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My Madonna Top 40: #10 – #6

Oh I’m a tease aren’t I? Somewhere between busy and lazy is where I am at the moment, squandering what little time I have available, making another dump of 10 songs a little too time-consuming. But I still want to get it sorted soon, I have a backlog that will only get worse when my copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf arrives. So here’s 5 of the best, with my top 5 following probably on Friday.

[Skip to #40 – 31, #30 – 21, #20 – 11, Top 5]

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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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MDNA Tour – London Hyde Park, 17th July 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a gig before, mainly because I’ve never actually BEEN to a single artist gig before. I did realise with some horror that I have inadvertently seen Blue perform live more than any other act. I do wonder how that can happen by accident… but then I’m not talking about Blue, I’m talking about Madonna. Since it was my first time, I hoped she was going to be gentle.

Before I start, I would sincerely ask people to make up their own mind about Madonna. I’m utterly bored of reading reviews (using the term loosely) from both Madonna loons and Madonna anti-loons. Both blinded by their agendas, I get the impression most of the reviews were written (or at least decided) before they’d actually seen anything. I’m not writing this review for effect, I just went to see one of the most famous women alive, and I want to write about it, thanks.

Phew! I don’t know what possessed me to spent in the region of £200 (I’ve tried to forget the exact amount) for a Golden Circle ticket to her oddly solitary London date in Hyde Park. But I did, and a trouble-free entrance at opening time gave us a good spot not too far from one of the catwalks.

Supporting the show were two acts. Martin Solveig produced several MDNA tracks, and opened with a DJ set mixing his own hits (which I didn’t really know except “Hello”), Madonna hits (including a few MDNA tracks not on the setlist), and other big dance hits of the moment (“Titanium” going down particularly well). It was a good-natured set and he seemed like a really sweet and energetic guy.

Outstaying their welcome were LMFAO, or the afro guy anyway, the other guy was laid up with a back injury. Their nondescript mulch of beyond generic tracks about partying and rocking, and party rocking and getting drunk etc. left us all waiting for their two big hits “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sexy and I Know It” which – to give them credit – did get things going. Then we waited for an age for the woman herself to come onstage.

The intro was great, with clandestine monks and priests almost summoning her like some demon, before she pulled back the curtain from her flying confessional booth and launched into “Girl Gone Wild”. It was an awesome start, with some stunning choreography and visuals to boot. The ascent to heaven via the visuals looked superb, but a little confusing as she segued straight into “Revolver” and “Gang Bang”, an unusual choice for a recently redeemed soul. “Revolver” worked amazingly well considering its rather dodgy rep for a GH-filler track with terrible lyrics. I was won over by it anyway. Her gunplay continued with “Gang Bang”, another amazing marriage of inch-perfect choreo, vivid visuals and pantomimey gunplay.

I admit that for a huge part of the mid-section I wasn’t standing there open-jawed. There were a few old hits – Papa Don’t Preach, Vogue, Human Nature and Express Yourself – that made it through the wilderness without much tampering, but other re-workings fell a bit flat. Hung Up lost its signature sample and any party spirit, with a no-doubt impressive but not especially engaging tightrope terrorist section. Open Your Heart got a thoroughly tedious Basque makeover and an exasperating sermon on predjudice – a one-two punch that marked probably the low point of the evening. Or maybe the low point was the utterly baffling mashup of Candy Shop and Erotica. I mean honestly, who asked for THAT?!

The other MDNA tracks for the most part came over really well, with the exception of a rather throwaway “Turn up the radio” that I thought would have worked better. But “I don’t give a” was great with some gorgeous hi-def Minaj shots. “Masterpiece” got a rather unimaginative airing, weighed down by that Basque nonsense, and “I’m a sinner” was an oddly-placed momentum killer right at the end. “I’m Addicted” (along with “Girl gone wild” and “Gang Bang” at the start) was amazing as I knew it would be. I couldn’t help thinking it might have made a better closing track though. Still, it injected some much-needed energy to the final act.

I was surprised at how underused “Give me all your luvin” was though, without the Minaj rap it felt a little weak. Maybe it was because I just couldn’t see a lot of it from where I was. The air-lifted drummers were pretty good, but as a whole it was a bit of a missed opportunity somehow.

Towards the end there was an overlong but mesmerising acapella version of “Like a virgin”, a song I’d never really loved, but played in such an extraordinary way that it’s one of my lasting impressions of the night, particularly as I’m sure I could see her nipples through that lacy bra (nice tits, FYI). “Like a prayer” got a more traditional reading, which got everyone singing, even if a little re-invention wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The “Nobody Knows Me” interlude’s visuals were totally spellbinding. Not entirely sure what the underlying message was there – it just felt like an attention-grabbing “here are some bad people, here are some good people, here’s a cause to support etc – but it looked amazing. Speaking of visuals, the concert closed with an energetic but very brief “Celebration”, which I loved.

I hate how this review sounds so critical, but I did enjoy myself a lot. My REAL problems with the show (apart from that Basque trio) were my issues with my fellow concert-goers. As a short guy, I didn’t get on well with the guy in front who had one dance move: the fist in the air and moving as if straddling a mechanical bull. Dance by all means, but just put your fucking arms down.

