Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Rio" revisited

It was 1982. MTV began beaming into select homes across the US and millions of teenagers found solace and excitement in a colorful, new medium. The visual side of music had previously been relegated to late night television, afternoon chat shows and "American Bandstand". MTV would obliterate all before it with its promise of a steady diet of music videos 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Programming was thin. So they relied on untested sights and sounds from the UK where the music video had become a promotional tool for bands and singers who couldn't be in several, European countries simultaneously when promotional duties required them to make appearances outside Mother Britannia.

With peroxide and eyeliner in hand, Duran Duran instantly became the pin up boys for the burgeoning, MTV generation. Their second album, "Rio", was released in the UK in May 1982. With its videos shot in exotic locations and its sonic blueprint of Chic inspired basslines, Moroder-esque keyboard sequences and rock guitar married with Simon Le Bon's obtuse prose, the Fab Five from Birmingham shot like the proverbial bullet from a gun and threw convention in the face of the UK recessionista. This was art, escapism and deft musicality all dressed up in one, uniquely designed, smartly tailored (or is that "Taylored") package.

Now, 27 years after its original release, EMI have reissued and remastered the album with a much deserved, double CD, deluxe edition complete with b-sides, demos, alternate mixes and their era defining, dance reconstructions known as "night versions". Among fans, this is the definitive representation of "Rio".

I've been wanting to write about the new reissue for weeks. Truthfully, I got lost in it several times and completely forgot to jot down my thoughts. Thankfully, this, the second swipe at reissuing "Rio", was one which fans were holding their collective breath in anticipation of owning a proper, historic view of the album complete with the appropriate bonus tracks from the sessions surrounding its original release.

The first attempt in 2001 resulted in a direct reissue and remastering of the CD that was already in existence. While it sported vastly superior sound quality, it did not feature any additional tracks. It was a tremendous disappointment for fans who knew there were numerous versions of several of the album's tracks. It took the painstaking and laborious work of dedicated producers and Nick Rhodes' attention to detail which resulted in the newly released, definitive, 2 CD edition being issued.

The first disc is the complete album in its original UK running order. Five tracks at the end of the CD have been included as an addendum for this edition. The songs were remixed specifically for the US version of "Rio", when it was issued on the Capitol label in November 1982 and appear here, together, for the first time since the original, American, vinyl release.

I remember being mesmerized by the Patrick Nagel image on the album sleeve. I recall describing the magenta used on the cover as "juicy". It was designed by Malcolm Garrett at Assorted Images, one of my favorite design firms next to Stylorouge, Farrow and Me Company which were all UK based. Natch! The entire look, lovingly adapted for the deluxification of this landmark longplayer, was aimed at the heart of the aesthetic ethic. And in one gelled, felled swoop, a million hair salons were born.

Much has been made of the style. But what of the substance? Firstly, this was a band in top form at the height of their powers with deep talent on tap. They had all the bases covered from the soundscapes to the styling. The aural and visual were married into one discussion. Each was an extension of the other. The music spoke volumes while the image pushed boundaries.

While the overprocessed and hypersynthesized efforts of many of their contemporaries have dated quite considerably, "Rio" has aged gracefully. It's simultaneously timeless and of a particular moment in time. A rare feat in any era.

After the urgency of their debut, "Rio" was a little more polished yet still urgent. The album could easily have spawned six or seven singles. Amazing to think that the first single pulled from it was "My Own Way" which was rerecorded for its inclusion on "Rio" in a style quite different from the glitterball gallop of the single version which is a thrilling combination of Chic and latter period Roxy Music.

Thankfully, the original 7"single and night version of "My Own Way" have been restored to their rightful place on "Rio" as part of the second disc in the collection.

The sensual and muscular "Hungry Like The Wolf" was the song that set Duran Duran sailing into the stratosphere. The percolating, Jupiter 8 synth sequences, female moans, slap bass, Simmons drums, and Andy Taylor's chunky guitar riffs occupying the space between disco funk and rock power chords was a heady mix and an instant hit. It rocketed to #5 on the UK singles chart. It followed suit in the US where it peaked at #3.

What stands out most to me now, as it did back then, is that "Hungry Like Wolf", as well as its entire attendant album, sounds authentic and original. Stripped of its teen appeal of the time, it's an art rock album which stands head and shoulders high with some of the best work of the artists that inspired them like David Bowie, Japan and Roxy Music.

In fact, two of my favorite tracks (which is a tough decision regarding an album without any identifiable filler) are the dark, funky stance of "New Religion" and the stark, icy electronics of "The Chauffeur". The former sounds like a cross between the detached, plastic elegance of "Stay" from Bowie's "Station To Station" and "Siren" era Roxy Music jams like "Love Is The Drug" or "Both Ends Burning". The latter marries the chilly stillness of "Ghosts" by Japan with the eeriness of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home A Heartache".

My favorite inside story on the production of this incredible album closer is the time I found out that the crunchy, clinky sound that occurs at 2.38 is the sound of ice cubes dropped in a glass. Take a listen.

At one point, it was impossible to listen to "The Chauffeur" without recalling its brilliant video which was the height of Helmut Newton inspired, 80s, romantic, art house chic.

"Save A Prayer", Duran Duran's ethereal anthem, strangely was not issued as a single in the US until it was lifted from the live album, "Arena". It was skipped over in favor of the album's title track which rounded out the campaign for "Rio". I'd love to know the story behind not releasing "Save A Prayer" in the US. It was all over MTV. Radio played the bejeezus out of it. Essentially, the US got only two singles off "Rio" which is a little odd considering the album having been an omnipresent force on radio and television for the better part of two years.

As previously mentioned, the US album mixes, which were handled by David Kershenbaum, have never appeared on CD. Those mixes, the concept of which was to garner more significant radio airplay across America, featured Simon's vocals pushed more prominently to the front, punched up drum sounds, very few overdubs, and and a sonic sheen that smoothed out the slightly raw edges of the original UK masters.

The US mixes are tastefully done. They aren't glaringly obvious remixes. In fact, the most obvious change is at the end of the song, "Rio". At around the 3.45 mark their are background vocals which don't appear at all on any of the UK mixes and the saxophone solo has nearly disappeared from the end.

A deluxe edition of "Rio" wouldn't be complete without the extended, night versions which were at the forefront of dance culture in the 80s and ushered in the era of requisite club mixes for rock acts, thus creating blurred lines between two camps which radio pitted against each other only five, short years earlier. The night versions close out the second disc of rarities.

