Rudebox – The hidden gem of Robbie Williams’ career.

Every artist is responsible for at least one dud album in their career. Whether its due to misjudgement of genre, poor selection of material or simply an identity crisis, every artist, no matter how credible has had their moment. It’s impossible and unrealistic to expect an artist to consistently produce an output of quality material, particularly over a long career.

Many consider Robbie Williams’s ‘dud’ moment to be ‘Rudebox’; his experimental, genre-hopping ‘wonky’ seventh album. It’s an album wrongly but most commonly judged by and remembered for its ill-judged release of the title track and the lack of Guy Chambers’ presence. Yet, given a chance, ‘Rudebox’ is an under-valued and underrated inclusion in Williams’ extensive discography. Over a decade later, it’s still his most endearing and experimental work and certainly holds the test of time with its electronic basis.

‘Rudebox’ was released in October 2006, just a year after Williams’ previous release, the well intentioned but uninspiring ‘Intensive Care’. ‘Intensive Care’ was a notable album for Williams, being the first which lacked the writing credits and production duty of Guy Chambers following a bitter and very public falling out. New collaborator Stephen Duffy tried his utmost best to fill his shoes but just stopped short of doing so. Together, the duo produced an album which was a testament to Robbie’s love of 80’s Pop. It was a brave and worthwhile attempt but aside from its strong selection of singles, the remainder of the album was simply filler and not much else.

‘Rudebox’ was Take 2 of encapsulating Robbie’s influences in an album and this time was a far more substantial effort. At a whopping 73 minutes and 16 tracks long and worked on with various writers, musicians and producers, the album was a bold statement from the outset. Rather than attempt to replace Chambers with a new writer/producer partner, this time, Williams embraced his newly found freedom and worked with whoever he bloody well wanted to work with. The result was a genre-hopping, brash album which covered Hip-Hop, R&B, Electronica, Pop, electropop, funk amongst many others. The album also featured the inclusion of 5 covers, a rarity for Williams.

The album got off to a shaky start when a newly-reformed Take That decided to resurrect their career around the time of the ‘Rudebox’ era. Where Take That had the stunning Barlow-ballad ‘Patience‘ which was warmly received by the public and didn’t stray too far from their signature sound, Robbie offered ‘Rudebox‘, an unorthodox venture into Pop/Hip-Hop. Williams’ image hardly represented this image and brand and the single was panned by critics with its cultural references and Williams’ incongruous attempt at rapping. The single fared well in the UK singles chart but is perhaps best summarised by Williams who once referred to it as being “made to feel as welcome as a ginger step child”. In hindsight, ‘Rudebox‘ wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice of lead single on a credibility level but it certainly generated discussion and a buzz around the album.

Just weeks later, the album was the subject of great controversy when Williams and ex-Take That manager Nigel Martin-Smith became embroiled in yet another feud. Martin-Smith instigated legal action over the lyrical content present in ‘The 90’s‘, in which Robbie accused his ex-manager of pocketing profits:

Now I’m managed by a prick                                                                                                   And I’m sixteen and chubby
Told me lose twenty pounds and you’re not Rob, you’re Robbie                                                 And if I see you with a girl then you’re gonna be sorry                                                           And if you don’t sign this contract get your bags from the lobby                                                 Such an evil man I used fantasise and take a Stanley knife and go and play with his eyes       I pray to the lord he won’t have any children, he didn’t spot Elvis leaving the building

Martin-Smith pocketed £300,000 for defamation of character, though the track remained, albeit with the offending verse removed and an instrumental break in its place.

Despite blurred reception to early promo of the album and the Martin-Smith controversy, Williams maintained his belief in his newly developed sound at the time:

“It has become something on which I’ve found myself. This is the right direction for me personally, this is what it is. I saw the whole Robbie thing coming to a close as it was, I couldn’t make another album like the ones I’d made, and this has just opened up a thousand other doors. What I am excited about now is making more music. I love all the stuff on the album, I love Rudebox, it’s a favourite song of mine. I don’t know what’s gonna happen now, I’m excited about getting it out there, but I’m more excited about making more.”

– Robbie Williams speaking of the album prior to its release

At times, ‘Rudebox‘ is best enjoyed with a tongue-in-cheek attitude whilst at others it can be enjoyed with genuine credibility. The non compos mentis approach to the title track continues through to the likes of ‘Keep On‘, an exceptionally fun but absurd pop track featuring the vocals of Lily Allen and genius production of Mark Ronson. It’s a chaotic and neurotic track on which Robbie raps over a cacophony of hip hop beats, giggling synthesizers and blues-esque guitars. Likewise, the self-deprecating nature of ‘Good Doctor‘ with its quirky jazz and tight percussion is another tongue in cheek moment a genius insight into Williams’ life. It’s Williams at his best as a wordsmith, with lines such as:

I went to the doctor to get a prescription
I told him little fact but lots of fiction
About a bad back that I ain’t got
He tried to sell me faith healing, I think not
I want Xanax, Vicodin and Oxycontin

Then, there’s the quirky, western-techno suffused ‘Viva Life On Mars‘, the tropical-soul of ‘Bongo Bong and Je ne t’aime plus‘ (a cover of two songs originally by Manu Chao) and the flat electronica of ‘Burslem Normals‘ (which after Rudebox, is probably the second worst track on the album).

On the whole, however, the album can be enjoyed on a far more credible level. ‘Lovelight‘ is one of the album’s highlights. A cover of Lewis Taylor’s 2003 funk track, Robbie’s gentle falsetto vocals in addition to Mark Ronson’s golden touch of production makes it a shimmering pop moment. It’s still a brilliant track and remains one of Robbie’s most underrated works.

