Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

After the music press tagged her with "The next generation jazz singer-songwriter", Amy disappeared.

She returns with an album that may have made her Record Company's jaw drop. When they expected to hear a follow up, cashing in on the wave of Norah Jones, Katie Melua and even Joss Stone, what they actually got was an album that may just as well have been titled "I got balls!"

It's a natural progression from her debut album, "Frank".
But with added balls.

I can sum the feel of this album up in a short question:
Like Phil Spector, The Supremes and the whole 'Wall Of Sound' feel?
Then you're gonna love this.

This album couldn't have provided a better clone tip of the hat to The Ronettes, The Teddy Bears, The Paris Sisters, The Crystals, early Tina Turner, The Righteous Brothers et al had it been produced by the man himself.

The album kicks off with the first single to be released. Rehab has been getting loads of radio airplay with it's bluesey feel and blunt lyrics about (supposedly) her own account over excess. Just how much of what she sings about being true isn't the important factor here. It's all about the feel of the song. That dirty blues sound, her deep vocals tripping effortlessly over the sparse keyboard and horns.

You Know I'm No Good follows next and begins with a percussion beat that wouldn't be lost on a Kanye West or P Diddlydood album. Then a bassline kicks in, a little like walking the dog. Her vocals come in over some horns telling tales of previous relationships and her self pitiful image of herself. It doesn't paint a pretty picture but get away from that and just enjoy the whole mellowness of this track. It's dreamy.

The 3rd track is Me And Mr Jones (Fuckery). Yep, you read that right.
What we get here is a dirty sounding blues groove, and vocals delivered in a really sassy tone. Anybody who can embed the lyric "What kind of fuckery are we? Nowadays, you don't mean dick to me" is borderline genius as far as I'm concerned. This is a tale of woe. A story about lies, deceit and cheating. Once again, the listener get an earful of horns playing up the rear to her line delivery and it works really, really well.
This is by far my favourite song on the album.

Next comes Just Friends. It begins as if it were a Diana Ross balad, gently placing a few lines while the jazzy guitar and tinkling keyboard tune up. Soon enough it turns into a reggae flavour and it's a brief breath of fresh air. Even after just three tracks, the whole 'nod to the Wall Of Sound era' grows a little tiresome. There's not enough like this on the album.

The title track Back To Black comes next. The intro is a great clone of a Supremes sound and complements the song throughout, giving it more of a 'Motown' sort of feel. She sings in a great pitch, the chorus is just one big hook and it's probably the most 'instant' song on the album. I'm pretty sure this will be a single and if it isn't, her Record Company need hanging.
Great lyrics too...."You got back to her and I go back to black"

Love Is A Losing Game is a slow tempo number driven by a sixties type guitar chord flick. Some mellow orchestrations wash in every now and then with lush strings. Damn I love strings. Apparently, this is the song on the album that's most personal to her. She's been quoted as saying she gets all emotion when she sings this track live. It's a nice song with a subject matter that everybody should be able to relate to.

The next track is Tears Dry On Their Own. Again we get an almost Motown feel to the song, but it feels kinda disjointed at times. I guess this is a nod back the classic Jazz feel. It's listenable and sits quite nicely with a feeling that it would be best suited playing the background in the summertime.

Wake Up Alone features that familiar sixties ballad style. The slow plucking down of the guitar strings, slightly echoed. The tinkering keyboard following suit and her voice retains that edgy, raw feel as she weaves in and out of the story of failed love....again. If you could imagine somebody else singing this, it wouldn't be out of place in the Grease movie.

Next track is Some Unholy War. Slow tempo, with backing vocals that sound like they've been sampled straight off the Lauren Hill album. In fact, this track could have been the hidden, hidden, extra bonus track on that album, that's how familiar this song sounds. That's maybe not a bad thing and her voice suits the track well but I can't help feeling like I've heard this song now a hundred times before.

Penultimate track is He Can Only Hold Her. That familiar mix of sixties girl group and a slight sprinkling of Motown once again. It's an ok song, but nothing special. To be honest, by the time I get to this track, I'm almost begging for something 'different' to come on next. The familiar sound, pleasant though it is, just starts to merge in with all the previous songs and I begin to feel like I'm listening to just one really long song.

