Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday distractionfest

Here's a round-up of things you may have missed, overlooked or ignored from the last week. It's almost as if this is a real blog, or something.

:: Gasp! Bruce Wayne is dead. Who will be the new Batman??

:: Actually, if this Rolling Stone photoshoot is anything to go by, Britney's already got her audition tape ready. Someone call Chris Nolan!

:: Leona Lewis goes all Blair Witch in the video for Run.

:: Remember the (literal) cliff-hanger from the end of the Italian Job? Well, here's Michael Caine to explain what happened next.

:: Here's what happened when I telephoned former X Factor contestants Same Difference. Sarah said something about pushing people down the stairs when she was in the X Factor house, but the recording mysteriously cut out at that point when I played it back. Spooky.

:: US 3G network Sprint has put together a webpage full of widgets telling you everything that is happening right now - from the number of babies being born, to your share of debt and the number of emails being sent worldwide. But the best bit is this:

:: Oooh, oooh, oooh! A Camp, the side project of Cardigans' singer Nina Persson, have a new single in the Swedish charts. It's called Stronger Than Jesus and it's almost as good as their awesome country-tinged ballad, I Can Buy You, which is a permanent fixture in the Discopop Directory all-time Top Ten. You can stream it here. The album, Colonia is out in February, fact fans.

:: "Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros?" The most entertaining 1,000 words you will read about the new Guns N' Roses' album.

:: In case you missed it, here's Nicole Kidman's achingly awkward interview on David Letterman's US Chat Show on Tuesday. It's hard to decide whose fault it was (lots of the questions only elicited "yes" or "no" answers), but one thing's for sure: Kidman would have looked furious if her paralysed face was capable of expressing emtion.

:: Sad news: Annie has left Island Records, which means we'll never get to hear her touched-by-genius Don't Stop album.

:: And, finally, a new internet "craze" to keep us entertained for three (maybe four) minutes - static non-powered objects with faces. EG A bin

Have a super-dooper weekend!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Britney: For The Record Trailer

Here are just some of the piercing insights you will discover in the trailer to Britney's MTV reveal-u-mentary, For The Record, which airs this Sunday (Sky One on Monday if you're in the UK).

:: bEING FAMIS IZ hard
:: i AM A prisoner in MY OWN HOME, like Ang San Suu Kyi
:: "I;M a SMART person"


Okay, so those were cheap shots. Britney's life actually looks kinda miserable. I can understand why you might go crazy with teh drugs if you had to put up with all that nonsense.

Her flat looks nice, though.

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Reality TV costs young, innocent lives

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eeeek! Joss Stone gets political

Remember when everyone said Joss Stone was recording a campaign song for Barack Obama? There was a lot of carping about the whole idea: she's not American, she's not black, she's mainly shit. That sort of thing.

Anyway, nothing ever came of it - either because the rumour wasn't true or because everyone involved realised they could be doing something better with their time. Like whipping disabled babies with licorice strips made in Chinese sweatshops from the sex glands of panda bears.

But now that election has been and gone, Joss has come out with a song called Governmentalist - which some people reckon is that forgotten campaign anthem.

Except, if you listen to the lyrics, it's all about politicians sending children to die in Iraq while they stick thirty bags of bouncing powder up their noses. I'm not sure Obama would be keen to have it played at the inauguration ball…

Here's Joss to explain where the song really came from.

Anyway, it turns out that Governmentalist is a little return to form - Joss has ditched the hip-hop nonsense that ruined her last album and served up a sleazy, ghetto-fantastic jam that brings to mind Issac Hayes and Grover Washington Jr. There's a free download on her official website. Along with a "smashing" (terrible) essay about the evils of war.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sexy is back (again!)

File this one under "songs to make out to".

:: Chocolate High - India Arie and Musiq Soulchild

It's rumoured to be the first release from the former Mrs André 3000's fourth album, which is confusingly named Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics. Both are due out in the new year.

Forgive me for the brevity of this post, but I have to go. There is a a hot bubble bath to be run, and some silk sheets to lay upon the bed. There will also be scented oils.

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Alesha Dixon covers Kings of Leon

In case you hadn't seen the TV adverts or massive billboards, Alesha Dixon's brilliantly-titled new album, The Alesha Show, came out yesterday.

