When you look at some of the finer-tuned pop acts from the UK in the past decade, Keane make a lot of sense. With acts like U2 and Oasis paving the way for softer, polished acts like Travis and Snow Patrol to make a killing, you could see how Keane could achieve accolades like Q’s best album and track of 2008, or the Brit Awards’ Best Breakthrough Act. But with their eight-song extended player Night Train, Keane have steered the train right off the track.
A tour of their earlier singles reveal infectious and beautiful piano melodies (”Somewhere Only We Know” from Hopes and Fears) giving way to more complex and electrified work like “Is It Any Wonder?” (from Under the Iron Sea) and “Spiralling,” (from 2008’s Perfect Symmetry). Night Train finds Keane stridently embracing the electronics of some their idols—Depeche Mode, a-ha, Pet Shop Boys but in a dreadful direction. Their invitation of guests only adds to the ghastliness bringing rappers into the studio. Oh boy, is it dreadful.
After gentle opening instrumental “House Lights,” lead single “Stop For a Minute” starts with a melodic and joyous piano-driven vibe, but then features verses from Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan, whose voice is somewhere between Lil’ Jon and will.i.am fed through Autotune. “Back in Time” and “My Shadow” attempt to make things better, but the ghastly cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Ishin Denshin (You’ve Got To Help Yourself)” features the indecipherable and flat voice of Japanese baile-funk singer Tigarah. “Looking Back” brings K’naan back to disappoint again and samples, to cruel effect, “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky.
Night Train has nothing more appealing than anything from Keane’s past. Naysayers or newbies to the Brit superstars’ sound may now have a hard time cheering them on; fans will see Keane as clearly lost and this EP as atrocious.
In my constant reverence for the diva in all shapes and sizes, I shine the light, now, on Miss Deborah Harry. The woman is 65 years old and one of the most iconic women of punk rock of all time. Really, who rivals her? Patti Smith, sure, Chrissie Hynde, OK. But Patti and Chrissie were grungy, dirty girls in all black with busted faces. There’s no doubt that Patti’s Horses (1975) beat Debbie to the punch with the whole “girls can rock and don’t mess with us” thing. But with 1978′s Parallel Lines, Harry and Blondie hit it out of the park. And boy did they have style doing it.
Blondie’s first was their self-titled album in 1976, attempting to cash in on the synergy of art, rock, glamour and punk evidenced by the success of NYC joints like CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54. Harry had been in some bands before Blondie: a folk rock outfit called The Wind in the Willows in the late ’60s, then a rock band called The Stilettos, where she met her soon-to-be-boyfriend and co-band leader, Chris Stein. By then, Harry had been a waitress, a dancer, and a Playboy bunny, and it was her famous two-tone blonde mane that attracted plenty of Hey Blondie!‘s from many a drive-by truck and a-hole. Well, she certainly cashed in on that crass catcalling in the most powerful way possible: becoming a music and fashion icon.
The band’s first two efforts were more or less commercial duds. But somehow the stars aligned with Parallel Lines and four of the album’s biggest hits have sold twenty million copies since its September 1978 release: "Heart of Glass," "Sunday Girl," "One Way Or Another," and my absolute favorite, "Hanging On The Telephone." This was also an album that meshed nicely with the emergence of music video culture; "Heart of Glass" and "Hanging" are GREAT videos where Harry’s cool, casual lip-synching are overshadowed by her expressive eyes and glossy, red lips. Or, furthermore, by the uncanny control of her voice, especially with "Hanging," during which her voice often transforms into one of the sexiest growls in rock history.
The following two records did fairly well with 1980′s Autoamerican giving us "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High," but it’s "Hanging" that, to me, represents the perceived mad woman, the woman on the edge of insanity, the woman who’ll destroy your world if you let her.
She’s the woman I want to know. She’s a woman I wish my world could’ve overlapped with 32 years ago. –BILL CHENEVERT
Summer was kind enough to give us some of the most exciting new releases of the year: Big Boi, Robyn, Kele, Kylie, Scissor Sisters, Menomena, and Arcade Fire… to name a few. This fall, we’re hoping another batch of musical wunderkinds give us something worth salivating over. Here you have a broken-down list including some of the records that show up on the radar of greatness within the coming months. Let’s discuss highlights, shall we?
Indie boys and girls have something to shout about on the front-ended tip: Chromeo, Of Montreal, The Walkmen, Flying Lotus, Deerhunter, No Age, and UNKLE all have records out this month. Then in October, they’ll get a new Belle & Sebastian, Badly Drawn Boy, and Sufjan Stevens (though let’s hope it’s not another BQE experiment)…
Oh, their twee-loving heads will want to pop! Punk princesses will delight with a new Corin Tucker experiment that promises to blow minds; and hip hop heads have plenty to look forward to as well, especially at the end of September: Gucci Mane, Ice Cube, Jeezy, T.I., and Akon have all got discs for us…
Some older folks are trying to come back this year with LPs, some are laughable and some are genuinely intriguing (you pick): Olivia Newton-John, Robert Plant, Weezer, Paula Cole (intrigued!), Bad Religion, Gin Blossoms, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, and Rod Stewart… go ‘head!
Country fans have a few gems already in the newly-released Justin Townes Earle and Megafaun gems, but what we’re really curious about is Kid Rock, aren’t we? Rick Rubin‘s behind him, maybe we can be too!
