Posts Tagged ‘album’

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Madonna – MDNA (album review.)

March 28, 2012

MDNA is Madonna’s 12th studio album (depending on what you include / exclude) and it’s an improvement on her last effort, Hard Candy, simply because there’s a higher strike rate of really good tracks. It’s no Ray of Light, Bedtime Stories or American Life (her most introspective albums and not coincidentally, her best – let the debate begin!), but we get more of an insight into Madonna the Human Being than we have in possibly 10 years.

Not that you’d know it from the two singles that have been released: “Give Me All Your Luvin'” is a straightforward ‘fun’ track which has had a lot of the fun ironed out of it. Madonna’s vocal sounds flat, the production sounds a little lacklustre, and while Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. acquit themselves well during their verses, their presence is unnecessary. The melody is perky but calculated, the cheerleader chants are hooky but calculated – the whole thing is a perfectly acceptable pop song, but it sounds so desperate to be joyful that it ends up losing a lot of charm. “Girl Gone Wild” serves well as an album opener, but again it sounds dated for Madonna – which means bang-on-trend with what’s in the charts – and unimaginative. The lyrics are uninspired, the melody is catchy and you will be humming it after a couple of listens. In this sense, the singles both do their job, but there’s much more exciting stuff on the album.

Which, take my advice, should be sequenced thus:

01. Girl Gone Wild
02. Gang Bang
03. I’m Addicted
04. Some Girls
05. Turn Up The Radio
06. I Don’t Give A (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
07. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.)
08. B-Day Song (Feat. M.I.A.)
09. Superstar
10. I’m A Sinner
11. Love Spent
12. Beautiful Killer
13. Best Friend
14. I Fucked Up
15. Masterpiece
16. Falling Free

I am never usually one to mess with how an artist envisions their album by cherry-picking individual songse, or by listening to things on shuffle. I am very in favour of the idea of an album being treated and listened to as a body of work. However, I gave this track list (which I found on the Popjustice forums) a go and it seems to flow so much better. It stacks the harder-edged songs at the front of the album, followed by a sunny middle section and winding down towards the slower songs at the end.

“Gang Bang” is my favourite song on the album. A revenge anthem featuring menacingly-spoken vocals (reminiscent of Dita from Erotica) atop a minimal beat, a dubstep breakdown (again, bang on trend / a little passé, but it works well in this instance) and screams of “DRIVE BITCH! AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT DIE BITCH!”, it’s irresistible, edgy, a little silly (Madonna does not need to prove she is edgy and ‘down with the kids’ by swearing, but never mind), and it totally works. I can’t help but think of The Bride from Kill Bill when I listen to this song. Even though it would be an extremely weird choice for a single, this song is so cinematic that it deserves a video. “I’m Addicted” is the “Impressive Instant” of the album – swirling synths and insistent beats piling on top of each other to provide a climactic finish, while Madonna abandons insightful lyrics such as “all of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout” in favour of hedonistically chanting “M D N A M D N A” over and over.

And so we come to the album title. It’s a cool way of writing “Madonna”. Madonna has also said that the songs on this album display her musical DNA, so that also makes sense. And then, it also sounds like MDMA – which is a drug (hence the aforementioned refrain) and implies that Madonna’s new music is addictive. It’s a well-chosen title that has layers of meaning – well done to all concerned! The album cover (I am talking about the deluxe cover, above – the standard is pretty but doesn’t really go beyond that) shows Madonna posing behind a ridged glass screen which slices up the picture into discordant segments and perhaps represents an impenetrable layer between us, the listeners, and her, the performer / musical icon. The super-bright colours then pack a punch to the eye, and also reference a psychedelic, drugged-up state. Drugs like MDMA! I am spelling this out. The most intense colour comes from Madonna’s lips however, which is also important – she always takes centre stage. And her lips are where her voice comes from (sort of – you know what I mean) and Madonna is a Singer. Yes.

