Thursday, December 31, 2009

the year in sound

It's difficult to cast a dismissive hand over an entire year. Alas, 2009 was not one of the best years on record. Turmoil, tumult and tests seemed to appear around every corner. Thankfully, two trips to London and a solid schedule of live shows allowed for numerous bright spots and diversions. As usual, the ever unfolding soundtrack to the year managed to keep me sane throughout.

Typically, I pull together my year's top albums at the very last moment. Always trying to squeeze it in while maneuvering through life's year end slalom course. And there's always a dollop of procrastination folded in for good measure. You'll note that I don't rank my favorite longplayers numerically. It's a floating group of amazing albums. Ones that reveal deeper layers upon each listen. It's nearly impossible for me to put them in any superlative order. As a result, I list them alphabetically.

I'm sure there will be comments. Please submit them on the back of a cocktail napkin. Without further adieu...

a-ha - "Foot Of The Mountain"

If a-ha is telling the truth, then this, their ninth studio effort, is their swan song. And they're going out on a high note. Memorable, melancholy melodies, powerful lyrics and Morten's soaring vocals combine to full effect as these Norwegian titans deliver an album rich in textures and substance. Icy electronics, long absent from their soundscapes, make a noticeable and welcome return.

Fave raves: "The Bandstand", "Riding The Crest", "Foot Of The Mountain", "Shadowside", "Nothing Is Keeping You Here"

Lily Allen - "It's Not Me, It's You"

Lyrical wit for someone so young is a rarity these days. But Lily Allen is a stroppy lass with brain and the melodies to soften the sarcasm. With her sophomore effort, she moves on from precocious teen to acerbic, observational adult.

Although her antics and foul mouth get her the column inches, she's able to back it up with killer tunes and lyrical precision. It was only a matter of time before someone penned a song brazenly called "Fuck You" with the combination of brutal wit and a melody seemingly plucked from a schoolyard playground. Robbie Williams is gagging somewhere wishing he thought of it first.

Greg Kurtin's production is reverential without being retro and edgy enough without being brash. A stellar collection bristling with energy and attitude.

Fave raves: "The Fear", "Not Fair", "22", "Fuck You", "Who'd Have Known"

Annie - "Don't Stop"

From the Burundi drum, schoolyard chant, cheerleading intro to the cinematic chanson of "Bad Times", the Giorgio Morroder inspired "Songs Remind Me Of You" and the Saint Etienne-esque sounds of "When The Night" and "Heaven And Hell", it's clear that Annie's mission is to deliver a broad palette of pop flavors.

Current production maestros, Xenomania, along with the electro splashings of Richard X and up-and-coming twiddler, Paul Epworth fresh from his gig with Florence And The Machine, pack the album, full of freshness considering much of it was tangled up in a tug of war with Universal for the better part of two years.

If you purchase the bonus EP edition you get five additional songs including the taunting, whip cracking "I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me" and the dreamy, summer soundscape of "Anthonio", two that should have been massive hits if there was any justice in this world.

Fave raves: "My Love Is Better", "Songs Remind Me Of You", "The Breakfast Song", "I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me", "Anthonio"

Dame Shirley Bassey - "The Performance"

Ten years on from her last album of original material, DSB has released one of the albums of her career as she becomes the vocal vehicle for some of today's classic songsmiths. Pet Shop Boys, Gary Barlow, Manic Street Preachers, Richard Hawley and Rufus Wainwright deliver poignant vignettes perfectly suited to a venerable singer of Ms. Bassey's stature. I can only hope I look as fabulous at 72 years of age as she does.

Initially, I had no interest in this album after DSB's most recent, dismal effort where she covered Pink's "Let's Get The Party Started". It was the complete antithesis of "The Performance".

On her latest, she trills and bellows through the highs and lows of a woman well lived. With David Arnold behind the boards, he dresses her voice in gorgeous soundscapes and uses her talent as an expressive instrument within the arrangements.

Fave raves: "Almost There", "As God Is My Witness", "The Girl From Tiger Bay", "No Good About Goodbye", "The Performance Of My Life"

The Duckworth Lewis Method - "The Duckworth Lewis Method"

Essentially, this is the latest album from The Divine Comedy. It's dripping in 60s, English psychedelia which is not quite what one would expect from Neil Hannon's hand. With the addition of Thomas Walsh from Pugwash as his sidekick and creative collaborator, they created a concept album full of jaunty, whistle worthy numbers about ye olde English tradition of cricket. Thoroughly enjoyable and a magnificent stop gap before the next album proper from The Divine Comedy.

Fave raves: "The Age Of Revolution", "The Sweet Spot", "Meeting On The Boundary", "Meeting Mr. Miandad", "The Nightwatchman"

Paloma Faith - "Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?"

At first, everyone labeled poor Paloma as an Amy Winehouse retread hack. Slowly, as each track was revealed, it became evident that she has a deep, emotional connection to her work. She proves she has the gift of lyric interpretation and delivers every line with gusto. Her thick, husky, bluesy voice perfectly fits alongside the slightly torchy song selection.

A solid, confident, towering skyscraper of a debut. And it all came wrapped in splendidly, art deco inspired artwork.

Fave raves: "Stone Cold Sober", "Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?", "New York", "Stargazer", "Play On"

Frankmusik - "Complete Me"

The 80s influences are there. All proudly worn on the end of his sleeve. Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Scritti Politti. Thank goodness for his mother's record collection!

Unfortunately, "Complete Me" did not set the charts on fire despite critical acclaim. The label took too long to set up the album. The first single didn't get the massive push it deserved. And it didn't help that the artist was a bit prickly at the most inconvenient times.

With his vocal strength, killer songwriting acumen and arsenal of production wizardry, Vincent Frank, for it is he who is Frankmusik, delivered a debut which packed emotional punch. The lyrics about the cycle of a relationship came off sounding confident and defiant rather than needy and whining. Magnificent!

Fave raves: "Better Off As Two", "Confusion Girl", "3 Little Words", "Wonder Woman", "Vacant Heart"

Chris Isaak - "Mr. Lucky"

A return to form. With his guitar strapped to his back and James Dean, chiseled, good looks, Mr. Isaak released "Mr. Lucky", his ninth studio album in a career that dates back to his 1984 debut.

His latest collection of original songs delivers all the Chris Isaak hallmarks. There's languid tales of heartbreak and rollicking, good time, boozy, honky tonks. His voice flows effortlessly between velvety croon, expressive bravado and bawdy, rock n' roll aggression. Each song has its own character delivered in a way that's handled with the grace of an artist who combines his accomplished acting experience with his musical versatility.

