Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Look Sharp!

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Greetings, Glancers! Today we’re back to Sweden and glossy pop rock hits. Roxette’s second album was a massive hit around the world thanks to a string of new singles which saw them becoming late 80s superstars. Look Sharp! is an album that I would have been very familiar with in my younger days – I’m sure it would have been played in the car journeys from my house to our summer caravan park many times, though looking at the tracklist there are quite a few I don’t recognize. Some of the ones I do remember I can still sing word for word even though I haven’t heard them in years, and there may be some I have forgotten completely. Hopefully these will bring back memories and feelings of those car journeys – the sun beating in the window as we weaved between the mountains and the sea, school days behind us, and long summer days of football, friends, and fun ahead, romping on the beach, playing in the park, and gobbling sweets by the dozen. It’s exactly what Roxette were going for when they recorded the album.

‘The Look’ is a great way to start the album – maybe the album’s biggest hit and with a famous guitar riff. I’m not sure about the drums – a bit weak, but the lyrics are pure 80s nonsense which is pretty funny. Per sings the lead on the verses with Marie taking secondary duties once the chorus. Infectious melodies all the way through, from the whispering verses, the call and repeat chorus, and the ‘na na na na’ bits.

‘Dressed For Success’ is just fun all around. It grabs you from the first moment with Marie’s ‘yeah yeah yeah’, accompanied by cheery verses and a massive chorus. The best part is the bridge, because what is a great pop song without a connection between verse and chorus? This one is very good, with all the ‘what you gonna tell your mumma’ and ‘uh oh oh’ stuff and bouncy melodies. This one will put a smile on your face.

‘Sleeping Single’ is one I didn’t remember from the name alone. It starts with thumb clicks and tinkling stuff, before the 80s drums and horn stuff comes along and makes me think of Police Academy. The verses have only the slightest remembrances for me, but I do remember the chorus. It’s fine – I can’t say anything bad about it because it again sounds so fun and cheesy – it probably doesn’t need to be so long though.

‘Paint’ is another I don’t remember. It starts out pretty disastrously, with bad drums and 80s sounds. You can always rely on Roxette to pull it back with good melodies. I don’t remember the verse at all and the chorus makes me think of Madonna, so I can’t say I have any memory of this at all. It’s fine, chorus is okay, when Marie blasts it out halfway through it’s pretty good, but it’s the weakest song so far.

‘Dance Away’ actually start out like something by The Music, for about eight seconds. Then it goes all Eurythmics. Good vocals by Marie but everything else feels like a weaker version of The Look. Even the chorus isn’t that great, a couple of good moments.

‘Cry’ starts out softly, with piano and smooth sounds, leading into plain verses. I assumed I would remember this but I don’t aside from the ‘why should I cry’ line. There’s honestly not a lot to this song, even the melodies don’t hit the spot. I know it’s meant to be a lot more, but it’s a bit of a none event.

Chances‘ raises the energy levels again with heavy use of snyth and beats to create a throbbing rhythm. Better verse melodies and a much better chorus than the last few songs. It’s still not great, but has an atmosphere, a nifty guitar solo, and is catchy like their better songs.

Dangerous‘ opens with some chugging guitars and weird noises. Obviously I remember this, but I must have blocked out the weirdness from my memories. The verses are a little vague in my memory, but I remember the chorus clearly. It’s cute and infectious, strange when you consider the lyrics and subject matter. Like all of Roxette’s finest songs, this is all about the melody.

‘Half A Woman, Half A Shadow’ is one that doesn’t sound familiar at all. Opening vocals – nope, guitar and drums – nope, doesn’t ring a bell. Verse…. I don’t think I remember this but there is something… could be just because it sounds like something else. It feels a little bit like Lonely Nights by Bryan Adams. The chorus isn’t too hot. Disaster end.

‘View From A Hill’ is pure 80s dirt. This could be from Beverly Hills Cop or anything. I kind of remember the chorus, nothing else though. This is another middling effort, easily forgotten and aside from a couple of hooks there isn’t anything here to recommend. Lots of weird moments where the other musicians appear to lose their minds.

‘I Could Never Give You Up’ is a bonus song, but it sounds familiar. Again, I could be confusing it with something else. It’s better than the last couple, good Spanish guitar in the middle, better melodies.

‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ starts like an 80s action movie soundtrack. I love the verse vocals – they sound more urgent than most of the other songs. The melodies are fine, not too much difference between the verse and chorus. We get some sort of sax solo in lieu of a six string. I like the belting out by Marie at the end.

‘Listen To Your Heart’ closes the album – easily my favourite song here. This is one of the few Roxette songs that I’ve listened to sporadically over the years – it’s good enough that it’s never too far away. Atmospheric piano opening like the best power ballads. Steamy verses with superb melodies before the booming, immortal chorus. That’s it really, aside from saying I like the little twiddly synth ending.

I’m surprised I didn’t remember more of this album. My brother was a fan of making his mix tapes, so maybe he only took his favourites from Look Sharp! and the others got lost by the wayside. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but it’s probably best to just cut out your favourites for future reference. Next time I listen to Roxette it will be an album I know I’m more familiar with – JoyRide. Let us know in the comments what your memories and thoughts of Look Sharp! are and share the music that you used to listen to on long car journeys of yore.

My Favourite 48 Natalie Imbruglia songs

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For my money, Natalie Imbruglia is the best female pop artist since the mid nineties. As Glancers will know by now, for me emotion and honesty are more important than originality or fitting in with the current musical scene. Imbruglia fits these personal criteria as well as having a superb, appealing, harmonious voice and being an all round great human and bad-ass. I was a fan from day one. Scratch that, I was a fan from her Neighbours days, long before she hit the charts with her multi-million selling debut. Most people know her for the smash hit Torn and… that’s about it. As great as that song is, it only hints at her talent – the real deal would come out in White Lilies Island her second record which I have called (and continue to call) one of the best albums of all time. It genuinely is – do yourself a favour and get it now – melancholy, brutal, euphoric pop at its finest. A bunch of complete morons gave it, seriously, gave it bad reviews. Jesus wept.

Since then her general popularity has waned, no doubt due in part to a less than frequent series of releases. Five albums (including one entirely of covers) in twenty years isn’t great, but the general quality of those more than makes up for those missing years. Sort of. She has also recorded a large number of B-Sides and rarities, the best of which would make at least one more superb album. From the indie Brit-pop rock of Left Of The Middle, the majesty of White Lilies Island, the mature pop of Counting Down The Days, and even the much maligned Come To Life and covers album Male, Imbruglia has carver her own path and deserves a hell of a lot more exposure and critical acclaim than she has received thus far. I’m giving links to Youtube for each song, where there is a single I’ll give the official video link and the album track as there are usually differences. Here is a rough list of my favourite Imbruglia songs. Listen and love!

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48. Only Love Can Break Your Heart

We kick off our list with a cover from Male. This droopy-bass heavy is a slow effort with not a lot of exterior instrumentation which suits the downbeat grunge feeling of Neil Young’s original. I will say this – Male is not an album I am super familiar with yet and while a number of songs immediately leaped out at me others did not have the same impact. Songs like this one which I enjoy now may drop out of the list if I was to write it in a year’s time and likewise others which have not been included here could appear. Today is today though, and this is how I feel. I also feel warm, because I’m writing this on a train filled with sweaty types.

