Saturday, June 30, 2007

Suzanne Vega LIVE

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Well the pre-concert entertainment was on a whole other level tonight. First off was Hannah's Bar, erstwhile favourite of Scottish chanteuse Sandi Thom. I don't think there were too many LIPA students in there though. There was perhaps the finest collection of barmaids in history though.

After a quick Subway we then found ourselves in an "Emo" pub. It was called Bloodshed or Deathpit or some such stupid name and I should point out that we only ended up in there because there was hardly anyone in. Everyone else who was in there mind you perfectly fitted any number of stereotypes you can come up with.

All this fun meant we missed David Ford, not that I was particularly bothered.

I was happy to see, after an acapella Tom's Diner kicked things off, that our old friend Greg Rusedski/Ben Stiller's older brother was back on the bass like he was in Warwick/Coventry all that time ago. This was a full band show, although at certain points in the evening, things got stripped down to either Vega on her own or Vega and Greg Stiller.

Given the recent release of her new album this was a night that was heavily centered around new material, but thankfully the album is a great one and the songs were just as good live (even if she missed out Bound, my favourite newbie).

There was a decent smattering of the classic (Caramel, Luka, Left Of Centre), the paeans to Liverpool (which brought up the thorny question of whether the people of Liverpool considered their city to be a man or a woman) and she finished off with a proper version of Tom's Diner which the old lady in front of me found most distasteful.

The only dampener on my evening was being sat next to a couple who obviously thought they were either a) in a cheap motel room or b) starring in some bizarre form of gonzo porn. Holding hands I can take, full on face guzzling just isn't right.

Friday, June 29, 2007

My December - Kelly Clarkson

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I'm not shy about it; I have never seen the point of Kelly Clarkson. Yes there have been a good smattering of half decent singles to admire (Miss Independent, Since You've Been Gone, Walk Away) but on the whole I just don't see what makes her such a success.

But a success she has been; in fact I think that deep down even Clarkson herself probably would admit to thinking that it could never have turned out so well. One decent selling album followed by a genuine worldwide smash album.

And wouldn't you believe it, Clarkson has decided that now is the time to present the world with her own artistic vision. At a push you can see her point; her last couple of albums were tailor-made attempts to grab the zeitgeist and catch the vibe of what was deemed to be "in". It was a trick which worked for Pink and its that trajectory we're following here (in that the album they didn't want to make was followed by them making an album they "sort of" wanted to do and then following up with the album they've "always wanted to make).

Except that whilst this is definitely more "dark" than her previous efforts, its still not a million miles away from what you would expect...except in one crucial department. The tunes have pretty much disappeared.

The obvious influence would appear to be Alanis Morissete's Jagged Little Pill, the difference being of course that precious few of us knew of Morissette as the pop ingenue before she unleashed that on the world. It's angry, feisty but ultimately hollow. To pull off a chameleon trick like Clarkson has attempted you have to make sure that what you produce is better than what came before, and I don't think (as limited an opinion I have of her previous work) this does.

The record company needn't fear too much, there are a smattering of radio friendly tunes that will doubtless shift some units, but here's a little prediction; next time around we'll see the "old" Kelly Clarkson back, no doubt with a handy excuse for returning to something more accessible and catchy.

It's an interesting album, if only from a conceptual point of view, but all in all its a classic case of an artist over-estimating their importance in the overall scheme of things.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Everything All The Time - Band Of Horses

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It's been out in the US for over a year, but has only been available officially in the UK for a matter of months.

Initially, the things that sprang to mind when listening to Everything All The Time were The Flaming Lips, Grandaddy The Decemberists and a tiny little bit of Neil Young.

And therein lies the problem. This is a good album, no question, but the sheer variety of influences don't quite meld into something entirely convincing as their own characteristic sound.

Another niggling downside is that it's all a little too one-paced. It's certainly not a coincidence that the stand-out track, Wicked Gil, is the moment where they most let loose and give us something a little more up-tempo than the majority of the album.

