Friday, June 30, 2006

Single Releases 03/07/06

Well as I won't be around early next week, here's an early (and somewhat brief) look at the singles on release on Monday.

WORLD HOLD ON (BOB SINCLAR) - More whistles from the French bloke. It's ok, but as with most "dance" artists these days, as you've heard his other tune, you pretty much know how this one goes.

A LITTLE LESS SIXTEEN CANDLES, A LITTLE MORE TOUCH ME (FALL OUT BOY) - Great title...average song...Ok, I lied. It's a bloody terrible title as well.

SHEILA (JAMIE T) - He's got quite the buzz around him as Jamie T and to an extent this both shows why he does have that buzz and why it's also not quite justified yet.

EANIE MEANIE (JIM NOIR) - See now as a snippet on a TV advert this is quite wonderful. As a stand-alone song, it's just ok.

SMILE (LILY ALLEN) - Well I've been banging on about her for ages, and finally it's a proper single release for Lily. This is great, nice and summery, and the B-Side (Cheryl Tweedy) is quite a treat too.

PULL SHAPES (PIPETTES) - I like the Pipettes. Having said that, this isn't quite as good as the superb "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me" but it's near enough to be another quite brilliant single.

IN THE MORNING (RAZORLIGHT) - First of all, what the hell is old Johnny boy wearing in the video to this? Bizarre. Anyway, this is quite a catchy tune which at various points almost goes "disco"...which sadly is reminscent of Shed Seven.

ON THE RADIO (REGINA SPEKTOR) - A nice "proper" introduction to Regina, although not quite as "off-the-wall" as her other stuff.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Single Releases 26/06/06

Stripper (Soho Dolls) - Well this is just absolutely fantastic. Seriously it is. It's Ladytron meets Kraftwerk, and I absolutely bloody love it. So watch it fail to chart! :D

Weekend Without Makeup (The Long Blondes) - This is also fantastic. Its unashamedly retro, and I like it!

That Old Pair Of Jeans (Fatboy Slim) - A slightly different tune than you would expect Norm to come up with to shill his Greatest Hits album. It's good, but nowhere near good enough to move, say, Rockafella Skank from your brain.

Breakaway (Kelly Clarkson) - If there is one thing I cannot understand it's the success Kelly Clarkson has. She's not bad, far from it, but neither can I see why she's just, well, so huge. Case in point, this is a decent enough song, but isn't anywhere near the level of, say, The Veronica's or Katy Rose.

Sexy Love (Ne Yo) - Erm, quite.

Buttonz (Pussycat Dolls ft Big Snoop Dogg) - Now you see, whilst fully admitting that the PCD are scraping the bottom of the barrel talent wise, you can't deny that Don't Cha and Beep are quality pop tunes. This however is a bit rubbish. In fact, it's a lot rubbish.

She Moves In Her Own Way (The Kooks) - I don't really like the Kooks. But I have to say this is quite a merry and jolly little ditty that I quite like. Still, that new McFly one is better.

Made-Up Love Song #43 (Guillemots) - I never really know what to make of willfuly eccentric bands like the Guillemots. And after this track I'm still not sure what's going on. But this is a nice track albeit one where you think that there's just a little too much going on.

White Collar Boy (Belle And Sebastian) - Jaunty indie-pop, just as you'd expect really. As ever with B&S, for me the law of diminishing returns applies.

Enough Cryin (Mary J Blige) - Enough indeed. I didn't think she could "top" the disaster that was One. I was wrong.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Black Holes And Revelations - Muse

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Truth be known, despite their pretensious epic prog-rock sounds, I've always had a soft spot for Muse. True, I can never really stomach a full album from the boys, but they can always be guaranteed to come up with something worthwhile, such as the delightful Sunburn or the pumping Stockholm Syndrome.

So of course, whilst I welcome a new Muse album, I'm hardly the kind of person who's eagerly awaiting it. Still, new single Supermassive Black Hole is one of the singles of the year so far. Yes it owes a debt of gratitude to Britney's Do Somethin' and whilst that may upset some people, it actually intrigues me. In one foul swoop Muse show just how idiotic those Radiohead comparisions were - these boys know how to have fun.

Sadly there's nothing quite up to the standard of that on this album, but there are some tunes that come very close. Exo-Politics is driven by bombastic drums and a swirling sci-fi background noise whilst Assassin sounds like the opening soundtrack to a pulsating thriller and is another one, dare I say it, that you could dance to. Map Of The Problematique is even better, with echo's of what the Pet Shop Boys might sound like if they went "prog-rock".

