Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beautiful music from Brooklyn

Sharon Van EttenLaura Marling, Lissie, Florence, Sarah McLachlan, Cat Power, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Thea Gilmore, Sarah Blasko, Emiliana Torrini, KT Tunstall, Suzanne Vega. If things continue the way they are, we'll have to create an international surplus mountain for female singer-songwriters (and a pyre for their winsomely strummed acoustic guitars).

But before we run out of space, spare a moment to listen to Sharon Van Etten.

Hailing from Brooklyn, via Tennessee, the singer describes her sound as "sad prairie folk music". Her last album, I Wish I Knew, was hushed with quiet beauty. The follow-up, Epic, lives up to its name with an expanded, full band sound. It still manages to be intimate, and the delicately tortured lyrics will haunt the sleep anyone with a melancholy disposition. Truly an album to snuggle up against as the winter nights draw in.

I particularly love an album track called Don't Do It, which Pitchfork recently described as representing "a plea at first but, as she repeats the chorus, it sounds more like an ultimatum". It made my spine tingle.

Sharon Van Etten - Epic

The album came out last week on the brilliantly-named Ba Da Bing label. You can buy it now on Amazon

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Welcome back to the Jamie Oliver of pop

It's a bad metaphor, I realiseYou know how, in your kitchen, you have maybe 15 mugs? Five or six of those mugs are the good ones. The ones that don't have any chips or blemishes. The ones you use when your parents pop in unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon.

Then there are the everyday mugs. You don't wash them very often, because they're almost constantly full. They're comforting and familiar and coffee somehow tastes darker and more satisfying gulped from inside them.

Then, right at the back of the cupboard, there are two spares. They have some sort of jokey slogan like "I went to Blackpool and all I got was sexually assaulted". You've never quite got round to throwing them out, but that's only because you're too lazy to read the council's recycling leaflet and, anyway, they could come in handy as an ashtray one day.

Jamiroquai albums are my music library's equivalent to those mugs.

So when Jay Kay announced his return to music I was hardly jumping for joy. As expected, his comeback single, White Knuckle Ride, is an over-ripe cheese wheel of disco funk. And guess what? The video features a sports car.

Jamiroquai - White Knuckle Ride

But wait! Listen to what happens when White Knuckle Ride is reswizzled and beaten into shape by pop provocateur Penguin Prison (he went to school with Alicia Keys, fact fans). Suddenly, it's totally fantastic.

Hands up who thinks Penguin Prison should have produced the entire album?

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Apologies for total incompetence

A test cardI'm not particularly aware of how many people visit or read this website on a regular basis - but if you are such a person, I just wanted to make a little apology. Over the last month or so, the blog has been up and down more often than an *insert metaphor*.

Not being an expert, I really can't explain what's going on - but I'm told it's got something to do with a bug in the blogging software I use (Wordpress), a runaway CPU process (whatever that means) and getting massively spammed by websites in China (hello, China).

It has been massively frustrating, and not a little stressful.

I can't guarantee that the problems are over, but I am trying my hardest to make sure that everything settles down. Please let me know if you spot any odd behaviour, or the site collapses and goes green in the face like Jim Robinson in Neighbours (ask your mum).

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.



Monday, September 27, 2010

Ed Drewett unleashes debut video

Get your hands out of your pocketsYou might know Ed Drewett as the voice on Professor Green's Need You Tonight, and the co-writer of The Wanted's All Time Low. But if you do, don't hold it against him.

Along with Example and Plan B, Ed is spearheading a movement that says "pop music isn't just for girls and gays, it is also for geezers who drink pints and shag birds" (the slogan could do with a bit of work, admittedly). It's one of the most refreshing trends of 2010, sweeping aside 10 barren years where every male artist was trying to be Eminem or The Streets without the wit, the life experience or the chainsaw.

Ed's debut single, Champagne Lemonade, is co-written produced by Xenomania refugee Tim Powell and is largely a good thing. Best bit is the snarky refrain of "he buys you champagne, I buy you lemonade, makes him somthing of a casanova".

The video looks like this.

Ed Drewett - Champagne Lemonade

Setting the video in a driving range is a nice twist on the lyrics - but I'd have liked it even more if Ed had tried to emulate Fred Astaire's golfing moves.

Golfing with Fred Astaire

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New music from Local Natives

Here are the Local Natives

Let's say hello to Los Angeles quintet Local Natives, who describe themselves as "hyphen-crazed-harmony-laden-percussion-driven-indie-rock". Hello!

The band have three - THREE - lead vocalists, Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn. But there the similarities to Bananarama end.

Reviewers, who have been largely positive, tend to point out two things: First, they sing super-sweet harmonies like The Fleet Foxes. Second, they play complicated afro-beat poly-rhythms like Vampire Weekend. If they weren't trying to be so achingly current, they might also say Local Natives sound like CSNY frenching Paul Simon's Graceland.

