Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009

20) A LITTLE HAPPINESS (Aimee Allen)
The aim of this album was said to be "to get people in a good mood and show them life is to be enjoyed” and it certainly achieved that aim. Not everything is a winner (it does get alarmingly all “Jack Johnson” at times, but the strength of the song writing means that this is a light, summery winner. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Save Me, Calling The Maker

19) THE GRADUATE (Nerina Pallot)
Sadly, it wasn’t anywhere near a “Fires” but Nerina Pallot’s third album has enough winners to make it another good album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Real Late Starter, I Don’t Want To Go Out

18) SCARY FRAGILE (Butterfly Boucher)
It took a long time to come (over five years) but the follow up to Flutterby finally made it to the wider world in 2009 and it proved that her first album was no fluke. The kind of quirky “pop” music that could be huge but probably never will be, thankfully it avoided the trap of concentrating on castigating her former record label and just concentrated on the great tunes. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: I Found Out, Gun For A Tongue

I kinda ignored Paloma Faith when she first shot to prominence. But her funny turn on Never Mind The Buzzcocks had me smitten (I’m aware it was pretty a much Marmite moment) and after seeing the hilarious youtube video diary where she went into HMV to buy her own album I took the plunge. And I was glad I did. There is an argument that the album is purely an attempt by a record company to fill the gap until Amy Winehouse is sober enough to record her new one, but there are some genuinely good songs on here and it’s a very good album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Smoke & Mirrors, New York

16) WE TOLD YOU WE WERE FREAKY (Flight Of The Conchords)
The genius of the Flight Of The Conchords is that it’s very difficult to listen to the songs they parody once you’ve heard their versions. Can anyone take the R’n’B likes of R Kelly seriously once they’ve heard tracks like “We're Both In Love With A Sexy Lady"? Does the Black Eyed Peas “My Humps” have any relevance once you’ve digested “Sugalumps”? Similarly, you’ll never quite listen to the Police’s “Roxanne” the same way again once you’ve heard “You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute”. This is more than pastiche; it’s more than parody; it’s a bloody good record in it’s own right. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Hurt Feelings, Sugalumps, Carol Brown

15) THE DUCKWORTH-LEWIS METHOD (Duckworth-Lewis Method)
The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, doing a concept album about Cricket…? Well it shouldn’t work, but work it did. There’s no denying that SOME liking for Cricket helps the experience (it could all be a bit baffling otherwise) but at the end of the day the songs are strong enough to stand up on their own two feet. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Jiggery Pokery, Meeting Mr Miandad

14) FIRST LOVE (Emmy The Great)
I was listening to the radio late one night, and I heard a live version of We Almost Had A Baby not knowing who the hell I was listening to (and the radio didn’t offer me any further clues) and it was still by accident that I bought this album and realised that that track was on it. And whilst that still remains my favourite Emmy The Great track, it’s by no means the only quality song on here. A stunning debut. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: We Almost Had A Baby, Bad Things Are Coming We Are Safe.

13) FEARLESS (Taylor Swift)
Someone criticised me liking Taylor Swift because she does “music for twelve year old girls”. Which may be a by-product of her record company’s attempt to market her in this Country (because Country music is traditionally a hard sell over here) but truth be told, none of that matters. Her debut album was accomplished enough, but this was another step up. There is some genuinely good song-writing going on here, and if it at times it all gets a bit “teenage” and “High School Musical” we shouldn’t forget that she’s not exactly an old lass is she? ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Fearless, Forever & Always, The Best Day

12) IT’S BLITZ (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) Cynically, rock-punk band coming back with an "all-new" electro sound should have been a sign that things were going to be “ho-hum” but I was proved wrong with a stomper of an album that never once gets dull or boring. I can imagine why some people got “upset” over this, but as “pop” isn’t a dirty word in my book, I loved it! ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Heads Will Roll, Soft Shock

11) TONIGHT (Franz Ferdinand)
Franz Ferdinand may never regain the critical acclaim that surrounded their debut album and the monster that was Take Me Out but I think they’ve remained constantly good and, perhaps as importantly, interesting. For me, Tonight, their third album, is up there with the debut overall and the likes of Ulysses, No You Girls and What She Came For are the kind of punchy indie-pop gems FF made their name on. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Ulysees, No You Girls,erm...What She Came For.

10) TRANSMITTER FAILURE (Jenny Owen Youngs)
Taking everything that was so beguiling about her debut, adding a commercial sheen but losing nothing of what made you fall in love with her in the first place, Transmitter Failure is a triumph. The sheer scale of emotions she can take you on shows again that she can both tug at the heart strings and, with her tongue-in-cheek attitude, make you laugh and that is some combination. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Led To The Sea, Here Is A Heart, What Beats Within

9) TWO SUNS (Bat For Lashes) Fur And Gold should have won the Mercury Prize (it really should) and whilst in some ways Two Sun’s nomination for the same award felt like an acknowledgement of that fact, this is still a stunning album which if not quite matching Fur and Gold, proves that ambition and quality can go hand in hand. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Daniel, Sleep Alone

8) WONDER (Lisa Mitchell) Largely known (if at all) for a song from an advert for Fabric Softener or something, it’s a shame that Mitchell’s beguiling debut album is destined to be largely ignored. A shame because it’s really rather good indeed. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Neopolitan Dreams, Sidekick, Animals

7) HARDSHIPS (Jenny Wilson)
Some albums defy easy categorisation, and so it is with Hardships. Theoretically this is an “R’n’B” album, but if it is then it’s unlike any one that you’ve heard before. Perhaps the best compliament I can pay it is that it’s packed full of songs that would be mega hits if certain other singers recorded them, but that kind of misses the point., Wilson’s genius is of it’s own. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: The Wooden Chair, Pass The Salt, Anchor Made Of Gold

6) DON’T STOP (Annie)
There was the potential problem that an album that combined Annie (excellent) with Xenomania (excellent) and Richard X (excellent) couldn’t possibly live up to the potential. Happily such fears were unfounded. Songs Remind Me Of You (produced by Richard X) is arguably my favourite pop song of the year and Loco (produced by Xenomania) is exactly the sort of pop stomper that Girls Aloud would have done before they got far too serious for my liking. Granted not everything on the album “works” but most of it does and it’s just a shame that, once again, the record buying public at large completely ignored an Annie album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Songs Remind Me Of You, Loco, Don’t Stop

5) THE FAME [MONSTER] (Lady Gaga)
It’s by no means a perfect album (it’s far too long and certainly has its fair share of filler) but there probably isn’t a record this year that’s had as many genuine, ahem, monster hits in its midst’s as this one has. And given that at least 5 of the 8 “bonus” tracks on the Fame Monster version are winners, this certainly deserves its top 5 spot in my rankings. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Just Dance, Poker Face, Bad Romance, Alejandro

4) WE HAD A THING (Lisa Donnelly)
I’ve still no real idea how I “discovered” this album, but within one play of it on Spotify (genuinely a great invention) I was online (Aimee Street – a great place for this kind of “unknown” stuff) downloading the album. Such is the wide range of sounds on this album, it’s a difficult one to sum up in terms of style but don’t imagine that an attempt at a different sound on almost every track means that the album doesn’t hang as a cohesive whole. It does. In fact, it’s a stunning album. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: End Of Time, Laugh

3) YES (Pet Shop Boys)
Yes was the proper “return to form” that Fundamental ultimately proved not to be. Yes saw PSB sounding as fresh as they have done in years, gave a trio of cracking singles (Love Etc., Did You See Me Coming and All Around The World) and had plenty more to recommend within it too. Pandemonium, in particular, is probably their best non-single for a decade or more. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: All Around The World, Pandemonium, The Way It Used To Be, More Than A Dream

2) HANDS (Little Boots)
Ok, so the backlash began before the album had even hit the shops, and there is no getting around the fact that I am in love with Miss Hesketh, but Hands is a brilliant pop record. The singles (as good as Remedy was) don’t really tell the whole story. The likes of Symmetry, When Hearts Collide and Click are better than the singles and if justice played a part in the music business, would be huge hits. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Remedy, Symmetry, When Hearts Collide, Meddle

1) ACTOR (St. Vincent) Never content to limit herself to a particular style, Actor is an album that constantly surprises you. From the opening haunting choir on The Strangers to the last strings on the album closer The Sequel you will listen to this never quite knowing what's coming next. One particular case in point would be Black Rainbow whose pop symphony opening gives way to disturbing scuzzed up guitars reminiscent of some Horror film soundtrack. It’s obvious to say it, but this was easily my album of the year. I thought it when I first heard it, and time has proved me right. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Actor Out Of Work, Marrow, Black Rainbow

Top 10 Concerts Of 2009

Obviously, these are only concerts I have seen; so all this Radiohead/Muse/Coldplay bollocks will have to go elsewhere for their praise.

10) LITTLE BOOTS (12th March – 53 Degrees, Preston)
Normally I wouldn’t have two concerts by the same artists in this list (which kinda gives away that the lovely Victoria will be making another appearance as we go along I know) but I had to make an exception to my own rule this year. It’s not just the concert itself (which was amazing, naturally) but the whole day just made for one hell of an entertaining schmozzle. An on/off train journey was followed by a hotel that was 10 miles away from where my mate thought it was. Then there was enough alcohol to make Oliver Reed proud, meeting Little Boots’ brother who then introduced us to half their extended family (including her mum), being chatted up (and being taught dance moves) by a group of teenagers and failing to remember how we made it back to the hotel. This was finished with both of us being so sick that the sink almost overflowed, although we just about managed to clean up. The concert itself was great as well….

