Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Jay Sean - lightweight?

Jay Sean has been around for a while and is a hard-working, ambitious young star. He would have to be to try and crack America as a young British-Indian singer with no huge following outside the US (although his first album sold well in India) and what's more in that most competitive and American of genres: urban music. But blow me "down" (did you see what I did there?) he scored a US no 1 and has had a huge hit all over the world. His follow up single "Do you remember?" is my record of the week. See a short review on the site:
This Week's Best New Pop Song
But despite the boy's huge success (and this catchy, lively single will feed that believe me) some people are a bit sniffy. Looking at R&B fansites before Down made it big in the US there were comments like "nothing spectacular" and "going backwards" floating around. How wrong they were! I think the ambivalence comes from the usual source: the more dedicated, harcore urban fans who are a bit suspicious of anything very commercial or overtly pop which his stuff assuredly is. Down in particular has the melodic, slightly repetitive chorus and lacks the hard edge that a lot of his contemporaries have. Even his good looks seem to count against him and make him appear like a lightweight pretty boy.
My verdict - well I'm a pop fan and he's certainly delivering some catchy fare right now. Some of the hip hop competition is just repeating the gold chains/money/guns formula endlessly in a tuneless way (not to mention being sexist in a silly tittering little boys kind of way). Example: 5 star chick

To be fair this sort of stuff is from a different strand of urban music to Jay's contemporary R&B sounds but I think the public knows what it likes. Good luck to him I say and as he is the song-writer for most of his material that automatically gives him credibility in my eyes. And also he answers fans on Twitter directly - nice man.

My other blog: Spanish Insight featuring comments on Spanish residency and advice on starting a Spanish business

Friday, 20 November 2009

I think I underestimated Lady Gaga

Since I first heard "Just Dance" I've liked her music and I appreciated, like everybody else, that the brilliant "Poker Face" announced the arrival of a brilliant new star, but until now I never really saw Lady GaGa's true significance as an artist. I picked "Bad Romance" as The Week's Best New Pop Song at the beginning of October but with only a modest rating and review. I'm now backtracking on that and it's because of the video which I think is sensational. Yes it's odd and pretentious and panders to her desire to thrust sex and horror into every frame but taken as a whole you can't help but have your breath taken away by the spectacle, creativity and sheer visual bravado of the piece.
It's made me re-appreciate her vocal performance on the track as well. Her voice has tremendous depth and guts, allows room for the vulnerability required by the lyric and completely sells the anger and desperation of "i don't wanna be friends" at the end. She's been compared to Madonna but she has reinvented her look more times and more stunningly in this one 5 minute clip than Madonna has in a decade. Men and women couldn't help but find her as sexy as hell in various different guises here and she has the strength and intelligence to show her unadorned, tear-filled face in among the theatrical pyrotechnics. The video clip of the decade has arrived as it draws to a close. Only Eminem at his peak has come to close to what she has achieved this year - which is to make what everyone else in the music world is doing, saying or singing more or less irrelevant.
PS she has been criticised for the amount of product placement in the clip. When people used to pay for music it might have been possible to produce this kind of high value production without commercial support but those days are gone.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Shouldn't The Black Eyed Peas be selling better?

After virtually monopolising the World's charts since before Summer and with another big hit out right now (Meet me Halfway) this sounds like a silly question. Of course they are doing fine but what about the album "The END"? It's currently no 20 in the US and no 5 in the UK (up from 10 last week). But with three huge hit singles behind it, shouldn't it be racking up sales of almost Thriller like proportions? I don't know how many albums they've shifted worldwide but I would be surprised if the record company isn't thinking "What do we have to do? A very popular supergroup bring out a great album with three hit singles and it's sales are moderate". Albums by Lady GaGa and Kings of Leon should surely be higher in the charts than the 20s even after being on release a while?

I picked a song from One Republic's new album last week and while looking for other reviews of it I was inundated with links to free downloads and fileshares. In the first week of release it seems people were interested in the music just not buying it legally. Also it seems we are moving away from an album culture back towards an emphasis on single songs, again the result of internet downloads (legal or not) and Youtube. Maybe mega-selling albums are a thing of the past.

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This week's selection is Easy

This week I chose "Easy", a slightly obscure song by a Canadian pop group called Dragonette. They haven't exactly scored it big in the charts with their previous efforts despite causing a bit of lesbian controversy with their video for "I Get Around". I'd never heard of them until this track caught my ear and listening to a few of their other songs I don't like them as much as Easy; there is a big difference between their abrasive and jarring electropop and this sublime and atmospheric song. I actually like two versions of the song: a buffetlibre remix which is like one of the better chillout euphoric dance tracks (the bit at the beginning is like Orchestral Manouvers) and the original which is much sparer and emphasises the excellent controlled vocal performance by the lead singer. Either deserves to be a hit but I'm not sure they will be.

