Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Book review: Freak Like Me

I was recently sent a review copy of Freak Like Me and it's probably the funniest and most relateable book I've read in years, transporting me back to a glorious musical time that I basically still live in in my head.

The book is the true story of a teenage pop fan who, with a group of like-minded outcasts, witnesses the disposable but incredibly fun music industry of the late nineties and early noughties first-hand. It details author Malcolm McLean's escapades as he stalks and gets to meet some of the biggest popstars of the day.

As the press release states: "This hilarious memoir is packed with scandalous gossip and poignant memories from the era of Nokia 3310s and dial-up internet, when chart positions meant everything and, if you wanted to know what your idols were up to off-screen, you had to track them down yourself!"

Malcolm was born in suburban Surrey in 1983. I was born four years later in Brighton in 1987, and while I didn't get up to any of the wild antics that he did, I did live and breathe the iconic 1997-2002 era of pop music covered in depth in this book, and was also bullied at school, with the charts and the pop (and dance) music of the era as my main escape.

But Malcolm went many steps further than I did with his pop obsessions. He even details how he painted his bedroom radiator in leopard print in tribute to an album cover of his beloved Eternal.

Many memories I thought only I had and songs and artists that I thought everybody else had forgotten are recalled in this book, and there are also numerous brilliant mentions of Eurovision, including how our 2006 entrant Daz Sampson started out, as part of cheesy Eurodance rap act Bus Stop in 1998.

Malcolm discusses at length his near weekly trips to not-so glamorous Borehamwood to watch Top Of The Pops, with details on performances and surrounding anecdotes of the stars involved that made me laugh out loud (who could forget Destiny's Child's flop duet with Corrie's Matthew Marsen, or how eight-year old kids across the country were naively singing 'I'm horny all night long' that summer).

He even saw Geri Halliwell's last ever performance with Spice Girls before the split in 1998 - although it wasn't on Viva Forever, as is widely reported, but was in fact as part of the England United supergroup on their dull MOR official World Cup anthem of that year. Who knew!?

This is a brilliant book and one that I wholeheartedly recommend to any pop fan, or anybody who grew up through the era.

It's currently available on Amazon for £7.19 while the Kindle edition is a steal at £2.99. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Top 100 songs of the 2010s

