Friday, July 31, 2009

sexy exclamations

I know I'm gonna catch a bit of stick for my wildly erratic tastes in music. Yesterday it was David Sylvian. Today it's the new Sugababes single. I can feel the whiplash setting in.

In anticipation of their forthcoming, seventh album, and the second in the Mk 3 edition of the all singing, all dancing, pop music troupe, Sugababes have delivered yet another polarizing, lead off single. "Get Sexy" is their 24th single release since they debuted with "Overload", a #6 hit on the UK singles chart way back in 2000.

Whether it's "Freak Like Me", "Hole In Your Head", "Push The Button" or "Girls", Sugababes tend to start their album campaigns with very strong, uniquely different singles that push the envelope of pop. The one exception was "About You Now" which really sounded like they were shooting for something similar to "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson.

"Get Sexy" is an insistent, assertive number that definitely rides a grittier, American vibe than their past efforts. I'm sure all of this has something to do with the fact that they've been signed directly to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label. There is something very Lady Gaga about it, too, particularly the sections sung by Amelle. Also, I like how Heidi's coquettish, vocal delivery is at odds with the raw, sparse and buzzy synth track. And Keisha shows some restraint instead of filling up every space with her melismatic histrionics. But I often like the flavor she adds with her vocal filigree.

For the very first time, Sugababes V3.0 feels like a cohesive unit rather than a rag tag group of songstresses all trying to bust their way out an awkwardly fitting dress. Although, I could have done without the Right Said Fred reference.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

new solo Sylvian

On September 14, David Sylvian will bestow a new musical venture upon the world with the release of "Manafon", his first solo album since he released "Blemish" in 2003.

It will also mark 31 years since the release of Japan's debut album, "Adolescent Sex". And in one fell swoop, that little piece of sunshine makes me feel quite ancient.

By no means has David been quiet for the last six years. In 2005 he delivered the exquisite and sumptuous "Snow Borne Sorrow" as a member of Nine Horses, a collaborative project with his brother, Steve Jensen, and electronic composer, Burnt Friedman. It's a magnificently produced longplayer which deserves your undivided attention.

"Manafon" will be available in two editions - a standard CD in a digipak and a twin volume, deluxe package which will include the CD accompanied by a bonus DVD featuring the film, "Amplified Gesture".

The album promises to be another powerfully bold, uncompromising work. Some of the contributors on "Manafon" include Evan Parker, John Tilbury, Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz and Otomo Yoshihide.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

copyright infringements are golden

Here's the video for "We Are Golden", the first single from the follow up to Mika's debut album, "Life In Cartoon Motion".

How long before Mika gets sued by Ellen Shipley and Rick Nowels who wrote "Heaven Is A Place On Earth", Belinda Carlisle's chart topping hit from 1987?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the truth and beauty about new pop prospects

Some of the best, new, pop music stars start out with less than stellar chart performances. Sometimes their success takes a more circuitous route than they would like or expect. Pop history is sprinkled with acts that sputtered out of the gate only to go on to have a glorious, sparkling career.

This year, I've been keeping tabs on Frankmusik and Paloma Faith, two artists who have piqued my interest for being slightly different than the average, torchbearers in the pop parade. For every La Roux and Little Boots that busts out of the gate, there are others that don't catch fire as quickly no matter how much routing they get from the sidelines or money gets thrown into their promotion. But that doesn't mean it's all over for them.

So far, two singles have preceded Frankmusik's major label debut, "Complete Me". The funky, "Better Off As Two" was the first, official single peaking at a lackluster #26.

Before that single, the manic "3 Little Words", replete with "Big" inspired video, surfaced to the delight of many fans.

This week, second single, "Confusion Girl", enters the UK singles chart at a rather disappointing #29.

With a support slot on Pet Shop Boys' current UK shows, Frankmusik certainly has the right profile and critical acclaim that would seem to guarantee a splashy debut and numerous hit singles. However, it doesn't seem like the plan is working as effectively as it could.

Frankmusik walks a fine line between quirky, electronic boffin and your average, pop star next door. It's a delicate balance in the fickle world of pop music which could easily tip in his favor. His songs are very much melody driven with the production more window dressing than . You can hear the lineage straight down from 80s pioneers Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones without him ever sounding like he's aping them.

"Complete Me", his forthcoming longplayer, is due to drop on August 3.

Another tremendous talent from the United Kingdom is Paloma Faith. Her debut single, "Stone Cold Sober", reached #17 this past June.

I like the imagery in the Sophie Muller directed vid. Rich reds, bolts of velvet and trowels of white foundation seem to be her trademark.

Paloma, without fail, gets tagged with Amy Winehouse comparisons. Labels are so desperate to duplicate the heartbroken, ciggies and booze success of "Back To Black" that they seem to forget that it's next to impossible to capture lightning in a bottle particularly when you're chasing after it.

Duffy, who has a sniff of late 60s, retro cool of the Lulu variety about her, approached success by being the cute, approachable yet ever-so-slightly aloof, blond, pub songstress. You know, the one from your graduating class that had a great voice given the appropriate material. Her debut, "Rockferry", was all black and white, scruffy sophistication. But she had solid songs to back up the voice.

