Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nicole Scherzinger "Poison"

Poised to top the UK singles chart this weekend is the "debut" single "Poison" from ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. If X Factor has taught me anything, is that this is in fact Scherzinger's first single away from PCD, her long-awaited solo debut to finally conquer solo pop music stardom. I mean, what the hell is a Babylove? Some kind of misguided show about adult baby fetishes?

In all seriousness, I'm not too won over by this, but it's nice to finally see her gain some solo credibility and the video's pretty cool too, I like the whole super-villain theme. Go Scherzer!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Album Review: Duffy - Endlessly (4/5)

Welsh singer Duffy enchanted pop fans with her exquisite blend of 60-inspired soul, pop and soft rock on 2008’s best-seller Rockferry, scoring the massive chart topper “Mercy,” nabbing a Grammy win, producing sales of nearly 10 million worldwide, raving reviews in which drew comparisons to soul legends Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield, fast forward only 2 years later and the Welsh songstress isn’t shining as bright.

So where did things go wrong? Brassy lead single “Well, Well, Well” suffered an unenthusiastic reception (peaking at #41, her lowest charting since debut single “Rockferry”) and early reviews for the much-awaited follow-up Endlessly aren’t looking so great; Slant Magazine gave this a 1.5 out of 5 calling it “faux-town soul and preening lounge-act pop.”

Whilst Endlessly is notably not as enjoyable or as appealing as its predecessor, it’s not exactly a terrible album. It capitalizes on the same ‘60’s pop/soul throwback, showcasing good craftsmanship particularly on its ballads, exuding a sense of vintage soul in the same vein as Rockferry. “Too Hurt to Dance,” really turns the clock back; gentle orchestration over swooning drums patterns and condoling lyrics: “If they call it heartache, why is the rest of my body aching.” Similar is “Don’t Forsake Me” which goes for that same vintage essence, drums and an orchetratic backdrop with a hint of vulnerability—which sees Duffy practising the falsetto register of her vocal.

My favourite ballad on here though, is the title track “Endlessly,” which beautifully clocks in the melody and genuine sincerity backed with a nice tuneful acoustic guitar and trembling percussion. It’s fantastic. There’s a couple more ballads on here which aren’t as good like the airy wallowing of “Hard of the Heart,” and the plodding drum-fronted mid-tempo “Breath Away.” The uptempos serve up a sturdy balance, not all of them hit the right notes—but they’re good. “My Boy” lays down some racketing drum beats and warbling synth coated undertones. “Keeping My Baby” exudes a funkier outlook; faster paced drums, keyboards and subtle soundscapes, similar is “Lovestruck,” which isn’t as good and I’m not too fond of “Girl” either. I’m not too sure what she’s trying to do on that one.

Like I mentioned before, Endlessly isn’t a terrible album, in fact there are few good moments on here, however coming off the back of Rockferry, there should be a bigger sense of solidarity as ultimately it does feel a bit flimsy and to a greater extent uninspired—despite it still capitalizing on that golden ‘60s inspired pop—but that shouldn’t be surprise, apparently Duffy said she recorded this album in three weeks.

Best: Endlessly, Well Well Well, Don’t Forsake Me, Too Hurt to Dance, My Boy

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Personal Airplay, November 25, 2010

TW (LW) Title - Artist
1. (1) The Flood - Take That (4 weeks @ #1)
2. (3) Firework - Katy Perry
3. (4) Happiness - Alexis Jordan
4. (2) Only Girl (In the World) - Rihanna
5. (5) Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj
6. (8) Well, Well, Well - Duffy
7. (11) Like a G6 - Far East Movement
8. (7) Higher - The Saturdays feat. Flo Rida
9. (15) The Silence - Alexandra Burke
10. (19) Grenade - Bruno Mars

Monday, November 22, 2010

Album Review: Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday (4/5)

Ever since signing to American hip-hop heavyweight Lil Wayne’s record label Young Money, Nicki Minaj has since become the most exciting female rappers to emerge from recent times—mostly circulating the feature circuit—showcasing her unique animated rapping style, multi-persona’s and unorthodox lyrical approach to hip-hop, so what does her much-anticipated debut album Pink Friday have in store?

Pink Friday doesn’t re-call the same beat driven lyrical genius of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill nor does it indulge in same off-putting trash-talking gentile-obsessed profanities of Thug Misses—Minaj’s debut attempts to nurture a fitting balance between the archetypal self-indulging boasting angle of hip-hop as well as exuding a more restraint sound on the slower R&B-ish numbers, but does it work? There’s nothing on here that illustrates Minaj’s rapping talents as well as her animated cameos (notably Kanye West’s “Monster”) but there’s enough versatility demonstrated on here to establish a commendable debut.

First three tracks are pretty much triggered by your standard modern hip-hop production: skittering drum beats and electronic undertones. It all begins with “I’m the Best,” an introductory rags to riches story—I quite like how the soulful horns play out towards the end—it’s a nice touch. Next up is “Roman’s Revenge,” with Eminem where things get a little darker—a penetrating drum-driven series of vengeful outbursts by both parties, apparently Minaj is talking about fellow female rapper Lil’ Kim (“That bitch mad ‘cause I took the spot”). The Bangladesh produced “Did It On ‘Em” follows; gritty undertones and kinetic bass lines, it’s my least favourite of the three. Lyrically, It doesn’t do much either, but what do you expect when the opening lyrics are “I just shitted on ‘em.”

