Wednesday, September 30, 2009

waiting for all that you want

We've been scouring the interwebs for the video clip of "Want", the new single from Natalie Imbruglia. After patiently waiting, it has been uploaded to her official website and now we have it here for your viewing pleasure.

Nat looks suitably stunning. Not a hair out of place. Well, except for those moments where she's had a mascara meltdown. Even then, she looks stylish. Basically, it's a romp through her flat with a video camera. Simplicity can be more effective at times. It let's the song "breathe". Yes? No?

Anyway, "Want" is a fabulous return for Nat. It sounds like she dusted off her old Kate Bush albums circa "Hounds Of Love". Not necessarily a bad thing. And it's one of three tracks she co-wrote with Chris Martin from Coldplay.

Incidently, The Shapeshifters turn in a massive, dance remix of "Want". Hopefully, it will see the light of day. It's certainly a crowd pleaser.

It's from her forthcoming longplayer, "Come To Life", which, for the most part, is produced by Ben Hillier who twiddled the knobs for her last studio effort, "Counting Down The Days", as well as albums by Depeche Mode and Blur. Let's hope she turns out a jolly strong effort.

But for the love of laundry, please tell me what is the deal with all these down market, budget bin album covers that have been cropping up lately? The single sleeve is far more stylish than the album cover. Have the labels completely run out of money? Ummm... Don't answer that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

love is all around

I haven't had much of a chance to get around to reviewing "Viva", the new longplayer from Bananarama. However, I will say it's a strong album with enough booty shaking content for fans and disco dollies alike.

"Love Comes" was a fabulous return to form for Keren and Sarah. It's a shame the single only managed to reach #44 on the UK singles chart. Dismal.

The next single should be "Love Don't Live Here". I sense a running theme. Love, perhaps? The song is a glittering, epic, dance number with operatic flashes. Bananarama recently performed it on "The Alan Titchmarsh Show" in the UK.

I've included their interview with Alan because you get some lovely insights into their 27 year career. It just goes to show you how a proper popstar handles an interview. You can also see what great fun they're having. And isn't pop music about fun in the first place? I love it that Keren and Sarah don't take themselves too seriously. I can think of a few, young starlets that could learn a thing or two from these clips.

By the way, skip to super cheesed out intro to the show.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moyet makeover

When you've had a career reaching back nearly 25 years, it's easy to have had one or two greatest hits collections under your belt. In the case of a rare few, they will have released three retrospectives. The trick is to make each one special enough for diehard fans and casual listeners alike.

So it is, after the rousing success of the Yaz(oo) tour with Vince Clarke and the anticipation of a forthcoming hits tour, Alison Moyet will return on October 19 with a new, appropriately titled compilation, "The Best of Alison Moyet: 25 Years Revisited". Her third such collection after "Singles" in 1995 and "The Essential Alison Moyet" in 2001.

The deluxe edition of the album will feature a second disc will contain eleven, brand new interpretations of Alison’s favorite songs from her back catalogue recorded with her current live band. Yes, you heard me shriek with delight.

The following is the tracklisting for "The Best of Alison Moyet: 25 Years Revisited" which features songs from across all of her seven solo albums:

CD 1 - "The Best Of Alison Moyet"

1. Love Resurrection
2. All Cried Out
3. Invisible
4. Where Hides Sleep
5. That Ole Devil Called Love
6. Is This Love?
7. Weak In The Presence
8. Ordinary Girl
9. Love Letters
10. It Won't Be Long
11. This House
12. Hoodoo
13. Footsteps
14. Whispering Your Name
15. Should I Feel That Its Over
16. More
17. Yesterday’s Flame
18. Windmills Of Your Mind
19. Almost Blue
20. One More Time

CD 2 - "25 Years Revisited"

1. All Cried Out
2. Ski
3. Hoodoo
4. Ordinary Girl
5. Midnight
6. This House
7. Find Me
8. Footsteps
9. Is This Love?
10. Situation
11. Wishing You Were Here

And Alison is sporting a new, svelte and sultry look. After years of struggling with her weight, she has managed to get it under control with the help of her devoted husband who she has known for 20 years.

Thanks to fellow, pop aficionado Stephen Sears over at XO's Middle Eight for directing our attention to Alison's stunning transformation. Photographer Chris Floyd certainly captured Alison's beauty in ways we haven't seen in years. Bravo!

Although, I must admit that I'm not in love with the cover art for the album. It looks a bit down market for such an auspicious collection. Surely they could've not made it look like it belongs in the budget bin.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

chatting and chanting

In less than a month, I'll be settled in my seat at the O2 Arena in London waiting for Spandau Ballet to take flight once again! I am beyond thrilled! And by the look and sound of things, they are back with a vengeance.

Here they are performing "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)" and "Gold" on "Friday Night With Jonathan Ross".

And to get a sense of their esteemed history and unflappable sense of humor, here is the entire interview from the show delivered in two parts.

Their forthcoming longplayer, "Once More", will feature new versions of their biggest hits plus two, brand new songs. Gary Kemp has personally assured me that the album is a bit of a fresh, acoustic reading of the group's best known songs and that the live show will present the hits like the original versions on steroids. I hope I can make it through the show without passing out from excitement.

Here's a short preview of what we can expect from the new album which should fan the flames of frenzy for the diehards that have been with the group since the start.

