Posts Tagged ‘radio’

h1

table for two.

June 16, 2012

Tonight I cleared the table (on which I keep my printer, laptop, books I’m currently reading and other paraphernalia I use on a daily basis) in order to serve up a proper dinner for two – I laid the table and served up a bowl of prawn crackers, a plate of spring rolls, a bowl of Thai green chicken curry, a bowl of Thai red chicken curry, along with some drinks. The reason why I wanted to do this tonight was because I had been doing chores on and off all day, Toby had been watching TV and playing Pokémon White on his DS for most of the time, and I felt that it would be nice to turn everything off and just eat and chat in a civilised manner for a short while. It was really nice and although it was by nature somewhat romantic, it wasn’t like I lit candles and dimmed the lights (though I did turn off the television and had some Roberto Fonseca on in the background). I just wanted to make dinnertime a time to chat and reflect on our day. To have some good conversation.

When I was younger (at a guess, about 14 years old), I remember listening to the radio on the way home after my mother had picked me up from school. There was a news item on the fact that less and less families were eating a sit-down dinner at the table. Now, apart from when we would have Sunday lunch at my nan’s (which was an infrequent affair), generally I would eat my meals in front of the television, and later on my mum would have something to eat in front of the tv, and eventually when my father would come home from work / the pub, he would eat something too.  We didn’t eat as a family very often in my youth, except for when my dad would bring home Chinese takeaway (which I always loved). Partly because our schedules rarely meshed, but also partly because we didn’t really find mealtimes conducive to talking – we didn’t have much to share with one another as a family. I was a youngster who enjoyed my privacy and I didn’t get on with my father that well in my childhood, so anything I wanted to share with my parents, I would share with my mother because generally my dad didn’t show much of an interest and I certainly didn’t want to let him in very often either. My parents were often at loggerheads with one another, and even when they weren’t, my mum didn’t really want to wait for my dad to get home just to have a meal she could prepare for herself two hours earlier, and my dad wouldn’t make much of an effort at conversation because he was already tipsy / drunk.

After my dad had his final cycling accident and decided to ultimately give up cycling (or otherwise lose his family, because my mother and I had both had enough of picking up the pieces at Frenchay hospital), he began to find more enjoyment in cooking. My mother also had a hand in this, as she was tired of my dad complaining about the food she had bought to cook with – so she essentially said “if you don’t like what I make, then make something yourself!” Fair enough – and fair play to my father, he went ahead and did it. As I became older, my tastes in food matured, and I found that the meals my father would make (albeit often quite spicy-HOT) would be quite enjoyable. So we started to eat together more often. It was ironic that as my parents needed to be less disciplined with me because I was demonstrating my own sense of self as an adult, we began to happily and willingly eat meals together and make conversation – when I was listening to that radio broadcast, what came to mind was families forced to eat together by an overbearing patriarch or matriarch while everyone else squirmed in their seats in near silence. When I was younger, that’s what a family meal meant to me. And now I am older and a grown man in my own right, I enjoy sharing a meal with loved ones, catching up about one another’s days, and making conversation and sharing opinions on a range of topics, both current and perennial. It was a symbol of each member of our small family finally learning to accept one another, learning to argue less with one another and see other points of view, and becoming close knit and more loving towards one another – although I must stress that I don’t think family dinners of this type can cause or force a family to bond – the love and understanding has to be there already!

I feel that the most important thing is not having a strict family rule to eat together – while I understand why some families do this (during our conversation tonight, Toby said that his family would always eat meals at the table together) and I think it’s a nice idea in theory, in practice I definitely feel that an eating situation should be comfortable for all concerned. If it’s not convenient to eat together, or conversation and relations are strained, then it’s better to eat in front of the TV or in your room or wherever you feel happiest and safest. Mealtimes, like all other times, should feel comfortable and flow comfortably. In life, we go through enough awkward social occasions that I don’t know if it’s really necessary or advisable to inflict more upon ourselves. But I am now old enough and happy enough to appreciate the value of good shared food, good shared conversation and an easy feeling of camaraderie. Eating at the table with Toby tonight was an absolute pleasure, and the extra few minutes of preparing the table, serving the components of the meal individually, and washing up the extra used crockery and cutlery afterwards were absolutely worth it for a relaxed meeting of minds and hearts.

