Archive for November, 2009

DREAMS AND FAME

November 30, 2009

The contrast couldn’t be greater, between the two women currently dominating music– Susan Boyle and Lady Gaga – one a retiring fragile latecomer who epitomizes hope and sympathy performing safe evergreens, the other a vibrant bold pacemaker outrageously imagining something totally unique. Susan Boyle has already shown that fame could crush her. Lady Gaga craves it. Both are an inspiration, but in very different ways.

But why would you buy Susan Boyle’s album? Millions have already of course. We’ve heard most of the songs before. There’s nothing the least innovative about it, nothing new at all. Just HER, and while she’s obviously a more than average singer Boyle’s not THAT talented.  She’s filling a NEED. And she’s part of the phenomena of the 2000’s where being famous is all that matters. We don’t particularly want Susan Boyle to entertain us. We want to encourage her fame, while all SHE wants is to sing, at the cost of fame.

Lady Gaga is another matter entirely. Yes she’s grabbed fame with both hands, and everything else, but SHE is also determined to entertain us, challenge us, surprise us. Lady Gaga is more than a singer. If Madonna was a leap forward in entertainment, Lady Gaga is the next leap. She’s the “new” Madonna and suddenly Madonna is yesterday.

Lady Gaga is a phenomena. Every song, every video, every appearance is an event. She’s innovation overload. How is she possibly going to keep up the pace she’s set? It’ll be fun to watch every moment as it unfolds. She’s the best thing to happen to music in years.

CAN CHRIS BROWN BE TRANSFORMED?

November 29, 2009

Chris Brown could have been, should have been, and would have been the “new” Michael Jackson.  He was young, talented, and very popular. Then two things happened. Brown disgraced himself by beating up his girlfriend Rihanna.  And then the “real” Michael Jackson died. By virtue of his death the “real” Michael Jackson was “back” and we didn’t need a new one now or maybe never again.  Position no longer vacant.

At the time of the Rihanna “incident” she and boyfriend Chris Brown were THE most popular stars of the say. They had dominated the charts in 2008. After the incident he became “villain”, not helped by his immediate denials and the subsequent leaking of nude photos of Rihanna. He denies responsibility, but it was a curious coincidence, coming at a time when he was fighting for a way out of this, when sullying Rihanna’s reputation MIGHT have helped.

Nothing has helped. Every time his shows his face there’s a negative backlash. Now, two weeks from its release, Timberland has dropped Brown  from his forthcoming album, calling the last-minute decision “mutual”. Brown recorded vocals for ‘The One I Love’  before his assault on then girlfriend Rihanna in February.  Even the song has been affected, originally called ‘Maniac’, a title that would have been a disaster even if the months the assault had seen the storm died down. But it hasn’t, and Brown himself has been shunted.

Now comes the REAL test – the release of Chris Brown’s latest album.

AAH, THE ARIAs

November 27, 2009

Another year, another ARIA Awards, Australia’s “Grammys” recognizing Australia’s finest – except the winner of the breakthrough single and album Ladyhawke is a New Zealander and the winners of the best rock album AC/DC haven’t lived or worked in Australia for years and years and years. The crowning moment in Australia’s music year also left Australia’s finest playing second fiddle as the award ceremony producers put their energies into promoting the latest release from English superstar Robbie Williams

OK – Robbie Williams equals ratings. The Awards had moved TV network and there would have had to be a carrot to get Nine across the line. The networks aren’t exactly  jumping at the chance to present the ARIAs.

Ladyhawk and AC/DC’s wins are problematic. Where exactly do we draw the line? We’ve been lauding Kylie Minogue as an “Australian” recording artist for years, although in that very successful career she’s only ever recorded ONE single in Australia, the original version of ‘Locomotion’ that song then re-recorded by Stock-Aitken-Waterman for its international release. The year Natalie Imbruglia walked away with all those ARIAs who were the actual Australias who deserved to be recognized, who strived and excelled?  Natalie didn’t live in Australia, didn’t record in Australia, wasn’t managed by Australians. What was her contribution? But she’d once lived here.

I don’t want us to be ridiculously parochial about who or what is Australian, but the end result SHOULD be to reward and recognize those who have signed, recorded, produced or performed music for Australia during the year under consideration. The rest of the world is going to bow to Kylie and AC/DC. This is our chance to show the nation and the rest of the world what else we’ve got. Despite what I’ve said above, I  don’t have a problem with embracing Ladyhawke. She’s decided to base herself here. But then so did Ben Folds.

Empire Of The Sun deserve every accolade received – collected four gongs including Album of the Year, Best Group, Single of the Year and Best Pop Release for the band’s critically acclaimed debut album ‘Walking on a Dream’. Led by eccentric “genius” (I do not use the term lightly) Luke Steele it’s the latest episode in a career worth treasuring and protecting. Without success and recognition the shutters will come down on Luke and Australia may not ever again or not for a long time make outrageously ambitious music like this.

The irony is of course that former EMI CEO John O`Donnell was presumably sidelined by the global EMI for paying too much attention to his Australian catalogue, including Empire Of The Sun.

And, although, as I have said earlier that  Jessica Mauboy became the first Australian Idol artist to achieve more than statistical recognition at the ARIAs, Jessica Mauboy scored in only one of the seven awards for which she was nominated, Highest-selling Single. Doh!

Did this year’s ARIAs really reflect the year we’ve had in Australian music? Did it reward those who really excelled? Did it give hope to those who are waiting in the wings?

 

 

SHOW ME THE MONEY

November 25, 2009

Sometimes I think the music industry ought to be audited, to see what’s really going on.

 At the same time as the industry is crying poor, physical sales are down etc etc we read that

rap mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs spent a staggering $3 million celebrating his 40th birthday with friends in New York. He supposedly rented space at the posh Plaza Hotel and installed a Garden of Eden-themed room, including a $30,000 orchid display, black chandeliers and a black dancefloor.

Guests, including Jay-Z, Bono, Kim Kardashian and Denzel Washington were then treated to a silver confetti drop and performance by singer Al Green.

That’s according to a report in the New York Post. Of course it might all be celebrity window dressing. All that’s bling is not gold. And the Diddys of the world don’t JUST make music. There are clothing lines, perfumes, and 50 Cent even wanted to market his own brand of condom recently.

 I’m not saying that something doggy is DEFINITELY going on, but there seems to be a select group of music executives, artists, producers and songwriters – American – who are like the guy at the crap table raking the chips their way while everyone else is hocking their possessions in hope of a change of fortune.

GOODBYE 00’S: PREDICTION #1

November 24, 2009

 I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Foo Fighters’ ‘Greatest Hits’ will be seen as a major milestone for Dave Grohl’s band, maybe even the end. Them Crooked Vultures could become more than a pleasurable side-project.

Last year, when the Foo Fighters were in London Led Zeppelin fan Grohl had Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones step on stage to perform two Zeppelin classics with Dave back behind the kit. Then earlier this year the ever-active Dave Grohl gave himself a special 40th birthday present. He invited John Paul Jones and Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme to meet him for a “blind date” at a medieval banquet, for some old fashioned jousting, bonding and a jam. The Zeppelin fuelled Them Crooked Vultures album is the result. Already they’ve said they’re keen to record a second album.

Them Crooked Vultures’ self-titled first album is what it had to be, quick and easy, Dave taking a back seat at the kit, letting Josh Homme take the lead. Otherwise it would be second-hand Foo Fighters. John Paul Jones, like Dave is a happy collaborator. For his part, Jones has said that after making the Them Crooked Vultures album he’s not interested in the much-muted Led Zeppelin reunion. For a moment back there he and Jimmy Page were auditioning replacements (?) for Robert Plant who’s having too much fun recording and touring his Grammy-winning union with Allison Krauss to think about Led Zeppelin.

Obviously there’s unfinished business here. More Them Crooked Vultures. What more can Dave do that he hasn’t already done with the Foo Fighters? Maybe the next Vultures album will change the line-up. Dave and John Paul are guaranteed to be there. Josh is also keen. Imagine if that other “busiest man in rock” and Led Zeppelin disciple Jack White got involved! THAT would be too much to hope for!

2009’s BLACK EYE

November 21, 2009

Statistically Michael Jackson will dominate 2009 as the “artist of the year”, his death-induced sales tsunami overwhelming everything else released during the year, and taking our attention away from the year’s “real” music events, the ongoing evolution of music and the part music made this year or heard this year for the first time played in that evolution,

Black Eyed Peas boasted three world number ones during 2009, in the US completing an unprecedented 26 weeks in a row at the top of the singles chart. Their chart performance puts them in the same league as the Beatles and Abba. We have to ask then, how significant are the Black Eyed Peas?

They’ve competed against the product pushed out by the music industry machine, more an actual “industry” than ever. It’s not hard to imagine a conveyer belt production line. But the Black Eyed Peas are not part of that. They emerged from a group called Atban Klann whose debut album ‘Grass Roots’ was recorded but never released because the record label didn’t consider the positive themes reflected in the group’s music to be marketable to their designated hip hop audience. Regardless, multi-instrumentalist Will I Am and his vocal cohorts carried on, becoming the Black Eyed Peas, and over the course of a decade and four albums making significant adjustments to their style.

For the first two albums there were officially three male Black Eyed Peas. The first album was the ‘Grass Roots’ demos reinvented. Despite the rejection the band kept its faith. During the making of the second album Kim Hill had been chosen as their full-time female singer, but she left, leaving her voice on just one track, objecting to the mainstream direction the Black Eyed Peas music was taking. She might not have like where they were going, but the band did and found “Fergie” to take her place. The rest, as they say, is history.

The positiveness of their hip-hop is one major factor. De La Soul, Arrested Development and the Fugees before them had dared to step our of rap’s gangsta guise. Fergie recently offered another interesting perspective. She contends that the Black Eyed Peas have made rap accessible to gay audiences.

OPRAH DON’T GO

November 20, 2009

The music industry just can’t take a trick these days – most of it self-inflicted I must add.

 In recent weeks the American music industry has been celebrating the “Oprah Effect” on music sales, appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s celebrity talk show resulting in a No.1 album for Michael Buble and Barbra Streisand’s first US No.1 in 12 years. Whitney Houston’s turn on the show sparking a 77% increase in sales for her comeback album ‘I Look to You.’ The music industry had even coined a new catch-phrase, ‘Television is the new radio” and I’m sure they were carefully looking at their release schedules for “Oprah friendly” artists and planning to queue up for Oprah patronage and a shot at that 6.2 million viewership.

 As soon as the ‘Oprah Effect’ revealed itself, it’s over. Oprah has pulled the plug. The plug has a long chain thankfully. This week Winfrey advised her staff that the final show will go to air Sept. 9, 2011 — 25 years after the talk show’s debut. Plenty of time for plenty more record sales – if you catch Oprah’s eye and ear. Rap stars and celebrity girlfriend beaters need not apply. She’s already declared war on them.

WRESTLING WITH RAP

November 19, 2009

Have you noticed something that rap stars seem to have in common?; their universal eagerness, almost pathological, to turn themselves into movie stars.

There are rock/pop examples of course. The music careers of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Sting and Madonna have been accompanied by ambitions – unrealized to their great frustration – to make an impact on the big screen. Music itself has a long history with the cinema – from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra through to Elvis Presley, The Beatles’ and beyond. But rap’s affinity for film – or is it acting? – goes much further and deeper.

I’ve been prompted to raise this observation with the news that 50 Cent is having his tattoos removed to save himself the hours in make-up having his body art covered up. Here’s this guy – and a lot of the rap stars are like this – who has spent a lifetime creating the physical persona that comes with his artistic expression, who is now prepared to sacrifice all of that to satisfy his acting ambitions.

Look at the list of prominent rappers who’ve rushed into acting – 2Pac, Ice T, Ice Cube – you have to put Will Smith to one side – and it’s actually a long and ever-growing list, a list of people you wouldn’t think would be so keen to then want to be someone else in front of our eyes. Is that in fact the key? Does this thirst in rappers tell us something important about rap itself?, that it IS a fiction, that all that anger, bluster, apparent violence, misogamy, and so forth is just an act, like the “dissing” that comes with rap, each performer trying to outdo the other, be more outrageous, more nasty. Are the rappers more like the professional wrestlers than we realize?

If the world of rap IS more fiction that fact, it’s a fiction that has also in the process turned into an aweful reality, the parade of rappers facing the courts and jail over weapon possession charges and most famously the shooting deaths of 2Pac and the Notorious BIG, the latter inevitably turned into a major release movie.

THOU SHOULD NOT STEAL (FROM THE ROLLING STONES)

November 18, 2009

The Faces without Rod Stewart? With Ronnie Wood. What will the Rolling Stones think and do?

 The Faces have announced their intention to tour next year – without Rod Stewart – and as he did for a special charity reunion gig last month Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall is set to fill in on vocals. It could be an ambit claim of course, to flush Rod Stewart into a commitment. The rest of the Faces are obviously keen to do something. They’ve been trying to mount a reunion for years. Rod makes encouraging noises and then  gets “busy”. It’s been the story of the Faces’ career with Rod. For a while they had parallel careers, the group and Rod solo, but once Rod’s career really took off he became “busy” and the band fell apart.

 There was another contributing factor. The Rolling Stones. Around the same time Stones were looking around for a replacement for guitarist Mick Taylor, and during the making of ‘Black And Blue’ several guitarists where invited including Ry Cooder, Wayne Perkins and the Faces’ Ronnie Wood. Then Ronnie was offered permanency. Was it necessary? The Stones could easily have carried on with casual employment, as they’ve done “replacing” bassist Bill Wyman. The thought has always been that Mick Jagger identified the Faces as a possible threat to the Stones on the world live stage, and grabbing Ronnie Wood put an end to that. As soon as Wood joined the Stones the Faces collapsed.

So here’s the interesting bit. There’s a little bit of speculation about the Rolling Stones’ future. Does Charlie Watts want to tour again? The thought is that he hasn’t been keen for a long time and has had to be talked into it for some years. What if he’s finally said no?

Ronnie Wood is part of this Faces reunion. Could they now be turning the tables on the Rolling Stones, grabbing Ronnie away from the Stones while they see the chance? While the Stones are down?  Ronnie’s “dalliance” with his Russian lover has ended his marriage and left him with a huge payout to his ex. He needs the money. He might also want to get away from all his domestic non-bliss by hitting the road.

If it happens, Mick Hucknall will be the Faces’ third singer. Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones were originally part of the Small Faces, who needed to consider their future when vocalist Steve Marriott walked out on them.  They were going to carry on without a new singer, but adding an extra musician, Ronnie Wood, who had been playing bass with The Jeff Beck Group. Rod Stewart had been the JBG singer and was hanging around Ronnie’s rehearsals with the Faces, hoping to be asked to join too and then caught them at a weak moment and had his way.

 Three things might happen. The Faces might simply tour in 2010 with Hucknall. Rod Stewart might decide to get busier and join them. Thirdly, the Rolling Stones might be stung into action. If THAT’s the case, watch for fireworks. Unless they’ve lost their famous competitiveness in their old age The Glimmer Twins will be merciless. Ask their long list of victims – those that are still alive to tell the tale – Brian Jones, Andrew Loog Oldham, Jimmy Miller, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman.

 For the Faces it’s unfinished business, after Rolling Stones may have helped put them out of business. For the Rolling Stones what might be at stake is their claim to be The World’s Greatest Rock’N’Roll Band.

DEFINITELY MAYBE OASIS

November 14, 2009

Personally I couldn’t care less about the news that Liam Gallagher plans to form a new group with the rest of the recent Oasis members, excluding brother Noel. I’ve long considered Oasis to be one of the world’s most over-rated bands, and they certainly had an over-inflated opinion of their own worth.

 What WILL be interesting is what might unfold about the brand “Oasis”. These days a brand is almost everything in the music industry, more important than the music itself. How often have we seen former bandmates squabble over the rights to the use of a name err brand?  –  most recently Black Sabbath.

Liam would be in his rights to keep calling his band Oasis. He’d already formed the band, named it, was performing under that name when big brother Noel came along and ask to join, with one important proviso, that the band exclusively performs Noel’s songs. And that’s how it’s been throughout that journey, with Liam contributing a few songs in the latter period. So it can be Oasis without Noel legally, but musically can it be Oasis without Noel?

How will fans react to the new band? Or Noel’s inevitable solo career? It’s interesting to remember the fate of Australia’s Weddings Parties Anything. When leader Mick Thomas decided it had run its course the band was clearly his vehicle, dominated by his voice and songs. The music Mick has created since is every bit as worthy as what he did with the “Weddos”, same sound, same everything, but Mick’s commercial standing fell right away immediately and the only reason you can offer is the absence of that brand name. The minute Mick adds to the name “Weddings Parties Anything” to his activities interest increases.