Saturday, 26 November 2011

New Music : An icon, a newcomer and a charity ensemble

Freak Asylum - You Better Leave

Kelly Llorenna is a legend, the dance diva provided the vocals on my all time favourite song, Set You Free by N-Trance and I also hold True Love Never Dies, Tell It To My Heart and Brighter Day in incredibly high regard. Since her brief flashes of solo stardom in 2001/2002 when she managed four UK top ten hits in the space of a year, Kelly seems to have spent a decade pushing out random dance covers to no fanfare whatsoever. Thankfully the icon is back on form with new band Freak Asylum which leaves the dance behind and focuses more on pop with rocky influences. Debut single You Better Leave has been a long time coming but it was well worth the wait. An 80s influenced synth pop stormer, written by legendary Grammy award winning songwriter Toby Gad, it ticks all of the boxes and is the best thing that Kelly's done for almost a decade. What a shame then that the video, complete with Kelly rocking a new bleach blonde look as alter ego 'Lola Leethal', has had barely any views then, this song deserves to be a huge hit!

Reece Mastin - Good Night

Fresh from winning X Factor Australia for his mentor Guy Sebastian, a talent show winner himself, 17 year old Reece Mastin has bagged himself a shockingly excellent debut single. Shocking because in the UK we're used to the debut singles by X Factor winners being ballads about striving for hope and achieving their dreams - yes this means you That's My Goal, A Moment Like This, When You Believe and The Climb. But Reece, who originally hails from English town Scunthorpe - he moved to Australia six years ago with his family - has been given something much more contemporary to launch his career. In fact it could easily pass as the first post competition single rather than feeling like a contracted post-show winner's single. Good Night can best be described as a mix of Pink's Raise Your Glass and something that you might find on the new One Direction album. It's a bold and strong instantly infectious pop/rock song that looks set to go straight to the top of the charts in Australia. Hopefully it will make it over to the UK at some point too, he could definitely be marketed in his home country!

X Factor Finalists 2011 feat JLS and One Direction - Wishing On A Star

Talking of the X Factor, the UK series is winding down with only five acts left now, the favourites to win being Liverpudlian soul-pop singer Marcus Collins, Irish balladeer Janet Devlin and the surprise package of the competition, girlband Little Mix. Misha B and Amelia Lily are the remaining contestants and all five acts feature prominently on this year's charity ensemble single, along with all of the other finalists, apart from Frankie naturally! Following 2008's Hero, 2009's You Are Not Alone and 2010's We Could Be Heroes, this year's offering is a cover of the Rose Royce classic Wishing On A Star. In an attempt to ensure that sales are higher than the last two, which have suffered from the law of diminishing returns in terms of total sales, the producers have enlisted the help of top UK boybands, and former X Factor finalists, JLS and One Direction to sing on the final chorus. They bring very little to the song and are clearly only there to ensure that the loyal fanbases of those groups rush out to buy it too to boost sales and raise as much money for the charity, which can't be complained about really. It's a nice enough cover that does its job and will be a UK #1 single but it won't be remembered for long and will have left the charts by early 2012. Nice for all of the finalists to have a chart topper to their name though.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Vanessa Amorosi channels 911 in new duet

Australian once superstar Vanessa Amorosi, whose star seems to be slowly fading with the release of her last couple of non-charting singles, has teamed up with veteran New Zealand born singer Jon Stevens for a new collaboration, a rather vocally impressive version of Private Number. A soul song originally by William Bell and Judy Clay and a UK top ten hit in 1968, this cover adds a rocky touch to proceedings and suitably soaring vocals from the lady with arguably Australia's strongest voice. Jon's parts aren't so bad either!

The most successful version of this song in the UK of course, if anybody can recall it, was a cover by boyband 911 and uncredited female singer Natalie Jordan. Following their successful covers of More Than A Woman and A Little Bit More, it peaked at #3 in May 1999 although dropped away quickly becoming nothing more than another forgotten boyband single. Shame really as it was quite a pleasant version. The bigger shame is Natalie Jordan never having a solo career, in fact this was the first and last time I ever heard of her!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

2011: The year of the ballad?

