Monday, April 30, 2007

Single Releases 30/04/07

I assumed someone was winding me up but apparently it is true. Elton John's Candle In the Wind 1997 gets a re-release this week. Why? Is it to commemorate Harry going off to war? Or maybe its to help Wills get over dumping Kate Middleton. Of course I am being frivolous, but what is the point? Even if it's for charity its a bad idea.

Right Said Fred finally get around to releasing I'm Too Sexy 2007 this week. I still reckon their first album was a relatively good one. This does them no favours at all.

I can do without Linkin Park's new video to be honest. Sure I'm positive young Chester and the boys think they are being hard-hitting and all that, what with the images of starving children and wars and all that nonsense but it's all done within the context of a video that probably cost more than the gross national product of a small African nation. Surely it can't only be me that is sick of being lectured to by rockstars about how I should be disgusted about the world at large. Of course that said, I quite like What I've Done as a song.

Still even all that is less offensive than Beverley Knight. Is there a more pointless "pop-star" working today? I don't think so. Personally I think she should bite the bullet, become the singer for the Brand New Heavies and then I'd only have to review one complete non-entity of a single rather than two.

Dolores O'Riordan makes a solo burst this week. I never was all that enamoured with the Cranberries, despite an old flat mate at Uni listening to them all day long - seriously you haven't lived until you've been woken up at 6 am on a Sunday morning by the Cranberries because your flat mate has gone away for the weekend and left his stereo system alarm on and you can't get into his room because he's locked it. (And by the way, the fuse box was in another locked room so we couldn't just turn the electricity off). Still they did some good tunes, and I quite like this solo effort, Ordinary Day.

After doing their solo thing, the Manics are back this week, in the company of my favourite lesbian Nina Persson. Actually this is a pretty retro round-up this week as it's bringing back a lot of memories of University. In this case that big discussion as to whether or not Nina Persson was a lesbian or not. Whether she actually is or not is hardly the point anymore. Anyway, I like the song, well at least until Nicky Wire joins in the singing.

I still am not that keen on Amy Winehouse. New single Back To Black doesn't make me any keener.

No amount of Popjustice shilling will make me like Booty Luv either. And it's a similar story with Dragonette.

Marion Raven is probably a bit shit on balance as well. But she's a bit fit. Never let it be said that I'm not shallow. If you liked the "old" Avril Lavigne, you'll enjoy Break You that's for sure.

LDN Is A earth shatteringly brilliant, on the zeitgeist piss-take or a rather uneccesary dig at Kate Nash and Lily Allen? I'd go for the latter. Especially as one of the digs on the record is at Lily Allen trashing all her rivals. I supposed to believe this is irony? I wouldn't mind if it was particularly funny. Still, no doubt because it was The Observer that first spotted Allen and Nash on a national scale, the Guardian love this one. And doesn't that fact tell it's own story...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Serebro - Song #1

There's a new video for this Eurovision classic.

They haven't exactly got any uglier have they?

Thanks to jief75

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Batten The Hatches - Jenny Owen Youngs

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When is a new album not a new album? When it's already been self-released in 2005 that's when. Still, it may have taken two years for Jenny Owen Youngs (and try saying that correctly when you're drunk) to get this album released by a label, but it's a wait that proves worth it.

Influenced by everyone from "Beck to Jesus Christ Superstar to Britney Spears" and with a website that announces tour dates with the words "when and where Jenny will next sit on your lap" it's clear right from the start that Youngs isn't your "cookie-cutter" pop star. One critic labelled her as "Feist meets KT Tunstall" and in many ways that just about sums her up. She has Tunstall's eye for a tune and has that eccentricity that makes Feist such a fun proposition. (Although for reasons of personal safety I probably wouldn't echo the Guardian and their "kindly move over KT Tunstall" proclamation!)

Most of the pre-album publicity revolved around the track Fuck Was I, which was played on some American TV show or something. It's not the aggressive ditty the title would suggest and for those who don't mind the profanity it's sure to strike a chord with anyone who's ever messed up a relationship and known exactly where they've gone wrong. And in three and a half minutes is sums up the appeal of Youngs. At once she can both tug at the heart strings and, with her tongue-in-cheek attitude, make you laugh.

It's a great track, but it's not the best thing on the album. The sparse and bluesy Lightening Rod and Voice On Tape are two of the albums slower and more mellow highlights, whilst Bricks adds a swirl of strings to great effect. But as if to prove she's not one-paced, the upbeat Porchill and the country tinged Coyote are both excellent as well.

Listening to this its amazing that it took so-long to be snapped up for a proper release, but no matter the wait, it was well worth it. Some might, I suppose, be put off by some of the choice language, but get past that and this is an album that deserves to be huge. Jenny Owen Youngs is one hell of a talent.

Friday, April 27, 2007

23 - Blonde Redhead

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Ok, so another day another band who's got to seven albums before I've ever heard of them. What can I say? It's both impossible to know about EVERYTHING, and I'm just not that "cool". They're two Italian blokes, one Japanese woman, were discovered, or at least brought to prominence, thanks to the drummer from Sonic Youth and their new album has Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, U2) at the producing helm. Yes, thank the stars for Wikipedia. (So if any of that information is false, don't blame me; I mean some places tell me this is their NINTH album).

Which all goes to mean that whilst I can't comment on this album in respect of it's (many) predecessors, I can objectively look at it as a single entity. And having done so I have to admit that it doesn't quite grab me as a cohesive whole.

