Thursday, January 31, 2008

...'cause when I fall from heaven, will I be forgiven?

Hopefully we'll have something ridiculous and upbeat tomorrow, but for now, a ballad (eep). I wrote about South African singer and former Idols contestant Wafeeq's single classical music-sampling club song "Love Crime" a while ago and only finally got his album just recently. I'm actually very pleased with it; it's good--and, from what I can tell, it really is original material (in the sense of not a bunch of covers recycled from other countries), since all the songs share one or two common songwriters--well, except one, and that's the one I'm sharing. If I'm remembering all this correctly, this song was credited to two writers, one of which was an "S. Perry" (I only remember that because my first thought was of Steve Perry); I haven't been able to find any evidence of anyone else doing a version of it, though, so if you know of one, please let me know! Anyway, back to Wafeeq: despite appearing on the second season of Idols in 2003, he's only just got to release his debut album within the past year or so, so really, he's had to work in the meantime. Most of Hit 'N Go is uptempo, but oddly enough, my favorite song on the album (so far) may very well be this song, the second to last track on the album and one of the album's slower songs.

Fall From Grace--from the first time I heard a clip of this song, I was pretty sure I'd love it--really, I wanted it enough that I probably would have got the album even just for this. It's a mid-tempo ballad that uses the whole grace/heaven metaphor to sing about the damage he's caused to a relationship. "Fall From Grace" features lots of percussion rolls and clicks, which really help the song by giving the already strong melody a distinctive backing. And really, it is a strong melody, one perfect for singing along with, especially the chorus and middle 8 (I love that section at 2:22)--I guess the song is kind of "adult contemporary/MOR," but it's a great example of it if it is. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see "Fall From Grace" crop up on other artists' albums in the future--it's a great song that would deserve it...but if that never happens, it's more than fine, because there's nothing I'd change about Wafeeq's performance of it.

To buy Wafeeq's album Hit 'N Go, go here (physical).

Next up: well, I did mean to write about a certain Swedish artist today, but she's not "ridiculous and upbeat," so maybe she'll have to wait two days so we can do something that is.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Now the silence keeps me up at night

Speaking of shady quality versions of songs hitting the Internet, the full version of "Disappear," No Angel's entry in Germany's national final is out there in its full version, though in poor radio rip quality, and it's good. Not sure about the impression it'll leave on the Eurovision stage, but it's a sweet mid-tempo pop ballad with some nice production going on. I was curious and so I went to Wikipedia to see if its songwriters were listed--and they were (if we can trust Wikipedia)--and some pretty good ones: Remee (Danish songwriter between loads of hits, including Christine Milton's "Superstar"), Thomas Troelsen (currently of the band Private, also a writer of loads of hits, including, recently, "Hot Summer" with Remee), and Hanne Sorvaag (who wrote the incredibly precious ballad "Brief And Beautiful," which Maria Arredondo and Edurne both sang versions of). The song is definitely worth a listen. Since I'm not sure of anywhere where you can stream the full version at the moment, should you really want to hear it, you can do so here for the moment, but be warned of the very low quality of the audio. I just noticed AcerBen has already posted this song--and in good quality, no less!--so go listen to it over at his blog if you want to hear it. Most of the responses I've read so far have been muted or negative, but (from a song, not Eurovision perspective) I genuinely think it's a great girl group ballad, one with enough energy and little production touches to keep my attention but that also manages to be very sweet and sad at the same time. I can almost imagine it having a video like the one for "Call The Shots" (though it's got a bit more energy than that song)--I mean, there are even little shooting star like sounds.

Once again, there's nowhere I can point you to to buy this song, but you can buy their most recent album, Destiny, here (physical) or here (digital).

Don't stress, don't stress, don't stress

Jesse McCartney, in between riding high on cash for co-writing Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love" and preparing for the certain deluge of calls from directors that will start after the world is exposed to his voiceover performances as Theodore in Alvin & The Chipmunks, JoJo in the Horton Hears A Who movie, and the titular "baby" wolf cub in the direct-to-DVD 3 Pigs and A Baby, isn't disproving my prediction that his "my new music is influenced by Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna in the '80's" statement should be taken with a shalt shaker full of salt yet. The new song from him that's appeared on the Internet (you can listen to it at this MySpace) sounds absolutely nothing like those artists. Called "Leavin'", it's kind of like if "Me Love," "Tattoo," "Love Like This," and "If That's OK With You" got put into a blender along with some lyrics featuring Jesse trying to convince a girl to leave her boyfriend and be with Jesse, a casual "left left left" from "Irreplaceable" was thrown in (presumably for hilarity and in-joke, look at me referencing chart hits-ness), and most of their synths were taken out and replaced by sparse Jamaican instrumentation--in other words, light pop-R&B fluff of the disposable sort that sounds like we should first be hearing it in the middle of summer, not January. It's obviously not as "pure pop" as his first album or as pop-with-guitars as his second, and features what is probably Jesse trying to be hipper when really anyone who's "hip" name is Jesse Mac should probably just not even try (oh the hilarity of some of his early hits' remixes). I'll be beyond shocked if it takes off in the U.S.--heck, I don't even expect anyone in Internet world to like it.

All that said, I love it. I've just listened to it something like eleven times in a row. It does the fluffy summery thing so much better than "Love Like This," which I was never totally sold on--it was like it was trying to be light, but there was too much holding it those processed vocal sound effects (and I have positive feelings about both processed vocals and Natasha!). "Leavin'" really is a deceptive song--it niggles its way into your mind and refuses to leave. The beat is a great choice (thank goodness for it--it makes the song sound a lot better than the live versions he was performing), but there's a very good chance I wouldn't like it as much if someone else was singing, and that's nothing to do with liking it just because it's Jesse--apparently his voice just works perfectly on something like this.

When the song's name first cropped up as the rumored lead single for the album, it was also rumored that it would come out in middle to end February and an album April-ish, but I'm not sure if that's still the case, or ever was the case. I guess we'll find out eventually. Apparently the recording of the album is (at least pretty much) finished. As for all those "retro '80's pop," "very synth-driven," "contemporary pop" sounds I was still getting all excited about last November? I guess we could still end up getting them.

