get the sense that it won't require major surgery for Rae to come up with something really special, more of a nip and tuck procedure. Whether or not we'll ever see it is not a question that is mine to answer.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Single Releases 15/05/06

There's very little of any worth out this week so whilst for once I have the time to do lengthy reviews in this section, I really don't have the inspiration in front of me to do so. So this will be short and sweet.

What I Say And What I Mean (The Like) - What more can I say? The Like are officially AWESOME, and this is their best tune. You really should buy it.

Bright Idea (Orson) - Next time you ponder on the greatness of Myspace as a way for new talent to break through, please remember that Myspace was also largely responsible for publicising this load of old crap. Orson? Orfull more like it...

Touch It (Busta Rhymes) - Someone has forgotten the tune methinks.

First Time (Sunbock) - An 80's tune revisited, with a video resplendent with huge breasted women bouncing I the only one getting sick of things like this these days?

Say I (Christina Milian) - Ha ha ha ha. "I'm Gangsta Me, honest." Sure you are love...sure you are. Still you can't sell any records as an R'n'B-lite nymph so you might as well have a crack at this.

Throw It All Away (Zero 7) - Pleasant, but hardly memorable.

The Adventure (Angels And Airwaves) - Blink 182 fella joins forces with some other less well known "superstars" to come up with the kind of thing that The Darkness might come up with if they weren't such a joke.

Whoa' (Lil Kim) - Proof posititve that a glossy makeover (or in this case an Anne Robinson style reconstruction) and a tit job aren't just ways of making it in the "pop" industry. You can also carve out an R'n'B/Rap career out of those ammendments as well. Well, inbetween your stints in prison of course.

The Great Escape (Morning Runner) - Despite having listened to this about two minutes ago, I can't remember what it sounds like.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MORE Pet Shop Boys

I know, I know. You're getting bored of all this PSB talk (don't worry, there's only a couple of weeks left to the album now) but I've just had a sneaky peak of a couple of album tracks from Fundamental.

The Sodom & Gomorrah Show is the kind of track that is everything Release could have been instead of the slightly dull album it turned out to be. Sun, sex and sin indeed!

Integral is a bit like I'm With Stupid in the sense that it's definately got that 80's feel to it, which is no bad thing when the track is as good as it is. In fact if you ask me, they'll be mad not to release this as a single (although it is true that Minimal has been confirmed as single number 2) as it is that good.

So that's three of the best tracks they've done in a decade already! :D

Monday, May 08, 2006

Single Releases 08/06/05

ALIENOID STARMONICA (EP) (THE ALIENS) - Take a few members of the Beta Band, throw in a totally bizarre opening two minutes of noise and sprinkle with a smidgen of country Americana and what do you get? The opening track of this EP. So all in all it's fun and fresh but it's hard to tell if its as good as it thinks it is.

MANCHESTER (BEAUTIFUL SOUTH) - Well there aren't very many surprises held within this one. Needless to say it's got that jaunty feel you'd expect from the Beautiful South without ever being as good as those songs you remember them doing in the past.

SAY AFTER ME (BIC RUNGA) - She's huge in her native New Zealand but then I suppose that's not exactly difficult in the overall scheme of things is it. Although have I even got the right person in mind here? Anyway...she's huge somewhere but I can't see her being huge over here. This is decent enough but like a lot of tracks this week it doesn't have the spark that distinguishes it from the pack.

SUZIE (BOY KILL BOY) - I saw them perform this on 1 Leicster Square. Which incidentally may be one of the worst programmes I've ever seen. Russell Grant (or whatever your name is), please do us all a favour and give up. Anyway the song itself is rather decent although never does quite enough to really excite me.

LUCKY GUY (CHARLOTTE COOPER) - Hmm, you get quite excited when you hear mention that this Essex teenager was "discovered" by the Beach Boys...then you realise it's by the Beach Boys that nobody remembers (although to be fair it does point out that she's "met" Brian Wilson a few times). You should also be aware that the release date for this single keeps getting put further and further back (to the extent that I'm not even sure if it's out yet, or even is due out this week). Still, its no worse than Joss Stone in pilot mode. In fact I can honestly say as these things go, it's not half bad.

