Monthly Archives: September 2011

Nicola Roberts – Cinderella’s Eyes (Polydor Records)

Album cover

Girls Aloud, although on indefinite hiatus, are technically still one of Britain’s biggest girl bands, the continuing exploits of the five members keeping the memory of the band alive, as well as the sure-fire chance of a reunion.  After being assembled on Pop Stars: The Rivals in 2002, they have shifted over five million records, which, although considerably less than the Sugababes is still an impressive feat for a reality show product. After announcing a break in 2009, the two years after saw Cheryl Cole release a pair of huge selling, yet critically despised albums, Nadine Coyle release one low selling album, Kimberley Walsh lend guest vocals on a top ten club hit, and Sarah Harding drink a large amount of alcohol. The band member that most were curious about however, was Nicola Roberts. As she was always singled out by the press, and even some fans, as the ugly duckling of the group, a few were curious and slightly excited at the prospect of a solo album, especially since the bands tours had shown she had a formidable voice. After releasing two critically applauded, yet low charting trailer singles, ‘Beat of my drum’, and ‘Lucky Day’,  it appeared that only a few major pop fans were anticipating the album.  After being released on Friday, we finally get the chance to listen.

  Not only is it a better album than Girls Aloud could ever hope to create, it may just be the best pop album of the year, certainly the best one that’s arisen from a British artist. A sprightly twelve tracks long, the record is mainly in the style of the two singles, yet has a few surprises. Final track ‘Sticks + Stones’ is one of the most heart-breaking songs ever recorded by a pop artist. As previously said, Nicola was treated quite harshly by the press during her time in the band. Her pale complexion, ginger hair, and even her teeth have been criticised of not being typical of a girl band member.

  ‘’At home I cried… Seventeen and I thought that I’d won the jackpot, seems I didn’t read between the lines on this one… I’d rather be alone in my world, so take your shot…Sticks and stones hurt just a little…’’

  Despite the fragile nature of the lyrics, her voice, which quite frankly, steps all over Cheryl’s, shows confidence and maturity. It seems creating her own record has given her the confidence she lacked before, being able to reflect on harder times with a new found happiness.  Tracks such as Gladiator display a certain confidence and swagger that would not be out of place on a Gwen Stefani record, whilst others, namely Yo-Yo display vulnerability that seems to go hand in hand with Nicola.

  The only miss-fire is the album’s only cover song’; Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime, which seems drags on far too long and was not that good a track on original release.  It might have been a good idea to include one of the two B-Sides she recorded for the singles, as they would not be out of place and would fit better thematically.  Despite this flaw, the record is consistently brilliant, and although chart success is unlikely, she has nevertheless stepped out from the daunting shadow of Girls Aloud, and has emerged as a star in her own right. Unless the other four members somehow pull something incredible out of the bag soon, the Girls Aloud reunion is going to be a lot more Nicola orientated.

A song for every situation…

Isn’t it weird how music can sometimes express an emotion for us? A song, if good enough, can come through our headphones and speak for us, expressing the same emotions we are currently feeling ourselves. Here is a list of various situations, and the songs I run to help me through them. Yes, most of them involve a guy. Go figure…

”I hate being single and I want a guy” – If This Isn’t Love – Jennifer Hudson

”I’ve found a guy 😀 and I feel all confident”  Piece Of Me – Britney Spears

”I’ve been fucked over by a guy, im mad and I want to die” – Alanis Morissette – You Oughtta Know

”You fucked me over and I shall destroy you” Britney Spears – Womanizer

”I’ve been fucked over by a guy and I’m moving on” – Sugababes – Stronger

”I wanna get drunk and have a laugh and forget about the guy that fucked me over” – About A Girl – Sugababes

”Im In Da Club, drunk, and feeling awesome” Get Sexy – Sugababes

”I’m drunk, thinking about that guy and wanna go home” – I Run Away – Britney Spears

”Life goes on, I’ve got my youth, and im happy” – Smile – Avril Lavigne

”This person is giving me attitude, do they know who I am?” – Roman’s Revenge – Nicki Minaj

Evanescence – ”Evanescence” Review

Since bursting onto the music scene in 2004, with the fifteen million selling ‘Fallen’, Evanescence have become one of the highest selling rock bands of the new millennium.  Earlier today, ”Evanescence”, the self titled third album by the highly successful American rock band leaked onto the internet, a month early.  After a turbulent four years since the last record, which has seen members come and go,  as well as stories and rumours of jealousy and resentment within the group, have they managed to create a record as good as the first two?

