Posts Tagged ‘video’

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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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Rihanna – Talk That Talk (album review)

November 19, 2011

Rihanna’s new album Talk That Talk sits somewhere between Rated R – her creative and musical zenith, and Loud – her hit-laden album that couldn’t stop releasing catchy, radio-friendly #1 singles. This is very much a good thing – although the album is not quite as emotionally deep or jagged as Rated R, it has more edge to it than Loud did – think of it as Loud² with the lights turned down.

Lead singles “We Found Love” and “You Da One” are excellent examples of this. The former is a hands-up-in-the-air bittersweet love anthem that incorporates basic 4-to-the-floor dance just as previous lead single “Only Girl (In The World)” did. However, “We Found Love” is lyrically much more sparse and perhaps more potent as a result – the simple refrain of “We found love in a hopeless place” carries more weight. The excellent, vibrant and startling video further brought this song to life, emphasising the exhilarating highs (the high-energy production courtesy of Calvin Harris) and destructive lows (the simple, spare lyrics) of being in an all-consuming love. The album’s opening song “You Da One” is a sticky-sweet treat in the vein of mega-hit “What’s My Name”; it’s a shame that this didn’t come out in the summer, as it is a song to play in the car when you are riding with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

The first half of Talk That Talk is relentless; after “You Da One”, “Where Have You Been” turns the BPM up to ‘insane’, adds an irresistible call to arms in “Wheeeeeeere have you beeeeeeeeeen all my liiiiiiiiiiiiife”, and quickly becomes Rihanna’s best dance single since “Don’t Stop The Music”.  The album’s title track boasts a predatory rap from Jay-Z just like “Umbrella”, and Rihanna adopts a swagger which suggests that she is at once nonchalant and aggressively icy. It’s a curious dichotomy that defines Rihanna’s appeal – sometimes she is effortlessly stylish and seems to throw out hits that succeed in spite of their singer’s lackadaisical approach; and yet, there is some fierce and determined artistry in Rihanna’s heart to make her records work consistently, and to imbue them with heart and a range of emotions that has come through in her best material. At this point in her career, she commands respect.

According to “Cockiness” and its subsequent interlude “Birthday Cake”, Rihanna also commands the bedroom. “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion” / “I love it, I love it, I love it when you eat it” are lyrics so aggressively sexual and yet so explicitly chosen for their shock factor that you can’t help but admire Rihanna’s chutzpah. The cherry on top is that she delivers all of these lines as if she couldn’t care less. “Cockiness” is aided by some top-notch production from Bangladesh, while “Birthday Cake” gets dark and dirty thanks to The-Dream. (This song would have been the album highlight did it not inexplicably fade out after 1:18 – possibly the album’s most glaring fault! But fear not – Rihanna is apparently recording a full version, perhaps for a repackage? I am a cynic.)

Of course, in case you were in doubt, Rihanna has a heart too – ballad “We All Want Love” attempts and fails to recreate the epicness of Rated R‘s closer “The Last Song”, and is possibly an album low-point, although Rihanna sings earnestly. “Drunk On Love” is more successful – with a chunkier beat behind her, Rihanna sings about being intoxicated to the point that “nothing can sober me up”, and the desperation in her vocal is palpable.  After this, we’re back to the template of previous Rihanna songs, and “Roc Me Out” is a retread of “Rude Boy” that is perfectly acceptable, if hardly groundbreaking. The song is fine, but it would sound a lot better if “Rude Boy” hadn’t existed. “Watch n’ Learn” incorporates reggae flavour (which was one of the best and most welcome aspects of Loud) and improves upon Loud‘s “It’s Raining Men”. “Watch n’ Learn” is raunchy, as is much of the album, but it’s also laid-back, chilled and bouncy all at once. The closing ballad “Farewell” is somewhat overwrought, but Rihanna’s vocals are impressive and the lyrics speak about wishing a close friend / lover well, and selflessly not holding them back despite wanting to – which is a unique song topic. “Somebody’s gonna miss you / Somebody’s gonna wish that you were here” is a tender lyric that succeeds where “We All Want Love” fell a little bit flat.