The duets with Michelle Branch and Trisha Yearwood are beautifully dressed in chiming guitars, dripped in reverb and give a good tug at the heartstrings. All of his influences get the opportunity to shine from Roy Orbison to The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

Fave raves: "We Let Her Down", "You Don't Cry Like I Do", "We've Got Tomorrow", "Mr. Lonely Man", "We Lost Our Way",

Howard Jones - "Ordinary Heroes"

More traditional sounds and a stripped back affair from HoJo rather than the following the synthy, electro sounds he explored on previous album, "Revolution Of The Heart". "Ordinary Heroes" is an album showing his superior strengths as a singer/songwriter. With only ten songs included, Howard doesn't overstay his welcome return.

His plaintive voice still soothes. All the earworm hooks are there. His optimism is still unflinching. Everyman themes abound. From the James Taylor-esque intro of "Straight Ahead" through to the Kleenex happy strains of "Soon You'll Go", it's perfect music for Sunday mornings or travels down long, open roads. He even manages to make heartache sound joyous. A true gift.

Fave raves: "Straight Ahead", "Someone You Need", "Ordinary Heroes", "You Knew Us So Well", "Soon You'll Go"

Lady Gaga - "The Fame Monster"

It's official. Lady Gaga is the next big thing and there's no sign of her star fading anytime soon. Hot on the heels of her debut, she released "The Fame Monster", eight, towering, pop songs.

Clearly, the lady has been listening to lots of European records. Spot the references - ABBA, Boney M, Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell. "Dance In The Dark" even cleverly lifts and twists the synth riff from Depeche Mode's "Strangelove". "Alejandro" sounds like Lady Gaga dug out her Ace Of Base CDs.

Taking her main visual cues from Madonna and Grace Jones is an inspired combination of icons which guarantees she'll polarize opinions, enthrall her followers and assure there will be plenty of blogsploitation, today's version of water cooler chat.

All in all, a superior, sophomore effort that shows the growth of an artist. The one to watch in 2010 and beyond.

Fave raves: "Bad Romance", "Alejandro", "Speechless", "Dance In The Dark", "So Happy I Could Die"

Owl City - "Ocean Eyes"

The comparisons to The Postal Service and rave era Lightning Seeds are impossible to avoid. But rather than aping their styles, Adam Young, for it is he that is Owl City, has crafted cunningly clever tunes with equal parts insidiously catchy hooks and quirky lyrics.

His sweet and sleepy vocals are just the right side of saccharine. And "Fireflies" is the most unexpected #1 single to top the US charts in the last decade.

Look out for a deluxe, 2 CD version of "Ocean Eyes" in January. It will include seven addition tracks including the slap happy "Hot Air Balloon" and the effervescent "Strawberry Avalanche".

Fave raves: "Cave In", "Umbrella Beach", "Dental Care", "Fireflies", "Vanilla Twilight"

Pet Shop Boys - "Yes"

There are not many groups that can achieve a high water mark 25 years into their career. But that's exactly what Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have achieved with their tenth longplayer.

With the able production hand of the Xenomania team, two pop powerhouses collide and delivered a glittering pop masterpiece. The finest since "Very" nearly 15 years earlier.

Lyrical odes to all things from love to art and politics, PSB concocted album that had the ability to reach beyond their core following.

From beautifully sublime moments like "King Of Rome" to the glam infused stomp of "Pandemonium", late 60s pastiche of "Beautiful People", the Tchaikovsky sampling "All Over The World" and the euphoria of "Did You See Me Coming?", "Yes" stood affirmatively as the best and most consistent pop album of the year.

The plonky shuffle of lead off single, "Love Etc." may have been the most unexpected sounding single lifted from "Yes", but it's PSB's lack of convention that has endeared them to their battalion of dedicated fans.

And the album delivered one of my year's highlights. I had the honor of producing mixes of "Beautiful People". When you're summoned by greatness, you do anything you can to make the project come to fruition.

Fave raves: "Love Etc.", "All Around The World", "Did You See Me Coming?", "Pandemonium", "The Way It Used To Be"

Prefab Sprout - "Let's Change The World With Music"

Most shelved albums get cast aside for many reasons. One of them is usually due to the crapness factor of the music. Then there are the few jewels, seemingly banished to an artist's secret vault, whose legend builds over time among fans. Crazy stories and questions start surfacing about the actual existence of the songs. Shadows of possible tracklistings tantalize the faithful.

Such was the case with "Let's Change The World With Music", initially the follow up to the 1990's expansive "Jordan: The Comeback". Sony's lack of interest in the project subjected it to the oblivion of Paddy McAloon's studio. Thankfully, after a little cajoling, the album surface. A gorgeous, song cycle about music as a religious experience, it sits perfectly among the Prefab Sprout cannon. Paddy's voice singing sweetly over ambitious arrangements with clever turns of phrase around every corner.

The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been the musical contributions of the remaining Sprouts (Wendy Smith, Martin McAloon and Neil Conti) and production duties from stalwart studio boffin, Thomas Dolby. A boy can dream.

Fave raves: "Ride", "I Love Music", "God Watch Over You", "Music Is A Princess", "Earth, The Story So Far"

Saint Etienne - "Foxbase Beta"

An unusual animal. "Foxbase Beta" is a re-imaging of a classic. Nearly 20 years on from the blissed out, raved up early 90s, Saint Etienne call upon Richard X to reproduce their entire debut album, "Foxbase Alpha". It's an SE fan's wet dream come true.

It's rarely a good idea to tamper with a bonafide, landmark classic such as "Foxbase Alpha". But Richard X has managed to improved upon perfection. From the dubbed out, Balearic bliss of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" through to the joyful shuffle of "Spring" and the electrofied, girl group sweetness of "She's The One", the return visit to Saint Etienne's debut is an excursion on the version, a lovely side trip down the summer streets of London. As essential as any other longplayer in their twenty year body of work.

Fave raves: "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", "Carnt Sleep", "Spring", "She's The One", "Nothing Can Divide Us"

Colin Vearncombe - "The Given"

After a long absence, Mr. Vearncombe, aka Black, returns with one of two albums in 2009. The second was "Water On Stone", a longplayer under the Black moniker.

Channelling Scott Walker, Jimmy Webb and Phil Spector with nods toward the Muscle Shoals sound and early 70s, west coast soft rock, "The Given" is a lush and emotionally delivered album full of top notch songsmithery. An artist at the top of his game.