h1

Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite. (album review)

June 27, 2010

Aphrodite marks Kylie Minogue’s 11th studio album, and the general attitude is that this is the Australian star’s comeback album following her battle with breast cancer, after the scattershot effort of previous project X. Not only did X not allude to her personal life and struggles (to many fans’ dismay), it seemed determined to overlook them; however, the genre-hopping and quality rollercoaster displeased many listeners.  This is not to take away from the album’s strongpoints; for the gigantic misses of glam-rock lead single “2 Hearts” and the tepid, forgettable “No More Rain”, there were hits such as the excellently addictive “In My Arms” and the sensuous “Sensitized”, not to mention the beautiful closing lightweight ballad “Cosmic”.  X was a frustrating listen not because it ignored Kylie’s personal foibles but because it didn’t know where its head was at, and fired off moments of sheer brilliance and then of complete twaddle seemingly at will.  It’s true that in contrast to that album, Aphrodite is cohesive, focused and honed to target the fibrillating emotional dance-pop that so pleases the radio and Kylie’s gay fanbase.

Aphrodite bears much in common with that other Kylie comeback record, Fever.  Both are love letters to the dance floor, where the tempo and beats are relentless, while Kylie purrs over the top at once calculated and lascivious.  Both are pure pop, and neither of them take enough risks to stand with Kylie’s best albums: the daring, creative zenith of Impossible Princess or the seductive Body Language that was comprised of songs that were so off-kilter and curious that it was a pleasant surprise just how well the songs worked both individually and as a whole.  Nevertheless, Aphrodite aims to please, and on lead single “All The Lovers”, Kylie does just that with a lyric that pleads simultaneously for love and for the dancefloor.  Primed for the radio and for the gays with its pop-dance leanings, Kylie seems to have struck a home run.  However, this song epitomises much of one of my criticisms of Aphrodite as a whole: the sentiments of the lyrics (which are well-written) and the beauty in the melodies (which are often evocative and well-structured) get swallowed up by the uniform pop production of the album.  It at once unifies the record and smooths out most of its interesting quirks: if X was too schizophrenic, Kylie has gone too far the other way with Aphrodite to create a record that is too homogenous.  Like Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, Stuart Price oversees production duties here to melt the songs together into one continuous blur, making the decent songs fight to announce themselves as individuals to the listener’s ear.

With songs such as “All The Lovers”, “Closer” and “Everything Is Beautiful”, this is a problem: for example, “Closer” is structurally and melodically a ballad, fighting against production that wants to make it a bitter dance song.  “Everything Is Beautiful” should be a gentle, sweet ode to the joys of love, but the insistent drum beat transforms the song into an anthemic but ill-fitting upbeat pop song. These identity crises give much of Aphrodite the sense that it is trying too hard to be something it’s not, or that the tracks are not allowed to be themselves.  There are a couple of plain weak tracks: “Better Than Today” sounds entirely like a Scissor Sisters track and Kylie Minogue (who is not credited enough for her vocal and interpretative abilities) sings it in just that way; “Looking For An Angel” is listless filler which once again seems to have earned its spot on the record because it fits in with the overarching feel of the album as a whole.  It’s a shame that unlike on the quirky Body Language where the album’s moments of strangeness worked, a large part of Aphrodite feels like it is a square peg forced into a round hole.

