Category Archives: Music

Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil at AsiaWorld-Expo review

michael jackson immortal world tour

Everyone loves a bit of Michael Jackson, right? The question is – do you love him quite enough to sit through two hours of Cirque du Soleil flinging themselves around to his records?

Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour rolled into Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld-Expo last week – and the overriding feeling was of watching a concert where the star performer had gone AWOL. Talented backing singers, a bombastic live band, acrobatic teams of dancers and spectacular production values… Cirque du Soleil brought it all (save an actual narrative – no surprise there then), yet none of it could disguise the gaping charisma vacuum at the centre of the show.

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Kylie Minogue: Aphrodite Live @ HKCEC concert review

‘I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty
I’m a golden girl, I’m an Aphrodite!’

And so with her show opener, Kylie (no surname required) set the agenda for her Aphrodite Live concert in HKCEC.

Fusing elements of Greek mythology with lavish Busby Berkley-style Broadway musical sequences, plus a dusting of trademark Kylie high campery on top (was there a male dancer who ever had a top on?!), Aphrodite Live delivered pure pop spectacle at the highest level. So that’s more costume changes than Kate Middleton on her American tour, high-flying acrobatics from dancers potentially responsible for a world shortage in baby oil, a 90-minute-plus crowd-pleasing set-list, an on-stage replica of the Parthenon and a few butt wiggles every now and then too. Who else could make singing on a golden chariot pulled along by a coterie of half-naked men seem the most normal thing in the world?

Believe it or not, even with fluffy wings on her ears (beat that, Hermes and your winged sandals), descending from a golden Pegasus or being embraced by a dancer whose angel wings put all future hen party efforts to shame, this was actually a scaled-down version of the Aphrodite: Les Folies tour that has been doing the rounds in the rest of the world. But thanks to Kylie’s effervescent stage presence, a rapturous crowd reception and razzle dazzle to spare, you barely noticed the missing much-vaunted ‘splash zone’ or that you couldn’t really see the dancers unless they were cavorting on high wires until the glittering festivities were all over anyway.

The all-star set-list, featuring new tracks from her latest album (the eponymous Aphrodite) plus old favourites and a few surprises too, was almost perfectly-judged. Once Kylie entered the fray wearing a Masters of Ceremony top hat complete with shiny gold basque, the evening truly rocketed up to Olympia – the hypnotic Cupid Boy was followed by a euphoric rendition of Spinning Around, an unabashed call to the dance floor in Get Outta My Way and a whizzingly joyous What Do I Have To Do. Elsewhere, the blissed-out dreamy beats of The One and In My Arms suited the Grecian goddess vibe here far better than they did the anonymous electronic mish-mash of parent album X, whilst there was no doubting the crowd favourite – chants of ‘La La La’ started practically before the opening chords of Can’t Get You Of My Head itself, almost raising the cockroach-roof of HKCEC in true rave-up style.

It’s nice of Kylie to provide an obvious toilet-break moment in the slow-jazz version of Slow (cue nightmares of the similarly-treated never-ending Locomotion from the Showgirl tour), meandering floaty number Everything Is Beautiful was another momentum-killer and Better Than Today probably isn’t a strong enough track for the closing section. However, I was downright smitten with her cover of Eurythmics’ classic There Must Be An Angel, a generously open-hearted version that added a enchanting gospel-feel to one of my favourite songs of all time – and for all those that criticise Kylie’s thin vocals, her trilling here was positively beatific.

An acapella version of If You Don’t Love Me served mainly as a vehicle for the audience to (loudly, continously) declare their undying love for her, and her near-inability to finish the song due to laughter just made it all the more charming. Meanwhile, the request section yielded a rollicking run through The Locomotion and I Should Be So Lucky (complete with reminiscences about bubble perms), whilst her costumes grew all the more insanely dazzling – one dress looked like shiny wrapping paper, another outfit featured a bejewelled swimming cap, another looked like it had claimed the life of an unsuspecting Muppet. Yes, it was a little bit corny, a little bit cheesy, a very big bit camp – but that just made it all so right. And if you can’t enjoy cheesy at a Kylie concert, then when can you?!

A true one-off in a sea of Gagas, Ke$has and Katy Perrys, Aphrodite Live proved exactly why Kylie deserves her place in the pop pantheon. Then again, she never had to prove it in the first place.

Kylie Minogue, Aphrodite: Live concert, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, 1 July 2011

Top 11 Albums Of 2010

When my Top 11 Albums Of 2010 was published on Teentoday, all I heard was abuse from bitter Wanted fans angry that I didn’t give their beloved boys the top spot. One claimed this list was ‘the biggest pile of shite I’ve read in years’, which is always a delight to read when you’ve spent weeks slaving over something. That The Wanted weren’t number one was no fault of their own – one of the strongest unashamedly pop UK boy band albums in recent memory, as anyone who actually read my mini review would have found out – but down to the intense competition that 2010 offered. Read on and, if you’re a Wanted fan, feel free to register yet more vehement disapproval here too…

Note: these write-ups are longer than usual because I didn’t do many proper album reviews in 2010. Enjoy!

1.            Robyn – Body Talk

This year, Robyn was the gift that kept on giving. Some artists struggled to get one great song on a full-length album, Robyn churned out 3 EPs with an almost annoyingly high hit rate – c’mon Carlsson, give everyone else a chance! Body Talk saw Robyn continue to hone her trademark of dancefloor heartbreak to perfection – we’ll be sobbing into our cocoa whilst simultaneously attempting to bust some moves to the likes of Dancing On My Own, Indestructible, Love Kills and Cry When You Get Older for many years to come. But mastery of one genre was not enough, as she managed to work her elusive magic on (take a deep breath) straight-up pop, clubby dance beats, minimalist electro, atmospheric melancholy, too-cool-for-school rap, a skittish Snoop Dogg duet, playful ska, emotion-laden orchestral numbers and, wait for it, even a Sweden folk song too. We’re out of breath just thinking about it, she seemed to barely break a sweat. An astonishing body of work, Body Talk cemented Ms Carlsson’s place as the one to beat. The number one spot was never in doubt.

