Most anticipated albums of 2013 PT 1 – Janelle Monáe

2013’s Most Anticipated Albums

For me personally, pop music in 2012 was a pretty big let down.  188.6 million singles were sold in the UK, which is a pretty hefty number, but the biggest hits of the year were Gotye’s overplayed, xylophone-bothering Somebody I Used To Know and Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy and world-uniting yet lyrically- abominable (“Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad”) Call Me Maybe, neither of which appealed to me.
In 2012 I didn’t purchase very many albums. There was Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart in April, which she this week admitted was supposed to be a side project thing but her label wouldn’t allow it.
 Despite being an excellent pop album and entering the charts at No.1, it was handled pretty badly by the label (who also messed up Marina and Little Boots’ first albums) and sunk without a trace due to the wrong choice of singles and Marina’s insistence to release a non-album single, which eventually got a video after months of faffing. I’m still fairly sure How to Be a Heartbreaker still hasn’t been released officially, but nobody cares anymore.
The month of May gave us Scissor Sisters’ Magic Hour, which was a bit of a step backwards from their career high of Night Work and featured only a handful of tracks worth revisiting. When the first track was released online on 2nd January yet had its release pushed back indefinitely, it was clear something was wrong (though it may have just been Azealia Banks messing everyone about again) and the group later announced they were going on hiatus later in the year.
The third and final album that I purchased in 2013, (aside from numerous Greatest Hits albums) all of these being digitally/online, much to my guilt, what with the closing down of reliable old HMV, was Amanda Palmer’s ambitious crowd-funded Theatre is Evil, which came out in September and was well worth the optional $1 price tag. More on that here.
Those were the only albums I forked out for in 2012, so 2013 doesn’t have to do much to eclipse that. Fortunately, a host of greats have got new albums due out this year, so there’s plenty to look forward to. Here are my top 5 most anticipated of the year:

5. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

WARNING: Video contains audience call and response.
Estimated release date: When she feels like it
Following Janelle’s 2010 debut, The Archandroid, the lack of Suites in the new album’ title leads me to believe that she is taking a break from the Metropolis/Cindi Mayweather android concept, which may be advisable if she intends to tap into the mainstream market. Janelle featured on the third highest-selling single of 2012 in the UK, Fun’s We Are Young, but her part was so minor that it didn’t help her to become a household name, unfortunately. Hopefully it will at least give her a leg up onto some radio playlists.
When Janelle first came to my attention, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive reviews The Archandroid was receiving, she was a breath of fresh air for female pop. Appearing with her strange android love story concept album and wearing a tuxedo, she stood out from the rest of today’s pop sluts by promoting art rather than prostitution. As she sang on Sincerely, Jane, “When you take off your clothes, all your dreams go down the drain”, with much appreciated brass backing. The first track I heard from the Metropolis suites was Many Moons, with its video featuring funky footwork and the best middle-eight list of words since Vogue and We Didn’t Start The Fire. Suite II started off with an excellent handful of danceable tracks which eventually petered out and led to more orchestral numbers but this just showed off the variety of genres that Monáe meddled with: rock, pop, soul, rap, jazz, RnB etc  and showcased Janelle’s excellent musical ability, while her appearances at music festivals throughout the last few summers have shown her to be an incredible live vocalist who knows how to treat an audience, making her performances unmissable.
What can we expect?
Performances of two songs that may be due to appear on the new album have appeared on Youtube, Electric Lady and Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, with the former, the title track and first single, featuring heavy amount of brass, making for a jazzy treat. I hope Janelle manages to cut down her tracklisting this time to a manageable 10-12 tracks, more in the vein of up-tempo tracks such as Cold War and Come Alive, yet with a few of her film score-like slower tracks. I would be rather pleased if she cut out all interludes, intermissions, backwards tracks and overtures and just stuck to some excellent tuens this time, but whatever happens, she can’t go wrong with a nice load of brass, in my book.

