I dare you. Play Mika. Listen to any song he has written, and I dare you not to sing it in your head all day. He writes glitterball melody hooks and hits the chorus like a pop marshmallow sledgehammer. He has been compared to Freddie Mercury in showmanship, but the best description I have read was in a BBC review of his latest album “Origin of Love” where they called him a one man Scissor Sisters. He won’t be boxed in. He plays his perky flamboyant persona to pop star perfection. Why he isn’t mentioned in the same breath as some of our biggest pop songwriters I’ll never know. “Origin of Love” has been thin on bona-fide radio hits, for which I blame the corporate programmers rather than the original source. Having said that, here comes the devilish Popular Song which samples a Broadway showtune (Wicked!) and delivers a sucker punch to bullies like only jazz hands could. Or a production number in Glee. Add to this particular witch’s brew teen Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande and a bubbly order of revenge is ready to be served in a popular song. Pun definitely intended.
If there ever was a band that was born to make the rousing anthem for the London 2012 Olympics, Muse was always going to be it. Stadiums were going to vibrate with their wall of sound, sea of hands was going to reach for the skies in unified rapture of sport, music, love and understanding, voices were going to sing in unison across the globe… and then Muse delivered a rock’s answer to Wagner. A pompous and nebulous piece all about “survival and revealing strength in front of human race”, which made it sound less like a celebration of human spirit and more like some small alien dictator rubbing his tentacles together plotting the earth’s demise. So, not so many sing-a-longs then. To be fair, “Survival” as the track was indeed called, was part of Muse’s 6th album The 2nd Law which according to Matt Bellamy was “Christian gangsta-rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. (Say what now?) Remember when Muse was ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ sexy-sleazy-funky and most of all…fun? The fifth release from The 2nd Law, Panic Station is more like it in my book. I’m glad humour is back on the menu, and I’m not even referring to the monster-mash of a video where Bellamy struts in red feathers on the streets of Tokyo and all sorts of comic book creatures plight the horizon, but the music itself has found its hot slammin’ groove again. In a twitter Q&A to promote The 2nd Law, one owl eared fan ( not a derogatory comment about some poor Muse fan, but owls have the sharpest hearing in the animal kingdom) said Panic Station sounds a bit like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and the band answered the song was a tribute in some way as it reminded them of their youth, which of course Michael Jackson’s music was a part of. So the eclectic influences and the inter-galactic stadium shattering stomp is still there, only now with a singable chorus. And they brought the sexy back, yeah!
The very first thing I want to offer you is an explanation. I Made You A Mixtape has been silent for better part of three months now. Oh, I have thought of you often. I have berated myself many times for having the inclination but not the occasion. I have felt the pull of the silver strings and the frustration of music slipping by. In the end my explanation is a very prosaic one. I have started another website with a friend of mine, and the setting up and creation of a whole online presence has been time-consuming, an all-embracing learning curve of a bonanza. And the whole time I felt a bit sheepish, like I was cheating on I Made You A Mixtape, even though I always knew I would return to my first love, music. So, Marthafied is now up and running and doing its own thing and I am finally back from the cyberspace trenches, so… whadda’ya say- shall we dance?
Imagine the tiled dance floor that lights up with different colours in time to the beat. Maybe there’s a disco ball glittering up above, and the smoke surrounding the floor is the tobacco kind, not the dry synthetic kind. That’s Nile Rodgers riffing on the guitar. The groove chugs along as you close your eyes and try to remember some Travolta moves, but in the end it doesn’t matter anyway, the rhythm is gonna move you. But then you wake up…hang on a second… what year is it?! It’s 2013 and Daft Punk are breaking Spotify streaming records with their chic disco ripple, their first single in eight years. They do have disco legend Nile Rodgers on guitar and the falsetto toned Pharrell Williams on vocals and according to some, also possibly the biggest (and most anticipated) album of the year in their hands. Wether it’s because the music landscape has missed these electro robots (Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter from Paris, France) or they are spinning one of the most successful promo campaigns in modern history, (a cookie crumb trail of teaser clips during SNL and Coachella which out buzzed the bands actually performing there) many are hailing Get Lucky the first big hit of Summer of 2013. Whilst most of the artists on the charts try to sound like it’s 1990s again, Daft Punk are playing with the past. Literally. Not only do they have the already mentioned Nile Rogers on board, they hired 80s session pros to fill in the musical puzzle. Y’know, the guys who were the slick machine behind Michael Jackson and his peers. In an interview De Homem-Christo said “The 70s and the 80s were the tastiest era for us.” For you and me both, brother, for you and me both.