Someone on Amazon called it what Arcade Fire might sound like if they were more commercially minded. A fair point, but whilst this might be, at large, more "radio friendly" than Arcade Fire, it can't match their grandiose and enchanting sound. A promising debut but there's some way to go yet. Having said all that there is enough here to suggest that they could well really get it right next time around.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Riot - Paramore

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I'd heard good things about Paramore, but was somewhat disappointed with the recent single Misery Business. It wasn't bad, but lacked a spark to set it apart from the pack. Indeed I had nightmarish visions of Papa Roach springing up in my mind.

I'm glad to say that I find the album a lot more palatable.

The star of the show is ultimately the diminutive Hayley Williams and the band provide her with enough punk-pop riffs to sink her teeth into without ever overwhelming her or relegating her to the background.

I don't find it the most original album I've heard all year and it never really becomes an exhilarating album but there is no question that, when it hits the spot, it's memorable and catchy and at around 40 minutes in length never outstays its welcome. The only problem is that, as it stands, I can't see this being an album I'll keep returning to.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Person Pitch - Panda Bear

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Some reviews, indeed most of them that I've seen, would have you believe this album is an out and out work of genius...that it might be, but it's the work of flawed genius.

There are indeed moments that leap out of the stereo (do people still listen to Cd's on their stereos these days?) in a cascade of beauty, with aching melodies, sumptuous layered harmonies and arrangements worthy of Brian Wilson at his best.

The problem is that far too few of these moments actually go anywhere other than completely overstaying their welcome. Songs like Bros and Good Girl/Carrots seem to be building to something special but then you dispiritedly realise that you're four minutes in (only a third of the way) and that nothing's really changed and by then you are distinctly bored by the whole thing. Is it a coincidence that the most successful track for me on the album was I'm Not, which clocks in at less than four minutes? Probably not, although I should point out that even that one left me feeling more than a little non-plussed.

Somewhere in all of this there probably is the fantastic record that most have proclaimed it to be. Me? Well I got too bored of waiting to find it. Some of you might appreciate its complexity, critics might appreciate it's construction; I'd wager most would find its lack of enjoyment factor completely off-putting.

Monday, June 25, 2007

UK Single Releases 25/06/07

It seems like most of the good stuff that is out this week is what I actually reviewed last week but on we plough anyway.

Bascially though, it's all crap.

The Bees, Jon Bon Jovi, The View, The Enemy, Hoosiers, Kajafuckingoogoo?

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boxer - The National

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The National's previous album, Alligator, received critical acclaim but precious little commercial success. If Boxer doesn't redress the second part of the equation then there is nothing much else that they can do.

Because, make no bones about it, Boxer is a fantastic record. As subtle as the Arcade Fire are grandiose, The National are everything that a modern rock band can aspire to be. The exquisiteness of the music is more than matched by the brilliance of the lyrics and evidence of that can be found on the likes of Brainy and there are songs with a genuine chance of mainstream appeal like Mistaken For Strangers which, in the space of three and a half minutes, blows away anything that, for instance, Editors have ever come up with.

The Editors comparison is a salient one in more ways that one given lead singer Matt Berninger's rich voice. Critically though his voice may be distinctive but it's never distracting; its fits in perfectly with the ambiance of the album.

If anything "bad" can be said about the record it's that it perhaps tails off slightly towards the end, but there's been so much sustained brilliance to listen to that it doesn't really matter all that much.

Quite simply this is an absolute gem.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Travelling Wilburys

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Look some would call buying your dad the new Travelling Wilburys collection for Father's day and then listening to it yourself (and putting it on your mp3 player) is a bit cheeky. But hey, it's only payback for the time he bought "me" Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell II album for Christmas one year. At least my dad wanted the Travelling Wilburys.

Common consent would be Volume 1 = Good, Volume 3 =Not So Good, but really, Volume 3 isn't as bad as people make out. Yes, it does somewhat miss the presence of Roy Orbison (who added style and gravitas (even in such exalted company) to the proceedings) but it's not as bad as some critics would have you believe by any stretch of the imagination.

