Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad

Rihanna looks every bit the R& B star while at the same time, she's just enough off-center to make herself unique from the rest.

"Pon De Replay, "S.O.S.," "Unfaithful" -- these Rihanna hit songs not only made their way to the top of the charts, they also found their way to your cell phones! Now back with an even bigger, sexier image and sound, Rihanna is all ready to call the No. 1 spot her home again.

Taking its cue from the hit single "S.O.S.," Good Girl Gone Bad plays with up-tempo '80s flavors and has several dance-oriented tracks that, while not as sharp as those of her competition (Beyonce and Ciara), have a distinct sound and style. First single "Umbrella," featuring Jay-Z, is an infectious, familiar number that has gotten everyone, love it or hate it, hooked on to the tongue friendly words of "Ella, ella, eh-eh-eh." Lyrics aside, "Umbrella" (which soars into wild synthetic layers during the chorus) does show Rihanna's sonic adventurousness.

And for a more diverse sound, Rihanna roped in a heavy list of collaborators. Other than Jay-Z, Timbaland lends his talent as well, adding his production skills to songs like "Sell Me Candy," "Lemme Get That," and "Rehab," a song written by the multi-talented Justin Timberlake who also did the backing vocals for the track. Ne-Yo, who penned two tracks on the album, also steers the album into a more mainstream territory. It's a move that doesn't necessarily gel with the more club-oriented material on the album, but is forgivable as it's all part of the adventure plan.

Whether she's a good girl gone bad or not, Rihanna looks every bit the R& B star while at the same time, she's just enough off-center to make herself unique from the rest. And Good Girl Gone Bad is an album that validates that observation.

Kelly Clarkson, My December

We’ve lost count to how many American Idols there are since the show’s inception in 2002. But if you really want to talk about THE face for the popular television series, Kelly Clarkson would be it.

Since her meteoric rise to instant stardom on American Idol, Kelly has been riding on rather smooth sailing career. Her 2003 debut Thankful received favorable reviews, despite it being a label-driven album creatively. In 2004, Kelly decided to execute more control over her songs and moved into a more pop-rock direction for her second album Breakaway. With five Top 10 U.S. singles, Breakaway became the fourth album in America’s history to chart on the Billboard 200 Top 10 for a whole year. To date, Breakaway has sold a whooping 6 million copies in the U.S. and 11 million copies worldwide.

Inspired by the success of Breakaway, Kelly took full artistic control for her third album, My December, writing and co-writing every song on the album. According to Kelly, the biggest difference of My December compared to her previous work, “is how intimate it is.”

"The record is about me, why I make the decisions I do," Kelly explains. "Most of my songs are about what's happening in my life. For me, it's like free therapy. Whether it's me growing, or helping someone else get through similar circumstances."
Kelly Clarkson
Without a doubt, My December signifies Kelly’s stature as recording artist with a full artistic vision for her own sound. It’s a major turning point for the 25-year-old, and Kelly is not afraid to tell her story.

"It's the end of something and the beginning of a new era, a fresh start,” says Kelly. “My December is like a movie about me, it's my story.”

Music And Lyrics

Music And Lyrics
Director: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Haley Bennett

Official website:

Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a washed-up '80s pop star who's been reduced to working at county fairs and amusement parks. The talented musician gets a chance at a comeback when reigning pop diva Cora Corman invites him to write and record a duet with her, but there’s a problem --Alex's never written lyrics. Enter Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), Alex's beguilingly quirky plant lady, whose flair for words strikes a chord with the struggling songwriter. As their chemistry heats up at the piano and under it, Alex and Sophie will have to face their fears—and the music -- if they want to find the love and success they both deserve.

Hugh Grant Drew Barrymore Set Pictures 12 5 2006.jpg

Lots of funny one-liners by Hugh Grant, the ever dead-pan humor in him and the goofiness of Drew Barrymore formed a funny partnership for a song-writing task for a hot new singer named Cora. Even though the overall plot is pretty weak with Drew Barrymore being Hugh Grant's plant lady (?) and then becoming his song lyricist, the music and humor are enough to keep you entertained, especially the opening music sequence, which is shockingly funny. Most of the original music and score of the movie are written by Fountains Of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger so if you are into the '80s music and open to new creative music and sounds, this is the movie for you!