YOU SAID (CHIKINKI) - Seems to me that they can't quite make their minds up whether they are indie or electronic. It's not a bad tune, but it is ever so slightly schizo.

TEENAGE LIFE (DAZ SAMPSON) - Oh. My. God. Well I suppose it IS daft enough to give us a chance at Eurovision...but this is pretty odious stuff. It's borderline, well, lets just say that any performance of this I've seen has left a queasy feeling behind me.

HIDEAWAY (DELAYS) - Seriously, are the Delay's someone's idea of a practical joke?

DO DAT DIDDLY DING DANG (THE FAT COWBOY AND DJ DOG) - The one, and indeed only, "positive" I can come up with about this abysmal excuse for a novelty record is that at least the backing singers wear cowboy hats. And you know how I love a woman in a cowboy hat.

YOU & I (GRAHAM COXON) - The law of diminishing returns again here. It's quite a good song, but nowhere near as good as the previous single. Still, I do like it.

THAT'LL BE THE DAY (GREGORY DARLING) - Wow. What can I say? This is something pretty special indeed. Pop-rock at its absolute finest. This shimmies and shines like a bright summer's day. I implore you to check it out.

BOY FROM SCHOOL (HOT CHIP) - A huge disappointment after the sheer brilliance of Over And Over. It's not bad, but it lacks the pizzaz and spark that made Over And Over one of the best singles of the year so far.

GOODNIGHT & GO (IMOGEN HEAP) - I quite liked Frou Frou in their own little way, but this is a track which polarises me. On the one hand its nowhere near as daring or "off the wall" as you might have hoped for, being as it is a fairly innofensive pop ditty (as heard on the OC no less). But there is a certain something about it that warms the cockles of my heart. So a tenative thumbs up.

PLAY IT FOR TODAY (LEGENDS) - No kidding, but the record company describes this single (along with the B-side) as "two smash hits for the gay dance floor." No really, that is the EXACT quote. So I suppose if you are gay, and like to dance, you are going to love this one...

CONTROL MYSELF (LL COOL J Ft. JENNIFER LOPEZ) - Is there a more useless musical combination than these two? I mean the song itself isn't that bad but its all so cold and calculating that you can't help hating it.

EMOTIONAL JUNKMAIL (MISS BLACK AMERICA) - Three minutes of pure "indie-punk" heaven. I cannot really reccommend this enough.

DEAD FASHION BRIGADE (EP) (NEIL LEYTON) - All I've heard is "Fires" which is a perfectly hummable, but instantly forgettable, slice of MOR rock.

I'M WITH STUPID (PET SHOP BOYS) - Well what can I say? It's merely a pleasure just to have the boys back in town. It's not their best ever, but it's still pretty damn good, and probably their best single since 1993's Can You Forgive Her. Hopefully this will see the boys back in the top 10 (although I'm not holding my breath too much on that score).

LONG DISTANCE CALL (PHOENIX) - Erm, its not too bad. Whether it's quite enough to make me stick around to see them after The Like have strutted their stuff I don't know. But it's passable.

CRY BABY CRY (SANTANA Ft. SEAN PAUL & JOSS STONE) - Santana, Sean Paul AND Joss Stone...all on ONE record? Man, it was touch and go whether I even dared to listen to this given just how much exciting talent is on there. In the end I thought I'd better risk the excitement, and boy am I glad I did. Seriously though, I can't think of anything worse than having to listen to this again.

LOST IN YOU (SHELLEY POOLE) - Yes, the same woman who used to be in Alisha's Attic. And yes, Alisha's Attic were great. If only for the whole "which one's fitter" discussion that could take over a whole dinner time. This is no "I Am, I Feel" but its still a bloody corking poppy tune, which, lets face it, is destined to go completely unnoticed. Sadly.

KEEP US TOGETHER (STARSAILOR) - Oh maybe you'd be better splitting up. I mean come on, its says something when Starsailor make Embrace look vital and thrilling.

I SHOULD GET UP (TEDDY THOMPSON) - Does this make me upset I missed TT when he supported Martha Wainwright? Well not quite, but it might make the Gee man a little upset given it's Crowded House esque feel. Listenable but not exactly unmissable.

