Monthly Archives: December 2012

My Top 50 of 2012: #10 to #1

10. Ditte Marie – Overflow

From Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2012

DitteInstead of kicking off the final leg with more Swedes… let’s try some great Danes. Yes, Eurovision’s sphere of influence was indeed great on me this time, not least in launching this blog to new and unexpected heights. After the success of following Melodifestivalen and Eurovision, as well as the Norwegian pre-selection, I dipped my toe in the water of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, the Danish equivalent. There were a handful of decent tracks out of the modest pack of tracks in the running, but this one stood head and shoulders above them all, and indeed all pre-selection songs I heard from anywhere.

It’s a standard issue weapons-grade Scandinavian electropop (yeah technically Denmark isn’t Scandinavia, shush). The dazzling blonde bombshell wasted no time in blowing me away with a great performance, but I think it’s the simplicity of the song that really gets under the skin. It’s a joyously upbeat melody with a layered but regular electro beat. Think Alphabeat meeting RedOne maybe. Denmark didn’t pick a great song for Baku, but it would be a real crime if nobody ever heard this. And that KEY CHANGE! HIIIGHHH!!! I love it, a total joy from start to finish.

9. Anggun – Echo (You and I)

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

AnggunYeah yeah, Eurovision again, get used to it. France may not have come out of Baku with much to celebrate, but they succeeded in bringing another offbeat pop song to life, and made me want to learn French all over again. Indonesian-born Anggun is apparently a big pop star in the Francophone world, even though she’s not had much impact to my knowledge in English-speaking pop.

Either way, she brought a truly spectacular stage show to Azerbaijan, with distracting athletes, an amazing floating dress courtesy of Jean-Paul Gautier, as well as being pretty gorgeous herself. I’ve listened to this so much, I can sing it in the car (in a language I don’t understand). From that slow intro, through that amped-up acceleration to a soaring springtime masterpiece. Everything I want from foreign-language in Eurovision. If people will hide behind their language barriers, then it’s their loss. Superb!

8. Girls Aloud – Something New

From Ten

GirlsI’ve touched on the Girls Aloud comeback in the last post, and worried aloud that this is more of a send-off than a milestone. But those thoughts are at the back of my mind when these girls return to form, with the full force of Xenomania behind them. Reminiscent of surprise hit “Something kinda ooooh” if I must draw comparisons, it has that reckless chaotic feel to it, like they’ve just chucked in as many synth rhythms as the computers will manage, and it somehow meshes together.

It’s big, it’s brash, they all give a fair spread of lines, and they get to strut around like superstars on TV. The campaign for this greatest hits album may not have gone completely as hoped, but they have protected their legacy by showing us how effortlessly they could come back and blow us away.

7. Karmin – Brokenhearted

From Hello

KarminComing from nowhere, here come unknown duo Karmin. I hadn’t realised until this week that they’d made a name for themselves doing Youtube covers of several hits, notably rather heavy-duty rap numbers (see if you can check out Amy Renee tackling Busta Rhymes-speed rapping on “Look at me now”, it’s astonishing). They made the transition to original material with a suitably huge hit though.

Once that generic-sounding guitar-keyboard riff kicks off, you know this is going to be a catchy pop song. Amy might be hooching in on Katy Perry’s racket, but it’s a fun change, she’s certainly got the sass for the job, as well as the superb rapping skills that are briefly hinted at. That chorus is just undeniably catchy though; the timing, the melody, it just comes together so well. That last 20 seconds has a brilliant variation too, switching up the tempo of the lyrics against the standard rhythm, just love it. I hope to hear great things from Karmin in 2013.

6. Pastora Soler – Quédate Conmigo (Stay With Me)

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

PastoraHold your breath, more Eurovision, and another example of how the “Big Five” really raised their game in 2012, instead of sulking at the bottom of the leaderboard. Well that was the plan anyway, France underperformed sadly, and the UK still hasn’t quite got the hang of contemporary music in Eurovision yet. But Germany and Italy made the top 10 for another year running, with Spain also making it for the first time in nearly 10 years.

And WHAT a song to come back with. On paper it should be really old-fashioned and a bit of a toilet break, but with a bit of Swedish magic (they had a hand in writing this, along with about half the contenders) and some Spanish power-vox from Pastora Soler, it became one of the wow moments of the show. Sure, Pastora can look a bit scary with the wrong make-up, but by Christ can she belt those notes out!

From the sentimental piano intro, this is a really melodramatic effort, but she steamrollers through those massive glory notes like they were nothing. Spain have really paid their dues to make it back to the top 10, and I’m so glad it was this track that took them there.

