JUSTIN BIEBER – PURPOSE (DELUXE EDITION)
When it comes to Justin Bieber, less is definitely more. Less clothing (thank you Calvin Klein underwear campaigns and those leaked nudie pics). Less teenage spoilt brat antics (the Comedy Central Roast seems to have helped JB grow up a little and see the error of his hard-partying ways). And less… music. The deluxe edition of JB’s latest album has 18 tracks (13 on the standard release, FYI) on it and if you’re not a fan of R&B or you’re not a big Belieber, by the time you’re mid-way through listening to Purpose, the songs start blurring into each other. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means you might not want to listen to Purpose in one solid sitting. Dribs and drabs will do very nicely.
You’ll immediately notice that there’s a newfound maturity to Biebs’s fourth studio album – you can hear it in his voice, which has never sounded so rich or so grown-up, but it’s also in the overall production. The beats are tight, neat and memorable and it’s clear no expense was spared on top-class producers, guest artists and in post-production. Lyrically, Purpose is an apology for past misdemeanours and Biebs’ shout-out to God – he’s found religion and is telling us he’s all grown up and responsible now. Besides the two singles around out there – Sorry and What Do You Mean? – both of which are insta-hits already, there’s opening track Mark My Words, Love Yourself, which has track co-writer Ed Shereen’s stamp all over it, No Sense with Travis Scott, electro duet The Feeling with Halsey and the dance-pop future hit Where Are Ü Now (with Skrillex and Diplo), which has one of the catchiest, most memorable hooks in recent dance music history.
DID YOU KNOW? Pics of Justin completely nake… oh nevermind. You’ve seen ‘em. Ok. Try this. Purpose and 1D’s Made In The A.M. were released on the same day, prompting the inevitable “chart wars” between Biebs and the boy band. Spoiler alert: round 1 goes to Bieber.
RATING: 7 out of 10
KYLIE MINOGUE – KYLIE CHRISTMAS
Step aside Mariah. In the battle for the single-moniker diva Christmas album, Kylie currently reigns supreme (#sorrynotsorry!). Yes, Mariah’s been singing about sleigh bells, mistletoe and that she only wants little ol’ me for Christmas far longer than Kylie, but while Mariah went R&B/gospel on hers, Kylie’s take on Xmas is fun and frothy. Which is what Christmas is all about (well, aside from peace on Earth and goodwill etc). Kylie’s a pop princess so her Xmas cheer is big on tinsel, low on slow ballads. The 13-track album (16 if you get the deluxe edition, which contains a duet with her sister Dannii Minogue) is a mix of Christmas classics and new, original songs.
You can’t help humming along and getting into the festive spirit with the covers, which include staples like It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Let It Snow, Santa Baby and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, which, thanks to some wizardry in the editing suite, is a duet with the late, great crooner Frank Sinatra. Their voices match perfectly, as do Kylie’s and talkshow host/actor James Corden’s on Only You. As for the three original tracks, while they won’t top the charts like Mariah’s famous All I Want For Christmas Is You, White December and Christmas Isn’t Christmas ‘Til You Get Here (co-written by Kylie) are cheerful numbers, while the Chris Martin-written Every Day’s Like Christmas is a more sombre, less camp Xmas love song.
DID YOU KNOW? Music critics can be such Grinches (who dear? not me dear!). Overall, they’ve slammed Kylie Christmas as unoriginal. Don’t they know we’re not looking for her to reinvent Xmas; just make it sound fun. Spoiler alert: she does!
RATING: 7 out of 10
VARIOUS ARTISTS – CHRISTMAS QUEENS
As Christmas albums go, they don’t come campier than one featuring original tracks from 16 of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants (including three winners and a lot of runners-up!). The only problem with Christmas Queens is that Bianca Del Rio’s not on it (and there are only 16 tracks). Hear ye, hear ye Logo TV and Mama RuPaul: We. Want. More. The concept here isn’t straight-up (pun intended!) cover versions but mostly new tracks and a few reinterpretations, mostly comical, that seems tailor-made for the personality of each queen. So if you don’t know the show, a lot of the humour is going to be lost on you. That said, if you do, it’s the perfect stocking stuffer for that queen who has everything…
Album highlights include all 16 gals on We Wish You A Merry Christmas which is chock-full of one-liners, catchphrases and jokes, Manila Luzon’s Slay Bells, Alaska Thunderfuck, Courtney Act and Willem on Christmas Sweater, and Jinkx Monsoon’s Red & Green. FYI: despite what Lady Bunny says, Jinkx really can sing. Bringing the funny are Ginger Minj’s Christma-Hannu-Kwanzaa-Ka, Alaska’s Everyday Is Christmas, and Katya’s hysterical, catchy and downright nonsensical 12 Days Of Christmas (spoiler alert: on Day 8 her true love gives her herpes!). Sharon Needles goes Brit-rock/punk on Jingle Bells (yes, that’s her singing!), Jiggly Caliente keeps it hip-hop with Ratchet Christmas, while Violet Chachki forgoes singing to ‘talk’ her way through a S&M/bondage-themed version of Night Before Christmas. Also highly recommended are Darienne Lake, Ivy Winters and Pandora Boxx on the cute and funny Christmas Is Coming, while Courtney Act leaves chills with her gorgeous Xmas romcom song (a serious one – no parody here!), From Head To Mistletoe.