It's not bad - maybe a bit long - and it gets one star automatically deducted for having a Diane Warren ballad (it's not 1992 any more, you know). But a solid 6.5/10, nonetheless.

Anyway, Ms Dixon has been promoting the heck out of the record with appearances on Strictly Come Dancing, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Soccer AM and Birmingham town centre (woooo!)

Last week, however, she ventured into Radio One's Live Lounge for a fully mamboed-up version of her single, The Boy Does Nothing, which she followed with a luscious, sultry take on Kings Of Leon's Sex On Fire. During the latter performance, thousands of young boys will have experienced a strange stirring they can't quite describe.

Videos are available on the Radio One's website, and you can get MP3s from the links below.

:: Alesha Dixon - The Boy Does Nothing (live lounge)
:: Alesha Dixon - Sex On Fire (live lounge)

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: Kanye West's new album

A lot of people are going to hate the new Kanye West album. I mean, really, really loathe and despise it.

Why? Because it doesn't have any rapping. Because Kanye "sings" the entire record through a computer. Because it is remorselessly downbeat. Because it is so far removed from hip-hop that it might as well be a Daniel O'Donnell record.

But the haters are wrong. 808s and Heartbreaks is astonishingly good. A rule-breaking, paradigm-shifting masterpiece.

You may already know the back story: Mr West's life was turned upside down when his mother died last November. Then, in March, he split up with his fiancee Alexis Phifer. He has, to put it mildly, taken this quite badly.

"So you walk around like you don't know me," he sings on Heartless. "You got a new friend, well I got homies. But in the end it's still so lonely." Later, on Streetlights, the star finds himself unable to sleep, alone, walking the streets, sighing "life's just not fair".

Throughout, West's voice is fed through autotune - a computer programme that corrects the pitch of your voice - helping him to sing when his vocal cords fail him. He uses it more sparingly than, say, T-Pain - who tweaks the controls to make it sound like he's Metal Mickey - so the effect isn't completely soulless. It may not be to everyone's taste but it really works: by stripping away the human qualities of his voice, Kanye shows how isolated and withdrawn he's feeling.

The sparse, desolate songwriting only emphasises his desperation. Minor key piano figures and spooky hallowe'en choirs feature big, while West laments his losses - "I’m exhausted, barely breathing," he exhales on Amazing, which recalls nothing less than Stevie Wonder's Pastime Paradise.

All of this is off-set with the 808 of the title, one of the earliest programmable drum machines, which West proves to be a master of. The drum patterns here are the equal of anything Prince has ever done - intricate, funky and a great counterpoint to the lovelorn melodies.

Of course, it wouldn't be a true Kanye West joint if it wasn't derailed somewhere by his monstrous ego - an entity so big it would move Stalin to say: "Blimey, this guy's a bit confident". Across the record, he chastises Phifer for being cold and heartless, while alluding to the fact that he was doing things "she don't need to know about" behind her back. The resulting (and understandable) paranoia apparently turned his fiancee into a variety of film bad guys, including "Dr Evil" and "the girl from Misery". I wonder why she left?

But it's this same self-belief that makes 808s and Heartbreaks such an audacious success. Who else would have had the confidence to ditch an award-winning formula and risk their huge fanbase to make a soul album starring a rapper who can't sing?

No-one but Kanye West.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Sugababes video: No Can Do

Dear Daily Mail,
With their new video, Britain's most treasured pop group The Sugababes have taken feminism a step too far. They are literally treating men as objects. Take a look at the evidence:

A Motorbike!

A Staircase!

A Vehicular Automobile

(mind where you stick that nozzle, madam)

An Standard Lamp!

The World's Most Impractical Bed!

Er... Scatter cushions??!?

I, for one, will be boycotting these so-called Sugababes until they retract this offensive and distasteful video and apologise for their actions. Someone should resign!

Sgt William Smythe (Mrs)

Sugababes - No Can Do

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New music from Russia!

In 2008, you can count on two things -
1) Dance music has gone rubbish
2) Music from Russia is as rubbish as it always was

So this comes as something of a surprise - a Russian dance track that's really rather good.

It's by Moscow-based producer Leonid Rudenko (who'll have to change his name if he ever wants "da kidzz" to find him on Myface or Bebo Baggins or whatever it is they're calling it these days). The song was a big smash at the Amsterdam Dance Event last month, which is apparently massively important to people like Judge Jules and "Tiesto" who, it turns out, is not a cheap Italian car.