Best Jesse songs:
  • Beautiful Soul (seriously pop genius. Yeah, the lyrics are kind of dodgy--there's something about roping in a teen idol known for his looks to sing these kind of lyrics that feels like nails on a chalkboard to me--but it's still one of the best American singles of the past five years. Though I don't really hear it on radio anymore, it was one of the best surprises in the world to actually hear something this amazingly poppy on American radio when it did come on in the years after its time on the chart. The middle 8 may seem oddly out of place but it pointed at a potentially really interesting musical direction, which it's a shame the album didn't explore at all.)
  • Get Your Shine On (I don't know who Jesse thinks he's kidding. This is the most Michael Jackson-like song he's ever made [albeit in a very bubblegum way], and we've yet to hear anything remotely like this from him again. If you only know him for stuff like "Beautiful Soul," it's maybe worth giving this a listen.)
  • What's Your Name (I LOVE this song. It's probably my favorite from his first album--and with that in mind, it's probably no surprise that it's the poppiest thing on it. Yes, even poppier than "Beautiful Soul," something which you wouldn't think is possible. Teen pop that is upbeat and just too cute and fun; it screams summer at the beach to me.)
  • She's No You (i.e., the "well, we better come up with another song for all the people who loved the lyrics of 'Beautiful Soul'" song. A little more ballad-influenced. Incidentally, the guy who directed the music video for this also 'directed' the monstrosity made for Blake Lewis's lead single...and the music video for Tori Amos's "A Sorta Fairytale," for that matter. Mind-boggling.)
  • Because You Live (kind of reminds me of "She's No You," but with even more ballad influence, and, though still obviously being a song praising a girl, at least some of the more awkward discongruities in regards to the lyrics are gone)
  • One Way Or Another (his poptastic Christmas song)
  • Running Away (why oh why was this only a bonus track for his second album? Easily one of the best things he's ever done, and only rivaled by "Daddy's Little Girl" for the title of best song from this era--it really showed he could mature his sound and not be less interesting for it. Shamelessly stealing my own words from the past, "It has so much more energy than this album's lead single, and there's something about this track that feels a bit more orchestral than the other songs; it's not a rock-out or funky song at all--in fact, I'd say it's pretty, lifting. Jesse's words in the chorus come in crashes, in waves, and are perfectly punctuated and backed up by the percussion and the rest of the instruments. This isn't 'running away' as in some picturesque frolicking in fields, but a swirling, rushing escape--if only this song wasn't the only such escape on the album..." Really, listening to it again, I really think it's my favorite thing he's done.)
  • Daddy's Little Girl (either the best or second best song from his second album. Catchy as all get-out, with alarm clocks, surf guitar, and handclaps, and one of the few moments on the album where Jesse seems willing to actually have fun. Opening lines: "you just turned 18 a week ago/and you want to learn what you don't know." Oh Jesse. So subtle.)
  • Anyone (perfect pop-with-guitars chorus. Perfect pop-with-guitars song, for that matter.)
  • Can't Let You Go (more perfect catchy pop-with-guitars stuff, this time even more uptempo.)
  • We Can Go Anywhere (slower than the previous two songs but--and not just because of the lyrics--it's got a great driving song feel to it.)
...really, though, after not liking it very much at all when it first came out, I think Right Where You Want Me really is a good album. I do still kind of wish "Blow Your Mind" (which is a good song) was cover of Nick Carter's song, though.

Oh, what the heck--this post is so ridiculously long already, I might as well make it today's song post, even though everyone else all across the Internet has already posted it and it's low quality. Here's the new song in question, though it'll only be posted for a little bit since it is presumably an upcoming single.

Obviously, there's nowhere where you can buy this single or the album from which it comes yet, but I can point you in the direction of his second album Right Where You Want Me, for sale here (physical) or here (digital).

Next up: maybe that South African Idols artist.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I hear about other relationships, that ain't true--I wanna set it right, oh baby

Though I've only just finished up my 2007 countdown, less than one month into the year there are already three songs I can easily see contending for the title of my favorite single of 2008--I don't exactly need another one! Presuming it's made a single, though, The-Dream and Rihanna's "Livin' A Lie" will be in the race as well--and it's a problem I'll be more than happy to face, because surely it has to be a single. It's got radio hit written all over it and is worlds better than Rihanna's previous duet single, "Hate How Much I Love You," with Ne-Yo. I know I've written about it before, but I really want to call attention to this song--I adore it; as I said the first time I wrote about it, I truly don't think I could ever get tired of hearing it on the radio. All finger snaps and synth pulses, the song, a back-and-forth half-ballad about hidden love, is taken from "Umbrella" and "Bed" co-writer The-Dream's own debut album and doesn't sound exactly like anything on radio right now while also being a totally logical, if refreshing, extension of current hits--kind of like "The Way I Are" was, where the style of the man behind it is definitely recognizable but there's been somewhat of a different approach taken with the song. I'm completely enchanted with it. There are so many things to love about "Livin' A Lie": that gentle synth fadeout at the end, the joint chants of "inside, side, side," the creation of that beat, just the general feel of the song--it is (to use this word again) lush.

Livin' A Lie

To buy The-Dream's album Love/Hate, go here (physical) or here (digital). It's also available on iTunes.

Next up: that South African singer.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hey boys, here we are

Last year Sweden's boys really brought it with the music--which I loved. That does mean, though, that it's time for some brilliant pop for the girls, and it's looking like Elin Lanto might just be leading the first charge. Elin released an album back in 2005 (which had some great songs on it), but there's a good chance more people (in blog world) know her for her 2007 Melodifestivalen entry, "Money," which wasn't exactly one of my favorites (I put it as my third favorite in its semifinal). Luckily, though, she seems to have gone in a new direction, and one that makes me very excited to see what else she's got in store for us.

Speak 'n Spell--co-written by Linda Sundblad, and I think you can hear that. "Speak 'n Spell" is a very slick catchy pop track, incorporating a little electro and a little dance, kind of like (in style) a faster "Lose You," in terms of the proportion of each of those genres you'll find in the pop mix. That's probably a very deceptive comparison, though, since it's not going for that vulnerability and I guess there is a little more dance in Elin's track--but it's that kind of cool aloof sort of dance, not the big swooshy kind like, say, Velvet's "Fix Me." You could probably say the track is Minogue-esque. This is such an improvement from "Money," and I like how Elin's voice sounds a lot more here, compared to on "Money." "Speak 'n Spell," sound effects and all, is genuinely a fantastic track and, for itself and for what it represents, a very exciting one.

As far as I know, the only stores from which you can currently buy Elin Lanto's (or Elin, as her single cover says) new single "Speak 'n Spell" from are country-restricted digital music stores, but should you have a Swedish credit card, you can buy the song here (digital). The song will only be posted for a little bit because I really want Elin to do well with it.

Next up: that South African singer or American singer.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another chance to make it last from the start

I must just be in the mood for a slice of generic-y radio pop-rock, because I'm really really liking Myron's "Say You Want Me" at the moment.

They're a two person group from Switzerland who've got a (very) minor hit with this right now. "Say You Want Me" is the very definition of "not exactly pushing boundaries," but that cribbed guitar riff going on in the back of the chorus (what does it remind me of?) is stuck in my head. Somehow, this really simple song is also really catchy. In fact, the more I listen to it, the more I love it.

You want it, you'll get it

Gosh, do I love a good bonkers idea in a pop song. Like, "what if we made a pop song using the sound effects from...


I mean, concept-wise, that's right up there with ping pong sound effects, no? It's completely unnecessary and the idea might make an otherwise great slick pop song (co-written by Linda Sundblad, no less) seem too kitschy to some people, but it just makes me love the song more.

Plus, releasing through Catchy Tunes? That's got to be a good sign for future material's quality, right?

More tomorrow, unless I get completely I usually seem to do.

You're toying with all my feelings

So, who was yesterday's mystery song by?

Jacques Terre'blanche or, as his artist name would have it, Jacques (or, as he was sometimes known as in the past, Jacq)!

I've written about the South African Idol contestant before, contemplating getting his jazz album, even though it was jazz, based on--well, let's be honest, pretty much based just on what he looked like.

His most memorable moment on Idol was performing shirtless, apparently.

I was then shocked to find out this fall that he was about to launch a comeback. I mean, not that starring in a musical version of Debbie Does Dallas with Caprice doesn't set you up for a massive chart comeback, but talk about out of nowhere--it had been years since he'd done anything in the commercial music world. Knowing nothing more than he'd used a song by Akon, I pretty much expected the whole project to not be good for much more than publicity pictures--speaking of which, none of them do him any justice, and I do have to admit it would be nice to have more of them where he's actually got a shirt on.

