Tag Archives: x-factor uk

Album: Union J – “Union J” (2013)

Before I skip the country, I should really review a bunch of albums I’ve had sitting on my iPod for ages – I suppose none of them particularly excited me, but none of them are bad, and Eurovision got in the way (and it will again). But having listening to them on the big journeys this weekend, I think it’s time.

union j albumSo, Union J. Where do they fit in these days? I suppose they’d been pushed in the hope that One Direction-sized success might appear, coming from similar roots. The band auditioned as three-piece “Triple J” (Josh, JJ & Jaymi), while fourth member George auditioned as a solo singer. Both acts got through the auditions but failed at Judges’ Houses.  After another group were removed from the contest, they were invited to continue as a four-piece, and ultimately came 4th in the series.

I have a soft spot for them, perhaps in the same way as I did for The Wanted; there is the excitement of what they might bring out in the future, after this initial ‘safe’ boyband album prepares the ground. They seem like thoroughly likeable guys, and not yet the overstyled messes of One Direction. Sales-wise it’s not quite working out yet but they’ve got a second album on the way, hopefully benefitting from The Wanted’s departure. But what about this album? A slim 35 minutes and 10 tracks makes it hard to get bored, and I enjoyed it more than I expected after my first listen. Continue reading

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Song: One Direction – “Kiss you” (2012)

I wondered if anything One Direction did would ever really make it onto my radar, much less my iTunes. But those little scamps have gone and put their name to a pretty solid pop song, so I thought “Why not?”.

One direction kiss youHardly seems worth my usual back-story, but after coming a surprisingly low 3rd place in 2010’s UK X-Factor, it seemed obvious that they were the chosen act for Syco to push the following year, just like Olly Murs and JLS before them. What I didn’t quite expect was just how much of a push that would be.

They managed to cross over to a much wider audience with their debut “What makes you beautiful”, making it a smash hit No.1 in the UK, and – despite a dud follow-up single – propelled them to decent album sales that Christmas. It seemed like they floundered a bit after that point, perhaps without a single that quite measured up to their debut.

But then they broke America with surprising speed, taking their debut single to the top 5, and their album to the top. In fact these days it seems they are a bigger deal in the US than on home soil. They were crammed into the UK X-Factor last year at every available slot but the lead single “Live while we’re young” died off quickly. Astonishingly Ed Sheeran-penned “Little Things” put them back on top, and more decent album sales followed. This still paled compared to their massive US sales, which got them a second No.1 album there. I almost wonder if they might stop bothering with the UK now they’ve got such a cash cow Stateside.

Still, with the same huge Swedish team responsible for all of the uptempo singles so far, they are back again. It’s sort of the same as their earlier tracks, but I just really like it for some reason, while their other tracks I’ve treated with – at best – indifference.

One DirectionThose verses are giddy and fast, and I love those falsetto bits in the bridges. The lyrics in the chorus are banal beyond belief, but that’s such a catchy tune. The result is a nice variety of styles and tempos, and gets out before it gets boring, finishing after 3 minutes. Not bad, guys. I’ve had to hear that chorus about 50 times already thanks to the excessive sponsor trails in the X-Factor, and I’m not bored of it yet.

I just wonder where it’s all going. Will they ever go in a different direction (pardon the pun) musically? Will they even be here in 2 years? Liam seems to hate this, he’ll be first to leave. Zain will become unrecognisable under countless revolting tattoos. Louis will finally turn out to be gay. Harry will shave his hair, and … I never did learn the blond one’s name, sorry.

If they can work out how to harmonise though, that would be a START. That’s been my big criticism of them since X-Factor, they just all sing the same note. The video for “Kiss you” highlights the lack of distinction in their voices – either there are some pretty shameless mimers claiming other peoples’ vocals, or they really do all sound the same. Still, the video is a fun enough ‘caper’, and they at least try to amp up the Youtube views by getting their tops off, so A+ for effort. Just wish they’d have spent as much time in the gym as they did in the tattoo parlour.

Sigh… why couldn’t The Wanted have been the big breakthrough act?

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Single: James Arthur – “Impossible” (2012)

James ArthurSo it’s all over. 17 weeks. SEVENTEEN WEEKS!  This series of the X-Factor has been a bit shaky, particularly as the press have been circling now the ratings are slipping. However it’s still a massive show for ITV1 and I’d be amazed if we weren’t getting another series next year. Well they’ve been plugging the auditions for next year already so I guess it is happening. Whether or not it will be in the same format is another question…

James Arthur managed to salvage what was a ropey selection of contestants this year. It seems to have been dominated by the car-crash acts, namely terrible cruise-ship singer Christopher Maloney and homo-explosion Rylan, but we ended up with the worthiest final two in the end. On one side we had gospel squealer Jahmene, on the other, rough diamond James. Both armed with the requisite sob-stories, with timid Jahmene coming from an abusive household with a father in prison, and James… well he just lived in a bedsit. Is it that bad?

X-factor logoJahmene squealed terrifyingly through various diva standards, reaching ridiculous high notes but struggling to control the rest. James stomped his way angrily through pained and emotional songs. How to decide? In the end I think the public surprisingly made the right choice, de-railing a tedious anti-vote for Christopher. So James has a single out at midnight tonight, a cover of a Shontelle track, “Impossible”.