2011 has arguably been the most ballad heavy year chartwise since the late 90s. I'm quite pleased about this, I've always been a big fan of a great ballad and there have been plenty to choose from this year. There seem to be three major reasons that ballads have come back into vogue in a big way in the past 12 months. Firstly, Adele, the woman who is responsible for keeping the music industry alive during 2011. Her beautiful live performance of Someone Like You at the BRIT Awards captured the attention of the public and the song has gone on to sell well over a million copies, despite being from an album that has sold well over three million, and topped charts around the world, including the US where it became her second #1 single recently. As a response, piano ballads are suddenly fashionable again.

The second factor is the age old marketing trick of an effective advertising campaign. John Lewis kicked it off last year with Fyfe Dangerfield's cover of She's Always A Woman and Ellie Goulding's take on Your Song both going on to huge chart success. Since then we've had Charlene Soraia's cover of The Calling's Wherever You Will Go become a top three hit after featuring on an advert for Twinings tea. Now John Lewis are back with a third strike - Slow Moving Millie's take on Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want and even Matalan are getting in on the act - Cinnamon Girl stripping down N-Trance's rave anthem (and my all time favourite song!) Set You Free for their Christmas campaign!

The cult of the 'candlelight mix', a ballad or stripped down piano take on a dance, rock or indie song isn't a new phenomenon of course, DJ Sammy's Heaven, which turned the Bryan Adams rock song into a dance classic is arguably just as popular these days in its ballad form aka 'Yanou's Candlelight Mix' where vocalist Do sings with only a piano accompaniment. It brought a completely different dynamic to the track and seemed to kick start a mass influx of similar remixes with seemingly every dance song coming out since having a complimentary ballad version as a remix. Sometimes they work (Cascada - Everytime We Touch, DHT - Listen To Your Heart) and sometimes they don't (most of the others!). X Factor have got in on the act too now, with acts such as Craig and Janet stripping back everything that they do into ballad form regardless of the theme of the week.

The third factor of the ballad becoming more popular can surely be down to what can only be called 'club banger fatigue'. During 2010 and the first few months of 2011 the charts were absolutely saturated with what felt like 100 different versions of exactly the same song. Usually an American act combining a club beat with a catchy chorus or sample and a shoehorned in rap from either Pitbull or Flo Rida. Songs such as LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem, Pitbull's Give Me Everything, J.Lo's On The Floor and the like. At one point it seemed like everything in the top ten was from this genre and it obviously got a bit too much! Look at the current UK charts and these sorts of songs are barely represented now, instead there's a sea of balladry and MOR, some boybands and some female pop superstars. So will the renewed popularity of the ballad last for long? And when will we get some more original ballads?

As good as these covers might be, and lest we forget the 2011 queen of the ballad cover, 15 year old Birdy, there haven't actually been all that many original ballads around. We've had Someone Like You and Christina Perri's Jar Of Hearts, Lana Del Rey's stunning Video Games and at a stretch The A Team and Lego House by Ed Sheeran. O
f course we also have the usual slew of winter ballad releases from the pop bands of the moment - One Direction's Gotta Be You, JLS' Take A Chance On Me and The Saturdays' My Heart Takes Over, but it's still incomparable to the likes of 1998 where two or three original and classic ballads seemed to join the charts each week - Angels, How Do I Live, I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, Truly Madly Deeply, Viva Forever, To You I Belong, Heartbeat, No Matter What, Finally Found and Frozen to name but a few! So whilst I'm pleased to see the return of the ballad, lets hope that we get less covers and more original compositions in time for 2012! Nobody will remember the covers in ten years from now but there's a high chance that the likes of Someone Like You, Jar Of Hearts and The A Team will all go on to become modern day classics!