Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 The Year In Review



For a year with a lot of “pop music” I actually found it difficult to choose the ten best. There were many good albums but nothing really blew me away.

I flip flopped back and forth with the #1 position any of my top 5 could have filled the bill but I believe that the Scissor Sisters and Mika produced superior products and interesting outputs. A few albums surprised me like Lionel Richie’s country “Tuskegee”, which become one of the top ten selling albums of the year in the USA, and Kylie Minogue’s “Abbey Road”, I did not think I would like either of them.

A few albums missed my top ten like Taylor Swift’s “Red” which had some great tracks but I found needed more pruning, The Wanted’s North American EP, and One Direction who had two albums chart at #1, “Take Me Home” could have made my list but I thought their first effort had better tracks. The most surprising is two of my favorite divas not making my list. The first is Madonna, I originally liked “MDNA” but it quickly wore off, she really needs to rethink her music for her next album. Then there’s Celine Dion who French album “Sans Attendre” just didn’t cut it for me despite the great single “Parler A Mon Père”.

The single charts were much more interesting than the albums charts, they were ruled by Riahnna, Marron 5, Fun, Gotye (who topped the Billboard Hot 100 songs of the year), Taylor Swift and Canadian Idol Carly Rae Jepsen (who didn’t cover “Call Me Maybe”), unfortunately I found her full length album really disappointing. There were great singles by the Scissor Sisters, Mika, One Direction and Ke$ha.



Top Ten Albums of 2012



1) Magic Hour—Scissor Sisters

Their best effort since their debut album the “Sisters” keep delivering solid, exciting and fabulous music, from Jake’s plead to his lover on the sultry “Baby come home” to their Calvin Harris collaboration “Only The Horses” one of the best dancefloor tracks of the year, so much better than “We Found Love” which Harris gave to Rihanna.  “Inevitable” produced by Pharrell Williams for the Neptunes is lush and gorgeous, Jake’s falsetto evokes memories of the BeeGees at their best, while “The Year Of Living Dangerously” feels like a James Bond theme, maybe they could replace Adele next time.


The album is a bit of a mixed bag “San Luis Obispo” is a typical Spanish/Island flavoured ditty but hey if Madonna could do it why can’t they? While never boring some of the tracks like “Keep Your Shoes On”, and “Shady Love” which I find mildly annoying especially Jake’s attempt at Hip Hop, are kind of hit and miss, but a “Sister” miss is still better than a chart hit by any other. 

“Self Control” turns to the house beats of the 90’s, while the average “Best In Me” is kind of forgotten by the end of your listen. Luckily the last 2 songs get back on track with the beautifully haunting “The Secret Life of Letters” and “Somewhere” the Pet Shop Boys-esque dance jam that is pure bliss, this song should have been a single.


Then there’s “KIKI”, who would have thought that this would be the song everybody including Hollywood’s stars would be clamoring about. The little Ms Matronic jam, with nothing but pulsating drums over her complaints about having her “par-tee” closed down even took the TV show Glee by storm, yet despite all that the Sisters have yet to produce a hit single in the USA.




2) The Origin Of Love—Mika

When you open a Mika album you never know what you are going to get, but melody and lots of fun are a given. This album his 3rd, feels a little more grown up and less sugary pop, but he hasn’t lost his sense of wonder, poetry or joy. Many collaborate with him including some of the industry’s best. Nick Littlemore from the Australia dance duo Pnau lends a hand for a many of the songs including the fabulous title track whose melody and lyrics “Love is a drug and you are my cigarette, love is addiction and you are my Nicorette”, “sticks in your head like glue, but once the breakdown/guitar verses kicks in, its bliss, this song has everything from pulsating drums, a double chorus “to the one I love…”, too bad it’s too unique for radio. “Lola” is a fun synth 70’s bass line romp but following it is my favorite track “Stardust” produced by Benni Benassi, a fantastical dance floor pulsating jam over Mika’s fab falsetto. “Make You Happy” whose video was filmed in Montreal, has a beautiful synth and string arrangements melded over an auto tuned muffled chorus which produces a really nice effect. “Underwater” is a stunning and haunting piano electro ballad, a song begging to be a big film score. “Kids” sound like an old familiar 70’s classic tune but updated to our time, while “I Love You When I’m Drunk” is a fun take on his love life. “Step with Me’ is a bit too formulaic for me but I give two thumbs up to the track “Popular Song” with Priscilla Renea, both authors give a big “middle finger” to their haters in high school with a cheeky silly synth song.

“Heroes” is a heartfelt and bittersweet song especially in this time of civil war around the world, “fighting someone else’s’ war” Mika’s sing “Your blood on me, my blood on you”, “Heroes aren’t meant to survive”. The moment doesn’t last long as Mika breaks up the sombre tone with Pharrell Williams for “Celebrate” a Madonna-esque dance floor anthem perfect to dust off the sadness.

Included is Emily the English version of his fabulous French song “Elle Me Dit”, whose friends tells him to stop wasting his life, get off his ass and do something with his life, write a song, make a million dollars, while he might not be making millions or having many hits, he and I are having lots of fun, eh Emily?



