Review: Metro Station – Metro Station

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If Billy Ray is your Dad, Miley your little sister, and you want to have a career in rock music, you’d have to come up with something pretty amazing to be taken seriously. Latest Cyrus on the block, Trace might be trying to do just that as part of Metro Station, but their debut album leaves us feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

Originally released in the US back in 2007, it’s taken two whole years for the Metro Station sound to hit our shores. In that time similar sounding but much better bands like Shiny Toy Guns, The Answering Machine and Stefy all failed to make any impact at all over here. So what is it about Metro Station that makes them different?

Their first UK single ‘Control’ might have fizzled by without anyone noticing but it’s the 2nd, ‘Shake It’, that’s made us sit up and pay attention. Powered by a huge sing-a-long chorus that would have any dancefloor stomping and chanting along to. It’s a power pop, almost Disney, version of the darker emo sounds offered by labelmates Fall Out Boy. Similarly the gloomier ‘Wish We Were Older’ has a brilliantly goofy ‘Woah-e-o-e-o’ hands in the air chorus. The problem with both these songs and perhaps the rest of the album is that they seem to be built entirely to support the chorus with the verses being utterly unmemorable. Indeed songs like the twinkly ‘California’ and dreary ‘True To Me’ easily merge into the background.

Utterly harmless, Metro Station have shown they have the potential to write a killer hook. Their debut album is just not the showcase for that talent we were hoping for.

Review: Taylor Swift – Fearless

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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: Brandy – Human

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Unless you grew up watching Moesha, Brandy has unfairly struggled to make much of a long term impact on us here in the UK. Although we might still be slightly in awe of the fierceness of The Boy Is Mine, albeit over ten years ago, the average person may struggle remember many of her other 11 top 40 hits. Now returning after a four year break which saw the explosion of Beyonce and Rihanna as R&B superstars, is there any room left for in our hearts for Brandy? 

Her fifth album arrives after several years of personal trauma following Brandy’s involvement in a serious car crash. A vulnerable and revealing album, the title track calls out for forgiveness and declares herself as, ”fragile and broken, perfectly human”. Although names like Missy Elliot, Taio Cruz, Keri Hilson and Timbaland were all touted as writers on this album, it ends up being mainly written and produced by long term collaborator, Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild. Lead single, Right Here, hits the mark, with a haunting piano topline and retro ”oh oh ohs”, creating an almost gospel sound and reminding us how sweet Brandy’s voice can sound. Understated ballad Long Distance is just as good as If I Were A Boy and should be a global hit, beating with surging strings and tenderness. Expect to hear this one sound-tracking a heartbreaking moment on a Grey’s Anatomy finale sometime soon. 

Although there’s nothing as fiesty as 2002’s What About Us or jittery as the Timbaland produced Afrodisiac, midtempo highlights The Definition and Piano Man sound bang up to date practising their best Ryan Tedder impression by matching synths, drums and a sweet vocal to great effect. Plus our very own Natasha Bedingfield teams up with Brandy to write uplifting album closer, Fall. 

Concentrating on melodies and inspiration, Human, is a mature, sensitive album. Although complete with stunning vocals, its lack of daring and experimentation could be its downfall though, with her once faithful audience now utterly devoted to dancefloor driven R&B.

Originally published at BBC Music

Review: Britney Spears – Circus

 

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Every generation has its fallen hero and Britney Spears is ours. Yet despite being released at the height of her madness, 2007’s Blackout proved that Britney could still create brilliant pop moments. Now, just over a year later, Circus arrives with an overwhelming swell of public support behind it.

While Blackout was 45 minutes of eye-rolling, crotch-crunching, but utterly brilliant insanity, Circus is, like Britney herself in recent months, a touch calmer. Sometimes it works, like on the disconcerting ‘Unusual You’, an electro ballad of Robyn-sized proportions, or the serene ‘Blur’, documenting Britney’s last two years through lyrics like “I can’t remember what I did last night”. Other times, like on the sickly ‘My Baby’ – an ode to her children including a mawkish reference to their “tiny hands” – it goes horribly wrong.

To be honest, though, all we really want from Britney is floor-filling pop to live up to ‘Womanizer”s manic sirens. ‘If You Seek Amy’ is a secretly filthy playful romp, while ‘Kill The Lights’ is a scathing attack on “Mr Photographer” who stalks her every move. Our favourite moment lies in the slow-motion middle eight of ‘Shattered Glass’: we can just imagine Britney, in full diva mode, strutting through a icy forest, completely back in control.

Circus is an album of highs and lows, but there’s a danger we’re just so excited about Britney surviving that we’re happy to accept mediocrity. ‘Womanizer’ is probably the album’s only iconic moment, but it certainly proves there’s fight yet in the girl we’d almost written off for good.

Originally published by Orange Music

Review: Seal – Soul

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With 15 million album sales and three Grammy Awards under his belt, you’d think it might be easy for Seal to make a successful album. Yet since the mid-1990s his popularity dramatically waned, with even the super contemporary Jacques Lu Cont produced System last year failing to make much of a mark.

Thus Seal has decided to return to his self-declared roots with his sixth album, the simply titled Soul – a collection of classic songs, produced by legendary Canadian producer David Foster, best known for his work with Celine Dion. Entirely a covers album, it features the work of Sam Cooke, Al Green, Otis Reading and James Brown to name but a few, and here enlies the problem. Choosing such definitive songs, and performing them, on the whole, with such a loyalty to the original recordings, simply makes us want to listen to those originals. Sure, there may be some novelty value the first time you hear a man sing Ann Peebles’ glorious I Can’t Stand The Rain or Deniece Williams’ enchanting Free but a faithful cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now leaves us reaching for the Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes original, or at very worst Simply Red. Cover albums always face this risk, but Seal could have done with taking a leaf out of George Michael’s Songs From The Last Century album and finding some brilliant, but lesser known songs to scatter through the album.

Though there’s no doubt that Seal has a great voice, perfectly designed for singing soul music, ultimately Soul feels a touch too smooth. In his day Seal was an innovator – constantly pushing the genre boundaries of r ‘n’ b & dance music – but now we’re left hoping he finds some of that magic that seems to have been lost along the way.

Originally published at BBC Music

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