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Friday, November 20, 2009

Hedley - Don't Talk To Strangers

"My mama said don't talk to strangers"

Easily the most successful thing to come out of Canada's now-defunct version of the Idol franchise, Hedley is a punk-pop band with a lot of radio appeal. I've written about them several times already. I'm a huge fan of lead singer Jacob Hoggard's voice. Their new album ups the electronic influence (think Boys Like Girls, Cobra Starship, etc) and though I haven't had time to listen to most of it, the first handful of tracks are quite good. Lead single Cha-Ching was incredibly catchy, and they'd be wise to follow it up with Don't Talk To Strangers, a similar-sounding track that is just as hooky. It reminds me a lot of 3oh!3, but with much better vocals and far less offensive lyrically. Plus, it's a song about Cougars (and not the feline type). What's not to like?

Hedley - Don't Talk To Strangers

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Track-by-Track: Adam Lambert - For Your Entertainment

I've learned never to judge an Idol contestant on their first album. Each time, it's primarily a producer's effort, filled with songs plucked from the vaults to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. If they're lucky, the artist will get to nudge parts of the album in an interesting direction or two. I adored Adam Lambert on the Idol stage, but what about as a recording artist?

1. Music Again - Kicking the album off in the best way possible, this Justin Hawkins-penned track is a template Lambert would be wise to follow in the future. He promised us that glam rock is back. This song delivers fully on that promise, with a sugary hook and one hell of a vocal performance. 10/10

2. For Your Entertainment - The first single, and not entirely representative of the album as a whole. This sounds very much like a male version of Britney Spears (a male version who can, y'know, sing). It ditches guitars in favor of a straightforward electro stomp. I wasn't completely sold at first, but this is a grower. 9/10

3. Whataya Want From Me - In some ways, this could be considered the most middle-of-the-road, radio-friendly song on the album. Luckily, Lambert's vocals imbue it with enough character to keep it from sounding too anonymous. This would be a wise crossover choice for radio. 10/10

4. Strut - The beat is nice, as are the guitars. The lyrics (often the weakest facet of the album) are the real letdown here. They're just pretty lame, honestly. The chorus has an interesting shout-along melody that displays Lambert's range pretty stunningly, and the song sounds better the louder you play it. 8/10

5. Soaked - A Muse castoff, this ballad was totally underwhelming in demo form, but Adam manages to transform it into something quite dramatic. His vocals get the full workout here, and they're as impressive as they always were. It opens with a dramatic orchestral flourish and never really lets up. The only downside is that it still sounds very much like a Muse song, rather than an Adam song. 9/10

6. Sure Fire Winners - One of my least-favorite uptempos on the album, this seems to nod to the double-punch of Queen's We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions, but something about it doesn't quite gel. It has the glammy punch I like, but isn't nearly as strong as the first track. Still, at least it's identifiably Adam. And the guitar riff towards the end is really nice. 7/10

7. A Loaded Smile - The song that always seems to fade into the background. It's more of a placeholder than anything. It's a pretty placeholder, for sure, and very atmospheric, but needs a stronger melody to be truly effective. It's nice to hear the falsetto, though. 8/10

8. If I Had You - A high octane dance track, this sounds like something that would be popular in Sweden (think BWO, Ola Svensson, etc). And, surprise, it was written by the always-reliable Swedes. Great beat, great lyrics and fantastic delivery. This gets the album back on track with a jolt. 10/10

9. Pick U Up - The second highlight after Music Again, this uptempo (co-written by Weezer's Rivers Cuomo (!)) has a melody that builds and builds until it absolutely explodes at the end. It's a fantastic, gripping production that utilizes Lambert's ridiculous vocals to full-effect. Even the annoying laugh at the end doesn't derail this stunner (friendly note to Adam Lambert: don't ever laugh on a song again. Doesn't work unless you're Janet Jackson) 10/10

10. Fever - Continuing the strong streak, I loved this song as a Lady Gaga demo and I'm happy that they've changed it up for this album. Instead of the classic-rock styling of the Gaga version, the song's been transformed into a Scissor Sisters vs. George Michael electro number, and it works well. Lambert sounds like he's having a lot of fun with this one. The feeling's contagious. 10/10

