Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best of the Year Lists Alert!

If you're into that sort of thing (AND WHO ISN'T) then make sure you catch my Top 10 Albums and Top 40 Pop Singles of 2012 lists over on this week. Quite a bit of work to get lined up but very enjoyable all the same!

The singles post also includes a helpful playlist of all 40 songs should you need an office / Christmas party soundtrack. Feel free to suggest your faves in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Girls Aloud Release New Video, It Is A Bit Boring.

Obviously, it is a very good thing that Girls Aloud are properly back together even if it's only for a greatest hits album and tour and not a proper full length album etc etc. Something New was such a perfect return, it was exhilarating to see how they could take on the current chart sound and still sound like them after a few years break. The new tracks on Ten, that new compilation, are mainly amazing, upbeat, fizzy pop with the kind of quirky twists that are their hallmark.

Sadly, current single Beautiful Cause You Love Me is a rare misstep. By the time Call the Shots rolled around, we saw that a Girls Aloud ballad didn't have to mean an unbearable 4 minutes. But this track is a huge disappointment, a mawkish slowie that feels like a girl band spin on the kind of "My man will love me despite how I look" ridiculousness Ed Sheerhan and One Direction have been peddling through popular song in the last 12 months.

The video has just arrived and it's hard to deny they look gorgeous and they all swan around beautifully. And in terms of music video product placement, wielding a new Nikon camera to take self empowering selfies of yourself is pretty damn hilarious. But, it's so BORING. It's like a timewarp to the early 2000s when every dreary pop act had to pout moodily in an abandoned house amidst some leaves in order to telegraph that it was nearly Christmas (what is it about empty houses and leaves that screams elegance to music video directors?)

In short, Girls Aloud can and should do better. The video is worth a look once just to gawk at how pretty they are, but the rest of us will just wish they'd done a clip for On the Metro instead. Sigh.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Update: Cher, Britney & Will.I.Am, Solange and Loreen Interview

In case you think I'm doing nothing at all in between posts here, take heed of some new stuff I've done for GCN.

Today's music post covers a pretty diverse range of tunes including the new Cher (!) tune, that Britney/Will.I.Am track that appeared online last weekend and music from Solange and Villagers for "the hipsters" amongst you. Peep that post here.

Also, this month's copy of GCN is now online and in print across Ireland. It includes my chat with Eurovision star Loreen which was alot of fun to do. Click here to read the online edition, click through to the main mag and read my feature on pages 28/29.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ashlee Simpson Returns: "Bat For A Heart" is Here

Ashlee Simpson has veered between acting, pop stardom and reality TV in a career that's taken something of a break in the last few years. The sister of Jessica, her own albums scored big on the US charts (Autobiography and I Am Me debuted at number one) thanks to her MTV reality series The Ashlee Simpson Show. Her 2008 release Bittersweet World, roped in Timbaland and the Neptunes but didn't fare as well with audiences. Aside from some acting that including a turn in the 2009 Melrose Place remake, Simpson has kept a relatively low profile.

On Halloween she tweeted a teaser for a new single, Bat For A Heart complete with a low-fi and interesting visual, Simpson twirling and emoting in black and white while ruffling her short, blonde tresses. Today the full track has appeared on iTunes worldwide.


Linda Perry worked on the track with Simpson and tweeted awhile back that it was a one-take demo that they never returned too. That much is apparent in the loose, simple feel of the production. Oddly enough, it works. Sure, the polish and giant hooks that cemented her biggest hits don't feel as present here but what does exist is a solid chorus and a moody, impressive feel. It's got an 80's indie-kid vibe to match the kind of bratty-pop rock Simpson excelled at with a weird, wobbly piano effect adding some punch halfway through.

The lyrics have already had tabloids in a lather, with the title alone hinting at a reference to her ex-husband Pete Wentz. On the chorus's key line "I'm gonna bang bang, f**k you up/ twist you outside of my head" she sounds defiant and feisty while lines like "my heart is cursed cuz you were never there" suggest more than a touch of sadness.

