Posts Tagged ‘competition’

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take off running.

April 4, 2010

Happy Easter everyone!  I am fast becoming a bit of a scrooge, dreading any kind of holiday because it means not that I will have to spend money (something that I have absolutely no trouble doing, as you should all know by now) but because there will be some form of family gathering. Today hasn’t been as bad as Christmas, because there are buses running and I have taken refuge in Starbucks after a quick dinner with my parents and grandmother – I’ve even accomplished some work (wonders never cease)!  But discussing my current relationship with my family yesterday with Davina and Frankie, and reminiscing over my historical experience of family gatherings with Hannah on msn earlier today, it’s not really a surprise that being in these kind of situations makes me uncomfortable.  So making a swift (but polite – I thanked my dad for a lovely Easter lunch and gave my nan an appreciative hug, promising that I would see her again soon) exit makes sense and allows me to preserve my own good mood and sanity.

When I was younger, every 27th December (roughly) we would drive up to London (or thereabouts) to see my father’s side of the family for a Christmas gathering.  The venue would rotate each year depending on who was hosting the gathering, and to be fair the food was nice enough and I don’t remember anyone being particularly nasty to me.  However, I do remember the competitive atmosphere between my father and his siblings – comparing families’ progress and ‘success’, wealth, partners and so on.  Being from Bristol, we were the “poor relations” in comparison with the other families who would pretend to be upper class right down to their accents, and my mother being Italian led to a sense of exclusion and some prodding jokes from certain members of the family (this is racism!).  Despite the fact that my father was largely absent during my childhood, and when he was there he was either drunk, argumentative and mentally / verbally abusive, or sleeping, my intelligence (which, much to their chagrin, undeniably outclassed all of my more “well-to-do” cousins – money doesn’t buy smarts, and I promise that in this case I’m not being up myself, it’s just the truth) and good traits were attributed to him rather than to my mother (who raised me more or less single-handed).  Because of this, and because of the fact that the other members of this family were largely self-absorbed to the point of being imbecilic, I didn’t really enjoy these yearly outings, because it seemed like a lot of chest-puffing and bravado for no real purpose.

My grandmother (the head of that side of the family, who seemed to portray herself as the Queen) died when I was 17. From the age of 17, we never had any more of those yearly gatherings. Nearly all of my father’s siblings’ marriages (and some of my cousins’ relationships) broke apart, one aunt declared she was a lesbian and moved her secret girlfriend in, and we never heard from them again.  In other words, all that competitiveness and fuckery had been for show, for my grandmother.  For what purpose, who knows? Interestingly, for all the dysfunction and stress in my family, we stayed together through thick and thin, and I had always got on better with my mother’s side of the family (though they are far from perfect), even though they were from another country – gasp!  But I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not, and that’s the same issue that drives me crazy now, but in a different way.

I can’t be an angel for my grandmother (the one who’s still alive, obv) – I never really was an angel, but I’ve gotten darker over the past year.  I’m 24 years old and I can’t be treated like I’m 12 by anyone – I am not on drugs, I don’t have an eating disorder or a gambling addiction and I find it frankly insulting to be accused of those things by my mother, the woman to whom I was so close during my childhood.  Shouldn’t she know me better?  Shouldn’t she credit me with more intelligence, show me more respect?  Has everything I’ve accomplished, the fact I’ve never gotten into trouble – does that all mean nothing?  It really hurts me when I have to suffer those things, even if they’re just jibes, coming from my family – the people who are supposed to be on my side more often than not feel like they are against me now, when I’m just being myself and having my own independent thoughts, opinions and life.  I refuse to compromise, I refuse to conform – I’m an adult, why should I? And shouldn’t my family be proud that I am my own man with my own mind? I don’t understand why I have to give itemised accounts of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve eaten. That’s why these days, given the slightest opportunity, I’ll take off running out the door, because my friends (the only family I feel I have these days), my sanity, my freedom is out there.

