Lost In A Melody
By trading in their italo-disco, pristine romantic electro pop for fuzzy, dirty, guitar-focused stadium rock, Hurts have unfortunately left behind some of their identity along the way. Production wise, I love this album, it feels like an honest and natural progression, with nods to Muse, Depeche Mode, Coldplay, OneRepublic, Nine Inch Nails and more - but whilst the first four opening tracks are great, it’s all downhill from there.
I don’t have an automatic aversion to anything with guitars in, so the true disappointment here is with the songs themselves. Those that are good have been done much better before by the aforementioned bands that clearly influenced this record, and the rest are severely lacking in inventive melodies and ideas. It more or less just plods along depressingly.
A real shame because the references are on point and with less focus on making the band more accessible to radio, this could have been a brilliant, heavy and experimental album that worked as a perfect counterpoint to their debut Happiness. I hope that on the next release, they bring back those emotional highs, like Kylie’s big note on Devotion, the incredible vocals on Illuminated and the heartbreaking “stay with me” refrain from Stay.
Unfortunately the clever word play, poppy production and imaginative story-telling has long been absent from the world of Kate Nash, which means that third album Girl Talk has absolutely no hope of ever matching the highs of debut Made Of Bricks - but luckily for all of us, there’s still plenty of catchy melodies, tongue in cheek hilarity and riot girrrl wannabe spunk littered across the collection to make up for it. Girl Talk is definitely not Kate at her best - but even at her worst, she can come up with a decent track. Worth a spin if you’re a fan and/or you’re missing the days when all little girls wanted to be Courtney Love.
Just finished listening to Bastille’s debut album using their awesome movie theatre-inspired live stream (you have to book tickets to a showing and then the songs are played alongside on-screen visuals, including all the music videos that have been released so far) - and I think it’s going to end up one of my favourites of the year.
It’s a collection of heart-aching tunes that tell great intimate stories, supported by fresh bombastic production and unusual vocal effects. And aside from all of that, every single song is a pure pop stomper at the very core. Laura Palmer, Pompeii and Flaws are just some of the dizzying heights, whilst Get Home is a beautiful closing ballad in the vein of Imogen Heap’s finest hours.
Melt down Lana Del Rey, Hurts, Patrick Wolf and Fun. into a pot and this album is pretty much what you would have left. Brilliant.
Not only is this the best album of the year, it’s by far one of the best albums released in my lifetime (so far). Marina has always demonstrated an uncanny ability to write lyrics and weave narratives that I can understand and relate to, far better than any other artist on the planet. As with her debut, I feel like I completely “get” this record and know what she’s talking about, from the memories of abuse via mind games and lies found in songs like, appropriately, Lies - to the faux confidence and idea of becoming something you’re not because you feel like you absolutely have to, which I believe creeps underneath tracks like Bubblegum Bitch and How To Be A Heartbreaker.
The real highlights in these terms is definitely Starring Role and Fear & Loathing. Most of the album continues the theme of Marina’s desperation to be adored, in her work life AND her love life, but the turning point comes in that closing track where she realises that “not everyone is out to screw you over” and “there’s no crime in being kind”. In realising that she can open up to love and trust, Marina has (in my eyes) shown the kind of artistic and personal growth that most songwriters either take a lot longer to achieve, or simply never do.
I guess it also helps that every song is constructed perfectly with powerhouse choruses, hypnotic middle eights and superb vocal performances. And that’s before I even mention the sonics. The production on Electra Heart is on a whole other level, borrowing elements from the dance pop that has overrun the charts this year, including dubstep wobbles and shimmering synths, but it never once becomes generic (save for false start Radioactive). It still feels distinctively her own, and by moving away from the pots and pans kitsch of The Family Jewels, Marina has found a style that supports that maturity I mentioned above.
And there you have it.