3) Elysium—Pet Shop Boys

Nobody does smooth electronic dance music like the boys, from the opening track “Leaving”, you feel like you are covered in a warm and fuzzy blanket of beats. We aren’t talking about hit you over head like Guetta or Calvin Harris but soothing melodies. A departure and less “pop” then their previous effort “Yes” this album takes a few listens to get into. Unfortunately it starts off in my opinion with a few week tracks. “Invisible’ is a little too low key for me. The single “Winner” picks it up a bit and it only gets better from there.
I love how the boys they both don’t take their status too seriously, they get cheeky and make fun of themselves with the inspired story “Early Stuff” about a cabbie who chats them up on a ride “You've been around but you don't look too rough, And I still quite like some of your early stuff” Neil sings “Those old videos look pretty funny What's in it for you now, need the money?"They say that management never used to pay, honestly you were ripped off back in the day”. Then there’s “Ego Music” at first listen I found the song annoying, but I think that was the point, this song most likely about Kanye West and his rapper buddies “Ego music, it’s all about me” , sense of entitlement…” How ironic that the boys hired Andrew Dawson (Kanye’s album engineer) to produce the album.

“A Face Like That” and “Hold On” bring us back to the old PSB’s, I love the latter whose choir like atmosphere are matched along with the cheeky lyrics “Hold on hold on or the world will end today”. "Breathing Space" and "Give It A Go" are just middle ground but the album really shines with 2 songs buried at the end. “Memory Of the Future” is a Pet Shop Boys opus, Neil sing “It’s taking me all of my life to find you” his voice surrounded with swirling magical, melodic synthesizers, covering him in a warm blanket of pure bliss. “Requiem in Denim and Leopard skin” is like finding an old Pet Shop Boys gem that was lost in a vault, unfortunately the song sounds like a happy “goodbye” from the boys, let hope this is not the case.





4) Up All Night—One Direction


Only Simon Cowell can turn five unknown twinks, into the world’s biggest superstars. It might not last long but he knows how to get what he wants from the best in the business. From the brilliant debut single “What Makes You Beautiful” the album is filled with great slick and fun produced pop songs, almost any song could be single material. “One Thing” is just as good as it’s predecessor and the title track was screaming to be released “Katy Perry’s on a plane, she’s on a plane” they sing over a thumping beat as good as any of Perry’s hits. “More Than This” and “Taken” fill the slots for pretty ballad which don’t sound kiddy but grown up band.  “Tell Me A lie” penned by Kelly Clarkson” is a rocking rolling dance gem along with the Beatles/Take That sounding “I Want”. Even the songs they co- write like “Everything About You” holds up to the other tracks. The album ends off with 2 of the best tracks “Save You Tonight” and "Stole My Heart" which is  one the best dance songs of the year, I don’t understand why they released a 2nd album so quickly instead of releasing this as a single, a wasted opportunity.



5) Overexposed—Maroon 5

Inspired by their mega hit “Moves Like Jagger” the new album produced by hit maker Max Martin (Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson,  and many others), venture the boys into a pop infused dubstep album, from the opening reggae influenced song “One More Night” which spent 9 weeks at #1 to their previous single “Payphone”, the album is jammed packed with winners. “Daylight”, “Lucky Strike” (with Ryan Tedder) and “Love Somebody” with its clever synth 80’s hook are future hits in the waiting. “The Man Who Never Lied” is a sly rocking thumping dance romp with Adam trying to convince himself it’s OK to not tell the truth.  “Ladykiller” is olf Maroon 5 with a funky baseline,  less production and more vocals, but “Fortune Teller” and “Tickets” goes right back into dubstep. Favorite track is the Shellback produced “Doing’ Dirt” which feels like a long lost 70’s disco gem crossed with the Sugababes “Red Dress”. Could Maroon 5 be the crowned kings of the dancefloor? Maybe so. 

If you get the deluxe edition be sure to check out their fabulous jazzed up version of Prince's "Kiss".




6) Tuskegee—Lionel Richie

The idea of Lionel Richie doing a country album might confused the average music listener, but if you were more attentive you would see that his songs like “Stuck On You” and “Deep River Woman” are pure Country, not to mention the mega hit “Lady” which he penned for Kenny Rogers. For this project Lionel got some of country’s best singers and musicians to duet with him. When I first heard snippets of the album I was a bit disappointed but after hearing the full LP I love it.  R&B staples like my favourite “You Are” with Blake Sheldon are just as good if not better, this guitar flavoured version only adds to the song without taking away any of the original magic. “My Love” with Kenny Chesney, “Sail On” with Tim Mcgraw and “Stuck On You” with Daruis Rucker are perfect. “Deep River Woman” with Little Big Town, in my opinion rivals the original sung with Alabama back in 1986 on his “Dancing On The Ceiling album”, the harmonies here are gorgeous, this song needed this production. A song that should have been a bigger hit “Just For You” is another stand out with Billy Currington. “Hello” with Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland, is an interesting mix but I’m not sure their vocals work well together while “Easy” with Willie Nelson sounds like it could have been written for him.

