Some of my favorite releases from the year. Listed only in ‘ooh that sounds nice next to each other in the playlist’ order.
(Artists are only featured in one of the two lists so please check out the accompanying albums from my single picks too!)
I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME – Razzmatazz Featured Track: Razzmatazz
Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void Featured Track:Cyanide
Miley Cyrus – Plastic Hearts Featured Track: Night Crawling (feat. Billy Idol)
Lady Gaga – Chromatica Featured Track: 911
Morrissey – I Am Not A Dog On A Chain Featured Track: Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?
HMLTD – West Of Eden Featured Track: Blank Slate
Tempesst – Must Be A Dream Featured Track: Mushroom Cloud
Badge Époque Ensemble – Self Help Featured Track: Unity (It’s Up To You)
The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form Featured Track: The Birthday Party
Neil Young – Homegrown Featured Track: Vacancy
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Vicerals Featured Track: Crazy in Blood
Marilyn Manson – WE ARE CHAOS Featured Track: PAINT YOU WITH MY LOVE
Steve Kilbey – Eleven Women Featured Track: Birdeen
Jyoti – Mama, You Can Bet! Featured Track: Our Joy (Mercedes)
Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You Featured Track: Janey Needs A Shooter
Damaged Bug – Bug On Yonkers Featured Track: Thunder Speaks
Billy Nomates – Billy Nomates Featured Track: Supermarket Sweep
The Weeknd – After Hours Featured Track: Blinding Lights
HAIM – Women In Music Pt. III Featured Track: Don’t Wanna
Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind Featured Track: Dream Palette
SINGLES / TRACKS (because honestly who even knows the difference anymore)
Mark Fernyhough – Waves Famous – Nice While It Lasted The Smashing Pumpkins – Starrcraft Unify Separate – Solitude & I In This Moment – Lay Me Down Poppy – BLOODMONEY Minnie-Oh – Oh, Gabriel Woodkid – Goliath Haiku Hands – Suck My Cherry Sarah Sunday – Ink Nothing But Thieves – Moral Panic Bright Light Bright Light; Andy Bell – Good at Goodbyes The Dead Freights – Fever and the Thunder Alanas Chosnau; Mark Reeder – I Can’t Share This Feeling Peach Blood – Kindred Soul Kylie Minogue – Supernova Youth Sector – Teeth Cherry Glazerr – Rabbit Hole Lauren Moon – Edge Of The Moon Caroline Rose – I Took A Ride
My favorite new releases from the week ending 18/12/2020
The Dead Freights – Fever and the Thunder Youth Sector – Teeth Attawalpa; Wolf Alice – Done Hanging On – Wolf Alice Remix Juls; Tay Iwar; p-rallel – 1985 Katy Kirby – Traffic! Cherry Glazerr – Rabbit Hole YUNGBLUD; Machine Gun Kelly – acting like that (feat. Machine Gun Kelly) Black Honey – Beaches (Japanese Version) Ida Maria – Sick of You Never Not Nothing – Upbeat Deadbeat
It should be no surprise that pop’s own Rebel Queen might eventually go rawk but Plastic Hearts is in many ways a surprisingly grown-up affair, channeling the MOR side of 80s pop-rock and country. Collaborating with Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and Billy Idol points heavily towards the mission statement for the album but there is without doubt more gloss than guitars, despite what the leather studded elbow gloves and fashion-mullet might suggest. However, while this mix will invariably generate sneers from ‘authentic’ rock music fans it hits a bullseye in her capabilities as a performer and is huge fun to listen to.
Like everything Miley has done since Can’t Be Tamed (a record that has more in common with Plastic Hearts than you might imagine) there is a perfect concoction of visuals, artwork and fashion orbiting the music. Much like Lady Gaga’s Joanne it feels as though there is an element of cosplay to the rock ‘n’ roll persona and this extends to the songs which are peppered with with cheeky sonic and lyrical nods to her influences. But while Dead Petz remains the most believably honest and raw record she has produced this new release sits firmly on the right side of contrivance, the packaging and ephemera only serving to further enjoyment of the music.
The only dud track for me is single release Prisoner, featuring Dua Lipa, which somehow feels like the worst of both artists. Otherwise this a strong and cohesive collection of songs. Night Crawling, an absolute ear worm that would be a shameless Billy Idol pastiche if it didn’t also feature Billy Idol, perfectly encapsulates the tongue in cheek side of the album whilst Midnight Sky, WTF Do I know and title track Plastic Hearts offer a more uniquely Miley take on the genre. Surprisingly ballad heavy, the album closes with what I imagine is the only genuinely moving song to have been released named Golden G String.
Miley’s vocal talents have never really been in doubt to anyone not clouded by abstract hatred of her media image but it feels like she is finally moving into a more credible position of longevity as an artist. Plastic Hearts doesn’t quite have the exuberant joy (or, ironically, as big a middle finger) for me as Bangerz but it feels like the perfect album for her stylistically right now.
ARTIST: Miley Cyrus TITLE: Plastic Hearts TOP TRACKS: Night Crawling, WTF Do I Know, Midnight Sky, Golden G String MOOD: Put another dime in the jukebox, baby
The spaceman says, everybody look down.
Despite being based in Cannock, a corner of the UK with more than its fair share of paranormal legends, new Marquis Drive single Spaceman speaks more to the dreams and aspirations of the human species than the extraterrestrial.
Signed to Alan McGee’s label and supporting The Happy Mondays at the Creation Festival next year, the band have some pretty strong britpop credentials. The chuggy chorus of Spaceman certainly fits this bill, but in it’s best moments the verses have a melodic hook that’s strangely reminiscent of Aztec Camera.
Accompanied by possibly the only music video to feature an astronaut being given the wanker sign in suburban England, the band had this to say about it in a recent RGM premier:
“The video was shot in downtown Hednesford, although it could be any British town. With a grown man walking round in a spaceman outfit you’d expect a few raise eyebrows, and shock a few we did. But, in this strangest of years, some people thought it looked perfectly normal- you could hear them think "it’s prob summat to do with COVID.”
ARTIST: Marquis Drive TITLE: Spaceman MOOD: Lying in the gutter, staring at the stars
My favorite new releases from the week ending 22/11/2020
Tom Grennan – Something Better Famous – Nice While It Lasted Jason Derulo; Nuka – Love Not War (The Tampa Beat) The Staves – Good Woman Róisín Murphy – Something More Bring Me The Horizon – Parasite Eve Nothing But Thieves – Moral Panic LANY – cowboy in LA Bright Light Bright Light; Andy Bell; Tracy Young – Good at Goodbyes – Tracy Young Remix Sharon Van Etten; Norah Jones – Seventeen – feat. Norah Jones
Described as an album about ‘toxic nostalgia and unrealised potential’ Great Expectations is a title that could just as easily be taken as a statement of intent for the listener. Thankfully this is a solid little beast of an album that does not disappoint.
Dirt Royal, a well loved fixture of the South coast music scene who have supported the likes of Sham 69 and 100 Yard Stare, have a spiky garage punk sound that along with the requisite amount of snottieness and raucous energy also firmly knows its way around a good pop tune.
Lead single Lose Our Way is a particularly great piece of anthemic punk shoutalong that by any rights should be huge whilst other standout tracks such as Glory Days and Lemsip offer up a punchy combination of vitriol, regret and good old fashioned rock and roll fun.
Lyrically dripping with the bitterness that will be familiar to anyone who has woken up at twenty-two shocked to discover they are not yet Living The Dream, this is the perfect album for anyone who feels battered by life but not yet at the stage where they have given up on being angry.
ARTIST: Dirt Royal TITLE: Great Expectations MOOD: Getting ready to start a fight with your former self TOP TRACKS: Glory Days, Lemsip, Lose Our Way
Junk-shop punk-rock glam-rock discotheque.
A riotous injection of day-glo, bubblegum pop punk right where we need it!
New single Ink is Sarah Sunday’s third release and it’s packed with the kind of confidence, earworm hooks and grin-inducing fun that makes it feel like she’s been beamed directly from a 1980s episode of TOTP.
Sarah lists her biggest musical influences as Avril Lavigne, Hey Monday and The Smiths which gives you a fair idea of the pleasing mix of cheeky wit and joyful defiance in her music. But on this track in particular I’d say she’s channeling the spirit of Shampoo and Helen Love topped off with a sunny early 00s EDM edge.
I absolutely love this song and if you like your rebel sneer glammed up with neon lipstick then I think you will too. But, as the peppily ‘fuck you’ lyric says, ‘if you get mad then that’s your bad’.
ARTIST: Sarah Sunday TITLE: Ink MOOD: Peroxide petulant
My favorite releases from the week ending 15/11/2020
Holiday Sidewinder – Red Right Hand Hot Chip, Jarvis Cocker – Straight To The Morning Pale Waves – Change Lauren Aquilina – Latest Ghost Badge Époque Ensemble, Jennifer Castle – Just Space for Light Woodkid – Goliath Oscar Scheller – Half Eaten Jhana Boy – My Girl Teenage Fanclub – Home Haiku Hands – Suck My Cherry
Kylie and disco go together like glitter and sequins. No other genre of music so closely matches her particular brand of classy but saucy, so this should be a triumph – and it very nearly is.
There is nothing particularly inventive or startling in this album but I’m not sure that’s what anyone wants from Kylie anyway. Past attempts to stray too far from brand have mostly led to disaster and she is at her best when producing the kind of music that feels familiar, comforting and safe but without being cynical or phoned-in. The 3am cocktail that you cry into or that one pair of heels that look sexy as hell but don’t make your feet ache.
DISCO, on the whole, fulfils this brief but while a few of the tracks (Miss a Thing, Supernova, Hey Lonely) knock it out of the park there is a general feeling of too much filler and not enough killer. Most of the album was recorded during lockdown and at times there is also a slightly demo-ish feel to some of the songs that makes me wonder how they would have fared in more normal circumstances.
Nothing on this record is terrible and most of it is very enjoyable but like much of her post-Aphrodite output it falls squarely in ‘good but not great’ territory. There is enough quality here that it should keep her fanbase happy and her career ticking over but it is unlikely to be the boost that I would love her to have.
ARTIST: Kylie Minogue TITLE: DISCO TOP TRACKS: Supernova, Miss a Thing, Hey Lonely MOOD: Dancing under the mirrorball in your living room
What’s New Pussycat.
My favorite releases from the week ending 08/11/2020
Little Mix – Confetti BENEE – Happen To Me Miley Cyrus, Stevie Nicks – Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix) Master Peace – Love Bites Marco Faraone, Greeko – Armaghetton Salmon Cat – Bathcat Aries – FOOL’S GOLD ELIO – hurts 2 hate somebody WENGIE, eill, David Amber – Talk Talk (Japanese) Minnie-Oh – Oh, Gabriel
Described as ‘the long feared debut album from Ben Apps’ there is thankfully little to be afraid of here if you are a fan of upbeat, witty and endearingly nerdy britpop-tinged indie.
Lyrically the album is a a rollercoaster of subjects covering everything from technology, politics, media and plenty of good old fashioned romance.
Acronym laden opener T.T.F.N feels Beatlesy, if the Beatles ever wrote a song that used the expression LOL and mentioned Tick Tock, whilst delicate closer End Of The Line and standout track We’re All Going To Hell bring to mind the slower spacey moments of Blur’s Parklife. Jaunty piano number Feel It is the kind of radio-friendly earworm that with any justice should be a breakout single.
A fun, thoughtful and humorous collection of songs that should appeal to fans of bands like They Might Be Giants, Eels and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
ARTIST: Ben Apps TITLE: What Mess! TOP TRACKS: We’re All Going To Hell, Feel It, Parallels MOOD: Britbops
Brooding and Blissful.
Halcyon is an aptly named album bringing as it does a much needed breath of carefree optimism and melodic dreamyness to the chillier end of 2020.
Much in the vein of McCartney-penned Beatles there is a playfulness to a lot of the tracks, nowhere more evident than in the midi-outro of Get Your Game On, but there is also a deep seam of sadness and melancholia. Stand-out tracks Unanswered Questions and Live For The Dead bring a pleasing shot of drama and an eerie prettiness to the second half of the album lifting it both musically and emotionally.
A slick mixture of indie, folk and alternative guitar-pop, this is an album which should appeal to anyone who thinks they want to listen to something easy going and upbeat but, deep down, doesn’t really.
TOP TRACKS: Unanswered Questions, Live For The Dead, Only Time Will Tell
MOOD: Summertime Sadness
Things go better with a little bit of Razzmatazz.
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (or iDKHOW as it’s stylised) are exactly the kind of band who will annoy almost as many people as they will be adored by, and Razzmatazz is exactly the kind of album you would expect a band like that to make.
As the title might suggest this much anticipated debut is a flamboyant and retro-tinged concoction. In their more comparatively contemporary moments there is a little of The Killers, Electric Six and twenty one pilots to be heard. Addictive earworm New Invention has shades of Gary Numan whilst From The Gallows unexpectedly channels crooner-mode Marc Bolan via ELO with a dash of Radiohead’s Fitter, Happier. Several tracks such as Clusterhug and Sugar Pills just go full out glam. The title song is, ironically, one of the less bombastic tracks on the album and offers an efficiently straightforward indie-pop banger guaranteed to take up permanent residence in your brain for hours after listening to it.
From the funky Fame-esque bassline strut of opener Leave Me Alone to charmingly unexpected piano ballad Nobody Likes The Opening Band, a paean to the plight of the overlooked support act that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on A Night At The Opera, this is a band who are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve but crucially manage to meld them together into something new, exciting and uniquely theirs.
A thoroughly enjoyable album that should appeal to anyone who likes their electro-indie-pop strutting effusively just on the right side of annoying.
ARTIST: I Don’t Know How But They Found Me TITLE: Razzmatazz TOP TRACKS: Leave Me Alone, Nobody Likes The Opening Band, Razzmatazz, Sugarpills MOOD: Glitzy and glitchy
Is ‘pandemic pop’ a recognised genre term yet? Because if not then I think this is it..
Unify Separate, the recently rebranded artists formerly known as US, release their new single ‘Solitude & I’ this week and it has immediately secured repeat play status for me. Described by the band as ‘an in-your-face manifesto for never, ever giving up on your dreams’ the track is a thrilling, if unexpectedly drum and bass driven, four minutes of electronic joy.
Along with the usual hallmarks of soaring, dramatic synths and Andrew Montgomery’s always elegiac vocals this release is also a definite reminder of why I think they are often at their best when the go harder and is probably my favourite of their singles since 2018′s equally epic Voyager.
Solitude & I is in a lot of ways more instantly catchy and poppy than much of their output but it also has a driving power and an exhilarating, urgent aggressiveness pushing away in the background too. Possibly because, as the band say themselves ‘these days, there’s no time to lose’.
ARTIST: Unify Separate TITLE: Solitude & I MOOD: Dancing with tears in my eyes
Such stuff as dreams are made on.
Usually when sponsored ads stalk me on Instagram it leads to antipathy but in the case of the promo clip for sumptuous, retro tinged single ‘Mushroom Cloud’ it was an instant obsession. After what felt like too long a wait despite being only a few months Must Be A Dream, the band’s debut album, is released this week on Pony Records and is pleasingly not a disappointment.
Tracks mostly divide into chuggy psychedelic pop (High On My Own, Walk On The Water, Age Of The Bored) and euphoric, dreamy swoons (Must Be A Dream, Mushroom Cloud, Voices In My Head). Whilst unabashedly scraping from some of the best parts of 60s and 70s pop-rock there is a knowingness about it that rescues it from pastiche and although the band cite ELO as an inspiration it never quite tips into silliness. In fact at points it brought to mind melodic miserabilists Tindersticks and the more sensible side of Divine Comedy along with the more obvious comparisons.
There is always a danger in sailing too close to your reference points and Tempesst are definitely teetering right on that line but the lush, warm melodies and singer Toma Banjanin’s equally lush, warm vocals pull it back from the edge. A gorgeous and suitably Autumnal release that I think will become a personal favourite.
TITLE: Must Be A Dream ARTIST: Tempesst
MOOD: Too much to dream last night
TOP TRACKS: Mushroom Cloud, High On My Own, Age Of The Bored
Children of Nature.
With Reeder’s illustrious musical past encompassing connections to bands like Joy Division, New Order and Die Toten Hosen as well as the recent documentary ‘B-Movie (Lust & Sound in West Berlin)’ and Chosnau’s equally impressive resume both with Naktines Personos and as a solo artist it’s not a great surprise that Children of Nature is a fantastic tour of retro-tinged gothic electro.
From the opening melodic swoop of How Do You Feel? to the sparse rhythmic punch of Fade On, through the poppier and hooky title track and the punchy rock tinged Stand Up this album is stuffed with songs that feel instantly appealing and ask to be listened to over and over. In any righteous world I Can’t Share This Feeling would be a chart smash.
Meanwhile tracks such Drowning in You, Tonight, It’s Who You Are and (not a cover of the Stephen Sondheim song) Losing My Mind offer a more contemplative and occasionally darker, gloomier side to the album. Closing track Heartburn sees us out with a delicate and melancholic plea for hope.
Whilst this album plays with the moods and styles of something I would frame as gothic the overall feeling is optimistic, though never cloyingly so, and a welcome addition to these strange and difficult times.
TITLE: Children of Nature ARTIST: Alanas Chosnau & Mark Reeder MOOD: Gloomily futuristic optimistic TOP TRACKS: I Can’t Share This Feeling, How Do You Feel?, Drowning In you
Pop Music Emergency. 911.
After doing a three album (and one movie) tour of duty of the Gaga version of a midlife crisis (Jazz! Country! Brunette hair! JUST A REGULAR GIRL!) and proving unequivocally that Gaga trying to be normal is just as weird as Gaga trying to be weird, Chromatica has now beamed down to earth in all it’s tecno-pinkness to bestow us with some classic Stefani bangers.
And make no mistake, this is an entirely dance album with even the slower moments still firmly in that camp. There are no piano ballads, no hair rock anthems. Even when Elton John turns up it’s to holler gloriously over an absolute monsterbonkers club track that goes hard before it goes drum and bass. There is some playing around with sub genres touching on deep house, disco and electro but overwhelmingly this is an album weighted more towards old skool dance than pop.
Although the videos and artwork pull together a neat concept world that sits somewhere between Power Rangers and Captain Planet the album itself is more loose. The lyrics are less overtly thematic and ornate than much of her past work but they are generally good, occasionally great, and surprisingly dark. Countless artists have made protestations about finding ‘salvation on the dancefloor’ but it’s still rare for it to sound so cathartic. This coupled with some of her strongest vocals makes Chromatica reminiscent of classic dance, disco and soul it a way that rarely troubles the charts anymore.
This may not be her strangest or most risky album, it is unlikely to polarise the mainstream in the way that Born This Way or ArtPop did, but it’s certainly her most coherent. While there is a lot to love in the rollercoaster experience of records that include songs like Swine and Jewels N’ Drugs in the same place it’s a surprisingly enjoyable experience to have a Gaga album that I feel I only want to listen to as a single piece.
I won’t call it a return to form because that suggests her talent was absent in previous releases but I will say it certainly feel like an injection of something needed in the Lady Gaga timeline. A strong reminder of what she does well mixed with something that feels like a progression not a regression.
TITLE: Chromatica ARTIST: Lady Gaga MOOD: Getting into your pink plastic body armour TOP TRACKS: Stupid Love, 911, Enigma, Sine From Above TLDR: Dance the pain away 90s Sci-Fi anime style
After four years, don’t you think I’m over all this?
Notes On a Conditional Form (or NOACF as its merch-ified) is a beast of an album spanning 22 tracks and despite being written whilst on one of their seemingly never ending tours it is an ambitious and uncompromising release.
Stuffed with the kind of cynical, lyrical polemics we have come to expect from them it also pushes further into the electronic and ambient sounds they have always dabbled with in a more fully formed way. Genre-bending as always it still also rocks out, most notably on the angry burst of energy People, but you would be hard pressed at this point to remember they begun life as a borderline emo guitar band.
NOCAF is on the whole nowhere near as strong a release as it’s predecessor and it looks doubtful they will return to the sheer exuberance of tracks like Love Me anytime soon – but when it works it works and there is enough in here that’s good to make it more hit than miss. Perhaps a little more editing or a basic and deluxe release approach would have benefitted but this is still unequivocally the sound of a band trying to push themselves, evolve and expand when it would have been infinitely easier to sit back and churn out boilerplate pop-rock and watch the money come in.
