Friday, January 8, 2010

2009 the year in music review

2009 the year in music review

2009 was an exciting year for music with acts like Lady Gaga busting on to the scene and bringing the dance/electronic sound so popular in Europe to the shores of the USA. Acts like Taylor Swift and The Black Eyed Peas dominated the Billboard charts breaking all kinds of records, and the reality shows like American Idol seemed to be revived with the likes of Adam Lambert.

Despite all the excitement I felt that the “album” suffered. Aside from my top 3 albums the rest of my top ten just kind of blends together and was kind of hard to place in order. I always feared that the digital age would make the “concept album” obsolete I hope that doesn't happen.

Lady GaGa continues to blow me away from her debut “The Fame” to her EP “The Fame Monster”. She has musical talent, style and can actually sing live. Mika has the talent but seem to be unable to break into the charts. Some efforts by established artists like Robbie Williams and Bananarama left me a bit disappointed, while The Pet Shop Boys and Whitney Houston delivered the goods. Reality stars Blake Lewis and Adam Lambert surprised me with their albums. Too bad Blake's sophomore album has got no support and barely sold.

Note qualifications: Lady GaGa The Fame was released in late 2008 but only gained recognition in the USA in 2009. Since she decided to release her 8 new tracks as a separate EP called The Fame Monster it qualifies as well and charted separately on the Billboard charts.

Top Albums of 2009

01 The Fame--Lady GaGa

A heaven of dance and electronic GaGa knows how to write a pop song with hooks and melodies that drag you right in. I have to admit I was first put off by "Just Dance" and "Poker Face" but the album is quite solid. My favourite tracks are the slower jams "Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" , "Paparazzi", Summerboy and "Boys, Boys, Boys" her ode to Mötley Crüe's hit "Girls, Girls, Girls. Her version could well become a gay anthem. "Paper Gangsta" has a great melody and a driving keyboard line throughout the song that is just delicious, the lyrics “Sometimes I felt so Def in the Jam”, “don't want no paper gangsta won't sign no monkey papers I don't do funny business not interested in fakers” could the song be about her record deal with Def Jam that fell apart? The only odd song is the ballad "Brown Eyes" which seems lost on the record. 9/10

02 The Boy Who Knew Too Much--Mika

Mika knows how to write a catchy tune and his sophomore album delivers the good. Mika borrows the best from pop music, although sometime you have to wonder if he doesn't take too much, the opening track and first single “We Are Golden” sounds a lot like Belinda Carlisle's “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”. The album just gets better with the tongue and cheek cabaret style of “Blame It On The Girls” and the wonderful falsetto gem and possibly the best track “Rain ”. Mika's lyrics are not empty and have a kind of whimsical and satirical style on songs like “DR. John”, “ One Foot Boy” and the circus themed “Boy Toy”, but when you peal away the happy melodies you're left pondering what is he really talking about? “I See You” slows the album down along with the reggae style "Blue Eyes". “Good Girl Gone” sounds like he sampled the magic of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Mika's music is probably too gay and sugar pop to be played on American radio stations but his albums are never boring, his music leaves you singing and dancing and wanting more. 9/10

03 Heatbreak On Vinyl--Blake Lewis

I never took him seriously but Mr. Lewis sophomore effort is a delicious slice of dance/electronica. The album is a throwback to the 80's without sounding dated. The music is catchy and has melodies to match the beats. Best track are the title track, a wink to those who remember the record store, “Binary Love”, “Sad Songs” and “Freak“."left My Baby For You” showcases Blake's hidden falsetto and sounds like it was plucked out of the early 80's techno era. “Rebel Without A Cause” sounds like a mix of Sting and reggae. The album is superbly produced, cohesive, and not in the way where all the tracks blend as one. Each has its own style. A shame the album sold so poorly and got no publicity. 8.5/10

04 I Look To You--Whitney Houston

Million Dollar Bill” penned by Alicia Keys opens the album, a homage to the R & B groove of 70's and from there the album doesn't disappoint. Favourite track is Leon Russell's “A Song For You” which start off slow and builds to a dance floor anthem. There was a bit of confusion as to which song would be the first single, “I Didn't Know My Own Strength” penned by Diane Warren was a contender and then dropped in favour of “I Look To You”. I usually like Warren's song, the lyrics are very meaningful to Whitney but there is something off with the vocal arrangement, it's like the lyrics don't fit the music. When reviewing an artist with a voice like Whitney I usually concentrate on the songs because she's not a songwriter and is usually at the whim of her songwriters, but it's no secret that Whitney has abused her vocal chords probably from smoking drugs through the years. Her voice is not what it used to be, you expect her to soar or crescendo on some of the songs but it never seems to happen, whether it was written that way or not it leaves you wondering. On the positive side her voice has a new raspy edge to it which gives it character and life. Lyrics like “I've acted out my love in stages with ten thousand people watching” come across as autobiographical, you get the feeling that all the songs were written for her. You can't help but see the similarities to her life from the track “Nothing but Love” to the closing number “Salute” her swan song to Bobby Brown. “I Look To You” is great collection of songs and one of her most cohesive albums. 8/10

