Monday, May 19, 2008

Collectibles #23: Madonna Hard Candy (2008)

This has got to be, hands down, the lamest limited collector's edition EVER. I mean, if its is a promo item, having a pack of candies to give away together with the album is fine. But to actually include a pack of candies inside the package and call it a Limited Collector's Edition just reeks of laziness and smells of the record label trying to make a quick buck.

What am I supposed to do with the pack of candies? Collect it until worms come out? It's meant to be a COLLECTOR'S item for goodness sake, and the candies actually expire in February 2010. So dumb and so lame. If they produced fake candies, it might still be acceptable, but to take the album title, Hard Candy, so literally is just plain dumb. And they sell this for $39.90.

The collector's edition of Madonna's previous album, Confessions On A Dance Floor, was actually pretty good. I'll probably do a post on it in future. Madonna has always had quite good collector's editions, but this one is a big letdown.

That aside, this is Madonna's 7th chart-topping album, and she now trails Barbara Streisand by just one. This is Madonna's last album under Warner Music, and when she releases her next album under Live Nation, you can be sure they will pull out all the stops to ensure that Maddy gets her 8th number one.

This album features production by some of the proven hit-makers, Timbaland, new best friend Justin Timberlake and old friend Pharell. It's a departure from her past few albums, where she mostly worked with relatively unknown producers and elevating them into the mainstream. I guess you could say that Maddy is desperate for hits so that she can leave Warner with a bang.

Anyway, first single, 4 Minutes, has done exactly that, hitting the top of the UK singles charts, but narrowly missing the Billboard Hot 100. It's everything you expect from Timbaland and JT, and it features pretty much recycled beats and vocal add-ons. Nevertheless, that's the formula for success and it's a catchy song worthy of its success. However, it doesn't break new ground.

A quick run through of the album gives rise to the following tracks that leave an impression on me. Give It 2 Me (not the one produced by Timbaland on his own Shock Value album), a Pharell produced song, stands out for its catchy synthesizer riff; She's Not Me has a nice bassline; Beat Goes On, featuring Kanye West, is pretty catchy too. The rest of the tracks probably need more spins to get stuck in the head, but hopefully they rise above being generic Timbaland B-sides.

Being a Special Collector's Edition, this package contains 2 bonus tracks - 2 remixes of 4 Minutes. Once again, it's lame because they should have featured at least one track that is not available on the normal release of the album, like a Japanese edition bonus track. Throwing in a remix is such a lazy way of "rewarding" the fans.

All in all, this is a very unsatisfactory package and you should probably give it a miss and save your money by getting the regular edition.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Playlist of the week

Here's my random playlist of the week:

1. Love In This CLub - Usher ft Young Jeezy
2. 4 Minutes - Madonna ft Justin Timberlake & Timbaland
3. Break The Ice - Britney Spears
4. Rock With U - Janet
5. Love's Not A Competition (But I'm Winning) - Kaiser Chiefs
6. Better In Time - Leona Lewis
7. You're Pitiful - Weird Al Yankovic
8. Waiting On The World To Change - John Mayer
9. Dreaming With A Broken Heart - John Mayer
10. Home - Foo Fighters

Thursday, May 15, 2008

James Blunt Live in Singapore

Who: James Blunt
What: All The Lost Souls Tour

When: 13 May 2008, 8pm

Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium

British crooner James Blunt stopped by Singapore and I was fortunate enough to be part of the audience. I must say I had a great view as I was seated in the second row in front of the stage (gasp!) and Mr Blunt was just 5m away from where he was singing.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me as I left it in my friend's car, who sent it for repair at the workshop without taking my camera out (argh!), so he couldn't return it to me in time. These pics here are taken with my lousy Nokia phone, so the quality isn't that great.

Being so near also put some pressure on me because I had to act all interested and enthusiastic whenever he walked towards us and looked at us. It was also very strange to be so near the artist and being seated. Normally, at such a distance, I would be standing and jumping even. But this is a very different kind of concert and Mr Blunt's songs are not known to make you jump out of your seat.