1. Loreen – Euphoria
2. Sheppard – A Grade Playa
3. Wiktoria – As I Lay Me Down
4. Maroon 5 feat Christina Aguilera – Moves Like Jagger
5. Lena Meyer-Landrut – Satellite
6. Avicii & B & B And Choir – We Write The Story
7. Take That – The Flood
8. Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes
9. Kylie Minogue – All The Lovers
10. Walk The Moon – Shut Up And Dance
11. Delta Goodrem – Wings
12. DJ Kent feat The Arrows – Spin My World
13. Freya Ridings – Lost Without You
14. Clean Bandit feat Sean Paul & Anne-Marie – Rockabye
15. Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime
16. Sanna Nielsen – Undo
17. Jennifer Lopez feat Pitbull – On The Floor
18. Kate Miller-Heidke – Zero Gravity
19. Ed Sheeran – The A Team
20. Rihanna feat Drake – What's My Name
21. Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen – Good Time
22. Rihanna feat Calvin Harris – We Found Love
23. The Veronicas – You Ruin Me
24. Ellie Goulding – Love Me Like You Do
25. Tove Styrke – White Light Moment
26. Delta Goodrem – Hunters And The Wolves
27. Delta Goodrem feat Gizzle – Enough
28. Dolcenera – Un Altro Giorno Sulla Terra
29. David Guetta feat Sia – Titanium
30. Lorde – Royals
31. Cascada – Glorious
32. Sheppard – Geronimo
33. Stromae – Alors On Danse
34. Gotye feat Kimbra – Somebody That I Used To Know
35. Roll Deep – Green Light
36. Rae Morris – Don't Go
37. Steps – Scared Of The Dark
38. Clean Bandit feat Jess Glynne – Rather Be
39. Take That – These Days
40. Mura Masa feat Nao – Firefly
41. Salem Al Fakir – Keep On Walking
42. Janet Leon – Heartstrings
43. Avicii & Nicky Romero – I Could Be The One
44. Avicii – Wake Me Up
45. The Corrs – White Light
46. Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa – One Kiss
47. Frances – Don't Worry About Me
48. Alicia Keys – Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart
49. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow
50. Sarah Connor – Vincent
51. Steps – Story Of A Heart
52. The Corrs – Bring On The Night
53. Daithi – Mary Keanes Introduction
54. Molly – Children Of The Universe
55. Steps – Neon Blue
56. Eric Amarillo – Om Sanningen Ska Fram
57. Blue – I Can
58. The Common Linnets – Calm After The Storm
59. All Saints – One Strike
60. Nadine Beiler – The Secret Is Love
61. Sheelah – The Last Time
62. Rivaz – Colors
63. Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
64. The Rua – Fight For What's Right
65. Kylie Minogue – Get Outta My Way
66. Leddra Chapman – Story
67. John Lundvik – Too Late For Love
68. Delta Goodrem – Wish You Were Here
69. Le Kid – We Should Go Home Together
70. Helene Fischer – Atemlos Durch Die Nacht
71. RAM & Susana – RAMelia (Tribute To Amelia)
72. Eric Saade – Popular
73. P!nk – What About Us
74. Dua Lipa – New Rules
75. George Ezra – Shotgun
76. Prance Faris – Flares
77. Rachel Platten – Fight Song
78. Ed Sheeran – You Need Me, I Don't Need You
79. Galantis – Peanut Butter Jelly
80. Dynoro & Gigi D'Agostino – In My Mind
81. Swedish House Mafia feat John Martin – Don't You Worry Child
82. Michael Woods – Platinum Chains
83. Passenger – Let Her Go
84. Rita Ora – Anywhere
85. Sanna Nielsen – I'm In Love
86. Fleur East – Sax
87. Hozier – Take Me To Church
88. Alcazar – Blame It On The Disco
89. Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
90. Katy Perry – Never Really Over
91. Boyzone – Gave It All Away
92. KOLAJ – The Touch
93. Ortiga – Ilumbarada
94. Kylie Minogue – Dancing
95. Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You
96. Swim Deep – To Feel Good
97. Pegboard Nerds – Emoji
98. Lady Gaga – Applause
99. Lina Hedlund – Victorious
100. Sheelah – Psycho

Top 50 albums of the 2010s

1. Sheppard - Bombs Away
2. Steps – Tears On The Dancefloor
3. The Corrs - White Light
4. The Common Linnets - The Common Linnets
5. Delta Goodrem – Wings Of The Wild
6. Leddra Chapman - Telling Tales
7. Delta Goodrem - Child Of The Universe
8. Ed Sheeran – x
9. Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite
10. Adele – 21
11. Rihanna – Loud
12. Kate Miller-Heidke - The Best Of Kate Miller-Heidke: Act One
13. Ed Sheeran - +
14. Take That – Progress/Progressed
15. Ed Sheeran - ÷
16. Avicii – True
17. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper - A Star Is Born OST
18. Sia – This Is Acting
19. Robyn - Body Talk

20. Sara Bareilles - The Blessed Unrest
21. Lady Gaga - Born This Way
22. Steps - The Ultimate Collection
23. The Veronicas - The Veronicas
24. Emeli Sandé - Our Version Of Events
25. Taylor Swift – 1989
26. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
27. Ellie Goulding - Halcyon Days
28. Rae Morris – Unguarded
29. Kylie Minogue – Golden
30. Freya Ridings – Freya Ridings
31. Ellie Goulding - Bright Lights
32. Sheppard – Watching The Sky
33. The Corrs – Jupiter Calling
34. Rae Morris – Someone Out There
35. The Rua – Essence
36. The Kelly Family – We Got Love
37. Little Mix - Glory Days
38. Le Kid - Oh Alright!
39. Jess Glynne – I Cry When I Laugh
40. The Kelly Family - 25 Years Later
41. All Saints - Red Flag
42. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

43. Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials
44. Freya Ridings – Live At Omeara
45. Take That – Odyssey
46. Noah & The Whale - Last Night On Earth
47. Ed Sheeran - No.6 Collaborations Project
48. Lady Gaga – ARTPOP
49. Disclosure – Settle
50. Boyzone – Brother


What I said about the top 10 in their year of release:

1. Sheppard - Bombs Away (2014)

Australian band Sheppard's debut album Bombs Away is the most consistently strong album I've heard since Lady Gaga's 2009 project The Fame Monster. Every song on it is really fantastic. The four singles - Let Me Down Easy, Geronimo, Something's Missing and Smile - are all really different sounding but fundamentally pop-influenced tracks while some of the album tracks are even better; A Grade Playa is pop perfection while Lingering is a gorgeous ballad with lush harmonies.

I saw the band live in Camden in August and it was easily the best gig I've seen in years, they have so much energy and passion for what they do and it's incredible how accomplished the show was for a band with just one album under their belt. Bombs Away is quite easily my favourite album of the decade so far and I couldn't recommend it any more highly, there's something on it for every pop fan.

2. Steps – Tears On The Dancefloor (2017)

Everything about this campaign was perfect - Scared In The Dark was a monster lead single up there with their all-time best while the album was packed with songs just as good, including the other singles Neon Blue and Story Of A Heart. But it was far from filler beyond that - Happy and Firefly are both triumphant modern pop while I Will Love Again is a soaring cover of the Lara Fabian song. Glitter and Gold and No More Tears On The Dancefloor were amongst the other highlights. 

Later in the year Faye, Claire, H, Lisa and Lee released a deluxe edition, and made the best even better by covering a Delta Goodrem track, Dancing With A Broken Heart, to lead the re-release with. This was joined by a beautiful Xmas song, Dear Santa, and the excellent September Sun, along with a couple of other nice new tracks. The supporting arena tour was an absolute moment, perhaps the best concert I've seen in years with great polished new versions of the classics plus many of the aforementioned tracks from this album, stellar live vocals from the entire band and incredible staging.

3. The Corrs - White Light (2015)

By far my favourite ever band, I've been waiting for this album since 2004's incredible Borrowed Heaven and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Andrea, Sharon, Caroline and Jim stepped back out with this release after apparently not aging a day in the past ten years and delivered something spectacular.

I really hadn't imagined this album would be so great, but one listen through reminded me of exactly why they remain my favourite band. From the traditional Irish songs - Gerry's Reel, Stay, Harmony and Ellis Island - to the gorgeous lead single Bring On The Night, the drama of White Light and the dance effort I Do What I Like, nearly everything on here is perfect. Another surprise is Unconditional, which is close to the new wave sound of Taylor Swift's Style and One Direction's Perfect, keeping the band very current sounding and up to date. This album has been well worth the wait.

4. The Common Linnets - The Common Linnets (2014)

Dutch country act The Common Linnets, who represented their country at Eurovision this year with the subtle ballad Calm After The Storm, delivered a brilliant debut album; my favourite country album since Carrie Underwood's 2005 debut Some Hearts.

Packed with instant hooks, lush harmonies and care and raw emotion throughout, nearly all of the songs on here are so beautifully constructed that they already sound like timeless country classics.

5. Delta Goodrem – Wings Of The Wild (2016)

Immediately my favourite album of Delta's since 2004's dark opus Mistaken Identity, Wings Of The Wild had a few familiar tracks on it before release, with the career revitalising Aussie #1 Wings, the lovely piano ballad Only Human and gorgeous string-laden ballad Dear Life.

Enough is my favourite track on the album other than Wings, very much in the template of the 2007 epic Believe Again, but with verses from female rapper Gizzle, so a very different prospect for Delta indeed. Elsehwere it's probably easier to list what I don't love than what I do. I suppose I could live without I'm Not Giving Up, In The Name Of Love and Encore, though all three are good. But the rest of the album is stunning.

Feline and Hold On are in the sublime vein of Wings, her cover of I Believe In A Thing Called Love by The Darkness is seriously beautiful, Heavy is a classic Delta ballad, The River is thumping power pop reminiscent of the Mistaken Identity era and Just Call is really uplifitng and joyful. Overall this album just further confirms why Delta will likely forever remain my favourite artist, her quality just never dips.

