Friday, August 28, 2009

the soundtrack to a generation

Seriously! Does it get any better than this?

Damn! She gets it right nearly everytime.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

second singles redux

First looks at the earthy sleeve designs for "Nothing Is Keeping You Here" and "Shadowside", which a-ha will release as their next singles in the UK and Germany, respectively.

Both songs are plucked from a-ha's magnificent, ninth, studio album, "Foot Of The Mountain". As previously mentioned, both tracks will be remixed for single consumption.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

get organ-ized

You can always count on Sweden to deliver the goods on a great pop group. Bodies Without Organs, developed by pop wunderkind, Alexander Bard, is one of the best of the current crop of electronic oriented groups coming out of the Scandinavian nation.

Now on their fourth album, "Big Science", BWO have announced the release of the third single from it in the shape of "Rise To The Occasion". It's a more muted affair, but it still contains all the glossy, sparkly hallmarks of their best stuff, even if their lyrics NEVER make any sense.

I love the "Metropolis" inspired styling. It works perfectly with the group's slightly daft image. The video was directed by Kamisol who also lensed the previous single, the gloriously OTT "Right Here, Right Now".

Do you get a sense that someone is borrowing song titles from the past? "Rise To The Occasion" was a hit for Climie Fisher in 1987 and "Right Here, Right Now" was the title of two chart hits. Jesus Jones scored a big hit with it in 1991 and then Fatboy Slim used it for his 1999 worldwide smash. All of the aforementioned songs don't have anything in common other than being titularly identical. And I love how they nicked the lyric from "Time (Clock Of The Heart)" by Culture Club for the middle bit of "RHRN". Clever, clever.

And with the success of Swedish songstress, Agnes, with her mammoth dancefloor ditty, BWO have gone under the knife for the UK market and have emerged with a little reconstructive surgery. "Right Here Right Now" has been reswizzled. They applied new shades of lipstick and eyeliner to the video. And they even brought along Swedish chanteuse, Velvet, to warble a few lines. It deserves to be a massive hit.

The only downside to the new single is that it's not going to be released as a CD single like they've done in the past. It will only be available digitally which means it will probably be difficult for fans outside Sweden to get their hands on the raft of remixes commissioned for it. That does not make me happy.

art vs. commerce

Over the last few months, I have had casual conversations with various artists - some you know and others you might not have heard of. Most of those discussion usually wound their way toward the artist's dissatisfaction with their label and its staff. It's a complaint as old as time itself. One of the things that sticks in their collective craws is the lack of attention paid to their artistic vision, especially when it comes down to the subject of cover art.

I've always been a sucker for great packaging and inspired artwork. With the advent of digital files and the disappearance of CDs and, before them, vinyl LPs, most creative departments at the labels slap together any old designs. And I use that term loosely.

So let's compare and contrast. Shall we?

Here is the original cover art for the album, "Complete Me", by Frankmusik.

Gorgeous! Really interesting, deep and layered. A work of art, if you will. This was the visual theme for the album and its attendant singles.

However, after several singles didn't exactly light the UK charts on fire, Island, the label to which Frankmusik is signed, decided this would be a better choice for the album sleeve.

Dull. Boring. Average. But hey! It's got a shot of his face on it. People will make the connection. Right? He doesn't look like a happy kitten.

Here's the proposed cover artwork for Annie's new album, "Don't Stop", which isn't terribly new since it has been well over a year since many of the songs on it originally appeared on an advance sampler.

Stunning! Who doesn't love a bit of flash and some light trickery? This release of this album has been wrestled away from the corporate hands of a major label and lovingly placed back in the domain of the artist.

The first single from the album, "I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me", was a pop masterpiece. Then artistic differences with Island, the label to which she was signed, prevented any further singles from being released and Annie, subsequently, parted ways with the company.

Here's the sleeve for the album as it was intended to be released on Island toward the end of 2008.

