Posts Tagged ‘charts’

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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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hypocritical much?

August 29, 2009

Okay, I realise that I’m in serious danger of stanning for Mariah Carey before the album even drops, and I posted about her only yesterday.  But reading certain blogs and forums, which I know are only opinions often by a lot of small minded people or people who are blatantly paid to support certain artists, I can’t help but feel that there is some injustice going on.

Mariah Carey releases a cover song, “I Want To Know What Love Is”.  According to some, she is whispering too much through the song because she has lost her voice and can never get it back.  Others say that she is shrieking and howling and squeaking like an animal.  Which is it?  Either you are shrieking and howling, or you have lost your voice – it can’t be both.  I personally think that her voice is damaged somewhat, and isn’t the same as it was as she first came out. I acknowledge that, and then I say that she is still the best female vocalist around today.  This is part of the hypocrisy I am perceiving; people want to down Mariah Carey for lip-synching a few times, but when she does sing live, they criticise her for a whispery voice not like on the record / oversinging her song with too many histrionic outbursts / not being able to sing and dance at the same time.  What do people want?  Nobody is perfect, but Mariah Carey is possibly the closest that we have.  I would like to warn Beyoncé, who is the most prominently successful young singer / songwriter / dancer / entertainer of the new era – THIS IS YOUR FUTURE. Hate no matter what you do, and the majority of people’s opinions on your album is dictated by how much media support / criticism it gains.  It was decided by the media before the album even dropped that The Emancipation Of Mimi would be a smash hit / “comeback”.  It was decided by the media before the album even dropped that E=MC² would not live up to The Emancipation Of Mimi either in terms of sales or in terms of quality.  I happen to prefer E=MC² because I think the songs are slightly stronger, whereas I tend to skip a few of them on Mimi. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing, but I’m just tired of stans putting one artist down for no decent reason, and criticising an album when they probably haven’t even listened to it.  If you have an opinion, please back it up.  I may not agree with you, but at least I will respect you.

So people are dogging Mariah Carey because she decided to cover a song.  Um, “Without You” was also a cover, but nobody had a problem with her version of that 16 years ago?  Also, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was a fantastic song that was a cover version of Dolly Parton’s original. I don’t hear anyone having a problem with that song.  In fact, let’s talk about Whitney Houston.  I nearly did this yesterday, but I managed to restrain myself; after reading some of the frankly retarded opinions posted on Lil’ Kim Zone, I can no longer hold my tongue.  Whitney Houston’s new album is okay.  I like some of the songs (“Salute” is my favourite), I think others are atrocious.  Mostly, I like the ballads and dislike the uptempos.  That’s fine, you can’t win ’em all, and I know that other people are really enjoying her record.  Her voice sounds good, but undeniably not how it did before (she doesn’t belt, she riffs too much).  These are criticisms which, funnily enough, have been levelled at Mariah Carey.  Okay.  Whitney Houston’s new single “Million Dollar Bill” has peaked in the mid-70s on the Billboard Chart.  Mariah Carey’s song has stayed within the Top 20 of that chart for the past 5-6 weeks.  So don’t tell me that Mariah Carey is pushing her album back because she is scared of Whitney Houston; don’t tell me that her career is ‘flopping’.  If you want me to quote stats, I can do: “Obsessed” has had her highest chart debut in 11 years, and its digital sales currently stand at 526,000.  Whitney Houston’s newest song has sold 32,000 copies, which is about 6% of what Mariah’s single has sold.  Who should be scared?

Let’s talk about songwriting.  As far as I am aware, Whitney Houston has only written one song in her catalogue – the massively successful “Whatchulookinat” (that is sarcasm, by the way).  Mariah Carey writes 90% of all her material – and not only is she involved in writing lyrics, but she also has a hand in creating and producing the music.  Of course, because Mariah Carey’s newest song is a cover version, there have been snide comments about her not being able to hire a decent team of songwriters to write a hit for her.  In actuality, this is something Mariah Carey has never done; she has never hired anybody to write her material.  Songs such as “Vision Of Love”, “Dreamlover”, “Hero”, “Fantasy”, “One Sweet Day”, “Always Be My Baby”, “Heartbreaker”, “We Belong Together”, “Don’t Forget About Us”, “Touch My Body” all have songwriting credits to Mariah Carey. By the way, all those songs went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “One Sweet Day” and “We Belong Together” jointly hold the record for the longest stretch at #1, which is 16 weeks.  I enjoy Mariah Carey’s music, whether it charts highly or not.  I loved her Glitter album when her career was at a real low point, and I still think that “Lead The Way” and “Never Too Far” are two of her best songs and vocal performances to date.  I think that Charmbracelet was a more heartfelt and personal album than The Emancipation Of Mimi, despite Mimi selling 5 times what Charmbracelet sold.  I am able to have an opinion on the music which is separate from how much it sells, because what’s important to me is whether I like the damn songs and vocals and music, not how successful it is.  Just because an artist isn’t constantly at the top of the charts has nothing to do with their artistic merit.  However, it’s come to the point where I am quoting these statistics because certain foolish people are trying to down Mariah Carey too much, and it’s just ridiculous to me, not to mention utterly hypocritical.

