Monthly Archives: July 2012

Album: Mariah Carey – “Mariah Carey” (1990)

I was asked/dard/forced to run through all of Mariah’s back catalogue last year, and I only just lived to tell the tale. But since I’m posting a lot of my old messageboard reviews on my blog, I thought it might be nice to continue doing that, even if Mariah didn’t end up being one of my more rewarding voyages.

Let’s start at the beginning with her self-titled eponymous album. I will admit, it’s a strong debut, and fits nicely with my idea of what 90s big-hair-Mariah sounds like. Ballad-heavy, but clearly that’s where she thrived at the start of her career. A few uptempo tracks try to cut through some of the syrup. I think more than likely I couldn’t appreciate this fully because I’m lacking some context. Not all albums are timeless classics, but this doesn’t suffer too much at the hands of the last 22 years.



08 Vision of Love
– Well despite what I said, let’s start with something that HAS survived pretty well, one of her original hits. Maybe that’s because it’s not a 90s sound, with a 50s style shoo-be-doo thing about it. You can’t argue with her voice (I’d better enjoy it while I can), she’s got a wonderful range and has a great strength to it. I’m not hugely keen on the 50s sound, but it’s one of the best examples of that. Love that outro too.

07 There’s got to be a way – Surprised to read that this was a single, but it seems to have been a flop so no wonder. Feels like a charity record really, what with its politically-charged lyrics. Or you know what I mean anyway, talk of bringing people together and finding a way etc. I must applaud her being able to fitting “regulated bigotry” into the lyrics without it sounding ridiculous! Not really special-sounding, just a pretty standard 90s midtempo sound with a sprinkle of gospel. You’d never get Des’ree fitting the word destitution into a middle-8 would you?

06 I don’t wanna cry – Heartbreak time, and what was her 4th US #1 out of 4 singles. I would probably put that down to momentum more than anything, I don’t think the song is anything particularly special. Her voice puts it above many other songs in the same vein, but the chorus doesn’t really hook me in. It’s alright but I’ve heard this several times now and I still don’t remember it…

08 Someday – Now this is more like it, I can imagine I would LOVE this had I listened to this back in the day, I’m already having nostaglic feelings for this sort of uptempo sound. I’m not entirely sure what it reminds me of (probably it’ll turn out to be Five Star or something tragic). I can at least imagine this being a US #1 (which it was).

05 Vanishing – From uptempo to NO TEMPO. I’m not a fan of these sort of jazzy piano acapella THINGS, throwing some gospel at it doesn’t help either. This is just filler to me, her voice is again great (I feel like I have to keep mentioning), but the song just doesn’t have enough about it.

08 All in your mind – Cute intro, it got my attention anyway. Feels like it should be the soundtrack to Short Circuit 2 or something (that’s a semi-compliment, FYI). I love that synthy piano business too, puts me in the mind of True Blue a little (not that the song itself sounds like anything off there), which is clearly a good thing. The chorus leaves a little to be desired, but it’s at least an improvement from Vanishing. Got a rather staggery tempo to it, but I think it works.

07 Alone in love – A CHILLY WASTELAND of a ballad now, at least a better start than I Don’t Wanna Cry, I’m buying it. She’s stuck in a metaphorical maze (at least I think it’s a metaphor), with a convincingly emotive and “Celiney” heartbreak. It just goes ON a bit, after nearly 5 minutes I’m left in no doubt about WHY she’s alone.

06 You Need Me – Guitary intro, RAWK … is this going to be Like A Prayer? Sadly no, not even close. It doesn’t even really fit with that intro, in fact I’m finding this a bit of a drag really. The chorus doesn’t really do it for me, though I LOVE the middle-8, it even makes sense of the noisy guitar nonsense popping up at regular intervals. Not really for me, sorry. Why does she only wheel out the whistle vox during the fade-outs?

08 Sent from up above – Now THIS is a better chorus (Hoo! … Hoo!), and the production just feels a lot smoother and earpleasing. There are a few dud glory notes that I could do without, but the song as a whole really works beautifully. The chorus doesn’t have a great hook but there’s plenty here to stop it getting boring.

