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There have been many surprises the first 6 months of the year. Some good, some unpredictable, some below the expectations. here’s a list of my choice for the best 10 albums of the first half of the year, according to my reviews and to my personal choices. My name is Alex, a.k.a. Mr. Reviews. I was born in Mexico City in November 1976. I’ve been passionate for recorded music since a very young age and I used to be obssessed with it since I was a child. My very first album was Alan Parson’s “Eye in the Sky” although I used to enjoy my parents’ collection that ranged from the Beatles to ABBA, or my siblings albums that were as varied as Kiss, Queen or the Bee Gees. Over the years I developed an ear and taste for music which eventually led me to be a bit more selective, I started to read more and more about trends, artists, labels, etc. to the point that my friends started asking for advice on what to buy or if I considered an album good or bad. All of a sudden a very important person told me in March 2012: “Why don’t you write reviews?” Then I started this blog… and the rest is history on the works…
2013 FIRST HALF
Both Sides Now Released: June 2013 Genre: Pop, Vocal Pop, Easy Listening Label: Universal
Rating: 4 / 5 One of Britain’s most beloved performers is back with yet another pop oriented album. Yes, they are covers, but instead of sticking to his West End past and sing musicals classic pieces, he is recording pop and rock covers with some theatrical songs. The fact that this new album includes a Joni Mitchell’s redemption to her classic “Both Sides Now” makes it interesting already. His version is of course more orchestrated and refined than the usual rough versions of it (including the original). It also happens with other songs here, from “I Will Always Love You” (the one that Whitney Houston made a megahit in 1992), Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” or Snow Patrol’s “Run” which becomes a dramatic beautiful piece with a wonderful string arrangement. It also includes the usual theatrical pieces I mentioned before. In this case he is making a small tribute to his origins at “Les Miserables” performing “Suddenly” which was created for the film version of the play. What perhaps is a bit annoying is the fact that he yet again includes a version of “Love Changes Everything” from the “Aspects of Love” musical. Yes, he is the one that has made the best performance of that song -and play- but recording a duet with Il Divo was just a little bit too much. I think of it as a flaw, because the production of such duet feels stiff and it doesn’t offer anyhing really innovative to it. Despite that, the lush, pristine production is one of the best I have heard of him. It has acoustic, minimalistic moments in contrast to other heavily orchestrated and he still keeps it at a certain level of intimacy that makes it feel warm and not too sweet to be boring. A great choice for a relaxing moment, perfect if you enjoy a polished and educated voice singing a pastiche of pop and musical tunes. The Highlights: "Both Sides Now", "The Perfect Song", "Suddenly", "I Will Always Love You", "Run", "Songbird", "Fight the Fight", "Make You Feel My Love".
This spring saw the return of a band that was in many ways a nice surprise when they appeared a few years ago. Fall Out Boy has been always an energetic force for an entire generation with their often eclectic but never boring albums. With “Save Rock and Roll” they change a little bit compared to their previous albums. This time, although they stay to their alternative nature, they sound decidedly more rock / pop friendly and their usual themes are replaced by more easy going tunes. No they haven’t dropped their style, but it’s a nice change for them to be a bit more mainstream than before. Those twists can be found in the title track, that happens to be a collaboration with Sir Elton John, and in other pieces found on the set list which is entertaining enough to keep you listening to from beginning to end. There are a couple of tracks that just didn’t work here. The duet with Big Sean was unnecessary and the one with Courtney Love is feels like mere filler compared to the rest of the album. The overall view can consider this album as uneven, since the songs sometimes are the “classic” Fall Out Boy when compared to the fresher ones and sometimes I thought I was listening to two different bands. In any case, those tracks are still as enjoyable as the rest, but maybe fans will appreciate them more. Despite those details, it’s still a good choice for rock music, subgenres and labels apart. Recommended and not for fans only, this could be a good chance for them to win new followers. The Highlights: "The Phoenix", "Alone Together", "Where Did the Party Go", "Just One Yesterday", "Miss Missing You", "Death Valley", "Young Volcanoes", "Save Rock and Roll"
09 Save Rock and Roll Released April 2013 Genre: Rock Label: Island
Rating: 4 / 5