Following the orthodox hip-hop of its first quarter, comes its more poppy, R&B influenced middle section, covered by 5 tracks. The first of the 5 is the fluffy second single “Right Thru Me” a laid back pop ditty with progressive synthetic keyboard notes. The JR Rotem produced “Fly” featuring Rihanna is pretty good—sounds like a contender for a future single—trailing a more uplifting R&B sound; gleaming keyboards, skittering drums and a layer of soundscape clinched to the backdrop. Rihanna sounds nice on here too.

Pink Friday may not have not showcased Minaj’s unorthodox rapping talents as much as I’ve liked, however my favourite track on here is the all-singing “Save Me,” a fragile mid-tempo, in which she sheds some vulnerability, over some hollowing soundscapes, quiet electronic pulsing and cool drum ‘n’ bass beats—that was a nice surprise in sound. “Moment 4 Life” with label-mate Drake is another favourite; I think it’s being considered for the third single. It’s quite nice, very optimistic in the same vein as “Fly,” very drum-heavy with some R&B flourishes. The quirky collab with Will.I.am “Check It Out” is thrown on here too, I’m not sure why but it’s a fun slice of pop and ridiculous lyrics (“this is mega-nigga ultra niggmatic”).

We return from the pop-studded middle-section to the skittering hip-hop production of its last section. Minaj’s opening verse on the Kanye West-assisted “Blazin’” is the best rap verse on the album—Kanye puts in a good verse also. I love the Simple Minds sample too. The dark beat-heavy “Here I Am” follows, beginning with a bursts of accelerating electronic static—I had thought they were electronic guitars, but they sound more like a mimic of motor-bike engines—before it segway’s into its shadowing production. It’s defenceless in the same vein as Mary J. Blige “Take Me As I Am,” as she says (“why is that you can only see the worst in me… I could say I’m done with it but it lurks in me”).

Minaj channels her past self on “Dear Old Nicki,” it’s a nice lyrical re-calling—not as a deep as P!nk’s “Conversations with My 13 Year Old Self,” but it’s sentimental enough. The album ends on a bum note, with the wasted collaboration with British pop singer Natasha Bedingfield, “Last Chance,” this could have been something good, unfortunately sounds like filler.

With a few duds here and there, Pink Friday is a solid debut. Minaj may not have presented the level of quirk and interest she showcases on her features on here, but in-all it’s an admirable set, a sturdy balance of hip-hop and pop, I went back and forth on whether to give this a 3.5 or 4 but in the end a 4 was appropriate as Nicki Minaj does illustrate rapping and lyrical talents, placing her nicely behind female rappers that came before her. People compare her to Lil Kim like she is the pinnacle of female rap, but what about Missy Elliot? That’s the level of hip-hop craftsmanship any newcomer should be aiming for.

Best: Save Me, Right Thru Me, Moment 4 Life, Fly, Roman's Revenge, Blazin, Here I Am

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prevewing Duffy's Endlessly

The new Duffy album Endlessly, the follow-up to the massively successful debut Rockferry is out in two weeks and iTunes have up previews of the forthcoming 10 track set. I'm pretty impressed at what I've heard so far; I'm liking the swooning guitar-driven balladry of "Endlessly" and "Too Hurt to Dance" as well as the more upbeat soul-ish pop of "Keeping My Baby" and quirky lead single "Well Well Well." Take a listen to the title track below:

Michael Jackson "Hold My Hand"

I hear this surfaced online a few days ago, I heard it on Radio 2 this morning. It's another new Michael Jackson track "Hold My Hand" featuring Akon. What do you think? I think it sounds good--a cool R&B flavored mid-tempo, better than "Breaking News." The choir towards the end is a nice touch. Check out this awesome accompanying video someone on YouTube made below:

Billboard Hot 100, November 27, 2010

1. Like a G6 - Far*East Movement

Returning to the top spot is musical quartet Far*East Movement's "Like a G6," which topped the tally for the first time 3 weeks ago. It's actually only the 2nd single this year to return to #1, after Usher's "OMG" featuring Will.i.am.

2. Only Girl (In the World) - Rihanna
(7. What's My Name? - Rihanna feat. Drake)

As "What's My Name?" takes a steep 6 spot drop from #1 to #7 this week (while still remaining this week's airplay gainer) Rihanna's other single in the top 10 "Only Girl (In the World)" ascends to a new peak of #2.

4. Raise Your Glass - P!nk

Pink lands her fourth top 5 single with "Raise Your Glass," which rises up 3 spots this week. It's actually quite astonishing that it's only her fourth top 5 single since 2000's "Most Girls."

8. Teenage Dream - Glee

Glee's cover of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" lands the show their 2nd top 10 hit, following the shows first charting single, their cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" that peaked at #4. The popular cover opens at #8 with their biggest sales week ever, with 241,000 downloads this week.

12. The Time (The Dirty Bit) - Black Eyed Peas

After the three monster chart toppers spawned from the Black Eyed Peas last album The END ("Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling," and "Imma Be") this is a pretty underwhelming debut. The group's new single "The Time (The Dirty Bit)," lead single from the forthcoming sixth album The Beginning, misses the top 10, debuting at #12. Maybe their increasing airplay will help this rise in the oncoming weeks.

30. Grenade - Bruno Mars

R&B crooner Bruno Mars enters the top 30 with "Grenade," could this be another hit for the singer? I hope so, this is a great song.

