Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Cheryl Cole - Promise This

With face-bruising beats hitting harder than a racist girlband member punching a black toilet attendant, the nations favourite cock-eyed racist girlband member who has punched a black toilet attendant Cheryl Cole's new single Promise This delivers a knockout. Despite her appaling violent nature, I seriously love it and think her striking images from her stunning new video recall moments of Siobhan Fahey's triumphant hairflicking from Shakespear's Sister's promo-clip for You're History, as well as stealing visual concepts from both Sophie Ellis Bextor, who was too busy not releasing her album to comment via twitter or even at the self-service queue in Tesco (where she works these days), and the Soviet princess routine of Goldfrapp's Strict Machine.

I can make all the vile and contrived jokes about Cheryl's criminal records at my own expense all I like, but there is no doubting that the girl aloud gone styled singer has reached a new very quite good peak with the promise of only more to come. Dull and lifeless her voice may be, the glossy finish of everything else makes her girlband ties seem like unwanted dandruff in comparison.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Deee-Lite - Infinity Within (1992)

World Clique may have been dance-pop utopia, but Deee-Lite still had territory to explore on 1992's follow-up Infinity Within, an album that scarecely gets positive reviews and yet technically improves their overall sound even if the tunes don't offer the same involuntary jerks to the senses (ie, it's hungry for proper club juice). I will never be able to put into words the satisfaction this band give me, but whilst putting on this CD I decided to thrash out what I can only try to call a review...

Eco-friendly jungle beats of I.F.O (Identified Flying Object) is F.Y.I (For Your Information) no Deee-Lite's Theme that is for sure, but foxy lady Lady Kier could read the phone book and still sound like a sex-crazed tranny so it's no surprise that purring about fax orgies is more than enough stimulation to get me moist for deeper insertions.

I don't have a problem with Runaway, the album's lead single, but the album version sounds infinitely flat compared to the house-beat pumped up radio edit. Radio weren't listening and Kier herself had lost her sense of humour a tad during interviews (cue fan waffle):

(one particular youtube clip conveys the immense goodwill felt towards this band and shows that reaction quickly diminished somewhat by her only-slightly difficult responces, which they turn around of course, but it still serves as a valid point to be made. To crudely praphrase, Kier herself later admitted they were too serious in this era).

Chic with horns, the slinky and flambouyant Heart Be Still is the album's most rousing orgasm. Should have been the album's first single. With a bass sprouting like an afro, the organs shimmy and boy does Kier gurn - 'ahoo-woah, where I go, no one knows!' is nervous overload. With a groove that feels like life, 'I feel weak when you do speak, like a rollercoaster at it's peak' has even Kier feeling powerless to stop herself getting off, sighing seductively in sultry defence 'your charm grabbed me by the arm'.

Pop without the fizz, I Won't Give Up was the first song Kier penned lyrics to as part of the group. Perhaps they had kept it in the fridge until then - it doesn't taste fresh (Smile On tossed up the same ingredients with more vigour), but it's digestible enough. The only song that actually sounded better on their 1996 compliation album Sampladelic Relics & Dancefloor Odities, remixed by future memeber DJ Ani. I would fall asleep here if it were not for the fact that they don't have enough songs to discard anything.

Swiftly forgetting that one, Vote, Baby, Vote is their equivalent to an interlude and was used as a commercial to get young Americans to vote. Franky, their campaign really shows up Madonna's are-my-gays-here-to-make-me-look-rebellious counterpart.

Tasty keyboards with beats traced back to the flashy clicks of clubccentric jewels such as World Clique and Good Beat are found on the sadly more laid back Electric Shock. 'Move your body, feel the music' is probably writer's block, but the pulsating groove is thick-not-fast and injected with a dribbling bass ebbing with their flow, plus it is spiked with the same sizzling keyboard and trancey inflections found on fan-favourite What Is Love?.

Despite Kier's mad, shrieking soul mama shtick of 'damn that's my jam' and the best African chanting since Dannii Minogue saved world hunger with her anthem Hakuna Matata, Two Clouds Above Nine is just a slightly more snappy and emphatic twist on the same formula used on I Won't Give Up. There is no denouncing how good it sounds, but if you're wanting a song to actually sing then this ain't it. 'Slip off your views, take off your mind' shows the band still full of eccentric charm.

