Monthly Archives: November 2011

Album: Alcazar – “Disco Defenders – Now” (2009)

Right, it’s taken ages to get around to writing this up, mainly because I tend to delete the playlist for whatever I’ve reviewed to make way for more reviews. However in this case it’s turned into a great playlist for cardio sessions at the gym, and a great upbeat album for dull days at work (of which I have many). But I have to let go at some point, so I can move onto equally fabulous schlager albums (I hope).

Sadly though, Disco Defenders seems like it’s their last album, Wikipedia tells me they disbanded just a few months ago. But despite this being released two years ago, it appropriately has a second greatest-hits “Then” disc to go with their new studio album’s “Now” disc. I’ll start with the main event, the “Now” disc.

09 We keep on rockin’ – Gloriously modern production to kick off, with the beginning of an almost relentless tempo. As a mission statement the song works well, and they do their usual name-checking bit too. It’s a simple song but the chorus is totally catchy. The naff Charlie Angels-esque sirensong middle 8 is lovely too. A fun, energetic opener.

08 Burning – The tempo shows no signs of slowing down, in fact it’s just like a megamix so far. There’s more of a song behind this though, with some verses about not being able to get someone off your mind, then a nice lead-in to the chorus by the women. Again there’s not much to the song, it’s just glorious technicolour dance, not as camp as I had always got Alcazar in my mind as being (the cover art doesn’t help on this front). I was only really familiar with the singles from their brief period of success in the UK during 2001/02 so it’s nice to see things have moved on a bit.

10 Stay the night – I’ve already covered this on the Absolute Schlagar front, this is a total triumph. It’s really sad that Sweden never quite saw enough sense to take them all the way to Eurovision despite several close calls. Love this, slightly slutty but completely debilitatingly catchy, and when you have just started to get accustomed, they drop that key change on you. Amazing.

08 From Brazil with love – Oh no, salsa time? Well not quite, there’s some Latin influence here admittedly, but it’s not exactly Santana. God, it’s not even Ricky Martin. It’s nice enough, but it doesn’t really hit its stride until the chorus, I love their harmonies on this. Interested to see this had a writing credit from Danny Saucedo, a familiar name to my ears from my limited Melodifestivalen experience. Still got that great tempo, and a nice change of tone from the out-and-out pop from the previous tracks, though admittedly it’s not a particularly wide diversion.

08 Inhibitions – What does this remind me of? Love Shack? A bit more of a bassline on this one, though saying it’s got a harder sound is a bit of a nonsense if you think outside of the context of this album. Doesn’t sound too inhibited really, lots of porny gasps and slutty pole-dancery vibes coming from this one. It’s not my favourite track, but again by any other standard this would be a pretty strong pop song. I could imagine Girls Aloud giving a good bash at this one (at least in about 2006 maybe).

06 Harlem Nights – Finally a bit of a slowdown, which does ruin my gym playlist a litte bit. Not that the 1920s flapper-girl theme to this isn’t a bad idea, but I have trouble getting on board with this. After the lush disco backdrop of the first half of the album, this feels a bit lacking somehow. I really don’t like the verses or bridges that much, but the harmonies on the chorus salvage it reasonably well. Not quite doing it for me.

07 Baby – A Pet Shop Boys-penned track, no less. Back in faux-70s + 00s-production territory now, I really like the sound of it really. I just feel the chorus lacks a bit of punch and tight vocals, it’s just a bit safe somehow. It’s a nice enough listen, no jarring changes of pace, it flows nicely. It just doesn’t have any big features to get my hooks into. It’s alright.

07 Jump straight into the fire – As if by magic, we’re back into the sound from the beginning of the album. Good right? Well yes, the verses are good with a strong chorus, but while it might make me sound rather hard to please, it’s starting to get into Alcazar-by-numbers now. It’s like Burning and We Keep On Rockin’, but just not as good. Definitely one to prolong the gym playlist more than anything.

08 My my me and mine – A buzzy intro and we’re getting back on track. A subtly different sound, more beat-driven than just a wave of synths (though there are still plenty of these). Some really naff lyrics about binoculars, and it feels like I just narrowly avoided yet another 70s-esque Charlies Angels middle 8. The chorus is warm and fuzzy, and the production is spot-on again.

