Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Travelling!

Travelling (Roxette album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! While it seems like they’ve had more, we’ve finally arrived at the 9th and penultimate Roxette album. Only one more after this and we’re done. We’ve had highs, we’ve had lows, but the journey isn’t quite done yet. This is another album I know next to nothing about and I haven’t heard one second of music from it. Wikipedia tells me that the album is a sequel to  Tourism, which is nice, but also that it didn’t sell very well. Looking at the tracklist, it seems there are a number of live tracks of older songs included for some reason, so I’ll be removing those from my listen-through. Lets do this.

Me & You & Terry & Julie‘ has a sort of countdown before a lovely folk pop Country guitar intro leads into a rather pleasant verse. Then out of nowhere, a jubilant Marie chorus blasts our ears off. It reminds me quite a lot of Show Me The Wonder. The two parts have no transition whatsoever – I had to check quickly if they were in fact different songs – and yet both parts are done very well and in classic Roxette style feature sweet pop melodies. It then closes with a melancholy mirror of the intro. An interesting opening song, and one of their best in many albums.

Lover Lover Lover‘ opens with a middling tempo – again I’m getting the same melancholy pop vibes as the Manics have showcased in recent years. Liberal use of brass, which you know I don’t usually enjoy, works here. The brass is not the focal point, but used as the backup it is best suited to being. The guitar has a Country tambour in places, the melodies are instantly tactile, and while it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, the duet sound revitalized. If they keep this up we could have a treat in store – given how not great the last few Roxette albums have been, evenif we get a few more songs with this quality I’ll consider the whole thing a win.

Turn Of The Tide‘ sweeps in like many a quiet ballad of yore. Marie is involved heavily in each of these songs before. Her voice sounds strong and clear, and the melodies have been suited to her ability to soar sweetly. This is a faintly gorgeous song with an easy nature, yet the emotional weight it now carries is quite hefty now that she has passed on. Three for three.

Touched By The Hand Of God‘ has a swirl, then a pop rock guitar crunch. It’s the first Per lead, and he sounds even more youthful than ever. The verse has small jangling piano parts at bounces along at a fair rip, but the chorus is a step up bringing another sweet set of hooks. An okay song, elevated by a strong chorus. Lots of twinkling synth capering in there too.

Easy Way Out‘ opens like a 60s Hippie dream – folk guitars, piano, and I may have imagined flutes or tin whistles. A Per lead again, it’s all very sweet, Marie does some slight but effective harmonies. The second verse brings a spring of Country guitar. A little instrumental/solo section in the middle helps things along. It’s a sit by the campfire, making daisy chains kind of song, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It’s Possible V1‘ opens briefly like a very specific Iron Maiden song – same echoing guitar and tone, this comparison evaporating as soon as the verse begins. Brief is the order of the day – brief riff, brief simple verse, brief catchy chorus, and short and sweet middle 8/instrumental. It takes the old form of Per verse, Marie chorus. It’s short and basic, not the best song on the album but not bad.

Perfect Excuse‘ starts out like a quiet ballad, sole piano which grows more melancholy as it moves along. Some minor guitar parts accompany as Marie’s vocal starts. It’s pretty obvious what conclusions we can draw from the lyrics and her performance here, but it is beautiful, sad. It sounds like there’s another woman singing harmonies too, unless it’s a dual Marie vocal. Strings join in – can’t have a ballad without them. Lovely.

Excuse Me Sir, Do You Want Me To Check On Your Wife‘ is… well, with a name like that I’m already imagining a weird slice of Per experimenting. Fortunately, it doesn’t begin that way and instead feels like another poignant piano piece. The lyrics are amusing, are they personal? I love the way the song builds from verse, into the title lyric, and then into the chorus, with Per and Marie exchanging lines.

Angels Passing’ fades in rather abruptly with a collection of, what sounds aptly like harps. A soothing Per verse and angelic Marie backing vocals mark this as another sweet and short effort. A shade under three minutes its over shortly after it begins – a nice sustained note to finish.

The Weight Of The World‘ is, you may have guessed, another piano and soft guitar led track. Minor key melodies and introspective lyrics. It’s Per for the lead again – that’s one of the major things I’ve noticed on this album – that his vocals aren’t annoying me like they sometimes can. Marie takes over for the second verse and chorus. It’s a quietly powerful song – it doesn’t try to peak or force its will, but rather is confident that it’ll make its mark.

See Me‘ closes the album – another ballad. Piano, guitar. Minor key. Marie lead this time. The minor key verse leads to an ethereal chorus. It’s a song which strips the author bare and simply says ‘here I am, see me’. In that vein it works well as an honest love song. Melodies strike a chord again.

It’s Possible V2‘ must be a bonus track, another version of an earlier track on the album. It dispenses with the chugging guitar and takes a more pop or folk approach. Aside from that, it’s pretty similar – melodies still work.

Well, where the hell did that come from? My issue with Roxette in pretty much all of their albums has been that (the early albums at least) have a set of excellent singles, then filler album tracks. As the albums progressed, the strength of the singles lessened and the the fillers became more overblown or uneventful. SO it’s a surprise then that this is probably their best album. It’s consistent – any number of the songs could be singles, and there isn’t really any filler. The album doesn’t have a Joyride or a It Must Have Been Love, but that would have been the icing on an already sweet cake. Any experimental nonsense has been abandoned so that good old fashioned honest and personal songwriting can be the focus, with special attention to melody which was always the band’s greatest strength. I imagine this could be an emotional experience for the die-hard Roxette, I could feel it even being a passing fan. It feels like a perfect send off for the band, and even if the next album is crap, we’ll at least have this one, and their previous hits to enjoy forever.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Me & You & Terry & Julie. Lover Lover Lover. Turn Of The Tide. Easy Way Out. Perfect Excuse. The Weight Of The World. See Me.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Travelling!

Nightman Listens To Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Ok, I know I didn’t get through many of the 2020 albums in 2021. You didn’t think I really would though, did you? In an ideal world I’d like to do this sort of series every year, to give me a flavour of what’s popular these days. Actually, in an ideal world I’d like to have the time and money to do nothing but listen to music and watch movies and post shite about them. In any case, if the 25 albums (or was it 30) I picked from 2020 are as good as they’re supposed to be, then they should be considered timeless classics and it shouldn’t matter to me when I listen to them or to you when I talk about them.

Dua Lipa then. I don’t know anything about her, I don’t know any of her songs, but I think I read somewhere that she’s a Liverpool fan. I don’t know if that means she’s from Liverpool, if she’s English, or if she’s from outside of the UK but has heard of Mo Salah and is therefore a Liverpool fan by proxy. I know she’s popular though – I recently started properly using Reddit after years of occasionally looking at it – and joined the /music and /popheads subs. She’s mentioned quite frequently in the Popheads one, though the Music one is mostly filled with Boomers and Ween fans and would likely dismiss her. I’m willing to give everyone a shot, so by the end of this post she may have a new Gen X/Gen Y/Millennial/WhateverthehellIam fan. As always, I take a gander at the album cover to get some almost certainly inaccurate feelings about the artist and her art.

I’ll assume that’s her, because most popstars will feature themselves on their album artwork, at least until the point they become famous enough that they can sell based on their name alone rather than their appearance. It’s a striking enough image, suitable and colourful enough to appear as a small jpeg on your phone and lacking any fine detail. But I like it, particularly the huge blue moon in the background. I’m not convinced that those gloves are a good match for that steering wheel – the gloves seem lacking in the grip department, while the steering wheel a highly glossed wood – lets hope she isn’t doing 42mph in a School Zone. Does any of this tell me anything about what the music will be like? Of course not. Lets find out, shall we?

Without giving away too much about what I think of the album, I’m going to jump in now and say that so far the most overt, traditional Pop albums I’ve listened to as part of the 2020 series have been the ones I’ve enjoyed most. Fine, the Bad Bunny album was crap, but the Bob Dylan, Deftones, Biffy Clyro, and Code Orange albums didn’t have much impact on me. I still crank out a handful of the Chloe X Halle tunes. Am I losing my Metal cred? I don’t hold much stock in such matters and have always been up front in my love for good Pop music – good music, regardless of genre. Future Nostalgia? Good. Pop. Music. Future Nostalgia is an apt title – you can hear the 80s and 90s Pop influences in certain tracks, and Dua Lipa’s music seems like the logical continuation of, say, Madonna. I can’t say that I’ve listened to much Top 40 music in the last 15 years so I’m sure there are many artists filling in the gaps between Madonna and Dua Lipa, but you can see the pattern of influence.