09 Prisoner – I feel pressure to rate this well, after all I heard about it. Fortunately I don’t have to fake it, as this is rather fabulous. I love the tempo, the verses & bridges lead BEAUTIFULLY on to the chorus. I also love that sort of beepy synth bed behind everything, I can’t quite describe what I mean. That glory note lead-in to the middle 8 is wonderful, and that rap! Wonderful, how did this never get a single release?!

07 Love takes time – Feels a bit of a strange choice for a closing track, but here we are. I don’t really love this one either (maybe it takes time LOLZ), I used to skip it when I had #1s on (if it was on there). For a pretty standard ballad like this, it does the job ruthlessly, but it’s a bit too syrupy for my tastes. As I said before, maybe at the time this would have been off-the-scale amazing, but I’ve heard better.

So that’s that. I would say that while I did worry a little about how this album would turn out, I will say that it was a lot more accessible than I thought it might be. While some of her OMG-amazing moments I had already knew about were from the balladeering era, she hadn’t QUITE hit the mark yet. Still, I made it through the rain and it wasn’t as much of a downpour as I had expected.

Keepers for the iPod: Vision of love, Prisoner

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Album: Kylie Minogue – “X” (2007)

So on now to 2007’s “troubled” album campaign (I say that as if they haven’t all been troubled post-Fever). Post-Cancer Kylie, I know I’m being cynical, but this should have been an easy win. I mean, worked for Anastacia didn’t it? Although Ana launched the album with her biggest hit to date, and Kyles launched this with “Two Hearts”. A bit of a curveball for the casual Kylie fan, but then again so was Kylie killing herself and a disabled man by driving a forklift truck into the warp core of the Space Titanic on Xmas Day (I wish I was making this up, but Doctor Who says differently).

ONWARDS!!!

08 2 hearts – You know, it obviously wasn’t the “return to pop” or whatever we constantly demand of the little princess, and at the time I just didn’t really get on board with it. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t a lead single. Or maybe it was, some songs just don’t FIT anywhere else other than as the “unexpected and unrepresentative lead single”. It was a modest hit, and a few remixes have rehabilitated it for me (hi, unofficial Freemasons remix). After Fever though, we never seem to get cool Kylie and gay-o’clock Kylie in the same room together. I have to say I prefer the gay-o’clock Kylie, luckily she is on this album, just not here. It’s alright.

08 Like a drug – Yeah, get some synths in there, PHEW! I rather like this, this is the one with the ridiculous giant disco skull isn’t it? SEKSHUALL and very squelchy, I like that. Sounds nice in the car. Actually the more I think about it, it’s probably one of my highlights. Something missing from the chorus, it’s memorable but not really sing-a-long, and that’s a KEY INGREDIENT for any pop anthem chez moi.

09 In my arms – OMGZ. Possibly the pop/dance highlight from the album (perhaps), but also bittersweet as its chart position seemed to indicate what we have feared ever since, i.e. the public aren’t that into her like they used to be. Anyway a fantastic track, dulled a little now by overplay. There is a little voice in my mind saying that this is more like a Calvin Harris feat. Kylie track, but whatever, I love it so what’s the harm? I just think I don’t need that extended remix anymore.

08 Speakerphone – Now this was the first dud of the album when I first got it, but over time it’s grown on me a BIT. OK sort of a lot, but it’s not amazing. I like the to-and-fro “lights-flashing-…” exchanges, but it’s a bit too cool for its own good. If you thought Body Language was Americanised (Americanized?), this is surely a step further, which makes me a bit UGH, she’s OUR KYLIE, PISS OFF USA (sorry USA). She should not be singing about CINDER BLOCKS anyway. I sort of like it despite being a bit of a mess.

07 Sensitized – Erm.. Sensitised isn’t it? Anyway, this feels like it came straight off of Impossible Princess in some ways, which isn’t a bad thing at all since I did like the sound from that. It’s a bit middle-of-the-road, I’m not sure if sensitised is a real word either. It’s ALRIGHT, but I’m not getting chills or anything. The bridge is nice.