2.         Tove Stryke – Tove Stryke

As if Robyn hadn’t bestowed us with enough treasures this year, here’s the best Robyn album that Robyn never made. Tove Stryke has the same innate sense of coolness, the same electro-dance-pop sensibilities and the same desire to chase an amazing beat at all costs. But what is uniquely hers? Sweet vocals, dreamy production and an album that feels like you’re floating amongst silvery clouds and shooting stars. A reverie of eleven quixotic tracks, it feels as light, fresh and airy as if it had been spun by fairies with cobwebs. But that makes it sound horrifically twee when in fact, it’s the perfect marriage between pulsating persistent beats and uplifting enriching melodies. The most gorgeous daydream you ever had eventually culminates in the power-pop explosion of White Light Moment, a dazzling diamond of a track that in some alternate reality has been number one for weeks on end. Tove Stryke makes you float away and never want to come back.

3.            Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels

Is it Shakira? Catherine Zeta? Actually, her name’s Marina and being mentioned in the same breath as fellow Sound Of 2010 Ellie ‘hit the snooze button’ Goulding almost proved to be the kiss of death for Marina Diamandis as far as I was concerned. That and getting nine out of ten in NME, obviously. However, The Family Jewels turned out to be a rich decadent delight, a sumptuous medieval banquet, preferably with a giant succulent roast hog in the middle. In short, it’s anything but boring, anything but one-dimensional and anything but insular indie. Dodging every attempt to pigeonhole her, Diamandis hops, skips and jumps joyously between riotous pop (Girls, Oh No!), glittering Abba-esque choruses (Shampain), introspective baroque ballads (Obsessions, Numb) and pretty piano jaunts (I Am Not A Robot). The result? Whip-smart lyrics, highly palatable pop melodies and layer upon layer of glorious production combining to create an opulent ornate aural tapestry. Factor in Marina’s idiosyncratic vocals, pitched somewhere between Gwen Stefani’s gluey style, Kate Bush’s histrionics and Dory trying to speak whale in Finding Nemo, and you have an album that couldn’t possibly be made by anyone else.

4.         The Wanted – The Wanted

Frankly, I thought British pop groups had forgotten how to make albums this good. It’s not three good singles with ten tracks of filler tacked on. It’s not got one eye obviously desperately trained on breaking America. It’s not so desperate at wanting to seem “credible” that members are busting out acoustic guitars, song-writing credits and tales of how they aren’t really ‘pop’ at every possible opportunity. And as a result of being none of those things, it’s exactly what it should be – an unpretentious unabashed example of a polished pop album that’s actually more daring than most indie types could ever dream of. With a debut single as arrestingly ambitious as All Time Low, it should come as no surprise that The Wanted dart between genres with all the agility of someone playing Knock Down Ginger. The sweet melodies of Heart Vacancy, the swooping angst of Lose My Mind, the choral simplicity of Hi And Low, the infectious marching rhythms of Personal Soldier, the glossy punch of A Good Day For Love To Die, the menacing verses that make way for a superb sing-along chorus on Say It On The Radio… there are too many great moments to mention. Suffice to say, The Wanted comes sprinkled with as much creativity and colour as a five year-old topping her cupcakes with generous helpings of hundreds and thousands. The best boy band record in a long long time.

5.         Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite

After the oversexed and underpowered mish-mash of X, Kylie returned to claim her crown with this heavenly serving of exactly the sort of dance-pop she does best. Sounding like Fever’s guardian angel, never have synths sounded so easy or disco so effortless. With just one trademark Minogue swoon, she’ll have you smitten on tracks as beatifically breezy as All The Lovers and Can’t Beat The Feeling but keep those hotpants on-hand for irresistible calls to the dancefloor in the shape of Get Outta My Way and Put Your Hands Up. And just when you think you’ve second-guessed everything about this winsome wonder of an album, along comes the title track. Strutting and stomping its way onto the scene with the announcement that Kylie is ‘fierce and feeling mighty’, it’s a swaggering declaration of intent. Princess Kylie no more – only divine status will do. We had the ‘Goddess’ nametag ready all along.

6.         Miley Cyrus – Can’t Be Tamed

Loudly proclaiming that she ‘can’t be tamed’ and isn’t ‘your robot’, I think it’s safe to say Hannah Montana is all grown up. About time too. No longer content with all-too short bursts of brilliance (a la See You Again and Party In The USA), Can’t Be Tamed marks Cyrus’ most convincing attempt at proper pop stardom. Despite featuring one too many soldiers in the sweeping ballad contingent (the echo-ey My Heart Beats For Love and heartfelt cover of Every Rose Has Its Thorn are the best of the bunch), Can’t Be Tamed boasts some of the finest frothy electropop of 2010, be it the raging rap of Liberty Walk, the rocky drama of Scars, the divine blast of Permanent December or the best non-Swedish penned chorus of the year in Two More Lonely People. We could have done with a bit less Autotune (I’ve always enjoyed Cyrus’ distinctive drawl), but if this is the sound of Miley shaking off her Disney shackles, long may it continue.