So I went to the concert with knowledge of about 5 of his songs. After all, he has only released 2 albums to date. But I did like the songs from the second album that I heard on MTV (yes heard, not watched).

Mr Blunt appeared on stage at about 8:25pm, accompanied by his 4 piece band. It was quite a simple set-up. The lights weren't too fancy and the projector displayed some boring powerpoint background videos and ocassionally some video footage of him.

As I did not recognise most of the songs that were played, i can't really list out the set list. Even if I could, I can't remember how they sounded like. So I shall just tell you what I remember about the concert.

My favourite performance of the night was Goodbye My Lover, where he performed it solo, on the piano, with just a single spotlight shining down on him. I was never a big fan of the song after hearing it on radio and in CD shops, but it sounded good live. My colleague also rightly pointed out that his voice is not as shrill and irritating as he sounds on the CD.

As amazing as it may sound, Mr Blunt had a horde of over-enthusiastic and screaming adoloscent fans who screamed almost throughout the concert. In response to them, an ang moh guy seated somewhere behind me shouted "James, I really like you in a manly kind of way!" during their downtime. That was quite funny.

The band was ok, not too fancy or memorable, and it's largely due to the material and not because of their lack of showmanship or musicianship. During one of the more uptempo songs, Mr Blunt encouraged the audience to get on their feet and clap along to the beat, but the music wasn't "hot" enough to warrant me standing up voluntarily to clap. That was his most upbeat song for the night, but it wasn't that hot in my opinion.

There was also a moment of rockstar excess during his last song for the main set, where a giant Sabian gong was lowered onto the stage, and for the last note of the song, he whacked the gong, presumably to end the show with a bang. It's quite gimmicky and a blatant plug for the Sabian brand.

Naturally there was an encore, and Mr Blunt obliged by singing 3 more songs. I also liked the performance of Same Mistake. It's a nice song. He then closed the show with 1973, his "hit" single from the second album.

All in all, I thought it was an ok concert. At times, I felt like I was in a pub listening to him sing, probably due to the fact that I was seated. But then again, I might be biased, because after watching the Foos, everything else pales in comparison. It was a show that I would not have paid to watch, and if you missed it, you don't have to pinch yourself for it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Collectibles #22: Foo Fighters Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace Tour Edition (2008)

This is the Japanese version of Foo Fighters' Grammy-winning album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. It is their sixth studio album, and their most critically-acclaimed since their second album, The Colour And The Shape.

Released in September last year, the album has spawned two hit singles already and also won two Grammy Awards this year, for Best Rock Album and Best Hard Rock Performance. Lead single The Pretender was a massive hit, spending 18 weeks at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock charts, setting a record in the process.

Follow up single, Long Road To Ruin, also peaked at number one on the same chart, spending seven weeks there. The third single is Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running), but it has never been properly released as a CD single. There is another single, Let It Die, being released simultaneously to radio.

It took me a while to warm up to this album because at first listen, there were plenty of "ballad-y" songs. I tend to like my Foos songs loud and hard. But in the build-up to the concert last month, I began to listen to the album more thoroughly and uncovered a lot of gems in the process.

My favourite Foos album is The Colour And The Shape, and for ESPG, they reunited with Gil Norton, the same guy who produced TCATS. What we have now is an album that is as good as the former, and it thoroughly deserved its Album of the Year Grammy nomination.

First track The Pretender is one of the best album openers in recent history, and it's not hard to see why it's such a big smash. Like many of the songs on the album, it opens slowly and softly before building up and exploding into a chorus of grandiose sound. When performed live, they got everyone in the audience singing along to the chorus. It's amazing.

Let It Die starts off solemnly and takes a while to get there, but the payoff is rewarding. Some might think that Dave goes the typical route of screaming his head off unnecessarily but I think it's justified. It's a good song to open the concert, which they did.

