Review: Jon Savage – Dreams Come True

The 80s have a tough time of it. If we’re not laughing at the shoulder pads and bad hair, we’re dancing round to rubbish from Rick Astley and Wham! acting like it’s the best the decade had to offer.

Serious muso journalist Jon Savage is out to prove otherwise. Following on from his highly rated Motown compilation, this former Hacienda DJ has now turned his ears to the pulsating beats of the early 80s presenting this his collection of classic first wave electro from 82-87, a combination of funk and disco.

Young whippersnappers probably won’t be familiar with anything save Yazoo’s 1982 debut B-side ‘Situation’, recently brought to life for a new generation thanks to The Saturdays. But this isn’t a totally obscure look at the period – Class Action’s Weekend has been recently featured on Grand Theft Auto and creepy, morbid sounding instrumental ‘Dirty Talk’ from US/Italian duo Klein & MBO popped up on Royksopp’s Back To Mine collection.

If you’re after songs that will make you want to dance until 7am, Debbie Deb’s freestyle classic ‘When I Hear Music’ and Nuance’s ‘Love Ride’ fit the bill. But mixed amongst the joy is a reminder of a scene tinged with sadness as New York drag artist Noel sings of his lustful urges and the aftermath of a night “on fire” when he wakes up alone.

We could live without the dumb ‘Lisa’s Coming’ but save that, Jon Savage‘s eloquent sleeve notes will be worth the price alone.

Originally published in Attitude Magazine. Buy the CD from Amazon here.

Review: Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke

Want to be the coolest kid on the block? Next time you get asked who you’re loving, Ladyhawke is the answer. Wobbling on that titchy kerb between underground and mainstream that the likes of MIA hover, twenty something New Zealander Pip Brown is the latest cool female chick to release some amazing pop music that will unfairly sell about 700 copies.

Signed to ultra hip label Modular, Ladyhawke has taken the best bits of the 80s and re-imagined them for 2008 with the likes of Stevie Nicks and Cyndi Lauper all in the mix. There’s a dance feel to most of the album with the Pascal Gabriel produced ‘Magic’ pounding it’s way into your brain –  it’s powerful chorus reminding us of Ladytron’s criminally ignored ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’. This and the similarly urgent sounding ‘My Delirium’ are stadium sized pieces of pop rock that make you want to hit the dancefloor and own it.

More intimately, the likes of former single ‘Back of the Van’ and the funky ‘Paris Is Burning’ show off Pip’s knack for writing instantly memorable lyrics.  ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ is like catching Peaches on a happy day, with it’s pulsating beats and bells oozing unnerving East Berlin vibes, while ‘Professional Suicide’ mashes CSS style guitars and drums with a hypnotic vocal.

Ladyhawke‘ is a rare case of the real thing living up to the hype. This shouldn’t be an album just for bloggers to swoon over, it’s good enough and mainstream enough to be huge.

Originally published at Orange Music

Review: Katy Perry – One Of The Boys

You know when you go a club, make eyes with a boy and then he gets distracted by some hussy who’s snogging other girls just to get the boys? That’s Katy Perry all over. With her pin-up looks and in your face attitude, she’s captured the attention of an massive audience hitting #1 in 20 countries.

Although initially compared to Lily Allen, there’s none of her cheekiness and wit. Instead ‘One of The Boys‘ falls neatly into your CD collection somewhere near Avril and Pink. Expect a straight mixture of all out rockers  and ‘woe is me’ angst ballads that will warm the heart of any teenage door slammer.

‘Hot N Cold’ is the best of the hard hitters. With pop anthem producer Dr Luke behind it, it’s a shout-a-long romp that’s far superior to the all conquering ‘I Kissed A Girl’.  The lyrically stupid ‘Ur So Gay’ might be irresistibly catchy but is full of face scrunching gay stereotypes, and while the likes of eyeliner anthem ‘Self Inflicted’ and ‘If You Can Afford Me’ are musically dull we’re sure her young audience will be able to empathise with her boy problems.