Whitney Houston doesn’t write her songs.  I don’t think that this matters, because a great singer doesn’t have to be a great songwriter (as Aaliyah said); if they can interpret material well, that is equivalent to making the song their own.  As I said before, Houston did this with “I Will Always Love You”.  But if people want to talk about songwriting prowess, Mariah Carey wins hands down.  Sales-wise, both currently and in terms of their entire careers, Mariah Carey is ahead of Whitney Houston.  (Barbra Streisand is the biggest selling female artist of all time.)  If people want to talk about Mariah Carey not being able to sing live, then please hold your tongue until Whitney Houston sings her new single live.  I have yet to hear or see her performing “Million Dollar Bill” live, and I have yet to hear or see any announcement that she is going to be doing this in the near future.  Until she does this, can we stop criticising Mariah’s live performances, because whether her voice is damaged or not, the facts are that she is singing live and Whitney is not, so you can’t compare the two.

People say they have lost respect for Mariah Carey because she doesn’t dress her age (she is 39, and I see many women 10 years older than her walking around Bristol in far less, but anyway), she has had plastic surgery, she cavorts with too many rappers and doesn’t sing the way she used to.  A small point: on I Look To You, two of Whitney Houston’s songs were produced by Akon, and he features on one.  A larger point:  Whitney Houston was a drug addict for possibly a decade or more; she raised a daughter while addicted to drugs, and god knows what else her daughter has been exposed to during Houston’s drug addiction, marriage and divorce to Bobby Brown.  Mariah Carey has never done drugs, or even been reported to do drugs (yet… wait for it!); the worst vice she has is for a couple of glasses of champagne or wine.  Mariah Carey didn’t raise a family under the glare of the media nor while taking cocaine.  The worst that Mariah Carey has done is wear a few (debatably) ill-fitting dresses.  I think that Houston and Carey are both even in terms of diva behaviour (reported, not usually substantiated, by the way) and in terms of their ability to spend money on things which appear frivolous to you and me.  In my opinion (I keep repeating this) NONE OF THIS AFFECTS THEIR ABILITY TO SING OR MAKE MUSIC.  But since so many people seem to go on about Mariah’s imperfections whilst forgetting about Whitney, I just wanted to do a comparison to put everything into perspective.  Mariah Carey is the more successful artist in terms of sales, charts and airplay; she writes her own material whilst Houston has a team of accomplished songwriters to do so for her; Mariah Carey has never done drugs nor raised a child whilst on drugs; Whitney Houston has had a more successful film career (again, I am nothing if not fair) and dresses more conservatively.

I can’t stand the hypocrisy of people, both ill-informed stans of other artists and biased media acting on a propaganda brief.  When Michael Jackson died, people conveniently forgot about his repeated child-abuse trials, and overlooked his excessive plastic surgery.  Radio hadn’t played his records for years, and suddenly you can’t go a day without hearing “Man In The Mirror” or “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, songs which radio stations in Bristol have never played.  I am pleased that in his death, his music has been made more accessible to so many people, and is finally being honoured, even if it is a little too late.  He was a truly legendary and fantastic performer.  But I don’t see how we can suddenly excuse Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston for their faults (in both cases, they have done things which are not only massively ill-advised, inconsiderate of young people, but also illegal), yet take Mariah Carey to task for wearing short skirts & low-cut dresses or for not sounding 100% perfect when she sings live or for choosing to do a cover version of a song.

I’ll say it once more: an artist’s sales, personal life, dress sense, media scandals and choice of partner / collaborator / pet should not influence whether you like their music or not.  I own albums by Carey, Houston and Jackson, and none of what has happened in the past year (his death, Houston’s “comeback”, Eminem’s annoyance with Carey) has remotely affected my enjoyment of their music.  Like what you like, because you like it. But if you really want to go there, and want to compare stats, then let’s compare stats.  The only thing I can think of is that some people are jealous, because Mariah Carey really does seem to have it all (even though she is not perfect and her voice is not quite what it used to be; I’m not deaf.) – the body, the voice, the talent, the money, the husband, the songwriting credits behind her songs. So if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all – don’t hate; appreciate.