6. Leddra Chapman - Telling Tales (2009 - but it was one of my 2010 faves)

A distinctive and quirky, but gorgeous voice, Leddra's collection of piano ballads and mid-tempo acoustic strummers really warmed up a cold winter for me during Jan and Feb 2010 and carried on winning me over right into the summer, right until I grew to LOVE every song on here.

Leddra has proved to me once again how hard I can fall in love with the singer/songwriter genre if it's 'just right', so roll on album number two! Highlights though are Story, Summer Song, Edie and Fooling Myself.

7. Delta Goodrem - Child Of The Universe (2012)

After a huge five years away my favourite artist returned with Child Of The Universe. I fell in love instantly with the jolly comeback single Sitting On Top Of The World, the dancy Sophie B Hawkins soundalike Dancing With A Broken Heart, the gorgeous and emotional Wish You Were Here and the Tori Amos-esque stormer Hunters And The Wolves - Delta was back on top form.

Add to this the jaunty country-tinged pop of Knocked Out, the Motown of When My Stars Come Out, the frantic drama of War Of Love and Child Of The Universe, and the Mariah warbling of Safe To Believe and it made for a stunning comeback.

8. Ed Sheeran – x (2014)

I loved Ed Sheeran's debut album + but many found it underwhelming and called it too safe and MOR considering the variation and quality of his many independently released EPs from the years before he became popular in the mainstream. x is in a completely different league altogether to +, Ed's craft has come on in leaps and bounds in the three years between albums and it's a stunning listen from start to finish. 

There's plenty to choose from for fans of MOR balladry but his unique edge still shines through in songs like The Man and Afire Love while the three singles have all been perfect choices, and all incredibly varied in style. Ed just seems to get better and better.

9. Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite (2010)

As something of a Kylie loon, I was hugely anticipating Aphrodite. And safe to say that All The Lovers suggested that it could be very special indeed. And that it was! First listen I was instantly won over by the glorious melodies, polished disco-pop and slick vocals. This was Kylie back at her solid best, with a full great album.

The only minor niggle would be that the glorious Heartstrings was shunned - I would personally have replaced Everything Is Beautiful with it, but I know that the latter is something of a fan favourite so maybe it wouldn't have been a popular choice. Highlights for me are All The Lovers, Get Outta My Way, Aphrodite and Better Than Today but I would rank everything on the album (save for Everything Is Beautiful) as an 8.5/10 and above - a seriously great collection.

10. Adele – 21 (2011)

To say that this is a second album, I think it's fair to say that Adele avoided the 'sophomore slump'! So much more mature and well produced than 19 and the songwriting is sublime from start to finish, as are her gorgeous vocals from start to finish. Unlike many of the big female stars, Adele has a powerful voice when necessary but can also show restraint when necessary.

The power of Set Fire To The Rain contrasts nicely with the more mellow Cure cover Lovesong for example. Rolling In The Deep was so different to everything else out there and an incredibly gutsy lead single and Someone Like You is one of the best new ballads of recent times, and a deserved biggest selling single of the year in the UK.

It feels like an 11 track 'hits' album, and any studio album where every track could have been a huge hit single if released as the lead deserves all of the praise thrown at it. Rumour Has It and Turning Tables would have been worldwide #1s if released in place of Someone Like You for example. A stunning body of work then, back in 2008 I could have never predicted that Adele would live up to the hype in such a way, but consider me convinced. She's broken just about every chart record going worldwide and it's easy to see why.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Top 40 albums of 2019

1. Kate Miller-Heidke - The Best Of Kate Miller-Heidke: Act One
2. Freya Ridings - Freya Ridings
3. The Kelly Family - 25 Years Later
4. Ed Sheeran - No.6 Collaborations Project
5. Avicii - Tim
6. Taylor Swift - Lover
7. Spinifex Gum & Marliya Choir - Sisters
8. Busted - Half Way There
9. Valeska Muller - My Simfonie

. Kylie Minogue - Step Back In Time: The Definitive Collection
11. Swim Deep - Emerald Classics
12. Lichtblick - Lichtblick
Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell
14. Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated
. The Rua - The Rua
16. Ariana Grande - Thank U, Next
. Zanda Zakuza - 2018
Emeli Sandé - Real Life
IDER - Emotional Education
20. The Rhythm Method - How Would You Know I Was Lonely?
21. Sigrid - Sucker Punch
22. Marina - Love + Fear
23. Mika - My Name Is Michael Holbrook
Mabel - High Expectations
25. DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ - Spellbound!