I've heard the new, acoustic reading of "Only When You Leave", one of my favorite Spandau Ballet songs, and I have to admit that it sounds quite spectacular.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

swimming without synths

Bad Lieutenant, Bernard Sumner's new musical outfit after the demise of New Order, have just unleashed the official video for the their debut single, "Sink Or Swim". And here it is in its simplicity.

Is it me or does BS look a bit like William Shatner in some shots?

Not a synth in sight. It sounds more like later period Electronic than New Order. Their new album, "Never Cry Another Tear", will hit the "shops" on October 5.

Friday, September 25, 2009

once more unto the breach

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Spandau Ballet, who not only reunited for a tour which commences in four week's time and will continue through 2010, will be releasing a brand new longplayer, "Once More", this November.

The album, featuring reworkings of classic Spandau Ballet tracks alongside two brand new songs, will be issued by Mercury through Universal. It will be preceded by a single of the same name which is schedule for release on October 19.

The cover art looks like a cross between something from Talk Talk and Christopher Cross. Don'tcha think?

Keep watching this space. I'll be flying over to London to see Spandau Ballet perform live at the O2 Arena on October 22. Is it too early to start screaming like a high school girl?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I put a spell on you

Ride on time. Ride on time. Techno, techno, bloody techno, darling.

"The Spell" is the new and much talked bout, 90s Italo house inspired single from Alphabeat, the zany Danes that brought us fabulous, pop gems like "Fascination", "10,000 Nights" and "Boyfriend", the Pete Hammond remix of which singlehandedly brought back the amyl nitrate nights of the late 80s and early 90s. I guess you can tell we liked those jammy jams quite a lot.

The new single is out on October 19 and should be followed by their sophomore longplayer shortly thereafter.

Speaking of the Pete Hammond remix of "Boyfriend"...

Damn! This mix should have been released on the CD single. Missed opportunities abound in the music "biz". Don't they, kittens?

And some industrious student of popular music has done a super mash up of "Fascination" with "Blitzkrieg Bop" by New York City, punk pioneers, Ramones.

boxed foxbase

I'm a self-proclaimed, packaging whore. Anytime one of my favorite artists releases an album in a special edition with special packaging, I simply have to get my hot, little hands on the item.

So when I heard about a special edition of the deluxe edition of "Foxbase Alpha" by Saint Etienne, I feverishly tracked one down. Thankfully, I was able to order it through the group's official website. But there was never a guarantee that I would actually receive one.

Guess what showed up on my doorstep on Tuesday?

How friggin' cute is THAT?!

It's the Subbuteo edition of "Foxbase Alpha". Apparently, only 1,000 have been made. The playing figure, manufactured by Hasbro, is dressed in the home colors of the Association Sportive de Saint-Étienne Loire, the French football team from which the band derives its name.

Subbuteo is a tabletop, football game. The playing pieces stand on weighted bases and are flicked across a tabletop mat towards the ball which is oversized and stands nearly as high as the players.

There is a long-established, Subbuteo competitive circuit which has an international governing body and a yearly, world championship competition. Apparently, the Saint Etienne boys take their footie seriously!

The Subbuteo edition of "Foxbase Alpha" includes the following:

1 x six inch tall Subbuteo player in Saint Etienne kit
1 x reprint of the original album poster
4 x unique "Foxbase Alpha" badges
1 x remastered double CD of "Foxbase Alpha"

And it's all housed in a beautifully designed, vintage Etienne green presentation box. Can I kiss these guys? They really know how to show their fans some serious love.

Hopefully, I will get around to reviewing the actual musical contents of the deluxe edition, remastered reissue of "Foxbase Alpha" soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

D:Ream into action

Remember D:Ream? Oh those heady, raved out days in the 90s. They were colorful times. Weren't they, my kittens? Well, D:Ream are back, back, BACK! Oh, the Smash Hits flashback gives me goosebumps everytime.

D:Ream, the unlikely duo of singer/songwriter Peter Cunnah and DJ Al Mackenzie, had a string of mid table, UK hits in the early 90s like "U R The Best Thing", "Unforgiven", "Star" and the ubiquitous, Labor uniting anthem, "Things Can Only Get Better". In fact, the latter was not a hit once, not twice, but THREE times! The original single peaked at #24 in 1993 and Al Mackenzie split the scene shortly thereafter. Upon its rerelease a year later, the single rocketed up the charts and landed squarely at #1. Three years later, it was adopted by the Labour Party as their personal anthem which resulted in the single landing at #19 amidst election fever.

After Peter Cunnah put D:ream in mothballs, he continued to write pop songs for other acts including the first four hits for boyband A1. They included "Be The First To Believe", "Summertime Of Our Lives", "Ready Or Not" and "Like A Rose".

After a few years away, Peter and Al have reformed D:ream and are set to release a new longplayer called "In Memory Of...." which is previewed by the groovy single "All Things To All Men."

Always working the remix tip, D:Ream's first single in nearly fifteen years has been reswizzled by numerous denizens of the dancefloor including Jay Kay (a DJ from Belfast not the Jamiroquai main man), Pete Herbert, TJ Inc and Paul Gotel & DJ Story. The band also turn in a fabulous remix, as well.

