Jared Orlin reviews the latest releases from electro veterans Pet Shop Boys, sexy DILF Robin Thicke, R&B singer Ciara, Abba’s Agnetha Fältskog, Disney pop princess Bridgit Mendler and dance-floor remix compilation, Ministry Of Sound.

music_reviews_pet_shop_boys_electricPET SHOP BOYS – ELECTRIC
Rejoice! The Pet Shop Boys are back and more fabulous than ever. After their more sombre and reflective Elysium last year, the good news is that their 12th studio album is fun, flashy and way more upbeat. Yay! Electric, as the title suggests, is big on electronic sounds, with loads of blips, pings and their almost-drawl synthesizer voices overlaying the steady doef-doef beats. What they lack in album tracks (it’s a too-short nine songs long, alas) they more than make up for in big, bold beats that’ll easily get you in the mood to bump and grind with a sexy stranger on a serious night out. Think dark, smoky clubs with laser lights and gyrating go-go boys.

The tracks are long, with only Shouting In The Evening coming in under four minutes – all the better to grab you and not let go. Our favourite tracks are Love Is a Bourgeois Concept, which has become the official third single, the opening track Axis, the trippy Flourescent, and Thursday, which is a collab with Example (who could be described as a modern-day electro whiz and definite PSB influencée). But, the truth is, all nine tracks deserve your attention…

USELESS FACT: Electric was produced by Stuart Price, who’s also worked with Madonna, Lady Gaga, Scissor Sisters, Kylie Minogue, Take That and Gwen Stefani.
RATING: 9 out of 10

music_reviews_robin_thicke_blurred_linesROBIN THICKE – BLURRED LINES
With Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke’s sixth album, the hunky DILF proves he’s more than just a one-trick pony who can only do R&B. Not only does Thicke have major mainstream potential, the album’s title track is probably 2013’s runway success. The catchy single, which also features T.I, Pharrell and a bunch of gyrating girls, hasn’t just gone viral; it’s the new Gangnam Style – impossible to resist, super duper catchy and spawning its own signature dance style.

Thicke says he was heavily swayed by Marvin Gaye, John Lennon and Bob Marley in making the album, and it’s easy to hear their influences. From track to track, he effortless skirts soul, disco, funk and pop. It’s a bit more of a grown-up album too, rooted confidently and comfortably in these styles. Blurred Lines is of course the best and catchiest track on the album, but there’s plenty more to listen out for: Give It 2 U, featuring Kendrick Lamar, has that electronic R&B/dance style that’s working for Thicke right now, plus it’s dripping with tease in lines like “I’ve got a big dick for you”. No wonder the feminists are up in arms! Feel Good has will.i.am’s unmistakable touch (Willy produces, no vocals) and we also dig Take It Easy On Me, Ooh La La and Ain’t No Hat For That.

USELESS FACT: The song Blurred Lines is Thicke’s first #1 song. Toldya it was big!
RATING: 7 out of 10.

music_reviews_ciaraCIARA – CIARA
The lady who gave us love, sex and magic with Justin Timberlake in 2009 has some new tricks up her sleeve on her fifth album. Ciara fans will be delighted to hear that after the epic fail of her previous album, she’s cut ties with her record label and is back under the careful wingman tutelage of LA Reid, who’s credited with discovering her in the first place. Not that it’s quite a ‘back to basics’ return here. It’s more of a reinvention with the basics of Ciara (R&B/pop) in mind.

There are 11 tracks on the self-titled album, which lists LA Reid, Ciara herself and rapper Future as exec producers. Future, in fact, is one of the lyric collaborators here too, on the R&Bified Where You Go. Another welcome collab is Nicki Minaj who adds her catchy raps to the single I’m Out (a girl-power pop anthem) as well as Livin’ It Up. Speaking of raps, Ciara doesn’t just sing on the album. On track #7 called Super Turnt Up (yes, that’s how you spell it), she does a bit of a rap chorus as well as singing the verse (and if you didn’t know better you’d think it was Minaj, albeit a slowed-down version of Nicki’s rapping). Other memorable tracks include DUI, Overdose and Body Party, both the original and the remix, which features Future and B.O.B.

