Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Circus - Britney Spears

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It's easy to laugh at Britney and it's fair to say that once again her actual input into this album will have been little more than turning up to sing the lines she's told to. But you know what? For the second album in a row she's comfortably outpaced Madonna. This is everything that Hard Candy wasn't in terms of a great dance-pop record.

In many ways this is an album of two halves. The first is perfectly acceptable glossy pop that never quite takes off like you would want it to. The likes of Womanizer and Kill The Lights are a lot better than most that is served up to us in the name of American Pop. The album has some even better tracks in it's second half, starting with Unusual You, where it gets more adventurous and actually has something interesting to say (again, unlike Hard Candy).

Ok so it's at least four tracks too long, but Britney Spears isn't necessarily an "album" artist. This has more than enough great singles to ensure her ongoing success and sometimes that's enough, no matter what those "proper" music lovers might tell you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top 20 Albums of 2008

20) Lenka (Lenka)
Bright, breezy and sweet pop that could be a little twee for some but had me under it's spell.

19) She Ain't Me (Carrie Rodriguez)
To carry on from the theme of the last entry, if you were disappointed by Sheryl Crow's 2008 efforts, Carrie Rodriguez should certainly cheer you up. Proof that even in these days of cookie-cutter Nashville stars there is still some genuinely emotive Country music knocking about.

18) Not In A Million Years (Beangrowers)
Not the most original album of 2008 I would have to admit but when a band makes as much good use out of it's influences as this, it would be churlish to complain.

17) New York City (Brazilian Girls)
The party record of the year. The fact that the singer Sabina Sciubba sings in at least four different languages on this record only heightens the "anything could happen" feel of the record.

16) Synthetique (Prototypes)
French pop always comes up with something good and this year's electro-goodness came courtesy of Prototypes. There wasn't an album this year that mixed electro-pop, 60s rhythms, folky guitars and punk crunch quite so effortlessly.

15) Curioser (Kate Miller Heidke)
If you spent some part of 2008 lamenting the fact that Natasha Bedingfield had sold her soul to American airplay demographics, you should find some solace in the Australian Kate Miller Heidke. Absolutely barmy, the former opera singer never forgets that its the tunes that make a pop album.

14) Jukebox (Cat Power)
Largely cover versions this may have been, but it was inimitably Cat Power all the way. Proof that she's a genuine talent.

13) Flight Of The Conchords (Flight Of The Conchords)
A comedy record it may be, but it's put together with such obvious affection for the songs that they are sending up that it actually gets better with repeat listens. The only down side is that it can't compete with the sheer genius of the TV show.

12) Get Awkward (Be Your Own Pet)
They annoyed me in concert in 2008, but that doesn't change the fact that this album is a stomper.

11) Sound Soldier (Skye Sweetnam)
It may have been a 2007 album in North America, but it's later release dates elsewhere meet my criteria for this list! Mental bonkers pop that never forgets that pop music is supposed to be fun, which was even more welcome in the year that Girls Aloud went a little too serious.

10) Me And Armini (Emiliana Torrini)
Taking the best bits of her two previous albums and merging them into one great big ball of delight. "Big Jumps" especially is one of my favourite tracks of the year.

9) Rockferry (Duffy)
Adele may get the critics vote (unless you count me as a critic...) but Duffy was the people's choice. Arguably had the year's greatest collection of singles, but there's more to enjoy on the album as well.

8) Pretty Runs Out (Amanda Shaw)
Praise the lord that Amanda Shaw failed to grab the role of Hannah Montana because this major label debut was blissful. Much more than a mere fiddle player, Shaw proved here to be quite the talent, merging Louisiana Jazz with Nashville Country to great effect.

7) I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too (Martha Wainwright)
Some decried that this was more "commercial" than her debut effort, but it was no less effective for that.

6) Alas I Cannot Swim (Laura Marling)
Stunning considering her age, which makes you wonder that if she can be this good now, just how great could she be in the years to come.

5) Count To Ten (Tina Dico)
Ignore anything you may find from 2006 about her on this site as I've finally realised just what a great singer/songwriter Tina Dico is. Count To Ten was her best yet. It was so good that my next door neighbour popped his head over the garden fence when I had this on to ask who it was.

4) Another Country (Tift Merrit)
No one in the UK buys her records, but that's their loss. This was a delightful album borne from serious personal heartbreak. But it never wallows in sorrow and tugs at your heart strings until you have no option but to fall completely for it.

3) Ladyhawke (Ladyhawke)
Paris Is Burning underwhelmed me which kind of led me to dismissing the whole idea of Ladyhawke for a while. But once I got the album I was firmly under her spell. "Electropop" didn't get any better than this in 2008.

2) Acid Tongue (Jenny Lewis)
People who know me are probably sick to death of me praising Jenny Lewis. But she is delightful. Upon reflection I think that Acid Tongue is even better than Rabbit Fur Coat, which is high praise from me indeed! What amazes me about this album is the sheer amount of variety it has on it, without ever missing a beat.

