MADONNA – MDNA (Deluxe Version)
Her Madgesty’s 12th studio album has received some fairly mixed reviews. And it’s easy to see why. The Madonna devotees are probably gonna crucify me for saying this but, in her heyday, Madonna was the benchmark; the one to watch, follow and imitate. But lately it feels like she’s following the trend more than setting it. In this day and age where social media is ruled by the youth and youthful, Madge is a cougar with a six-pack and biceps bigger than some twinks I know. At the ripe old age of 53 it’s weird watching her bump, thrust and grind like Rihanna or Lady Gaga.
Don’t get me wrong, MDNA (Cool title btw, right?) is very good, with plenty sing-along singles to keep the fans happy, but Madonna has set the bar so high that after selling over 300 million albums we judge her by much stricter criteria. Fans have already devoured the singles Girl Gone Wild and Give Me All Your Luvin (with MIA and everyone’s fave collaboratee Nicky Minaj), but there’s plenty more hot, hot, hot music on the 12-track offering. I highly recommend the disco-ish Superstar, I’m Addicted, I’m A Sinner and the wildly, wicked, angry Gang Bang with lyrics like “Die bitch die!”. MDNA is part dance, part pop, part break-up album, part disco and definitely better than her previous offering Hard Candy.
USELESS FACT: Benny Benassi, Martin Solveig and William Orbit are some of the big-name producers who helped put MDNA together.
RATING: 7 out of 10 (Blasphemy! It deserves an 8 – Ed.)
OLLY MURS – IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW
Oliver Stanley Murs, better known as Olly to the legion of X-Factor UK fans who voted him as runner-up on the sixth season of the reality TV competition in 2009, is a feast for the eyes. And a delight on the ears too, assuming you like your pop breezy and just a little bit cheesy. In Case You Didn’t Know is his second album and this time around he’s got a big hit on his hands, so much so that it entered the UK charts at #1 and is helping him carve a name for himself outside of the UK.
The album’s first single is Heart Skip A Beat featuring the British hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks (most famous for their song Mama Do The Hump) and was quickly followed up with the equally smooth Dance With Me Tonight. Other stand-out tracks include Oh My Goodness, I’m OK and I Need You Now. Oh, a major selling point (over and above the cute songs and even cuter smile) is that he’s gay-friendly, having stripped down to his jocks while performing at legendary moffie club G.A.Y. Clearly the lad is, to paraphrase LMFAO, sexy and he knows it.
USELESS FACT: In Case You Didn’t Know has already gone triple platinum in the UK, selling over 900 000 copies so far. Nice one!
RATING: 7 out of 10
KATY PERRY – TEENAGE DREAM: THE COMPLETE CONFECTION
No, this is not a new Katy Perry album. Sorry folks, you’ll have to wait a while for the next offering from the sometimes blue-haired one. However, there is plenty new on the deluxe edition of her 2010 mega-hit Teenage Dream. The original 12-track offering has been expanded by seven more tracks, which have been branded The Complete Confection and have some candylicious new cover artwork. Novelty? Maybe, but it’s worth buying, especially if you haven’t hopped on the Katy bandwagon yet.
The Complete Confection contains all the original hits like Firework, E.T., Teenage Dream, Last Friday Night, California Gurls etc etc, plus a stripped-down acoustic version of The One That Got Away that is simply beautiful, the new radio-friendly single Part Of Me, the second new single Wide Awake (which isn’t Katy’s finest offering) and Dressing Up (a fun, up-tempo dance offering). There are also three remixes, all good: E.T. with Kanye West added on vocals, Last Friday Night, which now has Missy Elliott blended in, plus Tommie Sunshine’s Megasix Smash-Up, a super duper mash-up of Teenage Dream, California Gurls, The One That Got Away, Last Friday Night, E.T., and Firework.