There are any number of floor-filling bangers here, great for blasting in the club, on the radio, or in the house. Crucially though, there is also humour and intelligence, both in lyric and composition. That’s where Pop becomes something elevated, something more interesting to me; I can enjoy a catchy jingle as much as anyone, but if there’s a bland message and a lack of emotional connection, no matter how you dress up the song with Production and Performance, I’m not going to care about it beyond a cursory acknowledgement of its existence. I do have issues with the album – issues others won’t give two shits about – but which affected my enjoyment; Most of the songs revolve about love and relationships. Madonna, to continue with that example, could sing about shagging till the cows came home, but she would throw in a few songs each album which overtly were not about romance. If we look at my favourite modern Pop artist – Sia – which Dua Lipa’s vocals have more than a passing resemblance to on Future Nostalgia – Sia will cover any number of topics unrelated to love even in her most successful works. Future Nostalgia doesn’t have many non-love related songs – it is bookended by two future Feminist anthems in the title track and closer Boys Will Be Boys, but even those are done through the lens of a woman’s relationship to men. Boys Will Be Boys is the closest to being its own thing as it sings of empowerment and fear, taking that hateful phrase which politicians and sexual predators use to dismiss criminal and violent behaviour against women, and twisting it around to rip that defence apart. I’m not sure how much of this song was written by Lipa versus Justin Tranter – a lyricist known for his advocacy in this respect – but it’s entirely possible that Lipa pulled Tranter in for this album because of his past work. In any case – powerful message, great song.

While there may not be many overt non-romance based songs, several songs are at least presented in a more refreshing way, usually with a more empowering female perspective – Dua Lipa calls herself a female alpha in the opener, Cool and Physical are pure exaltations of feeling and confidence, coming across as sincere versus more generic fare, while Break My Heart takes a more pensive, apprehensive approach due to past hurt. Even when the lyrics are generic in structure and theme and content, there are at least jokes or nods to past works from Olivia Newtown John, Bing Crosby, White Town, or INXS. I could be picky and state that the songs aren’t the most structurally interesting, but that would be a valid criticism for the vast majority of music released each year so I don’t believe it would be fair here – it’s a pop album, so you want the familiarity of verse, bridge, and chorus loops.

My second more genuine criticism – still a personal thing – is with some of the vocals. Lipa can sing, alternating styles and strength between and often within songs, but she isn’t immune to some of the quirks which piss me off about most modern singers. The way ‘body’ is sung with a hard, almost double or triple D sound in Pretty Please (one of the weaker songs) reminds me of that fucking awful Royal Navy advert song with the ‘awrite guvna, reDDee, steDDee yip yip aye’ lyrics. Christ that thing is on every 15 minutes and gets muted every time. She overdoes the screechy Sia thing in Hallucinate and repeats probably the one trait which annoys me most in vocalists over the last fifteen years or so – adding these unnecessary Y-type vowel sounds to words which don’t need them, while simultaneously doing a little vibrato. Why is this a thing, and why do so many singers do this? Why does it annoy me? All unanswerable, but listen to the middle of Hallucinate and how ‘dark’ and ‘start’ are pronounced as ‘doweek’ and ‘stoueet’ respectively.  You should know by now that certain accents or pronunciations in songs are enough to make me never listen to the song again, and I admit that when Lipa begins her Cockney shtick in the album’s opening verses I was already moving the cursor towards the top right corner of the window. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and elsewhere the vocals are excellent.

Aside from the performance and personality of Dua Lipa, and aside from the infectious melodies which should be the principle hallmark of any pop song, the album’s production is one of the keys to its success. The warm production firmly places many of the songs into the power-pop region, adding force to its synth and drums, and turning songs which I may not normally have much affinity for into something I can enjoy, sing, and leap about to. Hallucinate is a good example of a song and genre I typically would not give a second glance, but the production allows it to level up while Level Again would be typical repetitive pop junk if not for the use of strings and samples. Cool, probably the best song on the album, would still be a good pop song but is again taken up several notches by the, well the modern synth based off an 80s formula. Cool is a banger for the ages, striking that fine balance I look for in any song – emotion, melody, and an artist giving a peak performance.

The album stumbles in the middle, perhaps due to the fact that each of the opening four songs are so strong. It picks up again with Break My Heart and those closing three songs are each high points in different respects while not hitting the heights of any of the the first four. Comparing it to a similar nostalgic pop oriented album which I’m familiar with, Sia’s We Are Born was nowhere near as successful as Future Nostalgia, but edges this out in terms of quality. Future Nostalgia isn’t far off, but is lacking some of the additional emotive force and variance of genre to Sia’s early classic. In any event, fans of Future Nostalgia who may be reading this, should check out We Are Born and will likely enjoy it too. I was surprised I liked this as much as I did – again, most of the modern chart pop songs I’ve heard in recent years have been, for lack of a better term, apocalyptically shite and creatively barren, but this is brimming with spirit, wit, and love. I had not heard any of the songs till I put on the album for the first time, and at least six of the songs here will be added to my pop playlist.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 4. You should know by now that attempting to judge album sales now is a complete shit show, but the best estimates show that via a combination of physical sales and streams it was one of the top ten selling albums of the year. Depending on whether you compare this against albums of the past in pre-streaming days, I could see people giving this a 5 or a harsh 3.

Chart: 4. Hit the number 1 spot in the UK and Australia, along with various other territories, made the top ten in the US. I think to get a 5 here, you really need the Number 1 spot in US and UK, or if not both some other exceptional metric.

Critical: 5. Almost all overwhelmingly positive across the board, never less than a 4 out of 5 equivalent rating and the album and many of its songs feature on year end Top Ten lists.

Originality: 3. Maybe I’m a little harsh here, but it’s not the first album ever, or in this generation, to give a modern twist on a particular sound, vibe, or genre. It does it well, but it never reaches the point of being revolutionary.

Influence: 3. I say this every time, but this is incredibly hard to judge without time having past. Based on its sales and success I can see it being influential on other artists, but given the lack of revolutionary traits and the fact that it is a retro influenced album, I don’t know how influential it can be.

Musical Ability: 3. Another tough one to judge because the focus is on Dua Lipa as a musician and primarily a vocalist – I don’t know how much influence she had on the actual music beyond composition, and the vocal have their own category. The contributing musicians do their part, but nothing exceptional.

Lyrics: 3. Do I go 4 here? It’s tricky because I’m very picky with lyrics. Old tropes are both avoided and embraced, and the fact that most of the songs are still under the overall umbrella of ‘Love’ means I can’t honestly give a 4 – if there were revolutionary statements about romance or some beautifully shattering, unique, and incitement lines on the subject I would push to a 4. They are stronger than your average pop, but that’s an incredibly low bar to step over.

Melody: 4. A very solid, high 4. Some of the songs in the middle of the album prevent this from possibly reaching a 5, but as a whole most songs have potent melodies, and a few of those melodies are striking and effortlessly infectious.

Emotion: 3. I did have a 4 for this originally, but downgraded to a 3 because most of the emotion which came across to me is really down to the sincerity I felt – that can go to the authenticity score. There’s emotion, but not peaks, not a lot of variance of emotion.

Lastibility: 4. It already feels a little timeless. That could be due to how recent it is and the blend of modern and the nostalgia. Looking again at Sales and success, and how much I enjoyed it, I can see me and others continuing to listen for many years hence. 

Vocals: 4. Not quite a 5 due to some of the quirks I mentioned, but a very solid 4. Good performance, a lot of charm, and plenty of different vocal styles.

Coherence: 4. It’s very coherent. You can argue that it lacks say, a slow ballad, or something to break up the endless loop of up-tempo pop/dance tracks, but I don’t think that would impact the coherence. While there are different styles, it’s still a nostalgic synth based pop/dance album, primarily concerned with feelings of love and empowerment. 

Mood: 4. It creates a mood. A dance mood, a fun mood. Not exactly the sort of mood I go for, but it’s there. I could equally go 3 here.

Production: 4. Great work. Not revolutionary, but it nails the desired style and fits the theme of looking forwards and backwards.

Effort: 4. I’ve no idea how much effort went into this, but it was a step up in success from her previous album, the number of singles, the quality of the output. Go 3 here if you want.

Relationship: 3. As mentioned on the Chloe x Halle post, there’s only so much I can relate to here, being a 30 something white bloke from Northern Ireland – who has never been into dance music, clubbing, or much of what is talked about in pop music. I am however a music fan, I think I understand emotions, so that is what I relate to here. 

Genre Relation: 4. It relates to other modern and older pop music but, for me at least, excels over much of what is new and some of what is old. 