Still Janelle’s best song.
What artwork can we hope for?
The artwork for The Archandroid was pretty good, what with our Jane having a big city on her head, so for The Electric Lady I don’t think it’s too much to hope for a wind farm nestled into her big Swiss roll hairdo.
What is the worst thing Janelle can do now?
It would be sad to see Janelle start advertising herself as ‘that lass off the Fun song’, as her own songs are far superior. In addition, Janelle has been a very vocal supporter of the Obama campaign recently, but I hope none of that seeps into the new record. Pop and politics should stay separated. Nobody like poplitics. Finally, Janelle will be ok as long as she doesn’t take her clothes off and start marketing herself as a sex symbol, but I don’t suppose there’s much chance of that; the tux is probably staying on.
How good does the album need to be?
An 8 out of 10 would give Janelle the push she needs.

Part 1: Janelle Monae
Part 2: David Bowie
Part 3: Lady Gaga
Part 4: Goldfrapp
Part 5: Little Boots


REVIEW: Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Theatre is Evil”

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Theatre is Evil”Image

A review and general ramblings about my history with Palmer.

Like the majority of fans, I first came across Amanda Palmer when she was with Dresden Dolls. I was about seventeen and had befriended a girl on a music festival forum and met up with her at the festival in 2006. It was nothing seedy, I’m still in touch with her now and do my best to see her when we are both at the festival in the same year. One year on the forum somebody organised a mixtape swap and I was paired up with this girl.
I have no idea what was on my CD that I sent to her, probably tracks by bands that were ‘cool’ at the time, so I could impress her, plus a few of the weird little indie bands that I used to support continuously despite the fact they were pretty awful. There was this one band I loved, the man would badly play a guitar while the woman banged a toy keyboard and screamed over the top about Sherlock Holmes. I bought their album and t-shirt and dragged my friends to their concerts, then I was shocked when the local HMV did not stock their album, and I demanded they order it in. It was at one of their gigs that I first saw an instrument that I have always dreamed of, but I’ll come to that later.
I can’t remember what embarrassing stuff was on my CD, but on her CD was a track called ‘Gravity’ by Dresden Dolls. I had listened to the CD a couple of times and most of it was far too cool for me, but the Dresden Dolls track really caught my attention. This may have been because it only featured piano and drums with some mad banshee singing, talking, whispering then screaming I THINK WE’VE LOST HIM!
In the age where I was penniless and discovering independent music, I downloaded all of their albums, their B-sides and rarities album and then finally Amanda Palmer’s fantastic debut solo album. I tried to get some friend into this music and they did really take to the mildly offensive ‘Oasis’ video, with its rape-LOL and coat hanger abortion scene, but they didn’t want to adventure any further into Palmer’s disturbing mind.
A bit more time passed, I went to live in Spain for a year and had an Australian flatmate who loved Palmer and the B-52’s and many of my favourite acts but it was at last nice to find another fan. Palmer seems to have acquired a very strong Australian fanbase, touring there extensively and releasing an album of dodgy live recordings, ‘Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under’,  solely aimed at Australians and including the disturbing ode to pubic hair, ‘Map of Tasmania’. This wasn’t the follow up album I had been hoping for and I didn’t understand many of the references; of course, I could grasp that a lady’s garden looks like the outline of Tasmania but I could hardly sing along to an old  Vegemite advert like the audience in the recording.
Eventually, with a huge amount of money raised through a Kickstarter campaign, Palmer funded a new album and allowed me to purchase it through her website for the princely sum of one dollar. I’m not sure how much that is in GBP these days and I haven’t checked my bank statement since then, in case she took £100, but this presumably low cost was much appreciated as I am ‘between jobs’ and Palmer must be loaded. I listened to the album a few times and it didn’t really click with me until this week, when I was in the car for a mammoth journey and was able to listen to all nineteen tracks in one go, in the dark. It started to make sense after this.
Every album of Amanda Palmer’s has some tracks that are excellent and some that I would skip or never listen to until the end and there is nothing new with Theatre is Evil. With its nineteen tracks, including some bonus tracks I received because I paid as much as a US dollar, it is long enough to cut down into your own album, which I will probably do in the end. I intended to do a track-by-track review but that would take far too long, so I’ll pick out a few highlights.
                One of the first tracks I heard, ‘Do It With a Rockstar’ , which was a free download before the album was released, really hit me hard and made me reassess my social life. I kind of wish I had heard it before I went to university. Especially so, the lyric:

