Friday, October 15, 2010

Jukebox (VI)

album reviews

iCarly star Miranda Cosgrove makes an unremarkable debut, Hanson return with a solid pop record, while The Killers’ singer impresses with his first solo release

Brandon Flowers
Genre: Rock
The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers has embarked on a solo career with the release of his album Flamingo, a set of songs he originally wrote for his band’s next album before they decided to go on hiatus. Not surprisingly, the album – which takes its title from Flamingo Road in the singer’s hometown that is also the location of the Sam’s Town casino (which lent its name to the group’s second album) – retains the overall vibe of The Killers’ music. Flamingo includes a rueful ode to sin city in Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, a duet with Rilo Kiley vocalist Jenny Lewis in the form of Hard Enough, and Springsteen-esque storytelling in songs like Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts and Was It Something I Said. But the thing that makes the album particularly impressive is that, minus the filler (and there isn’t much of that), all the songs are distinctive, and while the singer has stuck to what he knows best and made an album that sounds pretty close to something The Killers would do, the record is both very listenable and enjoyable; fans, especially, will not be disappointed.
Highlights: Magdalena, Crossfire, Was It Something I Said

Eliza Doolittle
Eliza Doolittle
Genre: Pop
Released to much success in the UK, 22-year-old English singer Eliza Doolittle’s debut album is a collection of breezy summer ditties, not particularly original, but pleasant enough to warrant a listen. The bouncy soul influenced pop obviously reflects influences such as Lily Allen and Kate Nash. The songs are propelled by the singer’s lovely voice, although the jaunty melodies sometimes fall into the chasm of sameness and hence lack memorability, but the album clearly demonstrates that the young songstress offers a lot of promise. The highlight of the album is the single Pack Up; with a chorus inspired by the 1910s marching song Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag, the single is the standout track in the set, and while the rest of the album doesn’t mirror it’s strength, it does showcase the singer’s ability to produce likeable pop. It now remains to be seen whether she can build upon the strengths and work on the weaknesses when she makes her sophomore effort.
Highlights: Pack Up, Missing

Shout It Out
Genre: Indie Pop Rock
Hanson have come a long way since the Middle of Nowhere days, when the release of MMMBop made the young band a global teen sensation. Since then, Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson have grown up musically, started their own record label (3CG Records), and released fairly good pop songs like Penny & Me that really ought to have garnered them more attention that they did. Now, more than a decade after hitting the mainstream, the brothers have released their eighth album, Shout It Out, a pop record that is driven by catchy hooks and ‘70s/‘80s pop sensibilities. The album includes infectious up-tempo songs, like Waiting For This and Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin’, that offer instant sing-along potential; however, the momentum starts fading towards the second half of the album, although it still remains quite listenable. Hanson fans, especially those who have been following the band since the beginning, will surely appreciate the band’s musical growth and enjoy this set.
Highlights: Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin’, Waiting For This, Kiss Me When You Come Home, Give A Little

Hey Monday
Beneath It All (EP)
Genre: Pop
After downsizing from an eight-song album to a six-song EP, Hey Monday have released their second offering, Beneath It All. Not so much Paramore-lite as something that would probably work if it were being marketed by Disney along with a Demi Lovato album, the band offers commercialised pop music that would be better suited to Kelly Clarkson or Hilary Duff. The upbeat sing-along pop songs are karaoke ready, even though a casual listener would have trouble distinguishing one song from another. Cassadee Pope’s vocals seem like a cross between The Veronicas and Avril Lavigne, and your response to them is likely to depend on how long it’s been since you were a tweenager.
Highlights: I Don’t Wanna Dance, Where Is My Head