At it's best it has some genuinely affecting moments. Dr. Strangeluv, with its haunting mix of eerie synthesizers and edgy guitars is really rather quite good, as is Silently, which one reviewer called akin to an ethereal, lost Abba classic. And even if I don't agree particularly with that sentiment, I can see what he was getting at. It also has to be said that singer Kazu Makino's voice, whilst undoubtedly being an acquired taste, does actually get under your skin and draw you in.

But these songs are of a level that Blonde Redhead can't keep up over the course of a full album. Whereas those two songs lift you up into an other-worldly atmosphere, the likes of Publisher and Spring And By Summer Fall are just dull and uninspiring. The fact that Amedeo Pace takes over the singing duties for those two may not be entirely a coincidence.

So whilst there are a handful of tracks that will no doubt stay on my MP3 player, there's just too much on here that disagrees with me. It's not an awful record, by any stretch of the imagination and it certainly has its moments. But those moments are not enough to completely save the record as a whole. And whilst there's enough to suggest that a selective trawl through their back catalogue could unearth some gems, I don't think I'd rush out and buy all their albums.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Everything - Sea And Cake

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The joy of the Internet is that you find yourself discovering bands that you would otherwise have never heard of in a million years. Of course it's not always a good thing, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

A case in point are Chicago natives Sea And Cake. They are already on their seventh studio album, but this week I heard them for the first time. Frankly though, if I'd heard it without prior warning I would have been convinced that we were being transported back into the 1970's. But whilst Bread and Steely Dan might not be the "coolest" of reference points similar influences haven't done the Feeling any harm, and it doesn't do any harm to Sea And Cake either.

What we are presented with is a series of mostly up-beat, rock orientated songs that rarely completely blow you away but rarely disappoint you either.

Highlights include The Crossing Line, with it's almost low-fi feel (it's the "fuzzy" guitars) and the relatively minimalist, and really rather catchy, Lightening.

At a mere 10 tracks this breezes along and makes for a leisurely, but very enjoyable listen. If I'm being honest, and I might as well be, I doubt it's the kind of album that will be constantly on the record player, but it's the kind of album I will delve into from time to time and no doubt be pleasantly surprised at how good it is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Reminder - Feist

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My Moon My Man was probably the most commercial thing Feist has ever put on record. Yes there were certain cuts from Let It Die that wouldn't sound out of place on the radio, but never has Leslie Feist come up with a shinier, happier simple pop song.

And by listening to 1234, another track on the delightful new album The Reminder, you could be fooled into thinking that Feist has "sold out" for commercial gain. It's not to say that either song is bad, in fact it's far from it. Both are so good that it's difficult to align it with the more "out-there" aspects of her oeuvre. But fear not, The Reminder shows Feist in all her genre-hopping glory.

So the jazzy, Norah Jones-esque So Sorry can sit snugly with the piano driven The Limit To Your Love which can conversely sit quite happily alongside Brandy Alexander with it's finger-clicking "drum" beat. Indeed on the latter when she sings "I’d like to be the girl for him, and cross the sea and land for him" most men listening will no doubt think they'd be quite glad if they were the man for her.

Granted with such an eclectic range of styles not everything works, and I can well imagine different listeners picking out different individual highlights. But in a way that just goes to show you what an album this is. It's not perfect, but it's never less than captivating. Even on the times you're thinking "she's not got that right" Leslie Feist is such a talent that you can usually see/hear why she tried. I'd recommend this wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Robyn - Robyn

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There's probably few people who have the Robyn Is Here album, including the smash hits Show Me Love and Do You Know (What It Takes). I, of course, am one of them thanks to WH Smiths having it in their bargain bin for a quid many many moons ago. That is all a million miles away from the Robyn of today though. Now she's seen as the epitome of cool by those pop pundits "in the know."

Still despite Popjustice's proclamations, upon hearing the Konichiwa Bitches single I remained a little nonplussed. It was alright, but not exactly my favourite song ever. In fact it was almost an attempt to be too left-field; as if making pop music didn't mean having to have such a thing as a catchy chorus. Still, lyrically it was one of the sharpest pop songs of the year so in it's own way it did mean that there was bound to be a lot to look forward to as the album finally got it's official UK release.

And thankfully not everything is as wilfully difficult as that song was. Who's That Girl is the best song the Sugababes have never done, Jamelia wouldn't be whoring herself out with sample-heavy singles if someone could write something as good as Handle Me for her and, quite frankly, Pink would deserve the mass acclaim she recieves if she did something as fresh and as funky as Cobrastyle.

These are far from the only highlights, with another great track being the ever so slightly lyrically x-rated Should Have Known.

It doesn't always work, Crash And Burn Girl for instance sounds like the kind of insipid "floor-filler" Liberty X might try to pass off as sublime pop, and album closer Anytime You Like is just too dull, but for the most part it does.

Robyn has spent years in the wilderness in this country. If there's any justice, this album should see all of that change.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Single Releases 23/04/07

Life is good this morning, primarily becuase Jermaine Jenas' last minute equalizer pissed off all the sanctimonious Arsenal fans (yes, its ok saying you should have won becuase you hit the post all those times but you didn't, so what else matters?) and because Nadine is a single woman again. You know where I am love.

Of course then you have to review singles by the likes of Mika (awful), Michael Buble (awful), Sunblock feat. Sandy (awful), The View (awful) and the Wurzels feat Tony Blackburn (you get the picture by now...). Enough to send a happy clapper into a deep spiral of depression.

I mean come on. I don't mind Lostphrophets, but it's coming to something when one of their singles is one of the better releases of the week isn't it?