The song is called Everybody and it has a featured vocalist who may or may not be Gwen Stefani*

Leonid Rudenko - Everybody

Out in February - presumably because they need four months to clear the Timbaland sample. Will keep you posted.

(*it's not)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Does Guitar Hero discriminate against drummers?

I got my first drum kit aged 8 and, over the next 15 years, played it to the extent where I destroyed my ears, my parents' relationship with their neighbours, and my cat's nerves.

But since I moved to London in 1997, there hasn't been space for a drum kit in the series of poky little rooms I've called home. So, it was with great excitement that I purchased Guitar Hero: World Tour - a video game music simulator which comes with a six-piece set you can fold away and store in a cupboard.

The trailer for the game promised it would have "the most realistic drums" of any game on the current generation of games consoles. Not actually realistic, of course, but as close as you'd get. There are touch sensitive pads, so you can play a gentle shuffle or thump the living daylights out of the tom toms, depending on your mood. And, unlike rival game Rock Band, you get a pair of cymbals to smash.

It arrived at Discopop Towers on Saturday and, after a few days experimentation, I have discovered the awful truth: I am too good for this game.

Now, I'm not saying I'm a modern-day John Bonham or Cozy Powell, but every ounce of skill and instinct I've picked up over the last 30 years actually counts against me.

Take the opening song - Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger. Except on the puny easy setting (which recreates precisely the experience of banging sticks on a wooden block at nursery school) I invariably failed within ten seconds of the beat kicking in.

In exasperation, I turned to the game's practice mode and played the intro over and over again - to no avail. "There must be a bug," I decided after an hour of mounting frustration, during which my success rate never peaked higher than 60%.

After another thirty minutes, I was sadly convinced that all those years of flailing around garages with a pair of drumsticks had amounted to nothing. When set to a click track, I couldn't keep time to save my life.

Eventually, my wife asked to watch me playing to see if she could work out what I was doing wrong.

She got it in about five seconds. There is a subtle swing to the hi-hat pattern on Eye Of The Tiger, which I was playing instinctively. But the game wanted a strict 4/4 rhythm.

Once the error had been pointed out to me, I was easily able complete the song on the game's hardest setting, expert mode. But it was still a struggle - the drum pattern just felt wrong (it doesn't help that, when you hit the pads in the 'correct' sequence, the game plays back the drum track from the original recording - including that lilting hi-hat). As a result, I kept slipping back into the swing beat.

Understandably, the game has to be calibrated to make it playable for non-percussionists - but I wonder whether they will struggle with it, too? Neurologist Oliver Sacks (whose fascinating book, Musicophilia, looks at the effects of music on the brain) believes rhythm is an innate skill for humans. "We respond to rhythm by keeping in time, by moving our heads," he told science website Universe last year.

"One cannot not respond to music: even if you don't make any external movement, the motor parts of the brain respond to rhythm. This appears spontaneously in every child - but you cannot train a chimpanzee, or a bird, or a whale, or an elephant, to keep synchronized time to a rhythm."

Of course, anyone who's seen their dad dance at a wedding will realise that rhythmical ability varies from person to person. So maybe the syncopation issue will only affect people like me, who've "fine-tuned" their rhythmical abilities.

I got some consolation from rock legend Slash - who was interviewed for Guitar Hero's last iteration (in which he made a cameo appearance). In the video, the Velvet Revolver / GnR guitarist spoke of similar frustrations with the guitar mode:

"Guitar Hero is harder as a guitar player than if I'd never touched a guitar and all I knew I had to do was touch all these different colours on the neck," he said.

So, has anyone else experienced this exasperation with the Guitar Hero / Rock Band series? I'd be interested to know...

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New Harry Potter trailer

Fuck, yeah.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Instant review: Beyoncé's new album

Beyoncé's third solo album, I Am Sasha Fierce, has just arrived at Discopop Towers... because I went out and bought it this morning. It emerges from is cellophane wrapping to reveal two CDs - one with six tracks and one with five (nuts to the environment, eh readers?)

Resisting the temptation to play both simultaneously in the search for a hidden satanic message, here's a blow-by-blow account of my first listen. Brace yourselves.