This is especially highlighted when one listens to the songs that do work.  “Get Outta My Way” is a focused, upstanding anthem that takes its 4-to-the-floor beat and runs, creating an exhilarating standout; “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” bears the essence of Fever‘s infectious “Love At First Sight” and is similarly lovely; the title track “Aphrodite” is a statement of self-worth and determination to triumph that totally suits its marching-band beat and lyrics that declare “Did you think I wasn’t real?… I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty / I’m a golden girl, I’m an Aphrodite / Alright?” Its confidence and zest spearhead Aphrodite’s most successful moments.  However, “Cupid Boy” is the antithesis of this and still shines; a moody guitar-driven mid-tempo that proves that (unlike the aforementioned “Closer”) it certainly is possible to successfully deliver an emotionally-charged ballad-esque track while still keeping the overarching dance feel of the album intact.  Closer “Can’t Beat The Feeling” is one of the album’s poppiest moments, but its embrace of its own cheesiness is almost delightful, with Kylie’s vocal delivery transforming throwaway candy-floss lyrics such as “Feel the force of the reaction / Let it take you on a ride /… I can’t beat the feeling that I get when I’m with you” into a delirious proclamation of love.

Overall, Aphrodite caters to its target group, but a little too efficiently.  Some songs feel like they’ve been forced to be what they’re not, a couple seem to be present only by dint of the fact that they musically sound like Kylie Minogue tracks – facsimiles of songs rather than songs in their own right.  But at least half of the album works, and when the individual elements of Aphrodite react successfully and the songs stand up with the help of the production rather than being strapped down by it, the results are impressive.  I enjoyed this album more than I expected to, and it marks one step closer to a return to form for Minogue… even if she’s not quite at her peak.

h1

Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

h1

switch off and breathe.

May 17, 2010

For all of the time that I do spend on my Macbook, texting on my phone, and attached to my iPod, lately I’ve started feeling that my personal reliance on technology, as well as our dependence on it as a society, is getting on my nerves a little bit.  I freely admit I could not live without my iPod, but to me that is an addiction to music rather than an addiction to electronics; music is something I know I could never give up, as I’ve always been around music since I can remember. As a child, if it wasn’t on TV, radio or the stereo as my mother and I danced around the living room to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, then I was singing it.

Even though I had my first mobile phone at 14, I can remember not even wanting one initially – I got it for my 14th birthday with a sparkly cover (my penchant for shiny things has always been well known) and I said to my dad “I told you I didn’t need one!”.  I didn’t really use it until I started my first part-time job at WHSmith when I was 16, and suddenly I had an exciting, interesting friendship group outside of school – people who were cool, who hadn’t known me for the last 5 years and had therefore formed preconceptions and misconceptions about me, and with whom I could socialise.  Suddenly I was texting and spending my credit like water, and my mobile phone seemed to come into its own.  Today, again I couldn’t be without one, and I use it to tweet, send messages, call people if necessary, record song ideas on the go and generally kill time.  But then, life simply seems to have changed in the last 10 years; it’s just expected for everyone to have a mobile phone, it’s convenient for meeting people (in the days before texts to say you’re running late or there’s been a change of plan / venue, you had to arrange meets in advance and be where you said you were gonna be, when you said you were gonna be there!), they can come in invaluable in unforeseen circumstances or emergencies… they’re a logistical and social necessity.  And yet we survived fine without them 10 years ago… Well, I’m glad in that instance that we’ve come 10 years further.

I adore my Macbook, and I couldn’t imagine getting through my university degrees without it.  I remember when my dad gave me his black ex-work laptop to take with me to university; I felt so grown up, 18 years old in a new city with my very own laptop!  When I knocked water all over that laptop approximately 3 weeks later and destroyed it beyond repair, I had to survive two weeks (!!!, though this felt like an eternity at the time) completing essays by hand, watching DVDs on my friend’s computer, and checking emails in the communal computer room.  It was a massive inconvenience, and it really made me appreciate just how much easier computers have made my working life.  In terms of pleasure, music allows me to keep up with (and download) all of the music that I’m interested in.  It allows me to write this blog and share it with you all.  It allows me to produce and record my songs and create albums like Quiet Storm which is my pride and joy, and I’ve felt so privileged to be able to share that with all of you.  It’s allowed me to make new friends through myspace and twitter, some of whom I now hold very dear to me.  I wouldn’t have gotten to know my boyfriend and realise just how compatible we are without MSN.

