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Singles Of The Week (10 December 2012)

With reality TV behemoth The X Factor being over for another year – the winner’s assault for the Christmas number one slot aside – it remains to be seen how well this year’s contestants will fare, longevity wise. Success stories are few in comparison to the numerous contestants that have appeared on the show’s treadmill. This week sees the latest single from one of the show’s most successful winners, Leona Lewis, though even her career has been on a downward spiral since the monster début single, ‘Bleeding Love’. Will her latest single help turn things around?

Also in the all-female line-up of this week’s selection is country-pop crossover success, Taylor Swift, with the newest single from her latest album, Red. There’s also a new single from kooky pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen, who had arguably the biggest hit of the Summer with ‘Call My Maybe’, which has become a widespread pop culture reference point. Has lightning struck a second time for the young Canadian? Finally there’s underground artist Maya von Doll who will surely be hoping her new single will help bring her some mainstream success. We begin, however, with Ms Lewis’ new single, ‘Lovebird’.

‘Lovebird’ by Leona Lewis (Rating: **)

Reviewed by Jake Basford

‘Lovebird’ by Leona Lewis is the latest ballad to come from the X Factor legend, and is taken from her latest album, Glass Heart.

Yes, we get the symbolism of love and birds and cages etc., but is she really doing this again? She has a lovely voice, and is a great artist, but this doesn’t stretch her star-quality one iota.

Winning The X Factor and managing to keep a career going this long is quite a feat considering the average lifespan is approximately a Christmas Number 1 and that’s it. That said, churning out the same music as she did originally is not going to expand her market base. This track shows she hasn’t grown or changed as an artist since winning, and we are disappointed that she is still sticking to the safe option.

‘Lovebird’ is a good song if you’re into emotive ballads that use allegorical references to past lovers – the vocals and music are generally on point for that genre. Leona has a niche in the market for this kind of music, and she wouldn’t keep producing it if there was no fanbase to go with it. But Mariah Carey she is not, and unfortunately the time of the diva is passing as goddesses of shock-and-politics rampage the music scene.

We would never ask Leona to don a meat dress or compromise her innocence by including positive messages for the legions of fans who are crazy for her, but something needs shaking up. Maybe she should work with the Scissor Sisters or ask Ozzy Osborne for lyrics to her next track? Something needs to be injected to energise her act, because grace and loveliness are unfortunately a dying art.

Download the single now from Amazon or iTunes.

 

‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ by Taylor Swift (Rating: ****)

Reviewed by Ben Egan

Taylor Swift seems pretty unstoppable recently. Love or hate her, you can’t deny her success. Hitting the top spot in the UK for the first time, her latest album, Red, is a poppier offering than previous albums and you also can’t seem to get away from the infamous ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’. But with promotional single after promotional single being released from Miss Swift, does she have another hit on her hands with her new release, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’?

In a word, yes. Arguably equally as catchy as her last offering, Swift has cut the cheese out and added a seriously brilliant, dub-influenced chorus. The single may be still rather radio friendly but that shouldn’t knock the effort. Taylor’s sharp lyrics and impressive vocals need to be noted here too, as she steps far away from her traditional country roots. Instead she is seducing the listener over a mixture of acoustic guitars, grimy beats and some of the best break-up lines for a while.

The change is a pleasant one from Swift, and the offering will surely allow her to spread her talented wings even further. Credit should also be given for the single’s original sound yet chart-topping appeal.

Download the single from Amazon and iTunes.

 

‘Is This Love’ by Maya von Doll (Rating: ** )

Reviewed by Ben Kelly.

Following the break up of her band, Soho Dolls, Maya von Doll went on to write most of Nicola Roberts’ solo album. Now, however, she is experimenting with various international producers, including the German duo Robs & Duke who created her new single, ‘Is This Love’, which is a precursor to the album she’s working on. It’s pure electro-pop, with some very dubious lyrics – ‘If I could wear my heart right now for all the world to see / it would be a fashion fail without a trick left up my sleeve’. There’s nothing like an extended metaphor.

