Friday, March 25, 2011

Single Reviews 27/03/11

It’s Friday! Friday! Gettin’ down on Friday! Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend! Partying, partying! Yeah! Partying, partying! Yeah! Fun, fun, fun, fun... actually, we’re going to stop there. The moment has passed. It’s not funny anymore. It’s just sinister. And while it may be Friday, we’ll happily go without ever hearing Rebecca bastard Black ever again. So we shall distract ourselves with the Single Reviews. And then, probably play Friday one last time.

Katy B
kicks us off this week, with what promises to be her new calling-card anthem, with Broken Record a far more accomplished and mature effort than the sixth-form awkwardness of Lights On. The dubstep sensibilities are still present, but a cleaner, more housey feel gives a leg-up to the engaging chorus and some impressive, if unremarkable, vocals.

After the hilarious failure of last album Brave, Jennifer Lopez is back with something much more, shall we say, simple. Yes, that’s a nice way of saying braindead. In fairness, On The Floor does what it needs to do – thumping beats; immediate hook; Lambada sample; Pitbull cameo. And J-Lo herself is significantly more likeable since her appointment to American Idol. But, on the whole, ew.

In stark contrast, a whole lot of effort is required to appreciate Satellite, the lead track from The Kills’ fourth album Blood Pressures. While the artistry is practically dripping out of it, Satellite’s industrial, atonal crunch takes some getting used to, but it pays off, eventually finding its crowning glory in the addictive, spellbinding chant that closes proceedings.

And Single of the Week is awarded to Cee-Lo Green, who’s fast establishing himself as some sort of brilliantly barbed, African-American, one-man Benny ‘n’ Bjorn. Bright Lights Bigger City doesn’t boast the stop-everything event aspect of Crazy or Fuck You, but that’s a good thing – understated, carefree vibes and lush strings make for yet another example of this man’s genius.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Single Reviews 13/03/11

Right, before we charge headlong into the Single Reviews, let us direct your attention to something fun: this tweet about Matt Baker’s harmless / rebellious / ambiguous question to David Cameron on The One Show made it into this article in The Guardian. Whatcha reckon, should we invoice them? Or maybe request a byline? Or just our own weekly column?

Where Maroon 5 flit between soul-baring balladry and nifty rock’n’b, they’re sort of abandoning both camps for this release. Lyrically, Never Gonna Leave This Bed is a pretty gushy affair, and houses some twee, twinkly verses, but the classic rock milieu of the chorus provides a brawnier, more powerful backing to proceedings. Essentially, it’s bottled repeat FM airplay in a handy three-minute portion.

They’ve managed success from being whored all over commercial radio (seriously Ofcom, look into it already), but The Wanted have finally broken onto Radio 1’s playlist via the official Comic Relief single, Gold Forever. Essentially a diluted, squishy version of All Time Low, it’s certainly no Who Do You Think You Are. Or All About You. Or even Is This The Way To Amarillo. Hell, it’s barely even The Stonk.

All credit to Nicole Scherzinger for breaking through some heavy disdain on these pages to actually come across rather brilliantly on The X Factor, and produce something fairly decent in the form of Poison. Alas, she’s taken a sizeable step back with Don’t Hold Your Breath, essentially I Hate This Part Mk II, albeit with a lack of resentful backing dancers secretly wanting her to be electrocuted by the group’s one live mic.

Ordinarily, the return of the Guillemots would invoke a ticker-tape parade, but the gorgeous simplicity of Fyfe Dangerfield’s solo material puts the group output severely in the shade. But taking Walk The River on its own merits, it’s a gentle yet complex ballad, all rather busy and confused. But give it a chance, and it truly shines. A deserved – if not immediate – Single of the Week.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Honking Box Preview: American Idol

This time last year, we were putting the finalists of American Idol Season 9 under the microscope with an unenthusiastic fatigue. However, this series has seen a marked improvement, courtesy of two new judges, new rounds post-Hollywood, a reworked finalist selection process, and, crucially, a lack of Simon Cowell. So let us rejoice in his absence and hope that he also chooses to abandon the UK X Factor as we shine a light on this year’s American Idol finalists...

Lauren Alaina
One of the successful examples of the decision to lower the age limit, Lauren’s quickly establishing herself as America’s kid sister. But while the US whoops about her big voice and lovable character, here in the UK it’s hard not to think of her as an American take on Komedy Kimberley from Series 4 of The X Factor.
Deserved placing: 6th
Likely placing: Winner

Jacob Lusk
Uproarious, semi-mental, camp-as-tits bellower who’s managed the impossible – straddling the entirely exclusive pigeonholes of hilarious and talented. His voice is difficult to argue with, but whether the square states will warm to a singer who’s (a) as flamboyant as Jacob, and (b) black along with it remains to be seen.
Deserved placing: 4th
Likely placing: 9th

Pia Toscano
After providing the stand-out performance of the Top 24 stage, Pia’s made herself an early viewer favourite. But she’s also set the bar incredibly high for herself, so where she goes from here should be interesting. Whatever the outcome, it’d be rude to overlook the fact her name sounds like a seasonal special at Pizza Express.
Deserved placing: 3rd
Likely placing: 3rd

Karen Rodriguez
New Yorker who’s vehemently pushing to become the show’s first Latino winner. The presence of J-Lo on the judging panel already makes this year’s Idol a far more Latin-friendly affair, so perhaps that audience will respond with their phones. Mind you, she seems a tad too nice, like she’d wet her knickers at the very idea of Rock Week.
Deserved placing: 11th
Likely placing: 4th

