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Old 04-02-2010, 03:24 PM   #21 (permalink)
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And here we go again.

Cat Power - The Greatest (2006)

If I walked up to you and said 'hi, whoever you are - I listen to shitloads of modern soul music' I'd not only be a bit strange but also telling you a nasty fib. The way I see it, in the most obvious cases the soul and r'n'b that I adore of the 60s and 70s has mostly mutated in a hideously deplorable way, be it into the nauseating disco sounds or the contemporary urban r'n'b fluff. If you're reading this and actually quite like a bit of that stuff every now and then, good for you. I'd rather listen to MP3s of cricket commentaries from down the years myself, but each to their own.

Anyway, what I'm driving at is that classic soul and r'n'b hasn't evolved wholly into the kind of stuff I myself wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. There remains an interesting variation of the whole thing and (getting this baby sharply on topic again) such a sound is to be heard on the above album - Cat Power's mightily impressive seventh album and possibly her finest too (at least in my eyes). I've looked up some of the tags for this in various places on the world wide web and found stuff like 'folk-rock' and whatever 'sadcore' is being used to describe her. When it comes to this album at least, cast those shackles off as bullshit - this is a modern soul album, and a damn fine one at that. Alright, maybe it's quite far removed from, say, Shake a Tail Feather, but I reckon it's a modern take on the genre and that calling it indie pop/rock is just pure laziness and doesn't really do this marvellous album justice.

There's certainly a very melancholic feel to this Cat Power (real name Charlyn Marshall) album, but it makes for a great mix-up when it's married with sparse, slow musical backings, the smooth, groovy soul-reminiscent basslines and the lady's soaring, beautiful voice. In that sense, two-fold is the triumph of this album - both in some very classy songwriting from Marshall herself and a neat, uncluttered production sound courtesy of Stuart Sikes, which as a component of the overall sound does neither too much nor too little to the album. The Greatest here features in a lot of albums of the 2000s lists you may or may not come across and deservedly so, because the Greatest is indeed that great.



Everything But the Girl - Idlewild (1988)

From what I've heard of them (four out of however many other albums they've released), there are two artists you could split this group into. One is their latter-day incarnation, and the result of one of a change in musical direction of David Bowie-type success; that being a move towards down-tempo electronic fusions of chillout vibes and breakbeats. Such is my personal favourite area of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt's musical career, but not one I'd call pop to a degree thatit warrants a place in this thread. Couldn't recommend Walking Wounded and [I]Temperamental[/Ienough as far as that goes though.

The other would be the folk-pop duo that Watt and Thorn started out as. The two albums of theirs that I've got which you could go so far as to describe as folk-pop in one way or the other are both pretty awesome. Amplified Heart, coming just before they disappeared off the pop radar they'd initially been on, is one I'd highly recommend in this category as well. When it comes to which one I'll stick in this thread though, I'm gonna go with Idlewild here because, apart from sharing its name with a mediocre Scottish indie band, it also presents Everything But the Girl at their most softly vibrant and melodic (at least from what I've heard). So, basically there's a lot more melody to proceedings here, as well as a heavier use of full backing bands in the studio to flesh the songs out in a more conventional way. It's also the album I'm listening to as I type this, and subsequently the one I feel like droning on about the most.

For anyone who (for whatever bizarre reason) may not have heard an Everything But the Girl song before, the focal point of their sound (no matter what genre they'd find themselves working in) is the soothing, gentle touch that Tracey Thorn's voice brings to things. A lot of the music you'll hear on this album, especially Ben Watt's gorgeous acoustic guitar, is the perfect foil for her. All in all, you're looking at a very soothing and laid back pop album here - certainly more flat-out pop than Amplified Heart to these ears. It's one of those perfect late night/early morning in albums - silky smooth, melodic and memorable enough all over to really get you involved as the listener and therefore enjoy immensely (or at least that's the case with me).



