Cheryl Cole ‘3 Words’ kind of review

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Earlier this week I made a complete meal of writing a proper Cheryl Cole ‘3 Words’ review, but here are the random notes I made during my first few listens. This is not exactly award winning writing, it’s just random thoughts I made while trying to figure out if it was amazing or rubbish. It was hard to disassociate my love for Cheryl’s shiny hair in her new L’Oreal adverts from the music and just before writing it she annoyed me a bit by kicking Ethan and Duane out of X Factor. I’m so easily swayed. It’s very girly, all about being in love and is pretty sad. There’s no Xenomania, there’s lots of Will.I.Am and it’s far, far away from a Girls Aloud album.

1. Three Words: Strange guitar opening, sounds a bit like Foals, before the bass builds up . Bizzaro. Will.i.Am/Cheryl co-write and Will.i.Am is all over it – it’s a duet! The three words are indeed ‘I Love You’. Very brave opening track. “It wasn’t complicated, wasn’t pre-meditated, to you I’m dedicated.” Anthem for Chuck & Blair.
2. Parachute: Awesome military drumming. Cheryl sounds sad. About a secret love ‘I won’t tell anyone your voice is my favourite sound’. Her love is the parachute that will catch her if she falls. Nice, strong 90s rnb chorus. Brilliant little pointing finger breakdown “I won’t fall out of love.”
3.Heaven: Another wibbly electro Will.I.Am song and he’s on it again. Most annoying bit is Cheryl totally aping his accent and singing ‘My heaven’s with you’ as ‘My heaven wit you’. No need. Best bit – Will I Am sounds like he’s telling Cheryl she’s immature at one point.
4. Fight For This Love: Best song on the album. The drums on this are amazing now. SOLDIER.
5. Rain On Me: Madonna-ish, teeters along before you have some very odd synthesised oboe (?!) sounds and it blows off into a big midtempo dance chorus. Tears in my eyes while raving kind of affair. Not a will i am track so no idea who is singing along in the chorus. Co-written by Livvi Franc!
6. Make Me Cry: Nice 70s Chic type of bassline. “Are you trying to make me cry?” Fierce, talk to the hand. Cheryl says shit! Doesn’t really go anywhere but pleasant.
7. Happy Hour: Ridiculous, yet adoreable analogies. Bad boy she needs a taste of, he’s an addiction. Co-written by Priscilla Renae, originally a Rihanna demo. Nice layering up of vocals without any Nadine style warbelling. Type of song I think Cheryl would sing along to in the shower. Middle Eastern vibes – K-Ci & Jojo esque piano topline. “Some days I can be sweet and some I’m sour, but I can’t help but drink you up cos you’re my happy hour.” 2nd best song.
8. Stand Up: The only upbeat song, only one that doesn’t sound like Cheryl is the saddest person ever. Taio Cruz penned and he features on it during a rap where he bigs up his advance and his bloody Rokstar shades. Makes me want to crouch to my knees and then fascinatingly ‘Stand Up’ in some kind of never before considered dance routine.
9. Don’t Talk About This Love: Cover of a Nikola Bedingfield song. CUT YOUR EARS OFF AWFUL.
10.Boy Like You: Opens with a sample of Fleetwood Mac ‘Little Lies’. Random. Another Will.i.Am track. Clapping / electro drumbeat. It’s a shoulder wiggler.
11.Heartbreaker: Identical to the single release, no Cheryl mix or anything. Is that FIVE Will.I.Am duets??\
12. Got To Be Real: Amaz-Oh no, this is Cheryl Lynn. Thanks iTunes!

Cheryl’s Hair: 10/10 ; Album 7/10

Mr Discopop’s heard it too.

The Worst Album of All Time

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In a list of things the world needs, an Eoghan Quigg album full of covers is not one of them. Despite making it all the way to the final of X Factor thanks to the little girl and grannies brigade, a win for Eoghan would have been another nail in the pop coffin of doom that already contains the dusty remains of David Sneddon, Steve Brookstein and Leon Jackson. If Leon, an X Factor winner, has just been dropped from his record label, along with runners up Same Difference, are we really supposed to believe Eoghan’s debut offer us any more than a quick buck making exercise for a record label? Look him up 10 months down the line and we’re pretty sure you’ll find him back working hard at school with a Saturday job at Argos. A fine way to mess with a 16 year old’s head.

Of course, we were never going to expect a masterpiece from Eoghan and you probably think we’d slag it off whatever he released. The thing is though, as Popjustice quite rightly states, even the most obsessive, deluded fan, will have some difficulty sticking up for this album. It sounds so cheap, so unlovingly put together that we are aghast that someone managed to A&R and release this without actually wanting to kill themselves

The main problem with Eoghan on the show (save the inexplicable hair, the face, the Diana love, the obsession from Louis etc) was the way his vocals were accompanied by so many backing singers that his voice frequently got lost, and this problem is repeated on the album most notably on High School Musical’s ‘We’re All In This Together’. Taking the songs Eoghan covered on TV as a starting point you can expect to hear his strange choice of Abba’s ‘Does Your Mother Know’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Ben’ (surely the 2nd worst Jacko song after Ebony & Ivory?) and a wilting, joyless version of Take That masterpiece ‘Never Forget’. Add to the mix a little known Jonas Brothers song which Eoghan has made sound so much like Westlife, Louis’ ears will be perking up with a marathon speed, and the addition of a smattering of Robbie, McFly and Buble and you’ll have a fair idea of the sound. It was speculated that Eoghan really found his place on the show when covering his ‘favourite band’ Busted with ‘Year 3000’. Indeed this is really the only track on the album where Eoghan sounds like he’s vaguely interested and giving it a smidge, and we really do mean a smidge of personality, so he must have been delighted for Busted craftsman James Bourne to offer up original song ‘28,000 Friends’ for the album. Fittingly though, an ode to online friends, it’s a cast off that wouldn’t even have made a Son of Dork B-side.

