Saturday, May 31, 2008

Girls Aloud LIVE

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It's not often a night out entails getting mocked by teenage girls, getting chatted up by a gay bloke and being accused of going out with a 14 year old girl...but what can I say? Strange things happen at Girls Aloud concerts.

It's no secret that I love Girls Aloud; in terms of fantastic pop records, they have few equals. It matters not, to me anyway, that the girls themselves have little to do with the process (they famously disagreed with Love Machine as a single). A fantastic pop song is a fantastic pop song.

But "live" that isn't always enough.

And whilst you cannot deny that the majority of the classics were there, and that the spectacle itself was, well, spectacular there has always been something missing when it comes to Girls Aloud in the flesh. And this was no exception.

From a personality point of view, the girls leave a little something to be desired and so any in-between song banter is perfunctory at best, and as ever the ballad's section was the cue for quite a few people to have their piss-break.

But, the girls looked like they were having fun, the majority of the crowd were having the time of their lives and there was enough quality pop tunes to make it a good night. But, perhaps to the delight of many snobby music critics, the Girls Aloud "live" experience is far from essential.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

...Earth To The Dandy Warhols...

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Ever since the critically mauled, and poor selling, Welcome To The Monkey House, The Dandy Warhols seem to have eschewed any notion of radio-friendly hits in favour of "out there" psychedelia. Which is something of a sad notion to me. Whilst Monkey House may have been a step too far towards mainstream gloss (although I still think it was an album that had more than it's fair share of moments), Come Down and Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia managed to meld catchy melodies with a more "credible" (I use that term under duress) ambiance.

And if their sixth studio album isn't as disappointing as Odditoruim or Warlords Of Mars was last time out, it still can't be said to be a return to form.

As even the worst of the Dandy Warhols back catalogue, Earth To The Dandy Warhols has its moments, primarily The Legend Of The Last of The Outlaw Truckers and Mis Amigos, far too often it descends into what I would probably describe as noise for the sake of it.

Next time around, if I'm still listening by then, I'd appreciate a few more tunes.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cha Cha Cha - Tilde

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Tilde is from Denmark. I know little more about her than that salient fact. What I do know however is that if you like your pop-tinged electronica, then you will find much to enjoy on her album Cha Cha Cha.

If Calvin Harris was a woman, and was Scandinavian rather than Scottish you might imagine him sounding a little something like this. The likes of Feet Turn To Stone and Multiply tread that fine line between "electronica cool" and "pop melody" superbly, and the album never threatens to drag. Tilde's breathy vocals add another layer of, erm, niceness to the proceedings as well.

All in all, this is a good album, with more than enough in the way of "potential hits" to warrant a listen.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Feist LIVE

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Well that's what an I-Pod advert can do for you. Last time around in Manchester Leslie Feist played in front of around 300 people. This time around the Palace Theatre was full to the brim, packing at least two and half thousand people in.

Yet despite the new found adulation, and the aisles of the Palace were well and truly rocking, this particular listener couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was missing. There is no doubt that Feist is a genuine and unique talent but on this occasion she failed to keep my attention for the full 90 minutes.

The "shadow puppetry" was a nice touch but at times was a little too distracting; whether that was a fault of the production itself or symptomatic of problems with the front-woman herself, is down to personal interpretation.

The versions of her more mainstream (and dare I say listenable) songs were a little leaden (her vocal was almost lost in the noise of My Moon, My Man and Mushaboom lacked the charm of the recorded version) and it's perhaps telling that I was most captivated when her band left the stage and Feist was well and truly centre stage.

You may think from all this that I didn't enjoy it, but quite the contrary, I did. It's just that it didn't match up to last year's visit to Manchester. But anyone going to see her this time around shouldn't worry; Feist still serves up a unique and intriguing night of music.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One's Not Enough - Femme Fatality

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A couple of tracks into this album you might be sat there thinking "this is alright". Please, ladies and gentlemen, don't be fooled. It's not.

