Tag Archives: Pop

John Mayer – Inside Wants Out

John Mayer
Inside Wants Out
September 24, 1999
Mayer Music, LLC
060/100

Inside Wants Out

1. Back to You // 2. No Such Thing // 3. My Stupid Mouth // 4. Neon // 5. Victoria // 6. Love Soon // 7. Comfortable // 8. Neon 12:47 AM // 9. Quiet // 10.  Not Myself

For a guy who appears to rack up controversy whenever he opens his mouth to an interviewer John Mayer sure is quite the gentle, easy-going and some would say boring ‘singer-songwriter’ artist. If his independently 1999 debut EP Inside Wants Out is representative of his work that is.

This ten track EP, that would’ve been labeled an LP, had it been in the exact same form released fifteen years sooner, finds Mayer’s velvetty tenor backed by his own acoustic guitar (and the occasional other instrument, but mostly his guitar). It makes for the perfect autumn coffeehouse music and though a few of its songs were re-recorded for his full length debut Room For Squares it doesn’t exactly sound like a rough draft of that album.

For better or worse (and I am going with worse) there is no Your Body Is a Wonderland here, or anything else that blatantly goes after MOR-radio. Not that there’s anything on this folksy/jazzy pop EP that doesn’t fit on MOR radio, mind you. But nothing on here quite seem quite as intent on dominating that particular radio format as his first big hit was, either. Guess whe know now why Your Body Is a Wonderland became his first big hit.

His debut EP appears to lack impact almost as deliberately as his most talked-about interviews appear to be there to draw piss from the interviewer taking it from him (although whether either of these things are achieved by design or default remains not entirely clear). Which is one of the two pardoxes of the man that listening to these songs gives off. The other is that unlike his interviews his lyrics are mostly clever and do contain some insight and humour. But then again he does eloquently account for his lack of conversational eloquence on My Stupid Mouth, which retrospectively can only be read as a disclaimer, this self-proclaimed Captain Backfire has apparently been having Michael Richards PR nightmares pre-fame even, as well as a Benneton heart and a David Duke cock.

It is too bad that these stories are more interesting than the actual music on Inside Wants Out. A lot of these songs would (and some eventually did) benefit from a more complete instrumentation. Mayer’s music persona simply isn’t interesting enough to work as some sort of self accompanying troubadour, even if he does have the guitar-playing and songwriting chops to justify calling him a musician; this guy needs to be a rock star with a band backing him up in order to work, and soon he would be.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is a far cry fom a horrible way to start, in part thanks to it’s short running time: it’s not around long enough to overstay its welcome, let alone annoy.
It’s only real fault is that it is just not very interesting to listen to, and everyone knows that in Easy Listening music this quality is no death sin. Besides, from here on it would go nowhere but up (well, musically at least.)

Best tracks
No Such Thing
Neon
Comfortable

Recommendations
This is pretty good background music fodder for a playlist put together for reastaurant or a coffee bar containing similarly-minded stuff like Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua. It’s also well fit to read the sunday morning papers to, but that’s about the extent of what situations this is going to work in. Well, besides elevators off course.


New Kids on the Block – New Kids on the Block

New Kids on the Block
New Kids on the Block
April 1, 1986
Columbia RecordsSME
063/100
NKOTB - NKOTB
1. Stop It Girl // 2. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) // 3. Popsicle // 4. Angel // 5. Be My Girl // 6. New Kid on the Block // 7. Are You Down // 8. I Wanna Be Loved By You // 9. Don’t Give Up On Me // 10. Treat Me Right

So it’s 1986 and New Edition was a big thing with several platinum albums under their collective belt. Bobby got the hell out of dodge, but his solo debut album was dropping soon enough, and his career was definitely going places from there, not all of them good but the man did reach the highest highs heights as well as the lowest lows of anyone in the group. The other four members dropped their first and last album as a quartet, a collection of standards that had been performed to death several times over already before any NE member had even learnt to talk, that while not being very exciting at least proved that they were still a thing. And what’s more, soon they would be joined by Johnny Gill whose dark chocolate vocals would give them soul creditials previously unattainable. So yeah Ronnie, Ricky, Ralph, Mike and Bobby (and Johnny) had all come far on the road to succes that they started walking in 1983 with their group debut Candy Girl.

