March 30, 2012

First Listen: Rufus Wainwright's Out Of The Game

Although it was recorded in New York, Rufus Wainwright’s smooth seventh album Out Of The Game sounds like it was rolled in the haze of the Los Angeles canyons. For those worried that the record's producer, Mark Ronson, has turned Rufus into Amy Winehouse, it can't be done. Together they've created a low-key 70’s style singer/songwriter pop gem. Here is a track by track:

Out Of The Game: The fizzy title track, like a Honky Chateau leftover, seems to be sung to his younger self with trademark wit: “You’re only a young thing, about to sleep with a sea of men. Just hanging around, wearing something from God knows where. Just having a ball.” Hear it

Jericho: Another slayer that sounds like he recorded it with The Band in 1976. It's all about wanting someone to change, when you know they really won't. Waiting for them to finally come through. The middle eight has the finest lyrical piece on the album: "Baby I know that you're too sad to cry / Well, my little darling, guess what? / So am I. / Still I believe we ought to shed a tear! / The openhearted have nothing to fear. / But I don't even think you hear me at all / Under your medieval ceiling, behind your biblical wall / Guess I'll have to put my trumpet back in the case / And get behind this here cannon covered in lace."

Rashida is one of those classic Rufus songs where you feel like he's telling you only part of an inside story, this one having something to do with Vanity Fair. The girl singers here are of the Velvet Underground variety, whoop whooping it. Enigmatic line: "I'd like to thank you Rashida for giving me a reason to call Ms. Portman and to write this song." UK fans can download this for free

Barbara is fantastic, like nothing he's done before. Reminiscent of Bowie's Young Americans album (think Win), it's built on a swirling synth sound that's slinky and almost r'n'b. The imagery is along the lines of "drinking rosé in the the rain" (this album has a particularly overcast atmosphere). With a simple, almost choral effect on the chorus, this track defines 70's AM radio mellow chic.

Welcome To The Ball is strangely Beatles-like, with string crescendos, horns and vocal effects. My least favorite song on Out Of The Game.

Montauk is gorgeous and sweet, a daydream of life in the future with his daughter Viva. The most traditional Rufus song on the album, it works best in the context of the songs that surround it, pleasingly breaking up the earlier tempos and instrumentation. Hear it

Bitter Tears is poppy and sounds a bit like some of the adventures on Want One. Built on a synthy background, it again has circus-y Beatles elements. The lyric sheet will reveal if this is about morning or mourning.

Respectable Dive. A slow, drunken shuffle - almost country, but not quite. "Baby, I love you and I do not want to lose you / but I'm not able to put my cards on the table. / And if you only knew of the hand that I'm holding / you would be blushing /and I am so far from bluffing / in this respectable dive."

Perfect Man brings back the Young Americans sound with heavy bass and references to Berlin. It's filled with bon mots like "another unveiling of a bright red herring..."

Sometimes You Need is a career highlight. Sensitive Rufus - his voice stripped of ego - returns on this sad guitar ballad about the necessity of being alone. "Sometimes a movie star's eyes gets you through the love and the lines. Let's get lost in Los Angeles,” he sings before a stunning string arrangement waltzes the song out.

Song Of You. Another forlorn ballad, this one with a particularly strong vocal. Ronson has recorded Rufus's voice beautifully. It's not laid on top - it's in the mix, but still very clear and in control. "There are many lyrics to choose from, but there's only one of you."

Candles is permeated with melancholy. At over 7 minutes, it is a proper album finale. "The churches have run out of candles" he sings on what seems to be a march for his mother, whose death clearly still affects him deeply. The end has a moving twist - I won't spoil it - that carries out the song's melody. It's a goosebumps-on-arms coda to a lovely album.

Summing it up, Rufus has gone back to what he does best: intricate arrangements and sharp lyrics. Out Of The Game is really not the big "pop album" he promised, but did we want that from him? It's neither as gilded as the sometimes over-the-top Release The Stars, nor is it crafted from one dark mood, like Songs For Lulu. Instead, he finds himself somewhere in between: calmer, wiser, but still a little haunted.

Out Of The Game is released on April 23. The UK will have a deluxe edition.

March 29, 2012

The conqueror of your heart

Swedish siren Beatrice Eli debuted her single The Conqueror back in November and finally we have video. She's having a Dragon Tattoo moment, is she not? I love her voice - it's tough, but it doesn't swagger (though she does a bit in the video!).

Follow Beatrice on Twitter and spread the word...

March 27, 2012

Ren Harvieu's Open Up Your Arms

Ren Harvieu's powerful new single, Open Up Your Arms, is the one. Her earlier songs, Through The Night and Forever In Blue, were solid, if a bit too staid for a 22 year old. Her phrasing on those tracks is gorgeous, if a bit ripped from kd lang (a class influence, I'd say). This new single, however, notches up the tempo, the personality and the melodies.

The song really coalesces when a male backing chorus takes over the sax-laden bridge at 2:35, swooning: "Open up your arms, let me in, let me in before it's too late." Ren returns and carries the whole track into the stratosphere. It's ecstatic, as if they're singing to me. And it's just what I needed.


The 12-track album, Through The Night, is out in the UK on April 23, as is Open Up Your Arms. Read a short interview with Ren, who literally broke her back in half last year, in 1883 Magazine.

Top Ten Musical Moments on Madonna's MDNA

Thank the Baby Jesus, Madonna's recent (weak) singles are just a ruse. Her 12th album, MDNA, is a solid collection of party pop songs peppered with a few stunning moments of introspection. It's not Ray Of Light - there is only one of those - but it's a return to quality after the phoned in Hard Candy. Here are a few of my favorite moments...

1 Girl Gone Wild: Let's start low and work our way up. There are a few irritants in this song, like the way she clips the note on the bit at 2:55 ("I'm a bad girl anyway, hey!") and although the spoken opener is a bit - you guessed it - reductive (Act Of Contrition meets Sorry?), I get a little thrill the way she says "because I love thee" at .13 seconds in.

2 Gang Bang: Madonna’s wicked, chaotic Tarantino soundtrack is filled with surprises. It almost seems free of structure, which is pleasing. But the greatest bit is clear: the highly cinematic ascension of “Sgt. Pepper” strings at 3:49 - 3:55. I play that over and over.

3 I’m Addicted: The repeated M-D-N-A bit in the final 45 seconds, especially the way she speeds it up at 4:20. This track also boasts one of the album’s best lines, actually written by Madonna: "All of the letters push to the front of my mouth / And saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout."

4 Turn Up The Radio: A relatively simple, yet effective stadium stormer, my favorite moments in Turn Up The Radio are the most fleeting: the whooshes of sound that come .07 seconds in and reappear later. I also love the line at 2:45 about blown speakers.

5 I Don’t Give A: BABY JESUS ON THE STAIRS, this is a good track! Another MDNA song that seems like multiple tunes sewn into one, I Don’t Give A’s greatest moment comes with the grandiose Game Of Thrones-y coda (3:22), which would be perfect as a show opener or closer.

6 I’m A Sinner: This is Orbit’s trick: creating a song with the “MDNA" sound that Martin Solveig imprinted on his own MDNA tracks - yet it also manages to sound like Music era Madge. I like everything about this song, but the "male" vocals at 3:17 (which may be Jean Baptiste or her slowed down) thrill me.

7 Beautiful Killer has one of Madonna’s prettiest bridges (2:08 - 2:40) in years. Great songs are separated from good ones by bridges that seem like songs within songs. This one is notable for its gorgeous Papa Don’t Preach-like strings. Beautiful Killer is perhaps the most "Madonna-esque" song on MDNA. It has her production stamp all over it.

8 Love Spent: Perhaps because this song comes from the madman brain of William Orbit, it’s filled with true musicality, whatever that means. From the out-of-nowhere use of the banjo throughout the song to the way it's broken into two segments. But for me, it's the zapping percussion in the final 44 seconds that really sends it over the edge.

9 Falling Free is baroque, isn’t it? Like Jane Austen wrote a breakup song and recorded it in the drawing room. I most love the complex structure of this song, particularly the “Your days were to fly...” bit that follows each verse (first heard at 1:39). is it a chorus? I don't think so? My second favorite line from the album is its wisest and saddest (made stronger by her perfect vocal in the song's final moments): “When I let loose the need to know / We're both free, free to go.”

10 Love Spent (acoustic): At first I was annoyed by the autotune remaining on Madonna’s voice - this is meant to be acoustic, right?! - until I realized it creates a nice contrast with the more stripped down vocal on the last half (that comes in at 2:40). The weird unintelligible (backwards? by Priscilla Renea?) bits added at 1:25 and 2:35 are a stroke of genius. "Hold on to me 'til there's nothing left."

If you're curious about what I don't like.... Give Me All Your Luvin', Bday Song, Best Friend. Superstar is a bit sweet for my tastes.

And for the record, I prefer the album cover image above (the standard) to the head shot of the deluxe version.

Stay tuned for more on MDNA over the next two weeks.

UPDATE: Woah... William Orbit tweeted me, unprompted! Questions answered:

March 26, 2012

Funky Divas at 20: And it goes a little something like this!

Today represents the first time I have written for the music/pop culture site Idolator. The piece is called En Vogue’s Album ‘Funky Divas’ Turns 20: Backtracking and celebrates their excellent 1992 smash. Check it out now. This was really fun to write! If you know the album, I hope you play it this week. If you don't, you have work to do.

and my fave song from Funky Divas is...


Adam Lambert likes En Vogue and my piece (I mean, errr, the Idolator piece,
haw haw)

MDNA Day #2: Stay calm!

Did you get your copy of MDNA yet? I have mine and will be doing a few posts on it this week. The good news is a truly like it. No, it's not Ray Of Light, it's not Confessions, but it IS very good and adds a strong set of classics to the "Esther Songbook." Stay tuned...

MDNA Day #1: Shooting Madonna's Superbowl Show

Hamish Hamilton, who directed Madonna's Superbowl Halftime show, has done a short video about shooting the production as a "scripted" event for TV. It's pretty fascinating, as are the other videos on his YouTube channel.

March 24, 2012

I want someone who can make me fall in love

Bright Light Bright Light has done it again. He's just released a new single on iTunes (worldwide) and it's pure class. Waiting For The Feeling is perhaps the most apropos BLx2 track yet, because it's rooted in 90's house music (Rod is obsessed with the nineties). Make Me Believe In Hope, the debut album, is finally out on June 4th via Aztec Records.

The video below, directed by Alun Davies, is gorgeous to watch, primarily because of the color palette. Rod says the look of Beetlejuice was a reference point, but I also see fashion spreads of the late 80's and 90's; some of the clothing is a bit buffalo style. I also love the visual motif of the hands on Rod's head. The whole thing has a sensibility that reminds of Roisin Murphy's videos a few years back.

Note that his website has a bootleg mixed called Waiting For The Passion that's BLx2 vs Gat Decor. The remix EP is out on April 30th, but you can buy the single now on iTunes: [UK] [US] [CA] [FR] [DE] [ES] [AU]

If you're unfamiliar with Rod's 2010/2011 tracks, here they are, all solid:

Disco Moment

Love Part II

Cry At Films

How To Make A Heart

He also has a beautiful acoustic EP on US iTunes called Blueprints. The title track is one of the best of 2012.

March 20, 2012

Happiness! You belong to me!

"Samola" Sparro has just released the first video, Happiness, from his forthcoming Return To Paradise album. It's a cool song - I dig the Philly soulpop vibe he is working - but I actually prefer the teaser track, The Shallow End (below). Which do you think is better?

March 18, 2012

Dinner With Madonna, raw interview footage, 1991

So! Madonna. This is the week we will hear MDNA. I predict a hodgepodge of tracks that most of us will rearrange in playlists to make a solid pop album (meaning, err, buhbye Give Me All Your Luvin'!). While I was kvetching today about this vital event, I happened to catch 41 minutes of raw footage (below) from Kurt Loder's interview with her in summer 1991. She was promoting Truth Or Dare and the topics they cover are reminiscent of the way Lady Gaga has captivated the world's stage the past few years. In '91, everyone was talking Madonna, from feminists to college students taking classes on her career and impact. Be sure to hear the final seconds, which are classic behind the scene diva brilliance.

Final thought: WHERE IS KURT LODER? Why has he stopped interviewing pop and
rock stars?

March 16, 2012

It's my birthday, bitchez!

I'll be blogging more as soon as I put down my party drinks!

Be my accomplice

Beth Ditto's band Gossip are back with a new album, A Joyful Noise, on May 22. The first single is a surprise - a shimmering, dark mid-tempo called Perfect World. It manages to sound like Gossip, but also bears a bit of the wall-of-synth disco imprint of producers Xenomania. Hear it NOW:

This track, launched on iTunes last Tuesday, is a true slayer... one of the finest Gossip songs to date. We have enough "happy" songs on the radio right now; Beth is serving up something a little deeper. Perfect World is just the beginning. The full tracklist for the album is:
  1. Melody Emergency
  2. Perfect World
  3. Get A Job
  4. Move In The Right Direction
  5. Casualties of War
  6. Into The Wild
  7. Get Lost
  8. Involved
  9. Horns
  10. I Won’t Play
  11. Love In A Foreign Place

March 12, 2012

Melody Gardot

Melody Gardot's Our Love Is Easy is literally one of my favorite songs. I first heard it in a beautiful shop in Paris two years ago and asked the salesgirl who she was playing. She told me and I've loved Melody ever since. She gets lumped in with artists like Michael Buble, but when she's great she purrs.

Her new album, The Absence, is due out May 29. Apparently it's inspired by "the deserts of Morocco, the streets of Lisbon ....the tango bars of Buenos Aires to the beaches of Brazil." Watch the teaser above to hear a bit of new track My Heart Won't Have It Any Other Way.


1. Mira
2. Amalia
3. So Long
4. So We Meet Again My Heartache
5. Lisboa
6. Impossible Love
7. If I Tell You I Love You I'm Lying
8. Goodbye
9. Se Voce Me Ama
10. My Heart Won't Have It Any Other Way
11. Yemanja

March 4, 2012

Florrie: Dance to the beat of my drum

Florrie - times four - recently shot a fun video for Spain-based fashion line
Hoss Intropia.
She looks amazing...

No word yet on her new single, but for the time being, you can download
free music
at her site.

March 3, 2012

Review: Judie Tzuke's One Tree Less

Judie Tzuke is flying. The last few years have seen her release some blistering singles, including the heartbreaking If and 2011's urgent love drama, Solid Shoulders. Last fall she released her 17th studio album, One Tree Less.

This is not dancepop: the blistering I mentioned above is of the emotional variety. Title track One Tree Less opens the album with a literal and metaphorical rasp, setting the tone for an album about facing truths and making decisions. The album's finest moment is its saddest: Joy chronicles a teen friendship with an unstable, abused friend. "I always wanted to look just like her. How could I understand how much her beauty hurt?"

, which Graham Norton took notice of last month on his radio show, is carried by a classically empowering Tzuke lyrical hook: "I can make changes."
That line resonates over an album's worth of stories that are intimate and heartfelt. Sadness, joy, empathy and melodicism in equal measures. This is Judie Tzuke.

One Tree Less is available on iTunes or from Judie's site. Her UK tour begins this Friday, March 9, and runs into April.

March 1, 2012

Paloma Faith, falling back to pop

Paloma Faith returns to music in May with a (surprise!) Nellee Hooper produced album called Fall To Grace. The first single, out May 20, is called Picking Up The Pieces. Hooper has produced most famously for Bjork, but also did Lamya's stunning debut and, of course, Madonna's track Bedtime Story.

I think it's safe to assume that Wong Kar-wai's beautiful film noir, In The Mood For Love, is an inspiration for Paloma..

click on the image to watch a trailer for the film

I've written a lot about Paloma over the past few years. Her 2009 debut album, Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? is a must-own record. The visuals for that LP were always nothing less than stunning.