For the new release you only get two totally brand new unreleased tracks, but crucially both Maxine and Like A Ship are winners. It's also nice for completism's sake to have Nobody's Child and Runaway on the collection (even if they are tweaked versions from the soundtrack/b-side originals).

The DVD is ok too. All the videos (although there is some disappointment amongst long-term fans that the originals don't survive intact) and a nice, if short, documentary.

Quite frankly, if you're a music fan you should have this in your collection.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Just Me - Tiffany

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It's twenty years since a tour of shopping malls and a cover of Tommy James and The Shondells' I Think We're Alone Now propelled Tiffany to worldwide fame. You may be surprised that this is her seventh studio album and so yes, she has done more than pose for Playboy and perform on ITV's Hit Me Baby One More Time in the last two decades.

Some might suggest that Tiffany has "matured" as an artist from her bubblegum pop days, and naturally that is true but that doesn't mean that his maturity (and let us not forget that she's still only 36) equates to anything worse listening to.

Granted it's not a terrible album, it's just that its a dull, uninspiring one that panders to the guitar singer/songwriter formula as if that's all that matters.

Some of her fans would tell you this is a sublime album, full of lyrical storytelling and that it's a great statement of personality. It's not. It's your average run-of-the-mill "pop" album that mistakes a "mature" sound for one that is worth anything. I'd avoid this.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wait For Me - The Pigeon Detectives

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They're from Leeds, share a producer with the Kaiser Chiefs and Embrace and are another of that long line of "hot new" Indie bands...wait, where are you going? Come back, it's not as bad as it sounds.

Anyone who's heard the singles, and there's been four of them to date, will be quite upbeat about the prospect of an album. Particularly good was You Know I Love You (with its catchy "you know I love you, take off your clothes" chorus) and I Found Out (which was, oh, at least thirteen times better than anything the Fratellis could come up with). Indeed if the Kaiser's have left a gap in the market for jaunty, jokey and catchy pop tunes having gone ultra-sensible and serious for their second album, Wait For Me must be prime meat to fill it.

Of course, and wouldn't you know it, these are also the best songs on the album by quite some way (except for the sublime Stop Or Go) and as such there is a slight tinge of disappointment in that the album doesn't quite live up to the singles that preceded it.

Still it shows a lot of promise, and kind of reminds me of XTC (which is a good thing). Needless to say it's not up to that level, but it is an indication that there could be a lot more to come from these boys.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Beauty & Crime - Suzanne Vega

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It seems almost strange that Beauty & Crime is Vega's first album since 2001's Songs Of Red & Gray (she has kept busy in the mean-time with touring, and playing virtual gigs in the online world of Second Life) but almost immediately you realise that that makes it her first album since 9/11 had it's permanent effect on the place that Vega calls home, New York.

The spectre undoubtedly hangs over the album. Anniversary is the most obvious and explicit statement about the tragedy, but there are strong echoes in the likes of Zephyr And I (which includes dreamy backing vocals from KT Tunstall) and Angel's Doorway (which sees Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo providing some guitar riffs).

I will admit that it's nothing particularly new, but then Suzanne Vega has no need to change. Always a class act, this album is no different.

The literate lyrics are as punchy and relevant as ever and most of all the feeling as a listener is one of realising just how pleased you are she is back and the realisation that we've been missing something for the past six years. Here's hoping we don't have to wait that long for the next one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Maths + English - Dizzee Rascal

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The first salient point about this album is clear as soon as you look down the track listing and see "feat. Lilly Allen" and "feat. Alex Turner"; this is Dizzee going "mainstream", which is just as well given that "grime" is pretty much dead in the water these days.

Of course there are still those old "gang violence" references in full flow but if nothing else it's likely to be the only rap album you'll ever hear with the lyrics "Pull your trousers up!... Read a book!... Find a pretty girl and settle!"

As you might expect at times the juxtaposition of these two ideas does jar, but there are a number of fantastic moments on this album.

Chief one is Pussyole, which is the finest song of the rap genre that I've heard in quite some time, and excitement is also to be found on the likes of Sirens (think Jay Z's 99 Problems set in London) and Where's Da G's (which talks about "fake aggression" on the streets and includes the "find a pretty girl and settle" line quoted earlier).

