Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alesha Dixon - The Alesha Show (Asylum)

It’s not difficult to comprehend the popularity of Alesha Dixon. She’s a grafter, she’s an underdog, and she’s a rare talent. But given the recent failures of any number of British female pop artists (actual number: ALL OF THEM), is it enough to give her solo career the launch it deserves, second time around?

With the release of her second post-Misteeq record – technically a debut, as a result of Fired Up never actually reaching UK shelves – it’s interesting to see whether The Alesha Show can (a) house that talent to the best possible effect, and (b) prompt the people who picked up the phone to vote for Dixon’s foxtrot to actually part with cash for her album.

Given her role as MC-in-chief during the era of Misteeq, it’s easy to question Dixon’s capabilities as a singer. However, vocally she proves herself to be considerably more powerful than one might expect, with a distinctive character that permeates the gut-wrenching balladry right through to uptempo flailing-round-the-handbag numbers, with the aquatic digi-sonnet of Breathe Slow acting as a key example of the former to fantastic effect.

It’s not all good news, mind – the puerile, dated Ooh Baby I Like It Like That follows through on the promise set by the cringe-inducing title. And on the whole, the most exciting tunes on The Alesha Show would function as the ‘safe’ tracks on a Beyoncé album. But it’s important to distance Alesha Dixon from such comparisons – she’s not a dead-eyed meowing singles vehicle like Rihanna, nor is she a bellowing dullard with predictably KO vocals a la Leona Lewis. Dixon is very much a pop artist, very much a British artist, and in effect, a new artist. As a result, she’s very much a liability. How many ballad-laden fillerfests did Girls Aloud spew out before having the confidence to unleash something as daring as Sexy! No No No?

Not that The Alesha Show is by any means weak as an album, it merely treads incredibly carefully. And yet, it’s impossible to try and contain the effervescent, lovable nature that’s made Dixon a national treasure for the Noughties. The Alesha Show does precisely what it says on the tin, and provides a comfortable platform for a tremendous personality. While the music on the whole may be mildly nondescript, it’d be impossible to mistake the album for anyone other than Alesha Dixon. And if there’s any justice, The Alesha Show will successfully pave the way for greater and greater follow-up albums to showcase that personality – and sizeable talent – even better.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Single Reviews 24/11/08

In the style of a God-awful, toe-curlingly awkward, middle-aged CBeebies presenter, we’d like to wish regular Sloppy Dog reader Chickabo a very Happy Birthday. Look, his mummy’s done a nice big picture of Underground Ernie and stuck an unflattering photo of him in the bath on it. As our little way of saying Happy Birthday, we’re dedicating this week’s Single Reviews to him. Which hopefully means he won’t be expecting a present.

The first of this week’s singles comes courtesy of Take That, who continue to defy the improbability of being significantly better the second time around. Greatest Day is testament to this – the soaring Coldplay sensibilities of Patience are very much on the menu, albeit in a slightly disjointed arrangement. Hell, as long as they continue to inadvertently pwn the bejesus out of Robbie Williams, we’re happy.

Single of the Week is bestowed upon Solange, who narrowly missed out on the title earlier in the year with the unexpectedly entertaining I Decided. While the subtly poppy, luminous Sandcastle Disco is swathed in the same Sixties character, it carries enough of its own edge to further underscore Solange as quite an attractive prospect amongst a sea of current bland cod-Sixties bilge.

A serving of unsullied, inventive talent is provided by the hugely promising Nick Harrison, whose mild ska allusions sit atop a foundation of intelligent rock in Something Special. Melodious yet sharp, it’s a one-way ticket to many a clichéd One To Watch list in 2009. Mention must be made, however, of his mildly-distressing Kate Nash-esque articulation, albeit significantly less counterfeit-sounding, thus making it just about excusable.

And finally, the debut release from Same Difference, arguably the most endearing, clumsily charming act ever to grace the X Factor stage, and yet we can easily identify why one might loathe them to the point murder seems justifiable. We R One, much like the simpering siblings themselves, will be a divider, but it’s memorable, lively and thankfully nowhere near as throwaway or immature as expected. Although perhaps it only seems as decent as it does because it operates as proof that Louis Walsh is always wrong?

Monday, November 17, 2008

David Cook - David Cook (Sony BMG)

We have to applaud anyone who shuns the supposedly golden touch of Simon Cowell. Whether it works (Will Young, Carrie Underwood) or results in all kinds of epic fail (Kelly Clarkson’s disastrous My December), the basic practice of rejecting the input of a man who cites If You’re Not The One as the decade’s greatest song is a positive thing.

So with the long-awaited launch of the self-titled debut from David Cook – arguably one of the most interesting and pertinent talent show winners we’ve ever seen – we can breathe another sigh of relief, in that there’s little compromise. It’s safe to say this compromise would’ve been a radio-ready homage to Maroon 5, all “sometimes it's like” this and “baby girl” that. What we actually get, however, is an adept, intelligent classic rock album fully equipped to showcase a rather sizeable talent.

A voice that effortlessly marries moody, atmospheric gravel with tingle-inducing beltage is only part of the package, with adroit guitar sorcery and an overall ambience of straight-down-the-line musicianship proving his worth even further. Melodies are immediate yet intricate, as displayed on the raw majesty of Bar-ba-sol, while the themes are refreshingly earnest, as the pragmatism of Heroes verifies.