There's not much info about whether this is the sign of a major label deal or just for hardcore fans (this chat with Nylon from the Summer suggest it's quite informal), but it's a nice reminder that despite all the jibes she received (we're thinking of that infamous SNL moment) Simpson is a popstar with a snarly, unique voice and a decent back catalogue.

Bat For Heart is available now on iTunes, keep an eye on Ashlee's website for more info.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Popstar in Bloom: Christina Aguilera "Lotus" Review

"Rise up, Lotus, Rise, this is the beginning" Christina Aguilera coos on the opening track of fifth album Lotus. She may have licked her wounds after the disaster that was Bionic in 2010 but Lotus sees one of pop's signature voices claw back into the fray.

The Goldfrapp-lite opening intro mentioned above sees Christina whisper over a wobbly R&B meets electronica beat. It's a kooky and slightly drawn out opener but it hints that she might be about to head into the futuristic sonic textures Bionic promised but didn't deliver. In reality it's a misnomer with the album zooming into an uptempo but straightforward pop vein for a solid six tracks.

Surprisingly, it gels fairly well early on. Zippy, zesty danceable rhythms highlight Christina's pipes as well as any mournful ballad when done properly. Army Of Me, as she's pointed out,  is a fairly obvious nod to Fighter and it's "You won't stop me message". It's not quite as impressive but it's a solid slab of fist-pumping pop. Red Hot Kinda Love is a cheeky but enjoyable sex jam that feels more flirty and knowing than some of her previous attempts at proclaiming her sexuality. Make The World Move is an awkward collage of soul pop and electro flourishes as Aguilera's co-judge on The Voice, Cee-Lo pops up for a warm and fuzzy ode to just getting along with everyone. It's a tad cheesy but the bouncy production and ebullient chorus make it an adequate slice of pop candy.

Next is current single, Your Body one of Aguilera's strongest pop moments in quite some time albeit one that is failing to smash on the charts. The first of two cuts co-written by hyper-successful Max Martin (Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Basically Every Big Popstar of the Last 10 Years), it's followed by the straight-up dance pop of Let There Be Love, which is a tad generic but comes equipped with a hook so big it's hard to dislike and it gives Christina plenty of moments to ad-lib and holler with the best of them.

Then comes a ballad-y chunk. The Sia penned Blank Page is truly lovely, a sister track to Beautiful that could do big things as a single. Sadly, Cease Fire and Sing For Me fall flat, letting Aguilera's own vocals become grating and misplaced when they should be soaring and uplifting.

Next up is a Rihanna "I like a bit of sex, me" style romp in Around the World which has a fun, down and dirty vibe but feels a tad slight. Circles is a bitter but oddly enjoyable flip of the bird to detractors. It's not very strong melodically but it's a rare moment of genuine personality on an album that seems to drain much of Aguilera's famed bolshiness. Best of Me is another decent if not stellar ballad that has a nice sense of melancholy to it. 

A real surprise is the duet with her other Voice judge Blake Shelton on Just A Fool. Yes it's a country-pop extravaganza that's blatantly squared at US radio but it's actually a decent duet and one of the strongest songs musically on the whole release. It's one of the few songs that Aguilera nails both in terms of emotional delivery and vocal hysterics too.

The addition of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition (The standard release for the album in many European territories) will get the hopes of fans who know that her previous album hid some gems on it's deluxe side. Sadly, they're a mixed bag. Light Up The Sky is sweet but unmemorable, another mid-tempo track too concerned with schmaltz then letting Aguilera shine vocally. Empty Words is something of a hidden gem with some nicely drawn lyrics and a big, belt-y hook that wouldn't have been out of place on the main edition of the album. Shut Up is the sequel to Circles with a bleeped but still feisty hook telling imitators, haters and people of that nature to "Shut the f**k up". It's not her strongest song but it is an enjoyable slice of bratty pop. There's also a decent, if not dazzling remix of Your Body by Martin Carrix to enjoy too.

Decent but not dazzling, could in fact be applied to the majority of Lotus. It's certainly not a stinker and hits enough sweet spots over it's lean run time to please fans and suggest that there's life in Christina as a big pop star. Sadly, it never quite delivers the knockout moment you know she needs to really succeed. 

