Music Monday – Volume Forty

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1) Sam Smith – Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

A beautiful song in its own right, this is only made even more magical by the incredible Sam Smith. That acapella introduction is just stunning.

2) Coldplay – Miracles

Great new track from Coldplay.

3) Chris Rea – Driving home for Christmas

One of my favourite Christmas songs of all time. Jazzy, laid back, meaningful, it’s a fantastic song.

4) Greg Lake – I believe in Father Christmas

A song that I love more and more every time I hear it. One of the most underrated Christmas songs around.

5) Take That – Believe

This keeps growing on me and I really love it! Sounds like something that would have appeared on Mark’s 2013 solo album ‘The Art of Doing Nothing’ but with Take That’s gorgeous harmonies.

6) Sam Smith – Restart

This was one of my songs of the summer. Catchy and utterly irresistible.

7) The Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick

The harmonies on this track are just amazing. One of the best Christmas songs around.

8) Robbie Williams – Walk This Sleigh

An unconventional Christmas song, performed in a way only possible by Mr Robbie Williams!

9) Take That – Freeze

Emotive, with a 1980’s pop sound. Love it.

10) Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk

Catchy, fun and everything pop music should be about.

Sometimes I write songs…

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Around a month ago, when I was feeling particularly reflective, I blogged about the lyrics to one of my songs, reflecting about how much things had changed between myself and the person the song was about. I’m having another one of those evenings and so I thought I’d write about one of favourite songs I’ve written, ‘After’.

‘After’ was written in response to a massively frustrating situation in my life in which I was in love with somebody I couldn’t have. ‘Love’ is a difficult concept to define or understand and I can’t be 100% sure that’s the emotion I had for this person but it was certainly a remarkably strong attraction and a prevailing force. The fact we couldn’t be together made my feelings very much stronger and I guess I kind of lost myself through the absurdity of the situation. As time went on, I felt the person had stopped acknowledging the situation when in fact they’d already acknowledged it more than enough. They were just better at letting it go than me. I could see at the time they were just being practical and sensible but I see it even more clearly now. So with every part of frustration, affection, anger and disappointment, I channelled all of those tricky emotions into writing a song. Lyrically it’s pretty self-explanatory about my feelings at the time. It’s rather sad and pathetic with a little tinge of anger but whilst some parts are a little harsher than I intended, I don’t regret the song. I don’t know if the person ever knew it was about them but as the middle-eight lyrics state, ‘And I wonder if you know, it’s not like I didn’t make it obvious’!

The best thing is me and that person are on very much good terms now. Things have moved on significantly but we’re good friends and so it’s very strange to look back to this time of my life where many of my songs were about them.

Really want to finish the studio demo soon with all the instruments and production!

 

Home demo: http://www.reverbnation.com/marcyb0y/song/15343476-after-demo

Studio Piano Demo: http://www.reverbnation.com/marcyb0y/song/20427329-after-incomplete-studio-piano-demo

Music Monday – Volume Thirty Nine

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1) Take That – Portrait

Incredible, euphoric pop song with a barber shop chorus. Find this quite Christmassy too! Like a Part 2 of ‘Hold Up A Light’ from The Circus album.

[No YouTube Video as of yet]

2) Take That – Higher than higher

Stunning ballad with insane production from the band’s latest album ‘III’. Can’t get enough of this right now.

3) Take That – I like it

A blend between hit ‘Shine’ and Progress’ dark rock track ‘Underground Machine’. Mechanical and catchy.

4) Take That – Do it all for love

Haunting closing track to the deluxe version of ‘III’. Builds up into a dramatic power ballad.

[No YouTube video as of yet]

5) Take That – Let in the sun

Dance infused pop track reminiscent of something Calvin Harris would do. Uplifting and euphoric.

6) Alt-J – Left hand free

Something completely endearing about this track. Love the percussion on it – very catchy.

7) Sam Smith – I’ve told you now

News of Sam Smith being nominated for four Grammy’s this week was received exceptionally well by most of the general public. His talent is certainly to be admired – what a voice! Lots of amazing songs on his album but I really love this. Bitter yet soft too. Awesome song.

8) Robbie Williams – Heavy Entertainment Show

Can’t wait to listen to the rest of this album when I receive it! The amazing thing about Robbie Williams is he has a whole stash of amazing songs that haven’t heard seen the light of day yet simply because he’s a perfectionist. If the rest of latest album ‘Under the radar’ (an album of previously unreleased material) is like this, it’s going to be one heck of an album.