Pouncing at you kindly ('kiss me, you fool' indeed), Pussycat Meow is one of the daftest songs they ever recorded and still sounds ahead of its time almost 20 years later. Vampish and vivacious, Kier rarely sounded this unquenchably lost in music. Worth seeking out are the sleek and purr-fectly indulgent, extensively extended edits to be found. Proof that this band are uncoverable.

Given a hard time in most reviews, I Had A Dream I Was Falling Through A Hole In The O-Zone Layer actually functions as a more-than-just-solid album cut with Kier's vocals reaching rapture, and a piano leaving its own trail of guilty fantasia. 'We breathe the future, and yes we're choking' sure makes a change from 'your groove I do deeply dig'. It's equator-stretching middle-8 is a delight in itself - 'come on, give a damn and take a stand'. 'Convenience is the enemy' doesn't refer to its duration - it's very worthy of all its 5:39 entirity, and has stood the test of time surprisingly well as originally I wrote this one off as a kill-joy.

Tunneling deep with a sensational mechanic funk-grunge plunge, Fuddy Duddy Judge is my balls-out favourite song here. Kier's going off on one about abandoning our social concious in favour of convenience, and every lyric is to be tasted like savouring a glass of fine wine.
'History is a matter of opinion'.

Skippy dance doodle with more organs than the Red Cross, Thank You Everyday is literally a walk in the park for them. The single package, with all sensational remixes done by themselves, saw a series of irresistable coda's in each of them and is an essential purchase I cannot recommend enough. Rising straight to the very top, this is a pop masterstroke. Reverberating 'hi-higher, hi-higher' with dashings of darting piano keys and other flavoursome tastebuds of melody all making it a trifle deee-gorgeous.

Below: Thank You Everyday (The Spirit Mixes Parts 1 & 2)

The jumpy rhythms on Rubber Lover make it endlessly superior to, say, Christina Aguilera's Elastic Love. Taut, ribbed, probably flavoured and beyond frisky, even the bass sounds so tight it could snap.

Perhaps they could have been stricter, Come On In, The Dreams Are Fine is my first choice above Two Clouds, but they have 3 songs all skipping to the same vibes. With only 3 studio albums, I'll clasp onto everything I can get from these guys, but at track 13 I would have kept this and made I Won't Give Up, Two Clouds Above Nine, this song here or Electric Shock into faster dance-that's-my-jams or else B-sides.

A tantalising Kier transcends her disco delivery and smoulders into a screen siren chanteuse on Love Is Everything, the only ballad they ever recorded (Deep-Ending was disco veritgo not a ballad), exploring love's lust, rapture and agony. Vintage Mariah, Christina, Amy and all those other tramps can't sing like this.

I try to not overuse the word, but this is an album of 'jams', yes thank you Mam, Kier. I might not want to dance to their experiments (there is sensible binge drinking for that), but the Chic-lite fizz of Heart Be Still, the cutesy pounce of Pussy Cat Meow, the guilt-provoking grind of Fuddy Duddy Judge, the intense gyration of Rubber Lover and Thank You Everyday's sunkissed breaziness are almost rare-sounding flourishes of their inimitable skyward, deformulized disco determination at its best. Even the piano downer Love Is Everything is divine. Dance if you want to, I would just call it brilliant noise. The inevitable focus on Lady Miss Kier is well-deserved and then some but the autuer Towa Tei really raised the bar with his elegant conceptions being equally as ripe, and it's just a shame that there were not 2 or 3 Good Beats to sell it to the Groove Is In The Heart crowd. Not as songful as World Clique, it is definately more artful. The songs themselves are simply more open-ended than before, which is probably why both Thank You and Pussy each have multiple climaxes and glorious re-edits that sound just-as-good-if-not-better, essentially being the same elements simply re-arranged or stretched and teased into something gunkier. Grooveful, lighthearted and with serious verve.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Alexia - Stars (2010)

Italian former icon of dance Alexia is at it again with a new album called Stars, and the big surprise is that it's not a complete bummer for those still yelping 'uh la la la' at the mere whiff of a good time. The MOR arrangements now have a shinier gloss, and she even commissions a long-overdue remix from old collab-whores Almighty for the title track.

The singular title track Star has officially became her first properly listenable single in years. Her vocals are sleek and sharp, singing in both English and Italian. Bookending the 8-track 'album', the closing Almighty edit won't have you burning your nostrils off with poppers, but the reunion is a classy trance-trodden treatment.