Lotus is out now on RCA.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

16 Years of Spice: Looking Back At The Start of The Spice Girls

This month sees 16 (!) years since the Spice Girls relased their debut album in Europe (with a US release following a few months later in early 1997). Sure, 16 isn't your typical celebratory milestone for an album but in a year that's seen the Spices reunite at the Olympics and gear up to release a musical based on their songs it seems fitting to give their debut the once over.

The odd part of the Spice Girls success was how it was so very big very quickly (The Official Chart Company in the UK posted some mind-boggling stats about just how huge their first few singles were this week) but never really lasted that long. The success of Spice fever across the world between 1996-1998 gave the girls a run of huge hit singles and a worldwide obsession very few groups have come close to reaching since.

Marketing and merchandise became a key piece of the Spice juggernaut with the girl's faces being used to flog lollipops, cameras, deodorant and basically anything else they could think of. Big name endorsements and the celebrity as a brand is a common link amongst today's stars but there's no doubt that late 90s marketing machine behind the Spice Girls set a benchmark for the next near-20 years of pop stars. Their would-be feminist Girl Power slogan may have been partly a marketing man's dream come true but it was also a neat slogan, the sort of "You Can Do It Sista!" message that was reimagined by the Pussycat Dolls as something altogether more sultry nearly 10 years later and the sort of stuff that would become de-riguer once Firework / Born This Way/ We R Who We R all become chart topping "message" songs.

But the thing about the Spice Girls thta many forget is the songs were in fact, brilliant. There was no way that intense a fandom, that much success, could have worked the way it did if it weren't for the group's gaggle of perfectly formed singles. Indeed the batch from that debut were particularly strong, from the pop-rap stomp of Wannabe to the balladry of 2 Become 1.

With a band as big as the Spice Girls were, those bold, shiny hit singles threaten to overshadow the rest of the album. And it's obvious throughout that the strongest songs were picked to go to radio, have videos etc. But what makes the album such a treat is the R'n'B feel underpinning various key points.

Say You'll Be There feels like a bubblegum take on TLC's early work and elsewhere Love Thing, Last Time Lover and Something Kinda Funny play with a similar feel. People remember the cartoon personalities of each Spice (those nicknames: Baby, Sporty, Posh, Scary and Ginger were genius) and the cheesy pop underpinning their biggest moments but on songs like this they almost sound, wait for it, cool. There's a sense of something sassier and more knowing about tunes like this that give proceedings plenty of kick. The charm of the Spice Girls as group was the slightly rough-around-the-edges and energetic feel they had, less polished than your average group and all the better for it. Album cuts like this let that personality shine via song, dripping with the kind of good humour that typified their every TV appearance.

The underrated Mama is slight lyrically but is a rare chance for the group to show that they could sing and harmonise well as girl-group if not quite reaching the early 90s heights of En Vogue et al. Naked is  an odd, melodramatic mid-tempo moment  but a welcome trip into saucier territory with any real attempt at sensuality cut short by the unintentional hilarity of Geri's spoken word verses. The true gem though is If U Can't Dance which borrows it's rumbling hip-hop beat from 1990 rap hit The Humpty Dance, a cool kiss off to rhythm deficient boys that sounds poles apart from everything else on the album. It's another moment that completely jars with the bubblegum "buy a can of Pepsi with our faces on it!" image the girls curated after they became huge stars and a reminder of how well this album has aged 16 years later.

Indeed as a body of work Spice is lean, filler-free and utterly fun. The opening salvo of the three big singles puts their strongest hits up front but also tees up a jolly, carefree ride that is part bubblegum, part streetwise hip-hop pastiche with the still irresistible swing of disco-pop nugget Who Do You Think You Are being a mid-set highlight. It's interesting too that the swiftly released follow up Spiceworld garnered more hits but moved away from the R'n'B references that made their debut so charming (It was still a strong pop album but certainly more cartoon-y than it's predecessor).

