We have had a full calendar month to get used to the new Christina Aguilera single, readers, and it hasn't got any better. If anything it's deteriorated, like a scrap of food that's got stuck under the sofa and gone so mouldy you can't be sure what it used to be. I mean, it was probably just a crisp - but if that's the case why does it smell so strongly of mackerel?
Anyway, Christina has just unveiled the video for said single, Not Myself Tonight. There is a huge (ie pointless) debate raging about whether she is trying to copy Lady Gaga, but if you ask me the whole enterprise is a 15-rated tribute to Madonna's Express Yourself video. Let's have a look at the evidence:
Blonde woman sees something shocking through her monocle
Woman in catsuit drinks milk from a bowl, like a cat
Bare-chested men dance in the rain, observed from an elevated viewpoint
Inadequately dressed woman removes coat to reveal her BRA!
"Oh no, I have spilt this saucer of liquid all over my shoulder. Clumsy me".
As you can no doubt tell from the screenshots, the Madonna version wins on such factors as lighting, shot composition, artistry, class, iconoclasm and sex appeal. In Christina's favour... erm... er... the picture is sharper??
Every great frontman needs a foil. Bono has The Edge, Sir Mick has Keef, Lennon and McCartney had each other. A fiesty sparring partner gives the singer someone to spark off, to energise their performance, to balance out their ego.
They are also useful to look at during the guitar solos.
Dougy Mandagi, lead singer of The Temper Trap, has yet to find a suitable counterpart. His band aren't short of personality (they've got Angry Anderson on keyboards - FACT!!!*) but they don't seem to be keen on the whole interaction thing.
It's a shame, because Dougy's soulful, cooing falsetto is catch-your-breath mesmerising. But once the singing stops, he's left floundering. There are only so many times you can turn your back on the audience and wiggle about aimlessly while you wait for the next lyric to come around (it's three times, apparently, or four if you have a very shapely bottom).
That's not to say that The Temper Trap are an unappetising prospect - quite the opposite, in fact. Their swirling, chiming, indie anthems are a four-course feast for the ears. Songs like Down River and Resurrection layer on the tension, building and building to a massive, ecstatic release in the final 16 bars. It's stirring stuff, although a muddy, bombastic sound mix robs some of the more dramatic crescendos of their impact. Here's a hint: If you start quietly, then the loud bits will sound even louder when you get to them.
It's comforting to discover that, like me, none of the audience have been able to decipher what Dougy is singing in his angelic Finley Quaye / Roland Gift voice. During Sweet Disposition, the band's biggest hit to date, a guy next to me ad-libs "A Mormon alive, Nazeem Allah. A kiss, Accrah, I'm right, I'm Rob". I think this is about 90% correct, actually.
A brief technical hitch sees the set-closer, Drum Song, delayed for about five minutes while a roadie fiddles with an effects pedal. It proves again that the group haven't yet perfected their stagecraft. Instead of soldiering on, or breaking out an acoustic guitar for a quick cover of Don’t Stop Believin' (this would have been amazing), they stand around with their backs to the audience, helplessly watching the pedal mayhem unfold.
But these are early days for a young band - and things finally seem to gel during the rambunctious encore, Science Of Fear, when Dougy dramatically dives into the crowd. A gaggle of screaming girls try to tear off his Bruce Springsteen pyjama top, but he prises himself from their furtive grip and makes it back to the stage for the finale, punching the air and belting out his final chorus with all the energy of an exploding volcano.
Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and lose yourself for the next three minutes. Simply beautiful.
Regina Spektor - No Surprises
Regina's cover of the Radiohead classic was recorded for the charity Doctors Without Borders. If you live in the US, please buy a copy on iTunes to support their work bringing medical care to people in crisis in more than 60 countries around the world, including victims of the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti. Both Regina and Radiohead have donated proceeds and royalties from the track to the charity.
Outside the US, you'll have to download it illegally and make a separate donation via this webpage. [*sad face*]
I bumped into Marina of "and the Diamonds" fame at Television Centre on Monday. She'd just done an interview on BBC Breakfast and sheepishly admitted she'd forgotten to plug her single (you can watch the interview here - I like the bit where she says hello to her mum).
But let's face it, you'd have to be an IDIOT not to know that I Am Not A Robot is out this week. What's more, it comes with a ton of amazing new remixes. In fact, before you go any further, check out the Clock Opera mix on YouTube. It's like a piñata exploding gently in your earholes.
As part of the promotional tour, Marina was over at Radio 1's Live Lounge last week doing Robot and a string-soaked cover of 3OH3!'s Starstrukk, which is something of a revelation, given how soul-drainingly terrible the original was.