And Maurice Starr, business savvy teen pop svengali was understandably pissed off about all this, because he had discovered the boys, produced their debut album and then just when the money started coming in they left him out to rot by signing to MCA records and not employing him as their producer.
Starr plotted his revenge, not only on NE but also on the entire world (*twirls moustache and laughs maniacally*) and immediately assembled another group of kids to sing and dance their way to stardom and fill his pockets. Only this time they were all white, which opened up an entirely new market, since these teen pop groups were most succesful with those audiences that could identify with or have a crush on the performers, which is the main reason why there are black Barbies on the market and main characters of all races and both sexes in sitcoms. Relatability people, the trick to selling something mass-produced is to make the consumer believe that your product is specifically about/for him/ her. And starting in 1986 there was a white version of the New Edition of the Jackson 5 on the market as well. Arguably there had been such a thing already in the form of the Osmonds, but the Osmonds were actually family like the Jacksons. NE and NKOTB were manufactured product. Especially New Kids on the Block who were recruited from five hundred auditioning boys and pieced together both by mastermind Starr.

The teenaged girls never even stood a chance.

Donnie Wahlberg, his little brother Mark, his best friend Danny Wood, one-time schoolmate Jordan Knight and his older brother Jonathan were the chosen ones, so while NKOTB weren’t all related to one another there were two pairs of brothers in the group, and they probably were all at the very least vaguely familiar with each other before they became a boyband in 1984. Well initially they were. Mark was replaced by Joey McIntyre for having ADHD concentration problems or something. This time around Starr decided not to release their debut on his Warlock label but had them signed to Columbia, so they dropped it in 1986 and then… nothing.

Apparently the teenaged girls resisted the temptation just fine, thank you very much. Maybe the sweaters and shirts the guys wore on the front cover were too godawful for the ’80s even. Anyway, Starr had some explaining to do in the Columbia offices because he hadn’t made the executives richer. And then Columbia didn’t release NKOTB from their contracts, nor did they fire Starr as the group’s producer, which is a peculiar thing to do for a record company, but it paid off ultimately because their ’88 sophomore album, backed by better marketing sold seventeen million copies worldwide. Then in a brilliant bit of marketing Columbia decided to release a third single off their debut right in the middle of promoting their sophomore in the summer of ’89. That song, a Delphonics Cover titled Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) with Jordan on leads, became a hit, like every NKOTB song released in that day and age and the debut went triple platinum after gather gathering dust on record store shelves for three years, kinda like how Blunted of Reality rode the Score‘s coattails in 1996.

So what does it actually sound like? Well, New Kids on the Block sounds exactly like Candy Girl. There’s the same jingling guitars, the same vocoder work courtesy of Starr himself, there’s a different Michael Jackson emulator doing most of the leads (Joey), there’s a kid with a somewhat gruffer voice busting out the occasional rap filling Bobby’s roll (Donnie), there’s a lot of saccharine love songs, there’s a primitive rap jam with redundant handclaps  where everyone takes a turn behind the mic. If Maurice Starr learnt any new tricks since creating Candy Girl he sure goes out of his way to hide it from the listener. Someone should take a time machine to 1997 and hand this album over to Puff Diddy and Pastor Ma$e because they sampled the shit out of songs off NE’s debut on several occasions but appear to have completely overlooked this one as a source of recycle-able grooves.

The albums are so similar in fact that I don’t even have to think of a new end for this review:
Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Kids on the Block was after all the world’s second manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Stop It GirlPopsicle and Angel stand out in particular, although Are You Down and Treat Me Right (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind?) and I Wanna Be Loved By You are respectively pretty sweet death-of-puppy-love and yearning-for-puppy-love ballads, and although Joey can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.

New Kids on the Block is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was  to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit, although you may want to pick up Candy Girl by New Edition first because it’s a slightly better album.

Best tracks
Stop It Girl
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)
Popsicle
Angel
I Wanna Be Loved By You

Recommendations
Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.


R. Kelly – R.

R. Kelly
R.
November 10, 1998
Jive Records/ SME
075/100
cover
DISC I: the Show
1. Home Alone (feat. Keith Murray & Kelly Price) // 2. Spendin’ Money // 3. If I’m With You // 4. Half on a Baby // 5. When a Woman’s Fed Up // 6. Get Up On a Room // 7. One Man // 8. We Ride (feat. Cam’ron, Noreaga, Vegas Cats, Jay-Z & Tone) // 9. The Opera // 10. The Interview (feat. Suzanne Lemignot) // 11. Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy // 12. Don’t Put Me Out // 13. Suicide // 14. Etcetera // 15. If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time // 16. What I Feel/ Issues // 17. I Believe I Can Fly
DISC II: the After Party/The Hotel
1. The Chase // 2. V.I.P. // 3. Did You Ever Think (feat. Tone) // 4. Dollar Bill (feat. Foxy Brown & Tone) // 5. Reality // 6. Second Kelly // 7. Ghetto Queen (feat. Crucial Conflict) // 8. Down Low Double Life // 9. Looking For Love // 10. Dancing With a Rich Man // 11. I’m Your Angel (feat. Céline Dion) // 12. Money Makes the World Go ‘Round (feat. NaS) // 13. Gotham City

There was a period in the late ’90s when every urban recording artist recorded a magnum opus in the form of a double album. 2pac had set off the trend with his All Eyez on Me in 1996, B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan had followed suit with Life After Death and Wu-Tang Forever respectively in 1997, and R. Kelly served up his contribution under the name of his single consonant front initial in ’98. Brief as that title is, the album is thirty tracks long, a running time that makes it a celebration of excess by definition.  Too much time for a single artist to fill up arguably.