9) Matt Kivel – End of adventure

Found this on a random Spotify playlist and fell in love. So chilled out and a lovely little acoustic-based song.

10) Isbells – Dreamer

Another song I found on a random Spotify playlist and I love this! Low-key and a great, great song. Love this!

Take That ‘III’ – Album Review

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It’s safe to say 2014 has been an incredible roller-coaster for Take That. From being splashed all over the tabloids for reported tax avoidance scams to releasing one of the fastest selling albums of 2014, from losing member Jason Orange to releasing Amazon’s most pre-ordered album in history, it’s safe to say it’s been up and down for Britain’s most loved man-band.

This week, it emerged latest single ‘These Days’ had become their twelfth UK Number One single and on Monday, their brand new album – their first as a three piece – ‘III’ was released. Here’s my track by track review.

1) These Days

A piece of pop perfection, it’s easy to see why this has quickly become a much loved Take That record. The relaxed intro soon transforms into a Nile Rodgers/Chic-style track with funk-like guitar riffs. It’s a song of optimism, of making the most of life and living for the moment and it’s irresistibly catchy. It’s also great to hear most of the song sang by the rich fusion of every member’s vocals, rather than relying on Gary Barlow to lead. A killer opener.

2) Let In the Sun

Take That go all David Guetta on us…  except it’s far superior than anything the French DJ could ever produce! It starts rather softly and romantically with a blend of Barlow’s soft falsetto and deep vocals melting blissfully into the soft synthesisers. It then develops into a dance infused pop-rock track. It doesn’t stray too far away from the Take That sound, however, with acoustic guitars present throughout which save the song from jumping too far into dance-pop territory. It’s a song that, in a less dance-y style, could have fit quite comfortably on ‘The Circus’ album with its optimistic lyrics. Again, it’s a massive feel-good track which makes it a stand-out track from III.

3) If You Want It

We’re back to Greg Kurstin-infused-pop here and it works beautifully. It’s unmistakeably Take That – catchy, a little cheesy and utterly irresistible. In-keeping with all tracks so far, it’s bold, buoyant and a great, great pop track. The harmonies are on point too – Howard and Mark’s vocals are both crystal clear and give the track an extra dimension.

4) Lovelife

Mark Owen takes the lead on this catchy little number. It sounds like something you would hear a group of Frenchmen singing on a street corner in Paris with an accordion. It’s well-written and catchy but it’s the album’s first low point for me. It’s reminiscent of commercial American dance-pop music for me and I think that’s what puts me off slightly. It’s far from a bad track, however.

5) Portrait

A softer song, this works perfectly after how full-on the first four songs have been. Gary’s falsetto flutters over the minimal instrumentation before a Barber-shop ‘ba ba’ Chorus launches in. It is 100% in the same vein of much loved single ‘Hold Up A Light’ with the energy and power the song has. The chord progression is suspiciously similar in places too… “Life slow down” croons Gary. Similarly to ‘Pretty Things’ from ‘Progress’, it address ageing and the progression of life but does a far better job of it. Whilst the chorus may lack any meaningful lyrics, the ‘ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baaaaaa’ refrain is utterly irresistible and the driving drum beat keeps the song lurching forward. Without a doubt one of my favourites from ‘III’.

6) Higher Than Higher

An even softer song, ‘Higher than Higher’ starts with a jittery, rather insane R&B production before the song steadies into a steady marching drum beat. There is nothing new or original about ‘Higher than Higher’ chord-wise. Many pop ballads have used identical chord-structures but it’s Barlow’s perfect vocal delivery and the production that make this beautiful song shine. It’s a song full of meaning, passion and it’s utterly beautiful. The sing-song melody of the chorus echoing into the coherent drum pattern cement this song in quite possibly one of Take That’s tracks of their career. A particular lovely feature on this track is Donald and Owen’s repeated ‘higher than higher’ harmonies in the last minute so which are rather bizarrely reminiscent of an African choir. It’s a lovely touch and another feature which creates sunset imagery. Another of my favourites.

7) I Like It

Take That go all Muse on us once more! It’s a return to the ‘Progress’ era and it’s absolutely bonkers. Think ‘Shine’ and ‘Underground Machine’ if they were to be mashed together and you arrive at ‘I like it’. The synthesised bass and minimal instrumentation make this song catchy hell. Just when you think producer Stuart Price has exhausted all technical improvement tools, a mechanical middle-eight kicks in, during which Barlow’s vocals are lowered in pitch to create a brand new voice. A fun piece of pop.