And then there's the "indie-cool" likes of The Rapture, Shiny Toy Guns, Shitdisco and Captain. The songs are alright, in fact they're good. But probably not as good as some people would like you to believe.

So I'm with Betty Curse this week when she says Do You Mind (If I Cry). And boy, isn't the law of diminishing returns applying with her as well...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Orange Album - Stefy

This finally gets its UK release on April 23rd.

It's great. And that's not just beacuse I love Stefy Rae. If you need any more convincing my actual review of it is somewhere on this blog (or even on Amazon UK, where you could help me out a lot by going to it and saying that my review was helpful ;-D - hell I do need to maintain my "top 500 reviewer" slot).

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Favourite Worst Nightmare - Arctic Monkeys

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Well they haven't hung about have they? A mere 15 months after the commercial juggernaut that was their debut album the Arctic Monkeys are back. But are they back with a bang?

Well in my opinion they are.

The temptation is always there with a follow up to a hugely successful debut to make it more of the same and keep the pennies rolling in, a route which can meet with short-term success but negate any chances of creating a lasting legacy. The Monkeys needn't worry about this burning them out. Yes it's not a million miles away from the sound of the debut but it does mark a flexing of their collective muscles and show that there is more to them than caustic tales of the Sheffield underground.

Brainstorm was an incendiary lead single, even if it did try to lose any sense of tune and even if it was lyrically very similar to "Fake Tales Of San Fransisco" (swap the kids on the dancefloor for the unwelcome backstage guest) and it starts the album off with a bang. It's followed by a trio of tracks (Teddy Picker , D Is For Dangerous, Balaclava) which also mimic the debut but things soon get a whole lot more interesting.

Fluorescent Adolescent and Only Ones Who Know prove once and for all that the Monkeys are no one-trick ponies. The former is Alex Turner at his lyrical best, whilst the latter evokes a 50's pop vibe but it also genuinely heartfelt and emotive. They attempt a little bit of funk on This House Is A Circus and The Bad Thing sounds like, to me anyway, the Smiths and may be the best set of lyrics on the album. Even better though may be the fantastic Do Me A Favour, currently my pick for the album's standout track.

I suppose the real question will be is it better than the debut? In my eyes, yes. That was some absolutely classic singles surrounded by some pretty average ones. This is much more consistent and should both please those avid fans who want more of the same and those of us who are looking for progression. After this no-one will be calling them a flash in the pan. They just need to get around to supplying Girls Aloud with the track they've promised them now!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Everything Last Winter - Fields

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This album comes with so much hype behind it (fuelled by the rapturous reception to the singles that preceded it) that it's almost begging you to not like it; begging you to cut through the expectation and come down on the negative side of the equation.

Well as much as you try you won't come down on the negative side of the equation at all. No, its not a consistently brilliant album but it is a good one.

From the moment that opening song Song For The Fields switches gears from its slow and gentle beginning and goes all out rock you are drawn in and whilst this "slow build and then BAM!" trick does perhaps get a little bit familiar over the course of the album it never really ceases to amaze.

They do save the best for (almost the) last. If You Fail We All Fail is quite simply sublime and the only downside to it is perhaps that it's so good that it can't help overshadow the album as a whole.

Still this is a great debut which bodes well for the future. And a salient nod to the fact that hype doesn't always equate to tripe.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ghosts - Siobhan Donaghy

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Yes, that one who was in the Sugababes before anyone really liked them. And yes that one who released a rather wonderful solo album Revolution In Me which sold a mere fraction of the amount that her former band-mates did.

Still she's nothing if not a trier and here we are, three and a half years or so later and she's trying again. And if you were to believe the hype, or the self-aggrandising press, leading up to the album then it represents a left-field, experimental take on modern pop music.

"Some people say you can't make left-field pop music and be commercial,"announces Siobhan Donaghy, "and that's bullshit."
The reality is that it doesn't, unless one considers the only kind of "pop" music to be the R'n'B styled manufactured rubbish that we're deluged with these days. But hey, maybe in these homogenised times merely releasing a record that doesn't adhere to some form of pre-ordained template is experimental enough.

It may give you some idea of how the album sounds in parts to say that at times when I was listening to it I was convinced that someone had spliced in a new Kate Bush track or something of that ilk and when the album is at it's best the comparison is not necessarily a blasphemous one.

The sad thing is that the comparison can't hold up over the entire album, which is a shame. It seems as if Donaghy's intentions were to make a unique and experimental album and to me it seems as if she's pretty much nailed that. If anything though she's perhaps not been experimental enough with some of the tracks indistinguishable from the kind of singer-songwriter fare you'd expect Edith Bowman to hype to death.

Still just by listening to the first three tracks alone (Don't Give It Up -what can I say, it's grown on me-, So You Say and There's A Place) you could just about forgive her anything. Maybe it's not as "complete" an album as Revolution In Me, but it's best tracks outweigh even the best from her debut. So all things considered, roll on album three.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Great Unwanted - Lucky Soul

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Sometimes you're there at the "beginning". You hear a name on the grapevine or stumble onto a Myspace page and hear of a band months in advance of anything being given an official release. Other times you somehow miss out, not hearing anything until the release has hit the shops and you just sit there with a "how the hell did I miss this until now."

As you might have gathered, putting this album in the player led to the second of those two responses. It's so good it makes me wonder where I've been all their life.