11. Sleepwalker - You can spot a Ryan Tedder song miles away, and that's really the only thing that holds this one back. Kicking off the string of ballads at the end of the album, this is a strong one, with a big, multitracked chorus. Lambert sounds a lot like Darren Hayes on the ballads. That's a good thing, by the way. 9/10

12. Aftermath - The cheesiest sounding ballad on the album, this sounds very much like a song you'd expect to hear from an Idol contestant and seems the furthest from the sound Adam is aiming for. Still, for this kind of a track, it's above average. 8/10

13. Broken Open - A beautiful way to end the album (before the bonus track), this atmospheric electro-ballad displays Lambert's falsetto at its Mad World best. It's a very promising musical statement that bodes well for his longevity. 10/10

14. Time For Miracles - I won't score, since this is basically a bonus track, but I've gotta say I still really like it. I'm a sucker for these big disaster movie ballads.

Album Grade: 9.1/10

(Editor's note: Fans of Adam Lambert, do yourself a favor and check out glam-rock band The Ark and their albums--We Are The Ark, In Lust We Trust, State Of The Ark, & Prayer For The Weekend. I feel like this is the sound Adam Lambert is going for. He's not quite there yet, but it's fantastic that he's trying. Anyways, Lambert fans would certainly love this band.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Adam Lambert - Music Again

"You make me wanna listen to music again"

I'll have my full thoughts on the new Adam Lambert album later (probably tomorrow), once I've had some time to digest it properly, but today I want to post the hands-down best track he's recorded. It's always slightly frustrating when the highlight is also the first track, since it inevitably invites a certain level of disappointment. Music Again, co-written by Justin Hawkins from the Darkness, is EXACTLY the sort of thing Lambert needs to be doing. It effortlessly blends classic rock with the type of modern electro that's found later on the album. Most importantly, the melody is a total kicker. There are traces of Queen, Sweet and (of course) the Darkness, but the swagger and vocal prowess is all Adam. The falsetto in the bridges puts Mika to shame, while the chorus could pass for a choir of Freddie Mercurys. This is brilliant stuff.

Adam Lambert - Music Again

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Track-by-Track: Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster

Coming off of such a massive debut success, Lady Gaga had a lot to prove with her second album. Luckily, she's more than up to the task, eclipsing her debut in every way possible. The Fame Monster is her official arrival, a declaration that she's in this for the long run.

1. Bad Romance - Her best single to date, and surely one of the defining singles of her career, this takes everything that was wonderful about her older songs and amps it up, adding a rock edge and multiplying the hooks by ten. Gutsy, dramatic and undeniably catchy, this is an absolute masterpiece. 10/10

2. Alejandro - Slowing down the tempo, Alejandro goes for a Middle Eastern/Latin American Ace Of Base pop sound. It's a surprising detour, but one that's an absolute success and displays Gaga's ample pop skills. The chorus is especially addictive. 10/10

3. Monster - One of the many highlights, this uptempo features some of the best lyrics on the album, and a brilliant spoken intro that sets the tone for the dark, tongue-in-cheek feel of the song. The drums in the verses are a personal highlight, as is the "he ate my heart" refrain. 10/10

4. Speechless - Her best and most dramatic ballad to date, this showstopper leaps right out of the seventies (think Bowie, Queen, etc) and cuts the album in half, sounding like nothing else on it. Her vocal talent is certainly highlighted here, as are her skills on the piano. This feels very much like the type of song Gaga feels most comfortable writing. 10/10

5. Dance In The Dark - The big Madonna moment of the album, this track even has a Vogue-style spoken middle eight. Probably the most straightforward dance track on the album, the synths are gorgeous and the beat is huge (so huge, in fact, that it often seems to fuzz up coming out of my speakers). 10/10

6. Telephone (ft. Beyonce) - Originally written for Britney Spears, this is like a Britney song on steroids. Of all the tracks, it's the one that caters most to radio's taste, but this is not a bad thing when the sound is so mammoth. Beyonce's verse isn't all that necessary, though it does add some urgency to the song. 10/10

