YES – PET SHOP BOYS
Marketed and distributed by EMI Music SA
There are few people who would argue the fact that Pet Shop Boys were one of the pioneers of the electronic dance music genre, and especially so in the British music industry. Twenty five years since the release of their first single, West End Girls, the Boys release Yes, their tenth studio album. Written largely by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, it was produced by Brian Higgins and his production team, Xenomania, who have been responsible for notable hits for Cher, Kylie Minogue, Alesha Dickson, Girls Aloud, Sugababes and Gabriella Cilmi. Initial impressions of Yes left me thinking that it’s much of the same from the Pet Shop Boys, but with each listen, a new, and mind you, fresher, element came to the fore. Love Etc, the first single from the album, is for example probably one of the slickest PSB tracks in years, while the surprising pop mentality of Beautiful People and Did You See Me Coming? is refreshing in its simple honesty. Admittedly, there are several songs that do sound like the sequel to their previous work, most notably All Around The World, which has elements of Domino Dancing and Se A Vida E evident in its execution. The quirky is not left behind either, with Building A Wall in particular providing interesting food for thought. Yes is a very difficult album to describe because it achieves something few other artists manage. It’s firstly instantly recognisable and likeable, familiar territory even to those who are not particular fans of the band. Yet it’s also remarkably fresh, having a sound and feel so current that it catches you off guard. I wouldn’t necessarily attribute this to Xenomania’s production skills, though, as the Boys retained creative control throughout. It’s a concentrated dose of everything there is to like about Pet Shop Boys, with every song a potential hit and a shining testimony as to why they remain music icons after such a long time.
17 – RICKY MARTIN
Marketed and distributed by Sony Music
Thanks to his sultry Latino looks (and the seductive use of his torso in dancing) the western world is very familiar with the man that stormed onto the English pop scene with Livin’ La Vida Loca. Yet at that stage, in 1999, Ricky Martin was already a household name in much of the Spanish-speaking world. This year marks his 17th year as a solo artist, and in celebration (or should that be in memory) of this, a brand new greatest hits collection, aptly titled 17, has been released. Refreshingly, the album is chronologically balanced between his English and Spanish hits, appropriately starting with Maria, the song that fuelled his crossover to the mainstream market. It also features The Cup Of Life (which was rewarded with a standing ovation at the 41st Grammy Awards in 1999 ), Livin’ La Vida Loca, Private Emotion (with Meya), Shake Your Bon-bon, Nobody Wants to Be Lonely (with Christina Aguilera) and several of his Spanish hits, including La Bomba, Jaleo and Juramento. Ending off the album is Non Siamo Soli, featuring Italian heartthrob Eros Ramazotti (from the Black & White Tour of 2007). Seventeen big hits in 17 years may seem like a relatively small songbook, but with 55 million albums sold around the glove, there is perhaps something to learn from Ricky Martin’s unconventional approach to his career. In his case, quality certainly eclipses quantity.
FEARLESS – TAYLOR SWIFT
Marketed and distributed by Universal Music SA
Not many people would freely admit to liking country music, despite it remaining one of the biggest-selling genres in the music industry, especially in the US. Thankfully there’s once again a new pop sensibility creeping into country, and as such it’s not surprising that there’s hardly a radio station that hasn’t had Taylor Swift’s Love Story, the first single off her second album, Fearless, on high rotation. In her native America, she was the biggest selling artist of 2008 with sales of more than four million albums. Fearless has topped the Billboard 200 in 11 non-consecutive weeks, with no other album spending more time at number one since 1999/2000. It also was the first album by a female artist in country music history to log eight weeks at number one. According to the 2009 issue of Forbes, Swift is ranked as the 69th most powerful celebrity, with over $18 million in earnings this year… All this at the tender age of 20. Fearless is a bumper album with (what is today considered a) whopping 16 tracks on it. Love Story remains a highlight, but there are a few of the other songs, especially those with the familiar country twang, that stand out too. These include Hey Stephen, Tell Me Why, The Way I Loved You and Change. The slower songs also shine in the collection, with White Horse, You’re Not Sorry and Breathe in particular, well worth a listen. Fearless doesn’t rewrite any formulas but does manage to bring a modern freshness to a familiar sound, almost taking off where Shania Twain stopped a few years back. It’s melodic and memorable, two elements that are essential to a successful country album. Fearless is one of my favourites this year.
DON’T FORGET – DEMI LOVATO
Marketed and distributed by Universal Music SA
There’s a brand new generation of teen pop superstars taking over the global pop charts thanks to the massive global success of movies like High School Musical, Hannah Montana and Camp Rock. Ashley Tisdale and Vanessa Hudgens may have had limited success on the global charts, but Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers are smiling all the way to the bank. Demi Lovato, who starred with the Jonas Brothers in Camp Rock, is giving her best to do the same with the release of her debut album, Don’t Forget. Initial indications – like a number two debut on the Billboard Charts – certainly confirm this. The good news is that the album could’ve been a lot worse, but thanks to growing up with a love of heavy metal, Demi manages to infuse a smidgen of rock attitude into the cookie-cutter tracks written for her mainly by the Jonas Brothers. And the brothers certainly seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to teen pop music. Get Back is a prime example of the Jonas Brothers’ execution (melodic pop with memorable choruses), but Demi adds some heavier guitars and anguished vocals to give it more edge – not as raw as some Miley Cyrus tracks, but impressive nonetheless. She shines on the more traditional pop tracks (Trainwreck, Gonna Get Caught, Until You’re Mine and The Middle), and also impresses with the odd ballad (Don’t Forget, Two Worlds Collide). As to be expected, there’s also an obligatory Jonas Brothers duet, On The Line, but the boys are reduced to mere back-up singers at times. Don’t Forget is pop music of the good, clean and mindless variety, but remains oddly enjoyable.