Category Archives: Music Reviews

All the latest reviews

Britney Spears: The Femme Fatale Tour

  After her official ”comeback” tour The Circus starring Britney Spears grossed over $130 million dollars despite sub par dancing and no live vocals worldwide, many fans thought that, her next tour would see the return of the Britney performances they knew and loved. The  tour was seen by many fans as the bridge between her initial musical return and her true comeback. This led fans to go easier on her than normal, her simple routines and lip synching being shrugged off for once. The media on the other hand, particularly in the UK, were as scathing as ever, denouncing her talents and belittling her slightly bigger than normal figure. That being said, three years after her comeback, how does this tour measure up to her heyday performances?

  For some unknown reason, Britney just isn’t dancing as well as she can. Rehearsal footage and backstage videos have all shown her dancing skills to be fantastic to say the least. Unfortunately these talents are not being replicated on the stage. Many have speculated the reasons behind this, theories including nerves, complications regarding medication, and so on. Performances such as Piece Of Me and Big Fat Bass really do suffer from such lack of dancing. Theres a moment in worldwide Number One Hold It Against Me where the dubstep breakdown kicks in, a moment that sounds purpose-built for a dance breakdown, and yet Spears sits on a throne and dances with her head. Such moments are probably not picked up on by the casual watcher, yet for hardcore fans, it’s disheartening to watch.

  On the plus side however, this tour features the most live vocals of any of her Tour’s, more important to some than dancing. Although dubbed over on the Blu Ray release, the concert I viewed on YouTube was fan created and represents a true copy of what was displayed in the Arena’s. Always stingy when it comes to live singing, it’s a nice surprise to see just how much Spears has been singing. ”Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know” is a highlight, being almost 100% live, with a backing track for some parts. Britney’s voice is in great shape, and it’s extremely telling to watch the crowd go nuts when they realise she is actually singing. Even her 2004 single ”Toxic”, recorded largely in Falsetto is sung partly live, an enormous display of progression from the aspiring Queen of Pop.

 

Also showing improvement is the amount of interaction with the crowd, something that was sorely lacking during the last tour. What isn’t improving, is Britney’s presence on the stage. There are times during the show where her eyes say more than the fake smile she has plastered on her face. During ”I Wanna Go”, in which members of the audience get up and dance with the singer, she couldn’t look more uncomfortable if she tried. Whilst nerves and anxiety was to be expected during her last tour, more improvement should have been made in the three years since. If she isn’t well enough to be back on the stage, she shouldn’t be there. Whilst her live singing during her concerts are a massive step forward for the star, it isn’t stopping her stage presence from dwindling. She has never been famous for her vocals, she has been famous for her show stopping performances. That is the area she needs to work on, and it will not happen if she does not want it to.

 

 

 

 The Femme Fatale Tour will be shown by the BBC in the new year, and is released on Blu Ray and DVD later this month, albeit in dubbed form.

 

N-Dubz Greatest Hits (November 28th)

  N-Dubz are a strange group. Despite achieving fantastic sales across their three studio albums, they have never managed to become a firmly established group, at least until lead singer Tulisa Contostavlos became a judge on The X-Factor. After looking at the back of the CD, I was surprised at just how many tracks I was familiar with, despite not counting the group among my favourites. After being a constant presence on the underground scene for many years, they released their debut album Uncle B in 2008, which spawned seven singles and was eventually certified Platinum. Follow up, Against All Oddsfollowed in 2009, achieving similar success.

Tulisa

  Love. Live. Life followed in 2010. Recorded and produced in the states, as an attempt to break america, the album didn’t quite resonate with audiences as well as the first two, although it eventually went Gold. In summer 2011, Tulisa was announced as a judge on the X-Factor, and this collection is presumably to cash in on the heightened public awareness of the group, before her inevitable solo releases.

  At eighteen tracks long, the album is surprisingly strong for a group that have only had three studio albums. The earlier tracks are the best, as it is quite evident that some of the groups hard edge had to be compromised in order to maximise their audience reach. Papa Can You Hear Me is a major highlight. Known for their aggressive uptempo’s, the track is along the lines of Professor Green’s current chart hit Read All About It, albeit more emotional and with less production. Written in memory of the band’s manager, who had nurtured the group for years before their breakthrough, the track is fantastic. Ouch is another mid-tempo, and a great showcase for Tulisa’s considerable vocals, with fragile lyrics describing an unfaithful lover being counter acted by aggressive raps. Strong Again is probably the best on the record, and was arguably the song that tipped them into the mainstream. Girls was their first release from their US-produced album, and the influence of the stateside producers is immediately evident. Showing none of the round around the edges charm that featured on their earlier material, it tries too hard to turn the band into members of Young Money. The tracks recorded over here are much stronger; highlights being Playing With Fire and So Alive among others. The collection also includes a couple of live cover versions, although they add nothing to the original tracks and only made me want to check out the original, the cover of the Sugababes About You Now being particularly painful to hear.

  After listening to the full album again, I’m intrigued as to why it was needed. Now would seem to be the perfect chance for Tulisa to launch solo material, yet there simply aren’t enough N-Dubz killer tracks to make a Greatest Hits collection necessary.

Download the best ones from iTunes, but it’s going to take a lot more albums from N-Dubz to fill a Greatest Hits.

Nicole Scherzinger – Killer Love (Re-Release; November 14th)

  Another month, another re-released album. This month it’s Nicole Scherzinger’s turn to add three tracks to an existing album and take another tenner from you. I’m joking, I love a good re-release (Looks at fifteen copies of Rihanna – Good Girl Gone Bad).
Despite a relative failure of a solo career in the states, Nicole has done quite well over here, her album Killer Love, released in March going Gold and spawning four substantial hits. Released on Monday 14th November, the re-release features three new tracks; Try With Me, which was recently performed on The X-Factor, Trust Me I Lie, and Tomorrow Never Dies.