Personal Airplay, November 18, 2010

TW (LW) Title - Artist
1. (1) The Flood - Take That (3 weeks @ #1)
2. (2) Only Girl (In the World) - Rihanna
3. (3) Firework - Katy Perry
4. (5) Happiness - Alexis Jordan
5. (8) Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj
6. (13) Higher - The Saturdays feat. Flo Rida
7. (4) Promise This - Cheryl Cole
8. (11) Well Well Well - Duffy
9. (7) Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green (2 wks @ #1)
10. (6) Magic - B.o.B. feat. Cuomo Rivers (1 wk @ #1)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Beatles on iTunes

(Main UK releases succession: 1963-1970)

Yesterday, Apple triggered the imaginations of iTunes fans everywhere when they announced that today would be another day "that you'll would never forget;" would it be a software upgrade? longer music previews? or a day of free music? Nope, it's The Beatles.

The legendary rock band now have their whole catalogue in the store, dating back to 1963's debut Please Please Me, and have all been remastered to fit the iTunes LP format--priced at £10.99 and $12.99 in the UK and US iTunes, there's even an iTunes exclusive digital box set going for £125, for people willing to splash that amount of cash. It's exciting, although I know a lot of people already own a lot of the Beatles albums, either through physical albums or torrent sites, which arguably offer better quality, so the question arises of whether this new addition to iTunes is totally worth it?

But personally, I've only ever owned 1 Beatles song and that's 1965's US 4-week chart topper "Yesterday" from their fifth album Help! from the same year, therefore when I've been asked, I've always regarded that as my favorite album of theirs, despite not having actually listened to the whole thing before. I was reading into some back-story of that particular album and that the cover was suppose to spell HELP in flag semaphore but instead spells NUJV, apparently Robert Freeman, the photographer, didn't think those positions looked good, so they improvised.

I'm actually pretty amped to start listening to their catalog--along with a handful of others, I've always wanted to give 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band a listen, often regarded as one of the best albums of all time, ranking at the top of numerous lists calculating that feat, including Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. While, I haven't had the chance to get into the Beatles until now, a fellow band from around the same era I have been able to get into are The Beach Boys, particularly 1966's critically acclaimed eleventh album Pet Sounds ("Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)" is one of my favorites of theirs).

Billboard note that since sales tracking began in 1991, the legendary four-piece have sold 61 million albums--which also includes 1 million this year, however total sales tally to around 250 million worldwide. According to the RIAA, 207 million of that coming from the US and 7 million from the UK. They also note that now that their songs are now available to be purchased separately, will there be a significant drop in sales? or will the excitement of the highly anticipated addition to iTunes cause a surge in sales? I think the latter.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Album Review: Rihanna - Loud (4/5)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me,” Rihanna belts on the thundering electro-pop of opening track “S&M,” in which she confesses how good it feels to be bad—and there you have it—Loud is the album that would have followed 2007’s breakthrough Good Girl Gone Bad if everything hadn’t had gone horribly wrong early last year; a horrific twist of events that spawned her dark fourth album Rated R, an edgy cold-hearted indulge in a shadowing mix pop and R&B.

While Rated R was indeed a very engaging set of songs, I did however describe the album in my review as “a brief stunt of a good girl going bad and returning to prominence a year later,” and here we are, a year later, with Loud, a lighter, frothier more upbeat follow-up, of course with sexual undertones—showcasing her provocative dance-pop edge in the same vein as Good Girl, with some ballads and mid-tempo’s thrown in for good measure.

Following the invigorating electronic-pounding of “S&M,” is current single and eighth US chart topper “What’s My Name?” featuring American rapper Drake, a cooling downbeat mid-tempo—bursts of skittering drum beats and a flourishing backdrop that sort of calls that of “Te Amo.” As a nice enough slice of a pop song this—it’s generic insight lyrically is a quite a steep drop from Rated R—she’s singing about sex again, but it’s lyrically uninteresting. However, more interesting is following track “Cheers (Drink to That)” sampling Avril Lavigne’s “I’m with You,” ventures into more pop/grungy territories, layers of dishevelled electronic guitars in the backdrop while the drums fill the forefront.

“Fading” has a nice prominent beat-driven arrangement, layered with strings and piano chords. It does sound a bit generic pop, but it’s a nice enough mid-tempo, what I like about this is the charming R&B flourish on the bridge, when sings: “I’m about to go insane, I’m jumping of this train, whether wrong or right”—it’s a nice touch. The pulsating synth-driven dancefloor filler “Only Girl (In the World)” serves up some energetic dexterous dance-pop for the albums middle section. This is probably her best leading singles, after “Umbrella.”

The albums biggest highlight is “California King Bed,” a heart-felt piece of guitar-driven pop about two counterparts growing apart. Its opening acoustic guitar arrangement reminds me of Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The lyrics are confusing, though—she describes a happy relationship (“chest to chest, nose to nose, palm to palm we were always just that close”) then she says (“wrist to wrist, toe to toe, lips that felt just like the inside of a rose”) aren’t there thorns inside a rose? In any case, this is a fantastic ballad—I love its climatic finish with the electronic guitars. It’s the “Fire Bomb” of the album; hopefully it doesn’t get passed over as potential single.

Another highlight is “Complicated” in which Rihanna tried a hand in stretching her vocal ability, particularly on the chorus. Its airy production is nice, pondering electronic beats and synths and bass. Rihanna returns to her Caribbean roots with “Man Down,” I’ve never really cared much for this sound—only “If It’s Lovin’ That You Want”—it’s the accent that makes the song, but I’m not too bothered. American rapper Nicki Minaj pops on the skittering drum beats of “Raining Men.” It’s fun—it sounds like a Beyonce “Diva” re-tread. The seductive “Skin” follows, slow beat-driven production to capitalize on the intense of Rihanna’s sexy lyrics. Sounds a little out of place though.

The album ends on a pretty good note, with Rihanna’s version of her and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie.” The man himself shows up towards the end of the track to add in an exclusive rap verse to close the song.

