Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Battle of the music superstars

It's going to be an exciting time for music lovers, as we embrace ourselves for a slew of hot release in the coming months. Here's a sneak preview of what to expect...

August 14
Christina Aguilera: Back To Basics

After being the genie in the bottle and being stripped, Christina is back with her third studio album. She's been gone for a long time, four years to be exact, yet during that time, no other vocal powerhouse starlet has risen to occupy her place.

To mark her return, Christina has decided to ditch her dirrty old look and go back to basics. She's adopted a clean cut look, evoking memories of a past era. Her music reflects this change too. It's said to be a throwback to the old jazz sounds, definitely a departure from her past albums, which took on a more pop and hip-hop feel.

First single, Ain't No Other Man, is already heating up the charts, but I have not heard it yet. Back To Basics will be a double album, whetting the appetites of fans and providing her much more material to tour with. Hopefully there will be more hit singles from there too.

August 22
OutKast: Idlewind

This long-delayed album is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, starring both the OutKast boys. This album has been delayed several times, from late last year to finally August this year.

Expectations are high for this one. For all the delays, it had better be good! Secondly, this is their first album after their Grammy-winning Speakerboxxx/The Love Below album, which won the top gong in 2004.

OutKast have built a solid reputation as being one of the most inventive and genre-busting acts around, and we can expect more of the same with this album.

September 4
Beyonce Knowles: B-Day

After selling 12 million copies worldwide of her debut album, Dangerously In Love, Beyonce is facing a big test this time. Music fans all over are looking to see if she will be in a sophomore slump, a curse that has plagued many artistes such as Hootie and the Blowfish, Jewel and Avril Lavigne. Granted, Beyonce is not really a new artiste, but still, it's her second solo album.

Judging by her first single, Deja Vu, it seems that Beyonce has not lost her touch for catchy melodies that showcase her power vocals. Like her first solo single, Crazy In Love, this one features boyfriend Jay-Z as well. It's a case of deja vu here.

In case you were wondering, the album is called B-Day because 4 September is Beyonce's birthday, and also it means Beyonce Day. A little cheesy, but I guess it's her idea of a gift to her fans, and also for them to celebrate this special day with her.

September 12
Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveSounds

Like Beyonce, this is Justin's big test as well, as it is his sophomore album following his hugely successful debut album, Justified, fours years ago. The similarities with Beyonce are numerous: both were previously from wildly popular singing groups, both have made a successful transition to a solo career, both have managed to find commercial and critical acclaim for their debut album, and both are touted as the ones to ascend to pop superstardom.

With this album, Justin is looking towards a more mature sound, turning to hip-hop maestro Timbaland and Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Rick Rubin to churn out the beats and hits. First single, Sexy Back, is a trademark Timbaland tune, with its heavy beats and synth vocals reminiscent of another Timbaland-produced tune, Promiscuous by Nelly Furtado.

It's a daring song and it pushes the boundaries of pop once more. Justin seems keen to prove his maturity, even muttering "motherf***er" in the song. It's bye bye bye to the *NSYNC audience.

September 26
Janet Jackson: 20 Years Old

What's the thing with cheesy titles, you might ask. In Janet's case, 20 Years Old refers to the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough solo album, Control. That was the album that really launched her career and Janet's paying tribute to it. It's going to have some nasty references to the album, as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are helming the boards once again, as they did on every Janet album since Control.

Newcomer Jermaine Dupri adds a more contemporary style to the album, and it is evidenced by the first single, Call On Me, a duet with Nelly. It's definitely in tune with the R&B landscape today and it's a laid-back, summer song.

Both Janet and Justin hope to put the Superbowl incident behind them and show the world that there is more to them than that incident. It's time for their music to take centrestage once again and I'm really looking forward to both their albums.

So who will emerge victorious in the battle for chart supremacy? Here's a lowdown on the five superstars:

Sales of previous album worldwide
- Christina: 12 million (Stripped)
- OutKast: 11 million (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below)
- Beyonce: 12 million (Dangerously In Love)
- Justin: 7 million (Justified)
- Janet: 3 million (Damita Jo)

Career album sales worldwide
- Christina: 37 million
- OutKast: 20 million
- Beyonce: 50 million
- Justin: 34 million
- Janet: 77 million

Number of career Billboard 200 #1 albums
- Christina: 1
(Christina Aguilera)
- OutKast: 1
(Speakerboxxx/The Love Below)
- Beyonce: 3
(Survivor, #1's, Dangerously In Love)
- Justin: 2
(No Strings Attached, Celebrity)
- Janet: 5
(Control, Rhythm Nation 1814, janet., The Velvet Rope, All For You)

