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Friday, September 21, 2012

Flashback Friday: Michael Jackson - Al Capone

"A madman's out tonight"

This is a bit of an odd Flashback Friday because, even if the song was recorded back in the 80's, it wasn't officially available to the public before this week. Al Capone is one of the awesome demos included in the 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson's Bad. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how absolutely epic and classic that album was (as well as all four of his first albums), so it's beyond awesome to hear other tracks recorded in that era. There are only a few artists in history that bring me so much excitement from something as simple as b-sides and unreleased material. Michael is right at the top. I would listen to anything he recorded. Al Capone is especially cool because it's the template for what would become the legendary Smooth Criminal. You can hear the similarities--the staccato instrumentation and verses, the urgency of the melody and vocals--but it is really a totally different song. Sort of a shadow version of Smooth Criminal. Its younger, rougher sibling. To me, at least, the existence of this is a very special gift. To the Powers That Be: Please release more.

Al Capone by Michael Jackson on Grooveshark

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Buy Bad 25 here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Top Ten Singles By... Britney Spears

Now that Britney's a judge on X-Factor USA (which you should be watching, by the way), I thought it would be a fitting time to look back at her surprisingly extensive catalogue. I'm not sure I'd ever point to her as being a real musical "artist," but that doesn't mean that she hasn't released some excellent pop music in the last thirteen years.

10. Overprotected (2002) - From my personal favorite album of hers (and the most overlooked), this re-calibrated the Max Martin sound just enough to stand out as an edgier, more urban direction for her.

9. Everytime (2004) - My favorite Spears ballad. The spare, haunting piano draws you in even before the melody starts. It's restrained, sad, and very memorable.

8. Born To Make You Happy (1999) - One of the many pure pop moments on her debut, this was only released as a single internationally. It's a pity. Even though the lyrics are cringeworthy, the glossy melody is sonic bliss.

7. I Wanna Go (2011) - It's the damned whistles! I loved this from the moment I heard it. So catchy, yet it doesn't try too hard. This is a producer's showcase, but the production is ace.

6. Piece Of Me (2007) - Released during her... troubled years... this was co-written by none other than Klas Åhlund, famous for his work with Swedish pop legend Robyn. In fact, Robyn even provided backing vocals. That explains why it's so smart and engaging.

5. Oops!... I Did It Again (2000) - After ...Baby One More Time, Britney had to release something just as huge in order to stay relevant. This wasn't quite up to par--being much more novelty in nature--but it still stands as one of her indelible classics, delivering a one two punch when combined with the aforementioned Time.

4. Toxic (2004) - A much needed sonic change for her. At the time, the combination of surf guitars and glossy pop sounded practically revolutionary. It still holds up well today.

3. Sometimes (1999) - So. Freaking. Cheesy. But you know what? You just can't deny that melody. It's pop that doesn't care about being cool or reinventing the wheel. Instead, it focuses on being relentlessly singalong and one of the sweetest, least-calculated moments in her career.

2. I'm A Slave 4 U (2001) - Her first major reinvention, and it was a slam dunk. This time, Britney took inspiration from one of her idols, Janet Jackson, and went for an edgier, more urban sound that was at once more subtle and much more mature. This still sounds amazing in 2012.

1. ...Baby One More Time (1998) - Her first, and still her best. I mean, come on! How can you argue against something like this. It's turned from song to statement to the stuff of cheesy pop legends.

So there you go! But here's the thing, no list is complete without hearing what you think! Leave your top ten Britney Spears songs in the comments!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mika - Overrated

"Words get broken, cut me open"

Please believe me when I say that this new Mika album is freaking excellent. I wasn't a fan of his last one beyond the singles, but he's created something really special here. I'll have a full review shortly, but for now enjoy this track, which is one of the many highlights. Overrated is Mika as we've never heard him before. It's an aggressive, experimental electro/dance track with some really powerful vocals. I know he's famous for that falsetto, but I absolutely love the lower tones in his voice, and they're on full display here. There are some parts which are very on trend in the dance world, like the euphoric synths in the chorus, but the verses and bridge are so damned interesting. More and more, interesting pop is hard to find. Congrats, Mika. You totally redeemed yourself, and then some.