Yawn! Nothing that screams "star quality". Rather average. I bet the designer thought the off center, spilt image was edgy. Note to artists, especially those signed to Island. Stick to your guns on the artwork tip.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes artists don't have their best intentions in mind. At that point, an intervention is necessary. But it's important the artwork somehow convey the mood, feeling and emotion of the music contained within.

a-ha reswizzle their next single

On September 21, a-ha will release the second single from the album, "Foot Of The Mountain", in the UK. "Nothing Is Keeping You Here" is not only a bold remix of the album track, it also appears that the lyrics have been altered and a new vocal recorded. It might very well be a completely new recording.

Praise be to the interwebs. After rummaging around a bit, I stumbled across this clip of the track on YouTube moments ago.

It appears they eschewed the more understated, rock elements of the original and replaced it with a chunky, electronic soundscape. It still maintains the grand, dramatic flair of the original. Morten loves to hit those lung crushing, high notes. Bless his heart. The whole thing sounds like it was sprinkled with bits of "The Sun Always Shines On TV".

Friday, August 21, 2009

the consequence of sleeping

Recently, EMI released "The Best Of Tasmin Archer" as part of their ongoing efforts to mine the company's extensive catalog.

Way back in 1993, I was a young, ambitious product manager at the last bastion of the English owned, recorded music empire. Back then, your passion and enthusiasm paid off. Not so much these days at a label.

It all started to disintegrate toward the end of the last century. And there certainly were numerous mile markers along the way that I could point to. Many artists signed to EMI were not immune to the obstacles and obstructions put in their path.

I was lucky enough to product manage most of the European acts and artists at EMI. I was responsible for the marketing strategy for Roxette, Pet Shop Boys, Go West, Robert Palmer and many others including Tasmin Archer, a shy singer/songwriter from the UK with a lovely, contralto voice.

She came to my attention when she raced to #1 on the UK singles chart in 1992 with her debut single, "Sleeping Satellite". With such a lofty presence overseas, I was sure the US company would pick up the option for her album, "Great Expectations", which was released across Europe at the back end of 1992. It was, and still is, an enthralling listen.

"Sleeping Satellite" is one of those grand moments in pop music for which many writers and artists would give up an appendage. It's moody, dreamy and affirmative with an instantly memorable chorus. Although Tasmin is mostly remembered for that gem, her debut album was stacked with potential, hit singles, all of which are represented on this retrospective. Listening to the clutch of songs on this collection, it's clear that she possesses the grace of Joni Mitchell, the passion of Joan Armatrading and the pop prowess of Elvis Costello.

I clearly recall seeing the video for "SS" the very first time. Tasmin was an unassuming pop star. One of those people like Rick Astley which, upon first listen, before you see them, conjure up images completely at odds with their true visual identity. This, combined with the kind of songwriting skill and vocal presence she possesses, is part of what makes a great artist.

After the UK success of her debut single, it was time to introduce Tasmin Archer to the American, music buying public. Oh, but there were snags which prevented me from smoothly moving forward immediately after the calendar change into 1993.

Firstly, I was ready to launch with the existing video. But the powers in "upper management" decided a new one should be shot that looked "more American". I never could quite figure out what that meant, exactly. Poor Tasmin was made to look a little spooky and spiky for the US version of the vid and piles of money were plonked down for something that wasn't far from the vision of the original video.

Internally, the folks at the label for most of my tenure there, insisted on messing about with anything that was essentially completed and delivered from the overseas territories. They wanted to piss all over something just to mark their territory. This happened for every international act I worked on with the exception of Pet Shop Boys who, thankfully, stood their ground. They had complete control of the aural and visual presentation of their art. They still do to this day. The other acts had to endure the constant intrusion of unqualified people messing about with their creations which were properly and wholly developed by their local teams.

As "In Your Care", the second single lifted from "Great Expectations", worked its way up to #16 in the UK singles chart at the start of 1993, the US division of EMI was faffing about with how to present Tasmin to US audiences. Feedback from radio programmers was that "Sleeping Satellite" was a superior song to launch with which filled a void in their playlists that wasn't part of the growing, grunge movement or the one-off, lightweight dance ditties that dotted the dial. However, most British acts were not being embraced after the likes of EMF and Jesus Jones tore up the charts even though they, too, emerged from the EMI stable of artists.

The other unfortunate situation which comes up all too often in the US is the issue of race. Some people just couldn't get their heads around the idea of a black, British singer/songwriter. And I fought tooth and nail to get the message out that music knows no color boundaries.