Fave raves: "Naked", "Chapter And Verse", "Breathing Underwater", "No Second Chances", "Misbegotten Child"

Honorable mentions:

"Sounds Of The Universe" - Depeche Mode
"Water On Stone" - Black
"Orpheus In Exile" - Marc Almond
"Ellipse" - Imogen Heap
"It's That Girl Again" - Basia

For those keeping score. My favorite albums of 2008 are:

"Traffic" - ABC
"Rockferry" - Duffy
"Join With Us" - The Feeling
"Seventh Tree" - Goldfrapp
"Tribute To Bobby" - Hucknall
"Open Soul" - Hue And Cry
"More Tales Remixed" - Incognito
"Perfect Symmetry" - Keane
"Hard Candy" - Madonna
"Break Up The Concrete" - The Pretenders
"Love Is The Way" - Eddi Reader
"Melody" - Sharlene Spiteri
"Beautiful Mess" - Swing Out Sister
"22 Dreams" - Paul Weller

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rae of light

In February, English chanteuse, Corinne Bailey Ray will release "The Sea", her sophomore longplayer and the follow up to her self-titled, 2006 breakthrough.

The first single from the album will be "I'd Do It All Again", a lovely, honey soaked, tear stained song that could easily be an ode to her husband, Jason, who passed away about 18 months ago.

The video beautifully captures the precious balance of mournful and joyous feelings in the tried and true "Groundhog Day" theme. There's a sense of comfort and security in a routine. The song itself, not a million miles away from her debut, carries on with the soulful and languid Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye influences. A stunning and sumptuous return. A ray of light in the turgid, coffee table backwash of acts like Norah Jones and Michael Bublé.

Then there's this recent, stripped down performance for "Later...With Jools Holland".

Goosebumps! Such a gorgeous combination of heartbreak and exalted joy. Two of the biggest motivators for songwriters. As old as the sands of time and still just as potent.

The final tracklisting for "The Sea" is as follows:

1. Are You Here
2. I'd Do It All Again
3. Feels Like The First Time
4. The Blackest Lily
5. Closer
6. Love's On Its Way
7. I Would Like to Call It Beauty
8. Paris Nights/New York Mornings
9. Paper Dolls
10. Diving For Hearts
11. The Sea

As 2009 comes to a close, I'd like to make mention of a few other artists who are stoking the fires of imminent return. Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry, Elizabeth Fraser, Peter Gabriel, Ellie Goulding, Lucky Soul, Massive Attack, Róisín Murphy, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Sade, Scissor Sisters and Paul Weller, to name a healthy handful, should have gorgeous, newly recorded, digital loveliness available for purchase within the forthcoming, calendar year. I'm looking forward to hearing them all.

Huzzah! Let the new decade begin!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

universal themes

Rather than bore everyone with a tedious list of favorites from 2009, I'll focus on current and forthcoming releases which excite me.

2009 marks the 30th anniversary of "Electricity", the debut single by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. The plinky, driving slice of electronics, originally released on the Factory label, still sounds fresh these days.

With acts like La Roux and Little Boots, who have clearly listened to OMD's towering, pop landmarks, along with all things electro making waves these days, it makes sense for one of the originators to regroup after twenty years. Hard to believe it has been thirteen years since Andy McCluskey mothballed the final incarnation of OMD.

Not much has been heard of OMD's forthcoming, eleventh longplayer, "History Of Modern". However, if you saunter over to their official website, you can download a demo of "Sister Marie Says" which, if reports are correct, will be the first single released from the new album.

It's clear to hear why they sat on this song for over 25 years. It's sounds like "Enola Gay" done sideways. And with them wanting to adhere to their experimental roots in the early 80s, they knew they would be giving their record company exactly what they wanted and expected. From the heavenly, operatic intro through to the driving bass and buzzy, lead, synth line, it's a major earworm that dares you not to give it multiple listens. One can almost see Andy McCluskey dancing with his bass slung around his chest dancing with arms and legs akimbo.

Still, it makes sense to unearth this gem now as it fits in perfectly with their entire catalog. "Sister Marie Says" catches them doing what they do best. It's a perfect, little, pop song. Something for which OMD doesn't often get much praise. What's very clear upon looking back at the 80s is that there were few groups that sounded similar. OMD stood out from the crowd but didn't garner much credibility. Hopefully, the passage of time will correct that.

Their recorded output, much like Pet Shop Boys, New Order and Depeche Mode, is nearly immaculate. Unfortunately, for Paul and Andy, they weren't stylish, ironic, witty, wry or dark. Although, one could argue that their penchant for religious imagery and inanimate objects, while simultaneously blending them with universal themes of life and love, should have placed them in good stead with their contemporaries' fanbases.

After 30 singles across 1o albums, I think it's about time to reevaluate OMD's influential status in the pantheon of pop.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

don't stop the glamour

A video has finally been unveiled for the single edit of "U Can Dance", DJ Hell's collaboration with Bryan Ferry. It's swathed in the suave, urban sophistication typically associated with BF.

Nova Dando, currently cutting shapes and making waves for Lady Gaga and La Roux, is responsible for the styling of the video which features five, sultry and slightly subversive sirens. In typical, Ferry form, the ladies are some of the hottest faces in fashion today including Betty Adewole, Annie Hammill, Kate Ellery, Florence Brudenell-Bruce and Shannon Tillery.

The smoldering, nine minute version appears on Hell's current album, "Teufelswerk". The single for "U Can Dance" will be issued in January while Bryan Ferry's original version, from which Hell acquired all the vocals for his production, will appear on Bryan's forthcoming, thirteenth, solo longplayer.

Even though the single will feature a raft of remixes from top DJs including Simian Mobile Disco, Carl Craig, Tim Goldsworthy, Audiojack, Padded Cell and Kikumoto Allstars, I think the somewhat dark and sleazy original will probably remain my favorite version of them all.

While we're fawning over all things Ferry, I'm happy to report there are two very good reasons to purchase BF's recently released hits collection. It features two, new recordings. The first is Bryan's cover of "I Don't Want To Go On Without You", which was originally recorded by The Drifters and appeared as the b-side to their legendary single, "Under The Boardwalk", in 1964.

At one point it was going to feature on Bryan's next album. However, it was decided it was best for it to be included on "The Best Of Bryan Ferry". If you listen closely to the the track you'll hear his first use of the dreaded Antares Auto-Tune program!