The album ends with Addicted. A breezy, mid tempo song that gallops along with the double time snare drum. The bassline follows familiar jazz club styles, then brass and flutes jump in bringing visions of back street clubs in the 70's. As a song that finishes off the album, in my opinion this is probably the worst choice out of all the tracks. It sounds like an album filler and album fillers by law should be plonked in the middle somewhere.

A verdict from me then?
If you hear just one song off the album and like it, then you're gonna like the whole album. There's nothing crap on this release and it's a very confident collection of songs from somebody who in my opinion, is recording and releasing songs that she wants and not necessarily what her Record Company want. The difference seems to show.
The length of the album feels short at just under 35 minutes and yet I still feel like somehow that's too long. I put that down to the samey sound throughout the album and find that just over halfway through listening to it....I become kinda bored.

By all accounts she rebellious, she has a great voice and she writes a mean lyric at times. All the right ingredients to find herself being filed in the 'occasional/moody/dirty sounding' folder.

Tom McRae and the Artistes of the Hotel Cafe

(Life Café, Manchester, 26th November)

Let’s get it straight, this is not Tom McRae plus support, it’s not even Tom McRae and 'Friends' - I'm not really sure what I'm expecting: a bunch of people I've never heard of performing songs I don't know? How is that going to work?

Tom McRae kicks things off, he's been the draw for me, but he makes it clear that tonight isn't about him. He performs "Hidden Camera Show" and "For the Restless", seeming pretty relaxed, breaking off mid-song to chat with some hardcore shot drinking front row fans, and it's enough to convince me I want to see more. Any concern that he might be a tad wimpy in a live situation thankfully turns out to be unwarranted

Steve Reynolds, despite it being the running joke of the evening, looks virtually nothing like Frodo Baggins. A segment of the audience, who obviously Know Their Stuff are seriously impressed by his musicianship and if I'm not fully engaged that's more down to the desire to inflict serious pain on the irritating buffoon to my right who won't shutthefuck up than to any deficiencies on Mr Reynolds part.

Jim Bianco, up next, doesn't quite do it for me, not helped by the realisation a few minutes into his set that it's not unlike listening to Mitch Benn*. During his second slot the penny drops: it's not unlike listening to Mitch Benn 'doing' Tom Waits**. He's proficient enough, but it’s coming from the head, not the heart. That decision to descend from the stage and have the entire band take to the floor probably seemed like a good idea at the time but, after the initial novelty, seemed to fall a bit flat - guys, you need a better exit strategy.

Joe Purdy on the other hand, introduced by Tom McRae as "one of my favourite song writers" sings story songs with warmth and gusto and I will definitely be seeking him out in the future.

Ditto Carey Brothers: note to self not "The Carey Brothers".
He is wearing a daft flat cap and sporting a bad beard, possibly in an attempt to avoid the ‘just a pretty face‘ trap. Vocally, sweeter than Joe Purdy but with less oomph.His final song is "Blue Eyes," which was included on the Garden State soundtrack, and consequently gets a decent amount of singalonging.

A bunch of people I've never heard of performing songs I don't know? How is that going to work? Pretty damn well actually!

Apparently there are tickets left for Sheffield on December 6th, give it a go if you get the chance.

Or at least go read what Tom says about it.

*annoying, self-satisfied, pillock who performs "amusing" pastiche songs on Radio Four "comedy" shows.
** Highly Esteemed Artiste, about who's oeuvre I know virtually nothing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

This is a Song

Generally I make a point of buying music from my local independent record shop. I never download. And while I am happy to buy books from Amazon, I rarely get CDs there. But I am ashamed to say I was seduced by the bargain basement prices in my local supermarket yesterday. I bought The Magic Numbers' new album "Those the Brokes" in Sainsburys. And on National Buy Nothing Day too.

I don't like it. In fact, I've listened to it twice and both times it gave me a headache. Unfortunately, I can't quite put my finger on why I don't like it. Maybe it just feels wrong when the central heating's cranked up and it's howling a gale outside. Or perhaps I'd been brainwashed by the bad reviews I'd read in the press. Maybe it's just lacking in charm and a bit rubbish. Like it I do not.

This places me in something of a dilemma as I have tickets to see this little lot next week. And let's face it, they are not exactly easy on the eye to distract from their "difficult second album".

Ebay? The office intranet? Or go along and face the music?

This is a Song - The Magic Numbers

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Damien Rice - 9

Damien Rice returns with his follow up to "O".