Erase Replace has been described by one magazine as: "(Dave) writes guitar riffs like he plays the drums", and I can see why, but it's not a bad thing. Being a drummer, I like syncopation and interesting drum rhythms And while it's true that the guitar riffs sound more like drum parts, it also gives the song more bite and punch. I also like the middle section of the song, where you can hear the strings providing the accent in tandem with the drum beat.

Long Road To Ruin is the de facto pop song of the album, and it holds up well. I think it's even better than Learn To Fly, the other pop song from the Foos catalogue. I like the fact that Chris has a guitar solo in there, and it's a nice solo. They said that it's a fun song to play on tour, and I agree. I would love to play this song too. The video for this song is hilarious too.

Come Alive is a little similar to Let It Die in terms of song structure and set up, and it's equally good. This is one of the more epic songs, and it's a pity they didn't perform this on tour. They mentioned that this album represents a growth in terms of song arrangement, and that they couldn't have recorded this album 5 years ago because they weren't mature enough, and I think it's true. They definitely couldn't have done this song back then.

Stranger Things Have Happened is one of my favourite songs off the album right now. I used to think it was boring because it was bare (just 2 guitars) and relatively slow. One magazine also described it being "not strange enough", and that it should add weird sounds like fuzz guitars to make it more strange sounding. That completely misses the point about the song. It does not need strange sounds just because the title mentions that stranger things have happened, and what you get is 2 very ordinary sounding guitars and a vocal. To me, it's a damn beautiful song. Beautifully played and sung.

Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running) is also one of my faves and I like it because of the high energy drums. It's quite pop-sounding too, and I suppose it's on purpose, because the song title digs those emo rock bands, who are really more pop than rock. It's a very fun song to play and it's a pity they're not shooting a video for this song.

Summer's End is a country like song that I skip quite a lot. It's one of the weaker tracks on the album.

Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners is an instrumental featuring Dave and Australian guitarist Kaki King. King joined the Foos on the Australian leg of their tour and performed this song live on stage with them.

The backstory of this song is that there was a mining accident in Beaconsfield, Australia, and when rescuers reached these two miners, they asked them what they would like to have while they were being rescued. They asked for an iPod containing Foo Fighters songs as sustenance. When this story broke to Dave, he was very touched by it and promised to write them a song and put it on their next album, and so here it is.

It's the only instrumental track in the album. In fact, it's the only instrumental track in all their six albums. And it's good. I've never considered Dave as much of a guitar player, but he showed that he has the chops on this track.

But, Honestly starts off like a typical college band song, with the strumming of the guitar accompanied by a vocal. It does not start off very impressively but the last third of the song, where the band comes in, is superb. I love the guitar riff. I was surprised they performed this at their concert because it wasn't an obvious choice, but I'm glad they did. It's great that they did non-single songs for the concert. Makes me appreciate them much more.

Home is a real departure for the Foos, even though they have shown their softer side on the second disc of their In Your Honor album, and also their acoustic live release, Skin & Bones. Home features Dave playing the piano, a first for him. The piano is the star of the song, and Dave proves to be adept at the task.

Some people have described the track as being soppy and mushy, but I think it's just sweet and tender. Dave does have an amazing voice, in that he can go from screaming in one track to becoming all sensitive and charming in another. The title of the album is taken from a line in this song, and I think it's a beautiful line. It's really graceful. A great album closer.

Of course, this being the Japanese version, there are always bonus tracks, and on this version we have Once & For All (Demo) and Seda. I haven't listened to them much yet, but I think they're so-so. That's why they're bonus tracks, and not in the main album listing.

In conjunction with their tour, the Foos have re-released ths album as a Tour Edition, with a bonus DVD. It contains five live performances from their Hyde Park concert. If you don't already own the full concert DVD, this is a great bonus. But if you already do, like me, then it's somewhat of a disappointment. I was rather hoping that they would include music videos of The Pretender and Long Road To Ruin, and behind-the-scenes or studio footage as well. That would have been a great package.