Last but not least, for our gay dancefloors, we have several gifts from the gods: Shontelle, Mark Ronson, Antony and the Johnsons (remixed, of course), Kelly Rowland, and the much-anticipated Nicki Minaj solo album will keep us giddy in wait…
Happy downloading! –BILL CHENEVERT
SEPTEMBER 14 (just released) Brandon Flowers – Flamingo Chromeo – Business Casual Little Beirut – Fear of Heaven Nellie McKay – Home Sweet Mobile Home Of Montreal – False Priest Superchunk – Majesty Shredding The Walkmen – Lisbon Bilal – Air Tight Revenge Trey Songz – Passion, Pain and Pleasure Olivia Newton-John – Grace and Gratitude Renewed Robert Plant – Band Of Joy Weezer – Hurley Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues Megafaun – Heretofore SEPTEMBER 21 Abe Vigoda – Crush Flying Lotus – Pattern + Grid World Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos – Buzzard Shontelle – No Gravity Vincent Minor – Vincent Minor John Legend & The Roots – Wake Up! Paula Cole – Ithaca Maroon 5 – Hands All Over Zac Brown Band – You Get What You Give
SEPTEMBER 28 Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest No Age – Everything In Between Pete Yorn – Pete Yorn Mark Ronson and the Business International – Record Collection Gucci Mane – The Appeal Ice Cube – I Am The West Jeezy – TM103 T.I. – King Uncaged Bad Religion – The Dissent of Man The Corin Tucker Band – 1000 Years UNKLE – The Answer Gin Blossoms – No Chocolate Cake Neil Young – Le Noise Kenny Chesney – Hemingway’s Whiskey
OCTOBER 5 Apache Beat – Last Chants Royal Baths – Litanies Clinic – Bubblegum David Archuleta – The Other Side Of Down Ciara – Basic Instinct Toby Keith – Bullets In The Gun KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit
OCTOBER 12 Meat Beat Manifesto – Answers Come In Dreams Badly Drawn Boy – Part. 1 – Photographing Snowflakes Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz Antony And The Johnsons – Swanlights Simian Mobile Disco – Is Fixed Hauschka – Foreign Landscapes Sister Hazel – Heartland Highway
OCTOBER 19 Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown Elton John & Leon Russel – The Union Ne-Yo – Libra Scale Rod Stewart – Fly Me To The Moon… Sugarland – The Incredible Machine
OCTOBER 26 Warpaint – The Fool Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager Good Charlotte – Cardiology Bryan Ferry – Olympia Taylor Swift – Speak Now
NOVEMBER Elvis Costello – National Ransom (11/2) Neil Diamond – Dreams (11/2) Brian Eno – Small Craft On a Milk Sea (11/2) Kelly Rowland – TBD (11/2) Destroyer – The Archers On The Beach EP (11/2) Matt and Kim – Sidewalks (11/2) Natasha Bedingfield – Strip Me (11/9) Stereolab – Not Music (11/16) Rascal Flatts – Nothing Like This (11/16) Kid Rock – Born Free (11/16) Akon – TBD (11/23) Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (11/23)
Every once in a while you connect with a record, or with an artist in such a deep way that you can’t explain it. All you can do is listen on repeat. Or watch a music video over and over. Watching singles roll out of a record that you know from beginning to end intimately can be equally thrilling or devastating. When she’s more than just a brilliant musician but also a captivating artist and style-maker, it’s even more exciting to see what she’ll do next.
Right now it’s Janelle Monae, a 24 year-old Kansas City native who moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and then to Atlanta where she met hip hop’s crown prince, Big Boi. She made an appearance on the relatively dreadful Idlewild and shortly after released a debut EP in August of 2007. Then Diddy found her and signed her to Bad Boy. With her debut LP, The ArchAndroid, she’s reviving the theme record. It’s a little mystifying: she’s a robot, she’s a messiah and it’s all inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. But that’s fine. We don’t always have to wrap our head around the most complex and inspiring art to appreciate it.
The first single was the undeniably funky “Tightrope” featuring Big Boi, but at the moment, my obsession is “Cold War.” A video accompanying “Cold War” was released in August and it is captivating. It’s very simple. It’s a tight shot of her face and shoulders as she lip-syncs (or in this case, sings passionately behind a camera) and emotes with her eyes. I’m deeply attached to the lyrics, especially the first four astounding lines: “So you think I’m alone / But bein’ alone’s the only way to be / When you step outside / You spend life fightin’ for your sanity.” Then, a little later on, “I’m tryin’ to find my peace / I was made to believe there’s somethin’ wrong with me / And it hurts my heart / Lord have mercy ain’t it plain to see? / That this is a cold war, do you know what you’re fightin’ for?” This is what sends her over the edge. She loses it, tears come and what looks like a laugh is clearly an emotionally poignant moment for her. It’s startling; a moment that most starlets would edit out. But it draws me in even deeper into the Janelle Monae kool-aid. I want to drink gallons of it. –BILL CHENEVERT
An upstate country boy who was Johnny HighSchool, went to an expensive liberal arts college and took about 20 English classes, went to graduate school in Oregon for a couple years then came back to the Empire state and tried to pass as a city boy for a minute. Now I'm Philly and I love it.