 “Do you wanna go back home, check your messages and charge your phone? Are you really sure you want to go when you can do it with a rock star?”
                After hearing that, I acknowledged that I am often one of the first to leave things and too eager to get to bed, which results in me missing out on something far better. I have been aware of this since I was about four and I was at a fair with my family. My great-grandmother bought us all some banana-shaped sweets, which she said we could have when we got home, so I went home early just so I could eat the sweets. During the time I was at home eating sweets I was going to get anyway, my siblings were having loads of fun on, possibly monkey-themed rides. I’m not sure if the rides were monkey related, I might just be associating them with the banana sweets… but the point is that I ended up regretting missing out on something far superior because I was keen to go home. I don’t suppose Palmer intended on bringing up these repressed memories but she will probably put some money towards my counselling because she’s a good sort.
From reading fan reactions, one of the most popular tracks on the album is ‘The Bed Song’, with Palmer just singing and tinkling her piano keys. It follows the lives of a couple by  documenting each of their sleeping locations from sleeping bag, to mattress on the floor of a hovel, to big bed and finally to the grave. One partner knows that something is wrong with the other but is too afraid to ask, whereas the other is too afraid to say anything and is instead waiting for the other to ask. It’s pretty bleak; they carry on this way until both are dead and side by side buried under a cherry tree, never knowing what the problem was. She sings, “I would have told you if you’d only asked me”, which will surely make you want to be a bit more open with people before you go and die, or at least man up and ask someone what is wrong. The singing in the verses of this track sounds quite jolly, while the lyrics contrast this, making for quite an uncomfortable listen.
Before you go and drown yourself in the bath, there are more jolly songs on the album such as ‘Lost’, not about confused polar bears on a Pacific island, but more so about losing things and people and them passing on. There are some nice lyrics here, which would lend nicely to tattoos for any obsessive fans, particularly,

“Nothing’s ever lost forever / it’s just caught inside the cushions of your couch / and when you find it you’ll have such a nice surprise”.            A motto for life.

Other good upbeat moments are ‘Want it Back’, ‘Massachusetts Avenue’ and ‘Melody Dean’, if you fancy a toe-tapper without so much emotional involvement. Of course like most other Amanda Palmer records,  around the end, in this case ‘Berlin’, that is very long and starts off really slow and boring before finally kicking off for the last minute or so, but I wouldn’t usually get that far unless I were for some reason unable to skip back to the start. For others that follow this pattern see: ‘Truce’, ‘Sing’, ‘Boston’, ‘Slide’.
So in summary, there’s enough here for everybody and it’s a case of picking and choosing which tracks would make your definitive track listing. For me I would go:
Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)
Do it With a Rockstar
Want it Back
Grown Man Cry
The Bed song
Massachusetts  Avenue
Melody Dean
The Killing Type.
Oh, that seems to be the majority of the main tracks anyway, which is a nice sign. It’s definitely worth spending a US dollar, although you are given the option to spend more, if you’re made of money. You can also download it for free if you’re in completely dire straits, but you won’t get the bonus tracks. A final note: Of these bonus tracks, I would also recommend ‘Ukulele Anthem’, and I think this one can be downloaded for free from Palmer’s site anyway. That instrument I mentioned earlier was an electric ukulele and looked like a wooden spoon with strings. I have been intrigued by the uke since then, and Palmer and Patrick Wolf made me ask for one for Christmas one year, but I never got around to playing it until I heard Ukulele Anthem a year or two later. It really is as easy as Amanda makes out. Give it a go.