Nevertheless, it's still a great package. Just the album alone is worth the money. But if you're a typical kiasu Singaporean and want to get your money absolutely worth, get this Japanese Tour Edition, with the two bonus audio tracks and live DVD.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Hot Buzz: Usher - Love In This Club

I'm hooked onto Usher's new single, Love In This Club. It's the first single to be taken off his forthcoming album, Here I Stand, due to be released on 27 May.

Here I Stand is the follow-up to the mega-selling Confessions, which spawned a massive four number one hit singles. Judging by the response to Love In This Club, it looks like Usher is poised for more success.

Love In This Club has already hit the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, replicating the chart success of Confessions' lead single, Yeah! While not as banging as Yeah!, Love In This Club has a nice synthesizer riff in the background, and a nice melody that sticks with you.

It features a rapper as well, Young Jeezy this time instead of Ludacris, and the rap fits the song quite well. The song might not hit you the first time, but give it a few spins and you'll be hooked on it, I guarantee!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Collectibles #21: Thriller Limited Japanese Single Collection (2008)

This is the exclusive singles collection of the Thriller 25 album, released only in Japan. Unlike the proper Thriller 25 album reissue, this collection does not contain the new remixes or the DVD of music videos, but instead, it contains the 7 singles released from the original Thriller 25 years ago.

It's a superb and beautiful package. The CDs are housed in a hard cover box, and each of the 7 singles come in an individual plastic cover. The sleeves of the CD are the exact replicas of the original vinyl records' artwork. Of course back then, vinyl was still very much the dominant medium.

Not only that, at the back of the individual CD cardboard sleeve, there is also a round hole cut in the middle so that it really looks like a vinyl sleeve. And the print on the disc itself is also how a vinyl record would look like, so it's really really cool. You can't find a more elegant box set than this. The Japanese are really good at packaging.

As mentioned, the songs contained in this package is different from the Thriller 25 reissue. Here, you get just 2 tracks on each CD, with the A-side being the main single, and the B-side being a previously unreleased track, instrumental version, live track or a song from Off The Wall that didn't manage to be released as a single.

In other words, the A and B side follows the tracklisting of the original single released 25 years ago. So you get Can't Get Outta The Rain, a B-side from The Girl Is Mine single, which was never released on CD format before previously.

This is a really neat and elegant package that is so worth the money. You can only get it in Japan and nowhere else. So the next time you have a friend going to Japan, ask them to get it for you. It's really nice.

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Foo Fighters Live in Perth

Who: Foo Fighters
What: Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace Tour

When: 21 April 2008

Where: Burswood Dome, Perth

1. Let It Die
2. The Pretender
3. Times Like These
4. Breakout
5. Learn To Fly
6. Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)
7. This Is A Call
8. Stacked Actors

Acoustic Segment
9. Skin And Bones
10. Marigold
11. My Hero
12. Cold Day In The Sun
13. The Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners
14. But, Honestly
15. Everlong (semi-acoustic)

Rock Segment
16. Monkey Wrench
17. All My Life

18. Big Me
19. Long Road To Ruin
20. Best Of Me

If there ever was a time I had to use the F-word, this would be it.


Haha, it was. That's the only way to do it justice.

I arrived at the Burswood Dome at about 6:45pm, later than expected. SS was already there waiting for me. There were already quite a lot of people there, and we began to buy our merchandise.

There were quite a few designs available, and I ended up buying 2 T-shirts and the tour poster specially commissioned for the Australia and NZ leg. Spent A$100 for the first round.

The doors opened at 7pm and we went in. I was eager to go in early because we were holding the standing tickets. There were 2 standing pens and ours was the one that was further back, so it's not right in front of the stage. Nevertheless, we still got to stand almost at the front of the barrier, and directly facing where Dave Grohl would stand on the stage, just that we were 50m away.