It's repetitive, moronic and not very good. I suppose those of you with an "electronica" leaning might see some merit in it, but there's a hundred and one other similar acts out there would surely would deserve your custom more.

One's not enough? No. One is one too many.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Blue God - Martina Topley Bird

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One might argue that Martina Topley Bird is more famous for the people she's worked with (Gorillaz, Tricky, David Holmes, The John Spencer Blues Explosion and Mark Lanegan to name a few) rather than as an artist in her own right. If that's a true statement, things aren't likely to change with her new album The Blue God.

With uber-hot producer Danger Mouse behind the decks, it's certainly fair to say that there's a lot of variety on show but the vast amount of sounds that Topley Bird tries on mean that the album lacks a cohesive whole.

The likes of Phoenix show just how special this album could have been and on Carnies she perhaps come up with her best pop melody to date. Far too often though the albums seems to play safe; there's nothing offensive, but there's little that makes you sit up and take real notice of the album as it's playing.

Still, I'm sure another high profile collaboration will be along soon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Killing My Darlings - Amanda Jenssen

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Ok, I know. You're rolling your eyes again. Some random pop bint you've never heard of turns up on this blog...what can I say; you're going to be even more cynical when I tell you she was the runner up in the 2007 version of Swedish Idol.

If I were being lazy, I'd introduce you to Amanda Jenssen as the Swedish Duffy or Amy Winehouse. And to be fair, that's not too far off the point. You might want to toss in a bit of Adele as well, but I wouldn't want to put anyone off their tea.

So having pretty much confirmed that the trendy kids are not going to be listening to it the only question is whether or not it's any good. And I'll be honest; it's not great and it's not particularly inventive. BUT, and you probably knew that was coming, any lovers of a bit of throwaway pop will certainly have a good time here.

Amarula Tree is a cheery romp which has horns on it (which automatically makes a song good don't you know) and is so very instantly catchy and For The Sun is something Amy Winehouse might even be proud of. In fact when the album is in "upbeat" territory, you'll enjoy yourself. Sadly there is a preponderance of ballads, most of which aren't exactly very good. So it's not one to go to the ends of the earth to listen to, but if you do happen to come across it you're bound to add a couple of tracks to your MP3 player.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too - Martha Wainwright

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Well at least the "Album Title of the Year" title can be wrapped up early in 2008.

Martha Wainwright's debut album was one of the best debut's that we've had this century; it may have been a difficult listen at times, but in many ways that made it all the more compelling. If there's one singer-songwriter out there at the moment willing to tell us what she really thinks, without filtering out too much of the interesting stuff, it's Wainwright.

I Know You're Married... is, lyrically, more of the same, but with an added commercial surety. Whether or not this is seen as a good thing depends on your point of view. Me? Well I've never seen anything wrong with wanting to sell more records. Especially when she's kept what was so great about her in the first part largely intact.

Whether it's nailing unrequited love on Bleeding All Over You, putting 911 into perspective on The Tower Songs or chronicling her mother's recent battle with cancer on In The Middle Of The Night, Wainwright is never less than a compelling narrator.

Her strengths of course will be labelled as her weaknesses by some critics, and that is fair enough. I've said before that Wainwright, like all of her family clan, is somewhat of an acquired taste. But whatever way you look at it, this album is breathtaking and is further proof that Martha may well prove to be the best Wainwright of them all.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Flight Of The Conchords

Now they're a proper band, with a proper music promo video...

Friday, May 16, 2008

We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings

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Having been there "at the beginning" (that is to say, turning up to a gig and wondering who the hell this man and woman were as a support act) perhaps it would be cool for me to proclaim just how great this album is. After all, that seems to be the considered opinion.

And yes, singles Great DJ and, especially, That's Not My Name certainly suggested that the passing of Jules De Martino and Katie White's former band Dear Eskimo may well have been a good thing. Of course, the cynics would suggest that the backlash against the music industry which has, in the end, proved more than adept at whipping up the Ting Tings hyperbole is already irrelevant.