Scott Walker - Scott 4 (1969)

It was only a matter of time eh. I've probably posted this album in the Albums You're Digging thread about 750 times, and dropped it subtly into conversation twice as much as that, so I won't go on too long about this one. As a lot of you may know already, I fucking love Scott Walker. To give you a nice, kinda broad statement about the fella, there are three heads to this beast. The first sang with his uber-successful mid-60s pop group the Walker Brothers (who may yet get a mention here depending on how quick I am to run outof ideas) and on his first six solo albums (including this one). The second didn't really give a shit and released a bunch of fairly average, MOR covers albums in the 70s. The third is the one I prefer and think of as the most profound, this being the very one that recorded some of the best art music I've ever heard, resulting in two sheer masterpieces in the shape of Tilt and the Drift.

Calling those albums pop would be like calling Eamon Dunphy a shining beacon of impartiality and calm composure, so the aforementioned first six of Walker's solo efforts are the ones that'll be represented here, by the fourth of them no less. Basically, for an idea of what this album sounds like, imagine a musical hybrid of the Cat Power and Frank Sinatra I've already mentioned. Just so you can't call me lazy, what that means is that while there's a very prominent and important, although faceless backing band (tight bass, drum and percussion rhythms as well as some great, unintrusive guitar work) holding up a very string-heavy musical sound. On the face of it, it's kinda like In the Wee Small Hours being run with a more rock/pop-leaning motor, but this is where the vocals come in. I'll first say that Scott Walker is possibly my favourite singer of all time - he holds notes, swoops in falsetto and changes key (at times here while singing the same line) like no-one else I've heard. He pulls it all off so effortlessly and does it with more soul and passion than you could shake a stick at. Put all this together and you get songs like the below. Apart from being my favourite chamber pop album of all time, it's only about half an hour long in total (which might be a flaw, but shouldn't stop you checking it out eh).

As an artist, I find that Scott Walker is pretty divisive as far as listeners' opinions on him go. If you're new to him, you're just as likely to end up on one side of the fence as the other. Should be obvious which I'm on though.


And that's another six albums done, so here are another 12 tracks for you to peruse. Again, click the pop tart to download...

This Is Pop #2

1. The Blues Are Still Blue [Belle & ebastian]
2. To Be Myself Completely [Belle & Sebastian]
3. The Greatest [Cat Power]
4. Where Is My Love? [Cat Power]
5. One That Got Away [The Desert Rose Band]
6. Once More [The Desert Rose Band]
7. Love Is Here Where I Live [Everything But the Girl]
8. Blue Moon Rose [Everything But the Girl]
9. Mood Indigo [Frank Sinatra]
10. I Get Along Without You Very Well [Frank Sinatra]
11. Hero Of the War [Scott Walker]
12. Duchess [Scott Walker]
*13. [bonus guilty pleasure track]
*14. [bonus guilty pleasure track]

^ Also, to make things a bit more interesting, I've stuck a couple of unrelated pop songs I pretty much love on the end. Bear in mind when/if you listen to them that one has an awesome bassline and the video for the other was filmed in parts about 20 miles from the house I'm currently typing this message in.

Anyway, hope you enjoy!
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Old 04-02-2010, 10:58 PM   #22 (permalink)
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That Cat Power album is amazing!
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Old 04-06-2010, 10:02 AM   #23 (permalink)
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lady gaga is the best producer singer song writer on generic radio today..........
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Old 04-11-2010, 06:02 PM   #24 (permalink)
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To make things that little bit more interesting, I'm gonna take you on a bit of a stylistic detour before taking you back down a more general/conventional pop route. Anyway, these next three albums should give you something of an idea as to how pop songwriting can find its way into the field of reggae music. At the same time, I can see I've started rambling a bit much here, so I'll try and trim the reviews a bit. Anyway, here we go...

Barrington Levy - Here I Come (1985)

Let's start with a certain Barrington Levy; a man who mainly, outside of the world of dedicated reggae-heads, doesn't really get an awful lot of mention. It's a shame really, because he's actually quite good (hence my staring at this screen and typing up this post). He's been mentioned before in mine and Sir Jackhammer's reggae introduction thread if anyone wants to have a gander.