Authenticity: 4. Everything comes across as authentic and sincere – any pop album is designed to sell, to make as much money as possible for all involved while heightening the status of the performer. That’s the business. But Dua Lipa uses the album as a platform for good, for progress, and it doesn’t feel like a cash-in using the buzzwords of culture today. Lyrically, musically, and based on her performance, this all feels authentic. 

Personal: 4. I can argue that I both over and underscore pop albums. I can underscore based on the overwhelming response by actual critics, but I can over score purely because it’s a modern pop album which managed to speak to me and given me some enjoyment – it’s an anomaly when a modern pop album does this, and so I maybe bump up my score a little. But it’s a good album, no doubt. 

Miscellaneous: 3. I saw some of the music videos. Lots of fashion. Lots of dancing. Nothing to interest me. Standard 3 score.

Total: 74/100  

Easily the highest score I’ve given to a 2020 album in this series so far, and easily my favourite listen in the series.  In starting this series I wanted one album which I could enjoy from start to finish – this kind of gets there in that even the weaker tracks don’t piss me off – and it’s an album I’ll definitely return to.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Future Nostalgia!

A Wish For Christmas

Watch A Wish for Christmas | Netflix

It’s that time of the year again. What time of the year, you ask? Lacey time! Yes, each Christmas my wife and I sit down with various bottles of booze and watch a succession of Lacey Chabert festive movies between all the traditional TV treats. This year it has been difficult to find time to do this, between work and daughters who want to stay up and play Roblox in the same room, and a son who refuses to sleep. I’m sure a few of you regulars will have noticed my movie review output has been decreased recently – my music content too. In truth, I haven’t felt much desire to write about anything in the last few months, but that happens me every so often. It’s not the end of the blog or anything, just more important stuff has taken precedent, and few of the movies I’ve watched have interested me enough to write a full blown post about them. Before we get to Lacey, here’s a snapshot of what I’ve been watching recently:

Doctor Sleep

Hide And Seek (Korean)

Castlevania Season 3

You Season something or other (wife likes it)

Tiger King Season 2

Thirteen Ghosts

Doctor Strange

Crawl

The Promised Neverland

The Devil Next Door

Get Back

Hopefully I’ll get my mojo back next year, but I don’t have any push to write anything about anything above. On the other hand, I’ll always gladly write about any Lacey Christmas movie because they’re easy to talk about, easy to enjoy, easy to ridicule. And they’re just as much a festive tradition as avoiding your family, getting drunk and falling on your ass, and buying all of your presents in the Pharmacy on Christmas Eve.

Lacey is a single woman with some sort of big city career – she’s a web designer, maybe? What’s important is that she is somewhat timid, a bit of an overly kind pushover who allows herself to be trampled on by friends and co-workers alike. Yet she’s full of ideas and hopes and dreams, without the knack for putting those across to the boys up the ladder. When her latest idea is stolen by her boss, who then gets public credit, attention, and plaudits for it, she throws in the towel and storms out of her office’s Christmas party. Fortuitously, jolly old Saint Santa has been observing all of this and allows her to make a special wish (which will only last a few days). She wishes that she could be brave, confident, and just like that she sasses her way back into the party, confronts her boss about his IP theft, and mic drops her ass outta there. All of this makes an impression on the Company Director and the two embark on a cross country jaunt of self discovery and forgiveness while trying to secure some business deal and maybe, just maybe falling in love.

Like Lacey’s other Christmas movies, this is silly throwaway stuff with an extra side of forced giggles on her character’s part, but it’s also perfectly pleasant and charming. There are even some genuine laughs to be found, as Lacey’s amusing attempts to assert herself are part Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, part Housewives Of Some Shitty City, and part The Standup Comedy Stylings Of Lacey Chabert. The rest of the cast are largely insignificant – there to do a job, do it well, and go off to the next thing, but even with that there are some unusual attempts at creating humour – the dude with the mistletoe – and some interesting veterans and unfamiliar faces, from Mark Brandon to Donna Benedicto.

It’s not going to change your world. It isn’t going to interest your friends. You’re not going to watch it again. But it might help get you in the Christmas spirit and it might warm your cockles if watched with a like mind and a couple of bubbly drinks while the snow threatens to swarm outside the window.

The Haunting Of Goodnight Lane

Ryan's Movie Reviews: Ghost of Goodnight Lane Review

I get it; it’s hard being an actor skirting the outer rim of the A List. You’ve had a taste of fame and success, and you have a bunch of weirdo fans obsessing over you but you don’t quite have the clout to be on the cover of the best mags, appear on stage at the best awards ceremonies, star in the top grossing blockbusters, or pour from the lips of every water cooler denizen keen for the latest nugget of Hollywood goss. But you make a living. You have enough to get by, to be happy and to feed your family, and you’re content with the performances you’ve given and the legacy you’ll leave behind, even if there is that one final splash you’d love to make.

There’s an argument which states that the movie business doesn’t survive due to the big hitters,  rather it’s the smaller films which are underseen and rarely make much money, but often propel the next big name upwards and keep the industry’s moving parts churning. If it feels like I’m trying to make a point, I’m not. I’ll continue anyway. When you’re a fan of these types of performers and these types of movies, you have to wade through a detestable amount of wank to find something worth the stench. The Haunting Of Goodnight Lane contains several not quite A Listers who’ve had their taste of glory, didn’t make a lot of money, and you won’t hear people talking about it unless someone makes a viral meme from one of the very gif and meme-worthy scenes within. It’s a very odd movie because on one hand it looks very cheap, but on the other it stars Billy Zane, Lacey Chabert, and Danielle Harris, and it’s your standard haunted house movie, but everyone involved seems to know how cheesy it is and plays up to the nonsense to create an entirely entertaining slice of whatthefuckery.

Set in the admittedly sort of interesting location of a low budget recording studio, it follows the employees of studio being tormented, possessed, and murdered by an annoying little girl ghost who’s having a strop because the studio replaced her old home and now it’s being sold or something. It’s hard to say because little girl ghosts get pissed off as irrationally as little girl non-ghosts. Billy Zane’s Alan is even more pissed off because he just wants to keep his deadlines met and schedule moving so that he can drink and bang the models. He also seems to be highly amused that he has landed this gig an is masterfully hamming up every single piece of dialogue he is given, and reacting with gloriously overwrought passivity to everything going on around him. It’s a comedy masterclass.

Joining him on his one man stand up show is Lacey Chabert as some sort of employee who wants to understand the girly ghost, Danielle Harris as a model/actress/dancer type and a bunch of unfamiliar faces there to have their faces smashed into nails in walls or exposed electric fans. There’s a smidge of gore here and there, plenty of jumpscares as the ghost seems to have a deep knowledge of cameras and computers, and an unnecessary backstory to fill in just why she’s so evil (spoiler alert – her daddy was Chuck Manson). There’s also the girl’s surviving relative, a grandmother who is inexplicably some sort of crazed medium instead a woman wracked with the pain and guilt of losing both a child and a grandchild. It doesn’t matter – you get gratuitous boob shots, shaky-head Tool video twisty twisty bits, and the cast having a lot of fun making what feels like a boozy weekend shoot by a bunch of mates done for fun in between filming something important.

It is fun. It’s silly, it doesn’t amount to much, but it is fun. I laughed more than I usually do at the big hit comedies which are supposed to make me laugh and it was cool to see Lacey in something that wasn’t a Hallmark movie. Danielle is always great, Billy Z deserves all the praise for his line about the ghost hating doors, and it’s short enough that if you hate it you won’t lose much of your life by watching it. Enjoy?

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Rebel Heart!

Rebel Heart - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Wellity well, we’ve almost caught up with Madonna’s output. I know I’m slow at getting these things out (for anyone who even still reads them) but there’s only a couple of albums to go. And give me a break, I’m also doing Jovi, Adams, Roxette, The Stones, The Beach Boys, and of course my Top 1000, Non-Beatles, and 1966 series. A more diligent blogger would of course just pick one artist and pump out posts about their work over a few week period before moving on to the next thing. But I can’t focus on one thing for too long. And as I say, no-one even reads these things anyway and they’re not exactly the most exciting reading given that they’re unimaginative reactions as I listen for the first time. A smart blogger would of course switch to YouTube and make gargantuan gasps and wide-eyed stares at the camera in faux shock as if I’ve just stumbled upon a kitten in a waistcoat shaving a cow with a cigar. My hope is that people simply Google Madonna (or whoever) one day and stumble upon my posts, and read through them all in a single sitting, tutting at how I’ve misunderstood their favourite song. In any case, you’re stuck with me.