Jason Derülo
Jason Derülo
Genre: R&B
After writing songs for the likes of Diddy and Sean Kingston, Haitian American singer, songwriter, and dancer Jason Derülo has launched his solo career with a set of songs tailor-made for Top 40 radio but bereft of any individuality. The kind of singer who likes to sing his own name at the start of his songs (for reasons best known only to him), the newcomer had a massive hit with the song Whatcha Say, the chorus of which samples Imogen Heap’s brilliant Hide and Seek which deserves a huge part of the song’s success; in fact, no other song on the album offers the same bite that Heap’s song adds to Watcha Say. The track The Sky’s The Limit, which is based on the ‘80s Irene Cara hit Flashdance…What a Feeling, offers some hope, but little else stands out on the record. The rest of the album just comes off as R&B-based dance pop, overproduced and auto-tuned to the point of indistinguishability. If he can add more of his personality to the songs and hold back on the auto-tune, then we might be on to something. Otherwise, this brand of catchy urban pop will not make him stand out in an already competitive landscape ruled by the likes of Usher, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo.
Highlights: Whatcha Say, The Sky’s the Limit, In My Head

Miranda Cosgrove
Sparks Fly
Genre: Teen pop
We’ve grown accustomed to the fact that nearly every Disney starlet, no matter how vocally challenged, will try to enter the world of multi-hyphenates by adding the word “singer” to her resume. Following the same path is Nickelodeon’s Miranda Cosgrove, who you may better know as the star of iCarly or as Drake and Josh’s bratty little sister in Drake & Josh, whose debut album recently hit the shelves. The negatives would be that it is your average synthesized music that comes off as nothing more than homogenized pop fodder. But on the bright side, it’s only eight songs long, so it’s almost over even before it even begins; it’s like they knew going over half an hour would make the listeners suffer too much (although there is a deluxe edition that contains four extra tracks, but that’s clearly too many!). If you fall in the singer’s target market and/or happen to own records by Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Taylor Swift, then you might think differently about this album as well. As for everyone else, this is just another disposable bubblegum pop set that suffers from weak vocals and overproduction; you’re not missing anything.


Pearl Jam
Backspacer (2009)
Genre: Rock
Since both defining and being defined by the grunge scene of the early 90s, Pearl Jam have continued to be a vital presence in the world of rock for over two decades. While many of their releases in the last few years have been met by a mixed response, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering the colossal status of the band’s early catalogue; it can’t be easy to not get weighed down under your own legacy after having released something as definitive as Ten and Vs.. With their ninth and latest offering Backspacer, PJ have produced one of their most accessible records, marrying rock with pop sensibilities. From energetic rock anthems to contemplative mid-tempo ditties and bittersweet guitar-driven musings, Vedder takes a reflective look at love and loss in the eleven songs that make up the set, and even the occasional cliché comes off as heartfelt. Overall, the album may follow a lighter approach than their earlier work, but you can tell that the band are enjoying themselves, and hopefully the listeners will enjoy it too.
Highlights: The Fixer, Just Breathe, Amongst The Waves, The End

Daniel Powter
Under The Radar (2008)
Genre: Pop Rock
Not many of us had heard of Daniel Powter prior to the release of his self-titled sophomore album in 2005, but following the success of his single Bad Day, the Canadian singer-songwriter found himself in the spotlight. Bad Day was one of the best pop songs of 2005…and then it ended up becoming one of the most annoyingly ubiquitous songs of 2006. It was played repeatedly on TV and radio, it was the elimination/send-off song in the fifth season of American Idol, and it even made an appearance in a commercial. The singles that followed it, however, couldn’t mirror the success of their predecessor and most of them failed to find home in the minds or hearts of listeners. Three years later, Daniel Powter returned with a set of catchy mid-tempo tunes and piano ballads in his third album Under The Radar. Produced by Linda Perry, the set features twelve songs, including a new version of Love You Lately (which previously appeared on his second album), and Negative Fashion (from his debut album I’m Your Betty), along with a live rendition of Bad Day. Powered by pleasant melodies, the album offers more of what made Bad Day a hit; yet, at the same time, there is something that keeps the songs from being truly memorable. The best moments come in the form of the album opener Best Of Me, the eventually-uplifting My So Called Life, and first single Next Plane Home. But as Daniel Powter sticks to the same sound throughout – which does lead him to produce a set of decent, albeit samey, pop songs – the shortfall is that the album covers familiar territory and doesn’t offer much in terms of variety.
Highlights: My So Called Life, Next Plane Home

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Oct-Dec, 2010

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