And yet, despite all of these obvious considerable pluses, I’ve felt myself getting a teensy bit annoyed.  I deleted my facebook a week and a half ago because all of the constant notifications (most of which I had turned off, except then they were clogged up on my profile every time I logged in), the tension between having high privacy settings and resulting awkwardness from restricting certain people who believe they have more of a right to my life than they actually do, the user-unfriendly profile format updates and general invasiveness of it all had just got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.  Unlike twitter, which is quick, easy and on-the-go, I found that facebook was becoming a cumbersome site which does everything very well (and I will miss the photo-sharing facilities it had), but sorta places an onus on you to join in with every single aspect of it.  I like that only a select few of my friends have twitter; it allows me to have a little in-crowd, without having to either censor myself or let everyone in the whole world know exactly what’s going on with me.  On facebook, I found that people whom I barely knew were adding me as friends, and after a short period of rejecting them, eventually I just acquiesced because if they were that desperate to be my friend, they might as well inflate my friend count.  In short, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

And yet, I felt scared to delete it, because it’s become such an institution.  When deactivating my account, facebook’s last stand was to show me pictures of my closest friends along with “Nana will miss you.” “Sarah will miss you.” “Nathalie will miss you.” “Hannah will miss you.” “Toby will miss you.” “Mike will miss you.” My heart panged for a fraction of a second, and then I realised: all of these people have my mobile number, my email, my address.  If they really wanna talk to me, or I really wanna talk to them, I will make an effort to do so in a more personal way than facebook offers.  At that point, I got pissed off by facebook’s attempt to emotionally blackmail me into using their service, and decisively deactivated my account.  That was a week and a half ago, and I haven’t really missed it nor felt tempted to return.  I feel emancipated… I’ll let you know how I get on and if I eventually return to the fold!  But I’d like to say that I won’t 😉

I spend a lot of my weekends with my laptop taking advantage of the wi-fi in Starbucks in Cabot Circus.  Usually I’m getting work done that I can’t get done at home, but sometimes I’m blogging or doing various other things.  I remember having to steal neighbours’ wireless internet at home, and the signal constantly cutting out because I would move my laptop a fraction out of range.  I appreciate now how lucky and how convenient it is to have a stable internet at my fingertips.  But sometimes, if I don’t need to do work, dragging my laptop everywhere is somewhat cumbersome (and my laptop’s not exactly huge!).  Between laptop and power adaptor, it takes up a lot of space in my bag (leaving less for necessary cosmetics, obviously) and gets quite heavy.  So the last two weekends I’ve made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I use my Macbook most evenings, I usually fire it up in the morning while I’m getting ready for uni / work / placement / whatever I’m up to.  So in retrospect, I don’t need to carry it wherever I go (especially since half the point of my most recent mobile phone was that it has mobile internet browsing).  And that’s exactly it.  Technology is a massive convenience, a fantastically useful tool that has revolutionised my life exactly as it’s revolutionised yours.  Or if not exactly, then in similar ways.  I appreciate it and I can remember enough instances of it failing that I generally don’t take it for granted, despite being under 25 and therefore a “digital native” (if you’re over 25, you’re a “digital immigrant”, so now you know!!! 😛 ).  But I don’t want to turn into somebody who doesn’t know how to live without technology.  I used to be happy just singing songs, doing jigsaw puzzles, watching TV and reading books – no internet, no cell, no computer, no iPod, no Playstation.  I could spend days doing simple things like that, and while I’m sure that these days I’d get bored after a while, I want to know from time to time that I’m still capable of living independent of these things that I feel I need, that we’ve all become used to thinking that we need, but we don’t really.  We may need them to survive in our contemporary social landscape, but our lives won’t physically end without them.  I’m currently trying to teach myself that.

h1

end game.

April 18, 2010

It sounds silly to say, considering the last 8 months that I’ve had, but sometimes I still feel a waste of space.  I get down sometimes and I feel so indecisive, so useless… I don’t know what I want.  I have made huge changes and huge improvements in my life, and I am so grateful to that and I appreciate things like I never used to, so I don’t feel I’m being ungrateful or taking anything for granted.  It’s just that despite everything seemingly going my way for once, despite the career change I’m making and the reasons I have for doing it, I still wonder… what is it all for?

