Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Album review: Delta Goodrem - Child Of The Universe

2003 marked a turning point in my love for music, for the preceding five years I'd been obsessed with pretty much only dance music but a teenage girl from Australian soap opera Neighbours was about to change that. First time I heard Delta Goodrem's Born To Try I instantly loved it and I've been a huge fan ever since, to the point where I count her debut album Innocent Eyes and follow up Mistaken Identity as my two all time favourite albums. Third album Delta was a bit of a dip in form to say the least, with a lot of bland filler and uninspiring lyrics, although it did house my favourite song of hers to date, the majestic Believe Again. Long awaited fourth album Child Of The Universe has been a long time coming, five years to be exact, during which time she broke up with Brian McFadden, then dated and broke up with Nick Jonas. With her judging role on The Voice in Australia, it seems that although not the untouchable icon that she once was in Australia, she still has a huge fanbase and is constantly winning over new supporters. So after living with the album for a week or so, here is my initial assessment:

1. Child Of The Universe - The title track, and it's a perfect opener, a powerful slightly dark chorus and excellent frantic production, an instant Delta classic setting the tone for the rest of the album. 9.5/10

2. Touch - A slightly more organic song which took a while longer to grow on me but the melody eventually worked its way into my consciousness and it's lyrically excellent again. 8.5/10

3. Wish You Were Here - The album's third single, and the one released immediately before the album, so lead single depending on your definition of the concept. Wish You Were Here has already gone down a storm in Australia, hitting the top five and it's not hard to see why. The haunting ode to Delta's lifelong friend Liam O'Flaherty, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2009, is an incredibly gorgeous song, with emotion that I haven't felt in a Delta song since the 2004 album track Extraordinary Day, about her reaction to being diagnosed with cancer in July 2003. An absolute highlight of not just the album, but her career in general, the piano and string arrangement and her crisp but stunning vocals really bring the story to life, and you can almost feel what she went through. 10/10

4. Knocked Out - A real change of pace here as the jaunty pop/country track Knocked Out could have almost come from either her debut album, or Taylor Swift's back catalogue, not that either of these are anything less than a great thing. Knocked Out is an instantly catchy pure pop song with a fantastic chorus with shades of Lenka in the cute 'da da da da's that pop up throughout and then close the song. Could be a single. 9.5/10

5. Sitting On Top Of The World - The song that re-introduced us to Delta back in the first half of the year, the anthemic and positive Sitting On Top Of The World sits brilliantly next to the similarly jaunty Knocked Out. It's not hard to see why this was such a big hit in Australia, it's pure pop joy! 9.5/10

6. I'm Not Ready - Originally a duet with Michael Bolton, Delta's solo version of I'm Not Ready is probably the most fragile song on the album, really highlighting the strength of her vocals with just a piano to accompany it. I personally feel that it has far more emotion than the original duet version and it was a great choice to put it on the album. 9/10

7. Hunters And The Wolves - With every Delta album I have a 'moment', a song which seems so unique and incredible and stands head and shoulders above the rest for me, those songs were: Innocent Eyes, Extraordinary Day and Believe Again. For this album it has to be Hunters And The Wolves. This is pretty much the best song that Tori Amos never recorded, melodically, vocally, lyrically and in terms of production. This absolutely should be a single but every time Delta tries to put out something more leftfield, it seems to underperform (Mistaken Identity, Dancing With A Broken Heart), so maybe one of the more commercial songs would better suit the charts. Either way, this is an absolute gem and easily one of my favourite songs of the year thus far. 10/10


8. Dancing With A Broken Heart - The second single from the album, released in the summer, Dancing With A Broken Heart didn't find much favour with the Australian public, barely denting the top 20. It's a bit of an experimental track, moreso than most Delta singles, so perhaps that was the problem. The album version is even moreso, with a slightly dated dance beat replacing the original production, making it sound even more than ever like something Sophie B Hawkins would have released in 1994. Others have called this song a career high, I think it's fantastic but it's perhaps not as instant as some of her other singles, still damn good though. 9/10

9. Hypnotized - Back to a more jaunty pop after a bit of a mixed bag in the middle of the album. Not one of my favourites on the album, but it's still very pleasant and would be a highlight on a lot of other artist's albums! 8.5/10

10. Safe To Believe - One of the most unexpected tracks on the album, Safe To Believe is essentially a lost Mariah Carey classic from the early 90s. An R&B style ballad complete with gospel choir with a timeless melody and key change which really shows off Delta's powerhouse vocals, the real shock is towards the end where Delta even pulls off a Mariah style high pitched vocal trill. Impressive stuff. 9/10

11. The Speed Of Life - Another piano led, slightly dark track, lyrically and production wise, this one slightly reminds me of a Timbaland produced version of Joan Osborne's One Of Us once the production really kicks in halfway through the first verse. I actually probably prefer the verses to the chorus on this one, with a stronger chorus it would probably be a mark higher. 8.5/10