As for the Allen and Arctic Monkeys tie-in's, they're good, but don't match up to the best moments on the album. And if I'm being really honest, Allen's appearance here grates on me for some reason.

And on the whole this is a remarkable album. The variety of it may surprise some, but it provides the album with the magic that makes it pretty irresistible.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Single Releases 18/06/07

Kate Nash releases Foundations this week. I'm not going to lie, I'm in love with her. That said, even though I am biased Foundations is insanely catchy and really very good indeed. As I've said I can see why people might be disinclined to like her, but to them I merely repeat what I've said before; you are wrong.

I really don't like that new Editors one. Whilst not a huge fan, I did enjoy their debut album but this one sounds like they've gone ever so slightly Coldplay.

4 In The Morning by Gwen Stefani is the other song from her album (alongside that last single) that is any good, so I approve!

I can't however approve of the latest Mel C single. It's awful and leaves you in no doubt as to why she's suddenly keen to reunite the Spice Girls, even if it is for one night only (Wembley anyone?).

I wanted to like Misery Business by Paramore more than I actually do. Having said that, whilst distinctly underwhelmed by the single, I do have more love for the album (review will follow at some point) so I'm not completely down on them.

I still, three singles in, don't see the point of Just Jack.

The Bravery have changed. They're still not any good though.

I'd Wait For Life is exactly the kind of crap that record companies think is "pop" and will appeal to the Radio 2 audience. Shame on you Take That.

I'm told this Robin Thicke fella is huge in the States. I hope he never makes it over here, but no doubt he will. Lost Without U is the kind of thing that would fill up space on a Justin Timberlake album, and I don't mean that in a good way.

It will of course outsell Siobhan Donaghy's sublime So You Say by about a million to one. That's just life I'm afraid.

That new Chemical Brothers one is choooooooooooooon!

I don't really find myself warming to Shame On You by Andrea Corr. It's amazing to think that for a time about 10 years, I thought the Corrs were brilliant and now I couldn't care less about them. And that's not me being "cool" or anything, I've just grown sick of them.

Marie Miller is a super-model who likes the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I'm not even going to spoil our burgeoning relationship by listening to her new single, No Ordinary Girl...ok, I thought I better listen to it. It's not too bad. Stars have been made out of a lot less.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Minutes To Midnight - Linkin Park

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For some reason, I have every Linkin Park album. If pushed I wouldn't admit to actually liking any of them. At best they've had a couple of good singles and whilst I would say I enjoyed their debut album at the time, it's aged about as well as Limp Bizkit have.

Still, I'm nothing if not a glutton for punishment and whilst I may have hated the video to recent single What I've Done with a passion (but that's another rant for another time) I did find the single catchy, albeit that it signalled that whilst the message may have changed, the tune was pretty much the same.

And that's the overriding sense you get when you hear the album. They may have taken the ubiquitous "War Is Bad" road and they may have jettisoned some of the "rap" parts of their sound (and really, after that excruciating Jay-Z collaboration they had to change something) but you'd be hard pressed to notice many differences from their previous sound.

And ironically, its one of the small number of songs where Mike Shinoda contributes something noticeable, Bleed It Out, that is the standout of the set. For three minutes, at least, Linkin Park sound like a band from 2007.

Yes, they've tried to change, but as they've borrowed most of their new sounds from elsewhere, to little obvious effect, you never feel as if you're hearing nothing else. All in all, it's a rare misfire from record-producer Rick Rubin who's magic touch has seemingly been mislaid for this one.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Era Vulgaris - Queens Of The Stone Age

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It's no secret that I have a strange "thing" for Josh Homme, head honcho of Queens Of The Stone Age, and I'm secure enough in my masculinity to admit it.

It's also no secret that I happen to think that the Queens are on of the most exhilarating and vital rock bands around today.

Which means that this album, whilst still "good", disappoints me quite a bit.

