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?

The Beatles – The White Album

The White Album

The White Album sees the Fab Four at their most experimental, their angriest, and some would say their best. A true epic, the band enters further into uncharted territory with sounds unheard, ideas expounded never before, lyrical flourishes and weirdness all put to glorious sound and noise. Unfortunately for an album with so many songs and with so many ideas (not to mention the band chasing the dragon around on some plain just above the rest of our heads) it has many flaws. Some things don’t come off well, there is a lot of nonsense, some duff songs, and plenty of filler. Most fans who don’t see this as their best album agree that if this had been cut down it could have been much better. The good stuff that we do have ranges from classic Harrison ballads to McCartney blues romps and Lennon’s drug fuelled madness. There are plenty of fun moments, plenty of offbeat treats, but the days of the happy mop haired lads is long gone. From here on we are left with more coarse and hard edged guitar tracks as the group began to implode.

`Back In the USSR’ opens the album in a fairly rocking fashion with some ye olde fast piano playing slpiced with the modern sounds of a jet plane. McCartney sings in a clearly more gruff way hinting at the maturity, experimentation, and arguments within the band at the
time. Ringo was absent so the rest of the band took up his duties, not that this is noticeable. The lyrics speak of the excitement and relief of flying back home to be with all the ladies and is a clear homage to The Beach Boys. The Californian interlude is quite authentic.

`Dear Prudence’ fades in gently offering an opposite to what the first song displayed. Lennon’s tribute to Mia Farrow’s sister who joined them India only to stay in her room and meditate most of the time. It builds to a jamming climax accompanied by some nice guitar
before coming down to an acoustic fade out.

`Glass Onion’ returns to the heavier feel while referencing many old Beatles hits. The lyrics are deliberately messy and confusing, full of potential mystery and ideas. Mostly it is Lennon having a laugh at obsessive fans and critics obsessing over every lyric, and a challenge for them to decipher.

`Ob La Di Ob La Da’ is a McCartney ditty, a nonsense but nonetheless catchy pop song. It sounds like the band are having fun, contrary to what was actually happening, but also highlights the experimenting mode they were in when they first came up with it.

`Wild Honey Pie’ is an experimental piece with strange guitars, voices and other noises. Basically it is the group stoned, banging together whatever was close to hand and still managing to make a song out of it.

`The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ features a line from Yoko but is more notable for Lennon’s excellent sarcastic lyrics. He sings of a rich American who they knew for a while who happened to go hunting and kill a tiger. Lennon saw him as an upper class mummy’s boy taking an all expenses paid trip to India for some enlightenment that he could then relate to his equally rich friends. The chorus is catchy enough, the song ends in ironic applause and whistling. With a more interesting verse melody it could have been great.

`While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is Harrison’s famous downbeat sounding song about Eastern philosophy, yin yang, everything relating to everything and everyone. It features Clapton on guitar and is usually included in most lists of greatest guitar songs ever. The organs, effects, and Harrison’s vocals combine to create a trippy mood although it was probably intended to sound other worldy.

`Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ is a constantly evolving song with time and tone shifts as well as each part sounding musically distinct. Each part is linked by the gun imagery, and it inspired countless imitators from Halo Of Flies to Bohemian Rhapsody to Paranoid Android. Many of the ideas on the album don’t come off as well as they should have but on this song everything fits.

`Martha My Dear’ is McCartney’s music hall tribute, evoking images of old couple swirling about to gentle piano led songs. The lyrics oppose the feel of the song with thinly veiled insults to past lovers. Many dispute the song’s reference point- McCartney’s dog, his muse, his ex. As with most things it is a mixture of each influence.

`I’m So Tired’ was recorded at 3am, written about Lennon’s insomnia, and has a clear drowsy feel. There is emotional fatigue, the lyrics are angry, and the chorus livens things up.

`Blackbird’ is one of the better songs on the album, harkening back to simpler, more pop times. It is a typical McCartney song, singing of yearning, freedom, with some racial issues thrown in to satisfy the revolutionaries.

`Piggies’ is an interesting Harrison song featuring harpsichord and strings to give a baroque feel- a time noted for wealth and extravagance. This mirrors the lyrics as Harrison sings Orwell style of the rich people as piggies, rolling around in their opulence. Ironic yes given their own wealth, but at this time the group were rejecting all ideas of materialism. Charles Manson felt this was a large influence on his Helter Skelter plan, leading to the deaths of those he felt needed `a damn good
whacking’.

`Rocky Raccoon’ is a folk style McCartney song with Dylan leanings. There is a Cowboy movie style piano and acoustic guitar played over some storybook lyrics. It rounds off the `animal trilogy’.

`Don’t Pass Me By’ is Ringo’s first solo composition. He does his best with the vocals, though the lyrics are as bad as expected and the song has the same rolling down a hill in a shopping trolley rhythm. The strings offer a different feel from the other album tracks but it’s mostly forgettable.

`Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ sees McCartney at his most metal, shrieking the lyrics in an attempt to match the sounds of Daltrey and Townsend. The lyrics simply speak of him seeing two monkeys at it, inspiring the primal, animal instincts in all of us.