I always hated the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I’ve never had any idea, apart from when I was a child and I used to fantasise about running away and catching a plane to America at age 13, so I could be a superfamous pop singer by the magical age of 17.  Needless to say, that didn’t quite pan out (although I am very proud of my latest album Quiet Storm) and since then, I’ve felt at a loss, and somewhat a failure, for not having achieved that ridiculous and yet wildly romantic childhood dream.  In much the same way as I’ve been academically brilliant, I have always been able to sing, dance, write songs and play instruments because I just always assumed that I was capable of those things.  I never doubted myself, and through sheer force of will and plain naïve arrogance I turned out to be really good at all of that.  The only time I’ve ever failed any kind of test was my driving test, and 5 years on I’m making moves to finally erase that failure.  Generally, I’ve believed in myself and it’s pushed me to the top.  So why am I not famous, successful, rich and happy?

I look to my twin Ciara. She was born on the exact same day as me, and in her life she’s accomplished exactly what I wanted to but never did. Where did I go wrong? Did I ever have a chance, or was it just luck?  If I had my life over again, what could I do differently to end up where she is? Does that mean my achievements are nothing? I’m not going to brag about anything I’ve done in my life (the last paragraph sounded plenty up myself for this entry) but I know that I’ve achieved things which are pretty decent, some would say admirable.  But it means far less to me than perhaps it should, because it’s never really gotten me anywhere that’s mattered to me.

But then, looking at what the music industry is, especially now, I think perhaps I was naïve in believing that I could give up everything and just be famous.  Having the talent is one thing, but I don’t know if I have the stamina to stick out the years of churning out radio-friendly fodder to get to a stage where I can call some of the shots and have any sort of creative control. Especially now, where I’ve got to the stage of clearly becoming an “adult” (i.e. old) because I find 90% of what is played on the radio recycled garbage.  As I’ve grown my musical identity, I have gained more fixed ideas of what I want musically and who I am, and I certainly don’t fit into any of the current moulds.  I would not last five minutes on X-Factor and similar programmes, because even if I have the talent to make it, I don’t have the obedient personality which can be crammed into a shiny black suit and forced to sing mundane cover versions with choirs and key changes.  Frankly, I’d rather die.

But then, we all end up dying anyway, right? So I have let’s say, 65 years, to make something of my life.  Ideally, I want to have a life where I’m remembered for all time, but that doesn’t seem to be too likely does it? Either I go on a killing spree (which is a little bit messy for my liking), or I become a leading politician (I’d rather go on the killing spree), or I do something incredible on a grand scale.  This incredible thing was going to be the super-influential singing career idea, but I guess I’d rather sing for my friends and those online who appreciate my music (THANKYOU ALL btw!) and get to write, produce and sing the music I want, which means sacrificing the fame. Oh well.

My logic for going into Careers Guidance was to do an incredible thing on a smaller scale.  If I can’t have / don’t want the burdens and trappings of fame, I could still touch people’s lives as an individual, because doing Good Things gives meaning to my life and my actions, and it’s the meaning that I truly seek.  Just as my friends and I influence each other (again, thankyou all of you! YOu know who you are), I would like to be a good influence in people’s lives when they need it most, to enable them to progress and achieve what they want.  If it’s a less grandiose dream, it still has its heart in the right place, I feel.  And perhaps one of the people that I advise, that I support, that I help, will become the superstar I always dreamed of being.  That would make me feel incredibly proud, and perhaps that would be enough. I just hope that I do get a job as a guidance worker somewhere, because I finish this course in 2 months (it’s flown by, hasn’t it!) and I need the money, I need the experience and I also need to get my own place and not waste any more time!  Otherwise I will end up dying, and not having made anything of my life on whatever scale.  And that would be a disappointment and a waste of myself.  I need to make my life a life worth living.

h1

Monica – Still Standing. (album review)

March 21, 2010

Still Standing is Monica’s first album since The Makings Of Me 4 years ago.  Like that album, Still Standing stands at a brief ten tracks (bonuses excluded), and the font on the album cover is the same.  Missy Elliott has a strong presence in the album’s production, and in case you forget this fact, she grunts and shouts at the beginning of some of the tracks to announce “New Monica! Hot shit!” This annoying tic disrupts the flow of an album that is largely slow to mid-tempo, and is unnecessary since we know we’re listening to Monica and we don’t need Missy Elliott to bludgeon us over the head with her opinion of her own track.

