Thursday, May 31, 2007

We Are Pilots - Shiny Toy Guns

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How can I not fail to love an album that Popjustice claimed had 10 potential number one singles on it? I wouldn't go as far as that all-out balls to the wall proclamation, but there is certainly more than enough on We Are Pilots to make it well worth a recommendation.

The moments that stand out for me are the more out and out "pop" moments. Le Disko is the kind of thing that puts Rogue Traders to shame, Don't Cry Out adds a layer of sonic sadness to the bands sound, whilst Starts With One sounds like the Killers would if they weren't quite so obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. Jackie Will Save Me is another great one, and is as far to the "rock" part of their repertoire as you get.

Not everything lives up to that trio of course, but there is more than enough to keep you going. In that sense it's a lot like the recent album from The Sounds. It's hardly reinventing the wheel, but it's good stuff all the same.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hey Eugene - Pink Martini

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How can I really categorise an album delivered by a 12 piece orchestra from Portland, Oregon that features songs not only sung in English, but in Arabic, French, Japanese and Spanish? Or an album that swings from Broadway-esque musical to Brazilian samba via a little bit of funk?

Well whilst musically I may not be able to categorise it, I can tell you that it is a bloody brilliant album.

The album is a mix of original and reworked songs, indeed Jazz legend Jimmy Scott turns up for a spot on Tea For Two, a song first recorded in 1925. It's a testament to how good and how fresh the album sounds that the uninitiated wouldn't automatically be able to detect which are the originals and which are the covers.

My favourites include the swaying Italian rhythm that is Tempo Perdito and the genuinely humorous and toe-tapping Dosvedanya Mio Bombino. But if the reviews prior to it's release heightened the expectation for the album, listening to it proves they were right to champion it. It's not going to be to everyone's taste but anyone looking for a fresh, unique and, most of all, fun experience need look no further than this.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Knives Don't Have Your Back - Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton

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Well this certainly is a departure from Haines' day job as lead singer with Canadian electro-rock outfit Metric and I thought it about time I actually reviewed it considering she's currently on a UK tour (which I'm not going to).

Gone are the chunky rock riffs and the bounced up dance beats, this is sparse to say the least. Most of the times it's basically Haines and a piano, although it is backed up with some strings and horns.

An intelligent solo artist has emerged, sounding completely different from what we would normally expect and the story she is telling is one you want to listen to.

The Alternative Press summed it up succinctly in saying that Knives Don't Have Your Back is like the soundtrack to an excellent Alfred Hitchcock film. Sounds like a winning formula to me. And whilst it may not quite sustain itself over the space of a full album, it's still well worth a listen. Indeed you could make a compelling case that, vocally, its the best Emily Haines has ever sounded.

Some might find it a little too one-paced and not be able to listen to it all in one go, but there is no doubt in my mind that it's a great, reflective, piece of work that benefits from repeated spins.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Single Releases 28/05/07

Hello and welcome to the bank holiday special. I doubt many of these singles take the actual bank holiday Monday as the actual official release date, but let's face it, what does it actually really matter any more?

Anyway, let's crack on.

Ana Matronic takes over lead vocals for the new Scissor Sisters single, Kiss You Off. For me it's the same as my feelings on the latest album. It's alright but doesn't pack that punch that you got from them the first time around.

Despite my new found love for Rogue Traders, I would have to admit that their new one Way To Go only just scrapes it to "passable".

The Twang are, quite frankly, shit.

As strange luck would have it, Au Revoir Simone release Sad Song as a limited edition 7 inch vinyl this week. It's good stuff.

I think that new one by Rhianna is a bit shit too. But then again, nothing she has ever done since, or indeed ever did before, will ever be as good as SOS. She should give it up now.

I am not at all keen on Mutya Buena's debut single either. It's just not that far removed from anything that the Sugababes would do, so thus actually becomes pointless. Still it will likely out sell Soibhan's efforts 100 to 1. That's life huh?

Hasn't Regina Spektor released On The Radio as a single at least once before? No matter, it's still a fantastic song.

The new Modest Mouse and LCD Soundsystem singles are pretty good, but don't exactly excite me in a "great single" kind of way.

Sod this, I'm off for a pint.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

One Of The Boys - Gretchen Wilson

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Gretchen Wilson may well be a one-trick pony, the rough and rowdy "real" redneck Nashville country music woman, far removed from the polished world of Shania Twain or Faith Hill, but there is no denying that she's an entertaining one-trick pony.

Or at least she was.

One Of The Boys seems to be an attempt to prove that she's more than the "Redneck Woman" from her most successful single. It's not an approach that entirely convinces me.

There are moments that I enjoy but they are mostly the more up-tempo rocky numbers such as You Don't Have to Go Home and There's a Place in the Whiskey which are more like the kind of thing you would expect from Wilson.

Less successful are the likes of The Girl I Am and Come To Bed, which whilst proving Wilson has the voice for these kind of slower, more reflective songs also go to prove that overall they are not her strong point.

I doubt any fans of her previous efforts would be turned off by this collection, but by the same token I doubt they'd say it was their favourite of her albums. Pleasant enough, but far from a must-have purchase.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I Wish I Could Have Loved You More - Candie Payne

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You may remember me sticking my neck out at the back end of last year with my "tips for 2007" list. Most will be long forgotten before the year is out, but Candie Payne might actually make it.

I Wish I Could Have Loved You More must certainly go down as one of the best debut albums of the year. Some critics have labelled it Dusty Springfield meets Portishead and whilst it may be a little unfair to limit to that, that's not a bad description to give you an overall feel of Candie Payne's oeuvre.

The title kicks things off with a bang and, in the space of three and a half minutes, encapsulates everything that is wonderful about Payne. Swirling orchestral sounds mix with modern beats to provide the perfect backing for Payne's sublime vocals. Lyrically you might be fooled into thinking that it's a tender piece, but there's a toughness that belies what you may think and proves that the song shouldn't be taken as a lament.

These themes carry on throughout the album; Why Should I Settle For You again straddles the line between vulnerability and toughness whilst Take Me is a vibrant brush-off towards a potential lover which almost gives you the impression she's trying to make him give up his attempts to woo.