Welcome back, gents!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

spare change

All too often, people overuse the word "genius". It has become a shorthand for something "quite good" rather than stand for a person of rare talent. But it's impossible to think of a better description for Paddy McAloon. Prefab Sprout - fronted by McAloon along with bass playing brother Martin, drummer Neil Conti and Wendy Smith on keyboards and vocals - effortlessly produced one of the finest albums of the 80s with "Steve McQueen" (retitled "Two Wheels Good" in the US at the litigious request of Mr. McQueen's estate) and then repeated the trick in the 90s with the sprawling, ambitious "Jordan: The Comeback".

"Swoon", their debut album from 1984, is a real and raw gem. "From Langley Park To Memphis", the 1988 breakthrough album produced by Thomas Dolby which features the #7 UK hit single, "The King Of Rock 'N' Roll", is bristling with top tunes. In fact, they pulled five singles from it. And 1997's "Andromeda Heights", much like the cinematic "Jordan: The Comeback", is starry-eyed and velvety with beautifully romantic, lyrical turns.

It was after the release of "Jordan: The Comeback" that McAloon started to talk excitedly in interviews about follow-up records he had planned, one of which was "Let's Change The World With Music". Originally recorded in 1992, the demos have stayed untouched for 17 years until engineer Calum Malcolm remastered and spruced up the tapes, resulting in the follow up to 2001's "The Gunman And Other Stories".

It's hard to believe that "Let's Change The World With Music" is, in effect, an album of demo versions. The songs are typically gorgeous and lush, with Paddy sounding so young and vibrant. Of course, it reaches us sounding slightly dated now, but that's an inevitable byproduct of being recorded nearly two decades ago.

Although not a concept album in the traditional sense, the vast majority of songs here are beautifully crafted numbers about the great redemptive power of music. Therein lies one of the reasons it didn't see the light of day in the early 90s. Interpretation can be a musician's friend or foe. And in the case of "LCTWWM", Paddy ran into numerous foes at Sony Music when they felt uneasy upon hearing the many religious references he dotted through the lyrical landscape of the album. But it's pretty clear to these ears that religion is the metaphor for the love of all music.

The songs are also typical McAloon in that each one is instantly catchy and commercial while also boasting insanely clever arrangements and lyrics that are designed to be poured over and analyzed, reminding us that McAloon can often be a magical songwriter.

Opening track "Let There Be Music" starts with a rapped intro, the only cringeworthy moment on the entire longplayer. It proudly wears its date stamp by featuring a funky house piano riff throughout, while "Ride" rumbles along a driving, metronomic rhythm and builds on a wave of organs and synths.

"I Love Music" - lyrical and melodic nod to The O'Jays noted and one of four songs which feature "music" in its title and one of three to mention "love" - is a swinging delight with McAloon paying tribute to all genres of music from classical ("Clair De Lune". Check!) to jazz ("That motherfucker Miles". Whoa!) before namechecking the "unnerving, swerving" Irving Berlin (my fave lyric on the album), Nile and 'Nard (Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards) and contemporary, avant garde composer, Pierre Boulez. Encyclopedia ahoy!

Then Paddy invokes the Lord above in name with "God Watch Over You", a single originally released in 1994 by France Ruffelle who is best known for originating the role of Éponine in the English language version of "Les Misérables" for which she won Tony Award. The song has always been a favorite of mine with its eerie verses which open into a joyous chorus. It's great to finally hear Paddy's original which falls somewhere between "The Sound Of Crying" and "If You Don't Love Me", two of Prefab's finest moments.

There's also the standout "Music Is A Princess" in which McAloon compares music to that of a great love. Sample lyric - "Extravagant gestures are wasted on her. She's a princess. I'm Oliver Twist." In other hands, this would all be unbearably cheesy, but McAloon invests so much joy and wonder in these songs that it's impossible not to be swept away with it all.

"Earth: The Story So Far", with its opening segment of twinkling keyboards, reminds me a bit of "Nightingales" from the album "From Langley Park To Memphis". It's another grand and glorious number which could have only been improved upon with Thomas Dolby's production and Wendy Smith's heavenly vocals sprinkled on top. The song grows with the introduction of sleigh bells, synth strings, clever turns in arrangement and uplifting chord sequences. All of it delivered by Paddy's breathy, honey coated voice. Sheer beauty.

Paddy revisits some of his fascination with the bolero from "Andromeda Heights" in "Last Of The Great Romantics", a piano lullaby where you can easily translate "romantic" with its double meaning - the obvious or that of a composer, both of which adhere to the overall theme of the album. It's followed by the simplicity of "Falling In Love" which walks a more traditional singer songwriter path and allows a slight respite from the musical grandeur.

Thundering bass and chiming piano start the rollicking "Sweet Gospel Music" and drive it right into another massive, uplifting chorus where a soothing and rootsy B3 organ takes over. This is where a full production would have enhanced this track. Think of the Andre Crouch Gospel Choir filling their lungs and giving it some serious church.

On "Meet The Last Mozart", we're back to lullaby territory. Synthy bleeps and minimal percussion underline Paddy's sweet and tender delivery. And who else but Paddy could use the word "manure" in a pop song?

After ten glistening jewels, the album ends on the delicate, hymn like "Angel Of Love", a fitting conclusion to an album which blends equal parts music, love and spirit. Every moment of "Let's Change The World With Music" is a shimmering beacon in the darker landscapes of popular music. It's also a shining reminder that Paddy McAloon's lyrical skills and songwriting acumen remain sharp as ever. It will easily remain near the top of my list of favorite albums of the year.