Talk That Talk‘s bonus tracks are all decent. “Red Lipstick” reunites Rihanna with Chase & Status for some grimy dubstep; “Do Ya Thing” is another upbeat urban pop song; “Fool In Love” is a muted, electro-ballad that would have fit nicely in the main body of the album. In summary, Talk That Talk does not take the title of Rihanna’s best album; but given the circumstances under which Rated R was produced, that album is pretty special and unique and I wouldn’t wish her to go through that again. Talk That Talk perhaps ties with Good Girl Gone Bad for second place. It’s an album of contradictions – relentlessly sexual and yet unwittingly heartfelt in places; startlingly aggressive and yet disarmingly laissez-faire; there’s a bunch of hit songs on this record that nobody else could have delivered quite as well as Rihanna, and yet a lot of these songs are clearly inspired by earlier Rihanna hits. I believe that Talk That Talk is a calculated album designed for maximum chart success, but at the same time it sounds exactly like who Rihanna is and precisely what kind of music she personally wants to release. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned, including the listener – Talk That Talk is an irresistible ride.

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Lady Gaga – Yoü And I (video review).

August 21, 2011

After the extremely disappointing clip for “The Edge Of Glory”, Lady Gaga is well and truly back on her video A-game with “Yoü And I”. In fact, one might say that there is a little too much going on, what with the appearance of both Joe Calderone (Lady Gaga’s male Italian alter ego), and Yuyi the mermaid. Lady Gaga strolls towards a barn, plays the piano, dances with a horde of clones, is making out with an extremely attractive tattooed man (played by Taylor Kinney from The Vampire Diaries) who is then seen torturing her and performing some sort of scientific experiment on her, is getting married to this same man, is a mermaid, is making out with herself as Joe Calderone, is running through a plantation… Huh? It takes a couple of views to even start sorting out what is going here, and I have no idea how it all pieces together – if you do, please enlighten me. But here are my two cents…

The Gaga that we see playing the piano seems to be the purest incarnation of Gaga in the video… perhaps this is reflective of her innocence? Compared to the bionic Gaga we see returning to Nebraska at the start of the video, Piano Gaga is very stripped down. However, Bionic Gaga is evidently returning to this place to rediscover the love interest she left behind (according to the lyrical content). It’s been a long journey both literally and figuratively – hence her bloody heels. And this area in Nebraska is not a nice place – a creepy ice-cream man, torture scenes and a snapshot of a barn that looks straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre do enough to suggest this. Bionic Gaga looks almost funereal… is she back for some sort of revenge on the sexy torturer? The first verse and chorus juxtapose innocent Gaga and Joe Calderone (smoking and drinking up a storm) with Bionic Gaga, to drive home how much must have happened in the interim.

Taylor Kinney’s character appears to be responsible for this. We see a wedding scene, and then snapshots of the experiments (with a struggling Gaga strapped to a bench). Cut to Gaga in a teal wig, dancing with a horde of clones (to a ballad, which in itself is fairly impressive). In trying to improve / redefine Gaga, her lover has diluted her originality and turned her into ‘everyone else’… perhaps some parallels for the state of the music industry and the identikit expectations of female pop artists? Again, I don’t know, but that’s what I’m getting from it. Gaga was innocent and naïve – she found love, but then love tried to change her under the guise of “improvement”. Love is pain, and love is struggle – but the more Gaga struggles, the more she is restrained, to the sound of “Sit back down where you belong…” Love is thus also linked to subjugation (again, apt for the music industry and the roles of managers and labels, perhaps?).

Yuyi appears, sat in a bath and bathed tenderly by the same tattooed torturer. This presumably took place prior to the experiments (as Gaga has a tail here and later, it’s gone). Yuyi, who is reportedly “the reincarnation of Gaga’s birth and artistic spirit”, couldn’t look more blissful to be with the man she loves. (Am I the only one who thinks that the name “Yuyi” is subtle way of saying “You (Yu) & (“y” is Spanish for “and”) I”?) Somewhere along the line, something went wrong, and as Lady Gaga has said in reference to the video, “Sometimes love doesn’t work”. Taylor Kinney tries to have sex with Yuyi, but clearly that’s not going to be successful – although he is quite attractive and I love his tattoo, so I am happy that scene is left in there! Is sexual frustration and sexual gratification the prime motive for trying to change Gaga’s character into a bionic superwoman? Could this apply to both the torturer and the music industry? Does Gaga need sex to sell? (Fast forward to the shot of a post-mermaid Gaga thrusting mechanically on the operating table.) And wasn’t she happier when things were simpler? The kiss she shares with Joe Calderone is much less angst-ridden… I guess that at first, Yuyi and her lover were happy, but as he wanted more that Yuyi couldn’t provide, he ended up ruining her body, their love affair, and Gaga’s individuality. To this end, I suppose that the wedding scene could have been the couple’s original dream (which appears as Yuyi cradles her lover at the end of the video) that never came to fruition – another symbol of this love not working out the way the lovers intended.