The chorus is slightly monotonous, which serves the dance element well, but it doesn’t tick the pop crossover box. Maya’s voice isn’t strong, and she doesn’t own this track. She barely sounds like a featured act, let alone a newly revised solo artist. The production is stronger, and whilst it’s much more edgy and European than current commercial tracks, like those by Calvin Harris, it still harks back to classic club tracks and earlier dance eras.

Maya is very much an underground act and has said she enjoys bringing some of that to the pop world with her co-writes. Considering how unapologetically anti-mainstream ‘Is This Love’ is, it’s therefore probably just the way she wants it.

Download the single now from Amazon or iTunes.

 

 

‘This Kiss’ by Carly Rae Jepsen (Rating: ***)

Reviewed by: Scott McMullan

After the whirlwind success of Miss Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ we had high hopes that her latest track would deliver the same infectious quality that made her previous single a monster summer hit. Sadly, we were left a little disappointed by ‘This Kiss’, which was rather weak by comparison. That being said, her latest offering is certainly not lacking in charm and is still all set to be a firm fan-favourite in next to no time.

There is a lot here to love. In a departure from the cute-pop theme enjoyed by ‘Call Me Maybe’, Jepsen’s new single has a heavier beat which immediately sets it apart. This is more of a dance floor track, and the dominant beat gives it a more incandescent and adult feel. Unfortunately the music does not always feel like it matches up with the vocals on offer, and the 27-year old singer’s voice seems a bit too soft and sweet to complement the stronger tempo.

Lyrically, ‘This Kiss’ is a little sub-standard. The words come across as forced and more than a little bit derivative. They feel more like filler to put together with the music, rather than standing successfully in their own right. Considering the more poetic and interesting feel of Carly Rae Jepsen’s previous work it’s sad to see that lightning has not struck twice.

Altogether the track is good, and some would even call it nice. However, the problem is that this song will always be compared to Jepsen’s earlier, stronger music which leaves ‘This Kiss’ feeling like it could have been a lot better.

Download the single now from Amazon or iTunes.

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Album Review: Cee Lo Green – Cee Lo’s Magic Moment

There are very few male artists out there today who are well-known for having great voices, but Cee Lo Green would definitely have to be one the best. His smooth and soulful, Motown-flavoured vocals stand-out well in an industry full of very standard, modern pop singers. Now, getting into the holiday spirit with his first Christmas album, Cee Lo’s Magic Moment, he continues to prove he has more soul in his small, round body than most of his more successful contemporaries put together.

Cee Lo covers a wide variety of classic Christmas songs, many with his own uniquely soulful and funky twist to them, including ‘This Christmas’, ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘White Christmas’. He also injects his jolly, comedic personality into some more fun and light-hearted ones, such as on ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch’, which features a cappella group Straight No Chasers. In other collaborations, Green once again teams up with the cast of The Muppets – the first time was on his performance of ‘Forget You’ at The Grammys – for the only song that was specially written for the album and the only one that has been (unofficially) released, ‘All I Need Is Love’. Although it sounds very similar to when The Muppets performed with Olly Murs singing ‘Dance With Me Tonight’ on last year’s The X Factor, we can’t help but still fall in love with its catchy, funky beat and melody.

Rod Stewart and Trombone Shorty also appear on the album for the jazzed-up version of ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ (also available on Stewart’s latest Christmas album), while fellow The Voice coach Christina Aguilera makes sweet music with Cee Lo for the third time, duetting with him on the gorgeous, bluesy ballad ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’. ’Please Come Home For Christmas’, ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ and ‘Silent Night’ are others where Cee Lo’s powerfully emotional singing prove that his voice is not one to be underestimated.

As well as some Christmas standards, Cee Lo also takes the risk of covering some other artists’ own original songs, notably Joni Mitchell’s iconic hit ‘River’ – the only track on the album that is not strictly a Christmas one – and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’. Though the latter is obviously nowhere near as good as the original, his attempt certainly beats Justin Bieber’s version who recorded it last year with Carey herself. Green is at his best when he unleashes his 60s-inspired sound that harks back to those classic soul singers, such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and rocks out to songs like ‘What Christmas Means To Me’ and ‘Run Rudolph Run’, showing the vast majority of today’s urban artists how real R&B singing should sound.