He certainly has his methods of somewhat succesfully attempting to make the album’s two hours and ten minutes bearable. One of them is being purposefully all over the map musically. Not only are there the usual hip-hop/disco/funk infused party jams (Home AloneSpendin’ MoneyIf I’m With YouWe RideOnly the Loot Can Make Me HappyV.I.P.Did You Ever Think, Dollar BillGhetto QueenDancing With a Rich ManMoney Makes the World Go Round) and soul infused slow songs that are either for baby making (Half on a BabyGet Up on a RoomEtcetera2nd Kelly) or relationship contemplation (When a Woman’s Fed UpOne ManDon’t Put Me OutSuicideIf I Could Turn Back the Hands of TimeWhat I Feel/ IssuesReality and Down Low Double Life), which is what one would expect from the man, but there are also huge, sugary, gospel-infused M.O.R. easy listening ballads such as I Believe I Can FlyGotham City and I’m Your Angel (the first two culled from soundtracks) and actual gospel Looking For Love, as well as weird nods to opera and *gulp* yodeling.

Off course all of this genre-hopping is done is mostly traditional. After all most contemporary soul album from the ascend of the genre onward have contained dance numbers and ballads, and taking into account that the literal opera bit of R. is a silly skit, not an earnest attempt at going for Pavaroti’s spot, it makes Robert’s most original idea this time around that he figured that you could in fact if you are so inclined, put Céline Dion and Jay-Z on the same album, and make multi-platinum sales, not in spite of it but because of it. As simple as this innovation seems, its implications are still felt in today’s pop music landscape.
R. is a musical blockboster by design. Robert effortlessly juggles several styles of contemporary R&B, doing most of the dirty work himself, both in the booth and behind the boards, but brings hotshot rappers (Keith Murray, Cam’ron, Noreaga, Foxy Brown, Jay-Z and Nas), singers (Kelly Price and Céline Dion) and producers (Puff Diddy, Trackmasters and G-One)  into the studio to augment and complement the listening experience. It really should be noted that Robert takes this cross-demographic appeal thing to an entirely new level here. With R. he milks Jigga’s homeboys, Luther’s ladies and Céline’s schlock-lovers in one go, without so much as breaking a sweat. And by almost literally succesfully working with everybody he cemented his at-the-time status as pop’s most succesful allrounder.R. bears its influences on its sleeve. On Home Alone he blends Off the Wall era Michael Jackson with West-Coast hip-hop.When a Woman’s Fed Up has Donny Hathaway breathing vicariously through it.If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time is a expertly dragging doo-wop ballad in the vein of the Platters. And over the project as a whole looms the mighty shadow of Marvin Gaye. Robert’s pop sensibilities are what separate him from the pack (well except Jacko off course.) Much like Michael’s his soul is watered down and sweetened enough (as well as possibly sold to the devil) to fit onto monst nonspecific radio formats.

As far as the smooth radio soul goes this album has it’s fair share of contemporary classics. Not discussing I Believe I Can Fly and I’m Your Angel, which are too slick to even pretend to be soul songs (gospel-pop would be rather accurate), When a Woman’s Fed Up and If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time are good as requiems of relationships get.
Suicide is a tense and dramatic song that could’ve come out the Isaac Hayes playbook.
Did You Ever Think expresses Robert’s bewilderment at his own success while Trackmaster Tone continually asks him whether he ever thought he’d a successful as an artist before he suddenly was, and a Spanish guitar blurrs the line between poppy and sinister in the background.
Half on a Baby and Get Up On a Room probably have been responsible for several conceptions since it’s release, they’re some of those frankly sexy songs that can do that (Rumor has it that the former was originally written for Bobby Brown’s Forever album, but didn’t make the cut since Bob decided to spend his album advance on coke, rather than outside songwriting and production negociate full creative controll and produce the album himself, to commercially and critically abysmal results. I have a hard time imagining Bob perform it, since I have a hard time seeing it work as anything other a silky smooth honey-tongued R. Kelly song.)

The hip-hop influenced tracks bang as well. Home Alone has Def Squad alumnus Keith Murray and hip-hop soulstress Kelly Price, as well as DJ Quik’s frequent co-producer G-One delivering a funky, heavy club banger, and We Ride is a cool New York Rap posse cut, with a breezy midnight-ride-through-the-desert beat (on which Noreaga delivers the golden line: Ayo, it’s so deep, I told my shorty just last week. A-huh, it’s like you remind me of my jeep.)