Either way, the band are officially a "good thing", not least because their album is called Gorilla Manor - which makes it sound like a BBC wildlife show where Ben Fogle and Kate Humble have to train a group of screaming, feral primates to serve afternoon tea in a stately Victorian home. With hilarious results.

Ahem... I seem to have lost the thread of this article now. But here is a video of the band playing their latest single, Wide Eyes. Nice beards, guys.

:: There's a fab Fools Gold remix of the track availlable on the end of this link

:: Find out more on Local Natives on their official website.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Meaningful moments in pop videos, pt 29

As noted earlier this week, Joe McElderry's new single Ambitions is better than we could ever have expected.

The video is another matter - a cheddarsplendent jazz hands bonanza, which calls to mind Lionel Richie's technicolor gasp-fest, All Night Long.

That said, there is a SIGNIFICANT and PERCEPTIVE vignette during the second verse. Let us break it down for you.

A besuited city "gent" (let us call him Simon Cowbell) stumbles on a loose pebble while carrying a sheaf of papers.

Oh no! These important financial documents are scattered all over the pavement. Simon will almost certainly lose his job over this.

Don't look now, but a leather jacketed ruffian is coming to cause trouble.
Worst day ever, etc.

But the ruffian is in fact adorable X Factor star Joe McElderry, who selflessly lends a hand to Simon in his hour of need. Phew-eee!

Overcome by our hero's dreamy looks, Simon decides to throw away his documents and become a cowboy, just like he always wanted.

Oblivious to the emotional upheaval he has instigated, Joe boogies nonsensically under a shower of pension documents, share certificates and mortgage applications.


Sadly, we can't bring you this pivotal pop moment "in motion" as embedding has been disabled. The full Joe McElderry experience is therefore available on The YouTube (YouTube).

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Top Five songs from Mad Men

The cast of Mad Men

You are more likely to have heard of Mad Men than watched it. The critically-lauded, multi award-winning show only gets about 250,000 viewers every week on BBC Four - but I can't recommend it highly enough.

Set in Manhattan's burgeoning advertising industry of the 1950s and 60s, the US drama series effortlessly invokes a bygone era of stiff drinks, elastic morals and freakishly pointy bras. The two main characters are Don and Betty Draper - a ridiculously handsome suburban couple with enough dark secrets to blot out the sun.

Thousands of column inches have been dedicated to the show's wit, panache and chic retro stylings - but precious little has been said about the programme's effortlessly evocative music.

Christina Hendricks as Mad Men's Joan HollowayThe show's music supervisor is Alex Patsavas, formerly of The OC and Gossip Girl, a woman seemingly blessed with the world's most impeccable taste in music. From Mad Men's opening credits (a spiralling string arrangement over clattering percussion) to the bespoke soundtrack that accomapnies each week's credit reel, every soundbite is chosen with scientific precision.

Although the programme is set during an era of huge social upheaval for America (the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the teenage revolution), the music generally looks back to the more strait-laced songs of Johnny Mathis and Ella Fitzgerald... although that's beginning to change as the series drags us further into the 60s.

Each season has a flawless compilation CD, which generally unearths a handful of previously-unreleased classics. They're well worth the investment if you're a keen musical archivist.

To get you started, I've put together an entirely subjective list of my five favourite musical moments from the first four series. I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments box, too.

Baby you can drive my car

1) Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons.

This plays over the closing credits in the season three episode "Seven Twenty Three", where Don Draper finally agrees to sign a "no exceptions" employment contract with ad agency Sterling Cooper. The lyrics are, appropriately enough, about a debt-bonded coal miner who begs St Peter not to call him to heaven because "I owe my soul to the company store". Originally recorded by Merle Travis in 1946, this cover was a US number one in 1955.

Ernie Ford - 16 Tons

2) Brenda Lee - Break It To Me Gently

January Jones as Mad Men's Betty DraperThere is uncomfortable, even visceral, tension in the air as the Drapers drive home in Don's brand new Coupe de Ville. Betty is confronting the possibility that Don has been unfaithful, after a well-lubricated cocktail party guest hints the ad-man bedded his wife. Repeatedly.

The stomach-churning betrayal, and a few too many glasses of champagne, combine to make the starch-stiffened housewife wretch into her lap. Cue the music: A wrenching, forlorn country ballad by a woman bracing herself for the "it's not you, it's me" speech.

Brenda Lee - Break It To Me Gently

3) Nashville Teens - Tobacco Road.

One of the rare Mad Men episodes that ends on a comedic up-beat is season four opener Public Relations. At the beginning of the show, Don gives a surly and taciturn interview to trade publication Advertising Age, resulting in a prickly profile that threatens the agency's reputation.

