Hooray for Abby!

sophomore

If you were knocking about in the ‘early days’ of pop music blogging, you’ll probably remember brilliant site Poptext crashing onto the scene back in 2004 fondly transfixed by the failure of La Lohan to create the perfect pop song yet Ashlee Simpson’s ability to do so.

It’s writer was Abby McDonald. We were both at university (different ones), frustrated by our trappings, addicted to American TV shows and finding blogs like Popjustice and Fluxblog our perfect bedtime reading. After lots of commenting on each other’s stuff, Abby and I finally met a couple of years, hanging out at Cargo interviewing one of our favourite pop stars – Robyn.

Today Abby’s debut novel gets published in America. It’s called Sophomore Switch and it’s amazing to see her dream turn into a reality. It tells the story of American party girl Tasha, and serious Oxford scholar Emily swapping studies and lives for three months and discovering new sides to themselves. You can read the first chapter here but I’m dying to get my hands on a proper copy to find out what happens next. Although you can order the American version from amazon, it will also be coming out in the UK under the title ‘Life Swap’ (cruelly denying the alliteration) later in the year.

Following that comes her debut ‘adult’ novel ‘The Popularity Rules’ (Sophomore Switch is youth) and then the amazingly titled ‘Boys, Bears & A Serious Pair of Hiking Boots’. I’ve got my fingers crossed that’s going to turn out to be a tale of a surprise climbing wall being installed in deepest, darkest Vauxhall.

Review: Taylor Swift – Fearless

taylor

Taylor Swift is a Nashville girl. She’s very nice, very sweet, and not one bit a popstar designed to work over here. Everything about her is so very American that her long stay at #1 in the States comes as no shock. But Taylor having a big hit in the UK? No chance.

How wrong we were. Instead of drifting by, Taylor has captured the hearts of British teenagers with her slushy songs. Her first UK hit ‘Love Story’ is a simple tale of girl meets boy, falls in love and later gets swept away by her Romeo. There’s a subtle difference from the American original – a lack of twangy bassline. In fact ‘Fearless’ has entirely been slightly tweaked to zap out the country vibes and make her more palatable internationally.

The teenage audience is really the key to her success though. At 19 she personally knows the emotions of teenage girls, a knowledge she demonstrates perfectly on Fifteen singing “when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe it” or when chastising her boy feeling on the feisty ‘Tell Me Why’.  It’s sickly sweet at times, none more so than in the schmaltzy ‘The Best Day’, an ode to her parents in which she labels her mom “the prettiest lady in the whole wide world.” Pass us the sick bucket.

Yet if you can get over the syrup, Taylor’s music is packed with delicate melodies and an idealised view of romance despite protestations on ‘White Horse’. “Fearless” could easily be described as dreary and inoffensive, but if you connect with her lyrics, then she could be the very person to help guide you through your first love.

Review: Starsailor – All The Plans

starsailor

Since Starsailor first burst into the mainstream in 2001, most famously declaring ‘Your daddy was an alcoholic,’ singer James Walsh’s voice  has become an immediately recognisable part of the UK music scene. Now on their 4th album, returning after a considerable break, the best new band to come out of deepest, darkest Lancashire this decade are back with ‘All The Plans’, another brilliant slice of indie pop realism.

Having moved record labels and inspired by all the ‘rights and wrongs’ they’ve experienced in the last few years, lead single “Tell Me It’s Not Over” showcases compelling harmonies and an emotive vocal that sizzles with passion. Reminiscent of Coldplay’s “The Hardest Part”, it’s just as epic and makes a strong impression as the album’s opening track.  ‘All The Plans’ and the yearning ‘Boy In Waiting’ have a similarly epic quality and capture that essential festival anthem spirit with hints of Oasis creeping into James Stelfox’s bassline on the title track.

Equally there’s a honesty in Walsh’s voice that makes the gorgeous ‘The Thames’ feel like a genuine insight into his broken heart.  Despite sounding like it could soundtrack a Western, were it an instrumental, lyrics like ‘the birds & the bees, the leaves on the trees, die all at once, now that you’re gone’, coupled with a compelling belief that his girl will one day be back in his arms, crackle with heartbreak.

Starsailor have unfairly become a band most people sneer at but “All The Plans” has recaptured that special something that made debut album “Love Is Here” so exciting. Whether it’s too late to change people’s opinions remains to be seen, but were we not so bothered by the ‘cool’ factor, there’s no doubt the songs on this album show an anthemic return to form.

Review: Mongrel – Better Than Heavy

mongrel

When Jon McClure first bound onto the music scene, he was full of endless optimism. Originally a writer for the Arctic Monkeys, the Reverend (of Reverend and the Makers) was convinced that his left wing politics could be put to music and make a difference to the world. Sadly after just one album he became disillusioned with the music industry and formed Mongrel releasing ‘Better Than Heavy’, their debut album, for free via The Independent.

Pulling together Joe Moskow from The Makers on synths, Drew from Babyshambles on guitar, London rapper Lowkey, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders and former Monkey Andy Nicholson on bass to form a grindie supergroup was presumably his attempt at a multi-skilled masterplan. Yet the mid-way position between grime and indie, the aptly name Mongrel can’t help to fail to excel in one particular field, instead falling somewhere into the middle under adequate.

