Live Review: Paloma Faith @ ICA, London

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After years of playing hostess at trendy London parties, now is the time for Paloma Faith to have a blast at going global. Gigs like tonight’s are normally designed by record labels as a big celebration for your artist’s debut hit topping the charts, packed full of media and smug music executives. Yet despite the decadent ‘Stone Cold Sober’ limping in at a disappointing 17 (even Paloma herself shouts “must try harder”), this is a show launched with big white balloons and packed full of character, colour and fun.

Of course, in a post-Winehouse age with no shortage of glammed-up soul sweethearts around, Paloma was never going to have it easy. It’s unfortunate that the likes of ‘Broken Doll’ – a vintage-tinged smoky jazz bar number – were knocking about maybe even before ‘Back To Black’ hit the shelves, but were held from release due to a series of label delays.

Live, Paloma is everything you might expect from a former magician’s assistant, clad in a retro corset and a towering head-dress, in front of a giant rag doll version of herself. Bonkers pop stars are the best kind, and as she teeters in high heels on tiny white chairs, talking in a delicate porcelain doll voice and singing the somewhat lacklustre next single ‘New York’, it’s plain that demented is exactly where she’s at.

While album title track ‘Do You Want The Truth or Something More Beautiful’ is an epic, cinematic ballad, one too many torch songs almost lose tonight’s crowd. Fortunately the wild and frantic ‘When We’re Dancing’ saves the day and allows Paloma to show off her footwork.

Fun and loud, Paloma is the perfect pop star-in-waiting. We only hope she’s given the time to become one.

Originally published at Orange Music

VV Pumpkin

I’ve not really written much about faltering pop starlet VV Brown over here. I think I took against her from the start because she showed up 45 minutes late to an interview with my friend and didn’t apologise. I showed up 55 minutes late (UNINTENTIONALLY) for an interview with the bloody amazing Raygun a few weeks ago so I now feel less angry towards her. I like her hair, I think she’s gorgeous, I feel like she might chuck herself off a building though at any moment sometimes when reading her twitter which is a bit worrying, and I adore playing ‘Crying Blood’ each week at Popstarz. It’s a proper classic pop song that should have been a brilliant one hit wonder if nothing else. As oppose to most of the pop blogosphere I think ‘Shark in the Water’ is an nice, adequate song but hardly something to be screaming about.

Now I’m highly unlikely to start banging off promo blogs for commercial things, but as part of a perhaps blooming fashion career, VV has designed some ponchos for Orange for use at Glastonbury. The photos are amazing, mainly because she looks like a pumpkin. This is all I need to be amused. Actual proper info over here.

Review: Daniel Merriweather – Love And War

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With Robbie still out of action, and the charts being deluged by a wave of talented ladies, one thing we’re really missing is a great male singer.  James Morrison and Paulo Nutini might have had successes with their debut albums, but as their popularity falters Daniel Merriweather is ready to step in bringing his Aussie charm to our shores.

Originally introduced to us as the vocalist on Mark Ronson’s cover of Smiths classic ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, Daniel teams up again with the ubiquitous Ronson for the whole of his debut album ‘Love and War’.  Perfectly designed for a long, hot summer, it’s a combination of the kind of classic old school soul we’d expect from anything Ronson lays his magical fingers on and contemporary blues featuring a variety of modern day stars such as Wale.

While debut single ‘Change’ might have wooed us all with it’s hypnotic piano riff, even more popular follow-up ‘Red’ is where Merriweather bares his soul telling of a heartbreak, with vocals that drip with anguish. With his impassioned pleas, it’s the perfect break-up song, if such a thing can exist, that belies his 26 years.

Heartbreak is a key theme here. Although ‘Cigarettes’ might sound jaunty on first listen, it’s all about missing the smell of his lady on his clothes. Similarly the blisteringly brilliant ‘Water And A Flame’, featuring fellow husky voiced Ronson alumni Adele, is a duet basted in pain with tales of empty houses, busy dial tones and the long, sad ache of desertion.

Perhaps then, not the happiest of albums, but if you’re missing a loved one, an absolutely essential listen.

Originally written for Orange Music

Review: Escala – Escala

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After having been on our televisions now for many years, we’re surely all familiar with that certain glazed eye expression Simon Cowell gets when he sees the word ‘kerching’ appear. Before Susan Boyle trotted along, the most excited we’d seen him get on the oft cringe-worthy Britain’s Got Talent was when Escala, four pretty ladies playing a string quartet, powered their way through a classical adaptation of Wings classic ‘Live & Let Die’. While Simon and Piers might have been quick to over-enthusiastically declare the girls ‘totally original’, fans of near identical pretty-ladies-playing-a-string-quartet, Bond, were quick to shout up all this was done about eight years ago, even down to some of the song choices such as ‘Palladio’ and ‘KasHmir’.

Of course Bond weren’t riding the Cowell money-wagon, and when Escala want to record the Led Zep classic they have the added unexpected bonus of Slash rocking up with his guitar. Let’s make things clear – this is not a sweet classical album to sound track your middle class suburban dinner party. It’s a pacey, sometimes frantic trip through classical styles that lends itself to a fast, angry walk around the block or a particularly strenuous afternoon in with the Wii fit with only Ennio Morricone’s ‘Chi Mai’ and a toned down version of ‘Adagio For Strings’ leaving time for a breather.

Classical-o-phobe’s shouldn’t be scared away though. While the four members of the group might all be classically trained, Haydn and Mozart have been stored away for the future, with their debut concentrating on modern day composers such as Karl Jenkins and Craig Armstrong alongside pop songs like ‘Feeling Good’, ‘Clubbed to Death’ and amusingly Robert Miles’ ‘Children’. We might have heard it all before, but it still remains just as much refreshingly fun to listen to.

<i>Originally written for Orange Music</i>

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: 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: 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.

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: 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