He stubbornly refuses to acknowledge his failure, but over the course of the next 45 minutes it dawns on him that he's a product worth selling, too. The uptempo music reflects his newfound confidence, while the Merseybeat groove of the Nashville Teens remind us that series four is taking place in 1964, right the middle of the British invasion spearheaded by The Beatles' infamous Ed Sullivan performance.

Nashville Teens - Tobacco Road

4) Rosemary Clonney - Botch-a-me

John Slattery as Mad Men's Roger SterlingAnother playful show closer, sung by the Queen of the Mambo herself, underscores a disastrous meeting between the advertising gurus and President Nixon's election campaign team. After the elevators fail, silver fox / functioning alcoholic Roger Sterling (pictured) has to run up 23 flights of stairs to make the appointment.

On arrival, he greets the presidential team and promptly vomits all over the floor. "He must have had a bad oyster," observes a Nixon man, before the advertising excutives regroup and Don sambas into the boardroom (well, he puts on an enigmatic smile, which is as close as Don Draper ever gets to a samba).

Rosemary Clooney - Botch-a-me

5) Patti Page - Old Cape Cod

Jon Hamm as Mad Men's Donald DraperDon's ex-wife-but-not-really, Anna Draper, takes him out to a bar with her niece Stephanie, who puts this song on a jukebox in an attempt to get the old fogies up for a dance. Anna declines, leaving Don to waltz with a radicalised, weed-smoking university student (presumably under a flashing neon sign reading: "look at how society changed in the 60s").

Stephanie admits choosing the song because it's dated. Don proves he's a fuddy-duddy by defending its wistfully romantic lyrics. There's a clever subtext for musically clued-in viewers, however, who know the song as the hook from Groove Armada's At The River. As the old advertising maxim goes, fashions never die, they just get repackaged.

Patti Page - Old Cape Cod

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Apropos of nothing: A song by INXS


We were recently driving back to London from Oxford, when mrsdiscopop put INXS's 1987 breakthrough album Kick on the iPod. Her random selection has triggered a ridiculous nostalgiafest / spending spree, culminating in an eBay hunt for the out-of-print DVD of the band's 1991 Wembley Stadium gig, Summer XS (check out this video of Suicide Blonde from that show and tell me that Michael Hutchence wasn't the most charismatic frontman of his generation).

Delving into the band's exhaustive Wikipedia page, I learned they were initially called The Vegetables, and owed a sizeable debt to the UK punk scene - particularly bands like The Clash, The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks.

Don't believe me? Listen to this early single, aptly titled We Are The Vegetables. Compared to the slick rock-funk they became famous for, it's raw and exciting stuff.

INXS - We Are The Vegetables

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Watch Jack Johnson being beaten up

Jack Johson, persistent purveyor of beachcombing soft rock, takes a bit of a left turn in his new video. Or rather a left hook... as At Or With Me sees the Hawaiian-born surfer getting roughed up by Saturday Night Live / Dick In A Box star Andy Samberg.

The song is more likely to tickle your coconuts than slap you around the face, though. Despite the addition of a fuzztone riff and a bawdy bar-room chant, it still retains all of Johnson's affable surfer dude style.


Jack Johnson - At Or With Me

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Joe McElderry song in "not entirely unlistenable" shocker

Not that I would actually pay to download this from iTunes or anything.
(*hastily disables Ping account*).

Joe McElderry - Ambitions

Snobs will point out that Joe's single is - GASP - a cover version but, look, plenty of perfectly acceptable pop careers have been built on songs the public overlooked first time around (Natalie Imbruglia, Happy Mondays, St Etienne, to name but a few).

Ambitions was originally by Norwegian quintet Donkeyboy, who failed in the UK after deciding that Flock Of Seagulls haircuts and a surfeit of denim somehow constituted "a look".

It's 2010, everybody

Their version has a rickety, out-of-sync charm that's missing from Joe's buffed and varnished X Factor production. But there should be a big round of applause for the Syco intern who took their life into their own hands and planted this song amongst the big pile of mediocre twatballads in Simon Cowell's in-tray. Superlative work.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

A meagre serving of humble pie

A few weeks ago, I called Lauren Pritchard's cover of TLC's Waterfalls "relentlessly horrible". It's a comment I continue to endorse but, as proof of the maxim that There Are No Good Artists, Just Good Songs, here is her new single, Not The Drinking, which is literally not shit.

