Tuesday, January 31, 2006


You may not have noticed, but I've been trying to increase the volume of original writing on the site over the past month. The idea is to create a flurry of opinion, criticism and erudite discussion, rather than just a bunch of links.

So far, it's been going rather well - that Nelly Furtado review from last week has tripled the number of visitors to the site. But sometimes there just isn't anything to get me fired up.

Perhaps that's because I've been listening to the Go! Team album on repeat. Its so relentlessly upbeat and bouncy that I can't help but walk around with an uncharacteristically sunny disposition. Even the rumour of Mariah Carey duetting with Janet Jackson isn't enough to wipe the smile off my face, even though the resulting song is sure to make dogs claw out their own eardrums in an attempt to make the high-pitched whining stop. Not to mention the video, which will be like witnessing a slow train crash.

Anyway, even if Jermaine Dupri manages to finally put an end to Janet's career there's plenty of other good music on the horizon. Radio One have been putting their Live Lounge to good use once again, getting those Arctic Monkeys in to perform their number one single and (taste-makers look away now) a cover of Girls Aloud's Love Machine.

This is good news. If Arctic Monkeys are to claim Oasis' crown as the biggest rock band in the UK, it can only be a positive development that they love pop music and don't throw a big girly tantrum every time someone else comes up with a good tune. Yes, Liam, we're talking to you. You twat.

Meanwhile Radio One's less hip uncle, Six Music (or "BBC we only allow songs by white men with guitars plus the occasional bit of Stevie Wonder if you're very lucky" as internal memos probably don't refer to it) has put Belle and Sebastian into the studio to go wild - albeit politely and within tolerable noise levels. They perform an acoustic version of their new single, which is fantastic and should be bought in actual bucketloads.

You can hear both the Arctic Monkeys and B&S on the ever-fantastic Mr Red Penguin's MP3 Heaven.

Finally, something I never thought I'd see, or be interested in seeing: One-hit-wonder Lisa Loeb prannying around in a thong. She looks surprisingly young and pert for someone who had a hit single 12 years ago... But knowing that fact makes me feel ridiculously old, which has put the dampener on my rosy disposition.

I must head off and listen to the Go! Team again...

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Video of the week

Whether or not this will be a regular feature depends solely on quite how much it's in violation of copyright law.

Anyway, to start us off, here's a classic Janet Jackson clip from 1993... The song is called If, and the video's directed by Dominic Sena. Sena went on to Hollywood, where he produced some absolute bilge like Gone In Sixty Seconds and Swordfish. Janet went on to sell millions of records, show the world her left bosom, and then sell markedly fewer records. But she's back later this year, and this vid is a great reminder of why she's so popular (stateside, at least).

Watch out particularly for the dance breakdown around 2mins into the video. Superb.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

I like dancing at the disco

Goldfrapp have made a so-called "short-form promotional film clip" for their new single Ride A White Horse. The song is superb - but what about the video? Let us investigate.

1. Alison Goldfrapp is a teensy-tiny wee lady.
Look! She has to use a Barbie hairdressing salon set to do her hair. Amazingly, the straighteners worked! (Although we suspect that's a wig.)

Alison is so small that she was once nearly eaten by a spider. Another time, she got trapped in Tony Christie's pocket for seven weeks and had to survive by nibbling on a polo mint.

2. Luckily she has some tiny friends to keep her company.
And they do dancing! Alison, sadly, dances with all the grace of a cat being made to walk on its hind legs. Nil points!

3. Ironic visual representation of musical-genre.
Goldfrapp's music has been called trashy disco. And there is a slightly broken glitterball on the floor. DO YOU SEE? WELL... DO YOU?

4. Goldfrapp is a band
But nobody really notices the other guy. He is now reduced to dressing in toilet roll and eating out of bins. His name is Tutankhamun. Or Will Gregory. We forget.

5. Later on in the video, Alison still cannot dance
Even the one about the teapot escapes her.

6. But she likes a good slice of Italian in her
Oo-er, fnar, etc.

In conclusion, then, Goldfrapp spunked their video budget up the wall on the last two singles and this effort is, to coin a phrase, "a bit pants".

