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: Daniel Merriweather – Love And War

merriweather0609

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

robysopp

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.

Tiga says ‘Ciao!’

tiga0409

“I had a great idea for the artwork,” smiles Tiga saucily, “It was going to be like a clock – the minute hand was the shaft of the penis and the balls made up the hour hand. Sadly it got left on the cutting room floor.’ It certainly might have made stocking the CD in HMV a bit difficult.

Initially turning our heads back in 2001 with a gorgeously dark cover of Corey Hart’s Sunglasses At Night, Tiga’s 2nd album ‘Ciao’ sees him taking a deliberately more serious approach. While his debut ‘Sexor’ was quite a heavy club record, ‘Ciao’s aim is to be a “proper album you can listen to anywhere, without skipping any tracks.” Produced mainly by Soulwax over in Belgium, a country Tiga describes as ‘steak, fries and a huge amount of sauce’, it’s an electronic album peppered with hits you can still dance to in a club (‘Mind Dimension’), rave out to while driving (the seriously epic ‘Love Don’t Dance Here Anymore’) or simply waggle your arse to while you’re doing the hoovering (‘Sex O’Clock’ – 6.09 apparently). Mission accomplished.

Having worked with Jake Shears previously on their silly cover of Nelly’s ‘Hot in Herre’ and Tiga’s last shot at chart success ‘You Gonna Want Me’, the glittery one was happy to be back in session on the heavy ‘Gentle Giant.’ “I love being in a studio with Jake because he’s got so much energy that he’ll go crazy and try something in 20 different ways just to see how it sounds. I’ve known him for years and it’s made me very proud to see how well he’s done.” Also involved on the track was LCD’s James Murphy – ‘the greatest producer in the world’. “I found him quite intimidating to work with,” Tiga confides. ‘He’s just so cool, with the whole punk and disco thing going on! Not of cool as me of course, but he was great fun. He makes you really argue for your point if you want to do a bassline a certain way. It made me stop being so lazy.”

The first single from the album is the deliciously silly ‘Shoes’. Sounding musically like something Peaches might trot out, with a stomach flipping bass and chatty vocals, Tiga demands for you to ‘take off your shoes’. Could we have found this diminutive Canadian’s secret fetish? “Oh no! I love shoes, but not like that,” he squeals. “I like gloves more! You feel strong when you wear gloves, particularly leather ones. I’m not a very big man, but gloves make me feel big and strapping, like I can break things!” Dressed quite plainly save for the biggest, brightest red trainers we’ve ever seen, Tiga knowingly tells us, “Shoes are an indication of what type of man you are though. I can tell almost everything from a man’s shoes.”

Sexuality is always something Tiga’s played with but despite not being gay, the scene has had a big influence on his music. “Montreal (his hometown) is a very gay city. When I started DJing it was in gay clubs, and most of my friends were gay. They had the best names. The first club was called ‘K-O-X’ and there was a regular warehouse party called ‘Sterile Cowboys’. It didn’t mean much to me at the time…” There was nothing though that could prepare him for the time in Denmark when a man bit his left ass cheek and ‘held on like a dog’. “It wasn’t the least bit a turn on,’ Tiga asserts. “I was wearing jeans but he actually broke the skin so I was bleeding. Yet he claimed he was a fan!’.

Written originally for Attitude Magazine’s 15th Birthday Issue

Review: Metro Station – Metro Station

metrostation

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: Ronan Keating – Songs For My Mother

ronan

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

Pussycat Fail

Pussycat Dolls

Pussycat Dolls: MEN Arena
29 January 2009
**

If there’s one thing you’d expect from a Pussycat Dolls concert it’s a performance to put most acts to shame.  With their burlesque background, these five women should be able to fill a stage and excite. So what went so wrong at their Manchester ‘Doll Domination’ date that meant solo support acts Lady Gaga and Ne-Yo utterly stole the show?

Arriving astride shimmering motorbikes, Nicole and her gang took to the stage suitably attired in barely-there tartan outfits gyrating their way through much loved singles ‘Beep’ and ‘Buttons’.  With furious routines, we can forgive them for lip synching but when it came to should-have-been #1 ‘I Hate This Part’ we expected a little more.  That is, of course, until it burst into a hilariously over the top hi-NRG remix – a strangely fascinating tactic later employed again on the similarly slushy ‘Stickwitu’. When the mics were on there were mixed results with only Nicole managed to sounded perfect on the powerful ‘Halo’. Plus whoever thought that a segment of each member performing solo tracks was a good idea needs to be removed immediately from the world of pop.

This wasn’t the only mistake. A dull video backdrop and ungainly stairs left the stage feeling empty and flat.  Despite regular disappearances, costume changes were far and few between, and save for a raunchy routine to a sultry cover of ‘I Will Survive’, the girls naughty spirit that gave them their edge seemed confined to a sequined top.

Only when the encore of ‘Dont’cha’ mixed gleefully into Robin S’s Show Me Love’ and recent single ‘When I Grow Up’ arrived, did the dolls finally seem to perform with the zest and charm we expected. Disappointing, but perhaps only because we know they can do so much better.

(Originally published at Orange, written in a nice fashion rather than my actual horrified beliefs – at one point I went to the toilet and walked back the long way just to kill some time)

Review: Brandy – Human

brandy_human

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

 

britney_circus

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

beyonce_iam

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