Likewise, the Pet Shop Boys collaboration ‘She’s Madonna‘ is pure genius and a prod at Guy Ritchie leaving ex-girlfriend Tania Strecker for the pop superstar. Madge herself was reportedly fond of the track and it is without a doubt one of the album’s finest moments, if not, its best. Had this been released as lead single instead of the title track, the album may be remembered more fondly. Musically inspired by Kraftwerk’s 1983 single ‘Tour De France‘, The Pet Shop Boys’ electronic production is flawless and the accompanying music video (which featured Williams as a drag queen) is similarly as endearing. Even this track couldn’t escape controversy, however when Ashley Hamilton (co-writer of Robbie’s earlier smash hit ‘Come Undone‘) claimed to have co-written the track but hadn’t received any credit.

The Actor‘ is in a similar vein to ‘She’s Madonna‘ but far darker in tone, documenting Williams’ dissatisfaction with celebrity culture and most notably, egotistical Hollywood superstars over a squeaky electronic track. ‘Never Touch That Switch‘ is a similarly filthy and paranoia-tinged electro track.

Overall, the covers present on the album also work well. ‘Kiss Me‘, a cover of Tin Tin’s 1982 single (previous Williams collaborator Stephen Duffy was a member of the band) is a flamboyant electro interpretation whilst ‘Louise‘ is a loyal and tasteful cover of the Human League track, with added gloss and fizz courtesy of genius William Orbit (responsible for the likes of All Saints’ ‘Pure Shores‘.) ‘We’re The Pet Shop Boys‘ is plastered with self-indulgent humour as Williams enlists The Pet Shop Boys to produce a track originally released by My Robot Friend as a tribute to the duo.

Two of the album’s most surprising highlights are ‘The 80’s’, and ‘The 90’s’.  These tracks are two bookends documenting Robbie’s experiences as a teenager in the 1980’s and of his rise to fame in Take That during the 1990’s. Out of the two tracks, ‘The 90‘s is superior, an astoundingly frank recollection of Williams’ time in Take That. Unlike his previous digs at his boy-band roots, this track would prove to be the first time he reflected on his past with far greater maturity than demonstrated previously and saw Williams finally accepting some responsibility for his bitter fall out:

And now it’s breaking my heart because the dream’s turned to shit
It ain’t broke but I’ll break it in a little bit
And I’m always in trouble but I’ve stopped saying sorry
Everybody’s worried, “What the fuck’s wrong with Robbie?
He’s not answering his phone, he’s not talking to me
I saw him on the telly at Glastonbury.”
And now I’m running away from everything that I’ve been
And I’m pissed and I’m fucked and I’m only nineteen
I can’t perform no more, I can’t perform no more
But the boys know I’m fucked and so they show me the door
And if truth be told I wasn’t fit enough to stay
So I put me head down and walked away.

Originally written over one of Williams’ favourite songs, ‘Wichita Lineman‘ by Glen Campbell, Jerry Meehan later re-wrote the song musically to remove the sample. It’s a stark reminder of what a brilliant wordsmith Williams is – his ability to tell a story through music is compelling as ever on this track.

The album comes to a close with the serenity of ‘Summertime‘, a song written when Williams first left Take That and featured in a different form years earlier during the credits of ‘Mike Bassett: England Manager’. William Orbit’s makeover makes it an ambient, summery anthem and a fitting close to the album. Well, that’s until the grime-pop of ‘Dickhead‘ begins.  But the less said about that, the better.

‘Rudebox’ was Williams breaking out of the mould he’d unwittingly trapped himself in and him having the balls to make the album he wanted to make. It’s bold, brash and bloody brilliant and still as endearing as ever almost eleven years later.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Understated and Underrated Pop Princess.


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The rise of Carly Rae Jepsen has been somewhat remarkable. The Canadian sweetheart first came to prominence on Canadian Idol back in 2007, finishing a respectable third. Of course over the years, the Pop Idol has become largely overshadowed by Simon Cowell’s replacement international franchise X Factor which currently runs in thirty four countries over the world. Despite this, the ‘Idol’ franchise continues to run in some countries simultaneously. Whilst such programmes often produce successful acts, they rarely become superstars in anywhere else but their home country (though Leona Lewis & Kelly Clarkson have both proved to be an exception to the norm.) So when Rae-Jepsen placed third in 2007’s Canadian Idol, chances of worldwide success appeared slim. After all, when has a winner of Canadian Idol ever become the next big thing over here in the UK? Exactly. But somehow, gentle and unassuming Carly cracked the big time.

carly 3As is often the case, success was not immediate; début album ‘Tug of War’ was released on a tiny independent label with no mainstream release until three years later when she began working on her follow-up album. It was the writing of one song that changed everything. That song is of course ‘Call Me Maybe’. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, ‘Call Me Maybe’ was written by Jepsen with Tavish Crowe as a folk song until Josh Ramsay transformed it into a teen dance-pop track. The song’s eventual success was largely the responsibility of Justin Bieber who tweeted the song to his millions of Twitter followers before increasing its popularity even further a month later when appearing in a viral video in which he lip-synced the track along with Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale. Perhaps this isn’t surprising when Bieber himself is considered a teen-bopper by many and isn’t exactly swimming in credibility. Nevertheless, Bieber’s assistance resulted in the snowball effect in which the song was picked up by radio stations and music channels worldwide, on heavy rotation which resulted in it becoming a Number One hit in eighteen countries; an impressive feat. It was nominated for two grammy awards and won MTV’s ‘Song of the Year’ award in 2012. Rae-Jepsen’s grip on the world was only reinforced later that same year upon the release of her second album ‘Kiss’, released to overall positive response.