I only wish it was less of a Greatest Hits list, “Dancing On The Ceiling” and “All Night Long” do not translate into country, Lionel what were you thinking? Even Rascal Flatts couldn’t country-fi “Ceiling”. “All Night Long” gets saved by going more island flavoured then country with the help of Jimmy Buffet and some cool Hawaiian like steel drums. “Say You Say Me” with Jason Aldean is another oddity that doesn’t translate well.  I read all about the lengths Lionel went through to get Shania Twain to record “Endless Love”, but I don’t think their vocals match well plus did we really need another version? I never liked the Mariah Carey Luther Vandross one, nothing compares to the original with Diana Ross. Speaking of vocals, despite the guest list nobody sounds as good as Lionel singing his own songs, his voice still sounds great, unlike Kenny Rogers who’s losing it, I would have preferred a solo version of “Lady” instead.



7) Good Morning To The Night—Elton John VS Pnau

What happens when you take a modern electronic Australian duo and give them Elton John’s early classic masters to play with? You get this little ingenuous piece of heaven. I’ve never like sampled music, but this album is a whole new ballgame. Elton actually hired the duo Pnau when he heard their previous recordings and fell in love with their music. These are not remixes but total reconstructions of his songs. I find that remixers have gotten quite lazy, Pnau have definitely set the bar high. Every song has a familiar feel but sounds shiny and new, Pnau have created a certain atmospheric charm, unlike modern remixes which seem to only hit you with bass and sound and no melody. Trying to figure out which parts of what song they used is also part of the fun, they didn’t used his most famous material, the title track, a UK dance hit, borrows from 'Mona Lisa' and 'Mad Hatters' and 7 other tracks. “Sad” feels like a long lost disco classic, it doesn’t sound like a remix but rather a sophisticated new song. “Black Ice Stare” feels like a lost reggae classic, while “Foreign Fields” is a fantastic take on Elton “High Flying Bird”, “Telegraph to the Afterlife” slows down to a Beatlesque acid trip and “Phoenix” take on Elton’s “Grey Seal” to new heights. Only 8 tracks long the album leaves you wanting more.



8) The Abbey Road Sessions—Kylie Minogue

I thought I was going to be disappointed, after all who needs a jazzy acoustic album of Kylie’s dancefloor classics? Kylie is not known for her vocal prowess, but this album definitely delivers. While some songs are misses, “On A Night Like This” just doesn’t have enough melody to work, and who needs “Slow” slower, really? Opening track like “All The Lovers” proves how good a song really is. “Better The Devil You Know’ is fab but we’ve heard this version in concert before same goes for “I Believe In You and “I Should Be So Lucky”. “Never Too Late” is absolutely fabulous, a forgotten gem that translates well, same goes for “Finer Feelings”, interesting how most Stock Aiken and Waterman tracks work well into many mediums and genres proving that a good melody counts. While I think that “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” should be banished to never be heard or recorded again, I actually love this version, the strings/violins are beautiful. Love At First Sight is cute. I was worried that we would get the snooze jazzy version of “Locomotion” but luckily we get a somewhat upbeat version. Having Nick Cage record his vocal for “Where The Wild Roses Grow” was a definite delight, but the true gem is the only new song “Flower” a fan favorite which up until now was only sung in concert, the sad song (as most fans speculate), about her longing to have a child, is emotional and poignant.

Too bad songs like “Spinning Around” which sounded fabulous when she sang it at the Proms concert was not included and “Wow” and “In My Arms” were only bonus tracks on certain editions. I would have preferred less of a hit package and more lost classics that suited the genre.


9) Take The Crown—Robbie Williams

After a return to Take That greatness Robbie delivers another solo album, he claims this is the album he wanted to do instead of “Reality Killed the Video Star” which I actually liked. While “Take The Crown” it’s no “Sing When You’re Winning”, or “Escapology”, it’s a valiant effort. “They said the magic was leaving…” he sings on the opening track, “Be A Boy”, he still has some magic with the #1 saccharine sweet cutesy UK hit “Candy”, and the synth 80’s inspired “Shit on the Radio” which reminds me of Queen’s “Radio Gaga”. “Gospel” sounds a bit like early Robbie rebel but it doesn’t come close to anything on his first 2 albums. “Different” the required power ballad is likable enough like “Feel” or Come Undone”.  The next 2 tracks are probably my favorites, “All That I Want” is an 80’s funky electro sounding piece that could make a good single and “Hunting For You sound more authentic than anything else on the album, Robbie’s vocals and falsetto really shines. “Into The Silence” could be another power rock ballad but it tries too hard and sounds overproduced. “Hey Wow Yeah Yeah” is just filler in my opinion, I don’t get it. “Not Like The Others” is a bit of return to form, the music reminds me of good old Robbie but after 3 to 4 songs I’m getting tired of lyrics about his sex life.

