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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Most of the blogs I read have done yearend reviews of some kind, but here are a few I really enjoyed:

Max of lotsofco put up his top 50 songs of 2003 with short, sharp commentary.

He made their glowing colours is a hugely entertaining blog I've never come across before, silly me, with the same sort of mix of singles I liked this year even though there's no commentary. Bookmark this blog.

Popjustice's Top 218 songs of the year is interesting as ever, and Mandy is surely on it as some kind of joke.

ILM - 2003 is the category for ILM threads about the end of the year. There'll be more put in there soon, I assume.

Marcello Carlin has bowed out of the blog world (again) but he's left behind an interesting list, and makes me want to hear some of the stuff by these names totally unknown to me - even those well out of my fields of interest.

Jon of Worlds Of Possibility did post about things he liked, but the choicest writing about 2003 there is in the things he didn't like. Ouch - it's probably not safe for me to admit I like two songs by Hot Hot Heat and most of the New Pornographers' stuff after reading this. Excellent barbed stuff.

It's not up yet, but I always look forward to the yearend list from The War Against Silence, so by the time you read this it'll probably be at this URL.

And lastly, go here and download a new song with Gina G on it. One of Gina's cousins is a friend of my sister's - and yet the fact that she's having a good old comeback failed to filter down until now!

There are different Mp3s on the sidebar now, so my work is done for the year. Ciao now. See y'all on the 7th.
# 9:11 PM []
This year, artists who've put out singles I've liked have generally done the business as far as albums go. So a top albums list would be boring. Even more so than normal because albums are not as good as singles. If they were, people wouldn't stop (er) singling out the best tracks and predicting they will be singles.

That said, my favourite album of 2003 was Neon Nights by Dannii Minogue, which I adore from beginning to end, has four fantastic singles on it and a swag of hugely catchy and danceable album track stompers. I tried and failed to drum up support for it on ILM, and offer the link only as a measure of my broken heart. Go and buy it, if you have any love of cheesy pop music you'll love it.

Obviously, I heartily endorse purchasing any of the 10 albums that I thought didn't get enough love or sales, but in no particular order, if you see one of these other albums knocking around and you've got a spare note in your wallet, I think you should probably buy them if you've liked the singles from them:

The Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight, Moloko - Statues, HIM - Love Metal, Goldfrapp - Black Cherry, Stella One Eleven - s/t, The New Pornographers - Electric Version, The Rasmus - Dead Letters, Fountains Of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers, The Darkness - Permission To Land, Martina Topley Bird - Quixotic, Muse - Absolution, Audio Bullys - Ego War, The Hidden Cameras - The Smell Of Our Own, The Raveonettes - Chain Gang Of Love, Electric 6 - Fire, Richard X Presents His X-Factor, Girls Aloud - Sound Of The Underground (original version ONLY), Evanescence - Fallen, Fleetwood Mac - Say You Will, Longwave - The Strangest Things, Zwan - Mary Star Of The Sea, Sophie Ellis Bextor - Shoot From The Hip, A Heavy Night In With Relaxed Muscle, Tatu - 200km/h In The Wrong Lane, Kelis - Tasty, Surferosa - Shanghai My Heart, Will Young - Friday's Child, Alizee - Mes Courants Electriques, Missy Elliott - This Is Not A Test!, Chicks On Speed - 99 Cents

Buy these if you see them cheap or second hand as they've got some good bits on amidst the fluff, of which there is probably too much:

Junior Senior - D-D-Don't Stop The Beat, Liberty X - Being Somebody, Rachel Stevens - Funkydory, Elbow - Cast Of Thousands, The White Stripes - Elephant, Madonna - American Life, Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (really good single album in here somewhere - buy if at single album price), The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed, S Club 8 - Sundown, Britney Spears - In The Zone, Pink - Try This, Placebo - Sleeping With Ghosts, Atomic Kitten - Ladies' Night, Super Furry Animals - Phantom Power, The Space Cowboy - Across The Sky, Amy Studt - False Smiles, Sugababes - Three.

I certainly wouldn't be advocating just downloading bits of them, as I haven't told you what the good tracks are. Do you see?
# 3:25 PM []

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Okay, yes, this was always going to be a one-hit wonder. But one hit wonders aren't supposed to put out a second album where about half the songs are better than the actual hit. Still Life is great because while it has songs that do what Strange & Beautiful does juts fine, the sonic pallette is broader, the ambition is wider and the songs are better. There's more guitar and drums than on the last album (which, to be fair, you also didn't buy), but most importantly, the songs are not just superior, but bolder and more attention-grabbing, with nice chunky choruses to get their hooks in, and no long ponderous overquiet ones to evade your notice or send you to sleep in the middle of the album. special love goes to the middle tracks, Another Little Hole and 7 Keys, the album's gorgeous heart, and the first two songs Brighter Than Sunshine and Left Behind which are a pair of comparatively upbeat yet plaintive hooky piano-and-guitar rockpop things. It's paced just right too, without sticking too many slow ones together, varying the pace nicely, and generally doing everything quite well, thankyou, rather than doing one thing over and over again like the first album pretty much did.
# 5:17 PM []

Monday, December 29, 2003

COLONIA - Plamen Od Ljubavi
This one comes from Croatia, it does. If you've never heard Croatian sung, you'll quickly come to realise that while the combinations of letters look alien, the language seems to lend itself excellently to melody and the words have a lovely natural rhythm.