5. Flo Rida – Wild Ones (ft Sia)

From Only one rida (part 2)

FloThat Sia gets around doesn’t she? She did vocals on three of the biggest dance tracks of the year, and wrote Rihanna’s big comeback “Diamonds”. As a solo artist I’ve struggled to get on board, but I really think she’s found her niche here. Flo Rida is a bit of a blank slate these days, but has similarly found his niche in by-numbers dancefloor fillers. Putting the two together gave unexpectedly great results.

Despite some questionable lyrics about being saddled up and ridden, that chorus is just wonderful. At the same time it’s energetic and uplifting, but her vocals add this strange melancholy to it. It’s easy to write off Flo Rida’s contribution here, he seems to be a successful foil for dance anthems that simply need an artist, but I think it may even be the later choruses where they are both singing that have the best depth to them.

As with all great songs, they have a nostalgia connection for me, and this one takes me back to the start of the year when I first heard it in Iceland. It was a great little trip with one of my best friends, and I think it made a lasting impression on me.

4. Nicki Minaj – Starships

From Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded

NickiDon’t expect a lot of depth here though, but good God you’ll have fun. As I’ve noted before, Nicki has had a busy 2012. She’s collaborated on several high-profile tracks, as well as launching her second album. That album might have been divided down the middle with difficult or ropey urban tracks on one side, but frothy dance tracks on the other. But for all the feature credits she’s had this year, she certainly kept the gold for herself.

In a typically fruitful partnership with RedOne, this was the big move into dance-pop hinted at in the last album. The result surpassed all my expectations. It’s melodic, uplifting, nonsensical in places. That chorus line is one of the most addictive things this year, and the bombastic production ladled over the top only serves to amp up the fun. The big-beat dance breakdown is a glorious mess, like a stadium anthem, but somehow it’s such a tight pop song. Even if you hate her, you’d have to be particularly narrow-minded not to enjoy yourself a little bit to this monster.

Special mention to that amazing video too, it’s Nicki all over. From the ridiculous array of wigs, the genetically enhanced tits & ass, the amazing Hawaiian volcano goddess theme, it’s always a joy to watch.

3. Pink – Blow Me (One Last Kiss)

From The truth about love

PinkSpeaking of ropey albums with astronomical highs, Pink returned this year from a surprisingly lengthy hiatus between studio albums, and tried to uncover the Truth About Love. I just feel that she maybe is never going to be an album artist in my eyes and ears, but she did provide two pretty hot moments with the album. “Try” and its devastating video was one. The other is this evolution in her sound, and blends the two personalities she’s so often displayed with her singles: the emotional angsty Pink and the frivolous sweary Pink.

We get the emotional payoff of Pink totally exasperated with a failing relationship, and serving the poor guy his notice with such believable bluntless. “I’ve had a shit day, you’ve had a shit day”, she screeches in a terrifying surprise glory note that never fails to make me smile. “I think this might be it for us”. The sadness is in there, the frustration is in there, but they don’t define the track in the way that other artists might have it.

The chugging rhythm and modern synth-guitar production makes it sound fresh as a daisy, it’s a real return to form for her, even if it’s more in anticipation of another amazing Greatest Hits compilation in several years time.

2. David Guetta – Titanium (ft Sia)

From Nothing but the beat

DavidI did struggle with this one, as I heard it for the first time well into 2011, but really its lasting impact has only become apparent to me this year. Here’s Sia again, but this time front and centre while David Guetta tries something quite different from his other tracks that sound generic now, but cruelly only because he’s almost single-handedly defined the genre in the last 3 or 4 years with his continued massive success.

Sia’s vocals totally soar on this one, and it’s not difficult to see how it found new heights of appeal, above the usual dancefloor anthems. You’d need powerful vocals to keep up with the madness of the production, but rather than fight her, it dredges up new levels of euphoric dance and gives me a rush every time I hear it. And goodness knows I’ve heard it this year. Whether it was repeatedly at the gym, blasting out of shops and clubs during my visits in Europe, or at the turning point of the warm-up DJ set at Madonna’s Hyde Park gig. The sun came out, the crowd finally got psyched up by this modern masterpiece of dance music that shows everyone why David Guetta’s one of the most powerful producers of the moment.

1. Loreen – Euphoria

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

LoreenForgive me. At times, it feels like my musical year revolved around Eurovision to some degree. It is the reason this blog is still here today, I can say that without a doubt. It’s the reason I’ve grown to appreciate European cultures and the differences between them, even if they’re just having a joke. It’s made me listen to new things. It’s made me travel more. It’s given me one of my best friends. It’s really changed my life to a noticeable degree, and I will defend it to anyone, for the good it would do. The sooner the British start appreciating its potential, and stop acting like spoilt, sulky victims, the sooner we can all enjoy it.