The bonus track “Eight Letters” originally written and sung by Take That proves that Robbie should just stay with the group who are producing better pop songs and albums.



10) Ke$ha—Warrior

My guilty pleasure of the year. A Dr. Luke/Max Martin production I was actually expecting more, but it’s Ke$ha, trashy, brassy and fun. “Die Young” is the catchiest pop song of the year, “I hear your heartbeat, to the beat of your drums…”, Ke$ha definitely goes to the beat of her own drum and she sings, raps and vomits glitter all over the dancefloor. I almost wish she would give up the silly raps and autotune, the fabulous country pop track “Wonderland” proves that she can sing and write a great song, but unfortunately the other stuff has become her signature.

Highlights are the catchy guitar driven “Crazy Kids” (wishing she would of deleted the awful rap parts) , and the unusual garage/rock duet with Iggy Pop “Dirty Love”, who can’t like a song that name checks Rick Santorum and cockroaches and how they “do it”, no auto tune here. Her voice sounds great on “Thinking Of You”, a big “f*ck you” to her ex, is as good as any mad Taylor Swift song but much more fun. “Whenever You Are” could be another single with it brassy baseline and catchy chorus. So many tracks could be singles including “I Only Wanna Dance With You” a collaboration with The Strokes, “Supernatural” with it’s beautiful haunting verses and a brassy pounding chorus, and “All That Matters (The Beautiful Life)” a thumping 90’s Ace Of Base like track. The regular edition album ends of with a haunting Phil Collins like ballad “Love Into The Light”, another testament that she is more than just a silly pop singer.





Best Singles of 2012


1.    Only The Horses—Scissor Sister
2.    What Makes You Beautiful—One Direction
3.    Glad You Came—The Wanted
4.    Sad—Elton John VS Pnau
5.    We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together—Taylor Swift
6.    Flower—Kylie Minogue
7.    Parler A Mon Pere—Celine Dion
8.    Call Me Maybe—Carly Rae Jepsen
9.    Memory Of The Future--Pet Shop Boys
10. Origin Of Love—Mika
11. Little Things—One Direction
12. Troublemaker—Olly Murs
13. Celebrate-Mika
14. One Thing­­--One Direction
15. Die Young—Ke$ha
16. Let’s Have A Kiki--Scissor Sisters
17.  Live While We’re Young-One Direction
18. Chasing The Sun—The Wanted
19. Baby Come Home-Scissor Sisters
20. Diamonds--riahnna


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Scissor Sisters rock Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom

Vancouver or “Vagina” as Jake calls it, (it’s his pet name for the city) had a magical hour and a half as the Scissor Sisters rocked, danced and poured their heart on stage, from the opening fab “Any Which Way” to the closing “Music is The Victim”, Jake and Anna gave it their all, by the middle of the show they were sweating buckets but looked like they were having the time of their life and so was the audience. Because of their style of disco glam and retro music we often forget what a great rock band they are, from Babbydaddy on the keys and bass to the Del Marquis who rocked his socks off with his guitar work on songs like Ms. Matronic’s “Kiss You Off”. They did a wonderful job of alternating with Jake and Ana taking turns on the vocals, I love how Jake joins the back up singers when Ana is on lead. Speaking of, those back up girls were fabulous, incredible voices that complemented but didn’t overtake the lead singers.

My only is complaint is that the music seemed to drown out Jake wonderful falsetto vocals, it often seemed too loud or distorted to the point where I could not hear the words they were singing, for example I could not make out Ana’s part on “Any Which Way” which is a shame, it’s hilarious, one of my favorite tracks “Invisible Light” did not sound good at all. I really wish they would play venues with better sound. For me it was OK since I know their songs but for my partner and most of the crowd it was their first time seeing the Sisters and some might not be as familiar.

 I must admit I did not like “Let’s Have A Kiki” when I first heard the new album, but hearing it live was absolutely fabulous, the crowd went wild when it came on like it was one of their biggest hits, the whole vibe and choreography was superb. The few ballads like “Inevitable”, “Mary”, and “The Year Of Living Dangerously” gave the group time to breathe and nicely offset all the other high energy numbers Like “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'”, “Take Your Mama", "Comfortably Numb", and their hot new number "Only The Horses".

The Sisters have a way of making you feel like you are at a private concert. They love to banter with the audience and they notice us, even describing outfits and pointing out members of the audience which they noticed throughout the evening. If you've never caught this band before find them on tour you won’t be disappointed.