Then the worst almost occurred. I was in a staff meeting to discuss "SS" and it was strongly suggested by the radio promotion staff that we commission a hip-hop remix of the single with a rapper featured in the middle section. Note to folks out there at what's left of the labels. With rare exception, you should NEVER listen to the artistic suggestions of radio promotion people. And certainly NEVER follow through on them.

I clearly remember voicing my opinion on the subject and adamantly suggested that such a move would halt any development for both Tasmin and her debut album as it would skew her sound too far away from the audience that might likely embrace her singer/songwriter roots. Saturated airplay across all formats is not necessarily a good thing. Of course, I'm sure my 42 year old head is expressing this much differently now than my 26 year old mouth did at the time. But EMI was always good at shooting itself in the foot. Thankfully, I stood my ground and they relented.

Back to "The Best Of Tasmin Archer". The collection features all of her singles and a smattering of 12" mixes which appeared across various single formats. And one remix for "When It Comes Down To It", I believe, was previously unreleased. But it's the singles and album tracks that truly give you the best insight into Tasmin's pop vision.

As stated above, "In Your Care" was released as the second single from her debut and all proceeds were donated to the charity Child Line. And for good cause since the song dealt with the grim topic of child abuse which Tasmin feels very strongly about as revealed in interviews given at the time. This prompted many to compare Tasmin to Suzanne Vega who had a career defining hit a few years earlier with "Luka" which tackled the same subject matter. All female singer/songwriters obviously sound the same. Right? Oh, we love it when the press find a hook on which to hang their collective hats.

The law of diminishing returns started to come into effect as "Lords Of The New Church", the album's third single, peaked at #26 shortly after it hit the shops that May. It beautifully showcased Tasmin's broad range of influences with the single sounding like a blend of Texas and Elvis Costello with The Mamas And The Papas chiming in on backing vocals.

With summer in full flight, "Arienne" was lifted as the fourth and final single from "Great Expectations" and peaked at #30. It's my favorite song from the album and, unfortunately, it vanished as quickly as it appeared. The chorus of the song always reminds me of "Carrie Anne", a hit for The Hollies in 1967 which reached #3 and #9 on the UK and US singles chart, respectively. And that seems to further drive home Tasmin's deep love for the long lineage of great British songwriting.

It's no wonder that "Somebody's Daughter", a single that, for some unexplained reason was only issued in Germany, channels classic Fleetwood Mac. Most certainly, it would've continued Tasmin's top 40 string of singles in her homeland.

To this day, "GE" sounds fresh and has stood the test of time. Quality songwriting usually does.

Before we get to "Bloom", Tasmin Archer's sophomore longplayer, she paid homage to her roots and inspiration by releasing "Shipbuilding", an EP of Elvis Costello covers in 1994 which was intended as a stop gap between albums.

It scraped to #40 in the UK singles chart and included the title track (originally recorded by Robert Wyatt in 1982, "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror", "All Grown Up" and "New Amsterdam". Unfortunately, only "Shipbuilding" makes the cut on "The Best Of Tasmin Archer". She turned in a wondrous performance of the song, especially during those fleeting moments where she eerily channels the voice of Karen Carpenter. The goosebumps from that alone make it a fine addition to her body of work represented here.

Then a bit of silence. It wasn't until 1996, nearly a full four years since her debut album, that Tasmin and her songwriting partner, John Hughes, summoned up some new material for,"Bloom", the follow up to "Great Expectations". Britpop was in full swing and, in truth, Tasmin didn't zig when she might have zagged. Singles with a fresh swagger and a touch of psychedelia like the George Harrison-esque "Sweet Truth" and the thumping battle cry of "One More Goodnight With The Boys" fit in nicely with the sonic vibe of the times but didn't have the laddish charm that was so prevalent in the charts or across the airwaves. Also, the EMI machine was far too busy with the likes of Blur and Supergrass as they continued their rocket ride into the superstar stratosphere.

As a result, they didn't give much attention to the rest of their artist roster and Tasmin's album sank without a trace with only "One More Good Night With The Boys" being her final entry on the UK singles chart at a lowly #45.

