Saturday, August 13, 2016

Singles #13: Michael Jackson - Blood On The Dance Floor (1997)

Blood On The Dance Floor was the first single from Michael Jackson's 1997 album Blood On The Dance Floor: HIStory In The Mix, which contained five new songs and eight remixes of tracks from 1995's HIStory album. If the song sounds a bit dated for 1997, it is because it originated during the Dangerous sessions in 1991 but was ultimately not included in the album. It is moulded in the same New Jack Swing style of the other Teddy Riley produced tracks, but less catchy. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the song. It would become MJ's last UK number 1 single.

There were quite a few versions of the single released. I shall start with the most precious one in my collection: the Deluxe Vinyl Set. I managed to snag this during a 2015 trip to Tokyo for only about S$20 and I was over the moon when I found it at Disk Union in Shinjuku. It is supposed to come with a limited edition poster but it is missing. Not surprising, I'm sure the previous owner would have plastered it on his/her bedroom wall already.

It is a 2LP set, with seven tracks of Blood On The Dance Floor and one remix of Dangerous. The first vinyl, Record 1, comes in an orange sleeve and label, while the second vinyl, Record 2, comes in a yellow sleeve and label. It's very pretty.

Here is the tracklist:

Record 1
Side One
1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Dangerous (Roger's Dangerous Edit) [4:41]

Side Two
1. Blood On The Dance Floor (Refugee Camp Mix) [5:26]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (Refugee Camp Edit) [3:20]

Record 2
Side Three
1. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Vocal Mix) [8:56]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Radio Edit) [3:50]

Side Four
1. Blood On The Dance Floor (TMS's Switchblade Mix) [8:37]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (TMS's Switchblade Edit) [3:21]

Next up, the two special edition CD singles. The first one is the Limited Edition Minimax CD, which comes in a very special red, clear disc. It contains three tracks of Blood On The Dance Floor and one remix of Dangerous. Here's the tracklist:

1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Edit) [3:21]
3. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Radio Edit) [3:50]
4. Dangerous (Roger's Dangerous Club Mix) [6:54]

Limited edition minimax CD

The second one is the Special Minimax Edition, which comes in an identical red, clear disc. However, the tracklist is different and it only contains four tracks of Blood On The Dance Floor.

1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Edit) [3:21]
3. Blood On The Dance Floor (Refugee Camp Edit) [3:20]
4. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Radio Edit) [3:50]

Special minimax edition

Next, we have the US version, which comes in a thick jewelcase and the white barcode sticker on the top spine. It contains five tracks of Blood On The Dance Floor and one remix of Dangerous.

1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Edit) [4:10]
3. Blood On The Dance Floor (Refugee Camp Edit) [3:20]
4. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Radio Edit) [3:50]
5. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Mix) [10:00]
6. Dangerous (Roger's Dangerous Club Mix) [6:54]

US version

The next one is the slim jewelcase version, and I have two versions with different tracklists. The first one is made in Austria and it contains three tracks of Blood On The Dance Floor and one remix of Dangerous.

1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Vocal Mix) [8:56]
3. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Mix) [8:37]
4. Dangerous (Roger's Dangerous Club Mix) [6:54]

The second one contains five tracks of Blood On The Dance Floor and its country of origin is unspecified.

1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Mix) [8:38]
3. Blood On The Dance Floor (Refugee Camp Mix) [5:26]
4. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Vocal Mix) [8:55]
5. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Dub) [8:55]

The last one I have is the cardboard sleeve version, manufactured in Australia. It has the exact tracklist as the US version.

1. Blood On The Dance Floor [4:13]
2. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Edit) [4:10]
3. Blood On The Dance Floor (Refugee Camp Edit) [3:20]
4. Blood On The Dance Floor (Fire Island Radio Edit) [3:50]
5. Blood On The Dance Floor (TM's Switchblade Mix) [10:00]
6. Dangerous (Roger's Dangerous Club Mix) [6:54]


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Singles #12: Michael Jackson - Someone Put Your Hand Out (1992)

The song Someone Put Your Hand Out was released in 1992 to promote Michael Jackson's upcoming Dangerous World Tour, which was sponsored by Pepsi. According to Wikipedia, in Europe, there was a contest for fans to collect a winning token from Pepsi products in order to redeem the cassette single. It was also released as a 3-inch CD single in Japan, and it is super rare. I recently managed to acquire a copy at a very hefty price tag, but it's worth it! 