You can listen to them both below, or watch videos of the performance on the Radio 1 site. I've also embedded a splendid surf guitar cover of Marina's Hollywood, by fellow Welsh act Kids In Glass Houses, which I discovered about a month ago and promptly forgot about.
Marina and the Diamonds - I Am Not A Robot (live lounge)
Marina And The Diamonds - Starstrukk (live lounge)
Kids In Glass Houses - Hollywood (live lounge)
Oh, and if you haven't heard enough versions of I Am Not A Robot today, watch this cute-as-baby-chicklets video from the pupils of Public School 22 in Staten Island, New York. Too brilliant for words.
Controversy-magnet MIA is, somewhat predictably, following up her first big mainstream success with a censor-baiting video about the horrors of war.
Stretching out to nine minutes, the promo is full of nudity and explicit violence as it rams home two important and seldom-heard messages: War is bad and racism is bad.
See, MIA is trying to SHOCK us out of our cosy Western COMPLACENCY by confronting us with the brutal REALITIES of armed conflict and military OPPRESSION. The video sees masked soldiers in an unspecified country rounding up all the ginger men and children, bussing them out to the desert, turning their weapons on them and forcing them to run through a minefield.
What we learn is that hating people because of the colour of their skin is as illogical as hating them because of the colour of their hair, or their eyes, or what clothes they wear. I had literally never thought of this before.
The other thing we learn is that guns, explosions and violence are appropriate tools to sell a pop song.
Temper Trap's 2009 album Conditions is one of the best rock records in years - anthemic without being overblown, emotionally sincere and full of those moments where the guitars kick in and your stomach does a little glug.
The Australian band are just coming to the end of a successful jaunt around the UK, finishing up with a triumphant three nights at the Shepherd's Bush Empire this week. I'll be there tomorrow, so expect a review by Thursday afternoon.
In the meantime, here's the sublime video for their new single Love Lost, which is directed by Dougal Wilson - who photoshopped Will Young onto the Blue Peter set for Who Am I, and put Jarvis Cocker in charge of a taxi for Don't Let Him Waste Your Time.
Tiny pop sparrow Diana Vickers has been over at Radio One chirping her way through a couple of songs in the live lounge.
In chronological order, we got a slightly toothless version of future number one single Once and a beautifully restrained cover of Snow Patrol's Just Say Yes. Gary Lightbody has written a couple of tracks on Vickers' album, so that's all very fraternal and splendid.
The full session and interview is up on the Live Lounge website , or you can listen to it all right here.
I refused to pay attention to Tinie Tempah's Pass Out when it first came out because it shared genetic material with Chipmunk and N-Dubz (not actual genetic material, of course, unless there's something sinister going on in the basement at Universal Records again).
But after a couple of weeks of blanket radio play, I realised there was something a bit different going on. For starters, the lyrics were intelligent and funny - I actually chuckled the first time I noticed the line: "I got so many clothes I keep’s em in my aunts house".
The production was a cut above the normal, too. So many UK R&B artists are content to loop the first idea that comes into their head and use it as the basis for an entire track (Taio Cruz's new single is essentially the same 16-beat phrase repeated for three minutes without any musical variation, progression or development). Tinie's track shot off in so many directions you could have mistaken it for a catherine wheel. Or the plot of a Tarantino movie. Or a better analogy than either of those.
Now the 21-year-old is back with a new record. Like so many second singles, its a slightly-less-brilliant version of its predecessor. It's all about a foxy lady, and what Tinie plans to do with her in his boudoir. What a saucy devil.
The lyrics are superb. Here are my favourites - you may have your own.
:: "Would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit?" :: "Her dress from All Saints but I think I found a sinner." :: "I would put her in positions, like the mission, from my staircase to her kitchen."
Check out the song (no video yet, sorry) using this device here:
The xx, as music blog Hitfix once said, usually make me zz.
I mean, I get what they're trying to do - the minimalism, the mumbling, the bleak, haunting despair of opening your wardrobe and realising everything you own is black, which is the colour of your soul, and why do your parents hate you, it's not like you need to go to university to get a job, your mate Sarah's brother left school after his GCSEs and now he's working as a chef on a cruise ship earning £10,000 a year, and he gets to go to all these amazing places all the time, so why can't you, it's JUST. NOT. FAIR.
That said, there is something alluring about the London trio's stipped down electro goth. Listen to the album, and you'll find yourself slowly being entranced by the hypnotic, lilting guitar lines and whispered vocals. It's one of those records that makes a virtue of every track sounding exactly the same as the last one.
