Monday, October 20, 2014

Two unnecessary pop singles by artists we've largely ceased to care about

After 2012's underwhelming No Doubt comeback, a new Gwen Stefani solo album was basically guaranteed. And so here we are in 2014, with Baby Don't Lie, the first single from the star's third record.

The speaker-rattling intro immediately wrongfoots you, suggesting a pounding club track before it disappointingly gives way to a meandering midtempo blancmange. Gwen comes across as weirdly aggressive, hectoring her boyfriend to confess some wrongdoing or other. "What you hiding boy?" she repeats with increasing fury over the middle 8. I bet she started the conversation in a restaurant for maximum squirm factor.

Still, with co-writing credits from Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder and Noel Zancanella the song was never going to be an absolute stinker - and the Sophie Muller-directed video, which premieres tomorrow, is bound to be a visual treat.

On balance, then, 6/10.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

Also on the comeback trail this week is Fergie Whatshername out of the Black Eyed Peas, who's taken a mere eight years to record the follow-up to her debut solo album The Dutchess.

The first single, LA Love, basically picks up where she left off in 2006. It's a half-rapped, half-sung, call-and-response earworm in the vein of London Bridge. It's also one of those singles which appears to believe that singing a big list countries makes you seem (a) international and (b) a talented lyricist, when it just makes you sound like a geography teacher.

This one's more instant than the Gwen Stefani song, but more likely to diminish with repeat plays. And, curiously, Fergies's vocal cords seem to have been possessed by Iggy Azaelea.

It'll be interesting to see whether "the kids", who only know Fergie from that song off the Great Gatsby soundtrack, will give a damn about it. 5/10.

Gwen Stefani - Baby Don't Lie

Fans of unnecessary pop singles by artists long past their sell-by date will be pleased to know there's a Madonna album in the works.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

A room with a Foo

What do we want from the Foo Fighters? Invention? Innovation? Inspiration? No, silly, we want ball-busting rock songs, impeccably groomed facial hair and Dave Grohl doing his patented Dave Grohl shouting.

So, after Grohl warned their upcoming eighth album, Sonic Highways, would be the band's "most ambitious yet", it's a relief to hear the Foos haven't gone all Marcel Duchamp on us. In fact, they sound exactly like the Foos.

Something From Nothing is the album's first single, and it's one long crescendo. Opening with a hushed, distant, Stairway to Heaven riff, it builds in such a leisurely fashion they temporarily fool you into thinking they've become, well... polite young men. But with Steve Albini at the helm that was never going to be the case and the last minute is an almighty, throaty roar.

The conceit of Sonic Highways is that every song was recorded in a different studio in a different city, with a special guest dropping in to lend some local flavour (an HBO documentary accompanies each track). In Something For Nothing's case, the studio was Chicago's Electric Audio, and the star power came from Cheap Trick's guitarist, Rick Nielsen.

Grohl also throws in a few lyrical references to Chi-town. As Rolling Stone observes, the line: "Here lies a city on fire... it started with a spark, and burned into the dark" seems to be inspired by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, an incident that was also the subject of the Beach Boys' track Mrs. O'Leary's Cow.

Anyway, that's enough context, let's get to the song. It's a solid 7/10 - with the potential to gain or lose a point after 20 plays.

Foo Fighters - Something From Nothing

Bonus content: In anticipation of the single being released, the Foo Fighters popped up on David Letterman's show last night, covering Cheap Trick's Stiff Competition, with Taylor Hawkins up front while Grohl drummed and Rick Nielsen supplied the riffs. You wouldn't get this on Graham Norton...

Foo Fighters and Rick Nielsen - Stiff Competition

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Video catch-up: Kyiki

I raved about Kyiki's debut single One late last month. In the realms of dark and dreamy electropop, it's up there with Goldfrapp and The Knife.

The former Crystal Fighters singer premiered the video earlier this week and, although it's not going to set any benchmarks for visual invention, it's worth revisiting the song again.

Kyiki - One

One is a free download from Kyiki's Soundcloud page.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Video catch-up: The Staves

I wrote about The Staves' crisp, autumnal new single Blood I Bled when it premiered a month ago and age has only improved it - like a fine wine, a mature brie or Morgan Freeman's face.

Today, the band unveiled a video "inspired by an amazing trip to India". It doesn't feature Emily, Jessica or Camilla at all (unless there was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo that I blinked and missed) but it is a beautifully evocative film clip, full of sorrow, joy, euphoria, humanity and beauty. And dancing.

One of those rare instances where an entirely unrelated set of images enhances a song endlessly.

The Staves - Blood I Bled

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Songs you may have missed: Christmas release schedule special

This is the part where a dozen songs are gathered into a list and presented for your listening pleasure.

With Q4 in full swing, this week's selection is jam-packed with songs from major artists hoping to make you part ways with your Christmas pay packet. Starting with...


1) Taylor Swift - Out Of The Woods
"To all my wonderful UK fans, I realize that you are not able to get Out of the Woods due to a new strategy my record label is working on in the UK," said Taylor Swift on Tumblr, after her single was released in every other country except Britain.

Britain, coincidentally, was where she'd spent the previous week on a huge promotional tour, talking animatedly about the single she was releasing next week, suggesting the label hadn't bothered to explain their new strategy to her, and had simultaneously failed to mention that the new strategy was pulled from a big red folder called "how to entirely balls up your biggest artist's release schedule and piss everyone off in the process".