The tracklist is the same for both the cassette and CD single versions:

1. Someone Put Your Hand Out (5:25)

2. Dangerous Medley (6:15) - Highlights from the Dangerous album:
a) Black Or White
b) Can't Let Her Get Away
c) Dangerous 
d) Who Is It
e) Remember The Time
f) Give In To Me
g) Heal The World

Here are pics of the Japan 3-inch CD single:

And here are pictures of the Europe cassette single:

Labels: ,

Friday, January 01, 2016

Best of 2015

I don't blog much anymore, so here's just a quick rundown of my favourite songs from 2015, for my own record purpose, in no particular order:

1. Only Love Can Hurt Like This - Paloma Faith
2. Lean On - Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MØ
3. Can't Feel My Face - The Weeknd
4. Love Me Like You Do - Ellie Goulding
5. Don't Be So Hard On Yourself - Jess Glynne
6. Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
7. Hold Back The River - James Bay
8. Photograph - Ed Sheeran
9. Want To Want Me - Jason Derulo
10. Marvin Gaye - Charlie Puth feat. Meghan Trainor

In other news, I really loved Janet Jackson's new album, Unbreakable. It's been 7 years since her last studio album, Discipline, and I am glad she teamed up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis again and it marks a return to form. It's her best album since 1997's The Velvet Rope. Standout tracks include Dammn Baby, Night, Well Traveled, Broken Hearts Heal and The Great Forever.

Janet recently announced that she would be postponing her Unbreakable tour to undergo an unspecified surgery. I suspect it has something to do with her vocal cords, as she did postpone a couple of dates earlier during the tour under doctor's orders to rest her vocal cords. Hoping she will have a speedy recovery and hit the road soon. I have watched numerous clips of the tour on YouTube and I must say that the choreography is killer. Really hope she will come back to Singapore for another show this year.

The biggest story of 2015 was undoubtedly the return of Adele and how her 25 album smashed all records. To me, the success of the album was no surprise. Adele is the hottest thing in music right now and she appeals to the young and old. Her decision to withhold the album from streaming services like Spotify contributed to its record-breaking sales, but my guess is that even if she were to make the album available for streaming, it would still have sold just as well. It goes to show that people still buy music, but it better be damn good to make them part with their money.

Having said that, I approached the 25 album with caution because I was worried that Adele has become a victim of her own (mega) success, and she can never replicate what she has achieved previously (a little like how MJ released Bad and people were saying it is a flop after the unprecedented success of Thriller). 21 is one of my favourite albums, so I was hoping that 25 would be just as good. Having listened to it a few times, I must say that Adele did not disappoint, and I like the album overall. Highlights so far include Remedy, When We Were Young, Water Under The Bridge, Love In The Dark, Million Years Ago and All I Ask. What a relief.

The other big act that released a new album in December 2015 was Coldplay, whose 7th studio album A Head Full Of Dreams is likely to be their last before they go on an indefinite hiatus. Chris Martin has also hinted that their upcoming tour will also be their last. The first single Adventure Of A Lifetime isn't too bad, but after a quick listen of the new album, I must say that I am not really feeling it. It sounds too poppy and doesn't feel like a real band anymore. Some say that Coldplay has gone Maroon 5, and it is not too far off.

Coldplay have been announced as the headliner of the upcoming Super Bowl halftime show this year, on 7 February 2016. Happy to have them take the stage. It's been a while since the headliner was a band (the past 5 editions featured Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Madonna and Black Eyed Peas). Hope they will make it a memorable one.

Alright, that is all for now. Hopefully, I will have more time this year to keep this blog alive. Happy new year and may 2016 be a better one than 2015!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Best of 2014

As we wrap up another year, it's time to look back at my favourite songs of 2014. Only the Top 5 songs are ranked in order, the rest are just songs that I liked. Without further ado, here we go!