  • Still, some kind soul has put it up on Dailymotion for you to have a gander

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  • Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Music industry: Your questions obfuscated

    Lawks-a-lordy! The BBC news website has gathered a panel of senior music industry experts and allowed us, the nefarious underworld master criminals who spend hours bringing record companies to their still-highly-profitable knees by downloading Avril Lavigne B-sides, to put some questions to them. Let's investigate the main points:

    1) Making personal copies of your CDs isn't really illegal, after all*
    First we were told that home taping is killing music. Then we were scolded for making back-up copies of our own CDs (it's illegal, you know). But suddenly it's all okay because iPods are, like, way cool.

    John Kennedy of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says; "This is an area where common sense has prevailed - to my knowledge no-one has been punished for this kind of personal copying."

    So it's official: you can copy your own music and nobody will come round to stick a truncheon up your nighty at three in the morning.

    *(except the law still says it's illegal)

    2) Record companies are ripping us off and they don't care who knows it
    The panel were asked if the cost of downloads should come down, because record companies no longer have to pay for manufacturing, production and distribution.

    "A-ha," said the panel, "that's where you're wrong, numbnuts." Apparently, the major costs of bringing out a record are in A&R and marketing (and paying lawyers to sue the pants off children and grannies who've downloaded an Eminem single).

    But if the cost of physically manufacturing a CD is "insignificant," as Peter Jamieson of the British Phonographic Industry argues, is there any reason for a CD to retail for twice the price of a download? No, of course there isn’t, and we're being ripped off.

    3) We should buy eighteen copies of every song, just in case
    John Kennedy boasts, "There are now at least 10 ways in which you can legally enjoy music - the list includes: ringtone, master ringtone, phone download, phone stream, a-la-carte download, disc, subscription, online stream, UMD music for PlayStation, kiosk and video."

    Hang on a minute, though. You have to buy each of these separately! You can't transfer your online stream to a UMD disc, for example. The 'electronic licenses' known as Digital Rights Management actively disallow from sharing music between all the different formats you own.

    Peter Jamieson agrees, but he's not concerned. He just wants the extra cash. "It is the same as when CD arrived and many people decided to buy albums they already had on vinyl on the new format."

    And anyway, who actually enjoys music (legally or otherwise) in ringtone format? I challenge you to find one single person who doesn't want to take a rusty chainsaw to any mobile that plays a plinky-plonky bontempi organ remix of "My Humps".

    4) The music industry still don't really know anything about downloading
    Asked if they'd ever taped music off the radio, the panel was thrown into paroxysms of denial and twisty word-bending.

    Peter Jamieson of the BPI takes the standard party line: "There is a world of difference between recording the Top 40 onto a C90 and distributing perfect digital copies of songs over the internet to millions of people - and that's exactly what file-sharing is."

    Has Jamieson ever used Kazza? If he had, he'd know that 90% of the tracks are poorly encoded, recorded from radio, with the beginning and the end mysteriously cut off. File sharing is only killing music because the music is rubbish. And the record industry is only scared because it can't understand why no-one wants to buy Sheryl Crow's new album (answer: it's a woeful, saccharine piece of crap).

    Bizarrely, the rest of the panel sidestepped the issue and talked about healthy eating instead. John Kenendy of the IFPI says, "you simply aren't comparing an apple with an apple." And Brad Duea from Napster exclaims, "we have been working hard to provide a carrot."


  • Read all the answers to all the questions on the BBC News website

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  • Monday, January 23, 2006


    Well, we finally got round to seeing Brokeback Mountain - and, yes, it is a superb film. I love the way Ang Lee lets his movies breathe. The 'slow pace' I've heard people complain about actually lets you think about what you're watching and must therefore lead to greater empathy with the characters.

    My only gripe, in fact, is that the music could have been more appropriate. Sure, Willie Nelson's "He Was A Friend Of Mine" ticks all the right boxes: poignant, relevant, well-known. But wouldn't it have been perfect if Ang Lee has chosen instead Tim McGraw's "(I guess that's just the) Cowboy In Me"?

    Anyway, after the film Mrsdiscopop went on her usual trawl of internet reviews (I don't know why she does this. I think she likes a squad of faceless webmonkeys strung out on caffeine and loneliness to validate her opinions, but I can't be sure). However, in the International Herald and Tribune, she found a commentary on the film by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry Graham. It's so funny, I did a small wee.

    I haven't seen "Brokeback Mountain," nor do I have any intention of seeing it.

    In fact, cowboys would have to lasso me, drag me into the theater and tie me to the seat, and even then I would make every effort to close my eyes and cover my ears.