The album has it's mellow moments too; City Of Delusion does sound somewhat like a Radiohead rip-off but Soldier's Poem proves once and for all that behind the bombsatic production values, Muse do have the tunes.

Of course, just to assure us that the over-the-top ridiculousness is still there, the album ends with Knights Of Cydonia, which comes across (thanks to its use of horse galloping sound effects) as the kind of thing you'd hear on a 21st Century John Wayne Cowboy film and ends in a thrilling and nasty guitar breakdown which leaves you breathless for more.

Whether more ardent fans will agree I don't know, but for me this is Muse's most thrilling and complete collection yet.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Personal File - Johnny Cash

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As Johnny Cash's son was clearing out his old recording studio, he came across hundreds of "unreleased" songs (no doubt more of which will be heard in the non-too distant future). The most intriguing by all accounts were a selection titled "Personal File" from which all 49 brand new tracks on this collection are taken from.

Recorded mostly in 1973/74 (although some tracks on the collection were recorded as late as 1982), these feature Johnny Cash and his guitar. Nothing else. Most of the songs (but not all) are covers, spanning a century (or more) of music. And all seem to have special relevance for the Man In Black. Indeed its probable, as one listens, that Cash never intended these songs for public consumption, but the decision to release them is a welcome one indeed.

This is Cash the storyteller at work and there is a real sense of what made the man throughout this excellent compilation. Many songs are preceeded with tales of why he was chosing to sing them, or why they meant so much to him. On disc one, the overall effect is almost like a personal "evening" with Johnny Cash, as you alone listen to him whilst drinking an ice cold beer on the porch. On disc two, with its heavy religious and spritual tone, it's like eavesdropping on Cash's conversation with the man upstairs.

Of course, if you don't like Johnny Cash, this collection is not for you. But if you've ever liked the man or the music, this is an experience you simply cannot afford to miss. The film Walk The Line did a halfway decent job of portraying Johnny Cash the man, but this collection takes you right to the heart of him. It's proof that despite all the hype, Johnny Cash truly is an icon and a legend.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Single Releases 19/06/06

Supermassive Black Hole (Muse) - Or also known as the moment that Muse went "pop"; (Popjustice were right, this does sound a bit like Britney's "Do Something"). But that's no bad thing. Of course the Muse fans will insist it's the usual Muse stuff, but we know differently. This is class in a glass as someone might say. They've never sounded better (and contrary to popular belief, I do quite like Muse in a "I'd listen but never buy" kind of way, so I'm not just loving them now they're "pop").

Blood (Editors) - Yes, its a good song. But isn't this the 37th time it's been released or something? New balls please.

Valerie (The Zutons) - To be honest this one underwhelmed me on the album (indeed, as did much of the album) and whilst it's alright, it's not exactly brilliant.

X (Liberty X) - Well at least Jessica looks nice in the video. But that seriously is the only plus point about this awful record. Xtraordinary? Xcruciating more like it. The "X" are outstaying their welcome by a long, long time now.

Rooftops (Lost Prophets) - Look, I quite enjoy listening to the two Lost Prophets albums I have from time to time. They're hardly ones that I keep at the top of my "listening list" but occasionally I'll see them on the shelf, think "oh, they're quite good" and give them a spin. This is much like the rest of their output (with the exception of that pretty wonderful Shinobi Dragon whatever track) in that I quite enjoy it whilst listening to it, yet have no desire to hear it again once I have.

Turn Into (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) - Two in a row. Two absolutely cracking singles in a row. Whatever next? They're starting to live up to the hype now.

Ain't No Other Man (Christina Aguilera) - The C-Dawg is back. And she still owes me £4.50. Anyways, this is quite good, in a jazzy upbeat kind of way. And should be enough to see off Beyonce in this summer's battle of the bints. (And by the way, someone please tell Beyonce that "B'Day" is not a good title for an album).

Kick Push (Lupe Fiasco) - Surprisingly good this one. It has a breezy summer vibe and some cracking horns and really should be a big hit now the sun is out.

Extravaganza (Jamie Foxx ft Kanye West) - Somebody please get Jamie Foxx a clue, or at least put someone in charge of him who will tell him that his music is rubbish. It's always a pleasure to see Kanye up in the grill, but that's the only plus point about this track.

