Review: The Saturdays – Chasing Lights

When The Saturdays appeared on our pop radar we felt sorry for them. Here were five girls dreaming of being the next big thing in a world where the Girls Aloud & Sugababes monopoly showed no signs of letting up. Then we heard the kick-ass music, and suddenly The Saturdays felt like a viable proposition.

First single ‘If This Is Love’ seemed to spring out of nowhere with it’s Yazoo sample shining an electro-pop beacon but there’s been plenty of behind the scenes work going on. Signed to Fascination Records, home to Girls Aloud, they certainly have a pedigree with Rochelle & Frankie alumni of S Club Juniors, the irritatingly enthusiastic Mollie, an X-Factor reject, as well as soloist Vanessa. Then there’s Una – eight years older than the others, she’s a singer songwriter who already oozes disinterest in the project, and could be their Siobhan Donaghy.

If we’re looking for a word to sum up The Saturdays, it’s feistiness. Although nothing can beat the robot disco of 2nd single ‘Up’, there are only really one or two soppy ballads like ‘Issues’ that let ‘Chasing Lights’ down. Instead it’s the fierce chorus of ‘Keep Her’ and the sass of ‘Set Me Off’ that get us excited. ‘Work’ is an irresistible dancefloor puller destined to be a single,while ‘Lies’ is an electro-ballad that proves these girls will be taking no mess from the boys.

Energetic and fun, ‘Chasing Lights’ is a promising debut. It’s not perfect but it’s better than any of us could have expected.

Review: Sugababes – Catfights & Spotlights

Pop groups rarely make it to six albums, but Sugababes have managed just that.  Sometimes described as a brand rather than a band, their distinctiveness has faded through the years – culminating in the personality-free, but very successful ‘Change’.

Uninteresting lead single ‘Girls’ aside, ‘Catfights and Spotlights’ could be the album to make us fall back in love with them. We wouldn’t normally praise an album so ballad-heavy, but if there’s one thing the these girls can do well, it’s a killer ballad, the likes of ‘Stronger’ and ‘Too Lost In You’ still sending shivers up our spine. The Karen Poole penned  ‘Sunday Rain’ is an epic tearstained tale with a nod to Sam Brown’s ‘Stop’, while Klas Ahlund (who produced Robyn’s album) introduces quirky sounds and swelling strings on ‘Every Heart Broken’. Newest member Amelle has finally found her position within the band, her smoky voice adding a dangerous edge on the haunting ‘Side Chick’ and self-penned ‘Beware’.

The tempo lifts only occasionally and even then it’s somewhat forgettable. While ‘Hanging on a Star’ could be a Dana Dawson B-side, second single ‘No Can Do’ will certainly bounce its way into the heart of your favourite radio station.

The girls claim they’ve grown up and ditched pop. Not at all – they’ve just added some Motown horns and a twinkling of eighties funk. The result is an album that sounds the most like the Sugababes since ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’. We’re glad you’re back.

Originally published at Orange Music

First Listen Review: Girls Aloud – Out Of Control

A new Girls Aloud album is a surefire way to put a smile on my face so I was super excited to receive their new album Out Of Control this week. I’ll be reviewing it for the BBC later, but here’s my first listen thoughts.

Overall you might be a bit disappointed if you’re a fan of the ‘Girl Overboard’ and ‘Biology’ side of the girls. They’ve cut back on frantic-ness and replaced it with gorgeous, soaring electro pop that’s just as good.

1. The Promise – It’s so exciting that they’re about to have their 4th #1 with this song. You’ve heard it though, although the album version has a longer intro and a repeat to fade ending.

2. The Loving Kind – This is a collaboration with Pet Shop Boys and the first of quite a few synth ballads. Being a GA & PSB collaboration it’s kind of a disappointment as it should be amazing. It has an epic verse but then the chorus doesn’t quite cut it. There’s no great hook.

3. Rolling Back The Rivers – Starts with a really strong big vocal almost acapella. I have no idea who is who though when they sing. Then when the music kicks in it sounds a bit like ‘Somethin’ Stupid’. It’s really smooth sounding and makes me roll my shoulders all about. Has a great ‘a-wooooo’ sound.
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Review: John Legend – Evolver

As the owner of possibly the sexiest voice in music, John Legend has got it going on. Now releasing his third album shows that he’s lost none of the magic that gave his debut, Get Lifted, such crossover appeal.

Here in the UK, we’ve now got a special soft spot for John thanks to him signing Estelle and transforming her into a superstar. She returns the favour by lending her vocals to the reggae tinged ‘No Other Love’. Being John Legend, it’s not hard to attract guest stars, but we’re impressed that Evolver manages to avoid overcomplicating with so many ‘featurings’ that the main artist is relegated to second place. The other chosen two are Andre 3000, throwing a futuristic spanner into the unusually upbeat Green Light and a vocoded Kanye helping him ditch his lady in We’re Over. Impressive.

Confirming his position as an elegant ladies’ man, the dreamy Good Morning leaves us feeling that we couldn’t turn down any request made by this man. His seductive qualities are further cemented as he tries to turn his best friend into his lover in Cross The Line, begging her to stop, ”dancing ’round the moment”.

It’s not all love and ladies though – a fierce Obama campaigner, the album ends on an epic note with If You’re Out There. Originally performed at a Democratic convention, John rallies his listeners to change the future and, ”stand up and say it loud”.