Disc One - I Am... (syrupy ballads)
1) If I Were A Boy
This still sounds like a gender-challenged update of Joan Osborne's One Of Us. The tune is essentially the same all the way through, except Beyoncé shifts up an octave for the chorus. Derivative, but super nonetheless.

2) Halo
This is one by Ryan "Bleeding Love" Tedder that Simon Fuller supposedly wanted for Leona Lewis - but Beyoncé gets the lead writing credit. Far be it from me to suggest that Leona's people put that story out to "position" her alongside the world's most successful female solo artist, but something smells a bit fishy here (possibly the smoked mackerel paté I had yesterday, which is repeating on me something rotten). This is actually very good, with big handclaps and an Umberella (ella, ella) style call-and-response hook.

3) Disappear
The word "beautiful" is clearly some sort of magic charm for this song's co-writer Amanda Ghost, who also did You're Beautiful and Beautiful Liar. Disappear does not contain the word beautiful, and is therefore rubbish.

4) Broken Hearted Girl
The lyric booklet consistently mis-spells "you're" as "your" during this song, which invokes an instant penalty of two points. Six more points are deducted because of the incredibly dated mid-90s R&B balladeering, and further one goes because they've put a stupid synth line over the chorus in an attempt to disguise this fact. So that's 1/10.

5) Ave Maria
The verse is lifted from Madonna's Promise To Try, and the chorus is lifted from religion's Ave Maria. Only slightly better than when Michelle Bass sang Pie Jesu on Big Brother Five.

6) Satellites
Sorry, I completely drifted off during this one. But look at this picture from the back of the album. How does she do that?

Disc Two - Sasha Fierce (the uptempo ones)
1) Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
Much better in hi-fidelity than it seems on Youtube, with loads of rumbling bass and a much more expansive sound stage. Feet are tapping...

2) Radio
This starts off with a piercing synth riff like Destiny's Child's Jumpin Jumpin - and it lives up to the standards set by Beyoncé's former band. A europop-influenced love letter to a DJ ("I fall in love with my stereo"), it is really very good indeed.

3) Diva
"Diva is a female version of a hustler," says B. Not according to my dictionary, it's not. It also reckons that a hustler is "a prostitute who attracts customers by walking the streets". Now I'm confused. Is Beyoncé saying she's the female version of a male prostitute? But isn't that just a prostitute? Either way, Beyoncé has been one since "she was 15 in stilettos" which is surely against all sorts of moral and legal codes. The song is bobbins, by the way.

4) Sweet Dreams
A good album track. Sounds a bit like Rihanna, but with decent vocals.

5) Video Phone
This is one of those songs Beyoncé seems to be able to turn out in her sleep - all syncopated rhythms, sparse instrumentation and tricksy backing vocals. A close cousin of Get Me Bodied on her last album.

There is already a special edition with five extra tracks. To be honest, I'm glad I didn't bother spending the extra £2...

Update - 12:36 I've just tried playing both albums simultaenously. It was actually something of an improvement.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Let the festivities commence

Goldfrapp have recorded a version of Felix Bernard's Winter Wonderland for a Starbucks Christmas CD. It is predictably lovely.

Goldfrapp - Winter Wonderland

Anyone want to start a petition for a full Goldfrapp Christmas album?

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Take That: The Circus

Plonk! A four track album sampler has just landed in our inbox. It's attributed to a band called Hoxton Bar, but from the second Mark Owen lisps the first line, we're wise to the "clever" PR sleight of hand. It's only bloody Take That and their Circus album!

We have listened to it twice now, and it is very pleasant in a "would make a nice Christmas present for your mum" kind of way. Here is a more detailed breakdown:

1) The Garden
Take That's last album finished with a song about going out to sea in a Wooden Boat, and this album opens with the lyric "And the fisherman came back across the water". It's a continuing narrative, just like Quantum Of Solace! And, to further the parallel with James Bond, Take That are surrounded by "the sound of sirens" and "the scent of burning oil". Yikes!

At this point, you will be wondering "why are Take That banging on about the environment" but then the chorus kicks in with some old nonsense about "laying down in the garden" and ranks of stirring, staccato strings. By the end, you'll have forgotten all about global warming, and decided to have a berry burst smoothie with Howard Donald.

