Monday, October 29, 2007

Britney Spears - Blackout (SonyBMG)

So apparently, Britney's has been having some troubles. Not that we’d know or anything, she’s wisely opted to stay out of the limelight and steer clear of anything that could be construed as a publicity stunt. And remarkably, on the other side, the press have been incredibly sympathetic to her difficulties, and let her benefit from her privacy.

All jokes aside, Brit's stock truly has plummeted. It’s long past the point of enjoying a giggle at her expense, and is genuinely triggering a concern in the stone-cold British public. So, bearing in mind she’s little more than a shambolic pity case at the moment, with any trace of artistry having been lost with her dignity and her knickers, fifth album Blackout needs to be breathtakingly exceptional for Britney Spears to ever come back from the depths.

If nothing else, Spears knows how to get your attention. Gimme More - even in its title - sounds as though it was crafted specifically for a soft drink ad. And yet, involuntary foot-tappage is prompted with ease - testament not only to the effectiveness of the track, however robotic and empty, but it sets the tone nicely for what is, effectively, less an album and more a dancefloor bible.

Piece of Me, a self-deprecating commentary on The Cult of Britney, provides a personal account of the lunacy so many of us snort at while flicking through Heat on the bog, and actually succeeds in giving some insight into a world we think we know, all enveloped in crunching, throbbing pop goodness.

Squeaks, bleeps, blips and fuzzier-than-fuzzy vocal effects rain down upon Blackout, and become an irksome reiteration far too early on. The electro-clich├ęs are generously spunked out, to the point that she’s completely unrecognisable beneath the layers and layers of distortion. Were you to listen to Radar without knowing the artist, you’d be hard pushed to name Britney as its holder. Is it J-Lo? Danity Kane? Rihanna? Aly & AJ? Rachel Stevens? Bloody Samanda?

The non-specificity bears witness to the big fat question mark that is Britney Spears as a person. Tortured mother, pop legend, or all-round human practical joke?

But taking the music - and the music alone - into account, this is a woman who has improved massively with each studio album released. And while it remains to be seen if Blackout can better the distinct, diverse spectacle that was In The Zone, it’s certainly no major step back. But in the current pattern, album number six threatens to be truly prodigious. Let’s just hope she’s alive to actually make it…

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Single Reviews 22/10/07

Welcome, one and all, to this week’s Single Reviews. We offer our apologies for the lack of Single Reviews last week, but hey, even bloggers need a holiday from time to time. Not that we were on an actual holiday of any kind, but still. Incidentally, if you enjoy our witty observations and brazen bitchery, why not make a donation to the Sloppy Dog Holiday Fund? Something four-figured would be an acceptable start.

The only positive aspect of having the 21st Century’s most ill-selected debut single is that any follow-up is automatically breathtaking by default. Perhaps that’s what makes Bleeding Love appear quite so impressive, although it’ll take more than a mid-tempo ohrwurm with all the right contemporary nods to make Leona Lewis even the slightest bit interesting. Still, it’s good to see Cowell finally making an informed A&R decision. It’s almost as if it’s his job or something…

Any offering from the Melanie C camp will always be well-received here at The Sloppy Dog. It’s just a pity that the buzz surrounding new single This Time couldn’t have been applied to the far-superior Carolyna earlier in the year. Slightly watery in comparison to the less fluffy, far meatier album version, but a demonstration of skilful musicianship nonetheless. Now get your arse in gear, love, and release Understand

Jimmy Eat World go some way to finally matching the splendour of The Middle with the stupendous Big Casino, a US-centric guitar anthem with an inescapable beguiling quality. Rattling riffs and quietly-aching vocals make way for a crashing chorus, raising questions as to how this band never quite broke out. Seriously, did the Foo Fighters nick Jimmy Eat World’s success when they weren’t looking?