Often touted as the “French Madonna”, Mylène Farmer has a reputation for creating outstanding musical melancholy by marrying tragic melodies and lyrics with much more upbeat and joyous backing tracks - but unfortunately this is a technique that no longer seems to click as effortlessly with her new desire to release dated dance songs.
New album Monkey Me does nothing to change this and is mostly a poor collection of depressing and faceless French rave that features extensive auto-tune. I may not be a native speaker and be able to understand the lyrics, but even to these untrained ears it sounds like Mylène may have hit a creative drought.
But there are fortunately a couple of highlights, including Ici-bas (a great moment where the star actually sounds engaged and like she’s having a bit of fun) and the epic Nuit D’hiver which at least tries to hark back to Mylène’s origins by way of dark, squelchy electro beats and spooky woodwind. But as a whole, even last era’s RedOne produced tracks were more exciting than this.
Say what you will about Kate Nash’s seemingly random desire to ditch the Lily Allen-esque doo-wah ditties and how that supposedly makes her a sham, but for long time fans like myself it always felt like the pop game wasn’t really her cup of tea and it’s nice to finally see her create something that’s more in the style she’s always openly desired.
Sonically, the Death Proof EP is reminiscent of the cassette tape compilations I used to hear my parents playing around the house - from the hazy guitars to the intermittent screeches, it’s basically punk pastiche, which isn’t actually a bad thing if you’re into it. It’s a real shame that most casual listeners and pop music lovers will do their best to avoid this release, because lyrically Kate is covering the same old ground (wanting a lover, dubious friends etc) and melodically the tracks play out in almost the same way. But I can certainly understand why something this lo-fi wouldn’t be for everyone.
Nash sounds the most comfortable and confident she’s ever been, and personally I can’t wait for next year’s Girl Talk album to see how she expands on this new found theme.
Considering that regular producer Nigel Godrich is one of the members of exciting new band Ultraísta, it comes as no surprise that their debut album has more than a shade of Radiohead about it. But of course, when you take your cues from one of the greatest bands of all time, (yes, really) there’s a high chance of the material sounding just as good.
Put it this way - if Thom Yorke is the Cheshire Cat (slowly fading and blending, note by note, pulling you deeper into Wonderland), then Laura Bettinson (who provides vocal duties here) is Alice’s sister - a jarring but sweet tone that is never overpowered by the endless swirl of frenetic drum loops, sinister buzzing and heavenly synths and keeps pulling you back to reality when you’re in danger of getting lost in dreams of unusual time signatures and barely decipherable lyrics.
But this doesn’t make it any better or worse than the work of their inevitable comparison - in fact, Ultraísta and the Radiohead catalogue stand confidently far apart, regardless of their links and exist as separate astonishing and enjoyable pieces of work. Mark my words - as they mature and find their feet, this band will be one to keep your eye on. Curiouser and curiouser…
The beats are harder and edgier, the choruses are more supercharged and anthemic and the swearing is left uncensored - on paper it sounds like Ke$ha has made the tried and tested decision to make album number two a bigger and better version of everything she offered on her debut. Except when listening through, it still feels like there’s something wrong, something missing, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Is it that the lyrics have strayed from exploding into a glitter ball whilst drowning in cocktails at a dingy bar to obsess instead over tribal themes of standing together and living like you’re young or about to die? Is it that the skyscraper choruses often trade snarling identity for radio friendly anonymous breakdowns? Or is it that the hilarious and outrageous auto-tuning and vocoder effects are completely non-existant?
In truth, it’s probably all of the above and more. The tunes are decent enough and can’t really be faulted, but Warrior feels like a watered-down, chart-chasing Ke$ha and that’s definitely not the sleazy cannibal I fell in love with.