47. Goodbye In His Eyes

If you’re a regular glancer on my blog you’ll probably know I’m not much of a country fan. Country music is an inherent US product, yet also oddly a Northern Irish one. Country music is everywhere in my home crust Earth and I’m biased in that I associate the whole stinking genre with either idiots, scumbags, people who don’t really care about music, or people who refuse to listen to any other type of music. Massive stereotyping ahoy! I do like this as it doesn’t contain the usual whining guitar or vocals which is prevalent in the genre. I haven’t heard the original at the time of writing, but I’ll get to it.

46. Identify

Natalie Imbruglia. Patricia Arquette. Billy Corgan. Blood. This cut from the movie Stigmata is one I liked a lot more around the time that movie came out. I think it’s a movie and a song I thought I liked more than I actually ever did – both are things I wanted to like more but they’re just okay. The song is better than the film; it’s smokey and mysterious and dreamy, almost like a lost Portishead song. It’s a song that doesn’t really sound like anything else Imbruglia has ever done, aside from one song which will appear later on my list. The various contributors to the song are each masters at their craft and ensure it is a ghostly partner to the film it fits. I do love the line ‘am I lonely or am I just alive?’

45. My God

The opening song to Come To Life – Imbruglia’s first album in x years had a lot to live up to for me. It sort of sets the tone of the album in that there isn’t really a tone. Come To Life’s main problem is that it feels like a collection of leftovers or experiments – main problem is that it feels like a collection of leftovers or experiments – My God a pulsating, thronging pop punk thing with strange noises and spirited vocals. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as it could and doesn’t compare favourably with her opening tracks. Still, I include it here because it is an interesting effort.

44. Lukas

The second track from Come To Life goes off in a tonally and totally different direction from the first – this one clearly a Coldplay song with their usual mixture of simpering mistakes and pseudo-Radiohead bating. Imbruglia adds a smooth layer of quality, slicing out any pretension and leaving a light, jolly song which is better than I thought it would be.

43. Stuck On The Moon

The first of the new tracks recorded for Imbruglia’s greatest hits album Glorious to appear on my list, Stuck On The Moon has lovely, poetic flourishes in the lyrics and a fine juxtaposition between the cascading piano and clattering drums. It would have been sad to end her musical career at this point as this song proves she was as capable of crafting a simple yet catchy pop song as anyone.

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42. Wishing I Was There

I’ll let you in on a secret; I’m not a huge fan of Imbruglia’s first album. I like it, obviously, but it doesn’t compare with her second and third, and as such there won’t be many songs from it on my list. This is probably the best example of her twisting the indie sound of the era to her own means. It’s a little bit Morrissette, and a little bit Brit-Pop, but fluid, fun, and the chorus –like many on the album, is designed to be ear sherbet. When you get to the end of the list you’ll see which songs from her debut were left off in favour of this one – I simply find this one more fun.

41. City

As above, this one merges independent the rawk girl sound which emerged in the 90s with Imbruglia’s own captivating presence and uniquely sweet vocals. This song feels a little more progressive or different from the more obvious hits on her debut, it still has its heavy indie moments but is infused with jazz and mystery and the sombre undertones which would characterize her next album.

40. Just Another Day

Out of all her B-Sides ad rarities, this one feels most Brit-pop, going as far as reminding me of Robbie Williams back when he was starting his solo career by stealing from Oasis. This was actually a B-Side to That Day so that particular era was long turned over to dust by the time it was released. I’m convinced this was written earlier though and that sound was retained, even if a few touches of instrumental colour were added near the end of the song to expand its sound. All that being said, it’s a bowl full of sunshine, whatever that means.

39. My Own Movie

What I loved about discovering all of the B-Sides and rarities is the variety. Yes, they all still fall into the rock/pop/girl and guitars category, but the songwriting and general styles vary and there seems to be more freedom or less restrictions on what the song needs to be. This one seems to start like a downbeat ballad before the booming chorus floats those notions away. I love the chorus harmonies/filler vocal bits, the jangling guitars, and the strangeness which is allowed to lurk in the melody.

38. Sanctuary

This is arguably the happiest, most obviously joyful song Imbruglia has recorded and I defy anyone who listens to it to not smile throughout. Lyrically, I’m not really sure what’s going on – suggestions of stress and speed and crap with Imbruglia offering herself as an anchor in the storm. The verses are fine, but the chorus is pure grinning heroine. Harmonies, guitars, strings, melodies, happiness!

37. Pigeons And Crumbs

The first expansive song on her debut and another which hints that she was already demanding to break out of the overall sound of that album. The verse vocals are sung in little girl lost style which somehow doesn’t annoy, rather it incredibly adds to the song. Imbruglia may be the only singer who sings in a prominent accent which never irritates me. This is still a simple verse, chorus, verse album track, but it evokes a more epic scope thanks to some angelic production and layering.

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36. I Will Follow You Into The Dark

I’ll admit again here and now to not having heard the original, knowingly at least. I checked and saw it was by Death Cab For Cutie – a band I don’t know much about but remember laughing at their name when I first heard it. I still don’t know much about them but I admit I lumped them in with a bunch of other pop rock for children American acts which have been charting in recent years. The strength of this cover makes me want to listen to the original and see if the band has any good stuff. I imagine anyone who can write the line ‘Lover mine, some day you will die, I’ll be close behind, I’ll Follow You Into The Dark’ must be a decent writer because, God, that line really gets me every time. Imbruglia’s delivery along with the music and melody seal the deal, and I’ll admit to being tearful when I first listened.

35. Left Of The Middle

The title track closes the debut, the softest, quietest song on the album but one rich with feeling as Imbruglia yearns for the lover she is yet to find. It’s a great vocal performance, gentle in the verses, stretching to breaking point with each renewed chorus. It’s a very simple song but she again proves you don’t need to have complex structures to get a wealth of emotion and quality across.

34. Apologise

A song recorded for Come To Life and written with the singer from British band Ben’s Brother. That band decided to release their version first so Natalie kept her one as a rarity. Again, I haven’t heard Ben’s Brother’s version but this one is great – love the build up to the chorus and the chorus has a fantastic hook. Come To Life is a short album and there’s definitely room for this one to be included. Again the vocals find and highlight the emotion of the lyrics beautifully and the closing chorus where she half-shouts, half-sings is glorious.

33. Only You

This one opens with some dark, ambient, warbling electronic sound – like ears filling with water. The vocals come in cleanly and plainly, work through a double pre-chours thing before giving way to gentle guitars and a lovely chorus. The song basically repeats everything above but with greater power in those repetitions. It’s all lovely.

32. Fun

You probably know, or can guess I’m not a Coldpay fan, mainly because they’re shite. I didn’t mind their first album but everything since has been pale and bland and painful attempts at cloning Bends-era Radiohead. Normally I wouldn’t mind such things, but it’s so blatant and so clearly missing the point that it’s laughable. But people like them, so fine. Credit where it’s due though, this is a fine song but you can instantly tell it’s Coldplay thanks to that piano and beat and rhythm which appear in several of their biggest singles. Imbruglia does her best to make it her own and I much prefer her vocals to how I imagine Chris Martin would yawn his way through it.