While I’m at it, I hate cameraphones. I’d be a hypocrite if I meant that generally, because I had to take SOMETHING tangible away from this show. Photos are fine, but if you are going to block everyone else’s view by filming every second, then I’m sorry but you need to JUST DIE (but I’m not sorry). Worst of all were the insidious crowd-pushers. We all staked our claims to good spots by virtue of our timely arrivals, and people seemed quite pleased for a long while, LMFAO notwithstanding. But periodically little groups would come by “because our friends are just over there, we’re going over there”. Fine, that’s fine of course. Except some of them are liars, and shamelessly decided to stop in front of us and set up camp. I’m not cut out for this shit, especially at £200-odd a time. Christ knows what the standard ticket-holders could see, even at the front of their block!

Anyway, the bottom line is that it was a good show. I wasn’t blown away, but I saw her live for the first time and that has to count for something. Not an irrationally polar reaction from me, I’m afraid. I’ll weigh up the options next time she tours, and I’ll definitely get the MDNA DVD, but I just wish I’d seen the Confessions Tour live now, that really did look like magic.

She’s still got the energy for this game, despite shamelessly turning 50+. People just need to stop wasting their energy on bitching about her the whole time, and who knows, maybe they’ll have some fun!

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Album: Madonna – “MDNA” (2012)

(Pssst… I did a review on the deluxe edition tracks too, if you’re into that. LINK!)

The time is finally here, Madonna’s got another album out (or will do next week anyway). I’d like to say it’s hotly awaited, but it seems even the most optimistic fan seemed be to peeping nervously through their fingers at what passed for the opening campaign. So far this has consisted of an impressive Superbowl performance (so far so good), leading to another record-breaking top 10 hit in the USA. Though sadly it wasn’t to be a big hit, leaving the Hot 100 5 weeks after entering. In the UK the picture was even bleaker, her first single to miss the top 20, by some margin too, peaking at No.37.

It was to get worse though, as a hastily-issued second single Girl Gone Wild bombed comprehensively. In this baffling digital age, I’m not sure where it’s been released, so maybe things will miraculously turn around, but in the US at least, it missed the Hot 100 entirely. Despite the release of the video this week, it looks like a pretty disasterous launch. While I might not think Girl Gone Wild is a great launch single, “Celebration” at least did well in the UK so we’ll have to see what happens if/when it finally gets released.

So finally against this rather apocalyptic backdrop we find ourselves with a whole album. I loved the dance direction of Confessions, and loved the brazenly tacky Hard Candy for the most part, so what would MDNA be like? Well the force of the dance producers brought into this (including Martin Solveig and Benny Benassi, responsible for the first two singles respectively) defines the landscape, sometimes steering it into generic club tracks, other times into a tutti-frutti mix of wry theatrical dance tracks that wouldn’t have been out of place on Gaga’s “Born this way”. Shall I just get on with it?


07 Girl Gone Wild – I LOVE that intro and segue into the main song, it’s fascinating. I don’t know why though, she’s so robotically insincere and just spouting nonsense. A common theme on the album is “songs that sound better than their titles” and this is a good example. This is really growing on me despite a flat chorus and a generally faceless feel. It puts me in mind of Benassi’s remix of “Celebration”, no coincidence there since he made this too. Could have been made by anyone, but it’s not as bad as first thought. Video is wonderful too.

09 Gang Bang – Seriously, this is a song title? That thumping beat really is delicious though, I love the production, it’s just her and the beat. Deadpan delivery of the lyrics and some ridiculous sound effects. Why “Gang bang” and not “Bang Bang”? State of the art production, sounds like that Tomkraft single from nine years ago! Love it though, and it distracts nicely from what was presumably meant to be a provocative of killing an ex. On paper this doesn’t sound anywhere as good as it is. That last hysterical segment really is treading a line between great and cringeworthy though, DRIVE BITCH, and while you’re at it, DIE BITCH! I can totally imagine this as a big moment in the tour, can’t you?

10 I’m addicted – Oh God now we’re onto something. More minimal synth backing, very ‘now’ I’d imagine (I’m not cool). This just feels so well put together, especially when we get these dance explosions for the sort-of-choruses. A real grower, pulsing and wonderful. The best bit of this (and possibly the album) is that “M.D.N.A.M.D.N.A.” outro for the last minute, just feels like this album has ARRIVED, perhaps this should have been the opener. Part of me wonders how amazing this album would have been with Stuart Price at the helm again, but let’s just be grateful for what we have.

08 Turn up the radio – Mooted by some as a choice for a campaign-saving single, they need SOMETHING to stick, don’t they? This is a lot more mainstream, a pretty mundane idea for a song, just enjoying music and listening to the radio etc. Lyrically you aren’t missing much, but again the production pops and whizzes at all the right moments and we end up with a pretty upbeat track, it’s just a shame it hasn’t got anything to say. Doesn’t feel like a Madonna single from recent memory though, she hasn’t run out of things to say has she?