So, Rebel Heart. I know two of these songs – one I’ve only heard once and don’t really remember, while the other was an instant hit for me and has become one of my favourite Madonna songs. Beyond those, I don’t know much about the album. It’s another which seems packed to the gills with collaborations, something I generally don’t approve of and something which tends to show an artist is creatively flailing around, hoping someone else will save them from mediocrity or pull them back up from their mire. I’m hoping that’s not the case here, but given the (lack of) talent Madonna has aligned herself with on this record, I’m not holding out for greatness.

Living For Love: A blippy bloppy warbling beat emerges. Then deep Madonna vocals. Melody – fair enough. Then a beat. Then piano and a different melody. Am I getting some sort of Gospel feel from the melody? Then the beat returns. Then the song does that horrible chorus fake out thing that every was doing a couple of years ago. Maybe they’re still doing now, I don’t know. It’s well produced and it doesn’t follow a simple set pattern. At least the chorus drop isn’t as bad as most. There are a few other voices in the chorus, it does seem to be going for a Gospel approach. There’s too much space between the different vocals, space which could have been packed with additional voices for ore impact. Then it ends abruptly. It’s a decent opener, not horrible, not overly memorable.

Devil Pray: An acoustic guitar opener, with an almost Latin tone. Then weak ass hand clap beats screw up a perfectly good vocal. I will never understand why artists choose that sound for their beat. The lyrics aren’t great from what I’m picking up on the surface. Decent pre-chorus, but again the chorus drops instead of peaks. It’s frustrating as the song is fine – it’s not extraordinary – it’s a B grade song which falls to C because of those stylistic choices which are clearly made for modern sensibilities and not me. Her vocals are patchy in places too. It stretches out for another minute, presumably for dancefloor purposes, adding lots of beeps and sounds which don’t do anything.

Ghosttown: Is the one I mentioned at the top that I loved. It’s A Tier Madonna. It’s a great song all round, even if I’m not in favour of all the musical and production choices. However, you could record this a hundred different ways as long as you keep the central melody, and you’d have a great song each time. It’s a perfect pop song, something Madonna knows a little something about, plus it has plenty of emotion ensuring it makes it up to the next level up the ladder.

Unapologetic Bitch: Although the sound isn’t my go to, this starts well but then drops into a slower Reggae style thwomp. I would have preferred keeping the pace and intent of the intro. It reminds me too somewhat of The Delays. The lyrics are quite sweary which is unusual for her – it’s your standard woman scorned stuff and that sort of lyric only works for me if it goes deeply personal, like Alanis. Credit for the little rap portions (getting Chas and Dave vibes from those – rabbit rabbit rabbit) and for how the rhythm of ‘unapologetic bitch’ works. The chorus gets nuzzled into your brain.

Illuminati: It’s not the first time Madonna has done some rapid fire name-checking. Not names I give a shit about, but she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do. This is quite experimental for her – the verse doesn’t have anything obvious to grab hold of, then the chorus becomes quite sweet. At least it’s interesting, which is more than can be said for most pop stars of her, or any generation at the moment. There’s a John Carpenter synth vibe here and there. Once again, credit for trying something different, but I can’t say it all works for me. I don’t dislike it by any means.

Bitch I’m Madonna: This is the other one I’d heard. Some of the melodies are fine but the lyrics are abhorrent and the production is all over the place hitting all the black boxes of modern pop I can’t abide – silly sounds? Check. Dropping the momentum at the chorus? Check. Random newb warbling in the background? Check. Wafer beats? Check. Self interest? Check. Emotionless? Check. Catchy? Kind of, I guess. Bland and repetitive? For the most part, yeah.

Hold Tight: This seems much better. A more classic sound and vocal while still adhering to modern norms. It’s a simple approach this time, and a simple melody to go with it. The beats and production isn’t what I would choose again, pandering too much to today’s sound and quirks which will likely date the thing in a few more years. I would have gone all in on the backing vocals on this one to give a booming transcendent feel. It’s almost one of her better songs, but still good.

Joan Of Arc: A pondering guitar intro gives way to a lovely vocal and melody. It’s instantly more touching and honest. I feel like this is already going on the playlist. The drum beats could have been toughened up and rounded out, but that’s a minor issue. I think this will grow on me over time and it’s another example of a Madonna song which would work in any generation, with any production as long as the melody and purity is kept intact.

Iconic: With a name like that, this could go well or very badly. We’ll see. Oh balls, this is another .feat thing. This time it .feats a rapist, so that’s something. Verse is right up the middle, the little hey-yays are bordering on annoying. Decent pre-chorus. Of course the chorus loses the momentum and does that thing I won’t shut up about. At least there’s some sort of Halloween tone to that chorus. Some day in the future, someone’s going to re-do all the songs from the 2010s, but fix the chorus so that it doesn’t do the beat drop thing, and on that day every single one of those songs will take 10 large steps upwards in quality. Some bloke I’ve never heard of raps in the middle of everything else going on. It’s not very bad, but it’s a long way from good.

Heartbreakcity: Thankfully this one feels more streamlined – a lone piano line without tweaking. A neat military parade beat drops and the chorus builds and feels similar to Ghosttown. It’s another spiffing melody at times, but it doesn’t quite sustain that quality over the whole running time.

Body Shop: This is, what? Eastern folk inspired, with a child-like nursery rhyme quality? There’s some sort of tribal trance rhythm. In other words, she’s playing with conventions again. I can’t quite pick up many of the lyrics or what it’s all about during first listen. I don’t like the little ‘yeah’ shouts in the background, but then I never do. Without those I’d be willing to listen to this more. It’s a curio which is almost ruined by those repeated ‘yeah’s as they increase in frequency towards the end to the point that I had to stop the song early.

Holy Water: A more dance influenced, near rap from Madonna. It has some sex noises in the chorus. I could do with some more bass in the verse – something really dirty would have made it grind in a more sweaty, sexy way. At least the chorus doesn’t collapse like so many of the others. It’s nice that she’s still singing about her vagina. And that she’s referencing and sampling herself. An interesting one for sure, but I’m not sure there’s enough melodic quality for me to listen to it again.

Inside Out: There’s a dirtier fuzzier bass which should have been in the previous song. This is a stronger second half than the first. The verse is solid enough, then the chorus goes all Sia. That’s always a good thing. It’s not top tier Sia, or top tier Madonna, but definitely good enough that I’ll happily hear it again.

Wash All Over Me: Sole piano keys open and traverse the verse and a fair melody spreads itself out. The chorus is better, but it’s lacking something – a key change, another push? I don’t know, I just feel a tiny sense of frustration that it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to. It’s a good song to end the album with – a B song which doesn’t unleash the sadness or hope or whatever extra emotional push it is I was hoping for to shunt it into A.

So… it’s another good album. Solid. There aren’t as many true stand out tracks which I see making my long term playlist, but there is a long list of songs which just miss out and a short list consisting of average or crap. It once again confirms that when Madonna keeps things simple and builds a song around a melody rather than an idea or trend, that’s when she’s at her best; that’s when she still makes great pop songs. The worst moments are when she goes too experimental to the point that the song stops being a song, or when she copies what others are doing (chorus drop). There are some annoying quirks – backing shouts and vocals being the main offender, but when the song is good I can mostly overlook those. We’re almost caught up with Madonna now and I must admit that I didn’t expect to enjoy her post Ray Of Light stuff as much as I have. Sure there has been some crap, but there have been plenty of songs added to my playlist – and a few of those are from this album.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Ghosttown. Hold Tight. Joan Of Arc. Inside Out.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Rebel Heart!

Anneke: Live In Europe

*Originally written in 2011

Live In Europe | Anneke van Giersbergen

Although Anneke had released a live album the previous year with Danny Cavanagh, this is her first solo live release. An accomplished live performer whose energy, passion, and voice is as strong on stage as in the studio, this was undoubtedly an album to look forward to for fans when it was announced. The main issues to overcome with these sorts of albums are whether the songs selected will please as many fans as possible, whether the songs selected transfer well to a live performance, and whether it feels like a cheap cash-in or a genuine, love-filled release.

‘Intro’ is a mixture of applause and guitar noise from The World alongside other assorted backing sounds, building up the crowd nicely.

‘The World’ opens the gig, an opener that I’m not 100% convinced by – it has a nice build up, but isn’t an immediate crowd pleaser or one which will whip the audience into a frenzy. There are a number of other tracks in the Anneke canon, even on In Your Room which I feel would work better as an opening track to a live show, but regardless it is performed well, has an edge, and gets things going.