  The original version of the album was a solid affair, beating anything she ever recorded with the Pussycat Dolls. The problem with this re-release, is that none of the added tracks add anything to the album. The album highlights; You Will Be Loved, Poison, Wet, Club Banger Nation are as good as they were in March. Of the new tracks Try With Me is the strongest, but its performance in the

New cover

charts show that it pales in comparison to the singles she released earlier in the year. Trust Me I Lie and Tomorrow Never Dies both suffer from B-Side syndrome, sounding like material that was cut from the original release, which they probably were. Even more frustrating is the fact that various other tracks that were cut from the album, such as Cold, and Guns And Roses, have been denied a place on the re-release, despite eclipsing these three new cuts. To further add insult to injury, the album will not be released in America until December, and will feature more bonus tracks than the ones we have received, despite the fact the UK has shown her much more support. Clearly the record labels are listening to the fans again.

  The album is worth buying if you don’t already own it. If you do, I would’nt even say the new tracks are worth buying individually.

Cher Lloyd – Sticks + Stones

 I’ll be honest here people; I was not expecting a good album from Miss Lloyd. Despite enjoying her first two singles; Swagger Jagger and With Ur Love, I was expecting something along the lines of Pixie Lott’s debut record, a few singles, and five or six filler tracks. (Yes, I’m aware Pixie’s album had more like eleven filler tracks, but Sticks + Stones only has ten tracks in total, so the comparison would not have worked.)

  Placing fourth on The X-Factor 2010, Cher divided opinion more than any other contestant I can think of. Despite having a strong voice, and giving what Simon Cowell deemed the performance of the entire series, her sometimes eccentric behavior and song choices grated on some viewers. Nevertheless, she was signed to a label and began work on her debut record; Sticks + Stones. After her August single Swagger Jagger reached number one, and her follow-up With Ur Love fighting for a top three position this week, my expectations elevated, and I was anxious to hear the record.

Miss Lloyd

First of all, I hate short albums. In this day and age, a ten track album is pointless. Some artists go way over board with their tracklists, Beyonce and Christina Aguilera being the worst; (If I started playing Bionic now, by the time it finished she would be relevant again), but when every song is a killer, why limit it? There is literally not a bad song on this album, something which even Lady GaGa and Britney Spears havent managed this year. Opening track Grow Up, featuring Busta Rhymes, is a killer of a track, featuring confident rap verses and a breezy, sugary pre-chorus. This would have possibly been a better lead single, it lacks the slightly grating lyrics of Swagger Jagger, and would have received a much warmer radio response. Want U Back is another uptempo, with lyrics referencing jealousy and bitterness about an ex finding someone new. Cher again shows confidence on the delivery, but avoids coming across as brash, something she struggled with during her time on The X Factor.

  With Ur Love, out this week is simply a lovely song, yet it is dragged down by a verse from the insufferably annoying Mike Posner, who’s verse adds absolutely nothing to the song. His appearance in the video is even more incredulous. Swagger Jagger is a decent song, enjoyable and not skippable at all, yet was perhaps too in your face for a lead single; it certainly pales in comparison to the rest of the record. Beautiful People was originally a song by Carolina Liar, who feature on this version also. After four fierce songs in a row, it’s a nice relaxing song which does a fantastic job of showcasing Cher’s vocals, which on this cut are vulnerable and effective, qualities that can be lost on more uptempo tracks. It’s not a particularly great song but it’s an effective one. Playa Boi would be one of the safest bets for a US release. Even on first listen I could imagine it riding high on the charts over there. It’s slightly strange how, despite the top-notch and modern production, there is something about the track that sounds slightly retro. 

  Superhero leaked online earlier in the year in demo form, receiving a warm response from fans. It hasn’t changed much, merely been polished.  The lyrics are smart, ”Went to sleep a Superhero and he woke up a villain…killin’ and killin”’, and do a good job of displaying vulnerability without having to do a ballad, and Cher owns the song, before unleashing a slightly mental rap later in the song. Over The Moon, produced by RedOne, of ”RedOne…Sugabaaaaabes” fame, the song features subtle dubstep elements, yet there is something about the cheery nature of the song that lends it a retro feel not unlike Amnesia by Britney Spears. Only one word describes Dub On The Track; fierce. From around five seconds in, you will be reaching for the volume button. Another song that was leaked online months before release, the song has benefited heavily from a proper studio polish. I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know the difference between Dub and Dubstep, but whatever it is, it goes hard. ”I’m the kinda girl to put dub on the track” she states numerous times throughout the song. Comments on YouTube show a lot of people displaying unhappiness at Cher utilising these elements in her music, feeling it drags it into the mainstream and detracts from the ”true artists” of the genre. These kind of arguments are irrelevant, especially since the likes of Britney and even The Saturday’s have done so as well, arguably much bigger names than Cher. Closing track, ironically titled End Up Here is perhaps the weakest track on the set. By no means terrible, it’s just perhaps a little too reminiscent of the slew of middle of the road male lover diss songs that seem to populate the radio. Nevertheless, it displays further proof of Cher’s vocal strengths.

  Final verdict:

I genuinely believe that this album will be very successful, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sales eclipsed that of the actual X-Factor winner, Matt Cardle. She is literally spoiled for choice regarding singles, and with a long and consistent campaign, commendable success should be seen.

 
 
 

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.

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:

 

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.