Should you dare to venture into the accompanying liner notes, Paddy took the time to jot down his thoughts about and pay tribute to lost albums like the Beach Boys' mythical "Smile" and how their legend grows over time. He goes into great detail about how mesmerized he was in his youth at the mere mention of the album. Without ever hearing a note of "Smile", he was transported by it through the column inches dedicated to it. He was inspired by other people's reviews of it, those lucky few who managed to hear it. And that is how he developed his songwriting craft. He always wanted people to be able to enjoy his music through passionate discussions of it even if nobody heard a note of it.

After nearly 20 years cloaked in storage, the myth of "LCTWWM" has certainly lived up to its reputation and exceed expectations.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

black celebration

Am I the only one who is mildly annoyed that a third, new song called "It's So Cool" is only going to be available on the $30 "premium version" of Madonna's "Celebration" hits collection?

Apparently, you can only get the song if you purchase the entire, digital, album bundle. I'd say that's a big fail in numerous ways.

Bad enough she didn't include "This Used To Be My Playground" on the album. Who leaves a #1 single off of a career spanning retrospective?

This displeases me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

completely frank

It has been hellaciously busy for me in recent weeks between studio productions, shows, meetings and travel to the City Of Angels. As of this writing, I'm still in the sunny climes of California. However, this is the first time I've had a chance to review anything. And the labels' release schedules through autumn assure there will be plenty for me to blather on about between now and when we hang the Christmas lights.

As far as electropop albums go, "Complete Me" by Frankmusik is surely one of the highlights of 2009. The fervor seems to have died down a bit. But I find myself returning to this album regardless of the column inches dedicated to the likes of LaRoux and Little Boots. It has more layers. It has a story cycle. More meat on the bones. It's not just a collection of songs threaded together by shiny production. I know I'm a little late to the party on reviewing it. Sometimes I believe it's better to live with an album and get deep with it before extolling its virtues.

"Complete Me" is definitely inspired by the keyboard heavy, synth icons that lit the airwaves on fire back in the 80s. Frankmusik takes these touchstones and puts a contemporary spin on them. Barely out of diapers when the DX7 and the Fairlight were essential elements of the pop music soundscape, Vincent Frank didn't come into his own as a songwriter until he wrestled control of his mother's record collection. Later, starting his music career as an in demand human beatbox, Frankmusik was born and a smattering of independent releases followed.

Once in the clutches of Island, his current label, Frankmusik began the usual battery of interviews, photo shoots and live PAs which is typical of moving an artist of his calibre out of the underground.

Testing the waters at the back end of last year, "3 Little Words" was released as the track that would tickle the tastemakers and get the pop pundits drooling. A colorful video for the song, with a little nod toward the Tom Hanks movie, "Big", began to appear to critical acclaim.

The influences are obvious - Howard Jones, Scritti Politti, Nik Kershaw. Play "3 Little Words" and then take a look and listen to "You Know I Love You...Don't You?" by HoJo.

Most of "Complete Me" follows along similar synth laden lines with a strong, singability factor. Each tune is cleverly crafted around the themes of broken hearts and love lost. It's no secret that the songs are earmarked for a certain someone.

The album starts off with the manic, lead track, "In Step", followed by the funky, second single, "Better Of As Two" which barrels along a similar high speed electronic heat.

Third single, "Confusion Girl", is another well written, pop gem with a typically tuneful chorus with shades of Erasure poking through the lovely, uncluttered arrangement. Like many of the songs on "Complete Me", it's an economic affair clocking in a just under three minutes. Oddly, three singles in, the album only managed to peak at #13 a few weeks back. Hopefully, the next single, whatever it ends up being, will push the album forward. Unfortunately, it's unlikely after such a poor performance in the eyes of the greedy music machine.

Darkness descends as understanding turns to jealousy in the sinister sounding "Gotta Boyfriend?" with ominous undertones driven by an urgent, insistent synth bass throughout.

It's clear the album follows the ark of a relationship. As always, jealousy is followed by apologies and forgiveness. It's an age old story and works to great effect as "Your Boy" follows "Gotta Boyfriend?", the former led by tender piano figures and a mournful vocal performance.

The clattering production of "When You're Around", with its verses interpolating the melody from The Stranglers' #2 UK hit from 1981, "Golden Brown", is probably the least inspired track on the album but still manages to fit nicely within the context of the album.

Sidebar... "Golden Brown" was held out of the top spot by "Town Called Malice" by The Jam. That certainly underscores how much the pantheon of pop has crumbled over the last decade or so. At some point, I will get on my soapbox about the decline of the music biz. I have to be in the right frame of mind to put my thoughts and opinions together on the topic, however flawed and unpopular they might be.

Back to Frankmusik. After three singles, if the label decides to invest in a fourth from the album, it should be the jaunty "Wonder Woman", a precautionary tale about overachievers of the female persuasion and the time they should take to pamper themselves. It's another terrific, HoJo inspired number with further flashes of Erasure in its rubbery bass lines.