Other highlights include the wonderful One More Chance and the rather delightful All I Need To Hear.

The only minor gripe would perhaps be that lyrically the album pretty much treads the same ground throughout the track listing; most of the songs seem to be a variation on a theme of lost love or "my man's a bit of a bastard." Still, it is a very minor gripe.

It might not be the out and out smash some of us may have hoped, but that probably says more about excessive expectations than it does about the album itself. It is, quite simply, fantastic. But perhaps the best feeling is that there is still plenty to come from Candie. As this album shows, she's a genuine talent.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Trip The Light Fantastic - Sophie Ellis Bextor

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I've never quite been able to make my mind up about the fantastically long-legged Sophie Ellis Bextor. I was quite taken with Theaudience back in the day (with their two top 40 singles) and whilst in solo terms she's occasionally come up with the goods (Groovejet, if that counts, and Murder On The Dancefloor) I can never quite get over some of the truly abysmal lyrics. Seriously, listen again to I Won't Change You...

I used to change my accent, change my stance
My phone number, the way I dance
Some people change lovers like they change their sheets
But I won't change you honey, you're for keeps

That's funny. And not in a "good" funny way either.

But anyway, that's neither here nor there really is it? It's my opinion on the new album you've come to check out isn't it?

Well it's...alright. It's not terrible but it's not awesome. It's an "in the middle" album.

I must get my apology in first of all as I kind of slated recent single Catch You on here a few weeks back but when actually listening to it on record it's a cracker. That's not to say that I didn't listen to it before I originally reviewed it, just that its sounds a lot better on record than it did on tv/radio/the internet.

There are other highlights too; despite the worst vocal phrasing on the word "dance" since Amelle from the Sugababes on Walk This Way, If I Can't Dance is a very catchy number indeed. New York City Lights is another winner, as is the Latin tinged New Flame.

Sadly there's also a lot of the album which is completely unmemorable. It's also very much "what you would expect" and there's only so much of the rent-a-hook dance beats matched with the detached icy personae that you can take in one sitting.

One thing is for sure though, her Greatest Hits collection will be fantastic.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

On A Clear Night - Missy Higgins

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When most around me where raving about Missy Higgins' The Sound Of White I remained sat in the corner, chunnering to myself that it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be, was far too pedestrian as a whole and laughing ever so slightly at her comedy Australian accent.

With On A Clear Night shows both improvements in some senses from that album and proof that I'm going to be of exactly the same overall opinion this time around as well.

Again there are a couple of standout tracks, although nothing to compare with All For Believing or Ten Days from the debut album. Going North is almost a country/folk number which really connects with the listener whilst the gentle strum of The Wrong Girl reminds me of Laura Veirs at her best (which to me is very good indeed).

And whilst I must also say that the casual shift in emphasis from the jaunty feel of The Sound Of White to the more moody, and guitar driven, attitude of this album is a winner, it still isn't enough to make the album as a whole a winner. Like it's predecessor its patchy and far too one-paced to really captivate me.

The talent is there, but so far the application of it has fallen short.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Disguise - Casey Desmond

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Casey Desmond is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who brilliantly balances rocking pop/folk melodies & harmonies, thought provoking lyrics, with everything from the edgiest guitars, soulful pianos, deeply haunting rock or acoustic instrumentation & a 4 octave multi dimensional vocal range. That's not me speaking by the way, that's courtesy of her EPK but I thought it only fair to introduce her in some form.

I might have suggested, prior to having listened to the album, Casey Desmond is a an attempt to cross-pollinate the appeal of Avril Lavigne and Amy Lee in one appealing package. Yet despite the cynicism that one always attaches to a new artist of a certain ilk, you can't deny that the girl has talent.

For a start, she can actually sing. Take the song Julia Butterfly Hill; at times we're in danger of almost trespassing into, say, Katherine Jenkins territory and Desmond's wonderful voice transforms the songs into something really rather special. And its a trick that repeats over the album. At times the weaker songs are still saved to some degree by her voice and the better songs are lifted to an even higher plain.

Despite its attempts to sometimes paint itself as something of a higher calling, this is an out and out pop record and anyone who has a sly, or not so sly, liking for the aforementioned likes of Avril Lavigne and Amy Lee will find plenty to enjoy here. That's not to say that others won't, just that, whether through artist choice or record company maneuverings, the target audience for this is pretty clear. And to be honest, as much as I liked Lavigne's lastest offering, I think I like this even more.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It Wont Be Soon Before Long - Maroon 5

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The only real relevance Maroon 5 have to me is that they inadvertently helped me to discover The Like when my mate Al saw them supporting the Maroon boys on tour (you'd never catch me dead at a Maroon 5 concert myself). Of course this led to the infamous incident in Oldham where we slagged off Maroon 5 in front of one of their girlfriends. I think we got away with it, but that maybe just because I'm too drunk to remember.

Anyway, I can kind of take or leave Maroon 5. A couple of catchy tunes aside I've no real time for them, but out of curiosity, and the fact I liked their latest single Makes Me Wonder I decided to give them a second chance. Right now I'm rather wishing I hadn't bothered.

It's not that this is a technically poor record or anything like that, indeed the band can play, just that it lacks any real heart or soul. In fact I'd totally agree with one reviewers assertion that the album, and the band as a whole, are pleasingly bland. It's difficult to hate them but a struggle to actually like them. And whilst I wouldn't deny that tracks like Makes Me Wonder, Can't Stop and Little Of Your Time can seem rather nice as you listen to them, within 10 minutes of putting the album back on the shelf it's as if they never existed.

Maroon 5 have gone for the chart stratosphere and there's probably enough in the way of radio-friendly hits to ensure more success. Just don't confuse commercial success with any sense of artistic merit.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Single Releases 21/05/07

Given the busy weekend I didn't have much time to go through the single releases for this week, so this will be short...and probably not entirely sweet.

Who said Yorkshiremen don't understand irony? The new Kasier Chiefs single, Everything Is Average Nowadays is proof positive that they must do.

Still even that single is better than a lot of the tripe out this week.