It's been a long wait since the day he announced he was ready to go back into the studio to record his follow up. I think his words were "Bigger, Rockier, More noise".

I expect nobody will be surprised that his new album is anything but that.

Once again, he is joined by his regulars; the gorgeous Lisa Hannigan providing backing vocal, although in my opinion she isn't featured anywhere near enough and Vyvienne Long accompanies on cello.

This is essentially more of same formula from his "O" album, but this time he's turned up the depressive love songs level up to 11 and of course everybody else's only goes up to 10. To say this CD should carry a health warning stating depressives, people recently dumped by their partners and chronic pessimists should avoid at ALL costs is an understatement. But don't let that put you off.

This is a near perfect collection of stories about relationships, told in such a moving and beautiful way, you can't help but be drawn in. His lyrics can be so twisted at times that each further listen paints a different picture. How wonderful is that!

In my eyes, having the first lines of the opening track on your album being sung by somebody else (Lisa Hannigan), that oozes confidence. The first track "9 Crimes" gives the listener a pretty good idea what they're in for. It's been lifted as the first single and I personally don't think he's a singles seller at all. This is essentially a duet between the two of them, telling each side of their tale, accompanied by piano, the cello and strings. As the song builds, some background percussion is added for tempo effect and it works really well.

"Elephant" has been around for ages now. Damien Rice fans who have sought out new music through frustration would recognize this song being previously touted as "The Blower's Daughter part 2". Again, we are treated to the acoustic and voice intro we have now become accustomed to, but about 3/4 of the way through, the band comes to life and rocks out alongside him while he questions the very point of his thoughts and even the nature of writing a song about them. Then we're back to just guitar and voice again as he tries to get some kind of closure out of it all.
Other songs on this album that will be familiar to some are "Me, My Yoke and I", "Grey Room" and "The Animals Were Gone".

The only uptempo songs are "Coconut Skins" and "Rootless Tree". The former, a clever ditty wrapped around a great piece of acoustic guitar. The melody sounds familiar and it's got "La La La La's" in it, and that's always a good thing, no? "Rootless Tree" sounds like good single potential, something that would gain lots of radio play. This guitar and general melody is 'Travis' country, nice and pleasant, then the chorus kicks in with him bellowing "Fuck you....Fuck You...." Possible not suitable for radio play then.

"Accidental Babies" is for me, the pinnacle of the album. Piano....his voice....that's it. No percussion, no bass, no orchestration. Nothing else. With this, the listener becomes wrapped up in a story of loss. A guy trying to understand where things went wrong, reminiscing over their relationship, questioning her reasons and her motives for leaving him for somebody else. There's also a dark sexual tone to this story. I find his words describing their physical relationship twisted beneath the lyrics.
This would be a perfect song to play in a film, at the part where the dumped guy has flashbacks about his previous relationship. In black and white of course. Oh and some slow motion too.

If this album were a rollercoaster ride, most of it would be the seemingly endless journey up that first climb. The struggle, the anticipation, the slightly uneasy feeling but all the time knowing that something amazing is just over the edge. Along with songs on "O", this just concludes that Damien Rice is indeed a brilliant story teller and everything is pointing in the direction of him having a longer shelf life than other singer songwriters.

The majority of this album is delivered for low key listening. This is a late night album to either have on repeat in the background or play on occasions when you really want to feel some emotion.

He has great gift of being able to draw the listener in while the story unfolds, then unleashes a wall of sound on the unsuspecting. "Me, My Yoke and I" is a prime example of that.
Whilst he's not an artist who's on the edge of becoming the worlds most popular singer songwriter, I think he's certainly somebody who can deliver on a (so far) consistently high level and for that alone I think there is much, much more to come from him.

I shall be filing this one in the "quite frequently" folder.

Monday, November 20, 2006

gift wrapped kitty kats

So, reality-TV created lovelies Girls Aloud release their "best of" package four years into their career.

I can't say I have ever been a huge Girls Aloud fan. I never particularly cared for "The Sound Of The Underground" (dare I admit that in that particular week I bought the One True Voice record not the Girls Aloud one?) and I have never bought or downloaded anything else they have done.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I was in the car and I heard their new single, "Something Kinda Oooh"on the radio.

Oh. My. God.

It is a brilliant nonsense upbeat pop record. I went into my local store, noticed this CD also had "Love Machine" (which I remembered I quite liked) and "The Show" and so I bought it.