7.         Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

There are people out there who will try to tell you that One Of The Boys is better than Teenage Dream. They are wrong. Whereas One Of The Boys was a wildly patchy debut with killer tracks that could be counted on one hand, Teenage Dream is a slightly less patchy sophomore effort with far more than its cotton-candy scented cover to recommend it. For those keen on the lurex-clad innuendo-spouting Perry, there’s a horrifically catchy song about cocks, the sunny bombastic beats of California Gurls and the feelgood sax solo and infamous ‘epic fail’ lyric of Last Friday Night. For those keen on the Perry who knows the meaning of words like ‘subtle’ and ‘nuanced’, there’s the golden-kissed swoons of Teenage Dream, Hummingbird Heartbeat and The One Who Got Away. And for those keen on the Perry who spurts pyrotechnics from her tits whilst making you feel better about yourself, there’s the Stargate-helmed uplift of Firework. In short, there’s a Perry for everyone and they’re almost all good. Apart from that angsty one with no tune obviously.

8.         Kelis – Flesh Tone

The last time we paid any attention to Kelis, she was bragging about her milkshake being the best in yard and screaming about how much she hated us right now. How times have changed. Pregnancy has tamed the tigress, instead leaving us with purring Kitty Kelis – albeit a kitten with a fondness for electro-synth rave-ups of the highest order. Flesh Tone is nine tracks of unrelenting beats that pound throb and thump you into submission, but in the gentlest way possible. There hasn’t been an album full of this much dancefloor euphoria since Madge’s Confessions (it even does the continuous mix thing), yet Flesh Tone has heart too. Put simply, ‘Without you, my life was acapella’ is one of the loveliest lyrics of recent times – and that’s just one of many completely captivating moments on this giddy triumph of a record. Who wants that milkshake now?

9.         Elin Lanto – Love Made Me Do It

Elin Lanto is one of those Scandipop stars who seems to be struggling to do the business charts-wise, yet keeps getting great songs regardless. Love Made Me Do It is solid pop bounty, half shiny sharp electro edges, half rough rocky ones, including the smitten eyelid-flutter of Tickles, the cocksure thrust and grind of Toy Boy, the Kylie-esque shimmy of My Favourite Pair Of Jeans and the 80s power-ballad melodrama of Give It All Up. Meanwhile, there are two tracks too stellar for the world not to be shouting from the mountains about. Funeral’s glittering melody, soaring chorus and delightful Swenglish lyrics about ‘dancing on your funeral’ are enough to make Abba proud whilst Love Made Me Stupid is an immaculately-crafted subversion of the typical pop song, detailing how love ‘made me mess up everything in my life’ (‘before I met you, everything was just fine’) with a chorus that socks it to you with a stunning slap in the face. Those pesky Swedes did it again.

10.       Take That – Progress

2010 was the year that someone woke up Take That. It seems that person was Robbie Williams. Everyone’s favourite man-band returned sans Williams in 2006 and quickly eased their way into producing safely soporific albums, albeit with an average of three complete epics along the way. Suddenly, Williams returns and they’re all synthesizers, keyboards and music you can dance to – and guess what? It’s brilliant. Producer of the year Stuart Price (also responsible for 2010’s offerings from Kylie, Scissor Sisters and Brandon Flowers) has whipped the group into a frenzy, where souped-up stadium pomp and stomp (SOS, Kidz, Underground Machine) trades blows with silky sinuous melodies (Wait, Happy Now) to spectacular effect. Elsewhere, Mark Owen tears his heart out for your listening pleasure on What Do You Want From Me, Jason Orange unearths a piece of blissed-out beauty on Flowerbed and Gary Barlow makes a last-gasp dash for his piano with the soft and affecting Eight Letters. Alongside the truly epic The Flood, that only makes for two Take That traditional ballads. To be honest, I could have done with just one or two more but the absence of a few lighters-aloft moments seems a small sacrifice to make. Genuinely exciting, invigorating and unexpected. Progress indeed.

11.            Animal – Ke$ha

Effective, efficient, instantaneous and easily disposable – no, it’s not Huggies new strapline but a few words to describe Ke$ha’s debut album. Beating out strong competition from Janelle Monae (overlong, inconsistent), Miranda Cosgrove (great songs, nowt to do with her) and Cee-Lo Green (everything else dwarfed by Fuck You) for the much-coveted eleventh place, pop’s resident skank arrived with an arsenal of heat-seeking missiles, locating pop’s catchiest choruses and claiming them all for her own. You might feel like you need a shower afterwards, but only the most dedicated wallflowers could resist finding their inner party girl to the likes to Tik Tok, Your Love Is My Drug and Kiss N Tell. But the highlight is the whooshy rush of Animal itself, a track tingly enough to make you weak at the knees. Seems there’s more than slurred raps, wasted moshing and playground lyrics (admittedly ones that are likely to get you grounded) to Ke$ha’s trashtastic image after all. Thank God.

Top 11 Singles Of 2010

The Top 11 Singles Of 2010 was one of the easiest lists to decide upon – the top eleven literally jumped out at me as being far and away the best of the year, whilst their only competition was other singles by the same artists (Robyn’s Indestructible, Katy Perry’s California Gurls, Gaga’s Alejandro and Diana Vickers’ The Boy Who Murdered Love are arguably better than the three nearly-but-not-quites). So there’s not much more to say apart from… enjoy!

1.         Fuck You – Cee Lo Green (1)

If something looks like a Motown classic, sounds like a Motown classic and feels like a Motown classic, is it to all intents and purposes, a Motown classic? Well, perhaps not with a swear word in the title. Stuffed with more classic moments than a Channel 4 Jimmy Carr-fronted countdown – ‘she’s an Xbox and I’m more Atari’, the pure grrr behind ‘I really hate yo’ ass right now’, the wailing all over the middle eight – not even an auto-tuned Gwyneth Paltrow doing the sanitized censored version on Glee could ruin it. But with its golden-retro-funk stylings, a rich soul vocal and a tune that lodges itself in your head until your dying day, Fuck You may as well have come stamped with ‘future classic’ on its forehead.