After spicing up her reggae-ruin Uh La La La into a Spice Up Your Life style anthem, acknowledging the dancefloor again after all these years really suits her. The song itself is a melancholic feel-good flourish of shimmering guitars that Chicane might want to borrow, streaming piano spirals and a vocal that never touches the ground.

Don't be scared: the guitar-driven Non Tentarmi is vivacious and engaging; the absolutely lovely guitar-driven L'amore in superficie is a shimmery showcase for her tongue-rolling passions, whatever they are; the guitar-driven I Dreamed A Dream is thankfully not a Subo tribue, and instead is a fragile-versed/Roxette-chorused rousing original number not a million miles away from Alanis's Head Over Feet once it finds its own; the guitar-driven strum-fest It's Love is more guitar-cycled and effortlessly sexy with a rainbow-sprouting chorus identifying a secret emotion I could not possibly reveal; and the guitar-driven Perfect Day is laidback, finding both groove and melody, but the Night Version remix gives into languid Rn'B that is as good or bad as some of Madonna's night-time stories.

Shooting out from seemingly nowhere, Alexia is a diva revitalised on a long-overdue flush of decent melodies on Stars, not least on the soaring title track, and even gives in to her rabid 90s fans' dancefloor cravings with a trance-tastic and nostalgic Almighty remix. A very enjoyable mini album full of intimate arrangements, lubricated guitars where it counts and a voice getting the material it deserves.



En Vogue - Masterpiece Theatre (2000)

It had only been 3 years after scoring a massive US #2 with the heavyweight love song exuberance of Don't Let Go (Love), and En Vogue were on a schedule no more delayed than any other studio album they had released. However, their cultural moment (Funky Divas from 1993) was a thing of the past in 2000 when they released the very classy indeed Masterpiece Theatre. Surviving without Dawn Robsinson, who left and was always my favourite, it was up to Cindi, Terry and the ravishing vocals of Maxine to deliver something special and special they did.

All three take shots at their cheatin' men on the snappy Riddle, which was thankfully remixed by Stargate for its strategy as a single. The album version fits the album's textures, but would have made no sense on the radio (and the louder edit submitted, whilst more emphatic, lost the pay-attention struture somewhat). Stripped down to hang all hope on harmony, almost-acapella No No No (Can't Come Back) can't quite light the same match struck on their debut album. It's polite, but their sass won't give guys boners with their wits and innuendo as it had done before. It's nice and good, but formulaic in the absence of a bit more kink. Under the duvet ballad Falling In Love is gorgeous and vocal technique par excellence (choice diss: 'I'm a business queen in a corporate kingdom').

Intended to follow-up Riddle, Love U Crazay was a last minute addition to the album, shrewdly sampling the Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. The spectacular, almost-opera Love Won't Take Me Out is my own choice for tour de force histrionics. When Maxine growls 'he's so beneathe me' it's a genuine (Lucy) pearl-clutching moment for the type who watch Oprah, which is the idea according to the album's one and only interlude. These funky divas sure can sell a ballad, and the piano-drizzle of Sad But True is part of the cinematic 'suite' concept of the album, and really delivers everything we want from them: sun-kissed, succulent and slightly-superciliously highbrow harmonies ('you must take the time to deal with it'). Oh so true. The film-score sequence comes to a poignant end on Whatever Will Be Will Be, a twinkly ballad that is the album's Too Gone No Fool, Too Long No More or whatever. Sounding frail but undiminished, this one gets top marks from me. My gal Maxine's juice is thick and more calorific than pint of Bailey's (she's not to be messed with basically), upset Terry's chin-up middle-8 hollers from the back row, and Cindi leads the stoic chorus with her crisp top notes raining heaviest. Soothing whilst sounding like utter agony at the same time. One has to wonder what the two cancelled tracks (due to be part of the 'suite') would have sounded like after the girls failed to have the samples approved!

Slow-burning heat gets close and personal on the Shirley Bassey bass-tastic Beat of Love, 'from the jazzy to the cool' indeed. The NME rightly praised the girls for sounding stoned! The only song remotely signifying current trends at the time, Latin Soul doesn't require much explanation, with a bare piano quick step and breathless 'ooh ahhs' second only to Gina G. Swanky 'jam' Work It Out squats all over Beyonce's own constipated turtle-dead of a song with the same name. When Terry gets bored on the phone ('I got things to DO!') she can't help herself ('you need ME! You need ME!'). Where more attitude is needed, Those Dogs exposes the only thing this album needs more of. The memphis vibes oozing out of Number One Man caramalises the album to a close with their honey-treacle a perfect match for the Dusty-ness of it all.