  Happily, the answer is yes. After 2006′ The Open Door record which, although outselling efforts by Christina Aguilera and the like that year, was declared a disappointment, eventually selling ten million copies fewer than their debut.  After only two single releases from the record, the Evanescence camp went quiet, a time period where a couple of members left to be replaced. This however was not a Sugababes type scenario, the members that left

The group in new promo shot

being instrument players, essentially replaceable. Arguably the key behind the group’s success is the lead singer and writer; Amy Lee.  She possesses what is unquestionably one of the strongest voices in the music business. Having a four octave range and years of vocal training at her disposal, Lee injects true emotion and power into every note she sings. If that alone was not enough to make the band a cut above newer rock bands, such as The Pretty Reckless and Paramore, the lyrics she writes are. Even some of the bands tracks that fail to leave an impression musically, are elevated above average status by the meaningful, sometimes haunting lyrics.

  This  self titled third album is an important one for the band. The music industry has changed since the band last bothered the charts. So far this year, Avril Lavigne and Christina Aquilera have both been victims of shocking album sales, despite high peaking lead singles. Both acts took long breaks from music before returning, and returned to find that even some of their fans had moved on. It takes a strong album to simply return to the charts without struggling. Evanescence have one.

  Lead single What You Want is a confident return single, although it is not a good representative of the record as a whole.  Tracks such as The Other Side and Never Go Back are guaranteed to be screamed back at the band with eagerness by concert goers, yet it is the ballads that strike home the best, always the case for the band. Lost In Paradise for example, would be a radio favourite for years, if radio in 2011 had the guts to playlist such a band. Seemingly a sequel both in theme and lyrically to their 2004 monster hit My Immortal, the track is simply a masterpiece.

  While there are a couple of mis-fires, such as the aptly titled Erase This, and Sick, you would be hard pressed to find a more consistently brilliant rock record.  Although not destined to be a blockbuster, due to the current musical market, as well as the early leak, expect a lengthy chart run nevertheless.

  Tracklist and a rating for each track is featured below:

 

Classic album of the month: Britney Spears – Blackout (2007)

  • “Gimme More”
  • “Piece of Me”
  • “Radar”
  • “Break the Ice”
  • “Heaven on Earth”
  • “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)”
  • “Freakshow”
  • “Toy Soldier”
  • “Hot As Ice”
  • “Ooh Ooh Baby”
  • “Perfect Lover”
  • “Why Should I Be Sad”

 

  Released in 2007, at the height of Britney’s personal and professional troubles, her fifth studio album Blackout, quietly became not only a fan favourite, but an album that was lauded by some critics as not only being one of the decades best pop albums, but as one of the overall best also.

  Following a poorly received performance at the MTV Video Music Awards and a hastily assembled music video for the top-five lead single Gimme More, the album was given a release date. Released with minimal promotion, a first for a big budget Britney record, the album reached number two on the album charts both here and in the states, a success given the state of her personal life at that time. Nevertheless, due to Spears inability to promote the record, it slipped quickly down the charts, and although it is currently a mere three thousand copies away from being certified Platinum, remains her lowest selling album ever.

  Nevertheless, tracks such as Break the ice, Piece of me, and Radar remain some of her best efforts, with other tracks, such as Freakshow, being credited with utilising Dubstep elements years before anybody else.

 

Highly recommended

The power of the B-Side: An idea to sort out the charts

What do you mean it didn't reach top ten?

The charts
at the minute are a mess. That statement is not a swipe at the quality of the
top ten, merely shock at the performance of some of the artist’s singles. Britney
Spears for example has released three singles from her latest album Femme
Fatale. Only one has reached the top ten, and that was only for one week. One
of the three has not even reached the top hundred, despite having a video in
circulation, and being heard on The X-Factor. It’s easy to blame lack of
promotion, but upon looking at the current top ten on iTunes, the same can be
said for some of those.

Another
example, Avril Lavigne, follows the same pattern. Top ten albums, poor chart
run for the singles. Whilst established artists are selling albums, due to the
fan-base rushing out on release week, the performances of the singles are
suffering. After all, why would a fan need to buy the single when they already
have the album?

The problem
with that logic is, singles are designed to promote the actual albums. Good
records are being forgotten about mere weeks after release, because the singles
are slipping under the radar and not doing their jobs of prolonging the chart
life of the album. iTunes for example, typically price their individual songs
at 99 pence, with the option of buying any extra songs that come with the digital
single, remixes etc. at a further 99 pence.

Am I the
only person who thinks the following?

Singles on
iTunes, regardless of the artist, should be released with a B-Side. Every
artist has tracks that were left on the studio floor, or left carelessly on
their laptop, later to be leaked onto the internet. Instead of leaving them,
they could be attached onto the iTunes singles, with a fixed price of £1.99, so
that the purchase would count as a sale for the single. The Saturdays, Kylie
Minogue, Girls Aloud and many others have used this method to scrape top ten
chart positions. And it worked wonders.