ARTIST: The 1975 TITLE: Notes On A Conditional Form TOP TRACKS: People, The Birthday Party, Frail State of Mind, Having No Head MOOD: Post-millennial comedown
Maria Brink has always been a mesmerising live presence, a heady mix of Courtney Love, Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson topped off with her own unique vision, that has rarely been captured on record in all its glory. However, there is a rawness to Mother that gets closer than anything since Blood and succeeds in doing justice to what the band are capable of without the watering-down process of studio recording getting in the way. That’s not to say that this is some kind of garage jam though, far from it, and indeed it is possibly their most creative and adventurous record yet.
Conceptually there is a strong religious motif interwoven with themes of the feminine, fertility and motherhood. Mother nature, Mother Mary and literal motherhood come together to create a narrative that brings to mind both Darren Aronofsky’s film of the same title and the scarlet women of the Handmaid’s Tale.
Musically, the album has huge scope and ambition both in it’s range from it’s full out screaming to moments that are hymnal and ethereal. Not to mention a cover of We Will Rock You featuring Taylor Momsen and Lzzy Hale that is far better than it has any right to be.
Easily their strongest outing for some time this album should delight existing fans and anyone who likes some effort and extravagance in their rock and roll.
And besides, any album that ends by paying homage to Mazzy Star can only be good.
ARTIST: In This Moment TITLE: Mother MOOD: Bloody Mary TOP TRACKS: Hunting Grounds, Lay Me Down, The In-Between
Meet me in Hamburg, meet me in the afterlife.
I first encountered HMLTD via their gothic epic Satan, Luella & I – one of those tracks so masterful that if the band never released another note they would still have made a worthwhile contribution to pop culture. Since then I have been awaiting this album with curiosity and interest. The string of singles, EPs and other assorted bits and bobs they have released in between have oscillated wildly in genre (and occasionally in quality) and I found it hard to imagine what shape their debut might eventually take. Part of me expected them just to combust before that point, particularly in the light of various frothingly hyperbolic press articles (ARE HMLTD THE SAVIOURS OF GUITAR MUSIC??) but here it is and it is, thank goodness, excellent.
While it’s fair to say that my first encounter with them remains their peak it’s surrounded by a rich, genre diverse and satisfying album that actually is an album rather than just a collection of disparate potential singles. Songs sonically dovetail into each other and there are several short vignette tracks that act as musical connectors from one micro genre to another. The biggest surprise for me was how heavily the album leans into pop electronica rather than the glam punk some earlier tracks suggested, however it’s a shift that suits them and they pull it off seamlessly with some of the more contemporary touches being the glue that holds it together.
Singer Henry Spychalski has an extraordinary voice in the great tradition of ‘marmite’ vocalists that is a little Adam Ant, a little Jobriath, a little David Byrne and in many ways it is an album that hangs on this however it’s also stuffed with great sounds, interesting production and solid pop hooks. There is an excessiveness to the album, something that is reflected in their grandiose, filmic and teetering-on-the-right-side-of-ridiculous videos, however it’s not excessive in the way I expected. Rather than the big, swooning, gothic melodrama of Satan, Luella & I it’s a glorious excess of style, genres and ambition.
There are some obvious influences here from the dark Depeche-Mode-esque LOADED to the pure 80s pop of Mikey’s Song but there are less obvious touchstones too like the gloomy, ironic The West is Dead which lyrically has more than a hint of Leonard Cohen’s The Future about it or the Weimar cabaret horror weirdness of Where’s Joanna? which sounds a bit like a sexier, glammier version of The Tiger Lillies.
Sonically diverse but also cohesive, if you like your rock and roll smeared in lipstick and accompanied by synths this is probably one for you.
ARTIST: HMLTD TITLE: West of Eden MOOD: Music to badly home-dye your hair to. TLDR: Big, ballsy, glamorous and gothic. TOP TRACKS: Satan, Luella & I, Mikey’s Song, Blank Slate, Nobody Stays In Love, LOADED
Welcome to the new starting line.
Poppy’s evolution from uncanny valley arthouse fembot to industrial metal angst machine reads more like a Black Mirror pitch than your standard celebrity gossip. Following her split from partner and puppet master Titanic Sinclair the inference is that this is now the ‘real’ Poppy. The raw, angry poppy. The Poppy that won’t take that shit anymore. How much this is the case and how much this is another alter ego in the Poppy funhouse hall of mirrors is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly a stark departure from the bubblegum, satire drenched electro-pop she made her name with.
Musically this album might not be quite ‘post-genre’ as it claims but it’s certainly a crazy riot of sub-genres encompassing everything from deathcore to drum and bass and stompy goth. On the whole it works but it does feel at times like someone trying on a few different outfits to see which one they like best then deciding just to wear them all at once. Individually the tracks are exhilarating but as a whole it can become a little exhausting. There is a playfulness about the rebelliousness of it all, lyrically, sonically and visually, but there is definitely a sense that we are meant to take it seriously too and I think it’s saved ultimately by being neither too ironic or too self important.
More than anything this feels like a stepping stone, albeit a mostly successful one, and It will be interesting to see where she will go from here – will she commit to this riotous sound or will there be a whole new Poppy around the corner for us next time?
ARTIST: Poppy TITLE: I Disagree MOOD: Some girls just want to watch the world burn STANDOUT TRACKS: I Disagree, Boodmoney, Fill the Crown, Bite Your Teeth
2019 End of Year Review.
It’s not been the greatest year for big pop tunes in my opinion but there’s still been a lot that I’ve loved, with a strong showing in indie-pop and electronica. Here’s my top picks from 2019:
Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey Remember The Future – Ionnalee Handfuls of Night – Penguin Cafe First Contact – US Fine Line – Harry Styles Sacred Dreams – Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation Caligula – Lingua Ignota Silver Eater – Grace Lightman Five V2 – White Lies Cry – Cigarettes After Sex The Center Won’t Hold – Sleater-Kinney
People – The 1975 DHL – Frank Ocean Divided Cities – Mark Fernyhough Blinding Lights – The Weeknd Resentment – Kesha The One – Marika Hackman Nothing Breaks Like A Heart – Mark Ronson / Miley Cyrus Paradise – She Drew The Gun Ice Tea Liberace – Phebe Starr My Name Is Dark – Grimes
Penguins on penguins.
I had the pleasure of getting to hear this album played in full at a recent live show and it was completely magnificent. At the time I felt it was likely to turn out to be my favourite of their albums and now that I have the vinyl on my turntable I can happily confirm that as a fact. Over the previous two albums I have enjoyed Penguin Cafe most when they lean towards the more dramatic, filmic or minimalist sides of their music preferring The Red Book to The Imperfect Sea which was a little too folksy at times for my tastes.
Handfuls of Night, which began life as an accompaniment to a Greenpeace project based in the antarctic, certainly has a cinematic tone to it owing no doubt in part to its origins. Two of my favourite tracks Chinstrap and Chapter both have a perfect combination of musical storytelling and ethereal beauty, with a dash of drama. The latter is in fact described in the liner notes as the tale of ‘a penguin detective tasked with solving a crime that led to something bigger than anyone could have imagined..’ (And it has to be said at this point that the liner notes for this album are a joy of their own, stuffed with interesting little facts and wonderful scene setting for each track. Having a Penguin Cafe album that is actually predominantly about penguins is also irresistibly fun.)
The only track that feels somewhat out of place for me is Pythagoras on the Line Again, and indeed it is a re-visiting of one of Simon Jeffes’ pieces. It’s a fascinating thing in it’s own right playing on harmonic relationships constructed from an old BT telephone engaged tone. I find it alternatingly pleasing and aggravating depending on my mood but it’s probably both the most unusual and most interesting track on the album. It does however feel somewhat like a cuckoo in the nest (to use a non-penguin bird analogy) and I wonder if it might have been better included elsewhere. It was an extraordinary thing to hear live though and it’s not something I would want to have seen buried. On the whole though the album is extremely cohesive, and takes the listener on a fascinating and curious journey.
A gorgeous, enveloping and engaging collection of music that should please any existing fan and would be a great entry point for anyone new to their music too.
ARTIST: Penguin Cafe TITLE: Handfuls of Night MOOD: Floating in the bath pretending to be a penguin TOP TRACKS: Chinstrap, Chapter, Gentoo Origin
As we face down the increasingly real prospect of Brexit an Englishman based between the UK and Berlin, a city already keenly aware of the impact of borders both internal and external, is better placed than most to write a gloomily romantic electro-rock torch song on the subject – and here we have just that.
Musically Mark Fernyhough’s latest single Divided Cities is a close relative of his earlier dramatic melancholia like Berlin, The Human Eye and Steal My Love but with the addition of a grittier, more urban, electronic edge first introduced on last year’s single Sidewalks and it’s fantastically dark and druggy sounding b-side Favourite.
The track is accompanied by an chic and suitably international video starring French artist Camille Schaeffer, Belarusian
synth player Julia Runova and Polish/German
electro drummer Agata D’mon. Shot amongst the imposing architecture of the German capital it captures the bittersweet relationship between the cities we inhabit and how they inhabit us.
Divided Cities also comes backed by a brilliant (and single-worthy in it’s own right) b-side Edge of Town – a hooky little beast inspired by ‘fantasising about the ghosts, decadence and demons which lurk within the darkness of the forest at the end of the garden’ and which has a more guitarsey, gothically uptempo feel. Easily as good as its parent track it’s more of a double A side really, if such things still existed in the digital age.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough TITLE: Divided Cities MOOD: Romantic political gloom
New York post-punk band Veda Rays have released a new video for their single “Close Range,” taken from their current album For the Rest to Rest. The video has a dark and politically troubling feel that is described by band member Jim Stark as being about “image and identity, specifically as presented through the lens of the media, whether self-curated through one’s own social media platforms, or by professional design, channeled through larger outlets.”
ARTIST: Veda Rays TITLE: Close Range MOOD: Dystopian
Words like ambient, instrumental or soundscape are often used to mean the kind of blandly soothing music you stick on in the background whilst doing the crossword, but although this is an often beautiful and delicate album, it’s also frequently a deeply unsettling one too.
From the background chatter of children in decrescent to the intense sense of creeping dread in tracks like 4;28 and, the standout track for me, Uchujin there is not much about this album I would describe as soothing. In fact, a lot of it straight up gives me The Fear. I mean this in a good way of course, it’s perfectly done and I assume deliberate. There are shades of late era Scott Walker and the kind of skin crawling unease I get from David Lynch soundtracks but crucially it’s also underscored with a fragile, melodic elegance and it never tips into something unlistenable or aggressive.
An elegantly put together and thoughtful collection that I feel like I’m still only scraping the surface of despite having played it frequently over the last month since I received my (charmingly hand packaged) copy through the post. If you are a fan of either the eerie or ambient music in general I can’t recommend this enough.
ARTIST: ÍNEXUNÍN TITLE: Antiseptic MOOD: Soundtrack for your anxiety TOP TRACKS: Uchujin, 4;28, (bonus track) Jónas
2018 End of Year Review.
This year has been a blast musically and it was tough to narrow it down, but here’s my favourites from 2018:
Berlin Archives – Mark Fernyhough This limited release collection is a fantastic introduction to what Mark has been up to over the last few years and an appetite whetting tease for his debut-proper to come soon.
Suede’s last album Night Thoughts was a surprising late-career tour de force that took the excess of their mid-90s imperial phase and pushed it in a more grown-up, but altogether darker direction. Though this album is very much in keeping with its predecessor there is a still a definite tonal shift and it’s unmistakably a braver, weirder creature too.
Like Night Thoughts the tracks run seamlessly together making it clear you are intended to listen to it as one piece and, similar to that record, some parts of it make scant sense on their own but form important points on the overall journey. However where Night Thoughts had at its heart a fragility and vulnerability, The Blue Hour is markedly more ominous, oppressive and sinister.
As the song titles suggest it’s lyrically focused on the macro of domestic and rural drama but with a delivery and production that listeners will likely find either intensely affecting or faintly ridiculous, maybe even a bit of both. While it does contain quieter moments (along with some of the purest, gritty rock the band have produced in quite some time) it’s when it’s at it’s most brilliantly batshit that it throws all notion of simplicity or humility out the window and challenges the listener to either love it or loathe it. I can’t imagine many people being on the fence about the gothic extravagance of this album, but that’s as it should be I think.
A worthy successor to Night Thoughts and the sound of a band continuing to push themselves beyond the nostalgic rehash of most post-reunion endeavours. It won’t be for everyone but I doubt it was ever intended to be.
Track By Track
As One I’ve always liked opening tracks that aggressively set out the stall for the album and if you were unsure what you were getting into before pressing play then the funereal chanting and raw, chilling bombast of this track should give you a clue. Just to hammer things in it ends withan audio sample of voices shouting and dogs barking that sounds like the start of a horror movie. ‘When he smiles he looks like a fox but when he holds me we will be as one..’
Wastelands Though I understand the desire to put something more familiar after the slightly brutal intro I find this both melodically and lyrically a bit too suede-by-numbers. It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just that it’s one we’ve heard before. It does however end with a wonderfully eerie quote from Wind In The Willows.
Mistress One of the tracks closest to some of the quieter moments of Night Thoughts but also most reminiscent of some of Brett Anderson’s solo work. This is the kind of swooning, brittle, slightly nasty vignette he is already adept at but bolstered by the extra heft of production and arrangement it’s given here.
Beyond The Outskirts Beyond The Outskirts is essentially Wastelands but better. Lyrically very similar but with more interesting (almost Beatles-esque) melodies and some fantastic big chunky guitars, it does make me question the need for both tracks and I would definitely pick this as the stronger contender.
Chalk Circles A queasy, lilting nursery rhyme that suddenly turns into a great big cacophony of medieval chanting .. yeah, i know what you’re thinking .. and it shouldn’t work but I swear it’s one of the highlights.
Cold Hands You can’t beat some lovely, banging, pissed off sounding rock. Brett spitting out ‘I’m a hare in the cat’s eyes’ in his best proto-punk. Lyrically and spiritually this is the antonym of Night Thoughts’ The Fur & The Feathers. One of the definite highlights of the record for me and should be a monster live.
Life Is Golden Another highlight track, Life Is Golden is a soaring, anthemic, hook-stuffed beauty. Classic nu-Suede with a dash of Manic Street Preachers.
Roadkill I’m still undecided if a morbid, spoken word piece about a dead bird set over hymnal chanting is a shade too far on the pretension-ometer or not but I’ve got to admire the commitment to the cause.
Tides This track hasn’t really grabbed me yet but it’s interesting enough that I expect it to be a grower.
Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You I loved this track when it was released earlier in the year and I still find it to be one of the stronger songs on the album. Gritty but hooky and most reminiscent perhaps of something like No Tomorrow or Outsiders from the last album.
Dead Bird A wonderfully creepy interlude and a good reason not to put your music library on shuffle when you have guests round.
All The Wild Places It’s been a while since I said Scott Walker in a suede review but this song is gorgeously Walkeresque, specifically the strings are very Plastic Palace People. A charming, romantic sigh of a thing in general.
The Invisibles Probably the track that feels most like something from Bloodsports, Invisibles was the first song released as a teaser for the album and though it seemed a decidedly obtuse choice at the time it also seemed encouraging that the album was going to be good not least because they were happy to chuck out something as lovely as this so early in the promo trail.
Flytipping The standout track on the album, Flytipping pulls off the sacred combo of being epic, melodic, hook driven and lyrically strong. And then just when you think you know what it is the drums kick in and it takes you to the end of the record with full-on bombastic guitar shrieking prog noise, soaring choirs and glorious strings. An album that starts and ends with ridiculous, wonderful excess is rarely a bad thing in my book.
ARTIST: Suede TITLE: The Blue Hour MOOD: Gothic melodrama in the English countryside
Birdhead released their genre bending electro-rock debut ‘Pleasure Centre’ to much acclaim nearly five years ago, so the soon to be released follow-up ‘Massive Aggressive’ has been a long time brewing. Thankfully it’s been worth the wait.
Traversing from wailing 80s guitar riffs, to throbbing funk, to vocals spat disdainfully Mark E Smith style at the listener, to the more mellow almost ambient moments of the record – Birdhead continue to do a remarkable job of making music that is both pleasingly angry, undeniably melodic and often surprisingly danceable.
Rock music for dance fans, dance music for rock fans. Music for everyone to get drunk at a disco and start a punch up to.
Highlight tracks for me are Custom Muscle, Sunsleeper, Tesseract, Autostrider, Beasts of England and the title track. This is an album with no duffers though and if you like your music with some meat on the bone (or muscle for that matter) then this one’s for you.
Massive Agressive is released on the 28th of September.
With shades of 80s alt-electro mixed with infallibly hooky melodies and torch-song vocals, Mark Fernyhough’s new single Sidewalks is something that feels current but not slavishly wedded to trends. Similarly the low-fi glamour of the night-lit streets of Berlin in the accompanying video has a timeless, edgy cool.
Although his previous release Nouveau (a collaboration with guitarist Steven Horry) was a slightly more upbeat pop sound than many of his previous tracks, Sidewalks sees him moving further again into a new electronic, and dare I say it kind of funky direction.
The B-side Favourite is spacey, spooky and dark with a Jan Hammer / John Carpenter edge. Unapologetically unusual it’s exactly the kind of gem you hope to find in a b-side, and although it’s a pretty striking departure from his usual sound it’s an entirely successful one I think.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough TITLE: Sidewalks
Brush your teeth before bed.
A gorgeous dreamy new track by Toothpaste, produced by Daisy Edwards and mastered by Simon Scott of Slowdive hit the internet today and it’s already a strong contender for one of my favourites of the year.
The woozy, sleepy atmosphere of the track hides some surprisingly dark lyrics which give a little extra bite to what might otherwise have been something much less interesting. Instead this is an intriguing and enveloping thing that can be both soothing and troubling at the same time.
‘Bedtime is a song about the misty-eyed moments of magic you might feel just before you drift off into dreamland. It is an ode to the blissful escape of sleep and the chance of seeing the one you love slip into your room, giving you a sweet send-off towards the shores of slumber. The feeling you get of slipping through the ever expansive layers of consciousness until you land with a gentle bump on the picturesque field of your dormant landscape. Was the one who floated into bed beside you ever really there? Whether in dreams or reality, the mere pretence of their presence was enough to soothe you for the night.’
ARTIST: Toothpaste TITLE: Bedtime
Fantastic, stylish and super cool new track ‘Nouveau’ released today by Mark Fernyhough and Steven Horry accompanied by an equally cool and colourful video featuring an awesome gang of Berlin roller girls.
ARTIST: Mark Fernyhough & Steven Horry TITLE: Nouveau
Watch the hypnotic video for Veda Rays’ fantastic new single Shadow Side which is is available for purchase through their site www.vedarays.com/store and through bandcamp. A luscious slice of guitar-based, gothic, post-punk drama for your ears and eyes to enjoy.
Having already made their mark on the London indie scene in an impressive collection of other musical projects, Toothpaste comprise of Amol (Vox/Guitar), Daisy (Bass), Poppy (Keys) and Sami (Drums) and promise to bring you ‘minty fresh pop bangers, wicked tunes and okayish oral hygiene.’*
Their first single ‘TV Years’ is set for release later this month on the 10th of August and they will be throwing a launch show, with the help of Viral Nights, at The Lock Tavern in London that night.
The song explores the sense of disconnect between people in the modern world – singer Amol describes it as:
“the sort of feeling that makes you want to stay away from the outside world, at home watching TV.”
‘TV Years’ is a great introduction to what promises to be an exciting new band – awash with dreamy guitars, swirling digital synths, and drifting vocals.
Please keep your eye out (and mouth open) for Toothpaste who are most definitely One To Watch.
*none of the band are qualified to give legitimate advice on oral health.
Albums of the year.