So with a degree of inevitability, my top song of the year had to be the Swedish game-changer. Sweden have a long association with the contest, a symbiotic relationship that has benefitted both parties. ABBA are the big example here, one of the biggest bands of all time put both Sweden and Eurovision on the musical map. The Swedes have a solid reputation for pop music, and Eurovision’s legacy has generated several big artists and songs over the years, I’ll cite Celine Dion as a great example. While transexual Israeli Dana International brought Eurovision into the modern age in 1998, this year the Swedes not only picked a uniquely un-Eurovision track to fly their flag, but one that would cross over to a huge audience on the continent. I hear this wherever I went in Europe over summer and autumn, and it even picked up an unheard-of top 3 hit in the UK, famously Eurovision-phobic in recent times.

It also resonates with me because I took a coach tour in autumn, from Finland to Germany via Russia. This track was the soundtrack to that trip, selected by the guide as our “wake-up” song. So a big group of us bonded over this trip and this song, and it’ll always have that association for me.

But what of Loreen? Poor girl, I haven’t even talked about her. How she brought this otherworldy bit of interpretive dance to the stage in almost total darkness, a stark contrast to the flashy visuals of her competitors. Her soaring vocals brought this to life, and despite last-minute nerves about her mumbly diction, and even the threat of the fake snow getting in her mouth, she blew everyone away on the night. She got a landslide victory and brought the contest back to Sweden, where I’ll see it next May.

From that opening effect, that ominous industrial noise, she throws everything at the performance. The dancing is mesmerising, her timing is brilliant, the staging set the whole lot off, and the mix of an almost 90s-skewed dance beat, ultra-modern synths and even some gorgeous string sections, it came together into something truly special, and I think the effect it will have on the contest can be nothing but good.

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My Top 50 of 2012: #20 – #11

20. Agnes – One last time

From Veritas

AgnesIt always seems that I end up in Scandinavia, doesn’t it? Well I suppose this year there was a conscious effort to explore the region’s music in light of my blossoming love for Eurovision and the artists involved in it. I was aware of Agnes a few years ago with her big UK breakthrough single “Release me”, and had been awaiting a followup to the accompanying album “Dance love pop”.

“Veritas” turned out to be pretty good, with that unique feeling that Scandinavian pop production has. I wasn’t too fussed about its lead single when I first heard it, but it was a real grower. From the sparse intro with that sudden dark undertone that runs throughout the track, it’s a slowly-unfolding ballad that Agnes does a great job of imprinting her emotion onto.

19. Leona Lewis – Trouble

From Glassheart

LeonaIt’s hard to be a pop fan, as it’s so easy for loved artists to go from world-conquering megastars to precariously-employed footnotes with terrifying speed. The future for Leona is looking iffy in light of several false starts to her latest campaign, but I have to be confident she’ll get another break soon, once the label realise what people need from Leona.

This again was a strange one when I first heard it, it sounded a bit one-note and uncommercial when I heard it on X-Factor for the first time, but it showed itself to be a pretty solid, if depressing, ballad about a relationship in a downward spiral. She’s one of the UK’s best vocalists, I sincerely hope she isn’t wasted for the sake of repositioning her for a younger market that doesn’t need her.

18. Girls Aloud – On the Metro

From Ten

Girls2012 saw the long-awaited and semi-unexpected return of the amazing Girls Aloud from a 4 year hiatus. The comeback didn’t go entirely to plan, with the big return single not quite setting the charts on fire, and the greatest hits floundering in a busy Christmas market. I hope that doesn’t pour cold water on thoughts for another studio album, as I just think there wasn’t demand for another hits collection so soon after their million-selling “Sound of Girls Aloud”. There’s still a lot of goodwill towards the girls, I just hope they want to get back together.

The hits disc brought with it four new songs, including two new Xenomania collaborations. Surprisingly one of the strongest track wasn’t one of those, and “On the metro” still feels like classic Girls Aloud fare. An ultra-modern electro beat, with the typical brand of unusual lyrics we’ve grown to love from Girls Aloud. I only hope it’s not the last new material we get from them.

17. Sabina Babayeva – When The Music Dies

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

SabinaAnd back to Eurovision we go, and the surprise performance of the night from hosts Azerbaijan. I saw the potential in the song when I heard it, and it felt like an effort to keep the show in Azerbaijan for one more year, blending traditional Azeri instruments and Western-appealing influences. It’s almost a bit like that “Stop” song, who did that, Nina Simone or someone?

Sabina really brought it alive on the night though, with another example of Azeri innovation for making a standout performance, with a simple projection onto a white dress. I thought it really worked, and Sabina’s vocals totally blew me away, especially that seemingly effortless final note. She came 4th on the night, making it one of the highest finishes for a host nation in a long while. Importantly it signalled that the Azeris weren’t just content to win once.