Back to the music then. “I Don’t Give A” is another standout track which has an urban quality to the beat. It discusses the hectic schedule of a star on Madonna’s level, and how she does ten things at once without feeling the pressure, because she doesn’t give a. It’s a defiant moment that’s further strengthened by another strong rap from Nicki Minaj, and tops out with an operatic choir repeating “I don’t give a”. As we’ll learn later on in the album however, Madonna does give a. “Love Spent”, “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are introspection done right (unlike “Falling Free”, which is an epic ballad marred by Madonna’s incredibly mannered delivery and too little momentum too late). “Love Spent” switches up halfway through from practically one song to another with little more than a hook in common, but the same theme pervades throughout – if love were money, would you spend it on me? Would you care about me as much as your money? It sounds ironic for Madonna (who is not poor) to be discussing this, but then again, why can’t she? Everyone can relate to the feeling of coming second best in a relationship, regardless of whether either member of the couple is wealthy or not. It’s an emotional moment that is buoyed by a strong melody and interesting musical touches (such as the opening guitar and the Nintendo bleeps). “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are apparently about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, and the demise of their relationship. Now, I know that it is easy to attribute these lyrics to that experience which the whole public knows about- and Madonna has had a couple of relationships since then (one of which was with Jesus!) – but it sounds pretty convincingly like Guy was on her mind when she wrote these tracks.  “Best Friend” talks about losing someone Madonna was very close to, and reflecting upon the time they shared together – “It wasn’t always good but it wasn’t always bad”. The fact that time has passed between the divorce and the album has allowed Madonna to apportion the blame where it lies on both sides – as well as Guy being the subject of her vitriol on other tracks, “I Fucked Up” sees her take some responsibility for the relationship’s demise. “I blamed you when things didn’t go my way… In front of you, I was cold.” Listing a number of the things that the couple could have done makes for some heart-wrenching listening, even as the production picks up speed. Although parts of the album sound manufactured for radio (like the singles) and others see her aim blindly for the craziest dancefloors, these tracks are where Madonna is open and sounds honest, rather than pre-meditated.

Other songs that deserve a mention are “Some Girls” and its basic but essential proclamation: “Some girls are not like me”; “Superstar” and its sugar-sweet hook of “Ooh la la, you’re my superstar”  (I imagine this song as being great for driving along to); the romantic “Masterpiece” which is somewhat cliché but manages to remain elegant and understated. On the other hand, weaker points of the album include “I’m A Sinner” which sounds like “Beautiful Stranger” (and I didn’t like that song either), and the ridiculous “B-Day Song” which wastes M.I.A.’s talents and doesn’t match up to the quality of the rest of the album. However, it’s relaxed nature reveals that Madonna probably had genuine fun recording this track, and it’s nice to hear a song that’s so unguarded. Perhaps it should have remained a b-side.

Overall, MDNA is a good album. It’s not outstanding as a whole, but it contains a fair few excellent moments. The songs are cohesive enough to feel like they belong (with a couple of exceptions), while varied enough to retain interest. There’s genuine introspection, braggadocio and hedonism – which is what we want from Madonna. It’s a shame that some of the album feels so calculated that it detracts from our enjoyment of the material. But once you can look past that, MDNA provides a trip well worth taking.

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2012, here we come!

December 30, 2011

The time has rolled around, once again, for my two standard end of year / new year posts. The first one is my own personal review of 2011, evaluating how I did with my aims for the year, and looking forward to 2012 and what I hope to achieve within the next 12 months. So, to recap, my aims for 2011 were:

1. Buy a car.
Tick! I not only bought a car, but I crashed it and then sold it 6 months later!  Driving was a major achievement for me, as it was 6 years in the making, and represented a triumph over my nerves and my previous failure (I have been a lucky person who generally didn’t have to deal with failure too much in life, up until I started learning to drive). But I also learned the hard way that it’s a big responsibility, that it comes with a whole trapping of expenses, and that while being able to drive is an asset and a liberation, living in London and not having to drive anywhere is also a blessing. When the public transport system is good, life is good. (Let me tell you, having gone home to Bristol for 6 days over the Christmas period, I immediately starting missing my car and how easy it made travelling from place to place. Bristol, step your public transport game up please!)

2. Get a job in London.

Tick! Although I miss the warmth and camaraderie of my colleagues in Cirencester (I yo-yoed about how much I enjoyed the job, but I became much happier and carefree once a certain colleague left), my new job in Notting Hill is a whole new challenge – I’m always busy, I’m never bored, and I am learning many new things. Plus, I am earning more!

3. Move to London.

Tick! As you know, I am now living in my own little studio flat in Earl’s Court, which is pricey but very conveniently located for transport (bus stop and tube station outside my front door), and also only a 15 minute walk from Toby’s place.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

Tick! I love my baby and I realised early on in 2011 that the 100+ miles gap between the two of us wasn’t going to be feasible. We missed each other all the time, and although I may have ended up in London anyway (I’m a city boy at heart), he was the driving force between the transformation in my life and career that has occurred this year.