Prepare your rotten tomatoes of disagreement…
Night Thoughts – suede
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975
Joanne – Lady Gaga
The Electronique Void – Adrian Younge
Come All Sufferers – Gabriel Bruce
Blackstar – David Bowie
I, Gemini – Let’s Eat Grandma
Heavy Entertainment Show – Robbie Williams
These Systems Are Failing – Moby
The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West
SVIIB – School Of Seven Bells
Blonde – Frank Ocean
Starboy – The Weeknd
Super – The Pet Shop Boys
You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
The Childhood Of A Leader – Scott Walker
Songs For Our Mothers – Fat White Family
Treasure House – Cat’s Eyes
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson
99 cents – Santigold
Music Not The Bling
If there is one thing Lady Gaga could fairly be criticised for in the past it’s over-promising and over-hyping (Album of the decade! Reverse Warholian expedition! Redefining social media!) and whilst I’m sure there will be time for that yet the pre-release campaign for Joanne has been the polar opposite. Delivered with little fanfare, a low-key cover and a lead single that hardly set the world on fire, my expectations for this album were low. The two following buzz tracks struck a much better chord but I still expected this to be a grower, perhaps even slightly hard work to love. However, to my surprise I was knocked off my feet by half way through the first track and never looked back. There is a larger cautionary tale here about not to judging an album by the disembodied parts of it thrown out into the world before it’s launch but this has been one of the most extreme cases of going from trepidation to adoration in one listen that I have experienced.
The artwork suggested something stripped back and ernest (Gaga’s Back to Basics if you will) whilst the lead single suggested fairly faceless pop with a Pat Benatar edge. The implicit desire to simplify and be ‘authentic’ felt somewhat forced and I dreaded a renouncement of her previous pop lives. In practice however the album has surprisingly frequent lashings of pure Gaga and is in a way perhaps the most successful, distilled embodiment of her long-running desire to fuse the serious and the frivolous, credible and throwaway, art and pop. The personal nature of the title feels a little laboured in this context but the song itself is touching without being overly saccharin.
It should be no revelation that she might do something less ‘theatrical’ at some point but being Gaga it is still essentially dress up. Contradictory as always her concept of what is artifice or construct has always been at odds with the rest of the world – for her the artifice is authentic and I would suggest that Joanne is really no different at its heart. For all it’s corded mic swinging and crowd surfing the video for Perfect Illusion remains one of the campest things I’ve seen. For her there has long been a kind of infinity mirror of artifice in the stripping away of artifice – visualised in moments such as her onstage costume change on the Artpop tour or the photo of her wrecked nails in an after-acrylics monster claw.
This is by no means some kind of purist country record but what is, in the great tradition of musical ciphers like Gaga, is a pleasing mush of reference points across the gamut of country, americanna, rock and salsa and where this album really shines is when she mixes those flashes of trademark bonkers with vocals and lyrics that have hit a lusher more refined stride.
A surprisingly strong and far less embarrassing outing than it could so easily have been Joanne stands comfortably, stetson tilted, amongst her best work.
Track by track
Her strongest album opener this starts with a cool Courtney / Fleetwood drawl, leading us down a musical road we think we know before turning several unexpected turns into the kind of cross genre ferocity only Gaga can do. If Swine was a song attempting to get the anger, bile and rage of rape out into a poppers o’clock rave song then this is it’s whisky soaked 3am sister.
A fun, poppy clap-along little track.
The purest and most successful no-whistles ballad she has written to my mind. Gorgeous vocals, touching lyrics and a melody that pulls at your emotions without becoming naff.
Pure Gaga in the vein of much of Born This Way but wrapped around a chunky country strut extolling the joys of a cowboy lover.
Dancin’ in circles
it sounds like Shakira and it’s about masturbation – what’s not to like?
As is often the way this works much better as part of the album than on its own.
A melodic, harmony strewn ballad that is the closest to the type of country-lite the album seemed likely to be before release.
This toes a fine line between being almost pastiche, particularly in the chorus, and something that actually has a fair amount of depth to it but the combination works. Her vocal is particularly wonderful on this track – deep, rich and warm.
Come To Mama
Completely daft, OTT musical hall with more than a dash of McCartney – and lyrically pure hippy silliness. It’s a standout for me but will be marmite for sure.
The hook is pure Bennie & The Jets but although Gaga and Florence sound great together the melody leaves me a little cold, the only song on the album that veers towards MOR R&B.
A standout track reminiscent of the more hymnal moments of Brandon Flowers’ Flamingo, or at least of their shared influences. A mournful dirt-track protest song.
Another standout track for me. One of those songs intended to be sung along to at 3am, dunk with your best friends whilst railing against the injustices of life and fittingly includes a Spice Girls namecheck. Makes me oddly weepy.
Just another Day
A very Scissors Sisters esque jazzy melody. Although the album proper ends with Angel Down and the deluxe tracks with the work tape of the same song this is definitely a sweeter, lighter way to finish if you want it.
ARTIST: Lady Gaga TITLE: Joanne MOOD: Nancy: ‘I look like fucking Stevie Nicks’
suede 7″ vinyl box set
It had never really occurred to me before but I think I’ve always thought of suede as an ‘album band’ but listening to the releases in this way for the first time really hammered home the sheer strength of their singles run across the 20ish years covered in the set – the baseline of quality and immediacy is startling.
And that’s without even taking into account the b-sides. Whilst the completest in me considered going for the CD box set which contains more tracks I was irresistibly drawn to the vinyl and I have to say there is something about the leanness of the 2 track format that also made the listening experience really enjoyable. In a way it felt like an interesting companion to Sci-Fi Lullabies – a sort of whistle stop tour of the band’s career so far. The b-sides, particularly in the Coming Up and Head Music eras, are well chosen to offer literally another side to each release and whilst not always the most obvious choices (to my ear anyway) this in itself makes the set feel slightly more special.
They have always been a band to straddle a strange position between brash, poppy fun and some of the darker recesses of the human psyche (frequently both at once) and whilst listening to their releases in this way understandably tilts towards the former the b-side choices lean pleasingly towards the latter.
Interestingly I also found the two singles I’ve always been a bit iffy about (Electricity and Positivity – two sides of the same rhyming coin in my mind) sounded so much better when listened to in this way removed from their parent albums – both of which I never wholly felt they fitted on.
Rooting through all those little records I also couldn’t help be struck by how great the artwork is across the run. The two A New Morning releases look somewhat odd on vinyl for the obvious reasons but from the DIY feel of the early singles through the Nick Knight / Peter Saville years right up to the Bloodsports singles – my personal favourite set of covers – it’s a pretty wonderful collection of imagery and for the most part hold an emotional coherence both with each other and the music inside.
As frivolous as it seems I’m delighted with this set and look forward to dipping in and out of it in a nonlinear way in the future. Now if only I could get a 7" of Outsiders to pop in the back..
Suede: Night Thoughts.
If Bloodsports is increasingly looking like the album equivalent of a soft launch then Night Thoughts is surely the ‘difficult second album’ and it is immediately tempting, irresistible in fact, to pit it against their second album proper. It’s irresistible not just because in that strangely addictive past-time of ranking albums against each other Dog Man Star is surely the suede album any other hopes to topple but also because from the first few opening strings there is clearly more than a little lineage between the two. Make no mistake, these are very different records but Night Thoughts is peppered with moments and motifs – some elegant, some cheeky – that echo the earlier album and it would be wilful to ignore that.
Musically this is a stronger and more fully formed creature than anyone might have expected and sonically it stands head and shoulders against the majority of their back catalogue. I can’t think of another suede album that could possibly have been presented as a 50 minute instrumental as this is on the deluxe release without sounding like some kind of indie karaoke compilation but this is a lovingly and lushly soundscaped piece of work that holds up remarkably well even in that format.
All of which makes this feel not only like a great record but like the sound of a band who – perhaps for the first time since the debut – are working together as a *band* and bringing experience gained individually in the hiatus years back to the collective table. In many ways this is an archetypal suede record but in others it is also something different – something more refined, more fleshed out and offers the exciting prospect of them stretching into other new and interesting places in the future.
Whilst everyone seems terribly scared to say the words ‘concept album’ out loud these days I’m not sure what else you call 12 songs that flow together, often gaplesly, with an overarching theme and which are presented with a full-length art-movie as visual accompaniment. Perhaps ‘concept album’ suggests too much of a plot or political point to be made and indeed whilst the beautifully brutal film, directed by Roger Sargent, has a clear storyline the album itself is more oblique.
The lyrics, whilst occasionally straying into familiar territory are by and large some of the best Brett Anderson has written. Although they have a general romanticism and an open-endedness that allow for multiple interpretations this is probably the first body of work he has produced since the start of his solo career that doesn’t largely consist of, as one reviewer put it, ‘singing to portraits of women’. Having evolved over the years from a diarist of low-rent suburban glamour into something more akin to a misanthropic and occasionally sinister Byron it never feels like a volte face. But it is certainly, and rightly, an evolution.
As an album that was always intended to be played as one piece, it now seems in retrospect almost butchery to have carved up portions of it for release as singles. The decision to lead with the more tonally upbeat tracks probably also did a disservice to the album, the film and indeed the tracks themselves. If a song like Like Kids feels fun but somewhat lightweight as a single, within the album it bursts through like a desperately needed moment of joy. So much of this album works intrinsically as part of the album that it is hard to listen to without listening to it all – and in that sense it is certainly their most challenging, but rewarding, release.
Bass player Mat Osman recently joked in an interview that “You should always be dangerously close to pretentious” and this album certainly teeters, perhaps even nose dives, over the edge. But for me these are the moments that this band has always been at it’s best – when nosediving over the edge into a delicious, bombastic, histrionic vat of pretension.
When You Are Young
Beginning with a lush and threatening string arrangement before collapsing in on itself through strangled sounding children’s voices into a tribal drum and a soaring vocal, this is an opening track that tells you to sit the fuck down and pay attention. Haunting, nostalgic and intense.
A standout track since it was released as the first single it batters in after the opening number and immediately sets out how well this album has been pieced together. A driving, classic suede chorus with a wonderfully dark sounding verse.
A peppy, glam sounding banger about chronic depression. How suede.
One of the most pleasing transitions on the record for me is the shift from No Tomorrow into this affecting little vignette. At just over two and a half minutes (a chunk of which is ethereal, spacey, synth based instrumental) and with two vocal sections that seem almost unrelated it’s a song that on it’s own makes little sense but as part of the larger piece of the album is a powerful moment.
I Don’t Know How To Reach You
Ostensibly about the generational communication gap viewed from both sides it could as easily be read as a song about any other kind of communication breakdown. There is a pretty spectacular guitar solo in the middle of this and a truly epic end section with Brett wailing in layered vocals over and over on top of squealing guitars, noisy synths and banging drums.
What I’m Trying To Tell You
A very odd, louche, funky, slightly Franz Ferdinand / Roxy Music sounding track – the lyrics of which appear to be mainly a shopping list of self loathing. There is also a spoken bridge where Brett channels Neil Tennant and a tempo that borders worryingly on disco. Everything about this song on paper sounds like a horrible idea but it somehow pulls it off perfectly. It even ends with the snarkiest set of ‘la-la-la’s I’ve heard, tipping right over from self referential to completely taking the piss.
A classic suede ballad in the way that only suede do – complete with that glorious thing of Brett singing right on the edge of his register lending it a wonderfully cracked and desperate feeling.
Learning To Be
Beginning with an eerie and indecipherable sample of a child’s voice this is another delicate bridging piece similar to Pale Snow. Sweet if slightly elegiac it ends with a burst of synths, a young woman singing a lullaby over samples of rain and radio noise, and is finally punctured by a frankly terrifying, distorted child’s cry.
By which point you really need a good old fashioned pop song.
I Can’t Give Her What She Wants
There’s definitely a recurring theme on the album of songs about the inability to communicate with people and this is another seemingly in that vein. It does however have some extremely dark lyrics (most notably ’the keys are falling from her coat, as I weave my fingers round her perfumed throat’) that make the chorus start to sound much less about reaching out to someone than about shutting them up. Indeed it was apparently originally a song more obviously about murder but was dialled back somewhat in the final version. I’m more than a little curious to know what the ‘dialled up’ version was like! Wonderfully sinister.
I suspect that it’s the slightly meandering, vocal led ballads like this that those jumping directly from earlier suede albums will struggle with most but as a continuation of Brett’s solo work and the latter half of Bloodsports it’s a sound they are starting to cement as a new trademark. Sometimes it works more successfully than others and this is possibly the only track on Night Thoughts that I feel could have done with an extra push. Lyrically it’s strong but melodically it doesn’t quite hit it out of the park.
When You Were Young
A brief but tonally darker and more imposing reprise of the opening track that serves as perfect thematic wrapper for the album. Nostalgia is not exactly the word in the end, with all it’s rosy connotations – perhaps more like looking down the wrong end of a telescope at childhood.
The Fur and the Feathers
Whatever you do, life happens. A cynical but oddly optimistic acknowledgement of the inevitability of love, hate, birth, death and everything in between. A song that is at once utterly weary but is also the sound of irrepressible blood pumping. This is a big, bombastic ballad that ends with an absolutely outstanding, epic, High Rise via Pink Floyd, falsetto strewn crescendo.
ARTIST: Suede TITLE: Night Thoughts MOOD: What keeps Brett Anderson awake at night.
I’m not going to re-review Bloodsports properly since the time since release doesn’t really warrant it but I will add a few thoughts now that I’ve lived with it for a couple of years. You can read my original review here for the full track by track.
When the band reformed I was sceptical and somewhat fearful and (to my now bitter regret) didn’t go to the first set of live shows. They may not have critically and musically ended on a high note but the farewell tour had been fittingly emotional and in the intervening years Brett had produced some extremely satisfying solo work – including most recently Black Rainbows an album which I believe sits comfortably at the top end of his career. I hadn’t been wowed by Here Come The Tears and for many of the reasons that reformations make me nervous – it felt mannered, polite and too much like the sound Brett and Bernard trying not to step on each others toes. At best I expected the reformation to be weak and at worst I feared it would be embarrassing. While the album shows at Brixton certainly disproved any fears I had about their capabilities on stage I was still left with the nagging concern that they would become one of those bands looping around the country playing the old songs to an ever-aging crowd.
When Bloodsports was released I approached it with an optimistic caution and was rewarded with an album that although not instant is excellent. My original review gave it a 9/10 and while some songs have grown on me more (most notably Sabotage and It Starts and Ends With You) I will happily stick by that giving it an easy third place slot in my album rating after Dog Man Star and the debut. The tour and the collection of remarkably good b-sides that came out with the singles sealed the deal and since then I have been more excited by the band than I have been since the mid 90s. How wonderfully surprising.
So, on a final note:
Crib notes: A band flexing their muscles and finding that they can still right hook pretty good. The endless, bloody game.
Listen to it when: Falling in love, falling out of love.
In a fantasy world I would: not do much really. It’s tempting to switch out It Starts and Ends With You for the frankly gorgeous b-side Falling Planes but I suspect that would upset the balance of the album.
A New Morning
Review: A New Morning – suede
A New Morning is, it would appear, unanimously the least liked suede album by both fans and band alike. Least liked is putting it somewhat politely in fact – credited as the reason the band split up for nearly a decade it has been thrown under the bus in recent press with a spectacular vigour and described as, amongst other things, bland, disappointing and most succinctly by Mat ‘shit’.
I’d be lying if I said when this came out it set my world on fire but did I hate it? No, not at all. I actually really rather liked it, and still do. I get a little sad for it every time it’s vilified but I do understand why. It’s a safe record, a comfortable old slippers record – and whatever any of the previous four were they were never that. While there are some definite gems in the b-sides for this era they are also some of the nadir moments of their output (with a couple being indefensibly bad) and it’s hard not to hear the period in retrospect as the sound of a band without much gas left in their tank.
At some point mid-way through the writing process there was a (now exiled to a forgotten corridor of history) line-up change as Neil left due to illness and Alex Lee joined – and between that, Brett suddenly adopting a Gallagheresque rasp and a distinct mood shift to something somewhat prosaic in tone there is a general feeling that it’s not quite ‘suede’. The era’s imagery included casual clothing, sun-streamed windows, blonde hair (!) and greenery. Combined with a lead single called ‘Positivity’ I suppose it seemed ‘just not cricket’ to a lot of fans. In the liner notes on the re-issue along with saying he basically wishes it hadn’t been released Brett describes it as them trying to ‘destroy their own myth’ and for me, perhaps because of this, while the album without doubt has the general vibe of the recently sober it somehow still manages to come off as not quite happy, not quite sad. A bit like someone telling you they are fine when it’s obvious they’re not.
At the time, after Head Music, I was – I would not go as far as to say to say a casual fan but my passion for the band was definitely coasting a little and it was, ironically, the fact that I *did* like this album a lot that made me go back and revisit Head Music again in the end. A New Morning may not be their best work but it has it’s moments and I am personally glad they released it even if they’re not.
But I never want to hear UFO again as long as I live.
‘and the morning is for you and the air is free and the birds sing for you and your positivity’
Not terrible, not great. Ridiculous video that almost tips into so bad it’s good.
‘Obsession is like sex, it’s simple and complex’
I love this song. Nice chuggy single-worthy track. Brett is a bit obsessed with obsession, I’m a bit obsessed with Brett’s obsession with obsession…
‘Julia dreams while she’s typing away Jackie kills time while the company pays Tracy still hears 808 ringing in her brain’
This one is very reminiscent of some of the Coming Up era b-sides. I like the sound of the song, the melody and instrumentation but the lyrics feel overly familiar and it probably is more of a b-side standard than an album track.
Lost In Tv
‘I see you in my life I see you on the screen An ascending socialite Orbiting the scene’
This song barely sounds like something I recognise as ‘suede’ but I’ve always loved it. A lovely melodic mid-tempo. There are a few tracks on the album where the alarming new Brett-voice (40 a day, bit butch) works well and this is one of them despite, or maybe because of it’s otherwise sweetness.
‘Your brain is drip-connected to the satellite Your heart is not a part of your brain Aesthetics and inventions well they pass you by And complicate your day’
This is another chuggy little rock song in a similar vein to Obsessions but more reminiscent of some of Coming Up. It has some nice staccato rhyming and a bit of bite – maybe the song on the album that gets closest to a more classic suede ‘rock’ song.
‘Street life into the night with the syncopated melodies’
Yeah, this one is pretty terrible. Not so bad I have to run to turn it off but that’s about all I can say for it..
‘A strange experience has started Between her molecules and me It’s like disease between us forming From obsolete technology’
Lovely, romantic little ballad very reminiscent of the Coming up era slowies. There’s some great lyrics in this song too. A lazy, optimistic songs about the value of human connection.
‘Will you be my lover? Will you be the one? Will you be like no other? For how long?’
There is a group of tracks on this album – this, ‘…Morning’, ‘When The Rain Falls’ and ‘Oceans’ that form the backbone of what I always feel the album should have / could have been. They are the songs that (vocal technique aside) dovetail more obviously into some of Brett’s solo work and are down tempo, sparser and less peppered with the lyrical ticks that haunt some of the later suede and Tears songs. This is not the best of them but it’s a song I enjoy a lot particularly as part of this ‘suite’ of songs.
The demo of this track is also very beautiful with some really lovely vocal harmonies and I think better on the whole than the final album version.
‘Sleepy head get out of bed’
This, to me, is the touchstone for what this album was probably intended to sound like. A sweetly hopeful little vignette – the sound of opening the curtains, letting the light in and stretching into the day..
One Hit to The Body
‘I don’t need you to be sorry I just wanted you to know That this is one hit to the body One hit to the soul One hit to the body that won’t show’
I’ve always loved this song – it used to be a favourite of mine for putting on playlists for people. Along with Lost In TV it’s another song that sounds very far from a typical suede sound but it’s a great little track with a bitter but defiant spirit.
When The Rain Falls
‘When all the world looks like Atlantis And cars sit rusting in the drives Just step outside and hit the concrete pavement As the rain falls down for you and I’
This perhaps tips slightly into overly-prosaic sounding for my liking and some of the lyrics are best not listened to too closely but it rescues itself from being insufferable and comes out the other side as a pleasant little song. The Stanbridge demo is much better with a darker tone and a sadly missing intro that would have given it at least another 2/10 points from me.
‘We sit and rot here resenting each year Will you go, Will you go?’
A haunting, classic suede weepy and the very definition of a hidden gem. One of my favourite suede songs which never fails to make me tearful relegated to the arse end of the album no-one likes. SADFACE.
Ostensibly about the protracted, incremental disintegration of a relationship neither party wants to call quits on, it’s hard not to imagine it as metaphor for the band itself at the time now.
‘We sing the old songs, the beat box plays on..’
Overall Score: 7/10
Crib notes: neither as good as it should have been or as bad as everyone thinks. Not the end in the end.
Listen to it when: Saturday morning with coffee and the paper.
In a fantasy world I would: Change When The Rain Falls and Untitled for their demos, ditch Positivity, Lonely Girls and Streetlife and switch in b-sides Simon, Cheap and Campfire Song.
