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.

SPOILED MILK, STALE BREAD, WELFARE, BUBONIC PLAGUE, RECORD DEAL, LIGHT BULB
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

Remembrance Wednesday: Ricky Martin – She Bangs

Remembrance Wednesday: Ricky Martin – ‘She Bangs’


In pop music, it is a cruel state of affairs when one track or act is overshadowed by another, despite being comparable or better. Scissor Sisters’ third album ‘Night Work’ sank without a trace despite being their best effort yet and having a phenomenal buzz single, Ian McKellen collaboration, Invisible Light’  . Now their only track heard on radio is modern classic ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’’ and you can buy the album for about £2 on Amazon.

Example 2, when Girls Aloud took a break and tried individual projects, Cheryl was the one to sell most records because she was prettiest and most high profile, despite her material being far less interesting than that  of ‘ginger one’, Nicola Roberts. WAH WAH WAH WAAAH.

Another aggravating example would be anything by Janelle Monáe being ignored while the masses only heard her one line of input on the ‘Fun’ single that radio tortured us with this summer.
However, the case I am fighting today is that of ‘She Bangs’, first single to be taken from the second UK charting album of hip-swivelling, Latino ladies’ man (or so his videos would have us believe),  Enrique ‘Ricky Martin’ Martín Morales.
Sometimes with one’s music output, you have a good little run, then something comes along that wipes out all memory of what came before it, but then sometimes you never quite reach the heights of that one big hit, which is the case with poor Ricky and ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ his trumpet-laden Latino banger that warns of a mocha-tinged mad wench who makes him take off his leather trousers and already see-through shirt to go dancing in the rain. Obviously that song is excellent and its legacy cannot be denied, but for me, ‘She Bangs’ is the real Martin classic. Yet according to Compare My Radio (a good site if you like statistics) Loca has been played on radio 51 times in the last month and She Bangs only nine times. Is there any justice in this world? She Bangsis my favourite.
Maybe it’s just because I like an underdog, maybe it’s because I like to make controversial choices to wind people up. Either way it’s a brass-hooked Latino banger that warns of the dangers of women. Hang on that sounds familiar… It’s Ricky’s comfort zone and he doesn’t need to stray from it, after all nobody wants to be reminded of his soppy Spanglish ballads.
Let’s do an in-depth, unnecessary analysis:

LYRICS
Admittedly, lyrically it’s no ‘Imagine’ but it does feature such interesting lines as:

I’m just a link in your daisy chain”, “You wear me out like a pair of shoes” and
“Well, if it looks like love should be a crime / You’d better lock me up for life / I’ll do the time with a smile on my face / Thinking of her in her leather and lace”
That’s right, Ricky is so in love with this rampant lady, if love were to be outlawed he would be given a LIFE sentence, not just a fine or a few days of community service, jailed for life. Imagine being in love that deeply! Your lover refusing an appeal, exclaiming their guilt with no shame.  Ladies can only dream! I don’t suppose Ricky would live up to your expectations, but not to worry, he seems happy enough as he is these days, so that’s jolly nice for him.
MUSIC

Latin piano during the verses, the occasional guitar chord, more trumpets than Mambo no 5! That little bit after the ‘daisy chain’ line where the brass starts wailing like a siren. Woh wohhh woh, sing-along backing vocals in the final chorus! A guitar solo! It’s got a ruddy guitar solo! It might as well be Santana! How could you listen to this without waggling your hips like a hula-hooping Grace Jones?!

VIDEO

In the music video in, our protagonist walks into the sea and attends an underwater grindfest in a bar attended by bikini-clad ladies and guarded by a mermaid and octopus man, my preferred set-up. He enters through an underground waterfall that somehow keeps the water out of the room and starts grinding on anything with two legs or a tail. Are they really underwater? Everyone’s just dancing like in a club yet sometimes a fish goes past and occasionally Ricky starts swimming. But then nobody is wet!… aside from Ricky when he pours water all over himself (can you do that underwater?) and all those women who are subjected to his charms… yeah everyone’s wet in one way or another. There’s even a cubicle for frolicking and Ricky takes his clothes off before getting spanked by a mermaid. Trumpeters line the walls, it’s the perfect party. I do sometimes wonder what would happen after the song finishes and they all stop dancing and stand around awkwardly in their pants. The aquatic party people are hardly likely to request ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’, are they?

WRITERS
There’s some interesting insight here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ricky didn’t do much (any) of the writing himself but there are some interesting links if you’re willing to do a bit of Wiki digging.
Desmond Child has writing credits not only on She Bangs and Livin’ La Vida Loca, but also numerous Bon Jovi songs, including ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’. Also in his impressive song list are ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ by Kiss, ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper and ‘Old Before I Die’ by Robbie Williams. Producer Walter Afanasieff has credits as producer and arranger on swimmers’ favourite, ‘My Heart Will Go On’,  by Celine Dion, as well as ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child. Also with a writing credit is the man credited with having recorded the first rap song in Spanish.  That’s a good pedigree for a Latino pop song.
If all of that wasn’t enough to convince you of the huge amount of effort and talent behind She Bangs, there’s also the obligatory Spanish language version,  with such beautiful lyrics as:

“She is the queen in my chess, playing with me is her pleasure”.
All in all, it’s a genius song, ridiculously catchy and just that little bit better than Livin’ La Vida Loca, I just wish people would realise this and remember poor old She Bangs every once in a while. At least trusty old Ken Bruce on Radio 2 occasionally plays it. I suppose Ricky is too uncool for Radio 1 as well now. But 9 plays on the whole radio network in a month! That’s fewer plays than in my house! Shame on you, radio, shame on you.

