Friday, July 29, 2005

MTV Video Music Awards 2005

My apologies for not posting for quite some time now, as I was busy with school now that it has reopened again. But anyway, the most exciting awards show is coming and the nominees were revealed on Monday. Here are some of the more important categories:

1. Video of the Year
- Speed Of Sound by Coldplday
- Boulevard Of Broken Dreams by Green Day
- Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani
- Jesus Walks by Kanye West
- Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop Dog featuring Pharrell

2. Best Male Video
- Candy Shop by 50 Cent
- E-Pro by Beck
- Ordinary People by John Legend
- Jesus Walks by Kanye West
- Caught Up by Usher

3. Best Female Video
- 1 Thing by Amerie
- Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani
- Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson
- We Belong Together by Mariah Carey
- La Tortura by Shakira featuring Alejandro Sanz

4. Best Group Video
- Don't Phunk With My Heart by Black Eyed Peas
- Soldier by Destiny's Child featuring T.I. & Lil' Wayne
- Boulevard Of Broken Dreams by Green Day
- Mr. Brightside by The Killers
- Vertigo by U2

5. Best Dance Video
- 1, 2 Step by Ciara
- Lose My Breath by Destiny's Child
- Get Right by Jennofer Lopez
- Lose Control by Missy Elliott featuring Ciara & Fat Man Scoop
- La Tortura by Shakira featuring Alejandro Sanz

So Green Day nabbed the most number of nominations this year with eight nods, followed by Gwen and Missy with six nods each. So this year's VMAs will be held at Miama again, the same venue as last year, where the stars arrived in their yachts instead of limousines. So this year the VMAs will be hosted by P. Diddy, who is the so-called de facto Miami mayor. But really, who cares???

The VMAs used to be the most exciting awards show but sadly, I have found myself wanting for the past two years. Frankly, does anyone remember what happened at last year's show? I can barely register. For one, there was no controversial moment whatsoever. For two, erm, I cannot even remember who was the biggest winner of the night.

Oh then there's that "infamous" kiss between Madonna and Britney during the 2003 show, which caused so much outrage and even hurt the sales of Madonna's American Life album. Yes, the show did go down to such low levels as to feature a lesbian kiss.

The point about the VMAs is that it is never meant to be taken seriously, like the Oscars. However, it is not meant to be taken totally unseriously too, like the MTV Movie Awards. We want a colourful party, a bold and out-of-this world fiesta. It is like watching your music videos come alive. Music videos by themselves are surreal and the normal rules of linear storytelling don't apply to them.

So when the VMAs get boring, you know it is very bad news. And looking at the crop of this year's nominees, I don't see much reason to be excited too.

Maybe music video production techniques have advanced to the stage where the technology is so widespread that every video ends up looking like a clone of others. It is so hard to find a video that really stands out from the pack and blows you away. I shall not go into the topic of MJ and music videos...

But anyway, among all the videos in the categories listed above, my favourite has got to be Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl video. The song is cool as shit and the video only enforces it. It's colourful and crazy, with marching bands, cheerleaders and Japanese girls dancing alongside Gwen. It is one video that is actually congruent to the lyrics of the song. I hope Gwen can sweep the moonmen on August 28th.

If you're hoping to know what are my predictions for the above categories, I must first admit that I haven't seen all of the nominated videos, so my predictions might not be very accurate. But anyway, here are my predictions:

1. Video of the Year: Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani)
Coldplay might have released one of the best-selling albums this year, but this is the VMAs, not Grammy Awards. Kanye West has been touted as the next big thing, but he's just that: the NEXT big thing. Not yet the big thing, not this time. Snoop Dog churned out quite a big hit with this one but Drop It Like It's Hot might have lost its steam about half a year ago. Green Day might be the one to pull off an upset here, but I'm tipping Gwen to scoop up the biggest honour of the night easily.

2. Best Male Video: Jesus Walks (Kanye West)
How did Candy Shop even manage to sneak its way in here?! It's ridiculous. As for John Legend and Beck, they're a little too low-profile to emerge as worthy winners. Caught Up looks like a Smooth Criminal ripoff...yes, great dance moves, but it looks a little dated right now. Kanye West seems to be winner here only because the other nominees are not up to the mark.