Lauren Pritchard - Not The Drinking

Funny thing is, the whole Pritchard campaign has been based around her ever-so-earnest "real music" roots. Clearly, someone has decided she needs to be a little more approachable, hence the Feisty (dual meaning!) video. Will it work? Who knows.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

There are a lot of trees in Cheryl's new video

She's really branching out A HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HO HA HA HEE HA HA HA HA HA A-HA HA HA HAAAAA [that's quite enough of that - ed]

Cheryl Cole - Promise This

The YouTube tag words for this song are "Cheryl Cole Words Promise This Three Fight For Love Parachute Factor Will.I.Am Heartbreaker Girls Aloud".

They seem to have forgotten AMAZING, ALOUETTE, WORTH IT, MALARIA and, of course, RADIANT. Someone will lose their job over this.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Brace yourselves for a Riley good song

Talay Riley has the X FactorAfter the whole X Factor debacle, we know there's such a thing as auto-tune, but is there another device called the "auto-sound-exactly-like-Taio-Cruz-amatron?" Because I swear I couldn't tell Taio, Tinchy and Talay apart in whatever the listening equivalent of a blind taste test is called.

This is sad because, as I mentioned before, Talay Riley is a cut above his contemporaries. That's him on the right doing his best "I've Got The X Factor" arms.

When it's not being wanged through a thousand processors, he's got a voice like hot buttered toast. And his production is way more exciting and soulful than the loop-it-and-leave-it efforts of the competition.

Talay's debut single, Humanoid, has just been playlisted at Radio 1 and the video features what I am reliably informed are "pecs you could bounce a coin on". Whatever that means.

Talay Riley - Humanoid

By the way, Talay, this lyric isn't as sexy as you think: "All freaky little ladies beware / this humanoid's coming fast".


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A picture of Duffy

BZZZZRT! A press release announcing Duffy's new album has just landed in my inbox. "NEW DUFFY PICTURE ATTACHED" it declares. Let's take a look at her drastic new image:

Duffy on a moped

Yes, Duffy has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. She has avoided repitition like the plague. She has recklessly abandoned all her principles.

She has, er, swapped her bicycle for a moped. How very Italian. Ciao!

We're hoping that, by album number seven, Duffy will be driving a tank or straddling that gigantic truck from Ciara's Work video.

A very big truck, yesterday

In other news, Duffy's album, Endlessly, has been written with Albert Hammond. No, not the one out of The Strokes, but his dad, who penned The Air That I Breathe for The Hollies. It is out on 21st November.

PS: Using the EXIF information on the jpg file, I can "exclusively reveal" that the above picture of Duffy was taken on 14th August, using a fancy-pants Phase One medium format camera. You heard it here first.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chords, Strings, We Brings, Melody

A cover of an album by a band discussed in this post

Pop boffins have proved that there are two separate Manic Street Preachers: The gurning trio of Welsh supply teachers making propah music about library books and standing up to "the man"; and the giddy Motown fans who write life-affirming love songs for Kylie.

Problem is, you never know which one you're going to get.

As luck would have it, someone recently swapped Nicky Wire's gruel and water for Coco Pops and Fanta. The result, on the band's 10th studio album Postcards From A Young Man, is a gutsy burst of string-washed stadium pop rock.

Best of all, the pompous common room preaching of If You Tolerate This has been replaced by a reflective, middle-aged meditation on life and longevity in the music industry.

"I'm no longer preaching to the converted," croons James Dean Bradfield at one point, "that congregation has long ago deserted". The song's title? All We Make Is Entertainment.

Long-term readers will know how much it pains me to say this, but the Manic Street Preachers new album isn't half bad.

Especially if you're a fan of Queen.

Manic Street Preachers - (It's Not War) Just The End Of Love

The single is out this week, and the album can be streamed on We7.

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A good song that sounds a bit like Baby D

1) We like Katy B's last single, On A Mission.
2) We like Magnetic Man's last single, I Need Air.
3) We like Magnetic Man and Katy B's new single, Perfect Stranger.

Isn't it nice when life is simple?

Magnetic Man ft Katy B - Perfect Stranger

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Five things about Cheryl's Promise This

This is what Cheryl might look like if she was to hypothetically dance to her new single1) It lasts 3 min 22 secs. While this is slightly short of the perfect length for a pop record (3 min 49 secs) it still falls within the acceptable boundaries.

2) The tempo is 150 bpm. Other songs in this category include Message In A Bottle (The Police), Going On (Gnarls Barkley) and My Sharona (The Knack).

3) The tinkly piano in the chorus is very pleasing.

4) The lyrics are obsessed with death and religion. "If I die before I wake"; "In the beginning, there was nothing"; "On your knees, you pray for me". Spooky.

5) It is a very good contemporary pop song.

As revealed in a "classic" and "hilarious" and "subsequently removed" post yesterday on this blog, there is no artwork for the single yet. This is what it currently looks like on an iPhone photographed by Cheryl's PR team, who posted it on their brilliant and informative Twitter account last night (you should definitely follow them if you don't already - click on the link to @supersonicpr).