What a big surprise. After a series of standards and covers albums, Rod Stewart at 68 comes back with an album that is both fun and stylish and shows that a big star like him is hard to find. His first album of mostly self written new rock songs can’t be easily ignored and most of all, it is not at any moment, disappointing. The album makes you remember the times of “Out of Order” or “Vagabond Heart”. It’s energetic, fun. He hasn’t lost an inch of style and his voice sounds as raspy as usual but comes to new life when he goes back to his rock roots. I found it actually very optimistic and shiny, he knows what he is doing and does it well. The lyrics are light and well crafted. The music is at some moments a bit repetitive and can feel a bit exhaustive, that’s no surprise for his long time fans, but I don’t think it will represent a problem for new listeners. There is a clear reference to his past albums exploring the american songbook, I think that was unnecessary and it can pass as filler. What I find more interesting is how this year is taking us by surprise with such legends coming back to the charts and teaching lessons on musical production. It’s refreshing especially when they address current issues and explore new sounds and rhythms. Just like David Bowie did in his new album, he didn’t use the abused resource of featured artists to enhance his album, simply because he doesn’t need it. Mr. Stewart is showing a younger generation how rock pop sounds. He says that writing his autobiography inspired him to write new music after 20 years, let’s hope this is just a new beginning. The Highlights: “She Makes Me Happy”, “Can’t Stop Me Now”, “It’s Over”, “Brighton Beach”, “Live the Life”, “Time”, “Sexual Religion”, “Love Has No Pride”
08 ROD STEWART
Time Released May 2013 Genre: Rock Label: Capitol
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Dreamchaser Released: April 2013 Genre: Classical Crossover / Opera Pop Label: EMI / Manhattan
07 SARAH BRIGHTMAN
Rating: 4 / 5 Four years after her gothic inspired “Symphony” and the many versions of it (the live version, the live two disc version, the Christmas version) the woman who originated the main character of “The Phantom of the Opera” has come back with another thematic and ethereal set of songs for the joy of her fans and despise of her detractors. No one can deny that she has a strong fanbase that relies in her many talents and the sometimes ambiguous image she constantly upholds. Her many critics think she is “not defined enough” but commercially she has created a whole universe of music-image that just a few can, especially in such a complicated market as hers: she usually struggles to define if it’s opera pop / theatrical / classical crossover / pop / electronica… but perhaps that’s the secret to her success as it’s reflected in “Dreamchaser”. While the album doesn’t hold a strict concept as past albums have done (“La Luna”, “Harem”) the album indeed has an oniric and in many ways surreal sound that creates an interesting atmosphere of dream-like songs. It’s interesting to see how the set is not as literal as the past albums but still holds a theme together. The tracks are perhaps not as dramatic as the ones in “Eden” and this time she limited the covers to some pieces that are worth to include in the entire album. The songs flow in such pace that the album succeeds both as a fan pleaser but will also gain her new admirers. It sounds fresh and captivating, avoiding the many mistakes made in her previous album (where the concept and direction were too dark for many of her followers or simply ununderstandable). The album is good, although many of us (fans or not) would like to see something different here. As it happens to other singers in this genre, they rely often on songs of different languages, especially italian. She goes as far as singing in japanese, which is perhaps not bad, but for once I would like to find an album of one of these singers completely in their native language, so they would sound more natural and relaxed. Including “classical” pieces or things that are mere filler to reach target market is also a mistake. She is not the only one in this situation, we can’t forget people like Josh Groban, Paul Potts or Kiri Te Kanawa that often include such tracks. Is not a requirement for a good opera pop album, it could be a nice twist, but then again, it’s may be what the fans want, not only the artist choice. There are some tracks that remind me of her first solo crossover effort “Dive”. Those songs are the most ethereal, fresh, sexy. She feels so relaxed singing them that have a crucial effect on the entire album. The production level is as usual polished and elegant without making it feel like a soundtrack to an unseen movie or musical play. She still has a powerful voice that -even for those who are not into her music- is what motivates most of the buyers to go and get her albums. She shows a more mature approach to her music and that makes it an interesting evolution. It’s worth to give it a try, just to play it at the right level, relax and enjoy the journey. The Highlights: “Angel”, “One Day Like This”, “B612”, “Breathe Me”, “Éperdu”, “A Song of India”, “Kaze No Torimichi”
Released March 2013 Genre: Rock / Synthpop Label: Columbia
