Monthly Archives: June 2012

Single: Hikaru Utada – “Traveling” (2001)

While I recuperate after my Japanese voyage, I will do a quick single review. Jet lag is weighing down on me like a lead weight, and I don’t think I can stay awake for much longer. So on a related note I look at this appropriately-titled single from J-pop megastar Hikaru Utada (or Utada Hikaru in Japan).

“Traveling” was the second single from third album “Deep River” that was another tremendous success to Hikaru’s astonishing level of success in Japan, ultimately becoming the 8th biggest selling album of all time there. It joined previous albums “First love” and “Distance” in the all-time top 10, which are first and fifth on the list respectively as it stands.

I’ve never quite broken through with Hikaru, though there is certainly cause for some investigation, with fourth album Ultra Blue and debut English-language album Exodus being particularly interesting for me. I found the older material from her first Singles Collection to be a bit too R’n’B for my tastes, but “Traveling” sees her in a much poppier state of mind, in a rather sophisticated dance crossover track.

I find this song impossible to detach from the incredible video, a real fiesta of colours and styles, driven by what I’m sure was an eye-popping budget earned by the massive success of her previous albums.

The production is gorgeous, I love that bustling futuristic intro, leading into a quite subtle verse before the addictive chorus kicks in. The middle-eight with those beautiful autumnal video segments are really wonderful, I love it.

The video is almost enough for a blog entry of its own. Full of colour, bright designs, glittering neon lights, and even a stop-motion segment with Hikaru looking beautiful in a more back-to-basics look. A start contrast to the cosplay-esque outfits, all weird creatures and bright wigs.

In short, an uplifting fun J-pop song, that never outstays its welcome after the 5-minute run-time, and even translated wonderfully to the Utada United 2006 tour as a brilliant intro. It’s certainly good enough to deserve a good look at its parent album before too long.

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Running on empty

Why am I so fixated on keeping up this one-post-a-day habit? I guess it’s a good thing really, but today really isn’t the day to write, and my pre-blogged entries for the course of my holiday have run out so here I am.

I woke up at 6.15am Tokyo time (22.15pm Thursday night), and flew back to the UK during another disorientating 24 hours of continuous sunlight. This is at least expected when flying west, but it baffingly happened on the eastwards trip to Japan last week, despite it being a ‘night flight’. We flew so far north, hugging north coast of Russia that the night slipped past us in the south.

Added to that not being able to sleep at all on the flight (managed to watch 4 films though from the ropey selection: The King’s Speech, Breakfast at Tiffanys, The Notebook and John Carter, eclectic!), and having to wait for an hour for a late National Express coach, and you get a very tired person.

Heathrow Arrivals really is a dismal experience, and while I feel that Heathrow – all things considered – is a pretty cool airport to leave from, I really pity those poor foreigners whose first experiences in the UK are at Heathrow. Not that they seem to mind, gleefully blocking aisles and pushing around with impossibly huge trolley-loads of luggage. The central bus terminal manages to suck the life out of even the keenest tourists. A desolate waiting room with disconnected TV monitors, the sulkiest WHSmith staff I’ve ever met (and I’ve met more than my fair share). Even that’s before you start talking about the people. The bus station staff surely are a proper ‘slice of life’, but this doesn’t help the contagious feeling of chaos and panic amongst worried looking visitors.

Nonetheless, I had a great time in Japan, and will do a full write-up or three in due course.

cheers! x

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Album: Kylie Minogue – “Kylie Minogue” (1994)

Can you believe we are nearly halfway through already? Well to be honest I’m glad to be moving on after this and I’m feeling a bit more positive about the rest of this little voyage.

So on to Kylie’s 1994 Deconstruction debut, and I imagine this will be an unpopular opinion but I felt rather disappointed with the album. Obviously I need to take it in context, this album is over 15 years old now and things change a lot in that sort of time. I can recognise parts that feel exactly like the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in 1994, but as a whole the album outstays its welcome, with ridiculously extended versions of what could have been quite a tight little album. Anyway, let’s get to it… (lolz).

10 Confide in me: OK so I do complain about the length of some of these tracks, but this has to be an exception. To be honest they could have had a 15 minute version of this and it wouldn’t stop it being a towering colossus of prime Kyles. As you may know, I have a penchant for strings, and there is certainly no shortage of them here used for maximum drama. Kylie is sounding amazing, I can only imagine what people must have thought when this came out two years after the previous single (the abysmal Celebration). The video is brilliant and still looks just as fresh as it ever did. Her vocals are at their operatic best, I just think this is one of the moments of magic that Kylie loons should always be proud of.

