Posts Tagged ‘triumph’

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reboot.

May 8, 2011

When I started this blog, I just envisioned it as a fun space to talk about my life and loves, where I could be honest and frank without fear of repercussion. I branched out into talking about music and doing reviews, which I have since reined in because while these posts were popular, I just haven’t felt inspired to write any new reviews lately. Toby suggested that I could create a separate blog for music, culture and fashion in the future, but as I’m writing less posts I didn’t think I could devote enough time to two separate blogs – I feel like I am neglecting this one as it is! (A new layout is long overdue 😉 ) The idea is good and one day I would love to, but right now I am focusing on my job, trying to find a new job in London, and my family and friends, visiting Toby in London (he came down to Bristol this weekend and we had such a lovely time 🙂 ) – I just haven’t got the time.

Since I got my new laptop in December, I transferred all of my content across to it from the old one, but I haven’t used Photo Booth in a long time. Yesterday, I opened the programme and started flicking through the old photos from last year. I haven’t realised, but I used to look better (not that I look drastically awful now, but I feel that I looked slightly slimmer, slightly fresher, slightly more fashionable) a year ago when I was doing the QCG at UWE. That year was such a good one for me – I made some lovely friends, I began to make inroads into the vocational sector I wanted to pursue, and I met two people who are instrumental to my evolution into the person I have become today – Mike, who is like a big brother to me and has given me so much confidence in myself, and Toby, whom at this point I can confidently say is the love of my life who loves me back.

I found my first proper full-time salaried job doing something I wanted to do, I finally passed my driving test and bought my first car, I got my first four (!) tattoos which more than declaring my inner edginess and free spirit, declare my new-found confidence in the person I am. And now that all these big events have passed, I’m just trying to keep everything going. I feel like I am on a treadmill paying for my car, trying and so far failing to pay off my debts, growing my professional experience and my CV whilst trying to find that elusive job in London, growing my relationship with Toby. And I seem to have barely any time for myself. I have put on a little bit of weight – not a drastic amount, but a few pounds that I would like to shift. I don’t like my hair (which has always been the case, but I feel that it’s fine but not pleasing) and I would like to do something interesting with it – I may well do in the summer, as I’m thinking of dyeing it black again and cutting the sides really short, and letting the top be longer and straighter. Straightening my hair is something I’m out of practice with, but the other night I decided to use my GHDs before I went to pick up Toby from Parkway station, and it felt refreshing and cleansing just to do something different with myself.

But it’s more than that. It is about devoting time to myself – not through comfort eating (which I recognise I have been doing in the evenings over the last few months), nor through my new budgeting spreadsheet (which is something I have to do, but not what I particularly want to do!). It’s about actively taking care of myself. After an initial run at an Abs Workout iPhone app, I decided I didn’t like the exercise schemes on it, so I have found a youtube abs workout by Laura London which I am doing 4-5 times a week. In this way, I can maintain my slim figure and hopefully drop those pesky few pounds. Which in turn, makes me feel good on the inside. I aim to straighten my hair more, and do more interesting things with my appearance once the summer holidays approach (so that I don’t make any faux pas in front of the 2000 odd teenagers at college – not the most forgiving audience!) – because doing this makes me feel good and is a symbol of me taking time for myself and being prepared to value myself and say “I am important”. It’s vanity, but it’s also so much more than vanity.

Through Toby’s love, and through the close friendships I enjoy, I have nurtured others and in turn nurtured myself. One reason I have slowed down on the reviews, which I hadn’t really thought about until very recently, is that I am tired of criticism. Both receiving unwarranted criticism (which I shall talk about in a forthcoming post), but also being expected to give criticism. I don’t like the fact that so much of society seems to thrive on putting others down in order to build ourselves up. Why do we feel that in order to give an opinion on an album, a film, an outfit, a friend, we have to find something negative? It’s one thing if the negative naturally occurs to us, but to me it seems crazy to actively search it out. So until I feel ready, I am going to leave the reviews. For now, I am working on myself.

Hence the title of this post, “reboot”. Something I have always done on this blog is write about my emotions truthfully, and connect them to what I’ve been going through. While these posts may not garner as many hits, it’s been cathartic for me to be able to reflect and grow, and the responses I do receive to those posts are the most gratifying. I am reading Janet Jackson’s new book True You, and while it may not be the most eloquent piece of literary writing, it is something I enjoy because to read someone else’s struggles, triumphs and insecurities allows me to connect with that person, and to reflect on my own. I am 25 years old, and for over half of my life I have been getting to know myself and trying to understand who I am. So in turn, by sharing my own thoughts and my own insecurities, I can start to embrace them and move past – and hopefully help you all not only to feel closer to me but to feel closer to who you are. I’m just like you, a human being – this is me, take it or leave it. But I hope that my own struggles and successes inspire you, and I also hope that you will also share yours with me because I would like to be inspired in kind! 🙂

I am rebooting my life a little bit – remembering that among the many other commitments in my life, I am important and valuable, and deserve some time and dedication. I am rebooting this blog a little bit, making sure that I find the strength and bravery to share the good and the bad with you, so that we know that we are not, that we are never alone, and that we can all grow and get past our insecurities, capitalise on our triumphs and find and nurture our happiness and our joy. I know that I sound a little bit bizarre right now, but it’s mainly because we’re not supposed to talk like this in society – it exposes our vulnerability and risks us getting hurt. Well, what I have found makes me feel better is knowing that I’m not alone – we need to be honest with one another and talk about all of these things! Otherwise we all just suffer in silence and alone. I have a good life, and I want it to be better; I want to nurture my own happiness and the happiness of those around me. I want to be able to look back on my life when I am old and say “I made mistakes and I had successes, but I always tried to do the right thing and I had a rich and full life.” If I can look back and say that, then I will be happy. That journey starts here and now. And in such a way, I am rebooting myself.

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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.

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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.