‘My Girl’ comes in straight after the first track with no time for catching you breath in between. The focus seems to be on the heavier side of Anneke’s tracks so far, with the distorted guitars giving this one a bit more bite than the studio release. Anneke enjoys herself here, in particular belting out the ending ‘ooh-ahhs’.

‘Who I Am’ is, as Anneke explains, a song written with Mr. Devin Townsend – a figure Anneke continues to partner with fruitfully. This is a fun song, with bouncing rhythms, catchy verses, and eventually a fantastic chorus which lets the vocals soar. A highly enjoyable song which I’d love to see get a studio release.

‘Day After Yesterday’ is one of my least favourite Anneke songs, and even though it is played and performed well here, I don’t think it translates well to the live setting, at least not how it is arranged here. Perhaps an even slower, colder, ghostly version, with a backing choir would convince me otherwise.

‘Hey Okay’ on the other hand is one of my favourite Anneke tracks, although it sounds a little flat here, not really picking up until the guitar solo comes in. Anneke sounds a little breathless singing here, and I’ve heard better live versions on YouTube.

‘Fury’ is my highlight of the album, an awesome, up tempo rock song with nice guitar work and excellent vocals. It’s another that I’d love to see a studio release for, thanks to its brilliant chorus and impactful verses.

‘Beautiful One’ is another strong track (and a better opener in my opinion) which is given new life in the new setting. The song lends itself to a variety of potential arrangements, here going for a much more bombastic chorus with crashing guitar work and angelic vocals.

‘Adore’ again is one of my favourites, and it’s great to see it here as live shows and special re-recorded albums never feature my favourite tracks. This one I imagine isn’t the easiest to sing with its diving and rising melodies, but Anneke does a stellar job on it. It isn’t too different from the studio version, a few less instruments and less complex, but a few added vocal flourishes.

‘I Want’ also translates well to the live arena, with bouncing rhythms which threaten the crowd into jumping along. Another fun song, there isn’t anything complicated here, or much I can say to criticize it.

‘Laugh It Out’ is an interesting one in that it never stays in my memory long, but I always enjoy it thoroughly when I hear it, having forgotten all about its existence. More great verse and chorus work, another one with a fast pace, this one sees Anneke shouting goodnight to the crowd towards the end – another one which it would be nice to see a studio version of.

‘Witnesses’ seems on paper live a totally bizarre choice for a live release, but it surprisingly works well. It’s a raucous recording, I enjoy her pronunciation of ‘universe’ and it has an extended, bruising ending.

‘Shrink’, while obviously being the closer to Nighttime Birds seems like an odd choice of song to close this album with, given that the rest of the songs were on the heavier, louder, more distorted side. It’s a little jarring for this to be thrown in at the end, being such a soft, slow song. And although the rest of the band come in and try to do something a little different with it, those changes don’t always work, and within the context of the album, they don’t save it from being a strange closing track. I’ve never heard a legitimate heavy version of the track, maybe they should have went all out and done a full on rawk version, although that could have been a failure.

An essential release for Anneke fans, albeit let down by a short running time, the absence of some great songs (subjective of course), and a fairly average recording quality – there is a lot of  hissing and extra distortion in the background, the vocal mic seems much too loud and at times the volume isn’t consistent. That being said though, these are mostly minor complaints – what we do have is a great bunch of songs performed with relish, a few nice exclusives, and another worthy purchase. There isn’t a lot of audience interaction, and I don’t hear much noise coming from the crowd between tracks, though again that would be subjective and something I enjoy hearing on Live records that others may hate. Hopefully we’ll get a much fuller live release in the future, one with a stronger production, and hopefully an accompanying DVD!

Anneke Van Giersbergen – Everything Is Changing

* Originally written in 2012

ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN - Everything Is Changing - Tour 2012

Anneke’s 4th studio album is all about change; the album title suggests as much at first glance. Not long before the release Anneke abandoned the Agua De Annique moniker after admitting that it wasn’t the easiest or most recognizable name. Musically there are more changes, though fans should not be apprehensive as there is nothing drastically different- longtime fans will know what to expect. This is largely another melody driven, guitar laden rock album which moves from outrageously catchy commercial moments to tear-jerking quiet moments and with plenty of pace and power in between.

‘Feel Alive’ is the lead single from the album, one with another buoyant video and excited delivery. With this third release, and with the band name changing from Agua De Annique to simply Anneke’s name, we see a confident performer now blazing her own trail and free to explore whatever ideas and sounds she desires. This excitement and freedom is clear in every note and lyric in the song, an upbeat song with a nice build-up so a soaring payoff chorus; A jubilant declaration of love.

‘You Want To Be Free’ is another upbeat track, this time more of a rock song than the lighter first track. Another love song of sorts, it speaks of the indecision in relationships and sounds like the advice of a friend. There are a couple of standout moments here, the bridges, the main riff, and the ‘yeah yeah’ middle section, though the chorus and verses are not the most memorable.

‘Everything Is Changing’ is a softer, slower, piano driven song with stuttering, yet ethereal verse vocals. As the title track it isn’t as epic as you would expect, with a decent chorus but doesn’t catch the ear. It’s an ok song, well sung of course, just a little bland.

‘Take Me Home’ quickens the pace again, another decent rock/pop crossover with piano and guitar riffs merging as well as some studio magic to give the impression of a wide-ranging wall of sound style production. This one is catchy enough, with another good chorus, but may lack the all-important killer ingredient.

‘I Wake Up’ opens with an unusual drum loop and synth section which pulls in and out in a tidal fashion. This one always gives me the impression of a lost Pet Shop Boys song, but with all the camp removed. Anneke sounds like she is very close to the listener’s ear for the verses on this one, and the chorus is another good one – a slightly eerie feel to it.

‘Circles’ may be Anneke’s strongest song yet, a teary piano led ballad with emotive lyrics about loneliness, hope, and of course the circles of our lives. Again, there is an eerie nature here, but that is overcome by the gorgeous, emotional vocal performance. With a massive chorus, exquisite middle section, and glorious close as the violins join in, this is the true centerpiece of the album.

‘My Boy’ has a tough act to follow, but it’s arguably the best straight rock song Anneke has written so far. With a classic snare intro and simple, but awesomely effective riff, this is a mid-paced guitar, drum, bass driven song with beautiful verse melodies. There is also some studio trickery as the song progresses, but the best moments are the build up to the wonderful chorus – bridge and chorus are both perfection, blending together and building to a climactic eruption (more like the build-up and scoring of a winning goal than what you’re thinking about). My favourite bit though is the ‘even though I’m crazy about my boy’ section, beautifully belted out and adding an extra level to an already euphoric chorus.

‘Stay’ is a fairly heavy song as Anneke goes, with loud, bouncing Led Zep style riff, and delightfully vicious lyrics. It’s another one where the verse, bridge, chorus all meld together wonderfully, building and bleeding into each other. We even get that killer ingredient, after a short instrumental interlude, as Anneke adds a final, different bridge right at the end.

‘Hope, Pray, Dance, Play’ has the appeal of another single with its big intro and sing-along chorus. It’s another decent track, but it doesn’t have that touch which makes it click with me personally, especially coming after a killer trio of songs.

‘Slow Me Down’ is a fast paced rocker, fueled by muted chords in the verses and lifted by a fist-pumping chorus. Nice, quick shooter lyrics, another effective middle section, and a few moments of vocal brilliance (aside from the usual expected brilliance of course) ensure this is another one to put on repeat.

‘Too Late’ opens with another crushing riff, a lighter Pantera, allowing Anneke to spit out some further angry lyrics. Vocals and guitars work particularly well here, with the sudden stuttered guitar blasts punctuating and mirroring Anneke’s words.

‘1000 Miles Away From You’ closes the album, a choice which I’ve always seen as an odd one. I’ve always felt that the closing track of an album should be instantly memorable, a slam of a door that you will want to open again. For an album that has mostly been on the heavy side, this one has an epic feel, again calls back that eerie, angry tone, but doesn’t stick in my mind as much as others for some reason. Listening again with a pseudo-critical ear, it is slow, without being plodding, veering between quiet and loud pieces, but the middle interlude doesn’t work, sounding an awful lot like a similar section in The Gathering’s song ‘Home’. Rather than going out with a bang though, it drags its heels for the final minute.