Oh yes, and remember to grab the soundtrack after you watched the movie because the music will stick to your head for days!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Michael Bublé, Call Me Irresponsible

It's no coincidence that Michael Bublé's new album starts with just his voice and some fingersnaps on "The Best Is Yet to Come," a song made famous by Frank Sinatra. The Canadian smoothie looks longingly towards early-'60s Vegas, an impression quickly reinforced when a boisterous horn section makes its grand entrance, about 20 seconds into the track.

That Bublé means business is confirmed by the second cut, a fast-paced take on Henry Mancini's "It Had Better Be Tonight," and of course by the CD's very title, another song identified with Sinatra as his cockiest. There are just a few sidesteps from the retro formula that's served Bublé so well so far: a languid duet with Brazilian star Ivan Lins on the bossa "Wonderful Tonight," a gospel choir on "That's Life." Interestingly, Bublé co-wrote the best of those sidesteps, "Everything," a Norah Jones-esque number that alluringly harks back to sunny '70s pop. It's also the only song on the album produced by Bob Rock (best known for his work with Metallica), sending out a strong signal that Bublé should reach out to unlikely collaborators more often.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

Amy Winehouse's second album, Back to Black, is one of the finest soul albums, British or otherwise, to come out for years. Frank, her first album, was a sparse and stripped-down affair; Back to Black, meanwhile, is neither of these things.

This time around, she's taken her inspiration from some of the classic 1960's girl groups like the Supremes and the Shangri-Las, a sound particularly suited to her textured vocal delivery, while adding a contemporary songwriting sensibility. With the help of producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, "Rehab" becomes a gospel-tinged stomp, while the title track (and album highlight) is a heartbreaking musical tribute to Phil Spector, with it's echoey bass drum, rhythmic piano, chimes, saxophone and close harmonies.

Best of all, though, is the fact that Back to Black bucks the current trend in R&B by being unabashedly grown-up in both style and content. Winehouse's lyrics deal with relationships from a grown-up perspective, and are honest, direct and, often, complicated: on "You Know I'm No Good", she's unapologetic about her unfaithfulness. But she can also be witty, as on "Me & Mrs Jones" when she berates a boyfriend with "You made me miss the Slick Rick gig". Back to Black is a refreshingly mature soul album, the best of its kind for years.

The Simpsons Movie

Homer Simpson, the oafish paterfamilias of America’s favourite dysfunctional family, emerges from his big-screen debut a bona fide Hollywood action hero.

At the start of The Simpsons Movie Homer’s dreams of glory are limited to helping his new pet pig to walk upside down on the ceiling while singing “Spiderpig, Spiderpig” to the Spider-Man theme song.

But when the adopted swine gets him into bigger trouble than even this celebrated screw-up has ever experienced before, he falls under the influence of a chesty Native American woman he calls “Boob Lady” and undergoes an uncharacteristic epiphany that galvanizes him into action for the good of his by-now estranged clan.

By the time the witty final credits roll, Homer outshines even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been elected president and ordered great harm done to Homer’s home town.

The Simpsons Movie

The Hollywood action theme helps the hit cartoon series, after 18 seasons on television, to land its death-defying leap to the big screen with panache. The result is a postmodern parable about an environmental scare that is at the same time hilarious and horrifyingly poignant. But thanks to an unexpected glimpse of Bart’s genitalia, this is a postmodern parable with a “pickle shot”.

The film boasts the same sly cultural references and flashes of brilliance that have earned the television series a following that ranges from tots to comparative literature PhDs. Despite its clownishness and childish graphics, it still offers searing insights into the pathetic human condition.

When the residents of Springfield learn that they are confronting catastrophe, for instance, the panicked occupants of the bar and the next-door church pour out into the street and change places — the drinkers taking solace in religion and the religious finding comfort in drink.

But the movie will be equally satisfying to those who just find it funny that Homer wants to kiss his pet pig — or laugh at Marge pondering the (literally) weighty issue of the pig’s “leavings”, or excrement.