"Mercy", clearly a signature song if there ever was one for a debut artist, had a bit of 007 urgency and sensuality about it that allowed her to stand out in a crowded field of Winehouse wannabes. In an attempt to inject a bit of rocket fuel into her career, Duffy's shark jump may have been her recent, bicycle riding, Coke commercial which put her on the path of attention grabbing, opportunist rather than soul stirring chanteuse.

Back to Paloma for a moment. Her debut single, the stroppy, strident, bluesy, horn fueled "Stone Cold Sober", has a little more meat around its ribs than most of the competition. Rather than present herself to the public as a bland, blonde songstress in the uninspiring, Pixie Lott vein, she has carefully constructed her style by combining her husky, vocal delivery and art deco, film star imagery with a beguiling mixture of equal parts vixen, siren, torch singer and fiery testimonial.

"Stone Cold Sober" bodes well for her forthcoming, thought provoking, debut album, the tantalizingly titled "Do You Want Truth Or Something Beautiful?" Oooooh! That's SO 2009.

Monday, July 27, 2009

viva Bananarama

Bananarama have returned to show the pop world how the hit single game is done properly! , "Love Comes" will hit the shops (what's left of them) and all, fine, online retailers on September 7. The album, "Viva", will follow a week later.

Here's the video for "Love Comes" which features the ladies and their complete transformation into pop music cougars.

What? No shirtless men? Blasphemy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

you've been Dolly Rockered

Oh, I love how seriously the Brits enjoy not taking things too seriously. Let's take a look at the Dolly Rockers with their brand new single, "Gold Digger".

It's a bit of an 80s mash up, n'est-ce pas? It was only a matter of time before someone sniffed out "Wordy Rappinghood" by Tom Tom Club for a sample.

And I like how they co-opted the melody from "Stool Pigeon" by Kid Creole And The Coconuts.

Plus, if I'm not mistaken, I believe the ringing guitar right before the chorus is sampled from "Venus" by Shocking Blue. A nice little nod to Bananarama, if I do say so. That and their singing in unison schtick. Their sassy attitude reminds me of Shampoo. Remember them?

Technically, "Gold Digger" is their first, official single. I think I liked "Je Suis Une Dolly" just slightly better. But how long before the Dolly Rocker flash mob "theme" gets old?

Seriously! Sampling and biting off Bill Wyman's 1981 hit, "(Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star", is a bit of brillance.

I'm putting odds on the producers coming up with that idea. One of them is Ray Hedges who produced, of all groups, B*witched. It's all starting to become clear now.

I shouldn't be so naughty because a couple of years ago, Mr. Hedges produced one of my songs, "I Believe", for Australian singer, Paulini. It's a small world after all, kittens.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

the visionary reveal

On September 28, one day later in the US, the world will be treated to "Celebration", the first, definitive singles collection from one of pop music's visionaries, Madonna.

The collection will be released in two, CD configurations - a single and a double. No word on the tracklisting or whether the songs included will be identical across releases in different territories. We can be sure that most of Madonna's 37, top 10, US hits will be featured. It still remains to be seen how the set is going to represent songs from her incredible run of 62, top 10, UK hits.

The first single lifted from "Celebration", her third retrospective after "The Immaculate Collection" (1989) and "GHV2" (2001), will be the title cut which is co-produced by respected DJ, Paul Oakenfold. A second, new song called "Revolver", will round out the collection.

Additionally, Madonna's legion of fans will be further enticed to splash out some cash for DVD featuring all of her favorite videos including some that have be previously unavailable on the digital format.

The cover art for the album was designed by pop culture, street artist, "Mr. Brainwash", and features another in a long line of iconic photos of Ms. Ciconne. One of my fave music bloggers over at XOLondon points out that it's a shot from an old, Helmut Newton session. The photo has been enhanced and treated in a similar style to the work of NYC artist, Stephen Sprouse, who made a name for himself in the late 80s and early 90s. Actually, it's a bit of a mash-up reimaging with a splash of Warhol about it, too.

Anyway you look at it, the sleeve is suitably and expectedly fabulous. After all this time, she still gives good face.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dolby double

My first experience with the electronic world of Thomas Dolby was not his signature song, "She Blinded Me With Science". Before hearing that seminal slice of 80s synth magic, I was introduced to his second single, "Europa And The Pirate Twins", a handclap happy, military march, story song inspired by a romantic liaison with a female friend from his youth.

The song, which received significant airplay on WLIR, a local, New York radio station that specialized in alternative music, also started garnering light rotation on MTV at a time when it was still a fledgeling, music video channel. The programming wizards deemed "EATPT" interesting enough to slip into their broadcast day from time to time. Blinked and you missed it.

It was nearly impossible to find the single in the import shops but I managed to find out it was released in the UK on a small label called Venice In Peril.

It would be nearly a full year later that he would unleash "She Blinded Me With Science", his sixth single, on an unsuspecting public. Since then, Thomas Dolby has circumnavigated the globe as a songwriter, producer, performer and technology guru. Not until now has his introductory work been reviewed and reinspected.

Last week, Thomas Dolby was the recipient of the latest slate of remastered reissues hot on the heels of his superior and long overdue hits collection, "The Singular Thomas Dolby", which neatly replaces his previous one, the fabulously titled, "The Best Of Thomas Dolby - Retrospectacle". The main reason to own "The Singular Thomas Dolby" is that it is a complete audio and video overview of Mr. Dolby's single releases, whereas "Retrospectacle" leaves out essential tracks like "Radio Silence" in favor of sprawling, album cuts like the magnificent and cinematic "Budapest By Blimp".