3. Best Female Video: Hollaback Girl
Amerie is a newcomer and I don't think she'll be first time lucky. Kelly Clarkson has been the most promising Idol but this is not a phone-in contest, so she's unlikely to crowned winner again. Shakira is plainly playing up her sex appeal here, appearing muddy and sweaty and shaking those hips of hers again like she did in Whenever, Wherever. Seen those before, time to move on. Mariah released a great song and staged a great comeback with this track, but I believe Gwen has the bananas to go the extra mile.

4. Best Group Video: Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (Green Day)
Black Eyed Peas had a great run with their Elephunk album but their latest release hasn't been as well-received. It's a decent video but it's rather forgettable. Soldier is too laidback to win this. Vertigo is like, super old isn't it? Mr. Brightside might give Green Day a run for their money as two of the hottest bands slug it out, but The Killers still have many chances to win this. Sometimes sentimentality counts a lot.

5. Best Dance Video: 1, 2 Step (Ciara)
Get Right is like Love Don't Cost A Thing Part II, and sequels don't ever win anything. La Tortura is a torture to watch, really. Destiny's Child might stun this award away as a fitting tribute to their wonderful career, before they officially split up after their current tour. Missy has been a favourite of the VMAs with her quirky and groundbreaking videos, but I haven't seen this one yet. Ciara has been hot, hot, hot this year. And I think she'll be taking her 1, 2 steps to the winner's podium.

Well, these are my two cents' worth. The awards will be telecast on August 28th, which is about one month from now. We'll see then if my predictions are accurate. For now, I'll try to catch the other videos that I have not seen. Take care!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

You Oughta Listen: Hot hot hot tracks

1. Virginia Moon - Foo Fighters featuring Norah Jones
2. In The Morning - The Coral
3. Only - Nine Inch Nails
4. Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine - The Killers

The reason why this column hasn't been updated for so long is because there haven't been many blazing tracks in the past month. It's as if summer is gone and now we're left with all the B-grade movies.

But anyway, you really need to listen to Virginia Moon!!! It's one hell of a beautiful song, and it is a collaboration between (gasp!) Foo Fighters and Norah Jones, 2 of the strangest bedfellows you'll ever first mention.

However, upon listening to the track, you'll realise that it isn't a mismatch at all. In fact, they complement each other very well, and the track doesn't feel out of place in Foo Fighters' In Your Honor album, the acoustic side.

Dave Grohl said that he had this song for about 9 years now, but as it didn't seem to fit into any of their previous albums, he held on to it. Glad that he finally released it. It's really good, you gotta listen to it yourself.

In The Morning is by The Corals, and I confess I haven't heard of this band yet. I caught whiff of this song on the radio, which is pretty amazing since I don't listen to much radio these days, and even more amazing that radio has stuff that I actually like. So I can't really say much about them, just that it's a nice song that's pretty laid back and melodious, a bit like Sugar Ray's Every Morning.

Only is the second single off Nine Inch Nails' With Teeth album, after the enormously successful The Hand That Feeds. It is neo-retro, with a simple but interesting drum beat and some 80's synthesizer sounds. The Only single will come with the master tracks for the song, where users can mix the tracks and experiment on their own to come up with their own remixes of the song. This is quite cool, but you need to software to do so.

NIN did the same for the previous single and it was quite successful, with many fans sending them their work, so they decided to do it again. And I am kicking myself hard now for not buying The Hand That Feeds single, after seeing it in HMV and deciding not to buy it cos I wasn't that into the song yet...argh, it's sold out everywhere! So whoever has that single please sell it to me!

Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine is not a single actually, and it is quite old already, appearing on The Killers' debut album, Hot Fuss. I only got to know this song after attempting to jam it with my band, and I got hooked onto it slowly. After listening to this song, I now think that The Killers is actually not bad. So take a listen to it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

CD Review: Stand Up by Dave Matthews Band

I finally got my hands on this Dual Disc version of the album 3 weeks ago, after much searching throughout Singapore. And I found it in the Specialist Centre Gramophone, and this was the only copy!

HMV and Borders have recently stocked copies of the album, but it is the regular edition, not the Dual Disc version. So if you don't want to buy the wrong version, watch carefully for the "Dual Disc" label before you buy. I got this for $32.95, and I think HMV and Borders are selling the regular edition for about the same price too.

Digressions aside, it is time to review the album proper. DMB is my favourite band and I look forward to every new release, be it a studio album or a live album. For those not in the know, DMB consist of a rhythm acoustic guitarist (Dave Matthews), bassist (Stefan Lessard), drummer (Carter Beauford), violinist (Boyd Tinsley) and saxophonist cum wind player (Leroi Moore). It is a strange lineup no less.