1. Rather Be - Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne
I first heard this song while I was driving on a road trip in Iceland and Scotland, tuned in to BBC Radio 1 and they kept playing this song. It was a breath of fresh air, with the violins and electro drums beats, combined with a super catchy chorus provided by the vocals of Jess Glynne. It's unlike anything I've heard this year. It's warrants repeat listening and I could never get tired of it. Easily my favourite song of the year.

2. Stay With Me - Sam Smith
Sam Smith is the breakout artist of 2014 and deservedly so. His debut album, In The Lonely Hour, is a solid collection of soulful ballads and tunes. It also contains several other hits that I love very much, including the current single, I'm Not The Only One. My friend VW recommended the album to me, and he told me that Sam Smith is the male version of Adele. Quite a good comparison. Thanks VW for that. Stay With Me has received Grammy nominations for Record and Song of the Year, and I sure hope he wins them.

3. All Of Me - John Legend
John Legend is no newbie in the business, having first burst onto the scene in 2004 with his breakout hit Ordinary People. Since then, he has released four albums and won nine Grammy Awards. Not a bad showing. However, with the release of All Of Me, he has scored his biggest hit in his career, and the song has been ubiquitous and inescapable. It's great that piano ballads can still receive heavy airplay and command the upper reaches of the charts (see Adele's Someone Like You and Bruno Mars' When I Was Your Man). All Of Me is a worthy addition to the list and I'm happy that an old school R&B artist like John Legend is still achieving success 10 years after his debut.

4. Ain't It Fun - Paramore
I really loved Still Into You from Paramore's 2013 self-titled album, and that was one of my favourite songs last year. Ain't It Fun didn't grab me immediately but it grew and grew and became Paramore's first Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 10. Following the departures of brothers Josh and Zac Farro in December 2010, Paramore regrouped and came back stronger than ever, and their self-titled fourth album sees them returning in fine form. They have retained their signature sound and Ain't It Fun is one of the highlights on the album. Great fun.

5. A Sky Full Of Stars - Coldplay
This is quite a surprising entry at #5 because I wasn't too fond of Coldplay's latest album, Ghost Stories. I shuddered when I first learned that Avicii had produced this song, and when I first heard it, I bemoaned the fact that Coldplay had sold out and gone EDM. Coldplay are one of the most commercially successful rock bands left today, and after churning out five hit albums of a similar nature, they decided to try something different for this sixth album, and the results are mixed, at best. But A Sky Full Of Stars stands out as one of the best moments on the album, and its soaring chorus is rousing and uplifting. It's a break from the mould, but overall, a successful one.

The rest of the songs that made the list are:

Slave To The Rhythm - Michael Jackson
It was a toss up between Slave To The Rhythm and Love Never Felt So Good, but ultimately, the former made the list because it makes me wanna dance. MJ's vocals are top notch here and full of energy. I think he would have been pleased with this updated version by Timbaland.

Settle Down - The 1975
This was one song that my travel buddy IJ and I really enjoyed during our road trip in Europe earlier this year and we turned it up every time it got played on BBC Radio 1. The guitar riff is simple but killer.

Hey Brother - Avicii
Another favourite from BBC Radio 1 during the road trip travels. Credit to IJ for spotting this song. Not quite Wake Me Up, but almost as good.

Shake It Off - Taylor Swift
Never been a fan of Taylor Swift but you can't deny that she's good, and this song is super catchy it reminded me of Avril Lavigne the first time I heard it.

All About That Bass - Meghan Trainor
Another breakout hit that was everywhere this year. I love the old school sound, the bassline and the "shoo wah wah" harmonies.

Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran
What a year this ginger-haired lad has had! So proud of the success he has achieved. His debut album, +, is one that I listen to every time I'm on a plane or train overseas, and one of my favourite in recent years. His follow-up, x, is slightly less perfect than its predecessor, but it contained many gems. Thinking Out Loud is one of the best songs and a deserving #1 single. I especially love the music video.