2.            Poison – Nicole Scherzinger (3)

Do I hear the words dance breakdown? Just when everyone thought the RedOne gravy train was losing momentum, the man goes and does it again. This time, he manages to turn the dislikeable diva from the Pussycat Dolls into a sexy sultry strumpet with this barnstorming belter. Half superhero soundtrack, half dancefloor manifesto, is there anyone out there who ISN’T Swedish capable of coming out with a chorus this good?

3.         On A Mission – Gabriella Cilmi (9)

Some of my favourite things in life are ‘talky bits’, ‘epic middle eights’ and ‘ridiculous dance routines’. So imagine my delight to find a song that delivers all three – at the same time! Sounding like Barbarella singing a Jem & The Holgrams song, On A Mission is precisely 80% amazing to 20% totally ridiculous. If most songs enter the scene at a jog, On A Mission announces its arrival shooting cosmic rays from every comet-spurting hook with a few cartwheels, high kicks and roly-polys thrown in for good measure. Cilmi suddenly got sexy – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

4.            Dancing On My Own – Robyn (8)

Heartbreak never sounded so good. Managing to combine beats that beg to be bopped to alongside lyrics that sound like your heart being slowly but surely ripped out, Dancing On My Own comprehensively nails the genre of ‘dancefloor melancholy’ that probably didn’t even exist until the divine Ms Carlsson decided to do it so well that no-one need even bother trying. The stillness of the middle eight before the chorus windmills back in with a vengeance is a thing of pure Nordic beauty… has it been formally declared a crime yet to dislike Robyn?

5.            Telephone – Lady Gaga/Beyonce (1)

The song that turned the humble music video back into an event of international importance, Telephone would still be worthy of a place even without the poisoned sandwiches, cigarette sunglasses and abundance of awesomeness delivered by the mini-movie. If songs were people, Telephone would be one of those massive over-achievers constantly putting their hand up in class – not content with delivering just one hook, it piles on about fifty before declaring its work done. Beyonce’s ferocious cameo is better than any of her recent solo efforts, whilst Gaga outdoes herself by creating a song with even more catchy ‘eh eh eh’s than the one she actually titled ‘Eh Eh’! And for those that say this Darkchild-produced track is Gaga at her most generic, take one listen to the flavourless Britney demo to hear just how much Queen Gaga and her Honey-Bee bring to the party.

6.         One – Sky Ferreira (64)

In a year when everyone, their gran and their pet gerbil were coming out with processed electropop productions, it took something special to stand out from the bleepy beepy crowd. That something was Sky Ferreira. Ignore the obnoxious interviews, ignore the freaky video that makes her look like she has a giant baby head floating in a box and instead concentrate on one of the sleekest, cleanest and most unique electropop songs of the year. Superlative.

P.S. For anyone that has given up on the use of repetitive lyrics in pop songs thanks to Cheryl Cole’s efforts, Ferreira restores faith in the art. There are no fewer than twenty-three ‘stop’s, fourty-nine ‘up’s and one hundred and twelve ‘one’s in One, and the song wouldn’t be the same without any one of them. [Please note, these figures may not be accurate]

7.            Teenage Dream – Katy Perry (2)

It takes a bit of effort to look past Katy Perry’s projectile-emitting tits, the ‘ooooh, I’m controversial, me!’ lyrics and the collection of cartoon wigs and spandex dresses but Teenage Dream proves that it’s just about worth it. Featuring that rarest of things – a somewhat subtle Dr Luke/Max Martin production – it beats with heart, soul and sincerity. A rose-tinted, golden haze of pure youthful love.

8.         All Time Low – The Wanted (1)

I think it shows how far the pop firmament has come when, rather than releasing slushy dross as a first single, a new boy-band are launched with an ambitious different and actually minorly epic track. All Time Low is the very definition of a grower, emerging from sparse beginnings of a stop-start string staccato section, sprouting wings around the classic pop chorus area, introducing a pounding beat mid-way through just for the heck of it and finally taking glorious flight in the gorgeous layered crescendo of the middle eight. And they didn’t even take their tops off in the video.

9.            Higher – The Saturdays (10)

I despair of The Saturdays. Yet every time I feel safe in totally writing them off (tampon ads, half-brained mini-album release, piss-poor comeback single, half-arsed performances, dull ITV2 shows, re-releasing already crap mini-album with songs off their old album that they’ve attempted to delete from record stores etc etc), they use another of their nine lives by releasing their best song since Up. A fantastically-constructed pop song, with a chorus so unashamedly uplifting that the NHS are thinking of making it available on prescription, Higher would sound good even if it were sung by a dodgy session singer with a blocked nose and throat infection. Hell, it might even sound better as, in true Saturdays style, they managed to balls it up (Una’s epic middle eight live moment has disappeared to the bottomless well of Autotune). They then added Flo Rida. Farewell, eighth life.

10.       Echo – Girls Can’t Catch (19)

Alas, Girls Can’t Catch, we never really knew ye. Well, actually, we did, but it’s hard to recover from playing croquet in a rubbish tip and a potentially career-ruining Teentoday interview. Echo, with its sweeping Tedder-esque production, should have been the ace up GCC’s sleeve; instead, it just fizzled out on a cliff somewhere in front of some dodgy blue-screen animation. Oh Echo, we’ll light a candle in your memory and place it in the temple of ‘Great Forgotten Pop Songs Of Our Time’.

11.       Once – Diana Vickers (1)

Given that I enjoyed Diana Vickers’ X-Factor stint as much as I enjoyed my last bout of gastroenteritis, no-one was more surprised than yours truly that I ended up loving The Claw’s debut single as much as I did. With the pop might of Eg White and Cathy Dennis behind it, Once was a quirky little number that suddenly smashed you in the face with its full-throttle body-slam of a chorus. Idiosyncratic vocals, glacial production and Diana’s pure charm complete the gift-wrapped package.