05 Heartbeat rock – Amerikylie is really going for it, now attempting a Gwen Stefani 2nd album offcut. We’ve known for almost TWO DECADES that Kylie should not be getting anywhere near rap, and while she keeps her distance from that, it’s still not far enough. If I wanted to listen to turgid R’n’B dancey hybrid nonsense I’d hotfoot it to the bargain bin for Ciara’s latest buzz album. SKIP.

10 The One – THIS IS THE NEWS, KYLIE IS AMAZING. To be honest I didn’t quite get on board the way the Al-Kylie-Da (sorry, the rubbish extremist group pun is back again) did at the time, not least because of the rubbish “The Kylie Show” or whatever it was on ITV1. The single was disasterously handled which is a tragedy because I loved the remix and the video. I just hope some X-Factor ‘hopeful’ does it one year and it becomes a smash (it won’t). Anyway, forget what I said about In My Arms, this is the PINNACLE of this campaign by a few thousand feet. LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME

07 No More Rain – Well you can’t really follow The One with anything comparable on this album, so this rather insubstantial ditty. It’s alright, another possible Impossible Princess/Light years track to my ears, it’s alright but I just forget this song even exists. I’m not even paying that much attention right now. BLAH

08 All I see – US buzz single time now. Terribly cheap video aside, considering it’s an utterly featureless R’n’B that the Pussycat Dolls probably would’ve recorded as an Xmas single, it’s quite sweet. I don’t rate it with any of my favourites, but something about the backing getting all warm and fuzzy for the chorus makes me go “awwww”. Tatyana Ali should call her lawyer all the same though.

09 Stars – I just totally forget about the second half of this album. As a result I’m often quite surprised at how good this song is, could have had a nice video (with some stars in, I’m so creative). A nice punchy mix of swirly trance synths (?) and “real” instruments. A bit of a LOST GEM.

10 Wow – OMG this is buried so far down the tracklisting that I always forget that it was coming up. A welcome surprise too because this is fucking amazing. Sure, it’s Kylie-by-numbers with a twist of modernish production, and I didn’t QUITE love the WOWOWOWOW stuff for a while, this is such an upbeat gorgeous pop song and deservedly a biggish hit. I can’t decide if I love the video or just roll my eyes a little bit though.

03 Nu-Di-Ty – FUCKING HELL WHAT ARE YOU DOING WOMAN? If I thought Heartbeat Rock was a Gwen cast-off, that’s got nothing of this spiky turd of an atrocity. I HATE IT. There is some enjoyment to be derived from its pure car-crash horror, but seriously, WTF? I can’t believe my songwriting goddess Karen Poole had something to do with this. I will delude myself and pretend it was Shellie Poole doing this, she wrote for Janet “JANFT” Jackson after all. YUCK.

06 Cosmic – After the previous track, this sounds like the most amazing thing ever, but that feeling drains away quite quickly. She wanted to write a song called Cosmic, but for some reason made it a real borefest rather than the fantastical disco high that it should be. It’s alright but just DULL. BYE NOW.

PHEW, that was a bit of a mix wasn’t it? In fact that’s part of the problem, this was an album created by focus-group rather than an artist, and a sad victory of BrandKylie over the popstar I have loved periodically. She can wear as many flamboyant ‘risque’ outfits or mental-looking wigs as she wants, but without the songs it’s all for nothing. X does have some fantastic moments that trump several of her albums, but then again she plumbs new depths in places. I wouldn’t say it’s a brave album, or an album at all, it’s just a collection of stuff the organisers threw against a wall to see what sticks. A sad state of affairs that I think might only be partially fixed by Aphrodite.

X was quite an appropriate title in that respect, instead of meaning “ten albums”, it means “insert whatever title the market research says is most appealing”. Or maybe the X is just a warning label, a cordoned-off blast zone for our brave heroine.

Keepers for the iPod – 2 Hearts, Like a drug, In my arms, The One, Wow, Stars.