Infra Red (Placebo) - As you would expect from Brian and the boys. Still, they've definately had a bit of an upswing at the moment and this is a decent track which will at least please the rabid fans I would think.

Dirty Little Secret (All American Rejects) - Yes, you've heard this kind of thing before, but when it's as bright and breezy as this is, it's churlish to complain.

Mas Que Nada (Sergio Mendes ft. Black Eyed Peas) - What next, Taboo rapping to the Birdie Song? Fergie getting down to a bit of Agadoo? Apl giving up his day job as England's left back to rap over the Minder theme tune? Will I Am teaming up with David Hasslehoff? Seriously though, is there any tune/sample the BEP won't use? To be honest, I'd rather listen to the proper version, without all the rapping.

She's Attracted To (The Young Knives) - Well I' m sorry, but any song about the pitfalls of your girlfriend's mum being attracted to you is an instant classic in my book. Especially when in real life, girlfriends mother's don't tend to like me very much. And as if that wasn't enought, it has a la la la la la style singalong in it. Genius.

Desperado (Journey South) - Oh. My. God. Kill me now.

Don't Mistake Me (Keisha White) - Well bless her for trying anyway.

An Easier Affair (George Michael) - Surprisingly this isn't as bad as you might fear, but neither is it anywhere near a return to the kind of form that made George a superstar. Still, it's quite catchy and should go down well with his fans.

Stranger In Moscow (Michael Jackson) - Interesting Matt-Fact here, this is the only MJ single I ever bought. That is all.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Ditty Bops - Moon Over The Freeway

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Swing, rag-time, folk, vaudeville...all terms that could be used to pigeon-hole The Ditty Bops, and all terms that wouldn't come close to giving you an accurate description of the music they do. It's all of those and more. Indeed you might find out more about them by noting that they are "cycling" across America to support the promotion of this album.

But all this wilfull "eclectism" would be pretty off-putting if it wasn't for the fact that the album itself is actually a rather damn fine slice of fun and joyous pop. The two singers (Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett) have the vocal harmonies down pat, and are distinct rather than just blending together, and add in some saloon style honky-tonk piano (courtesy of producer Mitchell Froom) and you have a record that instantly grabs you and exports you to another world.

There is the slight nagging feeling that the Ditty Bops are one trick ponies, much like, say, The Ravonettes on Pretty In Black, but, much like that particular record as well, when the one-trick is so good, it's churlish to complain, especially as the record fills it's entire 35 minutes or so with wonderful songs.

Personal highlights for me would include Fish to Fry and the fiddle-driven Get Up 'N Go, but really there isn't one song on the entire album that I wouldn't want to listen to again and again. Its perhaps a little too "off-the-wall" to gain any semblance of major success, but that shouldn't detract one iota from what is a really good record, albeit one that may not sound so appealing once the hot summer days have turned into the autumnal dark nights. And again, you may find yourself getting a little less enamoured if you listen to it too many times, but whilst the rush sticks around, this is simply delightful.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Jewel - Goodbye Alice In Wonderland

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I seem to be pretty much in the minority. I thought Jewel's last album, the almost universally panned 03/04, was actually quite good. Of course the problem was that it wasn't the Jewel "sound" everybody wanted from her, a fact she acknowledged to some degree in the inlay notes for that album. And it's a fact she's acknowledging again in the inlay notes to the new album Goodbye Alice In Wonderland where, amongst telling us that the album is the story of her life and follows a linear narrative, she almost apologises for somewhat going back to her roots.

The funny thing is though that it's the more "pop" moments on this album that are the standout tracks. Again and Again, Only One Too and Words Get In The Way are hits in the making; joyful, playful and catchy...everything you could ask for and more.

It's the more serious notes that don't impress as much. For a singer who's lyrics are such a strong focal point (witness the poetry book she published) this album proves once again that Jewel has a tendancy to be a little too autobiographical and cloying for her own good. Good Day, in particular, has all the hallmarks of a dreadful Jewel track (and to be fair, there are a few of those in the canon) with its insipid lyrics being almost embarassingly precious and narcissistic.

Still the odd duff track should not detract from what is probably the strongest collection of Jewel tracks yet. The attempt for a linear narrative would proably pass by most people if Jewel hadn't mentioned it herself, but it does make for a coherent and satisfying whole. My only problem is that after the shockingly daring and different 03/04, Jewel has gone back to playing it safe, and whilst the end result is definately one of the better albums of her career, it's sad in some ways to think what might have been if she'd torn off the shackles once more.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Single Releases 12/06/06

Hips Don't Lie (Shakira feat Wyclef Jean) - This is great, but I'm STILL pissed off that it wasn't on the album. And now I see they are re-releasing the album with this as a bonus track. I wouldn't care but it's only the SECOND single from the bloody album. That said, it is a cracker.

So Under Pressure (Danni Minogue) - Well it's a hell of lot better than some of the crap she foists on us, I'll give her that.

I Am Not My Hair (India Arie) - Hmm, what can I say other than I don't like it.

Miss Murder (AFI) - I know that there are thousands of kids who love this kind of shite, I am most definately not one of them.

Lucky Like That (Clea) - Lucky to see out the year with a record deal you mean.

Diva Lady (The Divine Comedy) - Another Neil Hannon classic, which will no doubt spectacularly fail to set the charts alight. Still, what do the general public know anyway?

On The Radio (The Concretes) - I likes this one.

Henrietta (The Fratelli's) - They've still not quite come up with a song as genius as their band name, but this is pretty close. In fact, it's pretty bloody brilliant.

Who Says You Can't Go Home (Bon Jovi) - Who would ever have thought that Bon Jovi would go all Drum 'n' Bass on our asses? Of course, I am kidding. This is exactly as you would expect a Bon Jovi song to sound like. Whether that is any good or not depends on your view of the band themselves I suppose.

Coming Undone (Korn) - Ditto. It's not bad, but it's hardly a bolt out of the blue from the Korn boys.

Devil In A Midnight Mass (Billy Talent) - Until they sort out their hair, I'm not taking them seriously .

Why You Wanna (T.I.) - Is this better or worse than the Crystal Waters original? Well as both are pretty poor, who knows.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Catherine Feeny - Hurricane Glass

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Well for once at a concert (Martha Wainwright) I turned up in time for the support act, who turned out to be Catherine Feeny. She was quite good, although as I mentioned in my concert review, it's never easy making a qualified judgement on an artist doing a solo show. You don't have any idea how their sound transfers to the record.

Still, I liked what I saw enough to check out the album. Much like Nerina Pallot with Fires, there will be a lot of people saying this is her "debut" when in fact it is a belated follow up to her self-titled 2003 album. Still there is no doubt that the time is right for a female singer-songwriter, and Feeny is one of the best of the "new" breed.

It's lazy to compare the latest act to their predecessors, but there is no doubt that fans of Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega would find much to like on this album...and indeed anyone who thinks Sandi Thom is the second coming of Jesus might like to check out what a really good album actually sounds like.

Accessible enough to grab you on the first listen, the tracks bear up well to repeated plays with the melancholy aspect of the songs tugging at your heart strings. However, despite the melancholy and introspection on display, the album is never dull or depressing.

Mr Blue is delightfully bittersweet, and Always Tonight hides its tormented lyrics behind a warm acoustic glow. And as if to prove she can rock out, the title track shows Sheryl Crow just what she might like to do next after the pretty insipid Wildflower.

It's pretty much a given that at this stage of it's life, Hurricane Glass isn't going to sell anywhere near as many copies as Sandi Thom's Smile...It Confuses People, but it's also very clear that this is ten times the album that will ever be.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Single Releases 05/06/06

Maneater (Nelly Furtado) - Ok so it's finally out in the shops, and I know I've been banging on about it for ages, but it really is bloody brilliant. Sod Gnarls Barkley, this really is the best single of the year so far.

Follow Me Home (Sugababes) - This, on the other hand, isn't. But then I've never been a fan of dull pop ballads. Still it will keep them in the public eye until they surprise me with another Hole In The Head/Push The Button type stomper.

Sooner Or Later (Duncan James) - Yes Duncan, except it should be sooner rather than later. As in sooner rather than later you are going to realise that this just isn't going to work. I thought the other clowns were bad enough, but even Anthony Costa's record was better than this.

The Youngest Was The Most Loved (Morrissey) - Erm, well you know me and the Mozza. I mean it's not a bad track, but where exactly it's any different to his last four singles or so is beyond me.

World At Your Feet (Embrace) - Just to prove that the FA have as much clue about other industries as they do about running the national game they choose Embrace to deliver the rousing and anthemic official England World Cup song. I'm just surprised anyone was, well, surprised when this turned out to be dull and boring. I mean it's akin to asking Ted Bundy to chaperone your teenage daughter.