The second new song is a recently recorded, stripped down version of "A Fool For Love" which appeared on "Frantic", Bryan's fabulous album which was released in 2002.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

don't call it a comeback

Robbie Williams must find himself at a bit of a crossroads at the moment. One one hand, he's had a stellar career up to this point. On the other, after "Rudebox", which I thought was more brilliant than many others did, and an unexpected second wind for his former group, Take That, he must have had moments of doubt regarding his next musical move.

Years from now, after a bit of distance, I think "Rudebox" will garner more appreciation for two reasons. Firstly, it was a brave direction for Robbie when so many people kept wanting him to regurgitate "Angels" ad infinitum. Secondly, the album was one of the first to embrace the then oncoming wave of electro which has been fully realized by Lady Gaga, La Roux, et al.

After a three year hiatus, one which saw his former group, Take That, unexpectedly rise like the phoenix from the ashes to become one of Britain's most beloved institutions, Robbie might find that his stroppy attitude, which was once charming and endearing, is now childish and unbecoming for a man in his mid 30s. Funny how the tables turn.

So here he is with his eighth, solo longplayer,"Reality Killed The Video Star". The sleeve has an uneasy undertone about it. Robbie, after a wild ride on his motorbike, has reached the middle of the desert where he surveys the landscape around him pensively and says to himself, "How the hell did I get here? Which way to I go, now?" Which way, indeed.

After 27 top 10 UK singles following his tenure with Take That, Robbie is back with a brace of new songs all tied up nicely with a lovely bow. They all sound very adult but without the sparkle of past efforts.

Whereas Robbie was the face of youth with a rebel yell, there are others willing to be more daring and outrageous now. Unfortunately, that seems to be more important these days. And Robbie is all too aware of that. Hence, the title of the album. He grew up in public in the age of video. These days, he's all too boring for those that are stuck on the rotting stench of reality programming and the rapid fire, machine gun celebrity code.

However, it's possible that RW is acutely aware of his station within the music biz these days. After a decade long, white heat period, he probably knows his fanbase has grown up with him and are looking for an assured performance and less experimentation. Artists like Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey are always trying to remain on the current tip and almost always fall way short and feel out of step. With "RKTVS", Robbie appears to be transitioning into territory which will allow him to grow into a legacy artist rather than one that is desperately trying to remain relevant.

With that said, it makes sense that Robbie's new adventure is rather understated and safe. RedOne would've been the obvious choice of producer. But Robbie did electro before RedOne laid claim to the genre. Mark Ronson, busy producing Duran Duran, would've made sense. However, the tendency to do something 60s retro would not have done any favors for Mr. Williams. Please take note of the lackluster chart performance of the second single from "RKTVS", "You Know Me", with it's 50s flashes and doo wop leanings. It limps up apologetically to #15 on the UK singles chart this week

There goes Robbie tickling the homoerotic fantasy card again at around the 1.50 mark. He's such a tease. But isn't that whole "Am I straight or am I gay?" schtick getting long in the tooth?

Trevor Horn as producer is an inspired choice. He has unleashed his bass rumbling and orchestral apocalypse signatures all over "Bodies", the first single from the album. All the funky, edgy soundscapes he incorporated in groundbreaking recordings like "Poison Arrow" by ABC, "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood", "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" by Yes, "Left To My Own Devices" by Pet Shop Boys and "Crazy" by Seal are somewhat evident. But "Bodies", as well as the rest of its parent album, doesn't quite live up to expectations. RW produced by a legend with Trevor Horn's pedigree sounded like ear candy from the gods. And although the album is solid, it's not mindblowing.

However, Trevor is at his best when the artist is part of the process rather than an instrument within the production. Remember "Can't Fight The Moonlight" by LeAnn Rimes? Hardly anything groundbreaking, interesting or memorable about that.

Unfortunately, Robbie sounds slightly bored throughout "Reality Killed The Video Star". Or maybe that's the point? Perhaps that's irony at work. Somehow I doubt that clever turn runs that deeply.

The albums starts on a sombre tone with "Morning Sun". A lone harmonica and quiet piano peek through the early dawn of chirping birds followed by more than a few nods toward "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" while simultaneously having an early 70s, Elton John feel to it.

For all the excitement about getting longtime, "Angels" cohort and collaborator, Guy Chambers back on board, he only makes an appearance on one song. And it's the best one of the bunch in my opinion. "Blasphemy" has an old, English, pastoral, folkiness about it. Lyrically, it's the strongest prose on the album.

Robbie gets his cock out on "Do You Mind" which, upon first listen, sounds a bit unspectacular. But by the time I got through the middle of the song, I found myself chanting the naff chorus at the top of my lungs. LCD or brilliant song? Jury's still out on this one.

"Last Days Of Disco" wears its Pet Shop Boys influences proudly on its sleeve. But there's not a Tennant/Lowe credit in sight. The final crescendo which transitions from a sparse electronic arrangement into a full blown orchestral orgasm is breathtaking. Again, it's Trevor up to his old tricks. However, the lyrics have a ring of truth about them and surely hit close to home for RW:

Don't call it a comeback
We'll hold an event in here
This space is beautiful
I’ll decide when it is over
So don’t call it a comeback
Look what I invented here
I thought it was easy
They cant take it away from us
The last days of disco

Not sure how "Somewhere" fits into the album. It's a short piece which begins with pizzicato cellos, sforzando violins and somewhat demented backing vocals giving the minute long interlude a slightly creepy sound. It makes for a strange transition between the nervous grandeur of the previous track and the blissed out, comedown of the following song.

Which brings us to "Deceptacon", the second best track on the album. Its lush, late 60s, AM radio style harmonies remind me of Carpenters or The 5th Dimension. And "Starstruck" has a decidedly "Older" era, George Michael grooviness to it, but the chorus feels a bit lacking without a euphoric lift to push it along. If you close your eyes around the "ready, steady, go" lyric you'd swear GM snuck in on backing vocals.

"Difficult For Weirdos" returns us to PSB territory with more electronic, disco dabblings. I can't help think this might be a great single if only Robbie didn't sound so passionless. It's also interesting to note that it's one of three songs based on an original production by Soul Mekanik who were responsible for production duties on much of "Rudebox". It begs the question, "How old are these songs and how many hands did they pass through?"

"Won't Do That" has a jolly, English vibe about with its driving, pub piano and jubilant horns. It rises into a big chorus where Robbie sounds like he's having fun for the first time on the entire album. This would probably have been a better choice for second single.

Spooky, bubbling, rubbery bass lines, chiming guitars and ambient melancholy build into a power chord chorus on "Superblind" before sliding into a reprise of the albums opening track.