Chandelier - Sia
Such an epic song, with a powerful vocal performance by Sia. Titanium was my favourite song of 2012 so I've always had a soft spot for this talented vocalist. Her voice is emotive and packs a punch. The song is a contender for Record and Song of the Year. If Sam Smith doesn't win them both, I don't mind Sia picking up one of them.

Am I Wrong - Nico & Vinz
I actually don't know anything about this Norwegian duo, but I've heard this song on heavy rotation on radio and I liked it immediately. It sounds a little like Sting, and it's a great pop song.

Say Something - A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera
This is soppy, kitschy and should fail by all accounts, but it works and tugs at your heartstrings. The addition of Christina Aguilera is a masterstroke and she delivers a restrained and vulnerable performance, keeping her powerful pipes in check.

Word Crimes - Weird Al Yankovic
2014 has been a great year for Weird Al, with his 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun, becoming his first #1 album on Billboard 200 chart. Always a master of words, he gives us a crash course on grammar in 3 minutes and 45 seconds, in this parody of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines. He hasn't lost his touch after all these years. A must listen.

Problem - Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea
Another one of the inescapable songs this year, Problem is pop and hip-hop at its best. The sound is very 2014, but I have a feeling it won't hold up well when I listen to it again five years from now.

This Is How We Do - Katy Perry
Katy Perry's third album, Prism, didn't catch fire quite as much as Teenage Dream did. It was still successful but not as world-conquering as she would have hoped. The album did contain many hits, but they were just Top 10 hits, not #1 hits. By Katy's standards, it's considered an underachievement. Hope she bounces back with her next album. Having said that, I really like this music video very much. And the song is pretty good too.

And that's a wrap for 2014! Hope 2015 will be another smashing year for music!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fave Songs Of 2012

It's the end of the year again, which means it's time to list down my favourite songs of the year. Actually the order of the songs in the list doesn't really matter - how do you quantify how much more you liked song #14 vs song #15? There is no formula to calculate how much you liked a song, so at best, I can only say the Top 5 songs are ranked in order of preference. The rest of the 15 songs are those I have enjoyed a lot this year. Whenever they are being played on radio, I made sure I turned up the volume and sang along with them.

But I am quite sure about my #1 song of the year - "Titanium" by David Guetta feat. Sia. It's such a powerful song and a lot of it is because of Sia's vocals. She really soars with the song and brings it to another level. Of course, the production is very good too. Some people don't like David Guetta because they think he's a fake DJ and lets the computer do everything.

It's true that these days, the software is so advanced you can create every sound digitally using computers, but there is still a lot to be done in terms of creating the song structure, building up a song to achieve a satisfying climax, layering and using different sounds and beats to elicit different emotions, and also the matter of extracting a good performance out of an artist. That's what a producer does. And Guetta is a very good producer and he uses all the tools at his disposal to make these hit songs. Yes, some of his songs are overproduced and sound alike, but many of them are still very good.

The rest of my list consists of more organic-sounding songs. David Guetta is great, but 90% of Top 40 airplay is dominated by songs that are from a factory line of similar sounding beats and sounds. As a result, I get fatigued when I listen to the radio for too long. That's why it is always a breath of fresh air to hear an artist with a voice like Adele, or music that is created with real instruments, not made by a computer.

Album Of The Year
In terms of albums, my album of the year is Green Day's "¡Dos!", which I loved the first time I put the disc into my CD player. It is strange because I thought the first album of the trilogy "¡Uno!" was underwhelming, so I wasn't expecting much from the second installment. But it just blew me away. Every song is so catchy and concise. There are no big messages or concepts, just all out party and rock & roll. I dare say it's even better than their previous studio album "21st Century Breakdown".

It's a hugely under-rated album, mainly because of the unfortunate timing of frontman Billie Joe Armstrong checking into rehab two days before the release of "¡Uno!", throwing all promotional plans for the second and third albums out of the window. It's hard to pick a favourite track from the album, as everything is so good, so I have just picked the lead single "Stray Heart" as its representative in my list of favourite 20 songs.

Without further ado, here are my top 20 favourite songs of 2012!