Unlike The Makings Of Me however, Still Standing is “hot shit” from beginning to end.  Representing the strongest album Monica has released since The Boy Is Mine (or possibly  All Eyez On Me), Still Standing contains one uptempo track, “If You Were My Man”, which is tellingly the album’s only weak point, riding an 80s groove that sounds genuine and laid back even as the bass knocks hard.  Apart from this song, the album runs at a slow, leisurely pace that really invites the listener to sink into the songs and contemplate the alternately loving and lovelorn lyrics accompanying the tracks.  Despite the album’s slow tempo, the 10 tracks seem to be over too soon, and when an album makes you want to press repeat immediately, that’s a good sign that it’s a decent effort.  What’s more, although there was a real danger that with so many slow songs, they might melt into one another to become a big treacly mess, the lyrics, melodies and production are all immaculate throughout and each song is distinguished from the next.  “Still Standing” (the first song we heard from this project way back in 2008, which opens the album with a declaration of strength and resilient and deserves to be the title track) and “Mirror” employ persistent, menacing synths and underlying piano to emphasise the empowering nature of their lyrics, and are two highlights from the album.

“Everything To Me”, the album’s first proper single, has been an unlikely hit considering its radio-unfriendliness (a 3/4 time signature? How refreshing!).  However, its soaring declaration of love is elevated by Monica’s stellar vocal delivery, and while sonically she sounds more and more like a young Mary J. Blige (Still Standing is the album Stronger With Each Tear should have been), it is becoming more and more apparent that Clive Davis was right all along and Monica is truly the vocal heir to Whitney Houston.  “One In A Lifetime” (which couldn’t sound more like a Mary J. Blige track if it tried, robbing liberally from her mega-hit “Be Without You”) is radio-ready but still sincere, while “Superman” employs a plethora of hero metaphors over a slow-jam beat.

In contrast to these romantic songs stands “Stay Or Go”, another album highlight which takes the flowing piano from Chris Brown’s “So Cold” (the best song from his mediocre Graffiti), slows it down and adds more mature lyrics and beautiful vocal stylings to the mix to serve up an effective ultimatum to Monica’s love interest.  Album closer “Believing In Me” sees Monica heartbroken, defiant and finding her strength of heart and soul all over again in the wake of a broken relationship.  Just as “Getaway” was a declaration of vulnerability at the end of The Makings Of Me, so is “Believing In Me” a declaration of vulnerability but also independence, which one might relate to Monica’s recent split from her long-time partner Rocko.  It closes the album well, with Monica’s vocals on the edge of tears close to the song’s climax.

Still Standing succeeds because while it sounds current, it doesn’t pander to radio’s demands for disposable fluff and instead hews close to Monica’s strengths as a supreme R&B vocalist, giving her solid melodies to express heartfelt lyrics.  Every song is strong and uncompromising, standing on its own merits and together these songs form a cohesive whole.  Annoying grunts aside, Missy Elliott handles production duties well, as do the other producers (particularly Bryan-Michael Cox), and if the album is brief at 10 tracks, at least it serves up excellent quality and is markedly better than The Makings Of Me which contained the same number of songs.  It feels like Monica has really hit her stride after previous album wobbles, and it’s so refreshing in 2010 to find some artists making true R&B still enjoying commercial and critical success.

h1

lady gaga & beyoncé – telephone. (video review)