7. So Happy I Could Die - The only song on the album approaching filler. Of course, Lady Gaga's filler is better than most artists' singles, but I still wish this was just a little bit stronger. It's a midtempo, synth-driven "lay in the sunshine" type of track. Pretty, but just not as strong as the others. 9/10

8. Teeth - Now this is really left-field. Probably the only track she's recorded that actually matches her crazy image, this theatrical stomper mixes elements of big-band, swamp rock and Broadway musical. It sounds like nothing else she's ever done. "Take a bite of my bad girl meat." Brilliant. 10/10

Album Grade: 9.9/10

Monday, November 16, 2009

Track-by-Track: Rihanna - Rated R

Well this is certainly different, isn't it? Amidst all the speculation and anticipation, Rihanna's gone and recorded an album of sparse, emotionally dark pop music without an obvious single in sight. It's easily the strongest statement (and album) of her career so far.

1. Mad House - An intro, so I won't give it a number grade. It's somewhat frustrating, because this would have made an interesting full song and should have been one. Also, it doesn't segue into the next track very well at all. As a statement of intent, though, it works.

2. Wait Your Turn - This is the album's "buzz single." I was instantly taken with the chorus, especially the way it opens up the harsher, less melodic verses. The braggadocio before she drops her guise mid-album. 9/10

3. Hard (ft. Jeezy) - A smart single choice in this hip-hop obsessed country, I didn't think I'd like this as much as I do. It's got a tough sound, and Rihanna spends more time rapping than singing, really. Another attitude-driven song. 9/10

4. Stupid In Love - The first overtly Chris Brown related song, this has the classic Rihanna ballad feeling to it. It could have easily been on her last album. The big difference comes lyrically, and the lyrics here are very nice. 9/10

5. Rockstar 101 (ft. Slash) - Probably the weakest link on the album. The bombast is all there, but it lacks a real melody. It's meant as a posturing song, but with Slash on guitar, I feel like she could have come up with something more dramatic and classic. 7/10

6. Russian Roulette - The soaring guitar solo that opens this fits perfectly after the last track, and kicks off the string of songs that make this album such a triumph. The chorus to this is still quite good, though it's more of a mood piece than a smash single. 9/10

7. Firebomb - One of the absolute standouts, Firebomb features a soaring melody, chugging pop guitar and lyrics that are at once very personal and totally universal. If released as a single, this could do wonders for her career. It's beautiful. 10/10

8. Rude Boy - Taking a cue from Beyonce, this trancey, r&b-flavored uptempo packs more of a punch than I realized on first listen. It does slightly break up the theme of the album's second half, but it's one of the catchiest tracks on the album. 9/10

9. Photographs (ft. - This is what the Black Eyed Peas would sound like if they weren't annoying. It reminds me of a sped-up version of Cheryl Cole's 3 Words, which is a very good thing. The track has a subtle, shimmery feel, complimented by's more aggressive rap. 10/10

10. G4L - A moody revenge fantasy, this is incredibly dark material. It's not overly concerned with melody, but that's okay. It's pretty compelling regardless. The lyrics are over-the-top ridiculous, but delivered in a truly chilling way. 9/10

11. Te Amo - Already a number one hit in Brazil, this is melodically one of the strongest and poppiest songs on the album. Lyrically, it tells the story of another woman coming on to Rihanna, and Rihanna's attempt to let her down gently. The synth after the chorus is gorgeous and very trancey. 10/10

12. Cold Case Love - The late-album highlight, this Timberlake-penned track is nothing short of extraordinary. Beginning with a dramatic, organ-backed classic rock melody, by the time this is over it's exploded into a full-on epic. The drums, when they finally come in, are spine-tingling. The lyrics, too, are genius. 10/10

13. The Last Song - Flowing naturally from the last track, this continues the rockier, dramatic sound. The lyrics here are very dark, presumably detailing a suicide, or at the very least a death. Extremely atmospheric and moody. 10/10

Album Grade: 9.3/10