BLACK & WHITE (THE UPPER ROOM) - They're from Brighton don't you know and that's an "in" place these days isn't it? You know the "scene". Well the one thing about a "scene" is that when a "scene" gains fame, not only do you get the good bits of the "scene" breaking through, you get the mediocre bits too. And this my friends, is medicore all the way. Try putting a modicum of spark into your next release boys.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Metric - Live It Out

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I don't know much about Metric (not a surprising admission as this album was out at the back end of 2005) but I recently caught the rather barmy video for Monster Hospital on MTV2 and it stuck in my head. Then a couple of weeks later I was flicking through the music channels and happened upon MTV Dance, which were playing a different Metric song which sounded nothing like the afformentioned MH.

Now that little story in its own way tells you quite a lot about Metric. "Heavy" and indie enough to get on the MTV2 playlist, but upbeat and "dancey" enough to get onto MTV Dance. Now this may in itself sound like a horrifying melange, but don't worry...the end result is pretty bloody spectacular.

Take opening track Empty for instance; for the first two minutes or so it's what you could call a synth "mood" piece but then, without much warning, grunge guitars kick in and the whole thing is taken up about three hundred notches in one easy manouever.

And from there, things stay very high on the quality-o-meter. Highlights for me include Poster Of A Girl and Glass Ceiling, but in all honesty its hard to identify a real duff track.

Whilst never quite as clever as it thinks it is, this is still a great album to, you know, dance to. A rock band not afraid to have fun...whatever next? Maybe there is hope after all.

And of course, it doesn't hurt that lead singer Emily Haines is quite the star-in-the making.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pet Shop Boys

Well the time for Fundamental, the 9th studio album, from the Pet Shop Boys is nearly upon us. So what better time to bring back that old "lists" phase I went through a while back and give my definative ranking of the PSB studio album cannon.

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8. Release (2002)
There is no such thing as a bad PSB album (Disco 2 notwithstanding) but this was a disappointment. Really when a band changes their longstanding sound as fundamentally as the boys did here, the results have to be spectacular to be successful, and this falls well short of spectacular. Some have labelled this as "PSB chanelling the Smiths", although this may have more to do with the guitar playing guest Johnny Marr than any other concern. There are a number of highlights to treasure though; Home and Dry is good, as it the almost Oasis-lite I Get Along. The irony is that the standout track, Here, is the most true to the old PSB ethos. But really there is no excuse for Love Is A Catastrophe or Birthday Boy which have to be two of the worst PSB tracks ever.

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7. Nightlife (1998)
Bring along some hip dance producers to help out and you have the simultaneous effect of producing both the most "modern" album in the PSB canon, and also the one that bears least repeated listenings. The sad thing is that from tracks 1 to 7, this is shaping up to be a classic Pet Shop Boys album but from thereon in it's a slippy ride into mediocrity. I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Anymore and You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk are two of the best post-Discography singles by the boys and Radiophonic has to be one of the best singles-that-never-were in the PSB catalogue. But Boy Strange reminds you of David Bowie at his worst, In Denial has to be the most cringeworthy songs ever (made even worse by the fact it features Kylie) and New York City Boy is camp nonsense that really should never have seen the light of day. And now, eight years on, the whole thing sounds outdated and really hasn't aged all that well.

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6. Bilingual (1995)
Much like the album that followed it, this is very much a tale of two halves. The first five tracks are all very good but the album doesn't follow these up with anything that matches them. Although thankfully it doesn't descend into the mire in quite the same way that Nightlife does. In Se A Vida E and Before the album has two quite wonderful, but different from the expected, PSB singles, and despite a lot of people thinking otherwise, I've always enjoyed the likes of Metamorphosis and To Step Aside. But Red Letter Day may well be the worst single the boys have ever released and Up Against It and The Survivors are exactly the kind of drivel you'd least expect from the PSB.

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5. Introspective (1988)
It may only be six songs long (or short) but those six songs pack in more fantastic pop than many artists do in a whole career. True I've never cared for the basic version of Left To My Own Devices on here, and I've never really liked It's Alright, but in I'm Not Scared, Domino Dancing, I Want a Dog and Always On My Mind you've ample examples of what Neil Tennant described as the PSB "imperial" phase.