31. Goodbye

Much of White Lilies Island is sombre and soaked in melancholy, though generally the music covers the angst of the lyrics. Not so with Goodbye – lyrically and musically it is inward looking and despair fuelled, the despair of love voided. We’ve all been there, whether concerning love or loss, the well-meaning comments which suffocate and further distance us, the anger crushed by sadness, and the utter confusion. The lyrics are mumbled semi-coherant thoughts, the verses droned into the bottom of a glass, and the chorus the shattering of said glass against a wall.

30. Perfectly

‘When I say it doesn’t matter, it matters most of all’. We’ve all seen those silly women cliché posts on social media or in decorative shops – ‘Things a woman says and what she really means’. That opening line always reminds me of such things, but not in a negative way. You can guess then that we have more contradictions in the lyrics, but musically this features the summery guitar driven pop which is a central feature of Counting Down The Days. The melodies and chorus don’t grab or reach as much as others on the list, but the overall warmth of the song ensures you come back for more.

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29. That Girl

That Girl always reminds me of a Motown track, the jangled guitars, the beat, the horns in the introduction – it all has the vibe of a Supremes song. The lyrics seem to speak of the multiple personalities we adopt to cope with the many facets of life forced upon us or which we have to cope with – one face for romance, a face for fans, one for friends, family, the smiles and acts which we hone over time for a variety of reasons until one day we see ourselves performing these perversions but fail to recognise the actions as our own. It’s a classy song with lovely harmonies and a great chorus to boot.

28. Always Never

Speaking of contradictions, this one is driven by such thoughts – the clue is in the title. This one is a perfect mixture of evocative vocal performance and verse to chorus melodic wonder. The lyrics are very nice too, once again speaking of the inner and outer self and an inability to cope with that balance until misery becomes the preferable solution.

27. All The Magic

Sounding like a cut from Counting Down The Days, All The Magic is as pure and easy as you could wish for – acoustic guitars and Natalie’s voice dancing through the verses. The pre-chours comes in suddenly, and then the chorus soars into the sky taking the corners of your mouth with it. Yeah, you’re going to smile at this one as it forces you to remember your first love – those excited feelings about getting ready to meet, about catching one another smiling across a room, about allowing your defenses to come down and your feelings to be shared.

26. Be With You

This is how you do piano drive pop – a very simple descending piano line leading in to soft electronic beats and a basic, short verse. It all serves the chorus, it all sounds like typical happy pop stuff except she’s saying ‘I don’t want to live if I don’t want to be with you’. This reminds me of some of the Lifeblood era Manic Street Preachers stuff, at least in terms of production and melody. Regardless, it’s another one which never fails to make me smile. And hop about.

25. All The Roses

The last great song from Come To Life is this brooding, bleeding ballad. It’s slow, led by unusual electronic hums and beeps and punctuated by alarm bell piano. With most of the music stripped back you get a clear shot of the vocals – strong throughout with the best moments coming in the bridge before the final chorus. I like how the song unearths a subtle beat in the final moments which threatens to build and turn into some dance track – instead a little violin takes over and the song comes to an abrupt end.

24. Do You Love

We stay in darker territory, which means we must be back on White Lilies Island. This is a mixture of low register guitars, soul-churning strings, and mournful vocals. The pre-chorus goes grunge, the chorus goes stadium rock, and the song instantly lands in my favourite’s list. The volume and backing sound continues to grow, all the way to the massive final chorus. You should know by now that this album is essential and almost everything on it is fantastic – this song should reach out to a multitude of fans of different genres – like all good music it doesn’t matter what your preference is, you just hear and appreciate.

23. Counting Down The Days (official video)

A sad song about distance, a happy song about looking forward to being together again. This one kind of lost out a little when the single trimmed parts of an already short song – stick to the album version. It starts out as a tear-jerker with John Lennon’s Imagine piano and Imbruglia’s vocals bemoaning the fact that she is apart from the ones she loves, but holy crap the pre-chorus with it’s tiny guitar piece, and the chorus itself are exquisite. Moving back into the verse feels like a come down meaning the song plays a little with your emotions and expectations – none of which I have a problem with. Then the Christmas/Wedding bells come in at the end to confuse me even more. Still time for one last Hawaiian guitar bit and another chorus!

22. Against The Wall

My favourite new song from her Glorious Greatest Hits album is one which wastes no time – thronging guitar chords and more summery melodies. Imbruglia is a master of that segue-way from verse and chorus as I have written about already and this is another prime example. It can fall apart if you don’t have a pay-off in the chorus, luckily here all three pieces are flawless. You already know I love the bridge too.

21. Friday I’m In Love

What can you do to a beloved The Cure classic to make it your own? Why this of course. Whatever the hell this is, that’s precisely what you do. It’s a little bit country, a little bit weird, and a hundred percent marvellous. As mentioned earlier, some of the songs from Male may go up and down drastically in my preferences as I’m not as familiar with them as everything else but I don’t see me ever not liking this. The first time I listened to this I almost literally laughed my balls off. I mean I laughed, yes, but then a few minutes later as I was driving some old fucker pulled out in front of me leaving me with no choice but to pound the breaks futilely and smash into him. My balls remained in check, and in sack, but my car was a write off. True story. Do I like this more than the original? That’s hard to say – they almost feel like different songs. In the end, both give me the same feeling of euphoria, and that’s all that matters. It’s an achievement because it includes two things I hate – Country music and hand claps – yet it’s inexplicably wonderful. SATURDAYYYY – WAIT!

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20. Talk In Tongues

We need to calm down after that last one – back to White Lilies Island for another downbeat, heads-down-walk-in-perpetual-rain-uphill-to-nowhere song. This opens a little like Lucky by Radiohead – similar guitars for a few seconds anyway. There are bizarre little moments throughout, little digitized ticks and strange jangles, and explosive vocals blast in the bridge where the song changes almost entirely, only to be pulled back down by the old-black-and-white-movie strings to the somber chorus once more.

19. Shiver (Official video)

Pop perfection. Imbruglia announced her return with this first single from her third album, a song which ended up being the most played on British radio in 2005 apparently. I don’t recall it being played at all. I assume then you’ve heard it, but if not get listening now. There’s the usual sense of melancholy, but it’s more underplayed here thanks to the warmth of the melody.

18. Instant Crush (official video)

Covers are funny things. I had not heard the original by Daft Punk, and I’ve never been a huge Daft Punk fan anyway. After hearing people raving about the original I went back to it and found it too twee. Imbruglia’s version feels much more emotional to me, or at least it speaks to me much more. That’s the funny thing about cover versions – we usually like whatever version of a song we hear first. Thanks for writing the original guys, but Natalie beefs it up into a soul-searching, heart-rending ballad and blows your one away.

17. Torn (official video)

If you were around in the 90s you heard this song. You saw the video. Presumably you fell in love with the song and the singer. It’s perfect, but I’ve heard it so many times and it’s such a part of the public consciousness that it doesn’t top my list. Technically a cover, it’s Imbruglia’s entirely – can you think of any other version which comes close to this? If I’m picky I prefer a live version without those silly digitized drums. My favourite parts? The way she changes the vocal slightly for one of the final ‘I’m cold’ lines and the way she sings the first ‘That’s what’s going on’. I don’t know why.