On the album's title track, the tempo is dialed down a bit for another economical tune which floats in at under three minutes. It builds from a delicate piano intro into a powerful and impassioned chorus. Just when you think Frankmusik can't sing any higher, he showcases his falsetto's falsetto during the song's final crescendo. It's moments like these where the listener can truly feel the inspiration and devastation that can be experienced within the scope of a relationship.

One of the key highlights of "Complete Me" is "Vacant Heart", a song which cleverly incorporates a sample of "Madame Butterfly (Un Bel Di Vedremo)", a #13 UK hit in 1984 by pop impresario, Malcolm McLaren.

"Vacant Heart" should be the single that transitions the album from being a curio treasured by a few dedicated fans to a full-on, pop trailblazer embraced by a broader, more mainstream audience.

More retro influences abound on "Complete Me" with "Time Will Tell", a seriously catchy, herky jerky tune propelled by a sample of the rhythm track from "Pump Up The Volume", a groundbreaking, #1 smash from 1987 by M/A/R/R/S. The song gallops over the sample nicely without ever relying on it or production trickery for its appeal. Certainly another in a strong clutch of single contenders.

The hypnotic, "Done Done" is probably one of the most electro sounding tracks on the album and revisits the darker edges of the relationship chronicled within its sonic story. It gives way to the yearning and haunting "Run Away From Trouble" before slipping into the simplicity of "Olivia", a stripped down, piano ballad. It's a bonus track which, apparently, is an ode to a former flame and is a touching coda to the album.

Overall, Franmusik's debut is stacked to the rafters with towering, pop moments full of bright, shiny optimism tempered with the kind of melancholy that makes the best three minute soap operas. Definitely an album to add to your discerning music collection.

By the way, the British produce the most exciting ads for the pop music they're peddling. I'd run to the nearest shop or computer, whichever flavor you favor, if I saw the commercial for "Complete Me".

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the fourth order

There was Joy Division, New Order and Electronic. Now, Bernard Sumner introduces his fourth, musical incarnation, Bad Lieutenant.

BL, perhaps named after the 1992 crime drama film starring Harvey Keitel, sounds exactly as you'd expect. It's New Order without Hooky's thundering, sinewy bass. Electronic without Johnny Marr's jangly strumming. But those elements aren't missed.

"Sink Or Swim", the group's debut single, finds Bernard carrying on with the more guitar based sound he's been delivering since "Twisted Tenderness" and "Waiting For The Sirens' Call", the most recent albums by Electronic and New Order, respectively.

"Sink Or Swim" will be available from all fine "shops" on September 28 and the album, "Never Cry Another Tear", will appear a week later. Unless, of course, you've blagged it off the interwebs already.

Friday, September 11, 2009

ace of base

This year certainly has seen a bumper crop from Saint Etienne. They started things off with the greatest hits collection, "London Conversations: The Best Of Saint Etienne", followed by deluxe, expanded, reamastered reissues of their albums, "Foxbase Alpha", "Continental", "So Tough" and "Sound Of Water". Further albums, "Tiger Bay" and "Good Humour", will get a similar treatment later this year.

Their dedicated fan following, of which I count myself as one, are shelling out a pretty penny for these delicious deluxities. Many of us, like the members of the group, are trainspotters, completists and collectors who must have everything issued by a particular group or artist. Every obscure 7" single or limited edition thingamabob adds another stripe to our ever-expanding collections and siphons more cash from our wallets, yet we don't mind.

Yesterday, just before I boarded a plane for Los Angeles, a typically cheerful and slightly pithy email turned up. It was from St. Et member, Bob Stanley, who acts as both curator and town crier for their entire output. It's always a pleasure receiving one of Bob's emails since they are often substantive and alert their fans to something exciting, shiny and new.

Yesterday's email was no exception. In typical fashion, Saint Etienne are doing something rather unfashionable in the cratered landscape of the music "biz" but fit for their fiercely loyal fans. They have allowed disco dynamo Richard X to take their groundbreaking, debut longplayer, "Foxbase Alpha" and rearrange it into a brand new beast with the inspired title, "Foxbase Beta". Mr. X has used the original masters and reswizzled them into something really special. Bob describes it as "spruced up yet reverential". Essentially, it's a 2009 update of "Foxbase Alpha" given a shot of vodka and a loving caress.

"Foxbase Beta" will be issued via the fan club as a limited edition, individually numbered, 2CD set which will also include "Foxbase Extra", three, previously unreleased recordings from the original album sessions. They include a recently discovered coda to "Girl VII", a summery instrumental called "Richard III" and the first, very different take of "Kiss And Make Up", which they recorded one afternoon in January 1990. Additionally, an informative "directors' commentary" will feature on the bonus disc.

It's a wet dream come true for fans of St. Et and pop music aficionados. Bob, Pete and Sarah, for they are the mighty Saint Etienne, have been offering fan club exclusive releases way before bands started harnessing the power of the interwebs. "Foxbase Beta" will be available for pre-order on the group's website from September 21. Got my finger on the trigger and some money in the bank.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

return to "The Innocents"

Who doesn't love Erasure? Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have certainly weathered the ups and downs over the last 25 years. It's odd that their imperial period hasn't been revisited until now. On October 25, Mute, their label for their entire career, will reissue a remastered, expanded, deluxe edition of their third album, "The Innocents", complete with bonus tracks, b-sides, remixes and live recordings.