When I worked for EMI in the 90s, there were several albums which the senior corporate types wouldn't let me reissue. Two of them were the first two longplayers from Thomas Dolby. Fifteen years later, they have finally gotten around to issuing expanded, remastered editions of "The Golden Age Of Wireless" and "The Flat Earth".

"The Golden Age Of Wireless", Thomas Dolby's debut album, is notable in that it was released five times with various, different track sequences. All releases appeared on vinyl and cassette, but only the third and fifth resequencings appeared on CD, with each changing the order of the songs, replacing the album mixes with extended or single mixes and even adding and removing entire songs. In the case of "Radio Silence," a completely different recording, known as the "guitar version" which predates the synth production of the song, was included on the early US incarnations.

The first US version, issued by Capitol's Harvest imprint, excised the instrumental "The Wreck Of The Fairchild" and added the two sides of Dolby's first single, "Leipzig" and "Urges", both produced by XTC main man, Andy Partridge. Additionally, Capitol swapped the original synth version of "Radio Silence" for the more rock-oriented recording. Capitol also opted for the single edit of "Airwaves" and abandoned the original UK comic book cover in favor of a shot of Dolby on a stage during the production of Bertholt Brecht's "Galileo".

It wasn't until Thomas released his fifth single, "Windpower", that he was able to achieve a placing in the top 40 of the UK singles chart.

Then Dolby released the single, "She Blinded Me with Science", backed by "One Of Our Submarines" in late 1982, complete with a music video for the a-side which received tremendous exposure on MTV. At that point, Capitol removed "Urges" and "Leipzig" from the album and added the extended version of "She Blinded Me With Science" and "One Of Our Submarines". Have you been keeping track, so far? They also changed the album's cover art back to its original comic book design. Capitol also swapped the full-length version of "Windpower" for the single version which featured an edited intro and outro. The rest is history as "SBMWS" reached #5 on the US singles chart.

In 1983, the UK followed suit and reissued the album with a similar tracklisting to the second US version. They opted for the short single version of "She Blinded Me With Science" but retained the full-length versions of "Airwaves" and "Windpower", as well as the original synthesizer-driven version of "Radio Silence," just as all three had appeared on the first UK edition. This is the tracklisting that is widely available on CD to this day on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, after all of these maneuvers, "She Blinded Me With Science" failed to improve on the chart success of previous single, "Windpower", and fell far short of matching its American achievements. Internationally, a follow-up single was not issued after the US success of "SBMWS". Instead, Thomas retreated to his studio to work on his sophomore album which he had already begun before his presence was required for the promotional activities on the back of his American success.

"She Blinded Me With Science" neatly coincided with Thomas Dolby's intelligent, bespectacled image and established his "brand", as it would later be referred to in the 21st century. Such an indelible image combined with the slight, novelty nature of the song may have been partly responsible for preventing Mr. Dolby from reaching out beyond his solitary, American hit.

Twenty-seven years later, "The Golden Age Of Wireless", has been reissued which features the original sequence followed by peripheral recordings that were not included on the first version of the album. The bonus tracks include "One Of Our Submarines"; "She Blinded Me With Science"; the radically different, guitar version of "Radio Silence"; plus "Urges" and "Leipzig" which featured on his debut, double a-sided single.

Five, further, bonus tracks - all previously unreleased recordings - round out this reissue. They include "Urban Tribal" and a raft of demos like "Therapy/Growth", the John Foxx sounding "Pedestrian Walkway", "Sale Of The Century" which was scrapped and re-recorded as album track "The Wreck Of The Fairchild", and an early recording of "Airwaves" which features a middle section which was removed from the recording that eventually appeared on the album.

Plus, you get the full "Live Wireless" experience, a bonus DVD featuring a longform, concert performance from 1983 that was shot at Riverside Studios. Way back when, I had the original VHS tape. Remember those, kids? I haven't watched my copy in years. I suppose its all static by now. Glad to have it lovingly restored and issued in a digital format.

The only problem I have with this reissue is the sleeve art which has been ruined by placing an oversized, region code notice slapped across the lower, left-hand corner. I'm sure it's a mistake and many fans have chimed in about this ugly blemish on an otherwise stellar reissue.

In 1984, Thomas Dolby launched the campaign for his second album, "The Flat Earth", with "Hyperactive!", a song he wrote for Michael Jackson. The song became Dolby's biggest hit in the UK, peaking at #17.

The single's quirky video and the song's metal machine funk almost seemed to guarantee that it would recreate the success of "She Blinded Me With Science" in the US. Unfortunately, the single stalled at a disappointing #62 despite tremendous amounts of airplay on MTV, a world tour and heavy promotional backing from Capitol.

Second single, "I Scare Myself", a cover of a Dan Hicks song produced with jazz leanings and a smouldering, nightclub vibe, didn't even dent the US chart.

Listening to the newly released, remastered reissue of "The Flat Earth", it's easy to see that "Hyperactive!" was the most obvious choice for the first single. The rest of the album is more filmic than "The Golden Age Of Wireless", features intricate, ambient soundscapes and less, overt pop songs which marks "Hyperactive!" as the odd man out at the closing of the original album.