This year, Jepsen returned triumphantly with the exceptionally catchy ‘I Really Like You’, accompanied by a comical music video starring Tom Hanks. It became another hit in Jepsen’s back catalogue and follow up ‘Run Away With Me’ has also been soaring high into the music charts in multiple countries. Both singles, whilst remaining faithful to Jepsen’s signature pop-sound, have hinted at a more 1980’s synthpop sound, adding an extra layer of depth. No wonder then, that forthcoming album ‘E-M-O-T-I-O-N’ (released in the UK on the 18th of September) is one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. The pop world is all about 1980’s synth/electro-pop so the release of ‘E-M-O-T-I-O-N’ has been impeccably timed.
carlyraejepsen5Whilst Jepsen’s commercial performance has been hugely successful, she remains a greatly overshadowed artist in the fickle world of pop music. In an industry that increasingly objectifies women and removes the focus from vocal and artistry talent, placing it on personality, controversy and appearance, many women become lost in the haze of the music industry. Rhianna, Beyonce and Taylor Swift tend to dominate for their colourful personal lives and vibrant fashion sense. Indeed, they each also have extensive collections of hits and are largely talented but the emphasis is equally placed on matters other than the music. It is somewhat refreshing then, that Rae Jepsen seemingly avoids association with controversy is also refreshing in an age where disputation is the main attraction in pop careers. No matter the opinion of the most cynical music fans, her talent to write catchy and memorable pop hits cannot be denied. ‘Call Me Maybe’ undoubtedly became bloody irritating after a few weeks but it remains one of the best hits in Pop History. Furthermore, her sultry, squeaky and quirky vocals make her refreshing to listen to in an industry dominated by auto-tune and instinctive vocals.

The longevity of a pop career can never be guaranteed in a rapidly changing industry. Nevertheless, if her musical output remains as strong as is currently the case, understated and underrated pop princess Carly Rae Jepsen can expect a very long and fruitful music career.

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Six Years since Michael’s death – Thirty favourite Michael Jackson songs

I cannot believe it is six years today since the death of Michael Jackson sent shockwaves through the world. I still recall that day very well, my Dad ringing me from LA, where he and my Mum were holidaying at the time, to inform me my musical hero had died. It was a bizarre and immensely sad day for many people, including me.

Some of you may know that prior to Take That, Michael Jackson was my main obsession. He still largely is, it’s just other artists and things have come into my life in the last five years or so and therefore I tend to go through phases of becoming re-obsessed with particular things! MJ will always be one of my heroes and his music continues to take me to another world.

To celebrate his life, this blog lists thirty of my favourite Michael Jackson songs. Many are singles but some are simply album tracks. I could be here all day listing all of my favourites, both released and unreleased, singles, album tracks, tracks recorded with his brothers etc. but I have chosen thirty of my ultimate favourites that most people will be familiar with. So, in album order, here we go:

1) Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough

A disco classic, it’s Michael’s smooth falsetto that carries this groovy number. Still a classic years later.

2) Rock with You

Smooth, soulful and catchy, another perfect disco classic.

3) I Can’t Help it

Another smooth and soulful track from the ‘Off The Wall’ album, co-written by the legendary Stevie Wonder.

4) Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

Funky, punchy opener to the ‘Thriller’ album full of funk and an introduction to the aggression shown in some of Jackson’s later work. That “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah” refrain at the end remains a classic part of pop history.

5) Beat It

Just one example of Jackson’s ability to write and record in all genres, fusing rock with R&B. Contains that amazing, distinctive amazing guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen.

6) P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)

Classic disco/funk song from the ‘Thriller’ album. It was originally Jackson’s own song but was rejected by producer Quincy Jones. Jones liked the title, however and subsequently wrote a new version with James Ingram which became the catchy disco version greatly known and loved today. Also featured two of Jackson’s sisters: Janet and La Toya.

7) Human Nature

Effortlessly smooth and soulful, written by Toto’s Steve Poraco with lyrics later added by lyricist John Bettis. The low-key guitar which drives the song is reminiscent of much of Toto’s work as a band and was a song not originally intended for ‘Thriller’. It appeared on the end of a demo cassette handed to producer Quincy Jones as a rough idea. Jones loved the idea and approached Poraco to complete it with help from Bettis. Michael’s falsetto is absolutely stunning and flutters endearingly over shimmering synthesisers.

8) Liberian Girl

Another silky R&B number written solely by Jackson. It’s sleek, sexy and a beautiful addition to the ‘Bad’ album.

9) Dirty Diana

Another heavy-rock song, this time from the ‘Bad’ album. One of a handful of songs written by Jackson on the subject of groupies, it’s dark, gritty and remains a classic.

10) Man in the Mirror

One of Jackson’s iconic songs which addresses making a difference. Written by Siedah Garrett (Jackson’s duet partner on ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’) with legendary composer Glen Ballard, it was a global hit but only managed to reach the top 10 of the UK singles chart after Jackson’s death in 2009.

11) I Just Can’t Stop Loving You

Sultry, schmaltzy affair but it remains one of Jackson’s best love songs. Assisted by Siedah Garrett on lead vocals, this was the lead single from the ‘Bad’ album but was never accompanied by a music video.

12) Leave Me Alone

Funky, gritty closer to the ‘Bad’ album, originally only included as a bonus track. The accompanying music video addressed Jackson’s troubled relationship with the press and aimed to dispel many of the apparently ludicrous rumours circling camp Jackson at the time.

13) Speed Demon

Funk rock song that appeared on the ‘Bad’ album. Its lyrical content isn’t perhaps as edgy or significant as Jackson’s other singles (it was reportedly written upon Jackson receiving a speeding ticket for driving too fast…), it’s still a lot of fun and a welcome addition to the ‘Bad’ album.

14) Smooth Criminal

We never did find out if Annie was okay, did we?! One of Jackson’s best-known and well-loved songs which discuss the unfortunate affairs of a woman named Annie who has been assaulted by a smooth assailant. It’s dark, groovy, and definitely one of Jackson’s best. The music video was pioneering at the time too, featuring that amazing anti-gravity forward-lean.