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

Nope. The microphone never happened. I have recorded some new material (and written even more), but I am hoping that the album will be complete next year.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

Sort of. I am debt-free, apart from my student overdraft and my student loan. My car ended up being a big drain on my finances, and moving to London required every penny I had. Plus, I did have a wonderful holiday to Seville with Toby in July, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything but did further delay me paying off my student overdraft. But with my first couple of pay checks, I paid my parents and Nonna back for the money they lent me to settle myself in London, I paid off my credit card, and sorted myself out financially. The student overdraft is my primary financial focus for 2012.

So I guess 4.5 out of 6 is not bad at all! I seem to have more success when I write my yearly aims down, so here goes for 2012:

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Toby is a fantastic cook, but I want to learn to make healthy, interesting meals so that I can return the favour from time to time, and enrich my own skill-set and repertoire. Tonight, Toby’s housemates Michael and Naomi have made some very yummy sushi, so that is one thing I shall aim to make; I also enjoyed watching the British Bake-Off and am tempted by the idea of whipping up my own lemon tart!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

I’m not quite as svelte as I was this time last year. I have got into the habit of having desserts, of snacking unnecessarily from time to time, and from cooking quite simple dishes (similar to how I was at university). This is all fine, but I am going to moderate myself a bit and cut down on takeaways from Dominos, Pizza Hut and Jasmine Garden.

3. Move in with Toby.

I would like the two of us to move in together; it feels like the logical next step for our relationship, but we both need to be at ease with it and it also needs to be an affordable and convenient location. Moving in will happen when it happens, but I’m just putting this wish out there in the universe and perhaps in 12 months’ time, I will be able to tick this one off the list! 🙂

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

See above. This year I have really improved at budgeting and restraining myself from impulsive / extravagant purchases; therefore, I am determined to pay off at least £200 a month. So even if I don’t pay the whole thing off by the end of the year, I will have made a sizeable dent in it! Fingers crossed!

5. Learn Italian

Ok, let’s get this done once and for all. I am half-Italian, therefore it will not only be easy (especially having studied French and Spanish) to learn Italian, but it will be culturally enriching and give me a new understanding of my own heritage. Work have offered to pay for / subsidise an Italian course for me, but my initial plan of attack will be to buy an Italian novel, an Italian dictionary (and possibly an Italian grammar book), and keep a pen and paper by me as I read – and just have at it.

6. Learn to sew

Because I feel somewhat babyish whenever I have holes or rips in my clothes, and I have to take them to Toby’s to fix. I presume that sewing is a relatively simple skill, and therefore I should learn to do it and allow myself to be self-sufficient when it comes to repairing my belongings.

7. Finish my new album

This year will be the year! I am over halfway. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Having moved to London, I was unable to carry all of my DVDs and CDs with me. I would need a truck. Obviously, I have my computer, my iPod, and I was able to take quite a few of my DVDs here; but I have realised that I don’t really need most of the physical copies that I own. So I will sell them, give them away, and go digital. I will open myself up to buying things on iTunes much more (believe it or not, B.Slade’s album Diesel that I bought a couple of months ago was the very first album I bought on iTunes!), and perhaps I might need an extra external hard drive. But I am willing to embrace the digital age (only a few years late!), and also make it much easier for myself to move flats and houses as I go.

Wish me luck, and have a Happy New Year! x

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Joss Stone – LP1 (album review)

August 11, 2011

LP1 is Joss Stone’s 5th album and her third consecutive attempt to reboot her career (after the stellar Introducing… Joss Stone and the defiant Colour Me Free!). This time, Joss is free of her previous record label EMI and is on her own imprint, Stone’d. So, if she is finally truly in control, why is this album so lifeless?
The good: Joss’ voice is richer, more textured and more soulful than ever. “Last One To Know” is starkly emotional, and compliments this voice with dramatic string crescendoes. On “Landlord”, a raw number which could have been recorded alongside Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Joss takes centre stage backed by nothing but an acoustic guitar.
The bad: There is little else positive to say about the album. Its major crime is that it is dull. Hook-free songs plod along with nondescript drums and guitars blending into an MOR blur. The lyrics are frequently awful: take “Newborn”‘s anticlimactic “What happened to this morning when I woke up and the world was… bruised”, or acoustic closer “Take Good Care”‘s “Take… good… care… / Don’t… push… the button.” Um, what? Joss tries to inject some life into proceedings by cussing to prove how ‘badass’ she is: “I’m a girl that don’t give a shit!” This swearing becomes tiresome, as it’s unnecessary bravado rather than genuine emotion.
If the songwriting on this album matched the quality of Joss’ voice, LP1 would be a much more satisfying affair. As it is, it’s going to take more than this inert stab at independence to revitalise her career. Perhaps Stone should consider working with a soul singer-songwriter like Jazmine Sullivan, whose vocal range and depth is similarly impressive but who has songs which thrill and impress, rather than bore. Joss is one of the UK’s best singers but this material is largely deplorable – and it’s a crying shame.