Video director Saam Farahmand (Klaxons, Janet Jackson) has clearly picked up on this - as the promo clip for The XX's new single is the same seven-second shot repeated over and over again with minor variations.
At first, you'll struggle to spot the difference - but as the video unfolds, the changes become more dramatic until, eventually, everything bursts into flames.
US saucepot Ciara has made a new video which features some of the best dancing you'll see this year (unless, of course, you've already booked tickets for that 3D Diversity film).
It is four minutes of utter filth - which you can only watch on YouTube (YouTube). Here is one of the more SFW screenshots.
The lyrics are a variant on that old R&B standby - riding in cars as a metaphor for doing rumpo on a boy. In this instance, Ciara is riding "the beat" as a sly way of referencing her carnal lustcakes.
And in case lyrics like "I can do it big / I can do it long" are too nuanced for you, she rams the point home by taking off most of her clothes and twitching her crotch at your eyeballs as if to say: "You see me? You see sex? Love it."
Thus, we can ascertain that international R&B star Ciara, with her pots of money, supple torso and above average face, has definitely boffed someone.
Kelis has scored a top five smasheroo with Acapella (yay!) but don't you wish she'd asked her English teacher to have a look at the lyrics before she put the single out?
I'm talking about the bit where she goes: "Before you, my whole life was acapella
Now a symphony's the only song to sing."
You can't sing a symphony. A symphony is instrumental (I double-checked in the dictionary - that's how sad my life is). If she'd said "now a symphony's the only song I hear" it would have been alright.
This isn't the only recent song with sloppy standards of English. What on earth does Alicia Keys mean by "concrete jungle where dreams are made of"? Well, I know what she means - New York is a harsh urban sprawl, but it holds untold promise for those willing to pursue their dreams - but what she says is total bollocks.
And what about that that oft-cited lyrical alchemist, Lily Allen? She tells us in The Fear that "I want to be rich and I want lots of money". Both at the same time? Imagine that.
Anyway, I'm not here to lecture you on falling standards of education - that's what election manifestos are for - my job is to point you in the direction of catchy noises. And here is one such noise: Post-punk trio The Futureheads doing an actual acapella version of Kelis's song in Radio One's Live Lounge.
Yes, that's missing the point of the song entirely but, as I may have mentioned already, English comprehension isn't a musician's strong point.
I'll be heading out to Norway for the Eurovision Song Contest next month and, as part of my "research", I've been creating a word cloud from this year's lyrics. It's not 100% finished (I'm still trying to track down English translations for the Macedonian and Slovenian songs) but I thought you might want to have a look.
The cloud was created using Wordle, the lyrics came from the official Eurovision site, and I got some of the English language versions from lyricstranslations (although we'll get professional translations for the final version).
I haven't had the time to listen to all 38 entries yet - but two already stand out. First up is Azerbaijain's BIG BALLAD.
Second is the Dutch entry - which wins bonus stars for conforming to every Eurovision steretype in the book. It is so rubbish it might just win.
Elena Jane Goulding is limbering up. She throws back her head and shakes out her arms - like a boxer preparing for a fight - then she squares up to the microphone and belts out The Writer with as much gusto as her lungs will allow.
Ahead of the shows on her UK tour, Ellie has been meeting up with fans and going for a run… and it shows. Her performance is surprisingly physical, and her crop top reveals a healthily toned midriff. The bare flesh is too much for the men in the audience, who enter into a ridiculous stand-off in an attempt to attract Ellie's attention.
"I love you, Ellie!" "I really love you, Ellie!!" "I love you more than these guys!!!" "But seriously, I DO love you!!!!"
Thankfully, a duel is avoided and the rest of us can concentrate on the music. Ellie's debut album, Lights, can be a little too polite to grab your attention but in concert even the weaker songs burst into life. The band don't just get their teeth into tracks like Your Biggest Mistake, they chomp at them until they're leaner, rougher, harder. Conversely, an ethereal acoustic take on Wish I'd Stayed is a massive improvement on the overly-fussy album mix.
The highlights, predictably, are the singles. Ellie is hoarse with passion on Guns And Horses, while Under The Sheets gains an explosive instrumental coda, as the 23-year-old pounds ferociously on a lonely drum.
Getting rid of all that pent-up energy seems to be theraputic. Ellie signs off with the ebullient (and uber-posh) "Thank you for being so bloody brilliant", then disappears into the night tweeting "Happy innit?"
Us too, Ellie. Us too.