However, "Bloom" shows tremendous growth and a more confident stride. Thankfully, four tracks are included, the aforementioned singles accompanied by "I Would Love To Be Right", which wears its Costello leanings to the fore and features some jazzy, Steely Dan inspired guitar figures and "You Made A Fool Of Me" with Tasmin's vocal taking on hints of Chrissie Hynde throughout and, once again, incorporates shades of Texas.

"The Best Of Tasmin Archer" is a must have if you want timeless, evocative storytelling wrapped in warm, earnest vocals and trimmed with all the classic hallmarks of the best, guitar driven pop that has come out out the UK. If you're discovering Tasmin Archer for the first time, this collection is the best place to begin.

Now, if I had the opportunity to wrap my hands around the tender throat of Tasmin Archer's EMI owned repertoire, I would have simply reissued deluxe editions of both longplayers featuring all the non-album b-sides, acoustic performances, remixes and, perhaps, a smattering of demos. Sadly, I no longer run that company's catalog department. Won't someone pick up the phone and let them know they are missing out? Have them call me. They won't regret it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

second singles

A-ha just revealed they will be releasing two different songs as the second single from their monumental longplayer, "Foot Of The Mountain".

"Shadowside" will be the next single in mainland Europe while the UK will be treated to "Nothing Is Keeping You Here", which is one of my favorites on the album. Each will be delivered in a remixed version for single consumption.

Here are the songs as they appear on the album.


"Nothing Is Happening Here"

Apparently, "Shadowside" is scheduled to be the third single released in the UK. "Nothing's Keeping You Here" will be available from September 21.

Strange that no word has surfaced about a single release for "Riding The Crest", which hearkens back to the more electronic sound they delivered on their debut, "Hunting High And Low". The first three singles, all of which I love, don't really reflect the more electro splashed sound they've introduced on their latest.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

beautiful Knight

Beverly Knight, the first lady of UK soul, returns with a "Beautiful Night", a lovely, new single on September 7.

Looks a bit like a competition from "So You Think You Can Dance".

The single precedes the September 14 release of her sixth album, "100%". It comes nearly fourteen years after Beverly released her debut album, "The B-Funk".

Saturday, August 15, 2009

celebration revelation

The tracklisting for Madonna's forthcoming greatest hits collection, aptly titled "Celebration", has been unveiled. Huzzah!


1. Hung Up
2. Music
3. Vogue
4. 4 Minutes
5. Holiday
6. Like A Virgin
7. Into The Groove
8. Everybody
9. Like A Prayer
10. Ray Of Light
11. Sorry
12. Express Yourself
13. Open Your Heart
14. Borderline
15. Secret
16. Erotica
17. Justify My Love
18. Celebration


1. Dress You Up
2. Material Girl
3. La Isla Bonita
4. Papa Don't Preach
5. Lucky Star
6. Burning Up
7. Crazy For You
8. Who's That Girl
9. Frozen
10. Miles Away
11. Take A Bow
12. Beautiful Stranger
13. Hollywood
14. Die Another Day
15. Don't Tell Me
16. Live To Tell
17. Cherish
18. Revolver

There are a few interesting inclusions and omissions. "Miles Away", her lowest charting hit, internationally, makes an appearance over "Hard Candy" favorite and top 10 UK smash, "Give It To Me". I would've included "I'll Remember" or "Causing A Commotion", both #2 hits in the US, over "Hollywood". "This Used To Be My Playground", a #1 hit, gets kicked to the curb. I think all of her #1 US singles should've been included. But that's purely my personal opinion.

"Angel", "Oh Father", "American Life", "True Blue", "Deeper And Deeper", "Power Of Goodbye", "You'll See", "Bedtime Story", "Rescue Me", "Bad Girl" and "American Pie" (I hear you laughing at the back!) have all been admonished and are standing quietly in the corner for misbehaving in front of the relatives.

"Human Nature" isn't included despite imagery from the video featuring prominently in the television ads. "Rain" would've been a nice addition. And the inclusion of "Burning Up" is a welcomed surprise! All I know is "Live To Tell" better be featured in its original, single edit or there will be hell to pay!

