Monday, November 30, 2009

Sia - Live At The Enmore

Sia Furler is one of those singers I love but never write about for the simple fact that she's too high brow for this joint - or so I thought until she opened last night's show with Olivia Newton John's "Xanadu", before sticking random objects into her underpants. Needless to say, Sia is not your typical critically acclaimed singer-songwriter. She's more than a little eccentric, loves to chat with the audience and is very, very funny. It speaks volumes for her skill as a performer that she can move effortlessly from telling a joke about being ignored at the ARIAs to singing about love, heartbreak and everything inbetween with so much emotion and empathy. I would have liked to hear a few more songs from "Healing Is Difficult" and "Colour The Small One" but Sia was pretty hard to fault. The band was great, she sounded amazing and I got free beer from the lesbians standing next to me. Result.

Anyway, here are my top 10 reasons to see Sia live (in no paprticular order):

1. Her signature glow in the dark version of "Buttons".
2. "You Have Been Loved" sounds even more beautiful and heartbreaking live than on the album. Which I didn't think possible.
3. The distinctly electronic direction of her new material.
4. She still performs the odd Zero 7 classic.
5. Her description of "I Should Be So Lucky" as awesome when someone (sarcastically) requested it.
6. "Lentil", "Soon We'll Be Found" and "Day Too Soon".
7. The hilarious anecdotes about working on Christina Aguilera's new album. Especially the bit about being too fat to borrow Xtina's stripper bikini.
8. Her cute reminder to stick around for the encore.
9. "Breathe Me" still represents everything Adele, Sarah Blasko and Dido have spent their entire careers trying and failing to write.
10. That voice.

The 2009 Australian tour edition (complete with bonus DVD, behind the scenes footage and video clips) of "Some People Have Real Problems" is now in stores.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Stargate Poison Beyoncé

I've spent most of the week obsessing over Beyoncé's amazing "I Am... Yours: An Intimate Performance at Wynn Las Vegas" CD/DVD set and will eventually get around to writing a proper review but in the meantime I can't resist mentioning one of the (not so) new tracks on the 97th re-release of "Sasha Fierce". And I'm not referring to the much hyped Lady GaGa remix of "Videophone" - even though that trash has grown on me to a ridiculous extent. I'm actually way more excited about having a proper studio version of "Poison". The Stargate produced track has been doing the rounds for a while now but I'm still crazy about it. Taking the piss out of Stargate's unprecedented ability to recycle beats is one of my favourite hobbies but this is exactly the kind of bouncy, synth drenched mid-tempo pop jam that made them so hot in the first place. Think Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight" crossed with Whitney's "A Song For You" and you get the idea. I crave Beyoncé's pure pop detours and this is one of her best. However, as much as I love the song, I kind of understand why it was left off the album. It's too upbeat for the ballad disc and a little too cute and breezy for Ms Fierce. Anyway, strike this up as the equal best bonus track of the "I Am" era alongside the stunning "Why Don't You Love Me".

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Battle Of The Has Beens - Janet Vs J Lo

The close of 2009 finds two ex-superstars hitting the comeback trail in the desperate hope of reclaiming some of their rapidly fading former glory. In case you missed their not so spectacular performances at the recent American Music Awards, I'm talking about Jenny from the block and the ugly Jackson sister. It's been a lean decade for both divas. J Lo hasn't had a top 10 hit (as the featured artist) since 2002, while Janet has been a permanent resident of flop city since "Someone To Call My Lover" snuck into the top 5 way back in 2001. As far as falls from grace go, both have been pretty spectacular and it will be interesting to see if either one can claw their way back to any kind of relevance. It's a close call. La Toya's less talented sister is currently riding a wave of Jackson nostalgia in the wake of Michael's death but if the quality of their new songs is any indication - my money's on Jennifer. Just ignore that SHITEOUS "Fresh Out The Oven" taster single at all costs.

Before I get to J Lo, I have to give Janet some credit for finally releasing a semi-decent single. "Make Me" is basically a shoddy remake of the vastly superior "Rock With U" and pales in comparison to La Toya's genre defining masterpiece "Home" but it's an enjoyable burst of upbeat fun and avoids mentioning Jan's vagina for its entire three and a half minute running time. I'm sure hell just froze over. Moreover, Darkchild is suddenly very hot again and Manita's monthly liposuction really pays off in the video. "Make Me" could be her ticket back out of Toy Toy's shadow but I'm not convinced. The song lacks a killer hook and sounds a bit insipid next to Beyoncé and Rihanna's hot urban dance beats. Anyway, points for trying. As for La Lopez - I'm impressed. I have to admit I've always had a soft spot for Jennifer. The bitch can't sing for shit and speaks worse Spanish than I do but when she's given the right material ("Waiting For Tonight", "I'm Real" and "Get Right"), the results are usually pretty fabulous. Her hideous collaboration with Pitbull had me seriously worried but the official lead single from her new album is great. "Louboutins" (below) is a real grower. I hated the song at first but now it's lodged in my head. The Dream redeems himself somewhat for destroying Mariah's "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" with his hook filled production and the layers of crisp beats stand up to anything currently on the radio. Fingers crossed it's a hit 'cause those shoes are expensive!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amanda Lear - Brand New Love Affair

Less than a month ago I reviewed Amanda Lear's "Brief Encounters" album and clearly riled some fans (if the comments were any indication) by suggesting that it wasn't all that good. In retrospect, I think I was actually quite restrained - particularly when you compare it to the amazing "Brand New Love Affair". Before I get into my review, I should recap the situation for the uninitiated. Both albums were originally part of the same project but subsequently split into separate releases in Italy ("Brief Encounters") and France ("Brand New love Affair"). New tracks were then recorded especially for the latter. As it turns out, the French got the far better deal. "Brand New Love Affair" is easily Amanda's best studio album since the 1980s. It's edgy and contemporary yet completely true to the great diva's disco roots. A lot of love went into this release. There are subtle references to Ms Lear's classic hits and an attention to detail that is absent from the Italian release. Most impressively, "Brand New Love Affair" finally provides Amanda with material worthy of her talent. The three new songs (there are also a couple of covers and remixes) are absolutely stunning and rival anything in the charts. It's not a perfect album (I'll get to that later) but this mini-opus is a real treat for fans and the perfect introduction for newcomers.

