Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 40 Songs & Top 10 Albums of 2008

As we count down to the final hour of 2008, I hereby present my Top 40 songs of 2008. Only the first ten songs are in order of favour, the remaining 30 songs are listed in terms of what I feel makes a good playlist. 

TOP 40 SONGS OF 2008

1.   I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
2.    Bleeding Love – Leona Lewis
3.       Rock With U – Janet
4.       Let It Die – Foo Fighters
5.       Hot N Cold – Katy Perry
6.       Don’t Stop The Music – Rihanna
7.       American Boy – Estelle featuring Kanye West
8.       Hold My Hand – Akon & Michael Jackson
9.       Greatest Day – Take That
10.   Love Is Noise – The Verve
11.   Viva La Vida – Coldplay
12.   Nine In The Afternoon – Panic At The Disco
13.   Long Road To Ruin – Foo Fighters
14.   Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running) – Foo Fighters
15.   Gotta Be Somebody – Nickelback
16.   Human – The Killers
17.   Check Yes Juliet – We The Kings
18.   That’s Not My Name – The Tings Tings
19.   Built To Last – Melee
20.   The Man Who Can’t Be Moved – The Script
21.   The Resolution – Jack’s Mannequin
22.   Feels Like Tonight – Daughtry
23.   Won’t Go Home Without You – Maroon 5
24.   Make It Mine – Jason Mraz
25.   Waiting On The World To Change – John Mayer
26.   Dreaming With A Broken Heart – John Mayer
27.   I Kissed A Girl – Katy Perry
28.   In My Arms – Kylie
29.   Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing In Line For The Bathroom) – N.E.R.D.
30.   Closer – Ne-Yo
31.   Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – Beyonce
32.   Love In This Club – Usher featuring Young Jeezy
33.   Break The Ice – Britney Spears
34.   Miles Away – Madonna
35.   Better In Time – Leona Lewis
36.   Miss Independent – Ne-Yo
37.   Like You’ll Never See Me Again – Alicia Keys
38.   Sing For You – Tracy Chapman
39.   Love Lockdown – Kanye West
40.   Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys

And here are my Top 10 Albums of the Year. As mentioned, some of them are leftovers from 2007, but they only "hit" me this year, so I'm lumping them as under 2008.


10. Back To Black - Amy Winehouse

When Ms Winehouse is sober, she's capable of producing more than decent music, as this album proves. She has become the Britney of 2007, so I hope she will turnaround next year and create some more good music.

Choice Cuts: Rehab, You Know I'm No Good, Me & Mr. Jones, Back To Black, Valerie

9. As I Am - Alicia Keys

The talented Alicia Keys continues her amazing streak of hit albums and As I Am is no exception. She might not have been nominated for many Grammys this year, but this is certainly a good album. Grab the Super Edition of the album for three very worthy bonus tracks.

Choice Cuts: No One, Like You'll Never See Me Again, Superwoman, Another Way To Die, Saviour

8. Spirit - Leona Lewis

2008 has been good to Leona Lewis. She performed at the closing ceremony of the Olympics, scooped up an award at the MTV Asia Awards, topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts and was nominated 3 times at next year's Grammys.

She is one gal who can really sing and I believe she will go far. Hope this is only the start of more good things from her.

Choice Cuts: Bleeding Love, Better In Time, Yesterday, I Will Be, Footprints In The Sand

7. Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends - Coldplay

Coldplay also had a great year. Expectations for their fourth studio album were sky high and they not only met them, but well surpassed them. And they saved EMI's fortunes in the process too.

This is their best album since they hit the scene 8 years ago. Unsurprisingly, they have been nominated for 7 Grammys next year, 1 less nomination than Lil' Wayne, but scooping nods in the 3 major categories. I hope they win big!

Choice Cuts: Viva La Vida, Violet Hill, Lost, Lovers In Japan, Life In Technicolor ii

6. Discipline - Janet Jackson

No matter what the others say, I will still support Janet and continue to do so. But anyway, I feel that Discipline is her best album since All For You. Granted, there are still some filler tracks, but the first 5 songs totally rock!