1) Tales Of Silversleeve (Cathy Davey)
Released in her native Ireland in 2007, this only got an official release in England in 2008. So that's why it's in my list. And to be honest, it was the front runner for my number one spot from the moment I heard it. The opening five tracks are probably the best stretch of songs I've heard on an album all year and there is little appreciable drop in quality from there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


20) Hearts On Fire (Cut Copy)
Ok so Cut Copy's default setting is "try to sound like New Order" but there are worse bands to ape and when you get it right like they do with Hearts on Fire, you can't really complain.

19) Outta My Head (Ashlee Simpson)
She may be fantastically useless but you can normally rely on Ashlee Simpson, or at least the people controlling her, to come up with one good song per album. This may have veered a little too close to Gwen Stefani territory for it to be a coincidence, but this kicked the pants off anything on Madonna's new album.

18) Violet Hill (Coldplay)
You see when people accuse me of being biased, it's really not true. Sure, the video to this did nothing to dissuade you that punching Chris Martin in the face wouldn't be great fun, but not even I would deny that this is a bloody brilliant song. I'm still not sure on the "white snow" thing but it would be churlish to dismiss this song purely on inane lyrics...

17) When I Grow Up (Pussycat Dolls)
If only all pop music was as manic as this. In a year where Girls Aloud went a little bit too serious for my liking (still some good tunes, but without the bizarre nonsensical lyrics) this was a mad, random and funny pop ditty. And it was an pretty damn infectious one.

16) Stepping Stone (Duffy)
The best song of the year that made me cry...

15) The Beginning Of The Twist (Futureheads)
I always like it when fantastically crap bands come out with something amazing. Or at least something that is listenable. It took being dumped by their record label for the Futureheads to do it, but all credit to them.

14) Dusk Till Dawn (Ladyhawke)
I was slightly underwhelmed by Paris Is Burning, namely it didn't live up to the hype, but that proved just to be an aberration as far as Ladyhawke is concerned for me. This was one of those songs which only needed to be heard once for it to lodge itself in my brain. Indeed I think I greatly annoyed people at work with constantly singing "doo doo doo dooo, do doo doo dooo, bang bang bang, on the wall from dusk till dawn" over and over again for about a week.

13) Save The Lies (Gabriella Cilmi)
A proper pop record that did the seemingly impossible...it made Gabriella Cilmi seem interesting. Of course its atypical of her efforts, with most of her album sounding like Sweet About Me but I suppose that's what pays the bills. I would in 2009, mind you, like to see an advert on TV that she HASN'T provided a song for...

12) Boyfriend (Alphabeat)
Another act in 2008 who I didn't really like and I have to admit that their "we're hear to save pop" routine was annoying me before I heard the original version they did of this. But I'm not one to complain about artists changing their sound for commercial reasons, especially when the song is as good as this. For three minutes we're back in the glorious 1980's.

11) Ready For The Floor (Hot Chip)
This had a "mentalist" that was missing from most pop records in 2008. It actually shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

10) I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me (Annie)
Ok so the general apathy from the record buying public towards the delightful Annie continued, but that doesn't make this any less of a brilliant pop song. If Kylie had done this it would have been number one for weeks.

9) Guilt (Long Blondes)
Distinctly underwhelmed by the album I may have been, but Guilt was the kind of song which had everything that made you like the Long Blondes in the first place.

8) Love Song (Sara Barellies)
A refreshing antidote to the usual singer-songwriter crap. Simple, but no less catchy for it.

7) I Kissed A Girl (Katy Perry)
Hey, when I criticised Katy Perry's very mediocre album, I did say that in the terms of a novelty pop record this is pretty bloody fantastic. Yes I know I also criticised the lyrics as being trite, but I'm allowed a bit of leeway. Who cares if most of the rest of her album is rubbish; this was pop gold.

6) Beat Control (Tilly And The Wall)
Ok, so I first heard this on the Jo Wiley show (honestly, my car radio went to Radio 1 of it's own accord) but I can't hold that against the song can I? Proof that Tilly & The Wall have been unfairly ignored previously.

5) American Boy (Estelle & Kanye West)
The fact that Estelle's follow up single where Kanye West was replaced by Shaggy didn't have half the success that this did perhaps might be telling, but anyone who can get Kanye rapping about WAG's and Ribena gets the thumbs up from me.

4) Spiralling (Keane)
I've always thought Keane were a bit boring and, well, wet. But right from the first "ooh" this is a quality tune. I actually became quite obsessed with this when I first heard it, needing to hear it all the time. Gets extra marks for the "did you want to be an Icon" spoken interlude.

3) My Delirium (Ladyhawke)
Ladyhawke becomes one of only two "artistes" to crack the top 20 twice. I can't really say much more than the fact that this is brilliant.

2) Mercy (Duffy)
Proof positive that you can have all the advance press in the world, but you have to have the songs to back it up. Duffy did have the songs. I would admit that in some senses it's not exactly groundbreaking, but what it is, is a bloody good song.

1) Dance With Me (Dizzee Rascal & Calvin Harris)
I quite like Dizzee Rascal anyway, but it was a stroke of genius to put his lyrical flow to the dance pop beats of Calvin Harris. I doubt that I listened to any other song in 2008 as much as I did this one. And if that's not a reason put it at the top of the list, well I don't know what is.