Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ultimate Pop Star Countdown: 20-16

16.   Prince – Gold
Quite grand and pompous, but it’s completely mesmerizing, a soft-rock renewal awash with pristine pop shimmers.  It’s no surprise he covered Joan Osborne’s One of Us – they sort of (lyrically at least) burn from the same candle. That was NOT a waxing lyrical pun I promise.

17.   Eurythmics – Beethoven (I Love To Listen)
Pyscho meets Donna Summer.   From its violent throbbing intro, to the unhinged rapture of it all, lyrics splatter like blood and Annie’s razor-blade delirium would almost be upsetting if it weren’t so mind-blowing. The home-wrecker/home-maker violations and schizophrenia is rooted in glamour, angst and desperation: the manic, seething turbulence of Beethoven is such a dizzying height the album threatens to implode in itself on the very first track.

18.   Billie Ray Martin – Hearts / Where Fools Rush In
Ambient and lush, Billie’s song is shy to be heard and ripples like the reflection of moonlight. Hushing “calm down” has to be the softest emotion I’ve ever heard from anyone’s voice.

19.   Smashing Pumpkins – Perfect
Serene and pensive, Billy’s voice tenderly bristles and we even get to hear D’arcy.  It’s hook is not as obvious as 1979, but their ink is leaking from the same pen.

20.   Alexia – Uh La La La (Almighty UK Radio Edit)
Hearing this on the Pepsi Chart, and then changing channel to Radio 1’s own top 40 coundown straight away (there was always a 1 song delay between both), I was sure Alexia was Jocelyn Brown's 55 stone sister having the time of her life before having cardiac arrest. I wanted in on the fun. It actually came BEFORE Spice Up Your Life, a stampede of piano keys and a voice that sounded like she was bound to have lipstick on her teeth – loud, brassy and just fabulous.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ultimate Pop Star Countdown: 25-21

 21. Vitamin C - Sex Has Come Between Us / Last Night
10 years too old.  Poor Colleen, she made the best pop princess album of the naughties, but looked like Britney’s babysitter. The slightly morbid lust of Sex Has Come Between Us is slithery and agile enough to rival Holly Vallance’s State of Mind and B's In The Zone alike, and pre-dating them by nearly two years. The More album is an outstanding pop document. Last Night is of course the well scratched cover of The Strokes breakthrough hit put in the disco spin cycle with Blondie's Heart of Glass instrumental: utterly cheapskate but creates a high price tag for itself.

22. Alanis Morissette - Front Row / Thank U
Like having a million dictionaries thrown at you and being completely transfixed – like being in the chaos of someones dream. Thank U's unforgettable dangling carrots and Glenn Ballard's production that was on the same scale as Massive Attack in moments like both of these songs.  Other album highlights: Baba, Are You Still MadUnsent, Joining You, I Was Hoping and The Couch.
23. Garbage - I Think I'm Paranoid
Pugnacious robo s&mer Shirley has 'issues'; confrontational and angrily beautiful. Manson’s irrational desire reaches breaking point, the fury of the chorus is channelled into one of their biggest and best choruses (the glam-grunge sneer-fest Only Happy When It Rains probably should have been my choice, but this song is just cooler).  Her heartbreak sounds like an anorexic staring at someone eating pizza: completely miserable and just waiting to pounce.
24. Liz Phair - Polyester Bride
Polishes herself off to play Sheryl Crow at her own game and music wins. “You’re lucky to even know me, you're lucky to be alive.” Whitechocolatespaceegg will also see you around if you’re clever enough to be alive and buy it.  Go on ahead now.

25. Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye
Hypnotically aloof and ice-cold, Jill’s calculating rap decides “wearing nothing is divine”, the sleek vocals compete against murkier sounds, all working together separately but in unison.  The chorus is built from three lanes: the main vocal and two shades of backing vocals that wrap together like ribbons. Quite the package. Like this then try: Under Your Skin, City Song, Lady Fingers and Nervous Breakthrough.

