SCISSOR SISTERS – MAGIC HOUR (DELUXE EDITION)
Fagdom’s fab five may sing about disco but on their fourth studio album they sure aren’t making it. Well, certainly not in the quantity they did on previous albums. Long-time Scissor Sister fans will notice the progression from indie cool cats (album #1, the one with Filthy/Gorgeous) to commercial glamrock success (album #2, the one with I Don’t Feel Like Dancing) to disco-meets-electropop success (album #3, the one with Fire With Fire) to Magic Hour. The familiar flamboyance has been tempered for album #4 and replaced by a mix of mostly upbeat electropop songs with the occasional drab ballad, a smattering of hip hop and (egads!) even some bossa nova. Sure, reinventing your sound is a fab idea, but sometimes it feels like they’ve been put on the straight (pun intended) and narrow.
You’ll have to search through the 12 tracks on the standard edition (16 on the deluxe) to find the gems, but they’re there and they’re superb. Don’t judge Magic Hour by the first single Only The Horses – it’s an ok effort at electropop, good but lacking the OTT, disco panache of previous efforts. Luckily, there’s Keep Your Shoes On, Shady Love, Self Control, Best In Me, Fuck Yeah (on the deluxe edition only) and the album’s utterly camptastic Let’s Have A Kiki to make up for the duds. Word of warning: Don’t judge at first listen or you’ll be disappointed!
USELESS FACT: Shady Love was going to be the first single but someone changed their mind. It features additional vocals from American singer/rapper Azaelia Banks with sexy gay Sisters frontman Jake Shears singing as his alter-ego Krystal Pepsy. God knows why.
RATING: 7 out of 10
FUN. – SOME NIGHTS
This is a ‘glass half full’ album, filled with impossibly optimistic, catchy, frisky, Queen-esque and overly stylized songs. It’s an album in hyperdrive and if you like music that’s in-your-face deliberate then this one’s for you. It’s easy to see why fun. (yes that’s how the three-piece American alternative rock band like to stylise their name) have had such mixed reviews – apart from We Are Young, the album’s first single which features the divine Janelle MonÃ¡e on additional vocals, the songs, stylings, bells and whistles are so camp they’re almost silly. I’m guessing fun. is ok with being a bit of a parody of themselves.
Depending on which way you swing, you’ll either find them nauseatingly irritating or frothy, frivolous and decadent. Take your pick. Either way, the boys don’t seem to care. They’re unashamedly and unapologetically themselves, which is refreshing. Music-wise We Are Young is perfection, a pop-meets-rock power ballad about life and the heady days of debauched clubbing (relate much, homos?). But you’d do well to also listen to It Gets Better and the title track, which is split into two parts – Some Nights Intro and Some Nights, the latter camper than the former.
USELESS FACT: Despite all being straight, the fun. boys have launched a campaign to support gay and lesbian marriage rights in the US.
RATING: 8 out of 10
CHIANOSKY – HUNGRY
It’s hard to believe that local songstress ChianoSky is just 19. With her rich, smokey, velvet-tinged voice you’d expect someone older and more mature. But the pouty-lipped singer is proof that age doesn’t mean that much. The PR machine at EMI has cleverly been holding Chiano (pronounced she-ah-no) back, launching three singles – Sick Sick, Walking Away and Home Sweet Home – to entice the masses. And it seems to have worked as the songs, especially Sick Sick have turned the model/singer into an overnight success.
Hungry lives up to the hype of its first three singles. Genre-wise we’re looking at soul, jazz and pop. With her sultry, whiskey-soaked voice Chiano has been compared to bigwigs like Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Pixie Lott, Duffy, Etta James and Adele. You might even say she’s SA’s answer to Adele, just without the breakup angst. The 13 songs on Hungry veer more towards optimistic, upbeat takes on love (minimal depro ballads) and it works. There are a few throw-away tracks but most albums have one or two that don’t entice as much as its top tracks. Apart from the abovementioned three songs, which are all unforgettable, you need to listen out for Uncrumple My Heart (Whatever), Live Out Loud (L.O.L), Act Like A Man and I Must Let Go. As debut albums go Hungry demands repeat listening. I predict big things for ChianoSky.