Overall, Robbie's charisma, charm and conviction seem to be missing from the album, but I think it might have something to do with the search for his next step. "RKTVS" is simultaneously a cautious step forward and look back for Robbie. Perhaps a bit like the moment when Madonna released "Bedtime Stories" after the dark, forboding "Erotica". So RW's album offers the opportunity to grow with him into the next phase of his career. After all, it is more about the journey than the destination.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

scratching post

Seems like 2010 is the year many legendary luminaries will return from the musical wilderness. Sade is making a much heralded return nine years after her last studio album. Now, Peter Gabriel breaks his long silence with a nearly ten year absence with a new longplayer due on February 15. Only one week after Sade unveils "Soldier Of Love".

PG returns with an album of covers cleverly titled "Scratch My Back". Gone are the monosyllabic titles. That's not the only thing that has disappeared. Peter describes it as a very personal record with twelve songs performed only with orchestral instruments and voice. Peter has recorded the album's eclectic array of cult favorites and classic tracks without any guitars, drums or electronics. It's quite a departure for him. You knew he couldn't just record a bunch of "other people's songs", to quote Erasure.

He performed Paul Simon's "The Boy In The Bubble" at last year's WOMAD festival. I'm very curious to hear his take on "Heroes", which is such a massive, signature tune for David Bowie that it's nearly impossible to imagine anyone else recording it. Covering Radiohead is quite a monumental challenge, even for an artist of Peter Gabriel's stature. So there will be plenty of surprises when "Scratch My Back" finally sees the light of day.

And as far as I know, it's the first album sleeve to feature two, dried apricots in the act of fornication.

The following is tracklisting for PG's forthcoming longplayer, only his eighth studio album in 32 years. Please note that the artist who recorded the original is listed next to each track.

1. Heroes (David Bowie)
2. The Boy In The Bubble (Paul Simon)
3. Mirrorball (Elbow)
4. Flume (Bon Iver)
5. Listening Wind (Talking Heads)
6. The Power Of The Heart (Lou Reed)
7. My Body Is A Cage (Arcade Fire)
8. The Book Of Love (The Magnetic Fields)
9. I Think It's Going To Rain Today (Randy Newman)
10. Après Moi (Regina Spektor)
11. Philadelphia (Neil Young)
12. Street Spirit (Radiohead)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

deluxe Duran

I've been feverishly putting together a few reviews but all things seasonal and work related have been requiring my already limited availability. When the details around the next slate of Duran Duran deluxe editions were announced, I jumped at slapping together the info. Therefore, this entry is a bit of a gap filler until I can reach the surface and breathe again. But let's face it. Anything involving Duran Duran and their glorious back catalog is worth the attention.

Deluxification dust has been loving sprinkled upon Duran Duran's self-titled, debut longplayer and third album, "Seven And The Ragged Tiger". It follows in the footsteps of the remastered and expanded edition of "Rio", a gleaming jewel in the band's crown.

Both are scheduled for release on March 10, 2010 in three varieties. Firstly, there will be a standard, 2 CD set including the original album, b-sides, mixes, BBC sessions and demos. Then the super deluxe flavor will combine the 2 CD set with a bonus DVD which will feature BBC footage and original music videos for the singles and other relevant tracks from the era. And if you prefer your music in the increasingly popular downloadable format, you'll get the whole kit and caboodle with an original, live concert as an added treat.

Now, allow yourself to luxuriate in the full tracklisting for both deluxified Duran Duran releases. All tracks marked with an asterisk indicate they are previously unreleased. Apparently, "Notorious" will make an appearance very soon, as well.

"Duran Duran"

CD 1

Original album:

1. Girls On Film
2. Planet Earth
3. Anyone Out There
4. To The Shore
5. Careless Memories
6. Night Boat
7. Sound Of Thunder
8. Friends Of Mine
9. Tel Aviv


10. Late Bar
11. Khanada
12. Fame
13. Faster Than Light

CD 2

AIR Studios versions (recorded on 29th July, 1980):

1. Girls On Film*
2. Tel Aviv*

Manchester Square demos (recorded on 8th December, 1980):

3. Anyone Out There*
4. Planet Earth*
5. Friends Of Mine*
6. Late Bar*

Radio 1 Peter Powell session in mono (recorded 19th June, 1981 transmitted 11th August, 1981):

7. Night Boat*
8. Girls On Film*
9. Anyone Out There*
10. Like An Angel*

Mixes and versions:

11. Planet Earth (Night Version)
12. Girls On Film (Extended Night Version)
13. Planet Earth (Night Mix)
14. Girls On Film (Night Mix)



1. Planet Earth (Club Version)
2. Planet Earth
3. Careless Memories
4. Girls On Film (Long Uncensored Version)
5. Girls On Film (Short Censored Version)
6. Night Boat
7. A Day In The Life (Featurette)

BBC footage:

8. Planet Earth (Top Of The Pops - 05.03.81)*
9. Careless Memories (Top Of Pops - 21.05.81)*
10. Girls On Film (Top Of The Pops - 30.07.81)*
11. Night Boat (Old Grey Whistle Test - 07.07.81)*
12. Anyone Out There (Old Grey Whistle Test - 07.07.81)*
13.Girls On Film (Get Set For Summer - 08.08.81)*
14. Friends Of Mine (Multi-Coloured Swap Shop - 27.02.81)*
15. Girls On Film (Multi-Coloured Swap Shop - 27.02.81)*

"Seven And The Ragged Tiger"

CD 1

Original album:

1. The Reflex
2. New Moon On Monday
3. (I’m Looking For) Cracks In The Pavement
4. I Take The Dice
5. Of Crime And Passion
6. Union Of The Snake
7. Shadows On Your Side
8. Tiger Tiger
9. The Seventh Stranger

CD 2

Non album singles and b-sides:

1. Is There Something I Should Know?
2. Faith In This Colour
3. Faith In This Colour (alternate slow mix)
4. Secret Oktober
5. Tiger Tiger (Ian Little Remix)
6. The Reflex (Single Version)
7. Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) (Live)
8. New Religion (Live At The LA Forum - o9.02.84)
9. The Reflex (Live At The LA Forum - 09.02.84)


10. Is There Something I Should Know? (Monster Mix)
11. Union Of The Snake (Monkey Mix)
12. New Moon On Monday (Dance Mix)
13. The Reflex (Dance Mix)


"As The Lights Go Down":

1. Intro: Tiger Tiger
2. Is There Something I Should Know?
3. Hungry Like the Wolf
4. Union of the Snake
5. New Religion
6. Save a Prayer
7. Rio
8. The Seventh Stranger
9. The Chauffeur
10. Planet Earth
11. Careless Memories
12. Girls On Film


Is There Something I Should Know?
Union Of The Snake
New Moon On Monday (EP Version)
The Reflex
New Moon On Monday (Movie Version)

BBC footage:

Is There Something I Should Know? (Top Of The Pops - 23.03.83)
The Reflex (Top Of The Pops - 26.04.84)

Monday, December 7, 2009

love is a battlefield

After nearly a decade in the wilderness, Sade is starting to show up on the radar once more like a celestial body making a rare, return visit to the Earth's orbit.