Whereas previous efforts have always shown some cohesion, this seems to suffer greatly from the kitchen sink approach. It's as if the decision has been made to toss everything in and see what sticks.

Sick, Sick, Sick (with Julian Casblancas on vocals; not that you'd particularly notice) and 3's & 7's are up there with anything they Queens have ever put on record and certain other tracks, such as River In The Road, easily capture your imagination as well.

But what the record lacks is any sense of consistency. Yes, we know Homme's predisposition to taking us on a wrong turn, but there is nothing that brings this album together, unlike on previous efforts where there was a certain stylistic and artistic thread running through.

So don't mistake me, I do like this album. But compared to Rated R, Songs For The Deaf and Lullaby's to Paralyze it's merely good, not great. Some bands could get away with an album like this, but Queens of the Stone Age can be expected to do a hell of lot better.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wild Hope - Mandy Moore

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Mandy Moore's cover version album Coverage is quite the lost delight. A million miles away from her bubblegum pop days, it showed an artist maturing. It wasn't just the choice of songs, it was the all-round way she handled them; nothing sounded forced or out of place.

It's a trick Moore is hoping to replicate on new album Wild Hope. Sadly she doesn't quite manage it.

That's not to say that this is an awful album. It's well conceived, admirably put together and certainly is an enjoyable listen. It's just that it's all a little similar and often comes across as the soundtrack to a particularly "worthy" American TV series.

All that said, there's nothing here that would preclude it from being a hit album. It certainly compares well with a multitude of female singer-songwriters who get shoved down our throats on a daily basis (at the risk of upsetting certain regular readers, for instance, it's a hell of lot better than Lucie Silvas' last album) and whilst I actually doubt that it's going to sell millions and millions of copies, I hope it sells enough for her to get another crack at it. I'd like to hear what she comes up with next.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Surrender - Jane Monheit

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What can I say, I'm in a Jazz Hands Gee mood at the moment. ;-D

It goes without saying that you really need to be a "jazz" fan if you're really going to enjoy this. We're not taking Norah Jones here.

It's an album of two halves really. When belting out standards such as Moon River or A Time For Love, we're in Disney soundtrack land, with schmaltzy strings overpowering Monheit and stifling any sense of her personality.

But on the likes of the title track, Monheit becomes a much more enticing prospect. There's also a strong South American influence on hand, with such tracks as Caminhos Cruzados and So Tinha de Ser Com Voce showing just how good Monheit is. Bright, breezy and sexy...what more could you ask for?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Real Girl - Mutya Buena

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Let it be known that Mutya Buena was the "talented one" of the Sugababes. Well at least that's what her publicists have been anxious to have everyone point out recently.

Well if that was the case why is Buena's debut solo album little different from what you would expect the Sugababes to produce? And don't try and suggest that that's the point; the "talented one" drive was pretty much a less than subtle way of suggesting that Buena was too good to stay in the Sugababes and be "held back" by the pop industry. It goes without saying that if you want to find the "talented one" in the Sugababes, you don't look any further than Siobhan Donaghy.

Perhaps mindful of the lack of success her former bandmate has had though, Buena sticks firmly to the formula that brought her to the dance. Songs like Not Your Baby (which is the pick of the bunch for me) and It's Not Easy are good but you can't help feeling that if you threw in, oh, two other singers and had them sing it you'd have something even better.

The one fresh sounding moment is the collaboration with Groove Armada on Song 4 Mutya, which flies off the stereo. More like this and we'd have had a blinder.

But no, lets fill the rest with regulation pop balladry (no matter how much "street" attitude Buena tries to inject, it doesn't work) and, worst of all, a bizarre and god awful reworking of Be My Baby with Amy Winehouse. Painful IS the word.

Much like the Sugababes then, Mutya Buena has come up with an average album, kept above water by a couple of great potential singles. Sometimes, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Good Girl Gone Bad - Rihanna

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Ok, so perhaps I should have realised that whilst I was slagging off Rihanna's latest single Umbrella and telling her to give up it had actually already been number one for about three years...but as ever, I don't confuse commercial success with artistic merit. And the song is still, in my opinion at least, dreadful. I wonder how well it would have done without the Jay-Z connection?