15) Heal The World

Another of Jackson’s ‘save the world’-themed songs, this time from 1991’s ‘Dangerous’ album. It remained one of Jackson’s proudest creations and was the stimulus to the creation of Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ foundation. It was performed multiple times during Jackson’s career and remains well-loved.

16) Who Is It?

Paranoia infused R&B number which details a man’s despair after his lover leaves him for another man. The bass line is instantly recognisable and the percussion for the track is aided by Jackson’s own beat-boxing.Indeed, a snippet of Jackson beatboxing the song during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in early 1993 rocketed the track further up the charts. It’s lengthy (like much of Jackson’s work) but completely necessary. The choral introduction, the repeated fade-out all contribute to its success as a record.

17) Remember the Time

One of the pioneering New Jack Swing songs from the 90’s, ‘Remember The Time’ was written by Jackson along with ‘Dangerous’ producer Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle. The ‘Dangerous’ era marked a musical departure for Jackson who ventured into a more mature R&B/New Jack Swing sound as he made the transition from working with Quincy Jones to Teddy Riley. There are various interpretations on the subject of the song. Some argue it was about Jackson’s second wife Debbie Rowe whilst many believe it was about Jackson’s affection for Diana Ross. Accompanied by one of the greatest music videos of the 90’s, Egyptian themed with Eddie Murphy, Iman Bowie & Magic Johnson.

18) Black or White

Despite the widely perceived irony relating to Jackson’s ever-changing appearance, this remains one of his best-loved hits. Fused with a variety of genres including New Jack Swing, R&B, Hip hop and Rock, it’s a showcase of Jackson’s ability to blur the boundaries in music. Heavy percussion, grunge guitars, gritty vocals and a fun rap, it’s a little bit of everything but it works.

19) Will You Be There

Gorgeous, gentle gospel ballad from the ‘Dangerous’ album, also appearing on the Free Willy soundtrack. Features a lengthy introduction including an interlude by the Cleveland Orchestra and a portion of the Cleveland Chorus performing Beethoven’s ninth symphony.

20) Stranger in Moscow

One of Jackson’s most heartfelt, sincere and darkest songs. It was critically acclaimed upon release and is widely recognised to be one of Michael’s best works. The lyrics are inspired by a poem Jackson wrote in a hotel room in Moscow whilst on the ‘Dangerous’ tour in 1993 with music later added by Brad Buxer (who was uncredited). It documents loneliness and isolation, cleverly incorporating Russian imagery and symbolism. The song was originally planned as one of the only a handful of new tracks to be added to a planned Greatest Hits compilation. Jackson was so satisfied with the result that ‘HIStory’ became a double disk album – one of greatest hits and the second, a collection of new material.

21) Smile

Based upon Charlie Chaplin’s instrumental composition and Nat King Cole’s original version with lyrics, this was the closing track to HIStory. Critical reception at the time was mostly negative but there is no doubt that Jackson’s vocal performance on this number is impeccable. Yes, it’s a little bit Disney, a bit schmaltzy but it’s also very beautiful, particularly the whistled outro.

22) They Don’t Care About Us

Gritty, aggressive R&B/Hip Hop track which remains Jackson’s most controversial song. A portion of its lyrical content was believed by many to be anti-Semitic which Jackson strenuously denied. He later re-worded and re-recorded the lyrics and current copies of ‘HIStory’ either feature the amended lyrics or sound effects in place of the said lyrics. The song also had two music videos, both also the subject of controversy. Nevertheless, it’s still a classic Michael Jackson track.

23) You Are Not Alone

Stunning ballad written by R.Kelly and recorded for the ‘HIStory’ album. The accompanying video caused a stir when it featured a half-nude Jackson and then-wife Lisa Marie Presley.

24) Childhood

Another stunning Jackson ballad which also appeared on the soundtrack to Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home. Gentle and a little eerie, the song’s instrumentation utilises piano, orchestra, choir and Jackson’s vocals. Lyrically, it documents Jackson’s perceived difficult upbringing, a matter which plagued most of his life.

25) Ghosts

Edgy New Jack Swing track from Jackson’s 1997 remix album: ‘Blood on the Dancefloor: History in the Mix’. Featuring lyrics such as ‘And who gave you the right to shake my family tree?’, it’s another paranoia infused track but one which works perfectly. It was accompanied by a similarly titled film of the same name in which Jackson played a variety of characters.

26) You are My Life

Gorgeous, soft ballad from Jackson’s last studio album in his lifetime, ‘Invincible’. Co-written by legendary composers Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds and Carole Bayer Sager along with John McClain, Jackson changed the original title from ‘You are My World’ and subsequently received lead song-writing credit. Recorded just weeks before the release of ‘Invincible’, this song demonstrates the difficulty Jackson had in selecting and producing material for the album. It’s a beautiful ballad, however.

27) Butterflies

Another gorgeous ballad from ‘Invincible’, written by British R&B duo ‘Floetry’ consisting of Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart. When Jackson’s ‘Invincible’ album was the subject of delays, the duo ended up also recording the track for their own album. Rumoured to be a single but never saw commercial release due to Jackson’s ongoing conflicts with his record label. Lush, gentle with stunning, soaring harmonies, this is one of Jackson’s most underrated and endearing works.

28) Cry

Second single from ‘Invincible’, written by R. Kelly. Another ‘change-the-world’ song, this failed to generate the same reception and publicity as previous songs with similar lyrical themes, not aided by Jackson’s refusal to appear in the music video. Still, it’s a pretty song with a fantastic gospel performed climax.

29) One More Chance

Jackson’s final song written by R. Kelly which was the lead single for his 2003 Greatest Hits album ‘Number Ones’. It’s a smooth, catchy R&B number which was a big hit across the world.

30) Best of Joy

Repetitive but beautiful song, rumoured to be Jackson’s final recording before he died. What it lacks in innovation it makes up for in its charming presentation and Jackson’s famous falsetto.