12. War On Love - An instant fan favourite, it's easy to see why. Unlike Delta's usual song structure, this goes straight into the chorus before going into the verses. Oddly, the structure of the verses is almost exactly the same as the previous song, this one also being vaguely reminiscent of Joan Osborne's One Of Us! War Of Love however does what Speed Of Life didn't and provides a stellar chorus that has echoes of Kelly Clarkson's Behind These Hazel Eyes melodically. 9.5/10

13. I Lost All Love 4 You - Probably my least favourite song on the album, not that it's bad but there's an air of filler to it and I think the word 'for' would have suited Delta more than the number '4' in the song title. Minor niggles aside, it's a pleasant mid-tempo pop song with a strong vocal from Delta and would have made a nice b-side. 7.5/10

14. When My Stars Come Out - This is absolutely excellent, a definite personal highlight of the back end of the album, this fast paced pop song sounds like it's come straight from the Grease soundtrack or an S Club 7 album and sounds like it could have been written alongside the similarly bubbly single Sitting On Top Of The World. It marks yet another different sound for the album too, fantastic pop with a brilliant and instantly infectious chorus! 9.5/10

15. Control - The official album closer, although I'll also be reviewing the two iTunes Australia bonus tracks. Control is another slower tempo quite dark track, reflecting as most of the album does on her various relationships and breakdowns over the past few years since the last album. Control is a good song, one of the best on the album lyrically, but probably not musically, although her vocals are incredibly good on the brooding chorus. 8/10

16. Alcohol - This gives me vibes of Mistaken Identity hidden track Nobody Listened. Suitably dark, and clearly about a certain ex boyfriend's addiction to drink, perhaps this is why the track was relegated to iTunes bonus track status. It's a crying shame that it was because it's one of the strongest tracks of the era with a punchy and powerful chorus and vocal delivery and brutally honest lyrics. 9.5/10

17. No Communication - This track however, can keep its iTunes bonus track status. It's actually better than a couple of the main album tracks and perhaps more 'classic Delta' than most, it sounds like a lost b-side from the Mistaken Identity era. Another lyrically honest asssessment of a relationship breakdown, it's melodically strong but not amazing. 8/10

Overall - This is my most listened to album in years, as a huge Delta fan it's probably more difficult than most to be particularly objective with her music but then I'm the first to call out third album Delta as being hugely underwhelming in parts. Perhaps Delta sounds better to me when dealing with relationship breakups and life's trials and traumas than when singing about being content and everything being perfect, a la the majority of the Delta album. She certainly has her mojo back and Child Of The Universe is a massive return to form, fusing gorgeous dark ballads and mid-tempos with jaunty Tori Amos style uptempo pop via country, gospel and electro on the way. Yet despite this relative lack of cohesion, at no point does it feel like a mess.

A near perfect fourth outing for Delta, my only minor niggle is that Sitting On Top Of The World's fantastic b-side Uncovered probably deserved a place somewhere on the album, perhaps in place of I Lost All Love 4 You, and iTunes bonus track Alcohol was worth a lot more than just being that. Nevertheless, this is a stunning album. If you get the deluxe version you also get a bonus disc with the majority of the album tracks reworked into more acoustic/organic productions, which is also absolutely fantastic and well worth checking out. Just one thing, release it in the UK Delta! You had five top ten hits here before abandoning us straight after scoring your second top three hit. Radio 2 would absolutely lap this album up and with promo I could actually see the album being fairly successful here! 10/10

Does it feel like home?

I was introduced to the music of Ivelin through two members of songwriting outfit ChocoFactory whom I recently met at a music industry gathering. Ivelin's debut single Feel Like Home is an isntantly infectious pop/dance song with excellent production and lyrics and Ivelin has a strong and unique voice. Check it out!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

New music from old favourites: Girls Aloud, Steps and Whigfield!

Back in time a little as three acts who have all had huge chart topping success at some point in the past 20 years have regrouped or returned with stellar pop songs! Here's a mini-roundup of my favourite three;

Girls Aloud - Something New

Rumoured to be their final ever single, and presumably the lead single from their new upcoming Greatest Hits album, to mark 10 years (!) since they were formed on Popstars: The Rivals, Girls Aloud are back! In the three and a half years that have passed since last single Untouchable, Cheryl has become one of the UK's biggest pop stars in her own right with the chart topping hits Fight For This Love, Promise This and Call My Name. Nicola and Nadine had less successful solo careers, albeit with some high quality pop produced, certainly in the case of the former. Kimberley is currently amongst the line up of Strictly Come Dancing and Sarah has been unusually low key. But they've finally regrouped and are back to reclaim their title of Britain's premiere girlband from the likes of Little Mix, Stooshe and The Saturdays. Something New is typically GA, a big Xenomania production with pulsing synths that wouldn't have sounded out of place on 2007's superb Tangled Up album. It's a big brash pop anthem with a lot of attitude and a big chorus. In a nutshell: it's brilliant, welcome back!