I compared Rated R and this inevitable follow-up to Kelly Clarkson’s My December and All I Ever Wanted, the lighter latter following the darker former and it seems that’s exactly how things turned out. Loud acts as the perfect counterpart to Rated R, as well as being yet another solid pop album. Where it disappoints is it slightly generic outlook and its lack of topical direction, although I do feel I probably would’t be saying that if this album did indeed follow Good Girl Gone Bad—It feels like a good follow-up to both.

Best: California King Bed, Only Girl (In the World), What’s My Name, S&M, Complicated, Cheers (Drink to That), Raining Men

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What I'm listening to...

So, here's what's been on heavy rotation on my iPod this week;

Better Than Today - Kylie Minogue. Great performance of this by Minogue on the X Factor last week, by the way. The third single from Aphrodite is upbeat, fun and pouncing with synths and guitars--perhaps not as good "Get Outta My Way" but I'm liking this a lot.

The Silence - Alexandra Burke. Some haunting vocally-charged balladry from pop singer Alexandra Burke. I like the added choir to its climax on the new single version--gives it that much more umph.

What's My Name? - Rihanna feat. Drake. Great downbeat pop; 808 drum beats and underline beats re-calling that of last single "Te Amo."

Grenade - Bruno Mars. A nice switch-up from the world's best boyfriend message of "Just the Way You Are." Driving a haunting undertone behind the rhythmic beats and synths. It's a cool track.

Stary - Hurts. Awesome dejecting ballad from synthpop duo Hurts, with quite a nice hefty production; beginning with light keys before the clobbering bass lines kick in while the nervously bleating horn ponder over.

Like a G6 - Far*East Movement. This has been quite a big hit overseas, landing the music group their first American #1. Admittedly I wasn't too fussed, but now it's been on heavy rotation across the music channels it's grown on me quite a lot.

Your Song - Ellie Goulding. After 4 singles released from her debut album Lights, BBC Sound Poll topper Ellie Goulding is readying the re-release Bright Lights which is preceded by this angelic cover of Elton John's "Your Song."

The Flood - Take That. I'm still listening to this quite a bit. I can't wait to hear the forthcoming Progress, I still can't believe they may lose out to Rihanna's "Only Girl" for this week's #1. Baffling.

Waiting for the End - Linkin Park. I never did get around to reviewing their new album A Thousand Suns--maybe next month. I do really like this beat-heavy 2nd single--it kind of reminds of Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind." A pretty awesome climax too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Album Review: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (4.5/5)

Since his debut in 2004, American rapper Kanye West has since positioned himself among the best of the best in hip-hop, toppling the likes of fellow frontrunner’s Eminem and Jay-Z, delivering acclaimed albums after the next—earning numerous award nominations and wins, including the prestigious Grammy nomination for Album of the Year for his first two albums College Dropout and Late Registration, as well as voluminous record sales to boot. However, unlike many of his hip-hop contempories, West doesn’t only greet critical acclaim and commercial success with his records but also manages to land hits from them too (such as “Gold Digger,” “Stronger” and “Heartless”).

West’s first three albums substantially explored disarming lyrical affirmations over appealing well-crafted sample-heavy beat driven hip-hop arrangements, highlighting his sarcastic, slight dark humour and social awareness, showcasing mass crossover appeal without dumbing down its message—a remarkable feat that 50 Cent never quite managed to conquer (“Candy Shop” anyone?) This is why 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak, which saw West dabbling in an increasingly ‘80s electronica outlook on pop and hip-hop, didn’t connect with me—exploring more self-indulgent, melancholic themes and an annoying overuse of autotune.

Thankfully and without a doubt, this fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a strong return to prominence. It’s not the identifiable beat-driven hip-hop of his earlier work or the rough electronic withering of 808’s, it’s both, but more ambitious in a more appealing onset—showcasing refined lyrical delivery over more exciting, complex hip-hop arrangements which do in fact throw back the sonic standpoint and heavy beats of albums before.

American female rapper Nicki Minaj—who features again on here (but isn’t credited on this track)—gives a very animated opening narration on first track “Dark Fantasy” in a funny English accent. A soulful male vocal belts (“Can we get much higher”) as layers of soaring pitch-corrected harmonic choir voices soar behind, before the rigorous bass lines and piano keys kick in for Kanye West’s verses, where he lays down the sexual metaphors (“So much head, I woke up Sleepy Hollow”) and the clever but blunt references to pop culture (“Look like a fat booty Celine Dion. Sex is on fire, I'm the King of Leon-a Lewis”).

“Gorgeous” featuring rappers Kid Cudi and Raekwon is one of the tracks Rolling Stone highlighted as one of the best on the album in their 5 star review. It’s slower, a more brewing mid-tempo, overhauled with a layer of static as the starchy electronic guitars bleat through the downbeat production. Musically, it sounds awesome—I’m not getting much from it lyrically though, although it’s funny that he addresses his South Park episode, in which he fails to understand a joke made up by Butters and Cartman about fish sticks (fish dicks) (“choke the South Park writer with a fish dick”).

The Afro-centric chanting and kinetic clapping open lead single “POWER” before the skittering bass lines kick in, effectively toppled by the scolding electronic guitars stuttering through the backdrop, I also like the keyboard section towards the middle—it’s an invigorating production that plays out with a dizzying clash of whirling electronic bleeping. It’s fantastic.