BONUS:

31) Gone Too Soon

Absolutely gorgeous ballad from the Dangerous album, dedicated to AIDS victim Ryan White who passed away in 1990. White became a national poster-boy for HIV/AIDS when he was expelled from school due to his infection. He became infected with the virus from a contaminated blood treatment and later passed away aged just 18. Written by Larry Grossman and Buz Kohan, this was the final single to be released from the ‘Dangerous’ album.

The reinvention of The 1975…

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1st June.

Fans of The 1975 have been waiting for this day for months. We have been subjected time and time again to the same cryptic tweet (“1st June, The 1975”) from front man Matt Healy over the past four months with the expectation of an announcement or new music.

Of course, die-hard fans will recognise this date as being an integral part in the band’s history. The origin of thee band’s name lies within a scrawled phrase Matty found on the back page of an old Beat diary he was given. Finding the use of ‘the’ prior to ‘1975’ fascinating, it became the band’s name after a multitude of others (B I G S L E E P and Drive Like I Do being just a couple of examples).

Yesterday evening, (31/05/2015) each member posted an image of a cartoon strip on their social media accounts, seemingly implying The 1975 were to disappear. The cartoon appeared to centralise on the themes of finality and change through a series of statements and speech bubbles. There’s a swipe at NME magazine, two contrasting depictions of Healy (‘Old Matty’ presented as a figure dressed in black whilst ‘new Matty’ is a male dressed in pink) and a series of gossip-y, social media inspired speech bubbles. Fans were left even further perplexed this morning upon discovering all propaganda related to The 1975; official website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages in addition to the band’s solo social media accounts had all vanished from the web.

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Fans were sent into overdrive as they perceived these manoeuvres as signifying the end of the band. This seems highly unlikely, however, considering the band’s existing success and reputation. It appears that the band is in the process of reinvention, a concept Matt Healy is obsessed with. This bold move more than likely reinforces his discontent of social media culture. Furthermore, it appears to signify the end of The 1975 as the public know them and the caricature Healy felt he had become of himself. It’s a clever move, one that’s certainly earned them publicity.

Whilst this may be an uncertain time for fans, it’s also an exciting one as it marks the beginning of a whole new era…

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The Brit Awards 2015

The Brits 2015 were an interesting affair. The Brits has always had a particular aura about it which makes nobody take it particularly seriously in contrast to the US equivalent The Grammy Awards. The Grammy’s involves artists and celebrities dressing up for the occasion and sitting attentively waiting with bated breath to see who has won each prestigious award. Talented musicians you would never have paired perform together and it’s a celebratory, sophisticated evening. The Brits on the other hand tends to be rather more… British. It’s a drunken catastrophe which never appears to be able to run smoothly without controversy. They couldn’t be anymore different, aside from the fact they are both music award shows. That said, I love both because they are on opposite ends of the spectrum and are both always an entertaining watch.

Ant and Dec replaced previous host James Corden as presenters of this year’s ceremony. Whereas James had a natural wit and enthusiasm for music, for Ant and Dec, it didn’t come as naturally. It was a little bit forced and ended up as bit of a Circus act for me. Whilst they had grown on me by the end, I did miss Mr Corden very much.

As far as performers go, I can’t fault it. It was an incredible line-up with some of the best artists around. That said, the quality of some of the performances leaved a lot to be desired.

Taylor Swift gave a rather seductive but a little flat, vocally, performance of massive hit ‘Blank Space’. She appeared to pick and choose which parts of the song she sung, miming badly from time to time and then singing other parts. It was an enjoyable performance but perhaps not the explosive opening performance to the Brits everyone was hoping for. She would have been better performing a little later in the show.

Four-time Grammy Award Winner Sam Smith gave a classy performance of latest single ‘Lay Me Down’, accompanied by a gorgeous string piece section. It was a lovely performance and his vocals shone as always. Royal Blood took to the stage to perform an explosive rendition of ‘Figure It Out’ – not really my thing but the other performers made up for it.

edThen, the performance of the night for me was Mr Ed Sheeran. Ed did his one-man-band routine using his guitar and loop pedal. He performed latest single, the haunting ‘Bloodtstream’ in front of a visual background of a type of time lapse. It was clever, it was raw, it was gripping. By the time Sheeran growled ‘Tell me when it kicks in’ in the final couple of minutes of the performance, everyone was won over.

Then we were subjected to Mr Arrogant himself, Kanye West who leapt around the stage with more bounce than a child on a space hopper. West was introduced by wife Kim Kardashian which simply added insult to injury and took to the stage to perform new single ‘All Day’. Unfortunately, it appears that he didn’t get the memo about use of language on the Brits as every other word screamed into the microphone was ‘n*****’. The poor sound engineer had his work cut out as he was forced to hit ‘mute’ every two seconds and viewers back home were met with 30 seconds of the song once all the expletives and offensive language had been muted. The sound engineer did a fine job although a couple of bits of offensive language did manage to fall through the net. The facial expressions of the celebrities in attendance perhaps said it all. Taylor Swift looked rather stunned by the performance, as were many of us back home. It was just so full on, so unnecessarily aggressive and it was just rather odd. One was rather grateful when Mr West and his entourage left the stage and the rather less threatening Ant & Dec returned.

take thatTake That were rather bizarrely booked to perform despite not being nominated for an award which failed to make any sense to most people. Why book a massive band and therefore recognise their continued relevance yet not nominate them for an award? Still, the band performed an explosive version of new single ‘Let In The Sun’. It’s a powerful track with house/dance beats, fierce guitar strums and empowering lyrics. The three-piece were dressed fantastically for the occasion and each performed on their instruments – Barlow on keyboard, Donald on drums and Owen on guitar. Whilst Barlow was always known for performing on his keyboard, the other two members performing instruments has been more of a Take That Mark II thing and it’s great to see. The lights, confetti, backing dancers, silky smooth harmonies all combined to make an electrifying performance. Mr Barlow did get his lyrics slightly muddled ‘Want you to see the next step a day at a time’ but it’s easily done and it’s unlikely anybody noticed. Particularly when keyboard warriors were quick to vilify the performance. It’s unfortunate they appear to not have such a place in the public’s hearts anymore since the tax scandal and Jason Orange’s departure. I personally really enjoyed the performance.