The lighter, but well-thought, production is solid, the girls on polished and ever-elegant fine form, and the songs are cautious, weary and convey their age-appropriate pre-Desperate Housewives heartache issues and bedroom needs with derranged applomb that sadly didn't blast the charts. Their most ambitious, most underrated album - the title says it all.



Friday, 10 September 2010

Hurts - Happiness (2010)

Something The Guardian and Q magazine might want to be aware of is that Hurts are not simply aimed at bored and life-weary Pet Shop Boys fans – to me that is all attitude and no analysis. Compulsively crafted, the songs on debut album Happiness are listenable enough to warrant a seriously rushed Diva Incarnate review.

Haunting opener Silver Lining recalls the dark chills of Black Celebration era Depeche Mode. Its death-topia is seductive, like putting the ‘fun’ in funeral. The perfect punctuations on Wonderful Life create synth-guitar par excellence. Blurring into focus, Blood Tears & Gold is the year’s best song that should be a Christmas number one. The juiced-up Sunday’s cushiony electro-dance elegance draws me into their intense fantasia effortlessly. It is my favourite song all week.

With lyrics so emotional they don’t even need to rhyme, Stay is an orchestral ballad, tense and furrowed. Despite a chorus N-Sync would have sold their purity rings for, Illuminated traffics the same techno-perfect economy as the stunning Wonderful Life. The dramatic Evelyn’s chorus stands out, earning an authentic aura of gloom.

Like a voice of backed-out disaster, the more aggressive Better Than Love has baggage on wheels. I miss the extra seconds shaved off the album version. Addled, ambitious, thudding beats and not without gusto, it’s magnetic brawl carries the number. Special respect goes to these guys for getting a decent vocal out of Kylie Minogue on Devotion (her best since Confide In Me and Put Yourself In My Place all those years ago): her euphoric purr is actual Viagra, gasping like rising to the surface in an ocean of trancey elation. Piano-ambience of Leave It Unspoken is liquid beauty. After-hours torch ballad Water drips to a close. Hidden beauty Verona is a minor masterpiece.

The aesthetic obsession of Hurts is worth all the suffering. The command of melody, groove and melancholy is proof enough they are the band everyone seems to be saying they are: an album where everything stands out.



On another note: if you read this blog regularly you may have noticed a slower traffic of posts appearing; I am now fully back at university so will make a commitment to post at least 1 review a week (on a Sunday). I won’t be giving up blogging, and this figure is merely to maintain a minimum regularity so you will know when to expect new ‘material’ and not have to waste your time or wonder what is happening.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Dead Or Alive - Nukleopatra (1995)

Asphyxiating beats, extravagant deformity, rotten sleaze and a strident taste for scandal and artifice earns Dead Or Alive’s trashy Nukeopatra the right to use style as a social function, with visions of vanity and hardcore eyeliner feeding on a carcass of rave and various other artificial stimulants.

The strident and raucous avalanche of rave grenades Nukleopatra is the original Bad Romance if you ask me. Soaked in sleaze, Pete’s torrent of vitriol is engulfing, surrounding fast and fatally. With an apocalyptic thunder of drums that bang sharper than a guillotine, the head-severing impact is only dwarfed by Pete’s own infinite gushing, roaring about looking like the kind of tranny that makes boys crash their motorbikes. It’s not debauched, it’s preposterous.

Not shy about their strange idea of good grubby fun, Sex Drive mutates into the most commercial thing here. Keyboards tinkle like pus, and Pete’s so turned on by his ‘body for sin’ that he would probably use it as lubricant. His sex drive is about as intimate as an inflatable sex doll.

The almost inevitable update of You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) is remarkably fresh, Capella would have been a believable producer with the succulent sell of 90s star-bursting. The nostalgic glamour is impossible to provide. Priding himself on sophistication, Pete tickles his boy toy target with the line ‘you hold my dreams inside your jeans’ on International Thing.

Picture This and Rebel Rebel are fully absorbed into the album’s aesthetic like dissolving an aspirin tablet. The former is a sparkly trail of jangly guitars, smudged basslines and Pete’s vocals are splattered like petrol set a light. Neither overwhelms their own material, but are minor triumphs. The closest the album comes to full on melancholia, Unhappy Birthday is a solid stream of rave regrets, a re-make improved by either practice or inattention.