"Dissidents", the funky, cold war themed opener (and third single from the album) showed Dolby could take on a variety of intelligent subjects with ease. Definitely a solid marriage of substance and style. A combination which often went unrecognized in the synth laden landscape of the 80s.

"The Flat Earth" delighted fans and it perplexed those who expected another hit in the shape of "She Blinded Me With Science". It's almost as if his mad scientist schtick, imposed on him rather than developed by him, made sense. Dolby took a left when people expected him to hang a right. Of course he delivered the unexpected.

The album is a more sensitive affair than its predecessor. More rainforests and atmosphere than diodes and vacuum tubes. There are hints of Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan lurking behind the computer wizardry. And you can certainly hear the elements that found their way into his production prowess on the trilogy of Prefab Sprout albums that followed shortly thereafter.

For bonus tracks on this edition of "The Flat Earth", Thomas included "Get Out Of My Mix", a track based around samples of his own works and credited to Dolby's Cube. Also featured is "Puppet Theatre", a song dropped from the original release of the album and bears a resemblance to "Magic's Wand" which Dolby wrote and produced for Whodini. In the liner notes, he mentions how dissatisfied he was with the finished recording and figured he already had the album's obligatory single with "Hyperactive!". Therefore, "Puppet Theatre" got the axe.

Also included are the extended version of "Dissidents" and "Field Work", his collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Additionally, you get a couple of key songs from soundtracks like "The Devil Is An Englishman" which appeared in "Gothic" and "Don't Turn Away", a song featured in the now cult film, "Howard The Duck". Dolby co-wrote "Don't Turn Away" with Allee Willis who has had a hand in writing many hits including "September" by Earth, Wind And Fire and "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" by Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield.

The bonus tracks are rounded out by two live cuts from his 1984 world tour -"I Scare Myself" and "Marseille", a song he originally wrote with and produced for Adele Bertei.

All in all, a superior reissue campaign for two landmark, electronic, synth albums from a time when experimentation in sound and instrumentation seemed to rule the airwaves and video channels. Here's hoping Dolby's third and fourth albums, "Aliens Ate My Buick" (the cover art of which adorns my living room) and "Astronauts And Heretics", respectively, receive the same brushed up treatment.

Monday, July 20, 2009

power pop puree

The video for "Getting Up With You", the second single from The Yeah You's, premiered today. It's another perfect slice of power pop.

All of their influences are proudly worn on their collective sleeves. It's like Queen, XTC, The Housemartins, Squeeze and The Feeling were thrown in a blender with the controls set on puree. "Getting Up With You" will be released on August 30.

Their debut single, the bombastic "15 Minutes", peaked at #36 in the UK chart earlier this year. It's easily one of my favorites singles of 2009.

Can't wait for the full length album from the duo of Nick Ingram and Mike Kintish. It's sure to be a real treat.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

the summer of love

Jubilant and melodic. Those are the hallmarks of the best dance records.

Finally, after hitting the top spot of the UK singles chart, the video for "When Love Takes Over" has been unveiled. French DJ, David Guetta, and Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child have delivered the defining sound of the 2009 summer season with a dance jam which is clearly inspired by the prominent, piano figure featured in "Clocks" by Coldplay.

Not a very groundbreaking video. But with a song as joyous as this the music really speaks for itself and doesn't require any fancy window dressing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

divine diversion

Who doesn't love a bit of English foppery? Certainly, Neil Hannon, he of The Divine Comedy, is a full-on fan. Three years on from the glorious and exquisite "Victory For The Comic Muse" and a few months before he returns with the next TDC meisterwerk later this year, Neil has teamed up with Thomas Walsh of the Irish band, Pugwash, as The Duckworth Lewis Method who just released their eponymous longplayer. Please note tongue firmly in cheek.

The CD features 12 tracks. But if you're a fan of the newfangled, digital download configuration, you'll get a 16 song edition when you purchase the album from iTunes including a bonus track and a few demos.

The Duckworth Lewis Method, named for the mathematical way to calculate the target score for the team batting second in a one-day cricket match interrupted by weather or other circumstance, is a sonic collision of English styles from "Sgt. Pepper" era Beatles, the acoustic lilt of The Byrds, a bit of psychedelia and the swagger of early 70s glam sprinkled with touches of ELO and XTC. Orchestral flourishes and French chanson, usually associated with The Divine Comedy, are present, as well. 

Essentially, the album sounds like The Divine Comedy, which is mostly due to the significant presence of Neil Hannon's trademark croon. As you would expect, the project is a concept album about cricket.

The album is bookended by Beatles inspired, sonic references with "The Coin Toss" leading the proceedings with a short, sunny intro. It is immediately followed by the  chunky, skiffle-inspired "The Age Of Revolution" which lumbers along a rubbery, synth bass line and muted, horn figure.

"Gentlemen And Players" is a more pastoral affair dressed in shades of Amen Corner. And then we're treated to "The Sweet Spot", a rollicking, glam track with fuzzy synth lines and a blues infused vocal that wears its 60s influences on its sleeve. It's more of a nod to The Move than ELO, but the Jeff Lynne-isms are clearly present. In fact, you can hear much of that woven through the aural context of the entire album.