Overrated by Mika on Grooveshark

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Preorder the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Track-By-Track: Carly Rae Jepsen - Kiss

Five years ago, I was watching the fifth season of Canadian Idol. That was Carly Rae Jepsen's year. I remember her as a quirky singer-songwriter type--not my personal preference when it comes to genre or style, but charismatic nonetheless. Who would have thought, half a decade later, that she would have reinvented herself as a pop princess and taken over the world with what has to be the most well-known pop song of the year? Now, she's released her first big pop album. No, not just "pop." It's bubblegum pop, through and through. So how does it rate?

1. Tiny Little Bows - Opens with a sample of Sam Cooke's Cupid, which is an oddly old-school choice, before bounding into a string-laden, intensely propulsive pop song. It's like Call Me Maybe part two. The verses are the standouts here. 9/10

2. This Kiss - The third single, and probably the most 80's inspired moment on the album. It's one of those top-down, drive-around-in-the-summer pop songs with a huge chorus and even better verses. Still, it doesn't quite have the same sticking power as her very best material. 9/10

3. Call Me Maybe - There's a reason this has been so huge around the world. Sure, it sounds a bit tired now, having been played to death (and then some) on the radio, tv and youtube, but think back to the months when it first came out and how refreshingly upbeat it was. Give it time, it'll sound great again. 10/10

4. Curiosity - This was one of my favorite tracks on her previous EP and, as a pop song, it's still amazing. But, it's getting downgraded in score for the hollow production revamp its been given on the album version. It sounded so much better with its warmer, slightly more organic sound. The production drains something, here. 9/10

5. Good Time (with Owl City) - I'm not a fan of Owl City. At all. So, it surprised me how much this single won me over in the end. I love the fuzzy synths in the background and the anthemic, wordless chorus. 9/10

6. More Than A Memory - This approaches Taylor Swift territory. It's still unbelievably glossy and poppy, and the chorus is instantly catchy, but it's a slight step down from the very strong opening segment of the album. 8/10

7. Turn Me Up - Now this is what I'm talking about! This is total, pop/dance bliss. The propulsive production and aggressive melody really makes this a standout, despite its boring title. 10/10

8. Hurt So Good - This is a little all over the place. It's got some great power keyboard riffs that are straight from the 80's, but it's a little frantic--particularly the chorus. 8/10

9. Beautiful (ft. Justin Bieber) - The only slower (and even then, its midtempo) track on the album. It's nothing special, but it serves as a much-needed breather from all the high energy bubblegum that preceded it. Of anything on the album, it sounds the most like her older stuff. 8/10

10. Tonight I'm Getting Over You - A big, contemporary club banger. I believe this is the next single in Canada, and I can see why. It's not the strongest track on the album, but it's one of the most current. 9/10

11. Guitar String / Wedding Ring - Despite the cringeworthy title, this is a definite standout. Impossibly catchy, it's got a lot of character for what's essentially a straightforward pop track. I love the dizzying synths in the chorus and the unexpected routes she leads the melody. 10/10

12. Your Heart Is A Muscle - This is pure 90's, lighters-in-the-air cheese. It's more organic sounding than most of the album, and a fitting closer as it's got that rallying, singalong quality to it. Very, very catchy. 9/10

Album Grade: 9.0/10
On the whole, a strong, strong pop album. There are also some wonderful bonus tracks on the deluxe editions. Won't review them here, but they're worth searching out.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Natalia Kills - Controversy

"Drink the kool-aid, don't drink the kool-aid"

I've been sort of hot and cold when it comes to Natalia Kills. Some of her stuff, I absolutely love, but a lot of her album tracks just didn't hit with me. Plus, like others have noted, her constant desire to be controversial and "arty," can sometimes get in the way of a good tune (sound familiar, Lady Gaga?). So it's going to be a bit strange that I'm now singing the praises of her least melodic, most controversy-baiting single. In fact, the song's even called Controversy (in case we didn't get it). It should be horrible, but I find this utterly engaging. The beat, for starters, is absolutely addictive. I love the industrial production. Then there's Natalia's delivery, which really sells it. There's something very charismatic about her speaking voice. When I first heard the song title, I thought about Prince, which is a comparison that still stands today. This reminds me of something he might have done way back when.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Buy the previous album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.