I can’t stand Dave Matthews (the band). It seems to be mandatory to mention Dave Matthews when talking about Phillip Phillips, or maybe that was only during Phil’s tenure at Idol last year, but nevertheless, I have never been able to stand Dave Matthews with his nasally rasp (is it just me but does he sound menacing to anyone else?). Funny then, given all the comparisons, I don’t have the same problem with Phillip Phillips. I love Phillip Phillips. I love the fact he stuck to his guns on Idol and wore his grey T-Shirts with pride. I love how he just stood there in the spotlight every week turning each song on its head so many times it came out as a Phillip Phillips original, and I love the place where the music comes from. Deeply rooted in the fertile soil of a land called Meant To Be, the sound is re-assuring, steadfast and so grounded. Under the starry skies, in the glow of paper lanterns, on barefoot surrounded by fireflies, something so absolute in an existence where nothing is certain is like a warm hug where none have been coming round your way for a long, long time. Phillip is about to set out on tour with Matchbox Twenty later this month, and if I was anywhere near the eastern seaboard, I would beg, steal or borrow to get a ticket. As much as I like Man On The Moon, I would do anything to hear it live.
When Alicia’s new album slips from the piano intro into the first track, Brand New Me, it does so like a trickling river. And the river keeps rippling over the rocks, defiantly but gently. It’s a whispered word meant to be heard. The ripple flows into a quiet storm of newfound self-possession, in a breath of an echo, a string cuts loose to a brand new kinda free. Long ago four young men said it best in three simple words; Let It Be. As far as feminist anthems go, it’s dignified and graceful, and at the very core of it, so beautiful and plaintive I don’t know what else to do with it but admire in wordless wonder. Co-written by Britain’s Pop Queen of the Year Emeli Sande (most albums sold in the UK in 2012 as well as prominent role in both, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics) it sounds like Alicia has found a kindred spirit in Emeli. Both are stunning singers and sophisticated songwriters, rare specimens of class in a gawdy parade of chart princesses. Brand New Me plays a befitting opener for a new year and new promises, for the 52 weeks, 12 months and 365 days and ways to say, I love this song.
In life one should always have a plan B. (In case you’re wondering, I’m currently on plan D. A.A. Gill in Vanity Fair writes interesting adults are always the school failures, the weird ones, the losers and the macontents…so yeah… *woohoo* for me). Gary Clark Jr.’s mother told him he should have a plan B in case the guitar playing lead nowhere but a few bucks a night at a local beer joint. He said, sure, I have a plan B. If I’m not going to play the guitar I’ll play the drums. And if I’m not going to play the drums I’ll play the bass. Turns out there was actual talent behind all the passion and the conviction, but that sort of fire for music is sexy as hell… and yeah, the GQ looks and the guitar don’t hurt either. He plays the blues but with contemporary radio squarely in the back of his mind and definitely has his sights set much further than the local club circuit. He was this summer’s festival breakout star with Eric Clapton and Alicia Keys singing his praises as the saviour of the blues, and he may very well live up to the hype. His Bright Lights video alone has over 1 million hits on Youtube. I just love his raw vibe, his in-your-face riffs and that juke-joint swagger, its like finally there’s a real man in the house showing all those boybanders exactly where to stick it.