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London 2012’s Olympic opening ceremony

I feel like I should write SOMETHING about the Olympics, even though I don’t really follow sport at all. All the same I am excited for the Olympics and pleased to see a lot of people getting into the spirit of it. Well, apart from the columns of newspaper coverage about empty seats, which frankly I couldn’t care less about.

So if I’m not writing about sport, I must talk about the opening ceremony. Which is fortunate because it was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The BBC pre-amble buildup was rather awful, and firing dramatic orchestral music at me to get me excited is a bit of a tired old trick now. However all that was forgotten when it got going.

 

A VT introducing London via the rural source of the Thames river was a little trippy but did psych me up for the big show. I was very wary of the fields and general “ye olde” farming activities going on, until the Industrial Revolution segment kicked off. Those rising chimneys looked solid and striking, and the gradual removal of the greenery was very effective.

More effective was the forging of a mysterious ring of molten metal, which rose in the air to link with four others to form a dazzling Olympic logo in a rain of sparks. I think for me that was the enduring image and biggest “WOW” moment of the ceremony (but only just).

Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr Bean”-esque comedy sketch to “Chariots of Fire” was well-timed and steered the tone of the ceremony well. As did the real WTF moment of James Bond meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace and having a rather surreal skit with her, culminating in them both parachuting out of a helicopter over the arena.

Despite this light-hearted moment, The Queen didn’t seem too interested in the ceremony, at one point apparently doing some crochet, like she was sitting in from of Midsomer Murders or something. I must admit my attention drifted in places too, such as the apparently-touching but rather indecipherable dance section to “Abide with me”, the unwelcome performances by an unnecessary Arctic Monkeys and Paul McCartney – seemingly trying to keep up the idea that he is the only surviving Beatle (or perhaps was the only Beatle to have ever existed).

Oddly, the section on British music left me totally cold, basically wallpapering over any pop music we may have created in favour of more ‘real’ stuff with guitars etc. My formative years were mostly in the 90s, and I raised an eyebrow at this decade only being represented by The Prodigy, Blur and Underworld. The very “Q-Magazine” tracklist of the whole evening couldn’t even ironically play a Spice Girls song seemingly! In fact even the “today’s music” section looked more like a “down with the YOOF” rundown of London-born acts like Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah. I didn’t feel very represented in the section I should have related to most of all.

I did enjoy the flag procession, as long as it was, and thought it was handled well (though please tell me the Germany dignitary in the audience didn’t give the Nazi salute that I thought he gave) . The ladies with the country names suspended over their heads were a nice touch, and I loved the intrigue of the copper “petals” that accompanied each delegation one-by-one. The hill seemed like a rather odd thing to have in the stadium, but looked marvellous at the end once all the flags were planted in it. It was these little touches that weren’t shouted about – just left for the audience to appreciate the thoughtfulness of them – that really gave a shine to an already accomplished show.

Those who stayed up until nearly 1am got the payoff though. In a break from tradition, 7 young athletes – chosen by famous British athletes of the past – lit the big flame in the arena with their own torches. The ungainly array of copper petals slowly caught light, and when they were all aflame, they ascended unexpectedly, closing up like a flower until they formed the “cauldron” that held the Olympic flame. I think it was an inspired idea, and that was one of the other incredible moments of the ceremony for me.

I felt quite touched in a strange way by the Olympic flag being carried by people representing various noble facets of the Olympic movement, including the Secretary General of the UN, Ban-ki Moon, and a heartbreakingly bewildered-looking Muhammad Ali.

All in all, I was so proud and pleased at how the ceremony went. Beijing dazzled the world with its astonishing choreography, and London wisely chose not to compete on those terms. The ceremony we got was full of humour, heart and some incredibly striking images and ideas, and while the rest of the world might have found some sections baffling (God knows, I did too), I am overjoyed that many other nations enjoyed it too.

Now… just need to win some gold medals, don’t we?

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Single: Usher – “Scream” (2012)

I’m sure people will fall over themselves to disagree with me, but I love this current trend of big R’n’B names chasing the dollars by putting out dance tracks. Perhaps Guetta might have worn out his welcome on many (not me), but he has given most of these big names at least one big hit. Usher is on this list, with Guetta collaboration “Without you” being a big hit last year.