2) Greatest Day
You know this one already. It's basically Patience without the chorus.

3) Said It All
Someone has forgotten to change the settings on Gary Barlow's song-o-matic compositional machine, as this is yet another piano ballad with a soaring chorus and "meaningful" lyrics about the end of a relationship. The middle section steals the guitar riff from Coldplay's Yellow. Next!

4) Up All Night
This has an oompah brass band in it. Once you've got over the shock, it's quite a catchy little number in the vein of Shine - with a double-tracked Mark Owen singing about sexual frustration (?) while the rest of the band do their very best ELO harmonies.

The middle eight is brilliant: "I met this girl last night and she said 'why won't you marry me'? Well I'm too young for that, too dumb for that, too broke for that, too tired for that, too proud for that and I'm too gone for that.

"But would you like to come back to my flat?" Amazing.

Conclusion: Bring back Lulu!

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gig Review: Kanye West at the O2

"Any critic who has the audacity to subtract even half a star off this show will be smacked in the fucking face," opined Kanye West as his two-hour set at the O2 drew to a close. He then defied anyone in the audience to name another concert that even approached the untrammelled genius of his stage spectacular.

Well, since he asked:
1) Prince - Lovesexy
2) Madonna - Reinvention tour
3) U2 - Zooropa
4) Jay-Z at Glastonbury
5) Sly and the Family Stone at Woodstock
6) Etc, etc

So what went wrong for Kanye?

First of all, despite hiring what he boasted of as "the best lighting designers in the world", there were no spotlights to follow the on-stage action - the result being that Kanye spent most of the night shrouded in silhouette. Even on the video screens. The tour was called Glow In The Dark, not Alone In The Dark. Strike one.

West also described how hard he worked to give the concert a narrative with "artistic merit". The plot, however, was a sub-Ed Wood space fantasy about Kanye being stranded on an alien planet with only a randy computer called Jane (!)for company. Strike two.

Lastly, the evening contained the most baffling, disorientating 15 minutes I've ever witnessed in a live show, as Kanye embarked on a semi-improvised, semi-musical, semi-coherent lament to his late mother.

Over a sparse bass figure, he shouted down God for robbing him of his soulmate, while making detours to discuss the paparazzi, the costs of fame, stage fright, his fractured relationship with Jay-Z, bloggers, the economic dowturn, Barack Obama, trying to sell his house in LA, the possibility of space travel and, frighteningly, the fact that he had recently been "a week away" from comitting suicide. All while staring sullenly at his shoes. It was by turns touching, upsetting and terrifyingly bonkers.

Strike three? Well, not quite...

Having got all tha bile off his chest, West's spirits seemed to pick up and he attacked the show's hit-heavy final segment with frantic brio. Hearing the likes of All Fall Down, Through The Wire, Gold Digger and Stronger performed back to back with such gusto makes you realise what a prolific and accomplished songwriter Kanye is. His earlier assertion that music was the only way to drown out his demons added an extra layer of emotional resonance to the final half hour of the show.

So, while it wasn't the earth-shattering, boundary-breaking audio-visual feast Kamye believed it to be, Glow In The Dark was still a remarkable, memorable and monumentally conceited pop concert.

Verdict: (And I am ready for my beating now).

Best bits: The extended singalong on Can't Tell Me Nothing; Estelle's surprise appearance for an encore of American Boy.

Worst bit: Four 'aliens' (lampshades) telling Kanye: "You're the most famous person in the universe."

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Paris - so good, they released it twice

Friendly Fires, a three-piece dance-rock hybrid from sleepy St Albans, are re-releasing their awesome single Paris this week. It is full of minty goodness, and fully deserves a "chart" "placing" on Sunday.

The band, who sound a bit like LCD Soundsystem frenching the Klaxons, were signed in the midst of the whole "Nu Rave" craze two years ago. Luckily, that whole fad burnt out quicker than the human torch in an oxygen tank and the band have avoided being lumped in with the likes of Hadouken! or MC Hardcore Superstylee (?!).

They're currently rising faster than a bubble in a glass of Coke, and the buzz surrounding them is so loud it's like a swarm of bees presenting Buzz Aldrin with a vibrator while a Buzzard defibrilates a fridge with an electric razor.