05 Yes--Pet Shop Boys

20 years later the boys are still putting out excellent pop music and remain masters at dance and electronica. This time around they hire Brian Higgins and his power machine Xenomania (Sugababes, Girls Aloud) to help co-write and produce some of the tracks. The team up produces a very cohesive, although sometimes homogenized modern pop album. Best tracks are “Did You See Me Coming?” with its beautiful guitar backing, “Beautiful People” and “Pandemonium” which sounds like classic Pet Shop Boys (think “Can You Forgive Her’). The album gets beautifully haunting with “All Over The World” a track that borrows from Tchaikovsky Nutcracker and the poetic war song “Building A Wall” where Neil sings "There's no where to defect to any more, I'm building a wall A fine wall Not so much to keep you out More to keep me in". Many have said this is their best since their 1993 album "Very" 8/10

06 The Fame Monster (EP)--Lady GaGa

GaGa was only suppose to write a few extra tracks as bonus songs for her debut album's re-release but after writing a few more she decided to release an EP of 8 tracks. From the explosive catchy “Bad Romance” the album is just as good as any full track CD. “Alejandro” has shades of ABBA, Speechless is an epic ballad and a huge hit in the waiting. The dancefloor burns up with the Depeche Mode flavoured “Dance In The Dark” and the Beyonce duet Telephone. GaGa has a way of mixing the best bits of pop music to create a unique vision and sound. 8/10

07 For Your Entertainment--Adam Lambert

Adam's debut album produces a mix of sound and vision, but lacks a bit of direction. “Music Again”, “Sure Fire Winner" and the Teddy Riley penned “Aftermath” follow the rock path and direction you would expect from him. “Sure Fire Winner” reminds me of the 80's stadium songs and “Pick You Up” throws a dash of Broadway into the mix. All songs would make great singles but instead his record label released the Britney-esque dance track “For Your Entertainment”, and the Pink penned track “Whataya Want from Me” which I think are horrible choices. My favourite song is the operatic ballad “Soaked”, Adam's vocals soar to epic proportions, the song is beautifully produced but probably not radio friendly. Linda Perry's pretty ballad “A Loaded Smile” slows the pace down. The album goes back into dance territory with “If I Had You" and the Lady GaGa catchy contribution “Fever”. The album closes with the opus 2012 film track ”Time For Miracles”. You can tell a lot of time and production went into this album and produced a pretty good effort from a karaoke contest winner. 7/10

08 Reality Killed The Video Star--Robbie Williams

I was looking forward to this album but I find it a bit underwhelming. Robbie says he's back to big ballads a la ”Angels” but the album is missing his signature spark, the kick he usually has. I love the opening track “Morning Sun” which he wrote last minute after Michael Jackson's death, and “Blasphemy” which he co-wrote with long time collaborator Guy Chambers, the song was actually a leftover from his Escapology album from 2003. I wish he would have gotten back with Chambers and written more songs. The rest of the album blurs together all very nice, but nice is the last thing you want on a Robbie Williams album. 6.5/10

09 Complete Me-Frankmuzik

Frankmusik remind me of Howard Jones, and the electronic artists of the 80's. His single “Confusion Girl” is an absolute delight and so much fun in an era of homogenised music. His songs are quirky and catchy like “Better Of As 2” and “3 Little Words”. “When Your Around”, which contains an interpolation of The Stranglers "Golden Brown" has a Depeche Mode quality to it. The album slows down with the tracks “Complete Me” and the more successful “Vacant Heart”. “Time Will Tell” mixes synths with borrowed loops from “Put The Needle On The Record”. He has a nice voice and his falsetto can be pretty but sometimes it can become grating. Unfortunately some of the music can come off sounding repetitive and annoying like the opening track “In Step”, “Gotta Boyfriend?” And “Done Done” where the synthesizers over power his voice too much, but how can I not like an artist who wrote a song called “Wonder Woman”. 6.5/10

10 Viva Bananarama

After 25 years I still love Bananarama, they don't take themselves too seriously and still produce fun pop music like their 2006 album “Drama”. Their follow up was supposed to be an album of cover tracks but they started writing so many new songs and changed their mind. Their new single “Loves Comes” produced by Ian Masterson delivers all the goods and was hopeful to a great album. “Love Don't Live Here” could make an OK single and “Dum Dum Boy” is fun but the rest of the album becomes a bit too homogenised and uses too much auto-tuning, I'd rather hear the girls voices and less manipulation, the song “Twisting” is just grating. I love some of the digital bonus tracks like the cover versions of “Voyage Voyage”, and “The Sound Of Silence”. 6/10

Singles of the year

01 Heartbreak On Vinyl----Blake Lewis
02 How Do You Sleep?----Jesse McCartney
03 We Are Golden----Mika
04 Confusion Girl----Frankmuzik
05 Bad Romance----Lady GaGa
06 Blame It On The Girls----Mika
07 Sad Song----Blake Lewis
08 Celebration----Madonna
09 Million Dollar Bill----Whitney Houston
10 Love Comes----Bananarama
11 Just Dance----Lady Gaga
12 Time For Miracles----Adam Lambert
13 About A Girl Sugababes
14 Evacuate The Dancefloor----Cascada
15 Did You See Me Coming----Pet Shop Boys

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