And to those people who think that she should remove all the interludes betwheneen the songs, they simply don't understand Janet. She's been doing the interlude thing since Rhythm Nation, way before Justin or Coldplay did it. But her interludes are non-musical, and they serve the same purpose - which is to make the album more coherent, the transitions between songs smoother and most importantly, tell the story.

I really loved the Rock Witchu Tour, based on what I've seen on YouTube. Pity it's not going anywhere else. I highly doubt the Japan dates are going to happen. Hope there will at least be an official DVD release for the tour. Anyway, you go girl!

Choice Cuts: Rock With U, Feedback, 2Nite, Luv, Rollercoaster

5. Hairspray - OST

Along with the most joyful movie musical comes the most joyful soundtrack, and this soundtrack has officially replaced Grease as my favourite soundtrack of all time!

Every character in the film is perfectly cast, and that means they have the talent to carry not only the role well, but sing the songs well too. Particularly ooustanding is the lead actress, Nikki Blonsky, who was previously an unknown.

The arrangement of the songs are superb, and besides lending themselves to great choreography in the film, they stand alone well individually as songs too. You really can't help but sing along to the songs when you listen to them.

Choice Cuts: Good Morning Baltimore, Without Love, You Can't Stop The Beat, Come So Far (Got So Far To Go), I Can Hear The Bells

4. We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. - Jason Mraz

I've always admired singer-songwriter-musicians like Dave Matthews, and Jason Mraz is a great example too. Watching clips of him perform live, you can tell that he has a knack for coming up with catchy lyrics on the spot. And he uses his lyrical prowess to great effect in this album, as always.

It's a great album to listen to when you're on vacation or on the beach. Just chill along to his soothing voice and feel-good music. 

Choice Cuts: I'm Yours, Live High, Love For A Child, A Beautiful Mess, Make It Mine

3. Continuum - John Mayer

This is one of the hangover albums from 2006 in fact, but I only bought it this year, after they released a special tour edition with a bonus CD of live tracks. 

John Mayer reminds me a lot of Dave Matthews because of his voice. And also the fact that he plays guitar and writes his own songs. He's an extremely talented fella, and I would say even more so than Jason Mraz, but just below Dave Matthews. But it's not about comparing talent of course, and each of them has their own strengths and characteristics.

Choice Cuts: Waiting On The World To Change, Dreaming With A Broken Heart, Slow Dancing In A Burning Room, In Repair, The Heart Of Life

2. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace - Foo Fighters

It's been a while since the Foos released a really solid album, their last great one being their second album, The Colour And The Shape. I mean, the albums in between had their moments and standout tracks - certainly the song All My Life is one of my faves - but they weren't well-rounded enough to be considered a great album.

Echoes is their sixth studio album, and thankfully, they have managed to reverse the cycle and produced their best album - ever. Shape used to be my favourite but Echoes has surplanted that. Well done, Foos!

This album marks their maturity as the band members get older and have kids and have a different outlook in life. Dave, for one, doesn't scream as much as he used to. He actually has a very nice singing voice, and he uses that much more in this album, particularly on the softer tracks such as the closer, Home, which is a piano-driven ballad, something they wouldn't, or couldn't have done 10 years ago.

After recording one half of an album of acoustic songs for In Your Honor and subsequently going on an acoustic tour, they have also learnt how to incorporate strings and keyboards, making them sound fuller and giving their music more texture.

Rightly nominated for Album Of The Year at this year's Grammys, it was a pity it didn't win. But it won Best Rock Album and Best Hard Rock Performance for The Pretender. They're taking a much-deserved break now after a marathon world tour (he better rest that throat). Let's hope they come back fresh and ready to rock again in 2010!

Choice Cuts: Let It Die, Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running), Stranger Things Have Happened, The Pretender, But, Honestly

1. One Of The Boys - Katy Perry

I had a really hard time deciding between #1 and #2, and I finally decided to place Katy as #1 because it is legitimately an album released in 2008, whereas Foos' album was released in 2007. But I must say that Katy's album is really damn good, especially since it's her debut album!