Another thing that ties him to the King of pop, this time in his Dangerous incarnation, is a rampant sense of paranoia. Robert preposterously rants about playa haters who want his cash, the media that only wants to sell news whether truthful or not, racist cops who want him in jail while knowing he’s innocent, as well as people who simply don’t like his music, all together conspiring his downfall as though they’re having a go at his crucifiction, with him being a messiah of sorts. On the opening skit of disc two: The Chase there’s even a secret player hater police/ army that is in hot pursuit of him, attempting to stop his music from being heard and attempting to assasinate his talent (I wish I could make this up). Unlike Michael’s however most of these assertions are, whether intentional or not, humourous and absurd enough to not be quite as fucking annoying.

Kells again blends the sacred in the profane in his music as he did on R. Kelly, seemingly making him some sort of preacher-pimp head of a church-club of sexy business, generously sprinkling around bodily fluids and doing unholy shit with his followers Kind of like some Roman catholic clerics. To him there is no experience more spiritual than a good lay, it really cleans the soul. Simultaneously his songs are charged with guilt, whether it is about christian sin or wronging a lady. It is this dual tension that sets him apart from similarly mindedly laviscious R&B artists like Next, and it is this is what his detractors often fail to see him do. It adds richness, colour and depth (or at the very least the illusion of depth) to songs that would be rendered completely juvenile without it. After all; what is more fascinating? A righteous brother struggling with his negative tendencies and trying to do right, while at the same time aknowledging how much pleasure and fulfillment giving in to these tendencies bring him or a mindless mysogynic poon hound? It also puts the man in a line of soul singers that goes from Ray Charles, through the previously mentioned Marvin Gaye to Prince.

The wacky songwriting is still present too. And I’m not talking about I Believe I Can Fly‘s lyrics that are so pompous that they beg, beg, beg parody. I’m talking songs like 2nd Kelly, which helps carbon date this to the time when the internet was just starting to become a thing where he tries to seduce the ladies from the point of view of a computerised R. Kelly, a computer virus, a webcamming service or all three and are so intrinsically weird that they are one hundred percent spoof-proof.

A direct result from the album being as long as it is is that there’s going to be songs it would be better without. Down Low Double Life is a song he had done twice over already before R. hit shelves. There’s no real need to have both Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy and Money Makes the World Go Round. In fact, if I were Barry Hankerson I’d had cut them off both because Did You Ever Think is also about the moulah and is a far better song than either of those two with the least wack Trackmasters instrumental.
Ghetto Queen only features rap group Crucial Conflict because they happened to live in Chicago which is Robert’s hometown, not because of any sort of perceptible talent.
Spendin’ Money and Dollar Bill are only here because in 1998 respectively Puff Diddy and Foxy Brown were a thing, and it was a legal requirement to include one of his disco-recycling beats and one of here clunky-ass oversexualised verses (I realise that something beong oversexualised is a weird and hypocritical complaint on an R. Kelly album, but I can’t really rephrase it while still having it make sense, so there you have it) on an urban music album if it were to be released. Not because they’re good songs.

This album’s issues aren’t too much for the good stuff to overcome. And the good stuff is definitely in the majority.
But one must keep in mind that this album is two hours and ten minutes long, which means that it would probably still be too long to listen to in one go even if the lesser material were taken out of the equation. This is the main argument against double albums of original material, a dinosaur-form of releasing music, killed by the Pirate Bay, iTunes and Spotify which allowed us to buy single songs and put them in playlists in whichever order we liked. When this came out for consumers more music really was better because you couldn’t buy any other form of music other than compact discs. That R. is actually as good as it is despite its flaws may mean that besides Wu-Tang Forever (which had the constant creative input of over nine people) this may very well be the best urban double disc out there. And despite being flawed it really is too good not to recommend to lovers of good pop, even if Robert arguably would’ve done better slimming it down to one single CD. If he had done that, and done that properly he would’ve made his best album ever. As it stands it may not be his best album, but is probably is his definitive one.

Best tracks
Home Alone
Half on a Baby
When a Woman’s Fed Up
We Ride
Suicide
If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
I Believe I Can Fly
Did You Ever Think
Second Kelly
I’m Your Angel

Recommendations
Pick this up.