George Ezra took to the stage to perform massive hit ‘Budapest’ and did a wonderful job. He has such a rich tone to his voice that makes him sound wise beyond his years. It’s still a great song even now after it’s over exposure on radio. Paloma Faith performed the fantastic ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ before Madonna appeared…
I’m sure there’s not one person who is unaware of why Madonna was (and continues to be four days later) the talk of the Brit Awards. All evening, we were reminded by Ant & Dec that we had Madge’s performance to look forward to and that it had been twenty years since her last visit to the awards ceremony. Fair enough, I guess. Twenty years is a long time and there’s no denying Madonna is a global superstar. The unfortunate thing is she became the talk of the ceremony for all the wrong reasons. Because less than a minute into the song, Madonna took a tumble down a set of stairs onto _81279916_ef45fb6a-58e0-4296-bf5d-ef72ca358f3bher back. Apparently her cape was tied too tight and she could not undo it in time for one of her dancers to whip it off her, causing her to fall backwards. Social media responded in an amusing manner. For me personally, I was more concerned than amused. I must admit, I do often find humour in other people tripping or falling over but with Madonna, it just looked so painful. It wasn’t just a trip or stumble. She fell flat onto her back with quite an impact. Viewers at home were met with a thud and an audible ‘Oohh’ from those in attendance at the ceremony. After several seconds, Madonna carried on and managed to finish her performance, reinforcing the pro she is. I didn’t particularly enjoy the song or the performance and I do think the quality of Madonna’s music has deteriorated over the years but I still think she was wonderful to be able to finish the performance. She looked visually shaken and was a little flat vocally from that point onwards but who can blame her?! I did enjoy the response on social media, however. Lots of rather hilarious vines and memes surfaced soon after the incident. Perhaps it was a sign to Madonna that she should quit pretending she is in her twenties and to act and dress her age. 

Sam_Smith_second_awardAs for the awards themselves, I mostly agreed. British Male contained lots of very talented musicians and was therefore tricky to call. Very glad Ed Sheeran won, however. He has had a massive year with an amazing act. He deserves every single bit of his success. Like-wise, I’m glad he won Album of the Year. Paloma Faith was right to win British Female as her talent continues to amaze me. Her excessively long speech didn’t, however but I can forgive her because as she said, who knows if she’ll ever be in that position again? I thought British Group should have gone to Coldplay or One Direction but the fellows from Royal Blood seemed like humble, appreciative guys so I can live with that. International group was an odd category but was right to go to the Foo Fighters. It was odd Sam Smith won British Breakthrough considering it feels he has been around forever but still rightly deserved. It’s a shame George Ezra didn’t win anything considering his talent but he was very humble about it and still has a long career in front of him to win many awards. He seemed grateful even just for the nomination.

I disagreed with British Single. ‘Uptown Funk’ is a catchy number and has been a massive song. But there’s been plenty of other better singles in the past year more worthy. Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ was a sweet affair with beautiful lyrics whilst Ella Henderson’s ‘Ghost’ was a massive hit. Sam Smith’s ‘Stay with Me’ would also have been more worthy. Pharrell Williams won International Male and rightly so. What a couple of years he’s had! Taylor Swift won International Female which again, I agreed with. ‘1989’ is an awesome album. Brit’s Global Success was won by Sam Smith which was well deserved whilst Best Video was won by One Direction for ‘You and I’. Ed’s video for ‘Thinking out Loud’ would also have been worthy of a win but I do agree with One Direction’s win. I know many criticised the video for not being anything out of the ordinary but sometimes simplicity is best. I loved the special effects by direction Ben Winston and it’s a lovely video well matched to a beautiful song.

It was an enjoyable watch this year, made all the more entertaining with it’s controversial moments. Let’s face it, The Brits wouldn’t be The Brits without controversy! I am looking forward to next year’s ceremony.

Markus Feehily premieres new single

Markus Feehily has premièred his début solo single ‘Love is a Drug’.

It’s been three years since Westlife split. Markus has kept a relatively low profile until now whilst ex-band members Shane Filan and Kian Egan have had a reasonable amount of success with their solo albums. Westlife were always an acquired taste. I enjoyed some of their music but wasn’t really into them if I’m completely honest. That said, I am always interested with any music developments and am looking forward to seeing what Markus has to offer in his solo career.

‘Love is a drug’ is co-written with songwriter/producer Mojam who has previously worked with Sam Smith and Emeli Sande. It’s a massive track with sweeping strings, 90’s house/trip-hop beats in the same vein as Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ and Emeli Sande’s ‘Heaven’. Markus really showcases his impressive vocals and I am really, really enjoying this track.

Check it out below!

Music Monday – Volume 41

1) Saint Raymond – Fall at Your Feet

Really loving this at the moment. Big chorus.

2) One Direction – Spaces

Beautiful song from the boyband’s latest album. Really love the chord progression of this and the echoing effect on the vocals.

3) One Direction – 18

Stunning song written by Ed Sheeran for the boyband’s latest album.

4) Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Great song with a very old-school, retro feel.

5) Simon Webbe – Free

Simon Webbe’s ‘Sanctuary’ album is one of my favourite albums of all time. I love how uplifting and inspiring all of the songs are. This is a ballad from it and it’s a beautiful song.

6) Snow Patrol – The Finish Line

Gorgeous ballad.