Plamen Od Ljubavi catches the ear mostly with its array of weird keyboard noises - here a sprightly, high-pitched outburst in the verses, there a fake trumpet, and here another that sounds like a synthesizer blowing a raspberry. The melody is pleasant without being aggressive, there's a bit of a breakdown before an "instrumental" bit with that raspberry noise that really needs to get used more often.

Right, you have no idea what the sound I'm describing is, and I know it. So I've put it up for download. Enjoy a bit of Eastern European pop for once.
# 9:42 PM []
So you think you're too good for a boy with a speech impediment? Oh you're mean. See this is what can be annoying. You Brits don't buy these great albums and the record company as a result doesn't release them anywhere else. Now if you want to shun albums by Kylie or Britney, which you've sort of done this year, then that's fine because they'll always be financially viable. But when your POP NEGLIGENCE removes MY chance of purchasing fine albums like this and Revolution In Me without having to resort to god-damn importing the fuckers at twice the price, then that's not good enough.

To wit, Close To The Edge is a brilliant overblown string-infused guitar rock song. Head In The Clouds is a slightly worrying song about being used by a lover with a great chorus and cute rhyming couplets that you should hear for yourself. Kill With Your Smile even references My Bloody Valentine, and does so over a sly, sneaking riff and anthemic shout-along bits. Crush is loud, brash and fun, continuing the theme of self-subservience from Head In The Clouds with a cute Smiths reference. And the singles, oh the singles, as great as they ever were (i.e. extremely good, fools!).

There are two duff songs, coincidentally they were both apparently co-written with Gary Barlow. Go away, Gary, you are stupid. Otherwise, if Four Minute Warning didn't put you off, you will probably like almost all of this album. There aren't even that many R sounds on it.
# 5:37 PM []
CLEA - Stuck In The Middle
Are there as many songs about being torn between two lovers (and feeling like a fool) as there used to be? It doesn't seem to be that common nowadays, but it's still a ripe narrative for a pop song, and Clea have had a crack at it with listenable but undistinctive results. And, being as they are very much at the bottom of the ex-reality-TV-group pecking order, the tempo is mid, the lyrics are trite ("I can't go but I can't stay/I'm stuck in the middle and it's a crazy place") and the song never threatens to get very exciting.

A dense fog of strings hangs menacingly over the whole affair, presumably to make it atmospheric and stirring, but it has the effect of making the whole thing seem very, very damp. Perhaps most crucially, the narrative isn't even interesting or sympathetic - stuck between two lovers (one with love, the other with passion) who both treat you right, fine - but shouldn't Clea sound a little, um.. upset? Or something? The vocals are competent but marched through with the emotional investment of a newsreader. Some interest is added with some bleeping noises after the chorus, but it's the middle eight that renders the whole thing more frustrating than terrible.

That's because the middle eight is actually terrific. You have to wait for 2 minutes 40 for it to come in, but its 25 seconds make the whole thing almost worthwhile. It's not a huge departure, but there just seems to be more care in the production - with sweetened downmixed backing vocals, a more considered melody that lifts the pace without trying vainly to soar and more oomph in the singing. "I'm not seeing clearly/What's in my heart?" is given a bit of weight badly needed by the rest of the song, and it's disappointing when the chorus recurs, as it's still the same slop, with the producers pulling out the defibrillators to bring the stiff to life - pouring on layered vocals to absolutely no avail.

Absolutely no artist on the planet - apart from the Sugababes - ever manages to pull these sorts of weepies off convincingly, so why on earth whoever is in charge of Clea thought this was a good idea for a single is beyond me. It's about three parts Sugababes, one part late All Saints, stirred until fully mixed, then released half-baked. A fine middle eight in search of a decent chorus, then.
# 8:33 AM []

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Come on, admit it, you think she's really hot and you liked the single, didn't you? Didn't you? Well the whole album is that good, except for really, really rubbish opening track Hypnotic. The rest of it is gloriously massive, dense-sounding monolithic juggernauty pop of the very best kind. Loads and loads of good stuff on here, really. Everything I Hate steals basically everything but the vocals from Girls Aloud's All I Need (All I Don't) - most importantly, it has that great fat bassline, Action has a monster mind-drilling chorus to die for, Over and Out is a really daft singalong stomper and Double Take is one of those seemingly contractually obliged slower songs to finish where she lets down the robot pop persona for a moment, but it actually works quite brilliantly. The other songs, perhaps not quite as strong, are nonetheless the exact same style of synth-overloaded electro pop that you really wish you could bring yourself to like but you, yes YOU!, don't think is cool enough to discuss with your equally pretentious friends, and would bristle at the thought of taking it to the counter, lest you be judged as a masturbating, unthinking drone. Even though that's a good ten rings higher than "fun hating hipster". Oh, Holly's gloriously fake rock swagger is much more fun than the real thing right about now, and it just sounds amazing through my headphones as I struggle to sleep.

(NB: I only believe the above characterisations of people who did not buy the Holly Valance album to be somewhat true. Sorry. If you read this page, clearly you have taste and are not a fun hating hipster. I love you all.)
# 2:29 AM []
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