Good Charlotte prove that their last single was a one-off with the terrible The River. The Fray, sadly, prove that their last single wasn't a one-off; Over My Head is just as dull as their last one.

I'm sure you are just as thrilled as I am to see Infernal have released another single as well.

The less said about R Kelly's I'm A Flirt the better.

Thankfully The Blood Arm save the day (or the week) with Angela. It's makes their album sound better than it is, but lets not be churlish. It's a great single.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Girls Aloud LIVE

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I could go on and on about the long search for a restaurant that had a spare table and I could go on and on about the rather mardy girl on the table next to us who wanted a free meal for 8 people because they'd brought out one wrong main course but there is so much music to get through that I won't. That is because lured by the charms of Rogue Traders, we got there in time to see ALL the support acts.

NATALIA - You have to give this girl credit for being so relentlessly cheerful as she went from one disaster of a pop song to another. And three dancers? That's blown her entire profit for the tour methinks.

MISHA WILLIAMS - Well she obviously caught the "arms" portion of her stage school course; the woman never stopped pointing, waving, swaying etc. her arms. Like a reject from High School Musical she peddled her sub-Lavigne pop rock to little effect.

ROGUE TRADERS - I still maintain that Voodoo Child is one of the worst fucking hit singles so far this century but they weren't too bad at all. Ok, so the "weren't too bad" bit probably is completely down to the fact that Natalie Bassingthwaighte is a bit fit, but after the first two disasters, Rogue Traders seemed like manna from heaven.

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So onto the main event. It was clear that the crowd was significantly older (there wasn't a kid under 12 on our row) than last year; hell we weren't even anywhere near the oldest in our section at all. I don't suppose I'll ever really know if I did actually recognise the woman next to us from a tv programme or not though.

Anyways, thankfully the nonsense that preceded last years tour was missing and as the band came on we looked to the skies to see the Girls entering from the ceiling, dressed in some kind of police/army hybrid "GA" uniform (which two ladies in front of us had mimicked). Section 1 of the show was most certainly upbeat. Something Kinda Ooooh kicked things off, although it didn't really have the dirty drive of the recorded version. It was followed by an excellent Wake Me Up, a pretty pitiful Walk This Way and an enjoyable Jump.

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A change of costume later and it was straight into No Good Advice, still one of their finest moments, followed by Long Hot Summer. Then they strapped themselves into some kind of swing thing to sing Whole Lotta History before hitting into the Dirty Dancing medley (which Cheryl laughably introduced as their chance to sing some of their favourite moments) which included Do You Love Me, She's Like The Wind and Time Of My Life. Painful isn't quite the word, but it's not far off.

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Another costume change followed, into what I would probably describe as "gangster" style outfits (as in 1930's gangsters that is, not 50 Cent or something like that). They kicked off this portion of the show with Sound Of The Underground, following it up with a reggae version of Life Got Cold (which, according to Nicola at least, the girls got together with the band to rework...yeah right) before a great version of Graffiti My Soul. The section ended up with Real Life, which is apparently a favourite of the girls, but not exactly a favourite of mine.

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Thanks to the bloke in front of me by the way...

There was more prancing from the male dancers as the Girls did another costume change. They then killed the momentum with a ludicrously slow version of I Think We're Alone Now before bringing things back to life, for me anyway, with Money (although this did seem like the one part of the evening where they were miming). I'll Stand By You remains a better proposition, GA style, live than on the record. It was also memorable for Nadine's "if you've got your girlfriend with you, give her a hug. Or your boyfriend. Boy on boy, girl on girl, I don't mind as long as you're happy." They finished up with Love Machine, which had everyone rocking.

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There was time for one more costume change for the encore, which saw the girls writhing around in beds for The Show before tossing aside those silk dressing gowns for a riotous version of Biology to finally end the show.

That's the run-down, but was it any good? Well as ever there were some minor complaints. For what was billed as a "Greatest Hits" tour, they didn't half do some faffing about with some of the tunes. Call me old-fashioned, but surely a Greatest Hits tour should be about hearing the hits as they should be? Plus why, and I'm talking to you Nadine, would you say "we're doing ALL the hits tonight" and then not do See The Day?

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Still, despite the occasional lull in proceedings, it was an entertaining night indeed. It's also refreshing to see that they look like they're having fun, the hilariously detached Nicola aside. There could quite literally be World War III going on around her and I doubt she'd notice. That said, she is definitely now my second favourite of the girls.

It's doubtful that anyone left the arena unhappy, indeed there was definitely a buzz about what people had just seen, but I can't help but have a tinge of regret that it wasn't even better than it was. A little tweaking here and there could have resulted in a much tighter show.

In other salient points;

* I still get annoyed by Sarah shouting random things in the middle of songs. And she still has stupid hair.

* My digital camera is rubbish. A fact you will be well aware of having got this far in the review.

* Nadine's put some weight on. And I don't mean that in a negative way; I mean she's accenuated her curves. A move of which I approve.

* Kimberley seemed to deliver the most duff notes.

* Getting the crowd to do a mexican wave is no longer funny. If it ever was funny.

* That bloke who "slagged" the concert off in The Times (?) had a certain point in that I too found it mildly depressing that everyone went mad for the cover versions in comparison to the genuine pop classics like Biology.

* They must have done the programme (£10!!!) months ago as not only does Sarah send out her love to "Joe" but it also clearly mentions that they will be doing a medley of "girl group" classics. Which of course they didn't.

As a final aside, my new "ranking" for the girls is as follows;

1) Nadine
2) Nicola
3) Cheryl
4) Kimberley
5) Sarah.

There you go; that will have managed to annoy 3/4 of my readership at least. ;-D

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Boy With No Name - Travis

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Travis hold a special place in a personal trivia quiz kind of way, mainly due to two "university" moments. Number one, The Little Crown pub had the song U16 Girls on it's jukebox (and as we were usually the only people in there when we went in we had no problem playing what we wanted - no wonder the pub is now closed) and secondly I once won a Travis promo CD at our student uni quiz. Actually I've just thought of a third university link. Dave Proud. I'd explain it, but I'm already boring the one other person who reads this site that might know what I'm on about so I'll crack on with the proper business.