The b-sides are essential, particularly "Like An Angel", which was the original flip of "My Own Way", and the early, acoustic guitar version of "The Chauffeur". The demos, recorded at the old Manchester Square studios at EMI in London, give insight into just how fully formed the songs were before Colin Thurston, producer of the album, got his hands on them. Interestingly, the demos were recorded barely eight months before the album was released and only a couple of months after their debut hit the shops.

If you are one of the downloadably inclined masses, then you can pick up the deluxe edition of "Rio" on iTunes with two bonus tracks, an instrumental version of "My Own Way" and an alternate remix of "Hold Back The Rain".

The only black mark on the entire collection is the omission of the original, UK 7" single of "Rio" which clocks in at around 4.40. It has only ever been available on a Japanese promo CD released in 1988. The elusive, UK single version of "Rio" has never been released on any greatest hits collection or as part of the box set, "The Singles 81-85".

It has taken a very long time to get properly reissued albums from Duran Duran. Better late than never, I suppose. Thankfully, Nick Rhodes is now overseeing deluxified editions of their debut, self-titled longplayer, "Seven And The Ragged Tiger", "Notorious" and the woefully overlooked masterpiece that is "So Red The Rose" by the Le Bon/Rhodes/Taylor spin off project, Arcadia.

Along with their forthcoming 13th album (14th if one counts "Arena"), produced by man of the moment, Mark Ronson, the next round of reissues should see the light of day within the next twelve months. If they're as lovingly put together as the current "Rio" reissue, then I shall start saving my shekels now. Hey Nick, add "Big Thing" to that list while you're at it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the performance and the party

If you're a hardcore, Pet Shop Boys fan you know they've written a song for Dame Shirley Bassey called "The Performance Of My Life". It will be included on her forthcoming longplayer, "The Performance". The album, her first, full, studio album in over 20 years, has been produced by Grammy Award winning producer, David Arnold, and features an array of top songwriters including Gary Barlow, Rufus Wainwright and PSB.

Apparently, it's DSB's favorite tune on the entire album. In interviews, she's been telling everyone she wept when she first heard it. Bless her heart. Pass the Kleenex.

If you want to splash for something special, pick up the deluxe version of the album which includes eight, exclusive collector's prints from the Dame’s recent photo shoot with Mary McCartney, all neatly packaged in a specially designed box decadently embossed with Dame Shirley Bassey’s logo in gold. She is one, classy dame, indeed!

Thanks to the lovely people over at Popjustice for alerting us to DSB's emotional and heartwarming performance from the Electric Proms which was broadcast on television in the UK recently.

The first few minutes are very sweet. Gracious and lovely. We raise a glass of champers to Ms. Bassey!

It's a bumper crop for PSB fans. Next week will see the release of "Party", a compilation of PSB tracks which have featured prominently in many Brazilian soap operas. Therefore, the collection will only be released in Brazil. But for a limited time, it will be available in the shop on the Pet Shop Boys' official website.

The tracklisting for "Party" is as follows:

1. West End Girls (1o" Mix)
2. Love Comes Quickly
3. Paninaro (7" Mix)
4. It's A Sin (Disco Mix)
5. What Have I Done To Deserve This?
6. Always On My Mind (Extended Dance Version)
7. Domino Dancing
8. It's Alright (7" Version)
9. Being Boring
10. Go West
11. Before (Single Edit)
12. New York City Boy
13. Home And Dry (Radio Edit)
14. Minimal (Radio Edit)
15. Love Etc.
16. King Of Rome

Interesting to note that it includes two tracks from their current longplayer, "Yes". I love the brightly colored sleeve which has caused me to have a craving for Skittles.

Also, a little bird chirped in my ear and told me PSB will have a new EP "in the shops" at the beginning of December ahead of their UK tour dates. Just keep it hush between us.

Monday, October 26, 2009

what you get is no tomorrow

Just in time for Halloween, here comes Lady Gaga with a monster!

The album and single covers for this next phase of Lady Gaga's career are simply brilliant. Striking imagery and bold typefaces. It's a brazen statement. She's one of the few, bright stars with mucho potential to go the distance. We wait and watch.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Twenty years after their last longplayer of original material, "Heart Like A Sky", Spandau Ballet triumphantly returned to the UK albums chart this week at #7 with "Once More", which features acoustic reimagings of their biggest hits plus two, brand new songs.

Their last top 10 album was "Gold - The Best Of Spandau Ballet" which, coincidentally, also peaked at #7 in 2001.

The original, five members of the band put aside their differences and stormed the live stage for a reunion tour which stopped in London's O2 Arena for three sold out nights last week. With rewards points in hand, I scooped up a flight, booked my hotel and made the trip over the Atlantic to witness the third of their three, highly anticipated, hometown shows.

Much has been made of this reunion after such an acrimonious split that played out in the British tabloids in the 90s. Having worked with both sides of the divided ranks over the last 15 years, it was a pleasure to see the five friends return to doing what they love most. It was clear from their playful camaraderie that they were a unified, creative front once more.

As the lights dimmed in the arena, a montage of footage featuring each band member, followed by each of their names just in case anyone forgot over the passing years, was projected onto a sheer curtain at the front of the stage. Each member received squeals of delight from the mostly 40+ crowd. Clearly, Martin Kemp, resident bass player and "Eastenders" heartthrob garnered the most adulation, which was expected.

Then, five shadowy figures appeared behind the draping which dropped to the floor and revealed a reinvigorated Spandau Ballet as they launched into the sinuous, gritty synthiness of "To Cut A Long Story Short" and barreled through a two hour parade of hits peppered with a few surprises.

After the rubbery bass and New Romantic arty stance of "The Freeze" and a high octane version of "Highly Strung", Tony Hadley addressed the audience in his usual, smooth and affable way by asking the audience what they've been up to for the last twenty years. That statement drew cheers and laughter from the crowd who had packed the house.

The band members, suitably dressed in their trademark fine suits and casual couture, carried the show with nothing more than a jumbo screen at the back of the stage and their instruments in hand. This reunion was clearly about the music. The fact that they could carry a two hour show of hits without a dry ice machine, laser show, pyro or other unnecessary spectacle is a testament to their collective talent. Tony, always dashing, never removed his tie or blazer during the entire show including the encore. Substance and style all the way.

