Review: Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D

Black Eyed Peas

Since the last Black Eyed Peas album four years ago, Fergie’s surprised us all by becoming one of the world’s most popular solo stars. Despite penning most of her album, Will.i.am had no such success with his own record, even if he managed to woo the UK by taking Queen Cheryl of Cole under his arm on Heartbreaker.

Now the pair are back with fellow BEP comrades Taboo and apl.de.ap for their fifth studio album. While Monkey Business was a fun party album, The E.N.D steps it up a gear and through the power of the mighty vocoder transforms the Peas into in your fave dancefloor creatures.

The dramatic Boom Boom Pow lays out the album’s intentions perfectly and with its “You’re so two thousand and LATE” snap gives us a brand new insult to throw out there. I Gotta Feeling practically screams it’s producer David Guetta from the off and fellow anthems Missing You and Rock That Body continue pummeling us with wild basslines and vocal snarling.

When it’s time to take a breath of fresh air from the all-night rave, Meet Me Halfway is there to show you what BEP doing a Coldplay song would sound like. Answer: very good. Fergie regains some of the softness she explored on Big Girls Don’t Cry on gorgeous love song Alive, but you’re advised to give her attempt at a Jamaican accent on the instantly skip-able Electric City a miss.

Daring and constantly innovative, the Black Eyed Peas have taken the techno/RnB door opened by Kanye West and flung it open wide.

Originally written for BBC Music

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: 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

Review: Girls Aloud – Out of Control

Even before Queen Cheryl of Cole sharpened her perfectly manicured judging nails to become the nation’s new sweetheart, Girls Aloud were adored by everyone from misery guts Noel Gallagher to toff David Cameron. Now teaming up with hit factory Xenomania again for their fifth studio album, our girls show no sign of giving up the hunt for the perfect pop song.

That perfect song might not, however, be exactly what you’re expecting. Instead of compelling us to race to the dancefloor and jump on our tutu, Out of Control has taken its lead from the success of icy ballad Call The Shots and brought us a shimmering album of heartbreaking electro pop with the tearstained melancholy of the Ashley baiting Love Is Pain its defining moment.

Forgetting about hugely disappointing Neil Tennant collaboration The Loving Kind, the Balearic bliss of epic seven minute marathon Untouchable and the haunting swirls of Turn 2 Stone (which cries out for a big trance remix) prove that you don’t have to be brassy to be brilliant. That said, if you’re running back to Tangled Up frantically searching for Girl Overboard, you need not fear. Although there aren’t as many stompers as usual, the sarcastic country of Love Is The Key and drum and bass anti-anarchy anthem Live In The Country, in which Sarah begs for a ”stall selling strawberry shortcake” will go some way in cheering you up. Miss You Bow Wow impresses as one big non-stop chorus and the dancehall mayhem of Revolution In The Head mean there’s no chance of an overly serious ‘we are no longer pop’ edict being issued.

Pop music at its finest, Girls Aloud have opened up their hearts, and finally won their battle against drippy, re-hashed ballads. Long may they reign.

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: 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.