Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel - Review

I've always thought that casual Mariah fans generally fall into two distinct camps - those who love her 90s power ballads and those who lap up her trashy pop tunes. If that's true, "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" will disappoint just about everyone as the album is almost exclusively comprised of R'n'B tinged slow jams. I really don't know what Mimi what thinking. What would "Daydream" be without the pure pop of "Fantasy" or the overblown balladry of "One Sweet Day"? How insipid would "Music Box" sound if "Dreamlover" and "Hero" had been left on the shelf? It's like Mariah has turned her back on what she's really great at in a feeble attempt to please everyone. The result is one of the diva's least appealing albums despite the fact that it contains a handful of excellent tracks. Say what you like about the much maligned "E=MC2" but nothing on "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" even comes close to matching the insanely catchy groove of "Migrate" or the disco-pop explosion of "I'm That Chick".

However, it's not all bad. Despite never really getting out of second gear musically, Mimi's 12th opus is something of a concept album and as such, is curiously riveting (if you've just swallowed a mouthful of Valium). The title says it all. Each song plays like a diary entry. There are tracks about the beginning of relationships, make ups, break ups and everything in between. I've always thought that Mariah is a hugely underrated lyricist and I love entering her Hello Kitty decorated world of shameless schmaltz and so bad they're amazing metaphors. As someone who has spent more than their fair share of time on the dating rollercoaster, I found myself identifying with the lyrics more often than I'd like to admit. I just wish Mimi had mixed it up more instead of compiling what is basically 13 versions of the same song with different words. Nevertheless, I'll be importing four or five songs into my Mariah playlist and I'm sure the inevitable remixes will help polish the rest of the turds. Here is my track by track review:

Betcha Gon Know (B+)
The album's opening track sets the tone for the rest of the proceedings. It's a fairly average slow jam covered in The-Dream and Tricky Stewart's grubby fingerprints. I used to think The-Dream was one of urban music's most interesting producers but this album has left me thinking he's almost as artistically barren as Stargate. Thankfully, the song is saved by Mimi's emotionally charged lyrics. I love songs with a storyline and listening to Mariah discover her man in bed with another woman is strangely voyeuristic. I also love bit where she declares the story "Oprah Winfrey whole segment for real (for real), 20/20 Barbra Walters for real (for real)". I want to know how Mimi sorted this punk out!

Obsessed (A)
I think I'm the only blogger who loves "Obsessed". There's something hypnotic about the beats and the lyrics never fail to put a smile on my face. The song should be re-named "How Mimi Got Her Swagger Back" because this is Mariah at her most egotistical and fierce. After all, she is a corporation/press conference! A lot of fans moaned about the autotune but it comes as a sweet relief among the rest of the bogus mid-tempo grooves. I have a feeling this will sound terribly dated in a couple of years but for now it's one of the album's few fun, semi-upbeat tunes and deserves to be appreciated. It goes without saying that the remixes (particularly the Cahill Club Mix) are fabulous.

H.A.T.E.U. (A+)
The title had me worried. I was expecting a text speak urban opus but was surprised to hear one of Mariah's prettiest mid-tempo ballads. This is one of the few examples of The-Dream getting the production just right. The track is crisp and clean with a multitude of little hooks and flourishes. Best of all, the focus is squarely on Mariah's vocal performance, which probably ranks as her best on the album. I love the lyrics. Who hasn't experienced the emotion of trying but failing to hate someone at the end of a relationship? "H.A.T.E.U." is effortlessly pretty and should be high on the list for the album's third single.

Candy Bling (C-)
After starting off promisingly with three relatively strong tracks, "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" starts its slide into R'n'B mediocrity with the tuneless trainwreck that is "Candy Bling". If the prospect of hearing Mariah whisper over a generic urban beat floats your boat, then knock yourself out. Personally, I'd rather watch "Glitter" on repeat. Oh who I am kidding! "Glitter" is one of my favourite movies but this song is shit. The only interesting thing about it is the sample of Ahmad's 1994 hit "Back In The Day".

Ribbon (B)
I hope the rumours of this being a future single are false. There's nothing amazing (or awful for that matter) about "Ribbon" - it's just so bland and disposable. The production is straight from The-Dream's recycled ideas basket and the lyrics are completely meaningless. I do like the layered vocals and any song that uses the word "Boo" gets my seal of approval but with the exception of Mariah's dog whistle at the end, "Ribbon" is pretty mediocre.

Inseparable (C+)
Like all the songs that come before and after it, "Inseparable" is a pleasant enough mid-tempo urban jam but you know the song is a write off when the most interesting thing about it is the fact that it rips of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time". The beats plod along aimless and the vocal is quite irritating. I love Mariah's weird whistles and vocal gymnastics but when she gets stuck in the high register I just want to turn the volume down and take an aspirin.

Standing O (A+)
Thank fuck! Just when I starting to fall into a boredom induced coma, Mariah delivers one of the album's best tracks. There's something truly universal about a good break-up song and "Standing O" is surprisingly bitter and cutting - which just makes it all the better. I love the staccato beats and the bitchy lyrics ("round of applause to the biggest fool in the world, give 'em all you got and they still ride out into the sunset with the next girl"). Best of all is the genuinely catchy chorus. This should be a future single. "Standing O" has a rawness that the rest of the album is missing.

It's A Wrap (D-)
You know a song is fucked when the most interesting thing about it is the sound of champagne being poured in the intro. On the bright side, I'm guessing this is a bona fide cure for insomnia.

Up Out My Face (A+)
Hell, yes! This is more like it. Think of "Up Out My Face" as the flip side of "Standing O". Instead of Mariah being the dumpee, this time she's kicking her useless man to the curb and using some of the best lyrics of 2009 to do it. Mimi deserves a Grammy for the line "if we were two Lego blocks even a Harvard University graduate in class of 2010 couldn't put us back together again" alone. That shit gives me the giggles every time! It's a treat to hear a semi-uptempo track, particularly one with a bit of venom and attitude. With a decent remix this could be burning up gay clubs across the globe in the not too distant future.

Up Out My Face (The Reprise)
Hasn't Janet Jackson proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that interludes are always a bad idea?

More Than Just Friends (B-)
Another nice, if totally forgettable slow jam. I like the sample of Biggie's "One More Try" (which in turn samples DeBarge's "Stay With Me") but the track is still DOA. I think The-Dream and Tricky Stewart deserve a lot of the blame. I hate it when producers try to suffocate an artist in their sound (see Timbaland/Madonna on "Hard Candy") instead of tailoring the beats to an artist's existing style (see Timbaland/Nelly Furtado on "Loose"). This just sounds like every other record The-Dream has ever produced and Mariah deserves better than a Christina Milian B-side.

The Impossible (C-)
Yawn. This is just lazy. An incredibly annoying guitar loop and stupid lyrics about loving someone "like free money" do not a good song make. Who exactly is this song aimed at? Old Lambs suffering from marijuana psychosis? This could have easily been a big ballad but Mimi all but whispers the words until the last verse. It's nice that she's trying to show restraint but this is ridiculous.

The Impossible (The Reprise)

Angel (Prelude)
These interludes are seriously annoying.

Angels Cry (A+)
I know it's pure schmaltz and completely ridiculous but I love this cheesy shit. It's the closest thing to an old school ballad and stands out like a sore thumb on the album. The lyrics are completely over the top but they appeal to the hopeless romantic in me. "Angels Cry" is the kind of even too cliched for Hallmark rubbish that would make me cry if I someone sent it to me. It's nice to hear Mariah finally sing for a change instead of whispering. This is probably the only song (with the exception of the Foreigner cover) that will appeal to Mimi's army of housewife fans. Perhaps dusting it off as a Christmas single would be wise.

Languishing (The Interlude)
Now this is just getting vindictive.

I Want To Know What Love Is (B-)
I want to love this. On paper it sounds like a great idea. Mariah + choir + 80s classic should equal worldwide #1 smash. Instead it comes off as completely stale and boring. Where is the emotion? Where is the huge vocal delivery that fans have come to know and love? Why does she sound so utterly fucking bored? On the bright side, this is the only song on the album where you can actually hear musical instruments so I guess that's something. A disappointing end to a disappointing album.