Kaki King opened the show, and she demonstrated her amazing finger-picking technique. I have never seen anyone play the guitar like that before. But besides that, her set was a little boring. Another local band came on after that, The Mess Hall. They were a 2-man band and they were actually pretty good. Reminded me of The White Stripes.

But that was just a warm-up. At about 8:15pm, the lights dimmed once again and the Foos came on stage. There was a catwalk ramp leading from the stage to our area, and Dave Grohl walked all the way to the end of it, so he was just 5m away from where I was standing!

They then launched into Let It Die, the second track off their new album. It's not a single but they decided to open with it, instead of The Pretender. But it was a good opening song. I almost had the chills when Dave started singing. The Pretender followed and had the whole arena singing to the chorus.

It was fast and furious as Times Like These came on, followed by Breakout. It was hit after hit as Learn To Fly and Cheer Up, Boys (I was cheering like mad) came on too. After that, they played This Is A Call, which is one of the songs that they haven't performed in a while, and I was really happy to hear it.

They then did Stacked Actors, which featured a drum solo by Taylor Hawkins. It's pretty similar to the arrangement on their previous tour I watched on DVD, but always better hearing it live.

After that, they slowed things down with an acoustic set, which was actually my least favourite part of the concert. That's because they decided to perform Skin And Bones and Marigold, which are more obscure and so-so only lah.

Continuing the acoustic set, they then did My Hero (what a pity it's acoustic, but it still managed to rouse the crowd), Cold Day In The Sun, featuring Hawkins on vocals (he can't sing for nuts) and The Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners, featuring Kaki King.

They performed this song specially because Kaki King is Australian, and the Beaconsfield Miners (whom the song was dedicated to) were Aussies as well. It was a good performance and I learned to like the song even more.

Rounding off the acoustic set, they did But, Honestly, from the new record. I wasn't expecting them to perform this, but it was a pleasant surprise to hear it. I thought they would have performed Come Alive from the new record instead of this. After that, Dave said, "Give me back my electronic guitar." Yes, he said "electronic", not "electric".

And he launched into Everlong, solo first. It's my favourite FF song ever, and I'm glad he didn't play the whole song acoustic. The full band version rocks.

From that point on, it was super high energy all the way as they played Monkey Wrench and All My Life. All My Life was nuts. It was my favourite song that night. It's already an awesome song, but when you hear it live, it's 10 times even more awesome. I was head-banging so hard and screaming till I was hoarse.

Then they left the stage. But after a while, the screens projected the setlist for the night, using those night vision cameras. As the camera moved up and down, you could see the list of songs they had been played already. And suddenly, you see Dave's cheeky face holding the paper and making a monkey face, it was damn hilarious.

The crowd was cheering and asking for an encore, and Dave teased us by raising 2 fingers, motioning that they will do two more songs. The crowd groaned naturally, then the camera panned to Hawkins, who was euqally cheeky, and indicated "five". The crowd roared. Then it went back to Dave, and he teased us again before finally indicating "three". Damn funny!

They came out and did Big Me (semi-acoustic version), Long Road To Ruin and Best Of Me. Awesome-ness.

Dave was damn funny throughout the whole concert and talked a lot. He joked about how they weren't awesome a few years back but they are now, all because they have the world's greatest.......triangle player (they added a percussionist to the line-up). And he made the percussionist perform a triangle solo and claimed it was the World Record for the largest audience to witness a triangle solo voluntarily. Damn funny.

It was a mind-blowing concert and I enjoyed it immensely. It was worth it to spend all that money to make the trip to Perth just to watch it. This concert is officially Number One on my all-time favourite concerts list!

After the concert, SS and I went out and I bought another round of merchandise. Bought another hoody sweater and poster, blowing another A$80 in the process. So the total damage was A$180. Oh man.

It's a real pity the Foos didn't stop by Singapore. The concert would have been sold-out and they would show Singaporeans how a rock concert should be done. And Singaporeans can then learn how to head bang the right way. Pity, but then again, I managed to catch the show. I'll not forget it in a hurry. Awesome.

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