9) TAYLOR SWIFT (24th November – MEN Arena, Manchester)
Whilst I did expect there to be some youngsters in the crowd for this one, I was not prepared for there to be quite so bloody many screaming young pre-teen girls. At least I went to this one with my mate Marie and not my usual concert-going partner Gee as TWO men in their 30’s sat amongst the kids might not have been the best look. In amongst the incessant screaming and me being hit on the head with a glow stick, this was a very good spectacle although it was all a little High School Musical for my tastes. That said, I can appreciate the effort that was put into it all, and Miss Swift does have some killer tunes to back up the glitz and glamour.

8) LADYHAWKE (17th May – Academy 2, Manchester)
Another “Matt was pissed” night, but what are you going to do? This was one of those concerts where I was a little wary of what to expect, but in the end it turned out quite brilliant.

7) PALOMA FAITH (17th November – 02 Academy, Liverpool)
She as mad as a bag of spanners, but very very good live. I also appreciated the fact that she’d put some effort into her show.

6) LISA MITCHELL (11th November – Night & Day, Manchester)
Singer-songwriters are ten a penny at the moment, so it does take something a little special to stand out. Lisa Mitchell, who came through Australian Idol or something similar, is indeed something special. She’s very very lovely as well. So lovely, I felt compelled to buy a Lisa Mitchell tea-towel.

5) IMELDA MAY (11th February – Baby Blue, Liverpool)
This would have got it for the Tainted Love cover alone, and for the fact that it was one of the few concerts of the year where I didn’t feel old (even though those two jailbaits were obviously trying to make a move on us), but Imelda May comes into her own in the live arena.

4) FRANZ FERDINAND (6th March – Academy 1, Manchester)
Critically their reputation is shot, but they are still the duck’s nuts as far as I am concerned and for nearly two hours they thrilled with great track after great track and, perhaps just as importantly, seemed to be having a good time themselves!

3) LITTLE BOOTS (10th December – Academy 2, Manchester)
So here she is again. This was the 4th time in 2009 that I saw Little Boots in concert and it was undoubtedly the best. The nerves from her summer performances had dissipated and a much more confident performer was stood before us, belting out some of the best pop tunes of the year.

2) PET SHOP BOYS (20th December- MEN Arena, Manchester)
Well, ok, I am biased, but Pet Shop Boys are THE greatest pop act of the last 25 years, and this triumphant show was another of their spectacular live shows. Who would have thought so much entertainment could have been generated by 200-odd cardboard boxes? I also appreciated the song choice (including album tracks from Please) though I can imagine that more casual fans may have been more interested in the hits. The addition of What Have I Done To Deserve This and the Christmas encore made this the stand out show of the three of theirs I saw in 2009.

1) JENNY LEWIS (26th June – House Of Blues, New Orleans)
It’s probably predictable, but in the end there was no other choice. I didn’t even know she was playing in New Orleans when we got there, but a chance detour after a ride on a Mississippi River Steamboat found us walking past the House Of Blues. “Does that really say Jenny Lewis…tonight?” As she’s made it to number one in this list, obviously it did. Perhaps it was the booze (although Al, who’d just turned 30 and is 6 foot 7 couldn’t drink because he had no ID) or perhaps it was the fact that we were in a warmer climate (though not necessarily drier) but seeing the delightful Ms Lewis in this setting just seemed perfect and she seemed better than ever.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Had A Thing - Lisa Donnelly

As the opening track of Lisa Donnelly's We Had A Thing kicks in, you might start to think that you are merely in, say, Sara Bareilles territory. Not that there is anything inherently wrong in that, just that you fear you are in for 45 minutes or so of perfectly pleasant, but ultimately forgettable, Radio 2 music. But even if the lyrics in the opener (such as "open your heart and close your legs, they only want what makes them beg") don't tip you the nod that you're dealing with something else, the funky disco opening of the follow up track, Little Devil soon let you know that this is a whole different kind of ride.

Some might decry the sheer scope of different sounds on We Had A Thing, but when Donnelly can switch so effectively from the delightful up-tempo pop of Naturally to the blues sound of Stuck In A Rut (which reminded me of old favourite Matraca Berg) via the eastern sitar sounds of Blue it would be churlish to complain. And why should showing more invention in the space of one record than a lot of acts manage in an entire career count against her too much?

“Life takes a lifetime,” sings Lisa Donnelly in Naturally, so you've more than enough time to sit down and enjoy this stunning album.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Little Happiness - Aimee Allen

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According to her website, Aimee Allen is described as an “explosive, outspoken voice” which might confuse people who know her purely from her "Cooties" Hairspray turn, or indeed anyone who comes to her new album, A Little Happiness, blind, and hasn't had the pleasure of her "previous" (and largely unreleased career). After all the mostly acoustic and generally lilting pace of the album only just manages to stay this side of Jack Johnson banality.

Indeed one of her new found artistic aims is to "to get people in a good mood and show them life is to be enjoyed" (incidentally this aim was influenced to a certain extent by being the victim of an assault in the summer of 2008 that left her with a broken jaw and serious head injuries) band this album certainly goes a long way to reaching for those aims.

The lilting reggae-lite tones of the likes of Save Me and On Vacation are perfect summer tunes (the slightly off-kilter whistling on the former is disarmingly adorable - hopefully it's not "ghosted" by some bloke in the recording studio...) whilst the perky piano backing and the soulful chorus on Calling The Maker make for something rather wonderful indeed, probably resulting in the highlight of the album.

But really, whilst the quality does slip slightly on occasion there's little here that you wouldn't want to listen to over and over again. Some reviewers have labelled this as a perfect "summer" album but that, to me, would be to do it an injustice. Whilst it certainly would fit nicely on a hot summer's days out in the garden, I'd wager it's just the thing to perk you up in a cold winter's evening as well. As Allen reminds us, the world isn't perfect, but you'll love sharing it's imperfections with her whilst listening to this delightful album.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ready For The Weekend - Calvin Harris

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Most reviews that I have read of Calvin Harris follow up to the rather good I Created Disco have gone along the lines that last time out Harris was chasing the "cool" sound of the likes of LCD Soundsystem whereas this time around he's aiming right for the jugular of populism. Whilst I cannot see the argument that first time around Harris was aiming for anything else, it's certainly true that his stated ambition for his second album to make “stadium dance” music, certainly wasn't wide of the mark.

In places the album is distinctly simple in terms of its tunes but driving beats and cheesy hooks make Ready For The Weekend a shamelessly crowd-pleasing least for the majority of the album.

In all honesty, the tracks work in isolation. Few would cause you to leave the dancefloor when you're out on a Saturday night, but any more than two or three in the comfort of you own home and you're unlikely to stay amused for long. It doesn't help it either that the best track on here is his collaboration with Dizzee Rascal, whose lyrics may be as banal as Harris' but at least have a sense of mischievousness and fun that are lacking from Harris originals. And whilst Harris', erm, lack of a singing voice may be part of his charm, it doesn't half start to grate when you are subjected to it for any continuous length of time.

So whilst Harris has enough on here to keep those top 10 chart smashes coming (even if at times he comes dangerously close to sounding like the Vengaboys) it would seem that his natural position on your MP3 player is as an artist to dip into when you're in need of a big pop smash hit rather than put the whole album on your favourites list.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Guilty Pleasure - Ashley Tisdale

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If Ashley Tisdale's 2007 debut, Headstrong, was exactly what you would expect from a Disney-pushed pop act then this follow up perhaps deserves to be tarnished with the same brush.

Yes, Tisdale is now attempting to prove that she's "grown up" (which shouldn't be difficult considering she's 23 now) and this introduces itself as the kind of lame "power pop" that gives, well, pop music a bad name.

As ever with these kind of things there are a couple of songs that are at least catchy and relatively memorable. Masquerade chugs along pleasantly enough with it's rock riffs and Hair is the kind of upbeat, but slightly odd, pop song that should be a big hit even if it's lyrical content (young Ashley seems to love how her boyfriend twirls her hair) is more suited to the 12 year old girls that this album is presumably targeted at than it is to me.

Of course where the album really falls down is the ballads; other than the slightly brave How Do You Love Someone - which may be a terrible song but at least has the guts to tackle something different lyrically (divorce) the rest just sail by on a stream of dullness.

And that's the crux of the matter; Tisdale has gone to great lengths to "grow up" but the whole product is unable to shake that "corporate" stench. Co-writes from Kara DioGuardi (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood), Toby Gad (Beyonce, Fergie) and Diane Warren (erm, well just about everyone) simply highlight the desperation to hit the charts and the whole thing is completely devoid of any distinctiveness or imagination.

Last time around I said there Tisdale had a smattering of songs that could be hits in the right hands but that there was no evidence, as a whole, that Tisdale was that right vehicle. Her role in High School Musical might work in the short-term, but in the long-term it seems like I was right first time around.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Travelling Like The Light - V V Brown

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Philosophical question of the day; is it possible to be a "pop" star without having any hits?