Sometimes, when paired with a brilliant bassline, McClure’s politics make sense. In ‘Lies’ we’re told “the whole country is full of lies, you’re all gonna die, I don’t trust you anymore” and ‘Barcode’ offers up a chilling warning of the human race being ‘a commodity, we will quantify’. Yet sometimes, his lyrics can move too far towards preaching with the listing of oppressed countries such as ‘Lebanon, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Darfur, too many to name,’ in the otherwise brilliant ‘The Menace’, sometimes being too hard to stomach for your average music fan.

A good effort for sure, but ultimately ‘Better Than Heavy’ leaves us yearning for the catchy tunes and daily life descriptions that made Reverend & The Makers debut so special. We admire the message but can’t help but feel we’d rather have The Reverend back in his very own church.

Kleerup Arrives

You might remember the name Kleerup from Robyn’s brilliant #1 ‘With Every Heartbeat’ – he was the producer behind the song and accompanied Robyn live on lots of early gig dates. Beardy and hairy he looked like an unlikely pop star but his self titled debut album managed to deliver one of most bittersweet pop albums of 2008 in Sweden. He’d had lots of practice before going solo though, as the former drummer in amazing Swedish band Teddybears STHLM.

Now ‘Kleerup’ is set to be released in the UK in April or May time thanks to Positiva Records. The album is filled with gorgeous soaring electro pop fronted on the whole by some of Sweden’s best vocalists including Neneh Cherry and Marit Bergman. Robyn described it to me very well as ‘songs to dance to with tears in your eyes’. To get the ball rolling, an EP named ‘Holla Holla’ will be out first with the disjointed ‘Until We Bleed’ featuring Lykke Li and bittersweet ‘Longing For Lullabies’ with Neneh’s younger sister Titiyo. Here’s the Swedish video for the latter:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luIBrGyFNq0[/youtube]

Most excitingly Kleerup will be live at Cargo on April 9, hopefully with lots of vocalists in tow.

Ghetto Princess

aisheyne

Remember trashtastic Big Brother contestant Aisleyne? She’s back. Not content with inexplicably becoming Charlie Brookers bezzie mate, her autobiography will be hitting shops this May. I was one of few people in my circle at the time who really didn’t like her on Big  Brother, but since, she’s become a bit of a giggle particularly in this week’s Snog Marry Or Kill, the uber-shonky makeunder show on BBC Three.

Now her autobiography looks unmisssable. Just look at that cover:

1. The title – Surviving Guns, Gangs and Glamour.

2. The quote – “Women like Aisleyne make the world go around . . .  She’s A Lioness” – AMY WINEHOUSE (?!)

3. The fierce pout.

Never mind the synopsis which includes life stories such as a childhood surrounded by Boy George, predatory men of the city’s gang culture and a potential marriage to Mike Tyson, all we really care about are the juicy details of the must-happen love affair between her and Brooker.

2009’s essential reading? Yes please. Bring it on.

Mother Chucker

If you were a fan of Cruel Intentions and you’ve not been watching Gossip Girl, you’ve been missing out big style. Series 2 is nearly over in the US, but while there’s been weeks without new episodes tv network, The CW, has been doing some really great promos for the show.

Here’s the latest – all about the love to hate star of the show, Chuck Bass

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw5wlvefmIo[/youtube]

Napoleon

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjQechwXd2w[/youtube]

Too often at the moment I’m hearing an amazing song, thinking ‘ooh I’ll blog about that’ and then remembering when it’s at #1. Unhelpful. The brilliantly named ‘I Love My Baby (but if anyone touches her I’ll kill them) is one such track. Not that it’ll ever go to #1 mind.

Perfectly positioned to break the UK in a post-Alphabeat land this burst of twee bliss is blasting straight out of Sweden thanks to 11 piece band Napoleon. I first heard it on Radio 2’s amazing Radcliffe & Maconie show a few weeks ago where it later went on to become their record of the week. It’s slightly oddly mixed and nothing else on their myspace comes close but the horns, the chirpy female backing vocals and the whole Motown vibe is a winner. This single came out last week and an album will be out later in the year courtesy of Ruffa Lane Records.

DOUBLE PSB

I was out tonight so disappointingly didn’t get to watch the Brit Awards live on TV. Instead I’m catching up via youtube and started at the end with the Pet Shop Boys outstanding achievement medley. Seriously – how amazing is this? I wish I’d been there, but was so overwhelmed just watching this, I’d have exploded into tears.

I was a little confused why they needed guest stars, but they did’t detract at all. Gaga pulled off Dusty’s bit perfectly and Brandon looked hilariously excited. Plus a shout out to my home town of Blackpool – I can’t imagine how mental Little Boots went during that bit.

Double woops must also go out to Elbow & Girls Aloud for scooping their first Brits. As for Katy Perry? Shame on you Brits voters!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OAlTWrNN6o[/youtube]

I have touched Neil Tennant’s arm.

Tonight the Pet Shop Boys will be given the Outstanding Contribution to British Music award at The Brits, and boy do they deserve it. Although I wasn’t exposed to most of their material during the time it was released and don’t know every song in their back catalogue, I would label them one of my two favourite bands. They look like such unlikely pop stars but their music and the telling lyrics always are spot on. Plus Chris Lowe is from Blackpool so double woop for him.

I adore It’s A Sin and always thought it was my favourite PSB song but recently I’ve been swayed towards West End Girls. It’s so bleak and the video captures London in the 80s so magnificiently. What London locations can you spot? Does it start on Roman Road? I am rubbish at playing spot the London location!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAHfoIfo_7A[/youtube]

On the other hand here’s a brilliant Pet Shop Boys production but a terrible video from the 80s. It’s Dusty’s ‘In Private’.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1z5DZEse3I[/youtube]