Mandy Kane - Interview

When I'm asked to list my favourite Australian pop stars, I always mention Mandy Kane - which seems to confuse just about everyone. For those of you who missed his brief but brilliant stint as Australia's first and (most probably) last Goth teen idol, Mandy Kane pretty much turned the music industry upside down for a few glorious months in 2003 - 2004. I still remember the first time I saw Mandy on TV singing his catchy suicide anthem "Stab". He was completely unique at the time with his crazy hair and make up. I was instantly captivated by his image and fell in love with his hugely underrated debut album, which despite the alternative packaging is a treasure trove of pop gems. To this day, I still listen to tracks like "Mannequin Ball" and "Spastic Annie" on an almost weekly basis. The album has really stood the test of time but Mandy hasn't been resting on his laurels. I recently tracked him down on Myspace and was genuinely stoked when he agreed to an interview. Check it out below:

My taste is pretty fucking gay but “Tragic Daydreams” made me put away my Kylie CDs for at least a couple weeks. I had never heard or seen anyone like you. Did you feel like the odd man out on the Australian music scene?
Well, I once lived with a boy who liked to play Kylie every day, and he would not have put those CDs away in favour of mine for a couple of days let alone weeks, so that’s very flattering of you! Yes, it seems that I am somewhat of a black sheep amongst the Australian music community, but I think people are gradually accepting that I am not just one of those artists who appears on the cover of teen magazines one month and is never heard of again. I write, produce other acts and run a label amongst other things. I am Mandy Kane, and I’m here to stay.

Can you tell me a bit about the recording process? Why did you bring in Tony Espie? Was Chris Vrenna’s production too dark?
Chris Vrenna and I did some great work together. I actually don’t think it was dark enough! We are still friends and I see him whenever he comes out here or I go over to LA. He’s coming out in October with Manson, actually. I learned so much from him, because he was one of the few producers I worked with who actually took the time to teach me things that you just couldn’t ever learn anywhere else. Tony was brought in to mix the entire project, which was more about sonics than anything. He also taught me a lot in that area. I’m as interested in the architecture of sound as I am in music composition. To me, the two are intertwined.

I really connected with your image but you also received a lot of flack about it. Were you just ahead of your time, particularly now that Lady GaGa parades around in garbage bags and Empire Of The Sun look like drag queens from Nimbin?
Yes, it was just a matter of timing, really. All of these guys like Empire of the Sun were around when I was with Warner, under different guises, and we shared the same influences. I was just one of the first to come out and do it for real – particularly in this territory. Now, we’re back to wearing outlandish costumes and referencing the 80s in the commercial realm. I quite like a lot of it, but I’m certainly aware (and will not deny) of the impact I had on the scene before the reemergence of this type of culture. I’m happy to be the leader of the pack, if that’s what they want or need, but ultimately I just do what feels right at the time.

As you can probably tell, “Tragic Daydreams” really rocked my world. I loved it then and still listen to it all the time. It’s been 5 years. What do you make of the album now?
Thanks, that really means a lot. I certainly feel like it represents snapshots of my youth, rather than being a complete album. That frustrates me, because I don’t feel I’ve actually make an album yet – a collection of songs that you can listen to in sequence and feel that they contribute to creating a greater entity. I will make that record one day, and I’m not going to release anything else until I’m satisfied that I’ve fully realised my vision. I don’t want to release a whole lot of average material, but rather complete albums that have a genuine impact on people and the Universe. I believe that’s why we are on this planet – to document and to transmit thoughts, ideas and emotions. Music is the most effective and universal form of communication, and that’s why I’ve chosen this path. I’m not sure who’s listening out there, but someone or something is sure to be.

I always thought the single choices were really strange - as was the promotion. I remember seeing you in TV Hits and other teen mags, yet you released a relatively uncommercial suicide anthem as your debut single. Is it fair to say that Warner didn't really know what to do with you?
Combining the business of music with the art is always a challenge. It is fair to say Warner didn’t know what to do with me – they openly admit this, but that’s not to criticise them for the choices they made. We were all involved in discussions with regard to single choices and image, but ultimately no matter what we did at the time it wouldn’t have worked. People weren’t ready to receive that sort of information, and I still don’t think they are. It’s going to take a long time to get my message across, and to find a receptive audience. I’m fully prepared for that. But we’re growing in numbers, and these next few years are going to be crucial in building the foundations for a beautiful and bold new movement in our society. We’ll start seeing changes soon. I’m not the only one out there working at this.

My all time favourite Mandy Kane anthem - actually, one of my favourite songs in general - is "The Mannequin Ball". I think it's one of the most romantic and beautiful songs ever written. Was it ever considered as a single? I feel like there should be some twisted Tim Burton animated video clip to go along with it.
Sure, “The Mannequin Ball” is probably one of the songs I am happiest with on that record. Absolutely – it’s about nostalgia, and love, and loss. And magic. One day Tim Burton and I will do some wonderful work together, I hope.

Have you heard Audrey Lander's "Ballerina"? It's the G-rated Disney equivalent of "The Mannequin Ball" but it's still a sweet addition to the highly underrated 'love with inanimate objects' genre!
Wow, I hadn’t heard that until now! The story of the Mannequin coming to life is certainly a winner, and has been told in many different ways. Remember the 80s film, ‘Mannequin’? The story of ‘The Mannequin Ball’ takes the listener through the emotions of love and loss, and makes us question our perception of time and its relevance in our lives.

My other favourite song from the album is the amazing "Spastic Annie". I think it's lovely and uplifting but the lyrics about a disabled girl touching herself garnered a lot of controversy. Is the song's message that everyone needs/deserves some loving?
Thanks! “Spastic Annie” is definitely about everybody deserving to be treated equally, despite their circumstances. The funny thing is, the lyric is actually “She talks to herself, ‘coz there’s nobody else who listens to who crazy little words”, but so many people mistake it for “She touches herself…”. I don’t mind either way. Let Annie have a bit of a fiddle if she wants, I say – the rest of us do!

I don't know how to put this delicately, so I'll just ask. Did you ever officially come out? All of a sudden I started reading about “queer musician Mandy Kane” on gay websites and now you’re presenting on Joy FM. Did I miss something?
I don’t really understand the whole ‘coming out’ scenario. People seem to make such a big deal about publically admitting that they are gay. I was just born this way. I’ve always connected with boys and girls on an intimate level. But, I’d have to say that I definitely have a preference for the male of the species. It’s just a personal choice based upon what I feel and on my desires. One level of attraction is purely physical, which to me is like selecting your favourite cut of meat off of a menu, and the other is more an intellectual and emotional understanding. I guess we’re all searching for a partner who is a combination of the two, but that’s quite a challenge. In answer to your question, I don’t represent gay culture, but I won’t deny that my preference is for men and I totally embrace all forms of sexual expression so long as everything is fully consensual and nobody is hurt in the process.

Did you have to hide your sexuality during the “Tragic Daydreams” period? Or was it a non-issue?
No, I never hid much at all! Maybe I said too much, but fuck it. Art is art and I’d be lying to myself and everyone else if I compromised the truth.

After the album was released and failed to meet Warner's commercial expectations, you left pretty quickly for England. Is it fair to say that you were trying to escape the aftermath? It must have been liberating to start again in a country where you were relatively unknown.
The UK is where I’d like to live eventually. I’m actually in the process of doing all the paperwork. I find that the art/music scene over there is so much more vibrant and cutting edge. Australia is a beautiful country, and is home to me, but it would kill me to stay here forever. I’ve got too much British blood pumping through my veins.

I still remember seeing “Hanky Panky” on Channel V for the first time and wondering what the fuck had happened to my old Mandy! Your sound had completely changed – was it a natural progression for you? Was there ever an album recorded to go along with the EP?

Yes, indeed. There have been several albums made and scrapped since “Tragic Daydreams” was released. I will know when I’ve made the record I want to release. But, it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I’ve been producing lots of other bands. I like the ability to hear the music and play with it from an outsider’s perspective. I can get too close to my own work.

What made you decide to return home?
Well, I never stayed overseas very long. I had to come home. When I get my VISA sorted, that will change. I’m really just building capital here until I can leave again.

You made a comeback this year with the incredibly fucking brilliant "25 Seconds". I love your new dirty electro sound. Is there an album on the way?
Thanks! Yes, Gary Numan and Ade Fenton really did a great job remixing that track. That was a one off, really. As I say, I don’t think there’ll be any more material out there until I’m ready to release a full LP.

What was it like touring with Gary Numan? You must have some stories!
I never actually toured with Numan. My communication with the boys had me secured on the bill, and we were all good to go. However, there was some internal politics on the business side of things. Being who I am, I’m always susceptible to sabotage. I know who those responsible are. There are plenty more opportunities out there, and nobody can stand in the way of talent and success. Those fuckers will sort themselves out with their own destructive tendencies, anyway. I’ll just get on with it – keep loving life and making records! And one day, they’ll be the ones lining up outside my dressing room begging to give me a blow job. And that thought, my friend, is what keeps me going.

Take a walk down memory lane and watch Mandy perform "Stab" circa 2003

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pop Panel - Week 20

I really can't believe this is the 20th Pop Panel. I'll do something a bit special to celebrate that semi-disturbing achievement next week but I'm still buzzing about actually having a great winner for a change. My faves don't usually win but they came in first and second this week, so I think I should go and buy a lottery ticket. As for the rest of the field, well it's pretty fucking boring. Particularly the disgusting excuse for a pop star that came in last. Seriously, I'll need to disinfect Pop Trash Addicts after featuring that SKANK WHORE on my blog! Ok, rant over. The following bloggers helped me determine our 20th single of the week:

D'Luv (US) writer of Chart Rigger
Mike (Aus) author of this classy blog.
Paul (UK) writer of Fizzy Pop
Poster Girl (US) writer of Poster Girl
Rob (UK) writer of Don't Stop The Pop
Tommie (Sweden) writer of Donna Martin Graduates

In addition to those regulars, I've also roped in the services of:

Ken (The Philippines) writer of The Beat Review

Ken's blog is treasure trove of news, information and fabulous pop reviews. I highly recommend it to everyone! As usual, the results are ranked from lowest to highest.

Cheryl Cole – Fight For This Love (Video)

The biggest CUNT in pop finally releases her long threatened KKK approved debut solo single.

D'Luv: Christ. I finally have to sit down and listen to this song? Oh, wait — she's wearing vinyl leopard print. Ah, well... Not bad. Somewhere between boring and brilliant. 3/5
Ken: Oh oh, Cheryl. I've been a solid fan of Girls Aloud from the beginning but I'm surely not sure about Cheryl going solo. As I've said before, the single doesn't give anything but a generic love pop song. It's definitely not something we'd be stunned or shocked about it being so unique and fresh. The video is good but it's still very uncertain of her eligibility for solo superstardom. 3/5
Mike: How many black toilet attendants had to be beaten in order to make this utterly vile piece of trash? I'm disgusted and appalled by each and every second of this monstrosity. -5/5
Paul: Well, she may well be my least favourite Girls Aloud but I really was expecting this to be a lot better than it is. I would have begrudgingly admitted that she had done quite well and probably secretly enjoyed the song. This though, well it's just so bleh. Just putters along as Cheryl tries ever so hard to sound a bit R'n'B and gruesomely fails. The lyrics might have connected a lot better with the public if she had released it 2 years ago when Ashley was wanging his knob around town. Dull, dull, dull - although an excellent choice of comeback song (along with "Beat Again") for Chris Brown... 1.5/5
Poster Girl: There's definitely something sweet about this American-sounding pop-R&B song, right down to the music box notes that creep in to join the synths, but joined with Cheryl's voice, it comes across as pretty blandness. Of course, if Jesse McCartney released it, I'd probably be raving about it. 2/5
Rob: I love this. It's clear Cheryl has realized what she can do and more crucially what she can't. This slice of urban-lite pop will go down well today but if you listen to the No Angels new album you'll realize this might be been one of their rejects. It's nothing unique, original or special but it's sweet and isn't as offensive as it could have been. 4/5
Tommie: Ugh, where did this talentless WHORE find this track? In Madonna's "wanna-sound-like-Rihanna" reject bin? WHOREribble. "Fight For KKK" has to be the worst track ever! -5/5
Total: 3.5/35

JLS – Everybody In Love (Video)

X Factor rejects follow up their #1 hit "Beat Again".

D'Luv: Abysmal. 0.5/5
Ken: I'm actually not surprised on how this one sounds. I unconditionally love 'Beat Again' before and I have to admit, I've already been a fan of them after just one single. The outcome of the song is actually very predictable, you know, the typical 'boy band' song that they should sing. This is the epitome of what a boy band should be nowadays if they want recognition. I so want JLS to succeed and I think 'Everybody In Love' is a brilliant choice. 4/5
Mike: And I thought "Beat Again" scraped the bottom of the barrel. 0/5
Paul: Ah, for me, the real winners of last years show. "Beat Again" wasn't anything outstanding but it was slickly produced and eminently likeable. And so is this although far more generic boyband than "Beat Again" was. There's nothing wrong with this track per se and I do like it a lot, but I can't help but feel they could have done something a bit more daring. Marvin's arms in the video though?! Humina humina humina! 3.5/5
Poster Girl: "Everybody In Love" sounds like a song I'll have forgotten or be mixing up with other songs in a couple of years, but I wouldn't rush to change the radio station if it came on. Still, is it so much to ask for a boy band whose music is exciting? 3/5
Rob: Another Level anyone. Boring. 0/5
Tommie: I'm sure the teenage girls will cream their panties over this, but it's really not for me. It does remind me a bit of that 90s boyband sound though... 2/5
Total: 13/35

Michael Buble – Haven't Me You Yet (Video)

The lead single from the Canadian crooner's latest offering.

D'Luv: Seriously, has Sara Bareilles sued him yet? I'd still bang Michael Buble sideways, even though his chin disappears a little more with each album. 2/5
Ken: Ohh. This is a cute one. Never paid attention to Michael's new material and I actually regret it. Anyways, it's a feel-good song that resembles his former hit "Everything". I love that Michael's sticking to his material. The outcome is great but not that special or anything. I love the way it is done, very uplifting and meaningful. 3.5/5
Mike: I have a disturbing Michael Buble fixation. I hate his music but I would eat him up with a spoon and ask for seconds. There's no denying that this song is utter shit though. 1/5
Paul: Love the Boob! Although he may never top the career pinacle of appearing on Kath and Kim, this is a surprisingly radio friendly that reminds me of Boyzone circa 1999. It's very singable, very catchy and as always he looks rather delicious. I think the more that I hear this the more I am going to like it... 4/5
Poster Girl: Look, if you 100% hate that Rat Pack swing style done by modern performers, you're not going to like this, but this is looking to be the first Michael Buble song I buy - it's a pretty good attempt at creating a song which sounds like an old, oft-covered song of that style. I know I'm spending most of my time this week complaining about a lack of excitement and edge, but sometimes, just sometimes, a strong enough song is enough. No Westlife cover, though, please. 3.5/5
Rob: Ever so cheesy. This really reminds me of Neo (of Sweden) and Mika (of UK). Is this a totally a bad thing? No, not at all. 4/5
Tommie: No. Am I still on Pop Trash Addicts or am I getting more cracked out than Whitney? 0/5
Total: 18/35

Alicia Keys – Doesn't Mean Anything (Video)

The lead single from Alicia's 4th album.

D'Luv: Talk about someone who's made a little go a long way. This broad's voice and same-y piano tinkling are so mediocre, grating and forgettable, I can't believe how people still buy into Clive Davis' trumped-up hype for her. Waste of time. 0/5
Ken: Sounds like a re-work of "No One". Having said that, it's still okay not in the sense that it gets boring. I love that it sounds like a ballad and has a wonderful meaning. But honestly speaking, I think it isn't time for her to have a comeback. Maybe next year would be a great idea. The final word - JUST OKAY. 2/5
Mike: I'm a huge fan of Alicia's. She's an old school soul singer and really knows how to strike a nerve with her amazing lyrics. Unfortunately, this falls well short of "No One" but it's still soft and lovely. 4/5
Paul: I guess we know which song will be all over next years X Factor auditions then! It's actually quite a lovely little song with a great chorus. Simple as that. 4/5
Poster Girl: I know people talk about Alicia Keys as a good songwriter - and that because of that and her voice she doesn't need gimmicks or flashy production - but everything I've heard from her last album up to now has gone in one ear and out the other. I feel the beginning of pulling on my heartstrings as she sings the title line, but that's it. 1.5/5
Rob: I always sigh with Alicia Keys. Only because she's musically very shy. It's always the same old story. That doesn't take away the magic of the song. It's a brilliant track. Has the potential to be absolutely epic at times. Thing is, her first album set such a standard and I just don't think she's actually moved beyond that. She's reproducing the same record with every release. Is this a bad thing? The record sales would suggest the record company would scream "hell no". But I just become indifferent and rather numb despite the fact that she's providing great material. 4/5
Tommie: I'm not sure if I've been brainwashed with her writing Whitney's latest smash hit single, but this is quite good and I say this as someone who never cared for her past singles. 3/5
Total: 18.5/35

Mariah – I Want To Know What Love Is (Above)

Mimi covers Foreigner. Enough said.

D'Luv: Now, I thought I was gonna like this. But after a few listens, it just sounds like karaoke by an ok singer. Plus, it's flopping harder than Glitter here in the States. Mimi's problem is she can't decide if she wants to be an urban artist or an adult contemporary balladeer. You can't have it both ways, alas, in this fickle market. I think in the end, she's alienated her fans on either side of those genres by flip-flopping too much. Maybe she should just record her tits smacking together and hit the whistle register one last time. Surefire hit! 2/5
Ken: I was absolutely shocked when I heard she'll be making a cover of that classic Foreigner single. It's surprising that it's very different from the painful sounding "Obsessed" and she somehow returned to her glorious era. I love the way it sounded but not sure about it's commercial success. Maybe if she'll be singing more kinds of this one, then maybe I'll get back my interest in her. 3/5
Mike: Everyone knows I love Mariah but this stillborn cover is a giant snooze. I'm still giving her 3/5 though 'cause I'm terrified of irrate lambs!
Paul: It's like she has unslutted herself now she has bagged the America's Got Talent dude. She's back to the wavy hair and doing big ballads that fit nicely along older tracks such as "Without You" and "I'll Be There". This could have been really syrupy and awful (and maybe it is but i'm not seeing it), however it comes across beautifully - love the key change! 4/5
Poster Girl: When Nick Lachey covered Take That's "Patience," my first thought was "good job on the part of the person in charge of putting holds on possible songs for Nick, but just because it sounds like a song he'd sing doesn't mean he should have released an unnecessary, inferior-to-the-original cover in an attempt to get his album campaign to take off." Ditto all that for Mariah, though at least her cover isn't as awful as his. 3/5
Rob: A nice cover. I like it. She doesn't do too much embellishment. A weird choice for a single but it's not gonna move mountains. 3.5/5
Tommie: I love Mariah but what is her record company thinking with reverting her back to early 90s? "I Want To Know What Love Is" is nice enough, but Mimi can do better than a cover these days. Really. 2.5/5
Total: 21/35

Alexandra Burke ft. Flo Rida – Bad Boys (Video)

Last year's X Factor winner unveils her debut single.

D'Luv: Someone (Cowell, Simon) wants this to be an American hit bad. Still, it's pretty good. Much more tuneful that Keri Hilson, who Alexandra reminds me of a tad in the vid. 3.5/5
Ken: I have to admit, this track has made me change my idea of her debut. It started very slow for me and I eventually now like the track. Although this isn't my idea of Alexandra's massive debut, I'd say it did a pretty good job when it comes to likability. But I'm scared about her being just sexy and not having songs of substance. Although it's early to say that, let's wait for her album. 3.5/5
Mike: Alexandra has even less personality than Leona Lewis (if that's humanly possible) but someone has dug out a genuinely catchy chorus for her. Shame about the shit verses and disjointed rap interlude. 3/5
Paul: I really expected not to like it when it first came out, and then the utter shock that Simon Cowell had allowed an X Factor winner to release an uptempo first single "proper" sort of overwhelmed me a bit and I initially thought it was very good indeed. Time and sanity returned and it's actually not bad but not really brilliant. The Bimbo Jones mix which edits out Flo Rida is much better than the single mix. 3/5
Poster Girl: I think it was Popjustice that made the "Some Girls" meets "Womanizer" comparison, and it's one I agree with, with the caveat that "Bad Boys" sheds any darkness either of those songs in favor of pure fun. I'm always going to have a big weakness for this type of song, but I haven't grown tired of "Bad Boys" at all - in fact, it's one of the songs on my personal A-list at the moment. 5/5
Rob: I really didn't like this at first only because I think the song doesn't test her voice. But it's a rather catchy little ditty. Quite like it now. It's a grower. 4/5
Tommie: Well, at least it's different from Leona. But not as amazing as Leona, sadly. 1/5
Total: 23/35

Black Eyed Peas – Meet Me Halfway (Video)

The third single from "The E.N.D."

D'Luv: Seriously, has Cyndi Lauper sued them yet? Probably the best Black Eyed Peas single ever, though, as with most of the singles from The E.N.D., I start off liking them until about their 8th week at #1, then I want to put a nail gun to my forehead. 3.5/5
Ken: Ugh. It's ugly in every sense compared to "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling". I was expecting something groovy like "Imma Be" or "Electric City". It's totally boring and I don't get why they have been #1 in the US for 6 months. What's up with that? Do people actually still like "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling" at this point? 0/5
Mike: This is one of the best pop songs of 2009 and clearly the standout track on "The E.N.D." after "I Gotta Feeling". I love the 80s-tastic beats and the romantic sentiment. Fergie has never sounded lovelier. 5/5
Paul: Ugh. So, so, so bored of them. I didn't particularly love their current US number one song so I'm baffled by it's longevity. This will probably be the song to knock it off the top. "Girl I travelled round the world and even sailed the seven seas"! Which greeting card did they steal that from?! 2/5
Poster Girl: Fergie's '80s-tastic chorus carries the song, but it's so good that who cares? 4/5
Rob: Amazing. Usually I would love for the boys in the band to take a total backseat and just produce the records. Let Fergie take the spotlight. But this one of their rarer singles in which the collective actually works to boost the quality of the song. Here they sound like a group. I love it. 4.5/5
Tommie: If anyone haven't gotten the memo yet - the Black Eyed Peas are on fire. Listen to it three times and try to resist it. 4/5
Total: 23/35


Whitney – Million Dollar Bill (Video)

The 3rd official lead single from Whitney's much hyped comeback album.

D'Luv: I've said before this song is ok, and my opinion hasn't really changed much. I'm more interested in trying to figure out if Whixxxey's had anything more done to her face than botox. Something's not right there. Can't quite put my finger on it, though. 3/5
Ken: I've been actually apathetic about Miss Whitney's comeback. It's the first song I've heard from her new album and I'm actually liking it. It's actually catchy and very contemporary, I just hope she gets the right praise for this because she kind of deserves a nice comeback and 'Million Dollar Bill' is a good answer to those people questioning her abilities of pulling it off. Kudos Whitney! 4/5
Mike: Alicia Keys writes new lyrics to an old Loleatta Holloway disco classic and the result is Whitney's best single in a decade. I love the production, the lyrics and Nippy's swagger. Sublime. 5/5
Paul: Love this. Love it, love it, love it. Yes Alicia may not have done as much of the writing as she claims, but it's a glorious upbeat tune that is both elegant and understated. Great chorus that fits well into the Whitney dance canon and the freemasons mix is just heaven on a stick. 4/5
Poster Girl: Not classic Whitney, but a respectable comeback song. 2.5/5
Rob: Wow, very retro. Love it! Very Randy Crawford. 4/5
Tommie: What? An upbeat track by a 40 plus woman that doesn't sound utterly desperate to be hip? Classic Whitney and genius sample. 5/5
Total: 27.5/35

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bertie Blackman - Byrds Of Prey

My friends are obsessed with Bertie Blackman and always drag me along to see her perform live. However, despite my best efforts, Bertie's music has never really clicked with me (her cover of NIN's "Closer" and "The Only One" excepted) until the release of her latest opus. "Secret And Lies" is easily one of the best Australian pop albums of 2009. The move towards dark and dreamy electronica is inspired and Bertie's knack for literate, piercing lyrics has never been better showcased. It's a shame then that the album's first two singles have been so obscure and uncommercial. While I like "Heart" and think "Thump" is beautiful, I'm relieved that they've finally chosen something that radio might actually play for the third single.

"Byrds Of Prey" is already a strong contender for the best Australian pop song and music video of 2009. There's something so desperately dark and gothic about this track, which is wonderfully at odds with the killer chorus and myriad of little hooks. Think of "Byrds Of Prey" as a modern day descendant of The Cure and Depeche Mode circa 1990. It shares the beautiful gloom of "Lullaby" as well as the striking starkness of "Enjoy The Silence". I love the mix of synths and strings and Bertie's voice takes on an unexpectedly eerie quality. The video (below) captures the mood perfectly. It looks like an Italian horror film from the 70s - complete with Bertie's weird finger dancing! Make sure you also check out the TV ROCK remix, which I've been bugging DJs across Sydney to play for the past couple of weekends. Grant and Ivan have transformed the song into a stomping club anthem that takes the foreboding elements of the original to lofty, new heights. With any luck "Byrds Of Prey" should be Bertie's ticket to mainstream recognition.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tata Young - Ready For Love

Tata Young's "Ready For Love" is the best pop album that you most likely haven't heard this year. Fans of Asian pop will no doubt be familiar with the Thai superstar but her third English language album should expose the diva to a whole new audience. It's notoriously difficult for Asian artists to crossover (see BoA and Utada for starters) but Tata stands as good a chance as anyone. She's gorgeous, sings in completely accent free English (unlike many of her colleagues) and has some serious backing given the list of high profile writers and producers on her album. The result is one of the year's most unexpected pop triumphs. Songs like "Ready For Love", "My Bloody Valentine", "Ugly" and "Exposed" match or surpass anything being produced by American or European pop stars. In fact, my only criticism is the pacing of the album - which starts off fast to mid-tempo before switching to mostly ballads. However, it's a minor complaint when the songs are this good. Here's my track by track review:

Ready For Love
I was ready for just about any kind of musical direction but I was still surprised by this retro-pop/Motown influenced opening track. Think of "Ready For Love" as hybrid between "Crazy In Love" and Girls Aloud's "The Promise" (if the latter wasn't utter shit). The genre has been explored to death lately but there's something undeniably catchy about this little offering, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the involvement of Mark Taylor (Kylie, Cher and Holly Valance). I love the horns and brass and Tata displays the full versatility of her voice. The video steals rather shameless from Beyoncé but that just adds to its charm.

Mission Is You
This track was written by a bunch of songwriters that I've never heard of before(Hiten Bharadia, Philippe-Marc Anquetil and Christopher Lee-Joe) but they should be high on every dance/pop diva's wishlist if "Mission Is You" is any indication. I love everything about this track. The lyrics are fabulous ("I am no longer your prey, I'm the predator"), the shiny production is littered with catchy hooks and Tata coos in her sexiest voice. "Mission Is You" wouldn't sound out of place on Kylie's "X" album. I hope Tata will pursue this sound further in the future. Dance music could really do with her fabulousness.

Burning Out
Like every other diva with recording contract, Tata turned to Sweden to help polish her pop. The Thott brothers have written songs for Dannii, Celine Dion and Lindsay Lohan in the past but I think "Burning Out" is probably the prettiest piece of music they've put their name too. Songs about falling out of love are usually melodramatic or depressing but this is soft and honest. It's also the album's first mid-tempo ballad and as such, represents a taste of what's to come. I kind of understand why Tata concentrates on this sound so intently. It really does highlight the purity of her voice and her uncanny ability to interpret emotional lyrics. I just think there can be too much of a good thing.

My Bloody Valentine
Now this is something extraordinary. The album's second single is one of the year's best pop songs. It's another mid-tempo ballad but the mix of electronic and classical elements is jarringly beautiful and the lyrics perfectly capture the emotional minefield of a love/hate relationship. My only concern with releasing this as a single is the fact that it might be a little too subtle for radio. It's the kind of song that slowly works its way into your head after repeated listens. Maybe something more instant would have been a wiser choice but there's no denying the quality of this pop gem. The video is gorgeous too.

You know, it's strange. Everyone knows that Britney bores the hell out of me but I think I have a soft spot for cheap Britney knock-offs. "Ugly" could have been lifted right off "Circus" with its trashy lyrics ("I'll play you out like PSP, Ninetendo Wii, Sega 3") and heavy beats, which sound like they have stolen straight from Pharell's laptop. It's more than a little derivative and probably one of the album's least original tracks but I can't get enough it. I love the fuck you sentiment and Tata's fierce attitude. They should seriously consider going with this as a single in certain international markets (ie. the US and Australia).

Words Are Not Enough
Scandipop lovers will find a lot to enjoy on this album. Martin Ankelius (Pandora, Pernilla Wahlgren & Anna S) takes over writing duties on "Words Are Not Enough" and comes up with a typically Swedish take on the American pop sound. I love the swirling synths and layered beats set against Tata's understated interpretation of the bittersweet lyrics. I complained earlier about one too many mid-tempo ballads but I take it back when they are this good. This is one for all the diehard romantics out there.

Ready For Love

Obi Mhondera is one of the great unsung international pop songwriters. The Zimbabwean has written great music for BoA, Queensberry, Mutya Buena, Monrose and the Sugababes without attracting the attention of his Swedish counterparts. "Suffocate" is an epic electro ballad that reminds me a lot of Bjork's late 90s output - only with a modern twist. I love the atmospheric walls of sound and the ethereal vocal delivery. This is an unexpectedly classy opus.

Shine Like A Superstar
Oh hell, it's that song again! I believe Latvia's DJ Ella covered it first, swiftly followed by The Ultrasonics from England and the Dutch Queen of dance. My favourite version is definitely the latter. EliZe walks the fine line between edgy pop and cheap Eurotrash with the skill of an acrobat, while the other interpretations fall into one camp or the other. I was excited to hear what Tata could bring to the song but sadly her cover falls flat. The production sounds painfully cheap and Tata lacks her usual energy. It's still a great song but this is a disappointment.

Jesus, take the wheel. I'm about to say something I never thought would pass my lips. Leona Lewis has actually written a good song! I have no idea how a track penned by pop's biggest bore ended up on Tata's album but thank God, it wasn't ruined by Leona's own hideous vocal gymnastics. This is a fairly standard mid-tempo R'n'B love song but the lyrics are cute and Tata's voice sounds particularly beautiful. Think of this as highly appealing filler.

Boys Will Be Boys
Sweden's Cheiron studios have churned out more than their fair share of great pop songs and "Boys Will Be Boys" is another fine example. Written by Andreas Carlsson (Britney, Katy Perry and Carrie Underwood), "Boys Will Be Boys" is squarely aimed at the American market. It comes from the same school of mid-tempo urban tinged pop as just about everything Stargate has ever released but it's never boring or overly derivative. I love the acoustic intro and the lyrics are darker than your standard American fare. This would be a hit if it were released by any old run of the mill urban diva.

Love Is The Law
After a string of decidedly American mid-tempo pop tunes, it's something of a relief to hear this very European sounding electro ballad courtesy of Anders Wollbeck and Mattias Lindblom (Rachel Stevens, Monrose and Alcazar). I love synth drenched ballads with a slightly cheesy twist and that's exactly what "Love Is The Law" delivers. The song is as catchy as hell and definitely stands out as one of the album's strongest tracks. I can imagine this being eyed by eagle eyed A&R departments for future use.

It seems only fitting that such a great pop album should end on a high and "Exposed" more than delivers that. There are so many great songs on "Ready For Love" in a relatively similar style but this gem distinguishes itself with a killer chorus and surprisingly intricate production. However, I keep coming back to the lyrics which seem the most personal to Tata. When she sings "I'm a small town girl from nowhere but I'm making it", you know she's drawing on personal experience. There's a warmth and sincerity about this diva that's impossible to resist. With any luck this album will be her ticket to a much bigger audience. If not, I guess I always import her music from Asia.

My Bloody Valentine

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beyoncé - Live In Sydney

It's kind of scary how much my opinion of Beyoncé has changed since the release of "If I Were A Boy"/"Single Ladies" in the middle of last year. I'd always enjoyed her singles but never really made it the whole way through an album without falling asleep and was genuinely mystified by her incredible success. After all, everyone knows that Kelly and Michelle were the talented ones in Destiny's Child! Things finally clicked for me with "Sasha Fierce", which I think is pretty close to the perfect urban pop album and have basically transformed into a hardcore Bey stan. Even so, I wasn't expecting to enjoy her concert nearly as much as I did. I love her "Beyoncé Experience" live DVD and have watched it several dozen times but still found it a little boring in places. Well, I can't fault a single aspect of the "I Am…" tour. About half way through the concert I told my friend that I thought it was one of the best shows I'd ever seen and by the end of it, I was struggling to think of a better performance. Kylie puts on a bigger extravaganza, Pink is more acrobatic, Madonna was a better dancer and Barbra Streisand's voice is in a league of its own but Beyoncé pulls all four skills together better than anyone else. This post reviews the show on Friday the 19th of September at Sydney's Acer Arena. I took the pics myself (as you can probably tell).