Good Feeling would have passed me by if it wasn't for another of those "3 quid in WH Smiths" things, and whilst The Man Who was, and indeed still is, an excellent album I was less impressed with The Invisible Band and 12 Memories. Not that they were necessarily bad albums by any means, they just sounded at times like a band on auto-pilot; yes there were a couple of great singles (Sing and Re-Offender in particular) but little else that remains in my mind in 2007.

It was with a heavy heart then that I heard the opening single off The Boy With No Name, Closer. To be frank, it wasn't very good. And its a smell that the album as a whole cannot shake off.

For every Selfish Jean, a song which beefs up their sound but still retains all that is good about Travis, or One Night that genuinely lifts you there is a Big Chair or Out In Space that drifts along pleasantly enough without ever really threatening to show any vitality.

There are, as I have said, a couple of great moments on the album but they're not enough to convince you otherwise of that nagging little voice telling you that Travis are probably a little too past their sell-by date by now.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Send Away The Tigers - Manic Street Preachers

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You don't tend to associate the Manics with the frivolous, but during a recent appearance on Soccer AM of all places James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire came across really well, even going so far as to admit that the only thing their solo outings had taught them was that solo albums don't sell many copies.

So of course this new album was inevitable and it was also inevitable that little would change in the Manics world. The thumping guitar riffs are still in full force, there are still those more mellow moments and the lyrics are ever so slightly political.

But therein lies the problem with the Manics in the 21st Century...are they relevant to today's audience? It's a problem many bands who are genuine superstars at one point in time face in their later years but whilst this may not quite be the critical re-awakening of, say, Pet Shop Boy's Fundamental, it goes a certain way to proving that the Manics are right not to give up the fight.

The spike and drive of their earlier days is back to the forefront, especially with the ubiquitous anti-war songs, and for the most part its welcome. Rendition is one of the highlights of the album, as is the slightly "Green Day meets Robbie Williams" vibe of Imperial Bodybags although the lyrics of either don't withstand too much close inspection.

As if to prove "pop" is not off their radar as well, the lead single with Nina Persson, Your Love Is Not Enough is a good one too. Indeed there is something endearing about a band who champions the fact they've worked with the lead singer of The Cardigans, Kylie Minogue and Traci Lords.

It's perhaps becoming a cliché to say that this is their best album since 1996 and whilst that may say more about what has come inbetween this and Everything Must Go it does show glimmers of the old magic and that may be enough for long-term fans this time around. It's not going to overshadow the classics but for a little while at least you start to believe in the Manics once again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are You Listening - Dolores O'Riordan

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I once bought a Cranberries album which only had a photocopied front cover for £4.99. Not a particularly interesting anecdote I will admit, but one which proves just how the musical climate has changed. Nowadays you'd just hop online and download it for free wouldn't you?

Anyway, that has little to do with the review itself so I'll crack on. Perhaps the one thing which made the Cranberries stand out was O'Riordan's voice and I'm happy to report that its still in fine fettle.

And indeed if you were/are a fan of the Cranberries, you'll certainly find things to enjoy on this collection. Single Ordinary Day (sadly not the Duran Duran song) was a reasonable one, if lacking a little spark, whilst Apple Of My Eye has that epic sweep that the very best Cranberries songs lived on.

It's not all a bunch of Cranberries-esque retreads though. In The Garden is perhaps the most out and out "pop" moment (in a distinctly pop-rock vein) on the album and indeed it wouldn't take a leap of a million miles to imagine The Corrs taking it, sprucing it up a little and selling a million copies of it. Loser is another example, although you're probably heading more into Busted/McFly territory there.

At it's heart this album is not a complicated one. It's one where, for the most part, those guitars are cranked up loud and O'Riordan's voice attempts to do the rest. It's interesting, especially for old Cranberries fans (and as they sold somewhere around 40 million albums there's more than a few of them about), but never really quite manages to totally draw you in.

And if even if you hate it, you're sure to glean entertainment from some of the, unintentionally no doubt, hilarious lyrics (for example, "the moral of the adventure is this, if you take advantage of me you're taking the piss"). Indeed, some things never change.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Because I Love It - Amerie

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Some people, when accused of reviewing a disproportionate amount of releases by females on their website might go to the other extreme and start reviewing CD's by, you know, men. Not me though. ;-D

Amerie's second album (Touch) was pretty much two good singles (One Thing and Touch) and a multitude of filler. And at this point I might as well come clean and admit that I've never heard her debut (and indeed until researching this review had now idea she'd done two previous albums). Because I Love It however addresses that imbalance...and then some!

I was in the minority it seemed when declaring my love for Beyonce's B'Day, but I doubt I'll be in the minority when I say that this is very good indeed.

Lead single Take Control was fantastic enough but it's not even close to being the best track on here. That honour goes to the wonderful Crush (not the Jennifer Paige song ;-D) with its instantly memorable piano melody chained to irresistible, and distinctly 80's, synths and a nagging drum beat. And that's before we mention the killer voice. Believe me we should all be hoping that Aguillera is listening and taking notes on how to really make use of her voice.

Other tracks that delight totally include Make Me Believe, featuring perhaps her best vocal performance (and that's saying something), the 80's sounding "Annie Gone Hip-Hop" Make Me Believe and the funky Crazy Wonderful.

There is, of course, the odd moment that doesn't quite work, namely Hate 2 Love You and the dull balladry of Paint Me Over, but for the most part this is a fresh sounding album which may well have Beyoncé running for cover. Indeed whilst Beyoncé may have done certain songs on a par with tracks from Because I Love It, she's never quite pulled of an album with this much sustained brilliance.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Single Releases 14/05/07

If your only touch with "new" music is Edith Bowman you might well think that the "new" single by CSS is rather good. If you actually have a clue you'll of course have heard Lets Make Love And Listen To Death From Above at least 12 months ago. Still, lets not be too damning. It may be on about it's 37th re-release, but it is still a fantastic pop tune.

I've also been raving about Candi Payne for ages too; she was, pray remember, one of my "tips" for 2007. For the moment we'll ignore the fact that most of my tips have already shown absolutely no suggestion of making it and concentrate that on the back of her performance on Jools Holland last week she's on the verge of cracking it. I Wish I Could Have Loved You More is another reason why she's going to make it.