"Highly Stung" was followed by a fiery take on "Only When You Leave" and the dreamy, "I'll Fly For You", both hit singles from their fourth longplayer, "Parade". "How Many Lies", the power ballad lifted as the third single from their fifth album, "Through The Barricades", slowed the tempo down a bit, but it was obvious and quite astounding, that Tony Hadley's voice has more range and power than ever. His impressive stage presence, passionate performance and relative ease scaling the upper end of his vocal range were delivered with effortless grace.

It was evident at this point in the show that Spandau Ballet played musical hopscotch throughout the 80s. In retrospect, with every single they seemingly tried on a new style whether it was the electro stylings of their early work, the funk workouts which dotted their albums, the posh soulboy ballads that marked their imperial phase, or the rock leanings of their later material. This is a band that used the full palate of musical colors and weren't afraid to experiment. As the evening progressed, it was clear that Gary Kemp, the main songwriter in the band, has always been a rock classicist at heart rather than a dedicated follower of pop fashion. All of the songs were performed with expert delivery almost stripped completely of some of their dated stylings which allowed them to shine and stand as timeless compositions.

The biggest kick for me occurred during "How Many Lies". While watching Gary play his distinctive parts on a buttery yellow guitar, I recognized it as the one he used when we wrote and recorded a few songs together only a year or two ago just before Spandau Ballet reformed. I got a little zing from that particular memory which stands out as one of my professional highlights.

First surprise of the evening was a rocked out, "Virgin", a song tucked away on "Through The Barricades" that, at one time, was rumored to have been considered as a single. It was followed by a completely reworked, more organic version of "She Loved Like Diamond" which was their first single to miss the top 40 back in 1982.

Fast forward back to the present as Tony introduced "Once More", the first, new Spandau Ballet song in twenty years complete with sexy, sax solo in the middle. I think it's about time we bring sax breaks back into pop music. At the key change toward the end of the song, Tony belted out some of the highest notes of his career with amazing ease.

Then it was back to their massive catalog of hits with the mellow "Round And Round" which was accompanied by old, grainy, home movies of the band in their very early days interspersed with current shots. The footage was received with rapturous applause by the audience, who by this time, was eating from the palm of Tony's hand. He certainly has maintained his ability to carry a crowd on a musical journey and engage them with his grand and gracious gestures.

A few more surprises in the shape of "Man In Chains", another track from "Through The Barricades", which was followed by the band leaving the stage with the exception of Tony and Gary who sat front and center on stools for an intimate, acoustic performance of "With The Pride", a song from "Parade" which Gary described as one which holds a very special place in his heart.

As the rest of the band returned to the stage, the haunting intro to the title track from "Through The Barricades" floated through the arena and the venue was flooded with the glow of hundreds of mobile phones as the band proudly delivered an elegiac performance of what has become one of their signature songs which was inspired by the strife that embattled North Ireland in the 80s.

After a few downtempo numbers, it was time for a funk frenzy including the brassy, "Instinction" which Tony sang with backing singer, Dawn Joseph, who's bleached blonde quiff put all 80s revivalists to shame. It was followed by the brazen, full throttle romp of "Communication", an ebullient "Lifeline" and a medley of "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)" merged with the erotic, "Paint Me Down", all of which showcased Martin Kemp's significant bass chops.

A Spandau Ballet show wouldn't be complete without "True", the ultimate love song and Marvin Gaye tribute which launched the quintet into the international stratosphere. With a backdrop of twinkling lights and another wave of glowing mobile phones from the audience, the band closed their show but not before a sprightly run through the anthemic "Fight For Ourselves" and the towering beauty of "Gold".

The following is the full set list from Spandau Ballet's "Reformation" tour.

1. To Cut A Long Story Short
2. The Freeze
3. Highly Strung
4. Only When You Leave
5. I'll Fly For You
6. How Many Lies
7. Virgin
8. She Loved Like Diamond
9. Once More
10. Round And Round
11. Man In Chains
12. With The Pride
13. Through The Barricades
14. Instinction
15. Communication
16. Lifeline
17. Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)/Paint Me Down
18. True


19. Fight For Ourselves
20. Gold

Sadly, no songs from their final album, "Heart Like A Sky", made an appearance in the show. The sexy and seductive strains of "Raw" or the glorious, Latin tinged "Be Free With Your Love" would've been welcome additions.

Luckily, my charm and wit was put to good use by allowing me to attend the afterparty in the bar on the main floor of the O2. I had the opportunity to spend a little time with Tony and have a lovely chinwag with drummer, John Keeble who, as always, was super chatty and seriously charming. However, he's a little camera shy when the spotlight turns off. Martin was swamped, as is the burden of all top level pinups at any age. Steve Norman, percussionist and saxophone player extraordinaire, had the briefest of conversations with me as he was ensconced in conversations with friends and family.

I got a chance to chat with Gary about possible US dates which are being negotiated at the moment. We talked about the thrill, for both the band and their fans, in the light of an unexpected, full on reunion tour and new album. He and the rest of the gents in the band are truly moved by the overwhelming response received thus far. They are all looking forward to enjoying every moment.

As a music obsessed teenager - which is quite like being a music obsessed adult only with less time on my hands - Spandau Ballet were one of my favorite bands. I wanted to write poetic odes to unrequited love like Gary Kemp (who has written at least three, bona fide classics) and sing with the deep emotion and unbridled confidence of Tony Hadley.

Spandau Ballet hardly ever appeared on the arty sleeves of their albums and singles. I admired them for their mix of sophisticated arrangements and urban stylings. Imagine my delight, mixed with slight trepidation, when the opportunity to work with them presented itself years later in my professional life. Spandau Ballet inspired me both musically and visually, having left an indelible imprint on my creative endeavors over the years.

It was a tremendous joy to see them live for the first time ever. They never really embarked on a fully fledged tour of the US during the height of their success, so endless hours viewing their lush, intricate videos had to suffice. Finally, I was able to experience their electric, live performance which I've only ever seen on television when they played Live Aid that glorious day in July 1985. With the current, "Reformation" tour, they proved that they might be older but their fire still burns brightly after a long spell away from the game.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Frankie say rehash

Every few years, like clockwork, someone decides to dust off the master tapes of "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and give them a bit of a reswizzle.

This year, almost nine years to the day since the last greatest hits collection, "Maximum Joy", the FGTH catalogue gets another lease on life with "Frankie Say Greatest". It will be available in three flavors - a single disc, a double disc set featuring a bonus CD of mixes and rarities, a double vinyl package, and a DVD. It's 1984 all over again!

I remember when "Relax" was first released in 1983. I read about it in "Smash Hits" and "Number One" magazines. This was the only way I was able to find out about new music from the UK since it was more than a decade before the internet would shrink the world and make information available at a few keystrokes.