Although we would liked to have heard more original songs – something many Christmas albums have – especially written by Green himself, Cee Lo’s Magic Moment incorporates almost everything else a Christmas album should be: a mix of fun tracks that capture the youthful, festive spirit of the holiday season, as well as emotive, heartwarming ballads. Yet overall it is distinctly a Cee Lo record, managing to incorporate his cool, old-school vocals, cheeky charm and happy-go-lucky character all effectively.

Go get it: ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside (featuring Christina Aguilera)’ / ‘Run Rudolph Run’

Forget it: ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch (featuring Straight No Chaser)’ / ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’

Cee Lo’s Magic Moment is available to download from Amazon and iTunes now.

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Album Review: Tulisa – The Female Boss

Thanks to her stint on The X Factor as a judge and mentor, 24-year-old Tula Contostavlos has become a household name under her stage name, Tulisa. Though if our Twitter feeds are anything to go by, many viewers of The X Factor seem to relish deriding the young star – particularly the way she speaks – rather than listening to the content of what she says. Since parting ways musically with Dappy and Fazer back in 2011 – who together formed hip-hop trio N-Dubz – Tulisa is arguably the one with the highest profile, though whether this equates to significant sales for her début album, The Female Boss, remains to be seen.

Like many urban albums, Tulisa’s début solo effort has an ‘Intro’ and ‘Outro’ which bookend it. These are fairly pointless and don’t add to the album as a work. Over a sombre instrumental, Tulisa mutters some words which are clearly intended to be empowering, though fall rather flat. Even when saying the line ‘…she is a female boss’, Tulisa doesn’t sound entirely convinced by her own words. The ‘Outro’ mirrors the efforts of the ‘Intro’, and should similarly have been left off. To her detractors, these laughable words only give further material by which to mock.

The first proper tracks on The Female Boss are her first and second single – the Ibiza dance track ‘Young’ and the mid-tempo R&B number ‘Live It Up’. The bright and breezy hues of these two strong tracks help the listener forget about the questionable ‘Intro’, though ‘Live It Up’ does have the unfortunate inclusion of a tedious rap by Tyga, who spouts some typically female-objectifying guff across the otherwise appealing track.

 

‘Damn’ follows, the album’s first ballad, and is a fairly solid effort. Lyrically, it sees Tulisa singing about self-empowerment, rebranding herself after being cheated on, crudely summing it up with the line ‘you fucked me up when you fucked around’. It’s a polished and well-produced track, with a decent performance by Tulisa, even if it doesn’t particularly register.

Next up is the lyrically poor and god-awfully named ‘British Swag’ – for the sake of preserving our collective culture, the use of the word ‘swag’ in a song ought to be banned. It also features a guest rap by Nines, who is clearly competing with Slim Thug (of Gwen Stefani’s ‘Luxurious‘ fame, among others) for the title of most moronic sounding rapper ever to grace a record. This track has a couple of interesting elements to it, but not enough to make it anything other than the definite low point of the album.

Track six is another dance track, sounding a bit like ‘Young, Part 2′. An energetic number that would be good to move enthusiastically to in a club, it’s also rather generic, making it a little forgettable. Next up is ‘Visa’, with Wiley taking the guest spot this time. Musically, it has something to it, though lyrically the chorus is made up of the laughable chant of ‘Check my visa / check my, check my visa’.

Track eight, ‘Foreigner’ – with its pleasing reggae flavours – starts to turn the album round in a positive manner, away from the more derivative hip-hop and generic dance numbers. ‘Skeletons’ follows and opens with a slightly distorted vocal from Tulisa that adds an extra element of grit to her already slightly gruff voice. During the chorus, Tulisa delivers some softer notes that are a nice contrast to the earnest grunting that make up other parts of her performance. Additionally, the use of vocal effects towards the end of the track made us recall the experimental brilliance of Sophia Somajo, which is never a bad thing.