Darker moments showcased in many of Cook’s captivating and inventive cover versions throughout the live stages of Idol are, significantly, also present. It’s evident that Cook is keen to showcase the many other shades to his voice and his style, as such moments certainly don’t overwhelm the album, but the alluring melancholy of Permanent certainly proves when he’s at his best.

Not that you could begrudge Cook for steering more towards a largely more optimistic substance – after all, he’s a symbol that, on occasion, America CAN make the right choice and use their vote wisely. Granted, a certain President Elect may be a better advertisement for such a claim, but there’s stark evidence of a proud victory on David Cook.

Declaration and Time Of My Life play host to big, uplifting, inspirational truism that you could only ever expect from an American Idol winner. Perhaps us little people, who’ve never known the feeling of having Ryan Seacrest utter our names at the final moment (oo-er), are always going to be divorced from such a feeling. Mercifully, such all-American gushing is few and far between here, though frankly, Cook could sing a Chinese takeaway menu and still guarantee disarmingly brilliant results.

In summary, we’re left with an album that’s timeless, sturdy and multifaceted, yet still fundamentally David Cook. It’s always a relief to see an artist escape the grubby clutches of Simon Cowell and his trite, tired ideas – but when it’s someone as gifted as Cook, that relief becomes full-on celebration.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Single Reviews 17/11/08

We’d like to take the opportunity prior to this week’s Single Reviews to gladly reveal we didn’t vote for Laura White in last week’s X Factor. In fact, we didn’t vote for anyone (although we did send good thoughts out, Ruth-wards). Laura, ladies and gents, has been voted off. She was clearly sucky enough that YOU didn’t vote for her. Get over it. Kthnxbai.

First up, the vacuous, bloodsucking scumwhore that defiled the charts with I Kissed A Girl returns with a track mercifully better than its predecessor. While we’d still rather ride a cactus than voluntarily listen to Hot ‘n’ Cold, the sub-Pink stylings make the vile Katy Perry a whole lot more bearable than she deserves to be. Thankfully, it’s still shit enough to ensure she’s as loathsome as ever in the bigger picture.

And speaking of classless, talent-free, legs-akimbo trailer trash, the Pussycat Dolls are back to spread itchiness and a peculiar discharge with the vortex of relevance that is I Hate This Part. As if previous releases weren’t Nicole-heavy enough, this tepid, lifeless demi-ballad features precisely no vocals from the backing strumpets, thus acting as a further consolation for her own doomed solo career. FYI, the part we hate? The bit between 0:01 and 3:38...

We have a somewhat tempestuous relationship with The Killers, it must be said. A winning debut chased with a piss-poor sophomore, never mind the B-sides album we reviewed for another website that prompted a horde of Killers trolls to hilariously squee a slurry of txtspeak fury at us. However, on the strength of Human, all is forgiven. Tuneful, upbeat and inventive; we fully ‘get’ the controversial human/dancer grammarfest; and even the moustache is gone! That’s just about every box in our Single of the Week criteria ticked.

Finally, the threat of John Barrowman unleashing a contemporary pop album was something we’d been long fearful of – we were probably hoping a stint on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy might come along and pacify him, but alas, we’ve instead got What About Us, a Gary Barlow-penned beltalong perfect for JB’s overpronounced chops (i.e. too rubbish for Take That). However, it’s impossible to hate on someone so unashamedly fun, so we’ll happily let this one slide. Now go do some more Torchwood.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Single Reviews 09/11/08

We’re squeezing ourselves on board a particularly pleasant bandwagon this week in congratulating Barack Obama on his victory. Oh, and congratulations to Katy Perry and 30 Seconds To Mars on their wins at the Europe Music Awards, which most certainly was NOT a contractual stipulation agreed upon when they signed up as hosts of the show. Thankfully, you can always rely on our Single Reviews for a fair result (well, and the US election, on this occasion)...

Launching us this week is the aptly-titled UFO by Australian electronica purveyors Sneaky Sound System (it’s apt cos, y’know, UFOs launch and stuff. Well, rockets launch, anyway. Oh fuck off). Released on these shores approximately eleventeen years after its initial release Down Under, UFO is indubitably showing its age, but is nonetheless an example of harmless, twiddly demi-house that will hopefully provide some respite from the current downpour of horrific Eurocheese.

One would think a newly-crowned national treasure would mark her much-deserved musical comeback with an anthemic, blow-‘em-out-the-water pop masterpiece. Enter, however, The Boy Does Nothing, which fails on all the above counts for the generally tremendous Alesha Dixon. Sure, it’s brimming with Alesha’s unmistakeable and irresistible personality, yet the Mambo No. 5 similarities, while overblown, are unforgivable. That said, it gets marginally better with each listen, so give us six months and we may eat out words.

New Kids On The Block zimmer their way back to bring us Single, a wholly pointless exercise of clichés, finger-clicks, ill-fitting samples, and deep, pervy whispers in the style of a mac-clad creep lurking outside a branch of Tammy. They’ve inexplicably roped in the tiresome Ne-Yo, whose sole contribution appears to be some sort of mission to show up the main performers entirely. Well, shows he’s good for something...

Single of the Week is awarded to the consistently impressive Duffy, with a gem that nods heavily to Mercy (though thankfully not to the extent it suffers from Scouting For Girls syndrome, i.e. one song, many titles). Aggressive strings and sultry vocals make Rain On Your Parade a powerful, atmospheric anthem that would’ve heavily pwned as the Quantum of Solace theme tune.
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