Because, you see, they haven't put it in iTunes yet, so this is one big hilarious joke

UPDATE: Here is the "listen again" link for the song's premiere on Radio 1 this morning [click here]. It will self-destruct after seven days.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

"Let's have a toast for the jerk-offs"

The most fascinating thing about Kanye West's performance at last night's VMAs isn't the ridiculous score-settling lyrics. Nor is it the pretentious ballet dancers, or the fact that the "email / female" rhyme scheme outs him as a fan of Pixie Lott.

No, it's getting to see Kanye play an instrument for what I think is the first time ever. Not an instrument in the traditional, acoustic "press this, causing that to osciallte, creating sound waves from there" sense. But an instrument nonetheless.

Shame about MTV censoring all the fun bits. Boooo, MTV.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Miniature gig review: Muse at Wembley

Last night, I was abducted by aliens and transported to Wembley Stadium, which had been kitted out in the style of Friz Lang's Metropolis for its second visitation by rock's rockingest paranoiacs, Muse.

Football ground gigs are often underwhelming, because it's like listening to music in a chamber of mirrors, so Muse's sound crew deserve some sort of award because the Devonshire trio's wilfully apocalyptic guitar crunch was as sharp as a pin.

They came on stage bearing flags - Matt Bellamy dressed up like a human glitterball, and Chris Wolstenholme in a stripey suit that made him resemble a human humbug. Above them, a tower block of video screens lit up like windows, with the silhouetted occupants holding up placards to spell out the song's radical rallying cry of "they will not destroy us". A clever move - immediately reinforcing the "one for all" bond between the audience and the group, who sometimes suffer from a propensity towards surly introversion.

So the songs bound us together and, when the crowd got hold of a melody, they never let go. Supermassive Black Hole, Plug In Baby and Feelin' Good provided the requisite arms-in-the-sky moments, and I watched three generations of the same family grinding out raucous air guitar licks over the top of Resistance.

A UFO at Wembley

If I have a problem with Muse's current material, though, it is this: The backing tracks have taken precedence over the tunes. Matt Bellamy is frequently singing the root note of a spiralling, doom-laden chord progression, his falsetto circling higher and higher into the sky like a vulture. It's dramatic, yes, but sometimes you could tell the crowd were just sticking around for a BIG TUNE - like Starlight or Knights Of Cydonia.

Funnily enough, the Muse messageboards seem a bit underwhelmed by last night's set-list, so maybe the occasional moment of "huh" wasn't unjustified.

But even when the music failed to move me, the early sunset and overcast skies made way for a powerful and atmospheric light show. At one point, Matt even appeared on stage in Neon-lit sunglasses and an LED jacket (I was a bit far away, so it may also have been a regular jacket stitched together with hundreds of digital watches). There was also a floodlit ticker tape explosion, an "actual" UFO and an illuminated, all-seeing-eye looming over the stage.

Big Brother may have been wrapping up on Channel 4, but he was a constant, flickering presence at Wembley Stadium.

Supermassive Black Hole
New Born
Neutron Star Collison
Butterflies And Hurricanes
Guiding Light
United States Of Eurasia
I Belong To You
Feeling Good
Undisclosed Desires
House Of The Rising Sun/ Time Is Running Out
Unnatural Selection
Solider’s Poem
Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1 (Overture)
Stockholm Syndrome
Take A Bow
Plug In Baby
Knights Of Cydonia

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Here comes the rain 'cos I hear thunder

Public service announcement: Nadine Coyle has put the full version of Insatiable up on YouTube. This is it.

Nadine Coyle - Insatiable

I still like this song A LOT. It's got grit, soul, and ridiculously overblown mid-80s production (the bridge between the chorus and verse 2 is almost certainly a leftover Paula Abdul's Forever Your Girl sessions). Not to mention that voice. Honestly, the slide up the scale when she sings "woaaahhhh, who knew?" in the chorus gives me goosebumps. If anyone could arrange it, I would like this single on my iPod now, not on 1st November. kthxbye

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Here is Duffy's comeback single

....And it's being sung by Charlotte Church. How weird is that?

Charlotte Church - Back To Scratch

I don't know about you, but I tend to give a very wide berth to anyone who repeatedly writes "BRAINS" on a post-it note.

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More Cee-Lo goodness revealed

Cee-Lo is subtly calling you a loserI think we can all agree right here and now that Cee-Lo Green's F**k You is the single of the year. In fact, there is no need for anyone else to release anything else until 1st January, when we reset the tallies and start all over again.

However, I'd missed that F**k You (or "FU" as the artwork has it) wasn't Cee-Lo's first release from the forthcoming Lady Killer album. Earlier this summer, he put out a cover of Band Of Horses' desperately romantic No-One's Going To Love You.