Gaga and her dancers in the plantation seem to have much more fun and more free reign over their movements than the Gaga clones in the factory – while the latter are all doing the same routine, whipping their hair and being sexually provocative, the former are just being weird and are not in sync. Perhaps this also represents something… through trying to make someone be the way we want / expect them to be, we homogenise them to a point where they lose their identity and purity? I think that that theory does hold a lot of weight, but I also felt a bit silly / pompous typing that last sentence… after all, this is a music video!

The proliferation of guises that Gaga presents in the video for “Yoü And I” suggests that she has many complex and differing aspects to her personality as a whole, and each of these aspects has its own story and perspective. I guess that as people, we are all multi-faceted, and some parts of each person’s story is beyond anyone else’s comprehension. The Bionic Gaga who has returned to Nebraska doesn’t seem vengeful after all; as she sings to the camera at the end, she seems to have accepted everything that happened to her to make her who she is – after all, there’s no going back now, and we just have to experience everything that happens to us, be strong and independent, and keep walking. And if a music video can be that much of a ride and make one think that much, then it’s got to be a good one.

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my robot is better than your robot…?

August 16, 2011

Check out the new video from www.iamfirst.com, an American initiative to encourage more students to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school and beyond. It features various celebrities highlighting the importance of science, including Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, will.i.am, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Jack Black.

While I think that trying to engage young people in STEM subjects (or any academic subjects at school) can only be a good thing, this video is all wrong for several reasons – which are outlined in my resulting questions from the video, listed below.

  • Why is will.i.am wearing a blood pressure cuff?
  • Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber don’t even go to school!
  • Reciting names of elements does not make one a scientist.
  • What is a Doctor of Thinkology, and what scientific careers value this qualification?
  • Phones and pianos are made of science! Ergo geeks are great and you should become one!
  • WHERE ARE THE ROBOTS? I certainly don’t have a robot. I didn’t see any of these celebrities’ robots!? So how can their robots be better than my robot?
  • I am quite confident that Einstein was not a rockstar.
  • How shiny is will.i.am’s chest? Surely that’s not natural. Perhaps HE is the robot?
  • So people should take jobs in science, engineering, maths and robotics because there are more jobs there than in basketball (which I thought was obvious)? Not because they might be any good at science, or want to study it further? Surely we should be encouraging young people to follow their dreams and make use of their talents and aptitudes, not just advise them to choose careers based on which sectors have more jobs?
  • Robotics and science is the future, because robots are all futuristic and shit… yeah.

I agree with will.i.am that if every school has a basketball court, then they should also have a science programme. That is perhaps one of the few sensible suggestions to come out of this video. Also, he says that educating our youth and getting them equipped for tomorrow is important, and I wholeheartedly agree. My issue is that this video is not educational – they have basically thrown a bunch of celebrities at the screen, told them to say “Science is cool!” and hope that kids buy it. How does this equip them? What concrete knowledge does this video share? Our youth is surely not naive enough to buy into something without concrete reasoning of why science is important – saying that scientists made an iPhone is not enough! I would suggest that emphasising the importance of STEM subjects in order to go into a range of careers, increasing earning prospects, mentioning specific job fields where vacancies and progression are available would have been the way to go. Young people need and crave this kind of information when they’re making their subject choices, university and college applications, and so on. This video is a bit nothing-y, at the end of the day.

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born this way.

February 28, 2011

First of all, so that the title is not completely misleading, here is Lady GaGa’s new video:

I like this video, and as a result the song is growing on me. Sure, the song rips off Madonna’s “Express Yourself”, and the video for that song is iconic. But I like the various effects, I like the grandiose opening monologue (although “temporal” is not the opposite of “eternal”, and there were flashes of Janelle Monáe’s ArchAndroid inspiration hither and thither), and I most of all like what the song stands for. This will be the focus of my blog tonight, in a roundabout way.

I have a couple of friends on twitter who were really touched by Lady GaGa’s new song, and found it an anthem for them to be proud of who they are. For me, not so much – I think that the lyrics are at times clumsy and facile, and I don’t feel at this point in my life that I need a song to reassure me that “it’s okay to be gay”. Mariah Carey’s “Outside” did that for me nicely when I was 12. But just because I personally am past that point, doesn’t mean that the sentiment is not good – whether calculated or not, I commend Lady GaGa for her work against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, her promotion of AIDS awareness and safe sex, and her embracing of all fans.

Anyways, I was reading the latest issue of LOVE magazine this weekend while I was in London with Toby, and the focus of the issue is androgyny. In particular, I was struck by an interview with transsexual model Lea T, who is famous for being cast by Riccardo Tisci in the latest Givenchy campaign.