Ultimate Pop Star Countdown: 30-26

26. New Order - Regret
Neon-lit rueful depression: “have a conversation on the telephone”. It does get like that sometimes. Aching guitars that seduce you into the seductively drowsy eloquence. 

27. Sheryl Crow - If It Makes You Happy
The whole album I have now decided is loosely bases on her friend she now realises cannot be helped: Oh Marie, Sad Sad World (“if I was unhappy I’d be someone you could care about … enemies make the most interesting friends”) and this are home truths served bitter-sweetly.  Taking her own advice, Every Day Is A Winding Road makes every day your birthday. 1996. Now that’s what I call miserable (that's quite a specific reference - basically it was on a Now compilation I wanted specifically to have this song).

28. The Killers - Mr Brightside
Dripping in dread and anxious hesitance – “but it’s all in my head” – and revelling in it.  The Stuart Price remix is a masterpiece, and turns in into the one song that was out of New Order’s reach, even at their vintage peak.

29. Dead Or Alive - Nukleopatra
The original Bad Romance.  Sorry to be a bore.  This is an avalanche of scathing venom, vicious narcissism, dated 90s rave thunder and unflinching decadence.

30. Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch
Stark pulsating discothèque, apocalyptic Hi-NRG exotica, that brittle and waspish voice and Game of Thrones style video.

Ultimate Pop Star Countdown: 35-31

31.  Christina Aguilera - Little Dreamer / Dirrty 
The melancholic disco lullaby Little Dreamer is packed in the same pop noir suitcase as Rachel’s Nothing Good About This Goodbye and Margaret Berger’s Robot Song. At least in my head.  Dirrty, on the other hand, was the first of its kind in terms of today's modern female pop star launching an album with a tour-de-force full-pelt club banger. It remains massive club song staple in the UK.

32.  Corona - Baby Baby
Rampant and bullet-proof  eurodance, Sandy’s uncredited vocal hysteria and Olga’s equator-stretching grin was the complete package as far as 90s dance anthems go.

33.  Sister Sledge - Thinking of You
Blue sky disco pop, radiant and still fresh. So clean and pure it’s like they’ve dental-flossed their vocals. Timeless.

34.  PJ Harvey - A Perfect Day Elise
Muffled goth clatter, a monstrous bass that sounds alive, Polly’s weird and eerie vocal, and overall perverse theatrical vamping that enhanced where she’d left off on 1995's To Bring You My Love. Taken from her career-best? Is This Desire?

35.  Ace of Base - Never Gonna Say I'm Sorry
 Sulky and defiant.  The one song to maintain their trademark whistle-motif from The Sign. Cock-blocked from the UK charts, it missed the Billboard Hot 100 altogether after their US record label seemed somewhat displeased at almost every aspect of their output by this point.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Ultimate Pop Star Countdown: 40-36

The next batch of posts (counting down to number one) originally stemmed from participating in an Ultimate Pop Star countdown on the Popjustice message-boards, which has been one of the most fascinating and enjoyable pop discussions of the website's entire history.  Yes, I do post over there, under the alias Undisco_Me, and felt compelled to share my thoughts on the choices I made. The rules for submitting individual lists was to choose you favourite artists and select your favourite song by them (and a back-up song if the song was too obscure).  Had the idea been to choose favourite songs then it might be a very different list, but I have enormous affection for pretty much any composer or performer of the songs I love anyway. However, I forgot Madonna, which I am still kicking myself about.  Rather than slot her in, I am going to stay faithful to my authentic selection submitted, and have made additional comments where I have felt it necessary.  2012 will be an interesting year to sharpen my pen and re-evaluate my thoughts on Madonna's career so I will happily post-pone my decision on what is her best song for now.