Three nearly but not quites…

McFly – Shine A Light, Take That – The Flood, Katie Melua – The Flood

Top 11 Albums Of 2009

I don’t really have much to say about this list other than… ta-da! Here are my Top 11 Albums Of 2009!

This was the year of electro, the year of another Scandinavian invasion on my charts and where the only bloke on the list hides in the shadows of Elly Jackson’s quiff. It’s also the only year where I managed full-length reviews of all the entries on my list (not that this matters much to you, what with Teentoday’s archive being down) and it was the year I wondered what the hell to do with The Fame Monster… and I’m still not entirely satisfied with the result!

1.            Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Weird, wild and wonderful, flame-haired Florence Welch could well be the Kate Bush of the Noughties. Lungs positively glitters with songs as dark and rich as the finest chocolate fudge cake, whilst her enigmatic Machine provide backing instrumentation with more layers than you’d wear to brave the British winter. But beneath all this Gothic polish lie tunes that are just unmistakably excellent, made all the more wondrous considering this is a debut album (Cosmic Love may even be my track of the year). The Twilight Saga only wishes it was this epic. Let yourself be sucked into Florence’s whirlwind world and you won’t regret it.

2.         Agnes – Dance Love Pop
Recording pure straight-up pop music sometimes seems like it’s something to be ashamed of in these climes. Thankfully, not so in Scandinavia. Agnes’ Dance Love Pop does exactly what it says on the tin, with a smile on its face throughout, and is totally unabashed about doing so. Think 80s Whitney at her best (and Agnes’ vocals are just as immaculate) with that trademark sprinkle of Scandipop magic and you’re halfway there. These are pop songs so solid they might survive nuclear war.

3.            Alcazar – Disco Defenders
Other acts get to their third studio albums making noise about progression and change of style. Alcazar just get on with doing what they do best – making pop songs catchier than chickenpox with choruses bigger than some entire songs whilst wearing the tackiest outfits they can (and sometimes can’t) get away with. What’s more, despite line-up changes that even the Sugababes might shirk at (as yet, even they haven’t tried to add then remove boyfriends from the band), Disco Defenders manages to be their strongest album yet, with hit after hit walloping you around the face with shimmering shimmying brilliance. Burning sees Alcazar hit the clubs, specially-designed dance routine in tow, Inhibitions sees them take on a delicious guitar riff or two and Put The Top Down has them doing a summer cruise, deflecting UV rays with stellar pop choruses. Fabulous.

4.         Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
Forget her status as tabloid fodder. Forget the outspoken interviews and the paparazzi shots of her looking wasted. It’s Not Me, It’s You proves that Lily Allen was born to be a pop star – and makes the news that she’s taking a break from music look all the more bleak. Who’d Have Known, Chinese and I Could Say are feather-light ditties that make the everyday sound beautiful; Back To The Start, Everyone’s At It and The Fear are pure choons with emotional/topical clout. With a dash of wit here and a pinch of profanity there, plus that trademark singing style that would sound stupid with anyone else, it’s unmistakeably and unapologetically Allen – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Come back soon, Lil!

5.         Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster
I umm-ed and ahh-ed about The Fame Monster’s inclusion in this chart for days. Strictly speaking, it’s a re-release. But it’s just so good. But it’s only eight tracks long! But it is just SO good. And so here The Fame Monster finds itself, only eight tracks long but my, what an eight tracks they are. Eight tracks that are better than most twelve-track albums and represent Gaga’s near-complete mastery of the pop genre (not content with throwing the kitchen sink at the deliciously frantic production of Telephone, even Beyonce turns up for the ride!). Watching Gaga’s next move should prove fascinating (with Speechless finally showing she can turn her hand to a decent heartfelt ballad) yet The Fame Monster, in all its rah-rah-rah-ing glory, will do just perfectly for now, thanks very much.

6.         The Saturdays – Wordshaker
Since this album plummeted down the charts, The Saturdays backlash has already started (and spare me from the hilarity of those oh-so-witty Flopgo and One Last Shot puns please). In my eyes though, The Saturdays have nothing to be ashamed of (bar the PR who pulled our competition for mentioning their live performance record is a little dodgy) – five girls easy on the eyes and ears whose songs are high-gloss pop. Upping the fierce factor from the mostly saccharine Chasing Lights results in an album that’s a lot more listenable; Lose Control, Ego, Open Up and One Shot are all rambunctious robust tunes with more than enough hooks to withstand a few rounds in the ring with their greatest critics.

7.         Ashley Tisdale – Guilty Pleasure
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures for music (in my opinion, if you love a song, you love it and there’s no need to be ashamed whatever Q says – apart from the Crazy Frog that is…) but I do understand where Tisdale’s sophomore album title is coming from. For those whose usual preference is bands with guitars, beards, independent record labels and self-penned (usually shit) lyrics, then any sniff of this Disney queen near their record collection would be something to feel guilty about – yet I’ve seen just those types start humming along shiftily once they’ve lost themselves to a few of these fairly immaculate renderings of pop-rock at its finest. An endless series of catchy choruses sung with gusto, it’s like the kid sister of a Katy Perry album (if One Of The Boys had actually been much good).

8.         VV Brown – Travelling Like The Light
VV Brown may be more famous for her style, her press ubiquity or her Twitter breakdowns, yet Travelling Like The Light showed she at least deserved to be just as well-known for her music. You won’t find many debut albums with more energy (or that kick off proceedings with a manic bawl) and from start to finish, VV rarely let’s up. Her brand of doo-wop pop is a little rough round the edges yet in a year saturated by electropop, it sounded fresh exciting and pretty unique too, whilst Travelling Like The Light (the song) showed Brown could tackle silky smooth slowies too. Surely you’ve gotta have a little bit of love for an artist that sprinkles old-school Nintendo bleeps in her songs?