New Edition – All For Love

New Edition
All For Love
November 8, 1985

MCA RecordsUMG
070/100
New Edition - All For Love
1. Count Me Out // 2. A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes) // 3. Sweet Thing // 4. With You All the Way // 5. Let’s Be Friends // 6. Kickback // 7. Tonight’s Your Night // 8. Whispers In the Bed // 9. Who Do We Trust // 10. School // 11. All For Love

By the time All For Love dropped New Edition was on a roll. Their indie label debut Candy Girl had put the five boys from Boston firmly on the map in ’83. The following year major label MCA had bought them out of their recording contract leaving them heavily in debt to their new employers, but their self-titled sophomore album was pretty successful and went a long way in helping to recoup MCA’s investment and solving NE’s debt. It should therefor come as no surprise that their third album serves up more of the stuff that made their previous disc go double platinum. Sunny R&B-pop with absolute alpha male and Michael Jackson-emulator extraordinaire Ralph Tresvant on leads and the other four guys mostly in backup capacity, snagging up the occasional lead vocal when Ralph was out of the booth taking a piss or something. And all of the guys were apparently content with that.

Well, all but oneAll For Love would be the last New Edition album released before Bobby Brown decided to start a solo-career, ostensibly because according to him All For Love sounds like he might as well had already left before they started recording it. (He’s not entirely right, he pops up on Count Me OutKickback and School and Who Do We Trust is mostly his show, but over the course of this album he doesn’t get as much time on leads as Ralph does, so he was right about that.) But we’ll get to Bob’s solo adventures soon enough.

This album is an enjoyable enough sequel to New Edition. It’s a bit harder, crisper and more electro funkafied and danceable than what they did the last time around. But that’s speaking relatively only to their last album, off course. You can still just picture your grandmother walking into the room while All For Love is on, and commenting on N.E. being “Such nice boys”. There’s no real edge of any sort. Which was supposedly the other reason for Bobby to get himself kicked out leave. He didn’t agree with the artistic direction they were headed in. (Looks like Robbie Williams took notice.) But for this album’s intents and purposes that may not be such a bad thing. The hooks are still as catchy as ever and Ralph is still as good an MJ update as he was the last time around.

Count Me Out has Ralph explaining why he can’t hang with the gang because he has to do stuff with his lady while Bobby, Ricky, Ronnie and Mike doing their best to convince him to do otherwise because no-one will come to the New Edition shows when he’s not there and it’s got cute and catchy conceptual songwriting that today’s teen pop/R&B could use more of.
A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes) is a slow, romantic electro-funk groove that either or both of your parents at some point may have done the robot to.
Sweet Thing could be the intro to an ’80s sitcom about a white suburban family with a strict but just father with a golden heart, an overbearingly loving and understanding mother, an insecure teenage daughter, a quirky preteen son and a dog who get into shenanigans together, and it summons exactly that type of cozy mood.
With You All The Way could be about giving up one’s virginity if it were sung by a girl, but since it’s Tresvant it’s about sticking with a loved one through thick and thin. Unless you’re part of the twerk generation there’s a small chance you’ll get laid if you put this on while in a romantic situation with a girl.
Let’s Be Friends has the boys friendzoning some girls because they’re “going too fast”, which may or may not be something that guys actually did in 1985 (For the record, I don’t think they did).
And the rest of the songs with titles KickbackTonight’s Your NightWhispers In Bed, Who Do You TrustSchool and All For Love are exactly what you expect of them if you know what NE is all about.

All For Love is a lot like today’s teen pop albums by the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus with age-appropriate songs about romantic situations, except more fun and soulful and with a vintage veneer that makes everything sound more classy than it in reality probably is.
The album does nothing to push either NE or music as a whole forward by fucking with new sounds, in fact it sounds like the last album they did, this one must concur to mr. Brown, “that New Edition of the Jackson 5” stuff remains the mantra the producers, songwriters and Ralph appear repeated when working on this, as they had since their debut. But besides the preachy, old-school hip-hop inluenced School there are no real missteps, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t an entertaining collection of music. And if that’s what you’re looking for in music you’ve just found it.

Best tracks
Count Me Out
A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)
With You All the Way

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Daft Punk – Homework

Daft Punk
Homework
20 January 1997
Virgin Records
UMG
090/100

Daft Punk - Homework

1. Daftendirekt // 2. Wdpk 83.7 fm // 3. Revolution 909 // 4. Da Funk // 5. Phoenix // 6. Fresh // 7. Around The World // 8. Rollin’& Scratching // 9. Teachers // 10. High Fidelity // 11. Rock’n Roll // 12. Oh Yeah // 13. Burnin’ // 14. Indo Silver Club // 15. Alive // 16. Funk Ad

Daft Punk is a team up of two DJs who became popular in the early nineties. They were influenced by Funk, early electronic music, Techno and eighties Pop à la Roxy Music. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter a.k.a. Daft Punk were part of a new generation of so-called Dance artists like Basement Jaxx, Moby and Armand van Helden just to name a few. Continuing the list: Junkie XL, Air, The Chemical Brothers and you understand how fertile that period was for electronic music.