Number of career Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits
- Christina: 4
(Genie In A Bottle, What A Girl Wants, Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You), Lady Marmalade)
- OutKast: 3
(Ms. Jackson, Hey Ya!, The Way You Move)
- Beyonce: 7
(Bills, Bills, Bills, Say My Name, Independent Women Part I, Bootylicious, Crazy In Love, Baby Boy, Check On It)
- Justin: 1
(It's Gonna Be Me)
- Janet: 10
(When I Think Of You, Miss You Much, Escapade, Black Cat, Love Will Never Do (Without You), That's The Way Love Goes, Again, Together Again, Doesn't Really Matter, All For You)

Grammy Awards wins
- Christina: 3
- OutKast: 6
- Beyonce: 9
- Justin: 2
- Janet: 5

Of course, these are only statistics and they do not provide the whole picture. It does not tell us who will end up with the biggest album or the most hit singles. But that's the fun isn't it? Here are my predictions...

I'm betting that all five artistes will hit number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. All of them will have at least two Billboard Hot 100 top ten singles, but Justin will not hit #1. All of them will get nominated for at least three Grammy Awards in 2007, with OutKast having the most nominations among them. Beyonce will end up with the biggest selling album among them.

Not very optimistic for Janet, but I'm sure now that she has decided to tour in support of the album, 20 Years Old will do reasonably well. In the end of it all, the music lover is the winner and I really hope that all these albums will not disappoint.

Concert Review: Coldplay Twisted Logic Tour Singapore 10 July 2006

It was a sold-out show on 10 July 2006, as Coldplay played to a 10,000 strong crowd at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. The sheer number of people meant that we had to queue up for 30 minutes before we could get into the stadium.

By the time Coldplay took the stage, it was 9pm - one hour behind schedule. But they were greeted by a gorgeous sight as the stadium was packed to the brim. Even the $170 free-standing area was completely filled, which very rarely happens.

As the house lights went off, the giant LED screen behind the stage lighted up with 4 digits counting down to the start of the show, perhaps a nod to Singaporeans' obesession with anything associated with 4 digits.

As the timer struck "0000", Coldplay launched into their opening number, Square One, which happens to be the opening track to their X&Y album too. This was followed rapidly by Politik (from their second album), which showcased a harder-rocking side of Coldplay seldom seen.

However, for some strange reason they decided to play their biggest hit, Yellow, next. It came way too early and most of us were taken aback. By default, you should always play your breakthrough hit at the end of the concert, as a rousing finale. It brought the show to a premature climax, and the concert did suffer from a slight lull after that.

As VW pointed out, the show was quite gimmicky and the point was proven when several large yellow ballons were brought out to the audience during the performance of Yellow. It was a nice surprise and it upped the ante, but it would have been even better as a finale stunt.

With three albums under their belt, Coldplay had enough hits to go around and they performed most of their singles as well as the newer stuff, which I wasn't too familiar with yet. They did not perform Don't Panic and Shiver though, which was quite a big disappointment.

There was also an acoustic segment where they did a country-style song about "waiting very long for your favourite artiste to come perform", the artiste in question being Backstreet Boys. Weird. Even weirder was their cover of a Johnny Cash song, whom frontman Chris Martin cited as one of their biggest influences. The acoustic segment slowed down the show considerably and it didn't really gel with the rest of the show.

However, full marks must be given for the very professional use of lights and video. The lighting was timed with precision to the songs and they added mood and excitement to the performance. The graphics and video images on the screen were also very inventive and well choreographed. The songs also flowed seamlessly into each other, where there was less than 10 seconds of lull each time between songs. After all, like Chris Martin said, they had over a hundred chances to prepare for this show, having been on the road since 15 June 2005.

He also described ours as "the best Monday audience" he has ever seen. I wonder if he really meant this. Doesn't every performer say something like this whenever they perform? I think they're being polite when they say it, but I guess it's important for the audience to feel loved as well.

By the time Coldplay left the stage for the first time, they have already performed most of their hits, including The Scientist, God Put A Smile On Your Face, Trouble (acoustic version), Clocks, Speed Of Sound and Talk.

They returned after 3 minutes and performed 3 more numbers. Chris Martin then sprinted down the aisle to the back of the stadium during In My Place and sang the rest of the song there, much to our delight, cos that's where we were at.

The finale of the concert was Fix You, which is beginning to grow on me. It was my favourite song of the night as well.

The concert ended at 10:30pm. For $120, I would say it was quite worth it, mainly because of the high production values of the show. Coldplay's songs aren't the most head-banging and heavy, so we didn't really get to jump like madmen. The crowd was quite good and the sound was good too, though it was a little hard to catch Chris Martin's lyrics at times.