March 14, 2010

At the end of 2009, I rated The Fame Monster at #18 on my year-end album chart.  Although I do stand by that chart and I don’t think I would really change any of the albums that are on there, in hindsight Lady GaGa would actually be somewhere in the Top 10 (possibly quite high up).  I didn’t think so at the time, but the funny thing about The Fame Monster is that it has hidden depths and its songs are actually really enduring.  What’s more, unlike The Fame, the songs are actually about deep topics such as domestic violence (“Dance In The Dark”), intoxication (“So Happy I Could Die”) and poisonous relationships (“Bad Romance”). I find it ironic that I’ve lambasted Lady GaGa for pandering to radio too much with her repetitive nonsense hooks (“p-p-p-poker face / papa-paparazzi / eh eh / ooh la la ga ga ro ma ma” and so on), but now I find myself appreciating her songwriting craft and finding her songs becoming more solid (although The Fame Monster is streets ahead of The Fame, so in a way I’m just acknowledging her artistic progression).  So I apologise somewhat for kinda turning off Lady GaGa and not giving her her due (although her fans / “monsters” are quite off-putting and need to be less militant), although if she could keep off the repetition of nonsensical syllables that would be good.  Because she doesn’t need to do that.

And so we come to “Telephone”.  The song is about suffocating relationships, and Lady GaGa herself has said that it doesn’t just have to be a romantic situation, but could also symbolise the fact that when her telephone rings, it’s always because she has to get back to work in the studio and she can’t escape that.  The song itself is pretty strong, although it’s not as progressive as some of the other songs on The Fame Monster and resorts to the 4/4 beat that has completely oversaturated popular music (and did so about a year and a half ago).  Beyoncé’s feature is a rapid-fire verse over double-time beats and keeps the song interesting.

The video for “Telephone” was released on Friday, and it has become something of a Pop Event.  The hype the video received even before its premiere was immense, and now it’s being hailed by some as the successor to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Others however are lambasting it for its apparent sexism and overt lesbianism.  I read in one place that you will remember exactly where you were when you first saw it, and that much is true (at least for me).  I had just returned home from work, it was about 3:30 and after keeping track of the video reviews on Twitter, I decided to give into my curiosity.  Upon the first viewing, I was a tiny bit underwhelmed but could still see the video’s bad and good points (of which my view hasn’t really changed).  I thought that Beyoncé’s appearance far outclassed Lady GaGa, not just because Beyoncé has had some acting lessons but also because Beyoncé is more of an effortless star (not in reality, but she doesn’t look as if she’s trying so hard).  I detested the overt product placement of Virgin Mobile, Chanel & the GaGa earbud headphones – but all the kids are doing it; I just expected Lady GaGa to have more class.  But then why should she? It’s money in the bank, and when your video is 9 and a half minutes long, you need some bank to be able to make that video look and feel effective and powerful.

I’ve rewatched the “Telephone” video a few times now, and each time my estimation of it has gone up.  While not exactly on iconic level (I think it’s far too soon to be throwing that word around; GaGa has only been around for 2 years), it’s another demonstration that Lady GaGa’s commitment to her artistry is strong, defiant and interesting.  The introductory jail scene serves to debunk the rumours of GaGa’s intersex status (duh), allows her to wear a host of outlandish outfits (striped shoulder-padded body suit / yellow police caution tape / super-studded leather jacket and underwear covered in chains) the best of which is undoubtedly the cigarette sunglasses (still smoking!).  The fashion continues with the huge black tricorne hat GaGa sports upon being bailed out of prison; the shredded USA flag (subtle!) clothes in which GaGa and Beyoncé dance in the diner scene; the folded geometric telephone hat and telephone receiver hairdo GaGa wears on her head; the leopardprint body suit à la Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much”; the closing lavender and black body sheets… not all of these ideas work (on a couple of occasions both GaGa and Beyoncé look nothing short of horrendous – for some reason, in the USA flag bikini and bright yellow hair, Lady GaGa reminds me somewhat of Ken from Street Fighter and I can’t shake this association!), but they all capture the viewer’s attention, and more importantly they all leave you with something to say after watching the video.  That’s possibly “Telephone”‘s biggest success – it provokes thought and inspires discussion.  We know this because even the broadsheet newspapers are talking about it.