Anyway, meet Barrington Levy, one of many of the more famous singer-songwriters to emerge from Jamaica's dancehall scene of the late 70s. Giving you a nice, quick run-down of what exactly that was, dancehall reggae was the Jamaican musical community's response to the international popularity of the roots reggae of the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, the Abysinnians, Aswad and so on. That response was one that took the rhythmic, groove-based backbone of roots reggae, removed the politically-motivated lyrical themes and replaced them with all kinds of more light-hearted stuff - songs about cutting some shapes on the dancefloor, where babies come from and so forth. Some singers (DJs as they're called in Jamaica - the term MC is an American, hip-hop culture thing) decided to simply record roots reggae with different lyrical themes while others (like Mr. Levy here) chose to inject pop melodies, song-structures and contemporary production values into their work. So then, if I was gonna be stone-faced and technical, I'd call this good old dancehall reggae. A simpler name for it to go by is reggae-pop. Good reggae-pop as it happens. It sounds a tiny bit dated but, looking back over this list, so do a few other albums I've mentioned (and will mention in future). This is reggae music for someone who doesn't really listen to a lot of the stuff, and the kind of reggae music which just leaves its mark on you afterwards as the better and more memorable pop music of any kind does. Definitely a must.



Beres Hammond - Soul Reggae (1976)

I could just not bother typing up something to go with the above sleeve art, but I'm completely dry as far as booze goes, the chick-a-dee's currently on the opposite side of the Irish Sea and I'm on a caffeine buzz and therefore not really feeling particularly lazy at the minute. The point is that if not every picture is worth a thousand words, the above one is - kinda describes this album fairly well.

Soul Reggae = reggae soul then, which itself is another form of the side of reggae music with more of a mass appeal to it. Jimmy Cliff's superb You Can Get It If You Really Want is probably the most famous reggae soul song there is, and Beres Hammond here is one of the more renowned singers of such music. Like the above Barrington Levy, he's got a very vast discography, although this is one of his more highly-regarded efforts and is therefore one of the more highly-regarded reggae soul albums you can go about laying your hands on.

Anyway, let's back up a little bit and put this into some kind of context - roots reggae had peaked by the time dancehall reggae emerged from the ether, and one of the other sub-genres to emerge from that ether was one called lover's rock. The clue's in the name really - lover's rock is the codename for the more schmaltzy, romantic side of reggae music. In some cases, singers would emulate the vocal styles and production methods of any amount of the Philadelphia soul records they owned. An example of this coming into effect is, of course, this Beres Hammond album. This is done to such great effect that, in some places (like the song in the below video), this doesn't sound like what you'd expect from a 70s reggae album at all. It's as much a top of the pile reggae album as it is such a soul album, and one of the finest products of one of the legend of reggae music in its prime.



Matisyahu - Youth (2006)

And then, fast-forward to the last decade, and you've got people like Matisyahu. Again, he's not exactly what you'd call out-and-out, bubblegum-chomping, student-bar-on-a-weekday-night pop music, but not only is he a great example of what roots reggae's evolved into over the last 30-40 years, but also of how reggae still has a role to play it popular music today (and how it can do so without resorting to shitty, modern r'n'b embellishments a'la Damian Marley, Beenie Man etc).

From what I've heard of mass-oriented, popular reggae today, ragga-styled vocals are the in thing, and this album provides no exception to that little rule (well, mostly). I won't mince it - ragga vocals really do have such an edge to them when they're used well. In fact, ragga makes up another component of Matisyahu's sound here on the whole, what with the lively drum and bass rhythms to go with the whole package. Barring such evolutions of the archetypal style, this superb album is a great show of reggae taken into the 21st century and, as I say, one that doesn't suffer from being driven by an over-ambitious writer and record company that are all too keen to seem contemporary and reap the benefits of having a single or two turn up on the next instalment of SingStar. It's modern reggae with style, dignity, a hell of a punch and King Without a Crown to it, which are quite simply never bad things.

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Old 04-11-2010, 06:07 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Loving this thread, though I do have a heterosexual hard-on for you Bulldog.