16. Lawson – Standing in the Dark

From Chapman Square

LawsonHere’s my favourite hapless new boyband of the 2012, with their best BBMak performance. I rolled my eyes at the rubbishy chorus when I first heard it, but within a month I was almost obsessed with this track. Rampant falsetto (always a winner), and a simple but devastatingly effective structure, ensuring that the old boyband standard style hasn’t died out yet.

That swish looking video was great too, someone’s putting some big money behind them, I wonder if it will pay off? One Direction are often abroad now, the screaming girls need someone to chase! The only thing I didn’t quite understand was the implication that the object of the singer’s affection is an exotic dancer, standing on a table while people watch her in the dark. Is that right?

15. The Wanted – I Found You

From Third Strike

TheHang on, did someone mention a hapless boyband with rampant falsetto? The Wanted, never wanting to be outdone, returned with barely a pause for breath with a single from their upcoming third album. The albums have performed modestly, perhaps a little disappointingly given the big success they’ve found in the singles chart, and American success too.

They’re certainly not about to tamper with a winning formula, and bring in that Romanian dance sound back into the singles chart, with a solid slab of Europop as a result. It’s not quite their strongest material, but it was certainly a stronger comeback than “Chasing the sun”. Can they perform such a high-pitched track live though??

14. Rihanna – Where Have You Been

From Talk that talk

RihannaI first heard this at the tail end of last year when I heard Rihanna’s then-latest album “Talk that talk”. I was still a little swept away with “We found that love”, so it was only when the video for this came out that it really sparked something. It certainly felt like an obvious hit from the start, but it did need that extra visual push for me.

And what a video, certainly it displays the label’s feeling of Rihanna as a priority act for the Youtube generation, a lavish affair with plenty of exotic and tribal imagery to go with the solidy dance-oriented track. It’s full-on, but something’s lacking I think, which might end up with it being one of the more forgotten singles among a discography of several world-beating smashes. But I love how over the top it is, particularly in the dramatic final act, and her passion for pirate fashion in the video.

13. Nicole Scherzinger – Try With Me

From Killer love

NicoleAnother rollover from last year that took its time with me, is this Deluxe Edition track from woman of the hour Nicole Scherzinger’s debut(ish) album “Killer love”. I thought it was a bit of a weird one when she performed it on X-Factor last year, like it was trying to be a bit Alanis-angsty, something that didn’t mesh well with my idea of Nicole.

With repeated listens, it revealed itself as another pounding emotive dance-pop track from one of the more talented pop vocalists around at the moment. It does come across as a bit of a Metro Mix version of a ballad, but those choruses are difficult to say no to. A simple premise for a song, carried off expertly.

12. Nicki Minaj – Pound The Alarm

From Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded

NickiA serial collaborator this year, Nicki might have produced a schizophrenically epic second album this year, but she kept the best stuff for herself. RedOne had a hand in both of her big solo hits this year, and this really just throws everything it has at the wall and sees what sticks. It’s a complete cacophony of electro swizzles and big synth beats.

When Nicki does pound the alarm, a terrifying klaxon sounds and a brain-mashing clash of hooters and sirens attack your eardrums. But in a great way. I might not like her urban stuff so much, but Nicki certainly knows how to have a good time and set those clubs on fire. I can’t imagine how people could restrain themselves during an onslaught like this.

11. Danny Saucedo – Amazing

From Melodifestivalen 2012

DannyAlways the bridesmaid, spare a thought for poor Danny Saucedo. After multiple attempts at representing his country in Eurovision, the last two years have seen him finish second in the national selection. In both cases I think the result was correct, it was just unlucky timing for the guy. His previous album turned out to be pretty awesome, and I hope there’s another on the way. He’s not trying for Melodifestivalen this year though, he’s going to host it!

This is a pretty basic dancepop track, but the Swedes certainly know how to scratch that itch. It’s a joyous and euphoric (ahem) song, even if the lyrics are banal beyond reason. He went all out with the staging too, with elaborate LED suits in a Tron-like performance, but it wasn’t quite enough to de-rail Loreen’s victory. Keep at it, Danny.

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My Top 50 of 2012: #30 – #21

30. Loreen – Crying Out Your Name

From Heal

LoreenThere’s nothing more painful than a missed opportunity sometimes (well not literally). But this is exactly how I feel Loreen’s 2012 went. The first half was triumphant; the salvation of Eurovision (perhaps) via a landslide victory and importantly a massive commercial hit across Europe. You’d think a follow-up would be a piece of cake, wouldn’t you?

Perhaps for a normal act it would be, but this is an artist that took a month to release a video for “Euphoria”, 4 months after it had been released in Sweden (plus it was shit). Her international follow-up would be an unwanted remix to her 2011 Melodifestivalen entry, while Sweden were treated to an original track (still without a video). At this point you might just have to throw your hands up in exasperation.