Also, final word – I have to give a shoutout for Attitude / Golden Gun the great little standalone single release that came out to to promote them er.. splitting up.. (!) Poor ‘Attitude’ :/
So, I had been planning to review Blackstar this week but I can’t. Sorry. Just go and listen to it will you.
Review: Head Music – suede
I *hated* this album when it came out, to the point that I gave my copy away after all of about two listens. However reviewing it again now there is a lot to like – it’s got it’s flaws but Head Music is by no means a bad album.
I think there were a few different things that contributed to my visceral reaction at the time but primarily it suffered from the weight of expectation. Coming Up had been a huge success for the band and the pre release campaign for Head Music was insane, including things like all HMV stores being renamed for launch day. The album also has a sonic pallet that no one was quite ready for from them at that time (reggae dub electro suede?).
The other notable factor was that the fact that the further into the Head Music campaign it got the less the band seemed to want to be there either. I won’t rake over it here because we all know now in hindsight why that was but even at the time I was aware that while he brushed up well for the videos Brett was beginning to look seriously out of it. I found it increasingly unsettling watching interviews and live performances from that period and in many cases still do now.
I did see them live twice during the era – once was as good as usual but once was the only time I’ve ever not enjoyed them live. I weirdly bought all the singles (you can’t keep a good fangirl down I guess) so it wasn’t a full on ‘I’m done with you’ moment – not like that time I tore down all my Bros posters in one day. But this was definitely the period in which I felt least engaged with the band in general.
There were a few tracks I listened to in the intervening time but it wasn’t until several years later after the release of A New Morning that I gave it a proper go again and found to my surprise that I really liked it. At a different point in my life and all of the surrounding mess out of the way I felt very differently about it. I now listen to it (or almost all of it at least) on a fairly regular basis. It’s a bit of a game of two halves and there is some less than stellar stuff on it but far from the ‘difficult’ listen I pigeon holed it as at the time it’s also brimming with some of their best songs. There a few criminally neglected b-sides (I feel like every fan has their own fantasy version of Head Music swapping in some of the b-sides) and it was a divisive album for fans and the press at the time so I’m guessing I’m not the only one who bristled at this unexpected version of suede. But all in I think history has been kind to this record and it stands up surprisingly well today.
‘We got a love like AC/DC’
I can’t really get excited about this track I’m afraid. It’s a very specific kind of suede song that I’ve never been so keen on (and that ironically peppered the Tears album) and while it’s not terrible it’s just very ‘whatever’.
‘And she got everything she needs Harmony and ecstasy And she got pretty, pretty feet Painted toes and soft, soft soles And she got flowers in her hair Daffodils from windowsills’
I love this track. I swear I’m not just trying to be obtuse since it tends to be at the epicenter of any criticisms of the album – mainly due to that opening lyric which people are weirdly fixated on. Much like Madonna’s Soy Latte I’m a bit baffled as to how anyone could take it seriously but it’s also frustrating because I actually love the lyrics in the song in general. It has a dreamy, sweet, trippy-hippy vibe and never fails to put a smile on my face.
Can’t Get Enough
‘I feel real now walking like a woman and talking like a stone age man’
This is for me probably their best pure pop single. A perfect example of the thuggish swagger that only suede do so well. ‘Talking like sugar and shaking that stuff.’
Everything Will Flow
‘Life is just a lullaby’
Another glorious single. I understand why a lot of people don’t like this since it’s so insanely radio-friendly and .. *gasp* .. optimistic but I think it’s beautiful. The woozy guitar line in the instrumental section particularly just transports me to a warm sunny place where everything will be ok.
‘And the ambulances sigh that you’re down And the traffic speeding by says you’re down And the people in your mind, they say you’re down and you’re down’
This truly is an underrated gem. Heartbreakingly melancholic and one of the most elegant expressions of the mental disconnect that can happen when, as Dolly once put it, ‘sometimes without knowing it I touch my face and find it wet’. This is one of those songs that if I play it at the wrong time will never fail to make me weepy.
She’s In Fashion
‘And if she tells you two is one Then two is one my love And if she tells you you should know Then you should know my love’
For me this track is basically Coming Up without the annoying production. It’s arguably edging towards the wrong side of radio-friendly (and was never off the TV as incidental music at the time) but it rescues itself from the brink for me and I do enjoy it. I also adore the lyric ‘she’s the colour of a magazine’.
‘Scheming like a schoolboy watching you boy come in and lets be friends’
Head Music is a bit of a ‘bops up top’ affair and this is the point that it left turns into the stuff that people most commonly think of when they recall the album. I was completely ambivalent to this at the time but I really like it now, It’s got a nice mellow groove. There’s definitely a feeling on this album of Brett playing with the way words sound rather than just what they mean and there’s some lovely examples on this like ‘listening to Lulu, Amazulu’. Some lovely bluesy brass towards the end too.
‘Give me head, give me head, give me head music instead’
Once you get over the awfulness/brilliance of the fact that this entire song is wrapped around a ridiculous innuendo it’s a pleasant if not earth shattering little number.
‘We love that satisfying rattling crash The sound of registers full of cash We’ll be all over your town like a rash We’ll steal your children and smoke all your hash’
The most hated suede album track? It certainly seems to be the butt of the most jokes. I really like it personally – sort of agro-pop Fall-lite. But then I’m a sucker for bands writing songs about their own egos.
‘She and me together speed through space and time’
This one gets a bit lost along the way I think. It has potential but ends up a bit sludgy and doesn’t really go anywhere. Not awful or annoying but not much of anything.
‘Images of violence fill up my mind And you see the silence, feel it inside And you’ll see my heart is broke in two Cos I’ve seen the real you’
I hated this at the time, I love it now. A beautiful, sad little song and another hidden gem. I find it quite moving and those wonderful woozy instrumentals make it feel like a sort of moody bookend to Everything Will Flow in my mind.
‘Tears on a pillow Eyes on the phone You pour all the love that you keep inside Into a song Like ‘He’s Gone’’
A classic suede ballad easily as good as many of the more cherished tracks from the earlier albums. Live versions always make my eyes water a wee bit.
Crack In The Union Jack
‘Another day, another low Another midday TV show’
The only song on the album I can’t listen to. The melody is pleasant enough but the lyrics make me want to crawl into a foetal ball and not come out until it’s stopped. Sorry Brett.
Overall score: an 8/10 with a 9/10 desperately trying to get out
Crib notes: When it’s good it’s very, very good but when it’s bad it’s awful. Not actually as stupid as a mouse.
Listen to it when: Optimistic but prone to melancholy.
In a fantasy world I would: Swap out Electricity, Hi-Fi and Crack In The Union Jack for b-sides Heroin (why that song was a b-side I will never understand) Popstar and the beautiful instrumental track Seascape.
Dog Man Star.
So, with just over two weeks before Night Thoughts is released I’ve decided to go back and review each of the previous albums as I feel about them now – which in some cases has changed quite a bit over the years.
I am however not going to write full reviews for the first two because a) I’m not sure I have much to say that hasn’t been said before a million times over by many other people and b) quite honestly no one wants to read that kind of sycophancy! So instead as a brief summation I’ll say that whilst there are arguments to be made for certain b-sides (Painted People and Killing of a Flashboy most notably for each album for me) both albums as they stand are damn near perfect to my ear. Everyone has those one or two albums that have a profound impact on them at a young age and these were mine. How can you ever be truly objective about the first great love of your life? 😉
All in however I would rate the debut a brash but beautiful 9/10 and Dog Man Star an *insert hyperbolic phrase here* 10/10.
My reviews for the other albums should hopefully be more interesting though as I do have more ups and downs and thoughts to share! I will go in chronological order starting with Coming Up at some point in the next few days and if I have time I may take a look and Sci-Fi Lullabies and the b-sides featured on the re-issues too..
There will be some pot holes along the way but it will be a marvelous journey all the same..
Top 10 Albums 2014
1/ Ghostface Killah – Twelve reasons to die II
2/ Miley Cyrus – Miley and her dead petz
3/ Chemical brothers – Born in the echoes
4/ Brandon Flowers – The desired effect
5/ Tame Impala – Currents
6/ Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
7/ Marilyn Manson – The pale emperor
8/ Madonna – Rebel Heart
10/ In This Moment – Rise of the blood legion (bit of a cheat as it’s a greatest hits but I only just discovered them last year)
I’m not going to write an in depth review because my brain is fried but Madonna really blew my expectations out of the water last night.
I was excited for the show when I bought the ticket and I love the album but I’ll be honest by the time it rolled around I was pretty meh about it. I’m so, so glad I went. She even got me up and dancing in the face of vertigo.
The staging and set pieces were great and all that (especially the obligatory religious section at the start) but *she* was just a joy to watch. I don’t think I ever expected see a Madonna tour where the highlights were just her singing on a stage with little else going on. Watching her skip around like a 15 year old to Like A Virgin or sit girlishly swinging one foot whilst singing Edith Piaf were things that just shouldn’t work – but they so, so did. Also, some genuinely wonderful live vocals. Who knew?
The new material felt solid amongst the hits and in many cases were stand out highlights. Madonna will not go quietly into heritage act status and it was great to see the crowd go genuinely wild for several of the Rebel Heart tracks.
Much will be made of her coming on late and having the power shut off on her and whilst I’m generally in the ‘just get onstage on time’ camp watching her come back on to perform Holiday with the lights up and no mic whilst the whole audience sang along was an A grade Pop Moment that I will cherish (pun intended) forever.
The last tour was fun in a big pop show way but this one for me was really special. Bitch made us wait but my god she was worth it.
Ten, fifteen years ago when I was going through an evangelical digitisation and minimalisation phase I would have disagreed strongly with this piece but in recent years I have found myself falling back in love with physical media all over again.
Like the author I discovered so many delights in my parents record and book collections and as an adult have learned to reapreciate the beauty of putting the needle down at the start of the record and listening until the end – metaphorically and literally.
Where once I had a collection of magazine clippings now I have a pinterest board and he is right, it’s not the same. It’s not the fact it’s printed that makes it special, it’s not even the keeping hold of it – it’s the wearing down of love. The blue tak marks, the creases, the finger prints, the glorious decline of an object that has been important to you.
In truth that period of material abstinence did me a lot of good because I was likely on my way to becoming if not clinically a hoarder then something just a bit too close for comfort. Now I find myself able to be more selective – I own the things I truly love, that mean something to me. The things that I would like someone else to discover by poking around in my collection one day.
I picked up my crown, put it back on my head. [Review: Rebel Heart by Madonna]
Despite being a lifelong fan Madonna’s last two albums have been, if not terrible, at least a case of lowering expectations for me so I will freely admit that my hopes for her most recent release ‘Rebel Heart’ were not high. Perhaps that’s why on my first listen I came away with with a verdict of ‘ok, but nothing special’. However unlike it’s predecessor MDNA (you can read my review of it at the time here) Rebel Heart is a grower not a show-er. Where MDNA started as a force-yourself-to-listen-to-it-because-it’s-Madonna 6.5/10 for me (and, in all honesty, three years later has ended with me only being able to listen to a few tracks from it) Rebel Heart took just a few spins to become one of those albums that I can’t stop playing.
The biggest difference for me between this and MDNA is that it feels well crafted, well considered and cohesive. It also feels like an album made by an intelligent, functioning adult – by which I mean when there are saucy bits, bratty bits or sweary bits that make me guffaw out loud it feels finally like I am laughing with not at her again.
Along with the ‘outrageous’ it’s worth pointing out that the ‘heart’ in Rebel Heart is very much present too. In fact for me this is her first album since American Life to offer genuinely heartfelt emotion and vulnerability. MDNA and Hard candy both had flashes of it but always with a caveat or a wink. Here there are many moments I find moving without feeling shoe-horned in or like they occupy the place of the obligatory label-required ballad.
There are issues with the album – there are a few duff tracks (most of which are frustratingly lumped together at the start of the album) and most obviously, and sadly, her voice itself. She has in recent years lost much of the warmth, depth and tone to her vocal range that made it so beautiful and she now generally sounds rather shrill, thin and pitchy on most songs. There are flashes of what she is still capable of throughout the record but in most cases, on a technical level, it could be any of the big pop girls – and at times, arguably it would sound better if it were.
That said, what Rebel Heart does give us once again that has been missing for so long is a big, high voltage kick of the Madonna spirit – saucy, smart, irreverent, iconic, and frequently ironic. And for that reason alone it really could be no-one else. Where only a few years ago she seemed desperate and aimless I feel like she has thankfully found her feet again – her sense of humour and soul with it.
Rebel Heart is a very good record in it’s own right but also, almost more thrillingly, leaves me once more properly excited to see what she produces in the future. Something which I now confess (bless myself and genuflect) I thought was gone for good.
Track by track
1. Living For Love – 6/10
Why do I hardly ever like anyone’s first single? I find artists often have a habit of releasing underwhelmingly ‘safe’ tracks as lead singles only for there to be a wealth of more exciting material on the album. No-one seems to be immune to this from Bowie to Britney and Living for Love is another one of those for me. It’s not a terrible song and the backing vocals give it some enjoyable flourish but it’s at best a mid-range album track for me and no doubt I will come to love it much more as that than I do at the moment.
That said, I will probably never be able to listen to it without visualising *that* moment at the Brits :/
2. Devil Pray – 6/10
I feel like I should like this song more than I do as it’s reminiscent of some of my favourite songs on Music but it just doesn’t quite hit the spot somehow.
3. Ghosttown – 8/10
One of the few songs on the album where we get glorious chunks of thevoice we grew up loving. Melodic, melancholic and catchy in the right places.This is also set to be the second single, a great choice I think.
4. Unapologetic Bitch – 4/10
This is the only track on the album
that plumbs similar depths to MDNA for me and has the same icky ‘dancing with
the kidz’ vibe that put me off most of that album. Plus it’s a bit UB40.
5. Illuminati – 5/10
A fun and lyrically amusing track but
ultimately musically unsatisfying – should provide for some excellent tour
6. Bitch I’m Madonna – 10/10
To say this song is divisive among
fans would be an understatement but it’s one of the album highlights for me and
the only of the teaser tracks I played constantly before the album release. To
me this song is everything MDNA attempted but done properly – a brash, ballsy, banger
with a cheeky sense of humour. It, unlike similar tracks on MDNA, harnesses both
her current vocal range and her featured artist as highlights rather than hindrances.
Plus there is some excellent yelling. And Nicki does this ‘ooft’ noise that is
one of my favourite sounds of the year.
7. Hold Tight – 7/10
A pretty, melodic mid-tempo with an
anthemic chorus that for me achieves a similar feeling to Living For Love more successfully.
8. Joan Of Arc – 7/10
One of those rare moments like
Drowned World or Easy Ride where we are allowed to peek behind the curtain and
see that maybe she is actually ‘only human’ after all. A beautiful song that,
although it will likely never happen, I think could make a great late-campaign single.
9. Iconic – 9/10
One of the most addictive tracks on
the album for me. A massive, empowering stomper. This is also one of the songs
that signals the (almost impossible to describe) shift from dance pop that
feels like it’s struggling to be ‘cool’ to a sound which feels far more effortlessly
current as well as somewhat tougher and more confrontational.
10. HeartBreak City – 8/10
It’s great to hear genuine emotion in
her delivery again and this song has it in bags – bitter, sad, regretful and another
excellent mid-tempo, anthemic almost-ballad.
11. Body Shop – 10/10
The absolute stand out track on the
album for me. So totally unexpected and really quite unlike anything she’s done
before – though the closest reference points for me might be some moments of Erotica
or Music. Her voice sounds wonderful, wistful and intimate and I dream of ever getting
an entire album of songs of this level of ingenuity and sensuality from her
12. Holy Water – 8/10
One of those songs that seems utterly
awful until you realise halfway through that’s it’s completely won you over with
its stupidity and sleaze. Hilarious in all the right ways.
13. Inside Out – 8/10
One of my first favourite songs on
the album – catchy and melodic again with the shade of melancholy that runs
through most of Rebel Heart.
14. Wash All Over Me – 9/10
A beautiful and slightly funereal
ballad that somehow ends up feeling far more uplifting than it should. I can’t
help thinking it would make a wonderful mashup with Rain.
15. Best Night – 7/10
There are a clutch of songs on this album
that call to mind the Erotica album and on this track it seems to be a knowing
hat-tip on her part, particularly during the spoken section. A very well
crafted and more-ish album track.
16. Veni Vidi Vici – 9/10
I just can’t get enough of this song.
Being as lyrically self-referential as this can go either way but she pulls it
off and for some reason I actually find the chorus strangely moving. Absolutely
cannot wait to see this one live.
17. S.E.X. – 8/10
Madonna has spoken quite openly over the
last year or two about her horror at the media treatment of women in her age bracket
and most specifically the notion that they shouldn’t be sexual or sexualised. While this is a
complex issue that I don’t want to tangent into here I will say this – If you’re
going to be our ambassador for screwing after 50 Madge then this is how to do
it. Continuing the trend on this album of managing finally again to be sexual
in a way that reads as ‘adult’ rather than simply desperate or puerile, I feel
like she has at last struck the right balance of ‘fuck you’ and ‘fuck me’.
Let me caveat that by saying that there is a tendency to forget that she has
always been somewhat puerile (even on the aforementioned Erotica she served us
that unforgettable Colonel Sanders line) however in later years it has often
felt to me that she was trying to be shocking whilst in fact wimping out of
ever really going beyond playful or camp. All innuendo and no follow through if
you will. What I love about this song is that it actually is quite dirty. And it
sounds dirty. Yes, there is humour in it – but it’s definitely a sleaze jam
too. So now I’m thinking SEX book v2.0? That really would be fabulously shocking..
18. Messiah – 8/10
A swooning, slightly gothic unrequited-love
song with some of the better lyrics on the album.
19. Rebel Heart – 8/10
A lovely, catchy salve at the end of the album and another surprisingly
honest piece of self-reflection that leaves me feeling all kinds of warm and
fuzzy for our lady and her Rebel Heart.
.Overall score: 8/10 (and nudging towards an 8.5 as the days go by)
Music Review – My Best of 2013
This year has been a bit of a belter for me music-wise with some great releases from heavyweights and old favourites as well as a few new acts and surprises.
I hate trying to do proper numbered top tens so instead I’ve just given my favourites in no particular order but split out into to broader categories of ratings.
Top of the Pops (my 9 & 10 out of 10 albums – ‘zomg amazing’)
The Next Day – David Bowie Yeezus – Kanye West Bangerz – Miley Cyrus Artpop – Lady Gaga Bloodsports – suede Random Access Memories – Daft Punk The Big Dream – David Lynch
Best of the Rest (7 & 8 out of 10 – ‘bloody good but not perfect’)
The Minutes – Alison Moyet Exile – Hurts Tales of Us – Goldfrapp Days are Gone – Haim Pale Green Ghosts – John Grant Kiss Land – The Weekend Seasons of Your Day – Mazzy Star Innocents – Moby Three – Charlotte Church Dead Ends – The Rumour Said Fire
Could do better (6 & 7 out of 10 ratings – ‘a few belters and a bunch of fillers’)
Swings Both Ways – Robbie Williams The Marshall Mathers LP2 – Eminem Rewind The Film – Manic Street Preachers Closer To The Truth – Cher
Great song but the album was a bit rubbish Roar – Katy Perry Anything Could Happen – Ellie Goulding
New act that deserves a mention on the basis of one song alone Take Me to Church – Hozier
Man of the year David Bowie – For being the best at keeping a secret ever.
Woman of the year Miley Cyrus – For cultural whiplash due to her unexpected smackdown on the pop landscape
Performance of the year Artpop at Swinefest – Lady Gaga Because sometimes the simplest move is right.
‘Moment’ of the year Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus For straddling the zeitgeist as well as the ball.
Gig of the year Suede – Glasgow Barrowlands Because that’s where I go, and that’s what I do..
Most anticipated for 2014 Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey Artpop volume 2? – Could just be a scurrilous rumour More suede please!
Review: Miley Cyrus – Bangerz
For some people an album that uses hashtags in song titles and includes lyrics like ‘SMH, I’m pressing send on you’ will only ever be a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse. But let’s be honest those are not the people BANGERZ was made for. This album is shamelessly zeitgeisty, absolutely of its moment, a living breathing tumblr meme and will undoubtably become one of those time capsule albums that sums up a specific point in the timeline of pop culture. It’s also a damn good record.