9.         Nerina Pallot – The Graduate
You won’t find this album in many ‘Best Of 2009’ lists – in fact, you’ll struggle to find many reviews of The Graduate at all – yet more fool everyone, because this album is almost as quietly brilliant as the album that was meant to launch her to mainstream success, 2006’s Fires. Pallot has a beautifully understated voice and a dangerously good talent for banging out quality songs (she’s now writing for the likes of Kylie and Diana Vickers). Just as adept at a radio-friendly uptempo (Real Late Starter, I Don’t Want To Go Out) as a heart-stoppingly gorgeous ballad (It Starts, Everything’s Illuminated), Pallot could well be pop’s best-kept secret. Until we let you in on it, that is.

10.            Shakira – She-Wolf
So the current craze for all things electro reached Columbia too. South America’s finest (legal) export manages to successfully meld her international influences with Pharrell’s pulsating beats and some excellent disco hooks to produce one of the year’s tightest albums. As ever, Shakira’s unique bleat and barmy lyrics prove as much as a draw as the tunes themselves – who else would manage to name-check Matt Damon (the whirling insanity of Men In This Town), compare herself to a coffee machine (the delicious disco of She-Wolf) and impersonate an airport tannoy welcoming you to Hell (the rollicking rock licks of Mon Amour) all on one album?

11.       La Roux – La Roux
La Roux have a sound and by God, they’ve stuck to it. Their debut album sees them glide glacially on the good ship Electro (what they’ll do when that’s no longer in vogue remains to be seen), with some absolutely major tunes along the way. The absolute relentlessness of those beats and Elly Jackson’s Marmite vocals ensure that it never manages too many repeated spins on my record player but these are choruses so insistently effective that just one listen does the trick. Cover My Eyes, meanwhile, goes against the odds to prove that an electro-ballad (even with choir) is not only possible, but positively brilliant.

Top 11 Singles Of 2009

So I decided to save my rant on why great songs aren’t necessarily great singles for my Top 11 Singles Of 2009.

This is because Paloma Faith’s New York (a big favourite of the Teentoday audience) has been kicked off in favour of Ke$ha’s Tik Tok, and she doesn’t even make the nearly but not quites either. Whilst I still stick by my original comments that New York is ‘a ballad that just leaves all others trailing in its jewel-studded wake, with an old-fashioned sweeping majesty to it’, I don’t think it’s one of the best singles of the year. This is because its true home is not as a three minute blast of brilliance on your mp3 player, or a three minute blaze of glory sandwiched between Fearne Cotton’s squeals on the radio, yet instead cocooned in the loveliness of Faith’s whole (very good) album instead. New York is a lovely song, but it’s even lovelier surrounded by Faith’s other work – a sign of a great cohesive album and therefore nowt to be ashamed of.

This is why listing the best singles, as opposed to simply the best songs, of the year appeals (for the more mundane, practical reasoning, see here). For a song to be an amazing single, it has to stand on its own feet and sound just as brilliant in isolation as it does next to its fellow album fodder. It has to have some spark to it that makes it instantly intangibly incredible but also enough about it to do the business in the long term, when you’re casting your mind back to the year’s greatest moments. It has to blaze and burn so brightly that you want to experience it repeatedly, over and over again, preferably as soon as humanely possible.

And so that’s why, sorry Paloma love, you missed out. But don’t fear, here’s eleven other such blasts of 2009’s brilliance instead.

1.         Release Me – Agnes (3)
Right from the strings intro that signals ‘classic in the making’ through the stompy power-walk verses to the majesty of the perfectly-crafted chorus, Release Me shows every sign of being a song whose power will remain undimmed for the next few decades. Agnes’ powerhouse vocals combine with typical Scandi song-making genius for our single of the year. A diva is born.

2.         Party In The USA – Miley Cyrus (11)
This song sounds like summer distilled into three and a half minutes of head-nodding, arm-waving, grin-inducing happiness. With a chorus like that, the Dr Luke production credit is a no-brainer yet the country twang and full-throated charm of the song is all Miley’s own. Just hearing those few opening strums on a guitar is enough to make me smile… and that’s before she’s even mentioned the Britney song being on or not getting the memo that it ain’t a Nashville party. Glorious. And half of it doesn’t even bloody rhyme.

3.            Remedy – Little Boots (6)
Little Boots’ first single (and video) was a disappointment. Little Boots’ first album was a disappointment. Little Boots’ appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks was a disappointment. But for Remedy alone, we’re willing to forgive. Offering two choruses for the price of one, it’s a perfect marriage between RedOne’s addictive production and Boots’ electro sensibilities. Factor in the chilly charm of Boots’ vocals and you have an absolutely divine record.  Let’s just ignore the line about temptation calling like Adam to the apple, shall we…

4.         I Gotta Feeling – Black Eyed Peas (1)
If this was a list based on feelgood factor, I Gotta Feeling would be top of the pops. Not content with the basic brilliant building block of that clanging beat running through the whole track, the BEP keep chucking good thing after good thing at the song until it crescendos into dancefloor excellence. A perfectly encapsulation of the party spirit – just wait for the sing-along smiles and unhinged cries of ‘Mazel-tov!’ that sound when this comes on in a club and you really don’t need me to tell you how great it is.

5.            Battlefield – Jordin Sparks (11)
Many opted for Beyonce’s Halo as one of their songs of the year and whilst I do love the simple beauty of that song, Battlefield is like it’s more bombastic overblown underrated little sister (and once you’ve heard Glee’s mash-up of Halo with Walking On Sunshine, you’ll never hear Halo in quite the same way again). Ryan Tedder’s pulsating production? Check. Vocals set to belt? Check. Epic chorus? Check. Battlefield’s a complete blast from start to finish, with crashing percussion exploding all-around whilst Sparks bellows like a demented warrior about getting armour. An absolute beast of a song.