8) Give You My Love

A song that could have easily fitted in on the ‘Everything Changes’ album, it sounds like Gary’s been having a whale of a time messing around with the sounds and instruments on one of his keyboards. It’s also refreshing to hear Howard take lead vocals and it would have been nice to hear him lead another couple of songs on ‘III’. Pure and simple fun.

9) Freeze

Clever production makes this create an ice-like imagery and it’s a rather pretty song. More than likely one of the ballads the band wrote after discovering Jason Orange’s intention to leave the band, the lyrics say it all; “Just freeze so we don’t have to start again.” The bass and drums on this make it sound pretty ’80’s’. Personal, heartfelt and emotive.

10) Into The Wild

Perhaps the most dramatic song on ‘III’ with tribal drums, Owen’s low vocals and a sing-along chorus. Take That have had a great time imitating other bands on this album and this one is Take That do The Killers. It’s undoubtedly a great song but one of my least favourites on the album. Whilst it’s catchy, it just doesn’t do anything for me.

11) Flaws

A pretty piano-based Barlow ballad which sounds like an out-take from Gary’s ‘Since I Saw You Last’ album. To capture the raw effect, Gary plays around with his singing style and stands a little too close to the microphone… it’s a nice ballad but I prefer ‘Higher than Higher’, if you can regard that as the other ballad on the album.

12) Get Ready For it

The album’s second most dramatic song, ‘Get Ready For It’ (rumoured to be the second single) is a pop-rock stomper that closes the standard version of the album perfectly. It’s powerful, euphoric and a complete stadium anthem.

13) Believe

‘Believe’ sounds like an outtake from Owen’s solo album ‘The Art of Doing Nothing’ and Owen’s vocal delivery is fantastic. It’s an enjoyable song with a big chorus but the boys made the right decision to leave this off the standard edition and put it on the deluxe instead.

14) Amazing

Take That do The Beatles! This couldn’t be any more different stylistically to the rest of the album and therefore it is understandable this has been demoted to a bonus track. It’s a gorgeous song nonetheless and it’s a shame this won’t take pride as a standard edition album track on a pop-rock Take That album. The harmonies are gorgeous, the instrumentation simplistic and the lyrics slushy. It’s unmistakeably Take That and very beautiful it is too.

15) Do it all for Love

A haunting closer to the deluxe version of the album. Mark Owen wails over guitar arpeggios and unmistakable Take That piano chords before the song develops into a dramatic power ballad. It’s a powerful, incredibly emotive track with a killer bridge. Reminds me of one of my favourite Take That songs; ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ which Owen performed lead vocals on to close 1995’s ‘Nobody Else’ album.

‘III’ is everything I anticipated and more. What I love most is the fusion between Take That’s pop-rock genre from ‘Beautiful World’ and ‘The Circus’ and ‘Progress’. It works wonderfully, fusing the meaningful lyrical content with electro-pop and experimental instrumentation to create an incredible, roof-raising album.

‘III’ is available now on Polydor.

Music Monday – Volume Thirty Eight

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1) Take That – If You Want It

I am SO anticipating the release of this album today and can’t wait to hear it later. This song is the second I heard from ‘III’ and it’s blown me away. I don’t even own the album yet and am addicted to it! Love the lyrics, the harmonies and the catchiness of the song. Amazing.

2) Andy Burrows –See a girl

An incredibly beautiful song by an underrated and incredibly talented guy. Love this.

3) Robbie Williams – Into the silence

One of my all time favourite Robbie songs and probably one of my favourite songs of all time. Raw, emotive and powerful. Love the driving beat of this and the way it builds. The ending’s haunting too. Incredible song.

4) We Were Evergreen – Daughters

I don’t know what it is but there’s something about this song that’s rather endearing… there’s not a lot to it but I heard it at the gym the other day and really enjoyed it.

5) Janet Jackson – When I think of you

One of Janet’s best. SO catchy!

6) Echosmith – Cool Kids

Great song with an ’80’s feel to it!

7) Taylor Swift – I wish you would

Catchy and I love the power of this song.
[Not available on YouTube]

8) Take That – If this is love

Underrated masterpiece from the ‘Everything Changes’ album, one of few Take That songs from the first time around not to be written by Gary. Howard co-wrote this and sang lead vocals on it. Awesome song.