Alternatively if Lucie Silvas' 2nd album was going to repeat her success of the first time around then it surely would have done by now. Place To Hide will make no difference to that fact.

Maroon 5, on the other hand, are about to hit the stratosphere again. In fact they'll be cracking it on the Timberlake level if Makes Me Wonder is anything to go by.

I'm getting less and less convinced by Sophie Ellis Bextor with every single. Me And My Imagination isn't very good really.

Still she's better than either BWO (who are just plain weird, despite what Popjustice might try to claim otherwise) or Biffy Clyro. I'd espouse more on the latter, but that would bring us back to Edith Bowman again, and I've had more than enough of her for one day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eurovision Fallout

So Russia didn't win.


I got it slightly wrong with the winner didn't I?

Serbia's answer to Tracy Thron, Marija, treats us to an epic power ballad.
A power ballad that all of a sudden goes all Enya on us. You'll probably need a
piss-break by this point anyway.


I also wasn't exactly brimming with confidence for the runnners-up Ukraine either.

Imagine a world where the idea of melding Crazy Frog and Aqua together is seen as a good idea in terms of creating contemporary pop music. Well thrown in some Baltic accordion and you've pretty much summed up what this sounds like. Need I say "avoid like the plague"?

Although in fairness, i did always maintain it was daft enough for Eurovision.

As for the UK, we've Ireland and Malta to thank for getting any points at all. Still, blaming "politics" is no real excuse Scooch. Your song was rubbish but, crucially, not rubbish enough to be good in a funny way.

And Serebro are in the I-Tunes top 100 so it's proof that they were the best thing about the whole show. Mind you, three sexy Russians singing about their "bitches" and other saucy couldn't go wrong with that!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Concerts 2007

Slow news day, so updated concert list it is. The one's in red have been and gone.

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

30th June - Suzanne Vega - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

12th July - Bat For Lashes - Manchester Academy 3

16th August - Sophie Ellis Bextor - Parr Hall, Warrington

9th September - Natasha Bedingfield - Manchester Apollo

Friday, May 11, 2007

Release The Stars - Rufus Wainwright

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I was never what you could call a fan of Rufus Wainwright. In fact I found him over-posturing and pompous and felt that the few good songs that he's come up with can in now way compensate for the over-wrought amateur dramatic feel of most of his work. Even a liking for his sister Martha, which led to me trying again in terms of Rufus, didn't help matters.

But then he turned up on last year's Pet Shop Boys live album, Concrete. And he turned Fundamental's real dog of a track (Cassanova In Hell) into something rather quite special indeed; in fact it was one of the highlights of the live set. Of course the news that Neil Tennant would be some sort of executive producer on this album meant that I was always going to give it a try, but I have to admit that I am quite impressed by what I hear.

It's true to say that the grand sense of theatre that surrounds Rufus Wainwright is still firmly in place. Never one to use a couple of instruments when a whole orchestra can be fitted in this album does indeed smack of a Broadway production soundtrack. The thing to note however is that it does sound like a VERY GOOD Broadway production soundtrack.

Do I Disappoint You drips with melodrama, whilst Tulsa manages to make magic out of nothing more than a gentle piano melody and a cacophony of swirling strings. The more simple, or more normal, moments can stand out as well; Going To A Town may be lyrically the most aggressive or angry that Wainwright gets but it's simplicity helps to hammer home his message. It's also a lot cleverer than most of the anti-American/anti-Bush pop songs that we're force fed and as such gets its message across a lot more effectively than the rabble rousing likes of, for instance, Pink ever could.

If there's one problem with it it's the lack of a "show-stopping" foot-stomper; the closest he comes is Between My Legs which manages to mix heavy electric guitars with an almost Mowtown esque backing vocal to great effect and is perhaps the one track on this album that screams "hit single" (as long as you don't pay too much attention to the ever-so-slightly risque lyrics).

It's certainly not going to be for everyone, but there's little doubt in my mind that it is a fantastic album. And that's not something ever imagined saying about a Rufus Wainwright album.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

No Promises - Carla Bruni

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A French-Italian ex super model sets music to 11 classic poems, including works by the likes of WB Yeats, Emily Dickinson, WH Auden and Dorothy Parker. Not exactly the most thrilling of prospects on paper is it?

Yet in practise Carla Bruni has managed to do what her one time love Mick Jagger hasn't done for a good 20 years or so; that is put together a consistently good album.

It's packed with highlights and in fact is often so good that you forget that she's singing old poetry. Particularly good are her versions of Dorothy Parker's "Afternoon" and Yeats' "Those Dancing Days Are Gone" but there's little that doesn't captivate you.

For comparison's sake you could say it's like Charlotte Gainsbourg covering Cohen, and if it can sometimes get a little pedestrian and one-paced that doesn't detract too much from what is pretty much a constant delight. Sometimes things that seem so wrong on paper can end up sounding so right; this is definitely one of those occasions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Everytime We Touch - Cascada

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If there was any justice in the world, this album would have sunk without trace back in early 2006 when it was first released.

Somehow, however, a version of Savage Garden's Truly Madly Deeply has rocketed this into official re-release territory and it's actually reached number 2 in the UK album charts.

What's worse is that the pretty dreadful singles are not even the worst thing on this album. Not since hearing Westlife's version of Total Eclipse of the Heart have I felt as much pain as listening to Cascada's versions of Kids In America or Wouldn't It Be Nice.

Truly dreadful. Please, all you people who have a go at Girls Aloud wake up, smell the coffee and have a go at this dreadful lot instead.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Your Crazy Ex Girlfriend - Miranda Lambert

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Yes, more country and western music. Don't worry, I'll keep it brief.

Lambert found fame on Nashville Star (the sort of Country music American Idol), although she didn't win the thing. Still mixing her traditional sound and her not exactly ugly looks with a genuine talent for song-writing and more than a little of that all important attitude, it seemed like there was a winning combination to unleash on the record buying public.

And in many ways there is, but is the music any good? Her second album suggests that it is...most of the time.