Rating: 4 / 5 The dark(er) side of synthpop is back. After a 4 year hiatus they release their new set of songs that take us right to the “Violator” or “Ultra” days with a style so clean that makes a big impression the moment you start listening. The album can be defined in just one word: obscure. This is not of course a bad thing coming from DM. They stay true to their sound and their usual concept of dark themes explored through their particular sometimes twisted, sometimes plain point of view. The songs are exceptional in that matter, with Dave Gahan hitting every note in his usual style. The sound is so recognizable you can’t doubt this is a Depeche Mode album, and makes it one of the most interesting come backs this year. The sound in many tracks reach the -perhaps- experimental or even the “surprising” level, with some of them adding unexpected bursts here and there, which makes it a wonderful journey, again, the way they did in the 1990s. Then perhaps the problem (if any or for anyone) here is that so much darkness can be considered by some as a depressing theme for the already complicated times we live in. Others can even consider it as a boring album, if they are not into this kind of music. But in many ways this serves as a balance to current tendencies and rules of pop music. Mainstream audiences may consider it too slow or too complicated to be caught by it. That’s the risk they usually take with their music, they are used to it. This is one of the best surprises so far this year. A great come back from a great band that always knows how to cause a controversy. They can be hated or liked, but never ignored, and that’s what makes them a legend. The Highlights: "Welcome to My World"; "Angel", "Heaven", "Secret to the End", "Broken", "The Child Inside", "Soft Touch/Raw Nerve", "Should Be Higher", "Soothe My Soul"
It’s hard to review an album from such complicated yet legendary band as New Order. Their somewhat troubled yet intense story has never overshadowed their work, and that’s perhaps what makes their music enjoyable. This album came as a surprise to me in many ways. I wasn’t expecting a New Order release, nor was expecting it was like this: breezy, interesting, fun but still deep and sometimes metaphoric. The ambient is atmospheric at times, while others is pure fun. They added some percussions and interesting sounds here and there. The voice of Bernard Sumner is as usual sometimes impersonal, sometimes warm. The production is impeccable and it feels like one of those albums that should have been released a long time ago, just to teach a lesson to younger bands that still can’t sound like them. New Order may have gone through another change in line-up but that didn’t affect much of their sound or concept. The younger audiences will find it appealing and those who know who they are or are long time fans will love it. It’s an impressive set of songs, especially because the album has only the exact amount of them to be good, there are no left overs or filler here. This is the newest work by one of the few surviving bands of the real Synthpop / New Wave era, not giving an inch for their credibilty. That’s perhaps the most outstanding of this album: after more than 30 years and all their troubled past they are as fresh as ever. Recommended of course! The Highlights: "I’ll Stay With You", "Sugarcane", "Californian Grass", "Hellbent", "Shake It Up", "I’ve Got a Feeling"
05 NEW ORDER
Lost Sirens Released January 2013 Genre: New Wave / Synthpop Label: Rhino / Warner
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Amy Grant has had some interesting story when it comes to her musical career. She went from christian pop girl-next-door to mainstream pop superstar and back in a matter of a decade. But she is still a force in both genres and she proves it in this deep, personal album. Her inspiration for this new effort is the passing of her mother, which could make the audience think this could be a sad or extremely religious album, filled with hymns and worshiping tunes, but that is only a small part of the album. She did her crossover again with such style that you can barely think of some of the songs as Christian music, pairing in many of them with other stars like Carole King, Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow. The deep and somewhat ethereal lyrics are more intended as a homage to her Mother than anything else and in many ways this album turns into one of those unexpectedly mainstream works that are both entertaining and undeniably commercial, perhaps not as much as “Heart in Motion” in 1990, but still can manage to fit in the Adult Contemporary niche. It has of course its flaws, the arrangements can feel a bit repetitive -although not exhausting- and for those who are not familiar with her music it could be thought as a too personal work, especially if the last thing you heard of her was in the early 90s. It might take a couple of times to really get her point, and that, perhaps, could not be what the occasional listener would be looking for. Yet those who are not into religious music should approach this interesting album anyway, since it shows a part of Amy Grant that we haven’t seen before. She is still as sweet as her “Baby Baby” days but her sound is mature enough to match her age. Although this is not a come back album, it is a come back to her crossover pop style that caused such a stir 23 years ago. Her motivations are perhaps too personal and painful, but the final result is an album that still holds an optimistic message without being a religious statement nor a selfhelp bunch of songs. It expresses a brilliant point of view that is based on a faith but not strictly the one she professes. Well balanced and greatly produced; faith and religion apart, this is an excellent choice for an introspective moment or if you need an extra kick for the day. The Highlights: “If I Could See (What the Angels See)”, “Better Not to Know”, “Deep as It Is Wide, Here”, “Our Time Is Now”, “Greet the Day”, “Free”, “Threaten Me with Heaven”