Setlist

1. Any Which Way 
2. Keep Your Shoes On 
3. Baby Come Home 
4. The Skins 
5. Kiss You Off 
6. Inevitable 
7. Take Your Mama 
8. Year of Living Dangerously 
9. Let's Have a Kiki 
10. Comfortably Numb 
11. Invisible Light 
12. Shady Love 
13. Skin This Cat 
14. Mary 
15. I Don't Feel Like Dancin' 
Encore
16. Only the Horses 
17. Music Is the Victim 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lionel Richie Goes Country On Tuskegee


The idea of Lionel Richie doing a country album might confused the average music listener, but if you were more attentive you would see that his songs like “Stuck On You” and “Deep River Woman” are pure Country, not to mention the mega hit “Lady” which he penned for Kenny Rogers. For this project Lionel got some of country’s best singers and musicians to duet with him. When I first heard snippets of the album I was a bit disappointed but after hearing the full LP I love it.  R&B staples like my favourite “You Are” with Blake Sheldon are just as good if not better, this guitar flavoured version only adds to the song without taking away any of the original magic. “My Love” with Kenny Chesney, “Sail On” with Tim Mcgraw and “Stuck On You” with Daruis Rucker are perfect. “Deep River Woman” with Little Big Town, in my opinion rivals the original sung with Alabama back in 1986 on his “Dancing On The Ceiling album”, the harmonies here are gorgeous, this song needed this production. A song that should have been a bigger hit “Just For You” is another stand out with Billy Currington. “Hello” with Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland, is an interesting mix but I’m not sure their vocals work well together while “Easy” with Willie Nelson sounds like it could have been written for him.

I only wish it was less of a Greatest Hits list, “Dancing On The Ceiling” and “All Night Long” do not translate into country, Lionel what were you thinking? Even Rascal Flatts couldn’t country-fi “Ceiling”. “All Night Long” gets saved by going more island flavoured then country with the help of Jimmy Buffet and some cool Hawaiian like steel drums. “Say You Say Me” with Jason Aldean is another oddity that doesn’t translate well.  I read all about the lengths Lionel went through to get Shania Twain to re-record “Endless Love”, but I don’t think their vocals match well plus did we really need another version? I never liked the Mariah Carey Luther Vandross one, nothing compares to the original with Diana Ross. Speaking of vocals, despite the guest list nobody sounds as good as Lionel singing his own songs, his voice still sounds great, unlike Kenny Rogers who’s losing it, I would have preferred a solo version of “Lady” instead.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Madonna MDNA album review


Madonna was never a poet but the lyrics on this album make her other efforts “Like A Prayer” and “Ray Of Light” sound like Shakespeare, but this is Madonna and it’s all about the dance. Gone is the R&B Timbaland beats, replaced by the swirling layers of electronic masters William Orbit (Ray Of Light), and Benni Benassi who opens the album with “Girl Gone Wild”, a nice little club song that sound very Madonna by numbers, if only the refrain wasn’t so awkward sounding. I was excited when I first heard that Mika was writing a song for the album, but he is only one of  8 other songwriters on “Gang Bang”, not sure why this is a fan favourite, I can’t see it being a single with the lyrics “Bang Bang shot my lover in the head”, the best part is the long outro with Madonna going “Drive Bitch” which would have to be edited for radio format. The next two tracks are my favourite and strongest on the album, the multi layered dancefloor “I’m Addicted”, Benassi outdoes himself on this track where we never want the song to end. Then there’s the Martin Solveig produced, simple but pop-tastic “Turn Up The Radio", both could be potential singles. Despite being the lead single “Give Me All Your Luvin’” almost sound out of place, like it doesn’t belong on the album. Here’s where we get into a bit of filler, Not a fan of “Some Girls” with it’s odds beats, “Superstar” is cute and reminiscent of her song “Spotlight” and that era, but it’s nothing special, her lyrics “You’re my Super Duper Star" don’t help”, then there’s the dire Nicki Minaj duet “I Don’t Give A” enough said.

The album gets back on track with Orbits “I’m A Sinner” sounding very much like a mash up of their hits “Beautiful Stranger” and "Ray Of Light", I love the religious spoken bridge. “Love Spent” starts off a bit odd with a bango intro but it turns into a pretty downbeat track and heartfelt lyric. We’ve all heard her beautiful song “Masterpiece” from her film W.E. but I wasn’t expecting the closing song “Falling Free” to be just as good or even better, it’s reminds me of one of her best ballads “Promise To Try”, these tracks show that Madonna can write a lyric do the slow jams as well as the dance.

The deluxe version comes with a bonus disc of 4 new songs and a remix of "Give Me All Your Lovin’". Why “Beautiful Killer” was cut from the regular album version is beyond me. It’s one of the better tracks and should have replaced the horrible “I Don’t Give A”. “I F*cked Up” and “Best Friend” are B-side material at best, but the cute piss take “B-day” is adorable, maybe it can replace the traditional one, one day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

2011 the year in music review

I thought 2011 was a difficult year for music. For me anyways, 6 months in and I didn’t think I would have a top 3 let alone a top 10, but as usual a flood of albums come out by the end of the year. The year was dominated by the unlikely superstar Adele who against all odds and all trends dominated the pop scene. Along with heavy weight Lady GaGa, Katy Perry and Riahnna who thanks to producer Calvin Harris had the longest running #1 song of Billboard of the year, “We Found Love”. Many hidden gems not played or overlooked, like veterans Duran Duran, who came back with one of their best albums “All You Need Is Now” and Erasure with “Tomorrow's World”. Gloria Estefan went back to her dancing roots or should we say WEPA!. Up and comer Frankmusik delivered a great album along with Darren Hayes towards the end of the year. While some years I’m torn which albums will make the cut, this year I was looking to fill my list.