Transsexual models generally don’t make it into the mainstream; but Lea T has not only accomplished this, but has been more than upfront about her transsexuality. In the interview with LOVE, she says:

“From the start I want to talk about being transsexual… We have to be proud of who we are. I’m trying to change things, in my own small way… If you don’t tell people, you’re basically saying that there’s something wrong with it.”

I find this admirable, because in such a public arena it must be frightening, liberating, nerve-wracking and a hundred other emotions to expose such an intimate aspect of your personality, your sexuality, your self. And I got to thinking about myself and my sexuality. In my work, in my personality, in my day to day life, I don’t hide my sexuality, but I don’t go out and about to promote it either. I never wanted my sexuality to be the defining characteristic of who I am; I didn’t want people to focus on my homosexuality and put everything else as second best. Is this the right attitude? I would definitely say that I am proud of myself; I am proud of my boyfriend, I am proud of our relationship. I guess that would make me proud to be gay. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily want to embody the gay stereotypes of being effeminate, promiscuous, pink glitter and camp because I don’t feel that that is who I am. I’m not exactly butch, but I am just myself and being gay is a part of that. It’s not the whole.

Nevertheless, working in a college with teenagers, should I be more upfront about my sexuality? Would that set the right example? I have a picture of Toby and I on my desk that I don’t need to point out to anyone, but students can and do see it. I never lie about going to see my boyfriend at the weekend, if students happen to ask. Is there a difference between choosing not to actively broadcast your sexual preference, and denying it? I like to think so – I don’t lie about my boyfriend, about the fact that I like men. What for? I am not ashamed of it, and at this point in my life I feel more or less secure in my sexuality – so I am happy to identify as gay. I know that homosexuality is much more mainstream, much more accepted than it has been; a lot more remains of the journey towards accepting transsexuality as mainstream. So I understand Lea T’s desire to be upfront and bold about her sexuality – she is opening doors, and for that I totally salute and respect her. But what do you think? I believe that I am who I am and I don’t need to broadcast my sexuality, just as I don’t need to broadcast my religious beliefs or marital status. However, would it sometimes be beneficial to my students to have an older role model who is openly gay, but also embodies many other positive things? It’s a tricky one.

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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3.

April 1, 2010

Look what I did today!

Okay, so this has been on the cards for a little while. But today was the day (and no, this is no April Fool’s – that is an actual picture of me, you can see my flab and the grubby inkstains around my body so I wouldn’t put this up for fun, and I don’t have a sense of humour anyway so April Fool’s Day is irrelevant to me) that I went to Dean & Lewis at Iron & Ink tattoo studio in Whitchurch, Bristol, and got this stained-glass patterned raven tattooed on me. It took 4 and a half hours and was, at times (particularly the outlining & infill of the wingtips near my hip) excruciating – luckily I was alone, because I don’t think my facial expressions would have been particularly pretty. I would say this tattoo was the most painful experience of my life (and Mike giving me a lift home was a godsend – he’s wicked jealous now and I’m waiting to see his next move!), but looking at it now, it was so, so worth it.  I feel great (well, great and sore) and proud to have this on my body.

For me, I originally just chose this design (which I found online, and then edited and redrew somewhat myself) because I thought it was beautiful.  But it also symbolises emancipation and strength for me.  Ironically, I am concealing it from my parents (though how long this is going to last is debatable – however, they don’t know about the other two! If I can get through the initial 2 weeks’ pain stage & the family-centric Easter weekend, I think I might be in with a shot 😉 ) which doesn’t really scream “freedom”, but I’m only doing that for an easy life.  After all, it’s not worth the questions, the inquisition, nor the horrified look on my mother (and possibly grandmother)’s face and declarations that I have ruined myself, that I will never get a job (because I am obviously going to be applying for jobs where I need to strip naked) and so on. It’s kinder to them to keep it under wraps for as long as possible.  And it’s kinder to me too.  I’m aware that the jig will soon be up, but if I can give myself a couple of weeks’ head start, I’d feel better about it.  The only other question is, what will I get next?  I would be lying if I said this was the last one, but I think that I’ll have a bit of a longer gap and think of something really personal to get.  Watch this space!

See tattoo number one HERE

See tattoo number two HERE

And here is the stencilled version before I started having it done:

Once again, I have to shout out Dean & Lewis at Iron & Ink Tattoo Studio, Whitchurch, Bristol, for the stellar job they’ve done, the hospitality they’ve shown me and my friends, and for the beautiful art they’ve created.  They are fantastic and if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo done, definitely go and see them for advice, a hygienic and comfortable atmosphere (Dean gave me a pillow when my shoulder was cramping today, and I was able to watch music videos on Viva to pass the time) and fantastic service. I couldn’t recommend them more.