Why didn't Madonna just put together a limited edition, five CD set featuring all of her singles with a bonus DVD featuring every last one of her videos alongside rare television performances? Her significant fan base would've bought up every last copy. After all, I do this kind of stuff for a living. You'd think she would call me up and ask my advice. She's got me on speed dial.

David Sylvian and deluxe designs

Time for more adventures in musical whiplash!

A few weeks ago, David Sylvian announced the release of his forthcoming, solo offering, "Manafon", which brings together a clutch of new songs recorded with some of the world's most renowned and well respected, improvisational musicians.

From the sound of the clips available on his newly redesigned website, it seems like he's continuing to push the envelope even further than he did with "Blemish", his last, solo longplayer.

David Sylvian has always challenged the listener by exploring all angles and avenues of ambient work and esoteric pop. These sounds and styles have become the hallmarks with which he's most associated.

From the looks of things, it seems David is cutting a more Bowie-esque shape these days. To me, he was always a part of an inspiring, arty and slighty arch trifecta that includes David Bowie and Bryan Ferry.

The tracklisting for "Manafon" has been revealed as follows:

1. Small Metal Gods
2. The Rabbit Skinner
3. Random Acts Of Senseless Violence
4. The Greatest Living Englishman
5. 125 Spheres
6. Snow White In Appalachia
7. Emily Dickinson
8. The Department Of Dead Letters
9. Manafon

There's lots to explore on his website. For instance, you can hear opening number, "Small Metal Gods", in its entirety, accompanied by a video directed by Hiraki Sawa. The song has a faint, blues tinged underpinning. It is typically sparse and fluid with his gorgeous, honey coated tenor guiding the listener on a sonic journey of discovery and immerses them in a delicate, shimmering, intimate space. It sounds especially lovely on headphones.

Since I am a self-proclaimed, packaging whore and aficionado - the two can exist in perfect harmony - it's essential that I give special mention and attention to the deluxe edition of "Manafon". As usual, David spares no expense in treating his fans to a sumptuous, beautifully detailed and truly collectable piece.

One of the most treasured pieces in my vast collection is "Weatherbox", a beautifully produced, limited edition, boxed set David released in 1989 . It features the albums "Brilliant Trees", "Alchemy", "Gone To Earth" and "Secrets Of The Beehive" in a package designed by artist Russell Mills in association with David and Yuka Fujii. At the time, it was the gold standard in artful, alternative packaging concepts.

The two-disc, box set edition of "Manafon" comes in two, separate, hard back, cloth bound volumes which are themselves inserted into a rigid, cloth bound slipcase. Each of the cloth bound items are adorned with gold, embossed lettering.

The first disc is a CD which comes packaged with a 40 page, full color, printed, perfect bound book featuring the complete lyrics from the album and is accompanied by artwork from artists Atsushi Fukui and Ruud Van Empel.

The second disc is a DVD featuring the filmed documentary, "Amplified Gesture". Packaged with it is a 24 page, full color, printed, perfect bound book and includes a foreword by Clive Bell, as well as photos and biographies of all of the contributors to the documentary. It also features the entire album in 5.1 surround sound.

More images of the deluxe edition of "Manafon" can be found here. Simply stunning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

look who's getting fresh

I feel like I just snorted an entire bottle of amyl nitrate. ZING!

Pete Hammond took "Left My Heart In Tokyo" by Mini Viva, a reasonably decent single, and swizzled it into an amazing, retro, dance around your handbag, floor filler.

There's a joke about Pink Lady in here someone. Don't bother me, kid. Ask your parents!

Remember how Cliviles & Cole were brilliant at pulling influences from different "classic", "old school", disco records and refashioning them into amazing pop nuggets? Pete's back and he's got that same knack. Take a listen to "Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend" by Mel & Kim.

All that missing in the Mini Viva remix is that wicked, whip sound. And by the way, it doesn't look like Pete's mix is going to be made commercially available. Someone shoot me. Time to fire up the interwebs for a search.

you got to have Faith

A while back I mentioned how mesmerized I was by Paloma Faith and her debut single, "Stone Cold Sober". Now the ginger starlet is ready to unleash her gorgeous, second single, "New York" and a suitably cinematic video has been lensed.

I think I peed a little.