09 Funkytown – Oh now I loved the original of this, and it’s a great fit as a cover choice. That beepy riff is still as great as it ever way, and while it’s not exactly a groundbreaking new version of the song, they wisely don’t mess too much with it, and the resulting 00s update still keeps it as listenable as ever. The vocals are a bit creaky for once, but generally it works.

09 Put the top down – A surprise detour into semi-ballad territory, and even a semi-return into vaguely Latin territory. The verses aren’t particularly memorable , sounds like an unrecorded Atomic Kitten song. But chorus is really quite lovely and catchy, despite some more clunky lyrics about buying shades and avoiding UV rays. A little padded with “ah ah whoa yeah” lines, but a really nice midtempo highlight with a lovely key-change.

08 Thank You
– I wonder if this was always planned to be the final album, this works wonderfully as a gloopy swansong, and the greatest-hits bonus disc seems to complete the package. A modest first verse that feels like it’s going to burst into “Thank you for the music”. But it hitches up a few notches as the beat kicks in, and we end up with something more akin to a Steps song. That bridge leads seamlessly into that melodramatic but charming chorus. It’s a bit West-End-musical, but a really sweet note to go out on.

Considering I had this on my iPod along with the greatest hits CD, it was always going to be a bit of a mission to live up to a collection of their choice cuts. But it measures up pretty well, and is at the very least a cohesive album that perhaps doesn’t take a lot of chances, but sticks to what they are best at. Some really great highlights here, and while the slight detours into different sounds don’t always run as planned, it’s a great album and certainly one that has tempted me to look into their earlier albums.

Keepers for the iPod: We keep on rockin, Burning, Stay the night, From Brazil with love, My my me and mine, Funkytown, Put the top down, Thank you

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Swiss Roll Bowl Cake?

Now I’m always pleased to see I’ve got more views on this blog. Frankly I’m amazed anyone is coming here at all!

But it seems that 90% of all my hits are for a throwaway comment I made about TV chef Lorraine Pascale’s Swiss Rowl Bowl Cake, it’s really a weird Internet quirk.

So rather than foisting more lovingly-crafted music and film reviews on you, here is the recipe for the Swiss Roll Bowl Cake. It does look pretty good actually.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/winter_swiss_roll_bowl_27318

I don’t own the copyrights to any of this material, and all credit goes to the beautiful Lorraine and the BBC.

Ingredients

  • 2 x jumbo chocolate Swiss rolls (not the chocolate-dipped ones) or 4 normal-sized ones
  • 150ml/5fl oz alcohol of your choice, such as rum, sherry or limoncello (optional)
  • 2-3 litres/3½-5 pints ice cream (chocolate or vanilla or both), softened but still frozen (no warmer than 12C/54F)

Preparation method

  1. Line the inside of a medium glass bowl or 1.2 litre/2 pint pudding basin with clingfilm (make sure there is plenty of extra clingfilm hanging over the sides).
  2. Cut the Swiss rolls into 1cm/½in slices. Place one slice in the middle on the bowl in the base, then place another next to it. Continue until the whole inside of the bowl is lined. Squash the Swiss roll slices slightly together so that there are no gaps between them. When you reach the top of the bowl, cut slices in half if a whole one does not fit.
  3. Use a pastry brush to dab the sponge with the alcohol. Spoon the ice cream into the lined bowl, squidging it down so that it is completely full. Now place the cake in the freezer and leave overnight or at least until the ice cream is completely firm.
  4. Once the ice cream is firm, carefully remove the cake from the bowl using the clingfilm to help you. Ease it very gently out of the bowl with the clingfilm. If it is too hard to remove, warm the bowl up a little in your hands or by carefully running a flat blunt knife between the bowl and the clingfilm. When the cake is loose in the bowl and feels as if you could pull it out easily, place a large serving plate on top of the bowl and turn the bowl upside down, so that the plate is the right way up. Carefully remove the bowl and peel off the clingfilm.

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Album: Rihanna – “Talk that talk” (2011)

What can I say about Rihanna? From an unlikely beginning as yet another mid-00s RnB/Urban singer, she’s really turned things around and become one of the world’s biggest stars. As far as albums go, I started with Good Girl Gone Bad, her big breakthrough. Since then her singles have been brilliant but I’m yet to find an album of hers that reaches the same level of star power. Rated R, admittedly I didn’t give much of a chance to. Loud was a more accessible dash for more profitable territory.

