Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alesha Dixon - The Entertainer (Atlantic)

Hats off to Alesha Dixon. Almost a solid decade in the UK music industry is quite an achievement, particularly at a time when faceless fly-by-nights rule the charts and promotional opportunities are at a worrying low. So kudos where it’s due, in that third studio album The Entertainer has even hit the shelves at all. But what of its content?

Unfortunately, as an album, The Entertainer doesn’t come equipped with the clout needed to make any serious mark, or to give Dixon the payoff she’s clearly been working hard for. First single from the project, Drummer Boy, did great things in creating chatter and reminding the nation of her presence. Sadly, it failed to translate commercially; and similarly sadly for those who warmed to its brassy quirk, it’s the lone example of such colourful, active bravery on The Entertainer.

That said, as an album, it’s indubitably not beige in any way. Harder beats, high energy and lightning-quick raps are plentiful: La La La demonstrates that fearless, attention-commanding charisma that not one of her UK contemporaries can boast; Colour blends on-the-spot melodies with hypnotic club rhythms; and current single Radio introduces exquisite balladry to the mix without contradicting the overall picture.

It’s the album Dixon should have come out with following the Misteeq split – not least because it’s a fluid transition from their edgy, Britcentric R&B, but in time-sensitive terms. Back in 2005, The Entertainer would’ve sounded inventive, exciting and head-turning. Not that it sounds dated here on the verge of 2011, but it’ll be horribly lost in a vast ocean of post-Gaga, demi-electro grime-pop.
It’s not what Alesha Dixon deserves. An impressive vocalist with her own unique tone; the ability to flit between songbird and MC; a choreography-smashing clotheshorse; and personality in abundance, topped off with a wickedly filthy cackle. She’s a fucking brilliant popstar. Sadly, we live in a world where marketing is the be-all and end-all, so while music forums quack haplessly about which shows she should be performing on, which producers she should have worked with, and how to get on the Radio 1 A-List, there remains a popstar unable to fulfil her potential. And while there’s a great deal of good will towards Alesha Dixon, unfortunately, good will alone doesn’t flog units.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Single Reviews 29/11/10

Welcome to this week’s Single Reviews, though we feel we ought to address the lunacy that was last week’s round-up. A week so bereft of decent songs that OLLY FRICKIN’ MURS claimed Single of the Week. Shocking stuff indeed. Fear not, as this week features a track so bad it resets the universal boundaries of awfulness. Plug up your ears and run. RUN!! (After you’ve read the review, of course. Then you can run.)

First up is Nicole Scherzinger, who, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t the purveyor of the aforementioned ear-rape. Instead, she’s finally conjured up a single worthy of the status she’s doggedly built for herself, the sassy, hard-hitting Poison. It’s not exactly game-changing overall though, and was probably knocked out by Red One in an afternoon, but it does the trick. Damn. It was so much easier to hate her with a feverish wrath.

Having cemented himself as a bona fide solo artist via the splendid Crossfire, Brandon Flowers plucks another fruit from the Flamingo album in the form of Only The Young. Unfortunately, Flamingo boasts little as impressive as Crossfire, hence a rather damp, slightly pessimistic overtone. The talent is certainly present, in fact abundant, but it’s not immediate single material. Excuse us while we put Crossfire on repeat for an hour or so.

Single of the Week goes to Alesha Dixon, who attempts to make amends for the polarising Drummer Boy with the more radio-friendly, er... Radio. Much like the monumentally-brilliant Breathe Slow, it’s a gently jittery electro-ballad with a substantial chorus that shows off her chops nicely. Whether it’s enough to win back the Strictly viewers she sent into anaphylactic shock with her last single remains to be seen, but it ticks all the relevant boxes round thisaway.

And finally, we come to the genuine evil that snaps at the heels of Sandi Thom and the New Radicals for worst song since ears were invented. The Black Eyed Peas, who’ve always uniquely straddled the dual notions of awesome and abysmal, now have all eight feet firmly in the latter category. The Time (Dirty Bit) samples – nay, defecates upon – The Time of My Life, turning it into a misshapen, agonizing, unpardonable, novelty musical migraine, for which the electric chair wouldn’t be unwarranted. (Now you can run.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Single Reviews 22/11/10

Generally, on the Single Reviews, there’s a conscious effort to cover things across the board genre-wise, and we definitely try to give the bigger releases the once-over. However, we are categorically steering clear of the X Factor version of Heroes, on account of it not deserving a millisecond of our time. Plus it’s for charity and we don’t want to feel bad. So hey, just give a quid to Help For Heroes directly, and avoid the hellishness altogether...