By the time "Relax" was banned by BBC Radio 1 DJ, Mike Read, the single hit the import record shops in NYC and they couldn't keep it in stock. Then the white t-shirts emblazoned with "Frankie Say" in big, black, block, capital letters started infiltrating the ranks of cool kids in high schools across the US. I was tempted to unearth an old photo of me wearing the iconic fashion item until I, thankfully, came to my senses.

Two albums and seven singles later, FGTH imploded and left a legacy that returns like a comet every few years. Surprisingly, with this latest hits collection, a new video has been lensed featuring an ageless Holly Johnson.

Holly looks fantastic. He hasn't aged a day. I'd like to find out the details of his daily regimen.

Here's a look at the very first version of the video for "Relax" which never gets aired on television due to its sexually charged content.

It's tame in comparison to things on television these days. As a teenager, I distinctly remember getting a bit of a zing in my lower regions upon first seeing Paul Rutherford in the opening segment of the video. Ah, the first flush of lustful youth.

The more sanitized version of "Relax" was the video which garnered the majority of airplay in the US.

Frankie mania has hit London again. Snipes can be spotted throughout the city signaling a more muted campaign 25 years after the first blast of annihilation shook the world.

The tracklisting for the single CD edition of "Frankie Say Greatest" is as follows:

1. Relax (Original 7")
2. Two Tribes
3. Welcome To The Pleasuredome (Escape Act Video Mix)
4. War
5. The Power Of Love
6. Ferry Cross The Mersey
7. Is There Anybody Out There? (Movement 2)
8. Tag
9. Born To Run
10. Warriors Of The Wasteland
11. Rage Hard
12. Watching The Wildlife
13. Happy Hi!
14. The Waves
15. Relax (Chicane Radio Edit)
16. Two Tribes (Hibakusha)
17. Relax (Lockout's Radio Edit)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lily Allen goes for a fourth

Feisty lass, Lily Allen, returns with "Who'd Have Known", the fourth single from her latest longplayer, "It's Not Me, It's You". Fifth, if you count the European only single, "Fuck You".

Lily has a little thing for Elton John. Remember their infamous, barbed exchange at last year's GQ Awards? We certainly haven't.

So have they kissed and made up? Is it even Elton in Lily's video.

The new single comes just as promotion begins around the re-release of her album which includes nine bonus tracks including acoustic performances of the singles, "The Fear", "22", "Who'd Have Known" and Britney Spears' "Womanizer".

There is also a bonus DVD which includes the videos for all the single lifted from the album with the exception of "Who'd Have Known". The DVD also includes nine songs from her live performances at Shepherd's Bush Empire and an in depth interview.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

lovers play the base

Saint Etienne, that thrilling threesome, graced the stage of Shepherd's Bush Empire last Friday. I never managed to catch them live even though they remain one of my all time, favorite groups. Seeing them in the heart of London, the city which has provided the backdrop and inspiration for most of their repertoire, made seeing them even more special.

To my surprise, Annie, who's long delayed album, "Don't Stop", finally sees a release on October 19, occupied the opening slot for Saint Etienne, who played the entirety of their debut album, "Foxbase Alpha", in its original running order.

Annie strutted on stage with a short, seven song set accompanied by nothing more than a drummer, a spooky, cloaked guitarist who also ran all the computer assisted sequences, and lots of reverb on her vocals.

It was a more raw and rocked out sound than I had expected, but still managed to have a slightly bouncy feel due to her sweetly sung vocals. Most of the gloss associated with her recordings was stripped away which provided her songs more grittier edge. Her set featured the following songs:

1. Chewing Gum
2. My Love Is Better
3. I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me
4. Take You Home
5. Loco
6. My Heartbeat
7. Songs Remind Me Of You

Between sets, a DJ spun a fabulous, eclectic set of music spanning which featured everything from early Roxy Music to 808 State. Just before Saint Etienne took the stage, he played a healthy does of early 90s, Italo house records which provided the perfect segue into the group's "Foxbase Alpha" set.

One of the things about a band playing one of their albums in its original running order from beginning to end, is that there are usually no surprises. An audience which has a level of expectation doesn't allow for much anticipation through the show. However, Saint Etienne's rabid and dedicated fanbase is happy to have any opportunity to see their beloved band in a live setting.

Saint Etienne kicked things off with album opener, "This Is Radio Etienne", and a montage of film clips projected on two large screens at the back of the stage. In fact, each song in their set was accompanied by a unique set up videos and gave the show the feeling of attending an art installation.

The regal, radio transmission of the opening number was followed by the plinky, piano driven, 90s house classic of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" which sent the audience into fits of excitement. The euphoria of their debut hit single gave way to the slightly wonky, "Wilson", the crackling vinyl and repeat refrain of "Would you like some sweets, Willie?" while Sarah Carcknell tossing small bags of sweets into the audience.

The dubbed out bliss of "Carnt Sleep" slid fluidly into "Girl VII", which, at one point, required Sarah to read from piece of paper for the spoken bit, which made for a very charming moment which added to the art installation feel of the evening.

After the driving rhythm of "She's The One", Sarah and backing vocalist, Debsy, retreated to the table at the side of the stage for a short rest while Pete Stanley and Bob Wiggs behind a bank of keyboards on risers, dressed in cream colored blazers with matching trousers and black t-shirts, floated through the instrumental, ambient, Balearic beats of "Stoned To Say The Least".

The joyous, swinging 60s vibe of "Nothing Can Stop Us", received an ecstatic response from the crowd. And it was clear that Sarah was beginning to have few slight problems with her voice. She let it be known that she was suffering from a throat infection and apologizes if she wasn't in top form. Even with a touch of flu, she shimmied across the stage and waved her arms in the air without ever appearing sluggish. She was a real trooper throughout.

The final four songs from the "Foxbase Alpha" cycle, the filmic "Etienne Gonna Die" (which features dialogue from David Mamet's 1987, motion picture, directorial debut, "House Of Games"), the pastoral strains of "London Belongs To Me", the extended trippiness of "Like The Swallow", and the dreamy "Dilworth's Theme", comes across like a live movie soundtrack rather than the closing songs of a landmark, pop album.

After a brief pause for refreshment, the mighty Saint Etienne returned to stage and performed a selection of their biggest hits, but not before we were treated to "John & Marsha", Stan Freberg's novelty single released on Capitol Records in 1951, being played over the sound system.