26. Madonna - Madame X
27. Sarah Connor - Herz Kraft Werke
28. Mark Ronson - Late Night Feelings
29. Friends - Best Of Friends
30. Alphabeat - Don't Know What's Cool Anymore
31. Becky Hill - Get To Know
32. Kate Miller-Heidke - Curiouser
33. Sophie Ellis-Bextor - The Song Diaries
34. Will Young - Lexicon

P!nk - Hurts 2B Human
Vanessa Amorosi - Back To Love
37. Claire Richards - Wildest Dreams
Bastille - Doom Days
39. Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
. Sara Bareilles - Amidst The Chaos

Top 100 songs of 2019

1. Kate Miller-Heidke - Zero Gravity
2. Sarah Connor - Vincent
3. John Lundvik - Too Late For Love
4. Katy Perry - Never Really Over
5. Swim Deep - To Feel Good
6. Lina Hedlund - Victorious
7. Spinifex Gum & Marliya Choir - Sisters
8. Anna Bergendahl - Ashes To Ashes
9. DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ - All The Beautiful Things U Do
10. Mabel - Don't Call Me Up
11. Spacetrain - Salsa Me
12. The Kelly Family - Over The Hump
13. Nolwenn Leroy - Nolwenn Ohwo!
14. IDER - Swim
15. Lily Moore - Over You
16. Lichtblick - Feuerregen
17. Becky Hill & Weiss (UK) - I Could Get Used To This
18. Dolcenera - Più Forte
19. Sheppard - On My Way
20. Zanda Zakuza - Be Mine
21. Mahmood - Soldi
22. Tones and I - Dance Monkey
23. Dolcenera - Amaremare
24. Dua Lipa - Don't Start Now
25. The Rhythm Method - Sex And The Suburbs
26. Avicii feat Agnes and Vargas & Lagola - Tough Love
27. LUM!X and Gabry Ponte - Monster
28. Sheppard - Kiss My Fat Ass
29. Wim Mertens - Close Cover
30. TRESOR & Beatenberg - Aphrodite
31. Kate Miller-Heidke - Caught In The Crowd
32. Freya Ridings - Castles
33. Westlife - Hello My Love
34. Wolfgang Wee - In My Arms
35. Kate Miller-Heidke - Ernie
36. Hanna Ferm & LIAMOO - Hold You
37. Friends feat Jean Pierre Barda - Pacmahara
38. Busted - It Happens
39. Spinifex Gum & Marliya - Dream Baby Dream
40. Agnes - I Trance
41. Valeska Muller - Daar Waar Ons Staan
42. Ed Sheeran feat Chance the Rapper & PnB Rock - Cross Me
43. Kate Miller-Heidke - Australian Idol
44. Freya Ridings - Love Is Fire
45. Barrie - Clovers
46. Dodie - Monster
47. Duncan Laurence - Arcade
48. Kate Miller-Heidke, Sydney Symphony Orchestra & Benjamin Northey - In The Dark (Live At The Sydney Opera House)
49. Laleh - Tack Förlåt
50. Keiino - Spirit in the Sky
51. Original Off-Broadway Cast of Cruel Intentions - Kiss Me
52. The Kelly Family - Fire
53. Ellie Goulding - River
54. Davina Michelle - Duurt Te Lang
55. Valeska Muller - Be Myself
56. Sheppard - Die Young
57. The Kelly Family - El Camino
58. Ed Sheeran feat Camila Cabello & Cardi B - South of the Border
59. Avicii & Aloe Blacc - SOS
60. Friends - När jag tänker på imorgon
61. Tallisker - Somewhere
62. Flecks - Samurai
63. Ava Max - So Am I
64. HUGEL - Guajira Guantanamera
65. DJ Mshega & Holly Rey - Hurricane
66. Hatari - Hatrið mun sigra
67. Way Out West - Mindcircus (Gabriel & Dresden Remix)
68. Wiktoria - Not With Me
69. Jax Jones feat Ella Henderson - This Is Real
70. Kygo & Whitney Houston - Higher Love
71. Tol & Tol - Eleni
72. Taylor Swift - Lover
73. DJ Spoony feat Sugababes - Flowers
74. Luca Hänni - She Got Me
75. Kylie Minogue - New York City
76. Zanda Zakuza - Udlala Kabi
77. Ed Sheeran feat Khalid - Beautiful People
78. Busted - All My Friends
79. Sam Johnson - Medicine For My Brain
80. Sigala & Becky Hill - Wish You Well
81. Shortland Street The Musical Cast - Kia Ora Shortland Street
82. The Knocks & Kah-Lo - Awa Ni
83. Alle Farben & Jordan Powers - Different for Us
84. Crush - Jellyhead (Motiv 8 Mix)
85. Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello - Señorita
86. Avicii - Heaven
87. Madonna with Maluma - Medellín
88. Swimming Girls - 1 2 Many
89. Valerie Broussard - Actually (Tom Ferry Remix)
90. Sigrid - Don’t Feel Like Crying
91. Kita Alexander - Between You & I
92. IDER - Saddest Generation
93. Maroon 5 - Memories
94. Billie Eilish - Bad Guy
95. Tennyson - Face the Night
96. Vampire Weekend - Harmony Hall
97. MEDUZA & Goodboys - Piece Of Your Heart
98. Nomzi - Seksile
99. Agnes - Limelight
100. Leah - Ek Noem Jou MYNE (Cross My Heart)