Fortunately “Crying out your name” is pretty awesome, a dark simmering bit of emotional electropop. She sounds as pained as ever, but her vocals soar over the old-school sounding beats. Imagine a slightly-sped up and miserable version of “You got the love” and you’re not too far off. I fear Loreen might end up losing her commerical appeal in the long-term by insisting on joyless misery pop to further her career, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

29. Reidun Sæther – High On Love

From Melodi Grand Prix 2012

ReidunBack to the Norwegian Eurovision pre-selection, and a joyously dated schlager anthem that sort of made it worth listening to the mixed back of Norwegian hopefuls. A naff Motown-esque verse leads into a sassy bridge, and BOOM – that instantly catchy chorus hits you like a ton of fermented herring.

Sometimes all you need is a curvy woman singing an old-fashioned bit of Scandinavian pop at full belt, and with a deadly key-change in the final act, I couldn’t help but love it.

28. Andreas Lundstedt – Aldrig Aldrig

From Melodifestivalen 2012

AndreasI hadn’t meant to string so much Scandinavian action together, but we must return once more to Melodifestivalen, and one-time member of Swedish power-pop group Alcazar made a push for solo glory once more. It didn’t get very far, but there’s something about this track that just makes me feel a bit warm and fuzzy.

Swedish is an interesting language to listen to, and I don’t have the slightly idea what he’s singing, but that chorus is such a wave of gentle vocals, stabbing disco strings and bubbling synths. There’s also a standard-issue keychange if you were still sitting on the fence. Nothing particularly special about it on paper, but I really love this the more I hear it.

27. Adam Lambert – Never Close Our Eyes

From Trespassing

AdamI’d been aware of Adam for some time, but his debut single “For your entertainment” had put me off from investigating further. After belatedly discovering his amazing “Whataya want from me” on holiday, I had a great time listening to his second album “Trespassing”. This was kicked off by a full-on dancepop onslaught in the shape of lead single “Never close our eyes”.

OK a lot of people are doing the dancepop thing these days, and while many are getting annoyed, I’m having a great time, this is just the sort of thing I love. Adam has a huge voice, prone to oversinging sometimes, but everything is in balance here, and a throbbing full-on pop song is born.

26. Ke$ha – Die Young

From Warrior

Ke$haPity poor Ke$ha, she seems to be the laughing stock of the pop world sometimes, but by sheer brute force she’s been responsible for some of the best trashy pop songs of the last three years. I certainly think there’s a place for Ke$ha, she just seems a bit more free and fun than the painfully self-conscious Katy Perry and her overstyled persona has become.

Her debut album was pretty solid, so I’m intrigued to hear what her followup “Warrior” sounds like. “Die Young” is pretty simple, but it’s really grown on me in the last month. That chorus and pseudo-acoustic guitar works a lot better than it should, and this ends up as a pretty solid return to form.

25. Lawson – Taking Over Me

From Chapman Square

LawsonJust like The Wanted a few years ago, I thought these guys were doomed. Who needs another boyband, let alone one like a latter-day BBMak? I’ve not quite been proven wrong, but they’ve had a clutch of top 10 hits this year, and even better, two of them are really good. In fact I was very surprised to hear that the gorgeously fresh and summery track I heard on the radio was by these guys.

It reminds me a lot of Savage Garden, which is no bad thing really, considering Darren Hayes is doing all sorts of nonsense these days and I’ve gone off him a bit. Plus these guys are quite handsome aren’t they? I’ll have to investigate their album in the new year. I suspect it will be acoustic guitar-based boyband dross, but I’m hoping to be wrong.

24. Usher – Scream

From Looking 4 Myself

UsherAnd on we go with more RnB-turned-dance. Usher saw the potential for his crossover a few years ago with “DJ got us falling in love”, and maybe even with the dance-lite “Love in this club” over 4 years ago. So it was a natural direction for him to go in with his latest album.

Essentially this is another dose of “DJ got us falling in love”, but it’s no less potent. That weird twangy sample is catchy, and his usual huge vocals ride over the top of the chaotic clash of production. Generic as you like, but I like it a LOT.

23. Ivi Adamou – La La Love

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

IviWith the big US stars falling over themselves to be fun for Europe, it’s left to Eurovision to show us that Europe can have just as much fun. The contest in Baku threw up several dancefloor smashes, with one of my favourites coming from the Mediterranean. Cyprus have always floundered in the contest, in the shadow of perenially successful Greece. This year the small island nation managed a narrow victory over its mainland counterpart, the first in 10 years.