36.   Tori Amos - Space Dog / Bliss

Like Front Row by her former headliner Alanis Morissette, Tori's technique is, at the arrival of the spiraling chorus, beguiling as two lyrical strands are combed through and delivered in parallel as a unit of sound together.  This gives the song a ghost like serenity, an echo to offer another tense.  It makes me think of the Margaret Atwood novel Cat’s Eye where the protagonist is haunted by a childhood bully Cordelia, which has many detailed observations that always manage to remind me of my own thinking with regards to friends I felt betrayed me growing up, or even the understanding of one's family. Tori's final breath “those girls are gone” still lingers with me. Actually, go read Atwood with Little Earthquakes on (although Space Dog is from the follow-up Under The Pink). The marble-glare, accumulating momentum of 1999's steady-as-it-comes Bliss is the nearest anyone will ever get to submit to the same scope and groove as Running Up That Hill, this I swear. Lifted from 1999's opulent electronica masterpiece To Venus & Back, the last truly special album from the songstress.

 37.   Ani Difranco – Shy
Vulnerable and defensive, but self-aware, emotional, naked, temperamental, a WOMAN, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before

38.   Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
Revving up from the get go, this song is just a mad dash from start to finish. MapsHeads Will Roll and Turn Into are my other recommendations. Taking perspective from the outsider, the video follows Karen O take full command of the San Francisco landscape, and I'm proud to say I got an A for a paper I did on this theme with regards to an American Landscape History course I took in my third year at university.  All together now: oooooooooh.  It's the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I'm allowed to boast.

 39.   Cristina Monet – You Rented A Space / What’s A Girl To Do

Cristina’s songs really have not dated (the song comes from my romanticised year of 1984), the only improvement would be to have her album Sleep It Off remastered as the sound quality on the CD re-issue from 2005 is terrible.  However, her biting lyrics and brilliant arrangements are undeniable.  I always enjoyed You Rented A Space so much as it’s like a soliloquy from the perspective of some love-stung, drunk-sounding southern belle. Cristina’s drawl makes her lyrics hang like chandeliers (Monet was English, but her stylized southern American accent adds such bruising to it all). What’s A Girl To Do would be the obvious song I’d play someone to impress them – no other pop star has set out to do something so sardonic and addictive, ever. It’s so impressive it sounds as if you’ve been waiting to hear it all your life. You Rented A Space is tamer by comparison, but my throat burns with vodka just thinking about it.  A hugely endearing quality about this song in particular, but her music in general, is that she articulates and conveys extreme emotions, but through her lyrics and clatter-tastic arrangements (only the chugging tale of a date with a misogynist banker on Ticket To The Tropics and the glossy guitar riff on Don’t Mutilate My Mink come anywhere near to sounding slick) and executes it all with a perfect balance that’s just relentlessly unflinching. Chic.

40.   Genevieve Waite – Pink Gin & Lime
Oh this one was mocked slightly in the countdown, but this song is so sweet, Gen is a true one off and thank god music reviewers never used the word “quirky” much in the 70s.  The song is gin-soaked and deliriously merry and slightly insance. “Pink gin and lime for a fake ballerina / Out of her mind from sniffin dry cleaner.”

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Dandy Warhols Comes Down (1997)

Deadbeat-chic anthems such as Boys Better, the top twenty single Not If You Were The last Junkie On Earth, and the exhilarating and rippling spasms of Everyday Is A Holiday (it's sonic fuel of synthesizers, indie-disco and overall sulky magnificence, which sustains its grip at the center of such speeds, is pretty unbeatable). Shoe-gazing album tracks such as Cool As Kim DealMinnesoter, the glum I Love You and the shimmery Iggy Pop-esque stand out Good Morning (the jangly psychedelia creates a hauntingly somber euphoria that continues to fizz for exactly 5 epic minutes, taking full flight in no small part to its layered backing vocals gliding above the gauging grunge and sweet-sounding sneers). Admittedly, some of the songs just float away, but the big pop hooks are sky high.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Opiates - Hollywood Under The Knife (2011)

Drenched in decadence and atmospheric eloquence, The Opiates debut album Hollywood Under The Knife marks the legendary singer Billie Ray Martin's first album since her soul-enriching 2001 solo set Eighteen Carat Garbage. Her partner in crime and co-producer is Robert Solheim who filters the singer's unmistakably soulful voice (in turns plaintive, expressive, rueful and sometimes plain paranoid) through electronic veils, dramatic guises and a disturbing clatter of upscale arrangements.