I still haven't checked out Matisyahu - Youth yet, despite there being several positive comments on this forum. This shall be rectified shortly.
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Old 04-11-2010, 06:16 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Cheers - good to know someone's digging this new rantbox I've made myself here

Matisyahu's definitely a lot more popular than most of the modern reggae I could mention, and deservedly so. I first came across him via an old, long-since-moved-out flatmate of mine who had an obsession with King Without a Crown. It's kinda easy to see why. The guy's newest effort's pretty good from what I remember as well, but not quite on par with Youth here.
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Old 04-11-2010, 06:18 PM   #27 (permalink)
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How about 'Shake Off the Dust... Arise', RYM has that rated slightly higher but never noticed anyone talking about that release. You had a chance to listen yet?
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Old 04-11-2010, 06:23 PM   #28 (permalink)
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Nah, unfortunately I've only got the two albums. I've got quite a lot of new albums to get through first but I'll definitely stick that on my to-do list. As far as modern reggae goes, some similarly interesting stuff you could look out for if you want is Lutan Fyah - same sort of moden roots, but less of an emphasis and the ragga and pulsating basslines than Matisyahu. Fyah's not quite as accessible either, otherwise I'd have dropped him a mention in this thread already.
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Old 04-13-2010, 09:28 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Some more pictures and words for you to look at...

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns (2009)

So I lied when I said I was gonna cover some more conventional pop music. Rather than give you another more focused three albums like before, I'm gonna give you three examples of three different kinds of pop music.

Two of these I'm gonna mention are kinda like two sides of the same coin, and the first of them would be what you, me and all the little kiddies god bless 'em would call dream pop. If I could just wrap and tape that up into a nice little package for you, for the benfit of those who aren't in the loop dream pop entails more introspective, 'deep' if you will lyrical themes to serve as that kind of foil to the more ethereal atmospheres and textures thrown up by the music. Basically, the sub-genre is the triumph of mood over the guitar, and that mood mood is more often than not pretty grim (as reflected by the slow pace of the songs in tandem with the atmospherics).

What keeps you from falling asleep with your face on the desk though is, of course, melody (hence dream pop of course). Not only are Natasha Khan's songs here well-written and thought through enough to keep this album well above mediocrity, but also her breathy voice, capable of traversing the highs and lows as convincingly as a skag addict, serve the genre tag so well and really do conjure such a wonderful piece of work, and easily one of the very best albums of 2009. By sheer contrast, her preceding album was about as edgy as a bouncy castle, so don't be put off if you hated that.



Iggy Pop - Blah Blah Blah (1986)

I'm sure 100% of any of you who are reading this little note have come across Iggy Pop before, whether he's blared through your speakers at some point or other or been flashing his wrinkly torso at you in that vomit-inducing insurance ad. I'm gonna bet that a lot of you associate him with a livelier, proto-punk sound, be it in the form of songs like TV Eye and Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell that make you want to kick things or more considered, flat-out immense numbers like Five Foot One, the Passenger or China Girl. The Bowie anoraks among you may even associate him with the classic 1977 albums Lust For Life and the Idiot, both of which were produced and, in most places, co-written by David Bowie.

What some of you probably haven't noticed just yet is that the Bowie/Iggy collaboration didn't end there, but that in 1986 Bowie produced and co-wrote a third (and final) album with Iggy. What with its appearing in this thread and all, you can probably guess that this album represented an effort by a formerly heroin-crazed Iggy to present himself as a more cleaned-up guy after the chaos that was his professional and personal life in the earlier 80s. It's rumoured that, upon talking about making another album together, Bowie said to Iggy "I can make this album as commercial as hell". Neither of the pair were exactly at the peak of their artistic greatness at the time (the undeniably crap Never Let Me Down was just around the corner for the former), and it's true that Blah Blah Blah here isn't really one of the latter's best albums - for me, those would be Preliminaires, Brick By Brick, Lust For Life and the Idiot. Those aren't what I'd call flat-out pop albums though and, evidently, this is. By putting their heads together here though, what they produce is, for me, one of the better unashamed pop albums of the 80s and, when it comes to a lot of Iggy's fellow 70s big cheeses who tried to go for a mass audience and, therefore, to sound 'contemporary', this is a much better album than a lot of them. Dated, sure. A blatant pandering to the masses, certainly. But this is a very charming and infectious 80s pop album to me.