The next two tracks are certainly the album’s best tracks, and show that, when she gets it right, Tulisa more than has the potential to have a solo career. Track 10, ‘I’m Ready’, is a frantic pop number which harks back to the buzzing synths and crisp percussion of the 80s. Tulisa’s vocal is brilliant on this track, and is perfectly complemented by a male backing vocal. By way of a cool down from the excitable excellence of ‘I’m Ready’ is the stand-out ballad from The Female Boss, ‘Steal My Breath Away’. With a tinkling piano backdrop and booming drums, Tulisa harmonises delightfully across the chorus, delivering it with gusto as well as a sprinkling of ad libs. The song has a ‘Bleeding Love’ kind of vibe, and allows Tulisa to show she can deliver both a power vocal (shown on the choruses), but also reigning it in to deliver a more vulnerable and understated performance (as she does on the verses).

However, the positive momentum starts to plateau with ‘Kill Me Tonight’, which is like the posturing of ‘British Swag’ blended with the dance sound of ‘Young’. While listening, you half expect someone to do a shout-out to RedOne. The last three tracks on the album are ballads, including most recent single, ‘Sight of You’ (embedded below).

First is ‘Counterfeit’, which has the plodding beat of some of Ryan Tedder’s other work (‘Halo’, ‘Already Gone’), and concerns a failed relationship that initially seemed like true love. ‘Habit’ is the penultimate full-length song, and finds Tulisa delivering another pleasingly varied vocal. The aforementioned ‘Sight of You’ closes the album on a fairly high point – if you ignore the fact the song finishes with Tulisa embarrassingly saying ‘The End’, that is.

There are certainly good moments on Tulisa’s sonically and quality erratic début, giving possible early indicators of the artist that she could one day become. However, this will only happen if she moves away from the catchy, but ultimately frivolous and generic Ibiza-type tracks, or the juvenile and unappealing bravado-laced hip-hop numbers. However, being a fresh-faced 24-year-old, it’s unlikely that Tulisa will be focusing on this more mature direction for a few years yet.

Go Get It: ‘I’m Ready’ / ‘Steal My Breath Away’

Forget It: ‘British Swag (feat. Nines)’ / ‘Visa (feat. Wiley)’

The Female Boss is available to buy from Amazon and iTunes.

 

 

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My favourite festive song: Matisyahu – Miracle

OK, so this may not technically be a Christmas song, but since I don’t celebrate Christmas it seemed a bit silly nominating a seasonal song that I simply enjoy for a catchy chorus or magical melody. So instead I have opted to point you all in the direction of my favourite Channukah song. While South Park may have reignited the flame of popularity for the classic ‘I Have A Little Dreidl’, I put it to you that celebrated former Lubavitch (he renounced his connection last year) reggae and rap superstar Matisyahu shines the brightest with his infectiously poptastic retelling of the Channukah story ‘Miracle’.

While Matisyahu may not be a household favourite across the UK, the West Chester born reformed drug addict has found a firm following in both the religious and secular Jews worldwide. He rose to fame after finding salvation in the Jewish religious sector Lubavitch in 2001, and launched his career with 2005′s now celebrated début Shake Off The Dust…Arise. Heck, his 2006 sophomore album, Youth, even impacted on the UK album charts.  By the time ‘Miracle’ was released in 2010, Matisyahu had achieved superstar status. With a firm following, he opted to take the chance to redefine the Channukah song.

‘Miracle’ is more than pop perfection. While its singalong chorus oozes radio friendliness, the song also manages to effortlessly retell the tale of the Maccabees and the miracle of light, without ever feeling preachy or religious. Accompanied by a playful video, placing Matisyahu centre stage in an ice skating tale of perseverance.

‘Miracle’ is more than a Channukah song. While ‘I Have A Little Dreidl’ sits aside ‘Mistletoe & Wine’ as a song that is purely seasonal, ‘Miracle’ is a song that exists out of context and can keep the Channukah spirit burning inside all year long. ‘Miracle’ is much more than an eight day fling.