The track itself is cheap and cheerful, and not altogether unlike Jennifer Lopez’s monster smash “On the floor”. Ivi was a great performer too, a giantess with legs that went all the way up, and gleefully wearing her best turbo-slut makeup and grabbing her boobs. A lot of fun to watch, and the song’s a cheap thrill of the best kind.

22. Maya Sar – Korake Ti Znam

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

MayaLook at me, I’m all rounded and cultured. It’s not all dance-pop, I’ve got a Bosnian-language ballad now, how’s about that? Truth be told, I don’t think I’d normally like this sort of thing, and indeed at the time of Eurovision I thought this was nice but nothing special. But something clicked for me a little while afterwards.

It’s understated to be sure, but that subtle swell of the string section, and Maya’s gentle vocals really sound beautiful together. Those moments where there are a bit of drama just sound all the better in this otherwise chilled-out environment. By the time you hit the final chorus, it’s really blossomed into something beautiful. I’ll pay more attention to my Balkan ballads in future.

21. Madonna – I’m Addicted

From MDNA

MadonnaOne last showing for old Madge now though, and what is doomed to be one of the hidden gems of the MDNA project. This was a standout track early on, and at least shows us that she can harness this harsh electronic sound when she puts her mind to it.

I was really looking forward to this part of her MDNA show, and it absolutely didn’t disappoint. I can’t wait for the DVD! OK the lyrics are a bit naff as ever, but the production is spot-on, even harking back to some of her earlier material at the turn of the century. That “M.D.N.A.M.D.N.A” refrain at the end just whips me up into a frenzy every time.

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My Top 50 of 2012: #40 – #31

40. Scissor Sisters – Only the Horses

From Magic Hour

ScissorWhile I didn’t really get on with its parent album “Magic Hour”, this lead single was just on the right side of synth-drenched pop, without resorting to the high-camp of earlier albums. Album sales didn’t follow suit, but the album felt a little truer to the act, free from the pressure of following up a smash album.

It may not have the characteristic humour we are used to the Sisters, but it’s alive and well on the album in tracks like “Let’s have a Kiki”. Could have sworn Stuart Price had stepped in for this track, but it was superproducer of the moment Calvin Harris working his magic once again.

39. Owl City – Dreams And Disasters

From The Midsummer Station

OwlI really do love Owl City. I don’t know why, he’s in constant of danger of sounding a bit samey, particularly with three albums out in as many years. But “The Midsummer Station” was an energetic and faster-paced effort than his previous two. This is demonstrated wonderfully with this opening track.

He got a decent hit out of hitching his wagon to Carly Rae Jepsen’s star on “Good time”, but I think this chorus just goes that little bit further for me.

38. Charlotte Perrelli – The Girl

From Melodifestivalen 2012

CharlotteMelodifestivalen time, and former Eurovision winner Charlotte Perrelli threw her hat into the ring one more time after her less-successful comeback in 2008.

It comes out all guns blazing, and borrows heavily from “Mamma mia”, but that chorus is just vibrant pop music that is so often produced in the hotly contested Swedish show. It shockingly didn’t even qualify for the MF final, but she didn’t shame herself with the song (except when she forgot the words).

37. Cher Lloyd – Want U Back

From Sticks + Stones

CherWhen I saw the lavish video I expect a break for the US was on the cards, and I was right. She scored a hit with this track (though oddly a different video), even if it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be on home soil.

A shamelessly jealous track about having second through after dumping someone, superb pop music that doesn’t deserve to be shunned just because of her dodgy credibility here. Wasn’t a bad album at all, either!

36. Minnie-Oh – You And I

From Melodi Grand Prix 2012

Minnie-OhHaving mentioned Eurovision and the Swedish selection show Melodifestivalen, it should come as no surprise to hear a track from the Norwegian counterpart Melodi Grand Prix. I can’t say I loved a lot of the tracks when I listened to it, but there were still some gems to be had. This included this Robyn-esque electropop track that has grown and grown on me.

35. Amelia Lily – You Bring Me Joy

From

AmeliaOf all the X-Factor alumni I expected to hear anything good from, shouty Amelia Lily from last year’s contest wasn’t one of them. Stepping aside from the pop-rock Kelly Clarkson covers she put her name to on the show, this is a surprisingly fresh dance-pop track not unlike something Rihanna might have made.

It remains to be seen if she’ll be an act to watch, but this was certainly a pleasant surprise, and proof that losing doesn’t always mean you’ll never make it.

34. Madonna – Girl Gone Wild

From MDNA

MadonnaMadonna’s back, and she’s bad. Well you can tell Benny Benassi was on production duties here, sharing a sound or two with his “Celebration” remix from 2009. Sounds pretty throwaway and a depressing prospect for a second single. Indeed it tanked pretty much everywhere, but for me it really grew. It’s simple but it doesn’t mean it’s crap.

