Monday, June 25, 2012

Macy Gray - Covered (429 Records)

Rewind 13 years, and it was hard to picture Macy Gray achieving anything less than world domination. The acclaim flowed thick and fast, the sales figures rose quicker than river levels in a UK “drought” period, and her mantelpiece heaved under the weight of many an award.

But for whatever reason, things petered out for Macy Gray, and pretty quickly. So after a decade of non-starter albums and a ropey stint on Dancing With The Stars, she’s decided to return with what can either be described as a clever move or a desperate gimmick: a covers album.

A subdued start via Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain Again may not be the huge, audible bang needed to kickstart a record, but it’s a tender, affected and stirring rendition. There’s no overall theme on Covered; merely a selection of tracks given the once-over, and for the most part, successfully.

It’s a fairly predictable exercise on Radiohead’s Creep, but in all fairness, there’s little that can be done with Creep without it verging on sacrilege. Similarly, it’s no huge surprise on Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters.

However, her take on My Chemical Romance’s Teenagers is truly inspired. The melody is adhered to strictly, but a plinky, jazz-lite arrangement almost gives it a bizarre lullaby quality. And the frenetic, quickening race through Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is brimming with character.

I Try makes an appearance in the form of an ill-advised skit, in which the odious Nicole Scherzinger rips the piss out of Alanis Morissette, Shakira and Britney Spears. It’s hard not to wonder whether the latter comes from some X Factor-related sour grapes, but whatever the hell it is, Covered isn’t the place for it.

On the subject of I Try, it was a track which, in spite of its successes, proved to be quite the albatross. There were those who identified its classically-brilliant songwriting but didn’t take to the package Gray offered as a performer; and since, there’s been those who have stamped her with the one-hit wonder tag.

What Covered does is underline exactly what Gray can do as an artist. These are songs that are (largely) well-known and much-loved, and thus, the only scrutiny to apply to the project is based solely on the choices Macy Gray makes as a vocalist. And while the Marmite quality is still indubitably there, Covered is an album of personality, of intelligent choices, and of tracks which showcase a genuinely unique talent rather nicely indeed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Single Reviews 17/06/12

Welcome to this week’s Single Reviews. And completely by accident, it’s a ballad special here on The Sloppy Dog. If this were a late-night radio station, we’d be introducing it as ‘back-to-back love songs’ in a deep, husky voice, inviting you to get squelchy with your significant other until a vulgar ad for 118 Maureen curtly interrupts proceedings.

We’ll ease you gently into the Single Reviews with Fiona Apple, whose comeback starts with the hushed, fluffy Every Single Night. In fact, it’s barely even there. Obviously, this is Fiona Apple – no Dr Luke production or Flo Rida cameos here, but even within the sphere of what she can do, it’s hard not to be perplexed by the melody-lite stillness. And it doesn’t say much about her musical legacy when the first thing that comes to mind is an Officer Barbrady quote.

Stooshe’s second single (or fourth, depending on your perspective) comes in the form of Black Heart, a Shaznay Lewis-penned ballad with Motown leanings and huge vocals. After the noise made by Love Me, it does well to show a different side to them, but ultimately, isn’t quite up to the same quality. Still, in a world where The Saturdays are the UK’s biggest girlband, a group like Stooshe are a very welcome proposition.

From an exciting, ballsy pop group to... well, One Direction. Aside from What Makes You Beautiful, you’d be hard pushed to recall anything else they’ve done. Unless you’re a rabid 14-year-old Twitter-hijacker, that is. They’ve not done a bad job on More Than This, a melodious ballad precision-engineered to induce tears in females under a certain age. And hey, releasing a slowie gives them an excuse to not dance. Y’know, aside from the fact they CAN’T dance.

And off the back of that, it’s ironic that an indie band can do vocal harmonies better than a boyband. Case in point: The Futureheads, with their frankly peculiar acapella single Beeswing. Save for the occasional finger-snap, it’s nothing but voices, as is the case with the entire Rant album. It’s a strange move, but Beeswing is blokey, full of character, and unashamedly Geordie. And bravery deserves rewarding, so it’s a well-warranted Single of the Week.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Honking Box Preview: The Voice Final

Amidst all the fanfare about the Diamond Jubilee, the onslaught of the Olympics, and the impending European Championships, the fast-approaching final of the inaugural series of The Voice UK hasn’t quite grabbed the attention of the nation. But is it that it’s gotten lost amongst the numerous other events, or has the show itself gotten it all wrong?