As the group plug the musical and use the goodwill from this year's Olympics performance to enjoy renewed press attention it's fitting to look back on a short but to the point pop album. One that set in motion a machine that would make five girls very famous, spark the late 90s teen pop craze that gave us Britney and co. and sell lots and lots of merchandise. Spicemania might have been about more than just the music but that music still sounds pretty damn good to this day.

Viva Forever, the musical based on the Spice Girls' music opens in London on November 27th

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jessie Ware - Live at The Sugar Club Dublin - Review

Jessie Ware's Devotion is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year and with good reason. It's a beautifully made soul-pop album that takes it's cues from the very best UK dance producers and let's her tremendous vocal prowess shine. Ware touched down in Dublin this week for a sold-out show at The Sugar Club to a room packed full of avid fans. Ware, an endearing and entertaining presence on stage, even brought up the house lights as she jokingly tried to figure out exactly who her audience was on the first night of her own solo tour.

However you could classify the crowd at the show they were undoubtedly under the spell of the British songstress. She ran through all of the material on Devotion (including deluxe edition tracks), with a tight live band adding an upbeat texture to the tracks that gave them a new sense of life in a live setting. The intimate feel of the Sugar Club, that Ware jokingly suggested was like a David Lynch film, lent itself well to be completely sucked into Ware's captivating delivery but with a surprising amount of bounce in her set it was a shame to be in a venue without more room to do a little dancing (bar a few brave souls who twirled up the front). 

Still there was little to fault about Ware's hour-long set. Album tracks like No To Love and Taking In Water sound bigger and more expansive with a willing audience and that aforementioned live band, 110% stands up as a smartly made dance song with a melancholic air while the 80s sheen of Night Light continues to be a winner. Her cover of Brownstone's 90s R'n'B hit If You Love Me was an unexpected surprise, a faithful rendition that wouldn't have sounded out of place on her own album.

The high-point undoubtedly come in the final songs, having charmed Dublin into submission Ware deploys Wildest Moments as her penultimate number, an earnest sing-along erupting amidst the crowd. Closing with Running, Ware asks the crowd to stand up pointing out that her mum will be proud she had a seated venue on it's feet. It's a blissful moment, the goodwill and slow-burning pulse Ware has been building for sixty or so minutes reaching an exuberant climax. She warmly thanks the audience before pointing out she doesn't do encores, takes a few snaps with excitable punters and departs. An accomplished and polished performer with a beautiful voice that genuinely sounds even better in a live setting, Jessie certainly did Mama Ware very proud during her Dublin show.

Jessie Ware's debut album Devotion is out now

Monday, November 5, 2012

5 Year "Blackout" - Britney's Best Album Remembered

Britney Spears may be appearing on US TV screens as a talent show judge right now but five years ago she was in an altogether different place. 2007 was the year that Britney’s meltdown became tabloid fodder, award show gold (in the wrong way) and made a star out of one overly emotional YouTuber (you’re welcome Chris Crocker).

More importantly it was also the year she released the impressive album Blackout. Britney's fifth effort was a triumph on several levels, for upping the stakes of her sound, for how it stood out from the pop pack and for the fact that it's much-hounded star even finished the album at all.

The Britney Spears saga become something of a nightmare throughout 2007. Spears had given birth to her first child the year before but divorced much-maligned lover Kevin Federline and soon used excessive partying to numb the pain. There was a forced rehab visit or two and that infamous head-shaving / attacking the paparazzi with an umbrella moment that has become a weirdly iconic image in the celebrity meltdown pantheon.

While all this oozed across gossip blogs, Britney was piecing together recordings with producers like Danja, Bloodshy and Avant and Sean Garrett many of whom were deliberately avoiding mentioning Britney's personal struggles (except on two standout tracks) to serve up a forward-thinking pop record.

Blackout arrived at the end of October 2007 with little proper promotion. Her appearance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards was a disaster and the video for Gimme More a barely salvaged rough cut of Britney twirling around a stripper pole (more on that here). There was no press interviews apart from a famously weird Ryan Seacrest radio chat. The songs were effectively left to do the talking.