Although we might miss the piano solos that made songs like Ordinary People such classic show stoppers, Evolver is a colourful burst of soul. Packed with incredible melodies and exquisite arrangements it’s yet another step to further confirm Legend as one of the most talented songwriters of the moment.

Originally published at BBC Music

Review: The Long Blondes – Singles

 

Far more glamorous than your average indie band, there was a time when it looked like The Long Blondes were going to make it big. NME and Radio 1 loved them, three singles from Somebody To Drive You Home went top 40, and ‘Once & Never Again’ was the soundtrack to every indie disco. Then came Couples; album number 2; and everything seemed to unfairly dry up.

So, presumably to renew some interest, the band are going back to basics with Singles – a compilation of their first four 7″s released on small labels like Thee Sheffield Phonograpic Corp, Angular and Good & Evil, and thus essential only for your most die-hard fan.

Like so many Sheffield bands before them, Kate Jackson and her fellow scarf wearing pals make intelligent indie music with some of the wittiest lyrics in town. Now we hear them at their rawest form, before the likes of super producer Erol Alkan got hold of them and added unnecessary whizzes and bangs.

The very first releases New Idols and Long Blonde are, in fact, so rough and ready that the distortion hurts your ears. But Autonomy Boy soon presents their delicious melodies that we that made us love them so, with the original versions of the complicated ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ and ‘Lust In The Movies’ a definite highlight. On the flip side, the shoutier riot grrl side of the Long Blondes blasts through on tale of heartbreak ‘Separated By Motorways’.

Distinctly English with tales of Peterborough and darts, The Long Blondes should be a national treasure. Despite having lost their way, this compilation shows that going back to basics isn’t perhaps the step backwards it might seem.

Originally published at BBC Music

Of course, having a promo copy, little did I know that once you took the CD out of the case underneath it said ‘We have split’. Here’s the sad story.

Review: Fall Out Boy – Folie A Deux

I was lucky enough to be given a preview listening of the new Fall Out Boy album a couple of weeks ago and my review will be appearing in a magazine next month. To give you a bit of insight, normally you get sent albums to review either in hard copy or an internet stream. They’re normally watermarked so if you leak it onto the internet the label can figure out who to murder.

There are certain levels of albums that they won’t let anyone have. If you want to hear it, you go to them, and for some reason the FOB album fell into that category which seems a bit extreme. So along I went to Universal Records where I very excitedly bumped into Nicola from Girls Aloud who’s super red hair at the moment is amazing and slightly less excitedly listened to the FOB album, in a small room, alone, once, with my mobile taken off me. It’s pretty hard to review an album in these conditions and get it spot on so if it turns out to be bloody shit, I apologise. It does mean that you’re constantly scribbling things down though, and you end up with some random statements. The last time I did this I went on a bit so look after the jump for the track by track review that hasn’t been made pretty so don’t start on me for not writing well. In short, 4/5, 13 tracks, very long, angry but poppy, noisy but tender, pretty great, 27 is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Annoyingly the record has just been pushed back to December 16 which kind of leaves my actual review making no sense. Bugger. Real review will appear in a couple of weeks anyway.

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Go and Meet Ed

My swoonable buddy Ed has just started his own blog. As he says himself, he’s a radio producer and in a band so you’ll no doubt get tales from both side of the coin. He buys shoes off ebay and adapts them, and also has the best hair on a boy I’d ever seen (until this week).

Show him your love.

Review: Boyzone – Back Again… No Matter What

When Boyzone were first about, a decision had to be made. It was either Boyzone or Take That. To like both was the ultimate sin in the life of a teenage girl, and if you were foolish enough to choose the Boyzone option, you weren’t really worth hanging out with.

Now wanting a piece of TT’s comeback pie, they’re back, playing a sold out tour to their adoring public, and releasing ‘Back Again… No Matter What’ – a compilation of their greatest hits, plus three new songs, and a live version of Ronan’s ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’.

While the bad are either hilarious (Love Me For A Reason) or coma inducing (You Needed Me), the good amongst Boyzone’s 16 consecutive top 5 hits still make us smile. 1998’s #1 ‘No Matter What’, penned by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Jim Steinman for musical Whistle Down The Wind, was a highlight, particularly as Ronan finally let someone else sing the main part. Ronan’s traditional growl is, of course, omnipresent, especially in ‘Baby Can I Hold You’, one of four covers. When it comes to new songs, ‘Love You Anyway’ recaptures the motown fun first heard in ‘Picture of You’ but ‘Can’t Stop Thinking About You’ is an awkward electro song that doesn’t fit the band at all.

Ultimately there’s no denying the greatest Boyzone song – ‘A Different Beat’. We are not even slightly being sarcastic here by declaring this one of our favourite pop songs of the 1990s just for it’s extreme randomness. Yes, for some unknown reason, Boyzone, bored of soppy ballads, decided what they were missing were African drums, chanting, foreign languages, thunder, a rousing middle 8, lyrics to solve work peace and a trembling piano. Everything is forgiven just for these 4 minutes. Amazing doesn’t even cover it.

If you love Boyzone, you’ll love this. If not, well you might just find yourself a bit surprised by how many songs you’re happily singing along. Perhaps after 9 years of Westlife, Boyzone sound like a treat.

Originally published at BBC Music. I hated Boyzone as a child, apart from ADB obv, but this was oddly enjoyable.