"Brand New Love Affair" begins in fine style with the lead single and title track. Written and produced by T1 (Australia's Peter Wilson and Chris Richards), the song is an eccentric electro dance anthem that pays homage to the 70s classic "Follow Me" in its structure and quirky lyrics. Amanda sounds amazing on this and she was born to sing/speak lines like "I'm in the mood for pleasure and sin" in her sultry accent. The production keeps a lid on the camp during the verses before exploding into a fabulous Eurodance chorus. As much as I love "Brand New Love Affair", it is a grower and took me a few listens to get into. It's also probably my least favourite of the new tracks, which just goes to prove how good the others are. Take the next song for example. "Coming Up" is one of the best dance anthems of 2009. T1 have crafted a dark and dirty electro stomper with an insanely catchy chorus and irresistible hook. I hear traces of "Intellectually" from 1979's iconic "Never Trust A Pretty Face" album, which makes the track doubly enjoyable for old school fans. It would be absolutely criminal if this isn't released a single.

After a couple of very contemporary dance tracks, Amanda throws her trashy fans a bone in the form of Hi-NRG dance cover of "I Am What I Am". Every gay icon from Gloria Gaynor to Pia Zadora has interpreted this anthem but none have done it quite like the Queen of Chinatown. This now takes pride of place next to "Love Boat" and "No Credit Card" on my high camp Amanda Lear iTunes playlist. The low brow detour is a lot of fun but the album's real strength lies in its new material and it doesn't get much better than "C'est La Vie". This is probably the most traditional dance-pop song that Amanda has ever recorded as far as structure and lyrical content is concerned but the result stunning. The chorus is pure dynamite and T1's production lifts the track to a whole new level. I also need to give Australia's Susie Ahern a shout out. The 90s dance diva's backing vocals are amazing and give the track an unexpected depth and warmth. The next song is a new ten minute chill out dance remix of "Kiss Me, Honey, Honey, Kiss Me" (a Shirley Bassey cover) from Amanda's 2006 album "With Love". It's nice but slightly disappointing considering what comes before it. I'm not sure who produced it but the sound is also slightly dated.

Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. I like the remixes of "C'est La Vie" and "Brand New Love Affair" but they don't improve on the originals and the final track "T1 Love Suite" turns out to be an 11 minute medley of those tracks with bits of "I Am What I Am" throw in for good measure. I believe the record company was inspired by 70s disco albums, which contained longer edits of fewer tracks but "Brand New Love Affair" feels unfinished. Two or three additional songs would have fleshed out the project and made it feel less repetitive. T1's sole contribution to "Brief Encounters" (an amazing cover of "Always On My Mind") would have fitted in perfectly here but the good thing about iTunes is the ability to mix and match your own album. Despite the anorexic tracklist, "Brand New Love Affair" is still a triumph. Unlike "Brief Encounters", it proves that Amanda can not only still cut it against today's leading dance divas but surpass them given the right material. The album is released physically in France on the 30th November but will also be available to download internationally from that date. Check out Amanda's Myspace for more details.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Orianthi - According To You

"According To You" has been unavoidable on Australian radio for the past month and is currently sitting pretty in the national top 20. My copy of the single finally arrived today, which inspired me to write about Orianthi's amazing ode to bad boyfriends. Chalk this up as another fine example of a local act - see Vanessa Amorosi - jumping on board Katy Perry's pop-rock bandwagon with great success. That might be a little unfair given the diva's rock chick credentials (she was Michael Jackson's lead guitarist on the ill fated "This Is It" tour, jammed with Santana as a teenager and has a guitar solo on Adam Lambert's forthcoming album) but there's no denying that Orianthi has undergone a radical overhaul since 2005's "Violet Journey". Not that it matters. The move towards a more commercial sound was long overdue and "According To You" proves that she definitely has what it takes to mix it with Katy, Avril and Pink. For me, this song is all about the lyrics. I think everyone has felt the same anger and confusion at one time or another. Most of all, I love how Orianthi sums up the universal truth that one man's trash is another man's treasure - a thought I find strangely comforting, particularly when it's expressed via the year's catchiest chorus. And don't even get me started on the ridiculously fabulous guitar solo. It's like Lita Ford never left us! I definitely recommend tracking down the physical single because the B-side ("Find It") is great and doesn't appear on Orianthi's excellent album. While you wait for your copy to arrive, check out the video. I'm not sure about the epilepsy inducing camera work but I seriously want to steal her sequined guitar!

The Fame Monster - Review

The past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy and I haven't had a lot of time to devote to music, which is frustrating because my bedroom is littered with CDs I've been meaning to write about. I'll try to cover the majority of them in a giant round up post but "The Fame Monster" deserves more than that. Other bloggers have already written about Lady GaGa's pop triumph with more insight than I can hope to muster (see Adem's review and Will W's musings for starters) but I can't resist throwing in my two cents. "The Fame Monster" is a revelation, and while I wouldn't go as far as calling it the pop album of the decade (like Chart Rigger), it has to be in the running for the best release of 2009. Lady GaGa has given birth to that rarest of creatures - a consistent and coherent collection of electro-dance anthems that not only entertain but occasionally stretch the boundaries of popular music. As much as I loved "The Fame", its follow up/re-release (depending on who you listen to) is darker, stronger and considerably more ambitious. The filler that occasionally weighed down Lady GaGa's debut has been culled and we're left with 7 brilliant songs and one piece of shit. 7 out of 8 ain't bad! It would have been nice to get a few more songs but this is most definitely a case of quality over quantity.

Bad Romance

Strangely, I absolutely hated the album's lead single when I first heard it. "Bad Romance" initially struck me as a rather lazy re-hash of "Poker Face" - only with really annoying chanting ("rah rah rah rah") and poorly pronounced French lyrics. Since then it's grown on me like a bad case of Athlete's Foot and I can't seem to get that epic chorus out of my head. I'm still not completely taken with the verses and I think RedOne has learned some tricks from the Stargate/Timbaland school of beat recycling but this is still an impressive piece of work, made even better by its brilliant video clip.