She emerged out of nowhere with I Kissed A Girl and dominated the charts around the world. Hot N Cold is flooding the airwaves everywhere now. But her best is yet to come. At this point in time, out of the 12 songs, there is only 1 song that I don't like as much as the others. So I really like the other 11 songs!

I was hooked on Thinking Of You for a while (it's her next single), but recently I've been addicted to Lost. And slowly, it's turning to I'm Still Breathing. All these 3 songs are ballads, and in spite of her being known for her upbeat songs so far, I feel that she really shines on the slower songs. Her voice is tender and she conveys her emotions well.

Katy wrote or co-wrote all of the songs here, and I'm really impressed by the lyrics, especially since I don't normally pay as much attention to the lyrics as the melody and music. But she's really very witty and she has come up with some of the most memorable lines this year.

E.g. on Ur So Gay
"You're so sad maybe you should buy a Happy Meal
You're so skinny you should really SuperSize the deal"

On Mannequin:
"Cos you're not a man
You're just a mannequin
I wish you could feel that my love is real
But you're not a man"

I like this album also because it's a straightforward pop album. It utilises real instruments, real drums and the songs can be played live. Too many albums these days mix R&B and hip-hop and they just sound so generic. And their vocals sound so processed and you know they can never be performed live.

This album is full of hit singles and I hope they go deep on this one and release many sngles. If Rihanna can do it, why can't Katy? Though Ur So Gay will probably get banned in Singapore as well. 

Go listen to the ballads I mentioned, you won't regret it. Album of the year.

Choice Cuts: Lost, Thinking Of You, I'm Still Breathing, Hot N Cold, I Kissed A Girl

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 10 Songs of 2008

It is 2 more days before 2008 becomes yet another memory, and as we head into a new year, here's my annual list of my favourite music for 2008. 

As I have said before, this is a list of MY favourite music, and it is by no means the definitive list of the best music of 2008, but it is merely a personal reflection of music that moved me, and remained in my mind for 2008.

Before I begin, I noticed that my visitor counter has unwittingly crossed the 10,000 mark already. Haha, it took more than 4 years, but hell yeah, I'm still going to celebrate! Thanks to all my readers and visitors who bothered to come here to spend a few minutes of your time. I appreciate it deeply. Hope you'll continue to be entertained and please leave your comments when you're free. :)

This year, I decided to list down my Top 10 favourite songs, as well as Top 10 favourite albums. Some of the albums were actually released in late 2007, but I didn't get to listen to them till this year, so I consider them as part of 2008's list.

I have also decided to publish my favourite 40 songs of the year, where the 30 songs outside the Top 10 are not in order of preference, because simply, how do you decide whether you like a song a little more than the other to rank it 36th or 37th? There's no way. So the other 30 songs here are just the songs that I liked but didn't make it to the Top 10. 

TOP 10 SONGS OF 2008

10. Love Is Noise - The Verve

I didn't immediately like this song the first time I heard it, mainly because of the vocoder loop that runs throughout the song, which I felt was really irritating. But after giving it a few more spins, it really grew on me.

It's a great return to form for The Verve, whom after releasing their hugely-successful Urban Hymns album in 1997, broke up for the second time in their career. Love Is Noise is the first single from their comeback album, Forth, released this year and hitting Number 1 on the UK album charts.

Here's their performance at Glastonbury 2008.

9. Greatest Day - Take That

#9 belongs to another band that has made a successful comeback in recent years. Take That reformed in 2006, 10 years after splitting up, and they released one of the best-selling albums of 2006, Beautiful World

They're still on a roll and their success looks set to continue. Their second album since their comeback, The Circus (not to be confused with Britney Spears' album, Circus, which was released on the same day), sold 306,000 copies in the first 4 days, becoming the fastest-selling album of the year. Their upcoming tour also sold 600,000 tickets in less than 5 hours, breaking Michael Jackson's 1987 record of the fastest-selling concert in UK history.

When they performed this song at this year's MTV Europe Music Awards, it was my first time hearing it, and I was blown away. Perhaps it was due to the impressive lighting effects, but the hook of the song is undeniable. It has a rousing chorus, rivalling their best song ever, Never Forget. And it deserves its place among the Top 10 tunes of the year.