Proving that their comeback was more than just a one-album gimmick are Take That, providing the theme tune to Stardust via the mighty uber-ballad of Rule The World. Big strings, soaring vocals, (supposedly) inspirational lyrics… it’s archetypal Take That, and quintessential movie soundtrack. That said, Best Song at the Oscars it sure ain’t. Where do people get these ideas from?

Claiming an inexplicable re-release this week are Ladytron, with the sublime 2005 single Destroy Everything You Touch. For a song that already carries a fair amount of weight, you’ve got to wonder what’s sent it marching back to the shelves, although we’re not complaining. Haunting electro beats partnered with a knockout melody, it’s a deserving recipient of our Single of the Week, even if that week was rightfully two years ago.

Finally, a trumpeting low note in the career of Britney Spears, as if she hasn’t already reached the depths on her hands and knees. Just as (You Drive Me) Crazy, Baby One More Time, Stronger and Oops! I Did It Again were identikit early Britney, it seems the later Britney blueprint is a jumble of pulsating, slithering beats and juddery vocal ‘effects’. Gimme More isn't bad by any means, but no song on God’s green Earth is enough to rescue the career of this train-wreck of a woman. Bless her cotton panties, or lack thereof.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stereophonics - Pull The Pin (V2)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Stereophonics live life as one of those bubbling-under bands, who’ll enjoy success, fame and acclaim to an impressive level, yet it’ll only ever be 80% of that enjoyed by whichever buzz band the chattering classes are wanking over that month.

But let’s take a closer look. Five previous albums each dripping with attitude, a reluctant sex symbol tag thrust upon Kelly Jones, recent arm-slicing paparazzi action, and of course, the firing of Stuart Cable that implied a level of in-fighting worthy of the first six incarnations of Destiny’s Child. All things considered, they’re actually quite the headline act. And now, the Stereophonics have finally made an album deserving of their status.

Pull The Pin, their sixth studio album, and by far the most rock-heavy, comes equipped with a certain swagger. Just the right side of arrogance, but high on musicality, it’s the perfect album from a band of this calibre, at a point in their career where they can afford to take stock of their victories.

The graft ’n’ grit arrangement of opener Soldiers Make Good Targets immediately underlines that the melodic crawl of It Means Nothing isn’t any indication of Pull The Pin’s overall theme. Similarly, the likes of My Friends and Bank Holiday Monday thunder along, leaving any such forecasts spluttering in their dust.

An abundance of masculine posturing, resilient revving and extreme vivacity make for a far more consistent album than Language.Sex.Violence.Other, which simultaneously provided some of the best and worst material of the Stereophonics’ career. And yet, Pull The Pin doesn’t suffer in the slightest from its comparable lack of versatility. Thematic without feeling contrived, it benefits massively from its steadiness and its defined identity.

That’s not to say it’s wall-to-wall pedal-to-the-metal. Bright Red Star functions as an acoustic breather from the testosterone, markedly different and yet somehow, incredibly comfortably-placed amongst the charged rock.

As far as negatives go, you’d be hard pushed to come up with any that’d carry the slightest weight. Incidentally, the furthest that we got was the cover artwork which, while impressive, is reminiscent of that snooty bitch in The Apprentice who didn’t like the way Team Stealth (or was it Eclipse?) interpreted her overpriced lips nonsense. And hey, it could have been the Stupid Titties & Fish as endorsed by Tre…

On the whole, Pull The Pin provides the Stereophonics with a potent, defining album, and provides the listener with a powerful ride through adept musicianship and rock star sensibilities. Of course, an inch further across that line would be the crossover between confidence and arrogance. And yet, you couldn’t blame them for believing the hype - it’s incredibly well-earned.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sugababes - Change (Island)

Right, let’s first of all address any potential quips relating to the word “change”, which will no doubt be signing off a billion far less significant reviews. So, if the album sucks, nobody likes Change. If the album rules, Change will do you good. Blah, blah, change, blah.