USELESS FACT: The military-themed music vid for Part Of Me was shot over three days at the USMC’s Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. (This fact is especially useless…)
RATING: 9 out of 10
TOYA DELAZY – DUE DROP
I confess: I cannot get enough of the spunky, funky Toya Delazy. She’s the next big thing on the SA music scene with a debut album that’s wowing. Due Drop is an infectious mix of urban cool, electro, pop and dance, swirled together with a pinch of hip hop. With most of the 11 songs produced by Jax Panik it’s easy to see where the upbeat quirkiness comes from in the music. (No doubt Jax is merely refining Toya’s natural coolness.) Blessed with a killer voice and a tomboyish look, she’s likely to go far. Especially if she keeps producing the kind of music on Due Drop that is so professionally made you can almost hear the gasps and exclamations of “And can you believe she’s South African?!”
If you’ve missed her debut hit, the foot-tappingly feel-good Pump It On or its follow up Love Is In The Air, where the heck have you been hiding? Sony hasn’t announced the next single but I’d lay money it will be the edgy Are You Gonna Stay? or Yeah Hell Yeah (With You), both brimming with upbeat, hip hop happiness. She also excels at the slower stuff, showing off some deep lyrics and gorgeous voice on tracks like Love Takes Time and Memorium. (Read Mambaonline’s interview with Toya here.)
USELESS FACT: Toya, who’s from Mahlabathini in KwaZulu-Natal, is a classically trained singer-composer-musician and is the granddaughter of politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
RATING: 9 out of 10
AWOLNATION – MEGALITHIC SYMPHONY
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, but it is pretty weird. Experimental even. If there is such a thing as dance-rock then this is it. AWOLNATION is a five-piece American indie band whose music lives somewhere in that genre-less space between genres. There’s hints of punk, electronic music and pop as they sing, wail and sometimes scream their way across the 14 songs. Some of it is loud and in-your-face, while other tracks sound so mainstream and easy on the ear it’s hard to believe they belong on the same album, let alone were create by the same band.
The big single is Sail. You know, the one about “blaming it on my ADD”, which was covered by Macy Gray on her recent album. I also hold a special place in my heart for All I Need which sounds very much like a OneRepublic track (yay!). There’s also the hip hoppy Jump On My Shoulders, the rock-out Guilty Filthy Soul, plus the more agro Burn It Down with its heavy use of pounding drums. See, genre-defying! Toldya so!
USELESS FACT: AWOLNATION are signed to Red Bull Records, which should give you an idea of the adrenaline-busting thump-thump of this new band.
RATING: 6 out of 10
BIRDY – BIRDY
Discovered at age 12 when she won an open mic singing contest, Jasmine van den Bogaerde has gone with the odd Birdy as both her stage name and the title of her debut album. The singer, who’s actually British, despite having a name so unpronounceable it sounds like a Sri Lankan cricketer, seems comfortable in the folk genre. Which means she’ll probably fly under the radar unless she goes pop, dance or hip hop. Or all of the above (see ‘Rihanna’ for more details). It’s a real shame because Birdy has a voice I’d happily liken to that of Adele and an early Alanis. It’s strong and confident – impressive for someone who only turns 16 this month.
Of the 11 songs, 10 are cover versions. But I’d hesitate to call this a cover album, mostly because the chosen tracks are so obscure, so fringe-indie they might as well be original compositions by/for Birdy. There’s the first single Skinny Love (originally by Bon Iver, probably the best-known track on the album), Shelter (originally from The xx), and People Help The People (by Cherry Ghost). Birdy and her producers have shied away from bells and whistles to give you a stripped-down offering, where her impressive voice shines through over the liberal use of the piano throughout. The only original song, Without A Word, is a mournful take on love and is, sadly, one of the more forgettable tracks on the disc. Birdy is not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s got heart.
USELESS FACT: Birdy apparently opted for a cover album instead of original songs to give herself more time to study for her GCSE high school exams.
RATING: 6 out of 10