At fault is Katy’s insincerity. She thinks she’s like, ‘oh my gosh soooo alternative’, promising that she ‘belch her way through the alphabet’. Ultimately, though the ideas might be there, ‘One of The Boys‘ just feels like a very cleverly thought out idea. Calculating, corporate pop at it’s most effective.

Originally published at Orange Music

Review: Pussycat Dolls – Doll Domination

For a group of dancers, turned singers, the first Pussycat Doll album had a surprising number of workable singles on it. Now back to prove it wasn’t a one-off, ‘Doll Domination’ reads like a who’s who’s of urban pop. Darkchild, Cee-Lo, Lady Gaga and Missy Elliot are just some of the impressive names that have worked on this album.

Surprisingly it’s the midtempo songs that seem to stand out. There are of course some dancefloor stompers that shine with Snoop Dogg popping up on the vocoder heavy ‘Bottle Pop’ and New Kids on the Block (!!) going space electro with them on ‘Lights Camera Action’. Unsurprisingly nothing can compete with Timbaland’s trademark clean beats and he steals the show with the hypnotic, Middle Eastern vibes of ‘Magic’.

Proving that he can do the ballads just as well, old Timba has also conjured up gorgeous 2nd single “I Hate This Part”. Bizarrely “inspired by Sting”, according to Nicole, it’s melancholic piano is haunting.  Similarly ‘Hush Hush’ produced by label boss Ron Fair is an epic ballad promoting the Dolls as strong women who “never asked for help” from their men. Unnecessarily long with 18 tracks on the album, there must be some duffers and this falls mainly down to a disappointing R Kelly duet on the dull “Out of this Club”.

Closing with a cover of “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps” as a nod to their cabaret past, Doll Domination is a surprising listen. Who ever could have dreamed they would end up being queen of the ballads?

Originally published at Orange Music

Review: Heartbreak – Lies

Disco’s all the rage. 80’s all the rage. Put the two together and you get something that sounds like Heartbreak, the pairing of the fabulously named Ali Renault and Argentinian Sebastian Muravchik. They both look like they’ve fallen straight out of East London, complete with skinny moustache, so it’s no surprise they’re making that italo-disco sound all the cool kids are talking about.

‘Lies’, their debut album, is a somewhat mixed affair. While at times, Sebastian’s voice can sound epic and flamboyant, it also has something of a ‘Jake Shears gone evil’ tone to it, none more so as in the absurd sounding ‘Robot’s Got The Feeling’. ‘Akin To Dancing’ transports us to a seedy NY discotheque, while the pulsating Moroder beats of former single ‘We’re Back’ pound along with high drama. This 7.30 minute epic, which sent all the hipster blogs into a frenzy back in August, is their masterpiece, with the eerie and creepily sung lyric “You have not heard it all before, cos we’re back from the disco to the radio”.

Close but no mirrorball – we’re not entirely convinced by this album – if we wanted italo disco we’d listen to Sally Shapiro, and if we wanted creepy 80s synth pop we’d go for Cut Copy. If nothing else we can thank Heartbreak for the best song title we’ve heard in a long time – ‘Deathly Pong of Love’. Brilliant.

Originally published in September’s Attitude Magazine

Here’s Little Boots’ cover of the epic “We’re Back”.

Ben Folds – You Don’t Know Me

‘You Don’t Know Me’ is the super cute first single from the new Ben Folds’ album ‘Way To Normal’. It’s jaunty, bouncy and makes me think of something you might hear on Avenue Q / Sesame Street (this isn’t necessarily a bad thing). A duet with Regina Spektor, it’s the kind of pairing that geeky indie kids everywhere will be swooning over. It’s impossible not to go all gooey particularly with the little talky breakdown bit towards the end. I heart Regina’s “say it!”. The official video sucks so I want you to watch this sweet fan made one instead.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRgQns-TJGM[/youtube]

Review: Katy Perry @ Water Rats

‘I want you to pop my cherry!’ shouts Katy Perry, at this her first ever UK gig. Knowing exactly how to drive the teenagers packed into London’s tiny Water Rats wild, she’s even more wide-eyed and coy than she looks on TV – her vampish dress showing off, as one punter put it, ‘a great rack’.