The tracklisting has just been revealed. And it's a corker! The first CD features the original CD version of the album. The second disc includes the much sought after, 7" version of "River Deep Mountain High", the US mixes of "Chains Of Love" and "A Little Respect" by Shep Pettibone and Justin Strauss, respectively, and four previously, unreleased tracks from the BBC's "In Concert" recording of Erasure at London's Hammersmith Odeon on "The Innocents" tour from 1988.

The bonus DVD is a treasure trove of gems including "The Innocents" concert from the Birmingham NEC, originally released as a VHS video in 1989, replete with remixed and remastered audio and two, previously unreleased performances from that show. The DVD also includes the promotional videos for the three singles taken from the original album, a selection of TV performances from the BBC archives and "The Innocents" live in mp3 format.

It's a thrill to see a reissued album handled with tender, loving care. The album will be preceded "Phantom Bride", an EP of brand new remixes of key album tracks from "The Innocents" commissioned exclusively for this release.

Not sure why they never released "Phantom Bride" as a single from the album in the first place. It is one of the album's standout tracks. I suspect it had something to do with the fact that they had "Stop!" already in the can and felt they had lightning in a bottle.

Let's hope we see the remainder of their albums given the same brush up treatment, especially "Wonderland", "The Circus", "Wild!" and "Chorus".

The tracklisting for the 21st anniversary edition of "The Innocents" is as follows:

CD 1
"The Innocents"

1. A Little Respect
2. Ship Of Fools
3. Phantom Bride
4. Chains Of Love
5. Hallowed Ground
6. Sixty-Five Thousand
7. Heart Of Stone
8. Yahoo!
9. Imagination
10. Witch In The Ditch
11. Weight In The World
12. When I Needed You (Meloncholic Mix)
13. River Deep Mountain High (Private Dance Mix)

CD 2
"The Innocents" - B-sides, Remixes & Rarities

1. Ship Of Fools (Shiver Me Timbers Mix)
2. When I Needed You
3. River Deep Mountain High (7" Version)
3. Chains Of Love (The Unfettered Mix)
4. Don’t Suppose (Country Joe Mix)
5. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (The Dangerous Remix)
6. A Little Respect (12" House Mix)
7. Like Zsa Zsa Zsa Gabor (Mark Freegard Mix)
8. Love Is Colder Than Death
9. Phantom Bride (BBC "In Concert" live recording)
10. Heart Of Stone (BBC "In Concert" live recording)
11. Hallowed Ground (BBC "In Concert" live recording)
12. Witch In The Ditch (BBC "In Concert" live recording)

"The Innocents Live", BBC Television Performances & The Videos

"The Innocents Live" (NEC Birmingham 15/11/88)
1. Chains Of Love
2. A Little Respect
3. The Circus
4. The Hardest Part
5. Push Me Shove Me
6. Spiralling
7. Hallowed Ground
8. Oh L’Amour
9. Who Needs Love Like That
10. Stop!
11. Victim Of Love
12. Ship Of Fools
13. Knocking On Your Door
14. Sometimes
15. Witch In The Ditch (previously unreleased)
16. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (previously unreleased)

"The Innocents" At The BBC

1. Ship Of Fools (from "Going Live!")
2. A Little Respect (from "Top Of The Pops")
3. The Innocents Live (BBC 35minute TV Special - First Broadcast December 12, 1988)

"The Innocents" - Promotional Videos

1. Ship Of Fools
2. Chains Of Love
3. A Little Respect

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

atomic return of Massive Attack

After a lengthy, six year absence from the music scene, moody, UK, trip-hop icons, Massive Attack, are on their way back with "Splitting The Atom". It's a four song EP featuring several, highly promising, vocal cameos from Martina Topley Bird, Guy Garvey from Elbow, TV On The Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, and long-time collaborator, Horace Andy.

The title track is a deep, creepy, haunting, slow burning number with shades of the more trippy end of the Two Tone spectrum or the spookier sides of Gorillaz.

In fact, when Massive Attack drop their forthcoming, fifth album in February, it will feature Blur/Gorillaz front man, Damon Albarn and former Mazzy Star chanteuse, Hope Sandoval.

Recently, I've rediscovered the dark beauty and claustrophobic fear of their groundbreaking debut, "Blue Lines".

And who could forget the bittersweet brilliance of their collaboration with Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl?

Kylie's blue Bollywood adventure

Kylie Minogue features in the new, Akshay Kumar, Bollywood film, "Blue", with a newly recorded song, the ridiculously titled, "Chiggy Wiggy". First a collaboration with The Wiggles and now this!

The tune, written by A.R. Rahman who produced the soundtrack for "Slumdog Millionaire", is performed by Kylie Minogue and Sonu Niigaam. The video features Kylie dancing in a club wearing a flashy dress while Akshay Kumar drops onto the stage and dances with her. The song is an intoxicating mix of Kylie's breathy vocals and a groovy, Punjabi production in a similar style to "Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny)", A.R. Rahman's recent collaboration with Pussycat Dolls.

Let's face it. Kylie is more of a chiggy wiggy kind of girl and Pussycat Dolls have their high heels firmly planted in the ho category.

If you wanna see a little behind-the-scene action with Kylie and co., you're in luck. Clicky click for joy.

How about a look at the video of our pint-sized, Aussie, pop rocket and her friends, The Wiggles.