Paris comes with a choice of two groovy videos - an expensive, kaleidoscopic one that capitalises on that aforementioned buzz, and the older, cheaper one which has scenes of a cowbellular nature. Here are they both:

Friendly Fires - Paris (version the first)

Friendly Fires - Paris (version the second)

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Most spectacularly misjudged press release of the week


I wonder how many of the videos will involve people phoning their ex-girlfriend's grandfather for a "friendly chat"?


Britney's Paparazzi song leaks

I think we can all agree that the whole Britney / Paparazzi situation got ridiculous during her "missing year", reaching its zenith when photographers blocked the path of an ambulance that was trying to rush the pop star to hospital.

This debacle was handled with self-deprecating good humour in last year's Piece Of Me ("I'm Ms bad media karma - another day, another drama") but, as any fule know, Britney wasn't entirely involved in the songwriting process.

So now, it's time for Ms Spears to have her say in what is billed as the next single from her Circus album...

The song is called Kill The Lights because, you see, lights are like flash bulbs and photographers use flash bulbs and Britney wants them all to be squashed to death in a Star Wars-style trash compactor surrounded by baying wolves who will later eat their entrails in a live television broadcast hosted by Ryan Seacrest, dressed as the grim reaper. [please check this - ed]

The song has now leaked. Listen below (before Jive remove it).

Key profound lyric: "All the flashin', trying to cash in, hurts my eyes".

Britney Spears - Kill The Lights

:: Kill The Lights (MP3)

PS Doesn't Britney look like Jessica Simpson on the album cover?

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That sure is a nice bodywarmer

In the absence of any music news - Cats.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

What's going on with Mariah?

Did you see Mariah Carey singing Hero on X Factor this weekend? Every time she bellowed out a big note, there was a strange, atonal, whistling noise in the background. You can hear it at 2:42 ("Lord knows") and 3:09 ("you'll find a way") in the following video:

Mariah Carey - Hero (X Factor)

I can think of only three possible explanations:

1) Mariah's dog, Jack Jr, was singing along while hidden under her frock.
2) Someone in the production team was boiling a kettle backstage
3) Mariah has a tiny pinhole perforation in her neck, which is letting out a piercing boiling kettle-type noise when air is passed through it at high velocity.

I reckon it's definitely number three. What about you?

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New Alicia Keys material

Alicia Keys is releasing a cash-in special edition of her marvellous As I Am album for Christmas. It is called "The Super Edition" because, you see, one of the singles was called Superwoman. That's some clever marketing right there, people.

There's the usual slew of new tracks including the Worst Bond Theme Of All Time (except the Madonna one and that other one by A-ha) and somthing called Doncha Know (Sky Is Blue), which you can hear below...

It's all a bit Joss Stone to begin with, but hits its stride around the 2:30 mark with a "na na na" singalong and a ride-cymbal-tastic, gospel organ outro. Smashing.

Alicia Keys - Doncha Know (Sky Is Blue)

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Meeting Leona

Leona Lewis - she's not my favourite artist in the world, but you have to admit she's got a pretty stunning set of pipes.

I had the opportunity to interview her last week and, to be honest, I wasn't overjoyed at the prospect. Leona only ever seems to say one thing to the press: "I just feel so lucky to be able to sing my music. It's like a dream come true, it's just incredible", and she says it over and over again in response to any question, even one like: "What's best, cats, dogs or piranhas or Hitler?" (it's cats, obviously).

Despite the fact that she actually said those very words, in that order, during our 15 minute interview, I was very pleasantly surprised by what I have decided to call "real Leona". She was gregarious, chatty and - yes - funny.

We bonded over our beloved Mini Coopers, chatted about The Bodyguard soundtrack, and the ridiculous clothes she's asked to wear for publicity shots. Alright, it wasn't an earth-shattering, stop-the-press revelation-a-thon but I found myself genuinely liking a pop star, even though she was taller than me in flat shoes.

You can read the full interview here, and I've transcribed the "deleted scenes" for you lovely Discopoppers below.

Why have you put out a second version of Spirit?
Basically, when I released my album in America there were extra tracks that weren’t on the British album - because it came out sooner and I had the chance to do more material. And I really wanted it to be available everywhere, those tracks, and not just America. And also I did a cover of the Snow Patrol song Run, which we really wanted people to be able to listen to and get their hands on, so I put that on there as well. And there’s lots of behind the scenes footage and things like that – a DVD and everything.