But before I get down to the boring bit where I talk about the actual songs let’s deal with the giant dancing bear costumes in the room:
Yes, I thought *that* VMAs performance was a car wreck
Yes, I think it was absolutely meant to be
No, I don’t think she’s the devil incarnate but
Yes, she is having a lot of fun pretending to be
Yes, this kind of makes her a dick but
Yes, I also find it highly entertaining to watch
Yes, I hate the tongue thing because it’s gross (an Americanism suits it best) but
Yes, I also kind of love the tongue thing because it’s gross
I’ve always liked my stars to teeter right on the brink of self parody and cartoon. Ginger was my favourite Spice, I like Courtney more than Kurt, Country House is my favourite Blur video, I like Prince Charming more than Dirk Wears White Sox.. I could go on. The point is call it punk, call it privileged brattishness, whatever, I’ll take Miley’s ghetto-dyke posturing and fuck-you dry humping over most of her winsome, disingenuous or just plain dull contemporaries any day because there are no apologies and no get out clauses. If you don’t like it.. well, FU I guess. And more importantly because the bravado and infinitely giffable videos are backed by some really great songs.
I guess a lot of people in this country really had no idea who she was a few months ago (other than a vague memory of Achy Breaky Heart if you are old enough) but I’ve had my pop-culture magpie eye on her for a while now.
For those who don’t know Miley started out as one of those Disney girls like Britney or Christina only she played a character in a TV show called Hanna Montana who was a pop singer, sort of like herself but in a blonde wig. She also played Hanna’s alter ego Miley Stewart who was sort of like her in other ways (a ‘down to earth’ Texan girl with brown hair) who also happened to secretly be a pop star. So basically she was playing a version of herself who was also secretly another version of herself whilst also being a Disney star herself with all the pretending that comes with that. Oh, and she also went on a tour billed as starring ‘Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus’. Confused? You should be. So yeah, at 15 that’s surely going to fuck you up.
Don’t give your daughter to the Mouse Mr Cyrus.
But contrary to the crib notes most of the reviews are written from this is Miley’s fourth solo album and although she says she considers it her debut-proper since it’s her first truly post-Hannah release it’s by no means her first stab at a ‘coming of age’ album. That honour would go to the 2010 release Can’t Be Tamed, a patchy record with too much needless autotune but just enough potential that it peaked my interest. The song that hooked me being Robot – a dystopian journey straight through the dark heart of child stardom.
‘You gave me eyes and now I see..’
Although certainly her breakup album I am however convinced that Bangerz isn’t Miley’s breakdown album. It’s the perfect storm of a well orchestrated publicity machine and a young woman having a blast with it and – for once – I think calling the shots. This clip of her arriving at the VMAs and throwing a wobbly because her entrance plan had got messed up (she was meant to arrive in a police car) is pretty fascinating stuff. The moment she get’s out of the car and immediately turns on the Miley #BANGERZ ‘schtick’ is an illuminating glimpse into just how aware of her persona she is.
In a lot of ways it reminds me of the heydays of the Spice Girls blitzkrieg – only with less tits and more tongue.
So to the music..
Miley is an old hand and unlike many of her peers she’s actually pretty talented. In fact one of the most surprising things about Bangerz is how enjoyable her vocal performance is. I’d go so far as to say its a highlight of the record. Her rapping does have such an obvious air of trying on a costume for size that it verges on the ridiculous but self-aware nods to being a ‘southern belle’ and so on pull it back from the brink and in the end I find it endearing.
The mix of styles covered in the album is unusual and it’s fantastically well put together – although I could do without hearing Mike Will’s name every 30 seconds like a fucking audio watermark. There are some surprising and brave decisions (mixing dubstep and hoedown anyone?) but it pays off and forms a remarkably coherent tracklist. It’s also an album that for being unashamedly mainstream absolutely has it’s own character and feels totally wedded to Miley rather than tacked on to whoever happens to be recording it in the studio.
Thematically it’s pretty much half and half break up/fuck you songs and party tracks – occasionally blending together in that ‘fuck you I’m going to party instead’ way and although it’s the shallow bits that grab you by the balls the first time round there’s a larger emotional range lurking behind the crazy. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s The Wall or something but it’s not all twerking and texting either.
Out of the standard edition there is only one song that’s close to a skip track for me and if that was replaced by the first of the bonus tracks it would be a full house. Compared to recent albums by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj and even Madonna where I only listen to half the tracks at best Bangerz comes out head and shoulders above most of her peer group. In terms of pure, unabashed pop albums only Born This Way has topped it for me in quality and effort in the last few years. In fact removing Gaga from the equation it’s my favourite pop album in a long time.
Track by track
Starting an album promising ‘bangerz’ with a slowie is a brave move but it pays off. Adore You reminds me of that Beautiful South lyric ‘you can tell a classic ballad by how threatening it gets’. There is something about the claustrophobia of the chorus lyrics ‘When you say you love me, know I love you more. When you say you need me, know I need you more.’ that has ‘doomed romance’ written all over it. It’s a sad song that thinks it’s happy.
We Can’t Stop
As mission statements go ‘it’s my mouth and I’ll say what I want to’ is a pretty good summation of the Bangerz brand. An insanely addictive mid-tempo resplendent with in-joke Miley/Molly drug references and terrible grammar. A sure-fire hit basically.
If you find the word BANGERZ as endlessly amusing as i do you’ll love it. Otherwise it might make you angry. Oh, and Britney features on it apparently.
4×4 is a moment of mad genius. Not only does it combine a country hoedown vibe, rap and dubsteb in an alarmingly enjoyable way but it also has the unforgettable lyric ‘driving so fast about to piss on myself’. If there isn’t a tour mashup with Hoedown Throwdown it will be the crime of the century.
This is the only song on the album I could easily live without – although it does tend to get stuck in my head after I do listen to it.
Wrecking Ball is a soaring, angry, knockout ballad in the karaoke / slow dance / cry-along-in-your-bedroom sense. It’s one of those songs that makes me really glad I’m not 15 anymore.
Love Money Party
Money ain’t nothing but money when you get to the money. Love ain’t nothing but love when you learn how to love. Party ain’t nothing but a party when you party everyday.
Another one of the songs with the wonderfully weird country / hip-hop thing going on. This will soon be going in a playlist sandwiched between ‘Money, Success, Fame, Glamour’ from Party Monster and Lady Gaga’s ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’.
A sweet sounding mid-tempo sex jam.
‘Drive my heart into the night, you can drop the keys off in the morning.’
Drive has the dark, brooding feel of a Kanye track and is the closest to what could be considered a ‘mature’ sound on the album.
Everything about this song is fucking perfect. Broadway meets hip-hop meets dub step meets Bond theme. With lyrics about texting and LOL-ing and all the bitterness and adolescent hyper-drama of the best mega-ballads. The kind of song that makes you feel like if all else fails for the artist it will have been worth it just for those 2 minutes 28 seconds. If you only listen to one song on the album this should be it.
Do My Thang
‘Don’t you worry bout ‘me. Imma be ok. Imma do my thing.’
There you go everyone, don’t worry – she gonna be ok.
I like this track a lot, it’s another addictive mid-tempo with a really hooky, soaring chorus. Next single maybe?
Maybe You’re Right
The only song on the album that could have come from a previous Miley album and on first listen I wasn’t keen but it’s grown on me, largely because she sells it well.
A slightly grimey, end-of-the-party number with a wonderfully aggressive shouty bit near the end.
And it feels fitting that the last lyrics of the album are ‘I’ve turned into someone else’.
Special mention for ‘Rooting For My Baby’ from the bonus tracks which is actually one of my favourites on the record. It’s a sweetly melodic, melancholy, folksy song that reminds me of tracks like Gone and Don’t Tell Me from Madonna’s Music album.
The (MTV) Crib Notes
Pop at it’s most shamelessly zeitgeist-grabbing coupled with strong vocals and genuinely well crafted tunes. Plus lyrics about pissing yourself in fast cars. What more could you want?
Review: Yeezus by Kanye West
Most people seem to have fallen for Kanye after 808 & Heartbreak but I was a bit of latecomer to the church of Yeezus and it was the title song from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that finally piqued my interest with a genre-defying bolt of melancholy, humor and gloriously OTT crazy.
If MBDTF was the sound of Kanye losing his mind Yeezus is only further down the rabbit hole. Don’t for a minute be expecting that he’s found any kind of equilibrium since the last record.
I’m a sucker for artists who expose their own human flaws and generally will give a free pass on things I might not have otherwise if I know they know too. Kanye most certainly knows – Runaway was the touchstone moment for that but Yeezus continues the theme. Like all the great rock stars he is a big mess of contradictions ranging from arrogance to humility, money obsessed to anti-capitalist, misogynist to apologist. None of it makes much sense but like all great polemicists it sounds good at the time. The lyric ‘Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you’ in I am a God seems to sum this perversity up perfectly. There is also a recurrent theme in both this and the last record of him demonising himself – referring to himself as a monster, a wolf, possessed etc and while it is glamorized there is definitely a strong air of self-loathing about it. Self disgust is self obsession, honey.
And if anyone is still under the allusion that he doesn’t have a sense of humour about it all then the 11-on-the-hamometer pastiche of American Psycho he trailered the album with should prove otherwise:
Musically Kanye West is one of the only artists, never mind mainstream artists, who can genuinely surprise me at the moment and Yeezus is sonically thrilling. Don’t expect some nice Starbucks ‘urban’ background music – strap yourself in for this one, it’s a bumpy ride. Aggressive techno, punky rock sounds, glorious melody and angry, angry rap all mixed up and never, ever doing what you expect. Just when you settle into some soothingly melodic sample it will be ripped out from under you and at other times just when you think you can’t take it anymore the relentless nastiness will be salved by a soaring top line tune. It’s basically the musical equivalent of walking through a minefield in the dark while someone alternately screams at you and feeds you cake.
On the whole Yeezus is not as lyrically sophisticated as MBDTF although it has it’s moments, and there are times when it feels he’s trotting out pat rap-isms. But musically it’s leagues ahead, absolutely blinding.
Track by track
As opening statements go this is firmly in the ‘strap in or fuck off’ bracket. Alternating between hard, dirty electro and eerie melodic samples of children singing. Yeezy’s back and he’s gunning for you.
I cannot stop listening to this song. On first listen I thought of Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll Part II, on second listen Marilyn Manson. It does indeed apparently sample Beautiful People and is a big, stompy, glambanger with some suitable glam-punk lyrics to match. The end section where he is shouting ‘God’ over and over reminds me a bit of Bowie’s Pallas Athena but that’s accidental I’m sure.
This video of him performing it live on SNL illustrates perfectly why he is doing a better job of being Rock & Roll than most of our current rock bands at the moment:
I am a God
If Kanye is a God then he is neither a benevolent nor a happy one. Doom-laden, apocalyptic sounding droning opens the track followed by intermittent screams and a general feeling of impending disaster. The last minute of the track is genuinely quite intense and terrifying. It does however also include a classic moment of Kanye meme-bait when he yells HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANTS – reminiscent of Madge’s soya latte and maybe bested only by ‘the sky filled with herons’ for my favourite Kanye lyric.
If there is any song on the album approaching something like a manifesto or a social commentary that extends outside of his own life then this it. Paralleling materialism with slavery he makes a strong case for rejecting capitalism and fashion, if not one he seems to be capable of following himself.
What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
All you blacks want all the same things
Used to only be niggas, now everybody playing
Spending everything on Alexander Wang
And as far as shade goes ‘Doing clothes you would have thought I had help – but they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself’ is a pretty smart stab at the insinuation a man like him couldn’t possibly have been involved in fashion beyond ‘cotton-picking’.
Ironically it’s this song and not ‘Blood on the leaves’ that offers the more satisfactory explanation for the troublesome Nina Simone sample as he states:
I know that we the new slaves
I see the blood on the leaves
Drawing an explicit parallel between contemporary black commercial slavery and Strange Fruit’s gruesome lynchings is in this context perhaps hyperbolic but certainly eloquent. New Slaves is easily the lyrical high point of the album and although he seems to have ruffled a few feathers with the section where he states
Fuck you and your Hamptons house
I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse
Came on her Hampton blouse
And in her Hampton mouth
I was instantly reminded when I heard it of Pulp’s equally threatening masterpiece I Spy where Jarvis tells us he’s been ‘sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks’ and sets out his (also borderline misogynistic) plan for class revenge by fucking married posh birds:
Your Ladbroke Grove looks turn me on [..]
And every night I hatch my plan,
it’s not a case of woman v man.
It’s more a case of haves against haven’ts.
And I just happen to have got what you need,
just exactly what you need
Musically it is as relentless as the previous two tracks and in my mind completes a trilogy of sorts ending with the soaring melodic last minute of New Slaves – a welcome respite by the time you get there.
Hold My Liquor
Musically and lyrically we are back on more familiar territory with Hold My Liquor being the song that sounds the most like some previous Kanye tracks. But with a big, nasty air horn sounding after every line – just to keep you awake. Perversely this almost sounds like a love song in places. Or as close as you are going to get on Yeezus.
I’m In It
Pornographic and kind of sexy in a fairly ridiculous way.
Blood On The Leaves
Sampling Strange Fruit was always going to be controversial and it’s certainly garnered it’s column inches. Most reviewers are dissatisfied with the disconnect between the sample and the lyrical content – a sprawling, bitter break up tale involving abortion, mollys and baseball games. Musically it all fits very well and feels to me like a gothic tale of love lost and in a way seems no different to the well tread tradition of equating blood and horror with personal loss. That said this particular sample is of course a little more contentious than something like Kurt Cobain singing ‘I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black’ because it directly connects to heavyweight socio-political issues. Within the context of the album it all hangs together for me with an overarching, if slightly messy, theme of blood, horror, personal confusion and black slaveries – both contemporary and historical. Of course it’s confusing that he chose to pair this sample with these lyrics and not New Slave but maybe that’s the point?
For most people this seems to be the centrepiece track but although I love it I prefer the triple header of Black Skinhead / I Am A God / New Slave and it’s sprawling majesty doesn’t quite topple My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for me.
An enjoyable but not stand-out out track for me – although the Popcaan hook is pretty infectious.
Send It Up
I adore the queasy electronic background noise that runs through this track. Headache inducing in a great way – it’s like having your brain drilled by a drunk clown. The Beanie Man outro to the track ‘Memories don’t live like people do / They always ‘member you /Whether things are good or bad /It’s just the memories that you have’ seems to sum up Kanye’s ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’ philosophy perfectly.
By the time you get to the sweet, dancehall lilt of Bound 2 you fucking need it. And it’s not just us. Poor Kanye feels the same.
After all these long-ass verses
I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept
Trying to convince a prospective lover with the promise that he’s worth it despite everything she might have heard and sounding like for all the world like he wants to give up the whole exhausting business of being Yeezy and go grow potatoes with his woman somewhere but knowing that won’t happen. Bound to falling in love. Tired of loving with nobody to love.
The world seems to be stumped as to whether Kanye is an idiot, a genius or a madman. I say an irresistible combination of all three.
Yeezus is in competition only with The Next Day for my album of the year so far.
Review: Bloodsports by suede
So.. yes, it’s taken me over a month to sit down and write this review and I’m sure by this point no-one actually cares any more but here we are anyway.. The main reason it’s taken me so long is that although the overriding feeling of the album appealed to me and a few songs were instant I had the distinct suspicion that several of the slower songs would be growers and I wanted to give the album as a whole a chance to percolate before I wrote a review knowing that if I didn’t I would probably completely change my mind about half of it after I had written it.
My initial impressions of the tone of the album were favourable – I really like the way Brett has been using his voice in more recent years. Despite loving the album the more years that have passed since Coming Up the less fond I get of the plastic-glam pitch of the vocals and I don’t think anyone misses the Oasis rasp even if it did work well on a few songs like One Hit To The Body. The sound of the vocals on Bloodsports (and indeed the feel of the album) is closest to Brett’s last solo album Black Rainbows – an album I’m very fond of and has probably increased in my estimation quite a bit since my initial 8/10 review of it. The album as a whole feels full and ballsy but, unusually for suede not petulant. Also, apart from a couple of Brett-by-numbers moments it has continued the trend of his solo albums in having far, far better lyrics than latter day suede and Tears songs.
I also love the way everything sounds SO LOUD. I’m not very techy so I can’t tell you what I mean by that in production terms but everything just seems to BURST OUT of the songs.
The thing that threw me off about the album when I first started listening to it was the very strange way it is divided almost half and half into uptempo and downtempo songs which resulted in me often listening to first half only and ignoring the difficult ‘side 2’.
The album was conceived as a journey from the start to the end of a relationship, taking on all the points in between – suspicion, obsession, infatuation, co-dependency.
The second I read that not only did I think it was kind of a nice idea for an album but the record suddenly made perfect sense and just clicked with me. Now that difficult second half feels like a necessary bookend to the more familiar territory of the pop-rock tracks about emotional infatuation and sexual desire.
The album is difficult in places but after getting under it’s skin a bit I’m going to come out with a much higher mark than I might have expected on first listen. I’ve really fallen for it and although I think Black Rainbows is possibly more consistently satisfying (if less demanding) as a whole the highs on this album really are high. I’m delighted with this album as if not a ‘comeback’ (oh, but it is) then at least a forage into slightly new territory and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Track by track:
I really liked this song straight away. It has a nice meaty rhythm and a big punchy chorus. It does also, as many have said, have a bit of a stadium rock Simple Minds thing going on.
This was another of my instant favourites. It starts with an even more Simple Minds opening followed by a Coming Up esque ‘oooh oooh’ but the body of the song is like a slightly more macho, aggressive version of some of the Coming Up era rockers wrapped around another big, loud stadium chorus.
It starts and ends with you
I pretty much hated it when it was released but much like The Stars (are out tonight) it works much better for me in the context of the album than elevated to a single. Again like Stars it’s, in my opinion, the weakest track on the album. What is with that? Second-single-itus?
I love the oppressive, moody feel of this song and it builds towards a very satisfying ending although the chorus is a little weak. It seems to be a bit more loved by fans than I think it’s due but it’s a decent enough album track.
For the strangers
I love this song. Swoony and gorgeous.
Swagger. Next single. Fucking love it. Can’t wait to hear it live.
Hit me is really close to being suede-by-numbers but then it does these melodic twists you weren’t expecting.
Sometimes I feel I’ll float away
I swear I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I honestly think this is my favourite suede song since Dog Man Star.
Let me take you through each stage of the male mistake And we’ll adopt our natural roles
All the plans were made In the wooded glade Where your body was split wide open And I count to ten As the race begins Round your hairpin bends
are very un-suede but somehow still perfectly ‘right’. The guitar towards the end makes *me* feel like I’ll float away. The album would have been worth buying for me if it was just this song repeated twelve times.
What are you not telling me?
The song on the album most reminiscent of Brett solo. Paranoid and slightly bitter, the turning point of the album into the second half.
A classic stalker anthem. Melodically reminiscent of some of the more downbeat coming up era b-sides but with instrumentation flourishes and drama of Dog Man Star slowies like Wild Ones.
I’m in the odd minority of suede fans that really likes A New Morning (I’m not sure even the band are that keen) but I love this song because it’s like the best of the slow songs on ANM like Untitled.. or When the Rain Falls but just so much darker and tougher. The end feels almost positive, I think? But it’s quite ambiguous.
It’s an odd album with the last three songs being a tough ride if you’re not in the mood but persistence pays off and there are treasures to be found. A welcome return to form with unexpected turns along the way.
Not Tomorrow: Review – The Next Day by David Bowie
Here I am not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me
And the next day
And the next
And another day
It’s been noted elsewhere that anyone expecting an elegiac album of mournful slowies after the red herring release of ‘Where are we now’ was in for a surprise. The Next Day is an album positively drenched in the death rattle but it’s not the melancholic last hurrah of an ageing rocker eyeballing his future, it’s something far darker and more complex than that.