There’s a meticulous change in atmosphere on the short 1 minute interlude to “All of the Lights,” gradually building with mellow atmospheric classical-tinged articulated piano keys, softly measured with horns, orchestratic strings which swiftly moves into the more vigorous main course—that seems to feature Barbadian singer Rihanna, but isn’t credited—it’s an immediate switch up in sound. A more charged arrangement; rigorous skittering beats and bass, stuttering horns and pounding afro-centric drums with a fitting dark underlining and at times does feel like it wants absorb slight drum ‘n’ bass sound—which would have made it even more awesome.

“Monster” featuring a host of American rappers including Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj is definitely the albums biggest highlight. Heavy beat-driven arrangement, trembling bass lines cloaked with solid rap verses, however the rapper that shines most on their verse here is in fact Nicki Minaj—creative, aggressive, awesome animated delivery (“Hotter than an Middle Eastern Climate, fine it. Tony Matterhorn, dutty wine it”).

The next few tracks mirror that of the sounds of the earlier albums. “So Appalled” is a driving mid-tempo; dark atmospheric composition re-calling the same shadowing thematic as “Jesus Walks” from College Dropout. “Devil In a New Dress” follows with the urban, slight R&B edge—a reminiscent to “We Major” from Late Registration. I love its instrumental midsection, streaming with strings, piano and electronic guitars—giving it a vintage feel.

At 9 minutes long, “Runaway” is the albums longest track—with the deluxe edition you get its accompanying 30 minute video tagged onto the end, which also includes some other tracks on here too. I’ve always thought Kanye was a bit of a douche, so it’s nice to see him address that in this haunting bass-driven mid-tempo (“Let’s have a toast for the douche-bags, let’s have a toast for the assholes, let’s have a toast for the scumbags, every one of them that I know”). “I think I just fell in love with a porn star” Kanye opens on the edgy electronic-studded “Hell of a Life” which sports an auto-tuned vocal (re-calling some of the chorus’ on the last album) that sings (“pussy and religion is all I need”). Controversial lyrics aside, the production is fantastic; a spacey, warbling electronic backdrop with persistent bass lines and relentless electronic psychedelic scattering.

The uneven piano-laced “Blame Game” featuring American soul singer John Legend sounds more conventional hip-hop—It’s been cited as a highlight in many reviews I’ve read, although it’s not that interesting for and showcases the album’s first damp patch. Better is the weirder, auto-tune flooded styling of “Lost in the World” which conveys a sense of displacing through trembling synths, warbling electronic vocal enhancement.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is definitely a return to prominence for Kanye West. It successfully encloses the well-crafted beat driven hip-hop that set his career alight and the more weirder electronic soundscapes of his last album that moved West into more interesting territories (although, not for me) tied with his lyrical commanding and genius—some tracks don’t work that well—but in all a fantastic album; nothing’s changed: West reigns as one of world’s greatest lyricists and another thing that hasn’t changed is that I still think he’s a douche.

Best: Monster, POWER, Gorgeous, Dark Fantasy, Hell of a Life, All of the Lights, Devil in a New Dress, Runaway

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Previewing Rihanna's Loud

While the rest of the UK lose their minds over the new Take That album, I've been listening to the new Rihanna album Loud. A happier, frothier and less topical mix of dance-pop, R&B with sexual undertones and Caribbean influences re-calling that of her first album. It's not sounding great, it's not as gripping nor as interesting as last year's Rated R which I loved, but there is still something there. Here's a quick run-through:

1. "S&M" Pulsating dance-pop overhauled with a heavy sexual drive ("sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me")

2. "What's My Name?" (feat. Drake) Current US #1. It's pretty downbeat, skittering drum beats. Still sounds very underlined with sexual undertones ("I really wanna see if you can downtown with a girl like me")

3. "Cheers (Drink to That)" Borrows a sample from Avril Lavinge's "I'm with You." It sounds kind of grungy and downbeat--I'm not too sold on this yet.

4. "Fading" A generic but nice enough mid-tempo, I like the sightly more R&B flourish in its middle section.

5. "Only Girl (In the World)" Lead single. Obvious highlight.

6. "California King Bed" Awesome slice of guitar-driven pop with a slight dark lyrical edge. It's the "Fire Bomb" of the album.

7. "Man Down" Caribbean influenced pop--with the thick accent in tact.

8. "Raining Men" (feat. Nicki Minaj) Skittering drum beats, think Beyonce's "Diva." Slightly lazy lyrics.

9. "Complicated" Booming vocal over keyboards, synths and pounding bass lines. One of the more interesting songs on here.

10. "Skin" Basically, 5 minutes of sexy lyrics over a seductive beat-driven backdrop.

11. "Love the Way You Lie, Pt. 2" (feat. Eminem) Her version of hit "Love the Way You Lie."

I haven't read any reviews on this yet, but there's nothing here that suggest that this won't be a hit. As I said, it's not as gripping but it is more likable with maybe not as many highlights. Review will be up soon.

Personal Airplay, November 11, 2010

TW (LW) Title - Artist
1. (1) The Flood - Take That (2 weeks @ #1)
2. (2) Only Girl (In the World) - Rihanna
3. (7) Firework - Katy Perry
4. (9) Promise This - Cheryl Cole
5. (11) Happiness - Alexis Jordan
6. (3) Magic - B.o.B. feat. Cuomo Rivers (1 wk @ #1)
7. (4) Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green (2 wks @ #1)
8. (14) Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj
9. (6) Written in the Stars - Tinie Tempah
10. (10) Whip My Hair - Willow

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, November 20, 2010

1. What’s My Name? – Rihanna feat. Drake

Barbadian singer Rihanna lands her second #1 this year and eighth overall, with new single “What’s My Name?” featuring American rapper Drake, the 2nd single taken from forthcoming fifth album Loud. Following her 5 week reign with "Rude Boy," "Name?" soars 59 spots up to its pinnacle, stopping fellow pop scarlet Ke$ha from extending last weeks reign at the top to a second week with “We R Who We R.” As well as being Airplay Gainer this week, the also single sold around 235,000 digital copies this week, enough to also displace Ke$ha’s “We R” on the Digital Songs tally too. This is Drake’s first chart topper, out of 23 chart entries, prior to this the closest he’s gotten to #1 was with first mainstream single “Best I Ever Had” which peaked at #2 in 2009.

3. Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars
4. Only Girl (In the World) - Rihanna

Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" and the second of Rihanna's top 5 enteries in this week's chart is "Only Girl (In the World)" remain bulleted in last week's positions. Both also riding very high over on Mediabase with over 11,000 spins between them.

6. Just a Dream - Nelly

Rapper Nelly ascends to the top spot on the Pop Songs tally as well as on Mediabase too with "Just a Dream," it's his fifth chart topper, making him the leading rapper with the most #1's on there--only Eminem trails behind with 3.

10. Firework - Katy Perry

Pop singer Katy Perry charges into the top 10 with "Firework" rising up 19 spots, scoring her sixth top 10 and her third from the Teenage Dream album. I guess, it's kind of a personal feat for Perry as while the last album One of the Boys did also landed 3 top 10's (out of 4) it's third single "Thinking of You" was a chart dud, peaking at a lowly #29.

24. Felt Good On My Lips - Tim McGraw

Country singer Tim McGraw debuts at #24 with new single "Felt Good On My Lips" lifted from his forthcoming greatest hits collection Number One Hits, scoring his 25th top 40 single.

31. Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj

2 weeks before her debut album Pink Friday drops, Nicki Minaj lands her second solo top 40 single with "Right Thru Me" following "Your Love" earlier this year. Initial lead single "Massive Attack" was a flop and therefore not going to be included on the album.

36. Grenade - Bruno Mars

Pop crooner Bruno Mars lands his second solo top 40 single with "Grenade," following the massive chart success of "Just the Way You Are," which is still securely in the top 5.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Rolling Stone laud new Kanye West album

Rapper Kanye West nabs his second 5 star review from Rolling Stone for his upcoming fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, out November 22. It's quite a remarkable feat for a hip-hop album these days as--in their words--"Nobody else is making music this daring and weird." They highlight a track called "Georgous" described as "spooky space funk," and singles "Power" and "Monster." The last time RS awarded a Kanye album 5 stars, was for 2005's widely acclaimed Late Registration. I can't wait to give this a listen, sounds very exciting. Check out its five different covers above--my favorites are the first and fourth ones. Sex and death just does it for me.

Michael Jackson "Breaking News"

A new Michael Jackson song surfaced yesterday. It's called "Breaking News," it's lifted from his forthcoming second posthumous album Michael. What do you think? There have been reports that it's not really him. I think it's cool, kinda re-calling the edgier R&B of tenth album Invincible.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Coming up...

I'm going to be very busy this week; preparing for my maths re-takes, so what to expect in the oncoming weeks: Album reviews for Rihanna's Loud and Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday and Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy when they're released (Nov. 22). And I'm halfway through finishing my Best albums of the 1990's list, which sould be ready by December.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Album Review: Rumer - Seasons of My Soul (4/5)

I figured I’d skip Taylor Swift—I think I’ll get that later on—and go for something more adult folk soul than country-pop contemp—British singer/songwriter Rumer’s debut album Seasons of My Soul. Seductive lead single “Slow” landed the singer her first top 20 hit in the UK while I was on holiday in Africa, so I’m just as familiar with it as I am with the other 10 songs on this alluring set.

If anything, the album’s warming blend of enticing soul and emotional outlooks on bluesy folk—in the same vein as the soothing jazz of Norah Jones or the introspective soul of Sade—tied together with Rumer’s heart-warming, velvet reminiscent vocal, is nothing short of refreshing, a much needed switch up from both electro-pop and alternative rock.

“Am I Forgiven,” is an enchanting opener. Oozing with layered mellow guitar work, pacing drums and tambourines, melodic ‘60s pop-inspired harmonies fill the backdrop as she pleads (“Will you be there for me? Will you belong to me?). The silky angelic soul of “Come to Me High,” sort of re-calls the same style as Sade—diffusing vocal flourishes over a fragile arrangement in this case with an old fashioned ‘60s-pop spin, driven by nothing more than gentle drum beats and oscillating keyboards.

The album already reaches a seductive climax on the sibylline melody-strung soul of “Slow,” nicely followed by the heart-bearing guitar-driven folk of “Take Me as I Am,” as Rumer intricately grooms a courteous ballad about acceptance (“I need a love that’s unconditional, why don’t you try to understand”). Current single “Aretha,” is the soulful tribute to soul legend Aretha Franklin; a striking rhapsodic soul arrangement.

The album’s second half doesn’t hold up well—some of the songs here do become a little tedious and that seductive sound does become a little dried out. Rumer explores more textures within her vocal on the subtle drum-backed “Saving Grace,” nicely laced horns in the backdrop. “Thankful” strips Rumer down to just vocal and piano, in which she shines just a bright on the more instrument fulfilling numbers before. Following is “Healer” which if I’m not mistaken, sounds almost identical. “Blackbird” isn’t as musically appealing as some of the other songs on here, although it is as subtle as subtle can be, the love-tied lyrics however are a better ultimatum (“It’s so hard to say goodbye to you… I’ll carry you everywhere, so I don’t forget”).