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Sugababes – Sweet 7. (album review)

February 7, 2010

Sweet 7 marks the 7th album from the Sugababes, and the first album from the newest incarnation of the group, consisting now of Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.  Furore of no original members remaining aside, Sweet 7 evidences a complete glossy polishing of the group’s sound that started upon Mutya’s departure after Taller In More Ways, one of the group’s best albums.  Sweet 7 is full of pounding clubby pop uptempos, with a couple of ballads at the end to slow down the pace.  For the most part (the piece-of-trash “Thank You For The Heartbreak” aside), these are well-written, catchy pop songs with a couple of pleasant surprises along the way.  “Wear My Kiss” and “About A Girl” are smashes-in-waiting that don’t deserve to fare badly on the charts just because of bad feeling towards the group’s revolving-door lineup.  “No More You” sounds like a Stargate production in the vein of Beyoncé’s smash “Irreplaceable”, and standout “She’s A Mess” has some hilarious lyrics (“drinking bottle after bottle after bottle…” / “Everybody go mad, everybody go psycho!”) and multiple hooks, plus an irresistible instrumental coda that keeps you dancing and pressing repeat.  This track sounds as if it could be addressed to Ke$ha, dissing trashtastic, classless girls everywhere (perhaps Amelle has reformed her drunken antics and girl-bashing self?) who just live to party and get drunk.

The ballads that close the album feel a bit tacked-on, and could have been better incorporated into the sequence of the album as a whole, but “Crash & Burn” and particularly “Little Miss Perfect” are well-sung efforts that offer a nice change of pace from the mostly relentless 4/4 beats of the disc.  Sunny acoustic-led track “Sweet & Amazing” offers a lyrical insight on optimism and getting what you want out of life; the message is nice and appreciated, but the lyrics themselves come across as trite and banal.  Still, the overall vibe of the song is endearing. Perhaps “Sweet & Amazing” and “Little Miss Perfect” are also answers to those who have criticised the group for ousting last founding member Keisha Buchanan, stating in not so many words that the group had to do what it had to do to survive and to maintain a healthy inter-member relationship.  Who knows – but these songs at least give a little bit of meat for fans and listeners to bite into.

However, Keisha’s absence is gaping for two major reasons.  One: anyone who has heard the original Sweet 7 sampler with Keisha’s vocals knows just how much better “Get Sexy” and “Miss Everything” sounded before.  This is largely a production error: the intro on “Get Sexy” no longer grabs the listener with any vocals; Jade Ewen’s voice on “Miss Everything” is unnecessarily auto-tuned within an inch of its life, and the modulations on her voice are at least double that of Heidi’s and Amelle’s, which seems illogical considering that Jade Ewen is far and away the best vocalist in the new incarnation of the group.  Indeed, the new rendition of “Wait For You” places Jade front and centre, and her vocals particularly in the second verse are nothing short of thrilling. Technically, she might be the best vocalist the Sugababes have ever had, and it is almost a shame that she sacrificed her solo career to be part of the group; especially when the re-produced songs make little effort to blend her vocals with Heidi and Amelle’s.  Through no fault of Jade’s own, at times her vocals stick out like a sore thumb, not just because she outclasses her fellow members at nearly every turn, but because the vocal mixing appears to have been carried out by an orang-utan.  This seems to be a running theme with the Sugababes, as Amelle’s vocals on tracks such as “Red Dress” sounded nothing short of harsh, but with newer songs came a more subtle, blended approach to the production.  Hopefully future albums will exhibit the same approach.

Two: as hinted at in the introduction to this review, the Sugababes’ new music is extremely polished, but it has lost nearly all semblance of any originality the group had.  Songs such as “Overload”, “New Year”, “Round Round” and “Situations Heavy” sounded unique to the group, as if they could be sung by nobody else.  The shout-out of “RedOne!” at the start of “About A Girl” might as well be changed to “We’ve used Lady GaGa’s producer, please love our single too!”; “Thank You For The Heartbreak” could be sung just as easily (and probably better) by the Sugababes’ biggest rivals Girls Aloud; “Miss Everything”, while a ridiculously catchy song, features Sean Kingston in an unnecessary attempt to pander to the American market.  “Crash & Burn” sounds like something Chris Brown could sing and in fact did sing on his mediocre Graffiti track “Crawl”.  Only towards the end of the album on quirky tracks such as “Give It To Me Now” does a shade of the Sugababes’ original spunky personality creep in. I’m a believer that when the group lost Mutya Buena, they lost what made the Sugababes that irresistible combination of street, edge and class.  Even looking at the album and single covers from Sweet 7 (not to mention the horrendous video for “About A Girl”), the Sugababes are posing in skimpy outfits and pouting like their lives depend on it.  In the old days, their individuality stood out; perhaps in a loss of confidence, the group now looks and sounds desperate to fit in, which is a shame as they used to lead the pack, and with a strong set of well-written tracks on Sweet 7, they don’t need to resort to such pedestrian tactics.  In trying to be edgy and stand out, the Sugababes have lost their sense of individuality and ironically end up blending in with your average girl group or classless female singer.

So, what to make of Sweet 7?  It’s balanced heavily towards the uptempo, but most of its songs do succeed and the album is a fun listen with a few standout cuts.  Jade Ewen is a thrilling addition to the group, and were the vocal production a little better, her voice would elevate the material to stellar status.  The ballads are serviceable for the most part, and in my opinion there is only one unlistenable song on the disc (putting the album ahead of Change and Catfights And Spotlights).  However, it’s a shame that the Sugababes have lost that spark and class that set them apart from the rest of the pack.  In trying to compete with the rest of the shallow, faceless current pop music scene – regardless of who now comprises the group – the Sugababes have automatically lowered themselves to the level of their peers, and that is sad because they could have made a great album instead of a solid but unexceptional one.

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break the ice.

September 21, 2009

So today was my first day of my Careers Guidance course at uni!  It went well, there was a lot of information to take in and my head is still spinning a tiny bit, but it was good, everyone seems nice and I made a couple of friends already!  It seems a bit daunting and also a very fast-moving course, but I am ready for the challenge (I think!) and I know that it’s only natural to be nervous and I am capable of it.  I can do this.  Let’s go!

So as it was our first day in the classroom, and we only knew a couple of people (whom we’d gone to interview with) very barely, so it was natural that we had to do some icebreaker games.  I had feared this, but I had expected this too.  We had to each write down something “unusual” about ourselves, and although thinking about it now, I could have written that when I was 18, I met Janet Jackson at an album release party for Damita Jo (I won a radio competition with Star FM) and talked to her very briefly.  I could have also written some other stuff that I can’t recall right now, but in the end, I came out with the fact that I sing, write and produce my own music, and I promote it here online (on this blog, on myspace and on youtube, as well as through my twitter account).

There were several people who had done musical things, like me, and it was very interesting.  However, everyone seemed to take an interest in me to the point that I almost felt a little embarrassed about mentioning it, because although I am very proud of my material (and listening to some of the songs from Quiet Storm again last night, I really did some bangers on this album!!!! I can’t wait for y’all to hear it 😀 ), it was strange for people to be so interested in it.  Especially for people who a) didn’t know me from Adam, and b) people who have done their own music things (with varying degrees of success but some certainly more successful than me) in a variety of genres and settings.  I was touched that they took such an interest and gave me respect, but I did feel the glare of attention on me and I wished I had chosen something else to reveal about myself.

Especially because out of the 22 of us, only me and one other guy (Mike) smokes.  Though it seems not to have crossed anyone’s mind yet, I am anticipating someone’s eventual question “why do you smoke if you sing?” I know that I shouldn’t, but luckily up until now I have gotten away with it with barely a scratch on my vocals, so to speak.  I can still sing, I can still belt, I can still whisper, I can still whistle (sort of… I can do a pretty good whistle for a guy).  I am learning to belt less and to sing powerfully with my head voice more, which sounds less straining and also allows me to control myself more and emote slightly more.  So my technique is changing, but improving; not declining.  My father said the other night that although I am apparently “still too loud”, I “sing more and howl less”.  It was supposed to be a compliment and I took it as such – although I don’t deny that I am loud when I sing at home against the stereo (poor neighbours), I was touched that my dad can hear the improvement in my technique.  Power is important, but also I value transmitting the emotion when I sing and trying to carry the impact of the tune and the lyrics and the emotions all at once.  That’s what I feel is the true task and true skill of a singer – to really feel the story / mood that a song tells, and to transmit that to your audience so that the song becomes special / significant to them and they feel a little bit of what you feel.  Singing may be a technical thing, but it’s also a primal and emotional thing.

I guess it did break the ice, and I guess I do feel more comfortable within the group.  I certainly don’t dread tomorrow!  But I hope that the music thing becomes a footnote in my year on the course, unless I decide to make it otherwise.  I want to have the control and power over what I sing and when I do it.  That’s what I’ve always enjoyed up to now, and that’s something I hope to maintain throughout my life. 🙂