Let's hope her forthcoming longplayer, "Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful", is as lush and grand as its first two singles.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bananarama glamour

Ring the alarm! We are pleased to reveal the cover art for "Viva", the hotly tipped, highly anticipated album from Bananarama.

Does it get any more glamorous than that, kittens? Not so fast. Take a gander at the sleeve for "Love Comes", the lead single from the album, produced by the masterful, Ian Masterson.

Sarah and Keren look delicious. It's a bit 80s retro in a Kim Wilde, "Kids In America" kind of way. Metal mini blinds are one of the defining images of early 80s videos. Just ask Corey Hart.

"Love Comes" will be released on September 7 followed by the album a week later.

weekend warrior

Calvin Harris seems to be turning into a proper pop star right before our very eyes. His new single, "Ready For The Weekend", is a bit of an 80s vs. 90s soundclash. It's sprinkled with retro dance elements from TWO decades. And who doesn't love a screaming diva over some pumping beats? I must find my glowsticks.

I feel like I'm watching an ad for Target, though. And if I'm not mistaken, Calvin looks a bit like Per Gessle from Roxette in the vid.

And how brilliant is this?

Imagine the chat up lines he might have incorporated into his "work" day. I suspect life is quite good for Calvin at the moment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the waiting game

I've been playing around with Soundcloud for a while and I totally dig it. Imagine being able to share songs among friends in a simple, easy way. Oops! My infomercial roots are showing. Must get those touched up.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I discovered a brand new track that's about to be released by New York, electro maestros, My Robot Friend, which features the husky, dulcet tones of Alison Moyet. It's called "Waiting" and it's going to appear on MRF's forthcoming longplayer, "Soft Core", which will be available on October 13 from all fine shops (what's left of them) and digital storefronts.

Clicky click for joy.

It almost starts out a bit like "The Other Side Of Love" for a moment. Then that unmistakable voice struts in and lets you know she's raring to blow. The whole thing has shades of Yaz.

Apparently, there is a new, greatest hit collection in the pipeline scheduled to be released before the end of the year. As if brilliant sets like "Singles" and "The Essential Alison Moyet" didn't cover her career properly. Not sure why someone feels the need to scrub them up.

new boots and a pink tutu

Shortly, Natalie Imbruglia will return from the wilderness with a brand new album featuring a brace of new songs written with Chris Martin from Coldplay. "Want", the first single from the album, will be released on September 28 followed by her fourth longplayer, "Come To Life", a mere seven days later. It follows two, relatively quiet years since she wrapped up her first decade of singles with "Glorious: The Singles 97-07".

Has it really been TWELVE years since "Torn"? For the love of laundry, the space-time continuum hurts my head.

In a bit of a strange move, the first peek into the album is a video for "Wild About It", a jaunty little number accompanied by a video of Nat in a pink tutu and black boots. Natalie loves it when things "go viral". By the looks it, she likes a bit of a knees up, as well.

Also, you can listen to a clip of "Want" over at Popjustice where they preview all the pop that's fit to print. Or you can listen to it in the following clip which has a crazy, French, radio "DJ" shouting over the top of it. Apparently, if you weren't aware upon first listen, "Want" is a "new sexy song".

As Darren Hayes so rightly pointed out on Twitter, "Want" sounds a bit like Kate Bush circa "Running Up That Hill", not in Natalie's vocal but in the sonics of the production - tribal drumming, spooky bits and deep, low octave backing vocals in the choruses.

Everytime Natalie returns to the pop machine, she delivers one, great single and then she's off the rails again. So far, with only two songs to judge by, she might be back with a solid album full of wonderful performances and sparkling tunes.

an invitation to the dance of life

I think Pet Shop Boys said it best in "Se A Vida É" - "life is much more simple when you're young". But you might as well party your ass off in your 50s if you can.

The old broad can still shake it better than the best of them. Who else can string together 34, instantly recognizable hits and still have plenty a grade A cuts left over? If the commercial reflects some of the songs featured on this ultimate greatest hits set, does that mean "Human Nature" will be on it? I love the song, but it was hardly one of her biggest hits. Although, it did reach #8 in the UK singles chart. You just know there's gonna be some hair pulling when she finally unveils the tracklisting.