So now here we are with album number six already. I can’t really blame them for being in it to win it, and releasing what is essentially Loud II. I’ve heard it was planned to be a bonus disc to a Loud re-issue, and that’s a tempting theory, it doesn’t feel like quite the A-Game Loud was. That sounds a bit like I’m damning it with faint praise, I’ve really enjoyed listening to it during this week, it’s an easy listen, and should see her cleaning up in the Christmas sales. I just hope the people behind her don’t get money-blind and stop taking any chances in the future.


08 You Da One – That intro really sticks in my head. The unlikely but default second single has a nice laid back swing to it, a perfect album track, but I’m not sure the chorus has enough going for it to sit alongside her massive hits of the last year. I guess it’s different to her other singles, and I’m happy to be convinced later, just like Rude Boy did with that amazing video.

09 Where have you been – The success of more dance-oriented tracks has obvious effects on this album, and I think that’s a great match for her. I think they would be insane not to put this up as a single at some point. I can see why they haven’t put it out so soon after We Found Love though, it would be a bit too similar I suppose. Lots of drama, and some real everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production too, the instrumentation seems to change every 30 seconds, it’s an interesting soundscape and a strong track that keeps the energy levels up for this album.

10 We found love – So here’s the big hit so far, transatlantic No.1 for a transatlantic pair (with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris on production duties). Doesn’t really sound anything like Calvin’s other tracks, and a relief that the guy who made some great songs in 2010 hasn’t totally lost his creativity, as his 2011 singles seemed to indicate. The words don’t seem to make a lot of sense, but I don’t suppose they need to on these sort of tracks. The video’s great too, really seems to fit the track well, though I still can’t get my head around a Rihanna video in a British council estate (along with the least convincing festival crowd scene I’ve seen for a while). I love pop-dance music, and this just ticks all my boxes. I hope the success of this continues to draw in other traditionally more boring RnB artists (oh hello Usher), without forcing them all through David Guetta’s doors.

08 Talk that talk – so Jay-Z returns for another round of feature credits, after Umbrella’s incredible success. He does add more to this one at least. It’s not the most exciting track in the world, a pretty standard rap about the extravagant life of a megastar. While the song isn’t great, I can totally see this as a single, it’s basic but appealing. That “Give it to me baby” breakdown is a nice change of tone, but then we are back into that unadventurous but solid chorus. Save this one for the inevitable barrage of buzz singles that seem to get thrown out at the tail end of each album campaign.

07 Cockiness (Love it) – Dirt! She’s not disguising the double-entendres much here is she? Not one to shy away with the adult content, Rihanna just seems more natural with these sorts of songs, it’s not like “RiRi’s raunchiest song yet!” headlines are a likelihood in the way more nicey-nicey popstars might get. That guy in the background is quite annoying (YOOO!!!!). It’s memorable just for being a bit clunky and harsh, some really jarring noises going on here.

06 Birthday Cake – Apparently this isn’t an interlude, they just didn’t finish it before the rush-released album launch. I’m not sure I believe that, though I’m not sure how much more of this I would have wanted to hear. It’s another sexytime track about licking icing off things (yeah right), and she finally drops the pretence in the last fade-out seconds. I wonder what if that was meant to be a whole song. It’s no great loss though.

06 We all want love – Is that chord progression just nicked from Bruno Mars’ Marry You? Either way, a change of tone to something a bit more radio-friendly. It’s pretty blah though, the lyrics could have been written by an 8 year old really, it’s just 4 minutes of lyrics basically summarised by the title. She sings it fine, and it’s not a bad song, but I can’t get excited about it at all. Filler!

08 Drunk on love – Now I like this, little electro flourishes on an otherwise downtempo song, this works really well. Her voice gets a nice bit of exercise, which probably rules out any live promo for this as a single, but it’s an understated track that fits her as an artist better than the schizophrenic selection of “Raunchy RiRi” and “Radio RiRi” picks that take up a lot of the album’s runtime. Not a pioneering track but it’s still pretty good.

08 Roc me out – Now this has the feel of another single (I nearly said swagger but I’m way to white to use words like that). The brash noisy electro production gives a great energy to this one. The lyrics are really nothing new, and the chorus is the usual vaguely sexual stuff, but it’s instantly catchy. It might get a bit repetitive but I think it hits more than it misses.