Alejandro

Unlike "Bad Romance", it was love at first listen with "Alejandro". I love the clear influence of 90s Eurodance and the sweetness of the chorus. Lady GaGa does dark and dirty dance better than just about anyone but this is a rare example of the diva encroaching on Kylie's joyous brand of soft and pretty pop. I'm slowly losing interest in RedOne as a producer but this proves he's more than just a one trick pony. The strings and elegantly arranged synths perfectly compliment the wacky spoken interludes and cute lyrics. As much as I love lyrics about riding disco sticks and bluffin' with muffins, it actually makes a nice change to hear Lady GaGa sing a relatively straightforward love song. This would make my short list of potential singles.

Monster

When talking about the album, Lady GaGa listed Eastern European discos as an inspiration and "Monster" kind of sounds like an extremely polished Romanian Eurovision entry and I mean that as a compliment! From the corny intro to the camp chorus and sublime middle eight, this little gem is a burst of pure pop. I love the juxtaposition of Lady GaGa's gory imagery with the insanely perky melody and RedOne brings his usual sheen to the proceedings. Having said all that, "Monster" is still probably one of the album's weaker tracks - making it pretty amazing filler.

Speechless

Lady GaGa channels Freddie Mercury and the result is one of the best tracks of her budding career. "Speechless" is an absolute triumph. It not only underlines GaGa's incredible versatility but also showcases the diva's most overlooked asset. Her pipes. The ease with which she slips into 70s rock star mode is astounding and Ron Fair's organic production gives her voice an unexpected warmth. I never thought I'd be interested in a Lady GaGa ballad but this is brilliant stuff. If I had one criticism it would be that "Speechless" sounds slightly out of place next to the electro-dance tracks but I'd love her to pursue this sound in the future.

Dance In The Dark

This gets my vote as the album's equal best track along with the Beyoncé duet. "Dance In The Dark" is dance-pop perfection. Fernando Garibay effortlessly blends modern electronic elements with an orchestra of synths that sound like they were stolen from Madonna circa 1985. Fernando is really on fire at the moment. "Nothin' But Love" is perhaps the best song on Whitney's amazing comeback album and he achieved the impossible by making U2 sound slightly interesting on "I'll Go Crazy, If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight". This is the perfect sound palette for Lady GaGa's attitude filled verses and anthemic chorus. A future gay classic.

Telephone (featuring Beyoncé)

I've already
devoted a post to this amazing duet, so I'll keep this brief. In a nutshell, "Telephone" is probably the best superstar duet since Barbra Streisand joined forces with Donna Summer on "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)". The song isn't particularly deep or original but it does put a new spin on the always popular genre of female empowerment anthems and allows both parties to shine. Lady GaGa displays her usual fierce attitude, while Beyoncé almost steals the show with her best crazy woman impersonation. Only fan fatigue (the two divas have released about 216 singles between them in 2009) will stop this being massive.

So Happy I Could Die

I'm slightly disturbed by the fact that two of my favourite songs at the moment are littered with masturbation references (this and Vanessa Amorosi's "Touch Me"). I think I need to get out more. Anyway, RedOne returns with another fairly standard production straight from his Swedish conveyor belt of catchy pop tunes. What saves this from being RedOne by the numbers is Lady GaGa's quirky lyrics about doing her hair and touching herself. "So Happy I Could Die" should be a load of rubbish but there are more hooks than a tackle shop and I have a soft spot for meaningless pop songs with dirty lyrics. Not exactly single material but still pretty damn good.

Teeth

It's a shame that "The Fame Monster" closes with its only stinker. That's probably a bit harsh but the Teddy Riley produced "Teeth" is the kind of over-sampled mess that was hot about five years ago. It's unlike Lady GaGa to be so off trend so I guess she was probably trying to be ironic or revive an old sound but this is an epic fail on every level. I hate the lyrics, the non-existent melody and busy production. It's a sad day when J Lo did it first and better.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Return Of Pearly Gates

What do you get when you cross a much loved disco icon with a gay porn star? Possibly the campest video ever filmed and one of 2009's most charming cougar comebacks. Pearly Gates' late 70s floorfillers "Burning Love" and "Fandango Dancing" are disco classics but I'm more familiar with the diva's mid-80s Hi-NRG output, particularly her brief stint at Ian Levine's label. That partnership produced the 1985 gay classic "Action" as well as a bunch of other pop gems that are compiled on her 1995 best of compilation. To be honest, I really don't know what Pearly has been up to since the mid-90s. I didn't even know she was still making music until a fellow trash fan sent me the link for "Stop For Love". The prospect of a new Pearly Gates track was exciting enough but I almost passed out when I saw the video - which features gay for pay porn star Zeb Atlas as the stunning 63 year old diva's toy boy lover! Pearly redefines fabulous as she rolls around in bed with Zeb and the completely gratuitous shirtless scenes are entirely welcome. However, the video's greatest achievement is coming across as sweet instead of sleazy. This could have been all kinds of nasty but the result is overwhelmingly cute. And the music? Well, "Stop For Love" could have been recorded in 1977. The old school soul vibe gracefully incorporates disco elements with a low key pop sensibility. I just hope there are some remixes on the horizon! Pearly's catchy jam will feature on her forthcoming album "On A Winning Streak". Make way for one of the fiercest women in music.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chris Sorbello - Sydney Showcase

The thing I love most about Chris Sorbello is the fact that she gets it. And by it I mean the brave new world of pop music where having a pretty face and a handful of decent songs doesn't cut it anymore. To make a real impact you need to be the complete package and stand out from the crowd - be it by focusing on image a la Lady Gaga, creating a new character (see Beyoncé's Sasha Fierce) or simply by recycling and reinterpreting the sounds of those that have gone before you in a new and interesting way like La Roux and Ladyhawke. It's a hard formula to get right but if last night's performance is any indication, Chris Sorbello is well and truly on her way. The costumes and choreography were faultless, she sounded amazing and the songs were all top notch. I've been to a lot of showcases in Sydney and London over the past couple of years and this definitely ranks as one of the most audacious and impressive.