    I just know if I saw that movie, the voice inside my head that delights in torturing me would have a field day. ""You like those cowboys, don't you?"

    You can read the whole thing, like I said, at the International Herald and Tribune.


    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Woah, here she comes

    Ten reasons why Nelly Furtado's new single is already the best record of 2006.

    1) The song has been constructed from equal portions of Hollaback Girl, No Good Advice, Crazy In Love and Milkshake. Yes, it really is that good.

    2) It's called Maneater and while it doesn't sample the classic Hall & Oates track ("Woah-oh here she comes. Watch out boy, she'll chew you up"), it rather brilliantly sounds like the song was in the back of her mind all the time.

    3) Nelly sometimes sings in a voice that would sound nasal to an aardvark. On this song, she does not.

    4) maneater contains the lyric "Move your body like a nympho"

    5) It's produced by Timbaland, of Missy Eliot fame. Except he's doing pop like he did on Justin's Cry Me A River. This is a 'good thing', and there should be more of it.

    6) There is more of it! An entire album of Nelly / Timbaland collaborations, called Loose. If it is as good as the tracks we've heard so far, we will even forgive the Chris Martin duet.

    7) When you think about it, Nelly Furtado is quite cute for an elf.

    8) No guitars!

    9) Er…

    10) That's it.

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    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Sounds and lights and music and flashy buttons

    Remember that strobe light / musical instrument we were talking about in our last post? Well, some kind soul has filmed its inventor, Toshio Iwai, demonstrating the Tenoi-On at the Spanish ArtFutura festival. The video is just underneath this text.

    We can see Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood sporting one of these machines at Glastonbury 2007.

    The second half is where everything whizzes and bangs - so we'd recommend judicious use of the fast-forward button.

    (Via YouTube)

    By the way, if you like what you see we'd suggest getting hold of Mr Iwai's new game for the Nintendo DS, Electroplankton. Using the same premise of turning user's interactions into sound collages, it has been getting rave reviews everywhere. Yahoo calls it, "a unique sort of marine pop-art biology". (read the whole review here)

    Essentially, Electroplankton is an interactive musical toy. The underwater theme is pure whimsy, the 'plankton' of the title really being pictorial representations of sounds, instruments or speech. Using the stylus, you manipulate the little creatures or their surroundings to create melodies. No, piano 'grades' are not required.

    As you can see, the whole thing is incredibly difficult to explain. The best way to tell your friends what it's all about would be to show them, otherwise you'll end up using phrases like "deranged subaquatic jazz improv computer game toy sound making thingy", which is no use to anyone.

    Even better, blogger Stinkygoat has made this exciting discovery while spanking his plankton:

    "Sometimes they chirped, sometimes they formed into circles and crosses... until at one point I held the DS out in front of me and sang "FLUFFY!" into the microphone.

    "The nanocarp swarmed and reformed in the shape of a llama.

    "I thought this must surely just be some random shape change, but subsequent experiments proved to me without doubt that if I sing "FLUFFY!" at a certain pitch to my DS, the nanocarp always form the shape of a llama."

    Brilliant! In 2006, we love computer games all over again.

  • Buy Elektroplankton at NCSX.
    (You have to import it if you're in the UK. Bah.)

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  • Monday, January 16, 2006

    The following takes place between the hours of 5pm and 6pm

  • As the new season of 24 premiered in the USA, review site Chromewaves attempted to blg events 'as they happened'. Unfortunately, they missed the first hour of the show...

    Never mind because, for us at least, they managed to sum up all six seasons in one line:

    "9:42PM EST / 8:37AM TFT (Twenty Four Time) - 'Do not shoot! Just chase him on foot and yell instructions in a threatening yet informative manner!'"
    [Read the entire Chromewaves review (Warning: Spoilers!) ]

  • If you enjoyed our clip from Saturday Night Live last week, you could do worse than going over to Smithappens, where they've begun to make an archive of the things. Something worse would include shutting Smithappens down for copyright infringement. Or killing your mum.
    [Smithappens.com: SNL archive]

  • No, this man isn't holding up an X-ray of our kidneys after that 'accident' with the ceremonial sword. What he's got hold of is a new musical instrument from Yamaha, called the Tenori-On. Working through some sort of sophistry involving lights and samples, it promises to unleash the inner John Michel Jarre in all of us... Which is a scary thought, when you stop to consider it.
    [More on the Tenori-On at Yamaha.com]