But with his followup to slow-jam snoozer “Climax”, it was time to kick his 7th album campaign up a notch by teaming up with Swedish super-producer Max Martin and lesser-known but still formidable pop producer Shellback (also from Sweden). These two produced Usher’s last big smash “DJ got us falling in love” that I absolutely loved, and “Scream” doesn’t stray very far from this formula at all.

I decided it sounds like a mix of “DJ got us falling in love” and the slightly darker dance sound of Medina’s “You and I” (seriously check that out, it’s amazing). A full-on dance song with some unusual synthy effects, particularly that strange effect that forms the backbone of the production from the start to the end.

The video is oddly dull, is it supposed to have some sort of Michael Jackson tribute angle? Either way I feel like a more bombastic and expensive-looking video might have served the song better, but the you go.

The reason I like a lot of the R’n’B-turned-dance acts are because their distinctive and powerful voices get a chance to make a bit splash, and Usher’s amazing range certainly pays dividends, particularly in that eye-popping scale he sings as the middle-eight. I am going to dig around to see if he can do that live, because it’s really an impressive vocal to say the least. His Billboard Awards performance was really stunning, but his amazing moves came at the price of a full attack on the vocals.

For an artist like Usher that I  had never really been that keen on, this is a truly great piece of dance-pop crossover nonsense, and I hope it’s not the last we get from him.

I may never have een

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Album: Kylie Minogue – “Body Language” (2003)

I’m feeling a lot more energised now we are well into the 21st century albums. Fever was a tough act to follow, and naturally Body Language doesn’t QUITE hit the dizzy heights of its predecessor. However just as Madonna’s American Life in the same year was much derided for taking a less commercial route, Body Language (to a less extreme degree) has its resonance with me. Perhaps it was because of my life at the time, it was a good time for me and that always contributed to pleasant memories.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend this is crammed wall-to-wall with gold, it’s not. But I do like the offbeat style to the album, not courting the dollar in my opinion, but maybe this choice of style does, and it doesn’t QUITE sit right. Kylie, try as she might, is a mainstream popstar. It’s good to try new things, but ultimately trying something new is rarely something that is appreciated at the time. It just doesn’t feel like the real Kylie somehow. REPULSIVE cover art too, despite a great album title.

10 Slow: A fanbase #1 is a #1 nonetheless, and while it didn’t appeal to have much longevity sales-wise in the UK I really love this. That bassline joined with minimal electronic production doesn’t really feel like a hit single. But somehow it just IS, at the time I felt real excitement at this when it emerged as the lead single. Whether this muted any hit potential for the album’s longterm success is something for the Kylie historians, but I think it’s one of my favourite Kylie songs.

07 Still Standing: Squinky synth intro announces that the opening track wasn’t an experimental prototype, and avant garde electro production was the order of the day. It’s a bit of a scattered affair, beeps and swirls all over the place, backing vocals whooping and hooting away. The chorus doesn’t quite have enough energy to get it away from the verses but it’s not bad. I can sort of imagine it in a club, it’s not a singalong smash by any stretch of the imagination but it’s not bad.

09 Secret (Take you home): 80s tinged (actually is it? maybe that’s just a reflex opinion when faced with so many synthy flourishes). I always had this pegged as a single, certainly ahead of pre-remix Chocolate. Am I imagining that this had something to do with Miss Dynamite? Anyway it apparently had NINE writers, but it seems to pay off, this is one of the stronger tracks on the album. Buckle up baby feel my SPEEEED!

08 Promises: The unusual but defined sound of this album continues unabated. I do quite like this despite the chorus being a bit flat. The tempo on the verses keeps it afloat, and I love those walls of synths in the chorus. When I say the chorus is a bit flat, it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be a hook. I’m not averse to letting the production take top billing in a song from time to time, and I think that saves this song.