From the moment a pair of PVC clad dancers carried the microphone on stage in a series of robotic dance moves, it was pretty clear that this wasn't going to be your standard industry event. Last night was all about putting on a show and introducing the audience to Chris Sorbello the artist. It debuted her hot new look and demonstrated how far she's come as a performer. The opening number definitely highlighted latter. Chris' version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is usually a highlight of her live shows but I was completely distracted by the sexy costumes and intricate choreography (courtesy of Ramon Baynes and Marko Panzic - Beyoncé and Britney). The backing dancers were phenomenal and Chris didn't miss a beat. I managed to pull myself together for the preview of her soon to be released debut single "So Lonely", which has been given a radical overhaul by Sam La More (Empire Of The Sun, Sneaky Sound System and Pnau). I love the edgy new mix and I'm confident it will be burning up dancefloors across Australia all summer long.

The icy electro beats continued to flow with "Symbiotic". I have to admit the song never really appealed to me in the past but last night's arrangement was brilliant and suited the staging and choreography perfectly. It seemed only fitting that Chris close the show with "Dangerzone". After all, it is the title track of her recently unveiled free promo EP! I still think "Dangerzone" has huge potential and could have been a hit with a bit of polish by the right producer but I'm glad it's finally getting a release - no matter how low key. The song sounded amazing live and allowed Brisbane's finest to show off her voice and hot dance moves. As someone who has followed Chris from the start it was staggering (and more than a little touching) to see how far she's come. I can't wait for the release of her official debut single but make sure you check out "Dangerzone" in the meantime. It's too good to ignore!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sarah McLeod - Single Launch

Sarah McLeod officially launched her new single "Tell Your Story Walking" down at Woolloomooloo Wharf today and I was lucky enough to be invited. Unlike a lot of these events it was an intimate affair, which allowed everyone to get up close and personal with the ex-Superjesus frontwoman. Sarah kicked off proceedings by talking about the song's inspiration (it's about overcoming her own demons - not a break up anthem as the lyrics would suggest) and her adventures filming the video in New York. I think the final result (below) is simple but very effective and I love the army of hooded divas in the background. After screening the film clip, Sarah performed the song live and proved once and for all that her inner rock chick is still alive and kicking. I actually think the edgier, acoustic version suits the lyrics better but I do love her glamorous new "pop" direction. The highlight for me was watching Ms McLeod pose for snaps on the wharf (above) with joggers and businessmen gawking at her supersexy hotpants! "Tell Your Story Walking" is now available to download for iTunes. Check out my recent interview with Sarah here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Telephone Vs Videophone

As I'm sure everyone with an internet connection is already aware, the world's two biggest pop stars recently teamed up for not one but two duets. As an an ardent Lady GaGa supporter and Beyoncé's self-proclaimed number 1 Australian fan, the prospect of these fierce bitches joining forces got me more than a little hot under the collar. It's not just that I love their music. I genuinely believe Beyoncé and Lady GaGa are pop circa 2009. Lady GaGa did the impossible by making Madonna redundant in the space of a year and continues to take dance-pop to dizzying new heights, while Beyoncé staked her claim as the undisputed Queen of the urban scene and revolutionised the way albums are marketed in the process with her dual singles and Sasha Fierce alter ego. That's not even touching on the impact of their iconic styling and music videos.

Well, both duets finally leaked and my expectations have not only been met but well and truly exceeded. Admittedly, that wasn't particularly hard when it came to "Videophone". I'm still fuming about that trash being selected as the 8th single from "Sasha Fierce". Beyoncé's album is bursting with songs that most divas would kill for ("Radio", "Smash Into You" and "Disappear" come to mind) and she goes with the stinker about leaving a filthy video message on someone's iPhone. Smart thinking. There's not a lot Lady GaGa could do to improve this apart from press the delete button in the studio but I like the new verses and GaGa's rap isn't as embarrassing as it could have been. I'm pretty sure "Videophone" was only chosen as a single to link in with "Telephone", so I guess it does what it's supposed to and all Beyoncé tracks are eventually rescued by a fagtastic dance remix - so I'll happily make do with this until then.

Listen here

The real triumph, however, is Lady GaGa's "Telephone". I've spent the entire afternoon listening to "The Fame Monster" and I vastly prefer it to "The Fame". Each track is brilliant and this duet is no exception. According to rumours, GaGa actually wrote "Telephone" for Britney's "Circus" album and the world's favourite mime artist must be kicking herself for turning it down. This song is the shit. I'm probably the only person who loves (the unremixed version of) "Beautiful Liar" but unlike that superstar duet, "Telephone" delivers what fans want from their two favourite pop divas - an insanely catchy club anthem with quotable lyrics and almost endless remix potential. Funnily enough, even though this is most definitely a Lady GaGa track, Beyoncé's verse steals the show. I love it when B unleashes her inner angry black woman (see the underrated but amazing "Ring The Alarm") and I get tingles when she yells "cause this is a disaster!" Darkchild deserves a lot of credit. I used to think he was a spent force but this is his best production in years. Bring on the video clip/s!!

Listen here

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Natalie & Dannii's Magic Carpet Ride

A couple of days ago I wrote a flashback post about Young Talent Time's Natalie Miller. Since then I've spent a lot of time watching old clips on Youtube and stumbled across one of the show's finest moments. Watch in awe as Natalie belts out an amazing rendition of Limahl's "Neverending Story", while riding a magic carpet around Australia with Dannii (and Greg) in tow. This shit is almost too fabulous for words. Natalie's performance is adorable and the zero budget special effects will leave you stunned and amazed. However, it's left to Dannii to steal the show. Her finger point at 0:25 minutes cracks me up every time and the bored look on her face is priceless. She should have been grateful. If nothing else, taking a back seat to Natalie for a couple of minutes stood her in good stead for spending the rest of her career in Kylie's shadow. Enjoy one of the true highlights of Australian television!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ness Ness & The Album Of The Year

The stars have finally aligned for Ness Ness. She's driving her lesbian fanbase wild with a sexy new look, recently celebrated her first #1 hit and, most importantly, finally delivered the brilliant album she's been threatening to unleash since her debut way back in 2000. "Hazardous" really takes things to the next level. It blends the soulful elements of "Somewhere In The Real World" with a more contemporary pop sensibility (courtesy of Swedish producers MachoPsycho) to stunning effect. To be honest, it's a familiar formula. Dr Luke and Max Martin perfected the power pop/rock genre working with the likes of P!nk, Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson but this is one of the rare examples of someone jumping on a bandwagon and accidentally finding their true calling. Kind of like when Dannii stopped pretending to be Janet Jackson in the mid 90s and went on to revolutionise popular music as we know it. Despite undeniable similarities with the aforementioned divas, "Hazardous" still sounds fresh and original - largely due to Vanessa's powerhouse vocals, endearing sense of humour and quirky lyrics. After all, this is an album that features songs about masturbation, dating drug addicts and extraterrestrials! Ness Ness takes to her new genre like a slut to cock and the result is my favourite album of 2009 (thus far). Here's my track by track review:

This Is Who I Am - 10/10

I think I've already
written enough about the album's cracking lead single. Several hundred listens on and I still not sick of it. Just remember to close your eyes and pretend the hideous video is bad dream. Vanessa's recent #1 hit is a definite contender for my single of the year.