After the hilarity of "John & Marsha", which left many in the audience scratching their heads, Sarah return to the stage without Bob and Pete. She performed "Hobart Paving" by special request with only a Debsy on backing vocals and Gerard, one of the group's staff dressed in a white lab coat, on piano. Sarah was sure she would remember all the words, but she did. However, Gerard flubbed his parts toward the end of the performance, Sarah giggled and the audience roared with laughter and applause.

Bob and Pete returned to the stage in more comfortable attire and launched into a set of dance favorites from across their nearly 20 year career including "Who Do You Think You Are?", "Method Of Modern Love", "Pale Movie", "Like A Motorway" and "Sylvie".

After a high energy romp through "He's On The Phone" as an encore, Sarah thanked the packed house for sticking with her through the show and apologized for her throat infection. She blew kisses to the audience and ended with handing her white, feather boa to an enthusiastic fans at the foot of the stage.

Saint Etienne's set list for the evening was as follows:

Foxbase Alpha

1. This Is Radio Etienne
2. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
3. Wilson
4. Carnt Sleep
5. Girl VII
6. She's The One
7. Stoned To Say The Least
8. Nothing Can Stop Us
9. Etienne Gonna Die
10. London Belongs To Me
11. Like The Swallow
12. Dilworth's Theme

Greatest Hits

13. Hobart Paving
14. Who Do You Think You Are?
15. Method Of Modern Love
16. Pale Movie
17. Like A Motorway
18. Sylvie


19. He's On The Phone

Thursday, October 15, 2009

hot butterfly

One of my absolute favorite songs at the moment is "Papillon" by Editors. It's a world away from their previous, guitar oriented efforts. I've got to admit that I much prefer this new, brooding, spooky, electro goth direction.

Lead singer, Tom Smith, is definitely channeling equal parts Scott Walker and Dave Gahan. The track is like the best, synthy bits of Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and even a touch of early Spandau Ballet. Seriously! Go and have a listen to songs like "Musclebound", "The Freeze" and "To Cut A Long Story Short".

I'm sure their bold, new direction has a lot to do with bringing on Flood as the producer for the project. He was responsible for numerous albums by Depeche Mode and Erasure, among others.

"Papillon" is from their forthcoming, third longplayer, "In This Light And On This Evening". I'm sure this will be spinning on my old victrola for many months to come. By the way, the Tiesto remix is the jammy jam. It's just as tasty as the original version.

Question. Is a sleep twitch like a Charlie horse? Send me your thoughts on a cocktail napkin, please.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

boxing clever

Chicane are certainly back on form. After the golden days of 1999 with massive hits like "Saltwater" and "Don't Give Up", it seems Nick Bracegirdle is on track with forthcoming single, "Hiding All The Stars", the follow up to the #7 UK single, "Poppiholla".

Natasha Andrews' beautifully haunting vocal floats over the top of the more mellow passages and then kicks into an unexpected, slightly more aggressive section featuring a replayed version of the signature, synth line from Gary Numan's "Cars". The interplay between the two disparate sections is quite astonishing.

The video and single sleeve for "Hiding All The Stars" has cause quite a bit of controversy. People thought that a woman with a black eye must be the subject of abuse. The video has ignited heated discussions in which some people are incensed by the sexist idea of the last bastion of maleness in the sport world being infiltrated.

As with the video for Chicane's previous single, "Poppiholla", first glances and assumptions should not be relied upon until the full story has unfolded. It's nice to see a bit of thought and meaning being put into music videos for a change. I, for one, am tired of the endless parade of vacuous clips.

Side note, fact fans! Did you know a chicane is an artificial feature which creates extra turns in a roadway? Apparently, they are used in motor racing and on city streets to slow cars down.

I wonder if there is a new Chicane album in the works or if they are going to strip "Hiding All The Stars" on the current, greatest hits collection. If they add the song to the existing tracklisting, it would be the third edition of "The Best Of Chicane: 1996-2009" to be released this year.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Kylie across America

Even before she launched her first US tour in her 22 year career, the Kylie live extravaganza passed into legend. Her final, three show residency at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC was packed to the teeth with fans who've been gagging to see the pint-sized, Aussie, pop rocket for years. Nobody, myself included, ever thought they would see the day when Kylie would grace a concert stage on American shores. Thankfully, she found time in her busy schedule to swan across North America with nine shows in six cities.

Last night's show, the first of three in NYC, was utterly magnificent. It was an aural and visual assault that is usually seen in arena sized venues. Somehow, Kylie and her crew managed to squeeze all the necessary equipment into the intimate space. Seven, massive, high definition screens, which never ceased to amaze, transmited video vignettes recorded and designed for each of the nearly 30 songs in her live set. Their monolithic presence occupied most of the stage. Lasers shot through the darkness with sparkling accuracy. The stage appeared as if it were a rain slicked street which reflected the colorful images which danced across the screens. And there was nary a dry ice machine in sight.

Most surprising aspect of the evening? Kylie sang every song live. She will admit she doesn't have the strongest voice in the biz, but she gives it her all, does an amazing job and makes it seem completely effortless. After the show, my concert companion and fellow Kylie maniac, Daniel, and I discussed the relative ease with which she commands the stage. With the demanding schedule and vocal work needed to carry off a show of her magnitude, she hardly seems to break a sweat. Comparatively, someone like Beyoncé always looks like she's struggling through every acrobatic move and melismatic vocal that the viewer is left exhausted by the end of even one song's performance. Kylie leaves her audience basking in the glow of a joyous celebration at the end of her nearly two hour show, a journey which is full of fun, reflection and mutual admiration.

"What about the song selection?", I hear you ask. Considering KM has had a career spanning a little more than two decades, she relies on the hits. And by "hits" we mean the ones she's had outside the US considering she has a solid, cult following here rather than the mass media attention she enjoys in the rest of the world. In between the greatest hits, she sprinkled in a smattering of songs from her most recent longplayer, "X".

The show was broken down into seven acts with the final one being the encore. Here's the set list from last night's show in its full glory.

