Friday, October 28, 2011

Single Reviews 30/10/11

Welcome to this week’s Single Reviews, in a week in which the Syco machine was well and truly floored by a miniscule charity after attempts to steamroller over them backfired horribly; a week in which fans mourned the Westlife split; a week in which Chris Moyles’ listener figures took yet another dive. Sometimes, a nice bit of schadenfreude does a world of good.

Ah, 2000. The year that the Toploader album Onka’s Big Moka got a good few more spins round these parts than it was probably deserving of. The folly of youth and all that. Eleven years on, and they’re still hard at it, albeit on the other side of a long hiatus, with new single She Said. In fairness, it’s a definite progression from the pub garden indie of yore, a harder-edged but tuneful affair. Quite what its point is at this moment remains to be seen, but it’s hard to find fault with.

Beyoncé thankfully follows on from the most boring single of her career – the truly wearisome Best Thing I Never Had – with something far more fitting. Countdown is infectious, kittenish, bouncy, and almost functions as one long chorus. In essence, it’s Single Ladies Pt 2, and that’s no bad thing. Beyoncé can now proudly add a Single of the Week to her mantelpiece full of nice shiny Grammys. That’s assuming Countdown’s actually a single, and not just yet another random Beyoncé album track given a video and serviced to radio.

Another act papering over their previous release is Cher Lloyd, although let’s face it, she’s got a much harder job after the aural genocide that was Swagger Jagger. It was probably seemed a good move – get people talking, then swoop in with a far superior follow-up and change opinion ahead of the album release. Problem is, the playful pop of With Ur Love doesn’t pack much clout. But it does feel very much a Cher Lloyd record – whether you like her or not, she’s carving out a true niche for herself.

And rounding off proceedings is Shake It Off, the decidedly average launch single to (attempt to) herald the return of Florence & The Machine. The huge, affirmative chant of a chorus goes some way to making a statement, and the shuffling, elegant production carries its own merits. But it all feels strangely derivative, and not quite the impact an artist needs when they’re already branded with the style-over-substance marker.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Matt Cardle - Letters (Sony)

In 2006, when Take That appeared on the final of The X Factor as guest performers alongside soon-to-be-winner Leona Lewis, Gary Barlow bravely called out Simon Cowell in front of millions of viewers, telling him he had a responsibility to create an album worthy of her talents. Cowell, perhaps surprisingly, obliged.

So it’s frustrating that he seems to have forgotten this sage recommendation ahead of the release of Letters, the debut album from deserving 2010 winner Matt Cardle. And it’s all the more frustrating that Barlow himself was responsible for launch single Run For Your Life, a drippy, overindulgent ballad and an instant turn-off as far as the album is concerned.

And aside from a question of quality, Run For Your Life is also very much a red herring, with Letters overall displaying a far more interesting and intelligent offering than its lead single would have you believe. Granted, Letters was never going to be anything groundbreaking, and it was obvious the Pearl Jam enthusiast within Cardle would be all but silenced. But, as a grand pop album with quietly plausible rock leanings, it ticks the box with some conviction.

It’s commercial enough to satiate both the horny housefrau demographic that voted for him in their millions, and the everyman market who’ll sheepishly download it in between pretending they genuinely like the Kaiser Chiefs. But there’s also a certain musicality present which reveals the artist at the heart of it, even if it isn’t laid fully bare in this particular setting.

That said, the unprocessed, orchestral Beat of a Breaking Heart goes a good part of the way there; and even taking Letters for its surface merits, Cardle boasts an enormous vocal and an admirable control, best displayed on the lukewarm-but-likeable All For Nothing, or the genuinely impressive anthemic indie of both Starlight and the title track.

So, that’s Letters. It’s no game-changer; it’s reliable; it’s listenable; and it’s got the raw materials to do great things. But ahead of being any of that, it’s a bombardment of tracks that would have made a better choice of first single than the tepid whimper of Run For Your Life. As cruel as it sounds, getting dropped would be the best thing that could happen to Matt Cardle. While his suicidal trudge through the promotional trail suggests his heart’s not in it, Letters itself denotes a spark of substantial talent. The gift of freedom would turn that spark into something else altogether, away from the foolish decisions of a clumsy label, or a TV show that’s fast becoming its own worst enemy.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Single Reviews 09/10/11

Greetings, yo. Apologies we didn’t get to do an X Factor liveblog last night, but alas, prior engagements made it impossible. Thanks to the hundreds (‘both’) of you that enquired, though. For the record, Misha nailed it, followed by Sami, Craig and, in spite of our hatred of Frankenbands, The Risk did a sterling job. The judges will have a tough time deciding who to cut – how can they limit it to one act each when so many were shite? Ah well. Here’s the Single Reviews...