Mr Mysterious - 8/10

Just between you and me, I think MachoPsycho stole the bassline and crunchy guitars from P!nk but I'm willing to turn a blind eye given the overall quality of their production. I love the vocal layering and subtle hooks, not to mention the electronic flourishes and catchy "woah woahs". This is the perfect sound palette for Vanessa's effortless rock chick twang and she vamps it up for all she's worth. My only criticism is Seany B's (best known for
TV ROCK's "Flaunt It") pointless rap. It's desperate and more than a little embarrassing.

Holiday - 8/10

Now, this is an unexpectedly camp delight. Vanessa's Swedish producers show their versatility by concocting a breezy summer party jam. The track automatically makes me think of Dannii sunning her baps in Ibiza but knowing Ness Ness it's probably about spending a weekend at the Coffs Harbour Motor Inn. Anyway, "Holiday" is perfect radio fodder for the warmer months and I get tingles in unexpected places when Vanessa moans "we all have needs". High quality filler.

Hazardous - 10/10

The album's first non-MachoPsycho produced unexpectedly turns out to be one of the highlights. "Hazardous" closely follows the Max Martin/Dr Luke recipe of synth driven pop/rock with a guitar heavy chorus and electro-tinged verses. It's been done before but why fuck with a winning formula? What makes this considerably better than many of the songs it's so clearly modelled on is the strength of the songwriting and Vanessa's amazing vocal delivery. Moving from soft and wistful in the verses to smoky and explosive in the chorus - "Hazardous" showcases one of the best voices in music.


Off On My Kiss - 7/10

Ness gets a bit sexy on this one but it's perhaps the album's least appealing moment. The song has an insistent beat and the chorus is cute but "Off On My Kiss" suffers from over-production. Making Vanessa sound computer generated should constitute some kind of crime but it's hard to be annoyed when you're happily humming along with inane lyrics like "I'll get you off on my kiss".

Show Me How To Love - 7/10

If I have one major criticism of "Hazardous" it would be that the second half is considerably stronger than the first. The first time I heard the album I was starting to lose a bit of enthusiasm at this point. Fans of "Somewhere In The Real World" will devour "Show Me How To Love" but I could do without the flashback. Co-written with frequent collaborator Pam Reswick, the track re-visits the soulful ground covered on Vanessa's last album. It's nice to hear a ballad that Ness can get her teeth stuck into after so many uptempo tracks but this is no "Perfect". Pleasant but slightly boring.

Aliens And UFOs - 8/10

Vanessa's ode to the supernatural gives me the giggles. Poor Ness has clearly spent too many nights smoking pot and watching X Files but, really, who hasn't? I like the song's slightly rockier feel and MachoPsycho add their usual polish to the production. The highlight for me is the catchy chorus, with the quirky spoken interlude about Vanessa's super powers coming a close second. This is basically a hot mess but I love that Ness has mixed it up and tried new things. MachoPsycho have really helped absolutely everybody's favourite diva express her more eccentric side.

Summer Nights - 9/10

When I saw "Summer Nights" on the tracklist I secretly hoped it was an Olivia Newton-John cover because I'm really that sad. As it turns out, it's not but Vanessa's nostalgic tour de force is almost as good. I love the breezy mid-tempo production and the naive lyrics, which cover everything from sleepless summer nights to politically incorrect lollies. Speaking of the latter, I still remember buying those chocolate cigarettes from our school canteen! There's just something sweet and quintessentially Australian about this track. "Summer Nights" doesn't scream hit but it's a little gem all the same.

Touch Me - 10/10

This is the dirtiest Australian pop song since Dannii explored the weird and wonderful world of sitting on speakers (*cough*) on "Vibe On"! Needless to say, "Touch Me" is all kinds of fabulous. What did those dodgy Swedes slip our Ness before she sat down to write stunning lyrics about masturbation and getting horny "from the vibrations off the floor"? I demand an inquest. Poetic lyrics aside, "Touch Me" also boasts the kind of slinky beats and throbbing baseline usually only associated with urban pop stars. In fact, this masterpiece reminds me of the filth Prince used to write for Sheena Easton in the 80s. Put "Touch Me" in your sexy times playlist between "Sugar Walls" and La Toya's "Sexual Feeling". I dare Universal to release this as a single.

Baby's On Ice - 10/10

From masturbation to hard drugs, Vanessa is clearly on a roll. The first time I heard this I thought it was just another cheerful love song until I started paying a bit more attention to the lyrics. Lines like "he always comes back with his lips all chewed and cracked" and "if the sun don't shine that day that's even more reason to get hazed" are fairly subtle but Ness makes it clear she's singing about the joys of romancing a junkie with "he's not a bad person, he's just a little messed up". Songs about drugs aren't exactly rare but I can't remember one this chirpy. My favourite part is when the backing singers merrily break into "he's on ice, ice baby"! Wonderfully tasteless and politically incorrect.

Sleep With That - 7/10

You can basically copy and paste everything I wrote about "Off On My Kiss" for this song. It's a fairly appealing fuck you to a cheating boyfriend but the production is overbearing and Vanessa appears to have forgotten to write a chorus. "Sleep With That" isn't bad by any means, it just suffers by comparison with the rest of the album.

