Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Shakira, Shakira! The definitive Top 5

I only publish this now because the lithe Colombian superstar has just nudged a new entry into the list of the Top 5 Shakira songs of all time with the World Cup promoting "Waka Waka". And it's about time I paid tribute to a star who after all:

- has consistently turned out great pop music for over a decade
- writes (or co-writes) her own songs
- is one of those rare artists who is commercial and pop without being samey (see Top 5!)
- is a sexy dancer without being an over-choreographed robot
- makes interesting videos (La Tortura is not in the Top 5 but is the most striking of all - part pop diva, part BP oil spill)
- has not gone NUTS. Why do most girl singers lose it after a couple of hits? Many seem to Britney and Maria their way down the path to self-destruction and become circus freaks. From what I have seen on chat shows and the like, Shaks has stayed pretty much the same - humorous and reasonably normal. Here's the top 5:

5. The One
Released from the first album and not a great hit for her but it is a simple and brilliantly sung ballad. Early indication of her willingness to be a bit different is to be found in the first line: "So I find a reason to shave my legs . . ."

4. Waka Waka
Will be remembered long after the vuvuzelas have fallen silent. Pushed "Illegal" out of the Top 5.

3. Hips Don't Lie
The worldwide smash-hit song that needs no introduction. Shakira's dance-moves in the video still have the power to hypnotise men the world over. The clip below is off Spanish TV and features even more such moves than the original.

2. Underneath Your Clothes
Another great ballad which shows our Colombian's diversity and emotional depth. Her peak to date in song-writing terms from the first line: "Your a song, written by the hands of God"


1. Whenever,wherever
Her first big splash on the world music scene and still the best thing she has done - great intro, wonderful panpipes (never thought I ' d say that) and impossible not to get drawn into the chorus. Perfect pop.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Brandon Flowers Crossfire - great intro, but . . .

"Crossfire" is the new single from The Killers' frontman Brandon Flowers. How often does a top band's lead singer pull off a solo project successfully? Often the results are underwhelming and they are soon back in the studio with their band mates. Listening to the first few seconds of Crossfire and you might think Brandon had pulled off a rare exception to the rule and was going to deliver a hit on the scale of Human, his band's biggest and one of the most popular songs of the last couple of years.

It's a fantastic start with atmospheric bell chimes, lush guitar chords, the start of the drum beat and finally a great bassline, all in the first 40 seconds. And the rest of the song is not short of things to admire, particularly Flowers' vocal performance which is full and intense as you would expect. At times he strongly reminds me of Don McLean with a voice that is muscular, heartfelt and quintessentially American.

Reading comments on the internet and other reviews, they have mostly been about whether it is much different to The Killers and the video (see below) which features him as the captive of some ninjas and rescued by Charlize Theron. I think the general consensus is that he has produced an average Killers song. I think that is unfair - his distinctive vocal meant it was always going to sound a bit like what has gone before but it something new. The Killers have always struck me as fairly gimicky and stagey, this is more stripped down and emotionally raw. And that intro is special.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

MMM, Whatever happened to Hanson?

MMM Bop was (rightly) one of the most loved songs of the 90s and the child stars that made the record were briefly bigger than the Beatles, or at least The Bay City Rollers, for a couple of years circa 1997. I just heard their latest single and it's become my favourite of the moment, mainly because of the brilliant intro, some gutsy vocals and a fun video that doesn't take itself too seriously. Reminds me of the Blues Brothers. The clip is below but having heard it I got to thinking why I hadn't heard of them for more than a decade. What had happened since Mmm Bop?

Before I began a little internet research I imagined that I would find they had gone the way of most child stars: the fall from the top of the charts, a couple of ill-judged comeback attempts or changes of direction followed by a long painful struggle to adapt to being normal again, just mild curiosities or nostalgia turns. Usually the last part is accompanied by some drugs, deviancy or weirdness as the former star tries to compensate for his or her loss of fame in other ways.

But this isn't the Hanson story. Pretty ordinary actually. The hits dried up sure, but they carried on as a band and released music all the way through to this point where they have a modest hit on their hands with "Something Other Than You" and a new album. There has been a record company dispute and a fair bit of charity work by the look of things but nothing to suggest a sordid and sorry decline.