What should fans do with the copy they bought last year?
Keep it! [laughs] But you know, the new stuff will be available on iTunes on well if they just want the songs. But the CD is there, and it’s all different artwork and packaging, and there’s the DVD as well.

Run sticks to the patented Leona Lewis "formula" - where the song starts off all quiet and then goes batshit mental at the end. How do you stop yourself over-singing at the beginning?
That’s such a good question because when I perform it, sometimes I realty want to sing out – but you just have to really really reign it back and it’s hard to do that.

With my songs, especially if I’m doing a six-song set, each song starts and you have to pull it back because at the end it goes crazy [laughs]. You just have to control it.

Do you record your performances to see where you’ve gone wrong?
[Coyly] Sometimes I do but – ah – I don’t really like listening back because I get all weird. But it is good to listen to some of them and go 'okay, I could do that better', or 'that worked'.

Some people you worked with before X Factor are threatening to put out an album of your early recordings. How do you feel about that?
It’s stuff that I did ages ago when I was demo-ing and getting things together. It doesn’t really represent me and what I do now. I wrote the stuff that’s on the album, and obviously the producer wants it to come out, but I don’t think it’s really going anywhere.

Is it like those naked baby photos your mum shows to your boyfriend?

Yeah! Well, not embarrassing because it’s the first stuff I did and I’m proud of it. But I don’t think it’s relevant now.

Do you still have the Mini Cooper you bought with your first paycheque?
I love my mini cooper! It is just the best little car to get around in. It’s just a little black one... I drive it all the time. I've even taken it to Europe.

What album do you have in the car's CD player?
I’ve probably got Alicia Keys...

Me too! But you also have to have Bon Jovi's Livin' On A Prayer on standby at all times. No motorway journey is complete without playing that song and screaming along to the chorus at full volume.
That’s a proper road trip song! Do I have one? Me and my mum and her friend drove to Poland one time and we played Queen of the Night, Whitney Houston, about a million times.

Is it true that you've got a scar on your arm?
Yeah, I do. It was in a park and I fell on some glass and scarred my arm. It’s round the back so you don’t really see it. I don’t need any make-up to cover it.

Speaking of photo shoots, do you ever get annoyed with the big frocks and the big hair?
Yeah, I'm always thinking “get that out of my face!” But then, because I usually dress quite normally, it’s nice to get pampered and put on a nice dress and get your make-up done. And these dresses are just amazing. You don’t get to wear couture dresses that no-one else wears.

Do they let you bring them home?
No. Way.

Would you like to bring them home?
Yeah, I would! But I’d never wear them. You can’t wear those dresses out! But they are amazing.

I've always thought the more famous someone becomes, the higher their heels get. How many inches are you up to?
I’ve always worn a big massive heel. I don’t know why – I just love them.

I noticed you were taller than me when I came in. I was quite intimidated.
Was you? Oh no! I'm sorry. And I’ve only got flatties on today!

Here is Leona's new single. In the interests of journalistic integrity, I would like to point out that it is merely okay, and that my taste and judgment have not been impaired by a favourable encounter with the talented and gorgeous Leona Lewis.

Leona Lewis - Forgive Me

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Sad pop fact

Kanye West's career can be charted, on an actual chart, by plotting the cost of his videos in proportion to the quality of his music. Here is the pudding within which the proof is contained.

And here is West's latest video masterpiece / hopeless song.

Kanye West - Heartless

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MTV Awards surprisingly awesome

Here is a list of things that were amazing about last night's MTV Europe Music Awards:

1) Everything except Jared Leto
2) Although even Jared Leto was great when he called Katie Ting Ting a witch.

If you didn't see the show, set your Sky+ to record the repeat on MTV tonight. As a taster, here's The Killers playing Celebrity Squares.

TRIVIA: What happens in the auditorium when the viewers at home see adverts? Kylie Karaoke! Amazing.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ladies' chart battle - and more!

Sorry the blog's been a bit underpopulated for the last couple of days - I've been poorly sick. But here's a few things you might have missed (or seen elsewhere while I was away, natch).

:: Is this the biggest battle of the pop divas in the history of the cosmos?