7) Barbara Streisand & John Legend – What kind of fool

Stunning version of Barbara’s original duet with Barry Gibb. This version with John Legend has a gorgeous orchestra opening. Cannot get enough of this right now.

8) Seal – Love is better

A song from Seal’s unreleased ‘Togetherland’ album – an album many think should have been released. I stand with that view. Such a great album from what I’ve heard! Some tracks are available in their entirety whilst others are just samples.

(Go to 1:05 on the video)

9) Big Sleep/The 1975 – Robbers

Original emo/indie version of ‘Robbers’ before Big Sleep changed their name to The 1975 and released a poppier version on their debut album. Love both versions!

10) Gary Barlow – Jump

Inspiring, beautiful song from Gary’s ‘Since I Saw You Last’ album.

2014 in Music

Every New Years Eve, I like to take a look back at the year in terms of music and albums. It never fails to amaze me how many songs have formed my soundtrack to the year! So without further ado, here’s my 2014 in music.

TOP 10 SONGS OF THE YEAR

I haven’t done this before and why I did this to myself I do not know, but I managed to whittle down all of my favourite songs from this year to my ten ultimate favourites! They are as follows (in no particular order):

  1. One Direcion – You & I
  2. Take That – Higher than higher
  3. Coldplay – Magic
  4. Mr Probz & Robin Schulz – Waves
  5. The 1975 – Medicine
  6. The Script – No Good in Goodbye
  7. Jake Bugg – Song about love
  8. Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL – Whitecaps
  9. Ed Sheeran – Afire Love
  10. Usher – Good Kisser

Singles of The Year

  • Take That – These Days
  • Duke Dumont – I got U
  • Mr Probz & Robin Schulz – Waves
  • One Direction – You and I, Steal My Girl, Night Changes
  • The 1975 – Medicine, Heart Out, Settle Down, Robbers
  • Coldplay – Magic, True love
  • Andy Burrows – See a girl
  • Sam Smith – Like I can, Stay with Me
  • Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky
  • The Script – No Good in Goodbye
  • Ella Henderson – Ghost
  • Rita Ora – I will never let you down
  • Taylor Swift – Shake it off
  • London Grammar – Hey now
  • Katy Perry – Birthday, This is how we do
  • Kings of Leon – Temple
  • Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake – Love never felt so good
  • Bombay Bicycle Club – Feel
  • Usher – Good Kisser
  • Disclosure & Usher – Good Kisser
  • Lana Del Ray – West Coast
  • Bipolar Sunshine – Deckchairs on the moon
  • Benediction – Hot natured
  • Jessie Ware – Tougher love
  • Chromeo – Jealous (I ain’t worth it)
  • Travi$ Scott – Drive (The 1975 Remix)
  • George Ezra – Blame it on me
  • Ten Walls – Walking with elephants
  • Alt-J – Hunger of the pine
  • Wretch 32 – 6 Words
  • Jake Bugg – A Song About Love
  • BBC Music – God only knows
  • Haim – Change your mind
  • Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud, Don’t
  • The Vamps – Somebody To You, Last Night

Albums of The Year

  • The Vamps – Meet the Vamps
  • Take That – III
  • One Direction – Four
  • Ed Sheeran – X
  • Sam Smith – In the lonely hour
  • Coldplay – Ghost Stories
  • Annie Lennox – Nostalgia
  • Taylor Swift – 1989
  • George Michael – Symphonica
  • Charlie Simpson – Long Road Home
  • Begin Again – OST

Album Tracks of The Year

  • Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL – Whitecaps, Tic Tac Toe
  • One Direction – Stockholm Syndrome, Ready to run
  • Take That – Higher and Higher, If you want it, Let in the sun, Portrait, Freeze, Believe, Flaws
  • Ed Sheeran – Bloodstream, Tenerife Sea, Afire Love
  • Sam Smith – I’ve told you now, Leave your lover, Restart
  • Coldplay – Always in my head, 0, Oceans
  • The Vamps – Smile, Move My Way, Another world, Dangerous
  • Mary J Blige – Whole damn year, Long hard look
  • Kylie Minogue – Sexy love, Fine
  • Beck – Morning
  • The Script – Man on wire
  • Ella Henderson – Rockets

Take That ‘III’ – Album Review

It’s safe to say 2014 has been an incredible roller-coaster for Take That. Allegations of tax avoidance scams, the loss of a band member, the release of one of the fastest selling albums of all time and Amazon’s most pre-ordered album in history; it’s safe to say it’s been up and down for Britain’s most loved man-band.

This week, it emerged latest single ‘These Days’ had become their twelfth UK Number One single and on Monday, their brand new album – their first as a three piece – ‘III’ was released. An insight into each track is provided below.

1) These Days

A piece of pop perfection, it’s easy to see why this Nile Rodgers/Chic-style track with funky guitar riffs, punchy percussion and tight harmonies has well and truly established itself as one of Take That’s finest records. It’s a song of optimism and it’s irresistibly catchy. Barlow, Donald and Owen’s voices are all audible and fused to provide rich layers of harmonies. A killer opener.

2) Let In the Sun

Take That do Calvin Harris. Except better. It begins gently with Barlow’s rich vocals drizzled with Donald’s falsetto, both melting effortlessly into a symphony of synthesiser before developing into an up-tempo dance track with elements of Take That’s signature sound. If all the synthesisers were removed and the thumping percussion, it could have slotted in perfectly on ‘The Circus’ album with its optimistic lyrics. It never quite takes the plunge into full dance-pop territory, however, there’s definitely some Mumford & Sons in there but it’s still a powerful, feel-good track, a stand-out from ‘III’.

3) If You Want It

A return to Greg Kurstin-infused-pop here and it works beautifully. It’s unmistakeably Take That – catchy, verging on entering cheesy territory and utterly irresistible. In-keeping with all tracks so far, it’s bold, buoyant and a great, great pop track. Tight harmonies too – Howard and Mark’s vocals are both crystal clear and give the track an extra dimension.