07 Watch n learn – Another entry in Rihanna’s Caribbean-lite catalogue now, and an entry into Rihanna’s much longer “songs about sex” catalogue too. For such a nice upbeat song, I’m surprised how dirty it gets, I can only imagine why Rihanna’s lips can’t kiss back … OH MY GOD. Well she seems to be having fun anyway, I wonder how much of this steer towards sexual content is down to Rihanna, I’d hate to think she’s being pushed into this. Still, she sings it convincingly and the track’s still fun and the production is buzzing with energy.

07 Farewell – No regular ballads yet? Oh well let’s just tack one on the end. Feels like this was a last-minute addition with eyes on a potential single if the dance trend dries up midway through the campaign, straight from “Beyonce album management for Dummies” (I only wish Beyonce’s team had referred to that for the “4” campaign and its 27 buzz singles). Much in the same vein as the also-uninspiring California King Bed, this isn’t much to write home with, but I think a good video and a few good promo spots would pull this one through. A bit of a boring note to close the album on though, I guess they couldn’t really fit it anywhere else.

So that’s that, 37 minutes(!) and it’s all over. The short runtime adds more weight to the “Loud bonus disc edition” theory, and it does feel more like a clearout of the Rihanna song vaults than anything. Christ knows how Nicole Scherzinger is going to throw together another album if that vault has been plundered already. Oh well. So it does feel like an echo of Loud, which is by no means a bad album to try and emulate. She won’t struggle for singles (particularly if she puts another album out next Christmas too), and to be honest I’d much rather her be doing albums like this than the generic RnB stylings of that endless scrap-heap of 00s ‘starlets’ like Ashanti, Shontelle, Lumidee, Ciara etc.

Keepers for the iPod: You da one, Where have you been, We found love, Talk that talk, Roc me out.

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Album: Absolute Schlager (Part 2)

Sorry for the delay on the next instalment, but if it’s any consolation this second disc of Schlager was pretty great, and I’m definitely enjoying myself so far. There’s the usual scattering of tracks I’d already heard of, but mostly unknowns from a variety of time periods. A few stinkers in the batch but otherwise very good.

If you are just joining us, I’m introducing myself to the joys of Swedish pop music via this extensive compilations of Schlager hits!

08 Carola – Fångad Av En Stormvind – Kicking off with a winner, no less. The infamous Carola is back on the block with this lovely bouncy 80s number (from 1991). Not much I can really add to it, sounds just like pop music of that period, just in Swedish. We aren’t so different are we? How lovely. Doesn’t sound much like a winner but it’s very good all the same.

08 Herreys – Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley – Another winner, and I’m more on board with this one. Or I was until I saw the single cover on Wikipedia, yikes… Still has that sort of naff 80s charm, saxophones, vague guitary band music, but enough synths to transform it into an out-and-out pop song. I just like the melody here, and that chorus is quite difficuly to shake once you’ve heard it a few times.

10 Malena Ernman – La Voix
– Now we’re in more solid territory for me, 2009’s contest was probably my first loon contest, and as ever, Sweden sent something striking. This ice-white-haired siren, bursting into some devastating operatics for the chorus. I think the ropey vocals on the verses didn’t help this one at all, but it is still a shame it didn’t perform better on the night. That final eye-popping high note is still a wonder to behold, she even looks surprised to have arrived there herself! Joyous.

10 Charlotte Perrelli – Hero – If ever a situation called for a 17/10 score, this is one. The former winner may have scared Europe into thinking she was an alien, particularly with that ill-advised black & white effect at the start (how DID they do that?). But this is a triumph of pop music, with that chugging beat and amazing chorus. That key change is a thing of beauty, particularly twinned with the laser show we got in Belgrade. She gave it everything, but her mid-table finish that year was one of the worse injustices in recent Eurovision memory. Still fantastic.

09 Friends – Lyssna Till Ditt Hjärta – Now on to a modern Eurovision entry that I don’t remember, from 2001. Coming 5th, it’s a pretty fresh-sounding pop song, with a really great tempo, and a tried-and-tested sound for the chorus. Sounds like an ABBA song I can’t quite put my finger on, but definitely not a bad thing. Key change is well executed, and sits well, even after Hero.

10 Alcazar – Not A Sinner Nor A Saint – Well Alcazar have been the main beneficiaries from my Schlager voyage so far, and I’d pegged this as one of their better moments. Melodramatic with a capital M, and came 3rd in 2003’s Melodifestivalen, which is a shame as this would have been a much better entrant than the eventual choice by Fame. Key change just amps it up to ridiculous levels, really a fantastic effort. Hate that boom-boom-boom-boom at the end though.