  • Radiohead's demo tapes from the days they were called "On A Friday" have been popping up on the interweb. Fan-site, At Ease provides some very thorough sleeve-notes, and some hints about where to find the demos. But if titles like "The Greatest Shindig In the World" and "Tell me, Bitch" are anything to go by, we'd advise giving the band's early experiments in barn-dance/gangasta-rap fusion a miss.
    [Read more on ateaseweb.com]

  • Disturbing discussions are taking place on Fiona Apple's official messageboard. What is she going to think? (Expect a song / essay about it in 2008)
    [Epic Records: Fiona Apple Forum]

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  • Friday, January 13, 2006

    Temporary diversions

  • Upon entering Jo Whiley's Live Lounge this week, Will Young covered The Pussycat Dolls' Don'tcha, with fantastic results. His version puts a whole new spin on the lyrics. A dirty bisexual spin. Which is something our washing machine doesn't offer. (Listen here)

  • How much taxpayers money is George Galloway receiving while incarcerated in the Big Brother House? (Click here)

  • What happens when news presenters rock out? Sacramento's CBS13 found out just before Christmas... and the results weren't pretty. (Watch the video)

  • Seth and Summer kiss on the beach - but this time it's in real life!
    OMG!!!!111!!, etc.(Just Jared.com)

  • What's your favourite Daily Mail or Daily Express Headline? Ours is "32 Men Die of Child Porn Shame". (Vote here)

  • "As a woman runs a mile, her breasts bounce 135 meters". (BBC News Website)

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  • Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Go out and do something less boring instead

    Video on the internet. Watched it a couple of times, not been that impressed. A few words spring to mind: tiny, blocky, stuttering, eyestrain, headache, homicidal rage.

    So it was with great scepticism that we looked at Google's new video service. Our pessimism was partly justified - picture quality varies wildly, and the initial selection of clips is hardly groundbreaking. We counted 37 music videos ranging from Beyoncé to, erm, Destiny's Child.

    Worse still, the service has already been swamped with geeks. Who wants to see speeches from IT conferences, or videocaptures of people playing computer games?

    In the "most popular" charts you'll find countless inane viral videos, like that one with two asian students miming to the Backstreet Boys, or that other one where there's a ghost in a car advertisement. Our mum will love it.

    The paid-for downloads aren't much better… Episodes of the Brady Bunch anyone? Anyone?

    On the plus-side, however, Google's video player is a decent size - taking up around 3/4 of the screen - and there is almost no loading time. Even better, a lot of the clips can be downloaded for use on your Video iPod or PSP. Very cool.

    Another feature we like is the ability to plonk any of the videos directly onto your website. Just to see what happens, we've dragged over a classic Richard Pryor sketch from Saturday Night Live.

    Hardly a revolution in online video, then, but a step in the right direction.

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    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    James Blunt is more popular than Jesus

    Not really. But Jesus doesn't have 5 nominations at the Brit Awards, does he?

    Yes, the Brit Awards - the most useless gong show in the calendar (and we're including the MOBOs in that list). Like drowning cat ties to a brick, the Brit Awards are duty bound to recognise the "phenomenal achievement of British Artists" even when those artists are increasingly dull and pointless.

    This year's nominations are suitably ghastly. Let's take a look at some of the 'highlights':

    British Male Solo Artist
    Antony and the Johnsons
    Ian Brown
    James Blunt
    Robbie Williams
    Will Young

    British Female Solo Artist
    Charlotte Church
    Kate Bush
    Katie Melua
    KT Tunstall
    Natasha Bedingfield

    - As ever, the jury have an extremely limited choice in these fields, so they've had to bend the rules a little. For example, Natasha Bedingfield didn't release any new material in 2005, and Antony and the Johnsons aren't even British.

    However, you should be thankful for these discrepancies: The only other British solo artists we have are Lee Ryan and Lisa Scott-Lee .

    MasterCard British Album
    Coldplay - X&Y
    Gorillaz - Demon Days
    James Blunt - Back To Bedlam
    Kaiser Chiefs - Employment
    Kate Bush - Aerial

    - In a just world, the best album gong would go to Gorillaz. Of course, this being the Brits, it will go to Kate Bush or Coldplay. And who doesn't like Coldplay? They're the third biggest band in the world (or so Q Magazine keeps trying to tell us).

    Chris Martin will pick up his award dressed as a giant robot from space. Or maybe he won't. It's hard to tell because he's so unpredictable and charismatic.