On the subject of The X Factor, deserving winner and legitimate talent he may be, but debut single Run For Your Life is giving 2010 champ Matt Cardle the limpest, lamest start possible. Granted, it’s not quite Sacred Trust, and the colossal chorus does claw back some points, but the feeble verses, spate of clichés and a video where he looks like he wants to kill himself don’t amount to a very effective launchpad. Looks like The X Factor’s track record of bollocksing up the careers of their male winners remains intact.

Doing his bestest impression of Justin Timberlake is one-time Nu-Hansoner and sexless Disney mascot Joe Jonas. However, the squeaky siblings and bushy JoFro have been ditched in favour of a slick, overpolished R’n’B backdrop and expensive stylist. In fact, everything about Just In Love screams I AM MANHOOD. It’s certainly progression from The Jonas Brothers, but the lazy melody and clichéd beats mean he’ll have to work a bit harder to truly turn heads as a soloist.

Scoring a Single of the Week all of two seconds into their career are Stoke-on-Trent indie advocates All The Young. Whether they’ll succeed in a sea of braindead dance-pop is unlikely, but Quiet Night In champions the kind of instantaneous rock the charts are sorely bereft of. It may not be forging a whole new genre, and frontman Ryan Dooley has more than a touch of the Guy Garveys, but the vigour, bounce and musicality make All The Young a welcome prospect round thisaway.

And finally, the combination of Gym Class Heroes and Adam Levine makes for a frightening prospect – two artists who each produce music it’s really not ok to like, but which more often than not prompts more than a foot-tap. Thankfully, Stereo Hearts doesn’t boast the same kind of guilty witchcraft found in the likes of Millionaire or Moves Like Jagger. The post-chorus hook with its stop-start strings deserves some kudos, but otherwise, it’s all lumpy metaphors and bland rapping. Nothing to see here, folks. As you were.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Honking Box Preview: The X Factor

So the Judges Houses stage is over, and all the conventions are in place: ropey stock footage covertly promoting airlines; a million utterances of 'this means everything'; waterfalls of snot; and helpers who aren't so much helpful as headline-generating. So what are we left with? Well, while the new judging line-up has given the show a much-needed shake-up, the rather embarrassing crop of finalists has swung the show's credibility right back the other way. There are a few gems, it must be said, but for the most part, you'll be crying out for the return of Wagner...

The Groups, mentored by Tulisa
The poor ol’ groups get a fair bit of stick about being perennially awful, but in fairness to them, they’re very rarely actual groups, mostly resentful soloists thrown together by hapless producers. This year is no exception, with Tulisa presiding over the back-and-forth Sugababes-style personnel nightmare. No doubt she’ll try to apply some sort of ‘urban’ ‘edge’ to each of them, but it’ll take more than a clumsy rap to paper over this shower of uselessness:

The Risk
What’s their deal, then?
You know the story: boy meets producer, producer thinks boy is good but not ‘Eoghan Quigg good’ or ‘Lloyd Daniels good’ so chucks him in a group with some other boys deemed semi-rubbish. A last-minute rejig also saw the talented one from The Keys plucked from his bandmates and shoehorned in here. Mmmm, organic.
Pigeonhole: The niche carved out by/for Futureproof, way back in the Godawful series four.
Most likely to sing: Hoobastank’s The Reason hasn’t been massacred on The X Factor yet. Maybe The Risk are the ones to butcher it?
Probable position: 10th. A cut-and-shut job can only last so long before imploding.

Two Shoes
What’s their deal, then?
Gobby orange duo, presumably well-spoken and well-educated, but sprayed and bleached and lobotomised into a first-class ticket aboard the deplorable The Only Way Is Essex bandwagon. Not bad singers, but annoying as hell. Fun fact! One of them’s preggers.
Pigeonhole: ‘Zany’ duo with the Marmite factor – like Jedward, except they can sing. And they’re not odious, talent-absent fuckwits.
Most likely to sing: A mash-up of When I Grow Up by the Alleycat Trolls, and Wham’s Club Tropicana.
Probable position: 8th. They’ll be in the sing-off with Kitty, who’d survive a nuclear explosion.

What’s their deal, then?
Girl group compiled from two other girl groups compiled from failed soloists. Even the Human Centipede was put together more gracefully than this lot. Also, one looks like her skull is sideways on its axis, making her face wider than it is long.
Pigeonhole: The dreadful Belle Amie. The even more dreadful Hope. This doesn’t bode well.
Most likely to sing: We R Who We R by Ke$ha. Badly.
Probable position: Girl group. 16th. Inevitable.