09 Lena Philipsson – Dansa I Neon – I feel like I’ve heard this before, I wonder where I could have… A bit of a random inclusion, coming 5th in 1987’s Melodifestivalen, and doesn’t appear to have been that huge a hit. Either way, Lena has impressed me so far, and I love this dark synthy-pop number, still sounds pretty good by today’s standards. Actually reminds me of Steps’ You’ll Be Sorry when they hit the chorus now I think of it. I’ll look out for a Lena hits collection once I’m done with this CD.

07 Fame – Give Me Your Love
– The Swedish representative for 2003’s Eurovision, edging out Alcazar’s aforementioned track. Not a great result really, this is nice enough, and still did the business, coming 5th in the contest, but it leaves me a bit flat. Uses the old tricks I’ve heard in too many pop songs now, more shades of ABBa certainly. It’s just a bit BLAH.

08 Svenne And Lotta – Bang En Boomerang – Speaking of ABBA, partly written by Benny & Bjorn, this was a Melodifestivalen hopeful in 1975, the year after ABBA swept the board with Waterloo. It sounds like it could easily be an ABBA song, partly because I first knew it as a track off ABBA’s “Waterloo” album. It’s a lovely song, doesn’t really differ much at all from the ABBA version, though that’s no insult. Charming.

06 Style – Dover Calais – A 3rd place entry from Melodifestivalen 1986 now. A bit of a weird one, can’t quite see the appeal, and I’m intrigued what the hell cross-channel ferries have done to inspire a song. The vocals are a bit thin, not really getting into this one. It’s inoffensive enough, but I’ve heard plenty better.

07 Jill Johnson – Crazy In Love – A comeback record now from 1998’s Eurovision representative who returned to come 4th in 2003’s Melodifestivalen (That contest seems to be coming up a lot). It’s alright in a pretty standard Shania-esque country-pop way. Very likeable but I suppose I’ve often found it difficult to take to Country music, particularly tracks like this having a bit of an identity crisis, sometimes preferring to sound like a (sort of) modern pop song. Very nice, but no thanks.

08 Nanne – Håll Om Mig
– Now Nanne is another name I’ve heard plenty about apart from the music. A pretty dramatic entrant, some great sinister strings in there. Ultimately came 2nd in 2005’s contest behind Las Vegas, which is a shame, though it sounds like she had to fight to even get that far, initially being rejected by the Melodifestivalen organisers. Impressive start, would be interested to hear more of her, though I’ve inadverently heard “Highland” by One More Time, of which Nanne was a member, and that was rather good.

09 Amy Diamond – Thank You – Last one for tonight I think, and another infamous name. From what I’d heard, I knew she was either a child star or the anti-christ (how often those two go hand-in-hand in popular opinion). Either way this was her entry in 2008’s Melodifestivalen, and I think it’s pretty poptastic. Catchy and still sounds good (though it’s only been a few years). Memorable and a standout from this selection so far. Not bad considering she was only 15 when she performed this at Melodifestivalen.

07 Andreas Johnson – A Little Bit Of Love – I can feel my nose turning up already, it’s REAL music isn’t it? Well not really, it’s just a sort of naff yesteryear pastiche. The pieces are there, it’s got a simple structure and a catchy chorus, but I guess I just don’t like his voice very much in this, annoying and nasal. I do like that middle 8 about getting married, but that’s about it. Pleasant but … ehhhhh. Not sure if I would have preferred this to The Ark as 2007’s representative, not exactly Sophie’s Choice is it?

08 Rongedal – Just A Minute – Oh god this is catchy isn’t it? I hope Mika’s lawyers were listening, it’s really not much of a stretch is it? Infuriatingly upbeat, but it really has worn me down. I don’t think much to those little 1920’s-style bits, but that’s just a distraction before an even more day-glo key change. Good heavens, I bet there were some haters for this one in 2008’s final!

07 Arja Saijonmaa – Högt Över Havet
– She doesn’t sound in a very good mood does she? A nice change to the cheese I’ve just listened to. 2nd place from the 1987 selection, it’s got something about it, I like her voice and the pronunciation, and it just sounds like I’d imagine 80’s Swedish pop to sound. Shame it came 2nd to that dreadful Coca-Cola song in the end, but I’m not too upset.