Higher Ground - 9/10

Pam Reswick makes a second appearance on the album but unlike "Show Me How To Love", this doesn't sound like a reject from "Somewhere In The Real World". While not reaching the glorious heights of "Shine" or "Perfect", "Higher Ground" still ranks as one of Vanessa's finest ballads and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a (very safe) single somewhere down the track. The song is beautifully constructed and Ness sounds amazing on it. She really lets loose and shows off her full range. "Higher Ground" is a reminder that while Vanessa can take P!nk and Katy Perry on at their own game, neither of them could pull off something like this.

Blow Me Away - 10/10

Co-written by Steve Diamond and Matthew Gerrard (Dulta's "Lost Without You" and Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway"), "Blow Me Away" is another perfectly crafted power pop anthem. Crunchy guitars blend effortlessly with pounding beats and the odd synth to produce one of the album's standout tracks. I'm a sucker for a catchy chorus and this baby is utterly ruthless. One listen and you're hooked. "Blow Me Away" has hit written all over it but I'd still prefer Universal to go with the title track or "Touch Me" (if they're feeling ballsy) next. The second half of "Hazardous" really is quite outstanding.

Snitch - 7.5/10

What a bizarre way to close the album. This languid jam has a soulful edge that wouldn't sound out of place on "Somewhere In The Real World" but the playful lyrics and experimental production are right at home on "Hazardous". I didn't know what to make of this the first time I heard it - particularly Vince Colosimo's bizarre contribution - but it's strangely catchy and a total grower. "Snitch" is also another example of the winning eccentricity that permeates the album, which is part of what makes it so special.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Whatever Happened To Natalie Miller?

As far as I'm concerned Young Talent Time is the greatest show in the history of Australian television. Running for 17 years between 1971 and 1988, YTT helped launch the careers of several international superstars and became an integral part of many people's childhood including my own. I've written about the show's biggest stars (the legendary Tina Arena and the Queen of Clubs herself, Dannii Minogue) many times but I've never mentioned my other favourite castmate - the fabulous Natalie Miller. Anyway, I was rummaging through a box of my old CDs recently and was excited to find a copy of the underrated diva's one and only single. Released in 2000, "Gonna Miss Your Love" got some radio play and Natalie performed the song on a couple of TV shows but it didn't exactly set the charts on fire. I blame Max22.

Natalie's voice sounds great and the chorus is addictive but it's hard to shine when you've been teamed with the worst rapper in Australian history (and that's saying something). It's a shame because the song blends Latin and dance elements rather amusingly and Nat looks sexy in her white leather. No comment about that bird's nest on her head though! Despite the fact that Natalie never released another single (to my knowledge), she still maintained a reasonably high profile as a backing vocalist. For many years she was a staple of the live music scene and regularly performed as part of Kylie's band whenever she toured Australia. However, Natalie seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. I really hope she's still out there plugging away, bringing her unique glamour to pubs and clubs across the country. If anyone knows any information about this 80s icon, please let me know. In the meantime, check out the video for her lost Australian pop "classic":

Monday, November 09, 2009

My Date With @m8er!

A few weeks ago I met @m8er in the glamorous surrounds of the Stonewall hotel on Oxford Street. The emerging pop sensation had just unveiled her debut single "Kill That Bitch" (which lists the celebrities she'd like to murder) and was in the middle of a public relations shit storm. The usually amiable Auspop described the song as "desperately contrived" and "enough to leave you totally appalled", while Jessica from Defamer went a step further declaring "any radio station who playlists it should be sent directly into the fiery pits of hell". Personally, I think "Kill That Bitch" is hilarious. It's a good, old fashioned piss take and I couldn't wait to meet the woman responsible for classy lyrics like "Paris Hilton rhymes with Stilton". Given @m8er's outrageous image and flair for controversy, I was also slightly nervous but she turned out to be a total sweetheart with no homicidal tendencies - that I noticed.

I was curious to get to the bottom of the "Kill That Bitch" backlash and started by asking - What is it about those particular bitches? "They are the poster girls for laziness and young wealth gone mad. I spent a lot of time last year crashing on sofas, watching reality TV and found those same girls on every show and in every magazine. I don't actually want them dead, I don't even know them, it's a figure of speech, an everyday expression about how annoying they are but it's not meant to be taken literally." So, how did Delta 'I'll advertise anything for money' Goodrem and Cassie Davis miss the cut? I'd take them out myself! "Well, I'm very patriotic and I draw the line at trashing Aussies, it's not gonna happen."

The elephant in the room was the overwhelming negative response to "Kill That Bitch" but I didn't really know to bring it up without being too offensive. So I just asked how it felt being labelled a talentless publicity whore. @m8er admitted to hearing some of the criticism but seemed quite taken back by the extent of it. "I knew it would upset some people but I am a little surprised by the extent of the vitriol. I don't flash my knickers or stumble out of clubs. I work extremely hard and I'm completely fearless. I write all of my songs and make shit happen. I've just been working my arse off for the past 9 years trying to create my opportunity. My songs are topical. I enjoy telling a story. I love to laugh. I just don't take life that seriously. It is becoming clearer to me just how conservative us Aussies really are." I wonder if she might have got a better reaction in the UK but @m8er was adamant about cracking Australia first. "I was actually offered a record deal in England but I turned it down. I just wanted to start my career here. I've been away for so long. And local pop music is average at best. I really want to make some noise here first. I'm determined to win everyone over but I'm not going to change who I am."

Next on the agenda was the spelling of @m8er's name (it's pronounced Amber). "People are reading far too much into it. I wanted my name to look like an expletive. I wanted something fun. It's really not that deep. 8 is also my lucky number. It's no big deal." I also couldn't resist asking about the "Kill That Bitch" video, which has received almost as much criticism as the song. "I wanted the video to be something completely left of centre. I am not interested in doing a paint by numbers pop video. I had the opportunity to work with the 'Street Monsters' in London who are these mad little animated characters put in real life settings. I had my own characters created and we shot it in Cambridgeshire. It was one of the best days of my life and one that I am very proud of."