16. I Won’t Be Lost

Lovely lovely lovely. One of my favourite vocals from her, mainly because the lyrics have so many vowel sounds and soft sounds – row, vertigo, unaware, billionaire – and the way her accent tackles them is gorgeous. Then there is the pleading, breathy delivery. Then there’s the superb ‘Don’t you give up on me’ section. I will understand fully if people see this as boring, but for me it’s among her best ballads, beautiful, sweet, defiant.

15. Twenty

When this kicked off Come To Life on my first listen, my first thought was ‘Holy Heavens, she’s done it again’. The album as a whole doesn’t live up to this first track, but it’s a brilliant opener and should have been a single. There’s enough of a beat to dance to it or blast from your stereo, it has the mixture of love, hope, and sadness that she conveys so well, it has glorious backing strings, and a chorus which deserves to be performed live by thousands of adoring fans.

14. Hide Behind The Sun

We’re now at that point in the list where the songs are all so good and I love them so much that there isn’t much difference between them. This B-Side to Wrong Impression could easily have made it on to White Lilies Island – it certainly fits the general anguish and strength coursing through that album. This is absolutely gorgeous, note-perfect piano, flawless vocals, I love how the strings and guitars drift in and fade away, I love the weird wind instrument piece in the middle – everything is so underplayed as if she just walked into the studio one day and announced she’d written a new song and the band added their own pieces in a single take.

13. Scars

My favourite song from Come To Life is a ballad and was planned as the second single. I’m not sure how well it would have performed, yet in our current climate of bland Adele love pap, this one deserved to soar to the top of the charts. The lyrics have a wealth of honesty, you can feel each word like a slash at the wrist, the performance an undressing of bandages and a presentation of the scars. It’s simple, brutal, wonderful. There is a more up-tempo, earlier version out there but I’ve only heard live versions of it – I prefer the album take.

12. Smoke (official video)

My favourite song from Left Of The Middle, and the first sign that Imbruglia was much more than a pretty face and a decent singer. Smoke is entirely apart from everything else on that album – unnerving, majestic, cryptic, mesmeric. It’s also a greater vocal performance than anything else on her debut, but for me it’s all about the mystery and fear which is conjured. When the strings come in and the volume increasing around the ‘you’re pushing me’ line – my gawd. For the longest time I assumed she would not top this, but then White Lilies Island came out and.. well, you’ll see.

11. Starting Today

The opening track of Counting Down The Days just missed out on my top ten. That’s meaningless though because this is another nigh-on perfect song. A song of realization, opening your eyes to your self, your worth, and what is on front of you, a song of moving on, on leaving behind but not looking over your shoulder, looking ahead, head held high. Each time I hear this I forget how slow it is – something about it makes it seems faster than it actually is. Favourite part here? ‘Eve-RE-day, ev-RE-day, ev-RE-day-ee!’

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10. Come On Home

Top ten now, and we start hitting songs that have some weird single moments that I love – putting them in my personal pantheon of best single moments in music. For Come On Home that moment occurs late in the song when Imbruglia suddenly wails on one of the last ‘Come on homes’. It’s completely unexpected and brilliant, for me at least. I don’t see anyone else getting as much joy out of that moment as me, but it helps to push the song high on my list. The rest of the song is great, that goes without saying, mid-rock, plenty of pounding pianos and chugging guitars.

9. Satellite (live acoustic)

Remember I mentioned earlier about happiest songs? Well, this may be one of the happiest songs by anyone, ever. None of that Pharell balls. If you don’t find yourself repeating the ‘do-di-do’s then you need to be put down, stat. Every single note here is joyous, heavenly. You can feel the smiles in her vocals. There’s a cyclical nature to this song and several others on White Lilies Island – you know, songs that start out a certain way and end the exact same way? I don’t just mean verse chorus verse, I’m talking a complete mirror – intro, verse, chorus, verse, outro. Enough of that nonsense, this is just fun beyond words.

8. Wrong Impression (official video)

Another hit single now, albeit one which starts out with a hilarious fake classical intro. Man, I love the pronunciation on some of the ‘I want you’ lyrics. This is another sublimely sunny song, especially given the general dark tones of the album. What else do I love? The key change at the end, standard pop fare I know, but it works even better here. Also, the dragged out ‘didn’t want to leeeeeavve you there’.

7. What’s The Good In Goodbye

It’s another example of those times when the B-Side is as good as, if not better than the single. This is better than Counting Down The Days – both terrific songs, but this one is special. Sure on the surface it’s another soulful ballad about lost love, but it’s so damn genuine and drenched in truth and feeling that it’s painfully universal. Every melody is perfect, the simplicity doesn’t require a single extra note or instrument, she does that cool vowel thing that I love when she sings ‘no’, ‘go’, ‘know’, and ‘hello’ and the chorus with its central lyric will rummage its way around your brain for days after a single listen.

6. When You’re Sleeping

Another track which begins with extravagant strings, which you should know by now I’m a sucker for, and then leads into what seems to be a depressed verse until you realise the the lyrics are actually positive and touching. Another brilliant vocal, just acoustic guitar, Natalie, and the strings, an entirely charming song to melt the stoniest soul.

5. Shikaiya

It’s only in relatively recent years that I tracked down Natalie Imbruglia’s b-sides and rarities. I knew Identify and Glorious from their respective releases, but I never bought any of her singles even though I bought each album around the time of release. I can’t remember what b-side I heard first, but the moment I heard this one I knew that she was one of a select few artists capable of recording varying material which could be just as strong as her album tracks and singles. I’m not talking just a handful of flukes, but at least an album’s worth of rarities which would be just as good as any of her official releases. Shikaiya is one of the finest B-Sides (here it’s the B-Side for That Day) I’ve ever heard, an unashamedly beautiful ode, a song of new life, new love, of dedication, one to play surrounded by blue skies, white sand, and blistering sunlight.

4. Everything Goes

White Lilies Island again, and another one of those cyclical, perfectly symmetrical songs. By this point in the album you already know it’s an all time classic, songs like this popping up everywhere. By this point in the list I don’t need to explain how I feel about these songs or how good they are – perfect verses, perfect pre-chorus and chorus, guitars, strings, vocals, everything. I love how chaotic the chorus gets and then how the verse sucks everything back in and calms the mood, I love how she switches up which part of the chorus comes first each time around, and I love how it ends as it began.

3. That Day (Official video)

I still remember the first time I heard That Day – the first single from White Lilies Island. I caught the video and was immediately smitten – it was very different from her previous stuff and had a more mature and dense sound – the 90s were long gone and this was Imbruglia’s personal blend of pop and rock, still replete with everything that made her special. The video is pretty great too, simple but a sign of the defiance and spark of the album – everyone and everything pushing against her but she is walking on regardless – a simple motif, but it works. The album version is of course superior but the single gets the jist across – great riffs and melodies, but my highlights are simply how many words there are in the song meaning the vocals become a frantic rushing of thoughts. My second highlight is the way the line ‘I lay down beside myself’ is changed every single time – a different inflection, or word selected to pronounce more heavily or emphasize, or give it slight melodic twist. What the hell – my third highlight – which shouldn’t really count, are the bizarre overdubbed harmonies on ‘it’s supposed like this’. They sound like mistakes which were accidentally left in, but again they somehow work.