Top Ten Albums of 2011



1) Born This Way-Lady GaGa

The album is a in your face stomping dance/electro beat extravaganza from the dancetastic Marry the Night to the closing song. My only complaint is that it’s a little bit overproduced but subtlety has never been GaGa’s strongpoint. Some of the tracks like the mega hit Born This Way sound too noisy, too many overlapping beats, guitar and synths, sometimes less is more. Almost every song has a killer hook that drags you right in, Judas seems unconventional and strange at first but then the chorus kicks in and you’re hooked. Many reviewers are complaining that unlike her style and dress her music is not innovative but I disagree, she is a pop singer trying to write pop songs not experimental music.

The regular album has 14 tracks and the special edition 17; while some feel it could be pruned down, very few feel out of place or like bonus or filler tracks. The themes revolve around self acceptance, pride, and Catholicism. Most fans seem to have different favourites. The best in my opinion are the two tracks all the way at the end. Yoü And I, The only slow jam is a classic in the making, however I prefer the stripped down live version I’ve heard on TV, the album track is produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange, (Shania Twain’s producer) who turns it slightly more into a country song, guitars are supplied by Brian May of Queen who adds a little We Will Rock You, like I said less is more. The Edge Of Glory ends up on a positive note with one of the best dance song of the year, it features a great sax solo by Clarence Clemmons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, people have been talking about the similarities of the title track to Express Yourself, but “Edge” sounds so much more like Cher’s Song For The LonelyAmericano is a beautiful little tale about her meeting a young Mexican girl, yes it has the cheesy Spanish guitar influences, and sound like it’s from a Sopranos wedding, but we love it. Her childhood is represented with the beautiful self empowering and danceable anthem Hair, along with the retro disco Bad Kids about her insecurities as a youth. Her faux German song Scheiße comes complete with fake German lyrics but it still hooks you right in with mad beats you only hear at some late night rave party. The album has a definite 80’s vibe; Government Hooker channels the synth/industrial Brit pop, the wonderful retro pop Fashion Of Love which should have been on the regular edition, and Highway Unicorn (Road To Love) whose chorus sounds like powerhouses Pat Benatar or Heart. Electric Chapel sound like something that could have come from Duran Duran’s repertoire think Electric Barbarella.My least favourite tracks are the sluggish and haunting Bloody Mary and the robotic Heavy Metal Lover whose music is blips and bleeps, but even then, they still have a certain charm that pulls you in after a few listens, maybe this is the experimental music that most reviewers have wanted. GaGa has a way of infusing the best of her musical influences to produce some of the best pop music of the day. The song The Queen sums up her title, for how long she stays remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, it will be an absolutely fabulous freakin’ ride.


2) All You Need Is Now--Duran Duran

Producer Mark Ronson wanted to create the follow up to “Rio”, well there was a follow up it was called “Seven And The Ragged Tiger”, I would call Duran’s new album “All You Need Is Now” as Rio part two. The title track definitely stands out with the contrasting ruff verses and unmistakable Duran chorus. Best tracks are “Blame The Machines”, and “Being Followed” which follows right on track and formula, and the beautiful airy “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” who seems to have stolen the intro to ”The Chauffeur”. Best guest star on the album is Scissor Sister’s own Ana Matronic who rap/sings on “Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment)” her part is very reminiscent of Blondies 80’s hit “Rapture”. The fan favourite seem to be “Girl Panic!” with their big signature drum sound and “Girls On Film” vibe. I’m not a fan of “Leave A Light On” which tries too hard to be “Save A Prayer”, I prefer the other ballad “Mediterranea” which while suffers a similar fate is a better song. The rest of the album kind of loses steam. “Other’s People Live’s” is cute in this obsessive age of “Fame” and the bonus track “Networker Nation” falls into our internet age, but they do nothing new or inventive. “Too bad You’re So Beautiful”, and “Runway Runaway” again feel like paler versions of a “Rio”. The 2 instrumental tracks “A Diamond In the Mind” and "Return To Now” are nice and makes you wonder what the title track would have sounded with full orchestral strings. The Best Buy bonus tracks didn’t grabbed me at all and I can see why they were cut from the album.

Mark is a genius he and the boys definitely succeeded in creating a retro homage; it’s uncanny to listen to this record. It’s like they pieced together different Duran sounds from their early years to create each song, but I liked the fact that Duran actually evolved and experimented. If this was the real follow up to Rio would we have had “Notorious” Arcadia, or even “The Reflex”? It’s a great pop album but I prefer their 2004 opus “Astronaut” which was a comeback and a return to their signature Duran sound, but it sounded fresh and new with better songs.



3) Doop Wops & Hooligans—Bruno Mars

This album came out in late 2010 but like the recent Grammy nomination for best album, I too just discovered it. Bruno Mars has to be one of the most talented newcomers on the music scene. A singer songwriter and music producer who started his career as part of the The Smeezingtons production team, writing and singing the hook to the hit songs “Nothing On You” by B.o.B and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”.

