FRANK OCEAN – CHANNEL ORANGE
Frank Ocean is the most talked about man on the hip hop/R&B scene right now, largely because of his sexuality. It’s a big, bold move to admit you like men, especially in the hyper-masculine R&B scene but now all eyes are on the LGBT community’s newest hero. Previously, Frank Ocean was a behind-the-scenes dude, writing songs for Justin Bieber, Beyonce and John Legend. He made a few singles, a mixtape which achieved some commercial success for the single Novacane and has now released his first album, the dark, broody Channel Orange.
Coming out happened kinda organically – as people started hearing the tracks, questions were being raised about some of the lyrics, which refer to a little man-on-man unrequited love. According to Frank, rather than wait to explain (i.e. come out) on the album’s sleeve notes he decided to blog the news first. And while we wait to see whether it was a stroke of PR genius or a career-destroying move – something we’ll probably only be able to tell in a year – there’s also plenty to talk about in terms of the music.
You’ll no doubt want to know the gay-friendly songs first: Bad Religion, Pink Matter and Forrest Gump. While he doesn’t outright say ‘Hey I’m gay’ the gay references in the songs are clear. That said, there are also tracks about some raunchy guy-on-girl stuff, decadence and drugs that sound like your typical macho, hetero preening and aren’t very gay, gay-sounding or gay-friendly, like Pyramids and Super Rich Kids (my favourite song on the CD). Consider the album a mixed bag – both thematically as well as musically, with its unusual reliance on synths and some strong conceptual stuff. It’s plenty dark, plenty thought provoking and, well if you don’t like R&B and neo-soul, you’ll hate it. Frank Ocean might like dudes, but he’s no stereotype; he’s not camp or fabulous and his music doesn’t fit the mould either.
USELESS FACT: If it wasn’t for Hurricane Katrina, the world wouldn’t know about Frank Ocean. The bad weather destroyed his New Orleans recording studio so Frank, whose real name is Christopher Breaux, decided to try his luck in LA. The rest, as they say, is history…
RATING: 6 out of 10
J.LO – DANCE AGAIN…THE HITS (DELUXE EDITION)
A lot’s changed for Jennifer Lopez in the past year – she’s left American Idol, split from her husband and gotten herself a toyboy boyfriend, who if rumours are to be believed, likes the boys as much as J.Lo herself. Time to reinvent and make a big splashy musical comeback and what better way to do that than release her first greatest hits album. Dance Again is a musical trip down memory lane, highlighting her early R&B days through to her dance floor domination of late. So, a bit of old school and a bit of new school. The album is also a chance to showcase her latest tracks, the thumping Dance Again (a collaboration with Pitbull) and the equally catchy Goin’ In.
Pretty much all the big hits are here – Love Don’t Cost A Thing, If You Had My Love, Let’s Get Loud (on the deluxe edition only, a mistake if you ask me cos’ it’s a crowd-pleaser), Do It Well, I’m Into You, On The Floor and new, not-bad remixes of Jenny From The Block and the cringe-inducing I’m Real. Do yourself a favour and get the deluxe edition which contains an extra three tracks plus a bonus music video DVD.
USELESS FACT: Goin’ In features on the Step Up 4 soundtrack and includes additional vocals by Flo Rida and Lil Jon, who’s not credited on the album while Flo is. Weird. Wonder who Jon pissed off at Sony?
RATING: 9 out of 10
KOBUS MULLER – TRIBUTE TO ENGELBERT HUMPERDINK
This album should come with a warning sticker. Kobus Muller, best known for winning Supersterre as well as getting his kit off in Heat magazine as its ManWatch winner, has released an album of Engelbert Humperdink tunes that contains, according to the PR peeps, “superstar hits performed in superstar manner”. If the Pinocchio tale was true their noses would’ve reached Timbuktu by now. Sure, Kobus is pretty to look at, with muscles in all the right places, but there are two fundamental flaws to his debut album; his voice and his choice of music.
His voice is good enough for Baryard Theatre performances but it’s just not strong enough to hold your attention on a full album. He sounds monotonous and disinterested as he drones his way through the 21 tracks. If he’s hoping to go professional, Kobus has been sorely let down by his record label. The instrumentation is amateurish and sounds like a backing track, plus from a marketing perspective, going all-out Engelbert Humperdink (the guy behind hits like Quando Quando, There Goes My Everything and The Last Waltz) limits his appeal to over 50s. Bad move.
USELESS FACT: Those good looks don’t come from nowhere. Kobus trains, practically every day by the looks of it, at Virgin active Boksburg. If you’re in the area and wish to do some ogling. Just saying.