The pulsating, sole uptempo Reality TV originally took shape as a demo submitted for consideration to go on Britney's Blackout album.  Lyrically, Billie bites a little too close to to the bone to the Britney breakdown for this to have been realistically included on a Spears album.  And thank god.  It ranks among Martin's highest pop peaks. So much so I can only imagine holding it back for a future Billie solo album proved too hard to not share.  Soldhiem perfectly spikes Billie's exquisitely prescription-pumped ballad-as-pop-song with electronic tinkles like a beard made from fragments of ice, tailoring it with the synth-pop equivalent of luxuriously gaudy sequins.

It is a song that fits in with Billie's winning batch of electro-disco or otherwise just plain outstanding singles from 2003-5: the manic head-rush and disorientating vanishing-point disco of No Brakes On My Rollerskates (experience your feet feel as if they've left the ground), the panting prostitute anthem Twisted Lover ("I'm all tied up, not strings attached"), the gelid-eyed gutter diva moment of Bright Lights Fading (where she wants to "spend my royalties on poor boys"), the murky Elvis tribute Dead Again, the seething orgasm of all available orifices Undisco Me and the smoldering and morbidly chic Je Regrette Everything (one can only hope the singer scoops these incredible songs together for an eventual solo album). Reality TV transmits a broody and no less euphoric energy that isn't replicated anywhere else. Tinkling like watery salts and electronic silver metals, Billie almost sings sweetly about the morose subject matter of fame's extreme and irresistible torment.
The album opens like an oozing mist with the somber-probably-not-sober Rainy Days and Saturdays. Billie's plaintive, solitary and taut emotional expressionism is complimented with a sparse ambiance that captures the poignancy of private inspection, long-lasting ennui and rueful loneliness. The beauty builds largely due to the singer's expert, or resigned, restraint.
The seductively strange Silent Comes The Night is arguably the album's peak of alienation, with the creepy whispers about watching too much TV generating an odd, unhinged exotica.  Clattery. Floorboard-creaking. Viciously reclusive. Perfectly shaded. This is what being the old lady expertly looking out her window behind the vintage 80s Venetian blinds at night time might sound like.  Like Reality TV, it was also initially scheduled for her own solo album and not surprisingly is another stand out.

Atmosphere-swept Dinah & The Beautiful Blue caught me completely off guard.  Like a cool night-time breeze hitting you at just the right moment with just the right view, I had to pause and silence everything both during and after it just to appreciate what I was had just gone through.  This album is very stylistic, but here the tension has been released. Startlingly sparse and yet emotionally huge. Sadness as a privilege. It must take a huge heart to feel this sad.  The remains of the album are percolating discoid-driven affairs or more gradual, guarded items where Billie offers yet more expensive secrets, drama-queen paranoia and tranquil tenderness.

The Opiates are largely geared towards an aesthetic of self-scrutiny through a careful lens of perfection-craving, a diet of the finest Depeche Mode album tracks and both a glinting and detached sardonic commentary on Hollywood as a subtle concept to hinge these elegantly mysterious songs onto. The album may be too dimly-lit for its own good for some, but this is not a Billie solo album and in the understanding of the duo's ambiguous agenda is a sculpted masterpiece aiming to be appreciated in the most perverse ways possible. As Siouxsie Sioux once sang, "transfixed by the inner sound".  Buy this album without delay.