Of course, every song has a humorous bent to it and none more so than "Jiggery Pokery", which skips along at a clip with the middle section building into something sounding akin to a "Monty Python" skit.

"Mason On The Boundary" taps into the west coast, soft rock sound with lazily delivered lyrics and laid back harmonies. It comes across like Bread meets America with splashes of Alan Parsons Project for good measure.

"Rain Stops Play" is a jolly instrumental which is derailed at the last chord and swiftly moves into "Meeting Mr. Miandad", another Beatlesque homage complete with scripted, character chatter and ELO leanings which are especially evident in the sighed backing vocals in the choruses.

DLM bring the tempo down for "The Nightwatchman". It's the odd man out as it's more mellow soft rock leanings in an early 80s, Chris Rea kind of way. But it's the sweet sound of this song which cleanses the aural palette after large doses of clever, cricket witticisms and comedic touches.

"Flatten The Hay" brings us back to late 60s England with a harpsichord driven number in 3/4 time which sounds like a distant cousin of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood". Halfway through the song, they drift into sounding like XTC somewhere between "The Big Express" and "Skylarking" with Neil's vocals verging on a near imitation of Andy Partridge. "Test Match Special" continues their fascination and fantasy with XTC by embellishing it with some late 80s, synth backing.

The biggest nod to The Beatles on the album, fittingly enough, comes at the end of "The End Of The Over" which concludes with a single, emphatically hammered, piano chord, but not before it incorporates a Speak & Spell count in 6/8 time, some choral rounds, barbershop backgrounds and a short, reprise of the opening track, "The Coin Toss", conveniently bringing the entire song cycle full circle.

In conclusion, "The Duckworth Lewis Method" is a smartly written, kaleidoscopic, musical adventure through the beautiful and rather silly world of cricket as seen through the keen, observational lyrics typically associated with Neil Hannon's full time gig. Perhaps this diversion gave him some time away from The Divine Comedy after their departure from EMI, the label that released their previous, two albums, allowing Neil the ability to revisit his day job with a new joie de vivre, some finely fermented sarcasm, new experiences from which to craft a few stories, as well as an infusion of piss and vinegar that comes with the fire of being inspired.

Surprisingly, the songs work in stripped down, live setting, as well. Check out these three performances from July 2, 2009 on a tiny stage the size of a picnic table at Tower Records in Dublin.

"The Age Of Revolution"

"Gentlemen And Players"

"Mr. Miandad"

Lovely! I thought Tower Records saw the ass end of the drain pipe a few years back.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

an overpowering return

We just got word that Róisín Murphy, the high priestess of pop, is planning to release her third solo album, the follow up to the much lauded, critically acclaimed "Overpowered", this September. The first single, "Demon Lover", which Róisín described to BBC 6 Music as "a big, funky house track", should see the light of day toward the end of summer.

She further defines the sound of the new single as "a souped-up full on garage tune", and refers to the as yet untitled album as being quite gritty. She says, "It has a slightly London sound to it. It's a bit more urban and bass-y than 'Overpowered'."

In anticipation of the new single and album, let's revisit the fabulous majesty of Róisín's last album. The singles campaign began in grand fashion with the squelchy, acid, 808 bass of "Overpowered".

It was followed by the stunning, full-on, piano driven, 80s garage sound of "Let Me Know" which bites off a slab of Tracy Weber's 1981, R&B jam, "Sure Shot", replete with disco diner video.

Third single in, we were treated to the Cindy Sherman inspired video of "You Know Me Better".

Unfortunately, none of the songs charted in the top 10 of the UK singles chart which is a shame since each one was tailor made for mass consumption while still maintaining an element of cool that makes them stand head and shoulders above the competition.

"Movie Star" was scheduled as the fourth single from the longplayer. A surreal, fright night video was lensed for it. The bizarre intro sets up the madness quite effectively. Who doesn't love a little "Dynasty" inspired catfight?

And let's not forget the elusive, "Slave To Love", which was slated as a double a-side pairing with "Movie Star". "Slave To Love" was the soundtrack to last year's Gucci Pour Homme ad campaign at the height of Róisín's incredible, world tour. Perhaps the track will be added to her forthcoming album.

In the meantime, let's congratulate Róisín on her recent, pregnancy announcement as we patiently wait for more news about her forthcoming single and album. 2009 is turning out to be a banner year for music, my pets!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

22 fuck you

Bless her. Lily Allen is back with another new video. "22" is the UK's single choice as the follow up to "It's Not Fair".

Hey, Lily! I want my Colourfield LPs back. When is she gonna work with Terry Hall? It's only a matter of time. Love the Louise Brooks look, luv.

The rest of Europe is getting a more wholesome affair for the third single from her second longplayer, "It's Not Me, It's You". Ladies and gents, "Fuck You".

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

back to Black

In my teens, I used to frequent the import record shops that dotted Greenwich Village. It was still an area of NYC that was home to artists, actors, designers and all manner of creative types before it gave way to the gentrification of the mid-90s and with it, Starbucks and baby strollers.

Every Saturday, the new imports would arrive. I'd hang out for hours soaking in the new sounds from across the Atlantic. I remember one weekend in particular in 1984, in the middle of picking up the latest UK chart entries, a magnificent record came barreling through the speakers. It was moody with a chiming piano throughout and an urgent, booming male vocal that was both confident and romantic, cautionary and carefree. Parts of it reminded me of both ABC and The Associates. Although, in retrospect, it doesn't sound like either of them.