The rich seam of pop influences that Lucky Soul mine are clear for all to see; a little bit of soul, a dash of brit-rock, a healthy dollop of Phil Spector and a nice dressing of Mowtown. And yes, at times it might all seem a little too familiar, but the band seems to be having so much fun with their sound that it's almost impossible not to share it.

Add Your Light to Mine, Baby starts the album off on a particularly high note, and it has plenty of company with the likes of One Kiss Don't Make a Summer, My Darling Anything and the title track The Great Unwanted. All may have to bow down to Get Outta Town though; I don't think I've heard a better pop record than that all year.

As I alluded to earlier, it's not the most original album you'll ever hear and some critics have gone as far as to label it a mere "pastiche" record. But if it is pastiche, at least its a knowing and mischievous one, bringing in some senses comparison to those other favourites of mine The Pipettes. And if We Are The Pipettes was the album of last summer, The Great Unwanted may well have just laid it's claim to being the album of Summer 2007...and we're not even out of Spring yet!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Pipettes LIVE

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You see this is the point when I should probably, by all rights, be swooning over Ros-ay, saying how great she is and all that. And no doubt I will be doing just that in due course. But even she had to take second place tonight.

As usual we got some food and some drinks in at the pub before heading over to the venue. As we got in there was someone handing out Stefy postcards. That's weird, I thought. Al cracked some joke about missing them perform and then my heart sunk when I looked at the set listing on the wall and saw that yes, we had indeed missed Stefy. I was most upset.

So we move onto the bar, me still upset and after another beer has been bought I see some smart looking guys in their skinny tie get-up's and think that they might be the fellas from Stefy. But no sign of Stefy Rae herself. As if someone up there wanted to rub it in though, we did see the bird who plays Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street. She seemed perfectly pleasant and if I'd not been so upset about the Stefy thing I might have pushed Gee to have his photo taken with her for comedy purposes.

Anyway I'm stood by the door and I peer around to see what's going on and I see a lovely young lady. And I think, that could be Stefy Rae but really she's only about 4 foot 2 or something and in the video's she looks about 6 foot tall. So I turn back and then lo and behold this woman walks past and it was indeed Stefy. I froze and by the time I'd composed myself she'd disappeared, so I was now even more upset.

But this tale has a happy ending. We waited for ages and I was starting to think that the chance was gone as it was getting close to Pipettes time but finally the band reappeared and yours truly made his move. She was very sweet, even though I was talking gibberish, and seemed genuinely pleased that someone had actually heard of the band and knew who she was. One of the less painful "Matt meets a celebrity" moments it has to be said.

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Yes, I'm aware that's not the most flattering picture of me ever....

So it was with a spring in my step that we went into the auditorium for the Pipettes and within minutes I came to the conclusion that The Pipettes are the greatest thing ever. I really wasn't drunk when I said to the Gee that they're EVEN BETTER than Girls Aloud!!!

Seriously, they've got everything. Even groups of fans who dress up like them and copy, exactly, all the dance moves. They've got the tunes as well; even now, nearly a year after you first heard them, the tunes still stand up. And the new ones are pretty damn good too.

They also seem like they're having a hell of a lot of fun up there, which is refreshing. And the atmosphere was second to none (even though the venue didn't seem as "full" as the last time we saw them play there). There may be "better" concerts this year, but I doubt that there will be any that are quite as much fun.

Ros-ay is STILL as cute as a button (and I love her facial expressions) as well, and whilst she and Gwenno were sweating buckets, Riot Becki didn't seem to perspiring one bit. Sure that's not the kind of irrelevant tit-bit you read concert reviews for, but that's what you're getting!

In closing, The Pipettes absolutely rule!

don't forget me
because it's not love
why did you stay?
your kisses are wasted on me
your love for me
it hurts to see you dance so well
tell me what you want
baby don't leave me
burning ambition
really that bad
true love waits patiently for a miracle
i love you
guess who ran off with the milkman
by my side
one night stand
dirty mind
pull shapes
we are the pipettes

2007 Concert List

Well its the Pipettes tonight, so in recognition of that here's the 2007 Concert List. I need to book more concerts.

As ever, the ones in red are the ones that are in the bag already.

27th January - Ben Folds - Manchester Apollo

29th January - Nerina Pallot - Manchester Academy 2

30th January - The Hedrons - Night & Day, Manchester

11th February - Sandi Thom - The Lowry, Salford

18th February - The Long Blondes, Manchester Academy 2

22nd February - Bat For Lashes - RNCM, Manchester

10th March - Lily Allen, Manchester Apollo

28th March - Kate Nash - Night & Day, Manchester

17th April - The Pipettes - Ritz, Manchester

20th April - Lucy Porter (comedy gig) - The Lowry, Salford

20th May - Girls Aloud - MEN Arena, Manchester

3rd June - Kate Nash - Late Room, Manchester

9th September - Natasha Bedingfield - Manchester Apollo

Monday, April 16, 2007

Single Releases 16/04/07

First off, Thou Shalt Always Kill by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip is absolutely brilliant. I listen to it with a sneaking feeling that I should hate it, but I don't. It's just awesome. In fact it's TOO awesome really. They'll never live up to this one, but for the moment who cares?

It's a million miles away from the turgid pile of nonsense that is Beautiful Liar by Beyonce and Shakira. What would have been wrong with injecting a little fun into the proceedings girls?

Not sure on the new Siobhan Donaghy one to be honest. And if I'd heard the new album before it came out ( ;-D ) it wouldn't make the decision any clearer. It's not bad, and "intelligent" "pop" is never altogether a bad thing but there's something that doesn't quite grab hold of you with it.

It's much easier to like Natasaha Bedingfield's new one. And may I just take the opportunity to say that she can gladly have my babies anytime she wants. Except tomorrow night, as I'm off to see The Pipettes that night, but other than that I'm free. I like how Tasha is mental, and this is one of her mental songs. I like it.

Of course the BIG comeback this week is Arctic Monkeys. Brainstorm is quite the tune as well. Sure it does all sound a little familiar, but its good. Only time will tell on the album front.

These aren't the only comebacks this week though. Hanson are as Hanson as they ever are these days (as an aside I am the only person who preferred Where's The Love to MMMBop?) whilst Ocean Colour Scene are as Ocean Colour Scene as they always are. Neither results in a particularly thrilling experience.

You Can’t Have It All by Ash is much better. I still maintain it's got a slight "disco" edge to it as well.

Shirley Bassey releases a single but as far as I can tell it's not the Get This Party Started cover. Which begs the question WHY not?

I don't like Mika. After Love Today, I still don't like him.

Lady Sov takes a turn for the worse with Those Where The Days. In fact it's pretty pitiful really.

I keep hearing Pop Levi's Pick-Me-Up Uppercut on Soccer AM. It's ok, but doesn't really thrill me.

You Are The One by Shiny Toy Guns is ace, but will flop no doubt.

Let's hope Macy Gray's comeback flops too.

And that's all for this week folks.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn - Cocorosie

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AKA the album where Cocorosie go "hip-hop". Kind of.

What I can tell you is that you'll certainly not hear another album like this during 2007.

Rainbowarriors and Promise are hiphop, albeit under a different name, Bloody Twins and Houses feature operatic voices, whilst Japan whisks us along on Dancehall reggae beat. And hell, we've not even got to the cacophony of kazoo's, the prevalence of irritating bicycle bells and a guest appearance by Anthony (without the Johnsons).

Whether all of this is any good is a difficult thing to say. There's no accounting for taste, as they say, and I can imagine people both raving about this one and absolutely hating it.

Me? Well, there were tracks I liked that soon became grating; there were tracks I dismissed on the first listen which actually grew greatly on me. There were tracks I couldn't get into at all, especially when the singer sounds something akin Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter films. It's a mixed bag and really nothing else than listening to it yourself can give you any real impression of if it's "for" you or not.

And if that's sitting on the fence, so be it! :-D

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection - Alison Krauss

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Now this is a curious beast.

It's "a collection" but it's different from "the collection" which was her best of with long-term collaborators The Union Station. The upshot of this one is that it brings together tunes that Alison Krauss has performed outside her traditional Union Station remit.

The album features Krauss’ contributions to film soundtracks including the Oscar nominated songs, The Scarlet Tide” and You Will Be My Ain True Love, and Down to the River to Pray from the Grammy winning soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Known for her collaborations, Krauss also includes several duets in the collection; the best of which is probably How’s the World Treating You with James Taylor.

Of course, commercial concerns being at the fore-front (as ever with "compilation" albums) there are also, quite bizarrely, five brand new tracks. Not that I'm against new tracks on an album such as this, but five does seem a tad excessive.

So it is indeed a curious beast. But as most of these tracks are not to be found on actual Krauss albums the mixture of film soundtracks, guest duets and new songs is actually quite a pleasing one and makes for an album that every Krauss fan should have. And sometimes you don't need any more purpose than that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thirteen Tales Of Love & Revenge - The Pierces

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Far be it for me to bring to light anyone being shallow, but if The Pierces weren't two fantastically photogenic sisters (one of whom is stepping out with one of The Strokes) would there be quite the clamour to review their albums in the major press?

Maybe, maybe not. But whilst the clamour may well focus more than a little on the sister's beauty it would be a shame if that was all they were remembered for. Thirteen Tales Of Love & Revenge isn't a perfect knock-out album by any means, but it IS a very good one.

Sure it never seems to quite know what it's supposed to be as a collective whole, but it's a long time since the "concept" of an album has meant all that much to the world at large isn't it?

Thus the wonderfully misleading "dance beat meets Bond theme" single Boring can sit nicely alongside the alt-rock posturing of Sticks and Stones or the distinctly understated Ruin. All three are distinctly different tracks, but all three are also very good.

Boring may be the funniest single in years (by anyone) and is sung with such fantastic detachment ("Sexy boy/Girl on girl/Ménage a trois/Boring!") that anyone who is stupid enough to think they are being serious might just be able to persuade you that they are. As alluded to earlier though its hardly a representative taster for the album at large.

Indeed such is the kaleidoscope of sounds attempted on the album the last thing you could ever call it, even when the attempts don't quite come off - such as the addition of a fairly strong country "twang" to Lights On, is boring.

They've quite clearly upped their game from the folk-pop stylings of their previous efforts and they can but be applauded for that. In reality its not a case of deciding whether you love the music, that's a given; all you really need to decide on is the question of the blonde or the brunette.

For me...well, you'll have to guess at that won't you ;-D

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cassadaga - Bright Eyes

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The last time Conor Oberst released an album he released, well, two. It was ironic, of a fashion, that it was the "less experimental" one, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning that actually garnered most attention. That's not to say that Digital Ash In A Digital Urn was a bad album but it was one that didn't really play to Oberst's strengths.

It is perhaps telling then that Cassadaga is more "Wide Awake" than "Digital Ash". And it no less the thrilling for that.

Sure there is nothing here that will convert the doubters, of which there are more than a few it has to be said, but neither is there anything that will put any doubts into the minds of those that believe in him.