How Mercy Looks from Here Released May 2013 Genre: Pop, Christian Pop, Country Pop Label: EMI / Sparrow
Rating: 4 / 5
Girl Who Got Away Released March 2013 Genre: Pop Label: RCA Records
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Dido has proved in the past that she doesn’t deliver album after album as other artists do, mainly because she invests a lot of time creating, crafting and polishing her music, which in many ways convert her in one of the finest artists of her generation. Starting with her “almost indie” “No Angel” in 1997 which became a sudden worldwide hit thanks to Eminem -Strange to say this now in retrospective, since they both are dramatically different-, Dido has improved both her style and her sound, becoming one of the most recognizable female singers of the last 15 years. If perhaps she is not the kind of pop artist that fills the covers of gossip magazines, she is often cited as one of the most talented women and her albums are often among the lists of “best of”. This is in fact a follow up to the metaphorical and conceptual “Safe Trip Home” of 2009. While that album was successful and good, it was somehow stiff and in many ways it was too conceptual. She opted to go back to her electronica approach and record a whole set of songs but with a twist: she still writes about love, relationships, freedom and self empowerment, but now she is taking it in a more relaxed yet mature way. While her lyrical themes may remain the same, she now sounds more committed to them than before, even than in her previous album. The arrangements are not aggressive and meld seamlessly with her ethereal voice, the songs flow in a lush and sophisticated atmosphere, the album is almost flawless. And I say “almost” because there are a couple of tracks that just don’t fit into the album. While she doesn’t need to feature a guest artist, she did in one of the tracks creating that question that happened to me with other artists like Maroon 5: Why do they insist in adding a rap verse in a track that just didn’t need it? Despite those moments that are maybe not as brilliant as expected, this is a wonderful album, enjoyable, fun and sweet without being mellow. It has something that many artists lack: identity, and it’s worth to give it not only a try but many. One of the long awaited come backs is finally out and it’s of course recommended. She may take several years, but it’s always worth. The Highlights: "No Freedom", "Girl Who Got Away", "Blackbird", "End of Night", "Sex Tonight", "Go Dreaming", "Loveless Hearts", "Day Before We Went to War"
It could be a matter of style, it could be a matter of taste. But whatever the reason, no one can deny that Josh Groban is one of the best singers (or crooner for some) we have had in the last 20 years. His powerful, skilled voice has become an icon of youthful talent and his multifacetic artristry turns him into one of the most cherished examples of success. That said, we must also admit that not all his discography has been an example of perfection. Starting with a somewhat overproduced and slow debut album to the passionate “Closer” and then his other highs and lows (“Awake”, “Noël”, “Illuminations”) we have seen many different faces of the same man, but always the same talent. The best part comes now when he is daring to step forward and become more involved in writing the songs for his albums, which takes him apart from the often cliched image of the crooner who only cover standars (like Michael Bublé, just to mention one). This time Groban also ventures in different sounds, more and more towards the adult contemporary pop, hand in hand with Rob Cavallo (of Green Day fame). While this could be considered a strange move, is just a hint of the moderate experimentation that Josh is trying to do. His duet with italian singer Laura Pausini is another highlight of the album, and so is the participation of Arturo Sandoval in a song he performs in spanish. He really took the right path this time in a more vital way than he did for his previous effort, taking his music to a more pleasant and interesting field. Undboutely one of the best albums of the first half of the year, not only for fans, but for all that want a more relaxed yet inspirational album that showcases a more mature singer who still doesn’t want to be classified in just one subject. The Highlights: "Brave", "False Alarms"; "She Moved through the Fair", "Below the Line", "E Ti Prometerò", "Un Alma Más", "Hollow Talk", "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)".