Again, like VW said, the show was quite gimmicky and all the lights and videos might have distracted the audience from the songs themselves. It is true, but I think it's also part of the package and it completes the experience. It is unlike the Oasis concert, which was totaly no-frills, and it allowed us to immerse completely to the music and artistry of the band itself.

But since we paid good money for this, I feel that the effort was commendable and it was quite a high-budget production, so I'm satisfied with it. Coldplay stuck quite close to the script and didn't make many changes, if at all, to the arrangement of the songs. Some variations would have been nice.

In all, it was a good show and I enjoyed it. Would have been a shame if I didn't manage to catch them at the height of their fame and power. So if you weren't there, too bad! But you can visit my webshots album for some pics from the show. I also managed to record a video of their In My Place performance, so ask me if you want it.

For now, I shall go listen to Fix You, which is quite a haunting song...

Lights will guide you home
and ignite your bones
I will try to fix you

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

See: Coldplay Twisted Logic Tour Singapore 10 July 2006

And so Coldplay came and went. Missed the action? You can catch some exclusive pics from the concert right here at my Webshots album. Concert review will be posted shortly (I hope)!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hot Shot: Call On Me by Janet & Nelly

You gotta check out Janet's new song, Call On Me, which is a duet with Nelly. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Nelly cos I don't really like his voice. Surprisingly he gives a restrained and smooth performance here, underlining this song as a chill-out tune of the summer.

This song is from Janet's highly-anticipated (by me) album, 20 Years Old, due 26 September. For the uninitiated, the date marks the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough album, Control.

Control, of course, is the album that launched Janet's solo career, spawning six hit singles: What Have You Done For Me Lately, Nasty, When I Think Of You, Control, Let's Wait Awhile and The Pleasure Principle.

Control was the album that marked Janet's partnership with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, a partnership that has stood through the past 20 years as they are back on board for her upcoming album. During this time, they have had much success, which will an entry in itself.

However, joining the party this time is none other than Mr JD himself, a.k.a. Jermaine Dupri, a.k.a. Janet's boyfriend. JD needs no introduction but I shall give him one. He's the mastermind behind Mariah's "comeback" album, The Emancipation of Mimi, as well as Usher's megaplatinum Confessions album.

No doubt, there is huge pressure on JD to deliver the goods once more now. The good news is, he has delivered. For the first single at least.

Fans who were expecting a much more upbeat lead single in the vein of All For You will be disappointed, as Call On Me is more laid back and chilled out. However, since when has Janet played by the books? Her first single off the 1993 janet. album was the super chilled out That's The Way Love Goes, and The Velvet Rope from 1997 had the quirky Got 'Til It's Gone as the lead single.

With Call On Me, Janet asserts that she is fully in control again, after the fiasco of 2004, when her Just A Little While single was leaked to radio prematurely. The fact that the song was released a day after the Superbowl incident led some to speculate that the whole Superbowl incident was a huge publicity stunt aimed at promoting the single. Well, it backfired and both the single and the Damita Jo album flopped, by Janet's standards at least.

This time, the publicity and promotional efforts seem to be better prepared, where the song is released to radio four months before the album release. While it may seem like a long time, I feel that it allows the song to grow on to listeners. It's also a nice tune for the summer so it fits pretty well.

There is also ample time for the video shoot, which JD says is going to be the most expensive video of the last three years. Like her brother, Janet is known for making videos of the highest standards, featuring striking visuals and choreography, so I'm hoping the video will be a blast.

By the time the album is released, there will be another single out already. This gives listeners more incentive to buy the album as they would have heard two songs already, and hopefully, two hits.

Back to the new single now. Call On Me is a grower and it is actually a very simple song. Janet is not known to be a vocal powerhouse and she plays to her strengths here, using the soft and tender voice that has served her so well. Nelly's performance is commendable here and he manages to blend well with Janet.

Then there are the obligatory ad libs from JD himself, peppered throughout the track. He does the same thing with Mariah's songs as well. It's a little irritating, but as long as the song is a hit, I shall not complain.

It'll be interesting to see how JD will blend with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production-wise for this album. Already we have heard two tracks from the two teams - Weekend was a gift from Janet to her fans and it was produced by Jimmy and Terry, while Call On Me is produced by JD.

The Jimmy and Terry sound is a little dated but perhaps it's a throwback to the Control album, which was after all, and 80's sound. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here. JD does lend a more modern R&B sound to Janet and I think it will serve the album well. Hope there won't be any clash in musical styles or we'll end up with a very disjointed album.

Ok, you should go listen to Call On Me right now (I'm sure you have your means). Get ready for a new Janet and watch out for the video!