Saturday, November 26, 2005

Recap: American Music Awards

Just finished watching the American Music Awards (AMA)...well, I'm not a big fan of the AMAs because it's like a poorer cousin, smaller scale version of MTV's Video Music Awards (VMA), which is a raucous affair always.

As you might know, the AMAs didn't always take place this early (or late, depending on how you look at it). They used to be held in early to mid January, just before the Grammy Awards, which are traditionally held in mid February. Due to complains of the glut of award shows in the first three months of the year (there are also the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards etc), the AMAs decided to shift their show earlier, thus becoming a November affair.

Alright enough of the backstory and back to the show. Well, Mariah Carey opened the show with her new single, Don't Forget About Us. It opened with a shot of a silver disco orb...for a moment, you would think that Madonna was opening the show with Hung Up, like she did at the recent MTV Europe Music Awards. However, when the orb spun around, it revealed not the muscular Madonna but the pudgy Mariah (sorry Mariah fans...face it, she does not have a good figure and should seriously considering covering up more).

The song was only so-so, the weakest effort of her Mimi album so far. Mariah seemed to have some problems with her monitor and struggled a little with the performance. However, she still managed to pull of her vocal hystrionics towards the end of the song. It's becoming a formula for all of her songs: the first two-thirds are sung plainly and in "normal" range; the last third is for her to showcase her vocal chops and to communicate with the dogs (who can hear sounds greater than 20,000 KHz in frequency).

From one singing queen to two wannabies, we also witnessed performances from teen idols Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff. One is bad enough; two--unforgivable. The two performances by Lohan and Duff were outright terrible and they really brought the standard of the show down by at least 10 notches. They should do some QC before allowing such sub-standards acts to perform.

Lohan's vocals were weak, and she was upstaged by her background singers for most part. Duff was stronger vocally, but her song was just silly. The title was Beat Of My Heart, and the chorus has her singing "beat of my heart" repeatedly. I wonder who wrote the song...surely he/she could have come up with more and better lines than those??

Pharrell Williams (of N.E.R.D and The Neptunes fame) performed Can I Have It Like That with It Girl Gwen Stefani, who was lowered onto stage in an ice-cream hot-air balloon. The song is not as catchy as either of their previous hits, and Gwen's contribution to the song is really minimal and silly. She has only one line: "You got it like that", in response to Williams' "Can I have it like that?". Please, you don't need a superstar just to sing that one line! I can do it too! What a waste of Miss Stefani's talent...

Santana performed I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love with Los Lonely Boys. A smart move. I'm glad he didn't perform I'm Feeling You, the lead single off his latest All That I Am album, together with Michelle Branch. That is not a strong song and it just erodes Santana's credibility.

Santana feels more at home with the Los Lonely Boys, whose sound provides a better fit to Santana's latin roots. He traded solos with the lead guitarist of the Boys and it was a solid performance. Santana even looked quite hip in his sleeveless, black tank top...trying to appeal to the younger generation perhaps?

Besides Santana, there was also a tinge of nostalgia to the show, with performances from Cyndi Lauper, Eurythmics and a live performance via satellite by The Rolling Stones.

Cyndi Lauper performed her hit song Time After Time with a most unlikely ally: Sarah McLachlan. The reworked track is from her latest album, The Body Acoustic, which is a collection of her best known songs with special guests. The performance itself was ok, but it wasn't fab, especially at the ending, where they were trading verses and seemed a bit unsure who was to sing which part.

The performance was also broadcast in black and white for the added touch of nostalgia. Unfortunately, it only made Lauper look worse because her blond hair and pale face combined to make her look if anything, ghastly. Plus, she's catching up on her years now. McLachlan though, looks great.

There were also performances by the All American Rejects and some country stars (Tim McGraw? Brooks And Dunn? Who cares?). In all, it was rather forgettable and there weren't any particular moments of brilliance. For me, the most memorable and valuable part was seeing highlights of the shows from previous years, introduced by Babyface. You got a glimpse of a younger Stevie Wonder singing Superstition, *NSYNC performing Bye Bye Bye, and most of all, twenty-year-old Michael Jackson introducing his sister Janet, who was barely ten years old I believe...and already strutting down the stairs with the poise of a future star.

The awards themselves are not worth mentioning. Yes, Mariah got snubbed again and won only one award. The other big winners (Greeen Day, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kelly Clarkson) all didn't turn up. And it was really Destiny's Child, as only one of them, Kelly Rowland, was present to collect their two awards. Just goes to show how important the AMAs are.