Indeed, songs like Four Winds and If The Breakman Turns My Way are up there with the best things he's ever put on record. Make A Plan To Love Me maybe even better. It's Oberst at his most simple, its an unabashed and straightforward love song, but quickly transplants itself onto a higher plain with the minimum of fuss.

I've never quite got my head around the "new Bob Dylan" proclamations, although at his best Oberst can channel that communal spirit that serves Dylan so well, but there's little doubt in my mind that this is a fantastic album and better than Dylan's recent efforts by quite some way. (Don't get mad at me Dylan fans, please).

It's definitely up there in terms of albums of the year so far.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Evolution - Ciara

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If I had a pound for every R'n'B album I reviewed that clocked in at far too many tracks then I'd have, ooh, at least enough for a round of drinks at Wetherspoons's by now. But you get my point. Even though a handful of the 374 tracks on this album are spoken-word interludes there is just way too much on here. If only there was such a thing as quality control.

Mind you, if they'd exercised some quality control on this release, we might have ended up with an E.P. rather than a full blown album.

Don't get me wrong, there is a good track on here; the problem is that that good track is stretched out into nearly every song on the album. So what is initially a good "beat" soon becomes tiring as song after song blurs into one, providing what can only be described as a dull experience.

She might have got away with it if not for the fact that the ballad's that deviate from this formula are even worse.

So quite frankly, if you're considering buying this then don't. Burn three tracks (Bang It Up, I Proceed and Get In, Fit In) and leave the rest on the I-Tunes server. And to be honest, even those three tracks are far from essential. All in all, I wouldn't be looking over my shoulder with all that much fear if I were Beyonce. Once the hype dies down this will be seen for what it really is.

Still, it's gone top of the charts worldwide, so what do I know anyway....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Version - Mark Ronson

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Girls Aloud release a cover version as a single, the cool brigade cries foul that manufactured artists doing old songs are what is killing the industry. Mark Ronson releases an album of cover versions, and the whole thing is cool. Still that's another rant for another day. ;-D

Version is indeed eagerly anticipated and what's clear is that for the most part that anticipation is not only lived up to, but surpassed.

It's difficult to know where to start when recommending the best tracks. You should have already heard the Smiths cover (Stop Me) which is just genius, the version of Britney's Toxic, which is even more playful and funky than the original and the cover of Radiohead's Just which in some ways shows that if Thom Yorke put his mind to it his version of "experimental" wouldn't have to be so dull.

There's plenty more to enjoy as well. Ronson brings out the best vocal performance we've had yet from Lily Allen on the cover of the Kaiser Cheifs Oh My God, whilst Ronson also proves that he had more than a little to do with Amy Winehouse's renaissance on Back To Black with a great Mowtown-esque version of the Zuton's Valerie. It also works well with the original vocalists as well as Maximo Park's Paul Smith contributes to a snazzy version of Apply Some Pressure.

In fact the only one that doesn't really work at all is Kasabian joining Ronson on a version of L.S.F. But that just goes to prove that whilst Ronson might be a musical genius, not even he is quite up to the task of making Kasabian something worth listening to. (Or as put it "not even genius can polish a turd").

It might seem a little bizarre to be trumpeting an album of cover versions as one of the best of the year so far, but believe me that's not over-stating matters in the slightest. This is a must-have album every step of the way.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Single Releases 09/04/07

Some good stuff out this week...some not so good stuff.

That Timbaland one with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake hits the shops this week. It's excellent. In fact if anything it delivers something so good that the album couldn't possibly back up. But that's the way life goes sometimes.

Mark Ronson takes on The Smiths this week...and wins. Genius. The album review will be up soon too.

The Klaxons perhaps surprise a lot of people by releasing another great single in the form of Gravity's Rainbow. That's where the good singles from the debut album stop mind you, but lets not be too unkind.

Sorry, but I just don't get what makes Just Jack anything special.

Ditto Patrick Wolf. Is his music awful? No, not by any means but neither can I proclaim it utter genius or anything.

Ditto again for Bloc Party.

And on a similar vein I remain convinced that if someone new did the new Muse song people wouldn't like it at all. Or at least no to the level of euphoria that it seems to attract anyway.

Pieces Of The People We Love by The Rapture is good though. I like that.

Let's face it, you'll already know if the new Nine Inch Nails single is for you or not won't you?

Gareth Gates is still alive apparently and is trying again. He won't be bothering us for long I don't think.

Th nw Fll t By n s gd, bt nwhr nr s grt s th sngl tht prcdd t. G fgr.

And really, anyone who thought that what 2007 was missing was a remix of Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy is not going to be anywhere where they allow you Internet access, if you catch my drift. So we'll say no more about that particular travesty.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Best Damn Thing - Avril Lavigne

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If there is one track from any artist that has polarised long-term fans of the singer in question this year then it's Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend. It's hard to know who to believe either. I myself was of the opinion that it's distinctly pop edge was commercially driven by the record label but Lavigne insists that the song, and the album at large was the kind of record that she'd always wanted to make.

At first I was pretty underwhelmed by Girlfriend. It seemed like someone's idea of a joke...and not a very good one at that. And anyway, Lavigne's recent interview on Popworld seemed to confirm that she's not got a sense of humour. Still there was no denying as I heard it a few more times that it was a catchy, fun tune and by the time it actually hit the shops I was quite the fan of it.

All this talk about the single is pertinent though; your opinion on the single is pretty much going to signpost your opinion on the album because The Best Damn Thing is pretty much 9 times the single plus 3 slower songs that seem like hold-over's from Under My Skin.