The most amazing thing about DMB is that they sound as good live, if not better, as their studio recordings. And Carter Beauford is my favourite drummer of all time, with his super creative beats and fills.

So I had high expectations for Stand Up, as with every DMB release. It is their first studio album since Busted Stuff 3 years ago, which itself was a re-recording of their leaked Lillywhite Sessions album.

For this album, they worked with producer Mark Batson, who previously worked with India Arie, Eminem and 50 Cent among others. So it was not immediately obvious that Batson would be the right man for DMB, the genre of music being so different.

It is said that Batson took each member aside and worked with them individually, coming up with hooks and beats by themselves, instead of letting them jam together like the normal way. The new approach brought a new perspective to the band, and it was during one of these sessions that Tinsley came up with the main riff for first single, American Baby.

Working with Batson might have brought about a difference to DMB, and this album sounds rather different from the previous albums. For one, Carter Beauford exercises more restraint and keeps it simple for most of the songs, and he even uses computer beats for some of the tracks.

The first thing when I listen out for in a DMB album is the drums, naturally, so it was a little disappointing to find out that there aren't many new tricks by Beauford this time round. However, I can take comfort that he will improvise his way during the live performances, but to what degree, I don't know.

One of the standout tracks in this album is the aforementioned first single, American Baby. The violin riff is surprisingly simple and repetitive, and yet they can form a tune around it is nothing short of amazing. It is a slow burner, but it will grow on you for sure.

The highlight has to be the ending of the song for sure, where the sax and drums go on a rampage. Beauford is in full flight here, as he lashes out his impossible-to-play fills and beats, full of syncopation and perfectly executed. If only there were more of these.

There is even an intro to American Baby, which in truth, is a filler track. However, at 2 minutes long, they might not have wanted to insert it at the end of the previous track instead of listing it as a separate track, like they did for their Before These Crowded Streets album, which had several of these interlude tracks.

Another standout track is Everybody Wake Up (Our Finest Hour Arrives). After a violin and strings intro the distortion of the guitar comes in followed by the drums. Like American Baby, the gem here is at the ending, where the guitar and bass go into some weird rhythm while the drums and vocal retain the same rhythm. It's just some cool syncopation stuff.

Hello Again has a drum beat that is reminiscent of earlier hit Two Steps, with the same 16-beat snare rhythm. It is one of the more heavier rock songs here.

Stand Up (For It) is no doubt the funkiest song here, with its main backbone provided by Beauford again. The syncopated beat is matched by an equally syncopated bass line and rhythm guitar, and it is a showcase piece for the sax as well. This is one song that feels like it could have been from the previous albums.

The other songs however, are a little too mellow for my liking. Some are really quite pointless (Smooth Rider, Louisiana Bayou) while some are too un-DMB.

It is a departure for DMB, but not in the Everyday sense. Whereas that album was solely a Dave Matthews & Glen Ballard album, Stand Up sees every member of the band contributing in terms of songwriting, composition and even singing. It is an album that DMB wanted and needed to make, but it does not immediately go down well with old fans like me.

DMB is an amazing band with amazing musicians, and I hope that their live versions of these songs will be even better. While this might satisfy the casual listener, it does not rank among my Top 3 DMB albums.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Live 8 Review

The World's Greatest Concert Ever came and went, for 10 hours from last night till early this morning. So did it live up to its hype? Who were the most outstanding performers?

I have recorded the whole show in my DVD hard disk, but I haven't watched all of the performances. It's 10 hours for goodness sake! But I did catch the bulk of it I guess...

From London, Hyde Park
- Dido --> Life For Rent, White Flag, Thank You
I've never been a huge fan of Dido and I wasn't converted after watching her performance yesterday. She did an unplugged version of Thank You and thanks but no thanks, it didn't bring the house down. Her songs sound good on radio, but they're not the sort of stuff that rocks huge arenas.

- Stereophonics --> Dakota
They performed their latest hit from their new album, and it was a decent effort. Quite enjoyed it.

- Keane --> Somewhere Only We Know
The guitar-less band didn't perform too badly and actually managed to psyche up the crowd even with a rather subdued song like this. The piano player was a little over-enthusiastic though.