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Lost In Music: Beverley Knight – Music City Soul

Beverley Knight’s commercial success may not be impressive, but her artistry and vocals most certainly are, which means to many it comes as a surprise that she isn’t as well-known as the likes of Adele and Emeli Sandé. Since she came onto the scene back in 1995 with her debut single ‘Flavour Of The Old School’ and album The B-Funk, Knight’s unique twist on retro soul and funk styles mixed with modern-day R&B and her own gospel roots, which was not found in many other artists – at least in the UK – was a refreshing change in amongst the explosion of Brit pop music at the time. Unfortunately, although the album received critical acclaim, it and its singles did not make an impact on the charts, and due to ‘creative differences’ between Knight and the label, Dome, she decided to move on and sign a deal with Parlophone, with whom she stayed with for nearly ten years and her next four albums.

Music City Soul, Knight’s fifth album released in 2007, is her second most successful one after Who I Am – which spawned one of her biggest hits, ‘Shoulda Woulda Coulda’, peaking at No.8 in the UK. What separates Music City Soul from the rest of her discography is the fact that she recorded and produced it within five days (yes, five!) at The Beech House Studio in Nashville, Tennessee – known as ‘The Music City’ for its rich musical culture and history, hence the album’s name. If her latest album, Soul UK, paid homage to the British soul artists that paved the way before her, Music City Soul, pays homage to the many American soul singers that influenced her as a child, including Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Al Green and Marvin Gaye.

 

Soul sister: Knight recording ‘Music City Soul’ in the studio, where she spent five days doing so.

The album harks back to the soul, funk, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll genres that dominated southern America back in the 60s, which all 15 tracks – all original, bar three – on the album are reminiscent of, almost as if they really were produced forty years ago. Perhaps it was because Knight’s throwback to the ‘old school’ was not mainstream and current which led to it falling on deaf ears, but for those who have heard it would surely agree she expertly recaptured the authentic sounds so well, that she easily could have been around during that era and you almost forget she is from Wolverhampton and not actually from southern America – and if she was, would have fit in well in amongst original soul divas Aretha, Diana, Etta, Patti and Tina, and probably have been an even bigger star than she is now.

‘This was recorded utterly live as opposed to having live elements which made all the difference. I had musicians and background singers in the room with me at the same time and what we did in the studio is what you hear with no corrections or programmed beats. It was entirely different to how I had recorded before and because of that the sound of the record is very different to what you would have heard before.’

Beverley teamed up with a range of producers and songwriters, including: Robbie Williams’ long-term collaborator Guy Chambers, whom she has worked with before; Eg White – known for his work with many British soul singers such as Adele, Joss Stone, Rebecca Ferguson, Duffy, James Morrison and also Will Young; and Peter Vale, whose back catalogue includes a variety of genres and artists like Eagles, Paul Young, Mica Paris, Sheena Easton, Eddie Money, Ray Charles, Cliff Richard and Lemar. The majority of the album was produced solely by Mark Nevers, one of the top alt-country producers the world over who resides in Nashville and is most famous for working with alt-country band Lampchop. Beverley co-wrote eleven of the fifteen tracks, and three were covers – ‘Ain’t That A Lot Of Love’ by Homer Banks, ‘Time Is On My Side’ which was first made famous by The Rolling Stones, and ‘Rock Steady’ by her biggest idol, Aretha.

The album was preceded by lead single ‘No Man’s Land’, a beautiful, soulful ballad about heartbreak after a long-term relationship that Knight had gone through before. Other singles released were the mid-tempo track ‘After You’ and ‘The Queen Of Starting Over’, although our favourites – all of which we believe are just as brilliant as some of her greatest hits – would have to be the funky ‘Saviour’, the upbeat ‘Ain’t That A Lot Of Love’ and sultry ‘Black Butta’, where Knight unleashes those powerful vocals of hers that easily put many singers these days to shame, and her emotional, gospel-tinged version of ‘Time Is On My Side’. And while there are very vocalists who should dare touch an Aretha song, Beverley’s cover of ‘Rock Steady’ proves she is one of those who can and has learnt well from her idol.