02 JOSH GROBAN
All that Echoes Released February 2013 Genre: Classical Crossover / Pop Label: Reprise
Rating: 4.5 / 5
01 David Bowie
The Next Day Released March 2013 Genre: Rock Label: ISO / Columbia
Rating: 5 / 5 A living legend is back. The influential and iconic musician, symbol of change and trendsetting has decided to end a 10 years hiatus to the amaze and surprise of his millions of fans around the world. But the question was on the air, can he at 64 still make a fuss and create an outstanding, impressive album the way he used to do? I must admit that I am a fan. He has been one of my favourite artists for many years now, but I must also admit he has made some mistakes along his career. Not all of his albums have been as brilliant as "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars" or "Young Americans" and especially in the 1990s his music was not as inspired and interesting as it used to be. So after "Reality" what we could expect now? Ten years is a long, long time and especially after a decade ruled by urban music, real rock has lost some identity, something this album in fact has. The album has no featured artists, there is not a hint of urban or other current trends. It is the kind of album that only Bowie could record and still be impressive, clean, true to himself. The album has a bit of a rhythmic rock with a dark side on every track that makes it eclectic and unexpected. Even after two or three listens, the album is still enigmatic attractive and full of surprises. If perhaps there are tracks that won’t appeal to everyone (as it usually happens in his albums) there are so many interesting points here that those can be easily ignored for those who are new to his music or to occasional listeners. The title track that serves as opening number serves as a perfect introduction to the entire set: David makes an statement saying he is back, he is not dead. He doesn’t need to claim himself as King or anything else, he lets his music speak for itself, something is clear in the album cover too. The production is impeccable, and despite the many risks taken here, there are no mistakes. He came back with a set of songs made to impress and dazzle, not only to fulfill a commercial breach. That’s perhaps what is more interesting of this album: it doesn’t sound like anything else in the current market, it can’t be compared to any of his earlier albums but yet its originality makes it approachable and captures your senses. It’s different and intriguing but never boring. So the question has an answer: yes he still can be wonderful. He is back to teach his many copycats and an entire new generation how to make a record and how to make a come back. But most of all he is back to please the old and hardcore fans and show the younger ones a new side of music that maybe they just heard from their parents. Impossible to miss, this is one of the most unexpected and fantastic surprises of the year. The waiting was worth! The Highlights: "The Next Day", "Dirty Boys", "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", "I’d Rather Be High", "Boss of Me", "Dancing Out in Space", "How Does the Grass Grow?", "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die", "Heat".
Tegan and Sara “Heartthrob”
Tim McGraw “Two Lanes of Freedom”
Justin Timberlake “The 20/20 Experience”
Rating: 4 / 5
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Rating: 1.5 / 5
Released January 2013 | Genre: Indie Pop | Label: Warner Bros.
Released February 2013 | Genre: Country | Label: Big Machine / Universal
Released March 2013 | Genre: Urban Pop| Label: RCA
This Canadian duet composed of identical twins, is taking a big step towards mainstream with their seventh album effectively titled “Heartthrob”. An album that, although not groundbreaking, is interesting and fun at the same time, something that has become unusual lately. They sound kind of retro, it has a very “new wave” feel from the early 1980s that reminded me of the Go-Go’s or Bangles. Their childish voices match perfectly with their somewhat naïve songs, but it doesn’t mean it’s shallow or silly, because it’s actually well crafted pop with well crafted lyrics. The songs are short, poignant and rhytmic. It’s pure fun in a very classic pop way: the exact amount of songs for an album that could be easily visualized in vinyl. It has of course its high and low moments, but it is catchy and youthful indeed. They sound sometimes like rebel teenagers in 1983’s New Wave era. The lyrics often take you to the relationships area in an honest, straightforward way. There are a few songs that had to be included to balance the album, and although they didn’t impress me they are not bad tracks, just found them out of place to the point they sometimes feel like they belong to a totally different album. While they could be considered as mere filler, they don’t hurt the overall mood of the set. Yet again, this is not exactly a groundbreaking work, but they have their own identity and sound, and that makes it more valuable than many other bands in the market, even indie ones. They are original, have something to say and know how to say it. A great choice for those looking for something fresh and different; a must have for those into indie and alternative pop.