The single, housed in a simple sleeve featuring a photo of a half full vase and a yellow flower having fallen off its stem against a background of a black curtain, immediately caught my attention. I bought it on the spot. "Hey Presto" became my introduction to Black. And then...nothing.

In the days before the internet, it was easy for acts to release stuff and never reach people's ears outside the UK. At the time, Black never featured in "Smash Hits". Not a note was written in "Billboard". Nothing. One single and then silence. It was like I stumbled across this marvelous record by accident.

That was until 1987 when I perused the weekly, UK singles chart and saw "The Sweetest Smile" making its way through the wave of Stock Aitken Waterman productions that occupied numerous positions in the top 75. Surely this had to be the same Black from a few years back. Indeed it was. 

Without even hearing a note of it, I asked the owner of my favorite record shop to order the single for me. It arrived the following weekend and I was enraptured all over again. The single eventually peaked at #8 on the UK singles chart.

"Wonderful Life", Black's signature song, was released shortly afterward and it, too, peaked at #8. But it became a classic, a touchstone. It's one of those songs every artist hopes to have in their career and then has the unenviable task of trying to work beyond its mark. The single set up the album, also called "Wonderful Life", to be one of the most essential releases of 1987.

For some unknown reason, the US record company had the brilliant idea of adding a sax to "Wonderful Life". Perhaps they thought it made Black sound more like Breathe. Unfortunately, the single didn't repeat its worldwide success in the American charts.

After three, beautiful albums for A&M - "Wonderful Life", "Comedy" and "Black" - Colin decided to go the independent route in a time when it often represented an artist was past his sell by date. But in 1993, after establishing his Nero Schwartrz label (Get it, foreign language enthusiasts?), Black returned with "Are We Having Fun Yet?", a fantastic collection of songs that showed there was a brilliant life for Colin beyond the constraints of a major label.

The album was released before the omnipresence of the internet. I recall reading about the album and it happened to coincide with one of my many trips to London. By this time, I had become a marketing executive at EMI and I managed to track down a telephone number for the label through my contacts.

I phoned up and spoke to someone that may have been Black's manager. As I think back, I'm not sure who it was. That detail has been lost to the mist of time. I recall scheduling an early evening appointment to pick up a copy of the CD. The label was housed in a small office above a restaurant. It felt a bit like a clandestine rendezvous for illegal substances. But I had a wonderful conversation with the manager, revealed my deep admiration for Colin's work, handed over the required amount of pounds and promptly inserted the CD into my Walkman for the trip back to the hotel. Such is my dedication to great music that moves me.

Enough with the past. Let's get to the present. Colin Vearncombe has graced us with his latest collection, "The Given", a full four years since his last fully formed solo album. Apparently, plans are afoot to release a second album, under the Black moniker, in September. Not sure what the reason is for the split personality.

"The Given" is an economical effort only in number of songs and purchasing ability. It is being given away free (Hence, the title?) at Colin Vearncombe's official website for a limited time. The rich tapestry of music within the zeros and ones is more substantial than most artists release in a lifetime. The common thread among all the tracks is, of course, Colin's passionate and exquisite prose draped against a backdrop of simple, earthy instrumentation. His voice is in fine fettle, a warm croon with a nod toward Scott Walker at times while still maintaining his unique, melancholic, vocal stamp. And I'd like to add that it's his finest work since "The Accused" which was released a decade ago.

"Naked" channels a bit of Roy Orbison and Jimmy Webb with its impassioned string arrangements, ringing guitars and cardboard box drumming. There's also a bit of Motown soul sneaking in around the edges.

Southern gospel and a hint of Muscle Shoals is dialed up on "Blondes" while "Chapter And Verse" is a lilting number with shades of early 70s, AM radio classic, "Ventura Highway", with its sexy Telecaster in tow. California soft rock meets English midlands pop. Probably my favorite track on the album.

"Breathing Underwater" is probably closest to the first, three Black albums. It's more "Everything's Coming Up Roses" than "Wonderful Life". It starts out with a scratchy, blues guitar and a driving drum pattern which gives way to a joyous chorus framed in tympani rolls and glorious backing vocals. The song ends with a repeating, Rhodes vamp out. My choice for second favorite track.

"John Lee Scared" is a boozy, little, stripped-down number while "Beneath The Radar" is a dreamy, acoustic song on which Colin's voice floats effortlessly over the reverb drenched guitar and echo chambered backing vocals. 

A Spanish themed guitar and brushed snare lead off "No Second Chances" which conjures up visions of a smoky, backstreet lounge.

"The Given" closes with the jaunty "Misbegotten Child" with its jangly guitar and driving rhythm section. Overall, the album is a solid affair and a must have if you like thought provoking lyrics, clever twists, emotionally delivered vocals, memorable melodies and top notch songsmithery. Like the best albums, each subsequent listen reveals deeper layers both sonically and lyrically. Definitely one of my top ten albums of the year.

Monday, July 13, 2009

love comes quickly

Here it is, kittens. "Love Comes" is the brand new single from Bananarama. It will appear on their forthcoming album, "Viva", which is due to be released in September.