Say Somethin' (Mariah Carey) - Or just continue pushing the boundaries of how little clothes you can wear without it being obscene. Although really, it is already obscene. Anyway, this is not a bad tune but why don't you play the "when did Mariah Carey become a slut" game with me and Jenny Lewis sometime.

Never Went To Church (The Streets) - Much like "When You Wasn't Famous" was a poor man's "You're Fit And You Know It", this is a poor man's "Dry Your Eyes." Which isn't to say its a particularly bad song, it's just not a very good one.

Monster (The Automatic) - Not bad, but not all that great.

Dance In My Blood (Men Women & Children) - Absoultely barmy, but very very catchy. With a chorus you won't get out of your head for days.

Sing It Out (Hope Of The States) - I love this, DESPITE the fact that Zane Lowe is always banging on about how great it is. So if I love it even with that "recommendation" on it's back, this must be good, right?

Not Ready To Make Nice (The Dixie Chicks) - Well you could have fooled me! Anyways, whereas once the Dixie's were a welcome breath of fresh air to the Nashville scene now they are just as air-brushed and strangled as any number of good looking Country women.

Anysound (The Vines) - Hardly earth shattering, but a welcome return for the band.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sandi Thom - Smile...It Confuses People

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First things first, as far as I am concerned I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker is perhaps the worst number one in quite some time (yes, even worse than It's Chico Time) and has perhaps some of the worst, most cringeworthy lyrics this side of a Katie Melua b-side. So really, I'm not coming at this album from the best of places am I?

But to be fair, there's nothing quite as bad as that effort on this debut album but that's not to say that this is anywhere near approaching anything other than mediocre.

When Horsepower Meant What It Said repeats the Black Horse & Cherry Tree trick of the lead single, to slightly better effect, even if the lyrics still are terrible. Lonely Girl is the kind of ballad that wouldn't be out of place as the "mum and dad" track on a Sugababes album and is then followed by Sunset Borderline, which isn't even that good and is hamstrung by yet more pitible lyrics.

But then, at track 5 a change comes over me. Ok, it's hardly the best song ever but it has one of the catchiest radio-friendly choruses I've heard in quite some time...sadly however it's the lone high spot. In fact most of the rest sounds no better than what you might expect from any tom, dick or harry in your local pub on Acoustic night (a fact that Sandi could almost be seen to acknowledge on the 30 years behind the times The Human Jukebox).

And therein lies the rub. To come anywhere near justifying the PR hype, this would have to be something special, or at least aspire to that. This doesn't. This is music by the numbers. Someone, somewhere has seen the success of a KT Tunstall and decided to replicate it, albeit minus any of the heart, soul and genuine emotion that makes Tunstall a star.

Still, the Radio 2 audience will love it, and I suspect that that's the only bottom line that matters at this moment in time.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Martha Wainwright LIVE

No Pizza Express this time (you can't have Pizza two nights in a row can you? - well, not that I had pizza the night before, but you get my drift) but a nice little Mexican Steak house instead.

Which was all going perfectly until the Ice Cream...when a chill to kill all chills came over me and seriously left me below-par. Anyway, you don't want to hear about my illness do you?

We got to the Lowry in time for the announcement that the support act was about to start. As it was female, and teasely, we decided to mosey on in. Her name was Catherine Feeney and she was quite good. Of course it's difficult to form a definative opinion of an act you've never heard of when they perform such a pared down set as Feeney did, but I enjoyed it and have since enjoyed listening to the full version of some of the songs on her myspace page. One to look out for.

Indeed, I would have gone over to her during the interval but by then I was feeling seriously ill and thought it best not to go over and be sick on her or something.

So then it was onto Martha. And Martha, well she's just Martha. Within seconds she had the audience in stitches, "this wasn't supposed to be some kind of fucking comedy show", but much like Nerina Pallot in the same venue the night before the funny and witty banter would have meant nothing without the songs, which were as excellent as ever.

Most of the "Martha Wainwright" album was done as well as some brand new tracks, all of which whetted the appetite for her upcoming follow up. There was also a special guest appearance by Thea Gilmore for a couple of tracks, which was a nice surprise.

Whilst seemingly acknowledging herself that she's not for everyone ("I can see why I get a 'reputation'") in a way that makes her all the more special. In a world where artistic "integrity" is seemingly lost in the rush to sell a million records, its refreshing to see a female artist completly willing to do things her own way. And on the evidence of tonight's show, long may she continue to do so.