- Annie Lennox --> Walking On Broken Glass, Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves, Sweet Dreams
One of the participants of the original Live Aid 20 years ago, Lennox does seem to be a little out of place in the show, especially since she hasn't released any new material in recent years, unlike U2 or Sting. The first 2 songs are unfamiliar to me, and it wasn't until Sweet Dreams that she proved that she could still rock.

- Madonna --> Like A Prayer, Ray Of Light, Music
Madonna was also one of the participants of the original Live Aid, but unlike Lennox, she still maintains some relevance today, even though Music was released 5 years ago. Thankfully, she did not attempt to sing any of her more recent material. American Pie anyone? "I'm drinking a soy latte, it goes into my bodae..." But I must say she still looks quite good though.

- Joss Stone --> Super Duper Love, I Had A Dream
There's no denying that this 18-year-old has a big voice, and she uses it to good effect. Performing the groovy Super Duper Love, she brought the crowd to their feet and demonstrated why she is the new Princess of Soul.

- Scissor Sisters --> Laura, Take Your Mama
The first song was unfamiliar to me, but I loved their live rendition of the latter. I don't know if the female member of the group was singing the same part as the male lead singer or not, but I couldn't really hear her throughout the song. Maybe they just blended sooo well.

- Velvet Revolver --> Fall To Pieces, Slither
This was certainly one of the best performances of the night, as Velvet Revolver brought the house down with their 2 hit songs from their debut album, Contraband. The seasoned pros that they are, they demonstrated class in everything they did, from the military get-up by Scott Weiland to their stage antics. Slash stole the show as always with his heck care attitude, even smoking a cigarette as the cameras rolled away. And he's still wearing the same black leather pants and top hat, amazing.

- Mariah Carey --> Make It Happen, We Belong Together
My first impression was, "Oh my, Mariah IS fat". Sorry, but that was the first thing that came to my mind. However, The Voice was very much still intact, thank goodness. I was half-expecting her to sing Hero, but she chose to sing her current hit instead. After all, the show is as much about plugging your own album as raising awareness about poverty in Africa. A good performance overall.

- Robbie Williams --> We Will Rock You, Let Me Entertain You, Feel, Angels
This has got to be the best performance of the night. Robbie proved why he was the king of British pop as he rocked the 150, 000 crowd in Hyde Park with his infectious energy and charisma. Opening with We Will Rock You, he set the tone for his performance and followed it up with the hyper-catchy Let Me Entertain You. Feel was sublime, but he had the whole of Hyde Park singing Angels with him together...and I mean the WHOLE of Hyde Park. And with good reason too: Angels was recently voted at the Brit Awards as the Best Single for the past 25 years. He sure knows how to put a good show.

From Philadelphia, USA
- Will Smith --> Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It, Switch
I'm sorry, but Will Smith is an actor, not a singer. At most, half a rapper. Philly might be his hometown, but having Will Smith on the show just cheapens it. One of the lowlights of the show. But I must say his speech was rather good.

- Black Eyed Peas --> Where Is The Love, Let's Get It Started, Don't Phunk With My Heart
After watching their performance, I think BEP sound better on record than live. This might be strange, but I think that they tried a little too hard to be hip and happening. The live versions veered quite a bit away from the original such that the songs lose a bit of their identity, and they were shouting and yelling most of the time. Sometimes, it's better to play it straight.

- Alicia Keys --> Unknown song
This was one of the acts I was most looking forward to, but sad to say, Alicia Keys disappointed me with her single (televised) song, and it wasn't anything familiar too. It was definitely low key and low budget, as she played piano with a 4-piece backup, but it wasn't the full band. It was a slow song that wasn't too exciting or moving either.

- Bon Jovi --> Livin' On A Prayer, It's My Life
Livin' On A Prayer was fine, but It's My Life was a bad choice. It's a song that sounds good on record but not so live. Also, Jon Bon Jovi seems to have lost some of the passion for the song (Prayer) 20 years after its release, and he sings it almost casually now. Would have preferred him to sing it was just a little bit more fervour.

- Linkin Park --> Breaking The Habit, In The End
LP was surprisingly subdued and wasn't as lous as I expected them to be. Maybe it's the sound, but I think they lacked energy yesterday. Or maybe the crowd just wasn't responding to them.