Sticking with the theme of The X Factor though, we come first to last year’s silver-medallist Olly Murs. Second single Thinking Of Me travels even further down the road of pseudo-ska, contrived, throwaway, white-boy reggae than Please Don’t Let Me Go – and yet, it really does work. Scarily so, in fact: a full-on ohrwurm that prompts an outbreak of chronic toe-tappage. Shit. We may even have to make this Single of the Week. Still, it’s nice to see him doing well. And even nicer to see his chart performance wipe the floor with Joe McElderry.

Charlotte Church soldiers forward following the lukewarm response to her last single with Logical World. While it’s nowhere near as engaging as the likes of Moodswings or Crazy Chick, it does make a great deal more sense, and makes for a far more comfortable performance overall. The MOR mum-rock vibe does suggest it’s perhaps a tad safe sonically, but the abundance of personality just about excuses things.

When Bon Jovi suddenly began sounding like the Backstreet Boys for no discernible reason, it was a horrific move for rock music. Which begs the question, just how demented are Boys Like Girls for evoking this sorry era with what is essentially a note-for-note cover of It’s My Life? Granted, it goes by the name of Heart Heart Heartbreak and they’re claiming it’s a different song altogether, but either way, it’s nothing more than 3 minutes and 26 seconds of a seriously peculiar decision. The Great Escape this most definitely isn't.

Lastly, when Duffy sprang onto the scene, she brought with her the promise of a refreshing, distinctive vocalist with an albumful of brilliance. Then the Diet Coke ad happened, and her entire worth plummeted. But if the Diet Coke ad was the muddy seabed, then new track Well Well Well is the bottomless black abyss that the Good Ship Duffy has been lost to. Were it not for the teeth-grindingly shrill vocal hook it mightn’t be so dreadful, but alas, the damage has been done. To our eardrums.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Honking Box Review: The Walking Dead

Thank God for FX. We'll conveniently swerve the fact they're an offshoot of the conglomerate Faustian malevolence that is Fox, because it's hard to have disdain for a channel that provided us with such genius programming. The stream of Family Guy awesomeness; introducing us to and providing us with the outstanding True Blood while terrestrial TV is left floundering behind; and the vintage Buffy episodes that pad out its schedule (though this does also serve as a reminder of how horribly wooden the earlier adventures were).

So kudos for yet another gem to be proudly displayed in the FX trophy cabinet, in the form of The Walking Dead, an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name which sees a lone cop – portrayed here by Andrew Lincoln – awake from a coma to discover a world overrun by zombies. On paper, it’s about as trite and overdone a concept as you can get, but wipe away some of the gore splattered generously across the screen and there’s promise in abundance.

Lincoln more than demonstrates his thespian worth – it takes more than just an American accent (albeit an effective one) to pull off the portrayal of a desperate, petrified deputy clinging onto the shreds of his sanity, but it's executed brilliantly. Five minutes in, any memories of Egg were entirely drowned out by Officer Rick's plausible intensity. Mind you, no army of zombies with guts-a-flailing can be anywhere near as repulsive as Milly and O'Donnell shagging, so maybe This Life was actually better preparation for the role than one might initially expect.

It's perhaps difficult to do something original with zombies, given (a) the vast catalogue of zombie texts in existence, and (b) their limits as an entity. And granted, Dead Set gave the genre a fresh update. But it'll be interesting to see where The Walking Dead takes it - episode one borrowed heavily from I Am Legend, while episode two introduced an ensemble boasting any number of potential twists and complexities.

Furthermore, it functions as a nice - by nice, we mean bloody and gripping - gap-filler before the arrival of True Blood's third season, due in January (as a slight aside, is it any wonder True Blood is gaining diddly-squat in the way of viewers on Channel 4 when they're showing it a good decade-and-a-half after the US airing?). Whether The Walking Dead will equal such lofty standards is perhaps unfair to judge at this stage, but incredibly high production values and some impressive performances set it on its way nicely, and we await the comedy edible brains merchandise with ironic glee.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Single Reviews 04/11/10

Happy Bonfire Night, you lot. Now, much as we hate discovering spoilers on the internet (in fact, we’re still reeling from some True Blood shockers – serves us right for reading cunting Digital Spy), we can exclusively reveal tonight’s firework action will comprise a large number of cold people alternating between “ooh” and “aah”, with the occasional sore neck. So stay in and read the Single Reviews instead.