Sadly, having heard the two singles in question, you have probably heard the best of what's on offer. On occasion, such as the insanely catchy Fruit Machine (which ironically was a much less publicised single) they threaten to really hit the heights, but rarely do they pull it off. As a throwaway summer pop album (and I don't mean that in a bad way) it's got more than enough to keep you entertained, but it does grow tiresome in parts and at the moment, anyway, isn't bearing up to repeat listens by this listener.

We Started Nothing may well be an ironic nod to the many influences on show; it also may prove to be The Ting Tings epitaph. They may have caught the zeitgeist, but whether or not they can capitalise on that in the long term is a question that the album doesn't answer satisfactorily. Will the rest of us care when the cool kids have decamped onto the "next big thing"? Only time will tell.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Synthetique - Prototypes

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Prototypes are a Parisian band formed in 2003. Their press release tells me that they make "a joyful and hybrid music, sexily sung in French (mostly), mixing altogether the many influences of the band: from electro-pop, 60s rhythms, folky guitars and sometimes a punk crunch to add to the equation!"

Sounds right up my street!

And for the most part it is. It's an eclectic mix but one that work. I suppose that it's reminiscent of another of my great discoveries, Cansei de ser Sexy. (I say that tongue in cheek boys and girls). The tunes are so instantly catchy that it matters not that I haven't a clue what the singer Bubble Starr is going on about.

Even the track Something manages to stay banging for 7 minutes without getting in the slightest bit boring. I have to admit that I prefer them when they are sticking more to the "electro-pop" vibe and some of the more experimental tracks, whilst interesting, lack the "hit" factor.

My personal favourites Something, Clap Your Hands (which is like a mental cover version of Tainted Love), Synthetique and Un Coup De Langue. If the blurb at the start of this review sounded like your kind of thing, give it a try - you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anywhere I Lay My Head - Scarlett Johansson

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Paris Hilton makes a record and is pilloried from pillar to post; Scarlett Johansson on the other hand, despite her Justin Timberlake video cameo's seems to get the benefit of the doubt. Nothing to do with the fact that this is largely an album of Tom Waits songs. And the fact she's roped in a "hip" producer (Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio), has one of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on guitar and managed to rope in David Bowie in on backing vocals.

The NME love it, which isn't as surprising as it may seem. It's an event record, just one that happens to be padded out with a better supporting cast than the majority of Hollywood Actresses vanity projects. Although I'd be interested in how they would view it if a less "cool" actress had made the exact same record.

Her singing isn't bad (but then is no better than, say, Lindsay Lohan's) but as if to make up for the obvious deficits the production at times seems keen to drown her out, or at least make her a peripheral character in her own album. It's no bad thing as she doesn't have the character of voice to carry proceedings on her own.

All in all it's not bad. It's been lovingly crafted, offers up some interesting version of Waits' songs and the one new track, Song For Jo, does suggest that there might be mileage in a prolonged Sitek/Johansson musical relationship. But in the final analysis, it's an interesting curiosity - nothing more. This is not a record that normal music listeners with no need to seem cool will love.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Flight Of The Conchords - Flight Of The Conchords

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The Flight of The Conchords TV series was perhaps the one thing since Peep Show that I simply had to watch every week. Of course I didn't actually watch it every week as my attention span simply doesn't extend that far; I did buy the DVD though and watched the entire series over a weekend.

I don't throw this word about with gay abandon, but on this occasion it's more than justified. Flight of The Conchords was/is GENIUS. Quite apart from it being the funniest thing on TV, it's musical parodies were so spot on that you couldn't help but laugh. This CD brings the best of them to your home CD player in crystal clear stereo.

Be it the Pet Shop Boys stylings of Inner City Pressure, the Barry White-aping Buisness Time, the French Bossanova of Foux du Fafa or the Kraftwerk-esque Robots, virtually every song hits that sweet spot. It's funny AND musically accomplished.