2. Come September

White Lilies Island comes to a close with this downpouring of loveliness. The opening drums suggest it will be a heavier affair but then the swooning guitars and vocals join in and we know this is more of a mini epic ballad. Her vocals are never more angelic than here, the way she pronounces the word ‘die’ is maybe my favourite moment in any of her songs and yet the rest of the song is filled with similar little moments. It all feels so effortless, from the subtle introduction of the strings to the chinking piano loops, to the celebratory key change leading into the final verse. The lyrics are wonderful too, my only issue though is that I hate September and can’t bring myself to agree that everything wrong’s gonna be alright come September.

  1. Hurricane

My number one song has basically been my number one since I heard it, and yes we’re staying on White Lilies Island for it. If you trust anything I’ve said in any of my music posts (and I’ll admit my tastes are pretty weird) then go and buy that album now. Hurricane starts off with a slow guitar arpeggio or note progression played through a filter which makes it sounds like it’s from some old timey 1910 era sepia movie. There are some sort of seaside noises too, or at least that’s the sense I get while listening. Then the vocals start, creeping through the verse’s undergrowth, lyrics about shock and confusion, before the song emerges into the clarity of the chorus with perfect string section building and guitar change. The second verse is more of the same with the addition of bass and off kilter percussion and then, as we have come to expect with this album, the two part chorus is again switched around so that the second part comes first. Everything peaks and we drift off into the sunset. It’s simple, symmetrical, and if it isn’t one of the best songs of all time then I think I’m finally done with the human race.

Phew. I think Natalie Imbruglia as an artist is someone who can appeal to any music lover and if you have dismissed her as pop pap or sub-Morrissette/Brit Pop stuff I would urge you to give her another try. Hit a few of the links above and let me know. If you have any special thoughts or memories of any Natalie Imbruglia song or if you want to share you favourites then drop them in the comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Pearls Of Passion!

Greetings, Glancers. As you’re probably aware if you frequent this place, I have been revisiting the sounds of my childhood and filling in the gaps of those artists I used to listen to, but who have since made albums which I haven’t heard. The main artists in this series are Bryan Adams, Madonna, and Bon Jovi – massive artists whose songs have been a part of my life, but whose many albums I may not have heard all the way through. As I near the end of this journey, I realised there was one more band who I used to listen to al lot in my youth – mainly because they were my older brother’s main choice for long car journeys. If you already read the title of this post, you’ll know that band is Roxette. If you didn’t read the title, then surprise – that band is Roxette!

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As I say, they were my brother’s choice so there was a fair bit of ribbing and mocking going on between us. In truth of course, I’ve always had a thing for high emotion and power ballads and Roxette have more than a few of these in their discography. Looking down their studio albums, there are at least four albums I have zero knowledge of and one which I have maybe heard one song from. I am more familiar with their earlier albums as those are the ones my brother had, but I can’t say I’ve listened to any of them since around 1995. Of those 5 albums, maybe 1 or 2 of them I have not heard all the way through. In other words, these posts will be filled with memories, some good songs, some naff songs, and hopefully a few hidden gems. Lets start from the top with their 1986 debut Pearls Of Passion.

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Looking down the track list of the album, there are maybe only two song titles I recognise, but I’m sure I’ll remember a few others. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!

Soul Deep: Drums, I Am The Resurrection. Trumpets. Woo oooh yeah. High, powerful vocals. I remember pieces of this. The chorus is kind of catchy, it’s a light, fun pop song but nothing memorable.

Secrets That She Keeps: Fading in, whirling vocals. 80s drums and twinkling. Wah oh waohwaohah. Catchy verses. Per chorus. Typical 80s pop, bound to fill anyone of a certain age with nostalgia, even if you haven’t heard this. I remember this one too. Key change. Guitar solo. All showing their ability to write a good hook, which they would hone and perfect in next albums.

Goodbye To You: Fast drums. More 80s sounds. Goof, fast paced vocals and verse melodies. Blending of Marie and Per. You don’t get double acts like this anymore. A perfectly good chorus. I don’t remember this one, but it’s my favourite of the three songs so far.

I Call Your Name: Drums and funky bass and guitar. More atmospheric 80s stuff, that little burst of synth underneath everything else. The chorus is simple, just singing the title a few times, but I like the melodies. It’s another good one -no crap songs yet, not too much cheese to date things, the melodies could be transported into a more modern form and the songs would be as strong. No killer song yet, but consistently good.

Surrender: More twinkling. More 80s drums. More atmosphere. This one sounds familiar. Per leading the vocals for now. Guitar now and bigger beat. And now Marie takes the lead. The voices do compliment each other, even though for the most part they don’t sing together – each take their own section. I can imagine this playing over any number of 80s movies.

Voices: Synth. Lots of synth and keyboards and atmosphere. Rich in mood. Good bridge. Good chorus (both voices together). Why did so many songs in the 80s talk about ‘border lines’? This is another good song, though they missed a trick by not adding in one more melody in the chorus between the ‘ooh oohs’ – I can hear it in my head and it fits perfectly.

Neverending Love: Keys and 80s drums and muted guitar. The verses and bridge don’t really work, but the chorus is good enough. This one does sound pretty cheesy, even for me. Drums and overall sound changes in the middle instrumental section.

Call Of The Wild: Synths like a pan pipe, and you’ve guessed it – atmosphere. More frequently changing melodies. None of the melodies do much, the chorus puts in a decent effort but it doesn’t quite pull it off.

Joy Of A Toy: This is one I recognised from the title only. It’s a faster paced song compared to the last two, and those minor hooks work well – the ‘woo oh’ in the bridge for example, and the chorus melody is okay. There are moments in the synth intro which remind me of the desert levels in Mario 64.

From One Heart To Another: Starts like a ballad. Both singers together. Gentle. Synth, drums, and Per for the first verse. Now Marie takes the verse. Together for the chorus. All very nice. Of course it’s cheesy, but it feels genuine.

Like Lovers Do: Faster paced, sounds more fun and lighthearted. More sharing of vocal verse duties. Nice absence of drums for the pre-chorus. It’s fairly catchy, like a few of the others.

So Far Away: Last song. Slow. Moody. Uppy downy synth. Slow drum and some sort of sitar noise. Great chorus with great vocals. The verses aren’t anywhere near as powerful, but are possibly deliberately underplayed to heighten the chorus. What was that lyric? Matron. Marching drums.

All in all this was a better debut album than I was expecting. Like the four other artist I have covered so far in my main Nightman Listens series (Bowie, Jovi, Adams, Madonna), I was expecting this to be an average affair with only minor hints of what the artist would later produce. This has all the hallmarks of Roxette already in place, and while they would go on to write much bigger and better hits, many of the songs on this first album are enjoyable pop rock. This makes me more excited to see what comes down the line, especially when we listen to their biggest albums and of course those recent ones that I know nothing about. Let us know in the comments if you have heard Pearls of Passion and what your thoughts and memories are of it!

