Link for today: v interesting, and innovative work from this team here: http://www.nimbussprayers.com/
“Maybe I needed to grow up a little first/ Well it looks like I hit a growth spurt”. So goes MMLP2’s opening track and over the course of the next hour it becomes apparent this is no idle brag. The album’s dizzying mix of melody, syllables-per-minute, heart and hurt means, despite the endless plaudits being given to rival "deadly fucking serious” Kanye West, it was really the nutcase from Detroit who demonstrated the greater artistic maturity in 2013.
Some may consider the term “mature” ironic given Marshall Mathers' love of adolescent word play. But that would be to misunderstand how Em’s mischievous and raw rhymes work their magic. On this, the sequel to 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, three aspects of his trade stand out. The first is the vocal work. Despite sounding deeper and more growly he is still able to spit out such quick-fire verbiage it leaves the listener giddy with delight. The most exhilarating moments are “Rap God” where one imagines Mathers to be breathing through his ears and 3.46 minutes into "Love Game" where he suddenly slips up half an octave to send a shiver down your spine.
Secondly, there are the expertly picked samples and collaborations which help capture the iconic pop-rap magic of early hits such as “My Name Is” and “Stan”. “Monster” with Rhianna fully deserved its number one slot and the hillbilly guitar-assisted “So Far” knocks most rap-metal into a cocked hat.
The words “breathe, breathe, pray, breathe” were written in 10-inch letters at her feet. She wore sunglasses to help with her shyness. But if O’Connor was struggling with the pressure of being up on stage it didn’t show in her performance. Off-stage she may continue to suffer with her emotional well-being, but, on stage, she’s on the form of her life. Last night, her dense, swirling thoughts were projected through a combination of intensity, humour and vulnerability. It made for a superb evening.
O'Connor arrived on stage in combat trousers, a green army top and bobble hat. The tattoos on her arms, along with the sunglasses already mentioned gave her a kind of Big Issue chic. Yet, for all her eccentricity, Sinéad looked remarkably healthy. Her first words were about being a surprisingly nervous individual, for someone with such a “big fucking mouth”. They were echoed by the lyrics of the first song she performed, which spoke of “never having much self-confidence anyway”. Thereafter, though, she seemed nothing if not relaxed.
For some the most memorable moments seemed to be where Sinéad stood alone with her plainly-strummed guitar Throughout, O'Connor held the strikingly-diverse crowd rapt with her powerful sense of conviction and that instantly-recognizable voice. People speak of its cathartic quality but last night wasn’t just about being anguished or haunted. “4th and Vine”was jaunty and celebratory; “The Wolf is Getting Married” was straight pop; and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” got the front rows up dancing (interestingly with the middle-aged men standing up first).
Few were surprised this week, when Susan Boyle revealed she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Some used this knowledge as an opportunity to have another go at Simon Cowell's and his role in putting her in the spotlight. But the brittleness so apparent in Boyle’s inter-personal interactions also reflects the problems many perceive in her style of music. For instance why, instead of making you feel fuzzy and warm, Home for Christmas simply leaves you feeling a little uncomfortable.
Christmas songs should make you want to invite the artist over for the holidays. That's true of Mariah Carey, Noddy Holder, even Bob Dylan. Home for Christmas, however, is the musical version of an awkward guest at a party. Of course it is perfectly competent. But competent is hardly Christmassy. In fact, Home for Christmas would have been a lot more festive if it were drunken and shambolic. And splicing in the voice of Elvis on “O Come All Ye Faithful” does absolutely nothing to loosen things up (its sickly-sweet promo video overleaf says a lot about the entire album) The same trick pulled with Johnny Mathis on “When a Child is Born” is even less successful.
I could go on. But suffice it to say that only two songs really work. One is “I Believe in Father Christmas” (which may be because Greg Lake’s original is itself pretty stiff) and the other is “The Christmas Waltz” whose light, floating air seemingly comes out of nowhere. To Boyle’s fans - a surprisingly passionate bunch who will take great exception to almost everything I have written - let me say that, as a charity single, I hope “O Come All Ye Faithful” sells by the bucket load. Furthermore I am thrilled Boyle has overcome her difficulties and had a successful career. I just don’t think Home for Christmas is good or bad enough to really cut it on its own merits.
Oozing like “liquefied sucrose,” whilst offering “a Ritalin-buzzed rictus of happiness” was how theartsdesk described One Direction’s 2012 offering, Take Me Home. That, however, was a year ago, and a year is a long a time in the life of a heavily coiffured twenty-ish year-old pop idol. So, how then, have the intervening months treated the Anglo-Irish quintet? Are procedings now a little more adult or is it simply business as usual for Simon Cowell’s protégés?
Surprisingly, things actually have moved forward a fair bit. The tunes may still go a little heavy on the sugar, but it’s no longer strictly gooey, syrupy teen pop, more a light dusting of Tate & Lyle over bright and breezy pop-rock. Guitars crunch and harmonies soar over sturdy 4/4 beats. And although a palpably more adult sound was expected this time round, who would have predicted the triumphant power chords of the title track or the cod indie-rock styling of “Little Black Dress”?
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of hideous ballads like “Story of My Life” or “You and I”. Even the jauntier, rockier numbers won’t have a particularly wide appeal. Then again, nor has the move to a more late-adolescent vibe resulted in growing pains like those of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber. Indeed, the closest we get to risqué lyrics is Harry telling the girl in “Little Black Dress” he wants to take her home from the party.
Rebecca Ferguson’s first album, Heaven, blew in like a summer breeze in the freezing winter of 2011. What made the Liverpudlian’s debut stand out was not so much the quality of her voice – although it was undeniably big and infectious – but rather that, as an X Factor alumnus, she actually seemed to have something worthwhile to say. As such, it gives me no pleasure to say that the follow up, Freedom, sounds insipid; more Magic FM than, well, magic.
Previously, Ferguson had succeeded in conveying personal struggles through bright, muscular soul melodies. This time around, however, she has simply given us 12 slices of inoffensive R’n’B, apparently "inspired by her babies". The vocal quality has nosedived too. Song after song is belted out with a sledgehammer force reminiscent of Heather Small's later work. Even where John Legend lends a hand on “Bridges” the effect is overblown and syrupy. And the closest Ferguson gets to the lightness of touch she showed on Heaven is the opener “All That I’ve Got”.
What’s so frustrating is how many of the songs – "Wonderful World" is a good example – start off so promisingly, but then descend into over-produced mulch. One wonders if Ferguson arrived at the studio with a bag full of interesting ideas which progressively got stripped bare thanks to a production committee's idea of commercial success. Or maybe it's just that a trip on the carousel of success – and a romantic liason One Direction’s Zayn Malik – has dimmed Ferguson’s star.