In 1996 their album Homework was released in Europe. In the U.S.A release followed in 1997. It was an immense success that put them on the map of the music world we know today. Their sound of Funk and Disco infected House and Techno still seduces unsuspecting people to shuffle their feet. I grew up in the nineties and Daft Punk’s work was part of the mainstream music channels like TMF and MTV (before reality TV took over what still calls itself Music TeleVision).

One presses play and Daftendirekt begins. A low voice makes its presence and after 35 seconds the beat starts. “Da funk back to the time, come on” is repeated and slowly the track unveils its full mix. Wdpk 83.7 fm is basically the radio promo that officially starts the album.

Revolution 909 starts with a thumping beat and sirens that introduces an infectious House tune. The samples have a retro sound to it. After 3:10 a short Techno interlude mixes up the sound after which the Disco infused House continues. Da Funk is a personal favourite track of mine on this album. The break-beat intro is so effective in luring one into the raw electronic groove. Big beats and break-beats are in a rare harmony that aren’t often heard. The electronic soloing in the middle of the track really gives this track a unique vibe.

Phoenix starts with dry beats, high hats follow and step by step the sounds make their introduction. Daft Punk want to lure you into their sound and successfully so, I am practically dancing on my chair. Fresh like water on a beach. Electric keys, beats and groove introduce me to Fresh. Again the layers of sounds just lure you in. This is more of a chill-out House track to which you can still dance or just read a book. The fade out, water on a beach…

Around The World changed many things. The video of for this track changed the world of music forever. The sound of this track was a groovy revelation in its time. This track gets people exited to boogie like MJ’s Blame It On The Boogie can do it. What’s left to add? 7 full minutes of pure electronic funky ecstasy. Rollin’& Scratchin’ is different. A repetitive dry beat becomes louder and louder while the samples slowly come together. If this track had screaming vocals and wailing guitars it would be Industrial, it is brutal yet listenable. Instead it is noisy Techno. It has a strange appeal one has to be in the mood for.

Teachers, the title tells you enough. Daft Punk mentions the names of those who inspired them. Over a break beat with a vocal sample so one can take notes before you start searching.
High Fidelity, back to beats and samples. A sample is looped and cut over one beat in various beats throughout the entire track. This results in a funky House track that remains remarkably fun to listen to.

Beats and hand claps introduce Rock’n Roll. Slowly an electronic noise repeats itself more and more. If Hard Rock would be turned into electronic music this somewhat matches my imagined outcome. A strange electronic sound wails like a lead guitar over the beats. Just like Rollin’& Scratching this track is brutal yet listenable. Oh Yeah follows as groove and a slow beat with a vocal samples slow down the pace. This track is a short transition to the last part of the album. But as a separate track it still stands on its own.

Slow beats, a strange noise and an old sample start Burnin’. This track is cool for its subtle effect while you are lured into another House groove. Daft Punk really know how to immerse the listener into the music. Even the most reluctant party goer cannot resist the urge to just dance. Indo Silver Club’s intro starts softly. After that the funky House groove takes you away. This is one of those tracks that immediately hits or misses. It sounds shy of bland but its hook can catch anyone off guard. I happen to have a weak spot for this track.

Alive starts and futuristic bombastic sounds enter make their entrance. The sounds come in one by one and at 2:08 the futuristic eighties Disco groove just takes the listener to another place entirely. This music could easily be a soundtrack for a chase in a Sci-Fi film from the eighties. This track is simply epic. Funk Ad closes the album. The outro for the album is a slow groove that slowly fades out with the sound of Da Funk…

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter produced this album to have a particular sound. When listening through headphones, AKG K500s I initially thought the album sounded slightly loud. Not brick walled just more emphasized lows and highs for a more exiting sound. On this album it works. Just be careful with the listening volume. A part from that you can hear the craftsmanship both DJs put in this album. But there’s one think I would like to know from you, if you can spare a moment: why the name Daft Punk?

Best Tracks
Da Funk
Phoenix
Around The World
Rock’n Roll
Indo Silver Club
Alive

Recommendations
This album, gives one the feeling of listening to a freshly copied bootleg of a Daft Punk gig. There is no filler to speak of, everything works and when one stops thinking the music takes over. Also, in its own way this album marked a new era of electronic music a.k.a. Dance. Even today this album still sounds fresh and different. Highly recommended…

My regards,

Rura88


Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
February 14, 1985
Arista RecordsSME
070/100
Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
1. You Give Good Love // 2. Thinking About You // 3. Someone For Me // 4. Saving All My Love For You // 5. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do (feat. Jermaine Jackson) // 6. How Will I Know // 7. All At Once // 8. Take Good Care of My Heart (Jermaine Jackson feat. Whitney Houston) // 9. Greatest Love of All // 10. Hold Me (Teddy Pendergrass feat. Whitney Houston)