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on my way.

August 9, 2011

At the end of last year, I wrote down that this year I wanted to achieve:

1. Buy a car. (Tick. I bought a car, bought some tyres, had a small accident, replaced the door latch, paid through the nose for its MOT, and taxed it. So yes, I well and truly achieved that aim!)

2. Get a job in London. (Yes! As of yesterday lunchtime, I got a new job as Admissions Officer at Southbank International School. I start there in mid-September, and I am so excited. And relieved. And proud of myself.)

3. Move to London. (Now I have to find somewhere to live in London! I am more than ready to move out, and I am adamant that I want a flat by myself, which is going to be expensive. But I am ready for it. I am thinking Earl’s Court / Barons Court)

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger! (So far, so good!)

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album. (Well, I haven’t got the microphone yet. I don’t know if that is going to happen; as you can guess, I have had a lot bigger things to spend money on this year. But the album is underway and I have recorded 5 or so songs, with lots more on the way! It’s a slow work in progress, but I have faith that it will be the best thing I have ever done. Watch this space.)

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft. (This one seems to be the hardest, but my credit card is nearly paid off. I will get there.)

In the last few weeks, I was feeling quite low. I wasn’t having any luck with finding interviews, my car just kept going wrong and needing more money spent on it, and work just seemed to pile more and more things on top of me, without my colleagues seemingly having to take on more tasks. I started feeling resentful, paranoid and questioning whether I was entering a depressed period. It wasn’t nice, and it wasn’t nice for my friends or for Toby who had to support me. Luckily, there were some things to look forward to: I went on holiday to Seville with Toby and I had my interview at Southbank, which held a glimmer of hope. Just before I finished work for my holiday, I had a long chat with Mike who said in no uncertain terms that I needed to snap out of it, or go and talk to someone professional.

I decided that I would try the former before I had to try the latter, and spent a long time thinking. About feeling taken for granted at work, and about why I couldn’t see that being able to manage additional responsibilities was a compliment as well as a burden. About the fact that I didn’t want to be down anymore, and I didn’t want to feel the guilt of burdening my friends when they could do nothing to help me, before I started helping myself. About the fact that I overcame a lot of obstacles to get my driving licence and my car, and that I shouldn’t give up now – I already achieved more than I thought I would. About the fact that if I give up, I end up nowhere, making no progress – and unhappy anyway. What could I, my family, my partner, be proud of then? And finally, about the fact that life is too short to be miserable all the time, especially about what largely boiled down to petty popularity contests at work. Just because I don’t want to be involved doesn’t mean that I should alter my whole routine and happiness because of it. It’s just a job, these are just people! I already have my friends, my family, my boyfriend. Life is good and I shouldn’t focus on the bad. So I decided that I won’t.

I let it go. At first, I was exhausted by it all, and there was an element in acting happily in the hope that my smile might be contagious. But it was surprisingly easy after a few days. Once I got to London, did my first interview, and chilled with Toby, my troubles started to melt away. Maybe I just needed the time off after all. The holiday in Seville was good for me (as well as immensely enjoyable and relaxing – the first of many holidays I hope to spend with Toby) as I was able to think and talk about what I wanted to do with myself. I have resolved to continue working on my music, but to actually start putting together a portfolio of music reviews (the Nadia Oh one is the first) which are kept to a strict word count of 250 / 500 words – perhaps alongside a couple of longer articles – and then sending these to newspapers and magazines in the hope of perhaps landing something. At first for free, but maybe – in the long run – freelance? Paid? Writing music reviews, at least for part of my living, would be great and I think that I am and would be very good at it. So I have a plan. I felt positive, and I felt empowered once again because my future is in my hands.