`I Will’ is a rather simple, soft love song from McCartney to Linda. The lyrics call back to the early days when music was more important than the words. The song is catchy enough but lacks anything truly memorable.

`Julia’ closes the first side, Lennon’s only solo Beatles song. Unfortunately it is mostly tuneless as the lyrics are good and he sings and plays well. With a stronger melody this could have been a much better song.

`Birthday’ opens the second side in heavy style, blasting out with one of the most famous guitar riffs. It builds and changes with chugging chords, distorted notes, and swirling effects laden piano. It was a clear attempt to return to a more simple rock’n’roll and blues style and leads nicely into the next song.

`Yer Blues’ continues the heavier, dirtier feel with an almost Zeppelin-esque song. It showcases Lennon’s personal demons, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It’s a song which it is hard not to jump around to, filled with good drum parts and intertwining guitar solos. Performing this song for the Stones Rock n Roll Circus renewed Lennon’s love for playing live after years in the wilderness.

`Mother Nature’s Son’ is a better McCartney ballad inspired as with most of the other songs here by his time with the Maharishi,
except here it pays off well musically. The lyrics are suitably ideal, the melodies gentle and hard to shake.

`Everybody’s Got Something To hide…’ is Lennon’s view of his relationship with Yoko and all the negative feelings towards it. They felt they were in love while everyone else was paranoid and edgy. The song is quite heavy with a loud riff at the end of the chorus. Some have also claimed that it is more about Lennon’s heroin addiction.

`Sexy Sadie’ has the famous piano part which sounds like Karma Police but it’s almost insignificant. It is an average Lennon song with some nice, angry lyrics, some strange effects on the vocals and an up and down rhythm.

`Helter Skelter’ was McCartney’s main attempt to make the heaviest, dirtiest, most rock song out there in a time when The Who and other English R’nB bands were taking noise levels moonwards. To an extent it works, the drums are great, the guitar is pretty loud and riff laden, and McCartney sings at his loudest. The Helter Skelter motion of the song is notable, everything swirls and comes around upon itself. This song was one of the major influences on Manson’s already destructive mind as he believed the lyrics contained veiled messages and calls to war. The song fades in and out a few times at the end to good effect, and proves that McCartney was more than a ballad writer.

`Long Long Long’ is a soft Harrison ballad with good drum and piano parts. The deliberately bad production is annoying though and makes it too difficult to listen to.

`Revolution 1′ may be the most famous, most popular song on the album. It is a traditional Beatles song, filled with melody and ideology, with a few guitar effects and plenty of instruments clanging together brilliantly. The version here differs quite a bit from the single most people know, but all the hallmarks of a great song lie in both.

`Honey Pie’ is another unusual song from McCartney showing his seeming obsession with older styles of music around this time. There is a clear WWII vibe and I can’t help hear it now without thinking of Allo Allo or Wish Me Luck. The lyrics speak of a young English woman who makes it big in Hollywood only for her old lover back home to call her to return.

`Savoy Truffle’ is a good song to listen to while raiding the fridge. It is quite jazzy, with lots of brass and guitars, lots of timing shifts and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album.

`Cry Baby Cry’ is based on a nursery rhyme from Lennon’s youth, features the Harmonium again but isn’t a very exciting or interesting song. The lyrics are fine but the music isn’t particularly inspired. It segues into an unreleased song at the end which really should have been included instead, but can be found on bootlegs.

`Revolution 9′ is probably the most experimental piece the band ever produced, a collage of sounds, words, clips, effects all smashed together to create something monstrous. It still sounds awesome today, but is pretty difficult to listen to more than once. It is like falling into a sewer and being swept naked at a million miles an hour through various viaducts of time, surrounded by sights you don’t want to see, like Terry Wogan playing golf with Jimmy Tarbuck’s leg instead of a nine. Understandably it still splits fans; it’s great.

`Good Night’ is a rather sumptuous ending, almost like a Disney composition. Ringo does very well here, the strings are beautiful and the backing singers give it all a good night lullaby feel. It is deliberately lovely, cheesy, but looking past all that it is a pretty good song, and a great ending.

The White Album was the final great departure for the band. Break ups and bust ups followed and everyone agreed they should go back to their roots to try to hold on to their success. At times it is boring, at times it is brilliant but on previous albums the brilliance overshadowed everything else. Here there are simply too many songs and many tracks either don’t work at all or don’t live up to the expectation. This is still the favourite of many fans, largely because it tries so much, covers so much, is brave and unlike anything else. Full marks for trying, full marks for breaking new ground, but mostly (for The Beatles) average songs.

Pure Air- Agua De Annique

Pure Air

Pure Air is an album of covers and re-workings and I like to call it a gift to the fans. Not many other artists would release an album like this, and hardly any of those would put much effort or love into it. This however is full of both, and indeed exceeds her first album. If her upcoming new album is as good as this we’ll be in for something special. My gripes here are small- there are some re-workings of songs I didn’t like too much- I would have preferred versions of Ice Water and Sunken Soldiers Ball instead of say Witnesses and Day After Yesterday. Some have complained about the male vocals on a few songs and I admit that I felt the same way at first. I have since come round and now quite enjoy each new guest singer. Again, and this is totally personal, I would have preferred an Alanis song like Unforgiven or Wake Up which I think Anneke would be excellent at, and although I like her version of Power Of Love here I can’t help but wonder what her version of Jennifer’s Rush’s Power Of Love would be like. Majestic, I presume. All that aside this is a beautiful album, packed with emotion, brilliant songs, wonderful cameos, and more greatness from Anneke.