Early on The Simpsons team shows their nerve by making Homer wonder out loud why anyone would pay to buy a cinema ticket to watch what they could see on TV free — the underlying question of the whole big-screen adaptation. In Homer’s view, anyone who pays for cinema tickets to watch a TV show is a sucker. Jabbing his finger at the audience, he declares: “Particularly you!”

What you get for your money is the Simpsons on an epic scale. The familiar, if geographically indeterminate, territory of Springfield is suddenly transformed into a cross between The Truman Show and Escape from New York, with a Big Brother government conspiring to keep all its unruly residents in line until it can be bombed into a “new Grand Canyon” tourist attraction.

The middle section, set in Alaska, lags because of the absence of the familiar props of the Simpsons’ home town. I found myself longing for Homer and his tribe to return to wreak more havoc on their neighbours, particularly the long-suffering Flanders.

But the film ends with a tense second-by-second countdown that fully exploits the bathos of that schlump Homer becoming an action star able save the world, or at least his little part of it. The conventions of the “disaster flick” allow The Simpsons’ left-leaning creator, Matt Groening, to indulge his politics with wry warnings of environmental doom without boring us out of our mustard-yellow skin.

Lisa, Homer and Marge’s swotty daughter, has become an ardent environmentalist who makes an Al Gore-style presentation entitled “An Irritating Truth” to the local populace.

In the same spirit, this film could have been subtitled: “An Inconvenient Cartoon”.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hairspray Review and Soundtrack

John Waters' cult 1980s comedy returns to the big screen, this time as a musical based on the 2002 Broadway hit!!!

The Producers started a trend. Mel Brooks' 1968 farce, you'll recall, made a comeback in 2006 as a celluloid adaptation of its Broadway musical remake. Now Hairspray completes the same cyclical journey, returning to where it all began with a big-screen transfer of the stage show it spawned.

Hairspray (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)

It's a bizarrely cannibalistic process that, in the case of the Producers film, ended up with a work that was markedly inferior to both its forebears. With Hairspray, though, it works a treat, the blend of John Waters' anarchic weirdness, a star-studded cast and some splendid retro tunes creating a beguiling 1960s pastiche that's an infectious delight from start to finish.

Much of the attention that will justifiably be heaped on Adam Shankman's film will inevitably focus on John Travolta's outrageous cross-dressing turn as the frumpy Edna Turnblad - a role played by Divine in the 1988 original that the Pulp Fiction star, with the help of a fat suit, beehive wig and a few tons of latex, hilariously makes his own.

Travolta gives an audacious performance - especially given the flack he took from gay activists who complained that Scientology disapproves of homosexuality - but the true star here is newcomer Nikki Blonsky. Plucked from obscurity with only a few high-school acting parts to her name, the Long Island native completely steals the show as bubbly heroine Tracy - a small, rotund bundle of fun we fall in love with the second she appears on screen singing exuberant opening number 'Good Morning Baltimore' from the top of a dump truck.

As fine as her voice is, dancing is Tracy's passion - especially if she can do it on 'The Corny Collins Show', the city's top-rated pop programme. Alas, her flabby frame doesn't suit the size-zero ideals of bitchy station manager Velma Von Tussle (Pfeiffer), especially as she's already lined up daughter Amber (Snow) to scoop the prestigious 'Miss Teenage Hairspray' crown. How Tracy contrives to secure a spot on the show, win the heart of teen heart-throb Link Larkin (Efron) and bring about some overdue racial integration forms the busy plot of a movie that still manages to cram in a dozen or more songs amongst its satirical intrigue.

With Christopher Walken providing priceless support as Tracy's jokeshop-owning father, Amanda Bynes an unlikely bonus as her prim pal Penny and Queen Latifah bringing brassy bravado to the role of Corny's reluctant co-host Motormouth Maybelle, there's not a weak link to be found in Shankman's stellar ensemble. And if the transition from stage to screen isn't quite as smooth as he might have been hoped, especially during a frenetic climax that tries to tie up too many plot strands, it's a small price to pay for a film that will have you walking out of the cinema wanting to hug the first fatso you lay eyes on.