06 Lasse Berghagen – Jennie Jennie – Back to the 70s now, not that I particularly wanted to go there! After coming 2nd to Waterloo at 1974’s Melodifestivalen, he managed one better to represent Sweden in 1975. It only managed 8th place on the Swedish-hosted Eurovision, but evidently it had enough about it to endure all this time. It’s all very oompah and traditional, but I’m not really into this that much. I can appreciate its catchiness but that’s about it.

08 Linda Bengtzing – Hur Svårt Kan Det Va? – Another alumnus of Melodifestivalen 2008, quite a year! Another shade of Mika with those verses, sounds like Grace Kelly. But that’s where it ends really, it’s a nice power pop song, I can see why this was one of the wealth of great songs that made the 2008 final. I hear a lot about her, is she some serial MF entrant then?

08 Lili And Susie – Show Me Heaven – Oh some real Europop now with that intro. A bit odd for this to be in there, since everyone else has at least been a MF finalist, these got knocked out in the first round of 2009’s Andra Chansen against Sarah Dawn Finer. It’s quite full on, but I do rather like it. Looking at Wikipedia they had a 20 year hiatus from Melodifestivalen, so I guess there is some extra context I’m missing there. A pretty cheesy chorus but it’s full-on and lots of fun. Reminds me of Beautiful Life by Ace of Base in parts.

07 Martin Stenmarck – Las Vegas – 2005’s Swedish entrant to Eurovision now, and the start of their least successful period in Eurovision history (aside from Carola finishing 5th the following year). I’m not really enjoying this too much, but then I’ve never much seen the appeal in Las Vegas. The chorus is strong, but I just end up thinking “Why are we singing about this?”, just doesn’t feel like it’s got much to it, it’s just about Yeah! Vegas Baby!! … no thanks. I would much rather have seen Alcazar win their place in contest (though they probably would have flopped with Alcastar)

06 Tommy Körberg – Stad I Ljus – Have we been back to the 60s yet? Well 1969’s entrant is here now, and… well what can I say? It’s very of its time, and while he sings this rather traditional ballad very well, it doesn’t really translate for me. It didn’t even win the contest, and 4 countries won the contest that year! Step it up, Tommy!

06 Björn Skifs – Det Blir Alltid Värre Framåt Natten – Another rather random inclusion if you go by the stats, 1978’s representative which came 14th in the Paris contest. Got a nice familiar 70s feel to it, reminiscent of the production on (among other things, but in my limited experience) Carpenters songs. That’s probably not a coincidence. It’s alright, I like it more than Tommy’s track just played, but still not quite clicking for me.

06 Caroline Af Ugglas – Snälla Snälla – What an odd song, fits in well with the old-fashioned previous tracks, but this is from 2009’s Melodifestivalen, when it was narrowly pipped to the post by Malena’s VOIX. Not sure I’m really enjoying her voice, like some vague relative of Dionne Bromfield or (gasp) the vocal range of Rebecca Foghorn Ferguson. OMG did she just say fuck? Probably not. Her boots are ugly too. Think that once again I might be missing some crucial part of the story here.

09 Sanna Nielsen – Empty Room – Now we’re talking, and while it would have been a lovely entry, it had to settle for 2nd behind Charlotte Perrelli’s Hero in 2008’s contest. A pretty basic power ballad but wonderfully delivered. Some really clunky lyrics here too, which just endears me more. “I can’t even read the news today, everything just reminds me of yesterday”, WELL OF COURSE IT WILL! A walk in the park shouldn’t be that sad, indeed. It’s not exactly a lyrical powerhouse but I can’t help but sympathise with poor heartbroken Sanna. I loved her 2011 entry “I’m in love”, and hope she’ll make it through one day after some near misses.

06 Jan Johansen – Se På Mig
– 4th place from 2001’s Melodifestivalen now. It’s quite a chilled out track, but feels quite dated for a 21st century track, it’s something I imagine Phil Collins or someone coming out with in the early 90s. His voice has got quite a nice roughness to it, but the song never quite gets off the ground, not even a strained key change.

10 Helena Paparizou – My Number One – On a 78-track triple CD, we aren’t going to get many Eurovision winners considering Sweden for all its success has only produced four winners so far. So what the hell, let’s put the Greek winner of the 2005 contest in the mix. Good choice too, it’s a fabulous song, with some amazing lyrics “You’re my passion, my relief, my crucifixion”. When would you hear that in a pop song?? A Europe-pleasing mix of euro-pop and ethno-flourishes, and the first (and so far only) win for Greece in the contest. Maybe it’s not such a loose connection to this compilation, Helena is part Swedish too, and seems to be often mooted as a possible MF entrant, which would bring some more star power to a country that admittedly isn’t short on that.

