Various Artists “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” Soundtrack

Lorde is probably one of the most in-demand and untouchable young talents in the music industry right now. The 18-year old alternative-pop savant from New Zealand has been given the honour of curating the new Hunger Games soundtrack and boy, did she turn it the hell out.

Hunger Games soundtrack Lorde

Mockingjay Part 1 is the third soundtrack of the popular anthology and is, quite rightly so, the most hyped one yet. Just like the movie, you get a sense that each artist selected for the soundtrack needs to breathe some level of cool, youthful rebellion. Lorde herself would fit the bill quite well but this isn’t a Lorde album in disguise, per se.

Sonically, the album is a cohesive and magnetic mix of hip hop and alternative electro pop. The album opener ‘Meltdown’ is probably the best summary of the different influences at play here. Belgian producer Stromae cuts a mean, strutting electro beat while Q-Tip and Pusha T throw punchy rap verses and Lorde owns the hook with HAIM on backing vocals.

As well as securing in-demand figures in the industry like Kanye West, Charli XCX and others for the project, Lorde has also submitted a new track ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’, produced by Paul Epworth who was behind Adele‘s monumental album 21, and a spine-tingling cover of Bright Eyes‘ ‘Ladder Song’.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Iggy Azalea “Reclassified”

Iggy Azalea, one of the world’s most in-demand rappers right now, is on a winning streak. Her debut The New Classic has spawned five UK Top 20 hits, including the ubiquitous summer anthem ‘Fancy’ (featuring Charli XCX) and current flame ‘Black Widow’ (featuring Rita Ora), but could she squeeze a few more in with this repackaged edition?

It seems like only yesterday that the Australian rapper was venting her frustration on Twitter about The New Classic‘s repeatedly delayed release but now she is finding herself in quite the opposite situation. What a difference a string of global hits makes.

Instead of slowing down to record a full second album, Iggy is reupholstering her debut with five new songs just seven months after it hit stores. All in time for Christmas, of course.

The new body of work is appropriately christened Reclassified and is led by a bossy single ‘Beg For It’ featuring Danish indie-electropop singer . The song builds on the new-generation female brat pack vibe Iggy has fostered with the aforementioned collaborators Charli and Rita with dominant choruses like: “I know you like the way I turn it on. I’m out here with my friends. I’mma make you beg, I’mma make you beg for it! If you don’t do this right, you’re going home alone. I guess you’ll have to beg.” It’s a proven hit formula and not just for Iggy. Just ask Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Meghan Trainor. Rhythmic female-led songs with empowering lyrics are what platinum-gilded hits are made of in 2014 – haven’t you heard?

Continue reading

Cheryl “Only Human”

Can we have a fair assessment of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini‘s new album?

Cheryl Only Human deluxe

Only Human is the ex-Girls Aloud siren’s fourth solo offering, another piece of the ever-expanding Cheryl brand which includes a high-profile role as a judge on the X Factor, a signature fragrance and autobiography. While she is unquestionably one of Britain’s hottest celebrities, Cheryl is quick to remind folks that she’s got all the makings of a proper popstar. This has been her bread and butter for the past 12 years after all. Naturally, Only Human is predicted to debut somewhere in the Top 3 as Cheryl has never had problems getting decent first-week sales. But beyond that, what will this album reveal and add to the Geordie entertainer’s oeuvre?

First thing’s first, as a body of work, this is Cheryl’s most cohesive album since her 2010 debut 3 Words. The vocals on the album are some of her most consistent yet and sonically it keeps her in the safe equilibrium of pop with electronic and R&B leanings. Only Human‘s main shortcoming is being a tad heavy on mid-tempos, even though most of which are pleasant enough and carry some form of life-affirming message. On one hand it borders on being too prosaic, especially since we know Cheryl is capable of dishing proper bangers like ‘Call My Name’, but at the same time it is quite a pleasant switch after her last album’s peppery break up themes.

The first single ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ (featuring Tinie Tempah) is surprisingly the album’s most rhythmic and addictive tune. The blaring horns, handclaps and merry ‘la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!’ bits seem to light up the album in ways unmatched by any other track. The song is produced by Wayne Wilkins, who was behind Cheryl’s first #1 hit ‘Fight For This Love’, and is his only involvement in the project. It’s a pity there isn’t nearly enough of this energy pulsating through Only Human.

 

The only other moment we get this burst of vitality is in ‘Firecracker’, a track co-written by Sia and produced by Greg Kurstin, who has done huge records for Lily Allen and Kylie. The track is a wig-snatching and semi comical index-finger waving alert to women eyeing up Cheryl’s man. She warns in about 100 words per minute: “He love a girl who can dance, not a girl with implants and a fake tan, wham bam thank you ma’am! Now I’m lit up like a firecracker. Don’t do well with a man highjacker. My man’s so cool, you know he just flattered. But you better run girl before I catch ya, catch ya!”

Continue reading

Tina Arena “Reset”

Aussie pop supreme, Tina Arena, returns with Reset: her first album of originals in 12 years. For most of my fellow Aussies, this isn’t news as you’ve had this album for a year now but it’s only just getting a UK release. Thus, this timely review.

Tina Arena REset

The singer, best known for her 90s hit ‘Chains’, has gone back to basics with a collection of pop mid-tempos that are sophisticated and heartfelt.

Despite this being her long-waited comeback, Reset doesn’t reek of desperation. Tina doesn’t have time to dick around with fleeting trends in pop. This is her ninth studio album, she knows what she does best, and that is bringing emotions and stories to life in song. And boy, does Reset have emotions and stories. 12 years between albums is a long time, with lots of living and growing up. (Side note: check out my interview with Tina for more.)

Continue reading

Jennifer Hudson “JHUD”

Oscar-winning soul diva Jennifer Hudson has given herself a musical makeover with her new album JHUD. And frankly, it is well overdue.

JHUD

The 33-year old yummy mummy is hanging up the power ballads we’ve heard her do a thousand times before in favour of a vibrant disco and 1970s R&B styles.

But don’t get it twisted, Ms Hudson is not slacking off in the vocal department by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the upbeat production takes her vocals to new heights and puts her in the same field as iconic artists who have filled dance floors in past decades.

You may have slept on the singles she released in the last 12 months and I don’t blame you (anyone else thought ‘Walk It Out’ sounded painfully dated by Timbaland‘s standards?) but Jennifer comes to life in technicolour on JHUD. The best tracks are indeed the ones saved for the album.

Standout numbers like ‘It’s Your World’ (featuring R. Kelly) sound like something lifted from an old episode of Soul Train. You have Hudson and Kelly engaging in a five minute-long vocal showdown, spurred on by a funky beat and lush strings that would’ve done Earth, Wind and Fire proud. Basically, if they had made a sequel to Dreamgirls following Effie’s journey to solo stardom, this would be the starring performance.

 

You don’t need to check the receipts to know that this is one hell of an expensive album. Top-line hit makers like PharrellTimbaland and The Fugees‘ producer Jerry Duplessis have all checked-in.

The Pharrell-hemmed track, ‘He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, tops the bill with an Iggy Azalea feature. You’d think they would have rushed this one out as a single by now, considering Iggy’s stock.

Jennifer goes into sassy sex therapist mode here coaching her girlfriends on how to please their men. “Get what you want, get more pleasure. Leave no one, y’all come together. Whisper in his ear, it makes it hotter. Don’t wipe the sweat, it makes it better!’ she sings.

Continue reading

Ariana Grande “My Everything”

Pop Bambi, Ariana Grande, has officially made the leap from Nickelodeon star to proper contender in the youth music market, all in just the space of 17 months.

ariana grande my everything

My Everything, her second album, is easily one of the most anticipated releases in any teen pop diary this year. Bolstered by the global success of ‘Problem‘ (featuring Iggy Azalea), her first UK chart-topper, My Everything has been hyped up to be the album that will introduce Ariana to a bigger audience.

The 21-year old singer has been tirelessly hailed as the new generation’s Mariah Carey (probably much to the chagrin of the Elusive Chanteuse herself). It’s something of a badge of honour Ariana wears and flashes with pride every time she ad-libs in the whistle register. The comparisons also stick because of Grande’s penchant for cutting slickly-produced saccharine R&B ballads which has, until now, limited her appeal to mainstream music fans on this side of the Atlantic.

She’s a young female pop performer with a naturally-occurring gay male following but unlike Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Britney Spears, Little Miss Grande has yet to give us a proper anthem we can really get behind. You know just the kind we’re talking about: a huge dance track with emotional lyrics and bonafide diva vocals. Well, that all changed when ‘Break Free’ went online.

The new single, featuring German-Russian EDM producer Zedd, is a brazen, club stomper with an emancipatory feel. It’s a straightforward survivor anthem for the brokenhearted and fed-up, much in the spirit of Britney Spears‘ ‘Stronger’, Cher‘s ‘Strong Enough’ and Gloria Gaynor‘s ‘I Will Survive’. Ariana digs her heels in and sings, “This is the part when I say I don’t want it! I’m stronger than I’ve been before. This is the part when I break free, ’cause I can’t resist it no more!”.

 

As enjoyable as it was, ‘Break Free’ sadly isn’t a fair representation of the album’s soundscape. For the most part, Ariana remains quietly devoted to the vanilla R&B balladry set out in her first album. Having said that, there is a convincing coming-of-age confidence and feistiness in My Everything that urges its listeners to stick with it for a bit longer.

Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: Emma Bunton “Free Me”

This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the best and most consistent solo Spice Girl album to date: Emma Bunton‘s Free Me.

Emma Bunton Free Me

 

While it’s safe to say none of Ginger, Sporty, Scary, Baby or Posh’s albums will ever alter the course of music history like that of their collective endeavours, there is still something special about Emma’s second album that keeps me coming back.

Free Me arrived just a few sleeps before Valentine’s Day in 2004 but love wasn’t particularly in the air for solo Spice Girls records anymore.

Continue reading