His debut album “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” delivers 10 perfect slices of R & B pop which has a retro feel but modern production, there’s no filler. His voice and incredible falsetto bring us back to the Motown crooner’s day with the #1 hits “Just The Way You Are” and “Grenade”. Bruno is Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Temptations all rolled up into one. He rocks and channels Stevie on songs like “Runaway”, delivers reggae tinged pop on the fun “Lazy Song”, and “Liquor Store Blues” with help by Damian Marley. Unlike most music today his songs are infused with an infectious melody from “Count On Me” to “Marry You” which as been covered from everybody to Glee. One of the stand outs is the final song ”The Other Side” where he gets a little help from Cee Lo Green who returns the favour as Bruno co-wrote Cee Lo’s big international hit “F*ck You (Forget You)”. It’s hard to really categorize the album, he has so many influences but they all fuse perfectly together.



4) Do It In The AM—Frankmusik

Frankmusik’s sophomore album takes a definite new turn, gone is the 80’s retro sound of his fist album replaced by a more modern production. From the first track “We Collide” the album stomps and bleeps on the the dancefloor, but what isn’t gone is his sensibility to create a melody and infectious hooks like the Colette Carr duet “No I.D.”, a modern day “You’re the One That I Want” which is clearly shown in the inspired “Grease” homage video. Label mates, The Far East Movement joins him on the title track, while Natalia Kills helps him out on the delicious “No Champagne”, an R&B dancefloor groove waiting to be a single. Not just a great producer and songwriter but Frank has a beautiful voice and falsetto which can be heard on songs like “Footsteps” and “Wrecking Ball” another infectious pop tune. The pre-single “The Fear Inside” is a bold electronic dance stomper, a shame it went unnoticed.

Frank knows just the right recipe to create a song that twist and turns never being boring like the tracks “Break Light”, “Struck By Lightning”, or Ludicrous almost any track could be a single. This is probably why Erasure chose him as their producer of their latest effort. (See #5 below).



5) Tomorrow’s World—Erasure

Produced by newcomer electronic wizard Frankmusic, Erasure delivers a delicious pop slice of 9 songs. “Be With You”, “Fill Us With Fire” and “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot” are some of the best dance song of the year. They swirl stomp and combust to the dancefloor heaven and fit perfectly with any of their greatest hits. The next tracks “What Will I Say When You're Gone?” And “You've Got To Save Me Right Now” take a slightly slower romp but deliver the signature sound and the beautiful vocal of Andy Bell, some say his voice has changed, they have auto-tuned it a bit like most music today which is a shame, but I think he still sounds great, check out his beautiful signature falsetto on “When I Start To (Break It All Down)”. “I Lose Myself”, takes me back to the alternative 80’s when Vince Clark’s first band Depeche Mode where on the charts. “Then I Go Twisting” takes a different turn into a more modern sounding romp and we kind of wonder will this be their last album with lyrics like “Then I go insane, I'm bored of this modern town, Sick of this techno Monophonic sound” . Ironic that many reviews have panned the album for being the “same old” and offering nothing new, but there is nothing wrong with a fun filled well produced dancetastic album.


Note:
 a well worth deluxe edition features a second disc of remixes and demos that let you hear how some of the songs evolved to the final product


6) Secret Codes And Battleship—Darren Hayes

Darren Hayes had great success as the lead singer of Savage Garden but his solo career is completely underrated. His last album This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is in my opinion one of the best pop albums around. While it’s hard to top that album this effort is still top notch, more radio friendly then the previous, Secret Codes brings me back to the days of Savage Garden. From his soaring beautiful mesmeric voice on the opening track “Taken By The Sea” the album delivers. Filled with pop tunes that have atmosphere and meaning. The first single “Talk Talk Talk”, Don’t Give Up”, and the delish “Clearly Love” are pop perfection but the album is so much more. The melancholy opuses “Block Out The Sun” and “Bloodstained Heart” is Darren at his finestwith lush instrumentations, a falsetto one would kill for and lyrics that make you feel his hurt, Adele’s got nothing on him. Only Darren can take such lyrics as “Nobody knows where this razor has been If you want something broke you better give it to me Because I can make you hurt”, and turn it into a catchy little melody along with the song “Stupid Mistake”, it just drags you right in. Darren gets some help from the renowned Walter Afanasieff who co-writes and produces the beautiful ballad “Roses”.

Not included on the album but check out the great Hall & Oats Mix of “Talk, Talk, Talk” which incorporates their hit “Out Of Touch”.