Before I get on with reviewing the concert, I guess I should say a little something about the support acts - Jessica Mauboy and Flo Rida. Everyone knows I'm a huge fan of Jess and she proved yet again why she's currently one of the country's biggest pop stars. Her voice was in fine form and she's learning to use the stage a lot better than the last time I saw her but I have to get this off my chest. Can Sony please hire her a new stylist? Jessica is the proverbial girl next door, dressing her like a common whore - complete with thigh high vinyl fuck me boots straight from the bargain bin at Adult World - just makes her look ridiculous. Apart from that, it was a fun little showcase. I wish I could say the same for Flo Rida, who spent most of his excruciatingly long set throwing towels, shoes and jewelry into the crowd. I would have gone for a piss but I didn't want to lose my spot at the front of the stage. Things finally picked up when they started playing a Solange medley over the PA to warm up the audience (international $ucce$$ at last!) but by 9pm I was very ready for her big sister to take the stage.

I had chills when Beyoncé finally opened the show with the first verse of "Déjà Vu" and they just kept on multiplying when she burst into "Crazy In Love". The first thing that grabs you about Beyoncé is how breathtakingly beautiful she is person. I seriously got wood when she strutted down the stage in her gold Tierry Mugler corset. She was accompanied by a half naked man, so I'm giving myself the benefit of the doubt! Speaking of the stage, it was pretty simple - just a huge screen, a cat walk and her band. It was actually refreshing to see a show focus on the performer instead of trying to distract from their shortcomings with special effects and explosions. Next on the setlist was an extremely sexy rendition of "Naughty Girl" followed by two of the highlights from "B'Day". I was very happily surprised to hear the amazing #1 single that never was "Freakum Dress" live and positively beside myself when she performed "Get Me Bodied", which is one of my all time favourite Beyoncé songs. Her dancers even did the Naomi Campbell walk!

The next segment perfectly illustrates where Beyoncé has matured and developed as an artist over the past year. She's always been at home belting out catchy club bangers but I'm loving the softer, more organic side that's emerged recently. "Smash Into You" is one of the many highlights on "Sasha Fierce" and it sounds even better live. Beyoncé's voice really is a thing of beauty when she's not trying to oversing the lyrics like Leona Lewis and Celine Dion. I think she's finally realised that and turned the vocal gymnastics down a notch. In one of the concert's most fabulous over the top diva moments, she changes into a completely ridiculous see through wedding dress to perform a medley of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" and "Ave Maria". The former was a nice surprise and the latter gave me a whole new appreciation for a song I've strangely chosen to ignore until now.

The concert then completely switched gears when Beyoncé brings sexy back in a tiny leather mini skirt to belt out a pitch perfect rendition of "If I Were A Boy". The song is given a slightly surreal rock twist by mashing it with Alanis Morrisette's "You Outta Know". Hearing Bey sing "Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?" was one of the highlights of my night! A video interlude of the diva battling a leopard (while dressed in little more than body paint) to the soundtrack of "Sweet Dreams" is visually breathtaking but I really would have preferred to see her perform it on stage. After a quick costume change, Beyoncé returned to belt out "Diva" - my least favourite song from "Sasha Fierce". I don't know if it was the fabulous bikini with headlights outfit or just hearing the crowd sing along to the ridiculous lyrics but I really enjoyed it and have been playing the track at home ever since. I'll have to edit my previous nasty comments because I think I'm finally under its tragic spell. The next song is a completely different story. "Radio" is the best track Rihanna has never released and needs to be the album's next single. It's criminal to waste something this catchy and poptastic. The segment finished on a high by revisiting one of my favourite tracks from "Dangerously In Love" - the highly underrated "Me, Myself & I", which Beyoncé dedicated to all the high and dry, desperate bitches in the audience. Bless.

After ditching the headlights, Bey performed her fabulous ode to monster cocks otherwise known as "Ego". Interestingly, it was the Kanye West remix. Next up was the great but strangely ignored "Sasha Fierce" track "Hello". I really love the lyrics and think it would have made a much better single than "Broken Hearted Girl". It was then time for a new costume, which allowed Beyoncé's buxom backing singers to take over the stage. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a costume change more in my entire life. Someone needs to give The Mamas their own record deal - they are utterly amazing in their own right. Speaking of amazingness, Beyoncé then re-appeared in a gold dress and was wrapped in harness before being hoisted above the crowd on wires. Seeing the rich man's Solange perform spins in mid-air while singing "Baby Boy" was one of the night's most spectacular moments.

My favourite part of the show took place after Bey landed on the runway and started interacting with the crowd. I know Beyoncé has a reputation for being fake but there was something undeniably real about this segment. Few performers look like they're enjoying themselves so thoroughly and it was a thrill being so close to a true superstar. Hearing the crowd loudly sing along to "Irreplaceable" was strangely touching, while "Check On It" is one of those songs I never go out of my way to listen to but always enjoy when I hear it. That tune was followed by a medley of Destiny's Child's hits, which almost brought the house down. I love it that Beyoncé embraces her past unlike some other divas I could mention. I thought the next song - "Upgrade U" was a strange choice but it was fun to hear one of the more obscure "B'Day" album tracks. Things got more than a little sexy when Bey broke into "Videophone", another piece of "Sasha Fierce" filler that has grown on me a lot over the past year. The segment ended with Beyoncé performing "Say My Name" to an audience member. All in all it was probably the best 20 minutes of any concert I've ever seen.

By the time Bey returned to perform "At Last" (complete with footage from Barack Obama's inauguration), the show had already been going for almost 2 hours and she was yet to miss a single note or dance move. Beyoncé really is pop music's ultimate professional, which strangely is the reason I think so many people hate her. She's simply better than their faves. "Dreamgirls" finally got a look in with a fabulous rendition of "Listen" but the biggest highlight was still to come. I loved seeing all the "Single Ladies" youtube videos on the big screen but watching Beyoncé perform the "Single Ladies" dance was something I'll never forget. She had the entire audience singing along and doing the hand shake. I get why Kanye dropped his bundle at the MTV Awards. I love Taylor Swift but "Single Ladies" is a true pop culture phenomenon. For the big finale, Bey performed an extended version of "Halo", which she dedicated to Michael Jackson before inviting a child on stage and singing the song to her. It was extremely cheesy and I'm not sure it's entirely tasteful to sing lyrics like "I hope you don't fade away" to a young girl obviously suffering from cancer but it was clearly heartfelt and all the people around me were crying, so maybe I'm just being a horrible cynic. Anyway, it was little more than a tiny blip on probably the best concert performance I've ever seen. Fingers crossed they release this on DVD because I already know what I want for Christmas!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pop Panel - Week 19

After receiving a barrage of emails over the "shit song choices" last week, I thought I'd go mainstream this time around and just include a bunch of the biggest new releases laced with a touch of trash to keep me sane. The selection actually contains two of my favourite songs of 2009 but naturally neither of them won. Not that I'm particularly disappointed with the outcome. I think the winner is a fantastic song by a great act on the verge of a major breakthrough. The following bloggers helped determine our classy single of the week:

D'Luv (US) writer of Chart Rigger
Mike (Aus) author of this classy blog.
Paul (UK) writer of Fizzy Pop
Poster Girl (US) writer of Poster Girl
Rob (UK) writer of Don't Stop The Pop

Unfortunately Tommie was too drunk to take part this week but I've been lucky enough to snag a fabulous celebrity guest judge to take his place. Marc Massive is perhaps best known as the lead singer of UK electro/NRG band Massive Ego but he's become an cult icon in his own right due to his constantly evolving image and outrageous videos. Marc has also modelled for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and worked as a backing dancer for Boy George. Basically, he's a true pop trash icon and I thought I'd ask him a few questions about Massive Ego's new single and his celebrity connections before getting on with the voting:

Your band's new single "Master & Servant" was reviewed by the Pop Panel last week and drew some rather unkind comments. D'Luv likened you to "Pete Burns' slumped over carcass", while Tommie felt "aurally raped". How do you respond?
We received a worse battering on the Depeche Mode forum where they were all set to burn effigies of us and stick pins into voodoo dolls. The Pop Panel was a walk in the park in comparison! The Pete Burns reference is always going to happen, visually I wouldn't say we're alike, but perhaps my voice has his tone and I wear make-up. He's a mate of mine anyway, in the early days of Massive Ego they (Dead Or Alive) were kind enough to lend us their electric drum kit for a show at Heaven and Pete approved of our cover of "My Heart Goes Bang". He's definitely been an inspiration over the years.