Stay with me, because I'm not just being obnoxious for the sake of it. It's because VV Brown, who comes with her fair share of hype, so far has had two singles fail to trouble the charts (Crying Blood and Leave) and one just scrape into the top 40 (Shark In The Water). Does the British public not know what's good for it, or is VV Brown quite rightly relegated to the status of an also ran along side the likes of La Roux, Little Boots (who for all the backlash has a top 10 album and two top 20 singles) and, yes, even Pixie Lott?

To be honest, it's probably a bit of both. Crying Blood and Leave! are decent enough singles, but aren't anything that can't be found better elsewhere. Things aren't helped by album opener, Quick Fix, being intensely irritating. And after an album's worth, Brown's 50's and 60's influenced style is really rather grating. And to be honest, despite the fact that Brown has a good voice and seems to be able to pen a decent enough tune, the whole things smacks of ticking a corporate box for a "pop" version of Amy Winehouse. And that need not necessarily be a bad thing when executed better than it is here, but nothing rises above the parapet enough to really draw you in.

As her version of This Charming Man on the B-side to Leave showed, someone would like you to think that VV Brown is cerebral and vital and bringing something credible to pop music. Take my word for it, she's not.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jessie James - Jessie James

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Sometimes I do things I'm not particularly proud of. Agreeing to watch Confessions Of A Shopaholic isn't one of them (regardless of the, ahem, reasons), but the soundtrack of that said movie did introduce me to Jessie James, through the track Blue Jeans. It was the kind of sassy, sexy pop tune that grabs my attention from time to time and made me anxious to check out more from where that came.

Well, I had to wait for a while, but finally James' debut album has hit the airwaves and despite some suggestions that James can be classified as a "country" singer this is a straight up pop album all the way (as evidenced by the Katy Perry co-writes on two tracks).

Opener Wanted sounds very much like Christina Aguillera, but thankfully like one of her better songs, whilst second track Bullet (one of the Katy Perry's) is everything a great pop song could be. It's catchy, slightly odd (the use of a banjo, for instance) and very difficult to get out of your head once you've listened to it once. In the space of three minutes it also seems to sum up what James is aiming for. And whilst "is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me" is certainly a cliche is strikes a playful note that adds to the entertainment on show.

The "country" element does, I suppose, show up on the delightfully slinky, almost Nashville Rap style, My Cowboy, whilst the likes of Big Mouth and Burn It Up are the kinds of songs that Pussycat Dolls would kill for (and no doubt take to the top of the charts for weeks).

Ok, so as is almost a prerequisite these days, the album sinks when there's some demographic-grabbing ballads and the album certainly starts better than it ends, but for a good two-thirds or so this really is a special pop album, packed full of catchy hits-in-the-making.

Of course it's easy to be cynical about things like this, and there would seem to be little doubt that Jessie James is shamelessly aiming for pop-superstardom but this cracker of an album should surely help her get there.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Lost Get Found - Britt Nicole

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If you're really paying attention to my ramblings on this site, you may recognise the name Britt Nicole. Her 2007 album Say It wasn't brilliant but it did have a smattering of top-quality pop singles so it wasn't without some anticipation that I gave her new effort, The Lost Get Found, a spin. Much like last time, if someone hadn't told me I'd have had little clue that this was "Christian" music - again Britt Nicole sounds a little bit like Avril Lavigne (back when people liked her) and Kelly Clarkson.

When this "sound" works, we get some pretty good pop tunes. How We Roll is a catchy, upbeat song, Headphones tries to channel the Timabaland effect to surprisingly good effect whilst Welcome To The Show had me hooked with it's carnival intro before hitting out with a heavy pop-rock drive. Best of the bunch, however, is the disco-tastic Like A Star, which would be out of place as a Kylie smash hit single.

Of course as with most things of this nature there is your fair share of pleasant but ultimately forgettable ballads (the one exception would be the really rather beautiful album closer Have Your Way) but if you take the good songs on their merits, there is enough here to please most pop fans.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Dandy Warhols Are Sound - Dandy Warhols

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With the money rolling in from THOSE telephone adverts, 2003's Welcome To The Monkey House was seen as The Dandy Warhols big attempt to become megastars, known for more than Bohemian Like You. As you'll be aware, that never panned out.

It was a mild success, but was largely ignored by those same people who waxed lyrical over their big hit. Like much to do with the Dandy Warhols, however, the whole project was mired in controversy. Mainly that the original mix that the band intended to release was deemed unsuitable for public consumption by their record company, who promptly got a shiny pop producer in (Peter Wheatley, who can count the Sugababes and Sophie Ellis-Bextor amongst his other "clients"), without any input from the band themselves.

Well now in 2009, the "original" mix (mixed by Russell Elavedo) has surfaced on the Dandy's own record label so we can all see how wrong the record company were...well that's the theory anyway.

The fact is that whilst the original mix obviously more clearly aligns itself to the intentions of the band, it's difficult to say that it's either markedly better than the album that hit the shops or that there's THAT much difference between the two. The original is perhaps a little less "shiny" than what was released six years ago, but its tempting to suggest that for once a record companies intervention produced the right result, however much that might disappoint the band themselves.

In the 2002 documentary Dig! Courtney Taylor-Taylor infamously declared “I sneeze and hits come out” but this "original mix" of the album perhaps definitively shows us that those of us who thought that the band treated their, you know, hits as mere novelties that somehow obscured what they really wanted...their credibility, were right all along.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Music For Men - Gossip

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We live in a strange world. "Pop" musicians can get pilloried for having a huge unexpected hit on the back of an advert or being featured on a TV show or for having an "image" that overshadows the music. If you're a "serious" artist however, we'll merely pass on thanks that such attentions have brought your music to the wider audience that it deserves.

As you might gather then, I'm not a huge fan of Gossip. At best they are a perfectly serviceable "one hit wonder" band, with Standing In The Way Of Control being a rather good tune that completely overshadowed anything else on the album of the same name. And when you consider that, as far as I am concerned, the lead single from Music For Men, "Heavy Cross" was little more than a sub-par rehash of "Control" there doesn't seem much hope.

And indeed, there isn't.

At least with Rick Rubin at the production helm things sound clear, but that can't make up for some pretty uninspiring tunes. Those of you looking for anything new here might be more than a little bit disappointed. And in the final analysis I can't imagine that this will change anything in the world of Gossip. They, if indeed most people realise that there is more than Beth Ditto to the band, will still remain more famous for Beth Ditto than they will for their music. Which in some ways is a shame (Ditto does have a wonderful voice) but in other ways is entirely appropriate.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!

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I bet you woke up this fine morning and thought "you know, the one thing missing from my music collection is a compilation of "a cappella" versions of Ben Folds songs."

What? You didn't?

Yeah, it seems like a pointless exercise doesn't it and there's no way at all that Mr Folds would invite college a cappella groups to send in their cover versions and then collect the best of them on a compilation CD is there?

What? He did?

Of course to those familiar with Folds' live concerts most will recognise that one of the highlights of the night is usually the bit where Folds orchestrates the audience singing along to Army so perhaps it's not THAT much of a surprise.

Your enthusiasm for this concept will of course depend on one of two things; you're either a big fan of Ben Folds (Five) or of a cappella music. If you're not one or the other turn away now. From my standpoint as the former, this has a curiosity value but little more than that for most of the album. There are occasions, like The University Of Chicago's take on Magic when you feel you're listening to something really special. The problem is that as I'm not in the latter of the two categories, there's only so much "Flying Pickets" I can take in one sitting.

In the end, this is periodically amusing if you're a fan of Folds, but you never really escape the feeling that there is no real need for what you are listening to to exist in a commercially available form. Despite Folds' protestations to the contrary, this is mere novelty.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Complete Me - Frankmusik

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Thanks to his support slot on the recent UK dates by the Pet Shop Boys I've had the "pleasure" of seeing Vincent Frank, aka Frankmusik, twice in concert. Prior to this I'd not really got an opinion on him either way. He was just another one of those seemingly endless artists who seem hell bent on taking us back to 1985 with their take on electro pop. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing of course; that was just an observation.

I have to be honest and say that his live gigs didn't really grab me; yes there was a handful of catchy tunes but that was about it. Sadly, for me anyway, the album is pretty much the same in terms of the hit/miss ratio.

For every song that, however fleetingly, grabs me (such as When You're Around - which works perhaps DESPITE it's weird melding of Golden Brown) there's three or four which are pleasant but immediately forgettable.

As the disappointing chart position of number 26 for Better Off As Two showed (and it's failure to become a "hit" meant the album release was put back) the main problem is that whilst there is little on here that is offensive to listen to, there's also nothing that hasn't been done better by some of the other recent "electro pop" throwbacks. Unfortunately for Frank, he may well get lost in the shuffle. Although maybe that Holly Valance (shudder) cameo will push Confusion Girl towards the top of the charts...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pet Shop Boys LIVE

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As the Pet Shop Boys are a true rock’n’roll band, the Liverpool Summer Pops date of their Pandemonium tour featured a completely different set list from their Manchester date…well ok. It didn’t. But it was another good show and played well in the arena setting. The other thing of note was the “technical difficulties” at the start of the show which saw various bits of the opening song Heart blasted out irregularly. Oh and that the T-Shirt I bought kind of fits me. So once I’ve lost a few more pounds it should be just about perfect. Mind you, even if it hadn’t have been, I’ve long felt that the lack of a PSB T-Shirt in my wardrobe has been an oversight that needed correcting.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Jenny Lewis LIVE

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Imagine my surprise when on holiday in New Orleans and a random detour, which was really out of the way for my hotel, leads us to the House Of Blues. “Ooh, I wonder what sort of gigs they’ve got on” was the cry and a quick look at the board resulted in a double take. Jenny Lewis? Tonight? We’re having some of that. Of course I could swear that I’d checked every New Orleans venue prior to the holiday and seen that no-one of any interest was on. Indeed I even knew that the delectable Miss Lewis was in the middle of an American tour and I’d bemoaned the fact that her itinerary missed anywhere I was. But hey. Maybe there is such a thing as fate after all. Either that or some form of reverse stalking is in effect.

Anyway, it was exciting to be going to a concert in foreign climes, even if my mate’s excited pronouncement that “for once both of us will be able to get schvizted at a concert” proved to be false. Because those peculiar American’s (w ho had two nights earlier asked for no ID as I drank the night away with a bunch of strippers) wouldn’t give my mate a wrist band to prove to the bar-staff that he was old enough to drink as he didn’t have any official identification. Bear in mind that the previous trip to the Strip Club had been to celebrate his THIRTIETH birthday. Still, I could drink, that was the main thing. Even if, when you think about it, I couldn’t even hand him my mate my drink when I went to the toilets lest he get arrested on the spot for impersonating an adult.

The support was the Heartless Bastards, who weren’t bad but in all honesty were neither here nor there. As for Jenny Lewis, well any regular reader of this page, or indeed anyone who has ever took the time to read this page even once, will know that I love her. So naturally I am biased. But this was REALLY good. In fact I would go as far as to say that this was the best form that I’ve seen her in. And I don’t say that just because she was wearing tight shorts. Maybe I’m just imagining it, but there was just something about it all that seemed, well, right. In a way that Jenny Lewis on a cold and wet night in Manchester just seems to have that little something missing when compared to Jenny Lewis on a sweltering and balmy New Orleans night. Quite why she chose to sing a little snippet of “Man In The Mirror” as her tribute to the recently dead Michael Jackson in the encore though is beyond me. Still, I could forgive Jenny Lewis almost anything.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pet Shop Boys LIVE

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It’s no secret that I think (know) that Pet Shop Boys are the finest British pop group of the last twenty-five years (if not of all time, but I’m not getting into that right now) and it warms my, ahem, heart, that their Outstanding Contribution award at the BRITS has seen something of a critical and commercial renaissance (witness the sold out O2 concert, at a capacity at 16,000) and, in my opinion, recent album Yes was their best since 1993’s Very. All of which boded well for a great night’s entertainment at the Manchester Apollo.

Ok, so £15 for a programme was more than a little bit excessive (even if it was obviously produced to the same exacting high standards that everything they do) but I suppose you’re not forced to buy it are you? And when the evening’s entertainment is as good as this was, you can forgive almost everything.

It’s difficult to imagine that a stage set which consists of little more than a few hundred cardboard boxes could be so entertaining, but these are no ordinary cardboard boxes. Well…no, they actually are ordinary cardboard boxes, but they do double as video screens, walkways, weapons…well you sort of get the idea.

If their last tour was decidedly a “hits” experience, the Pandemonium tour is slightly different. All the usual favourites make their appearances but thrown in were some surprising choices, some of which had never been performed live by the boys before. The problem with this was that whilst the die-hard fans (such as myself) appreciated the likes of Two Divided By Zero, Why Don’t We Live Together?, Kings Cross and lesser hits such as Love Comes Quickly and Jealously, those just in attendance for the hits may have been left slightly non-plussed, especially when some of these tracks were lumped together.

Still by the time the evening ended with the encore of West End Girls, few will have felt disappointed. The Pandemonium tour is another winning spectacle from the Pet Shop Boys and proves that there is plenty of life left in them yet.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Hands - Little Boots

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Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that the Little Boots "backlash" has kicked off before her debut album has even reached the shops. In fact, let's be honest, it kicked off before her debut single had even reached the shops...and then blew up when New In Town failed to reach the top 10. The problems seems to be as thus; the BBC voted her as the Sound of 2009, she's quite a pretty girl and the height of her ambition seems to be to make catchy pop songs in a world where "pop" is still a dirty word.

Well no one seemed to pour as much vitriol into slamming 2008's "Sound" winner (the dull and derivative Adele) nor 2007's winner (Mika), nor 2006's (Corrine Bailey Rae) and if anyone can tell me that any of that trio are particularly inventive or ground breaking you will be lying through your teeth. And that's before we even get to 2005 winners The Bravery (presumably currently looking for other employment).

Of course half the journalists slamming her purely for winning that poll forget that it's partly voted for by their brethren, nor do they slate Florence And The Machine (who have two single releases under their belt that never threatened the top 40) who won that Brit award, which really is shameless publicity to the 'n'th degree. But silly me, Florence is a "serious" musician isn't she?

Well with that diatribe out of the way, what is Hands actually like? Well as far as I'm concerned it's really rather good. Obviously some tracks that have been knocking around for months (Stuck On Repeat, Meddle, Mathematics) set the bar pretty high but they are far from the only highlights. Having Phil Oakey duet on the shimmeringly wonderful Symmetry might seem like a gimmick but it not only works, but exceeds all expectations, Tune Into My Heart, with it's icy, mellow sound proves that she's far from a one trick pony whilst upcoming single Remedy is the sort of song that Kylie would kill her producers for.

And therein lies the crux. The pompous music snobs out there will spend the next few months telling us everything that Little Boots isn't (and crucifying her for it) rather than focusing on what Little Boots IS.

The solo credits for a couple of the tracks (Click, Ghosts) show that the choice of producers on the other tracks are just that, a choice and haven't necessarily been forced upon her. At least half the tracks on here are superb and the other half aren't half bad either. Jam packed with catchy and memorable choruses it will do little to convince those that think "pop" is a dirty word and those who kid themselves that "promotion" and "hype" are 21st century inventions in the music industry. Yet despite the hype, the pressure and the (perhaps) inevitable backlash, Victoria Hesketh has proved that all of those of us who kept the faith when all around seemed to be laying into her were right all along. She's definitely a talent. Hands may not be a perfect record, but is a very damn good one nevertheless.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Scary Fragile - Butterfly Boucher

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It's been a long time since 2003's Flutterby, the rather wonderful debut from the Australian born Butterfly Boucher (yes, that is her REAL name) although the five year gap doesn't tell the whole story. This album was completed three years ago but seemingly fell victim to the 21st Century need to label every music "product" as something tangible.

As the lady herself stated, "they say [my music] is too quirky. They always say it's too pop for the indie scene and too indie for the pop scene." With backing like that from your record company, it's perhaps not a surprise that Boucher parted company with them, but at least she had the good fortune to work out a deal to keep the masters of her new album, hence the "DIY" release of her second album.

You might think that the opener, I Found Out, has been added since parting company from her label with lyrics such as “I found out I can only be who I am. I can only do what I can. I won’t try to describe the relief". Thankfully though, Boucher seems able to get MOST of this out of her system in the opener, leaving the listener to concentrate on the quality of her songs.

And whilst, as a whole, the album may not quite live up to the excellent debut, it has more than it's fair share of highlights.

Lead single Gun For A Tongue is a seductive, if slightly creepy, number whilst Just One Tear is a rocker that for some reason reminded me of Ladyhawke, without actually sounding anything like her whatsoever. Keeper comes across as almost a long-lost Bond theme whilst Bright Red might well have proved to be the "hit" that Boucher was presumably under immense pressure to produce if only her record company had given it the chance.

Having been absent for so long, it's almost tempting to look no further than being pleased she's back at all, but thankfully Butterfly Boucher has also returned with a very good album which proves that Flutterby was no fluke. One can only hope we get the third installment before 2014.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Good Evening - Nite Jewel

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One review of this album that I read suggested that if Nite Jewel released this album in the 1980's, a spot on the soundtrack of Romancing The Stone (a film I love by the way) would have been all but a formality...and you can certainly see their point. It also covers the fact that Good Evening is another one of the long list of albums released over the past year or so that decidedly hark back to the 1980's.

In this case it's one of those albums of this ilk that most definitely sounds as if it WAS actually recorded in the 1980's - there are precious few indications when you are listening to this that it's a modern record. And therein will lie it's charm, or alternatively it's hideous kitsch-ness for the listener.

On the first listen through, most people would probably be in the latter camp and be unable to look past the vaguely ridiculous mid-tempo keyboard sounds and the baffling mumbling lyrics that at times you can hardly hear and most of the time definitely can't make out. Those that can persevere might find their rewards, even if Ramona Gonzalez, the person behind Nite Jewel, frustratingly seems more interested in the sounds she's making than making those sounds into "proper" songs.

It would be easy to say that with a bit of tweaking here and there this could have been something very good indeed, but perhaps that's missing the point. For all it's readily apparent faults, Good Evening is what it is, even if what it is might end up being described as pleasant background music without any real punch.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

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If you didn't already know it prior to putting this album in the CD player for a spin you'd probably struggle to tell that Phoenix are French purely from listening to this album. You might, on the other hand, guess that they, along with their record company, might be hoping that given The Killers undoubted position in the music buying public's hearts this might be the time that they can finally make that elusive commercial breakthrough.

They might, but I wouldn't be putting the mortgage on their chances. The problem is that when they started, Phoenix were arguably ahead of the trends to come; now, four albums in, they've been superceded by those that have followed them and there's no real new tricks on display to be able to suggest that they've managed to stay ahead of the curve.

In fact, despite the fact that the album clocks in at barely over 30 minutes there's a real feeling that there's a deficit of ideas and whilst their one idea might be reasonably catchy, it doesn't half get monotonous fairly quickly.

There's a couple of standout tracks (opener Lisztomania and the purposefully silly Lasso) but my overall feeling is that whilst this is an adequate record, I can't see why anyone who had heard of The Killers would want to listen to it more than once.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rockwell - Anni Rossi

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It's ironic that this should follow the Jarvis Cocker review, as Anni Rossi's debut album is also produced by Nirvana producer Steve Albini. Calling it a debut album might be slightly pushing it as it's got five of the six tracks from last years Afton EP and is less than ten minutes longer than that EP to boot.

That said, the duplicated tracks are not "duplicated" in their entirety; well if you're going to hire an expensive producer you might as well get your money's worth out of him. And, to be fair, it's a move that seems to have worked for the most part.

Her "unique selling point", that is her virtuoso Viola playing, is not lost in the shuffle but only the most eclectic of music listeners would suggest that the steadying hand of Albini hasn't improved matters.

The "old" tracks are probably account for most of the album's highlights; Ecology benefits from the addition of some keyboards and is about as mainstreamly catchy as you'll get on the album.

It's just a pity that most of the record companies promotion seems to revolve around her cover of Ace of Base's Living In Danger. Pleasantly cute it may be, but it's still nothing more than a novelty, no matter how "straight" Rossi treats it. That it follows perhaps the album highlight in the form of the creepy but eminently catchy Deer Hunting Camp 17.

You can't imagine this catching on with the wider populace, a la Feist, but that doesn't mean that it's not worth a listen, or ten, for a music fan with an open mind. And that's not just me being biased thanks to it's Icon-approved running time of less than 30 minutes - for once an artist seems to have realised that less is most certainly more.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Further Complications - Jarvis Cocker

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"I met her in the museum of paleontology and I make no bones about it". There's certainly one thing you can't take out of Jarvis Cocker no matter who you get in to produce his album and that's his trademark wit.

Yet there also seems little point in bringing in Steve Albini, producer to Nirvana and The Pixies most famously, to drown out Cocker's wit in a wall of noise.

The result is an album that never really quite gets going. There's nothing particularly wrong about listening to Jarvis "rock out" but there is so little variety on display that you've not even got half way through the album before you're starting to tire of it. And, whisper it quietly, when you do get the chance to listen to the lyrics there's little variety there either, with song after song about sex as if Jarvis is undergoing some form of mid-life crisis.

It's not a dreadful record (to put it into perspective it's nowhere near as dire as Chris Cornell's recent "change of direction") and it may well only be because I expect so much more from him that it falls flat. But at the end of the day, there's no way you can label this classic Cocker.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Polly Scattergood - Polly Scattergood

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With an opening track that kicks in at seven minutes long, you're pretty much going to know by the time I Hate The Way comes to an end whether or not you've got the stomach for Polly Scattergood.

If the opener leaves you cold then you're not going to be impressed by much of what follows; if on the other hand you like it, you may well just be led towards giving Scattergood the benefit of doubt despite the overwrought indulgence that permeates some of the nine tracks that follow.

If you're in the latter camp you'll acknowledge that I Hate The Way, the rocking Nitrogen Pink and the sweet melodrama of Other Too Endless make good songs whilst lamenting the likes of Unforgiving Arms where you can't help but feel the personal lyrics aren't anywhere near as interesting or insightful as you suspect Scattergood thinks they are.

Another graduate of the Brit School, Polly Scattergood is one of those artists who some people will unconditionally love and others will unconditionally hate - with little scope for either side to soften their stance. For me, there's probably just about enough good stuff on the album to at least lead to me giving her the benefit of the doubt that second time around things might really click, but at the same time the flaws with this record might not be so easy to overcome without Scattergood losing the things which could make her an artist worth listening to either. But then no-one ever said that this music malarkey was easy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Relapse - Eminem

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There's an argument that Marshall Mathers said all that he had worth saying by the time you'd finished his third album. Indeed, you could even argue that stretching that to 2002's The Eminem Show would be pushing it.

So here we are in 2009, with Relapse (his first album in five years) and things are pretty much still the same. He's still taking pot shots at his mother, his missing in action father and saying rather scandalous things about (imagined, presumably) step-fathers.

But the fact that Relapse is largely exactly what you'd expect from Eminem doesn't mean that is completely without merit. Same Song And Dance may re-visit old familiar themes (this time he's murdering various female celebrities) and it may be vile and cruel but it's a stunning piece of work. Sadly for every song like this there are two or three (such as terrible lead single We Made You) that seem to consist of out-dated pot-shots at increasingly irrelevant targets. Which is all the more frustrating as, whether or not you agree with - or can stomach - his sentiments, when he's good he's still very good.

The "beats" (I'm down with the lingo you know) that are provided by Dr. Dre at least ensure that this album is a lot better than 2004's Encore but it still falls depressingly short of his heyday. With a second volume apparently hitting the shops before the end of the year you might find that out of the two of them you can eventually put together a decent enough album but the good tracks on this album are outweighed by the mediocre, or even worse, dull ones.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Little Boots LIVE

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It’s amazing isn’t it? Here we are at Liverpool’s O2 Academy, three days before Little Boots debut single is released and the critical backlash against her is already seemingly in full swing. But let’s ignore those doubters/haters (whose main arguments against her seem to be A) she’s reasonably attractive and B) makes “pop” music of such a level that it’s quite catchy and people might actually want to buy it) and concentrate on the facts. All the hype in the world means nothing if the tunes don’t back it up and for the most part, the tunes back it up as far as Little Boots goes.

Granted there were a few people in the audience who seemed to be there for little more reason than they supposed it was a “cool” thing to be seen at, but when the majority of your audience are singing along to album tracks a month before the album is even released, you must be doing something right.

It may be my imagination (or it may be the fact that I was very, very drunk when I last saw her in Preston) but this time around she seemed more confident in her performance which led to more of a stage presence than before. Attempting to dance on top of the speakers in THOSE heels though, might have been a tad dangerous.

The likes of Stuck On Repeat, Symmetry, New In Town and Meddle are fantastic pop singles and whilst not everything can quite live up to those, neither is there ever really a dull moment in the set. There a lot of critics out there who seem eager to berate Little Boots for what she’s not, but they’d be better off celebrating her for what she is; the best new “pop star” of 2009.

None of the above is in any way biased by the fact that I had the good fortune to meet the lovely, and she is very lovely, Victoria Hesketh after the show…

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(We’ll mention the support acts considering I got to see them for once; Halo I Love You were apparently performing their first ever gig so we’ll not be too harsh. Not that they were terrible, but their bizarre mix of electro pop and Irish folk ditties (look, it’s what they sounded like to me anyway) didn’t really hit the mark. Soft Toy Emergency were the second support act and the surprisingly warm reception they received from the crowd couldn’t really disguise the fact that they sounded little more than a 21st Century version of Bis. Not that there is anything inherently bad in that (I don’t mind a bit of Bis at all) but neither is it all that thrilling).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ladyhawke LIVE

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Day two, and could the delightful New Zealander Pip Brown follow Girls Aloud? Well of course she could. Her album was on of 2008’s best and if the concert didn’t quite match up to the brilliance of the record (due in part, no doubt, to my usual gripe of an “electro” band feeling the need to ramp up their sound during a live gig) it got close enough to make this a very good night’s entertainment indeed.

Her appearance on FM (shit show I know, but I had to at least watch the one with her on it) showed that she had a sense of fun/humour (yes, which was something that was somewhat missing from the show itself in general), something that doesn’t always come across in the live performance of hers I’ve seen on TV. Tonight though, she seemed relaxed and comfortable with the crowd, even at one point admitting that she “didn’t usually talk” as much but felt the need to do so.

The concert was basically a run through of the album, with a couple of B-sides tossed in for fun, but you can’t expect much more from a debut artist. At least she resisted the temptation to throw in some pointless cover versions. The “big” singles such as Paris Is Burning and My Delirium were the crowd favourites but most tracks were welcomed and everybody seemed to be having a great time. Especially the two girls next to me who spent half the night kissing each other. I wouldn’t have noticed, only Dave kept pointing it out….

Perhaps even more so “live” than on record, people who would unkindly say that Ladyhawke offers up precious little that is “new” in terms of her sound would find a lot to back up their opinion. But I say what does it matter? Perfectly crafted pop songs, which rarely veer into mere pastiche, are more than enough for me, regardless of what “era” they hark back to. And whisper it quietly, but I may have enjoyed this a little more than I enjoyed the previous night’s festivities…

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Girls Aloud LIVE

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Well it was that time of year again. It's May, so it must be Girls Aloud at the M.E.N.

After the hilarity of three people in Old Orleans having two starters but four main courses between us (I substituted my desert for two Ice Cream Cocktails - the second of which I was brow-beaten into having by the lovely waitress) and a quick drink in Henry J. Bean's it was over to the arena just in time to miss the final support act murdering Lady Gaga's Just Dance and spend offensive amounts of cash on promotional tat. I don't include the £8 foam finger in that. That was money well spent in terms of it's power to get women either talking to me or slapping my arse.