Gimme More isn't just a terrific lead single for the project, it's also still one of Britney's best singles ever. It's deceptively simple but so slinky, dark and suggestive it's impossible to resist. Danja's layered production takes a plinky video game beat, adds creepy strings and weird whirring noises while Britney coos over each and every syllable. It's one of those immediate, dance-ready Britney tunes given a dark and sexy twist.

I tackled Piece of Me for Idolator's look-back at Blackout and my comments on it apply here. It's a rare moment of self-awareness in the Britney back-catalogue as she gives a defiant middle finger to media attention over an agressive Bloodshy and Avant beat. It's single release in the UK/Ireland arrived not long after the infamous incident of Britney being removed from her home on a gurney in front of hordes of paparazzi. It was a creepy moment as the looming tabloid figure that Britney had become jarred with the popstar whose new direction was winning over fans both old and new.

Radar is another sprightly Bloodshy and Avant production that has the ear-wormiest of hooks while Break The Ice is a swirling, futuristic take on the sort of R'N'B pop that was huge in 2006/7. Heaven on Earth is oddly upbeat, a sweet but slightly moody synth pop ode to a seemingly perfect man. Get Naked amps up the sleaze factor straight after, the dirtier sister track to Gimme More with a thumping, hypnotic suggestiveness apparent.

Freakshow plays with dubstep sounds years before Spear's future hit Hold It Against Me , while Toy Soldier channels Gwen Stefani and M.I.A. in a skittering, kinetic hip-hop infused number laced with attitude. Hot As Ice is somewhat clunky but endearing in it's brash knockabout quality. Ooh Ooh Baby is a callback to early Britney but more grown up. Perfect Lover brings things back into a darker vein, Danja layering up layers and layers of buoyant rhythms over a breathless Britney vocal. 

Closing track Why Should I Be Sad is the only mid-tempo note on the whole set, a R'N'B ditty about a no-good man that she has to leave behind. It's standard stuff but delivered by Spears in an emotional way that suggests she's a little too invested in the content amid choice lines about expensive gifts she bought and gossip mags.

Blackout still remains the most consistent set Spears has ever released. While peers like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake had found a sense of credibility from hip-hop approved hits (Timberlake's work with Timbaland) or mature artistic choices (Aguilera's much vaunted Back to Basics album) it took Blackout for Spears to finally shed her bubblegum beginnings for a believable sonic evolution.

The proceeding albums didn't always mine similar territory. 2008's Circus had high-points but resorted to the mixed-bag of styles that plagued her earlier releases. 2011's Femme Fatale was tightly made and packed with big songs but favoured a more bombastic approach, the sense of subtlety and pop-grit of Blackout left behind. 

Blackout is a fan fave and critical darling five years down the line, with hysterical fan reaction to Britney's tweet about Blackout 2.0 a good marker of the esteem in which the album is held. It may not have had the push that a pop album can expect in the current chart world but Blackout still sounds just as good unfolding from your speakers as it did five years ago. 

Blackout is out now and you should really just get a copy because it really is quite brilliant. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brandy "Two Eleven" Album Review

Brandy has certainly had a long but eventful run as an R&B superstar with a sideline in teen sitcom stardom and ongoing personal drama. What she also has is a voice that goes deep, intense and right into you heart on the right material. Since the failure of her last album, 2008’s Human and her parting ways with her record label Brandy has spent time licking her wounds and convincing a stellar line-up of contributors to assist her in a much-needed comeback on Two Eleven.

Named after her birthday and the date her close friend Whitney Houston passed, Two Eleven is an attempt by Brandy to update the sort of music she made at her peak. A lofty ambition it might but she just about pulls it off. The likes of Bangladesh and Rico Love pepper Two Eleven with productions that feel slick, modern but also churn with the sort of solid, hook driven R&B pop that informed Brandy’s strongest mid 90s output.