The heaviest album Anneke has made since leaving The Gathering, this is a great rock record with a superb production. There is a wide scope in the theme of the songs, allowing Anneke to sing with a greater range of emotion than she usually does, from a lyrical perspective. There are introspective moments, and there are moments of rage; there are dedications and warnings, apologies and consternation. While there are less standout commercial tracks here, there is still a handful of songs which deserved to shoot up the charts in any country, while the rest are weighed heavily in the cult or fan favourite character, rather than the album filler one. Ultimately, it’s another vital release for fans, and contains a number of songs which would certainly win over new fans if they had the opportunity to hear them.

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – This House Is Not For Sale!

Bon Jovi, 'This House Is Not for Sale': Album Review

Greetings, Glancers! I seem like I say this every post, but we’re definitely getting towards the end of this Bon Jovi series. The only things I know about this album are thus; it has that creepy house from The Outer Limits as its cover, I keep thinking it’s a compilation (it’s not), and it’s the first album to not feature Ritchie ‘Hat Luvin’ Sambora. The things I don’t know about this album; everything else. Lets do this.

This House Is Not For Sale‘ is the opener, the title track, and was a single. Not a hugely successful one it seems, but that’s to be expected this deep into their career. Without Sambora, in these early moment it doesn’t seem like their sound has changed – similar tone and there are still backing vocals to fill the gap. It’s a bouncy pop rock song with a couple of hooks in the chorus. The verse is tame, but still catchy. A solid opener without excelling in any particular direction.

Living With The Ghost‘ fades in with a charging dash of guitar, piano, and drums. The verses have the feel of an anthem, hopefully building to a satisfying chorus. It’s not 100% satisfying, but it’s fine. I wish he’s gone for a higher not on ‘ghost’ to really reach for the more emotive sound. Plus, picking the higher note would have opened up the melody in the second chorus line to be less samey than the first. Mr X, if that is your real name, pulls out a simple enough solo before the song withdraws and the vocals take the lead for a quieter piano based section. They keep it gentle for a while before building up the volume for a final run at the chorus. Two fan-pleasing songs.

Knockout‘ is another single, feels more pulsating than the opener. It’s another return to the defiant ‘we can do this’ spirit of their early singles, using boxing imagery to get the point across. It’s another decent lighter rock song, with enough energy to bring in a varied audience. Good melodies and the backing vocals provide an extra hook.

Labor Of Love‘ immediately makes me think of Dark Shines by Muse, which is quite funny. It’s the same guitar tone, and obviously that relates back to Wicked Game. It’s a ballad, but with a little more energy. I’m not convinced by the vocal approach, but I can look it over. The vocals and song open up somewhat for the chorus. Yeah, it’s another good song. I would have picked different vocal and drum approach. Each of these songs so far I’d happily hear again, but I’m not sure any have the power to make my long term playlist.

Born Again Tomorrow‘ is another rallying call for people to live their lives and make the best decisions so that they won’t regret anything. It’s a pretty nifty song, with a little touch of dance synth in the background. It’s very much in the vein of their bigger songs and I feel like it would have been a hit if it was released at their peak. Big chorus, big verses, plenty of moments to sing along to, and a good solo to top it off.

Roller Coaster‘ is one of those terms which always finds its way into music – criticism and lyrics and song titles. This attempt at a roller coaster song begins well, steady beat and decent pace, quiet, good melodies. It builds and builds, and the chorus is a good one. I’m almost certain I’ve heard this melody in the chorus before, but I can’t place it. There is something odd going on with Jon’s vocals here, its throughout the album but it’s noticeable in the chorus – it sounds like he’s had a little work done post recording, just to even out any rough edges. This is a very catchy and sweet song, another which I think would have been more impactful in the mid 80s to early 90s.

New Year’s Day‘ continues the same tempo and uplifting feel as the previous track. Most of the album has been very positive in tone so far. Lots of songs touching on new beginnings, moving forwards, taking life’s turns. All the videos are cheesy as f*ck and it’s a little sad seeing how old the guys now look. Getting old sucks. Still, this feels like another hit though it’s very much a re-tread lyrically and musically of many of the previous songs.

The Devil’s In The Temple‘ opens with Physical Graffiti era chords before plunging into an optimistic slow tempo rock verse. The tempo has the vibe of a deeper urgency bubbling beneath the surface, as if a faster beat wants to unleash but is being held down. The song doesn’t really have a chorus – or at least the chorus feels more like a pre-chorus. There’s something enchanting but all over there is that sense of holding back – not restraint, but physically forcing something else back to stop it from erupting. I guess that is restraint. I think I would have preferred the eruption.

Scars On This Guitar‘ is surely a ballad with a name like that. Yes, acoustic guitar and piano. Singing about Friday nights again. It feels like we’ve been here before. Something weird going on with Jon’s vocals in the higher register moments. Look, we’ve heard them do songs like this before but it’s still good, inoffensive, and fans will surely lap it up. It could have been better for me with one simple change – when he sings ‘nowhere left to run to’, if he had gone for a higher note on the ‘to’ it would have peaked the emotion instead of leaving it as it currently stands – middle of the road emotion rather than yanking my soul out through my nostrils. It’s a lovely, gentle song for married couples everywhere.

God Bless This Mess‘ is… fine. I’m running out of platitudes or interesting things to say about these songs. You know by this point what you’re getting – it’s generally well written, it doesn’t have any edge but you can dance to it in a crowd, it has a pleasing enough chorus. There’s no blistering solo, not much in the way of harmonies, but if you’ve always been a Bon Jovi fan or if you’ve just discovered them through their bigger hits, you should like this to. If anyone else had recorded the song it would sink without a trace, but as it’s Bon Jovi it’ll find an audience – the audience it was designed to find.

Reunion‘ opens like a U2 song without the Edge’s delay effects. Another pleasant song. Good verse which builds neatly to another tame but catchy chorus. It’s wholesome, it’s hopeful. It looks back and looks forward. It’s one of those songs, and Bon Jovi are one of those bands who make me wish I had been an American teen in the 80s, falling in love, growing old together – the band has always had a way of making this feel so appealing and vital. It’s another winner for long time fans, for someone like me it’s another decent, average MOR rock song that I’ll have forgotten in a day’s time but wouldn’t complain if I were to hear it again.

Come On Up To Our House‘ is the closer. As much as I have enjoyed this album – or maybe as much as it hasn’t pissed me off – I’m still holding out hope for that one killer song from the band. Just out of nowhere, another Livin On A Prayer  or Always or Bed Of Roses. Maybe this is it. It’s clear within the first five seconds that it’s not this one. A sweet closer. Welcoming. Mid-slow tempo. Quiet and tame but nice. The musical equivalent of sitting with a sleeping cat on your lap and doing absolutely nothing while not being aware of the nothing you’re doing. It doesn’t feel like an album closer but it’s as good a song as any to complete this batch of songs.

Very much like the more recent Madonna albums I’ve listened to, I’m surprised by how much I have enjoyed these songs. None of them are life-changing, and while Madonna is still updating her sound somewhat, Bon Jovi are happy doing what they’ve always done – they’re a little softer, they don’t have has much energy, the passion has less edge, but the songs are still fun. This is another collection of big bouncy songs which longstanding Bon Jovi fans will lap up. There isn’t a lot of variance on the album – even between ballads and heavier tracks – they mostly follow a very familiar format but there are still enough hooks and melodies that most listeners should be pleased. In this era of manufactured guff and songs specifically designed to only be consumed by the youngest age brackets, it’s good to have easy nostalgic Rock music to fall back on, being made by the very people who we grew up with and who played the music of our own youth.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Living With The Ghost. Knockout. Roller Coaster. Scars On This Guitar.

Let us know in the comments what you think of This House Is Not For Sale!

Nightman Listens To – Chloe X Halle – Ungodly Hour (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! For any fans of this series or those who want to know my thoughts on 2020’s best releases, I apologise for the lack of posts so far. In the real world family and work have taken priority, while in the Blogging world my Marillion posts have been my most frequent commitment. I’ve no idea how many Marillion albums are left, but given the last album I covered was released in 1998, we’re surely closer to the end than the beginning – Watch my face drop as I find out Marillion went on to release 1 album every year since 1999.

But we’re not here to talk about Marillion, for a change. We’re here to talk about Chloe X Halle. I have no idea what that is or what that means or even how to say it. Is it literally ‘Chloe ex Halle’, is it ‘Chloe cross Halle’, ‘Chloe times Halle, Chloe and Halle’ etc. And how do you pronounce ‘Halle’? Is it ‘hally’ or ‘Halley’, or ‘Haley’ or is it meant to rhyme with Chloe? Does it matter? Is it a band, is it one vocalist, is it two vocalists? I don’t know and I don’t believe I’d even heard whatever this is mentioned anywhere before putting together this list, not in YouTube comments, not in passing, not anywhere. Perhaps the album cover will give me an idea.