Personally I like it. It may even be the ultimate in throwaway disposable pop. I doubt there's much that I will be holding dear in my heart this time next year but you can't help enjoying the experience whilst you listen to it. And there's more than enough to keep her in top 10 singles for the rest of the year and beyond. (Although at this point, I have to mention forthcoming single When You're Gone which seems to indicate that they're keen to ensure that Lavigne's appeal stretches as far as possible considering it's one of the slower tracks).

It's an interesting exercise as well. The normal trajectory for a career would be to release something like this as a "debut" and then get serious. That Lavigne has done it the other way around is both a little astounding and a very good thing. Having proved her musical chops previously she's free to do what she wants here and the end result is something catchy, likeable and very good indeed.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Our Earthly Pleasures - Maximo Park

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I'm not what you would call an avid fan of Maximo Park. Whilst the world and his dog was raving over A Certain Trigger I was sitting there thinking "well they're alright, but hardly brilliant." Still, despite my many protestations to the contrary I don't mind the Kaiser Chiefs all that much and as Maximo Park were better than them on that NME tour the other year it stands to reason that I am quite receptive to the idea of their new album even if I'm hardly salivating over the prospect.

Lead single Our Velocity was quite the tune, and to my ears at least was the best thing they've ever done. I'm aware that some might see that statement in terms of blasphemy but what can I say. Those of you that way inclined though might take solace in the fact that Our Velocity is not even the best thing on this album.

Opening track Girls Who Play Guitars is even better being at both spiky and catchy and considering these two tracks kick things off we're already veering into "miles better than the Kaiser's" territory. Indeed there are also other sublime moments of power-indie pop on this album, including the delightful The Unshockable and By The Monument.

If anything, this album reminds me of Franz Ferdinand. Not so much in terms of sound but in attitude and aesthetics. This is pop, but intelligent pop. Whilst the lyrics may, from time to time, become a little too smart for their own good, the album never loses sight of the thing that makes a great record...the tunes.

Some fans are lamenting the slight loss of edge that was prevalent on the debut, and it's clear that this is veered much more towards the mainstream. Still this album has enough, I would imagine, to make both fans of the first album and the people, like me, who were distinctly underwhelmed by A Certain Trigger happy when listening to the album.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Back Numbers - Dean And Britta

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No, I haven't branched out into making records (hello to the three or four of you who will get that joke); Dean and Britta are former Luna head schizz Dean Wareham and former Luna bassist Britta Phillips who actually got married during the making of this, their second album. As an interesting side note, Britta was the singing voice of the cartoon character Jem, of Jem and the Holograms fame. How's that for coolness, huh?

The first starting point that EVERYONE will lead you to is Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra. And lets be fair about it folks, that's a decent place to come from, with indeed the feeling throughout the album that if Lee and Nancy time-travelled to 2007 to make a record they'd probably come up with something not a million miles away from Back Numbers. As if to reference the point, one of the standout tracks on the album is a cover of the old Lee Hazlewood tune You Turned My Head Around, which ok wasn't a duet with Nancy Sinatra but you get the idea.

The song highlights just how good a singer Britta can be, and its her dreamy vocals that most seduce you on the album and combined with the 60's tinged pop sound the end result is something quite special indeed.

There's other covers on there as well with a take on Donovan's Teen Angel also being particularly good. These sit nicely in with the originals, with The Sun Is Still Sunny and Words You Used To Say being highlights.

In the final analysis pretty much everything is a highlight. It won't be to everyone's taste, but that's only to be expected from a record that is as fantastic as this one without being tailored to the lowest common denominator marketing wise.

If you fancy something packed with acoustic guitars, orchestration, and bubbling synths with a tinge of 60's Phil Spector style pop thrown in for good measure then you have to go out and buy this record. It's quite unlike anything else you are likely to hear this year and so far has to be right up there as one of the best albums of the year.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Shock Value - Timbaland

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Is there any real need for a new Timbaland "solo" record? I mean at times it seems as if every other video on the music channels includes the man in question and not content with working with the likes of the Pussycat Dolls, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado he's not only doing a WWE tie-in (what monstrosity will that result in?) but is also working on some tracks for the new Duran Duran album.

Indeed as the man himself says on the addictive lead single Give It To Me (which features Timberlake and Furtado) "'I get half a mill for my beats" (a dig at fellow producer Scott Storch by all accounts) so it's hardly as if he needs the money is it?

Of course upon closer inspection this barely qualifies as a "solo" record in the true sense. All in all, out of 19, yes 19, tracks just ONE is even classed as Timbaland on his own; the other 18 are all presented in a cavalcade of "featuring's" and "and's" with the likes of Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Nicole Scherzinger, The Hives and Elton John all dropping by to lend a hand.

Which all goes to show that in reality this is nothing more than an extension of his producing work, albeit one underpinned by his desire to be the star of his own show for once.

Firstly, at 19 tracks this is at least 7 tracks too long. You could argue it's value for money but there are tracks on here that most people will listen to once and then never again. In fact in these days of MP3 players its probable that some of the tracks wont be making it onto anyone's I-pod play list. But such is the nature of the beast these days.

As you would expect though, when Timbaland gets it right he nails it full on. The aforementioned single Give It To Me is a case in point. It's addictive and catchy enough as it is, but towards the end the shift of the chorus to the off-beat makes for a memorable effect and reminds us just what a great producer the man can be.