Of course I would have to admit that it's not quite the same as watching it on TV or catching their side-splitting stage show but if it falls short from the genius on display there, its only by the merest of fractions. As funny as it is catchy, this is simply sublime.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets

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In the crush to acclaim the side project of Artic Monkeys figuregead Alex Turner as some work of genius a couple of points seem to have been lost. There is no way that The Last Shadow Puppets are going to out-sell the Monkeys, and its a dangerously thin line between homage and pastiche.

And however much you make like this album, it's difficult to escape from the fact that it may ape the likes of Lee Hazlewood and Scott Walker but it never really threatens to break out from that shadow.

The plus points are that it is a very effective pastiche and, clocking in at just over half an hour, it breezes past without dragging.

Still, as accomplished as it is, it lacks that X-Factor and you can't help feeling that if a unheard of Joe Bloggs presented this to the world the clamour to acclaim it wouldn't be as strong. Still, it will tide you over until Turner unleashes the next Monkeys album.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bittersweet World - Ashlee Simpson

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It's no real secret that I think that Ashlee Simpson is, ahem, a bit of alright but the real interesting factor on the release of her third album, Bittersweet World is that is come at roughly the same time as Madonna's Hard Candy. Intriguing as both make copious use of Timbaland and The Neptunes (with Madonna siding with Pharrell as Ashlee makes use of Chad Hugo) at the production helm.

What is most interesting is that whilst Madonna has gone straight for the obvious, radio friendly sound, Ashlee Simpson has been pushed in the direction of the more interesting and, dare I say it, less ordinary sound. So whereas Madonna's album is chock full of exactly what you would expect, Bittersweet World surprises at almost every turn.

Lead single Outta My Head was a fine slice of 80's influenced pop and it's hardly the only thing worth listening to on here. Boys, Rulebreaker and Murder are the kind of things that snobby music critics would find some merit in if Kylie/Gwen Stefani/Rhianna did, but it's probably true that Simpsons' deleterious public image automatically rules out any praise.

Like her previous albums, it's in no way a "must-hear" album but like her previous efforts it contains enough catchy pop tunes to make it somewhat of a worthwhile listen. She may be totally directed by her expensive producers and she may not have much to say that is worth listening to, but that's not done Madonna any harm for the past decade.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Drink & A Quick Decision - Grand National

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As opening track Reason To Hide In slides its way along, expectations rise for Grand National's second album, A Drink & A Quick Decision. So much so that you begin to overlook the Hall & Oates inspired album title itself. It's really a rather good opener.

The problem is that too little of the album that follows matches up to that high standard.

It's not to say that there aren't other fantastic tracks on there, such as By The Time I Get Home... and the pop-tastic New Space To Throw, but there's an awful lot that is difficult to detest, but very hard to fall in love with. It also gets rather depressingly similar as the album progresses.

It's one thing to ape the likes of New Order but when you come up with something as, well, average as this you're really setting yourself up for a fall.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Neptune - The Duke Spirit

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My only previous form with The Duke Spirit was rather foolishly going on the Duke Special forum and inadvertently proclaiming my love for them instead of the Irish singer-songwriter. To this day I've never been back.

Despite critical acclaim for the debut album, it pretty much sank without trace so in comes Queens of the Stone Age producer Chris Goss and delivers the garage rock album you would expect, but with some very interesting twists.

Lead single The Step And The Walk offers up an exciting introduction but the good news is that it's far from the standout track. Into The Fold is as good a mainstream "rock" tune as I've heard all year, Lassoo has trumpets, which are a good thing (assuming they are trumpets, but even if they're not, brass is good) and finishes in a storm of pure energy. Even better is Dog Roses, which brings a harmonica out of nowhere to enhance a moody and thrilling song.

Not everything works to such a high standard and there are one or two tracks where your thoughts wander to how much better they've pulled off the same tricks elsewhere on the album but overall this is a pulsating and vital album that, with any luck, will finally bring them the success that many people thought was due to them first time around.

And no, it doesn't exactly hurt that lead singer Liela Moss is a bit of alright either.