USELESS FACT: The album was originally going to be called ‘One Woman Army’ and would feature a song of the same name. It got dropped from the finished product, so the album needed a new name.
RATING: 6 out of 10.

music_reviews_agnetha_faltskog_aAGNETHA FÄLTSKOG – A
If the famous line from Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert “no more fucking ABBA” makes you recoil in horror and long for the golden oldie gays of cheesy pop, Eurovision and dancing queens, then…well, this isn’t the album for you. Agnetha may be one of the awesome foursome that was ABBA but her solo career is more love ballads than Voulez-vouz and Super Trouper. Interestingly, the reinvention is working for Ags. A, as she’s so plainly titled the new album, is her 10th album – that’s excluding the two albums she did with her kids plus all the numerous ABBA hits. The point is: she’s a fairly big deal.

A is also her first album of original material in quite a while. So what can you expect from the 10 tracks? Easy listening for a start. Light, melodic, mid-to-slow tempo songs about life and love. For those of you inclined towards mushiness and romantic gestures, adding one or two of the tracks onto a ‘love songs’ mixtape would be sure to get you a snog, at the very least. The first single When You Really Loved Someone is a sweeping ballad and also you might also enjoy The One Who Loves You Now, the more uptempo Dance Your Pain Away and I Should’ve Followed You Home, a duet recorded with Take That’s lead singer Gary Barlow.

USELESS FACT: Gary Barlow and Angetha recorded their vocals for I Should’ve Followed You Home separately as she was on holiday at the time he was available to record.
RATING: 6 out of 10

music_reviews_bridgit_mendler_Hello_My_Name_IsBRIDGIT MEDLER – HELLO MY NAME IS…
You say: “Urgh! Another pop princess. Do we really need another one?” We say: Yes and too bad if you’re not a fan of strong female vocalists. To paraphrase her hit single from the album, Ready Or Not, “Here she comes.” American-born Bridgit’s voice has been compared to Lily Allen and Jessie J, but there’s also a distinct young Miley Cyrus and Natasha ‘I Wanna Have Your Babies’ Bedingfield-like quality to both her voice and the lyrics. Bridgit, who co-writes all 12 tracks, doesn’t go for especially deep love songs – not surprising considering she’s a Disney employee. When she’s not writing and performing music, she plays Teddy in Good Luck Charlie, had a recurring role on Wizards Of Waverly Place and has appeared in movies Lemonade Mouth and Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. That should give you a good idea of what to expect.

All of this might sound like a criticism but the truth is there’s a big market for Disney-sounding soppy (and poppy!) love songs…whether you want to admit it or not. You’ve probably heard the catchy Ready Or Not already on radio, but there’s also Hurricane, Forgot To Laugh, Blonde and All I See Is Gold. For all its cheesiness and fluffy lyrics, Hello My Name Is… somehow just works as a sing-a-long pop album. Just don’t expect anything too deep; she’s kind of the opposite of Adele.

USELESS FACT: Bridgit is dating her Good Luck Charlie co-star Shane Harper, who plays Spencer.
RATING: 6 out of 10

music_reviews_ministry_of_sound_the_mix_2013MINISTRY OF SOUND – THE MIX
Ministry Of Sound aren’t the undisputed kings of the dancefloor for nothing. If you’ve never sampled one of their dance-all-night-long ‘mixtapes’ then their latest The Mix is a good time to try. It’s got three discs of 60 of the hottest dance tunes all pre-mixed so there’s an endless stream of music flowing. Just pop in and play. And the tunes? An awesome mix of current dancefloor winners, dance tracks and remixes from big names like Sander Van Doorn, Pascal & Pearce and Calvin Harris. The genres? Everything from house (deep house, commercial house…it’s all here), to electro and even Latino-infused dance beats.

So what to listen for? There’s plenty to tap your feet to, but we’d especially recommend the current fave My Head Is A Jungle from Wankelmut & Emma Louise, Paper Aeroplane from Francesco Rossi, the Wankelmut Remix of Asaf Avidan and the Mojo’s One Day/Reckoning Song, Rita Ora’s How We Do (the Sandro Silva Extended Club Remix), Ke$ha’s Die Young, Sweet Nothing from Calvin Harris and Florence Welch, the Wiz Clarke remix of LCNVL’s Closer, Avicii’s Fade Into Darkness, Afrojack & Steve Aoki’s hit No Beef (the Vocal Mix) and the A-Trak Remix of Martin Solveig’s recent biggie, The Night Out. Oh and who doesn’t love a new take on a now old-school dance classic? Listen out for the thumping Dada Life Remix of Satisfaction from Benny Benassi. Party hearty!

USELESS FACT: Jacob Dilßner aka Wankelmut was studying philosophy and political science in Berlin when he hit it big with a remix of One Day/Reckoning Song. Now he’s a global name on the dance scene.
RATING: 7 out of 10.

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