#1 David Guetta feat. Sia - Titanium
Only Sia can pull this one off. Great vocal delivery.

#2 Regina Spektor - How
This song didn't receive any radio airplay but it holds special meaning because two of my close friends lost someone very dear to them this year. I think this is a beautiful song and Regina Spektor performed it brilliantly at her concert at Esplanade Theatre last night.

#3 Phillip Phillips - Home
I don't watch American Idol so I didn't know this song was the coronation song until radio started playing it. As always, melody is very important for me, and this song had a great melody that I can sing along to.

#4 Katy Perry - The One That Got Away (Acoustic)
Katy first performed a solo acoustic version of this song on the American Music Awards, and this studio version was recorded and included in the "Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection" album repack. I prefer the acoustic version to the original album version, which I felt its tempo was too fast and the arrangement too upbeat for its subject matter. The acoustic version conveys more emotion and Katy wisely doesn't oversing it, keeping a tinge of vulnerability and heartache.

#5 FUN. feat. Janelle Monae - We Are Young
This song was released late in 2011 but it only exploded in 2012. To me, this song deserves the Record of the Year Grammy Award, narrowly edging out Gotye and Kimbra's "Somebody That I Used To Know". The Gotye song is good, but it got sooooo overplayed I got sick of hearing it and it became repulsive, hence its low position on my list. "We Are Young" received a ton or airplay too, but luckily I didn't get too sick of hearing it. It's the anthem of the year for all youths, and reminded everyone that we are still young.

#6 Muse - Madness
I love the wah wah bassline played by Chris Wolstenholme, using an instrument called the kitara. It's brilliant. I also love the arrangement of the song, leading to a very satisfying and emotional climax at the end. One of the best songs ever.

#7 Ed Sheeran - Lego House
Ed Sheeran has been tipped by Billboard to be the breakout star of 2013. Well, America is a little behind because the ginger-haired bloke has been breaking out just about everywhere in the world in 2012. But better late than never. Ed Sheeran is a master songwriter and he's all about simplicity. He doesn't complicate things, keeping the arrangements very simple, allowing his lyrics and emotions to shine through. So he comes across as a very genuine and personable guy, which he is. His debut album "+" has gone quadruple platinum in his native UK (over 1.2 million copies sold), and he is about to take the US by storm, earning a Song of the Year Grammy nomination and touring with Taylor Swift. Well deserved.

#8 Corrinne May - Just What I Was Looking For
Corrinne May is one of Singapore's most beloved singers and she further demonstrated her popularity with the release of "Crooked Lines" earlier this year. The album kept Madonna's "MDNA" album from the top spot at HMV for four weeks. This is perhaps the most upbeat song she has ever recorded, with its catchy "Na na na na na" chorus, making it a big singalong session.

#9 Karmin - Brokenhearted
This song came out at just about the same time as Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe", and both songs sound a little similar. While I felt that "Call Me Maybe" was super irritating, this song by American duo Karmin worked for me. I don't know why, but it just struck a chord.

#10 Green Day - Stray Heart
I was worried that Green Day had lost its mojo after the lacklustre "¡Uno!", but thankfully "¡Dos!" came and changed all that. As mentioned above, it's hard to pick out a favourite track from the album, but "Stray Heart" is my pick because it's radio-friendly and nice to sing along to. Hope Billie Joe Armstrong recovers and tours soon. I'd love to watch Green Day live again.

#11 Adele - Turning Tables
Adele had such a massive year in 2011 and it carried on to 2012, where she scooped up six out of the six Grammy Awards she was nominated for. I still feel it is a waste that she didn't release more official singles or shoot more videos. She could definitely have gotten even more massive and reached "Thriller" levels. But well, it's her decision and I respect that. "Rumour Has It" was the fourth and final official single promoted by the label, and it failed to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #16. The previous three singles "Rolling In The Deep", "Someone Like You" and "Set Fire To The Rain" all hit #1.