Lyrically at least The Next Day is easily Bowie’s bleakest album to date. He has often dealt with similar themes – suicide, death, murder, apocalypse even – but mostly in a glamourised, romanticised or pithy way. There are moments such as The Motel or Slip Away that are somber and intense but I’m not sure he has before produced a body of lyrics with such unrelenting harshness. There are flashes of wit and humour but you only need to compare something like the swooningly tragic Rock & Roll Suicide to the sheer venom of You Feel So Lonely You Could Die to feel the shift. Even the two popiest sounding songs on the album (I’d Rather Be High and Valentine’s Day) contain lyrics like:
I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by my parents, whisper ‘Just remember duckies everybody gets got’
It’s in his tiny face
It’s in his scrawny hand
It’s in his icy heart
It’s tempting with any artist, especially one as shifting and enigmatic as Bowie to try and read biographical confession into song lyrics and certainly with Where Are We Now that seemed all to easy to do – the notion of a sad, elderly David ‘just walking the dead’ around Berlin seemed both plausible and poignant – but realigned within the context of the album it takes on a whole new flavour. With it’s cast of characters ranging from 17 year old soldiers to dying aged despots this is an album firmly written in the second person. Sure, like any art it must ultimately say something about the artist but transparent autobiography it certainly isn’t. This is nothing new for Bowie of course – his transparently autobiographical moments are scarce and many of those that I assumed to be such melted into storytelling for me on closer inspection. He wears many masks and he has always worn them well.
Musically the album is closest in the Bowie canon to the other jagged edges of his career – Scary Monsters, Outside, Earthling, the darker recesses of Heroes and Heathen – only the second single The Stars (are out tonight) recalls Reality and is, perversely, my least favourite track on the album.
Despite the fact I have literally not stopped playing it since it came out it’s taken me until now to tackle a review because there is just so much to digest, and I still feel like I’m only just scratching the surface. This will be an album I listen to for a long time to come. Bravo Mr Bowie.
Finally here’s my track by track for anyone who wants it:
The Next Day
Listen to the whores he tells her
He fashions paper sculptures of them
Then drags them to the river‘s bank in the cart
Their soggy paper bodies wash ashore in the dark
A stomping, beastly little introduction to the album where the words ‘the next day’ turn out to sound more like a threat than any kind of hopeful forward thinking that the album title might have suggested. The bit where he shrills ‘They scream my name aloud down into the well below’ puts a shiver down my spine.
You’ve got to learn to hold your tongue
This ain’t the moon this is burnin’ sun
Slinky and sexy with some lovely sax. Reminiscent of songs like Sweet Thing, Candidate and John, I’m only dancing this was an instant favourite for me. It seemed immediately like it had been in my life forever. An old friend seen in a new light.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
We will never be rid of these stars
But I hope they live forever
Musically this is the only track I feel is a little weak, although that’s comparative and I certainly enjoy it a lot more within the album than as a single. It has some great vocal moments and a fabulous video too.
Love Is Lost
It’s the darkest hour, you’re twenty two
The voice of youth, the hour of dread
The darkest hour and your voice is new
Love is lost, lost is love
Your country’s new
Your friends are new
Your house and even your eyes are new
Your maid is new and your accent too
But your fear is as old as the world
This song is just, I’m not sure what to say.. perfect? A brooding, gothic suicide note that breaks unexpectedly and confusingly into a seemingly uplifting middle eight before turning back in on itself as though that moment were an hallucination – a false promise leading towards a foolish act. ‘Oh, what have you done? Oh, what have you done?’
Where Are We Now?
Had to get the train from Potsdamer Platz
You never knew that I could do that
Someone who was once far too important to simply take the train finds himself now shuffling the streets of Germany. Maybe Mr Bowie, maybe not.
Valentine told me how he’d feel
If all the world were under his heel
There is little affection from the author for the characters that inhabit The Next Day and the would-be tyrant depicted in Valentine’s Day is no exception. I can’t help picturing a small man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, perhaps a little like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, about to finally let us all know exactly what he has to say.
If You Can See Me
Now you could say I’ve got a gift of sorts
A fear of rear windows and swinging doors
A love of violence a dread of sighs
If you can see me I can see you
If you can see me I can see you
The song on the album most reminiscent of the best bits of Earthling. This one kind of gives me the willies. In a good way.
I’d Rather Be High
The Thames was black, the tower dark
I flew to Cairo, find my regiment
City’s full of generals
And generals full of shit
This was one of the first songs to click with me and I still can’t listen to it once through without hitting replay at the end. Deceptively perky sounding with lines like ‘I’d rather smoke and phone my ex, be pleading for some teenage sex’ jumping out on first listen. I’ve seen it interpreted as a kind of looking-back-on-being-young song when on closer listen it’s nothing of the sort.
Boss of Me
You look at me and you weep for the free blue sky
Not a skip track by any means but the only song I haven’t quite connected with yet. A decent album track but nothing as arresting as the rest of the album tracks.
Dancing Out in Space
Something like religion
Dancing face to face
Something like a drowning
Dancing out in space
The only song that teeters close to something glammy and a little silly sounding. A small oasis of fun, albeit abstract and slightly cryptic fun.
How Does the Grass Grow
There’s a graveyard by the station where the girls wear nylon skirts
I love this song. Not just because it has a chorus that goes ‘Blood blood blood’ followed by a backing ‘la la la’ that sounds almost exactly like that bit in Gremlins 2 where they get melted while singing New York, New York and doing the conga. Not just because of that, but it’s definitely got a lot to do with it.
(You Will) Set the World on Fire
From Bitter End to Gaslight
Baez leaves the stage
Ok so, the fact that the opening chords totally remind me of the Beverly Hills 90210 theme tune is my problem and mine alone. Other than that it’s the sole song with a more conventional Bowie/Fame motif. A pep-talk-come-warning for the promise of success in the vein of Opportunities by The Pet Shop Boys via Eno’s Baby’s on Fire.
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
I can see you as a corpse hanging from a beam
I could read you like a book
I can feel you falling
I hear you moaning in your room
Oh, see if I care
Oh, please, please make it soon
A claustrophobically dark vignette wishing loneliness and death on a malevolent and unlikeable soul – with swooning Spectorish backing vocals. Nasty stuff. In the best possible way.
My father ran the prison
But I am a seer, I am a liar
Another instant favourite, Heat is a clear nod to Bowie’s long-time musical bedfellow Scott Walker with shades of Outside and Heathen mixed in. A somber and downbeat ending that leaves you feeling both satisfied and bewildered.
And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am
And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am
David Bowie: The Next Day. That album cover design by Barnbrook Design
There has been much discussion surrounding the cover of the new David Bowie albumThe Next Dayso thought I would answer a few questions that people have asked about it.
– Why not a new image for the cover? We wanted to do something different with it – very difficult in an area where everything has been done before – but we dare to think this is something new. Normally using an image from the past means, ‘recycle’ or ‘greatest hits’ but here we are referring to the titleThe Next Day. The“Heroes”cover obscured by the white square is about the spirit of great pop or rock music which is ‘of the moment’, forgetting or obliterating the past.
However, we all know that this is never quite the case, no matter how much we try, we cannot break free from the past. When you are creative, it manifests itself in every way – it seeps out in every new mark you make (particularly in the case of an artist like Bowie). It always looms large and people will judge you always in relation to your history, no matter how much you try to escape it. The obscuring of an image from the past is also about the wider human condition; we move on relentlessly in our lives to the next day, leaving the past because we have no choice but to.
– Why “Heroes”? If you are going to subvert an album by David Bowie there are many to choose from but this is one of his most revered, it had to be an image that would really jar if it were subverted in some way and we thought“Heroes”worked best on all counts. Also the new album is very contemplative and the“Heroes”cover matched this mood. The songWhere are we now?is a comparison between Berlin when the wall fell and Berlin today. Most people know of Bowie’s heritage in Berlin and we want people to think about the time when the original album was produced and now.
– Why the white square obscuring the image? We worked on hundreds of designs using the concept of obscuring this cover but the strongest ones were the simplest – it had to be something that was in direct contrast to the image underneath but that wasn’t too contrived (we know all design is contrived, that is the essence of the word ‘design’). It would have been clearer to many people if we had scribbled all over the cover but that didn’t have the detachment of intent necessary to express the melancholy of the songs on the album. Obscuring Bowie’s image is also reference to his identity, not only in the past when he changed endlessly but that he has been absent from the music scene for the past ten years. Was this an act to hide his identity or that he has simply become more comfortable with it?
– Why is there no colour? The title of the albumThe Next Dayevokes numerous reference points, notably Macbeth’s speech ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow ’ which deals with the relentless onward push that any unnatural position of power requires. It also has the existential element ofWaiting for Godotwith waiting forThe Next Day– these all seem to question the nature of existence so a monochrome palette seemed most appropriate to this feeling.
– Why didn’t you do a logo, or new design of his name on the cover? We wanted the cover to be as minimal and undesigned as possible, we felt the most elegant solution was to use the original one from“Heroes”and simply cross out the title of the old album. It has the detachment appropriate for the atmosphere of the new album.
– What is the font you used for the main title? It is a new font that we are working on called Doctrine – this is the first major use of it. Doctrine will be released in the coming weeks atVirusFonts.
– What is Bowie like to work with? He is quite a private person, so no need to say too much about him other than that he is a pleasure to work with. Very intelligent, funny, serious when he needs to be and generous in his thoughts and actions.
– Is there anything else you can add? Yes, having said all this, we know it is only an album cover with a white square on it but often in design it can be a long journey to get at something quite simple which works and that simplicity can work on many levels – often the most simple ideas can be the most radical. We understand that many would have preferred a nice new picture of Bowie but we believed that would be far less interesting and not acknowledge many of the things we have tried to discuss by doing this design. Finally we would like to give David Bowie great credit, he simply did what he always does which is to go with a radical idea and that takes courage and intelligence. That is why we love his music and love working for him.
Review: Hit So Hard – The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel
This documentary is a must for any Hole fan not just for the, often heartbreaking, old footage but for offering us up the time to appreciate exactly how good a drummer Patty was and what a lovely woman she appears to be now.
More than a rockumentary though, Hit So Hard is a devastating portrait of addiction and excess. Not just excess in the pursuit of entertainment or escapism but excess of emotion, of anger, of energy, of passion and the blaze that these often difficult, selfish, self-destructive people set fire to for the world to warm their hands around. Being a rock fan can be a vicarious, morally dubious thing at times and this film underlines precisely why.
It’s also a worthwhile reminder of the still-fragile place of women in the industry. Will we ever see another band like Hole again? I hope so, but I suspect not any time soon.
Review: Kylie – The Abbey Road Sessions
Ok, so straight off the bat I’ll fess up that I’m a covers junky. I have a real thing for finding interesting reworkings of songs and I had already loved Kylie’s Live Lounge session so I was probably more up for this than most to start with.
When a pop artist decides to do this to their own songs the desire can often come from a surprisingly similar place – to imbue it with something new, something different or to try and prove that it is ‘real’ music after all. Much as I love her Gaga’s recent Thanksgiving EP is a perfect example of the kind of po-faced schmaltz that often consumes stripped-down pop. (Although she has done similar thingsmuch better elsewhere – so I’ll give her a free pass on that one.)
So which is this? Well, thankfully it’s more of the former than the latter. Had she attempted this during her indie-Kylie period it would almost certainly have been an exercise in cred-flexing. Thankfully at this stage of her career she is far more comfortable in her own skin and approaches the project with just the right mix of humor and melancholia.
She’s had her fair share of chart bangers and OTT pop moments but I’ve long suspected that it’s the breathy mid tempo roboto-porn songs that have formed the backbone of her appeal. Kylie can sing almost anything and make it sound at once salacious and oddly refined. For a singer who’s voice has never really been considered her strong point it seems the closer and more intimate it gets the more enjoyable it becomes. And in that sense this album is a sidestep rather than a volte-face. The overall feel of the arrangement is stripped down in the sense that it’s not electronic but it’s certainly not girl-and-an-acoustic-guitar noodling and teeters on the edge of big-band but, Locomotion aside, remaining more reigned in and less ‘retro’ than that.
The standout tracks on the album for me are Finer Feelings, Confide In Me and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head – the latter two becoming so obsessionally seductive in tone that they start to sound, frankly, quite threatening.
Other highlights include On A Night Like This, All The Lovers (a 24 carat classic through and through), I Believe In You, Wow, Better The Devil You Know and I Should Be So Lucky. It’s also nice to hear Locomotion after becoming progressively dirtier and dirtier over the years re-instated to something more joyfully like, if not the original Little Eva version, then certainly Little Eva meets PWL.
It perhaps could have done without a couple of tracks here and there and, beautiful as it is, the new(ish) song Flower does feel a little out of place but all in all it’s a lush, mellow and slightly saucy affair with some beautiful instrumentation and backing vocals that help give it warmth and depth.
Clearly this album has a fairly specific demographic as you will have to enjoy both Kylie and these kind of easy listening/MOR arrangements – but it hit the sweet spot for me.
Whatever happened to the teenage dream?
My mom should’ve understood. At the Beatles’ 1966 concert in Chicago, she’d had to slap my Aunt Martha hard to get her to stop from screaming herself into a faint. From the teenyboppers to the Beliebers, teenage girls have been mocked for their crushes, but that scorn is just a shoddy mask for the anxiety these crushes inspire. Because a teenage girl with a crush is frightening. The Beatles were always on the run from shoving, hysterical girl-crowds, who wanted—what? To crush into them, to crush themselves, to crush against other girl-bodies that were all feeling the same feeling together, a chaos of feeling, a feeling that took your breath away. “A Beatle who ventures out unguarded into the streets runs the very real peril of being dismembered or crushed to death by his fans,” Life reported in January 1964. A girl with a crush is also capable of crushing.
Can you believe it’s been 20 years since she taught us how to *uuuhh* ?
20 years ago tonight, the Erotica video premiered. Happy Birthday Dita.
Review: Dusty Limits – Post Mortem
Only the best shows contain an addiction medley.
Like Meow Meow, who I had the joy of seeing at the festival a couple of years ago, Dusty Limits offers that strangely rare combination of camp humour, actual talent and moments of surprising emotion.
I’ve seen him in the past as an emcee which he was so good at I often found myself wishing he would just stay on the stage (no offence to the other acts) so decided to go and see his solo show this year. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. Loosely hung around the theme of ageing and mortality (I still maintain it’s a lie he’s anywhere near 40) his chat was at times surprisingly political but always funny and caustic. His singing voice is exceptional and he treated us to his interpretations of, amongst others, Sinnerman, Losing My Mind (an ode to booze) and Ashes to Ashes as well as with some very funny self-penned numbers.
He also performed at one point soley lit by the glow of his HTC smartphone after a mid-song lighting failure. It was a moment at once suitably eerie, glamorous and ridiculous.
I wake up and my wig is falling off my head, and my mole is on the other side of my face. My fake mole. No not fake, it’s just surreal.
Ok so there has been a shitstorm brewing around Lady Gaga and fur for the last few days and since everyone and their uncle has been sending me links to articles (of varying levels of accuracy) about it I figured I might as well just go ahead a post up my thoughts here. Kill two birds with one stone as it were. Sorry, was that inappropriate?
The essential facts of the story are as follows:
Gaga has been seen wearing various fur coats recently
PETA sent her an open letter calling her out on it
Many of your gay fans, I among them, have long admired what you told Ellen: “I hate fur and I don’t wear fur.” I included a link because these recent photos of you in fox and rabbit and with a wolf carcass make it appear that you have amnesia. I’m also including this brief videohosted by Tim Gunn showing the violent cruelty that you promote when you wear fur. What happened? Are your stylists telling you that it’s fake, or are you a turncoat? Many gays are animal advocates because we recognize that the same arrogance and indifference that some have toward animal suffering has at times been directed toward us personally because of our orientation. PETA has long participated in Pride events around the country, and just last week, we helped lead protests against Chick-fil-A. But by wearing those dumb furs in a heat wave, you’re making yourself a target just like the mindless Kim Kardashian. As we plan our fall campaigns, please tell us whether what you gracefully told Ellen was heartfelt or just a pose.
We await your reply.
Senior Vice President
She deflected the issue with a trollish tweet and cryptic follow-up
Everyone is freaking out
So my thoughts:
Well, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know me, I’m a vegan and therefor don’t wear leather or fur or eat meat or dairy.
So far no one still really knows if it’s real or fake she’s wearing – and I’ll be damned if I can tell from looking at it – I can never spot fake fur unless it’s like the coat I’ve got that cost £12 from the kids section of Primark and basically looks like skinned Build-A-Bear.
This either makes her pretty smart or pretty dumb in how she’s handling it. I don’t much care for how PETA are handling it either way – what exactly does Mr Mathews’ sexual orientation have to do with anything?
I will be disappointed if it is real but less because of her actually wearing the fur than because of her response. Hang in there with me on that one..
I can look the other way when she wears fur or leather because I live in a world where almost everyone I know wears leather and eats meat and fur is really not a whole lot different to me. It’s much easier for the average person to be sanctimonious about real fur because they will likely not be able to afford it (other than someone’s Aunt Trudy’s of course) but would never dream of giving up their inexpensive leather or meat – fur is, rightly, seen as more flagrant and dickish. It has that air of Cruella De Ville. Yes, yes, meat is (albeit in-essentially) nutritional not just fashion and leather is a byproduct and blah blah blah but once you get over the other side of veganism it just all starts to look like uniformly barbaric carnage. So I choose not to think too much about the choices of others in that respect because, you know, I want to have friends and shit.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEAT DRESS I HEAR YOU SAY? The meat dress I could live with because it was an arresting image, really is no different to eating the meat (which she does, along with spending most of last year head to foot in leather) and opened up a lot of interesting conversations for me with meat eaters who funnily enough often seemed to find it really disgusting..
Anyway the point is there is a BIG difference for me between wearing fur on occasion and being actively pro-fur. Being pro-fur is not saying ‘I know, but I couldn’t resit’ or ‘I know, but I was given it for free’ it’s saying ‘Fuck you, I don’t give a shit and neither should you’. And more than anything it bothers me how being all sassy about it will result in a million fans thinking YAYZ FUR IZ COOL GAGA SEZ!!! Taking a pro-fur stance would be neither popular with me or many of her fans (judging by comments on her posts about it) even if the fashionistas might back it.
On the other hand if it’s fake her tweet is hilarious. Well, it’s hilarious anyway but you know what I mean. If the coats are fake and she knows that PETA just haven’t done their research then she’s basically just giving them a big old ‘talk to the hand’. Right now I’m swinging towards fake because I would prefer that to be the case, her second post about where ‘real’ elegance comes from seems to indicate that to me and because I don’t think even Gaga is wilfully publicity hungry enough to take an openly pro-fur stance. Funny as it is, I do wish she would clarify her feelings on the matter one way or another though.
And no, even if it is real I won’t suddenly stop being a fan – that’s patently ridiculous – although I would definitely be pretty sad about it. I have a small handfull of friends who I would allow to argue with me on that but the rest of you can go back to your chicken fillets and zip it.*
*With love, of course 😉
Gaga responded tonight:
To the fans. i want you to know that I care deeply about your feelings and views, and I will always support your philosophies about life. We’ve been having over-arching conversations about society, equality, and politics for the past five years, and we should continue. I do not however support violent, abusive, and childish campaigns for ANY CAUSE. Particularly one that I respect. “Animal Rights.” I am choosing not to comment on whether or not the furs I purchase are faux fur-pile or real because I would think it hypocritical not to acknowledge the python, ostrich, cow hide, leather, lamb, alligator, “kermit” and not to mention meat, that I have already worn. This should already put me in a category as one who appreciates and adores the beauty of animals in fashion, but am not a strict vegan. I have truly always stayed away from skinned fur, especially as i have never been able to afford a nice one, but this does not mean my morals are rigid and that I won’t bend at the sight of an absolute art piece of a coat. I have no chains about this. You see a carcass, I see a museum pièce de résistance. But I am truly sorry to fans who are upset by this, its a fair and applaudable feeling about the health and safety of animals. I respect your views, please respect mine.
And to campaigners, Save your flour to make bread for the children who are hungry. And Kim Kardashian is fabulous.
I may not share her feelings but she has articulated almost exactly the points I felt about the blowup myself. I agree with her about PETA’s approach and although I would have loved a more emphatically anti-fur response I am just relieved to see that she respects and understands the issue itself and the feelings of her fans.
Edit: I know that sounds a bit wishy washy and confused, it’s hard to explain exactly what I mean. I like her response in so much as it’s honest. It teeters on pro-fur but is more ‘never say never’ than ‘fur is fabulous’. As I said before I have a hard time seeing why fur is any more grotesque than the millions of everyday, invisible crimes that are committed against animals by almost everyone – it was reading about what is considered ‘free range’ and ‘humane’ that tipped me into veganism not couture coats.