RATING: 4 out of 10
OWL CITY – THE MIDSUMMER STATION
If you’ve heard one Owl City song you’ve pretty much heard ‘em all. Owl City is something of an acquired taste; schmaltzy lyrics coupled with a ‘pop-meets-electrodance’ and Adam Young’s synthesized-sounding voice. You’ll either want to smash your iPod with a mallet or you’ll not believe your eyes (when ten million fireflies…). The thing about Owl City is that it’s got a fresh sound. Well it did when Fireflies exploded onto the scene in 2009. That’s partially Young’s voice but also all the bells and whistles of the production. His albums are more a musical experience than straight-up album, making them cool in spite of its schmaltz and not because of it.
The modern-day disco-ish cheesiness with a dance-ish, electro twist continues on The Midsummer Station. And even though all the songs on the fourth album have a dance beat steadily pumping at the same pace in the background, fans will probably be satisfied with some of the stand-out songs like Dreams And Disasters, Shooting Stars, Gold, Dementia (which also features Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus) and an awesome duet with Carly Rae Jepsen called Good Time. Young insists the new album is different (he’s collaborated with lots of songwriters and producers, instead of doing it all himself like he normally does) and says the lyrics and themes are darker. Ja-well-no-fine. It sure doesn’t sound any different. Owl City needs to take some risks on the next album.
USELESS FACT: The Midsummer Station sold 30 000 copies in the US in its first week of release. That would be huge for SA but isn’t great by American standards. Also it’s getting mixed reviews so the writing may be on the wall…
RATING: 6 out of 10
DESMOND & THE TUTUS – MNUSIC
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and nowhere is this more true that the new album from SA rockers Desmond & The Tutus. Oh sure, the cover artwork shows them to be the quirky quartet that they are (dudes who happily use the word “awesomer” are in for a cheesy thumbs-up from me) but it also lacks pizzazz and doesn’t do them justice. Cos’ if their band name and album name haven’t yet clued you in folks, we’ve transported into the realm of fabulous eccentricity here. Think Jax Panik or Lonehill Estate. Think cute, clever lyrics. Think glam rock – just without the falsetto.
Lead singer Shane Durrant (whose name is surprisingly un-Desmond-ish) has a mesmerising voice across all 11 of the tracks. His ‘I’m too cool for school’ attitude resonates throughout and the sound is fresh and unforced. You’ll definitely want to listen out for the two radio-friendliest singles, Zim Zala Bim and Tattoo, although Awesomer, Smooch It Up and Car Guard Tan are epic. Early 90s Techno gets a special shout out for being rock ‘n roll nostalgic. We dig! We dig these guys a lot.
USELESS FACT: Desmond & The Tutus describe their music genre on Facebook as “Kwela indie-pop-rock” and list their interests as “jiving”. Both, extremely useless facts.
RATING: 8 out of 10
VARIOUS ARTISTS – NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC! THE DVD, VOL. 22
Compilation discs are like twinks – there’s always some pretty young thing with eye-catching packaging vying for your attention. But the question is: do they have substance? If you’re looking for a who’s who of the latest, hottest music on the charts across all genres then the NOW series is the hands down winner, with the CD series well into the volume 60s and the DVD series just releasing its 22nd edition. With 36 music vids from musicdom’s A-List this is well worth the buy, even if you just pop it into the DVD player to play in the background when guests come over.
What to watch? Geez, where to start! There’s Carly Rae Jepsen’s breakout hit Call Me Maybe for the great eye candy in the form of tattooed model Holden Nowell. If you’re looking for outrageous costumes and big, bold colours then Nicki Minaj’s Starships and Jessie J’s Domino will suffice, while Emile SandÃ©’s Next To Me has an understated simplicity that’s just gorgeous. For stunning visuals, there’s the Coldplay/Rihanna Princess Of China while Joe Goddard featuring Valentina’s dancey Gabriel is a kaleidoscope (literally) of sights and sounds. Oh and speaking of twinks, there’s One Direction’s One Thing, Olly Murs’ Dance With Me Tonight and Conor Maynard’s Can’t Say No. Other highlights include Adam Lambert looking fierce and emo in Better Than I Know Myself, LMFAO’s fun, funky Sorry For Party Rocking and Toya Delazy’s Love Is In The Air. The only major disappointment is Kylie Mingoue’s Timebomb. Both the song and the video have nothing new or exciting to offer.
USELESS FACT: Timebomb, a non-album single, was released as part of the K25 celebrations, marking Kylie’s 25 years in the music biz. Mazeltov dahling!
RATING: 8 out of 10