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

Review: La Roux – La Roux

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Tipped in many polls at the start of 2009 as a contender for success, La Roux were possibly always thought of as the wild card in the bunch with many pitting the duo against the shinier Little Boots. Elly Jackson’s magnificent quiff of red hair, and high pitched, cutting tones certainly aren’t for everyone, but the retro styling of her and producer Ben Langmaid’s music has quickly burrowed its way into the hearts of the nation.

While the magnetic Quicksand was first to tantalise our earbuds on limited release last year, it was instead the almost unpleasant-to-listen-to In For The Kill that swept these competitors out of the water, positioned her as the year’s most exciting new talent and landed her a massive chart hit. That shrill vocal might mean the self titled debut album is not something you’re likely to listen to all in one go in a high pressure situation, but it’s one jam-packed with killer pop song after killer pop song.

The frantic Tigerlily is a good indication of what’s ahead, as a strange synth harpsichord eventually gives way to a starring role from Elly’s father in a Vincent Price-aping spooky spoken word interlude. With the whole album centered around the break up of a twisted love affair, Bulletproof, with its candy floss chorus, might initially sound happier, but as Elly snarls that she’s, ”been there, done that, messed around” proves anything but. That newly resolute persona continues strong with the minimal I’m Not Your Toy and the “early 90s decor” of Colourless Colour. While the pair might be denying a heavy 80s influence in interviews, their music is filied with allusions to the likes of Yazoo, Aneka and The Human League particularly on the euphoric chorus of monster tune Fascination and the delightfully bleak Reflections Are Protections.

Establishing themselves as one of our most exciting new pop acts, La Roux have mastered their debut. Never has something so tinny sounded so good.

Originally published at BBC Music.

Review: Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D

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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: 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

ROBOT ROCK

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We’ve come to the conclusion recently that if you want to make a brilliant pop song it should somehow involve the word ‘robot’ in the title. Seriously, take a moment and have a think – is there one song involving shiny little mechanical men that doesn’t make you want to throw down your drink and pull shapes?

“I am sure there must be a bad song about robots,” ponders Torbjørn Brundtland when we confront him with our theory. “In 1982 when the average man on the street realised they could afford a vocoder there must have been hundreds of terrible songs called ‘Robotmuzik’ or something like that – but you know I just can’t think of one.” Tall, long haired and with a strange look in his eye, Torbjørn is half of unlikely pop duo Royksopp. Together for the last 10 years, they’ve recently released their latest and arguably best album ‘Junior’ after a four year hiatus spent “getting addicted to opium and showering together in the snow”.

It will come as no surprise then that their next single, heart-stoppingly entitled ‘The Girl and the Robot’ is their best yet. Pushing a spooky sounding cosmic choir together with agitating strings and an urgent throbbing bassline, it’s a tale of a obsessive and tragic girl which needed a killer vocal.  “We’d had a crush on her voice since we were teenagers and it’s been exciting to watch her grow and make some really interesting career choices.” Of course he’s talking about Robyn – Sweden’s fiercest pop musician and all round bittersweet pop siren. “Still I’m dying with every step I take” made us wail in ‘With Every Heartbeat’ and do not even get us started on her faltering scarf moment in ‘Be Mine’ or you’ll be here for hours listening to tales of woe about our one true love.

“I just love songs that make people dance but make them feel really sad while doing so,” squeaks Robyn excitedly when pressed on the traumatic issues. “Ultravox’s ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ sums it up perfectly!” Royksopp saw her love of all things melancholy and “hoped there was a slim chance she would come and work with two shabby guys from Norway”. Spending time at their studio in Bergen, Torbjørn can’t praise Robyn enough labelling her a ‘role model’ and a ‘down to earth lovely person.’  Together they captured the thoughts of depressive singletons or crazy obsessives everywhere with cheerful lyrics like ‘Fell asleep again in front of MTV’, ‘Rain starts falling & I just sit here by the phone’ and the full on panic of brilliant opening line ‘I go mental every time you go to work’. Weep.

Although ‘The Girl and the Robot’ is certainly ‘Junior’s most spectacular moment, ‘Tricky Tricky’ featuring Fever Ray / The Knife’s beaked lady Karin comes close. Appearing on stage with the band at their recent UK date at London’s Royal Festival Hall wearing an elaborate feathery headdress Grace Jones would kill for, her dark, gothic vocals are a world away from Robyn’s bursting emotions but just as staggering. Heavy album closer ‘It’s What I Want’ could pass quite happily as a Pet Shop Boys song while the euphoric ‘This Must Be It’ further strengthens the ‘Sopp’s regular collaborator Anneli Drecker as a voice not to be ignored. Long gone are the days when a Royksopp album could be thought of solely as the accompaniment to a middle class dinner party. While the retrospective sounding ‘Happy Up Here’ might trick you, Torbjørn emphasises that “Junior isn’t a full on dancefloor album but it’s certainly an invitation to party,” cheekily adding, “don’t listen to it every day though or you might go insane.”

Written for Attitude #180 but postponed till a later date which means this exact copy won’t ever really appear as it was written for the single release.