I feel that the "21" albums still had at least two singles in it, and one of them is "Turning Tables". Despite not being an official single, it received airplay and charted at #62 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's in a similar vein to "Someone Like You", in terms of being a bare and stripped down piano vocal song, but there's much more anguish and raw emotions here.

#12 Jason Mraz - 93 Million Miles
Some people didn't like Jason Mraz's new album "Love Is A Four Letter" as much as his older ones. It's not as instantly likeable for sure, but it grows on you. I like a lot of songs from the album, like "Be Honest", "The Freedom Song", "Everything Is Sound (La La La)", the hidden track "I'm Coming Over" and even the first single "I Won't Give Up", but "93 Million Miles" stands out the most for me.

#13 Robbie Williams - Candy
Robbie Williams switched labels from EMI to Universal, and in the process, seems to have regained his mojo. His last three albums with EMI ("Intensive Care", "Rudebox" and "Reality Killed The Video Star") didn't exactly flop but didn't set the world on fire either. So it was surprising and a relief to hear his latest single "Candy", a very catchy, upbeat and playful song, like the Robbie of old. The swagger is back.

#14 No Doubt - Settle Down
No Doubt are one of my favourite bands and they've been away for too long - 11 years, as Gwen Stefani pursued a successful career and became a mum. Their comeback album "Push And Shove" has some good songs and the lead single "Settle Down" is one of them. It took me a few spins to like it though. Can't wait to watch them live in concert again.

#15 Beyonce - End Of Time
This song wasn't officially released as a single, as Beyonce gave birth to her first child Blue Ivy and put all promotions on hold. She launched a remix contest for this song but I don't remember the results being published or anything. I would have thought the winning remix would be released as a single or get a video shoot. This live performance video includes footage from her Roseland concert as well as triumphant Pyramid Stage performance at Glastonbury. Great choreography and dancing.

#16 Bruno Mars - Locked Out Of Heaven
It's always going to be tough following up on a massively successful debut album like "doo-wops & hooligans". For his sophomore effort, Bruno Mars decided to pursue his artistic side. While not as commercial friendly, the album showcases his incredible song-writing and singing talent, and it's really a jukebox of sounds, blending retro disco ("Treasure") with Motown blues ("If I Knew"), and reggae ("Show Me") with R&B ("Young Girls"). First single "Locked Out Of Heaven" has been described as being influenced by Sting and it's a good comparison. It took a while to grow on me, and I think it's good that he decided to take some risks rather than churning out the same old hits, which he has proved he is perfectly capable of doing.

#17 Rihanna - Diamonds
Rihanna is the hardest working artist in the music industry today. She has released her seventh album in eight years, and scored an impressive string of hits along the way. "Diamonds" continues her streak of hit songs and has topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts, becoming her 12th chart #1 single. Her singing style is slightly different on this song, maybe it's because she's channeling Sia, who co-wrote the song.

#18 Gotye feat. Kimbra - Somebody That I Used To Know
A good song that got ruined by overexposure, such a pity. But I shall remember it for its merits. It's actually a very simple song, with a very sparse arrangement. The genius part for me was incorporating the "Ba Ba Black Sheep" melody into the song. And the clincher for me is Kimbra, not Gotye.

#19 Rita Ora - How We Do (Party)
Rita Ora is a 22-year-old British singer-songwriter signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label. She's making it big and is one of the stars to look out for. The song borrows its refrain from the late Norotious B.I.G.'s 1993 single "Party And Bullshit", but the version you hear on radio is 'Party and bullsh', which is kinda funny.

#20 Rihanna - Where Have You Been
This is another great dancefloor stomper from Rihanna. In fact, I wanted to include "We Found Love" but I realised I already had it on last year's list. "We Found Love" is still as hot as when it was first released. But for this year's list, I shall settle on "Where Have You Been", making Rihanna the only artist to appear twice.

Honourable mention: PSY - Gangnam Style
For being the phenomenon that it is, and conquering the world over with one billion YouTube views and counting. Amazing.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Collectibles #36: MUSE - The 2nd Law Deluxe Box Set (2012)

The contents of the Deluxe Box Set

The back of the box showing the tracklisting

The box lid is printed with thermal reactive liquid crystal ink, causing it to change colour according to surrounding temperature

I place my warm palm on it...