Whenever we listen to Beverley, there is always two things going through our minds – one, is that we are absorbed in and blow away by what she is singing and how she emotes herself with perfect precision and phrasing and flawless techniques, and second, we wonder why on God’s green earth is this fantastically talented and well-grounded woman not as big as the likes of Adele, Amy, Emeli or Joss (don’t get us wrong, we love them too), whom she paved the way for and who have all made it as world-famous, modern-day soul superstars. The critics love her, but unlike many others who have received critical acclaim before experiencing a boom in commercial success, Beverley has kept herself under the radar of the average, everyday pop music listener, yet thankfully seems unfazed by it and continues to produce high quality music, even if it is highly underrated. But oh well, their loss.

Music City Soul can be downloaded from Amazon or iTunes.

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Gig Review: Natalie Duncan (The Tabernacle, London)

Natalie Duncan is promoting her début album, Devil In Me (to which we gave a glowing review last month), and it’s brought her to one of the best live venues in west London – The Tabernacle in Notting Hill. A perfect size venue for this kind of artist, The Tabernacle fits about 250 people, combined between round tables and standing on an upper level which goes right around the room.

Natalie took to the stage at her exact start time, 9.15pm (no divas here). Sitting down at the stage piano, responding modestly to applause, she breaks into an a cappella introduction. It instantly evokes a young Alicia Keys when she – like Duncan – made her début on Later… with Jools Holland. She begins most songs with what appears to be a classical piano, but soon her band kick in and you realise her fairly laid back soul music has strong composition behind it. In addition to her drummer and guitarist, she boasts a double bass and xylophone in her set up, which makes for a curious combination.

Duncan’s songs are strong, and her voice is flawless. She sounds a lot like Randy Crawford, but perhaps not as rich – she still sounds very young. She emits pure soul, and it’s raw and effortless. She riffs and runs unannounced, when she pleases, but it always lands on its feet. Her style comes through as she sits with one hand on her hip – the other held out in soulful concentration, or running down the keys as she picks out an improvised melody over the band. Tracks like ‘Lonely Child’ are much more bluesy and, at times, sound like they are coming right out of an old smokey club in Nashville – we’ve never been, but we can imagine.

She reappears to do an encore for her audience of young professionals and middle aged couples eager to hear more. She was well appreciated by them, and even in a casual environment like this one, hardly anyone spoke during her uptempo R&B performances. She’s not a story teller type of singer-songwriter, and isn’t entirely comfortable outside of performance – she’s humorous in conversation, but fairly shy. Her final song, ‘Became So Sweet’, shows her musical roots – right back to Nina Simone – holding off the keys as she runs through wordy verses like recitative, then banging out block chords to full effect. This is a truly great artist, with the kind of rare music that is universally enjoyable.

Featured image courtesy of Emilanos.

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Album Review: Glee Cast – The Christmas Album: Volume 3

The cast of the award winning hit show Glee make their UK return this week with their third volume of some classic Christmas tunes, The Christmas Album, Vol. 3. Since their first appearance on our screens back in 2009, the show has released a staggering 354 singles taken from 7 EPs and 13 soundtrack albums. The show is currently in the middle of its fourth season, currently being aired in the US, and this new compilation is in conjunction with episode 10 called ‘Glee Actually’ (a tribute to the festive film Love Actually).

Like the other two volumes, the uber-talented, glamorous cast put their magically camp spin on some festive classics, with previous highlights being Heather Morris’ (Britanny’s) Christmas Wrapping and Deck The Rooftops, or Amber Riley’s (Mercedes’) soulful rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. For non-Glee fans, this will do absolutely nothing to rid you of any negative feelings, with it being very similar to previous albums.

However, for us Glee fanatics, the album is both high in festivity and Christmas joy. Interestingly opening with Chord Overstreet’s (Sam’s) camp-tastic cover of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, you know you are in for a treat. Often falling under the radar in the show, Overstreet sounds better than ever, bringing a youthful energy to this classic. Darren Criss and Chris Colfer (Blaine and Kurt) team up once again to duet on ‘White Christmas’. The jazzy rendition doesn’t work quite so well as previous attempt ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, with Colfer’s falsetto being a slight turn off, but it is always a pleasure to listen to Criss’ wonderfully perfect vocals.