08 Surrender: How to follow that? Well thankfully with something a little more trimmed down but nonetheless rather good. While I made the accusation of Madonna-chasing with parts of Rhythm of love, I think maybe it’s going on again but happily the result is very good, landing somewhere between Erotica and Bedtime Stories. The lyrical content is rather empty but musically it’s rather sexy so I’ll turn a blind eye this time.

07 If I was your lover: I nearly risked a red card from the K-Loons for doing the Bedtime Stories comparison, but of course I’m not implying anything untoward, considering both albums came out about the same time. My point is that the sound feels the same, which in my mind isn’t a great thing as I never really liked Bedtime Stories in the first place. No great depth to the lyrics again, unrequited love is a well-travelled path with Kylie but not usually so sexually charged. It does sound good though even if it doesn’t quite make an impact on me.

07 Where is the feeling: Considering the calibre of the other singles, I had expected a little more to this but I’m not getting a lot out of it. Very 90s (obviously), but puts me more in the mind of M-People, which isn’t really what I’m looking for. Not too hot on the vocals, sounds a bit strained but I think maybe some harmonies could have improved things there. What is certainly DOESN’T need is to be 7 minutes long, I just felt utterly bored of it by the halfway point. No surprising really that I don’t remember this as a single.

10 Put yourself in my place: And on to the other stone-cold classic of this album, I really love this one. The video is fabulous, certainly one of the things I remember vividly from my pre-teens. I love the rather chilled-out, or more worn-out feel of this, just this sort of exhausted sadness that comes from the situation she’s singing about. I really love that “I hear that you’re in love now, baby don’t know what to say”. Great chorus, I just relish every moment. why the fuck is this the shortest song on the album?

07 Dangerous game: A bit of a plodder now, not really into this one. She does sound good on it, but there’s some spark missing in this that was in the previous track. She has a good moment with that big note in the middle but even that feels a little shaky. I just feel like this song would have belonged better on Let’s Get To It, which isn’t a particularly good thing.

07 Automatic love: Another rather sparse song lyrically, a few short verses and the rather repetitive chorus takes over. Not that it’s a bad thing, some rather clunky computer language makes me raise an eyebrow. Almost makes you wish she was just singing bluntly about sex for a change. This just doesn’t really do anything for me, feels a bit empty. The music again saves the day slightly, nice production, I like the use of strings as usual, but as a whole it doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

06 Where has the love gone: Really trying my patience now, nearly 8 minutes is really pushing it. A more dancey offering, I actually like the delivery of the verses, very coolly done, but then there are 5 minutes left. I don’t like the oooohhh la-ha-haaaa bits, and I just find the rest of the song a bit of a struggle. If this was a remix then that would be something, you expect a certain drawn-out quality to those, but it really kills my interest in the flow of an album.

04 Falling: This extends my feelings for the previous track, this time pretty much stripping away the song entirely, giving the backing singer most of the work. I find this a really odd non-song, just like the sort of anonymous thing you might hear in a wine-bar or something. If this is what constitutes a Pet Shop Boys collaboration then I’d rather take my chances with SAW. Where is the feeling??

07 Time will pass you by: For the end, finally she pulls a song out of the bag, which sounds like the best thing in the world after the last two tracks. Actually that opening sounds a LOT like Movin’ on up doesn’t it? A bit of an odd track to have on this album, seems a lot more poppy and ‘uncool’ than the rest, but it’s a bit of life at least. Very upbeat and nice to have a bit of fluff in there somewhere. I’ve read that this was mooted as a single but was usurped by where the Wild Roses Grow, I can’t imagine two more different songs, but I think they made the right choice.

OK so that’s that. I’m sure some unpopular opinions in there as I get the impression this a bit of a sacred cow. Not that I don’t think it’s a huge improvement and change on her previous output. If all I knew of Kylie were the first albums, I doubt I could have imagined a song as amazing as Confide In Me following a few years after the Greatest Hits.

But I think in going in a cooler direction, with this album they threw the baby out with the bath-water, with some of those tracks just being too drawn out. As I’ve said there are obvious highlights that throw this album into stark contrast, and if anything I am grateful for those.