    British Single
    Coldplay - Speed Of Sound
    James Blunt - You’re Beautiful
    Shayne Ward - That’s My Goal
    Sugababes - Push The Button
    Tony Christie ft Peter Kay - (Is This The Way To) Amarillo

    - Now, really, what the fuck is going on here?

    British Breakthrough Act
    Arctic Monkeys
    James Blunt
    Kaiser Chiefs
    KT Tunstall
    Magic Numbers

    - It says here that these nominees were chosen by Radio 1 listeners, but surely that's a typo. They must mean Radio 2. Don't Radio One play cutting-edge new music? Where are acts like Hard-Fi and The Ordinary Boys, then?

    Note, once again, the presence of James "I used to be a soldier, so I'm definitely not gay - I'm just in touch with my feminine side" Blunt. It appears that our vocal coach has been wrong all these years, and it is actually better to sing everything through your nose and two octaves above your natural range in a whiny dirge.

    Pop Act
    James Blunt
    Katie Melua
    Kelly Clarkson

    - No arguments with Kelly Clarkson and Madonna, and you can't really dispute the eternal popularity of the Westlife, no matter how mystifying it may be. However, they're all international acts, which seems to be okay in this category but not in others.

    So, how much are you willing to bet that at least two of these acts are performing on the night?

    Meanwhile, Katie Melua and James Blunt stretch the definition of pop to breaking point, and actual pop acts like Goldfrapp, Girls Aloud and Rachel Stevens are ignored.

    International Album
    Arcade Fire - Funeral
    Green Day - American Idiot
    Kanye West - Late Registration
    Madonna - Confessions On A Dancefloor
    U2 - How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

    - Hey, maybe we should watch the Grammy Awards instead!

    International Breakthrough Act
    Arcade Fire
    Daniel Powter
    Jack Johnson
    John Legend
    Pussycat Dolls

    - On second thoughts, let's just stop listening to music altogether and be done with it.

    Bah and, indeed, humbug.

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    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Can you feel it?

    So, did you see Derren Brown's "The Heist" last week?

    If you did, you'll recall that it involved the psychomindcontrolillusionistfreakboy convincing some real people to commit an armed robbery.

    At Discopop Towers, we were left feeling a little disappointed by the show's sleight-of-hand. The final 'heist' was really a hold-up perpetrated on a security van. We were hoping for something a bit more like Ocean's Eleven, with blueprints and trip-wires and Julia Roberts... But it's a bit churlish to complain that we were misled bu a stage magician and master illusionist.

    More rankling was the feeling that this was so unlikely. Had none of the 'subjects' spotted they were being programmed? The cues and triggers Derren planted in their subconcious seemed to be desperately unsubtle. Didn't they notice what was going on? Would it have made a difference if they did? And would we have fallen for this creepy half-beard's trickery?

    Well, the internet is a wonderful thing, and one of the participants in the programme happens to be a regular visitor to the Naim Audio messageboards (of all places). Rod, who didn't make it through to the final 'heist' has been talking about his experiences (read it here). As suspected, he claims to have cottoned on to what was happening fairly quickly. Indeed, he reckons that only one of the final four carried out the robbery 'for real'. The others, says Rob, did it for a laugh.

    All of which reinforces the question we asked as soon as the show ended: Did we just sit through a ridiculously long set-up for what boiled down to a simple piece of stage hypnosis?

    (NB: Read what Derren Brown has to say about it all on this post to his website. But, to paraphrase Kat Slater, why should we trust him after what he's done?)

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    Beta bands

    A couple demo songs on MP3 that have made us sit up and take notice:

    1) Some material cut from the musical "Rent", salvaged from a recording of the original New York Theater Workshop production. Get them at The Modern Age. Disappointingly, it doesn't feature "Everyone has Aids (Aids, Aids, Aids)".

    2) The working version of Talking Heads' finest moment "Once In A Lifetime". Compared to the claustrophobic end product, this has much more in common with the bands' earlier attempts at white-boy funk. It's available at Fluxblog. Expect this to turn up on thousands of mash-ups before the year is out.

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    Vision of Lard

    When people told Mariah Carey she'd be massive in 2006, she wasn't supposed to take it literally...

    (via the bosh)

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    Tuesday, January 3, 2006

    The discopop directory totally unbiased top ten albums of 2005

    Ooops - took a bit of an unscheduled 2-week break there!