As the fifth studio album of their career, Change has seen the Sugababes manage something that Girls Aloud, All Saints, Eternal and the Spice Girls couldn’t, and yet it’s not surprising. We’ve come to expect artistry, consistency and quality from the Sugababes, and they rarely fail to deliver. NB: that part about the consistency doesn’t apply to the personnel aspect.

Mended By You is a lush, sincere ballad highlighting each unique voice, and more importantly, the heavenly blend of all three in untouchable harmony. Surprise is a girl-power-with-decorum anthem, while Undignified brings the album to a classy close, effortlessly finding a distinctive balance of rawness and opulence.

Yet sadly, nothing on Change comes close to equalling the immediate splendour of About You Now. In fact, that could go some way to explaining the very slight feeling of letdown that Change provides - as lead single, it set the bar way too high.

Each of the Sugababes’ albums has been a mini-masterpiece, yet all have been the bearers of noticeable flaws too. Change is no exception - 3 Spoons of Suga is the club-footed cousin of Red Dress, while Backdown sees the 'Babes each cooing their preference of male over a watery reggae-tinged backing. Stylistically, it’s poor. Content wise, it’s hideous - Heidi trilling through her favourite bits of Dave Berry isn’t something any of us need to hear.

Overall, as an album, it lacks depth to an extent. It feels as though the level of integrity has dipped somewhat, and not necessarily for the departure of Mutya or the arrival of Amelle. In fact, Amelle’s bluesy tones add a new dimension to the Sugababes sound, and provide one of Change’s saving graces. Yet, it somehow feels like there’s nothing that the Sugababes are bringing to the table that they haven’t brought before.

And yet, the Sugababes at their weakest still shine intensely as one of Britain’s greatest pop acts. That’s not to say Change is by any means weak. It’s just a bit more mature, a bit more reigned-in, and slightly slower-paced, thus requiring that extra modicum of patience. But on the whole, it’s once again showcasing the Sugababes as formidable, intelligent artists to be taken very, very seriously.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Honking Box Review: The X Factor

So the fun stages are over. No more ‘ker-azy’ auditions, no more VTs trailing the bejesus out of highlights from six episodes ahead, no more boot camp snot waterfalls, no more shots of Sinitta clad in an array of BLOODY FANS(!!!!) and fingers crossed, no more Nicole Scherzinger gatecrashing proceedings.

Yes, The X Factor finals are on the horizon, and this weekend saw the judges making their choices as to who’d represent them atop the perspex-and-naffness festival that is the legendary live stage. So let’s recap who’s made it through…

You know him as: The one that has a mum. That’s who he’s doing this for, y’know. His mum. Did we mention he had a mum?
Unique selling point: Very unique in an X Factor sense. In the bigger picture, his voice and look equate to a market stall Paolo Nutini.
Target audience: His mum. Leon’s said himself it’s all for her. He may have mentioned her once or twice.
Chances of winning: Fair to middling, really… of course, if his mum’s as destitute as he makes out, she won’t be doing much in the way of re-dialling.

You know them as: The hotch-potch boyband of discarded soloists.
Unique selling point: The fact they’re a boyband - now a rare species in the topography of the Top 40.
Target audience: Squeeing teenage girls, and the occasional gay.
Chances of winning: Fairly solid, in our humble opinion. But they’re also quite crap, in our humble opinion.

You know her as: The gobby barmaid that looks a bit Trisha, but inexplicably leaves you chuckling after each on-screen appearance.
Unique selling point: It’ll be the personality.
Target audience: The half of the viewing audience that wants to go to bingo with her (as opposed to the half that want to tear her intestines out and strangle her with them).
Chances of winning: Fucking annoying, but a bit ace. Could well go the distance.

You know her as: The one whose dad is dead. Occasionally, she might sing a bit too.
Unique selling point: Her dead dad! Jeez, come on! Who needs a voice with that kind of backstory?
Target audience: The weepers - the people who sit down to watch X Factor armed with a box of Kleenex (and not in a dirty mac kind of way, you filthy sods. Get out of that sewer!).
Chances of winning: Probably a contender for final five - she’s actually got quite a pair of lungs on her.