We came back from Seville, I had my second interview, and yesterday I got the job offer, which I accepted. I handed in my notice at college, and I realised from all the congratulatory tweets, as well as colleagues being so pleased for me, that I have a lot of people who are really happy for me and want the best for me. I am very lucky, and very grateful. But it’s also because I try to be a good person, a nice person, and a fun person – not only do I try to be those things, but I am those things, most of the time. So it’s not worth losing that to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Because I am not worthless, nor hopeless – and as soon as I let it all go, my worth and my hope revealed itself once again. So I learned that: I don’t believe we can control everything that happens to us by any means, but you get a lot more in return when you are nice & happy. We need to roll with the punches life throws at us, take some down time and then come out smiling 🙂 Life can be good if we let it!

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Nadia Oh – Colours (review)

August 2, 2011

On second album Colours, London singer / rapper / beauty Nadia Oh packs enough punch into 10 tracks to supercharge Britain, Ibiza (where she’s “jumping off the speakers”), Amsterdam (on “Amsterdam”) and the rest of the world into 2012 and beyond. Dance-pop wizard Space Cowboy handles production duties, employing pounding “moombahton” beats (a mélange of house and electrified reggaeton, as exemplified by 6-minute standout “Taking Over The Dancefloor”) and relentless hooks to keep revellers dancing. According to her lyrics, Nadia Oh has as much swag as Kate Middleton, enjoys America’s Next Top Model, experiences psychedelic hallucinations from the glory of the club (the “Colours” of the album’s title), and wants to get into the DJ’s pants. This is the girl you want to go partying with. The set is cohesively upbeat, and Nadia and Space Cowboy mix in a touch of garage here (by way of Dizzee Rascal’s “I Love You” on “Is That You”) and dirty house there – “Jump (Out The Window)” is a tamer version of Sidney Samson’s “Riverside”, replacing that song’s prime curse with the comparatively dignified, but more amusing “You make me wanna jump jump out the window… bitch!”). This is not music that requires great introspection – so if you must, discard everything you’ve just read and simply take heed of the following: buy it, listen to it, dance to it, enjoy your summer. You won’t find a more hedonistic gem of an album this year.

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we’re going to Sevilla!

July 25, 2011

So after many tweets promising this blog, I am finally writing to say that tomorrow morning (at ridiculous o’clock) Toby and I are flying out to Seville for a week’s holiday! I am excited – it is our first holiday away as a couple but I am sure that it will all go well, and any obstacles that we come up against, we will overcome as a team (and hopefully both be cranky at the same time and therefore understand each other’s moods!).  I am looking forward to it!

Hopefully we’ll see lots of orange trees…

… some flamenco (and possibly visit the Flamenco Art Museum, as recommended by Karina!)…

… various arts museums to enrich our cultural understanding (below: the Traditional Arts and Customs Museum)…

…and lots of cafés to enjoy some tapas and coffee!

I am hoping that we will come back culturally enriched and spiritually refreshed, and I’ll be rejuvenated and be able to take on my current job / new job (I had an interview at Southbank International School on Friday, and I am hoping it went positively – I think so!) with renewed gusto. I am also hoping that we take some excellent photos (including possibly some photos I could include on my next album!) which I will share with you all on here 🙂 So much love from me, and I will see you all on the other side when I’m back in London! Have a wonderful week xx

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phoenix rising (new song!).

May 18, 2011

My good friend Koodzi (as well as his twitter, visit his blog here!) is an amazing singer/songwriter who found me on Soundcloud – he is also part of Citizens of the World, a dope songwriting team who are currently running a 30 Song Challenge on their website. They create instrumentals (including the beautiful instrumental which inspired the above song, “Phoenix Rising”) and then the members of Citizens of the World (and anyone else who wants to join in!) craft songs to the instrumentals. There will be 30 instrumentals in total, hence “30 Song Challenge”. Koodzi invited me to take part, and so this is the song I made out of the 3rd instrumental. I am hoping to do more songs with the future instrumentals that comprise the challenge – it is so good to stimulate one’s creativity in this way! So I hope you like “Phoenix Rising”, I hope you enjoy seeing what Koodzi and co. have to offer and listening to their compositions, and I think that this is really getting my creative juices flowing – nearly 5 of my own songs complete for my forthcoming album! It’s coming y’all… 🙂