To tell you the truth though, you'll either dig it or dig a hole for it. If all you've heard is his work with the Stooges, prepare for a shock. Also, for anyone who was insane enough to watch Pretty Woman, you'll recognise one of the songs on this one.



Zola Jesus - The Spoils (2009)

So, we went off on a little tangent there with the kind of music I'm sure pretty much everyone recognises as out-and-out pop music. Now I'll just take you through another kind of pop, and something of the flipside of the coin when it comes to dream pop. This one is a rougher-edged version of the aforementioned sub-genre, and one that sounds to me like a variation of shoegaze and noise-rock. This is, in case that sentence didn't get you guessing, noise-pop.

This noise-pop is the noise-pop of one Zola Jesus - a girl by the given name of Nika Roza Danilova who's a year younger than my good self and has already accomplished this (and man is that depressing). All in all, she gives us not only another one of the hot contestants for album of 2009, but also a much more sinister variation of the dream pop of Bat For Lashes. The focus is still well and truly on atmospherics and ghostly, haunting vibes, but they're created in a totally different yet equally fascinating way here. This method presents us with a much more obviously minimalist approach, and one that utilises feedback and fuzz to a huge degree. The percussion sounds very industrial too, giving off a very authentic, Einsturzende Neubauten kinda vibe.

Which is all very well but a) is it any good and b) is it pop music? My answers would be a) don't be daft and b) absolutely. Somewhere beneath the walls of drones, feedback and industrial backdrops you can hear the kind of souful vocals and dreamy melodies that dream pop tends to go for. Here, though, any melodies tend to be a lot more subtle, almost as if they're buried beneath the embellishments (often a bad thing but, in instances like this one where the embellishments are good embellishments, sometimes not so), but the pop songwriting at the music's spine is definitely there. Plus, this way, it's all the more memorable for it. Anyway, great album this, and another sign that there's plenty of good stuff out there these days.


And, on that note, it's time for that old chestnut...

This Is Pop #3

1. Struggler Barrington Levy
2. A Yah We Deh Barrington Levy
3. Siren Song Bat For Lashes
4. Good Love Bat For Lashes
5. My Whole World Beres Hammond
6. I'll Never Change Beres Hammond
7. Shades Iggy Pop
8. Cry For Love Iggy Pop
9. Jerusalem Matisyahu
10. Unique Is My Dove Matisyahu
11. Sink the Dynasty Zola Jesus
12. Lullaby In Tongues Zola Jesus

Again, click the pop tart and all shall be revealed.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:32 AM   #30 (permalink)
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Badly Drawn Boy - About a Boy OST (2002)

Anyone out there wonder, like me, what the hell happened to this guy? He used to be pretty popular, at least here in Ol' Blighty. This aside, I'll admit I only remember the odd song from the radio a good seven or eight years ago, and there was this pretty cool video where the Badly Drawn Boy himself wears a yellow shirt and piggy-backs punters around town for taxi fares. I'm sure a quick visit to wikipedia would solve that little mystery, but it's a good review-starter anyway!

Either way, Badly Drawn Boy are basically the musical vehicle of Boltonian singer-songwriter Damon Gough and a load of session musicians from project to project providing a foil for his multi-instrumental talents and, as such, every song on this album was written by him and him alone. Around the time I spoke of earlier when the guy was enjoying a healthy slice of the pie of mainstream success, Nick Hornby's About a Boy was due to be adapted to the silver screen (as probably the only Hugh Grant film I actually like as well) and, unusually for such a mainstream film production with the amount of trans-Atlantic potential it had, Damon Gough here from little grey Bolton was the man deemed best for the job of writing and performing the entire soundtrack.

He probably couldn't believe his luck eh. As for the kind of music this soundtrack consists of, being a soundtrack album and all, about half of it comprises of all these sweet little instrumentals, while the other half is built on the back of some simplistic little indie/folk-rockers with a very mellow and calm feel, all sung in Gough's trademark deadpan vocal style with enough hooks for anyone to really grab onto. Basically, I'll put it this way - it's Sunday, I've seen rain for the first time in about a week and the skies are just covered with little patches of white and grey. This is the perfect album to go with that kinda backdrop.