In many ways there's nothing new to report in the world of Girls Aloud live. As ever it's one hell of a show (and I would have to say that this year's extravaganza must be their best yet from a visual point of view) which surely has to be one of the best on the arena circuit. Cheryl is still by far the most popular (to quote Dave, "she's gone Hollywood), Nicola still looks incongruously pale alongside the other four, Sarah still shouts at inappropriate moments and Manchester, for the fifth year running, is apparently the best place they play. At least this year, Nadine sounded a lot better than she did last year when she was seemingly auditioning for the lead part in a new Bonnie Tyler musical.

My only minor complaint is that there were a few too many songs from Out Of Control at the expense of some crackers from their back catalogue. I can't say I was that pleased that they tossed away three of my favourite songs (The Show, Wake Me Up and No Good Advice) in the show closing medley but hey, at least they did them.

All in all this was another entertaining night from Girls Aloud . We'll sure miss them when they're gone.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Outer South - Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band

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Ok, so Conor Oberst most definitely isn't the "new Bob Dylan", as if anybody ever could be these days, but he does have a good, and very varied, back catalogue. Which makes the appearance of this album, just months after his self-titled album with the Mystic Valley Band, something of a surprise, albeit a nice one.

As ever there are a range of sounds that he goes for, be it the epic country of Snake Hill or the stripped down starkness of White Shows. Most fans will have grown used to the chameleon like charms of Oberst by now, even if a lot of this is played on his his default alt-country setting.

He may regret giving the "band" their heads (nearly half the tracks are sung by his band mates) as tracks such as Air Mattress (which could indeed be compared to Bob Dylan, if you were saying it was a particularly bad attempt at a Dylan pastiche) prove and like a lot of musicians with too much control over their own output at 16 tracks this checks in at far too long a running time and would have surely benefited from some prudent editing to remove some of the dead weight. Still this spreading out of the duties does at least provide one great song in the form of Big Black Nothing.

So whilst it's nowhere near his best, and indeed very rarely threatens to ever challenge his best stuff, most fans will lap it up, even if they do find themselves permanently removing some of the tracks from their running list.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Transmitter Failure - Jenny Owen Youngs

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As good as Jenny Owen Youngs' debut album, Batten The Hatches, was it did have that "unfinished" air about it (at least in it's original form) and as ever with these things the question about the second album was always going to be, for me, whether or not Youngs would be able to take on the "mainstream" without losing what made her so delightful in the first place.

Well thanks to the nice people at Amie Street, and indeed the lovely Miss Youngs herself, I picked up a download of her new album, two weeks before it's in-store release, for a bargain $7 (including a charity donation - so shame on anyone who illegally downloads it). And I can safely say that if there ever was a hurdle for her to climb to her second album, she's vaulted over it with ease.

It's everything that I loved about her debut but cranked up about five notches, never mind one. You could argue that it's slightly less off-kilter than her, at times, raw and nervy debut, but it's only a slight change and it's certainly not watered down at all. In fact, it's probably more the fact that a lot of the songs are just so damn catchy that most people will miss a lot of the deeper, more brutal meaning in the lyrics.

Starting with the 40-second First Person perhaps shows that Youngs' sense of humour is intact, and it's a delightful start, even if it's briefness will surprise you first time around. Not to worry though, as Last Person turns out to be a longer and fuller version and is an excellent tune.

And whether it be the up-tempo foot stompers of Led To The Sea or Clean Break or the more reflective moments such as Here Is A Heart or What Beats Within, Jenny Owen Youngs rarely puts a note wrong on this fabulous album. And the sheer scale of emotions she can take you on shows again that she can both tug at the heart strings and, with her tongue-in-cheek attitude, make you laugh.

First time around I said JOY was a talent to watch out. Second time around, she's proved me right.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Scream - Chris Cornell

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Theoretically the mixing of Chris Cornell and Timbaland wasn't that bad an idea. Cornell needed to do something different from his rock roots to try and inject life into a moribund solo career and Timbaland has never been afraid to experiment, and seems intent on making a "rock" record at some point in his career and is a great enough producer not to be stymied by mere musical boundaries.

Sadly, whilst the theory might have been good (and I'm sure there were many a record executive rubbing their hands with glee upon the suggestion of this collaboration) the result is one of those brilliantly misguided attempts to do something different that manages to fail on almost every level.

Perhaps if this dull, almost continually similar sounding album had been given to the Pussycat Dolls (or someone of their ilk) they might have dragged out something from it as at least they would have added some personality to it, something that Chris Cornell fails abjectly to do. Whether he's wailing tunelessly or whether his voice is being put through a vocoder or Auto Tune, Cornell might as well be anyone. Whilst his vocal style not being your traditional R'n'B style might be the point, rather than finding yourself thinking this is a mix that works, you are just wondering why early in the proceedings someone didn't realise just what a dog of an album this would turn out to be.

Timbaland is on auto-pilot, Cornell sounds hideously out of place. This is probably an album only for those unlucky enough to need something to keep their Naomi Campbell CD company on their shelf.

Monday, May 11, 2009

In A Perfect World - Keri Hilson

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Until the release of this album, Keri Hilson had been known more for her collaborations (such as her turn on Timbaland's The Way You Are) or her songwriting duties on other people's songs (such as Britney's Gimme More or Mary J.Blige's Take Me as I Am) than she was for any of her attempts at solo success, most of which charted surprisingly low.

Yet with such a wide-range of pre-release achievements with other artists, there was always going to be somewhat of a buzz around this debut album. Even the fact that Return The Favour failed to trouble the American charts (it limped to number 19 in the UK) wasn't too distressing; it was a top quality tune after all.

And there's more like that, at least when all concerned are keeping things up-tempo. Return The Favour is joined by the likes of Turnin’ Me On, which features Lil Wayne, and Get Your Money Up, which are perfectly respectable R'n'B pop tunes that should be huge.

Of course there is the, seemingly ubiquitous, reliance on overwrought (and dull) ballads that seem to ruin most R'n'B albums by female vocalists these days. In, ahem, a perfect world there would have been more of the good up-tempo stuff, less of the filler slush. And sadly, there's just far too much of the slowed-down dross for me to recommend anything other than careful cherry-picking of the best tunes rather than the album as a whole.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fearless - Taylor Swfit

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May I just point out that I reviewed Taylor Swift's debut album in March 2007. Apologies if that confuses anybody who has merely happened upon this site and doesn't know me but I hope there's some out there who get my point...

Anyway, since then quite a lot has happened in the world of Taylor Swift, not least this album becoming America's biggest seller of 2008. Not bad for a record that the Guardian labelled as "dull pop-rock". But then again, when did the Guardian know anything? (And to be fair, Q Magazine did give it even more of a slating). I'm not attempting a review to redress the balance mind you, I'm just catching up after a long absence from this site.

Lead single in the UK, Love Story, managed the double whammy of Radio 1 airplay and neat top-of-the-chart status and it's not difficult to see why. You could argue it's nothing mind-blowing but it's a catchy pop tune with sentimental lyrics that nevertheless are never cloying. And therein lies Swift's appeal. Writing (or co-writing) all her own lyrics, Swift certainly seems more of an authoritative voice of the teenage world than many of her "peers" who have all their stuff written for them. So whilst it may not always hit the spot with us oldies, it's difficult not to fall for her sentiments, however naive they may seem on occasions.

Fifteen, for instance, manages to be both authentically "age-specific" to her teenage years, but is remarkably wide-ranging too. The lyrics could well be written by a woman twice her age.

It's "Country" sound will no doubt put a lot of people off, but Fearless is nowhere near as "Nashville" as her debut was and no matter what you try to pigeon-hole a track like The Best Day as, it's so sweet and simple, but genuinely uplifting, that it shouldn't matter what you label it with. And at her best, Taylor Swift cuts through everything else and just comes up with a knockout song.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hardships - Jenny Wilson

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An album cover that features the Scandinavian Jenny Wilson (who has worked with The Knife) adorned in a flat cap holding a shot gun will probably give you some idea that this isn't going to be the most straightforward album you'll listen to all year. And within a minute of the opening track, The Path, with lyrics like "I wanted to be born, so I crawled out in the middle of the night, out of my mother" it's clear that this is all going to be, well, a little idiosyncratic.

So it's certainly not your run-of-the-mill female singer-songwriter effort, but don't be put off by that (as if you would be) nor by the fact that, nominally at least, this is some sort of attempt to use R'n'B as a muse because it's certainly nothing like most of the pap released under that guise.

Lead single The Wooden Chair mixes a bouncy drum beat, backing vocal that wouldn't have been out of place in O Brother Where Art Thou and bursts of percussion to startling effect and if it remains true that nothing else on this album quite lives up to the promise of that song, there are numerous other highlights to enjoy.

Pass The Salt turns childish backing vocals into something that Kelis would turn into a global hit, Anchor Made Of Gold is a better stab at a 70's Elton John song than Scissor Sisters have ever quite pulled off whilst We Had Everything slows things down a little and turns out to be quite a beautiful piano-driven ballad.

Not everything Jenny Wilson attempts quite comes off, but enough of it does to make this a very interesting and very good record. If you agree that pop stretches further than the latest abomination from the X-Factor, this is an album you simply have to check out. You shouldn't be disappointed with what you find.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My Paper Made Men - Amy Studt

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It's perhaps a sign of how Amy Studt's career went that this album has been out digitally for a year and I've only just got around to hearing it. Unfairly labelled a flop (her debut album sold a respectable 200,000 copies) I did like her debut album False Smiles. Ok, so it was possibly a little too close to Avril Lavigne for it to have been a coincidence but the likes of Just A Little Girl and Misfit were catchy little pop ditties and the album as a whole certainly suggested Studt was a girl worth taking a chance on.

