BEYONCE – 4
4 is both Beyonce’s fourth solo studio album as well as her first without the (allegedly) controlling influence of her dad Matthew Knowles. In fact Beyonce herself plays executive producer on the album and taking matters into her own hands is a move that’s paid off handsomely. It’s like she’s coming into her own as an artist. The sound is more mature, the songs a little more raunchy at times and that voice, oh that voice. It is simply sublime, arguably the best voice in the business at the moment. But don’t worry – it’s not a massive deviation from the B we know and love. Across the 12 songs there’s still a combination of slower, down-tempo ballads and up-tempo heartfelt love songs and genre-wise she sticks to what she knows: pop, R&B and a dash of soul.
The album opens with the breathy, disjointed love song 1+1 (not easy listening but beautiful nonetheless) and other standout tracks include the two radio-friendly singles Run The World (Girls) – which you can imagine is like catnip to the drag queens – and in my opinion the best song on the album, Countdown. There’s also End Of Time, Best Thing I Never Had and Party, a duet with Andre 3000. Can Beyonce get any better? Doubt it. It’s like she’s hit the pinnacle with 4. It is powerful, enthralling and engaging all the way through with enough variation to make it diverse and prove B’s power as both a singer and songwriter. She co-produces and co-writes all but one song. Impressive!
USELESS FACT: The album title isn’t as unimaginative as you might think. The number holds special significance to B, as it’s both the date of her birthday and anniversary, as well as her mom’s birthdate.
RATING: 9 out of 10
WILL YOUNG – ECHOES
Will’s back with his fifth studio album and he’s got a whole new sound. Gone is the ‘your-gran-will-love-this’ easy listening pop and in its place is synth-infused electropop. The change comes largely in the form of Will wisely recruiting Richard X as album producer. The British songwriter and producer has worked with the likes of Kelis, Goldfrapp, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Sam Sparro and is regarded as a master of synthpop and electropop. But don’t get the wrong idea – this is no David Guetta album.
Yes it’s electro but it’s not dance floor fodder. Instead it’s thoughtful, broody and chilled, a definite sign that, 10 years after becoming the world’s first manufactured Pop Idol, Will Young has matured into a successful artist in his own right. There’s plenty to love on Echoes. From the opening track Jealousy, Come On, I Just Want A Lover and Happy Now, Young sings with a breathless intensity, making liberal use of falsetto along the way. It’s grown-up stuff, very far removed from his breakout single Evergreen. And happily so!
USELESS FACT: Echoes entered the UK Album Chart at no 1, which means it’s very likely to go platinum, just like his previous albums Keep On and Letting It Go.
RATING: 8 out of 10
JACK PAROW – EKSIE OU
Jack’s back and his new album Eksie Ou is the zeffest, kiffest, Afrikaans-est rap that’s out there. Die Antwoord wish they were this cool. First up, can I just say I’m not Afrikaans (but I have dated a few Afrikaaners) and you don’t need to be able to praat die taal to ‘get’ what Jack Parow is up to. There’s a lot going for this album. From the funky packaging and highly collectable retro album sleeve to Jack’s rap, this album exudes cool. Even if you’re not always sure what he’s saying (my Afrikaans is good, but not that good). He’s kinda like Lil Wayne, only he swears less (slightly less) and of the 12 songs only two are English.
The album’s first single, getting quite a lot of airplay on 5FM at the moment, is Hosh Tokoloshe, also featuring Gazelle (who?) on lyrics. Also worth a listen is the title track Eksie Ou, Katerien, Hard Partyjie Hou (Francois van Coke also appears), the bound-to-be-controversial Afrikaans Is Dood, the melodic, rap-free duet Welkom Terug (with Pierre Greef) and what must be a treat for old-school Afrikaans music lovers, a duet with David Kramer called Biscuits & Biltong. Buy it. Mos! Okes. Because if you don’t know Parow, you don’t know Jack.
USELESS FACT: Jack Parow’s real name is Zander Tyler.
RATING: 7.5 out of 10
KELLY CLARKSON – STRONGER
Did Kelly Clarkson get her heart broken and not tell us? It certainly seems that way with her fifth album. Like Adele’s 21 this is definitely a break-up CD. The difference is that while Adele is a master of the ‘fuck you’ Kelly goes a slightly different route. Her break-up album is more ‘girl power’ meets ‘Oprah’. She explores themes of loss, heartbreak, forgiveness and empowerment but instead of things sounding all doom and gloom there’s an ‘it’ll be alright in the end’ message. The album is almost completely pop rock and pop, with only small R&B and country hints.
The standard album has 13 tracks but I’d recommend buying the deluxe which has an additional four tracks, all good, especially Don’t Be A Girl About It and the country duet Don’t You Wanna Stay with Jason Aldean. You’ve probably already heard the album’s first two singles Mr Know It All and What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger), which sounds quite similar to her hit Since U Been Gone. Those are the two peppiest and most radio-friendly tracks and expect to hear Einstein with its sassy lyrics (“Dumb + dumb = you”) on radio soon. The tracks are raw, heartfelt and quite rock ballady. Kelly herself has described Stronger as her best album yet. I wouldn’t argue.
USELESS FACT: Kelly is currently on her Stronger tour of North America. One of the tracks she performs is a cover of Florence + The Machine’s Heavy In Your Arms.
RATING: 7 out of 10
VARIOUS ARTISTS – ADDICTED TO BASS 2012
If you’re a fan of thumping, throbbing dance music in all its myriad forms then you’ll know anything released from the Ministry of Sound label is pretty much a sure-fire bet. This one, Addicted To Bass, is a little more niche but across the album’s three discs and 60 songs you’ll find tracks you’ve never heard, as well as dubstep and big bass remixes of plenty of tracks you do. Disc 1 opens with DJ Fresh featuring Sian Evans on Louder (the Flux Pavillion & Doctor P Remix), setting the tone for the album – big, bold, brash and at times quite disconnected and jarring (that’s the dubstep talking, folks).
Also recommended are the ESC Remix of Locnville’s Stars Above You, the 187 Lockdown Club Remix of Urban Cookie Collective’s The Key The Secret (blast from the past hey?), the Zinc Remix of Aloe Blacc’s I Need A Dollar and the Caspa Remix of Deadmau5 and Kaskade’s I Remember. Bottom line: if you like drum ‘n bass and dubstep you’ll dig this compilation. If not, you’ll find the tracks over-remixed and jarring. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea so don’t say I didn’t warn ya…
USELESS FACT: Addicted To Bass 2012 was m