Times don't change, do they? And don't get me wrong, I'm all for some general prettiness, but there is such a thing as taking exposure too far.

Anyway, I didn't really expect the comeback to have good songs to go along with it--I figured it'd be some tossed-off R&B songs and mainly coasting on his looks, and Jacques would continue on as my inappropriate crush, not as a music artist I'd seriously recommend. Oh, was I wrong.

Jacques may be talking about this as an R&B album and sure, from the previews, it sounds like it's got its R&B moments, but half of it sounds more like dance or electro than anything else--which is a good thing. And, R&B or dance, a lot of songs actually sound GREAT! It's very commercial-sounding. "Set Me Free" (keep in mind this is all based on previews) sounds like it could be on Phixx's album and yes, coming from me, that's a good thing. "Love's Like A Breeze" (which has to be sampling something, and something really famous--I just can't place it at the moment) and "Turn Back Time" and maybe "A Kinda Weight" all sound like genuinely good electronica-influenced tracks. On the more R&B-pop tip, "Freeloader (Give It All Back)," "She's A Player," and "Heist" could both be good catchy tracks as well. "Here's To You" might even be a pretty decent ballad! In fairness, not every track sounds great, but it sounds like a lot of them are.

Let's get to some semi-bad news, though: much as I love South Africa, most pop artists there (especially if they sing in Afrikaans) almost always include a bunch of covers/recycled songs on their albums. Even NKD, who I think released a fantastic girl group pop album back in 2006, did this, though most of the songs they chose weren't super famous. Jacques's album isn't without those either--at the very least, "I'm Your Baby" is a version of Danish singer Ida Corr's "I'm Your Lady," and I imagine there are probably more I just don't know about yet. Oh, well, I guess there's that "with Akon" track, but if I'm remembering correctly from when I was investigating all this back in September or so, that song was an already released song and Jacques was just added onto it for his album. One article does say Jacques wrote most of the tracks, though, which is a good sign for original material--though improving on older songs is welcome too, if that's the case.

Anyway, I've ordered the album, so hopefully I'll have more thoughts on it in a few weeks. For now, though, here's what clued me into this very pleasant surprise: the album's lead single, "I Won't Forget," released late this past fall. Here's the music video, accompanied by the music for the original version.

It's 2003 all over again! Or maybe the '80's or earlier ('70's?)? Because as much as much as Jacques spends the video looking like he'd fit right in in a boy band, there's something about the song that reminds me of the '80's--not in that '80's electro-pop way that's all the rage right now, which, much as I love that style, is refreshing. The song is just upbeat horn-punctuated pop, very...buoyant. Given the use of the sample, I kind of wonder if this is a case like Danny K's "This Is My Time," where a song by female singer Pebbles is just reused by someone else (Terri Walker's "This Is My Time" essentially taken and sung over by Danny K with some of Terri's vocals kept in place...Dutch Idols contestant Boris had done a cover earlier, but he didn't keep in Terri's vocals, hence he's not my point of comparison here), but whatever, the song is great.

Anyway, I love that version, but "I Won't Forget" is taken to whole new levels of amazingness by the 2-4 Grooves remix of it. It's swooshy upbeat dance-pop fabulousness, exactly the sort I love. Disco! Plus, I love how the middle 8 sounds even more in this version--very '80's pop.

Jacques feat. Pebbles - I Won't Forget (2-4 Grooves Radio Edit)

You can buy Jacques's album, The Colour Red, here, but it just has the club edit of this remix, not the radio edit. Suffice to say I'm pretty excited about hearing the album. Update (months later!): the whole album can be purchased digitally here and the single which has this remix on it can be purchased digitally here.

Next up: either someone else from South Africa's version of Idols or a song I've written about before from the U.S.

Don't turn away from me when I am the one

Look at the Czech Republic! After a completely forgettable entry last year, they had several good songs in their national selection, one of which actually won. I could see Tereza Kerndlová's "Have Some Fun" being forgotten on the night--one of those nice songs that most people think is OK but aren't passionate enough to vote for. I think I may end up loving it, though, even if I expect it to seem disposable to most people. It kind of sounds like someone took a Timbaland stompy beat from something like "Say It Right" or "Apologize" and put it under a summery Europop song.

I also really like the French language song "Partir et revenir" by Iva Frühlingová; it's just got this smooth sweet playful feel to it.

If Tereza borrowed Timbaland's drum machine, Sámer Issa borrowed his "eh"s, though he doesn't use them as much. "Pick A Star" is kind of Europop meets modern sparse R&B sounding. It's not as good as either of the previous two songs, but I think I like it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My mama told me to watch my step

No, wait, I take it back! Can I take back that list? Because this is obviously the best single of 2007.

Well, for the moment, at least.

That's just a low quality clip for a hint of the next song I'm posting. As a further hint, I'm shocked--shocked!--at who this song is by, mainly because I'd never guessed we'd get something this good or that sounded like this from this artist. I have my suspicions that someone else must have done it before or something (does anyone else know it?)...well, I'm definitely ordering the album (I've got that song, but I'd rather have the physical copy of the full thing instead of buying it all digitally), so we'll get to find out the writers eventually, if nothing else. As a further hint, it's someone I've written about both here and over on A Kind Of Love In in the past.

Oh, and yes, that's a remixed version. The even better news is that both the original and this remix are great.

#1 Martin Stenmarck, "100 År Från Nu (Blundar) [Bassflow Remix]"

(The low quality video below is the unremixed version; there is a video with the sound for the remix--which did get substantial radioplay and therefore qualifies for the countdown--on YouTube but it's just attached to a photo and, since you can listen to it via a link near the bottom of the post, I thought I'd embed something else instead.)

Jag köpte drömmen om ett vackrare liv
När du låg bredvid

Bassflow are (well, is, maybe more accurate, I think) steadily becoming one of my favorite producers. They transformed "7milakliv," Martin Stenmarck's megahit from 2006, into a total anthem, and they worked their magic again with the lead single from Martin's latest album. Once again, they took a big dramatic piano-led rock ballad (though one that was admittedly already great) and amped it up everywhere it needed to be amped up, adding stronger backing vocals, picking up the tempo and giving the song more of a racing feel, and throwing in electronic touches, all of which serves to make Martin's powerful delivery of the chorus lines even more memorable and harder-hitting (and make the verses much catchier and more memorable). The climax of the song--like the climax of their remix of "7milakliv"--is a radiant soaring anthemic moment; the way Martin sings "Jag blundar/Och håller andan lite till..." with the backing vocals (2:52) and the almost spit out lines "och jag vet att 100 år från nu" in tandem with that backing music (3:06) are quite possibly my two favorite bits of music this year. In fact, if you were to ask me what moment in music most stuck with me this year, what moment just thinking about it without even hearing it can get me excited about the whole concept of music, it would be that latter one.

I adore Martin Stenmarck. I adore (in recent times) Bassflow. Together, they are a match made in heaven, Bassflow knowing exactly how to rework rock music to make it exactly what it should have been in the first place; he gives the songs whole new levels of energy and power. The fact that all of Martin's singles these days seem to get the treatment (latest single "Rubb och stubb" has as well), at least for Rix FM's sake, is one of the things most worth getting excited about in music today.