"Master & Servant" has a strong fetish theme. Are you heavily into that scene?
I do own a pair of chaps, although I've never worn them in the traditional manner of everything hanging loose! It's never been a scene I've got into personally, but have worked in some fairly seedy places in my time including a few happy years stint as a coat check girl in an infamous London 'yellow hanky' club so I'm not easily offended or shocked. The whole S&M dress up thing is just like another form of drag really but minus the wigs and make-up. Covering "Master & Servant" and the B-side "Sex Drive" just fitted with the overtly sexual imagery attached to the single. The single sleeve design actually had a big cock featured on it until the label had a re-think!

It's hard enough being a gay pop star but being an openly gay alternative cult pop star is something of a feat. Did you find it difficult to find your niche?
I suppose coming out of the London gay club scene, in particular the more dress up clubs of old like 'Kinky Gerlinky', 'The Daisy Chain' and 'Pyramid', that's where I learnt who I was and got my first breaks. I like dressing up too much to try and hide being gay and nor would I want to. The "cult" aspect of the band I suppose comes out of the fact that we look the way we do, and when on the rare occasion we do a live gig it's more of a performance rather than just turning up in jeans & t-shirt with a backing track. I think our next album will surprise a lot of people who just put us in the "covers band" bracket. We have covered a lot of tracks in the past but we also write and record our own material which unfortunately has tended to take a back seat in the past due to the nature of the labels we have been signed to. I'm excited now about working with Dance Street/ZYX in Germany as they seem keen to hear everything we do rather than just covers.

Is it true you worked as one of Boy George's backing dancers in the 90s? Did you have to sit on his casting couch?
No I don't think I was ever his cup of tea in those days, as I wore nearly as much make-up as he did and that's not a turn on for either of us. It was a great character building period working with him and I got to do some amazing gigs. It also gave me the drive, desire and inspiration to do my own band and music so I've got a lot to thank him for.

Which mainstream pop stars float your boat?
I've always been a major Duranie (much to George's amusement at the time) they are the perfect pop group. And anybody that knows me knows my unhealthy Nick Rhodes obsession. I've really got into Patrick Wolf since his recent "Vulture" track and of all the new breed of artists he's probably one of the most talented and creative I've seen. I'm also really proud of Dan Black, who's becoming quite a name to watch here in the UK and who was originally a member of Massive Ego in the late 90s when we had guitarists and were an indie pop band. I like pop stars to act like pop stars and be slightly removed from reality, have a mystique about them and be untouchable, something that all these X Factor reality types just don't have in my view. They are just churning them out now all pre-packaged with a barcode stuck to their heads only to be dropped after one album, so what's the point in even becoming a fan or starting to collect merchandise for these artists? Although we've never crossed over to mass market appeal, or become a household name, I'm still releasing CDs, making videos and doing the odd show 10 years later - granted not as prolifically as I'd like but least it is still on my terms.

The Double A side single "Master & Servant/Sex Drive" is released in October on German label Dance Street and will be available to download from all the usual sites. Make sure you check out the fabulous "Master & Servant" video below:

As usual the songs are ranked from least to most popular.

Jordin Sparks - SOS (Video)

American Idol flop explores a new dance sound.

D'Luv: See, now I'm conflicted. Jordin seems really sweet, but this boring trash makes me want to kick her in the pussy. 2/5
Marc Massive: I don't think that works at all. It's neither one song nor the other. She should have taken a leaf out of the Sugababes/ Richard X "Freak Like Me" book and maybe not relied on such a big chunk of "Let The Music Play" to fill out her own rather bland song. Didn't flick my switch I'm afraid. 1/5
Mike: It's a crime to blend a true 80s classic into something this dull and generic. Someone needs to do us all a favour and pull the plug on Jordin's career once and for all. 1/5
Paul: Como se nota la inspiración del "SOS"/"Disturbia" de Rihanna. Is it Rihanna tribute week or what?! I mean I like this, but it's generic dance pop and I think Jordin can do so much better. She even took the by the numbers "Battlefield" and made it something quite delightful. Very disappointed in this. 2/5
Poster Girl: I really expected this to be a J.R. Rotem track: sample - '80s sample, no less - put into a modern dance-pop beat. It isn't, though, and maybe that's something we should be thankful for: far surpassing his recent output, it might just be one of the best mainstream-geared, pure fun dance-pop single we Americans have had a female singer deliver to us since Rotem's own similarly-titled song for Rihanna. 5/5
Rob: Written by 6 people and produced the mighty Cutfather of Denmark. Is it any good? Yeah, it's pretty epic and it totally knows it is. 4/5
Total: 15/30

Beyoncé - Broken Hearted Girl (Video)

The 7th (!) single from "Sasha Fierce".

D'Luv: You know it's hopeless when your song is so boring, Jordin Sparks seems avant garde by comparison. 1/5
Marc Massive: Now strike me down with lightning, but I don't own a single Beyonce record and can't see me ever doing so to be honest, it's just not my kind of music. This track washed over me much like the waves in the video. Yeah she can sing, yeah she's stunning... but the passion for this kind of R'n'B ballad slush just isn't there for me. 1.5/5
Mike: All the Beyoncé haters to the left, to the left. There are much better songs on the album ("Disappear", "Hello" and "That's Why You're Beautiful" come to mind) but this is still rather lovely. 4/5
Paul: 7 singles! Who is she? Janet Jackson? See her wipe away the tears at the beginning?! Amazing acting. This is one of the best videos of all time! The song is ok too... 3/5
Poster Girl: With a couple of exceptions, I count Beyoncé's voice as a negative on my pro/con lists for her songs, so it's telling that here it's one of the least objectionable parts of a song I'll forget moments after it's over. Of course, I still might like it more if someone else sang it. Has "Scared Of Lonely" been a single yet? Sounds like a demo, but sounds better than this. 1/5
Rob: As with every B song that appears on the Pop Panel, I come at it with very biased opinions. I can't stand her voice. She simply grates on me. So, she has a mountain to climb. How does she do with this? Very well. It seems all that over the top mess I am used to with her music has been put to one side and the beautiful simplicity of the song shines through making this one of Beyonce's greatest songs of her career. It's not a screamer. It's more subtle than that which is the key to its success. 5/5
Total: 15.5/30

Whitney Houston - I Look To You (Video)

One of the dual lead singles from Whitney's comeback album.

D'Luv: Yeah, honey. And I'm lookin' the other way. 1/5
Marc Massive: No budget video, minimal production... no need for all that razzmatazz it's Whitney bloody Houston darling... the diva, the voice, the legend. For all the comments about her voice not being what it was I still think this lady has what her countless wannabe imitators can only dream of, and that's star quality in abundance and I for one am glad she's made it through the troubled years that she's singing about and regained her rightful crown. This is a lighter out, swaying from side to side, feel good, glad to be alive, power ballad which The X-Factor TV producers would kill for as the winner's track, and that I can imagine is being turned into an Almighty Records dance cover as we speak. 4/5
Mike: Timeless and beautiful. It's far from the best track on the album but I think the message is fitting, her voice sounds great and the production is understated and elegant. 4/5
Paul: Ah whitters. How many first singles is she going to have from this album?! Again this is one of her uplifting ballads and jolly nice it is too. I for one am glad Whitney is back, find her quite lovely all over again and am now eagerly anticipating her doing a storming dance routine for the video of "A Song For You" (which will officially be a crime if not released as a single). 3.5/5
Poster Girl: Whitney's comeback album has some great songs on it... but this isn't one of them. You can see where this song would be a crowd-pleaser live, but in studio, there's no magic, just a striving-to-be-adequate ballad. 1.5/5
Rob: I know Whitney can produce much better than this. A nice ballad that the likes of Leona and Mariah would consider having as a b-side. 3/5
Total: 17/30

Jose Galisteo - Logicamente No (Video)

Sexy Spaniard and sometime gayer unveils his latest single.