Act 1

1. Overture
2. Light Years
3. Speakerphone
4. Come Into My World
5. In Your Eyes

Act 2

6. Shocked (which incorporated very brief portions of "It's No Secret", "What Kind of Fool (Heard All That Before)", "Step Back In Time" and "Keep On Pumpin' It Up")/What Do I Have To Do?/Spinning Around
7. Better Than Today

Act 3

8. Like A Drug
9. Boombox/Can't Get You Out Of My Head
10. Slow
11. 2 Hearts

Act 4

13. Red Blooded Woman/Where The Wild Roses Grow
14. Heart Beat Rock/Wow

Act 5

15. White Diamond
16. Confide In Me
17. I Believe In You

Act 6

18. Burning Up/Vogue
19. The Loco-Motion
20. Kids
21. In My Arms

Act 7 (Encore)

22. Better The Devil You Know
23. The One
24. Love At First Sight

Kylie started the show with an overture which consisted of a montage of classic film themes. Once the final strains of orchestration started fading, the synths and beats kicked in, the lasers pierced the darkness and Kylie descended from the ceiling of the venue on the top of a giant, chrome skull and trilled through "Light Years", the "I Feel Love" inspired, lead track from the album of the same name. Rapturous applause enveloped the room and the energy level didn't let up the entire evening.

Some of the show's highlights included an energetic "Can't Get You Out Of My Head", which received a roaring welcome, and Kylie's performance of "Slow" in two different styles. It began as the familiar, electro, bleep n' sleazy production from the original recording and segued into a rocked out version with guitarists posturing at the front with power chords. Then she brought on her formidable, horn section on to provide some light funk and fever to the burlesque backdrop of "2 Hearts".

From burlesque to beefcake, Ms. Minogue clearly shows she has studied her core, consumer demographic. Cue shower scene and scantily clad, musclebound dancers on the floor to ceiling screen. Such was the setting for "Red Blooded Woman" which stayed true to the song's original production featured on the album, "Body Language". Oh, the synchronicity! Because Kylie trotted out her male dancers wearing nothing more than red, terricloth towels while she sat perched on a pommel horse from which she sang. The entire time, homoerotic shots of her dancers in a variety of sports related scenes - gym workouts, weightlifting, boxing, gymnastics - played across the bank of screens. You could hear the audience salivating.

At the end of "Red Blooded Woman", Kylie delivered a brief burst of her Nick Cave duet, "Where The Wild Roses Grow". Without missing a beat, she continued the sports motif with a cheerleading, drumline rendition of "Heart Beat Rock" and ripped right into "Wow".

Earlier on in the show, during her retro set in which she played a medley of older hits including "Shocked", "What Do I Have To Do?" and "Spinning Around", she cleverly hinted at several of her Stock Aitken Waterman produced chestnuts including "It's No Secret", "What Kind Of Fool (Heard It All Before)", "Step Back In Time" and "Keep On Pumpin' It Up", which was a surprise considering it was originally a PWL single credited to The Vision Masters & Tony King featuring Kylie Minogue way back in 1991. All of the retro selections were performed in front of the massive screens which featured acid house smiley faces, bright neon colored graphics and filmed footage of her dancers made to look as if they were shot in the early 90s.

After a brief step back in time, Kylie flashed fast forward to the future as she treated her audience - who by this time were eating out of the palms of her pretty, little hands - to a brand new song, "Better Than Today", from her forthcoming, eleventh longplayer.

The song, which bears more than a passing resemblance to something which Scissor Sisters might have produced for Kylie, was written by British singer/songwriter Nerina Pallot. We've uncovered a clip of Nerina performing the jaunty, little number at recent live show in the UK.

After the amazing, eye popping performance of "Wow", Kylie took the tempo down a bit and performed a selection of ballads stretched out on an velvet chaise, all of which was preceded by an ode to vintage film. Kylie spoke snippets of dialogue from classic Hollywood movies accompanied by sweeping cinematic orchestration. For this segment, she chose a backdrop which reflected the art deco design of the golden age of film. A black and white shot of the New York City skyline featured in the background while a full moon floated high above the stage. Then she delivered dramatic renditions of "White Diamond", "Confide In Me" and "I Believe You", which was stripped of its original, disco glitter and given a lovely, heartwarming, string and piano arrangement. The true essence of the song was able to breathe which allowed the listener to discover the aspirational beauty of it.

Only three ballads on the tarmac and KM Air took off for another flight as more burlesque inspired imagery strutted across the stage. Kylie mashed up her own "Burning Up" with the spoken break from Madonna's "Vogue", which provided another hint at old school, Hollywood glamor. She cooed her way through a thoroughly swingtastic, sex kitten rendition of her debut, Australian single, "The Loco-Motion" and launched immediately into "Kids" where her backing singers took over Robbie Williams' vocal duties. The last song before the encore was the zippy, synth number, "In My Arms".

And what an encore it was! Three songs across her entire repertoire including the bouncy and joyful "Better The Devil You Know" followed by the glorious, icy warmth of "The One" and the sheer sparkle of "Love At First Sight".

Sadly, no "I Should Be So Lucky" or my favorite, "Put Yourself In My Place". Also, "On A Night Like This', which is listed in her program, was conspicuously missing.

Overall, Kylie's concert was a greatest hits tour in more ways than one. She not only performed songs from across her entire career, she also pulled in her favorite visual elements from her various tours, thus giving US fans a glimpse into many images they may have missed over the years.

Simply put, Kylie loves being a showgirl. Her stage design and presence is dripping in the Las Vegas style and tradition so expertly presented by Cher during her various residencies in Sin City. And Kylie has fun. There is never a moment where you feel like she isn't loving the art and spectacle of it all. No messages. No pretense. No forced smiles. She and the audience are having the time of their lives.

Friday, October 9, 2009

operation: desert babes

In the annals of pop music, history will recount today as the unveiling of Sugababes V4.0 with the release of their brand new video, "About A Girl".

It'll take a little more time to sink in. I like the song, especially the little chanting bit at the end of the chorus. My first impression is that I miss Keisha's voice. And I think the 'babes are trying a little too hard with this video. We'll see what happens when the album, "Sweet 7", drops.

My second thought is one related to finances. Did they really have to fly the ladies out to the arid climes of the desert to shoot this video? Labels still have budgets for this kind of thing? It looks rather average for such an endeavor. There are ways to lens a video that looks expensive without spending wads of cash. Did they need doubles and actors? Did they need to fly a raft of people over to the US? This perplexes me.

And is it just me, or did they forget the change out Keisha's body double? And why is Jade wearing a low rent, party wig? No $ to pay for the stylists, perhaps? This story keeps getting stranger.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

this much is true

Alert the media! With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue, I am pleased to announce the finalized tracklisting for "Once More", the forthcoming longplayer from Spandau Ballet.