I don't know why I have been so ambivalent until now. It is a 15 track strong popfest of the highest order. Being as I am partial to some throwaway pop, I can't really reconcile why I didn't buy any of their stuff before. The album contains great singles "Biology" and "No Good Advice" as well as their excellent covers of "I'll Stand By You", "Jump" and "See The Day". With their Christmas 2006 single "I Think We're Alone Now" (yes, that one) tying the whole thing up, it's a great spritely pop collection.

It strikes me that Girls Aloud have also made that small but significant jump from "rubbish pop band" to "something it is acceptable to have in your collection even if you dont like that sort of thing and much prefer other types of music". Which, for a bunch of TV reality wannabes, represents something of a triumph. There aren't many other acts who were spawned in that way who you could say the same about. Will Young, maybe. Lemar?

Top frothy pop. "...something kinda oooh, bumping in the back room...." Indeed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

You Know My Name

"You Know My Name" - Chris Cornell

When I first heard this song, I was unaware that it is the theme tune to Casino Royale, the new Bond film. I heard and recognised Chris Cornell's voice immediately, but quickly clocked from the backing track that this was not an Audioslave record.

I really, really like it.

When I played it to Lord B for the first time, his first reaction was to ask me what it was. His second reaction was one of shock that this was the Bond theme. According to Lord B, Bond themes are supposed to great big dramatic numbers with swelling orchestration (and ideally featuring Shirley Bassey on vocals). Slightly scuzzy rock songs are just not appropriate. He didn't say he thought it was a bad song, he just thought it wasn't a Bond theme.

I disagree for three main reasons:

1. First and foremost, I think this is a pretty good record in its own right. It sounds good - Chris Cornell is one of the best rock vocalists around today, and in spite of being taken out of its normal context (i.e. Soundgarden / Audioslave), his voice still sounds great.

2. Casino Royale is being trumpeted as an attempt to take James Bond away from the gadgets and the gimmicks that the films have become famous for and represents a return to the altogether grittier spy of Fleming's original novels. A move away from the "classic" Bond theme tune is hardly a complete surprise then.... and hiring a rock singer with a slightly edgy past is a good shorthand for the producers to signal their intent loud and clear that Bond is back. Just as Chris Cornell is no Shirley Bassey, Daniel Craig is no Roger Moore.

3. Strip away the vocal and listen to the backing track. Sounds pretty orchestral to me. They've masked it a little with the drums and guitars, but just check out that swell of brass and strings as the song builds to a crescendo..... make no mistake about it, this is a Bond theme in the grand tradition.

What do you think? Thumbs up or down?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

All Saints - Studio 1

So, after breaking up over disagreements within the camp, the foursome have decided to sweep all their woes under the carpet and get back together.

Huge dollops of media hype have been thrust into our faces, announcing the return of "One of Britain's best girl groups".

The hype is there, the first single has been unleashed to mixed welcome and now we get 12 songs from a group of girls who say they just "had to work together again".


There are two things that strike me when listening to this album:
Who turned down the songs in the first place
Oh dear!

The album kicks off with the first single released, Rock Steady. The first few listens to this song via the radio did nothing for me. Nothing more than an ok pop song, but then the hooks dug in and I found myself really enjoying it. The 'Ska' flavour adds a certain interest to the rather average drum and bassline and this would be well remembered because this particular 'flavour' crops up again on quite a few songs. It's no "Never Ever" or "Black Coffee", that's for sure, but as a pop song, it's pretty good.

I find myself getting worried when a new album leads off with the first track being released as a single. I almost see it as a cop out ploy to wind the listener in, after all, when you're looking down the tracklisting on the case of a cd, it's always good to be greeted with a song that you know and like straight away.

The next song, Chick Fit is pants. Shouty vocals, an instantly forgettable chorus and nothing in it to make you hit the repeat button. A definite track skipper.

On and On reminds me of "Pure Shores". Mainly because of the dreamy arrangement of the vocals. Strings wash in and out of the chorus, complimenting their vocals really well and in my opinion this has got potential single written all over it.

Scar next. A play on word there maybe because the Ska flavour rears it's head on this track. Apart from the driving bassline, this sounds like it would have been more at home as a B Side. Brass instruments give the song a slight dancehall style, alas it's just not enough and this falls into the 'instantly unforgettable' pile.