Opening track (After a perfunctory “Intro”) Wildest Dreams is a grower, a mid-tempo ode to finally finding the right lover that might not wow the way you’d expect a big single to but slowly gets under your skin, the impassioned delivery setting up an album that feels highly personal despite Brandy not writing much of the lyrics herself .  With so many producers involved it’s a credit to the team involved that Brandy’s signature vocals and tight, engaging production are joined together so seamlessly. Let Me Go and Put It Down fulfill the “club banger” quota but they’re still smart, swirling productions with beats dropping in and out as Brandy twists her deep voice around saucy one-liners. There’s some solid balladry too, like the gentle No Such Thing As Too Late that gets emotional and winds back down at just the right time before things get too soppy. Best are the mid-tempo come-ons like Slower and Can You Hear Me Now. The sex-jam is a staple of any R&B album (just ask Janet Jackon) and few get it right but Brandy’s delivery of lines about letting her inner freak out are played just right and it’s some of the most sonically interesting material on the album.

Despite the magic she came up with during her Timbaland phase on Afrodisiac, Brandy resorts to less modish sonic palettes here, instead going for a lived in vibe to the songs with a sense of space and mood created effortlessly by the songs. Frank Ocean hands in material (having worked on one of the few highlights of her last album and before he broke out on his own merits) and that sensitive, nu-R&B style in his work and in that of contemporaries like Drake, sits well on a Brandy record, a reminder of how her early work has made something of a lasting impact.

And that’s sort of the genius of Two Eleven. This is a consistent, tightly-woven piece that feels up-to-the-minute in an underhand way. With artists like The XX and Jessie Ware paying tribute to the golden era of 90s R&B in their work it’s exciting to see one of the stars of that era do music that tips a hat to their style while still sounding like themselves. A moody, brilliantly realized grower, Two Eleven might not dip it’s toe into the club-pop waters favoured by many R&B stars but is still one of the most satisfying listens of the year.

Pop Gig Blow-Out: Kelly, J-Lo, Marina and Cheryl Live Reviews

Being a fan of pop music means that sometimes you probably don't go to lots and lots of live gigs, especially if your biggest faves are the kinds who play to fairly big audiences. Thanks to some good luck, good mates and fortunate timing I managed to see a clutch of shows in the last month and decided to give each of them a mention here. I started with Cheryl's O2 show, then Kelly Clarkson the week after in the same venue, followed by Marina and the Diamonds in the Olympia before finishing with the Jennifer Lopez show in the O2 (I was in the O2 alot basically which is actually the perfect venue for a big pop show). Below is your handy guide to each show, the highlights and lowlights.

CHERYL COLE - O2 Dublin - 4/10/12

From Girls Aloud to solo-popstar/massive celeb status in many ways it makes total sense that Cheryl Cole is now touring. But for all the glitzy, enjoyable fun of her arena show it also highlights just how she’s never quite hit her stride as a solo performer. There are plenty of slick, dance-driven moments during the A Million Lights tour but there are too many moments where the whole thing feels a bit rushed and a ballad too many threatens to derail things altogether. It’s still a fun show overall, Cole is charismatic and likeable especially when nailing those trademark moves but it's not quite the flawless romp you'd love for her to do. An encore of Fight For This Love ramps up the spectacle in a way lacking at other parts of the show and reminds you that with a few bigger hits and a bit more time she could really compete with Rihanna et al.

Cheryl is back on tour with Girls Aloud later next year, details here 

KELLY CLARKSON - O2 Dublin - 10/10/12

Between that near-perfect pop voice and her genuine air, it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with Kelly Clarkson by the end of her Dublin show. A non-stop ride through all of her best tracks and the strongest album cuts from her recent gem Stronger mean that this is a concert that never really lets up. It’s not a big, dance-driven spectacle but Clarkson and a tight backing band whip up so much pop magic that you wouldn’t even notice. Highlights include a stunning cover of Nothing Compares 2 U that brings awed silence to the arena, a jaunt into the crowd for the underrated Already Gone and the debut live airing of new single Catch My Breath. Best is an exhilarating encore that lines up some of Clarkson’s best songs in quick succession in a final charm offensives that leaves more than a few hearts broken when she leaves.