"Soldier Of Love", the title track from Sade's forthcoming album, is scheduled as the first single to be lifted from it. In fact, you can listen to it on Sade's official website. You gotta love the expediency of the interwebs.

The artwork is very simple and understated, but it's a stunner. Does this woman ever age? She looks as regal and elegant as the day she first graced our MTV riddled television screens back in 1984. Look at her, people. She's a goddess!

But what about the song? I can confirm that the song is not a cover of Donny Osmond's hit from 1989 which reached #2 in the US and the dizzying heights of #29 in the UK. You can breathe a sigh of relief.

The song doesn't sound like anything Sade has released previously. Sparse and rhythmic with a chunky, metal guitar flicking its tongue about, it's a muscular, six minute number set to a martial beat over a hip-hop underpinning. Light touches of a somewhat middle eastern figure is repeated from the middle of the song through to the end.

I couldn't help notice that Sade sings in a deeper, richer tone, especially toward the front end of the song. Her more familiar voice soon appears and instantly captivates. Hearing her reference "Wild Wild West" by Kool Moe Dee (also used featured heavily in Will Smith's single of the same name) in the opening lyrics certainly took me by surprise.

Her more defiant delivery is further enforced by military imagery. Apparently, our heroine has been done wrong by her man.

"Soldier Of Love", Sade's sixth longplayer, will hit the "shops" on February 8, 2010.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Kylie live in your living room

Out of nowhere, Kylie Minogue has slapped together a live album and will release it on December 14. "Live In New York" was recorded on the final evening of her three show stand at Hammerstein Ballroom last October.

Unfortunately, it's only going to be available as a digital download. No shiny discs for those of us of a certain generation who still enjoy collecting various, physical configurations of our favorite artists. If you purchase your files (*eyeroll*) from iTunes, you'll get three, exclusive mixes from Kylie's musical director, Steve Anderson, he of Brothers In Rhythm fame.

No word on a DVD, but if you wanna dance around your handbag in your living room, you'll be able to cut a rug to the superior sound of Kylie's live extravaganza in the privacy of your own home.

The following is the official tracklisting for the album:

1. Overture (Somewhere Over The Rainbow/The Sound of Music)
2. Light Years
3. Speakerphone
4. Come Into My World
5. In Your Eyes
6. Everything Taboo Medley (Shocked/What Do I Have To Do /Spinning Around/What Kind Of Fool/Do You Dare/It's No Secret/Keep On Pumpin' It Up/I'm Over Dreaming Over You/Ride On Time/Such A Good Feeling/Finally/The Real Slim Shady/Buffalo Girls)
7. Like A Drug
8. Boombox/Can't Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head
9. Slow
10. 2 Hearts
11. Red Blooded Woman/Where The Wild Roses Grow
12. Heartbeat Rock
13. Wow
14. White Diamond Theme
15. White Diamond
16. Confide In Me
17. I Believe In You
18. Burning Up/Vogue
19. The Loco-motion
20. Kids
21. In My Arms
22. Better The Devil You Know
23. The One
24. I Should Be So Lucky
25. Love At First Sight

iTunes bonus tracks include:

1. Light Years (Steve Anderson Studio Version)
2. Speakerphone (Steve Anderson Studio Version)
3. Come Into My World (Steve Anderson Studio Version)

I would love to post the YouTube clip for the new mix of "Speakerphone", but as usual, EMI has disabled the ability to embed it anywhere. I guess they aren't that keen on free promotion.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

blurred by the hands of time

I've always been an incurable Anglophile. It's one of the reasons why I longed to work at EMI in the early 90s. I figured if it was good enough for Pet Shop Boys, it was an ace place to start my plan of world domination.

Sadly, the label went through merger after merger. And although I was swiftly promoted, got to work with tons of my favorite acts, develop and run and imprint and produce records, it came at a time when the music biz was started to sputter. By the end of the century, Napster would define the game changing moment.

But back to happier times! The first act I was able to persuade the US office to bring over from the UK was EMF on the back of the success of "Unbelievable" in their home country. From there a slough of Brit bands flooded the label. There was Jesus Jones and Blur, both signed to the Food label through Parlophone in the UK. Both were picked up on the SBK imprint in the US which was part of the EMI conglomerate.

I had the opportunity to work with Blur for their first four albums ("Leisure", "Modern Life Is Rubbish", "Parklife" and "The Great Escape"). However, much like all the other international acts with whom I worked, they were deemed "too British" and would not translate well in the American market. The reality was, after merging three labels (EMI, Chrysalis and SBK) the remaining staff were largely interested in promoting their own agenda and the promotion of acts signed outside the US would only net them far less revenue.

Their biggest US success occurred when they wisely moved over to Virgin and hit pay dirt with the stroppy, frenetic energy of "Song 2" at the tail end of the grunge movement thanks to a few smartly placed commercial synch licenses. But it was hardly the kind of attention their output usually received at home. Friction and tension increased during the recording of "13" and then Graham Coxon departed leaving the remaining three to enter the new millenium with the electronic brooding of "Think Tank".

Now, with Graham back in the band, Damon Albarn's Gorillaz excursions behind him, and having just finished a magnificent return to the live stage this past summer in London's Hyde Park, here comes "No Distance Left To Run", the flim that takes fans behind the scenes of Britpop's native sons. They've managed to become a cherished and much beloved band while Oasis, their natural rivals, got the sour end of the stick. A lot of that can surely be blamed on the snarling, sarcastic lip associated with the Gallagher brothers. True, Oasis made some fine albums. But Blur were simultaneously of a time and timeless.

"No Distance Left To Run" opens at fine cinemas around the UK on January 19.