The slower tracks on the album tend to be done professionally and beautifully, but also lessen the momentum of the album, which risks becoming slightly boring if you are not a passionate fan. However, Naya Rivera (Santana) steals the show completely with the exquisite ‘Silent Night’. Totally making the infamous track her own, her voice sounds simply stunning during the piano lead opening, developing into a soulful, tender affair, leaving us begging the question – when is this girl going to release her own solo material, seriously?

The season’s newbies also make some impressive appearances too.  Alex Newell (Wade/Unique) challenges Riley for the diva award, thrashing out the divine ‘Joy To The World’, which complements perfectly the beauty of his vocals. Gorgeous new lead girl Melissa Benoist (Marley) sounds unbelievably divine throughout ‘The First Noel’, rivalling old favourite Lea Michelle (Rachel) who returns for ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’.

The fun is regained by the end of the album. Kevin McHale’s (Artie’s) ‘Feliz Navidad’ is a fun twist on a traditional Christmas tune, as is ‘Hannukah oh Hannukah’, performed by Jacob Artist and Mark Salling (Jake and Puck). The album closes with Cory Monteith (Finn) leading the popular ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’, which works very well with the group’s impressive harmonies.

As we’ve already indicated, this album is best avoided if you are not a Glee fan. But for those that love it as much as us, you will not be disappointed. The cast inject their usual high levels of fun, energy and talent into the festive tracks, and leave you wanting that Roast Turkey right now.

Go Get It: ‘Silent Night’ / ‘The First Noel’

Forget It:  ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ / ‘White Christmas’

‘The Christmas Album: Volume 3′ is avaliable now from iTunes and Amazon.

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My favourite festive song: Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You

When it comes to music for the festive season, modern bands and musicians have always felt a little bit hit and miss for me.  When artists like Michael Bublé and Rod Stewart release Christmas music and scream up the charts it always feels to me like they are just cashing in on the season of good will.  It’s for this reason that I always find myself drawn to Mariah Carey’s 1994 track ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ for a bit of a festive feel-good frenzy.

In many ways, I think this song is just one of those songs that is impossible to hate – the uptempo delivery and Carey’s own style of vocal gymnastics make the song a firm fan-favourite.  However, what made this song stand out for me was that it just felt so good.  Let’s be honest, your typical Christmas song is either solemn and painfully religious, or is rather slow and sultry.  This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of scope for change or evolution in this particular genre.  This is why Mariah Carey’s song is such a game changer, since it manages to fit in the classic mould but still has enough innovation to stand out from the pack.

From the high energy delivery of the lines to the terrifically infectious beat, Carey has clearly poured a lot of her skill and ability into this track.  What really sets it apart, however, is the fact that it is not just another Christmas song, it’s also a terrific little love song, giving it a much wider appeal.  There is also a tremendous aura of fun that is palpable throughout, creating an electric quality that makes me just itch to get to the nearest dance floor.

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the understated but thoroughly entertaining music video. The video looks likes a montage of home videos and has a gorgeous aged quality that manages to provide a classic family feel.  The whole performance is practically dripping with kitsch appeal that matches perfectly with the music, creating a wonderful spectacle for the viewer.

In short ‘All I Want for Christmas’ is my perfect festive song, and it gets me in the mood to wrap up Christmas presents and dance like a drunken fool at the nearest office party.  If you don’t believe me, watch the video below and treat yourself to a few minutes of festive cheer, courtesy of So So Gay.

All I Want for Christmas is You is available to buy from Amazon and iTunes.

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Introducing… Screaming Maldini

Screaming Maldini are an exciting six-piece band hailing from Sheffield. Formed in 2009, the band have been steadily making a name for themselves on the northern music scene, not least with their recent single ‘Summer, Somewhere’. With a Christmas single due for release on 17 December and an album due in February, 2013 looks like it may be their year.