    Anyway, as promised a fortnight ago, here are our top 10 albums of 2005. Again, this is based on the number of times we've played each record (as revealed in our itunes playcount). We've applied a small amount of mathematical correction so that recent albums don't get left out - but it's still totally honest. Although we're keeping quiet that number 11 would have been Coldplay...

    10) Fijacion Oral vol 1 - Shakira
    Sounds like: Latin-tinged soft rock, only good

    The critics said: "There's a light touch to ballads like "En Tus Pupilas" that's a world away from the Ricky Martinizing of Latin pop." (Rolling Stone)

    We Say: The English-language sequel to this album has been delayed in the UK, but it hardly matters when you've got this stunning Latin-pop album to be getting on with. Twisting sensuous guitar ballads around spiky electro-pop, Shakira sounds completely in control of her (self-written) material. Because of our inability to speak Spanish, we haven't a clue what she's on about on these 10 tracks, but we're willing to guess that a lot of them are about the men in her life. Shakira's expressive delivery veers between two characters: one a sweet, melodic temptress, the other a deranged, shouty vixen. Either way, she sounds like a high-maintenance girlfriend.

    9) Come and Get It - Rachel Stevens
    Sounds like: Goldfrapp for children

    The critics said: "It's very much a labor of love by some record executives, some faceless writers, and the pretty one out of S Club 7" (Stylus magazine)

    We say: Poor old Rachel. No-one really seems to care about her unless she's in her pants on the front of FHM. Which is a shame, really, because she has persuaded some of the world's best writers to make a solid-gold pop album for her. Picking up cues from Goldfrapp and Britney, it combines camp glam-rock grooves with shiny sing-a-long melodies.

    Particularly worthy of note is Richard X's "Crazy Boys", which sounds like a vintage Pet Shop Boys song and was scheduled to be the album's fourth single. Somehow, we don't think that will ever happen - even though Polydor bravely stuck with Rachel while this album and its singles missed the top ten places they deserved. We blame the lack of success on the current anti-pop snobbery at Radio One.

    Expect to see Rachel devoting more time to her 'film career' in 2006. She'll be on "I'm a Celebrity" by Christmas.

    8) Chemistry - Girls Aloud
    Sounds like: Every pop single ever written has been thrown into a blender, loaded into a pink firework and launched above the Astoria by Judy Garland. On poppers. (plus a cover of See the day).

    The critics said: "You could spend the rest of your life listening to albums by critically acclaimed Americana artists and hear fewer new ideas and less creative daring than you would in three minutes of Chemistry" (The Guardian)

    We Say: Vexingly, considering the treatment meted out to Rachel Stevens, this album has appeared in almost every serious music paper's "Best of 2005" list. To be honest, we think it's a bit hit-and-miss compared to "What Will The Neighbours Say" but it does contain the year's best pop single (Biology, in case you're interested).

    The laws of the girl-band dictate that GA are due one more album before they split and release a greatest hits, so enjoy them (and their fake-tan) while you can.

    7) You Could Have It So Much Better - Franz Ferdinand
    Sounds like: Franz Ferdinand's last album

    The critics said: "They've gotten unmistakably louder and unmistakably gayer" (Village Voice)

    We say: The second phase of Franz Ferdinand's global domination plan shows remarkably little progress from phase one. But maybe that's for the better, as the tracks where they mess around with the template misfire quite badly. However, it's great to see a band as popular as Franz Ferdinand follow up a successful album so quickly.

    And they clearly had a good time doing it: if you head over to their website, there are some cute video diaries of Alex & co recording waterfalls and showing off their antique guitar amps (they're also available on the special CD+DVD edition of the album). That sense of enthusiasm, if not experimentation, is perfectly captured on the best of their new songs - Do You Want To, Walk Away and Eleanor Put Your Boots Back On.

    6) Anniemal - Annie
    Sounds like: Someone's been eating too much sugar

    The critics said: "Like floating, high on oxygen, just above a dancefloor" (Pitchfork)

    We say: She may be the least charismatic pop star ever (yes, even if you count Rachel Stevens), but Annie has the best tunes. Working with Royksopp and Richard X, Annie spins sugary melodies into a pink pop candy floss that'll get stuck in your hair for days. But it's not too sickly - the production is crunchy and dark, often carrying the less substantial songs along.

    Rather depressingly, most people will only have heard the album's standout tracks, Chewing Gum and My Heartbeat, sung in gibberish on the soundtrack to The Sims 2.