Nightman Listens To – Erotica – Madonna

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Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with Madonna today, back to her main studio albums and hopefully a return to form after the poor (in my mind) soundtrack album I’m Breathless. If you read my post on Like A Prayer you’ll know that I thought it was a fantastic album, brave, controlled, cultured, and most importantly packed with great music. Erotica was another well received album, and the first one where she began to focus more directly on sex from all directions. She had touched upon the subject frequently with previous albums, but with this one she takes sex and turns it into a concept album. It was at this time that she released her controversial Sex book, and presumably with this album she pushed a lot of boundaries for mainstream pop. Looking at the track list, I think I only know four of the fourteen songs, so I’ll be hoping once again for a few new gems. There’s no sense in waiting any further, lets strip off and get down to business.

Erotica‘ opens with record static, followed by quite tribal beats, heavy percussion and spoken lyrics. There’s a bit of Jungle Boogie in there, a heavily experimental sound unlike anything she had displayed before. The verse lyrics are good, lots of innuendo, but little melody – the chorus switches things by focusing on melody and dropping the lyrical intensity. I remember being not 100% fond of this one at the time, but I appreciate it more now. It does seem a little long, if only from a single perspective, but maybe the single version was cut down a bit.

Fever‘ is of course a cover. When I looked at this on the track list I couldn’t quite remember if this was a cover or one of her own which I couldn’t recall, but as soon as the song started I remembered hearing it. I’ve never been a huge fan of any version of this song, but I suppose this is as good as any, with a bit of New Jack, and a bit of club. There isn’t enough going on to warrant the five minute running time and it does feel dull and dated, even if the beat is infectious.

Bye Bye Baby‘ has similar drum beats to the previous songs, so there is a consistency. Unfortunately this sound feels dated now and reminds me of Vanilla Ice or PJ and Duncan or some such balls. Madonna does sound different, adopting a vicious Betty Boop persona and voice. Good production, lots going on, but it is dated. What excites me? The little pieces of synth which threaten to grow, but then they go away. Lyrics are okay, but melodically it’s poor and doesn’t grab the attention. Surprise end.

Deeper And Deeper‘ opens with a mix of synth and piano before dance beats come in to make us know where we stand. I was always a bit partial to this and even 9-10 year old me would have danced around the house to it like a weirdo, but again it has dated badly. A return to better hooks. An updated version of this one (there’s probably one out there) would presumably improve matters. It feels quite long, but there is some variance with the Spanish instruments joining the din. Vogue surprise.

Where Life Begins‘ starts a little differently – light on percussion, high on instrumental tinkering. This is momentary as a sultry beat soon takes over as Madonna whispers about her special area. It does manage to sound sexy and interesting, not tacky. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose (matron), others are funny, but I think I quite like this one. At least she’s being direct, most pop music now which deals with sex does so in a roundabout way or just dives in like cheap porn.

Bad Girl‘ has a slow beat and twinkling piano, before a heavier beat comes in over some delicate melodies and thoughtful, thought-provoking lyrics. I don’t remember ever hearing this one so it’s another surprise. Not the most memorable song but good enough on the first listen.

Waiting‘ is another song which tips past the 5 minute mark, and it’s another bass and drums laden track. I appreciate the length of the songs as this hints at ignoring the standard 3-4 pop single standard and doing whatever the hell she wants. Of course, sometimes songs need to be 3-4 minutes. This one tries to be sultry, has more spoken vocals and is low on melody aside from the chorus, so it feels like forgettable mid-album stuff. Again, there is a certain amount of variance, great production, but I’m not a huge fan of the drum and bass heavy stuff. This has good moments, not enough though.

Thief Of Hearts‘ has more Twin Peaks synths at the start before a series of faster beats take the lead. It’s another I haven’t heard, the drums are a little too weak here, there is some dated stuff, but I like the energy, the dark atmosphere which the synth brings, and the melodies. There’s another couple of R’n’B breakdown in the middle with something not quite rap emerging, leading to some comedy swearing and the final verse, chorus run which threatens to run out of steam.

Words‘ opens like a movie about an apocalyptic wasteland, the silence suddenly broken by a mass desert orgy/rave. It’s another which relies to heavily on the beat and that’s something I personally am not very interested in. Some of the sounds are annoying here, but again there are good moments – snippets of melody, a few lyrics here and there. This one is definitely overdone and almost 6 minutes long, not adding enough variance to justify that length.

Rain‘ has always been one of my favourite Madonna songs – I loved it upon release, and I’ve gone back to it several times over the years. Musically, it’s a massive departure from the rest of the album, but in terms of lyrics, tone, and atmosphere it retains the darkness, sadness, and anger. The opening begins in the same vein, with prominent beats before flowering into a luscious ballad. I’m listening now to the album version and wondering if the single was a little different. I must check on that. There are a few unnecessary instrument and sound choices which should have been dropped in favour of a more streamlined approach.

Why’s It So Hard‘ has a slight rock edge, with guitar parts deep in the mix, but again at the core is the percussion. The central beat is slow, contrasted by the speedy vocals, and the lyrics question the issues preventing unity among people. It has a few catchy moments but like quite a few of the songs on this album it lacks your standard immediate pop chorus. This one does feel stretched, again meandering past five minutes.

In This Life‘ is one which goes behind 6 minutes, so it better be good. An uppy downy line opens things, with some drunken piano playing simplistic, repetitive notes while Madonna sings melodies which don’t seem to sync with the music. It creates a hypnotic tone and once it comes together for the chorus it feels powerful. It’s obviously a personal lyric, I must say I prefer the vocal melody to the verse piano antics. It is overlong, but the spoken word parts do well, as they do for the most part on the rest of the album, and I usually don’t like spoken parts on songs.

Did You Do It‘ begins with some mumbled spoken parts, then the same old horns and percussive beat begins. Some guy begins rapping and this one for a change actually sounds quite modern. Madonna only comes in for the chorus (which seems to be a reprise), a lot of the lyrics are funny, explicit, and it feels like this could have been a single (if they’d been able to get away with the lyrics). It’s quite interesting to include this, as so much of the album is a woman’s perspective of sex and love while this is clearly from the man’s side. What does it mean with respect to the rest of the album – mocking the male approach to sex? Showing that men and women aren’t that different in terms of sex?

Secret Garden‘ opens with piano and some sort of throbbing beat. The drums come in which sound a little Beatles and a little Massive Attack. And she’s singing about her special area again. More whispered verse vocals, more melodic chorus. The vocals are a little too low so I can’t make everything out. Jazz interlude.

This was clearly groundbreaking stuff and there are some very good songs here, but much of it feels dated and I’m not a huge fan of the same beat and percussive style which is used on almost every track. Having said that, there are nods to a wide array of genres – jazz, rock, but at it’s core this is a thinking person’s dance record – introspective yet shamelessly extrovert, personal yet universal, and isn’t frightened to lay opinions bare or question taboo, or expose itself. With more musical variance in terms of production and instrumentation, I think I would have enjoyed this more – on several occasions the melody or idea is sacrificed for the sake of mood or beat, something which works best in small doses – here is as as unsubtle and all-pervading as someone walking into your room in a gimp suit. Even with it being dated musically, the ideas are fresh and challenging and it is clear that Madonna the artist was operating on a level apart from any of her supposed peers.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Madonna’s Erotica – were you there when it was released, what is your favourite song from the album, and where do you rank the album alongside her other releases?