I see they spared no expense.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

always something there to remind me

Here's a lovely, new video clip from Annie for her current single, "Songs Remind Me Of You".

Deliciously low budget but very effective right down to the big lips at around 2.09. I believe that's called "retro".

As Stephen at XO's Middle Eight pointed out a few weeks ago, Annie has the best choker by a mile! And she's got a lovely selection of jumpers, too.

And if my ears don't deceive me, I believe the drum fills are lifted right out of "Showing Out (Get Fresh At The Weekend)" by Mel & Kim. See if you agree.

Annie's new album, "Don't Stop", will finally be unleashed to the salivating masses on October 19. Shall we have another look at the cover?


Saturday, September 5, 2009

singing and swinging again

Back to our regularly scheduled programming!

The world is all a-twitter (literally!) about some new stuff from Robbie Williams who took some time away from the spotlight while Take That conquered the UK with their recent, blockbuster reunion. I'm sure he need to lick his wounds after the scathing reviews he got for his last longplayer, "Rudebox".

I bet in a few years time, that album will warm up to those that thought it was a bad move. Seriously. Was he gonna keep giving you "Angels"? Is that what you wanted? Instead, we got what is known in some quarters as the first album by a major artist to embrace the sound of synths way before La Roux and Little Boots were the face of the new electro movement. I believe Robbie was a trailblazer about 18 months too soon.

RW's new single, "Bodies", is different kettle of fish, indeed. It doesn't fall into the category occupied by his previous album, but it doesn't tread on familiar ground like "Intensive Care" did. Thankfully, the zeros and ones ooze with that unmistakable Robbie charm and swagger.

There appears to be a big budget video in the works. Seems kind of pointless these days. Here's a 30 second clip we blagged off EMI's YouTube channel.

Where have I seen this concept before? Hmmmm.....

The album, "Reality Killed The Video Star", includes thirteen, new songs produced by the legendary Trevor Horn. Note the pun in the title, for it is Trevor Horn, as a member of The Buggles, launched MTV with their prophetic, debut single, "Video Killed The Radio Star", way back in 1981.

"Bodies" has all the hallmarks of a Trevor Horn production - a tough bass, stadium sized drums and a bombastic chorus. A deeper listen reveals shades of the first two Seal albums and hints of Art Of Noise.

The following is the tracklisting for RW's latest and greatest.

1. Morning Sun
2. Bodies
3. You Know Me
4. Blasphemy
5. Do You Mind?
6. Last Days Of Disco
7. Somewhere
8. Deceptacon
9. Starstruck
10. Difficult For Weirdos
11. Superblind
12. Won't Do That
13. Morning Sun (Reprise)

There will be a bonus track, "Amazing", for those of you who purchase the album through iTunes, but I suspect it will be only available in the UK and the rest of Europe which makes things very annoying for Robbie's American following. No word on whether "Reality Killed The Video Star" is slated for a US release.

Friday, September 4, 2009

a week of beauty and synchronicity

OK. Time to ratchet things down to a normal pace for a moment. I haven't had the chance to blog much music lately as I've been creating music for boys of the Pet Shop variety. Everything sort of got sidetracked over the last five days.

I had been chatting with PSB's management for a few months regarding the opportunity to produce a remix of the third single from their current, brilliant longplayer, "Yes". There was some silence after it was agreed I would twiddle a few knobs for them. And then, all at once, it was decided that "Beautiful People" would be lifted from the album for singular consumption. Within days, there were discussions about files, delivery methods, concepts and deadlines. Of course, the tightest of schedules was implemented and off we went. Whoooosh!

Firstly, the single will be released in Germany on September 25. Apparently, the tracklisting isn't 100% confirmed because EMI were waiting for delivery of my finished mixes. As it stands, the single will feature the album version and demo of "Beautiful People" plus one or both of my mixes. The final track on the single will be the previously unreleased 7 inch version of "Fugitive", a song featured in it's full length form on the deluxe edition of "Fundamental", PSB's album from 2006.

I can confirm that I produced two mixes. They are:

Beautiful People (Vinny Vero Single Mix) (3.48)
Beautiful People (Vinny Vero Club Mix) (6.51)

Not sure if both will be included on the new single. If only one is featured, perhaps the other will find a home on the forthcoming UK single slated for release this autumn. I wanted to pull together a dub, but there simply wasn't enough time to pull it off. I'm immensely proud of these mixes and honored I was selected to produce them.

I should point out that the single mix is not an edit of the club mix. Typically, I would produce the club track and edit the single mix out of that. For some reason, I started on the single mix first. This probably happened because I received the entire multitrack of the original which was conveniently delivered to me in a full, ProTools session. During the production, I snapped a photo of what it looked like on the monitor. I wanted to capture it for posterity!

Essentially, I could have used anything I wanted from the album version. It was an embarrassment of riches! I have to thank the lovely folks over at the Xenomania complex in the UK for supplying me with everything I needed.

With that in mind, I incorporated most of the guitars from the original. All of the vocals from the album version have been included - Neil's lead, his ad libs and all of the backing vocals. Also, I used some of the live string parts. The end result is a glorious, hands in the air, dance anthem. For DJs and beat freaks, please note the album track clocks in at 122 bpm and my productions gallop along at a sprightly 132 bpm.