Six years later (and having found out about being dropped by her label by reading the paper) My Paper Made Men will probably sink without trace (indeed, it may well already have done so come to think about it) but it proves that indeed, Studt wad worth taking a chance on.

The opening track, Sad Sad World is a dark, brooding song that packs an emotional punch, whist Changing The Light cranks up the rock guitar to full effect. The initial lilting vibe of One Last Cigarette couldn't be any different, but is also a winner. Indeed, Studt's voice is well suited to to vast number of styles, and it deserves it's place as the star of the show.

The one track that sounds most incongruous is Nice Boys, which is the song that most sounds like something off her debut. It's relative lack of punch on this collection at least proves that Studt has definitely moved on from her "old" sound.

Ultimately it doesn't quite show enough personality of it's own to really make a mark on you but it does confirm that Studt is a talent.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Actor - St Vincent

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Every so often a song comes from out of nowhere and grabs you, punches you in the balls and demands that you not only listen to it but that you immediately seek out more from where it came from. Thus it was with me and Actor Out Of Work by St Vincent (Oklahoma's Annie Clark). It might well be the most exciting two minutes and fifteen seconds of song committed to record so far this year.

Of course upon discovering that Clark was once affiliated with The Polyphonic Spree (who once used a great single to drag me into a baffling mediocre album) I did start to wonder if this was going to be another anti-climax; I'm happy to announce that it wasn't. Actor may well be my favourite album of the year so far.

Never content to limit herself to a particular style, Actor is an album that constantly surprises you. From the opening haunting choir on The Strangers to the last strings on the album closer The Sequel you will listen to this never quite knowing what's coming next. One particular case in point would be Black Rainbow whose pop symphony opening gives way to disturbing scuzzed up guitars reminiscent of some Horror film soundtrack.

Her invention perhaps reaches a peak on Marrow. With it's orchestral introduction segue-waying into a haunting choir and a drum pedal, just when you think that she couldn't throw any more in , the rock guitar kicks in and says hello to disco horns. What is perhaps more surprising is that this "kitchen sink" approach works so well. Everything just seems to fit together like this is the way you are supposed to make music.

At one point she sings "I can't see the future, but I know it has big plans for me." On the basis of this, I hope that she's right. If this isn't up there contending for my best album of the year in December, then the next six months or so must be about to serve up quite a lot of classic albums.

Monday, May 04, 2009

To Be Still - Alela Diane

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Alela Diane's debut album, The Pirate's Gospel, was an album I rather unexpectedly liked. Still the unashamedly low-fi recording of it (it had been knocking around for a couple of years before it made it's "official" bow) meant that whilst it had a certain charm there was something holding it back from being something really special.

The question regarding it's follow up To Be Still was then one of whether or not it could capture those parts of Diane that made her debut so beguiling whilst at the same time offering us a little bit more. I'm pleased to say that for the most part it does.

Whilst it might all be relative, there is indeed a "bigger" set of production values to be heard on this album and it certainly does the trick whilst never neglecting the fact that the real star of the show should be Diane's captivating voice.

Whether it be White As Diamonds proving that Yodelling can still be cool, the playful slightly off-kilter harmonies of Every Path or the way that The Ocean moves from it's low-key starting point of just her voice and a drum beat to a cacophony of guitars, harmonies and mandolin's, there is rarely a duff moment on the album.

To Be Still has taken all that made Alela Diane such an intriguing prospect in the first place and taken it up a notch. It's delicate folk stylings still may not be to everyone's taste (and there's no guaranteeing that this slight "commercialisation" of her sound will pay off) but no-one with a love for the folk side of Americana will be disappointed with what they find here.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes

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Trumpeting the fact that you've recorded your debut album on the mixing desk of producer and Krautrock legend Conny Plank (as the story goes on the very same desk that Kraftwerk used in their heyday) not only gives reviewers a nice little hook to place their coats on (guilty as charged) but it also gives you certain preconceptions about the album before you even put it in the machine for a spin.

Indeed it's almost as if DJ's Tim Lawson and Olly Dixon, the men behind Filthy Dukes, are pushing this as the main reason why you might want to investigate this album. And whilst it goes without saying that this certainly doesn't live up to Kraftwerk (after all, what could?) it does have it's moments.

As you listen to the opening track This Rhythm you might be convinced that you are really onto a winner. Featuring guest vocals from Samuel Dust (Late Of The Pier) it's a foot stomper that simultaneously takes you back to the Electro 80's yet sounds utterly of the moment. Sadly it's not a trick that they pull off too many times on the rest of the album.

The likes of Light Skips Cross Heart (which sounds like a Depeche Mode out-take, but in a good way) and Twenty Six Hundred certainly hit the spot but far too often Filthy Dukes mis-fire. That the instrumental Twenty Six Hundred is one of the best tracks highlights one particular problem with the album; the lyrics are often ponderous and clumsy and whilst few would ever suggest that the success of dance music hinges on its lyrics, when you go to such lengths to create something that tries to appeal to the head as well as your feet anything that falls short is going to cast a shadow on proceedings.

Nonsense In The Dark is by no means a terrible album, and it has just about enough highlights to keep you interested, but neither is it a great one. In fact the one overriding feeling it gives you is one that being great DJ's doesn't always mean you are going to deliver a great record.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Duke Special LIVE

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As you will see when I get around to reviewing his new album, Duke Special has never quite convinced me on record. I enjoy his records, but never quite love them. Live, however, Peter Wilson never disappoints. And suffice to say, this sold out concert at the Manchester Academy proved to be another winner.

Refreshingly free of performer's ego, Duke was joined on stage at various points by support acts Foreign Slippers (who I missed, but who had a gorgeous voice when she joined Duke on stage) and Bailey and Bowles (as in The Temperance Society Chip Bailey, a long-time cohort) and even delivered a trio of songs inspired by little known 1920's silent movie star Hector Mann.

Indeed it was these interludes which made for some of the most special moments of the evening. Foreign Slippers joined him for a spellbinding version of the title track of his new album, I Never Thought This Day Would Come, and two of the "Hector Mann" tracks, The Jockey Club and Jumping Jacks were two of the most well received songs of the evening.

Throw in a liberal sprinkling of some of his earlier work, including the eternally brilliant Salvation Tambourine and you had a great night of music, part vaudeville part old time music hall, but always fascinating. Even if you remain unconvinced by his recorded work, give him a go won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time To Think - Sarah Whatmore

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On the surface, Sarah Whatmore's proclamation that she had no interest in becoming yet another cookie-cutter popstar churned out and spat out by Pop Idol is commendable. After all, she was a budding singer-songwriter before her appearance on the aforementioned show and she did capitalise in the early days after that show with two top 20 hits. If we're to believe her, she decided that continuing on that route wasn't "her" and she wanted to make it on her merits.

That it took eight years or so for her debut album to hit the shops suggests that the journey might not have been paved with the gold she was hoping for. Indeed the only things of note about her in the intervening years was the story that she was gazumped by Britney for "Toxic" and that one of my mates once rather bizarrely accused an ex-girlfriend of mine of being "large" because she was the same build as Sarah Whatmore. Don't worry though, his guide dog is fine now.

All of this would become an irrelevance if female singer (some-time) songwriters weren't all the rage (in some ways making the timing of Whatmore's reappearance right on the money) and if her album was actually much cop. Sadly it isn't.

You've certainly heard worse and I couldn't sit here and tell you the album is awful. But it contains nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd and contains absolutely nothing that sticks in your head ten minutes after you've heard it.

One paced, this album gives you nothing that you can't get better elsewhere. So whilst it might be a commendable effort in one sense, in another it's almost certain to sink without trace.

Still, for what it's worth, back in the day I loved Automatic.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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It's easy to be cynical isn't it? Rock-punk band comes back with an "all-new" electro sound...not exactly the most unheard of concepts in the 21st Century is it? Yet one listen of It's Blitz, the third album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is enough to melt away any pre-conceptions you might have about the new sound being little more than clever marketing. Because when an album is as good as this, who cares why it's here?

Opening track, and new single, Zero was easily the most overtly "pop" thing the group have ever done (not that that's a bad thing in my book...) but the brilliance of that is soon blown away by the track that follows it, Heads Will Roll. It might be trite to label it Blondie for the 21st Century, but that doesn't make it any less awesome.

I'd have to admit that, from a "pop single" point of view, these two tracks are never beaten, but that's not to say that what follows isn't extremely good either. Dragon Queen in a slinky slice of Disco (which reminds me of Franz Ferdinand's latest album - again, a good thing in my book) and the likes of Soft Shock and Runaway slow the pace down from these up-tempo Disco numbers but still manage to be genuinely affecting songs.

It's by no means a perfect album but neither are there too many moments where you think that this change of sound isn't working. It might not be the album that long-standing fans were expecting (or hoping for) but in it's own way it's a definite success.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sounds Of The Universe - Depeche Modde

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Like any act with more than a two decade back catalogue to fall back on, Depeche Mode have perhaps struggled to live up to their "glory" days, despite continued commercial success. And whilst, surprise surprise, their 12th album Sounds Of The Universe is no Violator, it's certainly one of their better albums of recent years. It's certainly a better listen than 2005's Playing The Angel.