USELESS FACT: Chiano studied at Fourways High School before matriculating from the National School of the Arts where she studied contemporary music (duh!)
RATING: 7 out of 10
JOHN MAYER – BORN AND RAISED
John’s fifth studio album has the dubious honour of being the title that knocked Adam Lambert’s Trespassing off the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart (boo!). But don’t assume that top of the charts means the album kicks ass. Only in America could a countryesque album (yes, the C-word!) top the divine Glambert. Oooh I said ‘top’. That conjures up some dirty thoughts… Anywho, if you’re expecting the typical pop/rock ballads like Waiting On The World To Change and Your Body Is A Wonderland you’re about to be as disappointed as a lemming without a cliff.
The album is background music without the previous rock-ish edge. The deep, deep (did I mention deep?) emotion is still there but the genre has now shifted into the realm of country and folk music. It’s still songs about life and love but things have that twangy, guitar-plucking sound that’s central to blues and folk music. Now, if you were a folk/country fan you’d probably go batshit crazy for Born And Raised’s schtick. I ain’t. Unapologetically so. To me, Born And Raised sounds like a step backwards. Even if John himself describes it as his most honest album yet. Yeah. Good luck with that dude…
USELESS FACT: John has been suffering from granulomas on his vocal chords, which delayed both the album’s launch and promotion.
RATING: 6 out of 10
REGINA SPEKTOR – WHAT WE SAW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS
Pay attention here lads and ladies, this ain’t your Britney, Kylie pop schlock. You might even say Regina is the antithesis (or even antidote?) to the mass-produced, bubblepop that dominates the charts these days, where artists don’t write their own songs or even play an instrument. Russian-American Regina Spektor is quirky and weird with a sound that’s baroque pop meets folk, just without the political connotations. On her sixth studio album Regina yelps (yes, really, sometimes she does), whoops, croons, sings in foreign languages (only sometimes; don’t panic!) and makes weird sound effects – kinda like a hippie beatboxer. It’s not easily digestible stuff if you’re not used to her style.
What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is eccentric, unashamedly so, quirky and cute all rolled into one beautifully-sung package. It’s also a little all over the place thematically and in terms of the melodies, but that’s part of her quaint charm. That and the fact that she famously refuses to write down her melodies or song ideas. The result is a mish-mash of ideas and sounds, held delicately together by her more-than-capable pickings at the piano and her cool, nightingale voice. Listen to the flitting, upbeat Patron Saint, a bubbly re-do of her previous song Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas), the dark and almost menacing first single All The Rowboats and the guitar-laden Jessica.
USELESS FACT: What We Saw From The Cheap Seats was produced by well-known songwriter and hip hop producer Mike Elizondo who’s worked with Maroon 5 and Keith Urban. No hints of his hip hop touch are on this album though.
RATING: 7 out of 10
LONEHILL ESTATE – LONEHILL ESTATE
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a rock band? Actually, it’s the genre-defying four-piece South Africa band Lonehill Estate. The awesome foursome have just released a new self-titled album that skirts a whole bunch of genres, mainly techno, rock and electro. On Facebook they call themselves ‘neon rock’ which is a pretty apt description both of the music and of their gay-friendly, we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously persona. Lead singer Nathan Ro (who may or may not be using a pseudonym, he’s wiley like that!) has no qualms about poking fun at everything from musicdom’s liberal use of auto-tune, techno, monster movies, heavy metal music and even themselves.
The 13 songs are uptempo, fun, funkadelic ‘slice of life’ musings. You get the sense the lads are suffering from Peter Pan syndrome, refusing to grow up. Not that the songs are childish. More childlike if anything, especially as witnessed on Sugar Honey Smax. The chart-worthy singles, both of which have gotten a lot of radio play already, are Daans! (which isn’t in Afrikaans, despite the name, but does make a fun little mockery of the ‘Souf Effrican’ accent) and Look Good, which also features JR (most famous for making the circle bigger). I’d also recommend the electro-meets-hip hop Roundhouse Kick To The Face. It’s totes kiff, bru.
USELESS FACT: Lonehill Estate list Muse, Radiohead, Goo Goo Dolls, Johnny Clegg and Smashmouth as musical influences.
RATING: 7 out of 10