You know him as: Opera Wanker
Unique selling point: A level of arrogance previously unknown to humankind, therefore making Rhydian a scientific marvel. Oh, and the opera.
Target audience: Grannies.
Chances of winning: Virtually non-existent. Bearing in mind this is a man who made Dannii Minogue retch at his first audition, it raises questions as to why he’s even through. Perhaps to stir up some week-to-week trouble with Sharon, a la Simon/Chico, or Mrs O’s previous spat with Rebecca “Beak-Faced Cunting Scumwhore” Loos ? That oughta teach those Strictly producers…

You know him as: The one who plays the single dad card, but occasionally drops in how his parents carked it, just to cover all bases
Unique selling point: Um… he can pull off numerous styles of hat? It’s true, though.
Target audience: Single women fast approaching the menopause, who fall for Daniel’s single dad shtick, making their uterus cry out (which we imagine sounds not unlike whalesong)
Chances of winning: He’s on the right side of average, but is yet to prove himself as winner material.

You know her as: The one that looks like a dumpy Freema Agyeman, who this time a year ago could have been dead. Well, couldn’t we all, love? Any Tom, Dick or Chico could’ve almost choked on a Werther’s Original, but instead, miraculously chewed it before swallowing. Divine intervention, that.
Unique selling point: She’s been dead! As our favourite X Factor blog The Bitch Factor has taken to calling her, Zombie Emily’s got an edge nobody else can boast. Everyone else just has a dead relative, but this girl’s upped the stakes. An actual real-life singing corpse!
Target audience: Occult enthusiasts.
Chances of winning: Not a chance - getting to the live finals on the back of a sob story didn’t do Nikitta much good, did it? Then again, nearly all this year’s finalists have a tale of woe, so that sort of resets things…

You know her as: Her with the Jheri-curl.
Unique selling point: TBC, quite frankly. Who even remembers her audition? Does she even have a dead relative?
Target audience: People who finger-snap and/or regularly use the word “fabulous.”
Chances of winning: Big fat zero. She’s good, but she’s seven shades of meh.

You know him as: The asbestos one.
Unique selling point: He’s got the Welsh vote - it’s safe to assume Rhydian won’t be sending the Valleys into a froth…
Target audience: Probably not customers of the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, whose membership is now null and void thanks to an asbestos discovery. Could’ve made our lives a whole lot easier if you’d swung by prior to chasing your dreams, but oh no.
Chances of winning: Run along, now. Shayne Ward’s got this market covered, ta.

You know them as: The desperate gaggle of Frankenslags thrown together at the last minute, unaccountably selected ahead of noticeably superior girl groups W4 and Fallen Angelz.
Unique selling point: The dirrty factor. Also, the fact that one of them genuinely looks like a transsexual, and when was the last time we had one of them in a talent show? (Answer: Rowetta)
Target audience: We genuinely cannot consider who’d pick up the phone for this lot, not counting adverts placed in a phone box.
Chances of winning: The bookies have them as favourites, we say they can fuck off in Week One.

You know her as: The schoolteacher with the bionic tear ducts.
Unique selling point: The biggest voice in the competition.
Target audience: She’s doing this for the kids in her school. Go on kids, dial away! Bev’s giving you licence to abuse mum and dad’s phone bill. Unless you don’t have a mum and dad, in which case please come along and audition yourself next year.
Chances of winning: The diva characters generally go far, but fail to make the final. But hey, the touring production of Chicago just got itself a new Mama Morton!

Same Difference
You know them as: The unremittingly smiley siblings, whose relationship appears to join the dots between Teletubbyland and Brookside Close.
Unique selling point: Their distinctive brand of built-in happiness, which appears to be a cutting-edge compound of prozac, dopamine, St John’s Wort and Skittles.
Target audience: Viewers of Hi-5
Chances of winning: 50/50 - they’ll either crash and burn in Week One or thunder through to the final.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Single Reviews 08/10/07

Well, what a week here at The Sloppy Dog. Spice Girls tickets! Successfully purchased! A title for the new single! Announced! Half good (Headlines) and half ropey (Friendship Never Ends)! Overuse of exclamation marks! Bit annoying! But! Sort of! Necessary! Hey, look! Single Reviews! Read! Enjoy!