Here's their triumphant performance at the MTV EMAs. Don't you just love it! I wanna watch them in concert too!

8. Hold My Hand - Akon & Michael Jackson

This song is actually an accidental entry because it was leaked. Originally meant to be included on Akon's new album, Freedom (then-titled Acquitted), this song got leaked in July and scuppered plans for it to be released as a first single. It was later dropped from Freedom altogether, and it is unsure if it will ever get a proper release.

Akon had already worked with MJ prior to this track, where Akon contributed a 2008 version of MJ's classic, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', for the 25th anniversary re-release of Thriller. They got on so well that they decided to work together on more tracks, and Hold My Hand is the result of one of those sessions.

It's a modern day Heal The World, updated with Akon's beats and sound. But MJ's voice remains as soulful as ever. The harmonies on this track are absolutely beautiful and it was great hearing MJ sing again. 

I don't know when MJ will release another album, but if this song is any indication of what to expect, the wait is certainly worth it.

7. American Boy - Estelle featuring Kanye West

This is a song that is on almost all the year-end lists, and rightly so, for it is the most infectious and groovy song of the year. 

American Boy is Estelle's first international single from the album Shine. It is actually her second album, as she had previously released her debut album, titled The 18th Day, in 2004. American Boy is her first huge hit, and it took the world by storm. It stayed at the UK #1 spot for 4 weeks, and cracked the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 as well. 

Its success could partly be attributed to Kanye's guest spot, giving the song a big boost. But I believe it is also due to Estelle's unique voice that gave the song its character. The bassline is groovy and you just feel like moving your body and dance to it. Kanye even performed this song during his concert in Singapore.

American Boy has been nominated for 2 Grammy Awards next year - Song Of The Year and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Of The Year. I hope she wins one.

Here's the music video for the song. Note that Kanye wears an MJ badge, and you can see it close up at the 3:09 mark, when he mentions MJ in the song.

Here's another clip from this year's MTV EMAs, where Kanye performs Love Lockdown first, before being joined by Estelle later for American Boy (skip to the 4:04 mark).

6. Don't Stop The Music - Rihanna

Rihanna continued her dominance well into 2008, as she released even more singles and even upsized, or shall I say, reloaded her Good Girl Gone Bad album with even more hit singles. However, of all her singles released this year, Don't Stop The Music is my favourite.

Maybe it's because it samples MJ's Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', and I think it's one of the best use of samples ever. The "mama-sey-mama-san-maman-coo-san" chant fits the song like a glove (no pun intended) and gives the song a club-thumping beat and energy.

Rihanna is one of those artists who don't sing well but yet have a knack of releasing catchy hit tunes. A lot of credit goes to her songwriters and producers. She may not be my favourite singer, but you can't deny the fact that she hooks up with the right people at the right time and makes all the right moves. So far at least.

Here's the music video for the song...

5. Hot N Cold - Katy Perry

Definitely the Best New Artist of the year in my opinion, but sadly, the Grammy folks do not agree. Katy Perry has been snubbed by the Grammy voters, who decided that the Jonas Brothers deserve a nomination more than Katy, even though the boys have already released 3 albums since 2006. How's that for NEW Artist?!

Technically, Katy Perry has also released 2 albums to date. Her debut album, Katy Hudson, was released in 2001, when she was just 17 years old. Back then, she was still known as Katy Hudson, and this was a Christian music album. 

One Of The Boys is her first pop album under the name Katy Perry (she changed her name to avoid being confused with Kate Hudson), and her first major label release. The first single was the massive, massive I Kissed A Girl, which topped the charts in 22 countries worldwide (except Singapore, where it has been banned on radio and MTV).

However, it is the follow-up single, Hot N Cold, that enters the list as one of my favourite songs this year. The chorus is insanely catchy and her lyrics are just so fun and funny. E.g. "You PMS like a bitch, I would know".

The music video is quite funny too. Look out for a cameo by Jack Nicholson as one of the audience members in the church.