But what really set it off for me was seeing her perform live on her MDNA tour. OK it wasn’t an amazing concert for me, mostly for practical reasons in a cramped standing area, but this one really came alive on the stage.

33. Chris Brown – Don’t Wake Me Up

From Fortune

ChrisYeah yeah, I know, everybody hates Chris, right? Well as long as I don’t have to speak to him, I’m happy to enjoy some of his music if I like it.

The big European dance feel to it certainly helps, it felt like a perfect summer hit – which it was in several countries – and launched his latest album to a transatlantic #1. That video is a bit OTT though isn’t it?

32. Ne-Yo – Let me love you (Until you learn to love yourself)

From R.E.D.

Ne-YoSpeaking of RnB-goes-dance, if you prefer your crooners to be less abusive, then Ne-Yo is a decent bet, picking up several hits and feature credits during the year. This is probably his biggest hit for a while, scoring a #1 in the UK. It took a little while for it to grow on me, I think it broke through when I was out of the country.

But it keeps the RnB heart for the most part, with a warm and simmering dance beat for him to lay his soaring vocals on top of. It’s a bit of a sickly sentiment but I think I find it quite sweet now.

31. Sam and the Womp – Bom Bom

From

SamEvery year there has to be a holiday hit from mainland Europe. Last year it was that “What the f**k” one from Spain, before that it was “Me no speako Americano”, the list goes on. Except that while this has all the hallmarks of a holiday hit, it was made in London.

But that doesn’t stop it from being a riotously fun bit of heavily-accented nonsense. Flashes of Bjork, flashes of Basement Jaxx, a chaotic production of big beats and trumpets. I’m surprised it made it to No.1 but it’s one of the odder No.1s of the year.

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My Top 50 of 2012: #50 – #41

50. Joan Franka – You And Me

From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku

JoanTo kick off, I knew we would have to talk about Eurovision at some point, so I might as well get the ball rolling. 2012 was a pretty special year for Eurovision, with many people commenting on the marked improvement in overall quality. Sweden grabbed their responsibility of hosting 2013’s contest with both hands, and I’m cautiously thinking that the only way is up (up up uuuup).

But for the Netherlands, things still didn’t quite go to plan as they failed to qualify for the grand final for an 8th successive year. Understandable given the rather unusual – and at many times, off key – performance from Joan. Kitted out as a native American for reasons unknown to the casual viewer (it’s from the video), she performed this gorgeously sweet ballad about lost childhod love. It wore a little thin after I totally overplayed it, but still it deserved honourable mention in a musically solid 2012.

49. Ellie Goulding – Lights

From Bright Lights

ElliePerhaps a bit of a cheat, as it appears on Ellie’s 2010 reissue of her debut “Lights” album, but it’s my chart so I don’t care. My justification is that it inexplicably broke through in the States this year, handily laying groundwork for her second album “Halcyon”. I had written her off as a bit of a boring singer-songwriter with too much critical acclaim. But this is different to a lot of music I’ve heard from her.

It’s a gently twinkling electro ballad, with multiple layers and hooks to get it stuck in my head, as well as a pretty swish but cheap video. It’s almost enough to get me to inspect her music closer, but I think I need a little more convincing first.

48. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

From Born To Die

LanaSpeaking of critical acclaim – usually a bit of a poisonous thing for me, I want to make up my own mind – Lana Del Rey made waves at the start of the year with her debut album. It was a slow burner but ended up one of the bigger hits of the year. I’m not overly fond of her laconic singing style, it’s all a bit try-hard. I never quite saw what everyone else did. But I rather like this title track from the album.

Not to say that I don’t think her singing voice isn’t very intriguing, I just think I need to make a connection to the music. I did enjoy the Tumblr of “Lana del Rey dancing” animations though, tee hee.

47. Emeli Sande – Read All About It (Pt. III)

From Our version of events

EmeliWow, what a worthy set of singers to kick off with! It wasn’t intentional, maybe it’s just the trashier stuff floating to the top. Anyway as everyone is so fond of saying, Emeli Sande was “the voice of 2012”. Possibly due to her omnipresence during the year, promoting the shit out of the various singles at every available opportunity.

Notably the huge exposure she got repeatedly at the Olympics was a bit much, Christ knows how the label made that happen! She’s a misery guts, and she dresses like an old lady. But occasionally I see the appeal, and maybe it’s some of the reflected afterglow from the Olympics closing ceremony that securing this track its place in my countdown. I never liked the duet version she did with Professor Green – a clear copy-paste job ‘inspired’ by the Eminem/Rihanna smash the previous year. But this ballad version really works for me. Just as well as it is nigh-on unavoidable.