Personally, I want the single edit of "Live To Tell" on this collection. The album version has that extended, ethereal break in the middle that sucks the energy out of the song.

Monday, August 10, 2009

beautiful boys

We've just been on the horn with EMI. It looks like the late 60s panache of "Beautiful People" will be the third single from "Yes", the Pet Shop Boys' tenth, studio longplayer. It's certain to follow previous singles, "Love Etc." and "Did You See Me Coming?", into the hit parade.

It's a bit shocking as most fans and followers of everything PSB surely thought "All Over The World" would've been the second or third single. The glam stomp of "Pandemonium" was my personal favorite.

"Yes" is jam packed with single choices. And I'm sure it wasn't easy to decide. After all, if this was fifteen or twenty years ago, four or five singles probably would've been lifted from the album with a surprise, non-album single thrown in for good measure. Those were the good old days. Wouldn't it have been amazing for them to have put out their version of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" as a single?

Let's hope "Beautiful People" performs better than its predecessor which reached #21 in the UK singles chart making it only their third single to peak outside the top 20.

And in a brilliant moment of serendipity and coincidence, I just received my tickets to see PSB at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on September 1. The anticipation begins building now.

Friday, August 7, 2009

don't call it a throwback

So, I've been digging on "Ocean Eyes", the newly released longplayer from Owl City. Daft name really. But no one would really write about Adam Young if he used his real name. It's so unsexy in the crazy world of pop music.

Let me start by getting this out of the way so it doesn't weigh down my synopsis of the album. Adam, my dear, I would find it nearly impossible to believe that you weren't a massive fan of The Lightning Seeds. If I interviewed him and he told me he never heard of them, I'd swear he was a bold faced, class A fibber. His inspirations are crystal clear like a Caribbean lagoon. But the album never comes across as a throwback. That being said, if you like The Lightning Seeds, Frazier Chorus and various other early-to-mid 90s British pop, you'll certainly have palpitations should you choose to wrap your ears around "Ocean Eyes".

If you prefer the flavor of digital files, I suggest you download the album from iTunes because you get a couple of exclusive tracks. The first is a sprightly, mostly instrumental, dance remix of "Hello Seattle" which channels the heart of Erasure and features a lead synth line throughout which sounds like it was plucked right out of "While You See A Chance", Steve Winwood's big hit from 1981. "If My Heart Was A House", the second bonus track, is a lilting, piano driven waltz.

Most of the album is upbeat, bright and jolly with keyboard licks aplenty and percussion loops at every turn. Adam's sweet, slightly plaintive and nasally voice ups the pleasantries and general cheeriness of the album while lending the simple arrangements a touch of melancholy even at the most ebullient moments. And even though there's lots of saccharine sprinkled about the only nearly twee moment is "The Bird And The Worm". Thankfully, some nifty chord changes in the chorus save it from full tilt, sugar shock.

Most of Owl City's lyrics are a bit on the daring and challenging side for today's pop market. In fact, songs like "Cave In", "Hello Seattle" and "Dental Care" show a fondness for unusual subjects and situations. And that's not a bad thing. It gives the album a distinct identity in the crowded mediocrity of the current, musical landscape most new artists have been furrowing over the last decade.

The twinkly sounds of "The Saltwater Room" and album highlight, "Fireflies", give way to bigger, slightly arena rock choruses which give the songs more dimension and depth. And that's true for most of the album. Where "Ocean Eyes" could easily get boring, it's the shifts in arrangements and production within songs across the album that keep things fresh and interesting throughout. It's an album where the ear candy enhances the listening experience rather than relying on it to carry average material. The songs are strong, substantial, fantastic and grab the listener's attention right from the muted, opening strains of "Cave In" through the hyper, handclapping and strumming guitars of "Tidal Wave". Never a dull moment.

I suggest adding two recent songs which Owl City recently added to iTunes before the release of "Ocean Eyes" and thus, aren't included on the physical configuration of the album. "Hot Air Balloon" is a swingbeat affair which uses rhythmic, acoustic guitar to great effect in the way Erasure did in "Victim Of Love" or "A Little Respect". The way in which the guitar interplays with the warm, synth sounds reinforces the comparisons.