Next up is Not Easy. Oh and quelle surprise, it's that ska/reggae beat again. This is a much better song than the previous track, but that's not saying much. It's a lot more catchy with it's repetitive chorus, sung in the inevitable All Saints style (all the girls sing over each other) but there's whistling. Whistling for goodness sakes! And it's not even good whistling. I mean, who whistles nowadays? Roger Whittaker has a lot to answer for!

Hell No begins with Shaznay singing one line, then the rest of the girls responding with a chorus response, then Shaznay, then the girls, then Shaznay....Get the picture. It's not a bad song by any means. Mid tempo and once again a nice use of strings washing around the chorus. Samples of giggles and laughter get dropped in, which make me feel like this should be have been a much beefier track, slanted towards the club scene, but alas, this is All Saints and it doesn't matter how many times they say "These new songs have a much more clubbier feel", they just don't.

Once again, the essence of "Pure Shores" shows up in the next track, One Me and U. That is until the chorus kicks in. I'm not quite sure what they wanted this track to feel like, but for me, when the girls sing the chorus, it sounds like it's taken from a West End Musical. There's almost a childlike simplicity to the way this song is put together, then about half way through some idiot on the mixing desk has decided it would be a great idea to add samples of the girls going "Ha ha ha ha" under the chorus. Hello??? Can you even hear how tacky that sounds??? The song ends as if they didn't know how to end it. It's a crap ending, seriously.

Headlock has the girls singing about bad relationships and bitches. The beats are actually pretty catchy in this song. It follows their typical blueprint of either Shaznay or Melanie delivering the verses, followed by all the girls providing the chorus. This is probably one of the better songs on the album, but it's still a million miles away from being a potential hit single.

By now I've almost lost interest in the album. There's been very little to shout out "All Saints are back and kickin' some ass". Too Nasty sounds like a song title from a Janet Jackson album. The title itself almost threatens a phat tune with clever lyrics dissing this, that and the other. What we actually get is (once again) that Ska flavour coupled with a percussion track that sounds like somebody has sampled a panting dog. I kid you not! The vocals are arranged quite nicely but the lyrics are complete throwaway. Written on the back of a cigarette packet anyone? I think I can actually hear the Appleton sisters on this track. Yep, they chant "'Cos you're nasty boy" and do some La La La La La's.
Go figure!

In It To Win It sounds like the name of a quiz TV program, huh? This is actually my favourite track on the album. Slow tempo beats, a simple bassline, some nice keyboard action and guitar (albeit too little) drive this song along nicely. The breaks between verse and chorus are broken up nicely with a twinkle on a piano and that's always a good thing in my book. Sometimes the background vocals get a little shouty, but that aside this is a very nice track.

The next track, Flashback doesn't sound like it knows what it wants to do. The vocals sound untidy and the verse isn't the usual 'one girl' singing style so everything sounds like it's crashing into each other. This is probably the most rocked out sounding song on the album and subsequently reminds me of the Appleton sister's efforts at carrying on when the group became defunkt.

Fundamental finishes off an album that is quite frankly hard work to listen to. It's a great closing song though and a potential single, although once again I don't think Girls Aloud will be too worried about going head-to-head with this one. Of all the tracks on the album, this one actually sounds like they had a producer sat in the studio when they recorded it. The vocals are confident, once again strings supply a nice dream like effect, building nicely just underneath the chorus. Point of note is that the chorus doesn't actually sound like All Saints. Perhaps this is why it sounds so good. Very kind to the ear and definitely the best choice to end off an album.

So what happened?
If a group decide, for whatever reason, to re-ignite their passion by reforming and cutting songs to unleash into the world, then fair enough. But surely they would only want to crawl back together with their tails between their legs if they had something potentially great to offer. This is where All Saints fall down in my opinion. In a world where people's musical tastes change as often as their underwear, it surely makes no sense at all to make a huge media fuss about getting back together only to deliver a bunch of quite frankly....sub-standard songs.
All Saints made the decision to get back together for reasons unknown. It certainly couldn't have been to deliver great music and it makes me wonder if somebody didn't suggest to them that money could be made by getting back together.
Of course, they would never admit that.

Many of these songs sound like they were thrown out of camp Girls Aloud. I'm not saying Girls Aloud are brilliant by any means, but at least they (or somebody at their Record Company) know how to cut a catchy pop song.