Keepers for the iPod: La Voix, Hero, Lyssna Till Ditt Hjärta, Not a sinner nor a saint, Dansa I Neon, Thank You, Just a minute, Hur Svårt Kan Det Va?, Empty Room, My number one.

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Album: Bjork – “Medulla” (2004)

Oh me oh my, forget working the weekend, I think I needed extra time to build up to reviewing this. It’s a shame, it’s VERGING on good and shows some real promise from its concept of (mostly) only using human voices for all the noises. But then other times it just goes totally off into crazy land, and suddenly you want to air-drop crates of lozenges on Iceland. Let’s just get through this, it’s just a WARM-UP for the horrors yet to come in this back catalogue.

08 Pleasure is all mine – What an appropriate title for the opening track for this album! OK that’s harsh, this isn’t a bad opener really. There are spooky ghost choirs, a slow creeping menace of a beat. She’s even singing a tune, who’d have thought we’d live to see this day again?! Actually this is quite nice, it does raise a few eyebrows with the Tazmanian Devil woman grunting away in the background. The climax with the choir is really quite glorious, well done everyone. Shame someone left the gate open and let the Devil woman in, she sounds like she’s injured, or needs to be taken out for a walk or something. Have some humanity!

07 Show me forgiveness
– Pretty much an interlude, totally acapella too. It’s alright but feels a bit unnecessary. She’s making a bit of a meal of the vocals, and makes it sound rather forced for a melody that’s all over the place.

08 Where is the line – OK let’s get the crazy going now, this time with a rather ear-molesting beatbox onslaught. That’s the weak line here, the song itself is full of purpose and drama. It does need some harsh percussion to set against the choral bits, it would be all a bit Vespertine without the beat. It’s just a bit weird, especially when it goes all swirly halfway through. Not crazy about the singing-into-a-fan moments either, it does turn the latter half of this into a bit of a racket. Shame really, it’s one of the more standout moments. Could easily have been a 9 with some tweaks (I do love that Space Invaders segment near the end), but it really needs polishing up.

09 Vökuró – Considering how much she embraces her heritages, it feels like we only very rarely get Icelandic language in her albums. It’s not like she’s worried about her music not being commericial really, if we’re honest. It’s an interesting language to listen to, I love those Nordic rolls of the tongue and strange syllables. It’s almost like a hymn, and that choral section goes a grand job as they usually do. This is great, it doesn’t always have to be high concept, and gives a really spine-tingling pause from the madness of the rest of the album.

04 Öll Birtan – HALLL. HALLL. HALLL. UGH! What a mess, everyone’s talking over each other. No tune, just monotonous drone. Thank God it’s just an interlude. STOP YELLING AT ME. Then it’s over. HALLL. HALLL. HALLL. OH SHUT UP!!

09 Who is it – Oh God, what’s the matter now? Are you trying to explode my head?? After that mini-migraine, we are on one of the few moments it was possible to release as a single. The bell-heavy single remix was really lovely, I must dig that out. This is a really nice song and a great display of this album’s concept used for good instead of headache-inducing evil. It even has a usual song structure, I must be dreaming. That beatbox fits perfectly, the tune (as well as simply existing) is catchy and endearing. A success all round I think!

02 Submarine
– Oh NO NO NO. It’s all gone wrong, and annoying me so much. I don’t know who this guy is, or why he’s on the Starship Enterprise. Spouting drivel, that “Do it nooooowwwww” is the worst kind of annoying drone, worse than even the most annoying child. It’s like the dying cat parade. Is someone just making that insane rubbing-a-finger-back-and-forth-on-their-lips noise? After Bjork eventually arrives after 1:30 of HELL, her vocals are quite BIG and welcome, but short-lived. I HATE THIS.

09 Desired Constellation – God, talk about a mixed bag, my ratings are flipping so much I’m getting whiplash. I love that lo-fi version of Vespertine they are using for production on here. The title and the production just set a blissful scene of clear Icelandic nights full of stars, quite isolated and pretty. Bjork’s not having such a good time though, messing up a relationship by the sounds of it. It’s very emotively done, and feels like a real moment with her that I don’t feel like I’ve had for a while, perhaps not since Post. Very nice.