Steps - Light Up The World

Having reformed last year, 90s pop group Steps went on to unexpectedly huge success all over again. The Ultimate Collection stormed to No.1 in the UK album chart and they sold out a huge arena tour. Fast forward a year and they're set to release their first new studio album since 2000 next month. Light Up The World is a wintery album, mainly consisting of festive covers, but lead single Light Up The World is an original song, and their first new single since the limp Words Are Not Enough in December 2001. This however is far better, a Steps ballad/mid-tempo done right. The song is instantly infectious with an earworm of a chorus that sounds like a mixture of Stephen Gately's New Beginning and something from Emma Bunton's 60s/Bond theme inspired 2004 album Free Me. They all get a turn on vocals, Faye opens the song, followed by a bridge from Lisa, Claire and H sing the second verse and Lee gets a solo turn towards the end. It's doubtful whether this song will continue their streak of UK top five singles as the singles market has vastly changed in the past decade, and I'm unsure as to whether they will get much support from radio/TV this time around, but it's a triumphant comeback single that deserves to be heard, and at least sell some albums for them!

Whigfield - 4Ever

And moving even further back through pop history, Whigfield's crowning moment of glory came with 1994's huge million selling hit Saturday Night. Danish singer Sanne Carlson now returns in her well known moniker with an absolutely excellent pop song, her best since that huge smash of 1994, although Think Of You put up a hue fight for that title too. The second single from her surprisingly excellent new album W (also check out the song As I Go), 4Ever is a fresh electro-pop anthem that's like a mixture of Robyn, Kylie Minogue and Tove Styrke, but retains the Whigfield charm, and she barely looks like she's aged a day in the video! An unexpectedly great return!

The return of dance music as a commercial force!

2012 has been arguably the most successful year for dance music since 2000, with UK #1 singles from David Guetta & Sia's Titanium, DJ Fresh & Rita Ora's Hot Right Now, Rudimental and John Newman's Feel The Love, Sam & The Womp's Bom Bom and Swedish House Mafia's Don't You Worry Child. Calvin Harris' new single Sweet Nothing looks set for the top of the charts this weekend to make it another victory for dance music, after his past four singles as a lead artist - Bounce, Feel So Close, Let's Go & We'll Be Coming Back all stalled at No.2, positiviely Sash-esque, the difference being that Calvin has topped the UK chart in the past. Calvin also had involvement in three other UK chart toppers in the past year - Rihanna's ubiquitous We Found Love, Cheryl's Call My Name and his remix of Florence + The Machine's Spectrum, the latter two being another couple of half triumphs for dance music at the top of the charts, or at least music influenced by the dance genre! And let's not forget Tulisa's debut solo single Young, which was essentially a Cascada song fronted by the famous X Factor judge and N-Dubz singer! 

After the dark days of the genre commercially in the mid-00s where looped 80s samples were in vogue and landfill indie ruled the charts, where in 2005 only Madonna's pop anthem Hung Up and Crazy Frog's dire Axel F had the smallest of links to the genre, it now seems to be one of the most popular types of music once again. It's fantastic to see that these chart toppers all have one thing in common, they're all completely original songs. No covers, no samples, more thought is going back into dance music once again and the artists responsible for these hits are reaping the rewards.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

An international year for UK #1's!

Swedish House Mafia are looking increasingly likely to score their first UK No.1 single at the weekend, with their final release, the euphoric dance anthem Don't You Worry Child, which features fellow Swede John Martin on vocals. Should they achieve the feat it will be yet another country to add to the list of acts that have had No.1 singles in the UK during 2012. In a singles chart that has been dominated by US and homegrown acts atop the listings over the past few years, the biggest selling single of the year is from Belgian born Australian Gotye's duet with with New Zealand's Kimbra, Somebody That I Used To Know, whilst the second biggest seller is from Canadaian Carly Rae Jepsen and in third place it's French DJ David Guetta's collaboration with Australian singer Sia, Titanium. 

Aside from these three international number one hits, and outside of the usual haul coming from the UK and the US, there have been chart toppers from Barbados (Cover Drive and Rihanna), Ireland (The Script), Holland (Eva Simons) and even South Korea thanks to PSY's mammoth worldwide K-pop smash Gangnam Style! Europe's biggest hit of the summer was arguably of course Swedish singer Loreen's Eurovision winning Euphoria, which even went top three in the UK! Hopefully this is proof that radio and TV will start to become more open to supporting music from countries other than the two big hitters, because there are hundreds of domestic hits going unheard outside their native territory each year that deserve the mass exposure!