Gutter launch pad I’m A Star pulsates 90s rave impulses and peculiar sentimentality. Another fast one, his glamour-dialect takes no prisoners (‘I’m sorry if that offends you, but that’s how I research my songs’). Sleazy integrity of Sleep With You is comparatively solemn. Simmering with familiar temperatures, The Right Stuff’s simplicity is almost unexpected.

Glossy Gone Too Long receives a thick and sleek coating of speedy eurodisco, with a flowing melody that almost shares the same vein as Lover Come Back To Me. Dub dud Getting It On almost isn’t boring – if this were a concert I think we just got to the costume change. Glitzy bopper Spend The Night favours flashy speeds and is another salacious tell-all tale of bedroom desperation.

The raucaous and strident avalanche of Nukleopatra has long been a vociferous favorite of mine. The rest of the album thrives on similar sounds, but only Sex Drive stings with equal menace, the rest cruise for cock in the club instead. With all the robot energy and waspish asides, it doesn’t matter if the emotions are genuine, only that you get off on them. When the sleaze goes sour, the thin line between glamour and grotesque promotes a tender distribution of vanity-venerating vindications and sweat-drenched pursuits that Pete can only apologise for.



Michelle Phillips - Victim of Romance (1978)

Former Mamas & Papa's pin-up Michelle Phillip's soft dulcet tones are as comforting and inconveniently emotive as old photographs. Her standalone solo album Victim of Romance is a slow-burning slideshow of sad love songs with a reassuringly glum sense of everyday heartache and alienation.

Lilting acoustic appetizer The Aching Kind is a lovelorn strumathon of furlong and fragile recovery. Her sensually languid execution grimaces with the pertinent reveal, 'nothing makes you crazy like singing in a rock and roll band'. Phillips is the loser in love here, but never sounds like she won’t be back for more just as soon as she hits the gym for a week and does something new with her hair, etc. That’s not a sexist comment, just my own way of life.

Equally quiet and contemplative, Let The Music Begin is prepared to move on a bit. Ethereal, soft-focus fuzziness triggers a mushy chorus you’ll need a wet wipe to forget it ever happened. This is too soft and fluffy to warrant much use beyond a knowingly masochistic tear-flood if there's nothing better to do. Sarcastic montage clips aside, I don’t really get much action here.

The jazzy inflection of Victim of Romance is a doo-wopping echo of a Spector-lite girl-group tradition. This is a sure-fire winner, and going straight on my Christmas 2010 playlist. Divine, jerky and almost sounding like The Waitresses, Michelle’s embellished rhythm generates a glimpse of her unexplored potential for pop supremacy. Think Blue Angel’s Maybe He’ll Know meets Going To The Chapel.

Her languorously composed version of Trashy Rumours is less innocent and caught off guard. Where Genevieve giggled as if her only regret was being caught as a naive inconvenience, Phillips' account is a woman who expected nothing less and possibly delivers a more credible burden of trouble, but I rate it second.

Tender folk song There She Goes soaks up a casual Caribbean influence. Her narrow vocal gift is distilled with disillusion and her authority almost flickers like a Peggy Lee recording.

Been there, and lost the receipt, the piano-tinkling Paid The Price casually soothes a rueful truth about love's trap for absolute torture and humiliations – like blaming faded looks on an ex for wasted years, maybe she’s talking about her moisturizer budget.

Soft and optimistic, Baby As You Turn Away finds solace in a spritz of guitar strums. Her significantly sympathetic aura manages to avoid making 'baby I'm dead inside' sound even faintly melodramatic, with a melody dripping and gushing like a tap. Yes, her love is down the plug hole, but her mellow damage is as steady as a Carpenters cut.

Melting like balm, the nightclub setting for Lady of Fantasy is lush and dark-lit. If she were anymore passive I would give her some heroine myself, but torch songs with innuendo are worth nodding off to. The quiet rhythmic elevation of Just One Look is in songful flow, with her voice preserving a pop clarity reminiscent of Karen Carpenter or Peggy Lee. Using language I understand, Where's Mine strays into Dusty territory.

The hot flashes of Genevieve's scene-soaked Romance Is On The Rise is merely a connection and an unfair comparison: Michelle's shadow over Trashy Rumours is guided by a mature elegance that she tweaks into all these tracks, making the album a warm, cool and sophisticated set. Her feather-soft contralto rarely varies, and the same goes for the mood, but the gentle textures and quality remain high on pensive pleasure.