100 År Från Nu (Blundar) [Bassflow Remix]

Find it on: Det är det pojkar gör när kärleken dör

#2 Shayne Ward, "No U Hang Up"

A lot of girls are sexy
But you know how to use it
You can keep me
Up on the phone all night
We say let's hang up on three
But we don’t ever do it
Ain't it crazy
How after all this time
We got that you hang
No, you hang up kinda love

From the moment I first heard (via YouTube) a live performance of this song, I was completely sold. Shayne Ward and I have had somewhat of an up-and-down relationship throughout the year, though.
  • I was super excited for his lead single.
  • At first listen, "If That's OK With You" was kind of a letdown--I'd expected a big club banger type of song.
  • However, I pretty quickly found myself liking it and fighting the urge to defend it against all the people criticizing it.
  • I eventually sort of stopped playing it, though, though the Moto Blanco remix did give it some life.
  • I LOVED LOVED LOVED "No U Hang Up" from first listen, even in shady YouTube live performance quality and then radio rip quality--that's never changed.
  • I liked "Breathless" at first...
  • ...but soon found myself not thinking very much of it at all.
  • I thought the album was a disappointment at first--it felt throwaway to me, just kind of chintzy, with almost nothing compelling me to listen to it.
  • Via Paul's recommendation, I gave it another try and completely changed my opinion on it--a bunch of really solid pop songs.
  • However, as time passed, I really didn't listen to it that much--surely that's not a good sign? Every time I did, I thought it was good, there wasn't anything bad (well, "Breathless" still isn't great, but it's not an awful song either), and I wondered why I didn't listen to it more often, but then I would promptly not listen to it again for ages. I had kind of a similar relationship with Jesse McCartney's last album, which I eventually totally came around to in about a year and a half. I'm pretty positive that at some point I'll really give the album a fair shake and I'll adore it, but until then, at least I've got "Damaged."
Anyway, "No U Hang Up" is a slickly produced smoochy kind of mid-tempo pop song with a groove that's pretty irresistible, a lovely little harp-like keyboard (I'm guessing) bit that you can hear at the end, little fluttery effects scattered throughout the song, and lyrics that could be too ridiculous or meet-cute-type sickly sweet for some people, but I adore them, kind of in a find-them-hilarious way, but that doesn't mean I'm not constantly fighting the urge to quote them. I love it. And that's enough.

Find it on: Breathless

I thought I'd let you know

Before we go onto the top two, I wanted to take a moment to list some non-singles released in 2007 that I was introduced to by other blogs and absolutely adore. As non-singles, they weren't eligible for my top 40 countdown, but to let the year end without giving them special mention and the blogs who introduced me to them special thanks would be criminal.

Take That, "We Love To Entertain You" via You Don't Know Pop
Quite possibly my favorite song of the whole year. See Troy's original post on the song and its (very deserved!) ranking in his year end countdown.

Miley Cyrus, "See You Again" via Into The Groove
Yes, this song is (amazingly and thankfully!) getting radio play but, from what I've read, it doesn't sound like Disney has actually serviced this out to radios as a a result, I didn't count it as eligible for my year end countdown, but rest assured it would have finished very highly in it, if it was.

Keke Palmer, "Bottoms Up" via Don't Stop The Pop
I actually liked her song "Tonight" for the Night At The Museum soundtrack enough to post it at one point, but I never guessed she'd give us a song as great as this on her actual album. A little electro, a little R&B, and very very pop, "Bottoms Up" is so much fun, and not just because Keke's tossing in little references to other songs; it's just incredibly infectious.

Vanessa Hudgens, "Make You Mine" via Into The Groove
This song, which Jessica described as a mix of Lilyjets and Rachel Stevens, is so much better than everything else I've ever heard from her (which is admittedly not that much). Technically from a 2006 album, but it's so good that I'm stretching the rules.

Dot Dot Dot, "Take That Away" via #1 Hits From Another Planet
They appeared on that band version of American Idol, which I watched one episode of, and I know some people hated them--I imagine their emo-type styling didn't help with that--but, though I couldn't be bothered to watch the show, the fact that Nick had already introduced me to them via this song meant I think very positively of them. "Take That Away" is nothing less than perfect synth-pop.

Jordin Sparks, "One Step At A Time" via Chart Rigger
Like Ne-Yo's best songs, but not written by him or StarGate.

Jim, "Fenomeen" via PopSound
Where are you, Popsound? Come back (at least the template as changed, so I still hold out hope)! The fact that this catchy upbeat pop-rock song was never a single is one of the biggest losses of the year; it's got "radio friendly" written all over it.

Andermay, "Entre tú y yo" via Don't Stop The Pop
Yes, it's from a 2003 album, but I somehow spent most of the year under the impression that it was from their 2007 album, so it makes the list. Gorgeously happy, catchy, and poppy, "Entre tú y yo" ends with the female singer dissolving into giggles, and that couldn't be more appropriate, since that's exactly how this song makes me feel.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, "If You Go" via XO's Middle Eight/Into The Groove
Brilliant. Magical. Timeless.

There were also some fantastic singles I was introduced to by blogs throughout the year that just barely missed out on my actual countdown (some of which, in retrospect, should have made the cut).

(Note that songs like Darren Hayes's "Casey" are not on this list because they'll be eligible for the singles of 2008 list.)

Also in terms of year end song wrap-up, I'd like to mention Laakso, who released a fantastic album but also frustrated me by not releasing one of the most instant and best songs of the year as a single. "Norrköping" is perfect.

Finally, though it will not be taking one of the top two slots, had I started this countdown at the actual end of December, Daughtry's "Over You" would without doubt be on it. I always liked the song and found it to be a huge improvement on his first two singles, but as the month passed and I heard it on the radio again and again, I realized it could have theoretically been in my top five for the year. Oops! Love love love it, though. I think it's my favorite song to sing along with in the car at this point.

#3 Linda Kiraly, "Can't Let Go"

I try my hardest to break free,
I'm so locked up and you got the key,
I'm in way too deep and I can't let, can't let, can't let,
I can't let go

Oh, how I wanted this to be a hit. And, though I knew it was unlikely, given the frequency with which my favorite songs have any real success in the U.S., part of me thought it might even really be possible--I really thought the song deserved and could maybe even possibly just maybe get Mariah Carey "We Belong Together" level success. Transitioning from that opening simple ballad structure to a drumbeat-backed epic mid-tempo near-power ballad, complete with Linda's beautiful voice, handclaps, a piano part, and a post-chorus up-and-down "can't let go-ohhh-ohhh-ohhh" that just pushes me over the edge every time, "Can't Let Go" is lush (to borrow Adem's word). The first time I heard it, back in July, I literally listened to it nonstop for something like an hour and a half, and I never do that with just one song. "Can't Let Go," which is co-written by Rodney Jerkins, never really took off at U.S. radios, though, and from the moment I saw the very cheap video for it I was pretty sure its chances were gone--it just didn't look like the label was willing to invest in pushing her. What a waste, though--it was one of those cases where all the stars in the pop universe align and you get the perfect song, perfect singer, and perfect production (yes, I'm not over the production on this song yet).

Making the song's failure to take off in the U.S. (or U.K., for that matter, though I don't think it was released there) even more frustrating was the fact that people would keep discovering the song throughout the year, one by one, bit by bit, piece by piece; though of course it's to be expected that not everyone will discover a song at once (I jump on bandwagons late all the time), the consistently positive opinions (even if not everyone loved "Can't Let Go" as much as me) and the failure of all these separate discoveries to ever coalesce into one big push for the song made me wish desperately for some sort of way to get everyone in the world to listen to the song right then. I fully expect that new people will be discovering the track throughout 2008, into 2009--I just wish we could get people to PAY ATTENTION now so the track could build some real momentum (or perhaps more accurately, since the whole world doesn't spend their time on the Internet looking for new music, that we had some big launching platform for her, something everyone would watch or listen to or some way to get the whole world to hear this song).*

Find it on: "Can't Let Go" single (only in a few countries' iTunes stores)

(Note that, for reasons that are beyond me, her management or record company or whoever originally uploaded the "radio edit with guitars" version onto iTunes, but later removed that and replaced it with the "radio edit" "without guitars" version; in my eyes, the with guitars version--it's not as if you hear the guitars and think "oh, guitars;" they're just part of the mix--is definitely better. It just sounds a lot fuller.)

*I'd be interested to know--oh, what's the term? I've forgotten it--"audience impression," or something like that--whether this song really had that low an audience impression rate at radio or what.

#4 Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson, "The Way I Are"

I don’t need the G’s or the car keys
Boy I like you just the way you are

You know how I said one of the signs of a great song was that you always stopped and listened to and sung along with it every time you heard it on the radio even if it was getting loads of play? "The Way I Are" passes that criteria with flying colors--and even more impressively so, because if "Apologize" has lost just the slightest bit of its shine through all the constant play, "The Way I Are" hasn't at all. The synth-heavy futuristic pop song with back-and-forth vocals from Timbaland and Keri Hilson is addictive, a song both perfect for dancing and just listening to. Though another song may take the title of my favorite lines of the year, "The Way I Are" has my favorite line to laughingly sing along with--I mean, how can you not love a song with "Baby if you strip, you can get a tip" in it?

If you'd told me after "Give It To Me"--which I absolutely couldn't stand--came out that two of my top ten songs of the year would come from Timbaland's album, I would never have believed you--but here they are.

Find it on: Shock Value

#5 Enrique Iglesias, "Do You Know (The Ping Pong Song)"

Do you know what it feels like
Loving someone who's in a rush to throw you away
Do you know what it feels like
To be the last one to know the lock on the door is changed

For one brief shining moment (well, several, I guess, technically), Enrique Iglesias was all I ever wanted in a popstar. Music video that never failed to make me laugh--probably my favorite of the year, in fact. A real sense of humor, especially about himself. Performances that (theoretically, since I've never seen him live) I loved (Pong!). A two episode role in How I Met Your Mother. And, most importantly, a fantastic song.

"Do You Know (The Ping Pong Song)" sits somewhat uneasily near the top of a year end list; it's the sort of song that would feel more at home tucked safely around, say, the 30-50 range. It's sort of unassuming and it doesn't, at first, second, or even thirtieth listen, seem to have that certain spark, the thing that makes you return over and over again to songs like "Be With You," "Escape," "Don't Turn Off The Lights," or "Break Me Shake Me" (well, that one just should be famous enough to be on that list). Every time the thought of moving it down the list even crept into my mind, though, something would pop in my head: my favorite lyrics of the year (see above). The melody that accompanies them. The ping pong sound effect (not part of the original concept of the song). The little rat-a-tat percussion sound. That ever so cute music being mixed with trademark Enrique "I'm so vulnerable" lyrics and the fact that that mix makes the song both more fun and more poignant (somehow, the mix of specific details and clichés is perfect). And wouldn't it be fantastic to sing along to en masse (if I'd actually had that experience, that might have been enough to push this song to #1)? In the end, "Do You Know" was one of the year's most pleasant surprises, and any song that can re-awaken your interest in the artist and prompt a whole new appreciation for and investigation into their past work while simultaneously providing something for you to enjoy in the present has to be doing something right.

Fact: "Do You Know" was co-written by Sean Garrett (Britney's "Toy Soldier," Usher's "Yeah!", among others)

Fact: Enrique has a new single, "Dónde están corazón," coming out to promote his Spanish language greatest hits, due out in March. ÚS-wise, Wikipedia, if it can be believed, says that he's filmed a video for "Push" and the song will be released with the how-many-times-can-its-name-crop-up Step Up 2 soundtrack.

Also worth a listen: Ring My Bells, one of the greatest opening tracks for an album this year, in that it is a fantastic album opener. It's a different sound for Enrique, atmospheric and attention-grabbing in a haunting way and--well, very appropriate for the Calvin Klein perfume commercial it was in. Major kudos to Savan Kotecha, Kristian Lundin, and Enrique for creating one of the most interesting-sounding songs of the year.

Find it on: Insomniac

#6 Ola, "S.O.S."

"Natalie" will not be appearing on this list--I don't listen to it that much anymore, probably because it was never the most essential cover, except in the sense that someone really needed to make a song that good a hit; the original is so good, though, that (especially since I heard it first) I'm more likely to listen to that. For me, though, what was always most exciting about Ola's version of "Natalie" was the hope that we'd get more songs in that style--the thought of a popstar doing songs in that style they'd chosen to go with for the cover was the thought of my dream popstar. In the end, the album was kind of a disappointment (though, on an interesting as well as sad note, the song "Stand By Your Side" on Shayne Ward's album was supposed to be on Ola's album but was taken from him at the last minute--don't get me wrong, Shayne does the song well and his voice is great on it, but what an awful thing to happen to you), but the second single, "S.O.S.", was anything but. "S.O.S." is the exact sort of pop song I live for. It's perfect ridiculously catchy upbeat poppy "boy pop," one of those songs that can't fail to make me smile, and I adore the lyrics. "S.O.S." reunited Tony Nilsson and Bassflow who wrote and produced (Ola's version of) "Natalie," respectively, as well as most of Ola's best songs, and makes me very excited to hear what Ola's got in store for us at Melodifestivalen, since his song "Love In Stereo" is once again co-written (like most of the best songs he's done) by Tony Nilsson.

Find it on: Good Enough (though if you don't have the album yet, it's probably worth waiting for the re-edition that's going to come out with Ola's upcoming Melodifestivalen song, "Love In Stereo," on it)

#7 Girls Aloud, "Sexy! No No No..."

I can't deny no way my d-d-dirty mind is saying
"Lover, come and get me, get me"

I'd not really appreciated Girls Aloud before this song. Sure, there were a couple of songs of theirs I liked, but I rarely ever listened even to those, and sure, when "Something Kinda Ooooh" came out I adored that, but it was with "Sexy! No No No...", the lead single for their fourth studio album, Tangled Up, that they officially won me over. From first listen, I loved it, heart and soul. It's an exciting piece of music to listen to, and not even necessarily on the "edgy production" front--it's just a racing pop song that grabs you in and pulls you along on pop-with-electro-and-dance-and-rock rollercoaster ride by sheer force of energy. It was one of those songs I never had to take a break from, that got constantly play from me throughout the entire year, and that got me interested in their back catalogue and their new album, which is one of the best albums of the year, even if it loses just a little of its must-listen-to-ness by the end. Girls Aloud are one of the greatest pop groups working today--and thank goodness for them, because pop would be a lot less fun and exciting without them.