High points: Warrior, Die Young, C’Mon
Low points: Wherever You Are, Only Wanna Dance With You, Wonderland
A perfectly crafted run of sensible pop music from beginning to end, True is an EP that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, but also refrains from trying to achieve anything other than showing you a good time. There’s no over-the-top boundary pushing or ahead-of-the-curve production techniques here, it’s just a thrilling collection of songs that are full of soul and class. You don’t have to think, you don’t have to know your Tumblr memes and you don’t have to spend all day and night twerking in the club to understand and enjoy this. True has universal appeal, and that’s a rare thing for anyone to attain, let alone the sister of Beyoncé Knowles.
High points: Losing You, Locked In Closets
Low points: Bad Girls
Little Mix have debuted with all guns blazing and have chosen to rightfully buck the recent trend employed by new UK acts (Lawson, Cover Drive, Conor Maynard and Rita Ora to name a few) that sees a cheap and clearly rushed album fail to live up to the dizzy heights of brilliant lead singles. DNA is a cohesive and exhilarating collection of songs - the vocals certifying that the group were deserving X Factor champions, whilst the production never fails to let them down either.
Beaming with confidence, the four girls navigate their way through an amazing selection of genres (from the futuristic machine-pop of the title track and Madhouse, right through to the urban, Beyoncé-esque Wings and Stereo Soldier and 90’s girl band homages of How Ya Doin’ and T-Boz penned Red Planet) far better than the flimsy jukebox releases from their contemporaries and never once sound out of their comfort zone. No offence to Alexandra Burke, but this is easily the best album to come from an X Factor winner.
Do you know what Rihanna? If you can’t be bothered to record engaging vocals, interesting melodies or any decent songs for your new album, then I can’t be bothered to properly deconstruct it and talk about the cheap and messy production/mixing, or the unnecessary and embarrassing features or the disgusting lyrics that plague almost every song and play on the fact that you were physically assaulted in a car by your ex boyfriend who also appears on a fucking track doing a terrible Michael Jackson impression whilst singing about how much he wants to keep fucking you, despite the fact that he’s obviously fucking someone else and you’re busy lamenting on another track that you hope “love doesn’t strike twice” as though that was some clever play on words when in fact all it does is conjure up horrific images like this in our heads.
In fact Rihanna, seeing as though you more or less dumped a steaming shit into a CD case and handed it over, my official verdict for Unapologetic will simply be the word “shit” repeated seven times.
I’ve written on this blog before about how Christina Aguilera is almost always playing catch up with her albums, but has new release Lotus fared any better?
Well there’s two ways of looking at it:
The sex-fuelled onslaught of generic bangers like lead single Your Body, dance-floor-ready Let There Be Love and Rihanna-lite Circles showcases an overwhelming lack of identity or passion, yet they all remain catchy enough. Xtina may have had Sia on songwriting duties before most mainstream acts, but bringing her back for Blank Page is nothing groundbreaking - and the ballads that aren’t penned by her are bloated and disappointingly mixed.
This might not be the most high-budget, high-octane Quarter 4 release we were expecting from the former superstar, but it does do something I thought was impossible - it’s her most consistent disc yet, and pretty much every track has a decent melody or two and has stayed in my iTunes library, which is a feat no other release from her has ever achieved.
Christina Aguilera may not reach the dizzy heights of the charts with Lotus (which is unfortunate, because that’s exactly what she needed right now at this point in her career), but don’t expect to see across the board negative reviews and the word “flop” thrown around as much as it was when Bionic failed to impress anyone who wasn’t a “music lover” in 2010.
Best track: Red Hot Kinda Love
Worst track: Light Up The Sky
The 2nd Law has leaked. My verdict = better than expected. Although obviously not a patch on the older material, the songs aren’t as big of a departure as they had us believe. Animals, for example, would not have sounded too out of place on Origin Of Symmetry. Each track has its moment and the whole album manages to cover a lot of genre and ground - although this means it also feels like Muse’s least cohesive release since Black Holes And Revelations.
One of songs featuring lead vocals from Chris (Save Me) is almost R.E.M.-esque and Follow Me is another dubstep influenced track that sounds fine but is a bit generic coming from them. My clear favourites are Panic Station (funky), Madness (obviously) and Explorers (camp ballad).