6.            Untouched – The Veronicas (8)
Somewhat fittingly given the current climate, this is a veritable snowstorm of a song. The haunting strings of the intro are so good they sound like they should be a sample, next comes anthemic hand-clapping, then the crash of guitars. And all that is just the introduction. Icy vocals avalanche from the Origliasso twins’ mouths at a thrill-inducing speed during the verses before segueing into a heart-stoppingly cracking chorus. All underscored by a strings motif so hypnotic that Mozart would be proud. A beautiful blizzard of a pop record.

7.         Poker Face/Bad Romance/ Paparazzi – Lady Gaga (1, 1, 4)
OK, we know this is kind of cheating but we simply couldn’t choose between Gaga’s hits. That she’s so low down the list is more a sign of her sheer ubiquity and consequent overplaying than anything. No artist has had quite as many strokes of genius as Stefani Germanotta this year so let’s hold a glass to the intoxicating ‘muh-muh-muhs’ of Poker Face, the unhinged ‘rah-rah-rahs’of Bad Romance and the dark electro throb of Paparazzi (check out the Demo Mix btw, it’s awesome). My favourite: The dark theatricality of Bad Romance. It could well be remembered as the sound of the noughties. No small feat for an artist that has only appeared in the last year.

8.         Boys & Girls – Pixie Lott (1)
Those Mark Ronson horns sound mighty familiar yet let’s face it, originality isn’t the key here. It’s bold, it’s brassy and it’s bloody catchy whilst Pixie’s pipes shine through as ever. Boys & Girls bursts with a youthful exuberance that we wish Lott would show a bit more often (she is a teenager, after all) and its pursuit of a fantastic chorus is relentless. ‘A good beat never hurt no-one’ indeed.

9.         Tik Tok – Ke$ha (4)
Tik Tok was all set to feature high on my 2010 list, before I looked it up and discovered it was actually released in November 2009. Oops. So here it is, in all its trashtastic glory – the song responsible for making an entire generation want to wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy. With vocals set somewhere between Amanda off Ugly Betty and vapid Valley girl, lyrics so intentionally ridiculous that you can’t help but go along with them (brushing teeth with Jack Daniels, kicking men to the curb that don’t look like Mick Jagger et al) and another hu-owge chorus from Dr Luke, Tik Tok makes the most of its (slightly grubby) charms. Unwashed, unfettered and unleashed – the party don’t start ‘til she walks in, after all!

10.       The Fear – Lily Allen (1)
Never has an artist’s tone been so completely at odds with their lyrical content. Allen has the feather-light voice of an angel but takes sharp stiletto stabs at society, with the odd swear-word thrown in for good measure. Zippy, beatific Greg Kurstin production disguises a succinct dissection of nearly everything that’s wrong with the decade, with lyrics like ‘I am a weapon of massive consumption’, ‘everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner’ and the naughty schoolgirl thrill of ‘But it doesn’t matter cos I’m packing plastic/and that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic’. And let’s not forget the fact that Allen has an ear for a catchy tune as well – The Fear’s chorus is up with the best of them. Heady stuff.

11.       Beat Again – JLS (1)
Whoever thought that one of the best (nay… only) British boy bands we’d be left with at the end of the decade was courtesy of the previously-dodgy group category on X-Factor? The jury’s out on whether Beat Again is better than Everybody In Love (for my money, the latter is an amazing bridge and anthemic chorus missing memorable verses) but Beat Again must win on account of its ludicrous/brilliant dance routine. It involves JLS playing dead, for God’s sake! The song itself is a stuttery minimalist delight that ponders whether you’ll be attending their funeral (if you failed to give them ‘love CPR’, I imagine). JLS snatch the last place in the top 11, for keeping a straight face if nothing else.

Three nearly but not quites…
Good Girl Gone Bad – Cobra Starship & Leighton Meester, Bonkers – Dizzee Rascal, Bulletproof – La Roux

Top 11 Albums Of 2008

2008 leaps out as being a really poor year for albums, so much so I resorted to putting an album that wasn’t even technically released on here! Only the top five of this list really stand out; the rest are three (and a half) star albums at best that wouldn’t make the cut in any other year, with Jenny Lewis and John Legend even having better albums under their belt that didn’t make the charts in other years.

Still, enough with the cryptic clues. For better or worse, I present you with my Top 11 Albums Of 2008.

1.         Britney Spears – Circus
Not as good as Blackout, but then again, what is? Whilst Blackout was an unrelenting dance nirvana, Circus is more a collection of great songs, with a couple of stinkers thrown in for good measure. [How did the teeth-gnashingly awful My Baby, with its nauseating lyrics about smelling breath ever leave the demo stage? And Mmm Papi is so shudder-inducingly cringe-making, you’ll hang your head in shame at how annoyingly catchy it is.] The sirens of Womanizer signal that Britney is back with bells on; tracks like Kill The Lights (heralding the return of ‘Princess, now Queen of Pop, Miss Britney Spears’), the strangulated vowels of Shattered Glass and the winking thrust of If U Seek Amy may steal the limelight but the experimental stutters and squeals of Mannequin and hypnotic seduction of Unusual You reveal their lustre on later listens. Meanwhile, my two favourites are mere bonuses – the Lady Gaga-penned (listen out for her on backing vocals) jaw-droppingly lovely Quicksand, which feels like it just rains gooey gorgeousness at every listen and the retro butterscotch charms of Amnesia (I could write an essay on this song – stuttering on the word ‘stutters’, the way that ‘butterflies’ is fragmented into two lines, that the song is about how hot some guy is that Brit ‘gets amnesia’ and then he comes to her and tells her that he can’t ‘forget about her’… that’s clever pop for you, and it’s utterly blissful). Welcome back Britters!