So what's next for @m8er? "My second single is called "The 10 Date Commandments" featuring Lil' Kim." My jaw must have dropped when she mentioned Lil' Kim because she goes on to explain how the collaboration came about. "My manager in New York sent it to her and she went ape shit over the song. She recorded her vocals on it and appears in the video clip, which was shot in LA. We've become really good friends. She is real cool. The track was recorded in London's Rollover Studios and produced by Ollie J (Madonna, Leftfield, The Prodigy). It's completely different to "Kill That Bitch". Overseeing the whole album is super producer Dallas Austin. I ask how she hooked up Madonna's ex-right hand man. "I met Dallas after a show in New York. He liked my music and we got talking. I've been working on this album for a long time. I'm no overnight success story but its cool if people make all these assumptions about me. All will be revealed in the end."

I ask her to tell me more about the album. "It's called "Strawberries & Kittens". There's no filler. I believe every song could be a single. I hate it when there are only a few good songs on an album and the rest are pure shit. People don't know me yet or my voice. I have my own production company so no one hands me anything. I work hard and I'm in full creative control of everything I do. I don't have a stylist telling me how to dress. I am not four after all. I make my own t-shirts with my lyrics printed on them. I have no one telling me how to speak or what to say. I like to have fun and push people's buttons. What you see is what you get. So which pop stars do you look up to? "Madonna. I love the cougar video for "Celebration". I'm also a huge fan of Cyndi Lauper and Missy Elliot."

I get the feeling @m8er is completely misunderstood. I can understand why some people think Australia's answer to Lily Allen (Universal's claim - not mine!) is a super-arrogant bogan desperate for fame but I think she's just incredibly focused and driven. If nothing else "Kill That Bitch" has raised her profile and I suspect it was more of a toe in the water than a first single. Hopefully, @m8er's collaboration with Lil' Kim will put some of the haters in check and show off a different side of her personality. I wish her luck.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ladyhawke Live 07/11/09

The last time I saw Ladyhawke she was playing at a pub in Chatswood. Admittedly, that was prior to the release of her album and she was still better known as the (ex-)frontwoman of Teenager. Pip has had a pretty wild ride since then. She's gone on to become the poster girl of the synth-rock/pop revival and finally achieved a much deserved commercial breakthrough with the top ten hit "My Delirium". I guess last night's sold out show at The Enmore was something of a homecoming and the concert definitely felt like a party. One of the coolest things about Pip's transformation into Ladyhawke is the fact that she's carried her rock sensibility into the pop world. There's not a lot of fuss - no staging, no costume changes or special effects. Just a woman with a guitar and bunch of really, really good songs. In fact, I think she performed the entire album. The highlights for me were "Crazy World" (why wasn't this dreamy gem ever released as a single?), the brilliant "Oh My" and the best song that Pat Benatar never recorded "Back Of The Van". The encore was the evening's only misstep. Ladyhawke payed homage to her NZ countrymen with a cover of Split Enz's "Message To My Girl" before launching into a strangely sedate version of Patti Smith's "Free Money". Winding up the concert with a ballad and a song that half the crowd had never heard before was slightly awkward. Not that anyone cared when Pip closed the show with "My Delirium". All in all, a pretty fucking awesome night!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Beyoncé Does It Better

So Beyoncé cleaned up at this year's MTV Europe Music Awards in Berlin winning Best Song ("Halo"), Best Female Singer and Best Video Clip ("Single Ladies"). 2009 has been a banner year for the rich man's Kelly Rowland but I think she officially planted her flag at the summit of pop superstardom in Germany last night. And I'm not talking about her swag of prizes. Few award show performances make any kind of real impact on popular culture (Britney's "Gimme More" debacle at the 2007 MTV Music Awards did for all the wrong reasons) and even fewer are regarded as genuinely iconic (Kylie's legendary "Can't Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head" at the 2002 Brits comes to mind) but that's the only description that fits Beyoncé stunning performance of "Sweet Dreams".

Speaking of Kylie, Beyoncé reminds me a lot of Dannii's slightly more successful sibling circa 2001-2002. She's at the height of her physical beauty, comes across as sexy rather than sordid despite wearing outfits that a PCD stripper would reject and is currently riding a once in a career wave of momentum. The "Sweet Dreams" live extravaganza demonstrates this perfectly. Most of the press has concentrated on Beyoncé's eye popping red lingerie (which The Prophet amusingly describes as a cross between Vanity 6 and the star of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers - one of my all time favourite movies!) but this performance is about so much more than an incredibly sexy outfit. There's the beautiful nursery rhyme intro performed inside a red satin heart, pounding militaristic drums, a catwalk strut at approximately 1:50 mins that would make Miss Jay cry tears of joy, pitch perfect vocals and the some of the fiercest choreography I've seen in years (see 2:50 minutes for proof). Say what you like about Beyoncé - she is the complete package and currently makes the rest of the pop world look second rate. All hail the new Queen.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sarah McLeod - Interview

Sarah McLeod is one of music's great chameleons. In the late 90s she joined the likes of Suze Demarchi (Baby Animals) and Chrissy Amphlett (Divinyls) as one of the very few female singers to make any kind of real impact on the Australian rock scene. Her band, The Superjesus, epitomised the post-grunge movement and their debut album "Sumo" was pretty much unavoidable when I was a teenager. After recording another couple of albums with The Superjesus, Sarah struck out on her own and released her solo debut "Beauty Was A Tiger" in 2005. The project wasn't a huge success - until someone decided to try something different and remixed the third single. "He Doesn't Love You" was a #1 club smash and remained on that chart for over 6 months. I was completely obsessed with the song and included it on my inaugural end of year countdown. At the time I ranted "if only the silly bitch would buy a dress and realise that pop is her calling, the entire world would simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief". A little bit dramatic I know (sorry about the silly bitch comment, Sarah!) but strangely prophetic. Since then Sarah has focused on dance music - scoring a massive US and UK club hit last year with "White Horse" - and has finally returned with the official follow up to "He Doesn't Love You". I was lucky enough to chat with Sarah recently and here's what she had to say about her new single "Tell Your Story Walking":

Sarah, your new single "Tell Your Story Walking" is a great fuck you anthem. Was it written about anyone in particular or inspired by various arseholes?
Actually , it masquerades as this type of sentiment but actually it is about a very intense personal struggle within myself. It's actually me talking to myself, trying to eradicate all my negativity to push through to become the best I can be. Everyone wrestles with that little voice in their head that tells them that they can not achieve something if it seems too far fetched or too hard. Without these voices we can achieve anything. I'm just telling mine to hit the road and get out of my way. I think this struggle paves the way for great personal triumph.