...and it changes colour to blue!

CD & DVD housed in a 7" hardcover book containing lyrics and pictures

2 heavyweight vinyl albums

3 exclusive 12" art prints

The 2nd Law is the sixth studio album by Muse. With the release of each album, they have solidified their status as one of the most forward looking and consistently brilliant rock bands around. The title of "biggest rock band in the world today" is overused and perhaps impossible to quantify, with the term being liberally applied on U2, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Green Day and Coldplay among others, but Muse have a genuine case of laying claim to the title.

Their album sales may not match Coldplay's or U2's, but they are no slouch themselves. They have sold 15 million copies of their six albums. The 2nd Law became their fourth #1 album in the UK and the fourth fastest-selling album in the UK this year. They are showing signs of breaking into the USA too, with The 2nd Law debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200, becoming the highest charting debut of their career.

They are a hit with critics as well. Their previous album The Resistance won them the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. 2006's Black Holes And Revelations was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize for album of the year. And they are without a doubt, one of the best live bands in the world today, having won the "Best Live Act/Band" awards multiple times - Brit Awards (twice), NME Award (thrice) and Q Awards (thrice).

While those superlatives are all very good and well, at the end of the day, it's all about the music. And I must say the music is damn good. The 2nd Law doesn't surpass Black Holes And Revelations (nothing ever will, and I don't think Muse can ever top that, it's truly their crowning glory), but it showcases a band constantly pushing the musical boundaries while expanding their signature sound.

Much has been said about this being the album where Muse go dubstep, but the "dubstep" sound appears on only two tracks - Unsustainable and Follow Me. Even then, it is hard to tell if Unsustainable is truly a piece of dubstep music. You can never put it past Matt Bellamy to create those dubstep sounds on his guitar, being the virtuoso he is. Personally, I feel that Follow Me could have worked better if it didn't employ the dubstep sound.

The album opens with crunching guitar chords to Supremacy, a grand and massive curtain raiser. Matt Bellamy wails and reaches a crescendo at the chorus, when he sings "supremaccccy". At this point, his voice becomes more than just a voice, it turns into an instrument, like a wailing guitar hitting those high notes.

The mellow lead single Madness follows, representing an abrupt change from the hi-jinks of the opener. On this song, Chris Wolstenholme is the star. Hi double-necked bass/kitara provides the song's wah wah foundation, melding bass with electronica. Matt cleverly opts for an understated guitar solo instead of going over the top, allowing the song to build up nicely and leading to a satisfying climax. Madness is an experiment that worked splendidly, and it is now one of their best songs ever.

The album's best song is its third track, Panic Station. It is undeniably catchy and hits all the right notes. The bassline sounds a little like Queen's Another One Bites The Dust, but it is probably intentional and a middle finger salute to those who have been saying for years that Muse sound like Queen. Nevertheless, it is a great pop song and Matt Bellamy does a fantastic job with his syncopated "special effects" sounds during the verses. The horns add a nice touch to the chorus too. Panic Station is going to be a big hit.

Track four is the Prelude to track five's Survival, and should be considered as two parts of the same song. Survival was chosen as the official theme song of this year's London 2012 Olympic Games, some might say an odd choice. In interviews, Muse have said that Survival was not written specially for the Olympics, but for the album, and they submitted the track for the International Olympics Committee's consideration and they accepted it. It works well with the rest of the album and perhaps one can appreciate it better here than as a standalone track. This is Muse at their most ambitious and it doesn't get any more epic than this, with a powerful choir and full scale orchestra lending support and bringing the song to a furious climax.

My other favourite tracks are Animals and Big Freeze. Animals is set in 5/4 time signature and that instantly makes the arrangement interesting. Matt Bellamy's subtle guitar weaves in and out effortlessly, while Dominic Howard provides a steady hand to the proceedings. The riot ending is a little odd and unnecessary though. Big Freeze is their U2 moment on this album. It is unabashedly upbeat and optimistic, like the best of U2's anthems. Heck, it even references U2's "electrical storm". Another potential radio smash and massive crossover hit.