Anyone thinking that the little drummer kid with long hair would have gone wild by now and become a kind of Mid Western Amy Winehouse, will be disappointed to learn he - and the other two - are all happily married with kids and not a hint of scandal between the lot of them ( that I could find any way with a couple of Google searches). Enjoy the single. It is quality.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

I think I'll like the new Lady Gaga song

Regular readers will know that there was a time when I didn't appreciate the phenomenal talent that is Lady Gaga (I think I underestimated Lady Gaga). A lot of people still don't.

I think her songs need a couple of listens for one thing. You also have to learn to look beyond the hype and the publicity-hungry image to give her the credit she deserves for the amount of creativity and craft in her work. You are always interested to see what's coming next. And on that subject . . .

A new song has apparently "leaked" (or been planted as part of a manipulative media strategy more likely) and the internet has been abuzz with reaction. The song is Changing Skies and a lot of the comment boils down to whether it represents a change of direction or not. If you haven't been leaked on yourself yet you might want to take a listen.

She has trailed her new album (presumably this song is to be on it) as harder-edged than the debut, even describing the message as "bitter". To me it seems more of the same - nice, clean, energetic beat underpinning a very catchy song. It has the feel of a marching song and the lyric speaks of needing a bit of help getting through tough times, hardly bitter. Again I am not as yet bowled over but I am sure I will like it time like all the others.

Then again this is a supposedly unfinished leak - so it may end up sounding very different and there is no guarantee that it will end up as a single or even on the album. Just a clever way of filling column inches with Gaga talk even when she is not in the charts? It's a good song though so I'm not complaining, though not sure whether it will be Best Song of The Week; there's still time as I decide that every Tuesday.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Has Selena Gomez scored again with Round and Round?

I was a big fan of her last hit "Naturally" (see post Selena Gomez Naturally) which is still knocking around the Billboard charts and became a decent-sized hit in other places including Britain and Australia. So I was quite keen to hear the Disney starlet's new single "Round & Round" to see if it matched up.

Not quite, has to be the verdict. A bit bland and inoffensive I am afraid without the dancefloor-filling beat of the last hit and lacking some of the vocal tricks. The beginning of Naturally was one of my favourite intros of last year (it charted late having been around since last Autumn).

Even the lyric of the new song is a touch dull and unoriginal - it's hardly the first time a pop song has explored the idea of being sent dizzy by someone you have fallen for. I mean what about, er, "Dizzy" or "You Spin Me Round" and countless others.

Perhaps I am being too hard on the girl (or her producers). Who expects startling originality from big label pop acts these days? And besides I didn't like Naturally at first, come to think of it, apart from that fabulous intro. Anyway here's the new one:

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

World Cup Shock - a decent song!

The World Cup may be keenly anticipated for the skill, the stars, the drama and the spectacle but surely not for the music. Rarely does the 4 yearly global football feast yield much even passable musical fare.

Last time out, 2006 in Germany, the official song was called Campione which was awful and sounded like a lot of drunk football fans singing the night away. Ricky Martin was a big name in 1998 and a natural choice for the French tournament's musical star turn. Sadly his Cup of Life was awful - "Here we go, Ole Ole Ole, tonight's the night, we're gonna celebrate the Cup of Life". No thanks.

This time though they might be onto something. Wavin' Flag by Knaan is my Best Song of the Week and is excellent. Great to sing along to, suitably uplifting and reflective of the African venue. Finally a world cup theme to be thankful for.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Why is Mike Posner giving away the sound of the Summer?

I am not complaining but I was a bit surprised to be able to download Mike Posner's brilliant new single "Cooler than me" right off his website for free. It's a track that's been around for a while but is only now been given the big release complete with new radio edit and a video. It is working as the track is climbing up the Billboard Top 100 and is already top 10 on iTunes.

So why can you get it free at http://www.mikeposner.com/free-downloads ? I guess it won't be free for long. I don't really understand the marketing of music these days.

It is my Best Pop Song of the Week and may get to be one of those songs that defines a Summer or at least forms a pleasant aural backdrop. It's bright, breezy, catchy and cool with a great moment about 30 seconds in. I am sure a lot of listeners will be reminded of Justin Timberlake but he is a genuine talent this guy. He has another song knocking around which I think is even better than Cooler than Me, which is "Drug Dealer Girlfriend". It features the same breezy R&B light style and a witty authentic sounding lyric. If you haven't heard them yet, see what you think.

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