Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beyonce- 4 (Album Review)

Beyonce- 4 (Album Cover)

I have been a huge fan of Beyonce since her Destiny’s Child days. I’ve followed her career. I own all her records and concert DVDS. I even bought the ticket to her concert that she eventually cancelled. Anyhoo… But I’m in two minds about this new record.  I’ve been listening to this set over and over again but honestly it just doesn’t excite me as much as “B Day” (2006) or “I Am… Sasha Fierce” (2008) did. First of all, I’d be lying if I say this record sounds oh-so- fresh or it is majorly groundbreaking. Although all 12 tracks contain the uniquely-Beyonce sound that we all love, they also sound tired and tried. It is not an appalling record as the songs are all quite decent in their own way. Therefore, if someone asks me to pull out one bad song, I would struggle to find it. After all, these 12 tracks were carefully picked from total 72 tracks she recorded for this album. (Quite impressive, right?)

On her 4th studio album simply titled “4”, Beyonce once again sings about the themes that are so near and dear to her heart such as being dangerously in love (“I’d Rather Die Young”, “1+1, “Love On Top”,“I Miss You”), My-boyfriend-did-me-wrong songs  (“I Care”,“Best Thing I Never Had”) and female empowerment (“Run The World (Girls)”, "End Of Time"). (We get it, You are an independent woman, B) The second single from this album,“Best Thing I Never Had”- sounds like her number one single “Irresistible (2006)”recycled and revisited. The song ,nonetheless , should be praised for Vanessa Carlton’s  A Thousand Miles- like piano-driven melody and Beyonce’s super raw vocal riffs and runs.“Run the world (Girls)” is a great party anthem but it does not have the magic that “Déjà vu(2006)” or “Crazy In Love(2003)” had. Despite the smoking hot video and her revolutionary live performance at the Billboard awards, the song has so far peaked at #29 on the Billboard chart. What’s more, this song and the other song on the record called “End Of Time” shares the VERY similar marching band style drum beats. It makes you wonder if they were written on the same day.

“Love on top” which is flavored with an old-school Rn’B vibe is one of my favorites. The singing style and the song’s concept remind me of Natalie Cole’s classic “This Will Be (An Everlasting love) (1975)”. Dianne Warren-penned “I Was Here” is also a standout track especially for Beyonce’s emotional vocal delivery. When uber-talented artists like Beyonce try to get involved with every aspect of making the record (From writing, producing, performing to even directing the music videos), the eventual result tends to be either repetitive or rather one-dimensional.  Sometimes, it generates better outcomes when the singer just does the part of singing leaving the rest to other professionals to take care of. “I was Here” is the perfect example of this theory.  It is the only song she didn’t write on this album and it is undoubtedly one of the best tracks. (Whitney Houston did not write any of her hits nor Celine Dion).

“Countdown” takes us back to her Destiny’s child days but somewhat forgettable. “Start Over” that features Tina Turner-like tigress growls and “I Care”, a song beautifully adorned with near-whistle notes at the bridge, are gems.  Party (feat. Andre 3000 & Kanye West) could do well on the radio for its catchy chorus and the two superstar guests. Plus “We like to party” message is not only applicable globally also no brains required to enjoy it.

Here’s the thing, I don’t know about other Beyonce fans but I feel like I’m having a Beyonce –overdose. She’s everywhere. Releasing 8 singles from her third album alone was not enough, she toured the world, put out live concert DVDs, albums with remixes and out-takes, collaborated with other artists(Lady GaGa, Alicia Keys, Jay Z), made movies and featured on the soundtracks, performed on every possible talk show and awards show. (Not to mention the clothes and perfumes she sells.) I’m very impressed with her boundless energy, tremendous talents and superhuman work ethic but I need a break. It’s been too much and too often. How about taking a few years off and taking time to come up with a record that is fresh, innovative and inspiring? For example-Madonna’s “Ray Of Light” or Mariah Carey’s “The Emancipation Of Mimi”.  Make us crave for more. We want to be surprised. 
Beyonce's stunning album cover art 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kylie Minogue- Aphrodite World Tour (Jakarta Concert Review)

Kylie Minogue-Aphrodite Tour Opening Sequence

After nearly two hours on the plane, three hours spent stuck in the Jakarta’s legendary traffic and a mere three and a half more hours waiting at the venue, I finally got the chance to see Kylie Minogue rise out of the giant golden sea shell singing the song appropriately-titled “Aphrodite” with the spectacular Greek mythology-inspired back-drop. Kylie sang I'm fierce and I'm feeling mighty, I'm a golden girl, I'm an Aphrodite, alright?” The tired Jakarta crowd was astounded not only by the first sighting of the superstar whom they have been in love with since her loco-motion days in the 80s, also by the scantily-clad male dancers dressed up as beefy Roman soldiers. What a beautiful sight! My fatigue was gone and that was when I thought “The game is on! This is what I came here to witness: the visually-stunning extravaganza.” Kylie who recently has been celebrated as “The Goddess of love” went on to sing a few more songs including “The One”, “Wow” and “I Believe In You” in her Grecian-inspired outfit. The crowd responded with loud cheers and sheer joy.
Kylie performing with her hot male dancers

Then my favorite bit of the show came, “Cupid Boy”. During that performance, I, Carrie Bradshaw, couldn’t help but wonder how the heterosexual guys who were simply dragged into the show by force by their girlfriends or wives would think and feel about the whole gay pride thing happening on the stage. I mean, really, it was inevitable and it was coming from every angle at a rapid rate. Kylie as usual hit all the right spots and all of us boys (hence, THE ITALICS!!) of course, felt like home.  We were in heaven. No question about it!  No other diva (Not Madonna, Not even GaGa) has ever put on a show for us (ITALICS again!) in the way Kylie does. Kylie, to me, is THE biggest gay icon and the only one who lives up to this title. More power to you, Kylie!
Kylie on a unicorn

Since we were the very first few to arrive at the venue, we found ourselves a place very close to the stage. Seeing Kylie up-close was sort of like a spiritual experience. I could cry. I must have said “OMG, She’s beautiful” 45 times in 3 minutes. Indeed, she looked so gorgeous and her smile lit up the whole stadium.  She had us all singing in unison when she sang her hit “Spinning Around”.  Now that’s a hit everyone knows unlike the only-the-hard-core-fans-know songs she performed in the first segment.  (You’ve got Jakarta in your hands now, Kylie!)
One might wonder how can an already-super-sexy song like “Slow” could be made any sexier. Pas De Problème pour Kylie. She managed it just fine by spicing up the song with Cabaret/Jazz elements.  The Goddess looked enormously hot with the female dancers dancing in circle and fanning her with the feathers that were probably kept from her previous Showgirl tour. Talking about the power of feathers! It always works!

I was also very glad that she sang one of my favorite songs “Confide In Me”. (I always love doing that high “Meeeeeeee” note in my head voice. C’mon, don’t we all?)  However, the biggest surprise came when she performed her global hit “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”. The originally-electro pop song was given a rock edge and it of course brought the house down.  Kylie, looking triumphant, in her beautiful metallic Dolce & Gabbana gown got the entire stadium on their feet.  Everyone was going “la la la la la la la la la la “
Kylie performing "Looking For An Angel"

“Looking For An Angel” was the most theatrical segment and I personally think it was also the peak of the show. At the end of the song, an angel emerged and rose to the sky while the other two angels standing by. It was awe-inspiring indeed.  She went on to sing her classics “Love At First Sight” and “Can’t Beat The Feeling” before she toned down the show’s tempo with the performance of her ballad “If You Don’t Love Me”.  The song not only showcased her vocal range but also brought her closer to her fans. It was one touching moment.

Like as if that was not enough, she came out shortly after wearing a whole new outfit to deliver one of her old hits “Better The Devil You Know”.  Most of us, die-hard fans know the lyrics by heart and had a good old sing-along session with that performance.  We were totally having a moment. Subsequently, Kylie decked out in denim shorts and torn-tank top with an orangey furry jacket worn over asked the audience what they would like to hear her sing. Some of the queens in the front row requested “Put Your Hands On Your Heart” and we requested “Loco-motion”. She sang both songs acapella. I thought it was really cute of her to interact with the audience. What a sweetheart!

One of the tracks from her latest album “Aphrodite” called “Better Than Today” was performed next in addition to the acapellas. Then Kylie disappeared after singing “Put Your Hands Up( If You Feel The Love)” and the band intro. It was time for encore.  The crowd went quiet for a while feeling unsure what to say or do. That was when our group (a Brit, a German, an Austrian, a Mexican, an Ecuadorian, a Burmese and two Australians) started singing the chorus of “All The Lovers”.  We were so loud and of course the others had no choice but to join in as well. We were no doubt having the most fun at the concert. For some reason (or rather just as usual), Jakarta crowd was somewhat low-energy that night.  They were mostly sitting and peacefully watching. Undoubtedly, it wasn’t us.  We were there to party.  We wanted to dance and have fun.  Here, I am talking about group-jumping, hand-clapping, wild-dancing to screaming out words of adoration to Kylie even at times in Spanish (Well done, Carlos!). We were W.I.L.D!
Kylie performing "All The Lovers"

Obviously, Kylie was not going to wrap up the show without giving us a spectacular encore.  A few minutes later, she reappeared on stage in her 8th and final costume of the night with her glitter-robed dancers singing “On A Night Like This” from her “Light Years” album. I could feel the stadium come alive singing along the catchy chorus. Her voice sounded a bit tired by then and she opted for a lower note while singing the song’s climax. Nevertheless, it was a crowd-pleaser.  After that song, her oh-so-beautiful-to-look-at dancers took off their robes and took their positions on a wedding cake-like small stage in the center. They all looked naked as they were wearing skin-colored tights and bejeweled underwear. Kylie performed her soon-to-be classic “All The Lovers” as the finale. What can I say? It was sensational. Love was in the air. She filled up the stadium with so much love that it lifted us all. What a great way to end such a stellar concert!
If I were to go to heaven (NOT that I doubt I wouldn’t), I would absolutely want it to look like Kylie’s concert. I would imagine heaven with all the happy elements Kylie brings to her shows like the unicorns, rainbows, angels and feathers. I would also like heaven to have gorgeous muscular men who dance in tights and do acrobatics. Seriously though, even to say that her dancers were amazing would be an understatement. Her dancers not only possess eye-catching beauty but also boundless energy that kept the show electrifying all throughout.  Kylie’s live vocals were in top form. Although she is never known for her vocal abilities or technical singing skills, there were moments during the show where we went “Wow, girlfriend CAN sing!”  She always seems to know how to work her voice within its range. What I also love about Kylie is that she looks very much of a diva glamed up in sequined- gowns and six inched Louboutins yet she seems very approachable and sweet. I have been to so many concerts but this one will always have a special place in my heart. Not only it was worthy of money and time spent, it also made me want to send her flowers and invite her for tea.  Cheers to ALL THE LOVERS...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Aretha Franklin- A Woman Falling Out Of Love (Album Review)

Aretha "A Woman Falling Out Of Love"

“A Woman Falling Out Of Love” is the thirty-eighth studio album from the Queen of soul, Aretha Franklin who has influenced generations of divas ranging from Whitney Houston to Jennifer Hudson.  As usual, on this album as well, her legendary voice takes the centre stage although it is now considerably thin and occasionally scratchy. There was no major promotion for this album that many of us, fans did not even know when it first came out. (Unless you live in the States and routinely go to WalMart). The album is exclusively sold at WalMart and also the very first release from her own label, Aretha’s Records.

In general, this album is a solid effort from Sister Rie particularly for the one-in-millions voice of hers and her still-impressive vocals. It is amazing that she still has the determination to sing, tour and put out albums at the age of 69. It looks like there’s no stopping her and she’s still going strong after 5 decades in music. (More power to her!).

Aretha sings the blues on the set’s stand-out track “Sweet Sixteen”, a tribute to B.B King. Her vocals are fearless and fierce; a reminiscence of young Aretha and her earlier works. “U Can’t See Me” is a fun song where Aretha lets her hair down and has fun doing adlibs.(Full of Diva attitude and appeal)  “How Long I’ve Been Waiting”, the first single from this album and “Put It Back Together Again” sound like throwback Rn’B tunes from yesteryears and remind me of her previous albums like “Who’s Zooming Who? (1985)” and “What You See Is What You Sweat (1991)”. Aretha’s soaring vocals reach the new height with two other old school slow-jams, “A Summer Place” and “When Two Become One”, both my personal favorites from the album. “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” is performed by her son, Eddie Franklin who’s got incredible vocals like his mama. His version of this renowned gospel song is awe-inspiring as well.