What are your favourite break-up songs? You mention "I Will Survive" in the lyrics. I didn't picture you as a disco fan.
That's just a classic, you can't escape it, and yeah, I can rock a bit of disco from time to time! I also like "Respect" by Aretha Franklin and I LOVE "Breakin' Dishes" by Rihanna.

The song is another club banger. Since the release of "Beauty Was A Tiger" you've really found a niche on the dance scene - what inspired the move away from rock?
It was a perfectly natural progression actually, we had a remix done of "He Doesn't Love You" with Hook N Sling and it took off without us actually doing much at all. The same with "White Horse", we gave it over to the girls and boys in the clubs to decide... and it just happened, I couldn't stop it. When I got into production I discovered that electronic sounds were much more fun to work with from a studio point of view. As I got further and further into the realms of the thudding sub kick, live drums and guitars seemed to create too much trashy top end white noise for me. I couldn't go back, I had seen the other side and I LIKED it! There's so much more you can do with electronic sounds, it's way more fun from a production stand point.

The remixed version of "He Doesn't Love You" was one of my favourite songs of 2006 and spent most of that year on the club charts. Why has it taken so long to follow it up?
It was never supposed to be a big release, it's purpose was to fill the gap between albums and have some fun. It's not like that was the first single and then a year later I released the rest. I had to make sure I was confident of my direction before putting out the next song. I do chop and change a lot as I like so many styles of music, so I had to solidify my path and then walk it with confidence. Sometimes this takes time.

I read that NY based producers Questionable Intent worked on your album. Who else has been involved and when is it being released?
Most of it was done by myself and the QI boys but there are also a couple of tracks that I did with Jimmy Douglas and ILL Factor in Miami. This was a session I had done prior and I picked the best from that collaboration and fused it with what I had learned in Brooklyn. I also worked with a French rapper named Fredrick Da who is amazing, he is a great friend of mine now who I met through Paul Mac when he was in New York.

Will the album feature "White Horse"? That song is stunning. Why wasn't it an official single?
"White Horse" may be on the album, I'm 99% sure it will be but as I write better songs, things start to get bumped. "White Horse" is hanging in there by it's chiny chin chin but I think it will survive!

I hear you're heavily involved with fashion and styling these days. Who inspired your sexy new look?
Living in New York City really inspired me. I would see the coolest people walking around my neighbourhood and it was all very eclectic but super cool. I would get ideas for things I could wear and the way I could style myself in general. I started to see the creativity in it. It became less: "I have to go out, I'll throw this on" kinda thing, to a more "Oh how exciting I can try this with this and maybe do that". I got really into the idea of the personal statement that finding your style creates.

Would you ever leave the house dressed in garbage bags or wearing a Kermit the frog jacket a la Lady GaGa?
Every artist has their own way of expressing themselves and she really takes it to the extreme, God love her. It's way to over the top for me though.

Do you ever miss being Australia's premiere rock chick? How different is performing on the international club scene to gigging around Australia?
Playing in clubs is a pretty different scene, Its less rowdy and raucous than the Aussie pub scene. People are less likely to yell things out to you while your performing, they just keep on dancing with a grin from ear to ear and kinda stare at you!


Speaking of your musical past, I'm pretty sure I vomited to the glorious strains of "Down Again" at a school disco. Do you have a favourite song from The Superjesus catalogue?
That's a tough question for me, I like certain songs for different reasons. My life changed so much with record to record and each track means something different to me. Especially as each record had a different guitar player and my role in the band grew more hands on with each record. Probably for me, I was most into the 3rd album "Rock Music" My favourite tracks from that are "Manic" and "Shudder".

"Tell Your Story Walking" hits Australian iTunes tomorrow. The stunning video is currently being streamed exclusively on Nova's website but will probably hit youtube next week. In the meantime, check out this brief "making of" preview:

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

La Toya - The Lost Video

I have to apologise for the lack of updates recently. My life has just been more insane than usual. Things will hopefully return to normal later in the week but in the meantime, please bear with me. Today's post is brief but still rather fun. Toy Soldiers (ie. La Toya fans) have long lived under the impression that our Goddess only filmed four film clips in her stunning 30 year career. "Heart Don't Lie" redefined the medium, while "(Ain't Nobody Loves You) Like I Do" remains a camp classic. "You're Gonna Get Rocked" set new standards as the fiercest urban video of all time and more recently, "Home" took the internet by storm - reminding the world of Toy's creative genius. However, fans have long debated the existence of a video clip for 1989's "Bad Girl". A couple of days ago, the mystery was solved... kind of.

La Toya's 6th studio album was recorded in Germany in the late 80s and a lead single was released. In typical Toy Toy style, "Bad Girl" flopped worse than Brooke Hogan and Heidi Montag put together and the similarly titled album was shelved until 1991. Rumours began circulating that a video for "Bad Girl" was filmed but it remained shrouded in mystery until it unexpectedly appeared on youtube a few days ago. I have to admit that I always thought the film clip was an old wives' tale. For a very simple reason. I lived in Germany as a child and most television shows had elaborate visual montages for guest performers at the time. I vividly remember Toy (or fake La Toya as the case may be) performing "Don't Break My Heart" on TV - complete with video screens and a panther! - and I always assumed the "Bad Girl" video might be an edit of a similar performance. Watching it today, I'm still not convinced but it doesn't matter. This is a riveting masterpiece and showcases Toy Toy's stunning dance moves, which I'm sure you'll agree put Janet's pathetic choreography to shame! I love the zero budget special effects and the fact that La Toya's backing dancers were obviously drafted from the nearest gay club.

The song itself is an amazing attempt to cash in on Michael's "Bad" but I think the track holds up well as a late 80s anthem. The chorus is catchy and the production bounces along cheerfully enough. One of these days I'll write a proper post about one of La Toya's best albums but in the meantime check out this rare and amazing video - regardless if it is official or not. Nobody does it quite like Toy Toy!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Ultimate Dannii Promo

This is quite simply THE most amazing thing I've ever seen in my entire life. It captures the essence of Dannii, her stunning artistry and undeniable genius perfectly. Watch this and weep tears of pure joy.