Album Review: Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle Right, we have two women, with two arses (one each), and two sets of wings which I assume are supposed to look sleek and heavenly, but kind of look like swimming pool inflatables. Are these the singers, or is this just some random image by a rock band? Lets go with these being the singers, which would fit with the name. Angels, Ungodly, are we going for lots of religious iconography and ideas? Oh Lordy, it’s not a Christian music album is it? The cover seems too sexy for that, but then every dick and their associated arse and cleavage identify as Christian these days, so who the hell knows. I would prefer garbage pop over Christian garbage. Actually, as long as the music is good I probably won’t care what the genre is, as long as they’re not trying to force some Creationist agenda down my gullet. I get enough of that as it is, thankee-sai.

Lets get on with it. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this given my complete lack of knowledge, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, it’s my favourite of all of the 2020 albums I’ve listened to as part of this journey so far. For anyone not aware, it’s a Pop R’n’B album entrenched in the past as much as the present. There’s a retro 90s, early Noughties feel, a pre-Destiny’s Child vibe calling up the likes of TLC… All Saints…. it’s not my area of expertise. Mostly I imagined it as an X-Rated version of Sister Sister. While it is undoubtedly a modern Pop album, meaning it suffers from many of the main negative trappings of current Pop (weak and inconsequential drum sounds, surface simplicity, copy paste pronunciation, slightly compressed sound, overly digital), there is enough of the Disco influenced late era Motown to keep me happy. While I do have issues, on the whole I could overlook those thanks to the album’s strengths – melody and authenticity. It feels like the girls love music; listening, making, and performing it. You can hear their influences. There are genuine hooks. They have genuine voices and don’t rely heavily on autotune to make them sound good or use it as a stylistic choice, at least until we get to the lowlight of the album – Catching Up.

The album eased me in and allowed me to relax into the journey without worrying that I was going to hate the entire experience. The appropriately named Intro sets up the album’s qualities – the vocal melodies and harmonies – and the angelic, subtly epic tone is a world away from most of the manufactured junk I hear whenever I dip in and out of the Top 40. Those qualities lead directly in to Forgive Me, the first of many supremely infectious songs which is let down by some vocal choices more to do with my preferences than any real show or lack of skill. This, the title track, Baby Girl and others feel like they could be Club or Radio hits and crucially also work as something to chill to at home.

The album manages to subvert one of the biggest issues which has plagued modern pop for at least a decade, and which has plagued Dance music since Day One – those songs are designed purely for a huge audio system and to be danced to in a group setting with no care given for those of us who actually want to appreciate the thing on our own, to appreciate the thing as a piece of art. Having not seen any videos or live performances by the pair, I did have difficulty distinguishing between the two vocal parts. I’m not as close to their individual voices. That doesn’t mean the girls sound the same – their voices obviously work wonderfully together and in certain songs it is clear when one takes over from the other – I Wonder What She Thinks Of Me being a great example of them seemingly trying to one-up each other. I don’t know enough to say that x part was Chloe and y part was Halle. I don’t even know if those are their real names. Even with the vocal quality, the girls add in their own humour and twists – it’s one thing to sing badly because you can’t do better, or to use Autotune because, well because everyone else does, but it’s a different class to write a song called Tipsy, a song about getting drunk and murdering your boyfriend, and sound like you’re drunk while singing it. It’s not exactly big or unique, but it is funny and a sign of the creative balls the girls have.

Continuing with the creativity on display, I did love the little transitions between many of the tracks – seamless and give the album the impression of a journey through the mind (or minds) of these women as they move from relationship to relationship via guilt, forgiveness, jealousy, warnings, joy, and a fair old dose of the horn (as we say over here). This isn’t a Concept album, but there are concepts tying the ends together, and while there are clear and potent messages approaching Feminism, it’s not some man-hating tome or purely a show of solidarity for women. The attacks on men are tongue in cheek, even if there is genuine vitriol, but they poke fun at themselves and admit their own flaws in equal measure. It’s an album not afraid to say that we’re all messy, we’re all beautiful, and we’re all capable of fucking up. No matter if the song is about keying someone’s car or receiving dick pics from some player, it’s all done with humour not usually heard in the Top 40. While other artists go all in on the graphic detail in their attempts to be shocking or amusing (cough cough Minaj), those flat attempts at bravado are laughable only because they’re so bad. Chloe X Halle strike the right balance between truth and humour.

We do need to talk about Catch Up. As mentioned, it’s the low point of the album. It’s the stock .feat song of the album. Some bloke, who I won’t dignify by finding out his name and adding it here, guest performs on the song and it’s the usual heavily autotuned, incredibly whiney vocal. There must be a hell of a lot of people out there who like this type of singer, this type of accent, but I just don’t get it. The girls are not entirely immune from odd decisions – while some of the accents and affectations pay off, they are less successful in the likes of royl. Those moments are few and far between and a misstep like Catch Up (and even that would be a good song without the shitty vocals) sounds like a completely different artist from the one who crafted the pop excellence of Don’t Make It Harder On Me and Wonder What She Thinks Of Me. Those two tracks in particular I will happily stick on my personal playlist – the pure Motown joy of the former, complete with funky bass and jangling guitars, and the exquisite emotional anguish of the latter.

Returning to the lyrics – often the most blatant bane of modern Pop – it’s the humour, emotion, and authenticity which allows what are not the most poetic or fierce rhymes to stand out. Like the majority of your Top 40, where almost every song is about love (or ostensibly, sex), the girls explore what it’s like to be a young woman keeping your head above water amidst the torrential storms of modern romance. Baby Girl is an anthem for girls everywhere expected to live up to society’s expectations and sacrificing their spirit simply to survive in a world beyond their control, while Royl could be a lyrical extension which pleads for the listener, boy or girl, to ‘live tonight’. It wouldn’t be a Pop album without the junk party lyrics about turning up late with a crew, and both ‘boo’ and ‘bae’ used liberally, and annoyingly. We’ve reached the point (we reached it long ago) in Pop that lyrics are basically meaningless, certainly artless, so while I don’t feel the need to comment much on them, these are at least more honest, less shitty, than what I typically hear sludging out of iTunes.

This is the first album in my list of Best 2020 albums that I will listen to again beyond the publishing of this post. While I didn’t know what I was getting into, I had an inkling it would be some overhyped standard chart balls, but the triple threat strengths of the vocals, melodies, and conviction was enough to shred any of the bias I may normally have against this sort of music. It’s enough to put the girls on my radar and to make me want to check out anything else they’ve done and will do in the future.

Album Score

Sales: 3. I would have assumed this one set the charts and sales alight, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. It sold better than their debut, but it warranted a quick re-release. Sometimes that’s a positive because the album or a single did so well so it raises awareness of the thing again, or it can be a negative to try to scrape out a few additional sales due to underperforming. I would go a 2 here, but a few of the singles performed well enough to push me into giving a 3.

Chart: 2. It did well enough upon release, in the US at least, but the fact that it didn’t reach the Top 10, and didn’t even reach the Top 70 in the UK, means we have to mark this down. You can’t go higher than a 3 with this, but by all accounts this was not a chart hit.

Critical: 4. I might allow a 5 here, but I don’t think you can go lower than a 4. The album received three Grammy nominations (didn’t win) and appeared in many Best Of Year lists, including a few notable Number 1 finishes. For me it doesn’t quite reach the heights of a five, but I understand if you think it does.

Originality: 3. Not my wheelhouse but it felt fresh enough to me, different enough from what I normally hear in the Top 40. Nothing startling in the music or lyrics or production, but sometimes simply getting back to basics and nailing your melody and sense of self makes you stand out from the so called trend setters and followers. A flat three for me.

Influence: 3. I’m torn between a 2 and a 3 here. I don’t think it was a big enough success that others will jump on the bandwagon and say ‘hey, maybe not singing like a twat and not singing about bullshit is a good idea’. I hold out hope that the critical success of the album, and its quality, might rub off on some younger listeners instead of the wide array of crap out there. It’s a 2 or a 3, but lets be positive.

Musical Ability: 3. A tricky one because I don’t believe the girls actually play any instruments or display any traditional musical ability. Their melody and vocals we can discount because they have their own section and score. Any pop album, even as mass produced and digital as they are now, will be lifted up by a team of musicians. Those guys do their job adequately here, without standing out or delivering any wow moments.

Lyrics: 3. It’s better than your standard pop, but your standard pop is at best a 2 in this category.