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4. Please (1986)
The debut, and whilst most people would only remember West End Girls and the fantastic, but often very misunderstood Opportunities, there is a lot more to reccommend on here than just those. Love Comes Quickly is a gorgeous synth ballad and remains one of the most criminally underated PSB songs they've done and tracks like I Want A Lover and Why Don't We Live Together are still wonderful to this day. The only blot on the album is Suburbia, a song I've never really liked and one which on the album manages to be worse than the souped-up single version that was subequently released.

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3. Behaviour (1990)
The critical masterpiece, but the commercial disappointment. It's certainly a mile away from the over-the-top pomposity of the likes of It's A Sin, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve the many plaudits it's received. Being Boring is perhaps the finest PSB song there is but it's far from the only highlight on this superb album. My particular favourites would include The End Of The World, To Face The Truth and So Hard. The one "fast-forward" moment for me would be My October Symphony but the rest of it is pure gold.

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2. Actually (1987)
What's not to like about this one. Three top two hits (It's A Sin, What Have I Done To Deserve This? and Heart), a further top ten hit (Rent) and some of the best PSB album tracks (Kings Cross, One More Chance and It Couldn't Happen Here) in existance. There isn't a duff moment on here and its easy to see why with this release that PSB could, at the time, conceivably be seen as one of the biggest Pop act's in the world.
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1. Very (1993)
So it may be a slightly controversial choice, but this is my list damn it. I suppose in a way I will always have a fond memory of Very because it was the first PSB album where I was an avid fan of the boys as it came out. But really this remains my favourite because no matter how many times I hear it I have no trouble listening to it from start to finish without skipping a thing. Can You Forgive Her combines two classic PSB traits of over-the-top production and biting, but hilaroius, lyrics. Go West may be camp, but its also fantastically catchy. In fact I really can't pick a duff tune from this collection either.

Just for the sake of it, I'll pass comment on a few other PSB albums and bits & pieces.

Pop Art is definately the better deal than Discography, simply because you've twice the amount of classic songs, even more so if you get the three disc collection with the bonus "mix" cd. Although I must admit that Discography is in one sense slighty the better as it contains fewer "duff" tracks. As far as the Disco series goes, 1 was brilliant, 2 was god damn awful and 3 was somewhere in between. Alternative, their B-sides collection, is better than most artists could come up with for a singles collection. Relentless (the "dance" music bonus album which came with some copies of Very is also superb. All the Further Listening collections that came with the album reissues in 2001 have their moments, but are more for the avid fan than the curious observer. The OST to their musical Closer To Heaven is one for the completist only, as is the Battleship Potempkin soundtrack (although that is the better of the two).

Nerina Pallot - Fires

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Yes it was on of my top albums of 2006, but yes it has been re-released.

The track order is slightly shuffled around (but really, doesn't everybody just reorder the tracks how they want anyway these days) and there is a general sprucing up of the songs.

There's also some added strings bits on songs like Idaho. Which is good.

The new re-release does just enough to smarten the songs up without taking away from what made the album so great in the first place.

So if you haven't already taken my previous advice and bought this, then make amends and buy it now.

And there's no sign of either Nelly Furtado or Taboo, which can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Single Releases 01/05/06

Haven't got the time for a full run down, but as the Premiership season is nearly over, what better way to run down this week's releases, but in a Premiership League Table styleee....

You Are What You Love (Jenny Lewis)

Dani California (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
Lost And Found (Feeder)
Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt (We Are Scientists)

My Patch (Jim Noir)
But It's Better If You Do (Panic! At The Disco)

Fly Me Away (Goldfrapp)
Can't Exist (Joseph Arthur)
Hoppipola (Sigur Ros) *
Shot Away (Pawn Shop)

Remember The Time (Michael Jackson)
When The Stars Go Blue (Tim McGraw)
Broke (Captain)
Photograph (Jamie Columbo)

Nat King Cole (Adam Green)
Waters Of Nazereth (Justice)
Somebody's Watching Me (Beatfreakz)

Hangin Around (Big Brovaz)
I'm Sprung (T-Pain)
Remain (Kubb)

* They'd scrape a UEFA cup spot through the FA cup route