I never gave Shontelle much time of day, shipped in from Barbados, presumably as an ‘answer’ to Rihanna, and I didn’t give this song a second though after the boring “T-Shirt”. But James seemed to polish this one up in his usual rough-voiced stompy style, and it’s one of the more interesting X-Factor winner singles we’ve had.

It’ll be a real acid test to see what the label will do with him now. Little Mix last year had a defined image and an obvious demographic, but James is more of a ‘real music’ artist from a show that real music fans hate with a passion. Can he break through and sell some actual records? It’s been a while since we had a good X-Factor album seller, with the various runners-up often outselling the winners. I’d have my eye on Union J if I were you…

Nicole Scherzinger

But I think the real winner of this series has to be the amazing Nicole Scherzinger. She really got into the spirit of this show, throwing herself wholeheartedly into the mentoring of what turned out to be three of the top 5 acts, the first time a mentor has taken all their acts into the quarter-finals. She provided a non-stop avalanche of ridiculous moments, most notably the astonishing duet with Jahmene. She could have sung him off the stage anyway, but after a mic malfunction, had to SNATCH Jahmene’s mic mid-performance to finish. She’s just the gift that keeps on giving, and I dearly hope she returns next year, or just sticks around the UK for shits ‘n’ giggles.

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Song: Amelia Lily – “You bring me joy” (2012)

Well this was a surprise! Third-placed in last year’s X-Factor, Amelia Lily made herself known in the show for her powerful voice and penchant for Kelly Clarkson covers. As a wildcard, voted back into the contest by the public, she outperformed expectations and made it to the final.

Success for the winners of X-Factor is far from guaranteed, longevity of their careers even less so. This guarantee dwindles yet further as you get further from that winning position. Still, there are plenty of exceptions to that rule, and it’s often the case that a runner-up is the biggest act of the series (e.g. Olly Murs – 2nd to Joe McElderry, JLS – 2nd to Alexandra Burke, One Direction – 3rd to Matt Cardle).

So on this thin ice, sullen-faced but colourful-haired Amelia Lily makes her debut. The striking thing is how dancey it is, considering her apparent leaning towards pop-rock. Not that it’s going for a dance anthem, it’s more of a subtle synth-heavy wash of a pop song. Think a vaguely dancier sound to The Killers.

Her voice sounds oddly familiar though, in fact the whole thing feels a bit like latter-day Girls Aloud now I think about it. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. Much like Nadine’s foghorn vocals, she doesn’t have a lot of subtlety to her voice, and seems to belt out the vocals to keep afloat in the busy soundscape.

The verses could easily be from a Kelly Clarkson record, even if the music doesn’t quite match up. But the chorus is where it all comes together, even though it’s very repetitive. You can get away with that sort of thing more with dance tracks, people aren’t paying much attention to the lyrics I suppose. It’s got a bit of a sad tone to it all, not QUITE a relationship failing, but all is not well. Gives a bit of substance to the track anyway, and the overall effect is surprising and catchy.

I’ve certainly heard worse from X-Factor runners-up, and after its surprise debut (which outpeaked 2nd place finalist Marcus Collins), I wonder what the plan is from here. Hopefully she’s not going for a kamikaze album release in the busiest time of the year, that really WOULD be a recipe for disaster.

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Single: Nicole Scherzinger – “Try with me” (2011)

What to make of Nicole? After fronting pop powerhouse Pussycat Dolls, it seemed inevitable that one day she would end up leaving them behind, since she practically did all the singing. So it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question to imagine a successful solo career in the future for her. But this so far remains tantalisingly out of her grasp for now.

Things were looking decent in the UK at least. PCD had a string of big hits, and indeed “Poison”, “Right there” and Enrique duet “Heartbeat” had made a decent impact, and “Don’t hold your breath” managed to surpass modest expectations to give her a solo #1. The album performed decently across Europe, even if follow-up singles “Wet” and re-release lead single “Try with me” struggled to make an impact.

However it’s the USA that she seems to be hellbent on breaking, which makes it all the worse for the lack of progress she’s made there. “Right there” just managed to get into the Billboard top 40, but the albums remains conspiciously unreleased there. She won “Dancing with the stars” and landed the X-Factor USA judging gig, but after lukewarm reactions and a quite spectacular meltdown when she sent home bratty devil child Rachel Crow, she left the show. Consolidating her power base in Europe, she’s joining the UK X-Factor panel next season, which as Kelly Rowland learnt might get some goodwill, but not necessarily a hit album.

Within all this drama, I feel like a good song has dropped down the cracks and been missed. She performed it on the UK’s X-Factor last Autumn, but it never really took off anywhere. “Try with me” starts off with an angsty scene after a breakup, with Nicole begging the guy to pick up the pieces with her and give the relationship another go.

Her voice is as strong as ever, and can pick up some really great notes among the euphoric trancey production. She can come over as a bit humourless and robotic at times, but Nicole really has some passion in this one I think. The breathy vocals at the start are a bit affected and artificial, but when she gets into the meat of the song, it’s pretty great. I don’t see a good reason for this to flop (and take the re-packaged album “Killer love” with it), I guess it just got lost in the big Christmas releases.

I think retreating back to the UK for some more brainless dance anthems is a good idea for Nicole right now. She’s wisely followed the trends and largely abandoned the R’n’B scene for a dance sound as so many have, so that’ll be good for a while until the Guetta bubble finally burts. God knows Europe needs some fun right now, and there’s plenty of money to be made with a hit single across Europe these days…

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