It's not the only highlight either by any means. Another Justin Timberlake track Release is a great one (it might have helped to save Timberlake's last album from mediocrity) and two tracks that feature Keri Hilson (a name which conjures up that Accrington Stanley milk advert for me to be honest), Way I Are and Scream (which also features Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls) are also delightfully crafted slices of urban pop which would no doubt set the charts alight.

Still as alluded to earlier there is far too much filler. Some guest spots plain don't work (Elton John, She Wants Revenge) whilst others seem pointless, if not altogether worthless (The Hives - was it really worth flying them in for their performance). Others are intriguing but fall flat (say hello to Fall Out Boy) and there are examples of big names phoning it in (Dr. Dre, Missy Elliot). The fact there is such an over-abundance of guests mean that the thrill factor isn't really there either.

It should also be recognised that for all his genius as a producer, Timbaland suffers from the same malady that effects Kanye West; he's just not that good a rapper. And then there are the lyrics, some of which are amongst the worst you'll ever hear laid down on record. To wit...

"...Bounce like your ass has the hiccups..."

"...I got a bungalow..." (a funny way for Dr.Dre to try and impress the ladies don't you think?)

"...Let me see them big titties..."

I could go on, but the preponderance of references to his own genius as a producer tend to grate after, ooh, the first listen as well. We get the idea Timbaland, you're a great producer.

At it's core though this could have been a rather good 10 or 11 track album. As it stands its faults outweigh it's good points. That said, anyone who's enjoyed his recent collaborations that have stormed the singles charts (and there must be a lot of you out there) will certainly find enough on here to keep you going. Overall though there's little to suggest that Timbaland will be giving up the day job as a result of super solo-stardom any time soon, and if these tracks had been relased over a two year period as album tracks on the special guests own projects he might have found a better overall response.

But then again maybe he's smarter than we think and he really is saving the best of his tunes for those people willing to pay him his "half a mill" a time.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Waking Up Laughing - Martina McBride

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Yee-haw, it's country time again.

I have a little history with Martina McBride. Way back in the day (we're going back to 1994 or something here) I bought this "New Country" compilation from WH Smiths for a few quid and there was a Martina McBride song on it. I liked that song and then bought her album. And whilst my Country phases don't always last long, she made enough of an impression on me to be buying her greatest hits compilation (which is good).

So all that waffle brings us to her 9th studio album, Waking Up Laughing. It gives you a clear idea of the Nashville scene that the major story surrounding this release is the fact that, GASP, Martina not only writes the songs, but that she produces it as well. Ok, so it's only co-writing (and only THREE tracks at that), but she does "solo" produce the album and the general feeling is that she thus proves she's more than just another pretty face. Funny, I would have thought that her tendency to pepper her albums with tracks concerned deeply with social consciousness would have done that on their own. I mean even today, a new artist coming out with something like Independence Day would be taking a hell of a risk in the still conservative Nashville.

That said, for all the bluster about striking out on her own on this album, you'd be hard pressed to notice any real difference from those that preceded it. Thus we have songs about unwed mothers (Love Land), child abuse (Beautiful Again) amongst other such concerns, and really you could place them on any of her albums and not lose the effect. But in a way that affirms just what a consistent hit maker Martina McBride is. She barely tinkers with the "formula" for the very good reason that it doesn't need much tinkering with.

Fans will love it, non-fans will remain as non-plussed as ever. But then I guess you could say that about the majority of Country music's great artists. Another minor triumph.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Pirate's Gospel - Alela Diane

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I'm not what you would call a fan of "singer-songwriter with her acoustic guitar" style music. That's not to degenerate every single singer-songwriter out there who has to play that way because they can't afford a band, it's just the way I am. (Witness the fact that I've played KT Tunstall's Acoustic Extravaganza just the ONCE).

So really, it stands to reason that I wouldn't like Alela Diane. The Pirate's Gospel was originally recorded back in 2004, with little more than Alela, her guitar and various family members adding a bit of singing/hand clapping/other background noises. Even now with an official release (in it's first incarnation few outside Alela's family and friends heard it) there has been no great "remastering" or "remixing." This is music without adornment.

And to be honest I wasn't expecting all that much from it when I put it in the CD player. I can be notoriously quick to reach for the skip track button at times, but it was about five or six tracks in when I realised that I hadn't reached for that once. And I didn't throughout an entire listen through. Which is some kind of recommendation in itself.

On the one level this is gentle, acoustic folk but like all good folk music it's power is in it's story's. Each song is a little gem from a different world.

I have to say that my favourite songs are the ones that most lift from the sparse "girl and her guitar" formula. Pieces of String, is enhanced by the cute accompaniment of a some children singing whilst the title track has a low and moody backing vocal that transports it onto an entirely different level.

I shouldn't pass this review without recognising Alela's wonderful voice; it's surprising to realise that she's only a twenty-something on her label debut. There's a "lived in" feeling to her voice that, once again, ensures that proceedings are lifted to another level.

Admittedly, this isn't an album which is for everyone. A lot of people will find that this isn't their thing at all but if the idea of an acoustic folk sound with some country and blues influences showing through sounds your kind of thing, then you need to check this out right away. And as mentioned previously, if it can turn my mind then it may well turn any open mind as well.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Single Releases 02/04/07

This may be my worst ever singles blog.

Basically I quite like Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend. I mean the song; i'm not suggesting she's a lesbian.

Little Man Tate and Malcolm Middleton release decent singles this week.

Everything else is pretty rubbish.

And that includes the likes of My Chemical Romance and Pepe Deluxe.

In closing, the new Erasure single is particularly depressing.