The 2nd Law is also notable for being the first Muse album to feature bassist Chris Wolstenholme on vocals on not one, but two songs - Save Me and Liquid State. After six albums, he has earned the right, but the songs don't sound like Muse and takes a little getting used to.

On a whole, The 2nd Law is a very good album. I applaud their effort to keep reinventing and keeping their sound fresh, while retaining their signature sound. They are perhaps the most accomplished musicians among all the "biggest rock bands in the world today", and they are as good live as they are on the albums. I can't wait to watch them in concert again and hear them perform all the new songs.

Friday, July 13, 2012

An Interview With Myself (Part 1)

I know it's a somewhat egotistical thing to "interview" myself, but I'm still going to do it anyway's my blog! I can do whatever I want, right? Hell yeah, but I believe it's also an opportunity to share a bit more about myself and my musical tastes and influences, and just why I'm such a big MJ fan after all these years. So here's Part 1 of my interview with myself:

Q: What is one album you've listened to more than any other?
A: (without hesitation) Michael Jackson's Dangerous! It's been 21 years since it was released, but every time I listen to it, it's still like a breath of fresh air. From the moment I hear the shattering glass at the beginning of Jam, I still get the same excitement as I did when I was a kid in school.

Dangerous is the first English cassette tape I ever owned. My classmates gave it to me as a birthday present in 1994, when I was primary 6. So I missed the whole MJ-mania of the Dangerous album from 1991 to 1993, and also when MJ himself came to Singapore and put on the two spectacular concerts in 1993. There was also the first child-molest allegations at the time, which I was quite oblivious to, because I wasn't a fan yet. Back then, I was still listening to Mandarin pop, idolising the "Heavenly Kings" of Hong Kong - Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau and to a lesser extent, Leon Lai. So the Dangerous album was a turning point for me, and you could say it was the one that converted me to English pop music.

By 1995, I was totally hooked on the Dangerous album. That was the year I entered secondary school and joined the school band, playing percussion. As such, my interest in music grew tenfold and I started my musical education. I remember going home after school on Friday afternoons and slotting the Dangerous cassette tape into my dad's hi-fi set, turning the volume way up, blasting it very loudly so I could feel the bass and groove of the songs, especially on Jam and Why You Wanna Trip On Me. And I would dance along to it and sing at the top of my voice.

At that time, I didn't have MTV yet and of course, Internet was still in its infancy. So I immersed into the music of Dangerous fully, without being influenced by the music videos or legacy or scandals about MJ. That's probably the reason why I studied it in depth and loved it so much - because I was fully focused on the quality and intricacies of the music itself.

Later in 1995, my dad bought me my first CDs. Dangerous was one of the very first I owned, even though I already had it on cassette. The others were Bon Jovi's Cross Road, Michael Learns To Rock's Colours and Madonna's Bedtime Stories. Till this day, Cross Road is still one of my favourite albums as well.

I love everything about the Dangerous project. The cryptic album cover. Those mysterious eyes. The memorable and ground-breaking music videos. The jaw-dropping tour. The fact that nine singles were released, and every one of them were good. And of course, the songs themselves were solid.

I believe that Dangerous is MJ's most creative album. No two songs sound alike, and its New Jack Swing sound and vocal performance were such a departure from the Bad album. I would say that the songs were ahead of its time back then, and even today, they don't sound dated at all. They still sound fresh and contemporary.

MJ manipulates his voice brilliantly throughout the album, switching modes effortlessly between staccato rap in Jam, sexy and seductive on In The Closet, warm and uplifting on Heal The World, vulnerable and pleading in Will You Be There, raw and rock on Give In To Me, and sleek and mysterious on Dangerous.

It's a travesty Dangerous didn't get more recognition at the time. It was only nominated for four Grammys (none of them in the major categories), and only won one for Best Engineered Album - Non-Classical, for engineers Teddy Riley and Bruce Swedien.

Dangerous is my favourite album of all time, and definitely the album I've listened to more than any other. It is the first album I will save if my house caught fire.