9) Mary J Blige – My loving

Love Mary J Blige’s new album, recorded in London and inspired by our music over here! Couldn’t you find the studio version so had to settle for this mediocre live performance instead…

10) Mary J Blige – A whole damn year

Absolutely stunning song which, like the song above is from Mary’s latest album ‘The London Sessions’. Co-written with Emeli Sande, I LOVE this.

Music Monday – Volume Thirty Seven

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1) John Mayer – Dreaming with a broken heart

Beautiful ballad from John’s 2005 ‘Continuum’ album. Great lyrics and I love the fact it’s piano based which makes it stand out from John’s usual guitar sound.

2) Cage The Elephant – Lotus

Heard this when out the other day and really enjoyed it! Reminds me a bit of the Red Hot Chillipeppers.

3) London Grammar – Metal & Dust

I love London Grammar but only got round to checking out their album in its entirety this week. This is one of the stand-outs for me. Love that drum rhythm.

4) London Grammar – Interlude (Live)

Another beautiful song from London Grammar’s début album.

5) One Direction – Stockholm Syndrome

Yes, I know this was in one of the playlists a couple of weeks back and I tend to avoid including songs more than once but I had to include it again. I cannot get enough of this intense, incredibly catchy song. The lyrics are well-written, the drum rhythm is catchy as hell and I love that melody. One of the stand-outs from ‘Four’.

6) Robbie Williams – Deceptacon

A stunning song from ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’. Soft, dreamy and pretty spaced out, I just love the feel of this song. One of Robbie’s most underrated songs.

7) Taylor Swift- Blank Space

Taylor Swift is dominating the charts at the moment and rightly so. She’s delivered an incredible album full of killer songs. Great song.

8) Labrinth – Jealous

Dismissed by many as ‘boring’, I just think this is really quite beautiful. It may not  be the best song I’ve heard but credit where it’s due. There’s some gorgeous chords in this, the lyrics are beautiful and Labrinth’s voice is fantastic.

9) Bing Crosby & David Bowie – Little Drummer Boy

When considering my favourite Christmas songs, I always manage to forget about this classic. Their voices just melt together and it’s a beautiful version of a gorgeous song. Perhaps one of the greatest duets in history.

10) Lawson – Driving Home For Christmas

‘Driving Home For Christmas’ is one of my top 3 favourite Christmas songs of all time. Lawson are one of my favourite bands. Put them both together and you get this level of perfection! Such an awesome version.

Why Band Aid 30 just doesn’t work…

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Just a few weeks ago, the internet was buzzing with rumours that a new incarnation of Band Aid was about to occur for a 30th Anniversary version of the 1984 Charity hit ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. On the 10th of November, Sir Bob Geldof confirmed the project and five days later a rather offbeat but exciting nonetheless group of artists and bands turned up to a sea of paparazzi and fans at Sarm West Studios in Notting Hill, London. The project attracted much media coverage, ‘Band Aid 30′ trended on Twitter for several days and excitement and curiosity hovered as many waited with bated breath to hear the new interpretation. So why, upon its première (during the results show for The X Factor – a rather strange decision in itself) did it just fall a bit… flat? Here, I look at why.

ba84group750pFirst things first, let’s reflect on the original track. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 to raise money for relief of the 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia. The song was inspired by a BBC television report that Geldof witnessed and an assortment of some of the most popular musicians and acts of the era came together to form an eclectic super-group. The song became the fastest selling single in UK Singles Chart history, a record it held onto until Elton John’s 1997 version of ‘Candle In The Wind’ succeeded it. There were around forty musicians involved in the project including Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, Bono, members of Duran Duran, Kool & The Gang and Banarama and many, many more. The song and project was a huge success with record breaking sales, a Live Aid charity concert and many similar Charity super-groups since.

In 1989, the song was re-recorded by a second line-up, recorded as ‘Band Aid II’. This was a Stock, Aitken, Waterman produced version and therefore was understandably a rather cheesy disco affair and a much less memorable and significant effort. Nevertheless, the song reached Number One and featured many big names: Kylie Minogue, Chris Rea, Cliff Richard, Lisa Stansfield and Wet Wet Wet being just some of the names.

a0005086_653113Twenty five years later, Band Aid 20 occurred. This is arguably the second most popular version and featured a diverse range of singers and bands, including Chris Martin of Coldplay, Dido, Beverley Knight, Robbie Williams, Busted and many more. There was also a rather unfitting rap by Dizzee Rascal wedged in the middle eight. This version was again, a massive success and became the biggest selling single of 2004. Whilst a still not quite as impressive as the original, it deserved its success. Many talented artists lent their vocals to the record and a great amount of money was raised for Sudan’s Dafur region. It was refreshing to see a greater amount of females on this version (the original song is noticeably lacking female vocals) and it introduced the song to a whole new generation.