Also, simplistic as this album may sound, it's clear that there's a lot of talent that goes into making stuff like this. Gough's a bit like a swan on this album - looks all fine above the surface, but below it his little legs are going mad.



Bobby McFerrin - The Voice (1984)

I doubt though that this here's a man who needs any introduction whether you're British or American or have or haven't seen or read About a Boy before. Possibly for the wrong reasons too, seeing as I'm sure you've heard Don't Worry Be Happy at least once before in your lives. I'll admit that's a little bit of a guilty pleasure of mine but, my point is, don't let that put you off. Also, it's not worth being skeptical about the amount of grammies he's won throughout his career (at least it'd normally leave me asking a few questions anyway).

For those of you who've only heard 'that song' before, what you might not have known (I know I didn't for years after I'd first come across it) is that it's entirely acapella, as in every line and full stop in that song is all down to McFerrin's vocal. In that respect alone, if you view talent in objective terms like I do (the way I see it, talent is doing what the untalented find difficult with ease, whereas genius is doing what talented people find difficult with ease), then it's so easy to see it being served up in buckets here, whether or not you like the results of it. That's just a me thing anyway, so don't take my word for it or anything (that said, this whole thread is really). It's does take a hell of a of lot of something pretty special to do any song acapella on your lonesome as well, particularly over an entire album such as this (if I'm not mistaken, this was one of the first jazz albums to be recorded entirely solo).

There's not really an awful lot of explaining to do. I can only tell you that if you haven't heard it before, you're either gonna love it or absolutely despise it. I'd say it's worth a gamble myself though (evidently). Strangely enough for someone who's had so much critical acclaim go his way, videos apart from the one of 'that song' are pretty thin on the ground with youtube. The below song (apologies in advance for the out-of-sync-ness of it) isn't actually from this album, but it should give you a good idea what it's like anyway. Some of the album's actually a lot more lively than you might think it'd be as well.

Also, I'm fully aware that it's pushing it a bit to call this pop music of some sort. I'm just going by the amount of records sold and awards won here.



David Bowie - Let's Dance (1983)

Talking of people who don't need introductions, hands up who hasn't heard of David Bowie before...

I really can't think of many other artists who've appealed to so many listeners from so many musical backgrounds. Throughout the length of his 40-year recording career (if he has indeed, which unfortunately looks very likely at the moment, retired by now), while it'd be exagerrating more than a Sun article written by office's cleaning lady to say that no two of his albums have ever sounded the same, the amount of styles and genres that the full extent of his back catalogue has provided us with is simply mind-boggling. Folk, glam, soul, r'n'b, funk, krautrock, electronica, new wave, disco, stadium rock, industrial, drum 'n' bass, gospel; he's kinda like that old geezer you see weekday nights down the pub who gets there about 5pm, stays all night, stares into space and doesn't even look at or talk to anyone - he's done it all down the years.

A pop thread just wouldn't be a pop thread without David Bowie chiming in somewhere in the middle of it, and there's no album of his that I'd call more out-and-out pop than this one (or at least not any good ones anyway). While is far, far away from being one of my favourite Bowie albums, it's also worth mentioning that it just happens to be far, far away from being a bad album by any stretch of the imagination at the same time. It's 80s pop, or at least early 80s pop, in a nutshell - very loud drumbeat, heavy use of brass augmentations, a production style so polished you can see your face in it etc. This is down to Bowie's ditching his usual producer Tony Visconti in favour of Chic's hit-machine Nile Rodgers in seeking a more mass-oriented sound. It might smack of sellout to some but, to tell you the truth, this is just another experiment with a new style of music from the man, and no more commercial than songs he released in the 70s like Rebel Rebel, Starman, Life On Mars or whatever.

Also, even if was the definitive sellout, the music backing it up is wonderful. In most places anyway. The only song I plain don't like on this album is Ricochet - just sounds like it's being edgey and 'out there' for the sake of it. Overall though, I always think of this as the classic album of two halves. Side A (particularly the three singles) represent 80s pop music at its most vibrant, fun and infectious, while side B has good points scattered around but meanders a little on the whole.

Whether you're into Bowie or not though, if you want something that's just a good pop album, get hold of this somehow.

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