Poor ol’ Shayne Ward hasn’t had the easiest of times, has he? Always left in the boarding kennels whilst Cowell jets off to sunnier climes with his flavour of the month, despite actually being the second-best X Factor champion to date. Perhaps Gotta Be Somebody might break the curse – sure, it’s a foolishly-selected Nickelback cover, but he’s succeeding in making it sound nothing like Nickelback. It’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out.

Pink fanfares her upcoming Greatest Hits album with the self-proclaimed underdog’s anthem Raise Your Glass. In spite of a memorable chorus, a nice message and a fun dose of self-deprecation, it’s not one of her best, but let’s not forget that while the planet coos over a fancy dress tranny and head-shaving Southern-belle-turned-trailer-park-loon, Pink is consistent, inimitable and hugely talented. This, people of the world, is how to be a popstar.

The imposing, epic splendour of Chemistry provides the mighty One Night Only with their second Single of the Week in a row. Perhaps even more so than Say You Don’t Want It, Chemistry clearly demonstrates their substantial growth as a band between albums #1 and #2. And while their profile and increasing forays into the fashion and showbiz pages may suggest they’re merely a step up from The Wanted, their output easily indicates otherwise.

And in keeping with last week’s theme of random hook-ups, the trend continues with an ailing guitar boyband and a wearisome, one-trick electro-spaz. And yet, against all odds, it actually works. Sort of. Shine A Light sees the unanticipated pairing of McFly and Taio Cruz produce a mid-tempo quasi-ballad that drifts back towards the McFly people actually gave a shit about. (Rather poetically, it still fails to induce any kind of giving-of-a-shit about Taio Cruz.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cheryl Cole - Messy Little Raindrops (Polydor)

Whether you’re violently sick at the sight of her, or excitedly rushing to Superdrug to turn your dull, limp, lifeless hair a Geordie shade of plum, it’s fair to say Cheryl Cole, in her day job as popstar, isn’t too shabby at what she does. Her debut outside the tired Girls Aloud bubble, 3 Words, proved there was substance beyond the dimples and the headlines, a feat she’ll need to carry off for a second time on sophomore release Messy Little Raindrops.

Where much of 3 Words displayed an understated sophistication, Messy Little Raindrops is a far shinier affair, all day-glo pink pop songs and shameless dancefloor ditties. It's no one-woman Steps record, by any means - the harder beats and electro-twanging certainly provide an edge, but it's an edge on a par with round-ended primary school safety scissors.

Clearly, the twisted genius that is Will.I.Am is keeping all his sinister, monster-mashing experiments for the Peas' upcoming record, so it's a largely more sensible affair on Messy Little Raindrops. And yet, his two contributions here, Live Tonight and Let’s Get Down, boast an energy the rest of the album – save for perhaps the Vanessa Carlton-sampling Waiting – is generally bereft of.

Hummingbird is all xylophones and twee nature metaphors, but quite plainly tackling the issue of a cheating partner (“he took his eye off the sparrow, flew out after the nightingale”). It’s essentially Owl City interpreted by a woman scorned.

But aside from the occasional veiled reference to Ashley, mosquitos and gay as the day ballroom dancers, it’s all very nonspecific stuff sonically. Somewhat peculiarly for a woman so staunchly in the public eye, Messy Little Raindrops doesn’t tell us much about Cheryl Cole: The Person. While her daily laying-bare courtesy of the media may not be intentional, the generic quality of the record doesn’t provide much more of an insight. 3 Words was a Cheryl Cole album; Messy Little Raindrops is merely an album.

Messy Little Raindrops won’t change the face of music, and won’t give Cole any kind of noteworthy career progression. But it does continue to cement her as a valuable British pop star in her own right, and stands up as a fairly harmless, generally passable pop offering. And hey, at the very least, she's no Nadine Coyle. And right now, that's about as big a compliment as anyone can get.
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