Year of the Boots

In one form or another, I’ve been banging on about Little Boots since 2005 featuring her old band on cduk.com, getting ‘Stuck On Repeat’ played on Radio 1 and generally pimping her out to any media outlet I possibly could. Now, signed to a major deal on Atlantic Records, and appearing on this week’s Jools Holland, 2009 will no doubt be her year.

As part of a feature about new female popstars I worked on for Attitude with gaypop, I interviewed Victoria for the mag and here it is. FYI my other selections for the main feature were Lady Gaga, As In Rebekka Maria and Janelle Monae.

Little Boots is as small as Kylie. She’s also going to be just as big. Her mission statement is to create epic disco pop and from what we’ve heard, she’s the best thing to come out of Blackpool since Chris Lowe put on his tight yellow sweater.

We first met ‘Boots, or to give her her real name, Victoria, as part of glamourous Leeds indie band Dead Disco back in 2005. Like an evil version of Girls Aloud, their super catchy tunes, and Victoria’s presence as a frontwoman was incendiary. Despite getting signed up to a major label she decided to go solo late last year, waved goodbye to the illuminations, headed to East London and leaked her first song onto the internet. This was the suitably epic ‘Stuck on Repeat’ and almost immediately bloggers fell in love. Produced by Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, it was 7 minutes of pulsating disco euphoria peppered with sleigh bells and a hypnotic vocal that got world class DJs like Pete Tong straight on the phone.

But Victoria didn’t want to rush things. As we talk to her in the middle of London Fashion Week, she’s hungover from her very first live performance in front of friends in her studio last night. Instead of getting straight on the road, she’s been writing her debut album with the likes of Greg Kurstin and Pascal Gabriel and learning to DJ. Arriving in London she was skint and after learning to spin some tracks in a pub, she went out as tour DJ for the Wonky Pop Tour and now finds it hilarious that people are flying her to America to play gigs as some amazing electro DJ .

But back to ‘Stuck on Repeat’. Coming out properly now as a single in November, it’s the song that really introduces the concept of Little Boots, even if the album itself is filled with shinier pop songs. Sounding like it’s fallen out of the stars, it reveals Victoria’s obsession with space, unicorns, crystals and the cosmic disco sound of the late 70s and early 80s. Citing people like Dee D Jackson and Klaus Nomi as influences, Victoria isn’t prepared to do things by halves. “Everything has to be epic. I don’t like twee DIY stuff, Kate Nash singer songwriter vibes just isn’t my bag. I’d rather try and do something ridiculous, that ends up being funny. Anything Studio 54 inspired works. My hair’s in braids, there’s glitter, it’s just epic. That said I don’t just want to be the one in the wacky outfit.”

Epic certainly seems to be where it’s at when Victoria tells us about her live show. As well as geeking it up with lots of synths, a Theremin, stylophone and an amazing Tenori-On she’s also got lasers, smoke machines and fake wolves and owls with eyes that light up! Planning to make the shows as extravagant as possible once the money starts rolling in, the dream is to travel up to space and do a gig with Richard Branson in orbit. Obviously!

But don’t worry if you think we’re getting hung up on someone so cool that you won’t be allowed into her gigs unless you’re wearing the right brand of glittery eyeshadow. Victoria’s dream is to be “massive, massive, massive, massive”. Despite being heralded as part of the blogeratti, she adamant that she’s not arsed about the critics. “I hate all that hipster stuff, it means nothing. I don’t give a shit if idiots in London that reckon they’re super cool don’t like me.”

Victoria’s wild imagination means we have no idea what might happen next. But we’re sure whatever it is, ends up being epic. “I just want to make amazing pop songs”, she claims with a glint in her eye. “Whatever anyone says about manufactured pop, it’s rubbish. The people who write pop songs are so talented and there’s no special magic formula to get it right. It’s just a myth. Writing pop music is the most challenging but also the most enjoyable thing I can do.”

Watch Little Boots on this week’s Jools Holland doing a very melancholic version of ‘Stuck On Repeat’.

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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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.

Review: Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads

When we heard the Kaiser Chiefs‘ 3rd album was going to be produced by Mark Ronson, we were worried. After all hasn’t everyone grown a bit tired of Ronson and his relentless trumpeting? Fortunately we can report that, thanks to co-producer Eliot James, the wonky parping has been kept in check.

After the massive success of the usually ‘notoriously hard’ 2nd album, ‘Off With Their Head’ is the Chiefs going at it old school with quirky British rock influences a plenty. Jaw-dropping lead single ‘Never Miss A Beat’ could easily be mistaken as a forgotten Beatles demo with it’s call and response hook (best bit – ‘What do you want for tea? I want crisps!’). ‘Tomato In the Rain’ gives a hammond organ it’s best use in years, and Ricky’s Northern charm shines in the comical ‘Addicted To Drugs’.  Ronson’s star pulling power is in effect too, with Lily Allen providing backing vocals on the summery swagger of ‘Always Happens Like That’, orchestral maestro David Arnold looking after ‘Like It Too Much’ and grime boy Sway pulling in a star turn on the XTC reminiscent & surely future #1 ‘Half The Truth’.

A sprightly 35 minutes, it’s yet more proof the young pretenders have nothing on this lot when it comes down to personality, wit and intelligence. Tunes to get your converse dirty to.

Originally published in Attitude Magazine.

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.