There's no doubt that when Lambert lets rip, such as on Gunpowder & Lead or the title track, her blend of, humorous, aggression and grittiness can provide a winning formula. However it's a trick she tries a few too many times, to ever decreasing effect. Indeed it's perhaps telling that the real stand out track on the album, Dry Town, is a more traditional honky-tonk sounding song. It also has the catchiest and most memorable chorus.

Her ballad's are also of little consequence; they're not bad but lack that little something that would set them apart from the plethora of similar tracks on hundreds of albums every year.

Your Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not a terrible album, but neither is it the great album the best tracks suggest it could have been. Still you could do a lot worse.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Single Releases 07/05/07

There are only two tracks I can reccommend today.

Take Control by Amerie is fantastic, and is better by about at least 50% than anything Beyonce has ever done that isn't called Crazy In Love.

Poison Prince by Amy MacDonald is the only other track this week I feel like mentioning. And to be honest I think that it's lucky everything else out there is rubbish this week. I mean the lyrics (a less than subtle, and slightly cringeworthy, dig at Pete Doherty) are laughable at times and whilst it's reasonably catchy can you actually say that when you first listened to it that you got the sensation that, say, listening to KT Tunstall for the first time gave you? It's passable and shows promise, but as of itself it's nothing to get over-excited about.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Brand New By Tomorrow - Money Mark

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Back in 1998 I had one of my "moments" and bought the then new Money Mark album, Push The Button. It was great but I never heard anything else of him since. Now, nine years later he releases what is his fourth studio album.

And it's completely different to what I recall Push The Button being. It's also nothing like his work as the unofficial fourth Beastie Boy would suggest either.

He's an accomplished and professional performer and this somewhat tender and, dare I say it, Jack Johnson-like album is easy to listen to. (As it's released on Jack Johnson's record label the comparison is less disingenuous than it first seems). But like Jack Johnson's work the simplicity for simplicity's sake doesn't wash with me.

It's perfectly acceptable as background music but lacks the vitality and excitement to be anything more. Somewhat of a disappointment then. Still, if you're sitting there thinking "but I like Jack Johnson" then you'd probably find something to enjoy here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Story - Brandi Carlile

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It's fair to say that any album that has T-Bone Burnett at the producing helm is already in my good books. Throw in some heavily positive critical reaction to the album, and a smidgen of KT Tunstall comparisons for good measure, and it all sounds like something that I should very much like.

Sadly, there's just something about The Story by Brandi Carlile that doesn't quite grab me.

The songs are pleasant enough, and it is true that Carlile has quite the voice, but it's just nothing that I haven't heard before, and haven't heard done better. Such, I suppose, is life. I can't particularly fault the record in any harsh terms, but I can't sit here and pretend that I'll be listening to it over and over again.

Even the fact that this album was recorded "as live" hits me more as a gimmick than anything else.

I know full well there are going to be many many people who completely disagree with me on this one, and to them I apologise. But this does absolutely nothing for me.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Eurovision 2007 - Part II

Obviously I don't know what's in the final yet, so these finalists are in the order they are drawn but bear in mind that the winning semi-finalists will slot in on the night itself.

Bosnia & Herzegovina (Maria Šestic) Rijeka Bez Imena

BORING! And as it's first up on finals night it doesn't stand a chance anyway. She's a bit of a looker though, albeit at least 8 years younger than me (which rules her out doesn't it? Ha ha).

Spain (D'Nash) I Love You Mi Vida

Try and spot which one is mostly likely to come out as gay in five years time. Other than that it's a nothing song, bringing to mind that old classic by No Mercy, Where Do You Go? If the Backstreet Boys had been Spanish...well you get the idea.

Ireland (Dervish) They Can't Stop The Spring

If you were genetically modifying an Irish song then this is probably what you'd come up with. Radio 2 will love it, as will Foster And Allen no doubt.

Finland (Hanna Pakarinen) Leave Me Alone

No doubt Finland are making sure they don't win it again this year with this rather inconsequential Evanescence style track. I think they'll succeed that task with ease.

Lithuania (4Fun) Love Or Leave

It's just dull this one. Almost sends me to sleep.

Greece (Sarbel Yassou) Maria

The best way I can describe this is cut-price Ricky Martin. And lets face it, the Rickster only ever did two good songs in his entire life. It's the kind of thing though that sounds quite fun and does get you nodding your head along with it.

Sweden (The Ark) The Worrying Kind

The Sweet meet Abba. Trust the Swede's to pull it off again. You can't help getting swept along with this one, and it's the bookies favourite as well.

France (Les Fatals Picards) L'amour À La Française

Don't you just love songs that are in two different languages for no real apparent reason. Judging by the video (and it's a shame they didn't have a Keane style budget for that) this MUST be a wind-up of some kind.

Russia (Serebro) Song #1
This is the one that I was banging on about a few weeks ago. It's still brilliant. It should win, it won't. But don't let that spoil anything.

Germany (Roger Cicero) Frauen Regier'n Die Welt

Well someone's been watching his Robbie Williams swing video's hasn't he? Does he really say "Posh and Beckham" in the lyrics as well?

Ukraine (Verka Serduchka) Dancing Lasha Tumbai

Imagine a world where the idea of melding Crazy Frog and Aqua together is seen as a good idea in terms of creating contemporary pop music. Well thrown in some Baltic accordion and you've pretty much summed up what this sounds like. Need I say "avoid like the plague"?

United Kingdom (SCOOCH) Flying The Flag (For You)

Absolutely fucking terrible. For a comedy record it's completely unfunny as well. And to boot, the last time we saw that fat one who can't dance he was in the programme where they tried to pass four blokes off as a girl-band. And this is the best we could come up with? Still, the rest of Europe hates us anyway so why not take revenge by inflicting this torture on them?

Romania (TODOMONDO) Liubi, Liubi, I Love You

What is it with these Jack Johnson soundalikes these days? Mind you how can you not love a song with the lyrics "I love you is the same everywhere, even in Italy?" That's a rare genius at work there. Mind you on the night, you might by this time be suffering from accordion overload.