4) Lovelife

Barlow generously hands over lead-vocal duties to Mark Owen on this catchy number. Painting the image of a group of Frenchmen performing the track on street corner in Paris with an accordion, it’s a little unconventional and seemingly draws upon European dance-pop music as its foundation. It’s well written and catchy but not quite as congenial as the previous tracks and therefore the album becomes slightly off-kilter with the addition of ‘Lovelife’.

5) Portrait

Stuart Price is back, frolicking with synthesisers and computer-generated sounds again, not dissimilar to much of the material on ‘Progress’. It’s not as intense, however, the first minute or so is gentle and tentative, allowing the listener some much needed rest from the intensity of the first four tracks. Barow’s falsetto flutters over soft guitar strums and timorous synthesisers before Donald and Owen join the fold in the rousing Barber-shop-styled chorus. It is 100% in the same vein as The Circus’ ‘Hold Up A Light’ but with increased vigour. The barber shop refrain is utterly irresistible and the driving drum beat maintains the song’s momentum. Price’s production really glistens on this beautifully created and performed track. Another stand-out moment.

6) Higher Than Higher

The closest to a classic Take That ballad you’re going to get in the first half of ‘III’. Precarious percussion and jittery synthesisers open the track before it stabilizes into a steady marching beat. The song is largely carried by the effortlessly cool and rather insane R&B-styled production provided by little-known American duo Mattman & Robin. Barlow delivers perfect, tender vocals whilst Donald and Owen provide gorgeous harmonies, reverberating into the spaced-out, meticulously programmed percussion. Their repeated ‘higher, higher than higher’ harmonies in the final part of the song somewhat bizarrely but beautifully emulate an African choir. It’s one of many lovely touches which contributes to its success. It’s a song full of meaning, passion and it’s utterly beautiful. Quite possibly one of Take That’s best songs of their career.

7) I Like It

Take That go all Muse once more. It’s a return to the ‘Progress’ era and it’s absolutely bonkers. Imagine an amalgamation of ‘Shine’ and ‘Underground Machine’ and ‘I Like It’ is born. The synthesised bass, minimal instrumentation and buoyant percussion all contribute to the catchiness of the song and just when you think producer Stuart Price has exhausted all technical improvement tools, a mechanical middle-eight kicks in, in which Barlow’s vocals are lowered in pitch to create a robotic voice. A fun piece of pop.

8) Give You My Love

A song that could have easily slotted in on the ‘Everything Changes’ album, Barlow’s clearly been having a whale of a time frolicking around with his keyboards. This is the one time Thatters are able to enjoy Donald on lead vocals, a bizarre move when the loss of two band members surely presents the opportunity for more equal distribution of lead vocal duties. Still, Donald succeeds on this pure and simple fun track.

9) Freeze

Ice-like imagery, proficient production, slamming percussion and Barlow’s falsetto steer this song, resulting in a powerful 80’s-esque song. Likely to be one of a handful ballads written after Orange announced his intention to depart from the band, there is a sincerity in it’s lyrics. Personal, heartfelt and emotive.

10) Into The Wild

A dramatic and explosive moment, with tribal drums, Owen’s distinctive and intense vocals and a sing-song chorus, this is a powerful addition to ‘III’. Barlow, Donald and Owen have clearly taken great pleasure in imitating other bands on this album and ‘Into The Wild’ presents the opportunity for them to be The Killers. It’s an undoubtedly powerful song glimmering with brilliance.

11) Flaws

Ah, finally. A Barlow ballad! The chance of one of these appearing looked slimmer and slimmer by the song but here we are. ‘Flaws’ is a pretty, piano-based ballad which sounds like an out-take from Barlow’s ‘Since I Saw You Last’ album. In an attempt to capture the raw effect, it appears Barlow has positioned himself rather too closely to the microphone, resulting in distortion more than anything else. It’s well-written, although previous Take That ballads are far superior.

12) Get Ready For it

Another dramatic song in the same vein as ‘Freeze’ and ‘Into The Wild’. ‘Get Ready For It’ (rumoured to be the second single) is a pop-rock stomper that closes the standard version of the album perfectly. It’s powerful, euphoric and a complete stadium anthem.

13) Believe

‘Believe’ is an enjoyable piece of pop-rock, reminiscent of the material on Owen’s solo album ‘The Art of Doing Nothing’. It’s an enjoyable song with a big chorus but the boys made the right decision to leave this off the standard edition and put it on the deluxe instead.

14) Amazing

Take That do The Beatles! This couldn’t be any more different stylistically to the rest of the album and therefore it is understandable this has been demoted to a bonus track. It’s a gorgeous song nonetheless and it’s a shame this won’t take pride as a standard edition album track on a pop-rock Take That album. The harmonies are gorgeous, the instrumentation simplistic and the lyrics slushy. It’s unmistakeably Take That and very beautiful it is too.

15) Do it all for Love

A haunting closer to the deluxe version of the album. Mark Owen wails over guitar arpeggios and unmistakable Take That piano chords before the song climaxes into a dramatic power ballad. It’s a powerful, incredibly emotive track with a killer bridge. It’s reminiscent of ‘Nobody Else’ album closer ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ which Owen also performed lead vocals on.

Barlow perhaps put it best when he described ‘III’ as an amalgamation of Take That’s material from the second time around. As an album, it jumps around stylistically, therefore it lacks the cohesion of ‘Progress’. The choice of material on ‘III’ is far superior, however. The fusion of the ‘Beautiful World’, ‘The Circus’ and ‘Progress’ albums works wonderfully, amalgamating the sincere lyrical content with electro-pop and experimental instrumentation to create an incredible, roof-raising album.

Rating: 5/5.

‘III’ is available now on Polydor.