On this Paul-Epworth produced version, Cee-Lo substitutes the chiming guitars and plaintive harmonies for epically symphonic synths and an urgent, passionate vocal. He's so determined to express his devotion that his voice begins to distort and disintegrate, ripping holes in the melody.

Wherever or whoever this girl is, she's going to know that Cee-Lo has a serious jones for her*, by the sheer brutal force of his delivery. It's the equal of anything Marvin Gaye ever recorded.

Cee-Lo - No-One's Going To Love You More (warning: contains nudity)

* This is an actual thing that people say, right?

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bruno Mars - Just The Way You Are video

Bruno MarsI caught Bruno Mars playing a showcase in London last week and was very, very impressed. He has a stunning soul voice, a band that's tighter than lycra, and a collection of songs about things he has seen or experienced.

One of those songs is called Just The Way You Are. It is not a cover of the "don't go changing to try to please me" Billy Joel track, but the sentiment is essentially the same.

Played live, Just The Way You Are is something of an anthem. The Middle 8 has the epic, euphoric air of U2's Pride (In The Name Of Love). On record, it's a bit more subdued - but the animated video is a compact classic.

NB One: Although this video features a man in a hat, it is an Olly Murs free zone.
NB Two: Although Bruno Mars was on Travie McCoy's Billionaire, this song is not bollocks.
NB Three: What I'm trying to say is: 'Do not be afraid'.

Bruno Mars - Just The Way You Are

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Review: Brandon Flowers goes solo in London

Brandon Flowers does his best Bobby Ball impressionThe scorn poured on Brandon Flowers' solo album mystifies me. Critics are waggling their gnarled fingers in unison, scolding the Killers frontman for having the vulgarity to step away from his band. They call the record boring, bland, self-indulgent. Q magazine even compared it to Chris Rea.

I just don't hear it.

To me, the album is a real return to form after the nauseating sax-solo campery of The Killers' Day & Age. Flamingo is blushed with bankable hooks, sparkling synths and strutting, funkotronic basslines.

Recorded in the wake of Flowers' mother's death from cancer in February, it sees the star re-evaluating his relationships and his faith. Under stormy skies, Brandon barely goes 10 seconds without bleating on about sin or redemption. He even brings in a gospel choir for On The Floor - a song about sinking to your knees and making pitiful, forlorn prayers to your maker.

This is the song Flowers chooses to open his first ever UK solo gig, his head bowed under sombre lights at Islington's The Garage. The performance elicits fears that this could be one of those po-faced solo gigs that slowly sucks your soul out of your eardrums - but then the band count in to Crossfire and the worlds biggest grin lands smack bang in the middle of Flowers' face.

Honestly, he looks like The Joker in a groomsman's suit.

Brandon Flowers looking dapper "Well, thank you very much," he says to the crowd as it ends, explaining he'd been afraid no-one would know the words.

"This is the first time we've played since the record has come out, so it's exciting to see people that have heard a few of the songs."

The celebratory atmosphere continues throughout the show, culminating in an ill-advised bout of dad dancing from the normally suave rock star. The new material is indistinguishable from The Killers' - and a mid-set outing for Losing Touch (from Day & Age) only reinforces the impression that the acorn hasn't fallen far from the tree.

Appropriately, then, the songs feel stadium-sized even in a tiny, 500-capacity venue. Set closer Playing With Fire gains a rousing chantalong coda that builds and builds until the doors start to bulge. An acoustic encore of When You Were Young is entirely drowned out by the audience.

So, it's 500 happy punters and one ecstatic singer that vacate the venue at 9:30pm (note to promoters: this is much more amenable than the usual arrangement). The critics can carp all they want, but the audience know what they like.

On The Floor
Bette Davies Eyes (Kim Carnes Cover)
Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts
Was It Something I Said
Hard Enough
Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Elvis Presley cover)
Only The Young
Swallow It
Playing With Fire
Encore: When You Were Young

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kings Of Leon go Radioactive

The fans who felt Kings Of Leon's last album, Only By Night, was a commercial sell-out aren't going to be happy with the band's new material.

But screw them, this full-tilt charge at the mainstream is catchier (and therefore better) than anything on the Followill's first three albums combined.

Kings Of Leon - Radioactive

Note to pigeons: Next time, can you target Kasabian instead? kthxbye.

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Sacrilige corner: Lauren Pritchard

Lauren PritchardOn paper, Lauren Pritchard has a lot going for her. She's got a great voice; her single Painkillers has a chorus to die for; she starred opposite Glee's Lea Michele in the hit musical Spring Awakening; and she hasn't exactly been punched in the face by Captain Ugly.