And whilst Amerie can play the commercial game and still deliver an album packed with her own personality, it's not a trick Rihanna can replicate. Three albums in, any sign of her own personality has long been lost...although given what I've seen of her publicity drives that may not be a bad thing.

So as a "blank canvas" style idea, this isn't too bad. Timbaland pops up to give us Lemme Get That, (and indeed two other tracks), which surely should be the song of the summer and Justin Timberlake adds a touch of frisson to the proceedings on Rehab (which may just be a rip-off of What Goes Around but is still worth a listen). Given the success of SOS (with it's Tainted Love sample) the trick is repeated here on Shut Up And Drive, this time appropriating New Order's Blue Monday. It's not as good as SOS (alas, what is?) but it's still an addictively catchy tune. Don't Stop The Music is a cracker too, with its euro-dance backing.

As you might expect of course there is more than a fair share of dross on the album, but just for the great tracks alone this is worth it. She may be a somewhat dull pop-star, but with the right backing she can sound like a star.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Single Releases 11/06/07

Oh it's been lovely over the weekend, so this is going to be another one of those "short and concise" single review posts.

And this week it's going to return to that old ratings out of 5.

Air – Mer Du Japon ( * * 1/2 )
Art Brut – Direct Hit ( * * )
Blood Red Shoes – Its Getting Boring By The Sea ( * * * 1/4 )
Bowling For Soup – I’m Gay ( DUD )
Catherine Feeny – Touch Back Down ( * * * )
Damien Dempsey – Your Pretty Smile ( * 1/2 )
Enrique Iglesias – Do You Know (Ping Pong Song) (DUD)
Erasure - Sunday Girl ( * * )
Fratellis - Ole Black 'N' Blue Eyes” (DUD)
Good Shoes – Morden ( * * 1/2 )
Gossip - Listen Up! ( * )
Holloways – Generator 07 ( * 3/4)
Hot Club De Paris - Clockwork Toy ( * * * )
Kelly Clarkson – Never Again ( * * )
Kelly Rowland feat Eve – Like This ( * 1/2 )
Maximo Park - Books From Boxes ( * * * 1/4 )
New Young Pony Club – Ice Cream ( * * * 1/2 )
Norah Jones – Until The End ( * * 1/2 )
Tegan & Sara – Walking With A Ghost ( * * * )
Terra Naomi - Say Its Possible ( * * 3/4 )
White Stripes - Icky Thump ( * * * )
YourCodeNameIs:Milo – I’m Impressed ( * * 1/2 )

Make of all that what you will...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Bird Of Music - Au Revoir Simone

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It's fair to say that on paper that Au Revoir Simone are a set-up that is tailor made to my specifications; three not-unattractive women with their keyboards out peddling a line in synth-pop with little nuances of The Pipettes here and Metric there. And it appears that I'm not the only one who was reminded of the rather good film The Virgin Suicides (one of the few films that lives on now I'm past my Kirsten Dunst "phase" by the cover artwork. And although any similarities between the musical soundtrack that Air provided for that film are merely cosmetic, I got the sense throughout listening to this that this would provide an almost perfect backdrop for that film as well.

Still, that's just me waffling on about things not really to do with anything you might want to hear about. Yes, I can hear those cries of "but what is the music actually like?"

Well it's a little sad to say that the idea doesn't quite work in practise.

There are some great songs, no doubt. A Violent Yet Flammable World may well be THE highlight of the album; with a drum beat reminiscent of Bat For Lashes' What's A Girl To Do it drives along in a cavalcade of brooding and swirling synth strings to great effect. Sad Song is a simpler, but addictive, effort but it's almost impossible to resist. And Fallen Snow is quite brilliant too, although how much that has to do with my, impossible to explain here, long love of church organs is open to question.