Still, thanks to the internet, you can hear it anyway. Well done, everyone.





2) Take That - These Days
The newly slimmed down Take That take a detour back to their boyband roots with this discoriffic Get Lucky tribute.

The best bit of this release was a knife-twisting Radio 2 interview where Howard brushed off the "tragic" loss of Jason Orange, saying: "Jason is the better break dancer, he's always been fantastic, but if I was gay I could never be his boyfriend because he's a bit annoying, and a bit too deep for me."

Ouch.





3) Calvin Harris - Slow Acid
A worrying sign that Calvin wants to be taken seriously. Luckily, this is only a pre-order wish fulfilment track and not an actual single. About as exciting as a damp flannel.




4) McBusted - Air Guitar
It's hard to hate a song that so clearly states: "Don't take me seriously, I'm just having a laugh" - but it's equally hard to love it.

That said, McBusted have turned in a solid fanbase pleaser that tips its hat to Crazy In Love (yay) and Brian May (hmm). Destined to enter the charts at number one and drop to 23 the next week, but in the best possible way.





5) David Bowie - Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)
Indebted somewhat to Scott Walker, this seven minute epic is the first track (!) on Bowie's 89th greatest hits collection, which comes out in time for Christmas. If James Bond caught Ebola, this would play over the title sequence.





6) Alesso ft Tove Lo - Heroes (We Could Be)
It feels cruel to put a song called Heroes under the previous entry. Nothing is going to fare well by comparison to Zavid Bowie's masterpiece, but that's pop for you.

This song, an entirely perfunctory EDM track, is presumably the reason why Tove Lo's debut album has been delayed in the UK. Which is fair enough, I suppose. In all likelihood, this'll creep onto the Radio 1 playlist and give her profile a boost while she's off in the US doing promo.

But if 2015 isn't Tove Lo's year in the UK I am going miffed. Miffed, I tell you.





7) Mary J Blige and Disclosure - Right Here
As previously raved about on these very pages, this collaboration is an absolute belter.

It now comes with a video that makes a huge deal about Mary J Blige actually deigning to visit London. Come on, Mary, it's hardly Aleppo.





8) Jess Glynne - Real Love
While we're on the topic of Mary J Blige, Rather Be hitmaker covered one of Mary's oldest and best songs in the Live Lounge earlier this week. She's really giving it some welly in the YouTube player freeze-frame, isn't she?





9) Jessie Ware - 12
To celebrate the release of her brilliant, downbeat, second album this week, Jessie Ware gave everyone the gift of a free download. 12 is a demo, recorded with Rhye's Robin Hannibal, that didn't make Tough Love's final tracklisting.

"This is a song for my [husband] Sam and I hope you like it," she wrote. "Play it late and go kiss someone x"





10) Embody ft A*M*E - Give Me Your Love
Everybody's favourite asterisked artist pops up on this topical deep house track. OK, it's not as slap-you-in-the-face terrific as Need U (100%) but if you can't dance to this your soul is dead. Oh, and it's a free download.





11) Paperwhite - Pieces
Naming yourself after one of Amazon's Kindle devices isn't going to help your search engine results, but you really should delve deep into Google to hear more from this Brooklyn dream-pop act.

Brother and sister Katie and Ben Marshall sound like they've digested the first 20 volumes of Now... That's What I Call Music to conjure up this blissful 80s throwback anthem. That bubbling marimba line is lifted directly from Lionel Richie's All Night Long, and the chord changes and the harmonies sound like vintage Scritti Politti.

If you only listen to one of the songs on this list, make it this one.





12) Will.i.am and Jimmy Fallon - Ew!
There's a recurring segment on Jimmy Fallon's US chat show, in which he and a guest dress up as teenage girls and lists the things that make them sick. Fallon plays Sara ("and if you're wondering, that's S-A-R-A, with no H, because H's are ew!") while guest stars have included Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift and Lindsay Lohan.

It's ridiculously silly - the sort of thing Trev and Simon would have done on Going Live 20 years ago - but it's gained a Wayne's World-esque cult following. And so there is now a novelty single, produced by Mir.i.am, the teenage alter-ego of will.i.am. Naturally, it's the best thing he's done for years.



BLIMEY - that was quite a list. Hope you found one new favourite in amongst there. More again next week.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hip-hop track of the week: Run The Jewels

It's only Tuesday but I'm confident this is the best hip-hop track you'll hear all week - even if Kanye West Beyoncés his new album at 23:59 on Sunday.

Scratched with the glorious title Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), it's a furiously thrilling counter-cultural bombshell from Outkast-affiliated rap duo Run The Jewels. Taking no prisoners from the outset, they lambast the Bloods, the Crips, the Police, the politicians, the army and the church (for "stripping kids... and telling them God will forgive them"). For bonus angry points it even features Rage Against The Machine's Zack de la Rocha, who practically spits out the politically-charged last verse in disgust.

Although Count Your Eyes is the third single from the duo's forthcoming second album, it's obvious the song will be a calling card for the rest of their career - something they acknowledge by making the chorus a cascading cut-up of their band name.

Unforgettable.



As reported by Rolling Stone, the Run The Jewels album (which was been made possible by crowd-funding) will be made available as a free download on 27th October.

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