I can just see the shirtless men and oiled bodies in the video now. Well done, ladies!

change we can believe in

The internet is a crazy beast. You can converse with people you've never met. Find out about things in the blink of an eye. And there is a certain e-etiquette I believe bloggers should follow. Always tip your hat to the messenger and thank them for directing your attention to information you might not otherwise have stumbled across.

People really close to me know that I've been waiting for the new Prefab Sprout album, "Let's Change The World With Music". Not in a desperate stalker kind of way. More like the warm feeling you get when an old friend turns up after you haven't seen them for a while. 

Looks like Paddy McAloon and co. are gonna release their new album on September 7. Until now, there hasn't been more than a peep about it. Sometimes I thought it might not see the light of day.

This morning, Stephen, fellow pop aficionado over at XO's Middle Eight, alerted me to the albums' sleeve design and tracklisting which were recently unveiled on the band's official, unofficial homepage

We're a little suspect in regard to the title. Very Julie Andrews, in my opinion. The cover art, although not terribly exciting, has a clean, graphic element which I quite like. The upside down i in "music" is both a bit odd and endearing. But seriously, a map of the world? Surely they could've come up with something better or more interesting. Or maybe that's Paddy McAloon's idea of being clever in an obvious way. Never underestimate the genius of a genius.

The tracklisting for the 11 song longplayer is as follows:

1. Let There Be Music
2. Ride
3. I Love Music
4. God Watch Over You
5. Music Is A Princess
6. Earth, The Story So Far
7. Last Of The Great Romantics
8. Falling In Love
9. Sweet Gospel Music
10. Meet The New Mozart
11. Angel Of Love

While I wait with baited breath for the album to drop, I'd love to share a couple of my favorite Prefab Sprout moments.

"If You Don't Love Me" was a single pulled from their first greatest hits collection, "The Best Of Prefab Sprout - A Life Of Surprises". One of Trevor Horn's finest productions. With a Paddy McAloon song and a suitably OTT TH production, how could it be anything but magnificent? Tenderness among the bombast.

Then I'm opting for "Cruel" from their debut album, "Swoon".

My favorite parts are the creakiness in Paddy's voice when he sings "lordy" in the first verse and the easy listening, 60s sounding ba-ba-ba's in the chorus.

Let's hope the new album continues the tradition of clever moments and top notch songsmithery we've come to know and love from the Sprout.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

best foot forward

Going into this new venture, I knew I was gonna have a backlog of things about which I could write. Don't get used to these long, intricate entries. And I don't suspect I'll post more than one a day. But since I'm on a staycation this week, I might write more than expected.

A couple of weeks ago, a-ha released "Foot Of The Mountain", their ninth album since their 1985 debut, "Hunting High And Low". Seriously, they have never put a foot wrong. It's interesting to note that they had success with "Take On Me" in the US first and then Europe, along with the rest of the globe, followed. Strangely, although their debut single reached #1 in the US, it only managed to peak at #2 in the UK. It was held out of the top spot by "The Power Of Love" by Jennifer Rush.

Many people don't realize that "Take On Me" was recorded twice. The first version, produced by Tony Mansfield who twiddled the knobs for Naked Eyes and Re-flex, was a total flop. It burns my tail that it has never been made available on CD. And I don't want a crackly, vinyl rip of it either. I want pure digital bliss.

The second version, produced by Alan Tarney, who wrote and produced "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard, is the one that became the classic.

Unfortunately, a-ha have been relegated to one hit wonder status in the US even though they managed to scrape a second song into the Top 20 of the Billboard singles chart with "The Sun Always Shines On T.V.", the follow up to their signature tune. It also gave the group their first and only #1 hit in the UK. 

Many hits followed in the UK while the band became a musical footnote in the country where they originally broke through. A lot of my friends are always surprised when I tell them a-ha still play to crowds of 100,000 plus in places like Brazil.

While a-ha managed a number of hits in the rest of the world, their chart performance started to wane around the time acid house and grunge were in full swing. In 1994, they took a sabbatical and returned re-energized in 2000 with the album, "Minor Earth Major Sky".

Nearly a decade on from their return, the Norwegian trio have dipped their toes back into a more electronic sound with the album, "Foot Of The Mountain".

However, the lead track and first single mines the grand, cinematic, guitar driven, pop sound they've become known for on their three, previous, studio albums. Presumably, it was done in order to ease the public into the album's different, sonic landscape which hearkens back to the group's debut.

It's interesting to note that the verses and the piano figure in "Foot Of The Mountain" are originally found in "The Longest Night" which is featured on Magne's solo album from 2008, "A Dot Of Black In The Blue Of Your Bliss". I've included here for comparison.

"Foot Of The Mountain", the album, is suitably moody and melancholy with Morten's heroic falsetto reaching fantastic heights throughout without ever overshadowing the songs or the production. You can certainly hear where Coldplay and Keane got their inspiration in the song structure and icy grandeur of a-ha's work both past and present.

To these ears, I'd have to say there are at least three more obvious singles on "Foot Of The Album". "Mother Nature Goes To Heaven" wears its "Violator" era, Depeche Mode leanings proudly. "Nothing Is Keeping You Here" is a dead ringer for Keane. And "Riding The Crest" is the closest thing to "Take On Me" they've recorded in nearly 20 years. In retrospect, it's almost as if they purposely never tread that ground until they felt it was safe to go back there. More of a self-referential homage than a desperate attempt to capture past glories.

train of thought

The key concept behind this blog is to share great music. Music that fills my lungs with life or takes my breath away. Maybe both. I'm not here to scoop exclusives. And coming into this at any point was always going to leave me with some catching up to do. I've got at least a half dozen entries already planned out in my head.