Leading the pack are The Hoosiers, whose debut single Worried About Ray set them up as one of the most promising new bands of 2007. Unfortunately, follow-up Goodbye Mr A feels hugely gimmicky and a whole heap of naff, seemingly treading a path that McFly shrewdly swerved. Nonetheless, there’s no fighting the winning melody, so we’re certainly not writing them off just yet.

It’s impossible to think ‘butchering’ is a term that could be applied to an Aqua cover - seriously, how much worse than the original can you get? Amanda and Sam were the sole redeeming feature of this year’s tragic Big Brother, but enough’s enough. Now going under the brand of Samanda and hocking a vile rendition of Barbie Girl through reinforced Autotune, it makes Nichola Holt’s effort sound like Champagne Supernova.

Sticking with the novelty theme, maddening X Factor jamrag Chico inexplicably gets round to releasing a second album. Who even knew there was a first?! Apparently inspired by (or more aptly, jumping on the back of) the size zero non-debate, Curvy Cola Bottle Body sings (or more aptly, grunts and caterwauls) the praises of a fuller figure with all the panache of a roadside badger pancake. Unforgivably awful, and yet still ten times better than Mika’s parallel lardarse anthem.

Roisin Murphy, equal parts kooky cultural icon and bastion of classic dancefloor eccentricity, pushes her solo career further with Let Me Know. Sadly, it seems she’s the majority of her quirk went absent since the days of Moloko, as we’re left with a straight-down-the-line handbag anthem. Still, it’s hard to actually fault, and you can imagine Sophie Ellis-Bextor noshing every A&R man in the nation to get her mitts on this. For that reason if nothing else, Roisin claims our Single of the Week.

Hot on her heels, mind, are Biffy Clyro, a band who we’ve seen as a support act on approximately 33 different occasions, none of which prompted us to even look up, let alone be won over by. Still, they clearly know how to apply some magic at the studio end, with Machines being a laid-bare, acoustic treasure far surpassing any of their harder efforts.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Honking Box Preview: Robin Hood

Ah, the first week of October. While this time of year is generally all kinds of rubbish (a tacky amalgam of Halloween and Christmas merchandise flooding the shops; daylight shrivelling to sweet FA; terminally sucky weather), there's always the launch of the Autumn schedules to look forward to. Ugly Betty! Vivienne Vyle! And, for some, Strictly Come Dancing. Not us though, oh no.

And still, we manage to find a negative in amongst the array of shiny new aceness. Let's all don our potato-sack puffa jackets, lace up our pig-bladder Pro-Keds, fire up Ye Olde iPods, and fight for equal rights amongst each gender, race and sexual orientation, as of course was commonplace in the Middle Ages. Robin Hood is back on BBC One to further rape historical accuracy and the reputation of BBC drama.

A year ago, based on the pilot episode alone, we gave Robin Hood a not-unjustified dose of The Slaegin. We stuck with the series in the unlikely hope it might pick itself up from the sewage-standard first impression it created, but the show did little to sort itself out. Now, on the eve of Series Two, is there any opportunity whatsoever that it'll be anything resembling watchable?

For one, Jonas Armstrong is a year older, which will make the series feel less like a gaudy US-produced Robin: The Puberty Tales rewrite. And yet, 12 months is still a short time in which to expect someone to have learned how to fill a role for which they were criminally miscast. In addition, Harry Lloyd's outstanding appearance in Doctor Who only serves to highlight how much better a Robin he'd have made, so we're crossing everything that this series is heavy on the Will Scarlett, and majorly Robin-lite. Probably about as likely as Alesha Dixon performing an interpretive foxtrot on Strictly to a muzak version of Caught Out There as a means of giving Harvey the finger via the medium of dance, but we can hope nonetheless.