Keepers for the iPod: Confide in me, Put yourself in my place, Surrender

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Album: Alanis Morissette – “Flavors of entanglement” (2008)

Now it’s time to finally finish off the studio albums with this all-but-forgotten effort. I bought this more as a duty purchase at the time and only gave it a few cursory listens. Now I’ve given it more of a chance, I can’t say it’s going down as one of the classics, but it’s not a total washout. It doesn’t quite have the fire of JLP, complexity of SFIJ, or the instant appeal of URS and SCC, but it is at least a foray into a different sound, courtesy of Guy Sigsworth.

07 Citizen of the planet – Hrmm… while I expect a certain level of hippy Earth-mother guff from Alanis, this lays it on a bit too thick. I just find the verses taking themselves a bit too seriously, but we do get a bit more energy in the chorus. It’s rather rockier than we got for most of SCC but somehow feels a bit lacking. I can’t quite put my finger on where, but I find my attention drifting a bit. I just think back to tracks like “Baba” and just wonder where it went astray.

08 Underneath – Lead single now, and I suppose that explains a little why this project didn’t quite get off the ground, or at least followed the trajectory of her successive sales performances. It’s quite nice really, without wanting to damn it with faint praise too much. It’s not really a smash radio single at all (though in a ridiculous twist, at least according to Wiki, it went DIAMOND in Brazil). The chorus is pleasant but I can’t say I quite follow it, it’s just a nice noise. Ugh why am I finding it so hard finding something nice to say?

09 Straitjacket – Now THIS is more like it, a pulsing beat from the outside and a bit of OOMPH (and a swearword, OMG), maybe this is the root of the problem, maybe this song is about me. I feel like happy Alanis doesn’t quite hit the spot with me, and I won’t be happy until she is in a straitjacket. The production is exciting as an Alanis fan, and she is pissed off which always leads to more engaging material (in general). A highlight for me.

08 Versions of Violence – More interesting production to make me go “Oh, maybe this isn’t going to be a borefest album”. Plenty of drama here, verging on melodrama of Evanescence proportions but thankfully with a less earsplitting voice. The production does swamp her a little bit, I’m having trouble making out what she’s singing but the chorus is rather wonderful, a big (hot) mess of dirty basslines and strings. I do still have a chance to love her tone of voice in the middle 8.

08 Not as we – Another confusing choice of a single, though as a ballad it is rather lovely, and a return to the rather damaged and emotional ballads of Alanis past. I see it was on some TV soundtracks, does sound like that sort of thing that goes down well in the current climate of usage of ballads at emotional points of Greys Anatomy or whatever. I like listening to it, but again I’m not really engaging with it, it’s just a nice simple track. It just might as well be in a different language.

06 In praise of the vulnerable man – A rather UGH title for a song, and doesn’t disappoint in being a rather lifeless mid-tempo “Happy Alanis” snoozer. Who was in charge of this project? Apparently this was the second single in Europe, madness! I am just left totally apathetic after this. Yes I’m happy that she’s happy, but if this is the result musically, then NO THANKS.

09 Moratorium – Back in spooky soundscape land now, thank goodness. These moments really trigger my interest so much more than her slow decline into mid-tempo balladry that will surely end in a Country/New Age album. This time we swap the Evanescence dramatics to something a bit more subtle, and oddly I feel like this could easily be a Linkin Park song, am I crazy? Seems like Happy Alanis hasn’t quite worked through all her issues, and quite selfishly I approve. She gets to use her thesaurus again, hence another VERBOSE onslaught producing another album title. It’s a bit of an odd one, but all the better for it. She should have declared a moratorium years ago given the woes it seems to cause her.

05 Torch – Back to the blah, I feel like I’m being generous with the marks for this album, given that this isn’t really doing much for me apart from providing backing music. From an artist that produced Jagged Little Pill, being reduced to ambient accompaniment to my spreadsheet dayjob is a massive comedown. My general feeling was that this album wasn’t that bad, but I don’t think I had to sit here and really concentrate on songs like Torch, which I think is where the wheels are falling off. YAWN.

08 Giggling again for no reason – Horrible title but I always find this a rather lovely surprise. A shimmery intro into a wonderfully uptempo section (not sure if this is the chorus or what). This is what the album needed more of, BEATS. The best tracks have them, and it’s only when the album slows down that it really becomes a chore. Not my favourite Alanis song vocally, the melody is all over the place, but I like the sentiment. I like to think of it as a follow-on from So-Called Chaos (the song), like she’s finally run away from it, and is dancing naked or whatever she likes doing. Maybe that’s just me though, it’s a sweet song.

