New Music Roundup – August 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th August 2013.

On a recent trip to the States, I was disappointed to find that the record shop had become extinct. I wandered the shopping districts of NYC and Las Vegas, only to find that the major music retailers I remembered from previous visits had disappeared. Only the iconic Amoeba Music store in Los Angeles remained.

So for those of you who remember albums, here’s my rundown of the latest offerings.

The Pet Shop Boys have been producing their unique brand of synth pop for the past 22 years. Their twelfth studio album is entitled Electric and is a welcome return to the dance floor after the joyless creative failure of Elysium last year. Reminiscent of their Disco series of albums, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have rediscovered the right combination of beats per minute, catchy synth hooks and quirky lyrics to appeal to the Tony Manero is all of us. Electric is the first release through X 2 (“times two”), their own label.

Remember Lou Bega? In 1999, he hit the jackpot worldwide with Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) and was subsequently never heard from again, thankfully. This week, his fifth studio album hit shelves and I’m predicting that next week, it will hit bargain bins. Entitled A Little Bit 80s, Bega gives his favourite songs from the decade without taste a little bit of the Mambo No. 5 treatment. That means dancehall style grooves and lots, and I mean lots, of synthesized brass hits. Unfortunately, Bega’s low vocal register means it is impossible to sing along with the tunes. Red Red Wine is not a complete disaster but best avoid his version of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.

Hey, how good was Madonna’s last album? Nope, I have no idea either. Along with the rest of world, I didn’t buy it. For those interested in the other end of the Madonna timeline, an album of largely unreleased recordings has emerged under the title, The Early Years. I would suggest an alternative title: The Unlistenable Years. This collection of stodgy synthesizer tracks with avant garde German artist Otto Von Wernherr features Madonna vocals in the form of barely present samples accompanying a horribly augmented male singer. Imagine the vocal stylings from Taco’s Putting on the Ritz with Madonna on backing duties. Yep, it’s that bad.

Following a bizarre album and tour with New Kids on the Block, billed collectively as NKOTBSB, the Backstreet Boys return with a new album, In a World Like This. With Kevin Richardson back on board, the original line-up returns with a collection of inoffensive acoustic guitar riddled power ballads. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of hooks, making it one for the fans only. As crazy as it sounds, I’d recommend instead the also newly released offering from NKOTB (no longer new or kids) entitled 10.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:09  Leave a Comment  
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Weird Al Rules

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th July 2011.

It’s hard to believe but pop satirist and accordion player, “Weird Al” Yankovic, released his 13th album, Alpocalypse, this year. With more than 12 million records sold over a career spanning 35 years, Yankovic has mostly outlasted and in some cases, outsold, the pop music artists that were the basis for his amusing parodies.

Born Alfred Matthew Yankovic in 1959 (he turns 52 this year), “Weird Al’ released his first official single on Capitol Records in 1976. It was a parody of The Knack’s My Sharona, reworked as My Balogna. This was followed by Another One Rides the Bus, a send up of Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust. From there, as they say, the rest is history.

Yankovic’s career particularly benefitted from the emergence of MTV in the early eighties. His hilarious music video for Eat It, a parody of Beat It by one hit wonder Michael Jackson, was virtually a shot-for shot remake of the original clip and was placed on high rotation, becoming one of Al’s biggest selling singles.

No-one seemingly was safe from Weird Al’s focus. Major acts such as Madonna (Like a Surgeon), Nirvana (Smells Like Nirvana), Green Day (Canadian Idiot), Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Bedrock Anthem) and Michael Jackson (a second parody, Fat) were satirised alongside flash in the pan acts such as Coolio (Amish Paradise), The Presidents of the United States of America (Gump), Billy Ray Cyrus (Achy Breaky Song) and The Offspring (Pretty Fly for a Rabbi).

In the USA, permission is not required to record a parody of a song, however, Yankovic generally seeks permission from the original artist before working his magic. Many recording acts consider it an honour to be satirised by Al. His latest single, a spin on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, entitled Perform This Way (the video is fantastic, check it out on YouTube) was initially refused permission by her management. When Gaga, reportedly a huge fan, found out that a decision had been made without consulting her, Weird Al was given the go ahead.

Not everyone wants the Yankovic treatment though. Vegetarian Paul McCartney did not want Live and Let Die to become Chicken Pot Pie. James Blunt’s management didn’t like the idea of You’re Beautiful being made into You’re Pitiful.

My favourite song on every Weird Al album is his polka medley. This is where he takes a dozen or so chart hits at the time of recording and recreates them as a thigh slapping, lederhosen friendly polka, complete with tubas and piano accordions. As my high school’s resident DJ in the early 90’s, I’d quite often turn school dances into Octoberfest by playing Yankovic’s Polka Your Eyes Out.

I had the pleasure of catching Weird Al’s live show earlier this year from the front row of the Enmore Theatre. More of a live theatrical performance than a concert, Al changed costume between almost every song. This meant that there were long gaps between tunes, which were filled with amusing videos, but after a while it became clear that the show was far from spontaneous. His band was amazing, with some members being with Al from the beginning of his career. Their ability to reproduce almost any style of music was uncanny.

With a career almost as long as my life so far, “Weird Al” Yankovic will hopefully be around to poke fun at the ultra serious music industry for many years to come. When the funniest thing in music these days is Justin Bieber, it is good to know that the Clown Prince of Pop is around.

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 08:53  Leave a Comment  
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