And if you'd like to experience all things live and Blur like, checkout "All The People...Blur Live In Hyde Park" the audio document of their recent, triumphant, sold out shows. Let's face it, most live albums are crap. But if you're a fan, you wanna have something to remember the experience when a bucket of sweat and and the memory of having spent money for an overpriced ticket won't do.

Does anyone really need four CDs of live material?

Anyway, everyone in the band is denying any return to the studio for an eighth longplayer which means they'll be releasing something in the near future. We're old hats at this game by this point, gentlemen. In the meantime, I leave you with my three favorite Blur singles.

The Euro yobbo, cheap disco thrash of "Girls & Boys".

The baggy, shoegazer, funky drummer vibe of "There's No Other Way".

And the lush, grandness of "The Universal" complete with "Clockwork Orange" inspired video.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

beautiful, Christmas gifts

"Yes", the current longplayer from Pet Shop Boys, is not only my favorite album of 2009, it's also another in a long, distinguished, line of high water marks in a career that spans 25 years. It's a bright, brilliant and colorful album by an act with many contemporaries and few imitators. They are a British institution with exceptional vision and taste.

You can imagine my excitement when I was presented with the opportunity to produce a remix for "Beautiful People" this past August. Having worked with PSB during my tenure at EMI in the 90s, as well as having produced remixes for the Grammy nominated, US only single, "To Step Aside" in 1997, I've not only been able to enjoy a career sprinkled with creative endeavors, I've also been lucky enough to work with many acts that have inspired me over the years.

I'm quite proud of the remixes of "Beautiful People". However, a combination of the late receipt of the required parts and EMI's unreasonable deadlines prevented them from being released commercially. Now, with PSB's forthcoming "Christmas" EP about to hit the "shops", it looks unlikely the remixes will be made available on an official configuration.

It would have been great to see them coupled with Ralphi Rosario's remixes of "Did You See Me Coming?" which aren't scheduled for commercial consumption either. This isn't an unusual occurrence. Remember the Arthur Baker mixes of "Suburbia", the Frankie Knuckles mixes of "Left To My Own Devices" or the Love To Infinity mixes of "Saturday Night Forever"?

The campaign behind "Yes" seemed to go off the rails almost from the start. Of course, I'm not intimately familiar with the fine details. But having been involved in the process over the last two decades, I'm able to connect many of the dots. It all started with "Love Etc" being available in very short supply due to manufacturing issues, thus presenting PSB with a single which fell short of the top 10 in the UK.

Then there was the protracted delay between the second single, "Did You See Me Coming?", and the third which was only released in Germany and peaked in their charts at a dismal #65. In the UK, their premiere market, it will be seven months between releases, thus slowing any momentum derived from the Brits and their tour.

It's easy to give opinions in retrospect, but I think "All Over The World" should have been the second single, especially since it was highly touted, critically lauded and a fan favorite at the launch of the album. Immediately afterward, "DYSMC?" would have made the perfect single for the summer.

Early on, PSB seemed to have tapped out their budget on the remixes for "Love Etc", all of which were fine but not terribly exciting. Their own mixes for the single were better than any of the ones they commissioned. Their own reworking of "DYSMC?" was brilliantly executed, as well, and didn't really require any fiddling at the hands of anyone else. Only Richard X's mix of "The Way It Used To Be" made for essential listening among all the remixes from hired hands.

History has clearly proven that PSB have always been adept at issuing remixes of their singles. They typically follow current dance trends and feature cutting edge, hotly tipped producers. Unfortunately, these are the mixes that are often rendered obsolete or outdated as time moves on. The more timeless post productions are the ones that tend to keep the song in tact, don't reharmonize the original too drastically and have a pop crossover appeal. So, when constructing the production for "Beautiful People", I kept that in mind.

My inspiration for the remix came from one of my favorite PSB tracks, "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing", which features splashes of 60s pastiche much in the same way "BP" does. Additionally, many of my favorite contemporary mixes have been crafted by the current crop of talented producers such as Moto Blanco, Dave Audé, Freemasons and Cahill, all who tend to incorporate the original song into their productions which made me want to push "BP" in a more pop direction similar to the their styles.

Every Christmas, I usually produce a unique CD as gift for my closest friends. It features a few of my favorite songs from throughout the year. Sometimes, if the mood strikes me, I sprinkle in a few of my own efforts. Often, time permitting, I design original artwork around it. A musical Christmas card, if you will.

This year, it was my intention to share my remixes of "Beautiful People". However, after an unexpected outpouring of kind words and support from so many (here comes the pun) beautiful people (50 lashes!), I've decided to make these mixes available to download for a very limited period of time. It's a small of thanks to everyone who has appreciated the work involved in the production process and provided words of encouragement along the way.

The first track is the single mix which has been #1 on Gaydar Radio for nearly two months. Thanks to DJ supreme, Phil Marriott (double R double T) who has been a big supporter of the track.

You will also find the club mix which is a personal favorite. It's really an extension of the single version. Or is the single version an edit of the club mix? You decide.

Lastly, there is "Beautiful Voodoo", a mash up of "BP" and late 80s, Hacienda classic, "Voodoo Ray", by A Guy Called Gerald. Two great tastes that sounds great together. I produced this little gem with well-respected, LA mash up artiste, DJ ShyBoy, with whom I've always wanted to work. Together, after sifting through crates of records, we came up with something a little different rather than shoot straight for the obvious. It turns the song into an eerie, dark and moody number. Not for the faint at heart.

The artwork was designed by my friend, Jeb Edwards (aka £50 Note), a top DJ and creative design artist based in San Francisco. Together we art directed the entire package. Our mutual friend, Bruce Bartlett, mastered the tracks in Toronto. As I'm based right outside NYC, this was truly an internationally produced project.

Both Jeb and Bruce are wonderful. They freely gave their time to make sure this effort looked and sounded great. Of all the people with whom I've worked over the last two decades of my career, they proved to be two of the most talented, dedicated and patient. If you want to explore more from them, check out the masterful work they did with all of the singles New Order released for Factory. They've recreated them in loving detail.

As you might be able to tell, all three of us are deeply passionate about pop music and its many faces. Also, we're fans of Farrow but have been less than enthusiastic about the range of single sleeves for the "Yes" campaign with the original cover of "BP" a particular low point in the PSB cannon. That strikes me as a bit strange since Chris and Neil are very particular about details, style, artwork and their image. So, armed with a scanner, an appropriate photo from the "Pandemonium" tour book and a handful of fonts, Jeb designed the best of any of the recent single sleeves while maintaining the theme of the album.