Armenia (Hayko) Anytime You Need

If you're a fan of those Enrique Inglesias ballads where he sings in English but with a distincly comedy accent then you are going to love this one. It's one of those songs that merely exists. It's not exciting, and it's not very good.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Eurovision 2007 - Part I

Ok, so as promised here is the complete run-down of my opinions of the Eurovision 2007 tracks.

I'm going to split it into two parts. Part 1 will feature those tracks entered into the semi-finals whilst part 2 will round up those tracks that automatically made it into the final proper. So without further ado, here we go. And I'm not going to bother, at this stage anyway, linking to any of these tracks. If you're that bothered, you know how you can find them.

(incidentally these are in the draw order for the semi-finals)

1 Bulgaria (Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov) Water

This one starts off with the opening of Money For Nothing by Dire Straits before moving into a Stomp-esque drum beat and then the Al-Jazeer folk singing hits in. It's not very good but it does have a kind of addictive beat that is hard to ignore.

2 Israel (Teapacks) Push The Button

A Keith Allen look-a-like, who is just as irritating as the real thing, preaching against war and the politics of war. Terry Wogan is going to have a field day with this one. Although lets be fair about it, the Israeli people probably have more to worry about us than most of us do directly. Musically it attempts to meld punk, indie rock and a bit of UB40 style reggae into it's three minute running time. It doesn't succeed.

3 Cyprus (Evridiki) Comme Ci, Comme Ça

Well you wouldn't guess that this lady is pushing 40. She's represented Cyprus in Eurovision twice before, finishing 11th on both occasions. I doubt this is going to do much better in all honesty. It's got that Euro-disco beat that was so popular in about 1994 in the UK charts. This would have sounded out of date even back then mind you.

4 Belarus (Koldun) Work Your Magic

I did wonder when we were going to get to the first camp looking contender of the evening. I'm told Koldun won the Belarus version of Fame Academy, which should tell you all you need to know about him. As an aside, there was even a great debate in Belarus apparently about whether he was a suitable enough contender to put forward. Sonically this is an attempt at a Bond theme (its the strings) and I for one am hoping for a distinctly David Copperfield style performance on the night. To put it into perspective though, he's still a hell of lot less annoying than Mika.

5 Iceland (Eiríkur Hauksson) Valentine Lost

I'm no expert on these matters but listening to this I feel we've found Iceland's answer to Jon Bon Jovi in Eiríkur Hauksson. He promises us, or should that be warns us, that his hands "are completely free when it comes to the stage show" and that he doesn't do choreography. It's like a piss poor cover version of Bon Jovi's "Always".

6 Georgia (Sopho) Visionary Dream

This is the first ever Georgian entry. It isn't very good, but is the kind of thing that a Rachel Stevens or Sophie Ellis-Bextor could carry off reasonably well. Sopho is quite fit as well, which people who know me will realise is half the battle with these things!

7 Montenegro (Stevan Faddy) Ajde Kroči

A kind of Lordi-lite track. Made all the more funny by the fact that I obviously haven't got a clue what he's going on about. Apparently this got twice the number of votes that the runner up got in the Montenegro qualifiers. All I can say is how bad must the second place one been?

8 Switzerland (DJ Bobo) Vampires Are Alive

How can you not love a song that starts with the lyrics, "Vampires are alive, the legends have to survive, we'll never come undone, and we will be forever young"? You just know that the performance of this one is going to be worth the price of admission alone. The real story here is the fact that, and I quote, " a small percentage of fundamentalist Christians in Switzerland" have protested about this song because we all know that pretty awful euro-dance pop is the perfect way of surreptitiously encouraging occult practises...

9 Moldova (Natalia Barbu) Fight

The Gee's going to like this red-head, that much is a given. She's paying her own way to Helsinki as well. If Amy Lee came from one of the new Russian states, this is probably what she would sound like. Against my better judgement I quite like this one.

10 The Netherlands (Edsilia Rombley) On Top Of The World

Someone's been listening to Unbreak My Heart by Toni Braxton then. At least until we get to the bizarrely upbeat chorus. It's got the kind of positive message that could go down quite well at Eurovision and if I'm being honest, I've heard worse songs in the UK top 40 than this one. I can imagine the old Hilary Duff doing this one quite well.

11 Albania (Doci) Hear My Plea

The kind of earnest, moody piece that will only be enjoyable for Terry Wogan's commentary.

12 Denmark (DQ) Drama Queen

This is more like it, on some levels anyway. I mean it must be a while since we last had a tranny winning the competition mustn't it? Ok so it isn't very good at all, but it is fun. To a certain extent.

13 Croatia (Dragonfly feat. Dado Topic) Vjerujem U Ljubav

Pitiful. And just when you think it can't get any worse some low-rent version of Shakira turns up and sends it down another notch.

14 Poland (The Jet Set) Time To Party

At this point in the evening, if you were watching this on television, I'll bet you'd be thinking that "what the Eurovision song contest needs right now is an Eastern-European version of the Black Eyed Peas..." Voila! Terry Wogan won't mention this of course because he thinks Black Eyed Peas are something you'd have on bonfire night. Sod it, though, I actually like the song.

15 Serbia (Marija Šerifovic) Molitva

Serbia's answer to Tracy Thron, Marija, treats us to an epic power ballad. A power ballad that all of a sudden goes all Enya on us. You'll probably need a piss-break by this point anyway.

16 Czech Republic (Kabat) Malá Dáma

Apart from the fact that it's obviously not sung in English, this is the kind of song I could quite imagine Snow Patrol doing a decent fist of, if they weren't so boring of course. Of course in reality this is little more than the Czech's seeing last year's winners and thinking "we should do something like that."

17 Portugal (Sabrina) Dança Comigo

Remember when you went on holiday's with your parents when you were young to Spain or France and you'd be in some dodgy market (with flies all over the pies) and there would be a music stall and they would be playing some summery pop tune which you'd think was quite good. So you bought the CD, got it home and promptly never listened to it again? This is the 2007 equivalent. Still, I'd do her!

18 FYR Macedonia (Karolina) Mojot Svet

I'm certainly going to have to make sure I catch this portion of the show. Karolina is a bit fit. And the song is as good as a ballad sung in a language I don't understand is going to get.