I’m nothing but captain obvious so I have to admit, at first I went for the hair. Look at it. It’s towering, defiant, stubbornly juddering forward, in a hurry to go somewhere and determined to get there before Daley. The first track I ever caught on Youtube began with conversations. The kind that go on in every bar on any given night, voices exaggerated by drink, points getting lost in the noise. I thought this is going to be one of those awful mobile phone jobbies where the music shrieks, the bar beats down the vocals and nothing else happens but a bad headache. What befell was a voice that should not happen in this gray little island of ours. That voice belongs to the gritty streets of the eastern seaboard, owns the universe, has written the book of stages and God forbid, should be kept out of the grubby little hands of A&R executives forever. Listen to this, whether you’re a man or woman, I dare you not to melt. After two long years since I fell in love with”Pretty Wings”, finally a bona fide radio single is ready to take over the airwaves. Jessie J is lending her pulling weight on “Remember Me” to help kick some proverbial doors open and that hair remains as adamant as ever. I sometimes wonder what they put in the water over here, for these freewheeling and quirky brilliancies of nature to happen.
July 16, 1988. The morning was soft grey velvet, low hanging clouds, rain waiting, warm and still. It was us and a few dozen die hards at 7.30am when we took our places outside entrance D. The most amazing thing is, when I think back on it now, I don’t remember eating a thing. The entire day. I remember Pippa, my best friend and fellow MJ lover, drinking from a red can of Coke, and someone shouting “how dare you!!” for Michael Jackson “only drank Pepsi.” I remember there were squabbles about people jumping the queue, a Michael Jackson look-a-like loving the limelight, and the time that just flew. And then we ran, we ran like hell on wheels across the Wembley tarmac. I remember one helpless usher spreading her arms “Don’t run!!”but the bleachers were just a blur in my side vision as we careened to front and centre. Out of breath, panting, we looked around, damn, we were too close, and we actually retreated a few rows. I remember being very worried about fainting. Then we sat down alongside the rest of our tribe wanting to conserve energy for the show. Kim Wilde came on stage and we watched in polite curiosity, we didn’t get up for her though. I remember Princess Diana, as a small yellow dot in the royal box, but it was close to showtime then, and the adrenalin was pumping and making my hands tremble and my heart flutter up to my throat. The crowd was on its feet, we were craning our necks, twisting in the packed crowd for the best vantage point, and then the ear piercing screaming started. I tried to say something to Pippa, but all sense was drowned by the crowd and the wailing guitar. Floodlights blinded us and then we were lifted off the ground. Literally. The crowd jumped in one heaving mass and my feet did not touch the ground. Bodies pressed, bass vibrating, and then… he stood there. Shiny and oh, so real. It was almost a surprise he was actually flesh and bone. The show… well, it was like I was in a movie. It was so real it felt unreal. The songs were liner notes in my head…from The Jacksons Triumph album…ooh…this is so beautiful…oh, he IS doing Dirty Diana…wonder if Billy Jean is closing the show… it’s starting to rain… this night should never end… And before I knew it, “Man In The Mirror” was closing the show, and I gazed up at the skies, my heart was bursting with pure love and joy. I wanted to cry but no tears came, so I sang. Me and Michael, we sang. I looked over at Pippa and she had the biggest smile on her face. And then we held hands swaying with the crowd and we all sang; make that change.
Bob Dylan is in that league of gentlemen where in-depth columns and analysis are dedicated to his album releases. Even the big boys on Manhattan and Fleet Street sit in their glass cubicles de-coding his rock canon and finding cryptic undertows of hidden meaning; survivor guilt in “Roll On John” (Will Herme/Rolling Stone) or contempt for the bankers in “Early Roman Kings” (Alexis Petridi/Guardian) because he is Bob, man, and back in the 60s he changed the world. Those on the right side of 50 want him to hold his music like a reflecting mirror to our times, because in their youth he somehow made sense of the violent upheaval of their rapidly changing world. To those born into a universe whose bards spun yarns about crying doves and angels in Harlem, he holds less reverence. A friend of mine in her dewy glow of youth raised her eyes in awe, “Bob Dylan, is he still alive?” I fall somewhere in between the two, old enough to know his name holds a meaning, but too young to remember much about his glory days, except stuffing my face with sand and discovering crayons. So I feel I am primed to listen without prejudice and enjoy Dylan’s rootsy ragtime, effortlessly chugging along like only decades of skill allow. His rasp is grating, but soothingly so. And I guess nearly 50 years in the rock’n’roll trenches have earned him the right to cruise the streets dressed as a pimped up gaucho. Even the thought of it makes me smile.