Without further adieu, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my very own, three track single for "Beautiful People". It's available in two flavors - 30MB files for iTunes and 110MB FLAC files. Both feature complete, original artwork, as well. Click the following links for maximum joy.

iTunes (30MB)

FLAC (includes artwork, 110MB)

And speaking of Christmas, PSB are about to give their fans the gift of music with a brand new EP, creatively titled, "Christmas".

The festivities commence with a new version of their twelve year old recording, "It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas", which was previously only available to members of their fan club. Eventually, the Crimbo colored tune made it on to a Starbucks compilation a couple of years ago courtesy of Elton John who curated their holiday collection that season.

The new version of "IDOSAC" is grander with lush orchestration and choral arrangements thanks to Marius de Vries' production. And I love the camp moments they've sprinkled in along the way like the moment when the chorus belts out "Bing Crosby!" and the part where the orchestra breaks into a short snippet of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing".

The new mix of "All Over The World" strips away much of Xenomania's original, quirky, electronic bits and adds glissando strings and a live, concert orchestra performing segments of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" replacing the sample featured on the album version, all of which dresses up the production in lavish, bombastic regalia.

Then comes the track I've been harping on about for months when it was first revealed that PSB planned to perform it as part of their current tour. Coldplay's anthemic "Viva La Vida" is an inspired choice of cover. Something Neil and Chris have always embraced with their unique combination of requisite, wry wit and pop reverence. They know a great song when they hear one and are adept at adapting it to their sound.

Incorporating the keyboard figure and some of the lyrics from their own "Domino Dancing" is inspired and continues the mash up theme they have explored this year beginning with their performance at the 2009 Brits right through to their recent live shows. My only criticism is that it doesn't sound as fully produced as I expected. The intro and outro seem just a tad bland and I can't help feeling like I want to hear a more developed arrangement connecting those segments.

Then, we are treated to quite an unusual cover in the shape of "My Girl", originally a #3 hit for Madness in the UK in 1980 after it was released, coincidentally, in the run up to Christmas at the end of 1979. That's exactly 30 years ago for those of you who are counting or in denial.

PSB's "My Girl" starts out in a mournful tone much different from the lager soaked, ska sound of the original. After the darkness of the verses we're back in "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing" territory with a bright, uplifting chorus.

The extended version of "My Girl", cheekily dubbed the "Our House" mix, is basically two minutes longer than the PSB original with a few minor differences. I would have preferred a remix of "Viva La Vida/Domino Dancing" or "BP".

Overall, "Christmas" is a fantastic addition to their recorded output. A perfect gift for their legion of rabid fans.

Friday, November 27, 2009

truth or consequences

Fiery, red headed, ruby lipped chanteuse, Paloma Faith is about to release the third jewel from her glittering, debut longplayer, "Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?" It's the title track and as with her previous singles, "Stone Cold Sober" and "New York", she has lensed a lush, art deco inspired video for it which continues the thematic arc of the album's artwork.

Clearly, after two mid-table hits, the video budget for the third has been scaled back a bit. Such a shame that Paloma's album, while having tickled the fancy of the critics, hasn't translated into an all out smash. Some think it might be her husky, smoky vocal tones which only have a passing resemblance to Amy Winehouse.

There's a playfulness to Paloma and wry humor that has never been associated with Amy's darker shapes. Once I got a chance to peel back the curtain and experience Paloma behind the scenes, that's when I became more than a casual fan. She's down to earth while still maintaining a streak of grandeur and glamor about her. She's simultaneously warm and cool. She's pleasantly sarcastic and bawdy one moment, then displays fleeting moments of disarming coquettishness the next.

Check out one of her recent video blog entries from the set of the video for the new single.

I love it how she's having a great time but is clearly non-plussed about the reduced video budget or the current station of her recording career. Epic has certainly shoveled loadsamoney into the project. I think it's time to start thinking about that sophomore album.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hurts so good

A few weeks ago, I recommended, with the return of Spandau Ballet, that there should be more sax solos in pop music these days. Enter Hurts who hail from Manchester. The duo of Adam and Theo have been quite elusive over the last few months. In fact, back in April, after a brief mention over at Popjustice, I wrote their name down on a yellow sticky and added it to the pile of them that have slowly started to cover the surface of my desk like ivy overrunning a garden. Haven't heard a peep since then.

Now, after a second appearance on Popjustice, who rightly claimed that Hurts are the sort of band Mute might have signed if Mute in the 2000s were like Mute in the 1980s, I decided the time was right to dig a little deeper.

Apparently, Hurts has signed to a Sony distributed imprint run by Biff Stannard, he of Stannard and Rowe fame who wrote many hits for East 17, Five and Spice Girls. The first single, the yearning and moody "Wonderful Life" (not a cover of the 1987 hit by Black), is ready to be unleashed on the public, soon to be adored by many in every corner of the globe.

It's quite lovely. The tribal drums seem to be all the rage this season with everyone from Marina And The Diamonds, Ellie Goulding and even Natalie Imbrugila incorporating them into their current productions.

In a stroke of sonic brilliance, someone rang up legendary producer, Arthur Baker, and had him sprinkle his magic all over "Wonderful Life". In one fell swoop, he delivered a mighty, thunderous remix with flashes of electro brilliance.

A! MA! ZING! Reminds me of the productions he helmed for New Order in the mid-80s like "Shellshock" and "Confusion". Let's hope we don't have to wait another seven months before we hear something from these guys.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

third from the mountain

"Nothing Is Keeping You Here" by a-ha is the third video from their gorgeous album, "Foot Of The Mountain". Such a shame it will be part of their swan song over the next twelve months. Then Morten, Paul and Mags will fade into the mist of pop history.

The single version of this song is quite different from the one featured on the album. Those chiming piano figures and Morten's yearning vocal get the goosebumps going. And you can certainly hear where Coldplay have gotten some of their inspiration from.

The video sort of reminds me of those Pink Floyd, planetarium laser shows. There's an amazing idea. Imagine a laser show set to the music of a-ha. Hey, it can't be any worse than Seal on ice!

next year's love

It has been ten years since Sade released her last, studio album, "Lovers Rock".

Six albums in 25 years is hardly what I would call prolific. But something new from Sade is always heralded as an event much like the return of a comet. So, let the countdown to February 8, 2010 begin. That's the release date for "Soldier Of Love", Sade's forthcoming longplayer.

As much as I love the more languid moments, I'd really love to hear one of those slinky, funked out numbers Sade pulls out every now and then like "Never As Good As The First Time" or "Sweetest Taboo".