19 Norway (Guri Schanke) Ven A Bailar Conmigo

If I was being cruel I'd say this is another one for Gee. Being as Guri Schanke looks as if she's in her 60's. Apparently this is a big hit in the gay bars of Oslo. It's the kind of song that Emma Bunton would probably think was cutting edge pop. To me it just sounded like the kind of song that should either be the theme music for a game show or the National Lottery Draw.

20 Malta (Olivia Lewis) Vertigo

Shit song in all honesty, but Oliva does have a blog that makes me smile. So I hope she does at least do better than Malta did last year (which lets face it won't be all that difficult).

21 Andorra (Anonymous) Salvem El Món

No that's not to say that the people behind this wish to remain anonymous, that's the name of the band. Who appear to be Andorra's answer to Busted. Or Son Of Dork more likely. This kind of thing never does well at Eurovision, I can't see this bucking the trend.

22 Hungary (Magdi Ruzsa) Unsubstantial Blues

As the title of the song may suggest, this is a bluesy, Norah Jones or Katie Melua style song and is actually relatively good. She's not exactly unpleasant to look at either. I've heard a lot worse in the name of female singer-songwriting.

23 Estonia (Gerli Padar) Partners In Crime

Pink is alive and well and masquerading as Estonia's entry to the Eurovision contest. A decent song but she scares the life out of me. I would not want to meet this woman in a dark alleyway late at night.

24 Belgium (The KMG's) LovePower

That's the Krazy Mess Groover's to you and me. Starts off like Take That's Everything Changes and then all of a sudden becomes a disco stomper. Imagine trying to create a euro-continental version of the Scissor Sisters and you've pretty much got the idea about this one.

25 Slovenia (Alenka Gotar) Cvet Z Juga

One of those moments where every year you think "what the hell is this?" Having attractive backing singers can only take you so far I'm afraid.

26 Turkey (Kenan Dogulu) Shake It Up Shekerim

Is it just me or does this have a slight "Timbaland meets Reel 2 Real" vibe? And indeed, as a slightly "rap" tinged song, it's a hell of a lot better than Daz Simpson.

27 Austria (Eric Papilaya) Get A Life - Get Alive

This is the Paulo Nutini/James Morrison part of the evening. With a bit of Bon Jovi thrown in again. Not very good.

28 Latvia (Bonaparti.Lv) Questa Notte
Who would have thought that Il Divo and G4 could sink so low? Anyway, as crap as the song is, there was something strangely entertaining and humorous about their performance of this to get through, so it's worth a laugh if nothing else.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Heartland - Client

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The Client story in respect of me has only two things of note that are worth pointing out. Firstly I had to walk out of their supporting set to the Pet Shop Boys at last year's Summer Pops because they started swearing rather a lot (I was with my mother after all) and secondly I did always quite like Dubstar, or at least their debut album. And as you should know, Sarah Blackwood was/is lead singer of both.

In theory I should love Client, electro pop sung by three women who I wouldn't exactly rush to kick out of bed. In practise it's never been quite that simple. Whilst I enjoy some of the tracks I listen to, others aren't worth getting out of bed for at all. So the big question as we get to album 3 is whether or not this opinion is going to change at all.

It's not.

Therefore for every It's Not Over or Xerox Machine (yes it's an Adam & The Ants cover, but it is brilliant) that wows you there's a Where's The Rock And Roll Gone (with it's completely pointless use of Tim Burgess on backing vocals) or 6 In The Morning that always threatens to go somewhere but never quite arrives.

It's not a terrible album and for people who like this kind of thing you're bound to find something to enjoy on this collection (you should probably start with the Stephen Hague-mixed Someone To Hurt); it's just that it falls somewhat short of what they needed to have a genuine chance of a UK break-through. There's just too much of it that you'll struggle to remember five minutes after you've heard it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

NB - Natasha Bedingfield

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There's no doubting that Natasha Bedingfield is an acquired taste. I didn't like her at all when she started out, but was converted to some extent by the wonderfully daft These Words single. Listening to her debut album converted me more, although I would have to admit that the album as a whole was a little hit and miss. Of course that would probably some up most people's opinion of the more agreeable Bedingfield. Some great tracks, some absolute dross.

NB, her second album, doesn't totally eradicate this equation but it is a definite step in the right direction.

Album opener How Do You Do sets a perfect opening tone; it's as lyrically daft as ever (if you're not climbing up my ivory towers, I'm coming down to you) and sets off what would appear to be the theme of the album. Women have control over their own love-life destiny. Gone are the days when women had to wait for men to make the first move. All very admirable, but all very hen-night and school playground. What saves it though is that the tune is a catchy one which pretty soon is lodged in your brain. Indeed, we've started off on a high note indeed.

There are others too.

Say It Again nails a perfect pop chorus with such aplomb that I'll be very disappointed if it doesn't top the charts for weeks and will be the one where the audience waves their lighters (and mobile phones) in the air and sings along wholeheartedly at her concerts. Who Knows may be even better; it certainly was the one I found myself singing in the bath after listening to the album.

There are times though when it doesn't quite work. I doubt people will be remembering Eve's appearance here with the fondness reserved for her Gwen Stefani collaborations and Smell The Roses doesn't quite manage to disguise just how dull it is, despite the Aguilera style histrionics and luscious strings floating around in the background.

The sheer list of names that helped with the album (Mike Elizondo, Adam Levine, Diane Warren, Nate Hills, Danielle Brisebois and Pat Leonard to name but a handful) proves that this was never going to be a dull record, and indeed the sense is that it doesn't matter if you like a particular track or not...there's be another one you do like along any minute.

It's to Bedingfield's credit as well that despite the sheer weight of numbers you never really lose sense that this is her album. Sure, that may not be an entirely welcome prospect for some (witness the endless discussions about the merits, or otherwise, of lead single I Want Your Babies) but I'm quite happy with it all.

And how refreshing it is for a British (yes, she does just about count as a Brit :-D) pop star to wilfully display her eccentricities on record rather than bizarre rants at the Brit awards and through thank you messages that are longer than a university dissertation.