The thirteen track album hits the "shops" on October 19 just as they hit the road for their European reunion tour. The following is the running order:

1. Once More
2. To Cut A Long Story Short
3. Gold
4. True
5. Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)
6. I'll Fly For You
7. Only When You Leave
8. Through The Barricades
9. She Loved Like Diamond
10. Communication
11. Lifeline
12. With The Pride
13. Love Is All

"Once More" and "Love Is All" are the band's first new recordings in twenty years! How time flies!

The remaining eleven tracks are re-imaged recordings of songs across their entire career produced in an acoustic setting. There are the obvious choices like "True", "Gold" and "Through The Barricades". Then there are more obscure selections like "She Loved Like Diamond", which was originally the third single from their second album, "Diamond", and peaked at a rather lowly #49 in the UK singles chart in 1982. Another interesting choice is "With The Pride", a longtime band and fan favorite from their fourth longplayer, "Parade".

voice recognition

Sometimes you come across a cover of a song you never thought would ever be attempted, especially when the original has such a distinct and unique sound.

Now that we're 25 years on from the 80s, it's time for a younger generation to have a fresh look at songs that, quite frankly, have aged extremely well considering that it was always thought the technology of the time squarely dated songs from that era and, thus, rendered them unimportant or not worthy of reinterpretation.

With that, I present to you "The Voice" by The Disco Boys featuring Midge Ure, singer with Ultravox V2.0.

Nicely done. But seriously, The Disco Boys? Is that really the best name they could come up with? And what's with the spastic dancer? Looks like they just plucked her off the street and stuck her in the video. Lovely graphics, though.

"The Voice", only one of two singles lifted from the album, "Rage In Eden", peaked at #16 in the UK singles chart in 1981. For purists, here is the original Ultravox video.

Love that 'stahce, Midge.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

hunger strike

"Sounds Of The Universe", Depeche Mode's twelfth, studio longplayer, is a darker, more experimental effort. I thought "Wrong" was a brilliant move for the band while still maintaining their trademark sound. The haunting, hymn like, "Peace" was a strong follow up.

With the exception of a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in "Wrong", both videos didn't feature the band, which was quite a departure for them.

Dave, Martin and Fletch decided to continue the trend with "Hole To Feed", the third single from "Sounds Of The Universe".

Not sure what to make of it. It's rather revolting and a little uncomfortable to watch. Perhaps that's the point. DM don't often miss the mark, but I'm afraid they've lost me with this video. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

People tend to give their favorite bands a little, creative wiggle room on occasion, but I think this video is a red strike for DM. Sorry, fellas. But you still have to admire them for their level of quality and consistency.

Monday, October 5, 2009

celebration frustration

At long last, "Celebration", the definitive hits collection from Madonna, has arrived. If you purchase the double CD edition of it, you will get a healthy overview of why Madonna is the ultimate, pop icon. Packed with 36 megahits covering nearly three decades, "Celebration" is not only aptly titled, but it also reflects the mood surrounding nearly everyone of her massive, chart entries whether it's one of the many that make you want to dance around your handbag or one of her tender, wistful ballads.

Being someone who has produced his fair share of career retrospectives, I'm going to dig into the highs and lows of putting together such an endeavor. There is a science to it. Ultimately, it's the special marriage of art and commerce which makes a greatest hits collection either an essential purchase or something worth avoiding at all costs.

The key to the best, career retrospectives is successfully achieving the delicate balance between appealing to the casual music buyer and satisfying the ardent fan. Both Kylie Minogue and Pet Shop Boys have done amazing jobs with "Ultimate Kylie" and "PopArt - The Hits", respectively. Unfortunately, Madonna falls considerably short on "Celebration". Although, I must admit that the artwork and design by Mr. Brainwash are quite spectacular. Very original and suitably iconic given the gallery of photos from which he had to choose.

A lot of column inches and fan forums have been dedicated to this artifact of popular culture. So, I've decided to take this opportunity to add to the heaps of praise and derision by distilling the most important information into one handy reference guide. I know, I'm a giver. The following is a detailed rundown of my observations regarding the song selection, sound quality, sequence and more. Get yourself a drink, buckle up and settle in for a long ride.

Firstly, "Celebration" manages to collect all of Madonna's essential hits and squarely gives the casual music buyer great value for their money. With 34 hits and two new songs, it certainly pushes all the right buttons for anyone wanting more than just a cursory overview of her varied and illustrious career. Not sure why it was decided to release a single disc, 18 track version of it, as well. That's really kind of pointless since it's nearly impossible to encapsulate a 26 year career in such a limited space.

Secondly, in order to satisfy her diehard fans, the producer of this compilation should have paid close attention to the specific versions included on it. Here is where "Celebration" falls considerably short . It's as if someone gave the job of compiling this collection to an intern for their summer credits. As a producer of some note as it pertains to historic sets by artists who built their work on the back of airplay, I would have included all of the single versions of each song on the collection.

With an artist of Madonna's magnitude, it is essential that her work be represented by the versions that appeared on the once might 45 (or the 7" single for the UK contingent). I understand that this is a purist's point of view, but it also allows for many versions to make their first appearance on CD. And that would clearly appeal to the serious fans.

Of all the tracks included, ten were released as singles in versions that differ from their album mixes. I would have much preferred the inclusion of the difficult to obtain single mixes. So, with that said, I would have not included the longer, album versions of "Hung Up", "Holiday", "Frozen" and "Live To Tell" on "Celebration". The more economical single versions would have allowed for at least one or two more songs to be included on the collection.

In the case of "Live To Tell", the single edit, which has a bit more urgency, has never featured on a full length Madonna album, would have been a more welcome inclusion. Thankfully, the original version of "Into The Groove" finally makes an appearance. This essential, pop music landmark has been sorely missing from many Madonna retrospectives. Until this day, only the plinky, housed up remix featured on "The Immaculate Collection".

It's remarkable how "Into The Groove", one of those funky, electro club records from the days of Danceteria and The Funhouse, still sounds fresh today. It has the city of New York spray painted across it in neon graffiti. But it wasn't until recently that I noticed how much it owes to records like "Let The Music Play" by Shannon.

Fortunately, five tracks do appear in their official, single versions. They include "Secret", "Ray Of Light", "Sorry", "4 Minutes" and "Miles Away". However, I think the edit of "4 Minutes" always sounded rushed, awkward and clunky. It would've sat better in the sequence in its album version. Besides, why have a song called "4 Minutes" that's only a hair over three minutes? And why have two songs that begin with a ticking clock separated by three songs. Move them farther apart. Subjective? Yes. But it does sound peculiar with the two in close proximity to each other.