I do think fur is abhorrent and I respect the more hardline views of other vegans but I have issues with meat eaters and leather weathers being sanctimonious about fur. I realise I’m a bit contrary in this and I don’t expect many people to agree with me. I’m not saying Gaga’s position is good – I’m just not any more (or less) horrified by it than a whole lot of other horrible stuff. I think the view she is expressing is probably also less of a distance from the way most people feel about animals than they allow themselves to admit – and I respect her for manning up, even if I think she’s wrong.
I predict the media will skin her alive for this though. Boom Boom.
The last minute of Je t’aime makes up for the last 5 years as far as I’m concerned.
Review: Madonna MDNA Tour at Murrayfield Stadium
All photos in this post by Chrissi McAlpine 🙂
Before I review the show in earnest there are a few things I’d like to get out of the way first. I’ll do a track by track review after and if you just want a quick summary of my thoughts skip all the blah and go to the end 😉
“It’s the worst concert I’ve ever seen” Nonsense. Either it’s the only concert you’ve ever seen or you’ve only been to the closing night of the Ziggy Stardust tour, the Bad tour and the Blonde Ambition Tour so far. What I’m saying is it might not be the best show you have ever seen or ever will see but saying it’s the worst is just pure hyperbole in my opinion.
“She doesn’t play The Hits” I don’t hold any truck with the criticism coming from a lot of the media reviews that she isn’t playing enough back catalogue. This isn’t being billed as a greatest hits tour, she has an album out right now and the tour is in fact named after it so to expect the Celebration tour is foolish. Any artist that considers themselves still functioning will play a similar balance of new to old – unless you do what Bowie did when I saw him in 2003 and play a beast of a setlist that accomplishes both. But then he did end up having a heart attack two thirds of the way through that tour so maybe not. Whether the tracks from her current album are as good as they should be or hold up well enough live is a different matter, however saying that she shouldn’t be playing new songs is not really the issue to me.
The fact that the audience were generally going home unhappy with this balance last night (comments overheard ranged from ‘It’s a lot of money to pay to be disappointed’ to ‘I’ll know not to go and see Madonna again’) doesn’t surprise me though – partly because she hasn’t had a genuine hit from this album and partly because the audience last night was exactly the kind of drunk-to-oblivion hen-party horror show that really should have been at an 80s revival disco instead. It was without doubt the most annoying crowd I’ve ever been in – and I include 2 hours stood at the front of T in the Park during Black Grape in 1995 in that. So no, I’m not surprised they didn’t want to see a world music version of I’m A Sinner. But then again who does really?
One thing that was immediately apparent to me was that for all her trend chasing and Niki Minaj features at 34 and ¾ I was at the younger end of the average age bracket last night. It’s like trying to get a date – the more desperately you want it the more it turns people off. The Kids can smell it and they are staying away in droves. I’m absolutely convinced that if she relaxed on the ‘still relevant’ push she would actually pick up more younger fans – or at least ones in their 20s!
I do think there is also an element of people reading reviews in the Daily Fail or whatever and just going along with what they are told to think though. A lot of the comments I heard afterwards (‘the violence was unnecessary’, ‘she didn’t play the hits’) seemed to be verbatim regurgitations of the press reviews. And maybe that just means it’s a consensus of opinion but i guess I have a little less faith in people’s ability to form their own opinions 😉
“She lip synchs the whole show” I was very pleasantly surprised by how little of the show appeared to be mimed – and all the better for it. There were a couple of numbers (Human nature I think stood out particularly) where she sounded a bit ropey but generally her voice was good – Papa Don’t Preach, Masterpiece, Express Yourself and Like a prayer all sounded particularly strong.
“She’s too old to be doing a pop show” I genuinely, and again to my great surprise, was really not aware of the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ issue apart from during he majorette section where a combination of an unflattering costume and dance routine did make her seem a bit wobbly and trussed up. Generally I just felt I was watching a pop star not a grandma. The question of whether she can keep up with the choreography is a funny one though. It’s really hard to explain but I was impressed at how well she managed consistent, high energy and quite complex routines but at the same time I was aware of it. It’s like that thing about how good design should be invisible and there was an element of feeling ‘god, she’s doing it so well for a woman her age’ rather than it just being effortless. I think taking it down just the tiniest notch would have erased this though because the parts of the show where she is moving less frantically felt absolutely perfect in that respect.
The staging It became pretty apparent to me when the show started why she’s been coming on so late at a lot of venues. I had assumed it was just because she was fannying about doing the downward facing dog in her dressing room or whatever but the strict curfew at Murrayfield meant she came on just after 9pm in pretty much daylight and I have to say the reliance on huge video screens to form the basis of the set really didn’t work well in the light. She made a comment during the show about having to keep it moving or they were going to pull the plug on her and as it was she cut two songs from the set (the two I was most looking forward too grrrrrr) and I highly suspect this was because she was holding back starting until it got darker.
I was standing a little to the side at the front of the general admission area but due to the fact there was a VIP area and a golden circle then some space then the GA area I had a good view but was still really not that close to the stage and from where I was the first section of the show looked surprisingly flimsy and the stage quite empty. The motel set was particularly disappointing from a distance in the light. Everything looked so much better as it got darker though.
The stage as an object is massive but the actual stage area was surprisingly small, or seemed so from where I was. In general I think the screen-based sets would have looked amazing close up but were not so good from where I was in the crowd. I think the show will look fabulous on DVD and certainly the sets looked much more dynamic even on the live feeds but for some reason felt a little flat to me in person. Of course this could just be down to where I was standing but since I had a fairly good spot I can imagine it would have been much the same if you were anywhere in the main bulk of the crowds.
Down to the nitty gritty..
Opening section / Girl Gone Wild I feel like this should have been really epic but it fell a little flat for me. It probably doesn’t help that I really don’t like this song much. I’m not sure if this was mimed or autotuned or what I but either way the pitch of her voice was really weird. The crowd seemed to enjoy it though and I’d say that out of the new songs it got the best reaction from those around me with a fair amount of singing along etc.
Revolver I’m basically the only Madonna fan that liked and bought this song. It’s just me, Madonna and Lil’ Wayne digging it. Putting it on the set list was typically obstinate of her but I enjoyed it so raspberries to the lot of you 😉
Gang Bang This was one of two set pieces I was most looking forward to seeing live (the other was cut ;_; ) but I didn’t enjoy it as much I was expecting for some reason. It’s hard to put my finger on because I do love the way it looked and it was definitely my favourite of the more elaborately staged numbers but I found it sort of dragged on a little or something. It might have been the light, I’m not sure, it just didn’t rock my boat.
Papa Don’t Preach Massive cheer from the crowd. She sung it really well. Only complaint was it was too short.
Hung Up This was an unexpected highlight for me. The audience seemed to get a bit bored because there was no ABBA sample and the song was reworked but I really enjoyed the way it sounded and the physical routine was one of my favourites in the show. The part where she walked the slackline barefoot was particularly lovely for some reason.
I Don’t Give A Another unexpected highlight. One of my main fears was that this would be one of those Britney-type shows where there was so much spectacle going on because the performance at the center was vacant. I know that everyone loved her Superbowl performance but it left me pretty cold because it seemed she was heading in that direction. But having this number fairly early in the set last night really alleviated a lot of my concerns about her performance abilities because it was predominantly just her standing singing – and singing with bite, vigour and some actual emotion. The funny thing is I’m not that keen on the song but she really brought something to it live I hadn’t got from the album version. She sounded pissed off, but in a good way. If only she could let go a bit more in the studio and get some of that feeling on record.
Express Yourself / Give Me all Your Luvin’ / Born This Way / She’s Not Me The majorette costume has to die. I hated the routine, the costumes and pretty much everything about this section apart from the vocals for Express Yourself which were fabulous. I actually loved Express Yourself I just wish she had worn something that didn’t make me feel nauseous while she sang it. GAYL was a remix which I actually enjoyed far more than the single version. It was also not, in fact the song of the same name by ZZ Top as my husband thought when I was telling him about the concert. That would have been amazing though.
I still think including the Born This Way excerpt was classless and unnecessary, even more so within the frame of the show, but it was mercifully short and while I did see one guy wearing a t-shirt with Gaga’s face and the word ‘BITCH’ written underneath I did also hear the audience around me singing along to BTW so who knows what it accomplished other than some column inches.
Turn Up The Radio Uneventful and unmemorable. She had the front row singing into the mic which was cute but other than that I don’t really remember much about it. I do remember that it was preceded by a rather interesting, scratchy little intrlude that mixed up video clips from throughout her career. I remember thinking ‘ooh, what’s this leading towards’ and then hearing the chorus line of TUTR and thinking ‘oh, that. oh well.’ I actually like TUTR well enough and it’s my favourite of the fluff songs on MDNA but still, it’s hardly stellar material to follow up a recap of her career highlights with.
As a side note: who knows where her career – touring or otherwise – will go in the next few years but I do hope she takes stock a little before her next move. As enjoyable as the show was and as not-as-bad-as-the-singles-make-it-seem as MDNA is there has been a lot (too much to go into here on a review of the tour) wrong with her approach to her career recently and I sincerely hope that she is not beaten but emboldened by the criticism. No Fear not No Care.
Open Your Heart This was a weird one because I really enjoyed it but it went down like a lead balloon with the crowd around me. It was reworked completely with those Basque fellas whose name I can’t remember and I thought it was really interesting. A crowd pleaser it was not though. I could have done without the dancing at the end but she does love a bit of ‘ethnic’ street dancing does our Madge.
Masterpiece This was another highlight for me. The song has really grown on me recently and excepting the opening clunker the lyrics are lovely. I found the performance quite moving and very well sung. I’d love to see her do a theatre tour of this kind of stuff but it will never happen.
Vogue Very enjoyable classic performance of Vogue. Exactly what you would expect from it but in a good way.
Candy Shop / Erotica / Human nature This was my favourite section of the show despite the fact that I can’t stand Candy Shop on record. The choreography was paced just right and the set up fell on the right side of sexy – at times moving, at times humorous. Human Nature was visually particularly good and probably the only part of the show that gave me food for thought or stimulated emotions beyond the purely visceral. I’m absolutely gutted that she cut Like A Virgin (which would have fallen after this set) although if she was going to cut something I guess the audience that was there would probably not have been that receptive to the version of it she is doing on the tour so maybe it was the best choice in that sense. You can see what I missed here.
I’m A Sinner I thought she looked really beautiful during this section – the slightly hippy look has always suited her so much. The song itself was a bit of a snooze for me though.
Like A prayer Similar to Vouge this was a strong, classic performance that did nothing more than you would expect but nothing less than you would hope. The crowd loved it and she sounded fantastic.
Celebration I felt this was a bit of an anti climax for a closing number although she certainly gave it her all. I geuss Celebration is the new Holiday though and I never liked that much either 😉
So.. All in all I enjoyed it and I’m glad that I went. The bits I expected to wow me (the big visual set pieces) didn’t really but the thing I was most fearful of (her core performance) was actually really good. I know I was quite out of step with the crowd around me in terms of the bits I enjoyed most so obviously it’s just my opinion but I would love to see her focus on less high energy but more performance led numbers – which she has done plenty of on previous tours so this isn’t a ‘she’s old’ thing just a personal preference. That also doesn’t need to mean sitting on a stool for an hour and a half just more routines like Human Nature and less like GMAYL.
Overall I’d say it’s a 7/10 for me – but since I nearly didn’t go because I was so worried about it being terrible that’s a score that’s made me really happy.
I’ve been revisiting MDNA over the last week or so having not really listened to it at all since it was released. Generally I won’t put in the effort to go back to an album I haven’t connected with but partly because I have given in and am going to the tour this weekend and partly because I’ve had the nagging suspicion there was a much better album lurking in there than it appears I decided to give it another go. I’ve been working on this little redux playlist and I think I’ve finally hit the sweet spot.
A lot of albums these days have problems with weak bonus tracks cluttering up otherwise sturdy albums but I have to say that with MDNA the bonus tracks are far from being the problem – in fact it’s the singles that drag it down most for me. The running order also exhausts me with far too many of the flimsy or psuedo-ballsy songs up top leaving the songs I rate most obscured or so far down the tracklist that I’ve given up by then.
Whittling the album down to these 11 tracks has made all the difference and I feel like there is a pretty strong little record there after all. No, still not her best but in this format certainly stronger than Hard Candy and arguably Confessions too.
There are a few songs that I’ve left on here (most notably Turn Up The Radio, Gang Bang and I Don’t Give A) that still bother me for various reasons but in this context I can enjoy far more.
In my mind I am currently living in a parallel universe where this was the album, the singles were I’m Addicted > Love Spent > Anything apart from GMAYL, GGW or Birthday Song and the artwork looked more like this:
and less like this:
In that unviverse MDNA is really rather good actually.
I’ve got a lot of problem’s with Madonna right now but her hands aren’t one of them. Despite that they are the subject of this no doubt nauseatingly long think-piece.
I’m not going to talk about her laissez-faire approach to her recent musical output, her terrible lead single or her dubious forays into gym franchises. I’m going to talk about her hands.
Why the hands? Why not the exposed nipple? That’s what everyone else is talking about right? Or the cheek implants? Or the bum-flash? Or the sexy tour-dancing with her 20-something boyfriend? Or whether she’s too old to dress like a majorette? Or that mash-up?
I’m going to talk about her hands because they are a microcosm of all that and more. Madonna’s hands sum up all our fucked up issues with the aging process in one fell swoop. Yuk! Granny hands! Madonna’s losing it! What an old hag! In fact that picture is so nasty that the person I’m hotlinking it from has even named it madonna-old-lady-hands.jpg LOL She’s so past it now. Why doesn’t she just give up and leave it to Gaga and RiRi and Katy??!
How about this:
I mean, it’s pretty pathetic how she is soooo blatantly trying to cover up her ugly old lady hands with those nasty leather gloves. And fingerless gloves?? On a 53 year old?? It’s so juvenile and unbecoming. She needs to get a grip and stop trying to dress like a teenager! Leave the rock-chick look to Lola!!
Do you see what we did there?
Over on the left that’s a rock. Over on the right is a hard place. That unpleasant little space in the middle? That’s Madonna’s hands.
As a woman aging in the public eye you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Personally the ‘granny hands’ don’t bother me a jot and it’s worrying about completely natural things like that which end up with the desperate attempts at disguising it.
Not even Madonna can stop time and we can’t have it all ways at once. It’s not fair to bitch about her surgery and the signs of aging at the same time. It’s not fair to blame her for the gloves when we recoil in horror at the sight of what lies below.
Some people would rather she continues down the surgery route and fights her age as much as she can. They are usually the same people who enjoy the idea that her faking a vacuous nubility that she never really inhabited the first time around (baton twirling! pom poms!) is liberating for women who want to ‘stay young’. They are the glove people.
Some people feel she should act her age, be more responsible in front of her children, stop flashing her boobs in public. Age ‘gracefully’. They are the hands people, right?
You would think so, but from what I can tell no-one seems to be the hands people. The age-gracefully people still have a utopian notion that she will somehow do this without a wrinkle on her brow. Only she’ll be doing it in a twin-set. Kind of like Evita but without Jimmy Nail.
Because when we see wrinkles and veins and liver spots appear on someone like Madonna it scares the shit out of us because we are staring right into the face of our own horrid mortality.
When asked in an interview in 1998 what she thought people saw when they look at her she said simply “they see themselves”. And we do. We see an heroic, perfect, insurmountable, archetype of who we could/should/would be perhaps but she has always been and always will be a mirror to our collective social mores.
I, personally, disagree with the people who are all-out, knowingly and enthusiastically for the surgical approach but it doesn’t bother me as much as the rest of us thinking that she/we can do both at once. You can get away with that for a while perhaps. A little bottox here, a slight alteration there. But there will always come a time where you have to pick between the age or the surgery because the more obvious the age gets so will the surgery have to too.
We just can’t seem to get our heads around the simple, glaring truth:
WE ALL GET OLD IN THE END.
That’s why those candid photos of her in her underwear that everyone uses as the full stop on any discussion of Madonna’s current sexual attractiveness will never bother me as much as the puffy cheek photos and the way her face barely moves any more. One is a fit 50 something woman (photographed off guard) in her underwear, the other is a woman fighting her age desperately and unsuccessfully. One is the hands and the other is the gloves.
And if you can’t see the connection between how we as a society react to the hands and why Madonna, of all people, has ended up in the gloves then I’m not going to draw you a map.
Congratulations world, we broke her. And enjoy it while you can because you will be wearing those gloves yourself sometime soon no doubt.
This piece isn’t really about Madonna of course (which is precisely why I don’t want to talk about the underwhelming album or the religious connotations of her show or whatever) but she is an unparalleled cultural barometer when it comes to how we view our own vanity, sexuality and self esteem.
Fantastic article on the history of Pitchfork and the recent music industry in general. Here are a couple of excerpts but please read the whole piece..
..as indie bands watched the industry’s collapse, the envy and contempt they had traditionally felt toward major labels stopped making sense. What was there to envy anymore? Wasn’t it obvious that indie bands, with their devoted networks of fans, critics, and performance venues, had it better? Not only were the major labels soul-sucking money machines, they couldn’t even make you rich! This made early indie’s militancy and paranoia look silly, and the hard lines began to soften.
In the last thirty years, no artistic form has made cultural capital so central to its identity, and no musical genre has better understood how cultural capital works. Disdaining the reserves of actual capital that were available to them through the major labels, indie musicians sought a competitive advantage in acquiring cultural capital instead. As indie’s successes began following one another in increasingly rapid succession, musicians working in other genres began to take notice. Hip-hop is an illustrative foil. As indie bands in the ’90s did everything they could to avoid the appearance of selling out, rappers tried to get as rich as possible. The really successful ones stopped rapping—or at least outsourced the work of writing lyrics—and opened clothing lines and record labels. But for all their corporate success, rappers knew where the real cultural capital lay. When Jay-Z decided, as an obscenely wealthy entertainment mogul, that he wanted finally to leave his drug-dealer persona behind, he got himself seen at a Grizzly Bear concert in Williamsburg.
Pitchfork has fully absorbed and adopted indie rock’s ideas about the uses of cultural capital, and the results have been disastrous. Indie rock is based on the premise that it’s possible to disdain commercial popularity while continuing to make rock and roll, the last half century’s most popular kind of commercial music. Sustaining this premise has almost always involved suppressing or avoiding certain kinds of knowledge. For indie bands, this meant talking circles around the fact that eventual success was not actually improbable or surprising. For indie rock’s critics, it meant refusing to acknowledge that writing criticism is an exercise in power.
This is a kind of music, in other words, that’s very good at avoiding uncomfortable conversations. Pitchfork has imitated, inspired, and encouraged indie rock in this respect. It has incorporated a perfect awareness of cultural capital into its basic architecture. A Pitchfork review may ignore history, aesthetics, or the basic technical aspects of tonal music, but it will almost never fail to include a detailed taxonomy of the current hype cycle and media environment. This is a small, petty way of thinking about a large art, and as indie bands have both absorbed and refined the culture’s obsession with who is over- and underhyped, their musical ambitions have been winnowed down to almost nothing at all.
It’s usually a waste of time to close-read rock lyrics; a lot of great rock musicians just aren’t that good with words. What you can do with a rock lyric, though, is note the kinds of phrasing that come to mind when a musician is trying to fill a particular rhythmic space with words. You can see what kind of language comes naturally, and some of the habits and beliefs that the language reveals. This makes it worth pausing, just for a moment, over Animal Collective’s most famous lyric: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things.” The ethical lyric to sing would be, “I don’t want to be someone who cares about material things,” but in indie rock today the worst thing would be just to seem like a materialistic person. You can learn a lot about indie rock, its fans, and Pitchfork from the words “mean to seem like.”
I sometimes have the utopian thought that in a better world, pop music criticism simply wouldn’t exist. What justification could there be for separating the criticism of popular music from the criticism of all other kinds? Nobody thinks it’s weird that theNew York Review of Books doesn’t include an insert called the New York Review of Popular Books. One of pop music criticism’s most important functions today is to perpetuate pop music’s favorite myth about itself—that it has no history, that it was born from nothing but drugs and “revolution” sometime in the middle of the 20th century. But the story of The Beatles doesn’t begin with John, Paul, George, and Ringo deplaning at JFK. It begins with Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1722 Treatise on Harmony, which began to theorize the tonal system that still furnishes the building blocks for almost all pop music. Or, if you like, it goes back to the 16th century, when composers began to explore the idea that a song’s music could be more than just a setting for the lyrical text—that it could actually help to express the words as well. Our very recent predecessors have done many important and wonderful things with their lives, but they did not invent the musical universe all by themselves. The abolition of pop criticism as a separate genre would help pop writers to see the wider world they inhabit.
Playlist: Imaginary Stripclub
Review: Marilyn Manson – Born Villain
“When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed.”
It’s got to be pretty weird being Marilyn Manson in the post Burton/Emo world. How do you carry on as the Antichrist Superstar when no-one cares if you are the Antichrist or not?
The key word in that moniker for me however has always been ‘Superstar’. It’s long been a frustration that his one obvious road out of this hell was to be our last great glam rock star – Mechanical Animals set the stage perfectly and his career since then has been punctured by blindingly good reminders of why he has all the sex, sass and swagger necessary to be the God of Fuck forever – unfortunately it’s more often not the road he chooses to take.
Born Villain, like much of his career, is a mixed bag. When it’s good it’s very, very good and when it’s bad it boring.
Pistol Whipped is a claustrophic, sexy, BDSM drawl that, although tempting to view as part of the recent I Love The Way You Lie trendification of domestic violence is in fact probably best just not thought about too much at all!
I’ve been trying to write this review for about a week now and here’s the thing – I still can’t work out if MDNA is a better album than it appears to be or a worse one. Let me try to explain..
In her early years Madonna was a master at that great pop art of making songs about not very much feel like they were about quite a lot – Borderline, Open Your Heart and Crazy For You all being perfect examples of songs with a gravitas far exceeding the lyrical content. From Ray Of Light through Music and American Life she started writing far more lyrically complex songs and emerged as a near-perfect crystallisation of ‘smart pop’. Great tunes and a mature depth often absent in the Top 40. Since then she has, with varying degrees of success, been engaged in an olympian sprint in the opposite direction – the coveted crown of Club Queen in her mind’s eye and a lyrical focus largely of the ‘get up and dance’ variety. Like some patronising parent I have so far indulged it as a mostly enjoyable but hopefully passing phase.
And now here we are with MDNA. If in her early days she was good at conjuring more substance out of her material than it naturally contained MDNA feels like an odd exercise in the reverse. Once you scratch beneath the surface these songs contain easily some of her most explicitly personal lyrics – Lord knows Guy Ritchie’s ears must be permanently burning these days. Some are undeniably brilliant (‘all of Falling Free for starters’), some clunkers (‘Frankly, if my name was Benjamin’) and some so awful they become brilliant (‘Baby Jesus on the stairs’).
And yet somehow it all feels so.. impersonal..
It’s often noted that post-Evita her vocals have become increasingly clipped and over-pronounced – perhaps this new voice can’t commit fully enough to the sound of MDNA? Perhaps it just not ‘her’. There is certainly some kind of disconnect going on here. Strangely, I find myself thinking about Kylie a lot listening to this album. I can’t help suspecting that several of the tracks on MDNA would fare better with her breathy, electro-purr wrapped around them. So many of her songs are equally (or even more) weak/forgettable but often pull it off in that odd slutty-but-classy way that Kylie has been curiously pulling off things that she shouldn’t for the last couple of decades. That said, her vocals are hardly centerpiece stuff either – frequently nasal and equally over-pronounced. I find myself comparing it to other recent dance-pop but the less said about chart rivals Katy and Rihanna’s vocals the better (I’m not entirely convinced that Britney actually *is* human any more) so I don’t know that vocal delivery is the problem I’m having with MDNA. Or at least not the only one.
Musically it certainly feels like a case of style over substance which may well be a greater part of it. There are shades of Music and American Life, the expected how-very-2011 dubstep breakdowns and a few (far less expected) moments of celtic influence. The production is good and almost every song starts promisingly but crucially most seem to go nowhere – there are few strong hooks and I find it hard to remember many of the tunes once I stop listening to them. The bubblegum songs (Girl Gone Wild, Give Me All Your Luvin’, B-Day Song) are pretty awful and beaten out of the water by most of the nonsense banging around the charts over the last year or two. Unfortunately the ‘proper’ songs generally leave me wanting more too. There is plenty of sassy spite – Gang Bang, I don’t Give A and Some Girls are all full of superbly nasty, tough lyrics and big punchy fuck-you beats but it’s a violence that lacks plausibility. Even when telling us to ‘die bitch’ it’s a cartoonish lip curl rather than a bloodied fist.
There’s nothing ‘bad’ about MDNA – on the whole it feels like a very credible stab at credible dance-pop and it’s consistent where most pop albums (including a few of her own) are horrifically patchy – but at the same time it leaves me mostly unmoved either emotionally or sonically.
There is a cynicism to the creation of this album – the musical trend boxes that are ticked, the Nicki Minaj / M.I.A guest features, the constant references musically and lyrically to previous Madonna moments – that is both obvious and exhausting. Amusingly, one of the few songs on the album that I find genuinely engaging is about money. I know I have a personal tendency to root for the underdog (it’s no accident that I have an uncomfortable relationship with ego boosting rapper-bling-speak) but I can’t be the only one who feels a sense of relief by the time Falling Free and I Fucked Up come on. After having it pounded into me over and over again that ‘There’s only one queen and that’s Madonna’ (thanks Nicki) I’m glad to be reminded that she is a fallible human being too. Even then I Fucked Up is delivered with an ironic (favourite Madonna word) caveat at the end.
I’m not particularly interested in Madonna’s personal life beyond how it influences or appears in her work but with an artist as evocative and with a level of fame as unparalleled as hers it becomes impossible to talk about a new Madonna record with talking about Madonna. How does she look? What are the videos like? The album art? This might seem irrelevant but it’s not – it’s absolutely integral to her career and I would be doing her a great disservice to pretend otherwise.
So, it occurs to me while consuming the visuals for this era – and in particular the video for Girl Gone Wild – that the notion that she has been primarily concerned over the years with sex is only partially correct. Madonna has never had the raw sexuality of Debbie Harry or Susanna Hoffs but what she did so, so well was present a frequent dissection of sexual politics – an almost academic appraisal of cultural approaches to sex and sexuality. If it was sexy it was reaching us as much through the brain as through the groin. It’s no surprise to me that Madonna would want to continue to be sexual, even aggressively so, at this point in her career but what I see now, visually, is the smoke and mirrors of pop-sex with all the brain removed. It’s amazing how unsexy Madonna is when there is no brain work to do. In the words of Jarvis Cocker ‘you’re so perfect you don’t interest me at all’.
The Give Me All Your Luvin’ video is undoubtedly her best video in a long, long time and it’s witty and smart. But like her superbowl performance it’s a series of quips and re-affirming gestures designed to again remind us why Madonna is the Queen and little more.
Oh, ok then..
The elephant in the room of this review is of course her age. Lets not beat about the bush – no other pop artist has ever been in the position she is. She has a very real stab at being the first POP star to transition past her 40s without becoming a niche, greatest hits or Vegas parody artist. It’s what I’ve always wanted for her and I’ve long nurtured the seed of hope that she would be the one to lick the incalculable challenge of being an older woman in an industry obsessed with youth and beauty. Will she manage? Quite possibly yes, but it would seem not in the way I had hoped. It’s all gone a bit Death Becomes Her. I’ll be brief here because it’s a subject that I could write an entire blog post about on it’s own but I’ll take those much-mocked ropey, veiny old arms, crows feet and sags over a badly molded Barbie face (or photoshop smudge) and vacant expression any day. People are loving it of course but it’s breaking my heart that she’s going to win the battle by losing the war. When will we get another shot at this opportunity? 30, 40 years from now if any of our current bright young things are still around? On a human level I totally understand – I can only begin to imagine the pressure on her. I empathise entirely but it still makes me sad. It’s a bitter irony (that word again) that the most moving, human aspect of this campaign so far has been her fight against nature itself.
Girl Gone Wild artwork
Pontificating aside, here’s my ratings:
Girl Gone Wild: 5/10
Rather horrible and generic. The inexcusable Act Of Contrition retread aside I actually (controversially) prefer this to the lead single but, admittedly, that’s a bit like saying I prefer Body Of Evidence to The Next Big Thing.
Gang Bang – 7/10
Soooo much potential. Starts off brilliantly and ends well but there’s a bit too much ‘ho hum’ in the middle for my liking. I feel like this *should* be my favourite track on the album and every time I listen to it I’m disappointed it’s not.
I’m Addicted – 6/10
Passes by pleasantly enough but absolutely will not stick with me afterwards.
Turn Up The Radio – 7/10
Enjoyably vapid and contains one of the few memorable choruses on the album. If she really, really had to release a ‘fun’ single then this should have been it.
Give Me All Your Luvin’ – 3/10
The spelling of Luvin’ tells you everything you need to know about this song. Horrible. N.O Thanks. Don’t Wanna.
Some Girls – 7/10
I feel much the same about this as Gang Bang although to my eternal surprise I think this is *slightly* better.
Superstar – 6/10
Cute and probably a grower.
I don’t Give A – 6/10 (but 10/10 for the last, totally epic 50 seconds)
For some reason not entirely clear to me the ah-ah-ah-ah bits always remind me of the music in Tim Burton’s Willy Wonky.
I’m A Sinner – 7/10
Starts off tantalisingly Frozen then goes all Girl Gone Wild by the chorus. One of several songs on MDNA that sound a lot like Beautiful Stranger – a Madonna song I’ve, unhappily, never been that fond of.
Love Spent – 10/10
My favourite song on the album by a country mile. This will be the one that makes it out of my MDNA playlist and gets hardcore listening. It’s neither the most lyrically sophisticated or the the ‘toughest’ song on the album but it all comes together beautifully. Even/especially when it gets a bit Riverdance in the middle.
Masterpiece – 7/10
A pretty enough melody but a shadow of her great ballads. And for my money Madonna has often been at her best on ballads an down / mid-tempo songs.
Falling Free – 8/10
I don’t like this quite as much as most people seem to but it’s still very, very good. I also suspect it might sneak up to a 10 over time. The last minute of it is absolutely beautiful.
Beautiful Killer – 6/10
Another song I suspect may be a grower.
I fucked Up – 9/10
The other of two songs on the album that grabbed me straight away and one of the few that I think sit comfortably next to my favourite songs from across her career. It’s not perfect and like almost everything on MDNA it does noodle on a bit but I love, love, love it anyway.
B-Day Song – 4/10
Marginally better than Give Me All Your Luvin’ which has a similar retro feel but definitely a skip-track for me all the same.
Best Friend – 5/10
Another pleasant but weak song that won’t really stick with me.
The final word
MDNA is either a slightly weak, rather vain exercise in self aggrandisement mascarding as a much better, cooler, beast of an album or a pretty decent stab at current adult pop that unfortunately tends to come off a little cheaper in places than desired. I’m going to plump for the latter because ultimately I don’t want to see the woman fail.
Not a classic but not a turkey either, and if it seems lke this is a tough review it’s because Nicki is right – she is the fucking Queen. And I want more from her. I want her to make me *think* and *feel* not just dance and give her all my $$ luvin’. But to do that her heart needs to be in it 100%, not just her wallet and and her production crew.
*or not 😉
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Highlights: Love Spent, Falling Free, I Fucked Up
Lowlights: Give Me All Your Luvin’, Girl Gone Wild, B-Day Song
The UK Music Video Awards are voted for by people working in and around the promos industry, so are viewed as an insider’s take on the best music video work of the year. This year saw a widening of the awards to include international winners in every category, alongside a favourite UK winner. Canada, who were profiled in the October issue of CR (read the article here), also picked up the Best Pop Video – International award for Oh Land by White Nights and the Best Art Direction and Design gong for Invisible Light by Scissor Sisters (both shown below).
Brett’s solo career has been interesting and at times surprising – whilst his first album felt like a fairly natural step I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that the man responsible for *that* arse spanking Brits performance would ever release something like Wheatfields.. and yet somehow it has all made sense as a journey too. While I enjoyed Slow attack and Wilderness for what they were I can’t pretend I’m not glad to have him return to a more ‘rock’ sound.
One clear benefit of the route he has taken is that experimenting with different, more low key, sounds gave his lyric writing a welcome shot in the arm.
Whilst Black Rainbows is definitely on the rock side of pop it’s not an adolescent record – though using words like ‘mature’ are the death kiss in any review – it is mature, but I mean that in the best possible way. It is introspective and slightly bitter in the way that only someone who has lived can be. Musically too it most calls to mind the crossover point between 80s MOR and alt rock / New Wave like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure and Simple Minds.
For some suede fans this will be on the surface not what they want to hear from Brett but personally I think it’s a surprisingly (and enjoyably) dark turn that suits him down to the ground.
In true Christina Aguilera fashion I think I am going to end up liking this track more than anything that’s actually on the album proper! The chorus is an absolutely cracking hook and I love the pulsing, relentlessness.. well unstoppableness of it.
If you want balls-out rock then this won’t be the album for you however I would stop short of calling it a ballad or down-tempo album. It’s certainly not Slow Attack. I can’t help thinking that ‘Brittle Heart’ is actually quite a good description of the album itself. Brett is a chronic (dare I say it Byronic?) romantic at heart, but it’s a romanticism that is tempered by a snappy cynicism and world-weary anger. These kind of rockish torch songs suit him and his voice very well I think.
Anyone going into this expecting the epicness or bravery of Dog Man Star will be sorely disappointed and *yet* there is something about the swooping, bitter mood of this album that has a more direct lineage from that record than maybe anything else he has done since..
Alex Steinweiss, Originator of Artistic Album Covers, Dies at 94
The record cover was a blank slate in 1939, when Mr. Steinweiss was hired to design advertisements for Columbia Records. Most albums were unadorned, and on those occasions when art was used, it was not original. (Albums then were booklike packages containing multiple 78 r.p.m. discs.)
“The way records were sold was ridiculous,” Mr. Steinweiss said in a 1990 interview. “The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.” Despite concern about the added costs, he was given the approval to come up with original cover designs.
His first cover, for a collection of Rodgers and Hart songs performed by an orchestra, showed a high-contrast photo of a theater marquee with the title in lights. The new packaging concept was a success: Newsweek reported that sales of Bruno Walter’s recording of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony increased ninefold when the album cover was illustrated.
“It was such a simple idea, really, that an image would become attached to a piece of music,” said Paula Scher, who designed record covers for Columbia in the 1970s and is now a partner in the design company Pentagram. “When you look at your music collection today on your iPod, you are looking at Alex Steinweiss’s big idea.”
Mr. Steinweiss preferred metaphor to literalism, and his covers often used collages of musical and cultural symbols. For a Bartok piano concerto, he rejected a portrait of Bartok, using instead the hammers, keys and strings of a piano placed against a stylized backdrop. For a recording of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” he used an illustration of a piano on a dark blue field illuminated only by an abstract street lamp, with a stylized silhouetted skyline in the background.
Mr. Steinweiss left the music business at 55, when he realized his design ideas were out of step with the rock era. He turned to his own art, making ceramic bowls and pots and later paintings, often with a musical theme. In 1974 he and his wife moved to Sarasota.
Mr. Steinweiss said he was destined to be a commercial artist. In high school he marveled at his classmates who “could take a brush, dip it in some paint and make letters,” he recalled. “So I said to myself, if some day I could become a good sign painter, that would be terrific!”
I don’t give a fuck what CL says. I love this record. Almost Golden, Hello, Hold On To Me, Life Despite God, But Julian (the original from the Hollywood Bowl in 2001 was so much better with lines like ‘you know how when you went to the store? Well that was me I was following you around’) and of course the alternate version of Mono(with the Cleopatraesque Elizabeth Taylor demanding ‘you will kneel’). Plus Brody provided backing vocals on Sunset Strip! I love it.
the sound on A.S. sucked beyond words. The production was a nightmare. Linda and I had written some really good songs, but they were rendered lazily and sound like shit. The art was horrific and not my idea and the label didn’t back it at all. I was busy taking drugs to dull the pain of having lost everything and made a shit album to boot the producer [Jim Barber] didn’t know what he was doing and he just spent my money. It almost had a moment of being Exile on Main Street – almost – but that’s like almost winning a race. You either do or you do not. And in this case it’s a delightfully written record in parts and sonically untenable with two of the most pretentious songs I have ever written. I was so druggy I thought it’d be cute to rip off “Teen Spirit” on “I’ll Do Anything.” Believe it or not, “All the Drugs”, “Sunset Strip”, “Mono” and “But Julian…” are all good songs. They just were produced crap and the songs weren’t taken further than demo status. The art still makes me seethe. At least make it look cool, and instead there’s me as a Playboy pinup. I love Olivia’s art but that was personal for me – not art for a record.
The only issue I have with the entire album is that the alternate *I think US?* version of my favourite song on it Sunset Strip (possibly my favourite Courtney/Hole song) is terrible. The UK version that I bought at the time is AMAZING but it’s not on Spotify these days just the sucky one 🙁
Oh, and I adore the cover.
I realise I’m about a year behind but I’m kind of obsessed with this song at the moment. It’s like a one-woman tour through the dark heart of the Disney channel. Somewhat ironiaclly it’s autotuned to hell on the album – the girl can sing live though..
It’s been like this from the start One piece after another to make my heart You mistake the game for being smart Stand here, sell this, and hit your mark
But the sound of the steel and the crush, and the grind it will scream – who am I, to decide my life? But in time it will die, they’ll be nothing left inside Just rusted metal that was never even mine I would scream, but I’m just this hollow shell Waiting here, begging please set me free, so I can feel
Stop trying to live my life for me I need to breath, I’m not your robot Stop telling me I’m a part of the big machine Im breaking free, can’t you see I can’t love, I can’t speak Without somebody else operating me You gave me eyes, and now I see I’m not your robot, I’m just me
Miley Cyrus – Robot (Live At House Of Blues) HD (by Daria1771)
In the autumn of 2009, with various knockoff cover versions of Shakira’s ‘She Wolf’ scaling the charts before Shakira’s own version of the tune had even been released, we did a thing for The Guardian about how soundalike versions of tunes were taking over iTunes. “Labels have now lost control of their most precious marketing device, which teased fans with radio play, video airings and TV performances, creating demand months ahead of a single’s release,” we wrote. “Illegal downloads, and this latest wave of covers, mean that any thirst a label creates can be instantly, unofficially quenched.”
Well this weekend it was announced that in order to combat piracy (ie make more/lose less cash) Sony and Universal will be moving to an ‘on air, on sale’ model. As soon as a song is played on the radio, it’ll be available to purchase.
The timing is pretty perfect: following last Tuesday’s official online and radio premiere of the Britney single ‘Hold It Against Me’ Sony released the track for sale in most of its major territories. At one point, not long after release, the song was at Number One on iTunes in 17 different countries.
That didn’t happen in the UK.
In the UK, Britney’s label decided on a February release date. As well as unnecessarily putting Britney head to head with Lady Gaga’s new single – a foolhardy move for any act – the decision also meant that UK fans would have to wait a month to buy the song. Well, of course, they wouldn’t have waited a month. Although they would happily have spent a quid on a legal download, fans ended up illegally downloading the track, or legally listening to the track on YouTube. Either way, by the time February’s official release would have come around, the legal release would have been purchased by only the most hardcore Britney fans – the ones bothered by the single’s chart placing. Everyone else would probably have moved on.
Finally! Forward progress! This has been needing to happen for such a long time..
It’s not just about instant gratification either (well, not entirely) it is also about removing the insanity of staggered teritory based releases in the internet age.
Also for those of us who spend the lead up to big releases squinting at the computer with our fingers in our ears trying to avoid leaks and demos this might help ease up the deluge.
`A loving look at this DIY strand of publishing, from its earliest incarnations up to modern day online`E-Zines’
This is the ultimate book on Fanzines an amateur magazine produced by fans, for fans of a certain subculture. This highly visual illustrated book is full of reproductions of the best fanzines ever created, from the superhero tributes of the 1950s and 60s, to punk fanzines such as Sniffin Glue, right up the contemporary e-zine scene. Arranged in six chronological chapters, each with a thorough introduction, Fanzines spans eight decades of counterculture and features many extremely rare publications. Written by a fanzine collector and expert author, Fanzines has cult appeal for anyone interested in graphic design, magazine publishing or underground culture.
So this is a pre-Fame demo that I’ve become obsessed with recently. I know it’s sort of awful but somehow I just Can’t Stop Listening to it. I like to think of it as the best thing that Steps never recorded.