And we can't forget the ladies - Djaq, the most uncomfortable shoehorning of political correctness into a TV show since Sesame Street introduced Kami the AIDS muppet; and of course Maid Marian, a woman with a jaw so masculine she makes David Coulthard's right-angled fizzgog resemble that of Grimace. It seems the BBC aren't too bothered about pulling in the male audience… certainly, the 'action' scenes aren't going to turn any heads.

Perhaps we're being too pessimistic. I mean, let's face it, this is The Sloppy Dog after all - hardly a 'glass half full' organisation now, are we? Robin Hood has evidently been recommissioned (and given an incredibly high-profile slot) for a reason, and perhaps this season, that reason might actually come to light. Although it's safe to say that if that fucking incessant God-awful location-establishing caption with the arrow sound effect is still hanging around, it'll be our moral duty to actively despise this show with a fiery vengeance for all eternity.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Radio 1: Established 1967 (Universal)

Apparently, Radio 1 is 40 years old. Not that you'd know or anything, they've been downplaying it with a modesty worthy of Sharon Strzelecki at New York Fashion Week. And in celebration of their on-air anniversary, an assorted platter of contemporary artists have each tackled one track from each year of the station’s life. Let’s face it, you know the drill - this juggernaut of a compilation has been fucking inescapable.

But is there any substance to it, or is it all a bit of a novelty? Truth be told, a significant portion of tracks could well have been recorded during a fag break. Robbie Williams attempts Lola the same soulless, regimented way an experienced nightclub toilet attendant would tackle a blockage; The Klaxons, having already proved they can resurrect and revitalize the most unlikely of songs, bring absolutely nothing to their cover of No Diggity; and Lily Allen should have been aware no amount of autotune could ever give her licence to attempt vocals defined by Chrissie Hynde.

The generous spread of buzz bands du jour sit rather uncomfortably along contributions from Girls Aloud and McFly, whose regular appearances on the playlist seemingly only serve to tick the pop box, in the same way faceless Euro-feta is spun in order to cover the dance remit. Oddly yet mercifully, the latter genre is barely acknowledged on Established 1967, aside from Calvin Harris and his entirely pointless undertaking of an obscure Jamiroquai track, or Mika's gore-heavy butchering of Can't Stand Losing You.

But what of the good points? Thankfully, they’re not only existent, but in fact, rather plentiful. Artists ripped from their comfort zones rise to the challenge with added flair, particular props being awarded to Just Jack and Kasabian. In contrast, some tracks seem as though they were made for that artist - Mutya Buena was seemingly born to perform Fast Car, arguably approaching Tracy Chapman’s initial enchantment.

Elsewhere, The Pigeon Detectives provide a fresh yet faithful adaptation of Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love, The Gossip skilfully turn Careless Whisper into a spiky tale of forlorn fury, while Hard-Fi overwrite Toxic as a blokey, almost predatory anthem of drunken lust.

All in all, Established 1967 is a triumph, with the highs more than capable of wallpapering over the lows. And yet, the irony of 2005’s track being Ronan Keating and Yusuf Islam’s version of Father & Son (as covered by The Enemy) is inescapable. Aside from it being a cover of a cover of a cover, it’s safe to say the 2005 rendition barely clocked up five minutes of airplay on Radio 1.

Fair do’s, it was a fucking horrific piece of work. But its appearance here merely underlines the playlist-dictated shambles Radio 1 has become. Stripping itself further and further of personality, the iconic status of the station is fast dissolving. In that sense, Established 1967 acts as a nice epitaph, showcasing the station’s greatest moments. But with Radio 1 dying slowly under the weight of Moyles, the ineptitude of ‘star’ DJs a la Fearne Cotton, and the clueless snobbery of its playlist, it’s highly unlikely a similar album will be commemorating the next 40 years.

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