Sugababes: Catfights, Spotlights and how only one member stands to lose it all.

When the Sugababes debuted on the charts with single ‘Overload’ in 2000, the critics loved them. Formed whilst still in education, Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy were applauded, not only for being capable writers and formidable singers, but also for not being the glamorous and overtly sexual beings that were girl band staples at that time. Arising from a tough London upbringing gave them a rough around the edges look, which translated well into their sound.  Although Overload peaked in the top ten and appeared on many critics top ten list, the album that followed initially dented only the top thirty, despite reviews that predicted big things from the band.  Interestingly, years after original release, after the group found mainstream success, the album would sell consistently well, eventually shifting over 200.000 copies, good enough for a Gold certification. Although the band carried on promotion for the album, releasing three more singles, none of which replicated the success of Overload, a trip to Japan for promotional purposes ended in disaster. Donaghy, blaming bullying on Buchanan’s part, left the band, leaving the remaining members mid-way through a promo tour, minus a member. The record label dropped the group. Nevertheless, Buena and Buchanun, best friends since school, sought a replacement and a new record deal.

Heidi Range was picked by the girls to replace Siobhan, and the three would immediately set about writing a new album to ship around various record labels. An original member of Atomic Kitten, Range was a strange girl to choose. Although she has a fantastic voice at her disposal, her vocals and appearance were much more fitting to a pop band than Mutya or Keisha. This formation of the group however, worked wonders, as the group were signed to Island Records, and were all set to release their second album in 2002, Angels with Dirty Faces. The lead single, Freak Like Me, which sampled an underground remix of Gary Numan’s Are Friends Electric was lauded by critics as one of the best pop songs ever recorded, and went straight to number one in the charts. The album followed suit, eventually being certified triple platinum, an unusual amount of success for a pop group, and something that had not been seen since the Spice Girls.

2003 follow up album Three did equally well, spawning a number one single, and selling over 800.000 copies in the UK alone. They were the biggest selling UK girl group. Despite their success, the band was plagued by rumours of bitchiness, rudeness and in fighting within the group. Whilst interviews and appearances showed the group harmonious and close enough, Range was the only one who ever looked happy to be in the spotlight. The sullen presence of Mutya and Keisha gave the impression that they were never happy to have Heidi there, them being best friends since school, Heidi being the third wheel. This contributed to the press labelling them ‘moody cows’’ and such. After the success of Three, the band went on a short break, during which Mutya became pregnant.

Late 2005 saw the release of Taller in More Ways, the bands fourth album. Lead single Push the Button was the bands biggest smash yet, and the album followed by debuting at number one, the band’s first number one album. A week after the video for second single Ugly premiered, Buena left the band, citing the bands busy schedule as the reason, due to her not wanting to travel the world with a young child in tow. Within two weeks, a new member was found, Amelle Berrabah. After re-releasing the album with Amelle’s vocals on songs that might become singles, the band was relaunced with Red Dress, which became a top five hit. The press reaction was unfavourable to say the least, but since the band showed no distain towards Buena, and the musical quality remained the same, no huge deal was made of the second line-up change. Their next release was a greatest hits compilation, and although Amelle featured on only four songs, she was displayed on the cover, which angered many fans and amused many critics. On reflection, this was probably the point the band went from being critical darlings to merely a marketable brand.

After a break, the bands fifth album Change was released in 2007. After a lead single that became one of the year’s best-selling singles, About You Now, the album went straight into number one. Although they outsold Girls Aloud that year, follow up singles peaked outside the top ten, and critical opinion was gradually sliding. Follow up album Catfights + Spotlights was a dark period for the band. Entering the charts at number eight and quickly sliding, the album was their lowest selling ever, selling even fewer copies than their debut. Another break followed for the band, in which they travelled to the states to work with new producers, ones that were famous for working with Rihanna, Lady GaGa and Jay Z. September 2009 saw their return with Get Sexy, a club banger which sampled Right Said Fred. Critics were relentless in criticising the sexualisation of the band, but the signs were looking good for the upcoming album when the single peaked at number two.  Then, all hell broke loose. After Amelle was rumoured to have left the band, it was revealed in a statement by the band that it was actually Keisha who had gone, to be replaced by former Eurovision contestant Jade Ewen, a move that left no original members in the band. This was allegedly all due to further bullying on Keisha’s part, this time directed at Amelle, something that was ignored by the press in favour of jibes regarding the line-up.