4. Let It Die - Foo Fighters

I never expected this song to be on this list, as it wasn't one of my favourite Foo songs earlier on. Long Road To Ruin and Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running) were fantastic songs released this year too. But it all changed the moment I went to the Foos concert in Perth.

I travelled all the way to Perth to catch the Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace tour and after waiting for so long, the Foos took the stage with the strains of Let It Die playing. And after Dave did his walk of honour on the catwalk (he was just 5m away from me!), he started singing the opening line of the song. And oh my, his voice just filled up the whole arena and reverberated, sending chills down my spine. Really.

From that moment on, I began to love the song more and more, and it has become one of my favourite Foos songs ever. 

Let It Die was released as a digital single on iTunes, and it reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, becoming their 3rd consecutive #1 single after The Pretender and Long Road To Ruin. They became one of only four acts to simultaneously place three songs in the Modern Rock Top 20.

Even more impressive is the fact that Let It Die is the #1 Hot Modern Rock Song on the year-end Billboard charts, beating The Pretender to #2, even though Let It Die spent only 4 weeks at #1, the least of their 3 singles. 

Let It Die is not the most obvious and typical Foos song, but it really grows on you. The build up and intensity is fantastic and I would love to jam this song out one day.

There's is no official music video, but here is a superb unofficial clip from Fuse TV, recorded from their concert at Madison Square Garden.

3. Rock With U - Janet Jackson

Rock With U is taken from Janet's much-maligned album, Discipline, which has been labelled as yet another flop. Even though it became Janet's sixth #1 album, its opening week sales of 181,000 is the smallest among all her previous #1 albums. Even Damita Jo and 20 Y.O., both of which opened at #2, sold more in the first week than Discipline did.

Nevertheless, I still love the album and Rock With U. This is her most Eurodance-sounding single ever, and it's a pity it didn't chart well, not even in Europe. There wasn't even a physical release for the single.

Some might say that Janet's voice sounds weak and she mumbles too much, but I think it's pretty apt for this song. I also love the repetitive keyboard riff and the robotic "I wanna rock with u" voice. It's cool. 

Luckily, there was a music video for the song. It is very good and I like it a lot. It is seemingly shot with a single take, and the choreography is pretty good. Love the strobe light effects too. 

2. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis

Leona Lewis has come a long way since winning the UK talent show, X Factor in 2006. In 2007, she released a cover of Kelly Clarkson's A Moment Like This, and it promptly went to #1, and broke a world record by being downloaded 50,000 times within half an hour of its release. But nothing could have prepared her for the reception she got with Bleeding Love, the first single off her debut album, Spirit.

It was written by Jesse McCartney and Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic fame) and released in October 2007. It became the best-selling single in UK for 2007 and has so far topped the charts in 34 countries. 

The most amazing story came from the US, where Bleeding Love topped the Hot 100 on three separate occasions, becoming only one of four songs to have done so in the history of the chart. Spirit also topped the Billboard 200, making her the first British solo artist to top the chart with a debut album.

Leona has an amazing voice and this song is the best example of her vocal abilities. She has tremendous range (check out the high notes at 1:51 and 2:33) and she can definitely rival Mariah in the vocal gymnastics department.

Here's her performance at this year's MTV Asia Awards, where I was fortunate enough to meet her in person. :)

1. I'm Yours - Jason Mraz

And my song of the year goes to...Mr A-Z! Jason Mraz!!!

Jason Mraz's star has been shining brighter with each release, and with his third album, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things., he finally has his breakthrough. I'm Yours has been inescapable this year. Everywhere you go, you hear it. Be it wedding dinners, pubs or radio, this song is everywhere! 

But it is with great credit that even though there has been so much exposure, the song has not become overplayed and turned into another of those "nice initially but got over-exposed and now I really hate it" songs, which would have been really sad because it is a genuinely nice song.

I'm Yours is simply the feel-good song of the summer and you can't help but feel happy listening to it. I don't know of anyone who doesn't like the song. Maybe not on the same level as me, but certainly I don't know of anyone who doesn't like it.

I have missed Jason Mraz on the both occasions he's been here, but I'm not going to miss it again this time round. Yes, he will be making a stop in Singapore on 5th March 2008! Ticket details should be announced really soon, but you can check his official webpage for confirmation!

He's really good live and you can check out his rendition of I'm Yours here. The concert of 2009, not to be missed!

Alright, there you have my Top 10 Songs of 2008. It's getting late now, so I shall publish my Top 10 Albums and Top 40 Songs of 2008 in the next 2 days. Hope you've had fun. Share with me your Top 10 songs too... :)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Collectibles #25: Michael Jackson - King Of Pop (2008) [Updated]

Michael Jackson recently celebrated his 50th birthday, and in another effort to cash in on his fame, the wise people at Sony have decided to release yet another compilation album in his honour. The twist is that the tracklisting is determined by fans' votes, so it is "for the fans", as they like to say.

Only 16 countries (so far) have released their local editions of the album. These are markets that have the biggest MJ fanbases. So that means no USA or Singapore edition of this album.

[Update: In light of MJ's unfortunate passing on 25th June 2009, Singapore also rushed released a King Of Pop Singapore edition]

A website was created where fans could vote for their favourite tracks. The pool of songs differed for each market, but generally, all songs from MJ's solo years with Epic were included, as well as some tracks from The Jacksons era, the Jackson 5 years and his solo hits from Motown.

Some markets had single CD editions while others had double or even triple CD editions. As such, it is quite a mixed bag of songs.

The good thing is that we get some of the rarer stuff included. Songs such as Someone Put Your Hand Out, Got The Hots, We Are The World (Demo), Say Say Say, Sunset Driver, Fall Again, In The Back and You Can't Win might have been released haphazardly over various compilations over the years, but we get them here. Some markets also get the awful Thriller Megamix, which is bad, really really bad.

If I had my pick, here would be my choices for a single CD (not in order of preference):

1. Billie Jean
2. Beat It
3. Thriller
4. Man In The Mirror
5. Will You Be There
6. Smooth Criminal
7. Dangerous
8. Rock With You
9. Who Is It
10. She's Out Of My Life
11. Black Or White
12. The Way You Make Me Feel
13. Scream
14. Remember The Time
15. Jam

Here are the 8 editions that I have so far:

The Hong Kong Collection- 2CDs

The New Zealand Collection- 1CD

Limited Edition Australian 50th Anniversary Edition- 2CDs with poster

The Australian Collection - 1CD

Japan Edition - 1CD

The French Fans' Selection - 2CDs

The French edition is interesting because disc 1 comes with Open Disc technology, which is effectively like the Enhanced CD of old, with a difference. For the ECD, you just needed to slot the disc into your computer and you could access the bonus materials directly. But with the Open Disc, they have become smarter and gone one step further.

After slotting the disc into your computer, you have to register your details before you can access the bonus material, so it is a form of data mining. They will then send you an email to welcome you and send you updates. Quite smart I would say.

The bonus material is not hosted on the disc itself, but instead, directs you to a website where you can view the extra stuff like photos, stream videos, listen to the jukebox and check out related links.

The improvement here is also since it's hosted on a website, the bonus materials can be updated every now and then, for example, offering a different video clip every 2 weeks. Quite a good idea, but how many people will actually slot the disc in and visit the site every 2 weeks?

Edicion Argentina - 1CD

Singapore 3CD Edition

The Singapore edition is very similar to the French one as it has the same cover and also includes OpenDisc for the first disc. However, being Singapore, we have to be kiasu and have one CD more than the others, hence 3CD.

This compilation however, is not voted for by the fans. Sony just selected the songs and quickly put together this album to capitalise on MJ's death.

The tagline is "The Most Definitive Collection Ever!", and inspecting the tracklist, I wouldn't say it's the most definitive (how can it not include She's Out Of My Life??) but perhaps the most varied (or chapalang). The sequencing is quite disjointed too and I would have preferred to have all the remixes and B-sides on one disc rather than spread out all over.

With these 8 versions, I noticed there is one common factor - the first track is always Billie Jean. Based on this, I can deduce that Billie Jean is MJ's most loved, most definitive and most representative song.

With MJ's death, almost every country sprouted out with their local King Of Pop album and there will be much more for me to collect.