Out of character appreciation of Calvin Harris

If there’s one thing I respect about Calvin Harris, it’s his  release strategy:
Calvin Harris, ’18 Months’: Sort of an album review…

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I’d like to make it clear from the start, it is unlikely I will ever purchase this album. To me, Calvin Harris is the British equivalent of David Guetta: constantly bombarding the charts with sub-par electro-pop music with pop starlets doing the hard work for him while he claims most of the glory and makes them just a featured artist. It’s not a Kelis single! It’s Calvin feat. Kelis!
 Imagine how cluttered the charts would be if everyone did things this way. The chart has more ‘featured artists’ than ever before, but if everyone was crediting their producer as the main artist, it would be a complete mess. I suppose we have to put up with it in this new world of music where, as I have read several times, ‘DJs are the new rock stars’, raking in millions from live performances. Who would pay premium prices to go and see a DJ live? Would it be any different from just going to your average club on a Saturday?
Anyway, back to Harris. I liked debut single ‘Acceptable in the 80s’. It was a catchy pop song and he did his own vocals. However, since then, his approach has been a bit Stock, Aitken, Waterman to me, just a production line that seems to never switch off. My dad once told me that in the Weetabix factory, the product line splits in two at the end, where half are packaged as legitimate Weetabix, and half as supermarket own-brand alternatives. I never did find out if there was any truth in that or if he was just trying to justify not buying fancy foods and this analogy has gone a bit askew but it’s as if the music conveyor belt has got stuck on one side and all of the music is being pumped into cheaply made boxes with Calvin Harris’ face plastered all over them and you have to read the ingredients to find out what’s actually in it. [Salvaged!]
Wikipedia lists 18 Months’ genres, among others, as ‘Electro House’ and ‘Progressive House’, which to me sound more like episodes of Grand Designs than music, but maybe I’m old fashioned. Yet here’s the thing, there are some aspects of this album that I…admire.
The album was released on 26th October 2012, whereas the first single cut from the album was the Kelis track, released on 12th June 2011. The time difference there is 16 months or so, whereas this time gap for most pop albums is about one week. I always wondered why bands would do this. None of your core fans are going to buy your single when they can buy the album the following week and save a pound or so by being patient. What Harris has done here, and admirably so, is release a barrage of high-selling singles, all of which were snapped up by Radio 1 listeners and casual music buyers, then finally a number one debuting album, which by this point seems more like a Greatest Hits set.
 It’s interesting to form some kind of timeline of CH releases for the past two years:
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All of that before the album release. It was incessant. You can’t switch on a radio anymore without hearing his formulaic crescendo breakdown/thunderclap. Looking at the release dates, there seems to have been a bit of a lull around  winter 2011 but Rihanna’s airplay was more than enough to keep the ball rolling.
As well as all that there was a Tinchy Stryder song that didn’t do much and a Sophie Ellis-Bextor single produced by CH that got to #49 in Russia, however ‘We Found Love’ sold 6.9 million copies (approx) worldwide, so I expect that makes up for it. (Not so much for poor Sophie).
If we ignore the fact that most of the above music is in no way fresh and exciting, CH released 6 singles before his album, all of which sold enough to chart at number one or two, then cobbled them together into an album that charted at number one. It is one of the best release strategies I can remember and has surely maximised sales. Casual music downloaders who may have bought one of two of the singles would probably have seen enough they liked to purchase the album later, to collect the set, and it would be cheaper to buy the whole album that all of the individual singles. If he had released the lacklustre ‘Bounce’ and then the album, the album would probably not have gone straight to no.1, but the album sales would have probably picked up as subsequent singles were released. Of course it’s meaningless to speculate this, as I don’t think 18 Months was intended to be a coherent piece of work where he wrote songs for the album, he just compiled the album once there were enough songs already released, and tacked on a few more (which will probably be subsequently squeezed for every penny). The fact that the album is indeed coherent and works as a whole is that all of it sounds identical. He’s got his formula and he has stuck to it.
Calvin Harris’ success in 2011 was enough to make anyone think they could get a hit if they teamed up with him but even that was not enough for sonically excellent but terribly marketed Scissor Sisters. Lyrically speaking, ‘Only The Horses’ wasn’t a good song of theirs even before Calvin started twiddling knobs and pressing the only two keyboard keys he is familiar with, and so it charted just outside of the top 10. With the song, Scissor Sisters sacrificed enough of their souls to let CH be in charge of music duties (when they are a competent band of musicians) but luckily they didn’t pimp themselves enough for the track to become ‘Only The Horses’ by Calvin Harris ft. Jakes Shears. Maybe they would have sold a few more copies that way though…
All in all this is the musical equivalent of seeing Modern Art buffs walking into the Tate Modern and wetting themselves over an inspiring bin bag full of rubbish, or Emin’s fluid-stained bed. It’s a poor product and in no way art, but if you can market it to enough people to give it value,  that, at least, should be applauded.