Melody: 4. I thought there would have been a 4 before this category, but nope. This is one of the hallmarks of the album, and of the things I respect most in music. Even ignoring how bad their contemporaries are in this category, it’s a showcase of how to do melody right.

Emotion: 4. Another highlight, even while only a small number of songs hit any real heights. Elsewhere those heights are not needed and the emotion is often bubbling under the surface, visibly, audibly. In addition, the enjoyment of singing and of music comes across.

Lastibility: 3. I worry that this won’t have any real staying power because it wasn’t a hit. Time will tell if its quality will see it outlast the more immediate success of its contemporaries. It could be a 2, but the fact that I’ll continue to listen to it over and above and beyond those contemporaries is enough to earn a 3.

Vocals: 4. A few dubious decisions and guests aside, this is a great vocal effort. Shedding those and we could be talking a 5. It’s not the vocals on their own, but the dual attack, the expression, the harmonies, and the wit creatively employed.

Coherence: 4. It feels like a journey or a day in the life. Thematically and musically it ties together, and plenty of the songs bleed into one another due to

Mood: 3. I’m tempted to give a 4 here, based on what I’ve already mentioned about the album feeling like a collection of club hits and a journey through someone’s mind. I’m not sure it quite nails enough of either mood or tone to earn a 4 from me, so I’m going with a 3. 

Production: 4. I was going to go 3 here, but I should remove as much of my own bias as possible. While I don’t personally like some of the choices, arrangement, and sounds used, there is no doubt that the producers are at the top of their game, everything is levelled well, and it does strike that balance between home listening at blasting out of a club’s sound system. 

Effort: 4. Without knowing in detail the story behind the writing and recording of the album it is difficult to accurately score this one. What seems to be true is that the girls raised their game from their debut – often the most difficult task for an artist is to improve upon their first album and overcome any hype it may have had. It seems like while their original album wasn’t huge, this has built upon its foundations. It is a short album, sometimes that hints at a lack of ideas or effort, but I don’t believe that is the case here.

Relationship: 3. As a thirty something married white bloke from Northern Ireland whose partying days are over, and were never something I cared much for anyway, I’m not exactly who this album is designed for. I don’t need to worry about most of the issues raised in the album and it’s not a sub genre of Pop I’ve ever been invested in. Still, the music made me interested in the artist and what they were talking about – at least to the point that I’m curious to hear their debut. 

Genre Relation: 3. I’m not best placed to answer this given the complete lack of knowledge I have around this sort of music. In the wider genre of ‘Whatever Is On The Charts’ it certainly relates in terms of style, tone, and theme and with a lot of the same positives and negatives I ascribe to the type of music. Whether it’s better or worse, whether it is a game-changer I don’t know. I know I liked it more than most crap in the charts.

Authenticity: 4. The overall impression I had from the album – the voices, the lyrics, the production, was of a home-grown talent rather than something manufactured and showered with money. The people involved have a love of music past and present, and that shone through.

Personal: 4. I could go a 3 here, but I think that would be playing into my bias too much. I enjoyed this quite a lot, and it surprised me (by not being shit). Given the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, that 90% of it didn’t annoy me, and that I’ve been humming many of the songs to myself over the past few weeks… I think it deserves a Personal score of 4.

Miscellaneous: 3. Not much to say – music videos are fine, artwork is fine, girls seem cool. A standard positive 3. 

Total: 68/100

think that’s the highest score so far in my 2020 albums. Not by much, mind you. This is a decent score – thinking how difficult it would be to get a 5 in any of the categories. I’m hoping we’ll get one or two albums passing the 70 mark but I doubt we’ll get anything in the 80s. I care less about the score than my feelings about the album and how many of the songs I plan on listening to after publishing this post. Let us know in the comments what you think of Ungodly Hours!

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Review: Tokyo Vampire Hotel

What the balls!? I feel like I could begin any post about Sion Sono with that time-honoured phrase, and I could probably just end the review right there. That wouldn’t be fair to the madcap artistry of Sono, or his fans, or anyone who stumbled upon this very odd Amazon Prime show from the Japanese master. Having been a fan of Sono’s work since the late 90s or early 2000s, a part of me wants to get all of these posts out of the way so that once his first US movie is released – the upcoming Prisoners Of The Ghostland In starring Nic Cage – people will have a nice spot to find reviews of his other work. And party because everyone Tom, Harry, and Dickhead who has never watched a foreign movie in their life is going to jump on the bandwagon, assuming Prisoners is going to be as wacky and successful as I’m hoping. 

A very brief intro to the dude if you’re new here, or to Sion Sono; he’s a Japanese movie and TV director, and he also writes. He is one of a batch of very interesting and unique Japanese filmmakers whose work divides opinion and is frequently controversial, bewildering, and critically acclaimed. If there’s one aspect which sets him apart from his peers, I would offer that it’s his use of music and editing – songs and recurring score motifs feature heavily in his work, and he frequently breaks rules and fourth walls with his editing and directing techniques. Most people will know of his work either by name or by notoriety – Suicide Club (famous for its opening shot of school girls leaping to their deaths in front of a train), Tag (already meme bait thanks to its wacky intro where a bus of school kids and teachers are sliced in half by an invisible force), and Tokyo Tribe (an unusual Japanese hip hop musical). He started out in the 80s as a director of ‘Pink Movies’ and has tried his hand (successfully) in most genres you can think of – straight supernatural horror with Exte, poignant drama in The Land Of Hope, thrillers with Cold Fish and Himizu, fantasy courtesy of Love and Peace, and of course whatever the hell Love Exposure (arguably the best film of the last twenty years) is. While he recently did a show with Netflix – the unsurprisingly controversial (and good) The Forest Of Love – he worked with Amazon Studios first on his 9 part series of whatthefuckery known as Tokyo Vampire Hotel.

The title tells you the basics – there’s a hotel in Tokyo used by vampires – but within minutes (and throughout the entire running time) the plot becomes grossly overcomplicated, confusing, and increasingly bizarre. But don’t worry – it’s purposefully silly, it has one fanged tongue firmly in the corner of its mouth, and it’s ridiculously violent and perverse; in short, it’s wonderful. It will be difficult to write about any of this without getting into spoiler territory, but I’ll do my best to summarize the premise without giving too much away – it’s enough to simply say that there are tonnes of characters whose significance wax and wane drastically, and that certain story elements and twists are introduced which may be important and others which seem important but aren’t. A. Lot. Happens.

We begin with a young girl called Minami who is out with her friends one night. Out of nowhere, a violent gang enters the restaurant she’s in and murders everybody. They apparently let Minami live. Then a rival gang comes and there’s a huge shoot-out – everybody wants this girl. Turns out the gangs are from rival vampire clans and a prophecy foretold the importance of Minami, sort of explaining why they are fighting over her. Meanwhile, there’s a fancy pants party going on in an exuberant hotel. It’s an Invitation only affair, and while some of the guests seem to know one another, most are strangers who think they are being selected for some sort of game or dating show. Our host – Yamada – is a charismatic vampire of some respected standing and he informs the guests that they have been purposely selected because of their hyperactive libidos, and that in a few hours time an apocalyptic event is going to end all life on the planet. The sex fiends will be the last surviving people on the world and it will be their job to shag as much as possible and have as many delicious babies as possible so that the vampires have a never-ending food supply. That’s about the gist of everything, but a succession of new plot reveals and characters lets us know that there’s a hell of a lot more going on under the surface – literally.

It is a confusing show and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who bows out early. Anyone already a fan of Sono should stick around, and anyone who becomes curiously invested in any of what’s going on – the story, the characters, the punk tone, the gorgeous and zany look and feel of the things – will be rewarded with layer after layer of bonkers goodness. Everything about the show is wildly over the top – the acting, the violence, the seedy nature, the secrets. Sometimes in a show like this you need an anchor to keep you grounded – maybe you find that in Minami, maybe you find it in the vampire K, maybe it’s your need to find out what the hell the point of any of it is – for me it was simply to enjoy living inside Sono’s brilliant, demented mind for another few hours. The story has plenty of moments of intrigue and the characters who come and go at a moment’s notice all have their charm, but it’s how Sono squishes all of these aspects together in an apparent middle finger to form and expectation which kept me watching until the end. If you’re looking for a satisfying story with a beginning, middle, and end which follows the outlined premise you’ll probably be disappointed, but if you’re after a big pile of wacky stuff to laugh at and tell your mates about all punctuated by moments of sublime cinematic beauty, then Tokyo Vampire Hotel may be for you. There’s nothing like it on the market now – I’m not sure if there has ever been anything like it – and there’s no-one quiet like Sion Sono.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tokyo Vampire Hotel!