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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

One Republic, two songs - hard choice

Like most of us I first noticed One Republic when Timbaland's version of their song "Apologise" became a big hit on the charts and radio, but the American band are no overnight sensations and they have served their time in the music industry. The lead singer, Ryan Tedder, co-wrote Bleeding Love for Leona Lewis. So it's hardly surprising that their new album Waking Up (out next week) is getting a lot of attention. I have selected "Secrets" from the album as my Best New Pop Song of the Week but equally I could have chosen the first single from it "All the Right Moves". In fact I was torn between the two and almost went for the earlier song which is very pop-orientated, more upbeat with a great hook and a wonderful sort of organ sound at the beginning. In the end though I plumped for Secrets which I figured will stand the test of time better using my tried and trusted rule - if you find a song immediately catchy, like All the Right Moves, you will quickly tire of it. Actually I'm listening to it now and I'm not sick of it - it sounds great actually particularly that start. Maybe I stuffed up. Listen to them both and tell me what you think.

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Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Robbie Williams comeback isn't working

I like Robbie Williams well enough - he's an interesting and engaging character who's produced a lot of good music. If you consider that some artists build a career that lasts for decades on the back of two or three memorable songs, he has a track record of hits that few can match. But that was then, what of the future? Can he get back on top and add to his reputation as a great entertainer and hitmaker?

That's what the comeback is aimed at for sure - a full frontal assault on the high ground of commercial music worldwide (except for America - that battle was lost long ago) complete with interviews, expensive videos, big live appearances and a major PR push. So what's the verdict? I was undecided after "Bodies" - a reasonable effort but not one of my Best New Pop Songs of the week - but have now concluded it's going to fail. His career is going to continue to decline. In the UK at least his credibility is shot - his appearances have lacked confidence and the old sparkle. It's all a bit desperate and noone seems to care. He's been greeted more by mild curiosity as to whether he's going to finally go completely off the rails rather than being welcomed back as a much-loved entertainer. Of course it could all turn around with a song like Angels, the song that bestowed the cred on him in the first place, but I haven't heard anything of that class so far in this comeback.

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Friday, 6 November 2009

Is everyone collaborating?

Reading the news (rumour?) that Madonna and Lady GaGa are collaborating on some new project or other I can't help wondering whether anyone actually is capable of producing music on their own anymore. Every second track seems to be "ft." ing someone or other. Nelly Furtado seems to have been held captive by Timbaland and forced to warble on every overproduced and overhyped dirge he pumps out. To be fair their latest effort "Morning After Dark" is very good.

Sometimes three artists jump into bed with each other so you get a Keri Hilson ft. Kanye and Someone else who's lent his name and about twenty minutes in a recording studio. We know it's all commercial exploitation. I have a strong suspicion that UK acts are actually paying US hip hop stars like Kanye, Will.I.am and FloRida to "collaborate" in order to pin a bit of urban cred to the otherwise suburban charms of your average British Cheryl or Alexandra.

Can you imagine breakfast in Kanye West or Timbaland's house? OK - you pour the cornflakes, Keri's going to mix in some milk and Elton John's coming over to sprinkle a bit of sugar on top. Jesus Christ - get back to working on your own!

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Two songs that got away . . .

I missed out on these two songs which both would have got one of my coveted "Lovin' It" ratings* if I'd been onto them before they were big hits already:

Tik Tok by Ke$ha

Fireflies by Owl City

If like me you are behind the times and haven't heard these you might want to check them out although I'm a bit dubious of any artist spelling their a currency as part of their name (although I liked Franc Sinatra).

*I rate my choices on This Week's Best New Pop Song as either:

Nice Tune!

Lovin' It!!

Instant Classic!!!

The more exclamation marks the better you see. It is meant to be an ironic, post-modern type thing by the way. I don't really go around saying "Nice Tune!" or "Loving' It!!".

80s legends return with a half decent song

Spandau Ballet's new song "Once More" is pretty good. It's pretty safe and not startling but for all that it is a typically classy ballad which builds well to a soaring uplifting chorus. Tony Hadley's vocals are as good ever; he really has a unique way of singing smooth quite soulful songs in a very strong, unsubtle way. In the league of comeback songs (does anyone even remember The Spice Girls reunion effort?) this is right up there and deserves to be a hit.

This pics show the band then and now . . . hair quantity being the main distinction.

I wonder what happened to The Wonder Girls?

I selected "Nobody" by The Wonder Girls as last week's best new pop song and, while I stand by the choice, it seems like the wider public isn't buying it. The song is the first English language single by the Korean all-girl group and debuted at no 86 on the US Hot 100 last week. This week it slipped out of the chart altogether so so much for my predictions of big things for the Wonder Girls. It's a great song though and has a very amusing and well put-together video. The girls have some other very big Korean hits to their names just waiting to be anglicised so I wouldn't count them out just yet.

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