Setlist Lights Every Time You Go This Love (Will Be Your Downfall) Guns and Horses Your Biggest Mistake The Writer Salt Skin Under The Sheets Wish I Stayed Roscoe (Midlake cover) Starry Eyed
Do you know what? When we posted details of Marina's "make your own video" competition yesterday, we assumed it would never take off.
By our reckoning, there's only a very small pool of people who'd be interested in entering it. We even made a pie chart to illustrate what those people would be like.
But look at this -- there are enough cover versions of Bad Romance on YouTube (YouTube) for someone to make a compilation of 101 of them. ONE HUNDRED AND ONE! And there wasn't even a prize at the end of it all.
Clearly, we are not cut out for the modern world and should just hide away in our bedroom with a catering-size box of Nice biscuits waiting for the apocalypse.
Last week, we alerted you to the laid-back Chicago sound of Kid Sister's new single, Daydreaming. We spoke to Ms Sister (Melissa Young to her friends) earlier today and learnt the following things:
1) At the age of 13, she had false nails like "a whore".
2) She used to steal body spray when she worked at The Gap, despite an entirely reasonable 30% staff discount.
3) She doesn't like it when people compare her house music / hip-hop hybrid to the Black Eyed Peas, so don't do it, okay?
Daydreaming is out next week - but we're already loving this blissed out disco remix by Finnish club supremos Top Billin. Once the sun finally comes out, we're playing at full blast this at any barbeque or open-air cocktail party where the host lets us hog the stereo like twats.
As people up and down the country must surely know by now, Marina and the Diamonds is re-releasing I Am Not A Robot (officially the best single of last year, according to me) later this month.
Now, the original release has an original video which is also being used for the new release. But Marina has just uploaded a new video to accompany the new release which concurrently forms part of a competition for fans to make a new new video for the new release.
The best result here would be if someone submitted a new video recreating the old video in their bedroom, which could in turn be used as the new new video, thus creating some sort of continuum between all three, causing time to fold in on itself and life as we know it coming to a calamitous, but beautifully soundtracked, ending.
Or we could all just get on with our lives.
Anyway, Marina's competition "entry" (it'll be a bit of a swizz if she wins, won't it?) sees her walking down Sunset Boulevard lip-syncing to the song while waving around the disembodied arms of Big Bird's albino sister.
Incontrovertible pop fact: A disappointing album by an artist you love is much, much worse than a bad record by someone you never cared for.
I still bear a grudge against Shirley Manson after she enticed me to pay money for Garbage's third album, in which the band finally lived up to their name. The fact that Mika's second album is a gaudy, unloved disaster zone, however, merely fills me with glee.
I know I'm not alone in this: Alison Goldfrapp recently told me she refused to listen to anything Prince released after 1993, because it tainted her memory of the "good stuff". She's missing out, though, because the odd gem (Black Sweat or Family Name) is worthy of his 1980s purple patch.
One band I'd written off after a difficult second album was The Scissor Sisters. Compared to the hedonistic disco of their first record, Ta-Dah! was oddly forced and joyless. The wind had gone from their sails; the helium balloons had deflated; The vim had left their vimto.
But how about this: The Scissor Sisters' new material is 100% back on form.
The band officially announced their third record, Night Work, yesterday (although they've been talking about it since last August) and released a brand new preview track called Invisible Light. A full six minutes of twisted disco, it features Jake Shears' criminally underused tenor voice, and a Thriller-esque spoken word segment about Babylon and lasers by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian of McKellen.
Best of all, the track suggests the band have ditched all that Elton John frippery and reconnected with their filthy gorgeous New York club roots. The sleazy, claustrophobic synthpop sounds like vintage New Order vs The Pet Shop Boys, and comes courtesy of Madonna's former musical director, Stuart Price.
The Scissors have mercifully uploaded the clip to YouTube (YouTube) so you can hear it right here, right now. Fantasmajesticles.
Musical polymath Beck has an ongoing project called "Record Club" where he and various guest artists cover entire albums, just for kicks. And they're getting double kicks (ADVANCE APOLOGY FOR LAME PUN) with their latest effort - INXS' seminal 1987 album, Kick.
The results are being released in weekly installments and, so far, they're three tracks in - with a scuzzy Guns In The Sky; a spooky take on New Sensation and a not-very-good-at-all Devil Inside.
Next up is Need You Tonight.
Here are the videos, which feature Beck alongside Liars, Annie Clark and Daniel Hart from St Vincent, Sergio Dias from legendary Brazilian band Os Mutantes and Brian Lebarton. I'll keep an eye out for any further gems.