Find it on: Tangled Up

#8 Måns Zelmerlöw, "Cara Mia"

Come closer, cara cara mia
Cara cara mia, love is all we need
I swear I'm never gonna leave you, cara cara mia
You're the one for me
When someone loves like I do
Dreams can come true
So tell me, tell me now
Oh, cara cara mia, cara cara mia
How...can you leave me now?

We're definitely into ridiculously arbitrary rankings territory by now--everything has been switched around so much that where songs come in at this point is pretty much meaningless. "Cara Mia," for example, was one of those songs that, the first time I heard it, I just could not. get. over. how good it was--I completely freaked out (add to that the other songs in that semifinal and I was a total lost cause). People in Sweden are probably sick of hearing it by now, but for me, the song still stands as truly flawless pop music. Whether you want to call it schlager or just plain pop, "Cara Mia" is just a thrilling piece of music to listen to listen to. You all have heard it enough by now to know whether or not you like it. Two things that bare mentioning/mentioning again, though:

1.) The keychange and its segue into that stop-start overhead handclappy bit is still just as push-me-over-the-edge-with-excitement as it ever was.

2.) I love the fact that though it would obviously be fantastic on the dancefloor, "Cara Mia" is a song that would be just as easy to sob through as dance through. That probably sounds melodramatic, I know, but somehow the desperation here manages to come off as more than a matter of pure lust. It's a real anthem, for multiple uses and moods.

Find it on: Stand By For...

#9 Timbaland feat. OneRepublic, "Apologize"

And you say
Sorry like the angel heaven let me think was you

One of the signs of a truly great song? When it's on the radio every fifteen minutes and yet every time you hear it while flipping around between stations, you always--always, always, without fail--stop on it and sing along. It is true that had "Apologize" not been played quite so much in the U.S. it might have achieved a higher ranking on this chart, but still, even after hearing it so many times, I don't think I can fully get across how much I love it. While it definitely should be credited to OneRepublic feat. Timbaland, not vice-versa, Timbaland's much-maligned contribution to this ballad ("all he did was throw in a drum machine beat and say 'eh eh eh' in the background!") is vitally important to my love of this song; the original version of "Apologize" would have been lucky to get played more than a few times by me--there are just so many songs with a similar feel to them, and the original really didn't stand out that much to me. People underrate the importance of a basic handclap/stomp type beat and some heard-from-a-distance "eh eh eh"'s--here, as borrowed from Nelly Furtado's hopefully-a-classic "Say It Right," they add a real poignancy and power to the song, as well as just that little bit of needed dynamism, the feeling that the song--even if not couple in the song--is moving forward.

I don't think I'll ever tire of hearing "Apologize" on the radio. In the end, that's probably the absolute highest praise I can offer for a song.

(Much credit to J'ason D'luv for originally introducing me to the song.)

Find it on: Shock Value

Friday, January 25, 2008

#10 Velvet, "Fix Me"

Suddenly I'm only longing for the hot stuff
Something inside me tells me this is real
Now I've got the vibe tell me that's the same way you feel for me

This was one of those songs that I absolutely never got sick of throughout the whole year. Some songs you'll overplay for a bit and then take a break from--I never had to take a break from "Fix Me." The epitome of swooshy dance fabulousness, "Fix Me" is everything I ever wanted in a big cheesy dance-pop song. "Fix Me" doesn't have the emotion or class of, say, September's "Cry For You" (which I adore), but what it lacks in those aspects it more than makes up for with sheer energy and fun. My kind of dream dancefloor is packed with songs like Stephanie DeAraugo's "Mistake (Jewels & Stone Radio Edit)," Natasha Bedingfield's "The One That Got Away (Valentin Radio Mix)," Kate DeAraugo's "Faded (Reactor Mix)," and this--that kind of big fun upbeat powerful hook-conscious poppy dance-pop that can't fail to leave you with a smile all over your face and a severe urge to just throw your hands up in the air and dance, everything else in the world forgotten. If Swedish backing singer turned dance-pop singer and Melodifestivalen contestant Velvet could release an album full of songs this good, it would genuinely be one of the greatest albums ever. Could someone please make "Fix Me" (even more of) an international hit A.S.A.P.?

Find it on: "Fix Me" single (no album yet--it was supposed to be released this winter, but I imagine, if it comes out, it'll be after Melodifestivalen since she's in it this year)

Tell your friends

Let's all hope that Lene Alexandra does well with "Sillycone Valley" at the Melodi Grand Prix semifinal taking place later tonight in Norway--song-wise, I think it might be the one I'd be happiest to see win, but we'll have to see how it translates live, both vocal and performance-wise (I think I still love Anne Hvidsten's "A Little More" the most--it's just so sweet and cute--but I'm under no illusions that it would be good for Eurovision, especially after seeing it performed last week). In the meantime, the Schlagerboys have an interview with her.

In other national final news, the songs for Belgium's Eurosong's first semifinal have been debuted. I think my favorite is Femme Fatale's electro-pop "Décadence." I don't know why no one has uploaded the full version onto YouTube yet, since it is out there (albeit in not quite top quality), but for now, here's a one minute clip. If you like that kind of pop-goth stuff--say, lighter Evanescence (I'm sure there are closer comparisons, but I'm not overly familiar with the subgenre)--and even if you usually don't, Eva Darche's "We Breathe" is good too. I didn't like Hannah's "Leave Me Alone" as much as some people did, but this kind of reminds me of that, only--for me--better. It's a little...floatier, lighter, maybe, which might be why I prefer it. I really hope she's a great vocalist, because I'd love a big dramatic performance of the track on the night! You can listen to it on YouTube here. I could see myself possibly getting tired of "Décadence"--I'm just not sure what my end feelings on that will be--and preferring "We Breathe" in the end; in fact, I could see myself absolutely loving it. Katy Satyn's "Magical Sensation" isn't bad either--it's poppy with some nice Irish instrumental parts; I kind of just wish the chorus was a little stronger.

I've not properly listened to all the Romanian national final songs yet (available in full but low quality versions), but my favorite so far is the disco song "Dr Frankenstein," sung by Swedish (American-born, now Swedish-based) singer LaGaylia Frazier. Ever wanted an "It's Raining Men" for the '00's? Well, now we've got one--not necessarily as good, but with lyrics asking Dr. Frankenstein to "build me a man so divine," it's definitely following in its footsteps. It's written by is "Shine," which has drawn mention in the online ESC world because it's co-written by Måns Zelmerlöw. It'll be sung by "Oscar, Lars, Alexander, and Fredrik" from Sweden and you can listen to the song here; it kind of sounds like it's got a little bit of opera influence in it--it's pop, at least partially, but you could see it getting sung by one of those popera groups, I think. Lest it come off sounding like I'm only interested in Romania in terms of their ties to Sweden, that's not the case at all--Mihai Trăistariu's "Tornerò" was possibly my favorite song in all Eurovision 2006, and that's got no Sweden connections, as far as I know.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

#11 Christophe Willem, "Double Je (Remix)"

Quand je serai grand, je serai Bee Gees

Making pop that is simultaneously effortlessly catchy, appealing, and classy is no easy task, but French Nouvelle Star (Idol) winner Christophe Willem, with his first full-release original single, got it exactly right. Can you imagine a world where something like this is the first major post-Idol single* from an American Idol winner (let alone a world where someone who looks and sings like Christophe wins Idol)? And then is a mega-hit? Dare to dream. The beat has been compared to Sugababes' "Push The Button," but it's smoother, classier, more teasing in sound--it's just got that extra edge of allure to it. Co-written by French artist Zazie, "Double Je" is hypnotic and one of those songs that makes speaking the language completely unnecessary. It is very possibly the best song of the year. Now, Christophe, release "Kiss The Bride" as a single already!