Sonically it sounds like an attempt towards capturing the "old school" sound but isn't as retro as early suggestions may have led some to believe. Indeed it is perhaps a testament to the currently popularity of "electro" that, if anything, it sounds like it's completely of it's time now.

There are problems though. Whilst you would never listen to the album thinking "they've lost their magic touch", neither would you listen to it thinking that the old magic is completely back. What it really boils down to is that whilst it contains its fair share of good tracks (mostly contained in the first half of the album with the likes of In Chains, Fragile Tension and lead single Wrong) there is nothing that REALLY grabs you and instantly demands inclusion on any home-made "best of" you would put together.

The die-hards will lap it up, and even casual fans will probably enjoy it. If pushed though, most would probably have to admit that this is a good, rather than great album.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My One And Only Thrill - Melody Gardot

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Melody Gardot is one of those artists whose name I've heard, and indeed heard great things about, but never really bothered to properly check out. So when I saw her new album, My One And Only Thrill, getting rave reviews I decided the time was right to correct that flaw. And boy, am I glad I did.

Granted, if you are going to enjoy Gardot you're going to have to be pre-disposed to her lilting late-night jazz and introspective blues sound but if that seems like it could be your kind of thing you are going to love this.

Whether it be the the jazz-noir of Your Heart Is As Black As The Night, the string-laden Deep Within The Corners Of My Mind or the sultry shuffle of Who Will Comfort Me, Gardot has unleashed an album packed full of quality.

Indeed, perhaps the only wrong note is the uncharacteristically breezy bossanova version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It's a perfectly pleasant version of a famous tune, but seems incongruous in the company of Gardot's self-penned tracks and you are almost tempted to think that it's been tagged on purely for commercial reasons. Still, you can't let that spoil all the greatness that came before it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jigsaw - Lady Sovereign

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It seems a long time since the days that Lady Sov was signed by Jay Z to his American label and when the world did indeed seem like her oyster. The reasons behind Sov moving from the Def Jam label onto her own are somewhat vague, although there is the suggestion that it's a chance for her to return to what she knows best. Which makes the "electropop" sound of Jigsaw all the more of a surprise.

The Cure-sampling opening single So Human was a surprise, and at first didn't seem like a particularly good one, but after a number of plays revealed itself to be a decent tune. Sadly it's one of the few out and out memorable tunes on a patchy second album.

When it's good, like on the lilting Guitar (which admittedly tries it's best to through away any goodwill over the tune by being about how Lady Sov can't play the guitar - which strikes me as slightly pointless) or the magnificent I Got The Goods, it almost matches up to her best, but far too often the tunes simply don't stack up.

Which is a shame because the album does feature the wit that marked out Sovereign as someone to listen to. But when the tunes don't thrill you, the lyrics aren't quite enough to save the day.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bat For Lashes LIVE

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Given how much I enjoyed the last Bat For Lashes concert, in the summer of 2008, where the new songs that we’re debuted sounded absolutely awesome, I was really looking forward to reacquainting myself with the delightful Natasha Khan (complete with a new band). For the most part I wasn’t disappointed.

There’s no depreciably downturn in quality on Two Suns from what was on her debut album Fur And Gold. If anything, whilst it could unfairly be labelled “more of the same” in terms of style, she has notched up the ambition quota and provided another stunningly beautiful collection of songs.

The likes of Sleep Alone and Daniel were well received, as were “older” classics such as What’s A Girl To Do and The Wizard. My only complaint about the set list would be the baffling omission of Priscilla. That may have been, however, a victim of the continued technical problems that interrupted the evening. It wasn’t Khan’s fault of course, but despite her good natured banter with the crowd it didn’t help the flow of the evening.

My only other point of concern surrounds her new band, which includes former Ash axe-woman Charlotte Hatherley. They seemed a little pedestrian compared to the band that had backed up Khan previously; which is not to say there were bad in any way, just that they didn’t quite match their predecessors.

Still, it may have been first night nerves and none of these minor quibbles in anyway spoiled the evening too much. Khan seems to be finally getting the recognition that she deserves (I’m still peeved over her not winning the Mercury Prize you know) and it’s difficult to see how anyone in attendance could begrudge her that success.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Yes - Pet Shop Boys

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Every since 1993’s Very, critics have always been looking for, or touting, a “return to form” for Pet Shop Boys. Indeed it’s a process that every long-standing act eventually faces. What makes this even more strange for Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe is that they’ve never really made a terrible album and you certainly never get the feeling that they are about to start now. But whilst it may be a cliché to say it, there is little doubt in my mind that Yes, their 10th Studio Album, is indeed a return to form. With the help of the wonderful Xenomania, PSB have, largely, gone back to what they do best – catchy, pithy and warm pop music that gets your feet tapping and your brain thinking.

The opening track Love Etc, despite a certain reader of this page’s feelings, is up there with any single they’ve done since Can You Forgive Her and it’s by no means the only cracker on the album.

All Over The World lyrically apes the Behaviour classic The End Of The World but wraps it up with a touch of Tchaikovsky whilst Beautiful People drags in the strings arranger from the Last Shadow Puppets to great effect. Building A Wall is the most Fundamental-esque track lyrically (thankfully this time around the politics are kept down to a minimum as a whole) and is another delightful entry into the Chris Lowe “singing” canon, More Than A Dream is a slice of effortless pop that would fit very nicely on Very (still my favourite PSB album) and, perhaps best of all, Pandemonium mixes lyrics inspired by Kate Moss and Pete(r) Doherty, Harmonica provided by Johnny Marr and a souped up version of the Doctor Who theme to provide four of the most joyous minutes of pop you’ll hear all year.

Ok, so it’s not a perfect album; the boys can’t resist more “experiments” but at least Legacy, which ends the album on somewhat of a mediocre note, isn’t the dog that the likes of Boy Strange or Love Is A Catastrophe were on Nightlife and Release respectively.

All in all the “back to basics” approach and the reinvigorating effect of Xenomania have resulted in the Pet Shop Boys finest album in a decade. And if I’m being honest, that’s more than enough to keep me happy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lily Allen LIVE

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I have to admit that in the time since her debut album, I’ve grown bored of Lily Allen. I’m sure its of no consequence to her, of course, and given that her new album and single shot straight to number one in their respective charts all the evidence would suggest that I’m in the minority. A sold out Manchester Academy would also appear to prove that point.

My main problem with “It’s Not Me It’s You” was that for all the talk of a “maturing” Lily Allen, the album was largely more of the same from Alright, Still just not as good. Perhaps when you’ve heard one song about a boyfriend being crap in bed you’ve heard them all.

So all didn’t really bode well for the evening’s entertainment and the end result was pretty middle of the road too. Focussing largely on the new album, the crowd’s reaction to most of the songs at least proved that Allen has fans who are interested in more than just the singles; the fact that it was largely young teenage girls singing along to the likes of “Fuck You Very Much” and “It’s Not Fair” might well suggest the core audience who would find such songs amusing in any sense.
Cover versions of Dance With Me and Oh My God were pointless, assuming you can call singing the chorus of the former a few times and one verse of the latter as “cover versions” and the likes of Smile and LDN from the debut album were well received.

It was perhaps telling though that arguably the biggest reaction from the crowd was reserved for her final song, a rollicking cover of Britney Spears’ Womanizer. It ended what had been up until that point, for me anyway, a fairly frustrating evening. My growing boredom with Lily Allen could have been diverted by a killer second album. The fact that I just can’t bring myself to listen to it for any length of time means that this concert was pretty much dead to me before it even kicked off. And that’s not to decry the hundreds of people who were seemingly having the time of their lives but I think my position on the Lily Allen “Style or Substance” axis has been irreversibly shunted towards the style end of the scale.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


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Hype in the music industry can be a terrible thing. Hype doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s being hyped is any good. It also doesn’t mean in any way shape or form that any artist will have any success. And I’m as cynical as the next person, but if you only bring one thing away from this review it is this. Little Boots is worth every bit of the hype. My evening didn’t exactly start off too well as SOMEONE had booked a hotel four miles away from where we were supposed to be…a necessity after finding out AFTER I’d bought the tickets that the doors only opened to the venue at 9:30pm. Having got into Preston by five o’clock, it’s safe to say I was rather inebriated by the time we got to the venue, and then had to wait more than another hour for Little Boots to appear.

And yet, against all the odds, the concert itself was brilliant. Victoria Hesketh has the tunes (and, yes, I’ll admit, the looks) to make a serious dent on the charts, (even if secretly I fear it may well be another Annie all over again) and its fair to point out that there wasn’t really a duff moment in the entire set Those who have followed her for a while will have been familiar with most of the songs (particular highlights included Meddle, Stuck On Repeat and Too Late) but the unveiling of her first proper single (the name of which I’ve forgotten, but includes Phil Oakley on guest vocals – a fact preceded by a deadpan Hesketh informing the crowd that Oakley couldn’t make it to the show) proved that she’s got more to come.

Rather bizarrely after the concert I ended up being accosted by her brother (who had spotted my Little Boots pin badge) and being introduced to her mother, shortly before being chatted up by a group of 18 year old girls who had no idea there was such a thing as Little Boots.

I may be falling into the “cool” trap, but I think you can give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m not just doing it for the sake of looking cool. Little Boots is amazing.