`Blower’s Daughter’ opens the album- a cover of the already perfect Damien Rice song. Anneke sings the song well, but it isn’t as good as the original. She sings with emotion, I just don’t think anyone could equal Rice’s. Perhaps it would have been better if she had done it in a more fragile voice, still good, just not as good as I thought it would be when I first saw the track list.

`Beautiful One’ is an acoustic version of the first song from Anneke’s first album. The music is softer, less complex, and less intrusive allowing more space for Anneke’s voice to shine. Her vocals are strong here, but I have the same feelings here as I have about the original in that it becomes repetitive. I believe this version is better though.

`Wild Flowers’ is a cover of a Dutch song by FRANK BOEiJEN This is what the album is all about- simplicity, subtlety, Anneke and a guitar, and when it works it is breathtaking. Wild Flowers follows this, a beautiful song using lonely, fragile flowers as a metaphor for whatever you like. It is highly melodic and suits Anneke’s voice perfectly, sung with a fleeting sadness, a gentle melancholy.

`Day After Yesterday’ slows things down, another acoustic version of a previous album track. The main problem here is that both versions are quite similar so an acoustic version doesn’t really add anything. A toned down Sunken Soldiers Ball would have been more different and exciting.

`Come Wander With Me’ is also similar to the first album version, but it was already a much better song than Day After Yesterday. Anneke again sings it beautifully and it is a joy to hear a slightly different take on it.

`Valley Of The Queens’ is a cover of Aeryon and is another strong song. It’s arrangement does manage to evoke feelings of a time long past. The flutes here serve the song brilliantly and along with the background strings it strives for a mystical tone which it doesn’t quite manage. That doesn’t matter though as it remains a great song, and quite different from the original.

`To Catch A Thief’ is my favourite song here, a duet with John Wetton from Wishbone Ash/ Uriah Heap. There are so many varying melodies in the song, excellent lyrics, and Wetton’s gruff vocals act as a good counterpoint to Anneke’s. I would like to hear her sing this with someone else, but I don’t have a problem with Wetton as some do. The lyrics speak of a broken relationship, of the swaying back and forth. I’ve always felt that this song has some sort of post modern Western feel, like Cowboys in the future or something.

`Ironic’ may be my least favourite song on the album, not that there is anything wrong with it, I just prefer the original and think Anneke could have sung it with more power. Like I said earlier Ironic is not one of my favourite Alanis songs and I would have liked Head Over Feet. The song is quite sparse with Anneke’s voice (accompanied by a male singer) drowning out a very soft guitar- even without her singing anywhere near her best.

`What’s The Reason’ is another cover, a gentle, melodic love song dealing with confused thoughts. Anneke only comes into the song in the second verse, the first part sung well by Niels Geusebroek. The following harmonies are made to sound like the couple have been doing duets for years, and the backing guitar follows the voices beautifully.

`Yalin’ is almost identical here to the original, another strange choice when she could have picked another song and drastically changed it. I suppose that was never the point of the album, but this almost sounds like a copy and paste rather than a re-recording. Still a good song though.

`Somewhere’ is a song by Within Temptation, starting with the fragile, heartbreaking vocals by Sharon Den Adel. Already an excellent, Anneke joins in giving a more powerful, emotional blast. The song sounds like it should be on the credits of a film, possibly one about lost love. In fact, I can’t help thinking that this song should be used for a missing kids campaign. As silly as that sounds it is sure to stay with the viewer/listener. With its tender nature and ghost like vocals it is a song that you are unlikely to forget. Sharon is probably the best suited singer I’ve heard with Anneke so far, recorded and live.

`Witnesses’ is a much softer, cut down, and haunting version of the original but it may be the weakest song on the album. It doesn’t particularly offer anything exciting, but it does leave a strange feeling with you after it ends- perhaps it would have had more power if it had been a hidden track at the end.

`The Power Of Love’ shows one of Anneke’s greatest strengths- her ability to turn songs that I never liked before into ones I love. I still don’t like the original version, but I now have a greater appreciation of the lyrics and emotion behind them which Anneke brings to the forefront. This is quite a soft and quiet take on the song, mostly led by the vocals with the guitar barely noticeable in the background giving a atmosphere similar to Tori’s Me And A Gun but without the horrific themes.

Overall this is the classic `solo’ or non-Gathering album her fans hoped she would make. It showcases all of her best qualities and features some inspired collaborations. There are many classic moments here, and when they come they are exquisite. For me the album could have been even greater if it had a few different song choices, but as I’ve said before the songs I don’t like here may be someone else’s favourites and are probably Anneke’s. And who am I to argue with genius?