07 Oceania – Oh god, who thought THIS was a good idea to open the Athens olympics?! Insane! The first buzz single from this project, even has a promo version with Kelis on it trying to make sense of what the hell was going on. The lyrics really are 50/50, sometimes intriguing and I get it, but otherwise just nonsense (every boy is a snake is a lily, every pearl is a lynx is a girl!?). Is mother ocean trying to say all land-lubbers all look the same? RACIST! I like the idea of this ocean entity singing this from her perspective (You see continents, I see islands… You count the centuries, I blink my eyes). It’s all sort of good, but somehow a bit lost in the execution. Not that this is an unfamiliar feeling for me by this point… The odd shrieks are a bit unnerving, but I like the beat (I don’t know about these things so I might bluff and call it Bossa Nova because that sounds good).

05 Sonnets/Unrealities XI – What an accessible title! THAT WAS SARCASM! Something about this rubs me up the wrong way, I think it’s how the “and I say, and if your lips, which I have loved, should touch another’s” bits are so oddly structured, it just sounds like she’s making it up as she goes along. I’m glad this song disappears up its own backside once we reach the 2-minute mark. There are glimpses of good stuff here, but they are few and far between.

07 Ancestors – Oh LORD, this is the moment we descend into the pit and she gives us her worst. It’s almost endearing as a ridiculous spectacle, that mental throat singer has given me a smile on many occasions. I’m somehow still surprised every time I hear it. First it sounds like she’s either in labour or having sex. Until she starts hyperventilating, give the woman a paper bag, the poor dear. This is all while Bjork is just making blah noises against a nondescript piano soundbed. Oh no, asthma lady is having a relapse! DEAR GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH HER? Does she have a collapsed lung? Is she turning into a werewolf? Who can say? Perhaps a horny Jack Russell is shagging her leg. BLEEUURRRGHHH!!! BLEURRRRGHHHH!!! What the hell am I listening to? The were-Rolf is humanna-humanna-ing now, I am not sure if I should call an air ambulance or the RSPCA. PHEW! What a RIDE! 7 for entertainment value alone, just as well because that was utter ROT!

06 Mouth’s Cradle – Bleep bloop, is someone making that noise or is it a computer? We are assaulted by odd babyish noises, and Bjork on backing in what seems like some sort of temporal anomoly. Once the choir gets back in from their ciggy break, the song get some semblance of structure. It’s sort of alright, but again what a mess. Tazmanian Devil is back skulking in the distance, stay away! Anything sounds relatively listenable after Ancestors, but this varies in listenability. The chorus (?) near the end (“You can use those teeth as a ladder up to the mouth’s cradle”) is quite good, it almost sounds like a real song for a while.

05 Miðvikudags
– Another unpronounceable interlude. Nice-ish noises, but that’s pretty much all there is, it’s hard to believe it’s actually several people’s jobs to make things like this for a living. There’s that TOO TOO noise from the start as well. Baffling.

10 Triumph of the heart – Finally, a stone cold amazing moment, it only took 40 minutes of ordeal to get there. Beatbox is back, so’s the choir, so are other strange sound effects. But a great beat, leading into a wonderful chorus. Maybe my rating is warped by my experiences during the rest of this album, but it feels to me like an actual commerical moment escaping from the jaws of this hellish trauma of an album. The video is wonderful too, really love that, you even get a little kitty mewing in the chorus, MEW! MEW! MEW!. Thank god we are ending on a high note. A bit of a strange song to have tacked on the end though, do I detect some record company influence here?

Wow… well if I was a little bored during Vespertine’s latter half, this is certainly a case of “Be careful what you wish for”. While it is certainly an interesting listen, you really need an open mind to even begin with it. Now I would say I am reasonably open, but as this review shows, clearly not open ENOUGH. Some moments really stick out as flashes of inspiration through a concept album that really shouldn’t have needed to be such a tough sell. Other moments stand out for all the wrong reasons. In this case I must wonder if the payouts were worth the bad times… Still, I am sort of fond of this album, I haven’t quite re-captured the way I felt for it when it first came out, but at least it hasn’t aged in any discernible way. Probably because it wasn’t created on Earth time, I think it was just found inside a meteorite somewhere.

Keepers for the iPod
: Pleasure is all mine, Vökuró, Who is it, Desired Constellation, Triumph of a heart

Up next: Drawing Restraint 9 (2005)
– nice knowing you all…

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