Of songs that didn't make the cut, both "This Used To Be My Playground" and "I'll Remember", singles which peaked at #1 and #2 in the US, respectively, should probably have been included over "Miles Away" and "Hollywood" which garnered more muted responses upon their release.

Then there are the mistakes. And there are many!

There are a few mastering errors on "Music", "Die Another Day" and "Hollywood". As they are all recordings from later in her career, there is no excuse for this as the original, digital masters exist in numerous configurations. For instance, there are multiple digital pops and clicks that are not part of the original recording which can be heard throughout "Music". "Die Another Day" fades up late due to the incorrectly placed track index on the "American Life" album. And "Hollywood" starts abruptly and the tail end of the fade out from the song, "American Life", is audible which makes me think they just lifted it off the CD! Then there's the fucked up intro on "Dress You Up". What the hell happened here? Of the first four beats of the intro, all but the fourth are missing. Fifty lashes!

For some unexplained reason, there are five mixes lifted directly from "The Immaculate Collection", Madonna's first hits collection from 1990. They include "Borderline", "Like A Virgin", "Crazy For You", "Open Your Heart" and "Vogue". I would really like to know why that decision was made. Rather than feature the single versions, the Q Sound mixes are used. Let's face it, why the hell did they create those useless Q Sound mixes in the first place? It really made "The Immaculate Collection" a very disappointing purchase, especially since its corresponding video collection featured all of the single versions anyway.

The remaining tracks are unique to the collection. Two of them, "Celebration" and the Lil Wayne collaboration, "Revolver", are new recordings. Although they are great songs and stand on their own in her towering cannon of work, they are examples of Madonna following more than leading. "Revolver" sounds a bit like "Radar" by Britney Spears and "Celebration" could easily have been recorded by Cascada. Essentially, it's Madonna's strong personality stamped on top which makes them sparkle a little brighter than the aforementioned acts would have. If you purchase the premium version of "Celebration" on iTunes, you get a third, new track, "It's So Cool", which sounds like it was either an outtake from "Music" or "Confessions On A Dancefloor". Not a necessary purchase unless you're a fan.

As for the rest, quality control has really reached an all time low with numerous blunders. "Lucky Star" is virtually identical to the version heard on "The Immaculate Collection", however the music leading into the first verse is different. On "The Immaculate Collection", it was edited to match the original 7" version which is not the case on "Celebration". The most obvious difference is right at the fade. Instead of the chorus, it edits to a set of adlibs heard on longer versions of the song, but not heard on the Q Sound mix featured on "The Immaculate Collection". It just seems an odd variation without any reason for its inclusion.

"Everybody" has been edited differently. I starts like the full length, original 12" version just like the official 7" version did but it's structured differently. While the overall idea for this edit isn't horrendous, whoever was placed in charge of actually executing the edits needs to be smacked and not allowed back into a studio until they've learned to do the job properly.

Many fans were thrilled to hear that the video mix of "Express Yourself", in itself and edit of Shep Pettibone's remix, which has never made an appearance on CD to my knowledge. However, upon closer inspection, it is actually a failed attempt to recreate the video version. The intro comes straight off of Shep's original "Local Mix" including the zipper sound that simulates a bass slide. The actual, official video version starts with percussion and is specially mixed to have echo on the line "Do you believe in love?" which is dry on the "Local Mix" and, therefore, not present here. This new monstrosity then incorrectly cuts to the 7" remix edit version and then has some bad editing right at the bridge. The track jumps from the end of the chorus to the repeat of the bridge which kills the original structure of the track. Again, not sure why this Frankenstein edit makes an appearance on this collection unless some uninformed intern was given the task of locating the sources for this project.

The original album version of "Cherish" has been cut to the length of the super short mix found on "The Immaculate Collection". These edits have been poorly executed and result in creating lyrical non sequiturs like the one found at the end of the bridge section - "Can't get away, I won't let to"! The doo-wop inspired breakdown during the bridge, which elevates the song's joyous message, has been truncated thus rendering the song a little less special. The super quick fade out sucks the rest of the life out of it.

For some strange reason, "Erotica" and "Justify My Love" overlap. The record crackle on the end of "Erotica" bleeds into the beginning of "Justify My Love". Bizarre. Why make the gap between songs different here and nowhere else on the collection?

As a side note, I think sequencing of the entire collection doesn't flow particularly well. The worst example of this are the final three songs on disc two where "Don't Tell Me" leads into the giddy bounce of "Cherish" and is followed by the aggressive intro of "Celebration". And "Crazy For You" followed by the latin tinged "Who's That Girl" and segueing into the haunting strains of "Frozen" seems a bit schizo from the listener's vantage point. However, "Take A Bow", one of Babyface's finest collaborations, into the cinematic "Live To Tell" is a gorgeous couplet. Let's face it, most people will throw all of these songs into their iPods and switch it on shuffle. So, at the end of the day, I guess the sequence doesn't really matter.

The overall mastering of both CDs is uneven but is most noticeable on the first disc. Some of the early songs such as "Like A Virgin" have teeth chattering high end and later material like "Ray Of Light" sounds muddy. In addition, the entire album sounds like an EQ effect was applied to the songs which boosts the bass. The overall effect makes it appear that the entire collection was not truly remastered from the original tapes and sources.

As a singles artist who also sold a considerable amount of each one of her albums, I think more thought should have been put into preserving her recorded legacy. Album versions are able to be purchased when buying their attendant longplayers. Singles are more difficult to acquire and, therefore, a better effort should have been made to feature all of them on "Celebration". Also, it would have made for a better value, especially in these cost conscious days.

As for the DVD, would it have killed anyone to QC this project correctly? The quality of most of the clips are slightly better than what is available on YouTube. There is also plenty of room to have included numerous, omitted videos, from the blend of innocence and gritty, club vibe of "Everybody" through to the powerful trifecta of masterworks "Oh Father", "Bad Girl" and "Nothing Really Matters". Why leave off random videos, especially some of David Fincher's best work? Why deliver a less than complete visual representation of Madonna's entire career?

Typically, Madonna has released deluxe editions of her albums. Unfortunately, she and Warner Bros. did not invest in developing a special release for "Celebration". I would have suggested a lavish 4 CD collection of nearly all of her singles accompanied by two DVDs of her entire video output and peppering it with landmark television performances like her legendary appearance of "American Bandstand", as well as "Like A Virgin and "Vogue" from MTV in 1984 and 1990, respectively. The minimal licensing fees for these would have been well worth the cost.