Last Girl Standing

This would mark the end of the bands stance as the best British girl band in the critic’s eyes. Critics and journalists now referred to them as ‘’Sugababes’’, a sly dig at the fact they were essentially a tribute act. The resulting singles featuring Ewen gained the band top ten placing’s, yet the re-recorded album, Sweet 7, bombed, selling only 25.000 copies. To put things into perspective, Catfights, an album that was a well-known flop, outsold sweet 7 six to one. It appeared to everyone that the Sugababes were over.

The band were dropped by Island records, yet managed to sign a new three album deal with Sony, arguably a much better label, one that would ensure promotion and marketing was as effective as possible. Amidst recording their comeback song, ‘Freedom’, it was announced that former member Mutya Buena had successfully won limited rights to the group’s name. Whilst journalists were generally in agreement to this, it is important to note that, although Heidi Range was a replacement, her time in the band amounts to more than that of Mutya and Keisha. Technically the rights to the band should reside with the label who signs the group. After all, Mutya walked away willingly, meaning she should not have any claim to future incarnations of the band.  To add insult to injury for the band, there have been rumours the three original Sugababes have been plotting to reform. It is easy to imagine the reformed act would receive much more support from the media then the current line-up. Whilst good luck should be wished to all members and ex members, arguably the only would that would lose in either scenario would be Heidi. She either sits and watches as her band, the one she has served well for ten years, falls victim to the tittle tattle of the media, or she sees the woman she replaced re-join the group she left willingly. It’s ironic that, although the pop world seems to want the original group back together, they did not support them when they were together. It seems that, even though the band is in its eleventh year and fourth line-up, they are still managing to get people talking.

 

Freedom is released September 25th

Nadia Oh – Colours

Avid top forty club music lovers may well remember a particular song that was popular in the summer of 2007. My Egyptian Lover, produced by Lady GaGa collaborator Space Cowboy was a sizeable dance floor filler, featuring guest vocals by a girl known as Nadia Oh, a fresh-faced, impeccable figured camera lens natural. No more than eighteen, one could be forgiven she was a run of the mill pop tart with a questionable voice. The vocals on the song were certainly processed to within an inch of their existence, failing to leave much of an impression beyond the booming backing track.
Numerous single releases followed, each made with a cheap as chips video that displayed every asset Nadia had to her disposal. In fact, she showed such a lack of emotion in the videos that many were convinced she was created with Computer Generated Imagery. An album, also produced by Cowboy followed in 2008, entitled Hot Like Wow, further establishing her placing as an aspiring sex pop icon. The tracks featured were all in the vein of Egyptian Lover; auto-tuned to the max, samey instrumentals, and plenty of sex thrown in. Being on an independent label meant the album slipped under the radar, being released only on iTunes, however she nevertheless established an underground following, one of the many benefits of the internet age. It did see a physical release in Japan, where she has toured several times, to a thunderous reception. One of the many videos on YouTube shows Oh doing what can only be described as mincing across the stage, nonchalantly lip-synching and not even bothering to dance. Most pop stars pre-record their live tracks if they are planning on miming. Nadia does not care. She will mime along to the cd, and people will love it. This is part of what makes her such a curious musician.
Disappearing off the radar for a while, Nadia returned in the summer of 2010 with a new internet-exclusive single, entitled Kate Middleton. An aspiring club anthem about being in a club and enjoying ones youth, the track caught the attention of many a pop music lover and even the occasional critic. Sampling an up and coming musical production style known as Moombahton, the track was played a few times on Radio One, albeit in remixed form. A month later, an album, ‘Colours’ followed. Ten tracks long, the songs were equally as catchy as the trailer single, but many people were still left with a burning question; Is she for real?
Whilst the material on her debut album was frothy and light in its own right, the songs on Colours were technically altered to within an edge of their life, featuring lyrics so ridiculously shameful; ‘’Nadia Oh Yow! Blow Jo for sure’’, music fans seemed to be split as to whether she was a talentless Barbie doll, or a smart and talented musician, who was in on the joke. Viral videos released to promote the album tracks, featuring Oh casually stood in front of a green screen environment, wearing t-shirts that quoted lines from the songs, seemed to sway the argument to the latter. Whilst it is entirely possible to believe Nadia is clued up as to what she is trying to achieve with her music, it remains to be seen why she puts so little enthusiasm into her videos and live appearances. It is certainly a factor that budget limitations etc restrict what can be done in a video, yet she would be an easier artist to understand if we could actually get a proper listen to her voice or see some personality or emotion to cling on to. The thing is, that might be the whole point. Even now, as she releases new tracks almost weekly on her Sound Cloud account for all to hear, she still has this writer wanting to hear more, and in the fast-moving world of pop, that is something that should be applauded.