"Strawberry Avalanche" continues the Erasure-isms with a very, Vince Clarke inspired, keyboard figure repeating throughout a more muted number which still manages to pack more melodic punch than most pop artists do these days. Although Owl City's references lay squarely in the 80s and early 90s, the music never feels like it's a throwback. And even though it's contemporary sounding - fleeting, sideways similarities to power pop combo, Hellogoodbye, aside - the album never sounds like a record executive took it by the throat and tried to hammer it into something derivative. That alone is a major accomplishment for an artist in the current, musical climate.

Strange that this would find a home on a US label since I can't see anything on this album garnering any radio play. But then again, terrestrial radio is not the promotion vehicle it used to be. I find that a lot of the best music is shared among friends and acquaintances which is made more direct and immediate since the advent of the interwebs. So share "Ocean Eyes" and a smile with someone who loves uplifting, melodic, pop music.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

welcome back Mr. Williams

News flash! It was just announced that Robbie Williams will return with a new album and single this year. It coincides nicely with the end of the campaign for Take That's most recent album, "The Circus", and the subsequent tour. How convenient.

The forthcoming album, his eighth longplayer, is called "Reality Killed The Video Star". It will be released on November 9. Ahead of that, the first single from the album will be "Bodies", on October 12. Both the single and album have had its knobs twiddled by Trevor Horn, the titan of all producers. It should sound massive!

Of course, the title of the album is a nod to "Video Killed The Radio Star" by the Buggles of which Trevor Horn was a memeber.

Robbie's looking well rested, don'tcha think?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

exile in excelsis

Few artists are able to sustain a career that runs the gamut of genres from electronica to torch songs, dance music, piano ballads, Russians romance songs and French chansons. Surely, Marc Almond is one of those rare breed of artists that's equally at home wrapping his velvety, glitter flecked voice around a club oriented throwdown, as well as a delicately produced, organic torch song accompanied by a solo piano.

He's also one of the most gifted interpreters of song in the rarefied space occupied by such luminaries as Charles Aznavour, Dusty Springfield, Serge Gainsbourg and David Bowie. He's acutely adept at finding the personal tragedy and the high glamor in every song he expertly chooses to sing. In one moment he's enraptured and insistent, then delicate and intimate the next. Simultaneously dramatic and sleazy, tender and aloof, desperate and hopeful.

On September 14, Marc Almond will return with "Orpheus In Exile", his 17th album outside his collaborative efforts with Dave Ball as one half of Soft Cell. It's also his first album since his triumphant return with the magnificent and glorious "Stardom Road" in 2007.

"Orpheus In Exile" continues Marc's love affair with Russia by delivering an album that features songs made popular by Vadim Kozin, the Soviet era's very own Frank Sinatra. And who better to document his rise to acclaim and subsequent banishment to the frozen tundra of Russia's Gulag prisons? Listening to a cross section of Marc's work will quickly reveal his intrigue of the fallen idol along with their trials and tribulations.

Prior to the release of "Orpheus In Exile", you can visit Marc Almond's official website for previews of four songs from the forthcoming album. They include the Baltic, sidewalk cafe chanson of "Boulevards Of Magadan", the yearning melancholy of "Pearly Night", the provocative, high-stepping "Brave Boy" and the delicious, delirious tango of "Autumn". Additionally, you can also view short films of three more songs, "Friendship", "I Love So Much To Look Into Your Eyes" and "Beggar", the first two of which are accompanied by grainy, silent film inspired videos which feature flashes of gorgeous, Russian, architectural opulence.

It's abundantly clear that as an artist, Marc identifies with the tradition and passion of romantic songs not only in his choice of repertoire and arrangements which are consistent with some of his best work but also in his robust, lustful vocal delivery. As usual, his voice is perfectly suited to his penchant for storytelling and painting distinct, aural settings around the subject matter. All of this from short audio clips! Imagine the impact of hearing the fully produced work!

I've always admired Marc Almond for his uncompromising approach to his work, always taking the listener on a journey of discovery. I can't wait until I'm able to lose myself in another one of Marc's magnificent, cinematic projects. Expect a review shortly after the release of the album.