I’m not too fond of the last two songs at the end, “On My Way Home,” venture into boring territories rather than seductive, tempting and alluring like the songs towards the beginning. Last number “Goodbye Girl” is better—strong melody and heavy drum and guitar arrangement—but not a favourite. Simplicity and the softening velvety texture of Rumer’s voice is what makes Seasons of My Soul a potential winner –delivering some wonderful alluring heart-warming tracks, but let’s itself down on its second half where it exhausts the sound and doesn’t sound as interesting. However, without singling out tracks—as an album Seasons works very well.

Best: Slow, Aretha, Come to Me High, Am I Forgiven, Thankful

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, November 13, 2010

1. We R Who We R – Kesha

Aren’t these #1 debuts becoming more and more frequent? Pop singer Kesha lands her second chart topper with her new single “We R Who We R,” selling 280,000 in digital downloads this week—opening at the pinnacle of the chart. It’s the 17th single in Hot 100 history to do so and only the 2nd this year after Eminem’s “Not Afraid.” List of #1 debuts:

1. You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson (September 2, 1995)
2. Fantasy – Mariah Carey (September 30, 1995)
3. Exhale (Shoop Shoop) – Whitney Houston (November 25, 1995)
4. One Sweet Day – Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men (December 2, 1995)
5. I’ll Be Missing You – Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112 (June 14, 1997)
6. Honey – Mariah Carey (September 13, 1997)
7. Candle in the Wind / The Way You Look Tonight – Elton John (October 11, 1997)
8. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion (February 28, 1998)
9. I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing – Aerosmith (September 5, 1998)
10. Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill (November 14, 1998)
11. This is the Night – Clay Aiken (June 28, 2003)
12. I Believe – Fantasia (July 10, 2004)
13. Inside You Heaven – Carrie Underwood (July 2, 2005)
14. Do I Make You Proud – Taylor Hicks (July 1, 2006)
15. 3 – Britney Spears (October 24, 2009)
16. Not Afraid – Eminem (May 22, 2010)
17. We R Who We R – Kesha (November 13, 2010)

I’ve often wondered why most of these #1 debuts happen during the fall (save for Eminem, Celine Dion, P. Diddy and the American Idol contestants). Isn’t radio airplay as strong during the fall months so sales count more? And vice-versa for the ‘90s.

11. Willow – Whip My Hair

Among this week’s interesting debuts, Actor Will Smith’s daughter, ten year old daughter Willow Smith—who goes by just Willow—rises 67 spots up to #11 with her debut single “Whip My Hair,” landing her first top 20 single, which racked up 137,000 in sales this week, enough to debut at #4 on the Digital Songs tally. The song is a hovering kid-friendly R&B/pop ditty about partying, shaking those pesky haters off and keeping on your grind…you know, the usual things ten year old kids talk about these days.

17. Sparks Fly - Taylor Swift
(21. Mine)
(27. Innocent)
(41. The Story of Us)
(54. Dear John)
(56. Better Than Revenge)
(63. Haunted)
(71. Last Kiss)
(75. Enchanted)
(84. Never Grow Up)
(85. Long Live)

It's an exciting week on both the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 for country/pop singer Taylor Swift this week. "Sparks Fly" leads Swift's 11 chart entries this week off the back of the release of her third studio album Speak Now this week.

Over on the Billboard 200, Speak Now becomes the 16th album in the charts history to debut at its summit with one week sales of 1 million. The album sold exactly 1,047,000 this week, as well as outselling the top 62 albums combined. It’s the first album to top the million mark since Lil’ Wayne’s The Carter III in 2008 and the highest first week numbers since 50 Cent's The Massacre in 2005:

1. Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard Soundtrack (1993)
2. Garth Brooks – Double Live (1998)
3. Backstreet Boys – Millennium (1999)
4. ‘N Sync – No Strings Attached (2000)
5. Britney Spears – Oops!...I Did It Again (2000)
6. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
7. Limp Bizkit – Chocolate Starfish & the Hot Dog Flavoured Water (2000)
8. Backstreet Boys – Black & Blue (2000)
9. The Beatles – 1 (2001)
10. ‘N Sync – Celebrity (2001)
11. Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002)
12. Nora Jones – Feels Like Home (2004)
13. Usher – Confessions (2004)
14. 50 Cent – The Massacre (2005)
15. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (2008)
16. Taylor Swift – Speak Now (2010)

18. Monster - Kanye West feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver and Nicki Minaj

In a strange twist of events, Kanye West's latest single "Monster" is rudely interrupted by Taylor Swift's "Sparks Fly," of which this has to settle for the spot right below and miss out on the greatest spot between #16 and #18 of all time... of all time! This week it surges up a hefty 61 spots, scoring West's 19th top 20.

29. Firework - Katy Perry

Pop singer Katy Perry scores her 7th top 40 single with "Firework," rising up 28 notches, landing at #29, currently on par with third single "Thinking of You" which peaked in this position. I think it should see a pretty big surge next week as it's in the top 5 on iTunes.

Personal Airplay, November 5, 2010

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 6 .... The Flood - Take That (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 4 .... Only Girl (In the World) - Rihanna
3 .... 3 .... Magic - B.o.B. feat. Cuomo Rivers
4 .... 1 .... Fuck You! - Cee Lo Green (2 weeks @ #1)
5 .... 2 .... I'm in Love (I Wanna Do It) - Alex Guadino
6 .... 5 .... Written in the Stars - Tinie Tempah
7 .... 13 .. Firework - Katy Perry
8 .... 8 .... Just the Way You Are - Bruno Mars
9 ... 12 ... Promise This - Cheryl Cole
10 .. 18 .. Whip My Hair - Willow Smith

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Album Review: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (4/5)

Sometimes critics can acclaim albums that pursue the weirdest sounds—at least that’s what I thought when I listened to Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire’s haunting 2007 sophomore Neon Bible, at first a hard pill to swallow but I did get into it, enjoying its darkening outlook on its alternative rock grandeur brilliantly showcased on its best track “Black Mirror.” It’s an outlook that seems to have brightened for its follow-up The Suburbs.