Dear All Saints,

I feel so let down.


bedshaped x

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bad Cover Version

I have nothing against cover versions per se. Sometimes they can remind you of a song you’ve forgotten about. Sometimes they can take a mediocre track and actually improve on it. And sometimes they can be downright hilarious. Take, for example, we Are Scientists’ recent cover of Boyz II Men’s End of the Road. Nothing short of genius.

But what I do object to is when a perfectly good song is destroyed by a bad cover version. And it’s not just that it’s technically bad, it’s also about ruining what the song represents. Specifically, I’m talking about Gnarls Barclay’s cover of the brilliant Violent Femmes track Gone Daddy Gone. Dreadful. I love The Violent Femmes. I was introduced to them at 15 when I stayed with my Californian penpal one summer. (I’m ashamed to admit that she was also instrumental in starting off my long-term love affair with The Smiths.) The Violent Femmes have classic tracks which have endured over the years and even now don’t sound dated. A cert at the indie clubs I frequented as a student, I am instantly transported back to being 19 when I hear the opening strains of Blister in the Sun or Add it Up. And they’ve appeared on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Long before the days of bands guesting on the OC or other teen dramas. How cool is that?

Now, I don’t know who Gnarls Barclay is/are. I don’t really want to. That Crazy record drove me, frankly, crazy over the summer. But I do know that I hate this record, and that it’s spoilt a great track for me. Every tune I hear is subconsciously linked to a specific time, event, person or feeling, and now this one is linked to wanting to me scream at the television each time I hear the opening bars. And that makes me sad.

Bad Cover Version - Pulp

Sunday, November 05, 2006

che guevara and debussy to a disco beat

Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant have been writing beautifully crafted pop records for over 20 years and this, their newest album, showcases this work perfectly.

This live event was recorded at the Mermaid Theatre in London in May 2006 and was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 2. Recorded with Trevor Horn and the BBC Concert Orchestra, it is a splendid collection of seventeen songs from right across the spectrum of the band's output since 1985.

Opening with the brilliant 1988 single "Left To My Own Devices" the album is an eclectic and unpredictable journey through their career. The version of "Rent" more closely resembles the orchestral Liza Minnelli version than their original single and they produce a moving version of the Dusty Springfield single "Nothing Has Been Proved". The guitars come out for the excellent "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk".

This is the sound of a band with two decades of experience behind them. Confident, prepared to interpret their records and completely comfortable with their performance. Interestingly, the new material from 2006's "Fundamental" album holds up better live than it does on the original record. The haunting "Numb", the tuneful "Luna Park" and the overblown "Sodom and Gomorrah Show" aren't out of place on this collection.

And then, out of the blue, out come some special guests to feature. Frances Barber does a spectacular job of the little-known but brilliant "Friendly Fire" from the "Closer to Heaven" musical. Robbie Williams does a particularly good job of "Jealousy" - the first ever song that Neil and Chris wrote together.

No review of this album would however be complete without the mention of a three minute record that ranks amongst the best things I have heard on any album this year. Taking a little known track from the recent "Fundamental" album, Rufus Wainwright lends his amazing vocal talent to "Casanova in Hell". It is a perfect song for him, and a perfect choice of vocalist for the record. Seriously, I recommend that if you aren't that bothered about the album, you should seek out this little piece of brilliance.

And then, a rousing "West End Girls" finishes off the whole thing.

It's easy for me to recommend this record as I have always liked the Pet Shop Boys. However, live albums aren't always that interesting or listenable. This one, however, is nigh on perfect - indeed I would be tempted to say that it is a better representation of twenty years work than their singles collection. It's a sensational performance with some superb highlights.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Robbie Williams - Rubebox

So here we have Robbie releasing what might end up being his Kid A.
He was being very shrewd when he recorded this. Either that or he was stoned. I can't quite decide.
A strange bag of tricks. Some of them work, some of them don't.

1 Rudebox.

I love this song. I like the simplicity of the track, but more than anything else, I love the fact that it'’s somebody so mainstream that'’s done it. I don'’t even know what a rudebox is, but this song makes me wanna shake mine! He raps, then sings, then raps again. Something of a theme for the rest of the album. He talks about a load of crap on the verses but the chorus is to die for!

I love it.

It's funky 70'’s, blended with 80's breakbeat and it works really well. This is without doubt, my favourite Robbie song.