46. Christina Aguilera – Your Body

From Lotus

ChristinaDon’t call it a comeback! I think you need some degree of reaching former highs for it to count, and that’s something “Lotus” really didn’t manage. I haven’t heard it myself (yet), but I did really enjoy this trashtasticaly brazen song about sex with strangers. Are you empowered yet? She’ll be sure to scream you down if you aren’t, HEY BOOOY!

It’s an unusually mid-tempo electro track, with a pulsing beat throughout it. She does shout quite a lot, particularly towards the climax, but I think the real saving grace is the astonishing video. White trash Xtina brutally murders her casual partners with symbolism (ish), it’s worth watching if you’re not sure that just hearing a new Xtina song is enough of an enticing prospect. SAY!

45. Alexandra Burke – Elephant (ft Erick Morillo)

From Heartbreak on hold

AlexandraTalking of disasterous comebacks, here’s an X-Factor alumnus down on her luck. I don’t know where her appeal disappeared to, she did pretty well with her original “Overcome” album, and hasn’t done anything particularly awful since then (though the jury might be out on forgotten No.1 “Start without you”, I still can’t belieave it happened).

Either way, Lex wanted to take it to the clubs big time, and the fun but disposable album was heavily influenced by 90s dance sounds. That suited me fine, but not the public, and it duly tanked. But she got a hit out of it, the No.3 dance track “Elephant”. Under the surface of this big and bombastic dance track, and aside from the unusual title, I think there’s a decent song here. It all comes together for me, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but so what. I genuinely think she’s making music that she likes, for what it’s worth.

44. Madonna – Give Me All Your Luvin’ (ft Nicki Minaj & MIA)

From MDNA

MadonnaOh what the hell, let’s just keep those failed comebacks coming. In some ways Madonna’s had a good 2012: her new album “MDNA” was No.1 in many countries, she played the interval show at the Superbowl, and became the biggest-grossing tour act of the year. And yet in other ways it feels like it’s been a bit of a disaster.

I suppose I’ve always grown up with Madonna the chart force, and enjoyed her late 90s rennaissance period when it felt that she was the biggest artist on the planet. But what the hell is she doing? The public just aren’t buying her singles, and while she’s got enough of a fanbase to get No.1 albums still, her overall sales are in a tailspin.

Part of me thinks that she should make the music she wants to make rather than what “a woman of her age should be making”. Pandering to fans and critics is not what she’s ever been about. Maybe it’s just a skewed view I hear from the bitchy internet gays, incapable of opinions that aren’t extreme. I just wonder how long she can go on in this direction. “MDNA” was supposed to be the new start, with a new label. But right now it feels like her music career is just a means to tour.

“Give me all your luvin” was nominally her biggest hit from the campaign, and I love the cheerleader motif and the video. It might have worn a little thin now, but she can still make solid pop songs at least. She just needs to get people to give them the time of day.

43. Pink – Try

From The truth about love

PinkPink also returned with a new album in 2012, though much more successfully than the artists I’ve just listed. I might not have been into the album very much when I reviewed it, but the two lead singles were solid. “Try” is a more downbeat, downtempo MOR track than we are often used to from Pink, but there’s a powerful video to go along with it.

She dances/fights with her lover, in some hair-raising scenes that blur the line between heavily choreographed dancing and domestic violence. The bulk of the chorus is pretty repetitive, which is what counted against it in the end, but it has a great hook that nicely counters the gentle piano-led verses. It feels like a bit of an evolution for her as a performer, even if the album perhaps didn’t.

42. Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen

From Halcyon

EllieWe’ve seen a bit of Ellie already, but I don’t think the people who didn’t really like her (me included) were quite prepared for this comeback single. Heavily produced, with an eerie sample that makes up most of the chorus. It’s a joy to listen to, and comes with a hi-gloss pop video to mesmerise viewers.

It’s drenched in electronic production, which masks the shortcomings in her vocals quite nicely. This doesn’t quite pan out in the live performances I’ve seen, which broke the spell a little for me. But as far as a radio single goes, it sounds fresh and interesting. I wonder if she’s got anything else up her sleeve…

41. Justin Bieber – Beauty And A Beat (ft Nicki Minaj)

From Believe

JustinShock! A male vocal! I’m well aware my end-of-year countdowns are quite oestrogen-fuelled, but I do have an open mind about it. Goodness knows lots of people don’t have that when it comes to Justin Bieber. He re-issued his solid hit 2nd album “Believe” recently, teaming up with serial collaborator Nicki Minaj for this. A generic dance-pop track sure, but one of his best.

The video was pretty cool too, and on occasion made me wish I was young, American and invited to a pool party. Aspirational viewing! And that’s before Nicki sings “buns out, wiener” with as straight a face as she can manage.

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