20. Agnes – One last time
It 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
It’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
2012 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
And 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
Here’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
Hang 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
I 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
Another 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
A 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
Always 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.