In 1985 and Whitney Houston came fresh on the scene with her self-titled debut album. Whitney was the daughter of grammy winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, with whom she toured a lot at a young age, gaining her first stage experience. Apparently she was offered a bunch of record deals at a young age but her mother declined these because she wanted Whitney to finish high school, which is difficult to do with an international recording career. In 1983 however, she got signed by Arista head honcho Clive Davis. And Davis, Houston and a bunch of producers, including MJ’s big brother Jermaine, got it cracking. Allegedly because of Whitney’s gospel-styled vocals it took them two years to find a suitable set of pop songs, because as tame and slick as Whitney Houston is, it was considered revolutionary upon release. That is really hard to imagine for those who weren’t there at the time to experience the buzz firsthand. You see. For those of us who weren’t around in the mid-’80s to late ’90s, Whitney Houston is best known as that woman whose saccharine pop-soul plays in the background while we’re at the mall to purchase a new winter coat. A generic “diva”.

That is entirely unfair. Houston pioneered the style. The style being melismatically singing over sugarcoated, marshmellow-centred pop instrumentals. Not that this trivia convince anyone that Whitney Houston is a legitimate artist if that person is already convinced of the opposite being true, but that person just may begrudgingly have to give her originality points already.

Whitney Houston sure was a polarising figure for someone who recorded such vanilla-flavoured pop songs. Noted by the record buying audiences, critics and everyone with ears for her exceptional vocal talent and loved to death by her fans. But many of those same critics also believed that in the best case she was satisfied with recording whatever sterile, unexceptional material her producers handed her, or that in the worst case she purposely put her vocal talent to waste, in order to make herself and her label boss Clive Davis filthily rich, by recording songs that appealed to white, middle aged housewives easy listening/ adult contemporary audiences, by dropping every notion of funk, soul and grit to separate as many people from their hard-earned money as possible.

For my money it was the former. As Robert Christgau put it in his 1985 review of this album: “I’d never claim that this sweet, statuesque woman and her sweet, statuesque voice are victims of exploitation. She obviously believes in this schlock.” Kitschy as everything here is, it’s all expertly and properly made and performed earnestly and more than competently by the lady of the hour.  Whitney‘s self-indulgent earnestness is at the very same time at the core of it’s problem. (Anyone who sings lines like “I believe that children are the future.” as she does on Greatest Love of All, without blinking loses cool points immediately, just listen to the ballads off Michael Jackson’s Bad and Dangerous albums.) It is this general air of self-importance that makes this less fun to listen to than, say, New Edition, an album that exists solely to entertain and manages to have some fun doing so, even if Whitney Houston is probably the technically superior effort between the two albums. But to miss Houston’s credit, this probably was the kind of music she wanted to make too, because she does give it her all here and racks up some technically excellent performances over the span of this album’s fifty minutes and ten songs, even blowing more established soul-singers such as Teddy Pendergrass (surprising) and Jermaine Jackson (less surprising) completely out of the water on wat were originally their own songs on their own albums, transplanted to this one.

Her singing is so good in fact that it goes a long way in covering up the fact that most of the material she gets to perform is indeed some corporate songwriting and music-making at its worst, trying to incorporate as many contemporary musical trends  into the most inoffensive musical format available (Kenny G-esque sax solos, clunky synth playing and syrupy strings on most of the ballads and ’80s cop movie car-chase sequence music on Thinking About You.), with lyrics that are meant to appeal to as many women people as possible by going on about romantic situations. I.e.: having met the love of your life (You Give Good Love), having an affair with a married man (Saving All My Love For You), wondering whether someone she has a crush on will ever love her back (How Will I Know) having a complete emotional breakdown (All At Once), all the while maintaining an impossible level of politeness, grace and modesty. In other words Whitney may be properly emoting theatrically, but nowhere does she actually convey any emotion the way anyone would ever actually experience it. Never are there any feelings of spite. On Saving All My Love For You she doesn’t even consider asking the guy to leave his wife to be with her in stead, or telling the guy’s wife that she’s been doing him because “[he’s] got [his] family, and they need [him] there.”

So Whitney Houston is well made to appear lifelike and relatable to as many people as possible, telling tales about the ups and downs of love without trying to shock anyone with profanity, eventually turning out to be no-one’s actual reality. Still if you are the type of person who likes to let yourself be fooled by calculated, measured melodrama this the way to go. Also, the girl could sing. Before the was smoking bobby brown with Bobby Brown and before Mariah ran with her style and topped her in the vocal range department she was arguably technically the best singer in music. This is evident when you realise that some of this mid-1980s shtick is actually saved from blandness by her performances, and that these corporate-songwriter creations are sung a lot more convincingly than they deserve to be. She could actually turn these tin cans into gold with her enormous, unusually clear mezzo-soprano voice. Off course to maximize the potential you’d have to give apply this fantastic instrument to some well written, interesting material. Alas, not much in the form of that is to be found on Whitney Houston, but it would occur later on in her career (i.e.: My Love Is Your Love).