Find it on: Inventaire

*In fairness, Christophe had released his cover of "Sunny" off of the back of Idol and then released a digital download single from Inventaire before "Double Je;" despite that digital release's success and the fact that it had a video, though, the fact that it was digital-only tends to imply--I think--that it was to kind of designed to build up to this single.

#12 Darren Hayes, "On The Verge Of Something Wonderful"

On the verge of,
On the verge of something wonderful.
A resurgence,
On the edge of something wonderful

I don't think I could ever get tired of hearing "On The Verge Of Something Wonderful"--in my dream world, it would without doubt be a huge radio hit in the U.S. Failing that, though, it's worked well throughout the year as my own personal hit. It's without doubt one of the most uplifting songs of the year, probably the most uplifting single; I don't know that any other song this year was able to instantly instill a sense of hope--or, at the very least, a "you can get through this" feeling--in me better than this one.

Find it on: This Delicate Thing We've Made ($14.99 for two discs! Really, buy it; songs like "Casey" and "Conversation With God" are more than worth the price of admission alone)

#13 Magnus Carlsson, "Live Forever"

I'm gonna live forever
Don't you ever forget
That all the stars in heaven
Will shine for me

Throw Bosson and a-ha's "Take On Me" in a blender, and what do you get? Nothing less than one of the best songs of the year. Swedish singer and former Alcazar and Barbados member Magnus Carlsson debuted this '80's sounding pure pop song that's all swooshes and sparkles and soaring across galaxies at 2007's Melodifestivalen, where it was robbed, failing to make it out of the semifinal. Luckily, even if they wouldn't vote for it at Melodifestivalen, the Swedish public must have realized how great a song it was; when he presented votes at the final, Magnus was met with a huge cheer and "Live Forever" went on to be a commercial and radio hit. Its associated video is bizarrely ridiculous sense and I love it, especially the reference to a certain song that "Live Forever" always draws comparisons to.

I have to admit, though, that I would've loved to see some different follow up singles. The second single, released in August, was "Waves Of Love," but in my eyes, "Crazy Summer Nights" was screaming out to be a summer hit--it's a perfect and perfectly fun pop song that deserved to be playing on radios across Sweden in the summer months. The third single from the album was the late November-released "Another Rainbow," which to me feels kind of predictable as a song--it just doesn't have that certain "spark." I'm not sure how it would've faired on radio, but to me, "Don't You Worry"--one of my overall favorite songs of the year--would've been a lovely near-Christmas release. It's also one of the year's sweetest, happiest, and most reassuring songs--once again, literally perfect pop. And yes, it definitely has that spark (as does album bonus track "What About Love," which I really can't believe was relegated to bonus track status--another of the year's absolute best songs, and it also features the line that might as well be my slogan for this blog: "This is not a cliché, just my feelings today")--it sounds exactly like that swoony kind of storybook love, but doesn't have to be a ballad at all to get that across.

Oh, and re: the single cover--yeah, not good. The album cover was much better, though. And Bosson did include a version of "Live Forever" on his album, but his version really wasn't very good at all, much as I love him.

Don't You Worry

Find it on: Live Forever - The Album (I wouldn't call the album a must-own because some of the songs, to me, lack that certain "spark," as I said with "Another Rainbow"--very template-ish--but the highs are very high)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

#14 Lethal Bizzle, "Police On My Back"

Like, I had to pack that all in obviously 'coz of the music but like,
One time I got chased by helicopters, police, police dogs
Like I got away though but, but listen to what happened though look, look

Possibly the year's biggest giddy sugar rush of a song, and it's a combination of rap, grime, and indie. Propelled by a Equals-as-done-by-the-Clash sample which I initially thought meant this was case in point for how if the sample's good enough the rest of the song doesn't matter, "Police On My Back" actually benefits enormously from how fantastic a narrator Lethal Bizzle is; he's funny (the moment when he actually mimics a heartbeat and the point at which he pretty much just stops rapping and tells us "I just...walked home!" being just two of many high points) and knows just which words to emphasize to help the song pop. In other words, a genuinely inspired use of sample isn't the only thing this song has going for it; it's got one of the year's most engaging vocal performances as well.

Police On My Back

Find it on: Back To Bizznizz

(FYI, this song could so easily be #1 on the list--I listen to it so often, it never fails to make me smile, and I would be beyond thrilled if we had it on U.S. radio.)

#15 Danny, "Tokyo"

Sleepless nights
My eyes are open but I must be dreaming
You and I
We play it cool but underneath we're steaming

There we were, in the middle of Melodifestivalen season, when suddenly, out of nowhere (well, I guess that's arguable--the singer was on Idol and the writers have done quite a lot of other famous--at least in Sweden--songs, including September's, but seeing a great non-Melodifestivalen song come out right at that time and do so well was a pleasant surprise), there it was: one of the year's best songs. I think I've probably written more than enough about Danny here and elsewhere, so for now, I'll leave it at this: "Tokyo" is a big cheesy dance-pop song with one of the year's best key changes that's fun from the first listen but then sticks with you longer than you think it will.

Find it on: Heart.Beats

Four footsteps leave the disco

A-maz-ing song of the moment: Daggers' "Money." Like many of the best songs to hit the blog/Internet world (see also: Alphabeat's "Fascination," back in September 2006, for example), it's a #1 Hits From Another Planet discovery. Seriously, go listen to it and then buy it from iTunes (no matter what store) or 7Digital, because it is very much worth your time. It's got one of those distinctive male vocals that immediately makes you think of the '80's, and the rest of the song definitely goes with that (Nick compares them to Duran Duran and the Human League); the chorus is so fantastic that I can't get enough of it, but the whole song is just too delicious to miss out on.

It's also another reason of why any countdown I do is going to ultimately be flawed--there are brilliant gems of songs like this out there that I won't hear until after I've created said countdown.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Everything that she needs

Two brief notes about music I've heard playing while out and about semi-recently:

Back when I was in New York, I heard Blake Lewis's "What'cha Got 2 Lose?" playing outside the Virgin Megastore. I managed to restrain myself from totally flipping out, but it was difficult.

I had less success in restraining my excitement when, for no apparent reason whatsoever, I heard Billie Piper album track "Promises" (one of my favorites on her second album) playing in another (non-New York) store a week or so ago. Why on Earth an American store would play an album track by a British artist who never really had commercial success here, I have no idea, but I got way too excited about it.

#16 McFly, "Transylvania"

Who-ooo is your lover?
I couldn't tell
When hell freezes over,
That's when I'll tell
Who-ooo is your lover?
I couldn't tell,
When will this stop?