Big guns Britney, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Alesha Dixon (and Leona Lewis) all have singles out this week, while Girls Aloud have squeezed out their fifth studio album. Chart-wise, it looks like X Factor's not-quite-as-awful-as-you'd-expect version of Hero will be number one again, with Girls Aloud's The Promise at two and Beyonce's gramatically-incorrect If I Were A Boy at three. Meanwhile, Out Of Control looks set to beat Razorlight to the top of the album charts, giving Girls Aloud their first ever non-compilation number one. Amazing. [More on the midweeks at Music Week]

:: Jamelia has a comeback single, Break It Down, Tear It Up. It's miles better than the confused mess of her last album - but is it good enough to put her back where she belongs (somewhere between The Saturdays and McFly on the bill for T4 on the Beach)? The jury is out. [listen / download]

:: Another track from the Killer's new album, Day & Night, has leaked. No surprises here: Too many synths, Brandon Flowers not very good at singing, the track itself = brilliant.

The Killers - Spaceman

:: It's like a blogger's wet dream - M.I.A. covers the theme tune to The Wire. Sadly, it's rubbish. [Youtube (youtube)]

:: Is this a new Justin Timberlake single? Hmmm... it sounds a bit like a FutureSex/LoveSounds cast-off to me.

:: The NME has published its annual "cool list" - with entries for Jay-Z, Liam Gallagher, Amy Winehouse and, er, Peter Gabriel. The number one slot, as is customary, goes to someone the NME is trying to justify having put on their front page in April, despite the fact they've made absolutely no impact on anyone, anywhere in the intervening six months. This year, it's Alice Glass from Crystal Castles (they're like the Human League with all the tunes taken out). As Stereogum points out, the NME have once again confused "cool" with "notorious". [Stereogum]

:: A Kiss Is Not A Contract - but a baby is a life sentence (in a good way, obviously). Flight Of The Conchords star Jemaine Clement is a dad. Congratulations. [3 News, New Zealand]

:: Lukewarm S Club 7 reunion is lukewarm. [Popjustice]

:: Oh yes, and there was a completely historic, paradigm-shifting, momentous election in the US. Barack Obama is President elect (Yay!!!) and has written a song about it (woop!). And so has Nas (respect) and so has Seal (er, hooray?!)

Back to business as usual from tomorrow...

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: Girls Aloud "Out Of Control"

After last year's Tangled Up, Out Of Control marks phase II in the project to rebrand Girls Aloud as a mature, credible pop band. The former gift-wrapped kitty kats now sing about broken hearts while bathing in mid-tempo electronic melancholia. By the end of the album, they're even thinking about leaving behind the bright city lights for a house (a very big house) in the country.

Given the band's new, world-weary attitude, it's no surprise to find the Pet Shop Boys contributing a song. The Loving Kind is prime example of Neil Tenant's talent for kitchen-sink psychodrama, as the girls dissect a loveless relationship over a bottle of wine. It's a pop masterpiece and, presumably, a future single... but it's not necessarily the towering achievement you'd expect from combining Tenant, Lowe, Xenomania and GA.

Sadly, the rest of the album is similarly underwhelming. The little musical flourishes and scattershot melodies we've come to expect from Girls Aloud are suppressed by the record's sombre tone. It's almost as if Xenomania have reached a dead end, unsure of where to take their charges next. At one point, they even make Nadine sing the line: "We're beautiful robots dancing alone". Ouch.

Interestingly, when the band themselves get involved with the writing, things pick up. Miss You Bow Wow has a schizophrenic, anything-goes structure and the album's best lyric - "20 minutes in a hotel bar / Then I slip into your girlfriends jeans". Live In The Country is silly and fun - a spiritual successor to the likes of Racey Lacey, Swinging London Town or Grafitti My Soul.

Elsewhere, the six-and-half-minute Untouchable has the potential to be a massive hit if it's given a peppy single remix, and Rolling Back The Rivers In Time has a "woah-oh" chorus as catchy as the song's title is awful. Love Is Pain, on the other hand, is the worst Girls Aloud album track since their debut.

Last year, I declared Tangled Up as the pop album of the year, and noted that 2006's Greatest Hits album had given Girls Aloud and Xenomania 12 months to "refocus and recalibrate".

It sounds like they need a similar break next year.

UPDATE: It's growing on me.

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