Nu Vibe
What’s their deal, then?
And yet ANOTHER patchwork group completes Tulisa’s line-up. This one features that scally kid that can’t hold a note, the one that looks like the Cowardly Lion, and some others no-one would miss if they suddenly vanished. *slow clap*
Pigeonhole: These ones are clearly for the teenyboppers, a la One Direction.
Most likely to sing: They’re YOUNG ‘n’ URBAN! Lookit, a whole three members are non-white! Inevitably, something by Taio Cruz. Cue Louis: you’re like a little Jackson 5!
Probable position: 15th. One Direction and JLS have this market covered, thanks.

The Over 25s, mentored by Louis Walsh
Ah, good ol’ Louis. Does he actually know he’s there as the comedy judge, or does he think we actually take him seriously? When he’s not lumbered with the ham-fisted groups, he’s gifted the Overs category, which is less and less about mature, experienced vocalists worthy of a second chance, and more a parade of tone-deaf, mentally ill, watch-through-your-fingers monstrosities. Observe:

Kitty Brucknell
What’s her deal, then?
Dramatic, fame-hungry, serial-reality-show-courting, loathsome caricature of humankind. Awful voice to boot, with every note sounding as though it’s being expunged mid-vomit. Looks and talks like a post-apocalyptic hooker from a Joss Whedon pilot. Needs a good slap.
Pigeonhole: Katie Weasel squared.
Most likely to sing: An electro-squelch take on Cabaret.
Probable position: 5th. The very second it’s out of the judges’ hands, this trainwreck is out of there.

Johnny Robinson
What’s his deal, then?
Mincey, high-pitched, unemployed article of irrelevance, Johnny takes the baton from Goldie as this year’s REALLY FUNNY contestant. A sort of undernourished John Inman for the digital age, except without any of the charisma, wit or likeability.
Pigeonhole: He’s old, in X Factor terms at least, and he’s shit. Thus: Chico.
Most likely to sing: The most toe-curlingly atrocious Vogue you’ve ever witnessed.
Probable position: 14th. A joke that’ll get very old very quick.

Jonjo Kerr
What’s his deal, then?
A family man who’s served in Afghanistan, making him an actual deity as far as The Sun is concerned. Expect them to give away free England flags with Jonjo’s face on them (collect tokens and redeem at your nearest Sports Direct).
Pigeonhole: We’ve not had an ACTUAL HERO reach the live finals before. However, we have had average singers with a backstory – remember Verity Keays, or Kerry McGregor? No?
Most likely to sing: Hero by Enrique Iglesias. Voting line meltdown.
Probable position: 6th, losing out to Kitty, followed by a wave of UK-wide riots in protest.

Sami Brookes
What’s her deal, then?
Bellowing barmaid who Louis will struggle to introduce without saying “Big voice, big personality”. A last-minute replacement for Goldie, Sami’s got some impressive pipes on her, though no doubt the Sunday papers will shorten her stint with tales of ‘ZOMG she iz a reel-life LEZBEAN!’
Pigeonhole: The plus-size bellowing Over, a la Brenda, Beverley, Niki, Tesco Mary.
Most likely to sing: Can’t Fight The Moonlight by LeAnn Rimes. About as contemporary as Louis gets.
Probable position: 7th. A wonky week will see her in the bottom two with Kitty. Guess who stays?

The Boys, mentored by Gary Barlow
Last year saw a spike in the normally-dreary Boys category, courtesy of Dannii Minogue at the helm, and Paije, Nicolo and eventual winner Matt leading the charge. This year, however, is business as usual, with four largely bland entries – and yet, oddly, it appeared to be the most sought-after category as far as the judges were concerned. Winning out was Gary Barlow, who’ll no doubt have them sat at pianos, shunning choreography and slowly podging up.

Frankie Cocozza
What’s his deal, then?
Cocky, intensely dislikeable, reedy-voiced brat who’s HAD SOME SEX WITH SOME GIRLS. As far as USPs go, it’s a pretty weak one. Mind you, looking at his contemporaries in the boys category, the “with girls” part might actually be exclusive to Frankie. Also: cunt.
Pigeonhole: On the surface, he’s the Olly Murs lad-about-town character. But while Kitty might be the obvious choice for filling Katie Weasel’s rhinestoned platforms, Frankie also ticks the contrived box with ease.
Most likely to sing: The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars. Cos our Frankie’s a REGULAR GUY, innit?!
Probable position: 11th. They’ll want to keep him in longer, but will sacrifice him to keep Kitty.