The drum loops and percussion in the single mix are different than the ones used in the club mix. For the single mix, I wanted the sound to have the density of an album track that would sound at home on "Yes" somewhere between "Did You See Me Coming?" and "The Way It Used To Be". With the club mix, I stripped out the thicker loops and kicks and replaced them with ones that have more punch for maximum dancefloor excitement. Additionally, I added in some keyboard parts that don't appear in the single mix. While the club mix is, essentially, an extended version of the single mix, they are different productions when given under close scrutiny. It's as if we've been transported back to the 80s!

I was very conscious of keeping the integrity of the original version. I think I achieved that. To my amazement and good fortune, there was a sub mix of the strings, guitars and bass in the original ProTools session of "Beautiful People". Upon stumbling over that, I decide to use that in the mix and cut off some of the bottom end in order to make it sit better in the entire production. Once I put my own keyboard parts over that, the mixes started taking on a shape of their own rather quickly.

Listening to the album track as it appears on "Yes", you can hear the distinct influences without it ever sounding like a pastiche. The live strings are reminiscent of "Wichita Lineman" by Glen Campbell. The guitars have a similar feel to some of America's singles from the early 70s like "Ventura Highway", "A Horse With No Name" and "Tin Man". The song has a very Bacharach and David feel to it. Overall, it reminds me of something by the 5th Dimension.

In the midst of all the mixing madness, I managed to see Pet Shop Boys twice on their "Pandemonium" tour. I had purchased my tickets months before the topic of remixes had even been discussed. It was pure synchronicity that put the production schedule directly in the path of the tour dates.

On Tuesday, after a full day in the studio, I drove into NYC to see PSB at Hammerstein Ballroom which is not one of my favorite venues. I detailed my review of the show in a previous entry. On Thursday, after another full on day of productivity in the studio, I drove down to Washington DC for PSB's performance at the imperial Constitution Hall. The sound was magnificent and the show was tighter and ran more smoothly.

The highlight for me, of which there were many, was a gorgeous and moving rendition of "Jealousy", a single from their album, "Behaviour". With Neil dressed in formal, black tie couture, he delivered the song tenderly while a male and female couple dressed in red loosely acted out the song's lyrics through interpretive dance. Goosebump inducing brilliance! Hopefully, this tour will make it's way to DVD next year.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pandemonium hits New York City

Just returned from seeing the Pet Shop Boys at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. Except for a glitch during the beginning of "New York City Boy", they were fabulous, as always.

With all the zing you expect from a PSB show, they incorporated the artwork elements from their current longplayer, "Yes", with a combination of visual vignettes that were projected on the back of the stage and cube headed backing singers in brightly colored costumes. The backing singers were also super fit, trained dancers which gave the show movement which counterpoints Neil's and Chris' penchant for standing still. Although the backing singers were fantastic, I could help but miss Sylvia Mason-James and her rich, diva tones.

The song selection cast a wide net over their entire catalog. They even performed a few nuggets they either rarely or never played live like early favorites "Why Can't We Live Together?" and "Two Divided By Zero". During the show, which is divided into four acts, PSB manipulated some of their tunes by fusing two songs into a medley or incorporating bits of different songs within others. And there is one surprise in the shape of "Do I Have To?", a song that only ever appeared on the b-side of "Always On My Mind", which opens the ballet section of the concert.

Their cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" was masterful. It, too, featured slivers of other songs within it. In this case starting the track as "Discoteca" (from the album, "Bilingual"), then injecting bits of "Domino Dancing" (from "Introspective") before rolling into their rendition of Coldplay's finest moment. Hopefully, a studio version of "Viva La Vida" has been lovingly produced for future release (minus the bits of other PSB songs). It is screaming to be a single.

The set list went as follows:

1. More Than A Dream (Magical Dub) (truncated)
2. Heart
3. Did You See Me Coming?
4. Pandemonium/Can You Forgive Her? (medley)
5. Love Etc.
6. Building A Wall (incorporating "Integral")
7. Go West (incorporating "Paninaro" and "Opportunites (Let's Make Lots Of Money)")
8. Two Divided By Zero
9. Why Don't We Live Together? (incorporating "Left To My Own Devices")
10. Always On My Mind
11. New York City Boy
12. Closer To Heaven (truncated)
13. Left To My Own Devices
14. Do I Have To?
15. King's Cross
16. The Way It Used To Be
17. Jealousy
18. Suburbia
19. All Over The World
20. Se A Vida É (That's The Way Life Is)
21. Viva La Vida (incorporating "Discoteca" and "Domino Dancing")
22. It's A Sin
23. Being Boring
24. West End Girls

Unfortunately, the sound at the Hammerstein Ballroom leaves a lot to be desired. It's not exactly built for modern, concert acoustics. As the evening continued, the sound seemed to deteriorate as the show got progressively louder at which point everything got a little crunchy. Chris and Neil were flawless except for a pitch glitch at the start of "New York City Boy". Someone's wasn't hitting the right notes. Not sure if it was Neil's vocal or Chris' playing that caused the problem. Hopefully, the sound will be better when I see them again on September 3 at Constitution Hall in Washington DC.

And here's one for those dedicated to design. It's a shot of the stylish tour program. It's completely black and white throughout with the exception of the gold foil on the front cover. Classy!


For the most part, they played everything from "Yes", their latest longplayer. One notable omission? They did not perform "Beautiful People", the current song for which I am producing a new version.