- Dave Matthews Band --> American Baby
This was my most anticipated item for the night, but sadly, they only televised one song. I was hoping they would play old favourites like Ants Marching or Tripping Billies and get aired, but it wasn't to be. Their version of American Baby was a little disappointing too, as the finale, where the drums and sax go on a rampage, was quite muffled and I couldn't really hear what they were playing. This was the first time I heard the track live. Maybe I expected too much.

- Kanye West --> Diamonds From Sierra Leone, All Fall Down, Jesus Walks
I'm not a big fan of Kanye, but after watching his various live performances, I know that he is one talented fella. One of the few hip-hop black artistes to perform, Kanye did not disappoint and put up a solid performance.

- Destiny's Child --> Survivor, Say My Name, Girl
This would be one of the last times Destiny's Child take the stage together, now that they recently annoucned that they will be splitting up after their Destiny Fulfilled Tour. The girls are hot as usual and their vocals were good, but were a little let down by the sound system, where Michelle and Kelly were a little drowned by Beyonce. I would have loved them to perform Lose My Breath and Independent Women, but maybe they weren't right for the occasion. Still a good performance overall.

The others
- Green Day --> American Idiot, Holiday, Minority, We Are The Champions
Green Day put on a no-holds-barred performance as they rocked the 150, 000-strong Berlin crowd. They even uttered the F-word several times, and to hear that live on Cable TV, it was shiok. No censored bullshit. This was also one of the better performances of the night, and their closing rendition of We Are The Champions was simply wicked.

- Bryan Adams --> Back To You, All For One
I couldn't recognise Bryan Adams when he took the stage. It wasn't until his name was flashed that I realised that the person with the short, boyish haircut was him! And his complexion seemed to have worsened too. Bryan Adams has been out of the music spotlight for some time now, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to see him back on stage. His choice of songs were, however, questionable. While Back To You was a nice enought tune, it wasn't that well-known and the crowd didn't seem to respond to it much. He did All For One unplugged, with a solo acoustic guitar, so it was rather low-key. Think it would have been better had he chosen Summer Of '69 instead.

- Pet Shop Boys --> Go West
I didn't realise that the Boys are so old! The lead singer had white hair and was balding even! They should rename themselves Pet Shop Men instead! However, the voice remains and their version of Go West was quite good I must say.

Parting Thoughts
There are simply too many performances to be listed here, a testimony to the scale of the event. It certainly lived up to its expectations as the Greatest Concert Ever. Never before have you seen a greater collection of music stars, performing for the same event for free, sharing the same cause. It will go down in history for sure.

In all, it was a music lover's dream to watch 10 hours of solid entertainment, even though some of them did fall short of expectations. Still, it was like a Greatest Hits Tour of Music as each artiste belted out their most famous songs (I'm sure not all were televised).

I was half hoping that MJ would make a special appearance and sing Man In The Mirror and Heal The World, which would be ultra meaningful, but I think it is also better for him to remain out of the spotlight at the moment.

I have recorded the entire show in my DVD hard disk and I will transfer it to DVD for keepsake. Maybe 20 years down the road, there'll be another Live Aid/8. But hopefully it'll be for another cause. Let's hope that poverty will truly be history.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live 8 Live Telecast

Most of you would know by now that there are a series of concerts to be held this weekend called Live 8, and the good news is that it will be telecast "live" from 9pm tonight to 7am tomorrow, exclusively on Starhub Cable Preview Channel 1 and HubTV Channel 26.

Live 8, is of course, an update of the 1985 concert dubbed Live Aid, which was aimed at raising funds to eliminate poverty in Africa. This time, however, the concerts aim to pressure the G-8 nations to erase debt from the African nations.

Whatever the political reasons behind the concert, music fans are the ones who gain as many of the world's biggest acts gather on the same stage(s) and perform for the same cause. There will be 10 concerts staged in the world, not 8. This is because besides one concert held in each of the G-8 (Group of Eight industrialised nations) countries, there will be a 9th one in Johannesburg and a 10th one in southwest England, featuring African acts.

Of course, not all the concerts are equal, and I would say the most exciting one will be held in Philadelphia, USA. Among the lineup are heavyweights Dave Matthews Band, Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi, Destiny's Child and Linkin Park and many more. It is home ground to them of course.

The London show is not bad too, featuring Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, U2, Velvet Revolver, Keane, Mariah Carey, The Killers and others. Think it's going to be a toss up between Philly and London.

I'm going to clear my DVD recorder hard disk to make space for 10 hours of music extravaganza. Hope it will live up to the hype and not disappoint!