2 Viva life on Mars.

It starts off like a country song. Then the kick drum kicks in. Oh, so now it sounds like one of those new age country songs. It's inoffensive though, in a very listenable way. There'’s harmonica and banjo. Didn'’t do Basement Jaxx any harm, did it?! It'’s an ok song, but it'’s no show-stopper. I can only hope that some dip-shit at the Record Company doesn't decide to release this as a single.

3 Lovelight.

An interesting listen. Starts off blip like, then programmed drums bring in a jazzy feel, then the light keyboards kick in. Think Jamiroquai. It'’s breezy, almost jazzy feelin'’, very laid back. He sings almost falsetto, which is new one on me for Robbie. Reminds me of old Take That songs. The bridge and chorus lift the song up somewhat but all in all it'’s a pretty average song.

4 Bongo Bong and Je Ne T’aime.

Album filler alert! A throwaway song that's got nothing going for it apart from it'’s worth one listen. What the hell was he thinkin’g when he recorded this? I'’m sure he must have been tripping or something. I'm led to believe Lily Allen provides backing vocals on this track, but even with her high profile lately, it's not enough to raise any interest. It goes all French half way through. I guess the clue would be in the title then, huh? I fact, when it goes all French, it actually become a much more interesting listen.

5 She's Madonna.

Dreamy vocals to begin with. This is pure Human League. Breezy basslines and keyboards accompanying an electronic percussion track. Nice simple vocals and one hell of a hook for a chorus. It's very 80'’s this track. This would be a great choice for a single. Perhaps this could win back some of the fans he lost when he released Rudebox.

The track winds down with Robbie talking in a foreign language through one of those megaphone thingies, but really quiet like.

6– Keep On.

Can I say it? Can I even comprehend what I'm about to say? The intro to this song sounds just like it's come from a Morrissey standard. As soon as the intro is over, that's where the similarities end. What we now get, is Robbie rapping, or more accurately, talking in time with the music. The chorus is pretty good, with some nice strings in the background. Strangely, or perhaps intentionally, he sings in a Human League style vocal again during the chorus, but all the rapping stuff just reminds me of East 17. The Twats.

7 Good Doctor.

Oh Christ, Robbie goes all reggae flavour on our asses. There'’s a good hook right there in the chorus, but it's short lived when the rest of the songs chugs along at a snails pace. The lyrics sound like they were made up 10 minutes prior to recording. There's punishment towards the end as well. The song comes to and end, but it's a trick, a trick I tell you, because he kicks the fucker back in again. It'’s twice as shit now, just for that alone!

8 The Actor.

A strange song. I'’m not sure what he's singing about because the music has completely taken over. It'’s Bontempi time all over again! The keyboard tinkering sounds very similar to those pre programmed backing tracks you get on those crappy Bontempi keyboards. And what'’s with that strange interlude part in the middle? Is that kind of '‘tip of the hat'’ to Madonna'’s Vogue?

"“Strike a pose, there'’s nothing to it!"

Imagine Depeche mode doing the music and chief Pet Shop Boy style vocals and you'’re gonna be pretty close.

9 – Never touch that switch.

Good keyboard hook in this one. Oh and then he raps again. *sigh*. I actually really like this track. The whole '‘feel'’ of it gives me good vibes. This to me, is like a cross between Thomas Dolby, Kraftwerk and Beck. Then throw in something that sounds like a sample of Imagination's "Just an illusion" and you got a pretty funky tune. The bassline really grinds down well after the second listen and it actually '‘feels'’ like having potential to become a good sex song. ”

If I listen to this track with my eyes closed and forget Robbies singing on it, then it'’s actually a really groovy record that could just be good enough to catch people'’s attention on it's own merits. In fact the more I hear it, the more I'm convinced it would sound great with a female vocal.

10 Louise.

Ok, if I close my eyes this time and pretend it'’s not Robbie Williams, this track has Karaoke written all over it. Seriously, the backing track is a straight version taken off those Karaoke cd's. It's not a good choice of cover, he sings it almost identical to the original and it sounds more like something you'’d hear out of the door of a pub you'’re staggering past, to get home.

Definate track skipper!

11 We're the pet shop boys.

The first real uptempo track so far and it begins with an intro akin to the likes of DJ Sammy or Angel City. Then it just turns into a clone of the original song, only a crapper version. And that's saying something from somebody who dislikes the original anyway. This track begs the question "“Why Robbie?". Once again it'’s my presumption he may have been stoned when he recorded this track.