DID YOU KNOW? The album comes with music videos galore. Alaska and Katya’s are hysterical. Bonus: there’s shirtless guycandy in ‘em. Watch them here.
RATING: 7 out of 10
ADELE – 25
It’s almost pointless reviewing Adele’s new album. Why’s that? You’ve probably already got it. And if you haven’t, WTF! Why the hell not? Shame on you. A lot of people were nervous when Adele said she was finally releasing new music after having the best-selling album of the year with 2011’s Grammy-winning smash-success 21. While 21 was a heartbreak album, a raw, emotional treatise on unrequited love, Adele’s since hit the love jackpot and found her Princess Charming. Which begs the obvious question: without a dramatic crisis in her love, can she still make the kind of poignant pop that speaks so directly to a universal experience that it’s almost like the words she’s singing drill a hole in your heart and pour their feelings straight in? (Ok, now I’m being dramatic.)
Well, Adele can. She’s done it again with 25. So much so you won’t even mind that her album titles are ridiculously unimaginative…her music isn’t. You’ve been living under a rock if you’ve not heard the album’s debut single Hello but this is one of those rare albums where every track is a gem worth a lot of repeat listening. Highly recommended are Water Under The Bridge, Love In The Dark, Million Years Ago, All I Ask, Remedy and Send My Love (To Your New Lover). Which is pretty much the entire album.
DID YOU KNOW? Adele’s been accused of plagiarism with Million Years Ago, with some disgruntled Turks saying it’s a rip-off of late singer Ahmet Kaya’s Acilara Tutunmak (Clinging To Pain).
RATING: 10 out of 10
RUPAUL – SLAY BELLES
This is gonna sound shady but the best part of RuPaul’s new Christmas album, Slay Belles, are the parts without music. No really! Like Ru’s last album, Realness, a lot of the tracks on this available-on-iTunes release are interludes where Ru’s having a chat with us. But unlike Realness where Ru’s Interludes felt like fillers, the ones on Slay Belles tell a little story – they’re a series of cute, funny interludes where Ru and his best “squirrel friend”, Drag Race staple Michelle Visage are baking cookies and the Pit Crew rock up, shirtless. As you do. Spliced in-between the totes hilarious Interludes are the Christmas songs.
Ru opts for serious, non-parody Christmas songs on Slay Belles. They’re not so serious as to be boring, but if you’re looking for the tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out-loud tracks of Christmas Queens, you’re in the wrong place. You know how Ru ends each episode of Drag Race with “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” – lyrically, that’s the message here, couched in a lot of electro beats. Ru’s take is that Christmas is all about love. (There’s even a track called Christmas Is About Love.) Things get a little cutesy/sentimental on You’re The Star (On My Christmas Tree) and From Your Heart, a duet with Michelle, which is about the best gift you can get this Xmas (“this holiday the best gift I got, didn’t come from a box. It came from your heart”). We did find the fun on Christmas Cookies, which is dripping in the expected (and welcome) innuendo, as well as the hip hop track Jingle Dem Bells, featuring Big Freedia and Ellis Miah. Not Ru’s best effort but worth it at the price.
DID YOU KNOW? 17 years ago Ru released his first Christmas album, called Ho, Ho, Ho.
RATING: 6 out of 10
ONE DIRECTION – MADE IN THE A.M.
Five years in the music industry… five chart-topping studio albums…five, no wait. Make that four band members now remain in One Direction. Not that that should worry you. The lack of Zayn Malick, who quit the uber-successful boy band in March 2015 has dented neither their fame nor their ability to entertain. Made In The A.M. should be a make-or-break album for the now-quartet, with fans questioning whether One Direction can go the distance with one member down. Spoiler alert! They can. This might just be their best album it. It’s certainly their most mature but it does feel a little like a good-bye (or at the very least a farewell-for-now…) as the awesome foursome sign off the 13-track album with History, which could be interpreted as both a love song and an ode to the band’s loyal fans.
We’re in familiar territory here – pop (of course!) with lots of songs about love and relationships. There’s plenty that’s upbeat here, like catchy first single Drag Me Down, End Of The Day, Never Enough and the cute Olivia, plus a couple of schmaltzy numbers too, like Perfect, If I Could Fly and I Want To Write You A Song.
DID YOU KNOW? One Direction’s taking a break in 2016, during which they’re splitting up to go solo and take on new projects. Cue the chorus of wailing teenage girls…
RATING: 8 out of 10