We all know that even if Aretha picks up a cafeteria menu and sings through the items, it will no doubt sound soulful and sensational.  However, there are a few tracks that she oversings to the max. Her rendition of Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were” is a mess. Even Ron Isley of The Isley Brothers can’t help make it better. I feel that together they ruin the song and make it totally unrecognizable. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” is the song she sang at the Obama's inauguration. My humble opinion is that the patriotic message of the song loses its meaning due to Aretha’s uber-melismatic vocal runs and high-pitched wails. I wish she would have toned it down and sung it a bit simpler. Sometimes less is definitely more. Especially when you are already regarded as one of the greatest singers in the world and have nothing to prove your worth anymore. “Faithful” is a gospel number between the gospel great, Karen Clark-Sheard and Aretha. However, it turns out to be more of a screaming match towards the end that even the big man above that they are praising must feel totally confused. (Are they fighting??? Who snatches whose wig???) My ears were ringing once that track finished. “New Day” is supposed to be an inspirational track with lyrics carrying the message of “New day, on the horizon, you can make it, if you try” but she sounds like she is bored singing that song and can’t be bothered no mo.  Her delivery is somewhat low-energy on this one.

While this album may not be Aretha’s best, it is still by far one of the best Rn’B records that came out this year and much better than her 2008 Christmas album... vocally. Besides, considering the mindless junk music that is dominating the world’s air waves right now, “A Woman Falling Out Of Love” feels like a breath of fresh air, packaged with that distinctive voice of hers and her no-nonsense singing. Kudos to the Queen. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lady GaGa- Born This Way (Album Review)

Listening to“Born this way” from Lady GaGa is kind of like visiting an ice-cream parlor and tasting a wide range of different flavored ice-creams. Vanilla fudge ripple, mint chocolate chip, toffee pecan crunch, lemon sorbet and many more. There’s something for everyone. Likewise, the biggest pop star in the world of music offers 17 new tracks with 80’s Synthpop, 70’s Glam Rock, Disco, Urban and Electro Pop flavors. The album's 
varying musical styles will make everyone happy for sure. There is also the undeniable influence of Madonna as many of the songs on this record will definitely remind you of the Queen of Pop’s signature styles such as using religious imagery, overt sexuality, "express yourself" concept and spoken messages in the songs.  Interestingly enough though, ever since this album came out, critics have majorly penned about the lack of subtlety on this record. To me, that's absurd. C’mon, seriously? Do you look at this woman and expect subtlety?

Anyway, let’s start with the highlights- “Born this way” is a solid dance record and it has got enough great songs to make you forget about the not-so-great fillers (unfortunately, there are some!) Notable tracks are the piano-driven Elton John-esque “You and I”, “The Edge of Glory” which makes you wonder if it was originally written for Irene Cara, the brilliant bilingual flamenco-tinged “Americano” (reminiscent of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita”… sort of, concept-wise, me reckons!) and  the 80’s classic pop meets today’s urban electro pop “Hair”. (Great songs, no doubt!) With this record, GaGa wants us to take her seriously as a credible singer as well. Tracks like “You and I”, “Hair” and “The Edge of glory” witness GaGa singing her tush off. Besides, the first two singles from the album, “Born this way” and “Judas” are both gigantic dance anthems. These two are my personal favorites, totally buzz-worthy and I enjoy hearing them played in clubs.

Here are some sour notes. While this album should be praised for its countless infectious hooks and improved vocals but the idiotic lyrics should not be ignored either.  Try this one. She sings on a track called “Heavy Metal lover”- Whip me, slap me, drunk fuck. Me and carpers drunk drunk. Bud light liquors bar slut. Move if this is your jerk. Watch me light the St James. Yes I like it, appetizer. Heavy metal lovers play. Baby we were born this way”- What the heck, right???

The songs “Fashion of his love” and “Born this way” are terribly similar. They are like twins although not identical. “Bloody Mary”, “Bad kids”, “Highway Unicorn (Road to love)” and “Electric Chapel” are utterly uninteresting that you will definitely reach for the skip button.  Maybe with a couple more listens these songs will grow on me or perhaps she should come up with real exciting videos to give these tracks extra oomph. MAYBE.  I don’t know but for me for now they sound like fillers. Nevertheless, it’s a great follow-up to her first album, “The Fame” and Lady GaGa shows growth and maturity as an artist with this second full-length album. She certainly is here to stay. I give 3.5 stars out of 5… generously!