Concluding: Whitney Houston is simultaneously both a good showcase of Whitney’s more than considerable talents and a pretty generic album. For the most part she does her nickname the Voice justice. But the material she gets to work with can’t quite keep up. And Whitney, while technically is singing excellently, can’t quite put reality into these songs beyond a soap-opera level, though she comes close through sheer technical skill.

Best tracks
You Give Good Love
Saving All My Love For You
How Will I Know
All At Once
Greatest Love of All

Recommendations
If you are a fan of sappy, slick, big ballads and well-performed vocal acrobatics and enjoy watching shows such as the VoiceWhitney Houston is for you. It is a textbook classic in the genre of “diva” pop, and possibly it’s highlight. If you’re looking for something realer,  more gritty, and less candy-coated you may have to go find yourself a copy of What’s the 411?.


Ja Rule – 7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love

Ja Rule
7 Series Sampler: Pain Is Love
May 20, 2003
Murder Inc. RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
065/100
Ja Rule - 7 Series Sampler
1. Always On Time (feat. Ashanti) // 2.  Down Ass Bitch (feat. Charlie Baltimore) // 3. Never Again // 4. Lost Little Girl // 5. Pain Is Love // 6.  I’m Real [Murder Remix] (feat. Jennifer Lopez) // 7.  Livin’ It Up (feat. Case)

Back in 2003 internet music bootlegging was just starting to become a thing (anyone remember Napster or Limewire?) and so, in an effort to seduce people who would otherwise steal music from the web, Def Jam Recordings came with a radical solution: the EP.

A little more thought was put into it than that, by re-releasing an album without all the filler they could sell it for cheaper and because  it contained mostly the hits no skipping was required by the listener (The first generation of iPods had just come out, so not everyone knew how to make a playlist yet.)

Ja Rule was still a popular artist by then, so he was an obvious candidate, and because Def Jam didn’t want the EP to eat away the sales of Jeffrey’s latest album The Last Temptation they decided to go for the album he had released before that one; Pain Is Love, which had sold millions of copies and had completely fulfilled its chart-potential by then anyway, it was a no pain, no gain thing.

So they trimmed Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love from most of it’s non-singles until only seven tracks were left in such a way they didn’t have to cut Caddilac Tah, Black Child, Boo & Gotti, Jodie Mack, Missy Elliott and 2pac any aditional cheques, added nothing, rearranged them and put the resulting disc in record stores worldwide.

This would seem like some typical record company bullshit, which off course it was. But it just so happens that Pain Is Love had about six tracks on it that could either be considered a good song or a hit single (with about two of them being both). So with that in mind one has to give Def Jam kudo’s for including not only the the radio hits (although the person in charge of compiling this disc would have had to have been pretty fucking stupid to fail to do that right.) but also the best non-single, the existentialist mental breakdown that is Never Again.

It has to be said though that may have been a fortunate accident in selection, because this EP also contains the two very worst songs of the original album.

Nobody ever wanted to hear Jeffrey do social commentary, even those that did buy his self-absorbed sensitive thug persona (and all of his albums) back in the early naughties, so what the hell is Lost Little Girl doing here?
Pain Is Love‘s faux-philosophical pity me, martyr-lyrics and a typically unfortunately brassy hook and glossy beat go a long way in showing why these days Ja Rule is mostly a punchline.

As for the hits; Always on Time is still classic pop-thug/ R&B genius, Livin’ It Up is still jiggy, wide-eyed dancefloor fun, I’m Real [Remix] still has Jenny from da Block coming off as real a Barbie doll and it still has Jeffrey coming across as a jackass hollering at sluts with a bottle of K-Y, but I’m pretty sure that said sluts still like this song, so that’s a thing. And Down Ass Bitch still has some singing on it so bad it makes you wish they used autotune as freely back then, as they do now.

Also it would’ve been very sympathetic if Def Jam would’ve included the hit version of Ja’s Put It On Me featuring Lil’ Mo off the soundtrack to the Fast and the Furious, considering there is no Ja album, studio or compilation, that has the version that anyone gives a shit about on it.

Still this is probably the most Jeffrey any casual listener will ever need, so if you absolutely must have a legal hard copy of Always On Time this is the way to go.

Best tracks
Always on Time
Livin’ It Up
Never Again

Recommendations
Since you can probably pick this up for the price of a second hand single, because this probably has the least shitty songs of any of his abums, bar his debut Venni Vetti Vecci, and because this has arguably the two best songs of his career you can pick this up. Just don’t expect miracles from a Ja Rule album.