Ok, so a cover of the Pet Shop Boys might even be a good idea, but for fucks sake, who decides to cover such a '‘name tagged' song. That makes about as much sense as somebody covering "My Name Is Prince"” or "“Hey Hey, We're The Monkeys."”

The words, pointless and idea spring to mind.

12 Burslem Normals.

Slow tempo...….nice. He's singing, not rapping....also a bonus. Some nice use of a vocoder and a cool, feel good vibe about the whole song. I really think he should release this as a single. This is probably the most '‘Robbie'’ song out of the lot.

13 Kiss Me.

Another cover version, This time a club classic by Stephen 'Tin Tin'’ Duffy played in pretty much every club during the late 80'’s and early 90'’s. It actually sounds like a remix that should have been released about 5 years ago. Yes, it sounds THAT dated!

There'’s nothing new here, move along.

14 – The 80'’s.

He's rapping again. *sigh*. But this time he'’s pretty tolerable. In fact, the things he'’s talking about make better sense delivered the way he does instead of singing them. This is the sort of song Lily Allen would deliver 100% better.

This is Robbie in reflection mode, talking about his childhood, school and his sexual and drug experiences.

15 The 90'’s.

Seeing a theme here? A straightforward follow on from the previous track, although at a much slower tempo and actually a lot more interesting to listen to. Ok, he raps again, but the guitar hook keeps the groove on and the whole song sounds a lot more...….complete.

This one has him talking about leaving school, his Take That days, his relationship with the other members, when he left the band and how he felt on his own.

16 – Summertime.

It's a nice song. It'’s quite uplifting actually. Nice use of vocoder again. He does jump into Rappin'’ Robbie mode again towards the end, but it'’s forgivable because the rest of the song is really nice. A nice track to finish off the album.

But it doesn'’t, this one does....

17 Dickhead.

It'’s the rapping thing again. Sho Nuff and all that jizzle snizzle. Apparently, this is the track that has a pop at his ex Manager, amongst other people. A pointless track that once heard...….well, put it this way, you wouldn'’t lose any sleep over knowing you'’d never hear it again.

So there you have it. A right old mix.

I don'’t think this album is gonna win him many new fans, more detrimental is the fact that it may very well lose him some.

This just isn't a Robbie album. It's a new direction for him, which is always a good thing. Moving forwards and all that. But the biggest problem I think, is that if it were an album by an unknown, or even semi known artist, then it would be instantly dismissed. Frankly, as an ‘album it'’s very mediocre. As a Robbie album, it makes it just a little more...….interesting.

For your pleasure:

Never touch that switch


Burslem Normals

The 90's

Keep on

Smile Like You Mean It

So. The Killers have announced a series of arena dates in 2007, one of which is in my home town. All good, one might say. But is it? This announcement leads me to reflect on two of my great irritations when it comes to live music. Stadium gigs and ticket touts.

First up, stadium gigs. Picture the scene. A vast, draughty hall with thousands upon thousands of people crammed in. Over-priced bars serving lukewarm beer. The band seemingly miles away from the crowd, mere dots on a stage. Thank goodness for monitors or you wouldn’t see them at all. Which begs the question, if you’re watching a band on a big TV screen, why not wait for the DVD? (And no doubt, it will be coming.) Arena gigs attract a peculiar crowd too. While there will certainly be a large amount of genuine fans, there will also be a fair proportion of people who simply fancy a big night out, as was in evidence at Razorlight’s gig a few weeks ago. Lads looking to get lairy on the beer, girls dressed to impress in skimpy tops and fake tan. Impress who? I’m not sure either.

Moving on. Ticket touts. It’s a cert that when the tickets go on sale (Friday at 12, in case you’re up for a bit of fastest finger first) they will be gone within mere minutes. And then appear on Ebay within the hour. Okay, so they’re limited to six per person, and some people will have five friends that they’re buying for. But for every person with five friends, there’s someone with no friends looking to make a huge profit. Touts are scum. Not only do they trade on other’s misfortune, lack of plastic or not being quick enough off the mark, they push the prices of tickets up in general. And who hasn’t physically queued outside a venue to spot a man in a dodgy car giving Primark-clad kids cash to line up, buy tickets and then hand him the spoils? It’s enough to make a girl’s blood boil.

Smile like you mean it? Grin and bear it, more like.

I’ll let you know if I get tickets on Friday….

Smile Like You Mean It – The Killers