Paul McDonald
Peculiar yet intriguing folksy rocker with a retina-scorching Colgate smile and a rather iffy range of floral blazers. While he has a touch of the David Cook about him, the gentle-voiced quirkiness Paul displays is something the Idol stage hasn’t seen before. But equipped with such eccentricities and subtle vocal talents, will America ‘get’ him?
Deserved placing: Runner-up
Likely placing: 5th

Scotty McCreery
Irksome country goon whose grunt of a voice sounds like a shedful of oxen, and has single-handedly turned Your Man by Josh Turner – previously a song known by about three people – into one of the world's most hated songs. Clumsy, asexual, one-dimensional and a sure pick for Vote For The Worst.
Deserved placing: 13th
Likely placing: 6th

Naima Adedapo
Wonderfully kooky with a genuine air of artistry about her, Naima is the most distinctive finalist to grace the Idol stage in years. The dreads, the African prints and the slight worthiness might scare voters away, but along with Paul, Naima promises to make this year’s American Idol an incredibly interesting competition.
Deserved placing: Winner
Likely placing: 10th

Stefano Langone
One of the three wildcard picks this year, but Stefano doesn’t have much in the way of identity just yet – perhaps a by-product of the rapid whittling from 24 down to 13. There’s an impressive voice in a relevant, contemporary package , but without any noticeable quirks attached, it’s hard to see him lasting too long.
Deserved placing: 10th
Likely placing: 12th

Ashthon Jones
Where American Idol usually reserves its perennial diva slots for the heftier belter, Ashthon is very much a contemporary, poppier take on the role, all bouncy hair and stage-strutting and neck-snapping and finger clicks. And while she does it with finesse, there’s no detracting from a seriously impressive voice to boot.
Deserved placing: 5th
Likely placing: 11th

Thia Megia
Cutesy Filipino schoolgirl with a pretty but fragile voice. At approximately nine years old, Thia may be drowned in a sea of more experienced vocalists. She’s good, sure, but how far can ‘sweet’ actually get a finalist? (Actually, we could use Joe McElderry’s head-cocked-to-the-side schtick as evidence to the contrary, but frankly, that shit was vomit-inducing.)
Deserved placing: 9th
Likely placing: 7th

Casey Abrams
Cello-playing, beard-sporting muso type, Casey isn’t popstar-on-paper material. But the last three years have demonstrated America loves a slightly rocky, instrument-wielding male singer, a role Casey fills this year’s line-up. He’s good, sure, but as the absence of Cowell has shown us, a change from the last few series is a very good thing indeed.
Deserved placing: 7th
Likely placing: Runner-up

James Durbin
With a knowledge of how to work a stage and a piercing rawk scream, James is cut from the same cloth as Adam Lambert, albeit not the sequinned end of the roll like Adam. His backstory of poverty, Tourette’s and a young son is a triple-shot of viewer-pleasing tearduct-bothering, but the voice suggests there’s a whole lot more beyond that.
Deserved placing: 8th
Likely placing: 8th

Haley Reinhart
Perhaps the most ‘filler’ contestant of the season, Haley boasts a decent voice but sweet FA in the way of artistry or individuality. It’s a shame to see her take a spot that would’ve been much better occupied by Julie Zorrilla or Lauren Turner. Of all the rich, eloquent adjectives in the English language, it’s hard to come up with anything better than ‘meh’.
Deserved placing: 12th
Likely placing: 13th

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Jessie J - Who You Are (Island)

Jessica Cornish, before even releasing one lone song, has built up quite the track record. Six years in development, an education courtesy of the Brit School, an impressive catalogue as songwriter, no less than half a dozen high-profile tour support slots, and winner of both the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll and the Brits Critics Choice Award. No pressure.

And while Jessie J has certainly lived up to the buzz courtesy of No. 1 single and ohrwurm du jour Price Tag, there remains some serious expectation of debut album Who You Are. Unfortunately, as an entity, it lurks far too close to the middle of the road to even think about reaching the bar it’s been set.

When Jessie J gets it right, she does so with serious fervour: Nobody’s Perfect, while still edgy, is laden with sentiment and character, and the title track, for its slight drippiness, conveys its message with conviction. But it’s hard for these to stand out amongst a sea of parallel midtempo numbers, most of which melt into the next without leaving any kind of a mark.

The dire, discharge-caked skankfest of Do It Like A Dude, for all its shortcomings, at least unveils something bold and different. There's little else on Who You Are that even attempts such extremes, unless you count the exasperating stutter trick she wheels out far too often. And while Jessie J clearly has plenty to say, a disproportionately large amount of Who You Are is all shout-outs to past haters and "look-at-me-now" sentiments. There's an unpleasant arrogance attached, as though success – and on a pretty grand scale, no less – was always a given.

A live version of Big White Room demonstrates some incredible vocals, but for the most part, Jessie J sounds frighteningly close to Alesha Dixon. Not a bad thing in our books, but let's examine on paper: one is a Brit-winning, megahyped, big-money signing touted as the future of UK music; the other is a reality judge struggling to land a Top 40 hit. The gap should really be wider.

On one hand, Who You Are isn't worth the hype piled upon it. But on the other, it could be argued that the hype is the only reason people are hearing it. Jessie J, with little effort, managed to establish herself as an act to get very, very excited about. On the basis of Who You Are, music fans will be waiting until album two for that anticipation to be fulfilled.
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