It’s also become very clear on this album what the problem is with Muse at the moment. Musically, they’re still great - but Matt’s vocals verge on parodic and his lyrics lead like a lame Chuck Palahniuk novel - “Brainwashing our kids to make them mean” and “Race, life’s a race, and I’m gonna win” is hardly in the same league as “H8 is the one for me, it gives me all I need and helps me co-exist with the chill” - but it’s definitely not over for the band yet.

A few words on the new releases from P!nk and The Killers…

The Truth About Love doesn’t actually do what it says on the tin - I was expecting a few more ballads, Funhouse-style, but this is pretty much massive pop-rock hit after massive pop-rock hit. The collaborations from Fun. frontman Nate Reuss, Eminem and criminally underused Lily Allen/Cooper are all fantastic and the strange but refreshing country nursery-rhyme style choruses that feature in tracks like Just Give Me A Reason and How Come You’re Not Here expand on the circus flavours from her last studio album. It’s pretty much P!nk as you always knew her, but with much less Max Martin which means this collection isn’t ever in danger of veering into Kelly Clarkson territory. Big highlights include new single Try (emotional sucker punch to the gut) and the bonkers Slut Like You, which you can hear above.

As for The Killers - well they probably could have done with sticking to their template a bit more and playing by the numbers. Battle Born is more defined and coherent than Day & Age and when the 80’s references (particularly Meatloaf…) work, boy do they work. The choruses are huge and Brandon’s vocals are as smooth and powerful as ever. But apart from a few stand out tracks, The Killers remain as lyrically dull as usual and don’t have the melodies to back it up. It’s the second time (third if you count Sawdust) that the band have failed to live up to the perfect Sam’s Town, and I’m not going to get my hopes up that they ever will match it. Lead single Runaways is a strong grower and tracks like The Way It Was and Here With Me recall at least a glimpse of the glory days. Best song title goes to the glittery and camp Flesh And Bone, which I’m sure will end up as a single at some point.

Here’s something I wasn’t expecting to post: Nelly Furtado’s new album is INCREDIBLE.
I’ll be honest, Nelly’s music is fucking difficult. It’s taken me many years and many repeated listens to crack all three of her English studio albums (and a few of the Spanish ones too) - but, a lot like Björk, once you take the time to understand the songs, their hidden beauty is revealed.
Fast forward to 2012 and the three lead singles from The Spirit Indestructible are no different. The melodies were there, somewhere, buried under unusual nasal tones and jerky and jarring, often cheap sounding production. But, they did all end up with their own place in my heart. But for this reason (and the lack of excitement and commercial profile around the release) I was not expecting the album to blow me away. And yet it did.
Once you get the more commercially driven songs out of the way, The Spirit Indestructible is a clean run of absolutely breathtaking and game changing tracks. The uncharacteristic whine is remved, in favour of the strong, yet vulnerable voice we’ve come to love over the years, and the production becomes much more fleshed out - featuring Middle Eastern tinges, bombastic and ludicrous beats and random but well executed outros.
From storming, relentless stompers like Enemy, to hypnotic and stunning ballads like The Most Beautiful Thing, to the dark and intriguing Something with a rap interlude from Nas - there are so many colours and shades to this body of work, I felt both completely lost and at home at the same time.
Whether the album will hold up on repeated listens is another thing entirely (although I’m sure the singles and hit-worthy Believers will be able to keep drawing me back) as the unexpected surprise of it all sounding SO good is probably why I’m so smitten at the moment. But one thing is for sure - never judge a release by it’s dismal promo campaign…
For a taster of what’s to offer, I recommend you listen to Bucket List which features the spine tingling lyric “I took a long look at my bucket list, and I saw that at the bottom it said ‘Our first kiss’ - and I’m running out of time”. Incredible.