Kelly's album Greatest Hits : Chapter One is out mid-November

MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS - The Olympia Theatre, Dublin - 17/10/12

Marina and The Diamonds has turned her camp-quirky-art-pop stylings into a heady mix of chart-fodder and artistic expression on current album Electra Heart. So the Dublin stop of her Lonely Hearts Club Tour has a rabid audience swooning to songs from both releases. Despite the slight change in tone between her first and second album her knack for writing sharp, brassy songs layered with wit means that nothing falls flat and her wink-wink take on female archetypes breathes life into your standard pop show. A striking beauty with an un-earthly voice and a down-to-earth presence at odds with her beaming star-power Marina held The Olympia in her thrall with just a bat of an eyelid and rightly so. 

Marina returns to The Olympia November 20th.

JENNIFER LOPEZ - The O2 Dublin - 19/10/12

Whether she’s from the block or fresh off the American Idol judging panel Jennifer Lopez still commands plenty of attention and although this is her first ever world tour you can’t help but be impressed by just how good the J-Lo live experience is. Firstly, her voice is a real surprise. It’s not big and she’s not hitting those Mariah notes but the voice you know from all those hits sounds just as good when she’s clearly singing live and even when she does an acoustic number or two (I know. I know). Better is her dancing which is completely perfect, recreating her iconic music video moves with ease. She also has a charismatic, A-list glow that is easy to be dazzled by and has a rabid audience on their feet throughout (no mean feat at a pop gig with tiered seating). By the time J-Lo has run through basically every one of her hit songs (although why Play was omitted I’ll never know) you’re left with no doubt as to Lopez chops as a performer and to why she didn’t do this world tour sooner. Stunning stuff.

JLo's Greatest Hits album Dance Again: The Hits is out now

Friday, October 12, 2012

Paris Hilton, Old Dudes and Tyres: 10 Things I Love About Lana Del Rey's "Ride" Video

Lana Del Rey has sent the internet into a tizzy again today (she has a tendency to do that) with the debut of her new video for Ride. The lead single from the Born To Die: Paradise Edition repackage (an add-on of 8 new songs as an EP of sorts, i.e. Lana's own Fame Monster moment) the Rick Rubin produced cut was always going to lend itself to an strong visual and Miss Del Rey does not disappoint. So far since Video Games blew up, we've had CGI Tigers (Born To Die), swimming with alligators in black and white (Blue Jeans), woozy JFK nostalgia with A$ap Rocky (National Anthem) and doomed lesbian love-affairs (Summertime Sadness) so it's not surprising that Ride comes with it's own visual motifs.

There's lots to like about Ride, an impressively moody piece that's equal parts David Lynch, Easy Rider and Lolita with Lana riffing off the "I was a troubled youth" stories that have populated her recent interviews and inform many of the lyrics on Born To Die. The monologue topping and tailing proceedings and the near 10 minute length would threaten to de-rail things if the Anthony Mandler-helmed clip wasn't so intoxicating in it's slow, slightly-tragic rhythm. In honour of that almost-10 minutes run time here are the 10 best things about Lana Del Rey's "Ride" video (in no particular order)

10.  Lana On A Tyre : As you can see on the single cover above you will have noticed that Lana not only sports an amazing studded jacket in this video but SWINGS OUT OF A TYRE IN THE DESERT LIKE A BAD-ASS. Thankfully this amazing image is a big part of the video with Del Rey gloomily swinging back and forth while the wind whips through her dessert. An image of which I will never TYRE. Geddit? Tyr-I'll see myself out.

9: Lana Drinking Fizzy Orange Juice: There's an oddly sad moment early on in the video with Lana's extended monologue painting the picture of a destitute youth with no sense of self who pops into her nearest shop to buy fizzy orange. Lana glugs the drink while waiting for one of her greasy biker dude boyfriends to come pick her up (more on those in a minute) and you guys, it's REALLY SAD. I'll never look at fizzy orange the same again.

The world's saddest bottle of orange.