D'Luv: Is anyone really this gay, you ask. Why, yes — Jose Galisteo! 3/5
Marc Massive: Yeah...I love a bit of Europop. This translates as "Logically No" but surely it would have been more logical for Jose to be cavorting around with another Enrique/Ricky look-a-like in the video, not a blonde babe or is that just wishful thinking on my behalf? I like this, it sticks to a tried and tested formula, does what it says on the tin, and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a great little Euro-pop song. 3.5/5
Mike: I loved Jose's trashy debut album but it's nice to see him try something a bit different - ie. not destroy an 80s classic. "Logicamente No" is pretty forgettable but hopefully he has more up his super gay sleeve. 3/5
Paul: Como se nota la inspiración del "Don't Stop The Music" de Rihanna (which is about as Spanish as I can manage). I'm surprised by how much I like this considering it's ye olde Eurotrash I've heard a million times before. I can only put it down to the fact that I'm off to Gran Canaria in a few weeks so bound to here this in Bar Tubos, and also I'm shallow and I think Jose looks quite fine in the video. 3.5/5
Poster Girl: Spain's dance cover-prone former Operación Triunfo contestant returns with original material which I've seen drawing more than a few comparisons to Rihanna's "Don't Stop The Music." If that beat is similar, though, the catchy (well, mainly catchy in the two lines that give the song its title, but I get those two lines stuck in my head more than I expected) vocal melody is different enough that I can enjoy the song on its own. 3.5/5.
Rob: I am a huge fan of Jose and have been waiting for his much delayed album for yonks. However this chunky clunky slice of europop is pretty awful. The video is perhaps the worst video of the year. Very disappointing. I thought his album was going to be an automatic purchase for me but with this I am not so sure. 1/5
Total: 17.5/30

María José - No Soy Una Señora (Above)

A massive hit in her native Mexico, María is now trying her luck in the US with this catchy cover of an 80s classic.

D'Luv: I'm glad that after all that exposure on D Listed, La Pequeña got a record deal. 4/5
Marc Massive: I'm showing my ignorance now as I haven't a clue what 80s track this is meant to be a cover of and I thought I was an 80s aficionado. I like the video... Maria taking a shower fully clothed is always going to be a teenage boy's wet dream, but perhaps this is just a distraction from the fact that the song ain't all that. It's not horrible just not memorable for me. 2/5
Mike: Maria's album of 80s cover versions is a triumph and this is one of the many standout tracks. The production owes a lot to Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" and "Hot 'N' Cold" but I adore the chorus and the sleazy, low budget video extavaganza. One question though - is Maria saying she's not a lady or not a woman? Judging from the film clip, I'm leaning towards the latter. 5/5
Paul: Is it the video or is the song just really badly produced? It sounds like someone has played a backing tape and she is just singing over the top of it! I'm not really feeling this at all, and don't want to waste any more words on it. Oh the chorus is quite good though. 2/5
Poster Girl: This is a cover of an '80s song? Are we sure it's not a cover of "Hot N Cold"? Oh, wait, now the chorus has gone all explosive pop-rock. Either María's singing or the song's production in the verses sounds amateurish, which is a shame; there's a good idea here, but it's not being helped by the song itself. 2.5/5
Rob: Wow. Very, very weak verses. I thought perhaps with this cover she might adapt it somehow so they're not so boring. And it takes a lifetime until the chorus arrives. But when it does it's like a sublime deliverance. Another awful video but I'll let that slip because I Love the high heels at the end. 3/5
Total: 18.5/30

Vanessa Amorosi - This Is Who I Am (Video)

Australian icon steals Pink's Swedish producers (and thunder) for her latest lesbian anthem.

D'Luv: Quick, Paul—stuff your lady taco in Vanessa's mouth so she'll stop singing! 1/5
Marc Massive: The best bit in the song is the cut up 'Lene Lovitch' like vocal parts. It's certainly rockin' on all cylinders but the tank is empty for me. And as Shania Twain whom Vanessa reminds me of once said "That Don't Impress Me Much". I, like the whole world, loved "Absolutely Everybody" but I don't think this is destined to follow suit. 2/5
Mike: Ness Ness returns with one of 2009's catchiest pop jams. I love her new electro-rock sound and really think it shows up the likes of Pink and Kelly Clarkson. But what the hell happened with the video? It's the cheapest piece of shit I've seen all year and the styling is appalling. Anyway, fantastic song. 5/5
Paul: Love, love, love the VanAm. She just keeps ploughing on doesn't she? Yes this is a bit P!nk and a bit angry Kelly Clarkson, but it's a rather brilliant 100mph sing a long anthem and she does it very well indeed. Plus it's a bit of a fuck you song and I do like those! 4/5
Poster Girl: "This Is Who I Am" may share musical creators with Pink's "Stupid Girls," but unlike that excuse-for-a-memorable-video half-song, Vanessa's single has a good topline to go with it. What should be generic female fronted pop-rock ends up being a song Kelly Clarkson's latest album would have been better off if it had. 4/5
Rob: Okay the verses drag on and it takes some time to get to that killer chorus but it's a great song. Love this. 4/5
Total: 20/30

Natalie Imbruglia - Want (Video)

Laura's less talented sister finally gets around to releasing the lead single from her 4th album.

D'Luv: Is this about her ex-husband, whatshisname from Silverchair? If so, I salute him for shaking Natalie out of her dull guitar dirges. Good song, nice tits. 4/5
Marc Massive: Danni Minogue, sorry Natalie Imbruglia just doesn't age does she? "Want" kind of plods along in an inoffensive manor and benefits from an over-use of the chorus, there's no escaping it after just one listen which is surely the sign of a catchy hook line. Certainly more easy on the ear than the first cut "Wild About It". I'm sure the track will benefit from some full on dance mixes. 3/5
Mike: Natalie usually bores the hell out of me but I quite like her first attempt at electro-pop. The passive aggressive lyrics and slutty video are particularly enjoyable. 3.5/5
Paul: You know, I didn't even know her sister was doing music! It's always been about Nats for me partly because she seems to get around a bit in the bedhopping way and also because my other half loves her, so much like Agnes, I get her music rammed down my throat. I do think she always manages to produce elegant classy pop and I like her hypnotic groove on this one. Looking forward to the album. 4/5
Poster Girl: Oh, boy, this is the sort of song I want to rave about as a stunning disco reinvention... but, much as the song is almost endlessly interesting as a topic of conversation, I can't get over the feeling it's melodically half-baked. Still, the idea is good enough to carry the song to a... 4/5.
Rob: So she's jumping on the electro bandwagon. And yet, it sounds so half-hearted. While I can't wait for the album, "Want" sounds so boring. Indeed, it is wanting. A good try though. 3/5
Total: 21.5/30

Dragonette - Pick Up The Phone (Below)

Canada's coolest band debut their new track.

D'Luv: Really great jam! The only thing that would have made the video better is if we got to see them chew tit in the locker room. 4.5/5
Marc Massive: I like Martina the singer... she's an uber kewl popster. Dragonette are the sort of band that it's kewl to like yet perhaps destined to remain a secret unless you're in the know. I think of them as being one of the leading lights of the electro pop Nu wave movement with previous tracks "I Get Around" and "Boys & Girls" being good examples. The new album's title track "Fixin To Thrill" carried on the electro style, yet this new release seems to go off on a more guitar led pop direction and because of that, loses my interest a bit as I'm a sucker for synths, bleeps & analogue which is a shame as the actual lyrics and song are quite good. 3.5/5
Mike: Lovely. Pretty and poetic electro-pop done with style and panache. I think this is Dragonette's most commercial single by far and I really hope it's their big breakthrough. 4.5/5
Paul: This is one of those bands that I sort of feel should be a massive worldwide hit by now and releasing a greatest hits or something. This will do nicely instead. It's powerful pop rather than power pop or aggressive pop, it makes it's statement and gets the job done with some nice melody and a decent beat. 4/5
Poster Girl: Synth-pop-rock - emphasis on the synths here - lusciousness from Canada? More, please. 80s influences are commonplace now, but Dragonette do everything right here. 4/5
Rob: I think this is the kinda pop I think Natalie was trying to produce with "Want". There is something Garbage/"Cherry Lips" about "Pick Up The Phone". Which is great thing as I loved that. 4/5
Total: 24.5/30