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – I’m Breathless

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Greeting, Glancers! I know, I know. I said I likely wouldn’t listen to this one due it being a soundtrack album in a genre I don’t like for a film I didn’t enjoy. But here we are, I am the Prince Of Lies. Madonna teamed up with Stephen Sondheim and Mandy Patinkin to work on the soundtrack album for Dick Tracey in which she also starred (alongside Warren Beatty and Al Pacino). Looking down the tracklist, there is only one song I know for sure, with one more I may remember but could be confusing with something else. No point in beating around the old bush, lets dive in!

He’s A Man‘ seems to begin with a sound clip of some sort. Madonna singing differently than she usually does over a slow, sultry  beat. Decent lyrics, some backing vocals, not much going on melodically. This ironically would have been a much better Bond song than Die Another Day was. Nothing special though.

Sooner Or Later‘ starts with a softer jazz tone and swooning beat. This I imagine is all supposed to be sexy, in the same way that Monroe was supposed to be sexy, but both do nothing for me. Some unfortunate lyrics with ‘the more you resist, the more it excites me’ sounding criminal.Nothing memorable here either.

Hanky Panky‘ has some okay piano in the introduction which never goes where I want it to. Then all hell brakes loose and we collapse into some weird 1980s 1920s cheesy mashup. This is the one I thought I may have heard, but I wasn’t sure. I think I have, but I don’t remember much about it apart from the rhyming of Hanky Panky and Spanky. I think this was something we used to shout at each other in the schoolyard. It’s sort of catchy but incredibly silly.

I’m Going Bananas‘ makes a mockery of my ‘incredibly silly’ comment. Madonna adopts some bizarre accent and squeaks and squeals incomprehensibly while Cuban horns and beats buzz around. At least it’s short.

Cry Baby‘ sees another change in vocal style, going for that Betty Boop cutesy shite. I was dreading something like this. Annoying and twee and pointless.

‘Something To Remember‘ at least sounds like a song, and possibly a serious one. It’s another slow burner, the melodies ramble a bit without anything standing out. It does have violins doing what violins should do though, but it’s a couple of minutes longer than it needs to be.

Back In Business’ sounds the same as the other slow ones, but builds up a more melodic and sultry vocal in the verses. Again it collapses into hilarity for the chorus with silly dated drums and twiddly saxomotrumps shooting off. A song of two parts then, the first fine, the other disastrous. It’s also over five minutes long for unknown reasons, and it does get worse as it goes along with trumpy solos and Madonna burping out assorted vocal ticks.

More‘ opens with plinky plonkey piano so we know we’re in jaunty territory again. So we have two basic songs on this album – jaunty ones and slow ones. Take your pick, they’re both poor. Jeepers, this one is almost five minutes long too. No, please, no more.

What Can You Lose‘ starts nicely, with Saul giving a different spin to what we’ve heard so far. Finally, a song that isn’t a pain in the soul to listen to. It’s pretty short too, probably for the best because once the duet begins in earnest it starts to fall apart.

Now I’m Following You Part 1‘ returns to the jaunty stuff. Another duet with some tap dancing sounds and other crap wafting in the background. Nothing worth recommending this one.

Now I’m Following You Part 2‘ is basically the same as Part 1, but with added dated 80s noises. It does its hardest to turn you into a serial killer in the final minute.

Vogue‘ is completely unrelated to everything that has gone before, and has no right being associated with this album. I’ve never been a huge fan of this song, but it’s light years ahead of anything else on I’m Breathless in terms of quality. It has a melody, has its own sound, and while it does sound dated there is still something fresh about it. Plus is has a classic Madonna chorus. What a bizarre album.

Well, that was terrible. Only the most hardcore Madonna fans should listen to this, or those with a fetish for shit jazz. It hasn’t made me want to watch Dick Tracy again, probably a good thing as I remember it being crap. Thankfully Madonna returns to form (I think?) with Erotica which features at least one of my favourite Madonna songs, some I have probably heard but can’t remember, and some I won’t have heard. I’ll be looking forward to hearing that one next time, but for now I’m away to band my head with a beer bottle until I’ve wiped away every memory of I’m Breathless. Good times, LOLAMIRITEWTF!

Let us know what you thought of this album – was it a misstep for Madonna or another interesting experiment?

The UK Top 40

It seems like I’m a grumpy bastard sometimes when I read my own blog posts, always moaning about something. I expect these next few related posts will fuel that fire as I take a look at something I haven’t checked out (probably) since I was 18 – the UK Top 40 Singles chart. Obviously music has changed a lot since then, and the way music is charted has changed even more. As every good music fan knows, the best music rarely hits the charts these days but I’m prepared to give it a chance. As much as I occasionally join in the yells of dissent when caterwauling about the state of chart music, I have first heard many bands and artists I love via those same charts, so maybe there’s someone out there now who could be my next favourite singer but I’ll never encounter them unless I listen. So, over most days in the month of November I’m going to post about a particular song that is in the UK Top 40 at the time of writing – 10.33am on the 19th October. Here is the current chart (so, so many with the pointless ‘feat.’ bonus!):

1: What Do You Mean – Justin Beiber (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

2: Locked Away – R City (never heard of you)

3: Hotline Bling – Drake (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

4: Runnin’ – Naughty Boy (never heard of you)

5: The Hills – The Weekend (never heard of you)

6: Wasn’t Expecting That – Jamie Lawson (never heard of you)

7: Writing’s On The Wall – Sam Smith (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

8: On My Mind – Elle Goulding (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

9: Do It Again – Pia Mia (Never heard of you)

10: Easy Love – Sigala (Never heard of you)

11: How Deep Is Your Love – Calvin Harris (Everything I’ve heard has been crap)

12: Alone No More – Philip George & Anton Powers

13: Can’t Feel My Face – The Weekend (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

14: Downtown – Mackelmore (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

15: Lay It All On Me – Rudimental (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

16: Kiss Me – Olly Murs (everything I’ve heard has been crap)

17: Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself – Jess Glynne – (never heard of you)

18: Marvin Gaye – Charlie Puth (Never heard of you)

19: Never Forget You – MNEK & Zara Larsson (never heard of you)

20: Love Me – The 1975 (never heard of you)

21: Peanut Butter Jelly – Galantis (never heard of you)

22: Shut Up And Dance – Walk The Moon (never heard of you)

23: Fight Song – Rachel Platten (never heard of you)

24: 679 – Fetty Wap (never heard of you)

25: Intoxicated – Martin Solveig (never heard of you)

26: Trap Queen – Fetty Wap (never heard of you)

27: Lean On – Major Lazer x DJ Snake (never heard of you)

28: Ain’t Nobody – Felix Jaehn (Never heard of you, but I think I’ve heard this and it is one of the worst covers I’ve ever heard)

29: Are You With Me – Lost Frequencies (Never heard of you)

30: Drag Me Down – One Direction (What I’ve heard has been crap)

31: Black Magic – Little Mix (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

32: Love Me Like You – Little Mix (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

33: Photograph – Ed Sheeran (What I’ve heard has been crap)

34: Let It Go – James Bay (Never heard of you)

35: Cheerleader – OMI (Never heard of you)