But every time she pops up at festivals and radio sessions, she performs a relentlessly horrible cover version of TLC's Waterfalls. The original makes its heavy, socially-conscious message easier to swallow by coating it in a technicolor sugardrop of candy (with the most amazing elastic-band bassline you have ever heard).

Lauren ditches that approach and turns in a turgid sermon of earnest seriousface "sincerity". The whole thing is delivered in a faux-soulful croon that sounds like a miserable housewife scolding a wet dog.

And then she attempts the rap.

Lauren Pritchard - Waterfalls

Simply horrible.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Marina continues her run of excellent videos

Shampain is the best song Abba never recorded, and here is the video for it:

Marina And The Diamonds - Shampain

I particularly like the bit where Marina spins around very quickly while trying to avoid being hit in the mush by her necklace. It reminds me of the Like A Prayer video - even though the side-by-side comparison is a bit rubbish.

Marina and Madonna - or is it the other way around?

By the way: Don't you think Marina's chart record would look sunnier if she'd released her singles in reverse order (ie: Shampain, Oh No, Robot, Hollywood)? The answer you're looking for, readers, is "yes".

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A massively over-written post about Nadine Coyle's new solo material

Careful, you'll break your teethBy now you've probably had the chance to listen to Nadine's first solo effort. It's very good, isn't it? A thundering, juddering juggernaut of VERY LOUD pop music. I like it a lot.

I got the chance to spend half-an-hour listening to a few tracks from Nadine's album last week. Quite brilliantly, the whole affair took place in an expensive central London recording studio, where the songs were played in crystal clear hi-fidelity quality from... er, an iPhone plugged into speakers through its headphone socket.

It was one of those situations where various people involved with making the album watch you expectantly while the tracks are played at ear-damaging volumes. I did that thing that music journalists do of staring intently at the floor, tapping my foot and trying to pull the "I am enjoying this song very much" face.

Result: I looked like someone had stuck a fork in my leg and I was frantically trying to shake it off.

Luckily, though, the songs are very good indeed. They're almost exclusively recorded with "real" instruments, providing a chunky, organic backdrop to that powerhouse Derry voice. As you can hear on Insatiable, Nadine really lets rip, in a way she could only hint at on Girls Aloud tracks like Wake Me Up. And, without the need to harmonise with four English girls, her Norn Iron accent comes through more strongly than ever before. This is a good thing.

Irn Bru - made in Scotland from girdersApparently, Nadine wrote and recorded most of the basic tracks by herself in her flat in London. She used Apple's free music creator Garage Band to put them together - and then had to call in a bunch of top name producers (Toby Gad, William Orbit) to replace the copyrighted samples. This is not, it is safe to say, how Cheryl Cole goes about it.

I'm not really allowed to say much about the other songs I heard (not even their names!) but one was a choppy, staccato R&B-type number that you'll almost certainly want to dance to.

Another was the BIG BALLAD - which someone referred to as "an X Factor winner's song". That's massively underselling it, though, because the melody plunges and drops dramatically, taking the song far away from the safe waters of The Climb or A Moment Like This.

So, the big question is: Will this be a hit? The songs are definitely there. Insatiable, in particular, has lodged in my head after only two listens. But the tabloids seem to have settled on their angle already: Nadine snubs Cheryl; Girls Aloud to reform without Nadine; Top producer Labrinth turns down Nadine (hilariously, Labrinth later denied the quotes he'd supposedly given the Mirror). Nadine needs to spend a lot time spreading good will in Fleet Street if she wants to rewrite that narrative.

On the plus side, Insatiable is bound to get a jaw-dropping, hair-tossing video courtesy of Wayne Isham (Britney, Aaliyah, N*Sync, Shayne Bloody Ward). And the decision to release the album through Tesco is forward-thinking and perfectly suited to Nadine's fanbase. It all shows that she has the smarts, the talent and the drive to get herself heard... Let's hope she manages it.

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Nadine Coyle's solo single - Insatiable

There will be time for a more sober reflection on this later, but Nadine has just posted a snippet of her debut single Insatiable up on Youtube.

It's probably not what you would have expected - there are huge, stadium-drenched guitars all the way through it, for starters. So think Whitney's Queen Of The Night, or En Vogue's Free Your Mind for comparison purposes. Except it sounds nothing like either of those. And it's really rather good indeed.

Nadine Coyle - Insatiable

Co-written with Guy "I'm loving angels instead" Chambers, the single is out on 1st November. An album of the same name follows on 8th November. It will contain a ballad.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

New music: The Pierces

Not Bond girls

Hello there. Here are two sisters from America's Deep South who may or may not be witches. They are called The Pierces and they make music that would not sound out of place in a carnival designed by Tim Burton. On the day after the apocalypse.