It’s safe to say 2009 is not Eoghan’s year. There was a time when the runners up album would be as exciting as the winner’s. While some might think Rhydian’s album did exactly that last year (I’ve not heard it so I have no idea), let’s all take a moment to remember the very first runner up – Gareth Gates – and probably one of the best sugary pop songs of the decade.

Some of this was originally written for Orange Music

Review: Ronan Keating – Songs For My Mother

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Ahead of Mother’s Day each year albums designed to appeal to your mum trot out in stores around the country. As well as dabbling with a Boyzone reunion, 2009 is the year for Ronan Keating to make his mainstream comeback starting with a release of ‘Songs For My Mother’.

This, his fifth studio album, is a collection of covers recorded by Ronan with a live orchestra. It’s no rapidly chosen covers album though; instead it’s a group of songs Ronan remembers his mother, who he lost to cancer at the height of his success in 1998, listening to throughout his childhood.

Covering songs as cherished as Don McClean’s ‘Vincent’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ is always going to aggravate fans of the original but on the whole, Ronan manages to create careful versions filled to the brink with emotion. Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ crackles with tears, popular Celtic folk songs such as ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ are tender and the orchestral arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ adds an extra layer of euphoria coupled with the sadness of the lyrics.

Only a cold heart could refuse to be moved by the gentle ‘Mama’s Arms’. Originally performed by American singer-songwriter Joshua Kadison, the heart tugging lyrics must have been hard to Ronan to sing, his voice cracking on the beautiful line ‘all you want is mama’s arms’. The mood is only ruined somewhat by the suddenly jolly ‘Suspicious Minds’ and echo-heavy cheese fest cover of R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.

It would be easy to thrown scorn on ‘Songs For My Mother’ but instead it’s a sweet, and surprisingly enjoyable compilation of gorgeous songs. Perfect to show your mother how much you care.

Originally for Orange Music

Review: Starsailor – All The Plans

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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

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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.

Fall Out Boy – Folie A Deux

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Following on from the stats grabbing initial review of the new Fall Out Boy album, this was the review that was actually published back in October. It’s about to be finally released.

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Could Fall Out Boy be any more perfect? They make songs you can stomp along to, give us the eyeliner hotness of Pete and have donated $50k to a pro gay marriage campaign. Three hoorays from Attitude. French for ‘shared madness by two’, ‘Folie A Deux’, might be more thoughtful but remains packed with melodramatics that leave us pondering just how amazing an FOB musical would be.

Lead single ‘I Don’t Care’ steals a glammy beat from ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and almost sounds like a Xenomania production with campy ‘oohs’ sandwiching a dark chorus. With special guests including Pharrell and Debbie Harry popping up,  Elvis Costello delights on ‘What A Catch, Donnie’ – born to soundtrack the moment that goofy boy everyone laughs at has a Tyra style makeover becomes the fiercest girl in school.  Although nothing can top last album’s ‘Gay Is Not An Acronym For Shit’, the boys would still win awards for song titles  with the random likes of ‘Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes’ and the creepy, epic sounds of ‘Head First Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet’.

Though ’27’ might claim ‘We’re all just fucked’, the anthemic (Coffee For Closers) stresses that ‘change will come’. Released on US Election day, Folie A Deux is ultimately the sound of a frustrated generation looking for a way out.

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: Beyonce – I Am… Sasha Fierce

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In a world ruled by downloads perhaps the flow of tracklistings, once pored over for hours by record labels, isn’t that important any more. It’s certainly not to Beyonce who, on this, her third solo album, has spread 11 songs over two discs in order to create a ‘concept’. Double albums usually make us pull an ugly face (Back To Basics, anyone?) but we guess at least this has a point, almost. 

Let’s explain. For this album Beyonce has split her personality into two. Disc 1, labelled ‘I Am’, reveals the ‘real’ Beyonce behind the makeup, baring her soul with insecurities about love. The simple, If I Were A Boy, is ably joined by the very strange, but wonderful Ave Maria and Ryan Tedder’s Bleeding Love-lite, Halo. Unfortunately when faced with six ballads in a row, you might find yourself dropping off into a deep slumber, no matter how good they are. 

You’ll wake up sharpish though when it’s time for disc 2, as Beyonce is gone, replaced by the hilariously monikered Sasha Fierce. Sasha is B’s on-stage personality and the hair flicking, stiletto strutting beats of Diva with it’s dictionary defining ”diva is the female version of a hustler” prove it. Yet though the electro pounding of Sweet Dreams or the wild Radio might be standouts here, there’s nothing that announces Beyonce’s experimental side like the raging Ring The Alarm from B’Day 

An attempt no doubt for credibility and importance, I Am … Sasha Fierce ultimately falls short of this goal. In a world where Rihanna seems to have released hit after hit, Beyonce, although the superior on-stage performer, needs to come back with something stronger than this if she wants to steal her sparkly crown back off the young pretender.

Originally published on BBC 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