We went all gooey-eyed over Kid Sister's last two singles Pro Nails (with Kanye West) and Right Hand Hi - both records you SHOULD have on your iPod if you like Queen Latifah, Salt'N'Pepa, Missy Elliot or Eve. They're seriously, seriously good records.
Daydreaming is the next single off her debut album, Ultraviolet (out in May) and it's a bit of a deviation from the bug eyed electro-rap we've gotten used to.
Co-written with Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo Green, it shares musical DNA with Boy Meets Girls' Waiting For A Star To Fall and Kelis' Little Star - aka the one everyone said Cheryl Cole ripped off for Fight For This Love, even though the only similiarity was the use of a glockenspiel in the bridge, as if those were the only two songs in the history of music ever to feature that obscure and outlandish musical instrument you find in EVERY ORCHESTRA IN THE WORLD.
Anyway, the song is pretty catchy in a summery, carefree way. A solid 6/10, compared to the 8/10 we'd have given Kid Sister's previous efforts, but well worth three minutes of your day.
:: Big Boi is one half of superlative Atlanta rap duo OutKast
:: OutKast are best known for Hey Ya, a single with the inventive lyrical couplet: "Hey Ya. Hey Ya."
:: Big Boi had nothing to do with that song because of a DAMAGING RIFT with his cohort, André 3000
:: But he did have a hand in other great singles such as The Way You Move and Ms Jackson.
:: History does not record which hand.
:: For the last three years, Big Boi has been trying to get his improbably titled solo project - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty - onto your iPod, but record company wrangling has hindred his artistry and stifled his creativity. These are the troubled times we live in, readers.
:: The upside to the delay is that Big Boi has invested some quality time in rekindling his bromance with André 3000 (he bought him a box of Milk Tray and sent a "thoughtful" card on his birthday). Thus, the duo have been collaborating on the new record.
:: Upon hearing the good news of a semi-runion, Def Jam stepped in and suggested they could put out Big Boi's record, after all. It is now slated for a May release.
:: The first single was unveiled last night. It is called Shutterbug and it is a hot'n'funky slab of electro-rap, with a brief nod to Soul II Soul's Back To Life.
:: It features the rather unpleasant lyric: "I'm shittin' on niggers and peeing on the seat". Some people have no manners. No manners at all.
:: Shutterbug (a slang term for paparazzi, fact fans) sounds exactly like this.
Ah well, here's some other musinews and "interesting" links from the last two weeks of blissful inactivity.
:: Thank God for Kelis. Her new single (which actually premiered last November) is a Giorgio Moroder-inspired stone cold classic. It's called a capella, and the video is a triumph. Full marks all round.
:: Christina Aguilera's new single is called Not Myself Tonight. It's weaker than your nan's tea. (Brightcove)
:: Direct from the 1998 newsroom, reports filter through that Ricky Martin is totally gay for men. (BBC)
:: A novelist reveals the secrets of 24's writing room. Surprisingly, it's not just 12 blokes going "and then Jack punches a guy in the face WITH A HAMMER and everything explodes". But it's close. (New York Times)
:: The Noisettes have done a literally quite good cover version of The Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t've) for a Doc Marten anniversary campaign. For some reason, the word "slinky" comes to mind here.
:: An insightful, balanced, non-hysterical profile of Lady Gaga of Hitsville. A rare and beautiful thing. (New York Magazine)
:: Another new A-Team trailer was unleashed, featuring gold standard dialogue such as: "I'm B.A. You're going to B.Unconcious" Really? Really?! (Apple)
:: Grammy-nominated R&B artist Janelle Monae has been hovering around on the edges of massive success for a couple of years now. I'd always avoided listening to her because I mistakenly believed she was palefaced West Wing star Janel Maloney (Donna) attempting a godawful music career. Turns out she isn't anything of the sort and her first "proper" single, Tightrope, is good for your ears.
:: My interviews with pop warbler Diana Vickers and sensitive troubador Joshua Radin went up on the BBC site while I was away. One was read by 50,000 people, the other by 2,300. Can you guess which was which?
:: Keane have done a song with the teriffic Somalian rap'n'b star K'Naan. The two acts have nothing in common except alphabetical proximity, and the song is… well, put it this way, neither of them looks comfortable in the video. (YouTube)
:: People are still remixing Marina And The Diamonds' I Am Not A Robot and the remixes continue to be brilliant. Expect to hear a lot more, too, because the single's being re-released, properly this time, on 26th April. (Arjan Writes)
:: Mini Viva continued their slow transformation into Mel and Kim (When they were both alive, obviously. Don't be sick.)