    5) Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple
    Sounds like: An explosion in an ideas factory.

    The critics said: "This album is not immediate; it takes time for the songs to sink in, to let the melodies unfold and decode her laborious words" (Billboard)

    We say: Fiona Apple's long-delayed third album sat on the shelf for years. Recorded around 2001, Sony returned the album with a note reading "where are the singles"? After that, Fiona went into hiding, the original album leaked onto the internet, and fans started a massive campaign to get the songs released, Sony eventually capitulated, on the condition that Fiona re-record the whole lot with a new producer.

    At least, that's the story that went around when Extraordinary Machine came out. In recent interviews, Apple seems to be suggesting she wasn't happy with the original recordings herself…

    Never mind, because the end result is stunning. Bookended by two quirky, orchestral songs that sound like Doris Day in therapy, the album ventures into rock, jazz and hip-hop played on the marimba. It's a little uneven, but constantly rewards over subsequent listens. And the heartbreaking ballad "Red Red Red" is our favourite album track of the year.

    4) Be - Common
    Sounds like: What Kanye West's album should have sounded like

    The critics said: "A sprawling, varied disc that's as laid-back as a cool summer afternoon" (E! Online)

    We say: Starting off with a lone, rubber-band double bass, this album deliberately sets itself apart from the psychedelic overload of Common's last CD (2002's Electric Circus). Clean and simple production, courtesy of Kanye West, ensures the Chicago rapper's thoughtful and provocative rhymes are pushed to centre stage. In a year when Hip-Hop imploded, this was the only album to sound fresh and funky.

    3) Demon Days - Gorillaz
    Sounds like: The best album by cartoon characters since The Muppet Babies

    The critics said: "Demon Days is unified and purposeful in a way Albarn's music hasn't been since The Great Escape" (Allmusic.com)

    We say: Allmusic's review is a trifle unfair. This is much, much better than The Great Escape. Instead of cockney barrel-boy pianos and Ken Livingstone, we get post-apocalyptic drum loops and Dennis Hopper.

    You'd have to be deaf to have missed Demon Days' trio of hip-hop tinged singles, which seem to have been the soundtrack on every "coming up later on BBC One" trail we've seen this Christmas. But those upbeat tunes are just half the story. Damon Albarn has things he wants to get off his chest, too, and the darker album tracks like "Kids With Guns" are what make this album magnificent. If only he could make bold, political statements like this without having to hide behind a bunch of monkeys.

    2) Confessions On a Dancefloor - Madonna
    Sounds like: An album made by someone twenty years her junior

    The critics said: "One of the few pop singers whose albums are best appreciated in their entirety" (Slant Magazine)

    We say: Madonna is always at her best when she talks about the redemptive power of dancing. Songs like Into The Groove, Vogue and Music are milestones in her career - so it should come as no surprise that her first full-on dance album is another one.

    Admittedly, we didn't like it at first. The commercially released 'continuous mix' becomes a bit of a drone, with no space for the individual tracks to breathe. But once we tracked down the unmixed version of the album (try iTunes), we fell in love with it.

    True, the lyrics were written by a sixth-former with attention deficit disorder, and Hung Up is a poor song built around a fantastic sample, but tracks like "Get Together", "Sorry" and "How High" will magically transport you to the inside of a glitterball. Even if you're listening to them, as you inevitably will, on the tinny PA system at B&Q.

    1) Supernature - Goldfrapp
    Sounds like: A spaceship built out of vintage synthesizers

    The critics said: "If Rachel Stevens is bubblegum, Goldfrapp are crème brulee" (Pop matters)

    We say: Purists will sniff that this is a re-tread of 2003's "Black Cherry" album, but so what? That album was fantastic, and this one refines the formula, before riding off on a massive horse made out of mirrors (see the video for Ooh la la for more on this).

    Supernature obeys all the rules of perfect pop albums: no longer than 45 minutes, no more than eleven songs, no fewer than fourteen allusions to filthy sex. In common with Madonna's album, it was recorded in a living room in England - which just goes to show that you don't need a bags of money and a constant supply of cocaine to make a great album these days. In fact, all you need is tea (as the Beatles used to say).

    Being traditional types, our favourite songs are the ones with proper choruses - Ride A White Horse, Koko, and Number One - but in all honesty, any of these songs could be a hit single.

    Oh, and Alison Goldfrapp has excellent hair.

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