Craig Colton
What’s his deal, then?
Likeable Scouse chubster with a towering vocal. It seems, thus far, the producers have done all they can to make him into some sort of He-Adele, but frankly, one of her is more than enough.
Pigeonhole: Fun, chunky and in possession of a more-than-respectable voice, he’ll be staying in the exclusive Paije Richardson Suite.
Most likely to sing: Someone Like You. Duhh.
Probable position: That voice combined with the Merseyside vote will help him come at least 2nd.

Marcus Collins
What’s his deal, then?
High-camp former Eton Road member (post-live shows, we must add), Marcus has turned his back on the lucrative world of performing to precisely no-one to go it alone. Impressive voice, but perhaps a tad too, shall we say, Glee for the X Factor audience. Yes, Glee, that'll do. That’s the way to express what we mean without it being libellous.
Pigeonhole: Camp Crooner, like Rikki Loney, without the devil-brows. Or Rapey Aiden, without the murderous tendencies.
Most likely to sing: Something by Mika. *shudder*
Probable position: 12th. He’ll be chopped in favour of Brucknell too.

James Michael
What’s his deal, then?
Permanently-hatted singer and guitarist who’s picked up very little in the way of screentime. Won’t go in his favour, but then, the fact his musical style lends itself more to Tube stations or university halls of residence will be an even bigger hindrance.
Pigeonhole: Serious musician, a la Matt Cardle. He’s probably been to Camden and everything!
Most likely to sing: Cannonball by Damien Rice. Already given an airing this series by that useless Welsh maths teacher that got sent packing, and we all know how much this show likes to recycle.
Probable position: 13th at a push. He’ll also be cut when up against Kitty.

The Girls, mentored by Kelly Rowland
Easily the best judge this year – in terms of professionalism, creativity, and all-round entertainment – it’s therefore justified that Kelly is awarded the best category. It’s unclear which of the girls in particular they’re pimping for the win, but it’s safe to assume they’ll be making up a hefty portion of the Top 5. It must be noted that it’s monumentally disappointing to have not had a big dramatic Return of the Gamu, but hey.

Amelia Lily
What’s her deal, then? Some sort of Christina Aguilera/Margi Clarke hybrid, who’s apparently only 16. Hmmm. That said, her voice is the selling point, gale-force chops that should see her through the live shows with ease.
Pigeonhole: Pretty. Can sing. It’s a big pigeonhole.
Most likely to sing: The Voice Within by Slaguilera, though hopefully she’ll do a better job than the woman herself when slaughtering Beautiful in last year’s final.
Probable position: Top 3, perhaps even winner, assuming Kelly gets it right.

Sophie Habibis
What’s her deal, then? Another one who’s had sod-all in the way of screentime, but what little we’ve seen has been of a high quality. A mighty vocal could give her a fair run, even if most of the viewing audience will think she’s a failed auditionee who snuck in the side entrance.
Pigeonhole: The annual quite good, mildly quirky female; the role Stacey Solomon or Ruth Lorenzo filled better. Most likely to sing: Umbrella. It’s been a while since they wheeled that one out.
Probable position: 9th – she'll poodle along nicely until she faces Kitty in the sing-off.

Janet Devlin
What’s her deal, then?
Wispy, timid Northern Irish songbird guaranteed to do well on the back of the local vote. And while she’s a sweet wee thing, she does sound rather like Julie Walters doing the ancient waitress character.
Pigeonhole: Diana Vickers 2.0 (claw TBC).
Most likely to sing: She’ll rinse the entire Ellie Goulding back catalogue, then move on to Nothing Compares 2 U for the moneyshot.
Probable position: Top 3 with Craig and Amelia, but her sheep-like vocal will have gotten pretty tiresome by then.

Misha Bryan
What’s her deal, then?
Mancunian purveyor of big vocals and atrocious Mr Whippy weaves. Did a sterling job of Survivor by Destiny’s Child at Boot Camp, and probably has the most artistry out of all the girls. But we know how far a girl with her own brain gets on these shows, eh?
Pigeonhole: She sings! She raps! She’s a bit Graziella out of Miss Frank, before they Miss Franked her! But also, a bit Cher Lloyd. *takes step back*
Most likely to sing: Something by Beyoncé. But she’ll MAKE IT HER OWN.
Probable position: 4th. She deserves 1st, but since when have X Factor viewers embraced the new?

Tune in next week for the first live show with another SO-CALLED! BIG! TWIST! We won’t be liveblogging it, unfortunately – partly due to a prior social engagement, and partly due to the fact it’s two and a half hours long, and St John’s Ambulance would need to be on standby. Those of you who’ll be watching live without the aid of a fast-forward option? Good luck...
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