2.         Lady Gaga – The Fame
At times, Lady Gaga really annoys me – ridiculous crotch-thrusting outfits, too much make-up, hair like straw, insisting that she’s 22 when she looks about 40. But then I remember how great her songs are. The Fame is a remarkable debut, with barely a duff track, and the seamy seedy edge added by lyrics detailing an obsession with fame or a predilection for rough sex complement the killer choruses (more than most artists manage in an entire career) perfectly. Suddenly, her ‘I’m outrageous, me!’ get-up just doesn’t matter anymore.

3.         Girls Aloud – Out Of Control
Tame by Girls Aloud’s standards, bloody brilliant by anyone else’s. Lacking the genre-pogoing bravery of Tangled Up, Out of Control still has its fair share of electrifyingly eclectic moments in Miss You Bow Wow (a seemingly endless segue of stunning choruses), Revolution In The Head and Live In The Country. The rest of the album may see the girls on more mellow mainstream form – yet on tracks as genuinely lovely as Rolling Back The Rivers, the magnificent melancholy of The Loving Kind and whirling ecstasy of Untouchable, who’s complaining?

4.         Same Difference – Pop
If you like your music to come with bigger smiles than a sales assistant on commission, then this is the album for you. This is pop in primary colours with hundreds and thousands sprinkled liberally on top, with surprisingly strong vocals from the siblings (so clean-cut that they make the Andrex puppy look a little sordid in comparison). Pop has had epic key changes thrown at it like confetti – the elongated one in Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now should be framed and hung up in a gallery, it’s that amazing. From the glorious cover art, to the perfectly-picked material, Pop practically wags its tail with pure unadulterated joy. It’s as if Steps never went away.

5.         Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke
Does the album get a bit samey after a while? Yes. Does Ladyhawke’s ‘couldn’t give a shit, might as well be singing about what I need to get from Tesco later’ vocal delivery diminish the songs’ brilliance? Yes. But is this still a pretty great, cohesive, synthy sumptuous banquet of electro-indie? Yes. And is Paris Is Burning a sleazy adrenaline rush like no other? Of course.

6.         Lemar – The Reason
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: thank God for Lemar. The man is single-handedly keeping male British soul/r n’ b alive. His albums are always consistent, his voice is gorgeous and well, he seems a thoroughly nice chap. At ten tracks, The Reason never outstays its welcome and is a smoothly impressive record; in fact, Lemar out-sings, out-funks and out-does John Legend’s Evolver at every turn. Little Miss Heartbreaker is just crying out, in fact wailing loudly and bashing its fists against a wall, to become a massive hit and this album, like Catfights, deserves so much more success.

7.         Sugababes – Catfights And Spotlights
I can’t pretend that the Sugababes abandonment of electropop didn’t disappoint – and without the Red Dresses, Holes in The Heads and Push the Buttons of the world, Catfights does suffer. The resulting energy drought will have you clinging as desperately onto the sole stomper (Hanging On A Star) as a bunny boiler to their ex – however, nothing but nothing will compel me to look on Girls with anything other than contempt. A gaping creative trench of a song, built solely around the strength of its sample and with little consideration for including a decent anything else, it’s a nadir in the Babes’ career. But Catfights does serve as a reminder that, once upon a time, the Sugababes (in whatever previous incarnation) were just as effective at ballads and midtempos as rave-ups. A quietly good album with some great vocals; Can We Call A Truce is heartbreaking pared-down beauty and Heidi has never sounded so heart-achingly gorgeous.

8.         Annie – Don’t Stop
Not technically released [it eventually saw the light of day in late 2009, a ridiculous 18 months after the Interwebz got their first taste of Don’t Stop], but it seems churlish not to award Norwegian pop sprite Annie her place in the top 11. Don’t Stop boasts songs lighter than spun sugar, a fair smattering of wit and depth that many of her contemporaries lack and the occasional utter leftfield spark (ice cream chimes in I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me). Annie’s feather-light delivery perhaps lacks the appropriate punch for power-pop like My Love Is Better but juxtaposes against the rocky duet I Can’t Let Go nicely and is the perfect fit for dreamy epics like Songs Remind Me Of You and Marie Cherie.

9.         Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Lewis just has a voice that makes you melt – she just seems to sing with such simplicity and feeling that it delves into parts of your soul you weren’t sure existed. Not an album that will have you raving it up until poppers o’ clock but a master-class in breathtaking beauty all the same.

1o.         John Legend – Evolver
I’ve long said that Legend could read the dictionary over a backing track and I’d still be in thrall to that honeyed voice. But Legend’s attempts to become the next Marvin Gaye are wearing a little thin because he has not yet managed to match the majesty of 2005’s wondrous Get Lifted. Green Light, propelled by Andre 3000’s cheeky chutzpah (btw where is he?! I need another Outkast album!), offers a tantalising glimpse of what could happen if Legend veered in a slightly funkier direction. Sadly, nothing on Evolver, despite the progressive sounding title, comes close to even trying. His piano-led ballads are still beautiful (This Time = Evolver’s Ordinary People), but you hear me Legend, I want more!

11.         The Saturdays – Chasing Lights
The Saturdays are being touted as the great white hope of girl bands – the last bastion if the Sugababes and Girls Aloud should disappear. On the basis of Chasing Lights, I’m worried. Yes, there are some great tunes on here (I have a huge squidgy soft spot for the monumentally cheesy Why Me, Why Now) but they would be great tunes if my wall sung them to me – in fact, they might even be better. The Saturdays are in desperate need of personality and spark in order to elevate their slick yet serviceable pop to the next level. Up is still bloody good though.