It ticks all the right boxes, I have to say, but as a whole just lacks that little spark that would really set it apart from the chasing pack. Whereas We Are The Pipettes was transformed by a little personality, this one is treading water where that is concerned. I'd recommend it, but with a caveat not to expect TOO much from it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Updated Concert List

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

19th July - Feist - Manchester Academy 3

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

9th September - Natasha Bedingfield - Manchester Apollo

19th October - KT Tunstall - Manchester Apollo

Friday, June 08, 2007

I Created Disco - Calvin Harris

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The problem with jumping to prominence with a song as great as Calvin Harris' Acceptable In The 80's is that it creates such a high anticipation for the subsequent album.

And whilst there isn't anything quite as immediately catchy as that tune, there is a fair few tracks on I Created Disco that are almost as good.

Merrymaking At My Place (which must be an "homage" to/piss take of LCD Soundsystem's Daft Punk Are Playing At My House) is fun and funky, Neon Rocks is a slower song, but still insanely catchy and Vegas takes the same chord structure as Acceptable In The 80's and yet comes up with something largely different and altogether wonderful.

There's few moments that don't delight on some level, and whilst some may level criticism at Harris' singing, for me the fact that he isn't a great (or even good) singer just adds a level of charm to the whole thing. Also a plus point is that the lyrics, whilst never trying to be as important as the tunes, are quite funny too and there's often a wry smile to be had.

Yes, it is unashamedly "80's" and "pop" but like the much underrated Darkdancer by Les Rhythms Digitales, it's a great "retro" treat that manages to sound fresh as well.

Quite simply this is a monster of an album, and if I had any talent at all it's the sort of angle that I'd want to make. Whether that's much of a recommendation for you is open to question, but obviously, it's more than enough for me.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Men's Needs Women's Needs Whatever - The Cribs

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Try as I might, I've never really warmed to The Cribs. To be honest they are more memorable for crazed, one might say drunken, appearances on TV rather than for anything about their music. They seem a likeable, and rascally, bunch but that doesn't really count for a lot does it?

And despite calling in Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos for production duties, they've not made me warm to them on their third album. It polishes up their sound, without making it too polished though, and that's a plus point but it doesn't change the opinion that they are nothing but a poor man's Franz.

As ever there are a couple of moments that rise above it all, such as recent single Men's Needs and Be Safe, featuring Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo but there is not enough to maintain your interest throughout. The one word that permeates through the air, as ever with The Cribs, is average. That about sums up this album.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blue Alert - Anjani

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Two things came to mind when listening to this rather fine album; firstly, for all the, deserved, plaudits afforded to the likes of Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Madeline Peyroux, Anjani Thomas is the real "real deal" in terms of a jazz sound. Secondly, its debatable whether or not this album would have received quite so much hype and press if it wasn't for the Leonard Cohen connection.

Still it's not for me to dissect the why's and how's of the music press and at heart it is definately a good album. In lesser hands the formula of Anjani and her piano might deliver a boring album, but with typically interesting Cohen lyrics to work with and neat little changes of pace throughout (the sax on the title track, the guitar on Half The Perfect World, the gospel tinges of Never Got To Love You) it never becomes a chore to listen to.

Cynics will decry the definite "lounge" sound that the album carries, but those with a bit more of an open mind will find much to enjoy here. Anjani has the voice and Cohen delivers a perfect lyrical backdrop for it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Carry On - Chris Cornell

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Despite initial indifference to Cornell's Casino Royale effort, You Know My Name, I did actually grow to like it. It encompasses everything that you would want from a Cornell solo track; it's cool, raw and rocking...and sadly there's not enough else on the album like it.

There's also the lack of dark brooding that permeated his best work with Soundgarden; he may well be a happier, and perhaps more importantly sober, Chris Cornell these days but that doesn't make for a particularly thrilling album.

There are highlights; alongside the Bond theme there is No Such Thing, a vivid reminder of Cornell's Soundgarden days and Poison Eye. It's far from a coincidence that these heavier songs are the best of the bunch and indeed taken out of context of the album as a whole they could convince you in isolation that this is going to be a great album indeed.

Sadly it all falls apart from there somewhat. Avid fans have been labelling the album as triumph of moving away from his previous sound and whilst this may be half true (he has attempted to spread his sonic wings) the plain fact of the matter is that what he tries simply doesn't work consistently enough.