8: Lana and A Bunch Of Older Dudes: So, the general plot of the video sees Lana hanging out with various older men, the majority of whom seem a little gross, looking both delighted and downbeat about the men she is lumped with (or humping with ahahahaha-excuse me). On a practical note the fact that these rather gross men (SORRY) get to hang out with a 5-star stunner like LDR is surely a career highlight for them all. Bring back the tattooed hottie of Born To Die and Blue Jeans I say (I get that the men are part of the video's story and blah blah blah but ..seriously)

7: Lana Performs: There are so many haunting and striking images of Lana performing the song in various club type scenarios throughout the video but the best is that first shot as the song kicks in around the 3 minute mark, a simple white dress wrapped all over Lana as she sways delicately (no SNL freeze-ups here thank you very much) is perfect.

6: Lana Dry Humps A Dude While Playing Pinball : this is just to reiterate how lucky all these dudes filming are that one of them gets a whole scene where Lana dry-humps him while they "play pinball" (I bet that wasn't the only balls being played wi-Ok, No I'll stop it now). This bit is actually quite sexy-sad which is a term I've just coined and could sum up 98% of LDR's visual/musical output. You're welcome.

5: Lana Wears A Headdress: Obviously in the context of the video Lana wearing a Headdress does make sense given that it's a Native American look sported by someone roaming the desert and harking back to the beginnings of America. But it's also basically another girl wearing a headdress and after a summer of ropey festival fashion (shudder) it's a bit like watching that girl who probably took a half a pill too many at Electric Picnic gurn her way through the campsite at 3 in the morning. Also it's clearly a homage to Style Queen Paris Hilton (see below). Clearly

Lana Del Festival Chic
One of the images from LDR's "Ride" video moodboard.
4: Lana Goes Biking: All the scenes with LDR sailing down the highway on the back of a bike are 100% amazing. Despite my crushing fear of motorcycles all I want to do is flail down the highway with some burly biker. Mind you I'll probably wear a helmet unlike Lana Del "Where Is The Safety Message in this Video" Rey. Tut tut.

3: Lana Smokes Alot: Puffing on the ol' nicotine sticks is a big part of the Lana Del Rey sexy/sad (Yes, it's a thing now. Deal with it) aesthetic whether it's the aforementioned pinball dry hump moment or another highlight when LDR hangs out at a petrol pump looking all cowgirl chic in boots and a flawfree jacket. I was half hoping for a tribute to Xtina's Your Body video with Lana blowing up the petrol station or a car or two at this point but hey.

2: Lana Is Crazy Y'all: The video concludes with Lana going wild on the top of some desert mountain as her moody monologue tells us she likes to have fun and is "fucking crazy" (Me too sis, me too). This bit has a surreal touch to it that sums up the hazy, real-life-shot-through-soft-focus tone of the video beautifully but, and forgive me LDR die-hards, when Lana utters that line about being crazy, all I could think was Kristen Wiig's impression of her on SNL. Oh dear. Still Lana likes to chug whiskey in the dessert and roll around with gross dudes and to that I say BRAVO!

Kudos to my fave MuuMuse for this image
1: This Video Has Credits So Y'know it's Important: I love the extended credits because nothing screams Extended Mini-Film Music Video like proper credits. Also I thought the fact that the stylist was called Johnny Blue Eyes was quite terrific and that the styling assistant is down as Savannah is even better. Quite frankly they both have popstar names and I would buy records by either of them based off of their names alone. And joking aside Johnny Blue Eyes styling choices throughout are totally on-point. It's a more lived in 80s teen meets wayward 50s starlet look than some of her more glammed up styles and it's perfect for this video. Blue Eyes (TOTALLY HIS REAL NAME) has an impressive CV which you can see here.

Truth be told it might seem like I'm taking shots at the video but Ride is another stunner from Miss Del Rey. It's enjoyable to see how her major label home and growing audience has been channeled into such polished and well-realised clips. Lana Del Rey is serving up smart, spooky pop music with a major label backing most would kill for.

Ride is include on Born To Die: Paradise Edition released in Ireland on the 9th of November, the UK on the 12th and the US on the 13th. 

(Sadly the single is not available to buy in Ireland right now but perhaps you'd like to buy this tribute single with it's tyre related cover-art instead?)