In more ways than one, I do feel like it’s the better album—mainly because there’s more to it. Pursuing more than just aphotic soundscapes (“Black Mirror”) and gothic, disheartening imagery (“My Body is a Cage”) rather within its 16-set delivers a richer, nostalgic warp of confined rock as well as showcasing different approaches to the genre.

Title track “The Suburbs” opens the album nicely, laying down an optimistic hybrid of piano keys over layers of guitar chords and drums—those chords are a lot more blusterous on following track “Ready to Start,” charging melodies, heavier drum lines and piercing riffs. It’s a great downturn in sound, showcasing a lot more musical variety already.

The sound turns-up again on “Modern Man,” badgering some broiling guitar-driven rock, just to be deflected for the darker “Rococo,” penetrated by layers of dark acoustic guitars and haunting background vocals that explore the ghostly “ooh”—ing effect. It sounds like it would be more at home on the last album rather than here, but it’s great either way—similar is “Empty Room” darkening atmospheric soundscapes, but charged with heavier and more fast-paced guitars. It features lead vocalist Win Butler’s wife who manages to still sound pretty good over the bewildering production.

Right in the centre of the album is the angelic musical progression of two-part “Half Light I” and “Half Light II (No Celebration)” the first gradually building with progressive guitars, hollowing soundscapes and strings, while the second pursues an edgier sound, lit with muffled guitar chords and synths.

The albums second half holds up well, only not as interesting as the first. “Suburban Nights” clocks in the nostalgia for a more subdued approach to rock than previous tracks so far. It’s nice but better is the grungy, slightly punk-rock of “Month of May” which offers up yet another abrupt shift in sound—charging guitar chords and rapid drum lines, still clocking in the nostalgia (“we were shocked in the suburbs, now the kids all standing with their arms folded tight”). It’s an awesome rock song—could be a potential air-guitar moment.

I’m not too fond on the dragging tempo of “Wasted Hours,” it’s nicely backed with swaying guitar-patterns and soundscapes and nice melodies, but I’m not too keen. “Deep Blue” is another melody heightened number only it’s better—playing with rigid guitars and darker soundscapes complimented by the poignant old western-styled piano keys and Butler’s falsetto which are nicely put up against the poetically personal lyrics, Butler sings (“I was only a child feeling barely alive, when I heard a song from the speaker of a passing car”) and continues (“The memories fading, I can almost remember singing…”).

“We Used to Wait,” is great—anxiously progressing with pondering synths and piano keys. Similar to “Half Light,” the album lures on towards the end with the two parts “Sprawl I (Flatland)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” I’m never really too sure what most alternative rock bands are going on about lyrically, especially when the grandeur is turned down and it’s just an emotional vocal delivery over a melancholic arrangement, however it’s not too hard to miss that Butler’s singing about lonely suburban life—living in the suburbs of London, I should be able to relate but the first part indulges in a bit too much self-pity for my liking (“It was the loneliest days of my life”) the second part however is lighter, a nice upbeat synth-driven production.

The album closes with a 1 minute continuation of title track “The Suburbs.” It sounds a bit unneeded, but also pretty nice. A mellow arrangement flourished with strings, soft drum lines and angelic vocals. The Suburbs deliveres a varied, coherent set—more musically interesting and while I do really like this album and do think it’s an all-round pleasant affair than Neon Bible, I’m still not that sold on it or the band for that matter. It’s a good record, but I don’t see myself coming back and listening vigorously—selected album tracks for sure but as a whole? Probably not. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s just not my thing.

Best: Ready to Start, Deep Blue, Month of May, Rococo, We Use to Wait, Modern Man

Monday, November 01, 2010

Nicki Minaj and Eminem "Roman's Revenge"

Nicki Minaj and Eminem go at it in this invigorating track taken from Minaj's forthcoming debut Pink Friday, released via iTunes yesterday. Apparently it's a less than subtle kiss-off to rival female rapper Lil' Kim. And how halarious is that outro? She does a better English accent than me. Very excited for the album.

More details on Overcome Re-Release

The cover and track listing for the re-release of Alexandra Burke's debut album Overcome surfaced a few days ago. The newly repackaged set features four new tracks including her third #1 "Start without You," a duet with American pop/rock band Cobra Starship on a number called "What Happens on the Dancefloor" and two ballads "Before the Rain" and "Perfect" which leaked earlier this year. New track list:

1. Start without You (feat. Laza Morgan)
2. The Silence (Single Mix)
3. Bad Boys (feat. Flo Rida)
4. All Night Long (feat. Pitbull) [Single Mix]
5. Perfect
6. What Happens on the Dancefloor (feat. Cobra Starship)
7. Before the Rain
8. Broken Heels (Single Mix)
9. Good Night Good Morning (feat. Ne-Yo)
10. Bury Me (6 Feet Under)
11. Dumb
12. Overcome
13. Gotta Go
14. You Broke My Heart
15. Nothing But the Girl
16. They Don't Know
17. Hallelujah

It's out December 6, preceded by sixth single "The Silence" out a week before (Nov. 29). If all goes well should push its total sales over 900,000, it's sold 700,000 in the UK so far. Not too shabby.