Indeed there's far too much of it that resembles Bon Jovi-meets-American Idol style posturings; too much of it is reminiscent of MOR rock that pleases the radio but please few listeners. And that's before I've got to his cover version of Billie Jean, which it is safe to say doesn't work on any level you might choose.

Carry On is not a dreadful album, and is quite listenable, but a sense of disappointment hangs over it. You would like to think Chris Cornell is capable of much more than this.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Singles 04/06/07

There are quite literally only two singles that I have in any way got any love for this week.

First up is Calvin Harris' The Girls. Yes, it's not as great as Acceptable In The 80's, but it is still very good and insanely catchy.

The only other thing is the much welcomed comback from Queens Of The Stone Age. 3's and 7's isn't the best thing they've ever done, but I do like it a lot. And it's not just because if I was a homo, Josh Homme would be the man for me!

I can't really bring myself to slag off any of the other dozen singles I've attempted to listen to this week, so I'll stop it there.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Kate Nash LIVE

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I tell you. Never in the history of my concert-going career have I ever seen such a prominence of out and out tossers in an audience.

You know I bet Kate was thrilled you knew some of her songs, and I bet she was pleased that you knew some of the words. She might not have been pleased to see you incessantly chatter about absolute bollocks throughout the songs.

It was annoying enough on the "loud" songs, but when there were "quiet" songs it was at times a struggle to hear what she was singing due to the ever-so-cool wankers who obviously take great pride in "discovering" new music whilst paying a tenner to go and chat all the way through a concert whilst shouting how awesome and brilliant it was. I must say I didn't think the scant attention you were paying the concert was enough for you to actually form an opinion on what was going on. I can see them now at their water-coolers in the morning; "yeah, me, Darren and Tarquin went to see Kate Nash last night...what's that, you've never heard of her. Oh you really should be as cool as we are and check out her myspace page."

Rant over.

Not that it spoiled the performance. Nash is just lovely, and I still think I want to marry her. Her reaction to the crowd's delight when she introduced her next single ("you like it, that's a good thing) was just one funny and endearing moment during the set.

It's a testament that songs I'd barely heard before seem like long lost friends and the songs that have received more-airplay/been knocking around online like Birds, Foundations and Merry Happy seem as exciting as they did when I first heard them.

I can certainly see why she might not appeal to everyone; but to those people I merely have three words. You. Are. Wrong.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cubism - Pet Shop Boys (DVD)

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This concert, filmed in Mexico in November 2006 is very handily close enough to being the Summer Pops gig I went to, enabling it useful as a tool to remember that great concert by, and also has a number of differences in the set list, which means it also offers something new.

As you will all know by now, I am biased when it comes to the Pet Shop Boys (Britain's greatest pop act of the last 20 years by far don't you know) but if you've any liking of them at all, this is a very worthwhile DVD.

It's not the "spectacle" that Performance is/was (then again, it's not the boring "PSB as a real band" show that was the Release Tour) but it makes up with it by having the best set-list that the PSB have ever done live, taking from 20+ years of hits, with some classic album tracks thrown in for good measure. It also serves up the highlights from the most recent studio album Fundamental.

Throw in the high-definition filming (a vast improvement on the picture quality from the Discovery and Nightlife tour videos/dvd's) and THE best sound quality that I've heard on a live DVD from anybody and you have a wonderful must-have package. Just don't expect much from the Extra's.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Heart Turned To Dead - Switches

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I hate The Fratellis. So it will pain me greatly that this minor gem of an album will not get close to selling as many copies as Costello Music and has not received half the hype. No, I do not foresee a Brits 2008 win for these boys.

Which is a great shame. Because the fantastic Lay Down The Law is not the only fantastic song that Switches have done.

Drama Queen, The Need To Be Needed, Give Up The Ghost...all great tracks.

Yes, it's hardly the most original album ever, and yes, there are a couple of dodgy moments but for the most part it's fun, disposable pop (in the very best possible way) with an attitude. And I love it.