When the series was first announced, our main worry was that the BBC wouldn’t give it the budget or the hype that it required, following in the limping footsteps of So You Think You Can Dance. But, in fairness to Auntie, the show has been gifted a healthy, impact-making budget, and a real sense of event.

So where exactly has it failed? Or has it even failed at all? Of course, detractors (and rabid Will Young devotees) are quick to call it a flop, and the ratings do give that theory some credibility, but it’s certainly got the nation talking, and numbers-wise, has hardly plummeted in a pattern emulating Celebrity Wrestling.

The main problem seems to be that the series is back-to-front – it begins with the most exciting component, and goes downhill from there. The blind auditions caught everyone’s attention, and wiped the floor with Britain’s Got Talent. The battle rounds were pretty clumsy, but still made for an interesting twist. Then we come to the live shows, and it’s pretty much Fame Academy all over again.

Quite how we’d do Series Two differently, it’s hard to say. Where it’d take all of 20 minutes to come up with a lengthy and detailed list of how to improve The X Factor, it’s difficult to determine exactly what needs to happen to The Voice. It’s entertaining, it’s found some great talent, but it’s lacking that certain something you can’t quite put your finger on... that ‘x’ factor. Cripes.

Back to Series One, and the final is looking fairly interesting, in that at least 75% of the acts have a decent shot at an actual music career. It’s a shame the exceptional Ruth Brown fell at the last hurdle, but it was hard to overlook her shambolic version of Emeli Sande’s Next To Me the previous week, in which she contorted her face into that of Pumbaa whilst taking a massive dump all over the concept of enunciation.

So, who are we left with?

Tyler James
Heading up Team Will – and far more deserving of a place in the final than Jaz Ellington, whose backdrop of his wife’s 15-foot-high face was irrevocably tasteless – is nu-blues proto-crooner Tyler. The most we know about Tyler as far as the show’s official storyline goes is that he was mates with Amy Winehouse. They’ve failed to mention he supported her on tour numerous times, and has a selection of Top 40 hits under his belt. But he’s got something fairly special, and The Voice might just give him the break he very nearly had six years ago.
Likely position: 2nd

Leanne Mitchell
Team Tom was never the most contemporary line-up, a point proven by its last hope, Leanne. She boasts some impressive pipes, but everything about her screams cruise ship. The best she can hope for beyond The Voice is a half-decent stage career – a touring production of Blood Brothers, perhaps? Or, more realistically, the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at the Stockport Garrick opposite Gary Lucy and Siren from Gladiators?
Likely position: 4th

Vince Kidd
...Or, to go by the name on his birth certificate, the little one from Futureproof. But Vince has been proof of just how stifling The X Factor is, unleashing an outlandish, gritty, shamelessly camp musician. A good representative for Team Jessie, Vince probably offers the most unique qualities of all the remaining acts, but that could well go against him. Come on – do you really see Middle England voting for the peroxide dwarf in the wife-beater and the vinyl leggings?
Likely position: 3rd

Bo Bruce
Maybe Danny O’Donoghue had the right idea filling his team with interchangeable pubescent white boys – it only served to highlight the brilliance of Bo Bruce. She’s been likened to Diana Vickers, Dolores O’Riordan and Alex Parks – all of which are fair comparisons – but there’s a real sense of quiet artistry about Baroness Bo that should see her crowned the winner, and a deserving one at that.
Likely position: 1st

But where Bo will go from here is the real acid test. Will she rush-release a clunky covers album to cash in on the series, or take her time to cultivate her sound until the public have forgotten her altogether? Presumably, they can’t get it as catastrophically wrong as Syco manage to get it, year in, year out, but it’s worth noting that, as far as the public are concerned, the mark of a talent show’s success isn’t ratings or column inches. It’s talent. And if The Voice can handle that talent correctly, it should set itself up pretty nicely for Series Two, and beyond.

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