07 Sweet music: Perhaps the first glimpse so far of the Kylie who made Fever. That bassline starting things off is rather lovely especially fading into the bridge, a nice clubby-feeling track. Or sort of anyway, it’s lacking a certain something. Again this is evident in the rather hookless chorus. I don’t dislike this song at all but it’s one of those that I struggle to remember after. Even now if you’d had said “Sweet music” to me I’d be a bit blank.

10 Red blooded woman: BOY BOY. At the time I wasn’t too hot on this as an album-saving single, I don’t recall many people feeling that way either, but perhaps I’m wrong. But that’s nine years ago now and this has really grown on me. Definitely the most commercial song on this album, I can imagine rubbishgais grinding away in some sticky club and sipping colourful cocktails already. The beat is really irresistible, the timing fits wonderfully with the verse, and the slutty bridge is amazing. BOY BOY! Oh I never get tired of that. AMAZING.

07 Chocolate: Hmm that difficult third single, and I REALLY didn’t get it. The single remix really helps, I find the album version a little drab in comparison but it’s serviceable. I’m just not a huge fan of this sort of loungey music, and I certainly don’t think Kylie suits it very well. The video was rather good but it all felt like a missed opportunity of a better single (Secret) for the sake of showcasing a different sound that wasn’t particularly representative of the album in any case.

09 Obsession: Oh speaking of lost singles, THIS would have been perfect too, that buzzing almost-Latin vibe really pushes my buttons. This is also one of the rare moments where I don’t tune out the lyrical content, it’s not exactly pioneering but I find it well written and a great chorus. I really wish that made it as a single, I always feel a bit lifted when this comes up in the tracklist.

06 I feel for you: Ooh thunder effect, this is usually a good sign. But then … WTF? A rather cheesy Light Years beat and intro, and then rather bewildering voice samples “OHHH BITCH FAT”, or something like that. Not really sure what that’s all about but it’s one of the few features that makes this track memorable. I sort of like the verses, her voice is decent, but then there’s this squawking going on in the back. The chorus is flat as a pancake though, and the whisper-vocals are quite hideous. OOOOHH-HHH BII-BIITCH FAA-FAATT

04 Someday: Couldn’t we have just finished as Obsession? I find this track a real CHORE, memorable in a dull kind of way, like a toothache. Hate the vocals, the chorus is just like a funeral dirge. A real STRUGGLE. I’m sure this is a fan fave as sure as I type these words.

08 Loving Days: Follow that? Luckily it’s a pretty serviceable slowie with a seductive Massive Attack-esque backing and some lovely strings too (you know how I feel about those). Not exactly a toe-tapper but the strings and the backing (or lack of, in places) adds a nice sense of gravity to the track. The bridge fires off nicely, the chorus might be a bit flimsy but generally I think it has succeeded at what it was trying to do (whatever that was).

06 After Dark: Heh .. they really needed to quit at 11 tracks, Loving Days would have been a lovely closer. But no, instead we get this ‘chillout’ loungey thing that I presume is supposed to be sexxyyyy but ends up about as seductive as the Liberty X track it keeps reminding me of (the first bits of the verses). I wish she wouldn’t end words with that sort of sighing HEHHH syllable like it’s supposed to be sexy (sexehhh), that’s really her WORST habit in my mind. Bit of a damp one to finish on, if this is after dark I wish I had got an early night (ZING! *klunk*).

So it’s not a perfect album, and while I will give some credit for trying something different, it feels like it’s never as effortlessly great as Fever was. Maybe Fever backfired a little by propelling her forward as a sex object, she feels obliged to make sexy-sounding songs and some of the more blatant attempts don’t really do anything for me. I mean look how Janet Jackson turned out… BE WARNED. Just be radiant and sing great songs and people will fancy you anyway, there’s no need for jazzy chilled guff like we’ve heard on this album.

As is often the case, despite the overall album ending up somewhere in the middle, the highs are amazing and I feel at least this makes the change in sound a little rewarding, I’m just thankful the extended break between albums seems to prevent her making Body Language II. Obviously I’m not thankful that this extended break was for breast cancer treatment, but you know what I mean.

Keepers for the iPod: Slow, Secret (Take you home), Red blooded woman, Obsession.

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