07 Tapes – More angsty now, maybe this is more of an example of what I want the downtempo tracks to be. Unlike Torch this has a bit more emotion to it, though I feel it’s a bit of a watered down version of Excuses from SCC. Despite this, there’s enough substance to make it memorable, and I can at least understand what she’s going about. Does make me sad to think she feels like this, but then again I don’t want to hear Happy Alanis so much. I think a few more albums of therapy, then a happy retirement will suit both parties.

06 Incomplete – Well at least it isn’t Utopia, no campfire chanting here, but still rather saccharine. I like the verses, they are cute and hopeful, but the chorus they lead into is a bit flat. The pieces are there but it doesn’t quite work for me. Still, it’s not the worst song here, and I’m happy to go out on an upbeat track at least, there’s enough doom and gloom on here for me to allow her this at least.

So that’s that. I can’t say I’m brimming with hope about what the next studio album is going to be like. I don’t think I can take a fully chilled out Alanis, for me she is and always will/should be a banshee. She doesn’t have the same sort of mental unhingedness that Kate and Tori had at their cores, so who knows. Let’s just remember the good times. A reinvention as a dancier artist would be very welcome, considering she seemed to be leaning a little that way with this album. Fingers crossed…

Keepers for the iPod: Underneath, Straitjacket, Moratorium, Giggling again for no reason.


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Eurovision reloaded: Kiev 2005: My Top 10

10. Walters and Kazha – The War Is Not Over (Latvia )
#5 in the Grand Final

Speaking of the Baltic bloc, as we enter the top 10 here is Latvia. It should be the naffest load of dreck ever. The styling looks just as you would expect from a Latvian Eurovision entry, and they’re strumming away on their little guitars.

Oh wait, the one with the shit hair got up, HOLD THE PHONE. It’s just a really sweet song, and I’m a sucker for a good falsetto, which is exactly what we get on that last little glory note. Or it is if you saw the semi-final. They mysteriously bottled it on the final performance, but still made it to the top 5. OK it’s not the strongest note every, and I imagine if he tried to push it, it would have gone horribly wrong.

9. Gülseren – Rimi Rimi Ley (Turkey )
#13 in the Grand Final

Turkey time, another country that can rarely do wrong in Eurovision. This time they went for the full-on ethnic bonanza, there are sitars and drum, costumes with tassles and beads, even some weird bongo priest.

I’m not that familiar with the sound of Turkish, so for all intents it reminds me of some sort of Bollywood soundtrack. It’s gloriously sunny and energetic. For all the spectacle of the performance, the vocals aren’t really great, but I really do love that recorded version, very upbeat.

How many drum solos did the participants indulge in this year, feels like LOADS.

8. Javine – Touch My Fire (United Kingdom )
#22 in the Grand Final

Who’s that in the slot of death? Yes, poor Javine got the fabled 2nd slot in the running order, that has never produced a winner. But let’s make the most of it, and throw as much ethnicity at it as we can to try and make up for our Eurovision sins of recent years.

I really loved this at the time. Is she referring to her vagina in the title? Who can tell. She managed to at least avoid another nip-slip during this dazzling performance. She looked amazing, and there’s more than enough Eastern promise thrown in to please our distant European cousins.

At least that was the plan. I’m used to us doing badly in Eurovision, ever since we started sending shit like Gemini, but by and large I don’t think we’ve really been short-changed in the last decade, except in this case. It felt to me to be the most accomplished and appealing entry we had until Jade in 2009, and perhaps this is a more fitting victim to the running order than lumpy old Engelbert this year was.

7. Shiri Maimon – Hasheket Shenish’ar (Israel )
#4 in the Grand Final

Time for an Israeli Barbie singing another lovely Israeli song that I can’t understand a word of. I love the Hebrew sounds though. HAHGHHH.

At first glance it seems like a pretty standard Disney ballad that we’ve seen a handful of already, but she really brought this one alive. That chorus really builds nicely doesn’t it? And she’s so PRETTY. Lebanon tried to entry in 2005, with a rather lovely French ballad, but they couldn’t accept sharing the contest with Israel. If it comes down to the songs, I think the right song ended up on stage.

6. Vanilla Ninja – Cool Vibes (Switzerland )
#8 in the Grand Final

What the hell are Switzerland doing in contention for a win? Or at least ANYWHERE near a top 10. I’m so used the the recent Swiss disasters that it’s a bit of a surprise to see them doing well. But just as they did to secure their last win with Celine Dion, they had to import Vanilla Ninja in from Estonia.