Well, the AMAs went without a hitch, but also without event. You didn't miss much if you didn't catch it. Look out for the Grammies in three months' time. Hope it's better than this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Collectibles #4: Oasis Don't Believe The Truth (2005)

This 6th studio album by Oasis sees them returning to top form, outlining why they have remained a staying force in the UK over the past 11 years. Since the release of their debut album Definitely Maybe in 1994, Oasis have hit Number 1 on the album charts with each release. Their two other non-studio albums, The Masterplan (a collection of B-sides) and Familiar To Millions (live album) hit the Top 5 as well. Besides, Oasis' singles have charted impressively as well. To date, they have notched eight Number 1 singles, nine Top 5 singles and two Top Ten singles.

Don't Believe The Truth marks Oasis' return, and already, the first two singles have hit Number One. Lyla might not be an obvious choice for a lead single but it showcases a different side of Oasis, sounding like a throwback to The Beatles. The follow-up single, The Importance Of Being Idle, has Noel singing in a falsetto for some parts of the song, a welcome change and it displays his singing chops too. The latest single is Let There Be Love, and you can expect it to heat up the charts too.

This limited edition of the album contains a bonus DVD featuring interviews with Oasis about each track of the album. Strangely, they didn't talk about Lyla. It provides some nice insights about the making of the album. It also includes the music video for Lyla.

This package can still be found in most stores and it is not selling out as fast as it's supposed to be. Perhaps after two botched attempts to hold a concert here in Singapore, fans are a little apprehensive about Oasis. However, this album is a good listen and it's certainly their best since their (What's The Story) Morning Glory masterpiece ten years ago.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On The Horizon: Look Out!

December is almost here, which can only mean one thing: it's the season for greatest hits packages and heavyweight releases! Here are some of the future releases that I'm eyeing on, check them out!

Mariah Carey - The Emancipation Of Mimi: Platinum Deluxe Edition
As with most other money-spinning acts, Mariah's multi-platinum album is repackaged with 4 new tracks in this "Platinum deluxe edition". It contains a new single Don't Forget About Us, which is already climbing its way up the Billboard 100. This edition comes with a bonus DVD of videos for We Belong Together, It's Like That, Get Your Number and Shake It Off.

Green Day - Bullet In A Bible
This is Green Day's first live DVD and it captures them in top form performing at Milton Keynes in England. The set culls hits from their Grammy, VMA, EMA, AMA-winning album American Idiot, as well as older hits such as Basket Case and Good Riddance. Green Day have never been hotter and you can expect this to be a hot-seller this Christmas. This package comes in a DVD and CD combo set.

Madonna - Confessions On A Dance Floor (Special Edition)
The Queen of Pop is back, with a bang. After the disappointment and critical scathing of American Life, Maddy, or Esther as she is known now, returns to what she does best--pop tunes that gets your ass on the dance floor. First single Hung Up samples Abba, so you can expect a throwback to the 70s disco era, with a little update from Esther of course. This is one of the most anticipated albums this winter, and judging by the reception to her performance at the Europe MTV Music Awards last week, this will definitely mark a return to Number One for the Queen of Pop. However, look out for this special edition to be released in don't go out and grab it too early!

Eminem - Curtain Call
This greatest hits set features tracks from all 4 of Eminem's albums to date, including mega hits like Cleanin' Out My Closet, The Real Slim Shady and Lose Yourself. Em has hinted of retirement recently and this album seems to add more weight to the speculation. However, don't be too disappointed as Em will concentrate on producing albums and occassionally drop a track or two. This album features 3 news tracks including the new When I'm Gone. A special edition of this album will also come with a disc containing his "memorable collaborations", and we can expect his duet with Elton John on Stan during the Grammys to be included here as well.

Diana Krall & Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra - Christmas Songs
I've recently fallen in love with Diana Krall and I'm greatly looking forward to this album. Even though Christmas tunes have been done to death by thousands of artistes already, I'm waiting to hear her interpretations, how she infuses them with her sultry baritone voice. It doesn't hurt that the Christmas spirit is in the air too.

Dave Matthews Band - Weekend On The Rocks
This is a 2 CD and 1 DVD set, capturing the best of DMB's performances at the famed Red Rocks from September 9th through 11th this year. DMB is known to be a great live act and this is their 7th live album! And they have only released 6 studio albums! They are one of the rare bands that sound better live, and they make sure that they don't repeat the set list for consecutive nights. I don't know how many bands can do that. This 2 CD set is a truncated version--there's an 8 CD and 1 DVD set available capturing all 3 nights' performances, but it's going to burn a hole in your pocket. It's only available through their website though. But for most of us, this 2 CD set should do fine.