36: Firestone – Kygo (Never heard of you)

37: Want To Want Me – Jason Derulo (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

38: Good For You – Selena Gomez (Aware of you, but never heard any of your stuff)

39: Talk To Me – Nick Brewer (Never heard of you)

40: Around The World – Natalie La Rose (Never heard of you)

There’s the school of thought that most of us lose our love for new music around the time we hit the age of thirty. There seem to be a number of reasons for this – chart music hinges upon a sheep mentality, the need to fit in and do, see, hear the same as everyone else, it’s aimed primarily at children, and while many of us care about such things in our youth, by the time we hit thirty we no longer care, or have time to care about such things. Some of us have simply passed by having a passion for music, and are content to play the same five albums or simply have the radio on in the background regardless of what is playing. Most of us consider ourselves to be the hated word ‘settled’ – with a job and a family which take priority over things like music, art, learning. Some of us will simply become our parents and claim that music is crap nowadays, and that it was so much better when we were younger. The trap is to fall back on only listening to the music we loved in our day, with anything new being too scary, too noisy, too young, too not me etc. I’ve always been a believer that as long as there are people with something to say, with a melody to write, with passion screaming in their souls that can only be freed via a pen, a microphone, or some other instrument of noise, then there will always be great music. Like I say though, the Top 40 is rarely a place for such musicians – a few lucky will make it, sure, but the highest echelons of sales and popularity will always be reserved for the pretty, the bland, the copy, the flavour of the week. So, I don’t have high hopes for finding something I actually like, but I do have hope. As a bonus, and as a gauge for any psych-types out there who may wish to strike for a correlation between my personal taste and the current Top 40, here is a rough list of the 10 most important artists in my life:

Michael Jackson, The Bangles, Guns N Roses, Alice Cooper, Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead, The Gathering, Led Zeppelin, Metallica

Maybe I should have went for the Top 40 Rock chart…..

The hand of God, telling me to go watch QOTSA

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Like A Virgin!

Greetings, glancers, and welcome back to another exciting entry in the Nightman Listens series. Today, we’ll be looking at one of the biggest albums of the 80s, and one which launched the career of one of the most influential women in music

Hard to believe, but yeah
Hard to believe, but yeah

Madonna’s first album was a decent success and the follow-up was recorded and released a year later to great acclaim. With a number of high performing singles and a distinct sound, it is one of the archetypal 80s records, going on to encourage a bunch of imitators to follow Madonna’s musical approach, fashion sense, and provocative approach. Surrounding herself with some terrific writers, Madonna’s drive for success was spurred by the songs she was recording around this time. Looking at the track listing, I actually only recognise two of the names, though I’m sure I’ll know some of the others once I hear them – I’ve never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing. So let’s do this!

Material Girl: Aah, for someone my age there are any number of songs which instantly transport you back to the 80s. Big synthetic drum blasts and funky beats – as soon as that riff comes in, you’re already back there and when the vocals come in there’s no coming back. It’s all very cheesy, almost deliberately so, with Madonna both mocking and praising the materialistic lifestyle. The chorus is perfect, and the verses are pretty catchy too. Of course, we could do without all the squeaks and squawks, but it was the 80s. The production here is excellent, much higher quality. The song feels a little stretched, possibly for video purposes, but it never out stays its welcome.

Angel: Plinky plonky. Laughs. Hmm, I don’t recognise this one so far. Fairly catchy and sultry vocals. Vocals get more bizarre as the song goes on. Chorus is ok, not overly strong. There’s a nice synth break in the middle, another laugh which manages to not be as cheesy as you would think, so well done for that.

Like A Virgin: One of the most recognisable songs of the decade, and possibly Madonna’s signature song. Opening with honking synths it’s another which instantly grabs hold. Madonna sings in a high register, and both verse and chorus melodies are catchy. The lyrics fitted perfectly with Madonna’s image at the time, as an independent strong woman. Musically it crosses that line between pop and dance brilliantly – a song just as good to listen to in the bedroom, on the dance floor, on your Walkman.

Over And Over: Drums. Fast paced blaps. More synth. It’s another I don’t recognize. It’s good fun hearing all these 80s songs which you didn’t hear first time around, or forgot about as they all manage to pull back memories. I was only a toddler when this albums came out, but nevertheless, the music was replayed on TV and radio for years. Anyway, not many hooks on this one, the chorus is ok, but it’s definitely mid-album filler.

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore: Ah yes, I remember this one, and it is of course a cover. Given the synth treatment, it’s probably Madonna’s first ‘dark’ song with its desolate lyrics about loss. The vocals are fine at the high ranges, but things get a little strange for those lower notes. Nevertheless, the arrangement blending strings, synth, guitars, and booming drums gives that timeless 80s feel, and it sounds a little like something Roxette would have done. The song threatens to drag on a little bit, but Madonna brings it back by some fine yelping and howling for the final moments.

Dress You Up: Thumping drums. Disastrous synth. Nice melody. Hand clap sounds like cardboard boxes being dropped in a puddle. Silly lyrics about clothes/sex. I remember the chorus. The chorus is a little too short and whiney. Feels more like a one hit wonder than a genuine memorable Madonna track. It’s a little weak sounding with flat production, decent melodies. It’s a fun, silly inclusion that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Shoo Bee Doo: I don’t know this one. A piano led ballad with a lot of space for Madonna’s vocals. Now drums, slowly becoming more of a dance track. Some of this sounds a little familiar, but I can’t place my memories accurately so I may well have heard this in my youth, or it could simply be similar to other songs I’ve heard. Something about it is also reminding me of a Michael Jackson song, but I can’t quite determine which one. Oh dear Lord, Saxomophone. Vague, light, forgettable, overlong but aside from those points, nothing particularly poor about it.

Pretender: Weird fast noises. Synth drums and other strangeness. I don’t know this one. Attempts to be funky, but doesn’t quite work. Weird vocals, silly boo-hoo lyrics. Nothing catchy here, no matter how many times ‘He’s a pretender’ is shouted at me. Ooh, an interesting middle section. That almost went somewhere good, but didn’t quite manage it.

Stay: The final track, hmm this is a pretty short album. Then again I’m used to metal and prog albums lasting forever. More weird noises at the start. These last few tracks have been more reminiscent of stuff from the first album – middling dance pop songs with no real hooks. It’s an ok song, but not memorable in the slightest. No, not more speaking parts. When will we learn that talking during songs just DOESN’T work? EVER.

I think I was expecting that to be a bit more. Only the singles have any sort of impact, with the rest of the album being average fluff. Note – it turns out that  one of my favourite Madonna songs – Into The Groove – was added to a re-issues of this album, after being recorded for the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack. Ah well, we’ll have to skip that one. Hey, Crazy For You was also recorded around this time and wasn’t part of any studio album. This album would have been epic had those two tracks replaced a couple of the others! So, nothing overly brilliant here, but it’s easy to appreciate the impact and sales the album had. Next time we visit Madonna’s back catalogue, we’ll be going through True Blue which I know contains at least two of my favourite Madonna songs, and I’ll be keen to hear if there are any classics I’ve missed.

Let me know what you thought of this album in the comments – does it contain any of your favourites, or is it an aged relic of a time best forgotten?