I’m not really sure what to make of it, the title doesn’t quite convey the serious tone of the song, nor does the flippancy of the lead singer when she sings “why don’t you kill me?”. It’s a real slice of drama isn’t it? The lead singer is pretty kickass too, I think she beat up Lithuania’s Laura for that jacket too. Why weren’t they representing Estonia though?

Either way, it really stood out in a field of poppy turbo-sluts and pretty Disney princesses, and really held its own.

5. Luminiţa Anghel and Sistem – Let Me Try (Romania )
#3 in the Grand Final

Time to turn the FEROCITY up to 11 as Romania bring another solid hit to the stage with the big-voiced and big-chested Luminiţa. Is that another drum solo? Honestly guys, what was going on?

She needed a strong voice to get over that noisy percussion, she she certainly had that. With such full-on vocals she even had space for a hair-raising key change too. The props were a bit overkill, I mean angle grinders really shouldn’t be used as percussion should they? What a racket!

It certainly went down well with the public though, giving Romania their best result to date.

4. Nuno Resende – Le grand soir (Belgium )
Did not qualify, #22 in the Semi-Final

OK so I can expect to meet some resistance on this one, but I don’t CARE ANYMORE. The slightly vampiric Nuno really nailed those vocals though, and did his best to take my attention off that vile jacket, and his unfortunate facial hair decisions.

French just sounds so nice, and he certainly stretched his rhyming dictionary as far as it would go. It’s naff, especially when that hidden electric guitar screeches away quietly.

But it’s really that vocal that won me over, especially that gorgeous final note. You can tell the audience don’t really give the tiniest shit though, can’t you. Ultimately it was doomed, and Nuno was forced back into his coffin for driving Belgium into a losing streak only matched by their neighbour Netherlands.

3. Chiara – Angel (Malta )
#2 in the Grand Final

THAR SHE BLOWS. The royal yacht Chiara is cruising into view, with her mightiest Disney ballad to date. I really want her to finally win this contest for Malta one day, it would be such a lovely story. Just get some Swedes in to write the song please.

It could easily have stalled as a pretty boring ballad, but her voices really elevates this into something really glorious. She even gets to give it a bit of SASS halfway through, before resuming her task of blowing away all the other vocalists in the contest.

Christ knows why Malta are mothballing her with a 5-year ban for all previous Maltese entrants, and leaving her to sing the shit out of some plus-sized hits on Maltese TV. Put her in a nice dress and do her hair please, she looks like Dr Robotnik’s sister at the moment.

2. Selma – If I had your love (Iceland )
Did not qualify, #16 in the Semi-Final

I did think long and hard about who I’d eventually pick as my 2005 favourite. It was a close-run thing, but Selma has to settle for 2nd place, as she did in 1999 when she first entered. I’ve just notice that my top 3 were all former participants – former top 3 finishers, no less! while Chiara and Helena managed to reflect this in the leaderboard, Selma got a raw deal crashing quite heavily in the semi-final.

It’s a shame really, Iceland have produced some of the best entries of the 7 contests I’ve counted down, perhaps better even than Sweden (we’ll forget 2007 happened). Selma’s song ultimately didn’t quite have the OOMPH that Helena mustered, but it was still a great performance.

A vaguely Toxic-sounding string riff, and a full on euro-slut sound was present here, but Selma herself was utterly gorgeous, like Amanda Holden might look like with her original head. The routine was simple but effective, with the golden motif throughout the performance really setting off the whole thing.

I can see why it might have got lost in the pack, but it really did deserve much better than it got.

1. Helena Paparizou – My Number One (Greece )
#1 in the Grand Final

So yes, there we have it. It’s one of those rare occasions where my favourite track of the contest actually WON. In fact judging by Greece’s record in recent years, it’s almost unthinkable that they’ve only won it once.

But what a win, it just has the gravity of a winner, and while they realised that Helena’s vice was strong, it couldn’t compete with some of the ballads, so they threw plenty of gimmicks at it. A hot dance routine, the human string-section (!), the stick dance, that naff but inch-perfect ‘1’ design laid out in Greek dancers.

I think the planets just aligned to secure the Greek victory, it was closer than I imagine it would have been, but Chiara at least didn’t have to suffer such a nail-bitingly close defeat as she did in 1998.

Some great lyrics in there though, that I’m sure you would only ever find in Eurovision “You’re my passion, my relief, my crucifixion”. In a short space of time, Greece certainly learnt the secret combination (…) to Eurovision success to become one of the untouchable for the best part of a decade, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before they win again (unless they destroy Europe).

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