Catherine and Allison say they cast a spell in order to get a record deal and - hey presto - Polydor stepped up and agreed to release their Coldplay-endorsed third record. History does not record whether the staff of Polydor then held a celebratory dinner where their A&R man floated above the table and lip-synced to Harry Belafonte's Jump In The Line.

An EP comes out to set the scene on 27th September, and the lead track is a gothic depth charge called Love You More. Simultaneously sensual and sinister, it goes a little something like this.

The Pierces - Love You More

10 facts about The Pierces:

1) Allison is the brunette one. Catherine is the blonde. I totally Googled their ages, but no-one was admitting anything to anyone.

2) Both sisters are former ballerinas.

3) Allison was kidnapped at the age of 16 by “a radical born-again, gypsy, dancing troupe that whisked her around the country on a dilapidated bus”.

4) The band split up in 2008 - but the very next day the sisters received a call asking "if we wanted to join Coldplay on tour in South America..." and decided to they might have a career, after all.

5) Catherine has an abnormally high resting body temperature of around 99°F / 37.5°C.

6) Their ambition is to "kick Madonna's ass".

7) Allison was thrown out of school for biting boys. Like a vampire.

8) PAY ATTENTION BROADSHEET JOURNALISTS: Catherine was once engaged to Albert Hammond Jr out of The Strokes.

9) Catherine's favourite movie is Edward Scissorhands and Allison's is Woody Allen's Manhattan.

10) Their former single Secret is the theme tune to hit US TV show Pretty Little Liars, and it has a darn good video.

The Pierces - Secret

So there you go.

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This would appear to be a clip of Cheryl Cole's new single

In what is either a massive breach of protocol or a clever bit of PR to distract attention from today's decree nisi, a snippet of Cheryl Cole's new single, Promise This has appeared on the internets.

Cheryl Cole - Promise This

Assuming the clip has been taken down by the time you read this, here's what you missed.

Prologue: A man says, "have you heard this yet? This is one of the songs from..." Another voice (possibly Cheryl's) says, "Are these speakers on? I'm scared... I'm excited but I'm scared"

Introduction: Cheryl, double-tracked up the wazoo, sings "alouette-ette-ette-ette plumerai, plumerai". Therefore, two hit singles this year will have been based on the same French nursery rhyme. What's wrong with Frere Jacques?

Verse: An insistent drum beat, a bleepy synth and Cheryl informing us "In the beginning, there was nothing". That's from the Bible.

Bridge: "Promise this - if I die before I wake". That's from a prayer called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (or, if you prefer, Enter Sandman by Metallica).

The End: The mobile phone recording the track is switched off before we get to the chorus. Boooo!

Tabloid conclusion: TV Girl CHERYL COLE has FOUND RELIGION after her NEAR-DEATH experience with a tropical DISEASE.

Fan site conclusion: OMZG that is totes amazing n I want to hear moar!!!!!!1

My conclusion: Sounds alright, doesn't it?

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

As if by magic... Cee-Lo appears

That Facebook exclusive didn't last long, after all. Here's the truly superb Cee-Lo Green video "in full".

Cee-Lo Green - F**k You

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This is not Cee-Lo's new video

Cee-Lo has quite possibly made the video of the year for his new single F**k You. But can I let you see it? Can I bollocks. No, you have to go to Facebook and "like" the video before Warner / Atlantic will let you have a peek.

What happens if, having watched the clip, you decide you don't "like" it, after all? Tough cheese. You've already told everyone in your friends list that you do. It's a trick that's cheaper than Lidl.

The video is super-cute, by the way, with a tiny child acting the role of Cee-Lo in a Technicolor period piece set in a 60s diner. I could post some screenshots but, do you know what? I don't feel like helping out the record label right now.

Here's a picture of some pants on a washing line instead.


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Shakira and Dizzee's most excellent duet

After writing about Mark Ronson's lightness-of-touch yesterday, it's interesting to hear a new track from Shakira that displays the same traits. Her She-Wolf album, which is barely 12 months old, was a classic example of an artist trying so hard to be cutting edge and relevant that their music became stilted and wooden.

Things got back on track with her World Cup anthem Waka Waka and this new record, Loca, is in a similar vein. Coconuts have been shaken, tequila bottles have been drained, and the gras is most definitely mardi.

Best bit, though, is Dizzee Rascal blurting "that girl is a nutter".

He calls 'em like he sees 'em.

[soundcloud width="100%" height="81" params="" url="http://soundcloud.com/ileaks/shakira-hells-angel"]

The song is from Shakira's hot-off-the-presses new album, Sale El Sol (Sunrise). The Colombian popstrel unveiled the artwork on Twitter last night...

Sale El Sol

Let's hope the rest of the album lives up to the promise of the single.

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