Her debut album isn’t out yet, but this crowd know every word. Undoubtedly a show-woman, Katy’s bright blue eyes flash round the room wildly as she spends every moment trying to shock whether it be burping into the mic, begging the audience to ‘touch her boob’, telling us about her sexual exploits or peppering her lyrics with swearing.

Ripping into boys is a major theme. ‘If You Can Afford Me’ tells them off for expecting too much in return for dinner, while the unashamedly cruel ‘You’re So Gay’ disses her ex for being too metrosexual. Named as her ‘sing-along anthem’, her casual use of ‘gay’ as a derogatory term is reprehensible.

While the insincere rocky ballads show off her Alanis-esque voice, it’s the poppy ‘Hot N Cold’ that we enjoyed the most. A song almost too good for Perry, it’s a pulsating pop rock anthem that P!nk would kill for.

Katy disappears briefly off stage for a mock call to her super Christian mom. ‘I just want to make one thing clear, she was really f**king hot!’ she shouts, before launching into a rocked up version of bisexual shock-a-thon ‘I Kissed A Girl’ complete with head thrashing guitar breakdown.

Katy Perry, obsessed with bodily parts, sexuality and acting all alternative, is the perfect pin up for 15-year-olds who find emo too dark. It’s calculated corporate quirk and as that alone, is very good at what it does.

Katy Perry in London

We just saw brazen hussy Katy Perry play a tiny gig at London’s Water Rats. I have to write 300 words about it tomorrow so shall save you the detailed analysis for the moment. Needless to say it was rubbish.

Best bits:

1. Boy is all over girlfriend. Girlfriend goes to bar. Boy gawps at Perry then texts friend “My God man, in the flesh I can’t stop staring at her rack.”

2. ‘I Kissed A Girl’ pumps away. Drunk mid 30s couple barge into the back of the crowd and start trying to push their way through. They push the wrong man who pushes them hard into the rest of the crowd. Close face talking ensues between men, woman wanders off shouting, “It’s not Top of the Pops love. It’s a fucking Katy Perry gig.”

Amazing.

Sugababes – Catfights and Spotlights – Initial Thoughts

I’ve steadily been going off Sugababes with each album. Whereas once they had funk and attitude they seem to have drifted into ‘could be anyone’ territory. Live they’re lifeless and need some bite adding.

Now the as yet untitled album number 6 zooms into horizon. We’ve all heard the single ‘Girls’ and yet again it leaves me thinking ‘meh’. Today I stood in a field 10 000 miles from human contact and was allowed to listen to 5 other album tracks. This are the half formed thoughts I scribbled down:

No Can Do – A super summery song that could have been a Jackson 5 hit. Very 80s funk. Cool layered vocals at the end.
Best line: ‘Don’t try and call me on the telephone’ (obv this is a rubbish best line but it’s the only thing I wrote down’

Murder One – Unfortunately not a song based on the greatest crime tv series of the 90s. It’s a delicate piano ballad that starts with Heidi before a drum machine kicks in. There’s a couple of nice key changes. Best line: ‘Every heart that’s broken is a murder one’.

You On A Good Day – Doesn’t particularly go anywhere but has a fun, bouncy 60s beat with a proper old school girl group feel to it. Some quirky sounding Supremes-esque instruments and nice harmonies.
Best line: “I want it, I hate it, I need it, want it, want it.”

Hanging On A Star – What a lovely song name. Starts with Salt N Pepa esque ‘Tell Me Baby, Baby’ with a softened singing repeater. Again there’s a funky 80s feel. It’s the type of thing I might have expected Dana Dawson to sing (and yes I know she was 90s!). Obviously Heidi has an amazing middle bit.
Best line: “Hanging on a star, I was waiting to fall in love”.

Sunday Rain – Here’s the big Sugababes ballad of the album. It starts with haunting ooohs, then there’s trumpets and a gorgeous swelling wall of sound. Undoubtedly the winter single. It’s got a Sam Brown ‘Stop’ feel to it. Best thing so far
Best line: ‘You give all your heart and get nothing to show.’

Sunday Rain wins!

[edit: the title has now been revealed by PopJustice.