10 Give me all your luvin’ – So that much maligned lead single up next. Considering how different this is from Girl Gone Wild, both songs seem to fit in their positions well, and this seems like a much better idea for a single than things like Turn Up The Radio, particularly with the Superbowl tie-ins in the video, and the cheerleading refrain in the song. I really love this, it gave me plenty of reason to look forward to this album at least, even if this feels like a bit of an odd-one-out. Nicki fits well (now MOOOVE!) but MIA is a feature credit too far but I’m used to it now. Bubblegum pop that’s (again) saying nothing in particular but it has something Madonna about it at least.

08 Some Girls – Back to tha cluuuuubzz. A monotone shouty intro over some truly obnoxious synths, but slowly blossoms into a pretty solid dance track, albeit a bit of a filler track. Reminds me ofa track off Gaga’s “The Fame” (I know I know, but I had to mention her, reductive or not). More focused again on the dance production than the lyrical content, but at least it succeeds on the former, it’s a pretty wonderful throbbing track, and that breakdown really does highlight that William Orbit is back in the mix.

04 Superstar – Oh dear God, what is THIS!!? How could this happen? Maybe it was supposed to be like Teenage Dream, but the ROBOVOCALS are back, dead-eyedly reciting some lyrics so bad I wondered if Vogons had written it. Really appalling, even Des’ree would be rolling her eyes at this one. “ooh la la you’re my superstar, ooh la la I love the way that you are”. Utterly tedious and wafer-thin, how could this HAPPEN? That emotionless roll-call of superstars makes you wonder how this woman ever made “Vogue”.

08 I don’t give a – Oh my, she wants to swear, doesn’t she, naughty girl! Sigh, can’t she just do it? More automated vocals in a bland version of the American Life rap (that I love, I don’t care what anyone else says). I’m surprised anyone else wanted to share writing credits on this. It does perk up after about 1:30 when the production beefs up, and we reach some mid-track interval for some variety. Nicki does a competent job and doesn’t feel shoehorned into the action. I know she can swear like a trooper though, why the restraint, girls? (Have you HEARD Roman’s Revenge?). Defining moment here is that spooky choir and dramatic orchestral swell near the end, but it’s a bit too desperate to be a moment. It still sounds pretty good though.

07 I’m a sinner – Really starting to chew over old glories now, and the most brazen of these ‘homages’ is this recycling of Beautiful Stranger. Psuedo-psychadelic chorus production courtesy of – oh look who it isn’t – William Orbit (original producer of Beautiful Stranger). It’s decent enough but I’m heard Beautiful Stranger too many times for this to excite me too much. Beefy production but something just doesn’t work for me like it should.

08 Love Spent – A rather unexpected banjo moment segues into an 8-bit synth bed, it’s not a bad setup really, and this is the first track for a little while that doesn’t remind me of a past (and better) Madonna moment. Oh wait, there’s that bit that sounds suspiciously like “Hung up” but it’s over before you quite realise it’s happening. A bit of a directionless “try all the keyboard settings” feel to some settings, but it’s all good. Lyrically she’s trying a bit harder here, wishing her lover was less materialistic (a bit rich coming from her, but let’s just go with it). The falsetto is perhaps going to stymie future live performances, but let’s see.

09 Masterpiece – Oddly fits relatively well on this album, considering it was originally from that W.E. film she made. She even won a Golden Globe for this, can you believe? (Elton can’t). I still childishly smile when I think she’s saying “If you were the Mona Lisa, you’d be hanging in the loo”. Her vocals are quite nice on this really, I do wonder what she sounds like, autotune seems to have infiltrated every song so far. She’s at least trying to ‘properly’ sing, and it’s a pretty classy affair. I mentally treat this as a bonus track, but really it fits quite nicely. The song is a little flaky but certainly listenable and a much stronger track than some of the iffy efforts I’ve just listened to.

06 Falling Free –  Ballad time? Oh just stick it at the end. So this confused album comes to an end with a pretty beatless slow song. It’s a bit nothingy, but her vocals at least sound quite nice, its just a bit… I don’t know. There isn’t a very engaging chorus (if there’s one at all), and that stop-start shimmery effect kills this momentum. Nice enough but a bit of a damp one to go out on. Oh God, please leave that guitar ALONE!

So there we have it, not really a common thread in this album, generally dancey but dabbling with producers past and present has left a curiously identity-free experience, except for a few early tracks like Gang Bang that nobody else would really TOUCH. I love Madonna, and this album hasn’t done anything to change that, there is plenty to listen to, and who knows, maybe it’ll click with me one day and I’ll love it.

I do worry about how well this is going to go if she’s only going to do one bit of promo (even if in this case it was a big one). I just think she’s always on the verge of some world-beating megasmash, but I just don’t see it happening this time around (but please God, give this bitch a hit). I’m very excited that I have Golden Circle tickets for her show in Hyde Park in July, so let’s hope she doesn’t stick too much to the current album. A bad sign perhaps, I just think she’s done better.

Keepers for the iPod: Girl gone wild, Gang Bang, I’m addicted, Turn up the radio, Give me all your luvin, Some girls, I don’t give a, Love Spent, Masterpiece (well, it IS Madonna).

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