What better way to return to the Internet world than with my beloved McFly? Wait, don't answer that--despite the fact that I really thought this song, if anything, would win over some critics, "Transylvania" never really brought McFly the major success, commercial or critical, that I hoped it would, though at least the single reached #1, more than can be said for poor "Sorry's Not Good Enough"/"Friday Night," which peaked at #3 (which would seem more than respectable, but there are loads of people out there who rejoice every time one of their singles doesn't enter at #1; plus, "Friday Night" was probably my favorite single of 2006). I'm still kind of peeved with the handling of the singles from McFly's third album, Motion In The Ocean. Whether or not "Please Please Me" should have been the lead single is debatable (I like the song and found it reassuring at a time when McFly's remake of "5 Colours In Her Hair" for their American album had me worried), but at the very least, the decision to make "Transylvania" a b-side for the second single seems ill-advised, considering it's obviously single material and would go on to be a single. Add to that the fact that "Star Girl" was baffingly chosen as the second single--hardly the way to win new fans, boys, or even necessarily keep the adoration of the old ones--and maybe any future singles from the band started off with a disadvantage. "Transylvania" was then downgraded from single to one side of a double A side single, which I'm still not totally pleased with though I am glad we got their cover of Jellyfish's "Baby's Coming Back;" if it had to be a double A side with something, though, I wouldn't loved the album's epic lead track, "We Are The Young" to be that other side so it could get some of the exposure it so desperately deserves (with maybe "Baby's Coming Back" as a b-side).

I still don't know that all that really explains the world's failure to appreciate "Transylvania," though. To me, it's one of the boldest, bravest songs I've ever heard, haunted house and Victorian and Queen-esque pop-rock that packs in a bunch of choruses, all of them catchy, and ultimately combines and overlaps them to create one of the most fun and colorful listening experiences of the year. I once read someone say that it was McFly's "Biology," and I think that's a good comparison. In my eyes, it should have made obvious to everyone that the boys of McFly have incredible talent and are capable of making pop of the highest order and of real sophistication, should've won them countless more fans and more respect as well. Ultimately, though, I guess I just have to say that, much as I wanted it to, "Transylvania" didn't connect with most of the public in a meaningful way. I hope that doesn't scare the boys off from making more songs like this in the future--songs like this are about as exciting as music gets.

(It really should be higher on this list, but since I first heard it back in October of 2006, I think it suffers a little bit of a disadvantage. I really do see this song as a classic, though.)


Find it on: Motion In The Ocean

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Just a super-quick post to confirm that I am alive, and hopefully will have the Internet connection thing I'm dealing with at the moment sorted out in the next day or two. I'll be back soon!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

You watch me, just watch me

I am in love. With this musical:

I know people have been raving about it since 2006 (it debuted on Broadway near the end of 2006, but had opened about midway through that year and had been in development since 1999; it's based on an old German play)--rave reviews and the 2006 Tony for best musical have certainly built up hype--and one of the songs from it, "The Bitch Of Living," was a free download on iTunes at one point (very early 2007, maybe? I can't remember for sure), but, not being too near New York, I wasn't able to see it until this weekend...which, sadly, means that I missed seeing John Gallagher Jr. in the role he won a supporting actor Tony for. He's moved on and been replaced by Blake Bashoff, who might be familiar to you if you watch the TV show Lost--he's Karl, the boyfriend of the daughter of the French woman (who was raised as Ben's daughter). I'm not a musical expert and I didn't see John Gallagher Jr. , but my friend who is and had thought Blake did a good job in the role, especially with the singing aspect.

I'm jumping ahead of myself, though. You'll get some people now who are upset with all the raves this musical is getting and all the statements that it'll revolutionize Broadway--a backlash of sorts--but really, I adored it--it was such a...rush. The music is very deliberately modern or more commercial sounding (it's frequently referred to as pop, rock, alt-rock, punk, etc.--basically, quality pop), perhaps not a surprise, since it was composed by Duncan Sheik, who at the very least you probably know for his '90's hit "Barely Breathing" you've probably heard. The work he's done here has definitely sparked my interest in looking up more of his work, since in my opinion Spring Awakening includes the set of songs that's caused me to feel the greatest range and depth of emotions in a long time. The musical backdrop Duncan Sheik has created for these stories is lush.

This is bedroom music, and that's not some veiled reference to the fact that the musical is about teens' sexual awakening--it's that it's the sort of music that makes you want to shut the door and alternately sing along like a rockstar and collapse on your bed so you can just lie there and let the music sweep through you. As great as the cast recording--available on iTunes and Amazon--is, though, it has nothing, absolutely nothing on seeing the songs performed live. The context, energy, and dynamism are incredible. In its live version, "Totally Fucked" is the best youth anthem I've heard in ages; it's incredibly difficult to resist the urge to jump up and sing along with the characters. You better believe that if I wasn't leaving the country in two days I'd be selling pretty much anything I own to buy another plane ticket to New York and a dozen more tickets to see this musical. If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the U.S., you have to go see it (well, unless you're really young--there is partial nudity). If you live in the western half of the U.S. or outside the U.S., find an excuse to go to New York anyway--or you can wait for the tour and international productions scheduled to begin this year. Failing that, YouTube thankfully has some bootlegged performances of the show, many of which come from this account.

As for what Spring Awakening is actually about? I'm not sure that a brief plot synopsis will really get across how gorgeous and effective this show is--you need everything, the music, the performances, the staging, the choreography, and the lighting (which is really worthy of special mention)--to realize why it's such an exciting musical, but in short, it's centered on three teenagers living in Germany in the 1890s. The show opens with Wendla's mother lying to her about where babies come from (trust me, this is a lot less cheesy than it looks written out like this), and from that lie and the similar unwillingness of parents and other adult figures to deal openly with issues related to sex (as well other restrictions) stems a chain reaction of kind of depressing events (though it's maybe worth handling that I can't handle anything with too depressing an ending and I loved this musical wholeheartedly). In short, age old story of teenage rebellion against a strict society or "the system," but combined, everything about it adds up to an exhilarating and heartbreaking experience that does one of the best jobs of capturing that awkward growing up stage that I've seen.

The key thing, though, is that you have to see this musical and you have to hear the music. I've had the songs playing in my head constantly since leaving, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

John Gallagher Jr. as Moritz performing "And Then There Were None" (the song starts a little over a minute and a half in, but that first minute and a half may give you some idea of context), in bootlegged quality--I've had "uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh well fine, it's not like it's even worth the time" popping into my head at all sorts of odd times since seeing it performed

Jonathan Groff as Melchior singing "The Mirror-Blue Night"--I adored his voice on the night I saw this, and the song is beautiful and haunting. Once again, though, and I can't say this enough, it works so much better if you see the whole show...and see it live

Cast performing "Totally Fucked"--this song comes at the perfect time in the musical, but that's only part of the reason that the atmosphere in the theater is positively electric when this song is performed. As I said above, live, it's the best youth anthem I've heard in ages--I mean, those "blah blah blah"s are screaming out to be shouted along with. Hats off to the person in charge of lights as well. The song starts about two minutes in, but once again, those first few minutes establish some context, though not really enough to totally get why this song is such a release. If you're going to see the show live, skip watching this performance now and save it for then.

The Dark I Know Well (a duet that comes after Wendla's friend Martha has accidentally revealed to her friends that her father beats her; this song [a monologue, as basically the songs on the musical are--they generally reflect inner thoughts], though, reveals that she, as well as Ilse, a girl thrown out by her family, have yet another secret. It's totally beautiful--love the piano--and that makes what the girls are singing about even worse)

More from me--whether it's more coherent thoughts on this or some other things I'm enjoying--soon, hopefully, as well as catching up on everything!