What better way to start things off than with an artist who has practically built her fanbase by hand and embraced the internet's inherent gifts?

I remember being introduced to Imogen Heap when she delivered her debut album, "I Megaphone", toward the end of the last century. I distinctly recall receiving it because it arrived in my mailbox with "Version 2.0" by Garbage. 

Since I loved the first Garbage album and eagerly anticipated the second, I gave Imogen's album a spin. It took a few listens, but I warmed up to it. Plus, Dave Stewart from Eurythmics produced a few songs and that caught my attention.

"Getting Scared" was the first single and standout track. To these ears, she sounded like a cross between Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morrisette. Not a bad thing by any measure unless, of course, you're trying to stand out in an already crowded field. 

Shortly after its release, "I Megaphone" was relegated to the CD shelves in my library where it sat unplayed for several years. By then, her label, Almo Sounds, went through a series of corporate vivisections and everyone other than Garbage disappeared once the company was purchased by the Universal machine.

A few years later, after Guy Sigsworth started showing up regularly on my radar courtesy of his magnificent production work with Madonna and Björk, I heard a couple of tracks from "Deatails", the debut album from his then newly-launched project, Frou Frou. I didn't recognize Imogen's name right away. It wasn't until I heard her breathy, sensual, vocal delivery that I realized I'd been mesmerized by her previously. She's got one of those goosebump inducing voices that commands the listener's attention.

First single, "Breathe In", incorporates shades of New Order and layers of vocals like bolts of raw silk flowing in the ocean breeze. Arresting and refreshing.

It was apparent that Frou Frou was more formally realized for Imogen. It became a sonic touchstone on which she built her gorgeous, sophomore solo album, "Speak For Yourself", which was released to critical acclaim in 2005.

Haunting, lead track, "Hide And Seek", featured in season three of "The O.C." and became one of the biggest-selling, downloaded tracks on iTunes. This is probably the moment when TV became the new radio and seemingly everyone wanted in on this new promotional vehicle for their artists and bands.

After a few years toiling away on the follow-up to "Speak For Yourself", Imogen is back, back, BACK! "Smash Hits" reference aside, she recently debuted "First Train Home", the lead single from "Ellipse", her third solo album, on KCRW in Los Angeles.

She is definitely leading the album campaign with the song that seems most similar to the material from its predecessor.

If you're new to Imogen Heap's beguiling style, check out how she developed the sounds and songs for "Ellipse" by paying a visit to her YouTube page where she documented the entire process in a series of video blogs. Very interesting and intriguing. And you get a better sense of her personality which adds a more human element to her songs.

"Ellipse" is scheduled for release in early August.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Inauguration Day

Another music blog. Just what the internet needed.

Seriously speaking - or typing, as the case may be - it has taken me a while and a tremendous amount of prodding to reach this point as it pertains to my relationship with music. Things often come full circle. Some circles may overlap. Simultaneously, all circles bring you everywhere and nowhere. So I've either arrived or haven't reached my destination. Or both.

In some form or another, I've always approached music from a communal POV. We all have those selfish moments when our favorite band goes mainstream and we feel abandoned. Secretly, we're all hoping for a little common ground with each other. And that's what music provides. So why not share it from the start? The internet is the perfect vehicle for turning people on, musically speaking.

As a kid, I used to share my favorite singles with friends by making little C60 cassette mixtapes. I was the crazy kid who walked through the high school corridors with a Walkman clipped to my waist and a Billboard magazine tucked under my arm. In my teenage years, I extolled the virtues of ABBA by writing and running their American newsletter. I have the paper cut scars to prove it!

In college, I ran the university's radio station to the point of infringing on the listening audience of some of the major, metro, commercial stations. This was before the music biz raped Nirvana and buried the alternative music format with the remains of Kurt Cobain. That event happened to coincide with me securing my first email account. The internet started making inroads and the music, media and entertainment businesses arrived at yet another crossroads.

As a marketing director, entertainment exec, producer and songwriter for close to 20 years, my mission to bring music to the masses has continued unabated, whether it is someone else's creation or my own.

Throughout it all, it seemed as if I was listening to the sound of one hand clapping. I've always been such a tremendous fan of music and there were very few outlets for me to share it with people. Sure, there was the odd friend or two, but never a sense of community around it. 

My tastes were, and still are, decidedly European in flavor. Melody is paramount. The pelvis is a priority. The two don't necessarily need to meet. Rhythm is the power but it doesn't always require a disco seance. But when the music moves me, whether its arrow is aimed at the heart or the feet, that's all that matters.

Now, through the magic of the internet, I can bang on incessantly about the sights and sounds that tickle my fancy and excite my soul. And if you get that reference, you're not only twisted, you're in the right place.

Welcome to my little corner of the musical universe. Pull up a chair. Make yourself comfortable. Pour yourself a cold glass of lemonade. Have a ladyfinger. The message is perfectly simple. The meaning is clear. Don't ever stray too far. And don't disappear.