Alanis Morissette - The Collection (Limited Edition)
This album captures Alanis' hits for the past 10 years. Jagged Little Pill is a tough act to follow, and Alanis hasn't exactly been able to keep up with the high benchmark set by her debut album. Nevertheless, it's still a worthy collection of songs from the original Miss Angst. Favourites include Head Over Feet, Uninvited and That I Would Be Good. A limited edition version of the album comes with a bonus DVD featuring an hour-long documentary as well.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Essentials #2: Foo Fighters

Earlier this year, Foo Fighters released In Your Honor, an ambitious double CD project that featured one half of rock songs and mellow songs on the other half. While many may say that it is a case of self-indulgence, no one can fault them for their ambition. After all, the Foos have been around for ten years now and they have a solid track record, balancing commercial with critically-acclaimed fare.

Having emerged from the shadows of the most seminal rock band of the 90s, Dave Grohl took centrestage and fronted Foo Fighters. While he was known for his tight and aggressive drum work in Nirvana, this was the first time he would be fronting a band--not only singing but playing guitar and writing most of the material as well.

Their first self-titled album was an unexpected hit and produced the hit singles I'll Stick Around, This Is A Call and Big Me, for which the video spoofed the Mentos advertisement to great effect.

They followed it up with The Colour And The Shape, which had a very different sound courtesy of producer Gil Norton. Where their first album sounded raw and low-budget, Shape was clean and highly-polished. The sonic quality seemed to be a mirror of Nirvana's first two albums (Bleach was recorded for $600 and sounded like a basement recording whereas Nevermind came under the hands of uber producer Butch Vig and glossed it up ten notches).

Shape was an ever bigger success and spawned a slew of hit singles. However, it was their third album that solidified their status as one of the best bands in the US today. There Is Nothing Left To Lose contained a mix of radio-friendly and experimental songs, and many critics have unfairly labelled it as a pop rock album. While it is true that some of the songs took a more commercial slant, it just goes to show how versatile Foos are.

Their fourth album, All My Life, started off well with the kick-ass title track. It was the perfect song to open their tour and it brought the Foos back to their aggressive side. This was followed by the superb Times Like This, which many fans consider to be among their best works. However, the rest of the album was mediocre and Grohl himself admitted that it was his least favoured Foos album.

With In Your Honor, the Foos are back and they have decided to have the best of both worlds and satisfy their cravings for musical growth. The first half features some of the heaviest songs the Foos have ever recorded, while the second half is more mellow, showcasing their musicianship as well.

The Foos have shown that they have been able to keep up with the times and managed to stay relevant in the music industry. It's no easy task to be credible without being commercialised, and the Foos have done a good job at that. Here's the absolutely essential Foo Fighters...

1. All My Life
2. Monkey Wrench
3. Hey, Johnny Park!
4. My Hero
5. Best Of You
6. DOA
7. Stacked Actors
8. Breakout
9. I'll Stick Around
10. This Is A Call
11. Learn To Fly
12. Times Like This
13. Everlong
14. Walking After You
15. February Stars
16. Ain't It The Life
17. Big Me
18. Aurora
19. Virginia Moon

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rarities #8: Janet Jackson janet. (1993)

This is the super-limited edition version of Janet Jackson's multi-platinum album, janet. Following the success of her first two albums with A&M (Control and Rhythm Nation 1814), Janet switched labels in a $60 million contract, the biggest in the world at that time (2 weeks later, her brother Michael usurped her with an $80 million deal with Sony). Her new label was Virgin, and she seemed to reflect her newfound spirit with an album that dealt heavily with sexual overtones.

The regular album cover is not as explicit and showed her from her shoulders up only. This image was also used as a Rolling Stone magazine cover, instantly becoming one of its best-selling issues ever. Prior to this album, Janet was always covered "right till her neck" as she would describe herself (look at Rhythm Nation album cover for evidence), and this was the first time she was exploring her true identity as a woman.

The attention-grabbing cover aside, this was the album that introduced the world to a new Janet, and it was characterised by its edgy and sexy tunes. The first single, That's The Way Love Goes, spent eight weeks at the Number One, becoming one of the biggest hits of 1993. Its laidback groove and Janet's sensual delivery ensured that it would be one of Janet's classics.

The second single was If, another fan favourite. She charted another Number One single with Again, which was featured in the movie Poetic Justice, which she starred alongside the late Tupac Shakur. The song was later nominated for an Academy Award but did not win. In all, seven singles were culled from the album, the others being You Want This, Because Of Love, Throb and Any Time, Any Place. With the exception of Throb, ALL the singles reached the Top Ten of the Billboard 100, a remarkable achievement indeed. An eighth single, Whoops Now, was released in the UK only.

The album remains Janet's biggest album of her career, with worldwide sales of 17 million. She launched a world tour in support of the album, including a stop in Singapore. The tour established Janet as a dynamic singer and performer, as she showed off her new svelte figure and perfectly-choreographed dance moves.

This limited edition version of the album comes with a bonus CD of live tracks and remixes, as well as many rare photographs of Miss Janet herself. Take a look: