THE DUTCHESS – FERGIE
Marketed and distributed by Universal Music
The mammoth success had by the Black Eyed Peas in the past few years can, to some extent, be attributed to Fergie joining the group. Her sassy image and streetwise attitude – as well as vocal capabilities – have certainly added a new dimension to the hip-hoppers’ music and the public’s perception of what is considered cool. But, as often happens, the need for recognition as an artist in her own right has led Fergie to release a solo album, interestingly titled The Dutchess. Fueled by the ridiculously catchy London Bridge, Fergie’s debut is a mixture of funky hip-hop/rap songs (a la BEP) and more melodic vocal tracks, with a hint of reggae on some tracks. Produced by will.i.am, it’s a remarkably infectious collection of songs that should please both radio and fans alike. Second single, Fergalicious, will probably lead to a number of new slang terms, while Clumsy and Voodoo Doll could also be possible future singles. The reggae-feel of Mary Jane Shoes is quite successful, while Finally and Big Girls Don’t Cry are vocal gems. Although the funky, hip-hop tracks are fun, it’s a pity that her vocal talents as a singer aren’t shown off more thoroughly, (as they are on Big Girls Don’t Cry). The Dutchess succeeds in establishing Fergie as an artist in her own right.
TAKING THE LONG WAY – DIXIE CHICKS
Marketed and distributed by SonyBMG Music Entertainment
Country music is not as much a phenomenon in South Africa as it is in the U.S.A. In fact, other than hip-hop, no genre is as popular in the U.S. as country music. 2006 saw the Dixie Chicks return to the international music scene with their fourth album, Taking The Long Way. As one of the U.S.A’s biggest selling, most popular and highly respected music acts, the Chicks do not disappoint on their new CD. There may be a noticeable absence of fun tracks (like the popular Goodbye Earl), but it’s an album that forces you to listen not only with your brain but also with your soul. There’s the politically inspired first single, Not Ready To Make Nice and the beautiful Favourite Year. There’s also the brilliant title track about following your own road and the catchy Everybody Knows, which is the only track with a truly typical country & western feel and sound. The music is melodic, the album is well produced and the lyrics intelligent and emotional – which is why I liked it so much. If you can look beyond Natalie Maines’ country voice, Taking The Long Way is actually a remarkable pop album that just happens to be grounded in the country music realm; a CD that will undoubtedly win a handful of Grammy’s this year. Unfortunately, it will probably remain highly underrated locally.
SAM’S TOWN – THE KILLERS
Marketed and distributed by Universal Music
The Killers stormed onto the international music scene last year with their critically acclaimed debut, Hot Fuss – an album that contained now-famous hits like Mr Brightside and All These Things That I’ve Done. Since then, the group has garnered a cult following worldwide and, with the release of their sophomore album, Sam’s Town, they are bound to win even more fans. Fueled by the magnificent first single, When You Were Young, Sam’s Town features 12 tracks that definitely show remarkable musical growth while still being instantly recognisable as The Killers. The yummy Brandon Flowers’ voice has become more like that of a powerful rock star while gaining a certain degree of melancholy; characteristics that make just about every song on the album stand out. Besides When You Were Young, the title track counts as another of my favourites, as does Bling (Confession of a King), Read My Mind, Bones, Why Do I Keep Counting and This River Is Wild. I’ve always been a fan of rock and The Killers is one of very few “new bands” that have truly impressed me. If you’re not yet familiar with their music, Sam’s Town is one album you should get this year.
THE OPEN DOOR – EVANESCENCE
Marketed and distributed by SonyBMG
Evanescence stormed onto the international music scene a few years ago with Bring Me To Life, a track featured prominently in the movie Daredevil. Their debut album, Fallen, followed and songs like Going Under, Everybody’s Fool and My Immortal firmly cemented them into the collective consciousness of rock fans. When things got quiet, Amy Lee teamed up with SA band Seether (on Broken) and ensured that the band stayed in the spotlight. Now, at the end of 2006, Evanescence returns with a new album titled The Open Door. Thankfully, it lives up to the expectations created by the success of Fallen. First single, Call Me When You’re Sober, is perfectly balanced; it has the band’s trademark sound without being too heavy for radio, and is subsequently receiving loads of airplay. As for the rest of the album, I had to listen to it a number of times before I could really enjoy it. The music has matured and evolved into a more layered sound with more expressive vocals. While Amy Lee’s voice becomes a bit whiny after a while, it generally works with the dramatic approach the band have taken. Sweet Sacrifice, Lithium, Lacrymosa, Your Star and All That I’m Living For all deserve a mention as they contribute to the well-crafted musical journey that is The Open Door. However, if you’re not a fan of dramatic, Goth-rock the album will probably irritate you immensely.
20 Y.O. – JANET JACKSON
Marketed and distributed by EMI Music
I’ve been an admirer of Janet Jackson since her career started in the 80’s. My mother, who, as a result, was forced to listen to her music as I grew up, despised her. So when photos of an overweight Janet started circulating in the media she was quite delighted, thinking it indicated the end of her career. Janet, however, had other plans and instead released a new album while dramatically losing all the flab. After achieving astonishing success with putting Mariah Carey back on the musical map, it was only logical that Jermaine Dupri – the brain behind it all and Miss Jackson’s better half – would attempt to do the same for Janet. 2006 signaled her 20th year in the music industry, and although it’s a collection of brand new tracks, the aptly titled 20 Y.O. is a celebration of how remarkable a career it has been. It’s instantly recognisable as Janet’s work – it has her feel and a similar mood as previous albums – yet is 100% fresh due to Jermaine Dupri’s incorporation of current R&B and hip-hop trends. First single, Call On Me – which features rapper Nelly – is a trademark Janet song, as is the laid-back fun of Enjoy, while funkier tracks like So Excited and Show Me display the evolved, 2006-version of Janet Jackson. 20 Y.O. is an album that signifies the return of one of the music world’s biggest st