I stand by my statement that GaGa does seem to be trying awfully hard at being controversial and “artistic”.  She’s made a couple of great videos now, but in view of the numerous costume changes (see above), storylines and scenes, it doesn’t seem to come easily.  For comparison, where better to look than her costar Beyoncé?  For the definition of an iconic music video, look no further than “Single Ladies”; everyone and their mama has seen that video and knows the dance.  The video is in black and white, has no storyline or costumes (other than a leotard and metallic glove), is done in one take and isn’t even an original idea (see Bob Fosse’s choreography on youtube). Most importantly, Beyoncé did it almost as an afterthought to her video for “If I Were A Boy” (which in my opinion is a truly beautiful, excellent video) without breaking a sweat; and yet this is the video that captured everyone’s attention.  Now, of course Beyoncé is not anywhere near as effortless as she appears; but she makes it look easy.  GaGa does not make it look easy, and although it’s admirable that she’s so committed to the symbolism and artistic integrity she conveys (and GaGa is clearly an intelligent and talented woman), I’m scared that because the media and the fans are so interested in her image, her look, and what she’s going to be wearing that they forget that Lady GaGa is actually a singer and a musician – the most important thing should be her music.  Which, as I said at the top, is actually quite good and shouldn’t get lost in all of the surrounding gloss, however layered and substantial that gloss may be.  What happens when Lady GaGa can’t get any crazier?  What about when she wants to strip away all the layers and be more vulnerable and natural?  Will everyone turn away from her then, because they just wanted the fancy clothes and elaborate videos?  Can people not listen to her music, her lyrics without the accompanying visual?  I hope I’m wrong, because if not then that’s pretty sad.

The storyline, just as the lyrics of the song itself, can be interpreted in various ways and I’m not going to get into that here; I think that some of the reviews I’ve read have been hilariously in-depth and I think that GaGa is intelligent enough to play along in pretending to have input heavy symbolism into outfits, storylines and lyrics where there is none; people seem to need to have a meaning to every single thing, whereas I often think that GaGa is just having fun and being crazy.  Which is great!  It’s entertainment.  And the “Telephone” video is certainly entertaining; I hated the product placement, and I don’t feel that the use of the Pussy Wagon was necessary (the Tarantino homages are apparent, with elements of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction included) – but then that’s just because I find the Pussy Wagon unfeasibly garish.  Which, in Kill Bill, was the point, and I understand that.  I really enjoyed Beyoncé’s homages to the “Paparazzi” video in her poisoning the teacup, Minnie Mouse glasses and hand over her mouth when they censored the swearing.  I loved the Japanese cooking-programme style of “Let’s Make A Sandwich”, and the dialogue between Gaga and Beyoncé was intriguingly half-cheesy, half-hard-boiled (although Beyoncé can somewhat act, and Lady GaGa really can’t – yet).  Tyrese and Beyoncé’s subtitled conversation, spoken with only looks and facial expressions, was genius. The Thelma & Louise-esque ending neatly gave closure to the video, but also made viewers wonder what was in store (that “To Be Continued…”) for next time.

Overall, I thought that the “Telephone” video was excellent, and I’m intrigued to see how the music channels edit it down to song length.  It’s a thrilling watch, and while I’m not going to pretend that it is a perfect video, I think that to compare it to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is unfair; “Thriller” is not even Michael Jackson’s best video by a long shot, and Lady GaGa’s video deserves to stand in its own right.  “Telephone” is furiously entertaining, and shows an artist coming into her own, even if at this point the numerous costume changes and persistent homages, product placements and edgy fashion poses betray an artist not quite comfortable enough in her own skin to exude her artistry naturally.  Once it becomes a little more effortless (as it has for Beyoncé, Madonna and all the other greats), that’s when Lady GaGa will be iconic and symbolic of a new musical generation.  But she’s well on her way, and I hope that the media, fans and public will appreciate that, because I myself am learning to, little by little.

ps. If only my “Bad Romance” video treatment had ended in a jail rather than in a mental institution, it would have led perfectly into the “Telephone” video!  Ah well, can’t win ’em all 😉