7) Miss Little Havana—Gloria Estefan

Gloria’s first English album since 2003, although I wouldn’t label this album as unilingual, some of the lyrics and all the music is pure Latin infused dance .The album goes back to her roots from her early days of Conga. The songs are filled with lots of salsa, horns, bongos, whistles and every flavour of the Spanish world, every song has so many overlapping sounds and rhythms, sometimes too much like first single “Wepa” which can come off as annoying but after many listens it grows and becomes infectious, you have to move, “Resistance is futile, you have been assimilated”. The first 9 songs tell the tale of a young Cuban girl who arrives in Miami and gets her heart broken. To tell the story Gloria hires the help of Pharrell William who brings a modern club production, favourite tracks are the disco “Make Me Say Yes”, the title track and the pretty ballad “Time Is Ticking” which bring memories of “Anything For You”. The last 4 songs are produced by Gloria’s hubby Emilio, my favourite being the tongue and cheek vaudeville tune Hotel Nacional where she sings “Drama’s on like Susan Lucci, It’s time for hoochie coochie” and check out the retro dancefloor ditty “Make My Heart Go”. Gloria is no longer a mainstay artist and too bad that radio will probably ignore her, but this album can definitely compete with her contemporary successors.


8) 21--Adele

A throwback to the 60’s but yet modern, Adele is a powerhouse singer who wears her heart on her sleeve, she puts it all there from the mega single “Rolling In The Deep” to “Someone Like You”. She has a style all her own, part pop, part jazz, part sassy on songs like my favourite “Rumour Has It” or her cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong”. The rest of the album is very homogenous, melancholy and can get a tad boring, you really have to be in the mood to listen to it.


9) Walk In Beauty—Marie Christine

 Montreal has a new diva and her name is Marie-Christine. Discovered by Canadian superstar Corey Hart. It took Corey 5 years to find his first artist and after hearing her for the first time he signed her right on the spot for his new record label "Siena".

The record is separated into 2 parts, Soul Red which has a more slick pop 80’s produced sound and Soul Blue leaning towards a more R & B sound, although with CD’s that only have one side and digital music that randomizes on an ipod it seems pointless, but I like when artists actually put some thought into their records and it’s a nice nod to the past which fits well to the retro sound of the project. The introductory Girl In Shades is a new quirky take on Corey’s Sunglasses At Night, this works so much better when the original writer has a hand in it, then the sampling, interpolation, and stealing that is used in current music by other artists. The second single and first video Totally Random is pure pop delight that stick in your head after hearing it once. She does a few covers including a sultry seductive version of Prince’s I Wanna Be Your Lover, a great reggae version of Squeeze’s songTempted featuring GoldenChyl, and Keep On Running a Stevie Wondersong not often remembered, Corey even manages to get Stevie to appear on the record, all of these tracks would make excellent singles. Most of the other tracks are written and produced by Corey including the title Walk In Beauty a haunting but powerful ballad with a positive message, my favourite Port Au Prince featuring Luck Mervil, and Silence, a song Corey originally wrote for Celine Dion.

>Marie-Christine offers a few of her own penned tracks the best being the jazzy, snazzy pop groove Get Out and the slow jam Let Yourself Go. The playing length of the CD opened the doors to more tacks and music, but I would have pruned down this CD from 15 to 12 tracks leaving the beautiful ballad All I Ever Do to close out the record. A very promising first record, I’ll be looking forward to hearing her next endeavours, I hope she evolves but doesn’t change too much, I’d hate to see her trying to do the sound du jour, she’s too sophisticated for that.

Marie-Christine offers a few of her own penned tracks the best being the jazzy, snazzy pop groove Get Out and the slow jam Let Yourself Go. The playing length of the CD opened the doors to more tacks and music, but I would have pruned down this CD from 15 to 12 tracks leaving the beautiful ballad All I Ever Do to close out the record. A very promising first record, I’ll be looking forward to hearing her next endeavours, I hope she evolves but doesn’t change too much, I’d hate to see her trying to do the sound du jour, she’s too sophisticated for that. A very promising first record, I’ll be looking forward to hearing her next endeavours, I hope she evolves but doesn’t change too much, I’d hate to see her trying to do the sound du jour, she’s too sophisticated for that.


10) Make A Scene—Sophie Ellis-Bextor


After many delays and leaving her record label to start her own, Sophie finally delivers her 4th LP. I loved her fantastic 3rd LP“Trip The Light Fantastic” so I was hoping to love it just the same but I’m finding this album just OK. It’s all very dance electronica but it’s a bit too homogenous and some of it sounds dated. The best tracks were already released more then a year ago, the Freemasons production “Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer)”“Not Giving Up On Love” by Armin Van Buuren and Bittersweet. “On And On” is OK “Starlight” is cute. She tries to get experimental with the title track but the opening beats are just annoying. Sophie still sounds great, if only she could get better material.




Top Singles of 2011



1) Edge Of Glory—Lady GaGa

2) Moves Like Jagger—Maroon 5 with Christina Aguilera

3) Born This Way—Lady GaGa

4) Rolling In The Deep—Adele

5) No I.D. Frankmusik featuring Colette

6) Call Your Girlfriend—Robyn

7) Block Out The Sun—Darren Hayes

8) Without You—David Guetta featuring Usher

9) You and I--Lady GaGa

10) Talk Talk Talk—Darren Hayes

11) We found Love –Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris