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My Top 50 of 2013: The Top 10

So here we are, the last day of my countdown and time to see what my top 10 tracks of 2013 are. I must say it’s all a little surprising to see how it all panned out. I hadn’t really thought of any of the songs as outright contenders for the #1 of the year, but someone has to be there, and it’s about time I let the cat out of the bag.

Catching up? Have you seen the rest? #50 – 41, #40 – 31, #30 – 21, #20 – 11

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Single: Lawson ft B.O.B. – “Brokenhearted” (2013)

Oh you know, I love Lawson. I wasn’t expecting to, but after a bunch of singles ranging from decent to amazeballs, and a pretty good debut album, I was firmly on board.

lawson brokenheartedI’m wavering now, as they return with a new single and a new sound. I SAY new, it’s just Maroon 5, innit? Sigh. I mean it makes decent commercial sense to align yourself with one of the biggest radio acts of the moment.

I guess this is the “trying to break America” single? They’ve got a guest rapper to help them out, B.O.B. who is celebrating 3 years of trying to make it happen. In fairness he’s had a handful of pretty huge hits – that one Bruno Mars debuted on, that one with her off Paramore, and Price Tag with Jessie J. Although I somehow totally forgot he was on that … ah well, nothing like a Transatlantic hookup to show up the desperation on both sides eh? Continue reading

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Album: Lawson – “Chapman Square” (2012)

I love Lawson. I didn’t think I would, but then I did. It felt like the age of the boyband had ended in the mid-00s as pop music went into hibernation, but it’s a recipe that will always work if the material is good enough. Even if it’s not good enough provided the guys are hot enough (oh hi, 1D).

lawson chapman squareLawson feel to me like a bit of a throwback, like the early 00s days of BBMak. Of course that’s not a massively successful example, apart from a US hit. But there appears to be a gap in the market for a guitar-toting band of handsome modern-looking men, and Lawson are here to fill it. So far they’re doing well with three top 10 hits and a top 5 album, and I was pleased to find out that “Chapman Square” was a pretty solid album. Continue reading

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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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