The great strength of Screaming Maldini is their impressive musical background; this is not only evident in musical influences that are as diverse as ABBA, The Beatles and Radiohead, but also in the fact that all but one of the band studied music at university. You are immediately hit with the impression that this is a group of individuals who not only have a keen desire to be creative, but who ‘understand’ music.

This means that songwriting for the band can be, what they describe as, a ‘complex’ process. Rather than being ‘boxed-in’ by their academic background, they appear to have used this to harness the distinct elements that have influenced them. As one might expect from such a band, an indie style is very much apparent in their music, but this features alongside other influences, in particular a classical element. As such, their music doesn’t just rely on keyboards and guitars, but is also infused with strings and trumpets. It is with some credibility that the band can boast ‘something for everyone’, and a genuinely fresh and unique sound that doesn’t come across as forced or contrived.

The fusion of all these elements is nowhere more apparent than in ’Summer, Somewhere’ itself. It is an infectious, toe-tapper of a track, with an uplifting instrumental style and powerful vocal courtesy of the band’s singer Gina Walters. The exuberance and energy of the song, not to mention the optimistic sentiment that ‘It’s always summer somewhere’, is heightened by a charming video shot in the Peak District, which features the other band members on a chase through the countryside to reunite with Gina, culminating in a set-piece performance in the middle of a field. It’s impressive too, since it was written and directed by the band themselves, and has a notably polished appearance. In addition, both the track and the video are pleasingly ‘pop’, though definitely not ‘run of the mill’. It is unsurprising that, on a limited release, the CD single sold out in a matter of days, and the video received over 6,000 hits on YouTube.

The band have attracted attention from a number of quarters, not least because of their escapades, such as surprising shoppers in Sheffield with an impromptu flashmob performance in the city centre. Further attention has been received from more commercial sectors, such as 6Music and XFM for whom they played an acoustic session. As recently as this November they were named ‘New Band of the Week’ by The Guardian’s Northerner Blog, describing them as ‘overflowing with beautiful yet hyper and over the top melodies’.

Having been signed by French label HipHipHip, the band are now gearing up for a tour, with dates to be announced just after Christmas. A new single, ‘The Awakening’, is also due in January, before their self-titled début album on 4 February. Initial reviews for the upcoming album have already been positive, with Heckler Spray describing it as packed full of ‘ludicrously ace songs’. If the album is imbibed with the same energy and fresh sound of ‘Summer, Somewhere’, it is likely not to disappoint.

You can check out Screaming Maldini’s website here

Tickets are already available for the band’s London show on 18 February 2013

Their début album, ‘Screaming Maldini’, is out on 4 February 2013

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music-review

EP Review: Lovelife – The Fourth Floor

Currently based in Brooklyn, London formed duo, Lovelife, are an impressive musical equation. With the nineties set to dominate, they take everything the Pet Shop Boys did right and fuse it with Bright Light Bright Light’s 90s pop inspirations and The XX’s understated nonchalance. As they follow their impeccable début EP, El Regreso, with their first official release, The Fourth Floor EP, on new label National Anthem, they prove their début was far from a fluke.

Floating beauty ‘Heaven’ is the perfect opener. Swooping but not soaring, it is an elegant demonstration of the pairing’s synth-driven sound. While the music veers to the understated, the duo contrast with lyrical drama and bold imagery.

Though the Auto-Tuned vocals of ‘Your New Beloved’ are without hesitation Lee Newell and Ally Young at their most immediate and commercial, it is the 80s, as opposed to 90s, driven ‘The Key’ which seals the deal on superstar potential. Full sounding and with real intent, ‘The Key’ is the Pet Shop Boys meets The Waylayers.

The Fourth Floor is a consummate effort. Lovelife are clearly aware of how to play the pop game, but they have no intention of fully conforming to convention. Their sound is distinct, striking and rewarding. The Fourth Floor is just a stop off point for a duo who are headed all the way to the top.

Go Get It: ‘The Key’

Forget It: none

The Fourth Floor is out 17 December, and available to pre-order from Amazon now.