Monday, February 28, 2011

Album Review: Jessie J - Who You Are

Jessie J - Who You Are

Arguably the biggest thing in the UK music industry right now, recent Brits 'Critics Choice' winner Jessie J releases her debut album Who You Are this week.

Debut hit Do It Like A Dude hinted that the 22 year old was more likely to be the female Tine Tempah than the female Bruno Mars. However, I was surprised to find that Who You Are has a real pop sensibility running through it. However, notwithstanding the fact it is much poppier than I expected, I was hugely disappointed with this album.

Opening track and Uk #1 single Price Tag is a solid gold pop gem. Sadly, there is nothing on Who You Are that lives up to anything like that standard. It is mostly sub-Katy Perry pop schmuck and some of the mid-paced records are real album filler. L.O.V.E and Stand Up are instantly forgettable in a way that Rihanna releases seldom are.

The only time I was really engaged with this record was on the three acoustic bonus tracks at the end of the album. Stripped back versions of Price Tag, Do It Like A Dude and Who You Are demonstrate that all three are great pop tunes and that Jessie J is a competent performer. Disappointingly, the lazy, unoriginal production on the rest of the record manages to hide this fact which is a crying shame.

I can't help think that this is an opportunity that has been spectacularly missed. Jessie J could really have carved out a major niche as the British Pink or Katy Perry but instead Who You Are is another album of second rate pap. A huge shame.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Album Review: Bright Eyes - The People's Key

Bright Eyes - The People's Key

I was astonished to find that The People's Key is Bright Eyes' tenth studio album, and I can't say that I have ever heard any of the others. I vaguely remember enjoying the odd song of theirs, but with Conor Oberst already saying that The People's Key will be Bright Eyes' final record, I appear to be catching up a little too late....

This is actually quite a good record. Having not heard their previous albums I can't comment on the fact that this record is more modern and 'rockier' than previous efforts (that's a claim by Oberst) but it certainly does have a contemporary Arcade Fire-esque sound on the likes of Shell Games and Beginner's Mind. The Machine Spiritual also reminded me of some early Prefab Sprout - never a bad thing.

As with a few of this year's new releases, The People's Key is an album that I have quite enjoyed but not one that I would necessarily buy. Saying that, I have enjoyed it more with each listen so perhaps it is time to search out some of Bright Eyes' earlier work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Album Review: Tina Dico - Welcome Back Colour

Tina Dico - Welcome Back Colour

After a decade forging a loyal fan base in the UK, US and Germany - and becoming Denmark's #1 pop star in the process - a Tina Dico anthology was probably long overdue. With seven albums under her belt and over a century of songs in her catalogue, Welcome Back Colour is an interesting and varied selection of the 33 year old's work.

Unlike many artists who compile a 'best of' by picking their 15 best known songs and recording one new track, Dico has been careful with this collection. Just 11 of the 26 tracks are lifted directly from previous releases and so there's plenty to interest die hard fans. Five new songs, two duets and eight acoustic re-recordings of some of her favourite songs make up the double CD.

It will surprise no-one to discover that I think this album is almost perfect. Dico's 2009 album The Road to Gavle was my 'album of the year', whilst her 2008 release Count to Ten was both my album of the year and album of the decade. What I particularly like about Welcome Back Colour is that there is plenty of new material to enjoy. The title track - a Danish #1 single - is unlike any record that Dico has made before with its staccato, angular guitar whilst Copenhagen - a paean to her home town - is simply beautiful. However, the pick of the new songs is undoubtedly Watching Him Go, a song that is so heartrending and brutally honest that it can't fail to move you.

As with any anthology there will be personal favourites missing and one or two of the acoustic re-recordings don't add much to the original release. However, these are minor and petty complaints. If you're not already a Dico fan then Welcome Back Colour is the perfect introduction to one of the most talented singer songwriters of her generation. If you are already a fan, there's still tons to enjoy on this record.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Album Review: White Lies - Ritual

White Lies - Ritual

After the success of their 2009 #1 debut album To Lose My Life... White Lies return with their brand new album Ritual. Variously compared to the Editors, Interpol and and Joy Division, Ritual is more doomy guitar rock - although the band believe their music is more uplifting than any of those three other artists.

I'll be honest, I find the White Lies hard to like. Ritual is clinical and crisp and perfectly competent, but there's not much about it that you can love. In places it's quite tuneful and anthemic but the downbeat vocals mean it lacks enough soul to really mean anything. Single Bigger Than Us is a decent enough radio friendly guitar tune but beyond that Ritual fails to deliver anything approaching a knockout punch.

Influenced by early 80s artists - you can hear the Talking Heads, Depeche Mode and early Tears for Fears on this record - it should be something that I like. Indeed, closing track Come Down's sparse backbeat sounds so much like Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight that it is instantly familiar. However, whilst it's an album I am happy to listen to, Ritual sounds like all the emotion and meaning has been eliminated in the production. Disappointingly, it's a perfectly competent record without actually being any good.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Album Review: James Blake - James Blake

James Blake - James Blake

James Blake, the runner-up on the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll, releases his self-titled debut album this week. I've been idly interested in this album, actually, ever since hearing the strange but interesting Limit To Your Love on the radio a while back. I enjoyed the sparse, bare nature of that song and I thought Blake had an interesting voice and a sound which I hadn't heard before.

Whilst all of those things may be true, this record is drastically bad.

The reviews I have read of James Blake champion the singer's unusual style and make reference to the fact that an artist with such an noncommercial sound can feature so highly in a BBC poll of that nature. What the reviews seem to fail to take into account, though, is that some of this album is awful.

Large chunks of it sound like a young child experimenting with a kids keyboard whilst Blake warbles - at a different rhythm and in a different key - over this weirdly constructed backbeat. On some songs he seems to be trying to auto-tune the auto-tune machine over no instrumentation at all.

When there's some basic piano and some normal vocals - Limit To Your Love is a rare example - Blake sounds like he could be a genuine soul star. However, most of the record simply lacks charm, talent and, if I am being ruthlessly honest, anything approaching a tune. I actually ended up having to turn it off on the second spin as it was grating so badly I couldn't listen to it any more.

I am sure that there are some people out there who will hail it as absolute genius. And, I wanted to like it; I really did. Whilst I have an open mind with music and am prepared to give anything a whirl, this album is one of the most disappointing and uncompromisingly bad records I've heard in a long, long time. Terrible.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Album review: Hannah Peel - The Broken Wave

Hannah Peel - The Broken Wave

As I plough through 2011's new album releases, I seem to be mining a seam of wispy, folky female singer songwriters. It's not a deliberate move, and the albums I am trying out seem to get more and more ethereal and dreamy.

That's certainly the case with Hannah Peel's The Broken Wave; an album that's the musical equivalent of having a cuppa and a flapjack at Glastonbury's Tiny Tea Tent on a wet Saturday morning. It's arguably the last musically offensive album ever made, with plinky-plonky folksy instrumentation and Peel's gentle, restrained vocals.

I have listened to other records this year that have gone in one ear and straight out of the other. The Broken Wave, however, takes light, airy music to a whole new level. I could listen to this a hundred times and I'm still not sure any of it would register. It's nice enough, of course, but ultimately far too forgettable to really love.