Monday, 23 December 2019

Tunes I'm currently loving // 2019 // Volume 12

1. Ellie Goulding - River
2. Midnight Kids feat Annika Wells - Run It
3. Sigma & Jack Savoretti - You And Me As One
4. Wrabel - (It Wouldn't Be) Christmas Without You
5. Chloe Lilac - High School
6. Björn Again - Keeping The Dream Alive
7. Sigrid - Mine Right Now (Simon Hardy Remix)
8. Leddra Chapman - Ghosts
9. Ed Sheeran feat Ella Mai - Put It All On Me
10. The Weeknd - Blinding Lights
11. Camila Cabello feat DaBaby - My Oh My
12. Sam Feldt - Winter Wonderland
13. Taylor Swift - Christmas Tree Farm
14. Pamela Myburgh - Don't Run, Jonah
15. Alanis Morissette - Reasons I Drink
16. Harry Styles - Adore You
17. Megan McKenna - It Must Have Been Love
18. Stormzy - Lessons
19. Lily Moore - Nothing On You
20. Anyway Gang - Eyes Of Green

Monday, 25 November 2019

Tunes I'm currently loving // 2019 // Volume 11

1. Spinifex Gum & Marliya Choir - Sisters
2. Dua Lipa - Don't Start Now
3. The Kelly Family - El Camino
4. Spinifex Gum & Marliya Choir - Dream Baby Dream
5. The Kelly Family - Fire
6. Marnik & KSHMR feat Anjulie & Jeffrey Jey - Alone
7. The Kelly Family - Star Of The County Down
8. Little Mix - One I've Been Missing
9. The Kelly Family - First Time
10. Mae Muller - Dick
11. Riton & Oliver Heldens feat Vula - Turn Me On
12. KH & Four Tet - Only Human
13. The Kelly Family - Father's Nose
14. Voice Of The Beehive - Scary Kisses
15. Sigala & Ella Henderson - We Got Love
16. Idina Menzel & Aurora - Into The Unknown
17. Alphabeat - I Don't Know What's Cool Anymore
18. Westlife - Repair
19. Bastille - Can't Fight This Feeling
20. Skream - Song For Olivia