Fast forward another ten years and we now have Band Aid 30. Judging by the list of participants alone, it’s relatively impressive. There are big names involved – One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding, Paloma Faith, Chris Martin and Bono again, Olly Murs and others. Then there’s some quite frankly bizarre participants. We have Sinead O’Connor (who we still don’t forgive for subjecting us to one of the most over-dramatic songs of the 90’s) who is an odd choice considering the rest of the artists are generally new to the Pop World. We also have YouTubers Joe and Zoe Sugg (an attempt to be even more ‘down with the kids’ maybe?!) and Angelique Kidjo – no, I hadn’t heard of her before this either. It’s far from an awful list of singers – there’s some very talented names in there and some popular artists to help publicise it. At the same time, it feels a bit thin on the ground. There’s just 26 artists involved – the least amount to ever participate in a Band Aid single. The worst thing is it actually shows in both the song and the video. It feels pretty empty, almost as if it was a last minute thing and these are the only artists they could get.

Then let’s look at the song itself – the production, vocal performances and these new lyrics that everybody appears to be slating. This version is produced by Paul Epworth, an established producer who has worked with the likes of Adele, Paul McCartney, Bruno Mars and many others. The instrumentation and production is perhaps most like the original which is a positive. It begins relatively low-key with just a synthesiser and vocals before a drum machine kicks in. It’s pretty trendy and more computerised than Band Aid 20’s version. It works, though. Band Aid 20 had a more live feel to it but Band Aid 30 appears to capture the same feel as the original.

PX10919162Band-Aid_3108490bThe song opens with One Direction – not perhaps the greatest of choices. I have no issue with them vocally in the slightest but it just doesn’t feel right to have a band singing in unison for that well-known opening line. It’s a one man job! They would have been better lending their vocals to another part of the song. Chris Martin would have been better opening the track as he did for Band Aid 20. I have absolutely no issue with Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Sam Smith, Paloma Faith, Olly Murs and Angelique Kidjo’s parts. Their voices suit the song and each deliver their line powerfully. Then everything goes a bit ‘Hey, we’re trying to be a bit Indie here’. There’s that bloke from Elbow then the frontman from Bastille. Both have alright voices but it just doesn’t quite fit in with the record. Then we come to everybody’s favourite man of the year Bono,  (hey, at least we haven’t had this record plonked into our online music collections…) ah finally – a voice that fits… but wait, what’s that?! They’ve changed the bloody line! Just as you’re preparing to scream along to ‘and tonight thank god it’s them instead of you’, we have ‘Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you’. It does NOT work. It sounds odd and it’s a weak lyric. Then there’s Seal. I love Seal’s raspy vocals and he is one of my favourite artists but again, we have new lyrics which completely ruin the song. ‘Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa’ – it sounds like an extract from a poem written by an eight year old. Then Ellie Goulding manages to absolutely murder her line in the song. I still have absolutely NO idea what she is warbling about but all I know is she completely overdoes it in every way possible. Then there’s the song’s ultimate lowpoint in which the weirdest vocal in song history is delivered by Sinead O’Connor. It’s something between a whisper and a panting creature but whatever it is she’s trying to achieve, she should never attempt it again. Ever. The famous climax works though. Then again, it’s hard to go wrong with that irresistible ‘Feed the world’ refrain when  it’s sung collectively.

Basically, it just all feels a bit of a mess and like nobody could be bothered. Some artist’s voices just don’t fit the song, and others deliver their lines in such a way, they’ve managed to create a language of their own. The new lyrics, said to be added to make the song more ‘relevant’ to the current Ebola crisis are clumsy and patronising. The editing of the video is sloppy, not like previous efforts and the song just falls completely flat on its face this time around. Even Emeli Sande, who lent her vocals to the track, has since criticised it. She suggested that it’s time for a brand new song and I can’t help but agree with her. ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ is a fine song but there are only so many interpretations of it possible before it begins to become a far inferior version of the well loved original.

I’m all for Charity records and super-groups. I’m all for raising money towards the Ebola Crisis but I think it’s about time we now retire ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and let the original do the talking.

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