Country music owes a lot to Tim McGraw, after his humble beginnings as a somewhat local star to a multimillion seller, he has made a difference when it comes to its genre and has inspired many other artists of his generation and younger. His first album with Big Machine Records is a fresh start and in many ways a successful one. He might not be the kind of artist that takes big risks in his albums, and he of course stays true to his original sound. Undeniably, he remains the “hunk” singer-songwriter that is both a poet and a sex symbol. He again takes the theme of the roads, highways and relationships, and in many ways his themes are a bit too juvenile for his own age. But in his case, he can still do that and play safe, without losing a fan for such reason. The production is lavish and well crafted and so are most of the lyrics and music of the album. The problem here is that he is sometimes too stereotypical in his music, especially when it comes to ballads and slower numbers. There are some songs here that are just too mellow and cliched. But on the other hand, there are tracks that are shiny, fun, even with a rocker edge. His duet with Taylor Swift is sweet and has a lovely meaning when we remember that he was her inspiration for her first big hit. There is one song I found interesting mainly for its meaning. I couldn’t decide if it was a religious song if it was inspired by gospel, but although not one of my favorites, I must admit it’s a well produced one. This might not be the best Tim McGraw’s album; perhaps for fans only or just to reaffirm his status as a country legend, but his many skills saves it from total disaster. Not bad.
When a recording artist declare something like “If Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Queen can do 10 minute songs, why can’t we?” and then quotes them as “influences” you know exactly what to expect from them. He has often been overrated since his *NSYNC days, because after all he is a somewhat talented singer, but not exactly the brightest apple in the basket, just the one with a better marketing engine. He wanted to make an album that sounded different, sleek, sophisticated. The result is an album that sounds exactly the same as his past efforts, name it “Justified” or “Future Sex/Love Sounds”. There is not a big change here but the clothes he is wearing. He is so obsessed in being an R&B artist that he forgets to actually sound honest. The album feels stiff and the songs, indeed long, needed an edit to become actual urban pop and not surpass the 4:00 minutes. The album was carefully produced perhaps overproduced- and that’s the best part of it, but the lyrics and music are often boring and predictable. Why is he trying to be a mash up of Jackson/Sinatra/*NSYNC? He should understand that although not perfect he is not that bad, but he has to find a sound of his own instead of trying to reinvent the others. This is the usual case of an album that will be commercially successful, but being honest the contents are too thin to be considered important. In the end I was thinking if this was a concept album and if so, where was the concept. Big changes here - I don’t think so. He tried but he couldn’t. I see this album as just a way to stay in the musical spotlight. May be for fans only, and they will also be quite shocked to see this album is not exactly a step forward for this guy. Not recommended.
The Highlights: “Closer”, “Goodbye, Goodbye”, “I’m Not Your Hero”, “How Come You Don’t Want Me”, “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend”, “Love They Say”, “Shock to Your System”.
The Highlights: "Two Lanes of Freedom", "One of Those Nights", "Southern Girl", "Truck Yeah!", "Nashville Without You", "Mexicoma", "Number 37405", "Highway Don’t Care".
The Highlights: “Suit & Tie”, “Mirrors”
Michael Bublé “To Be Loved”
Various Artists “The Great Gatsby” (Music from the Baz Luhrmann’s Film)
Rating: 3 / 5
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Released April 2013 | Genre: Vocal Pop / Traditional Pop | Label: Reprise
Released May 2013 | Genre: Pop / Hip Hop / Jazz / Traditional Pop | Label: Interscope
Michael Bublé has become a standard when it comes to the typical crooner image. His often groomed looks and ladies man persona has turned him in both a sex symbol and a synonym for sultry, classic tunes, most of them standards of traditional american pop. For those who like this kind of music or his often overproduced albums, this will be a sure shot. He plays safe most of the time and goes to the territories that his fans want him to go: no surprises in that matter. If perhaps the duet with Reesse Whiterspoon is a somehow unexpected point, they pick a song that was covered with better results some ten years ago by Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman. Yet again, he is trying to be Sinatra and unfortunately he doesn’t always achieves it. But when it comes to the “twists” in this album, there are some interesting things. He steps a little bit forward from his traditional sound and reaches a more pop oriented one with some tracks of this album that are indeed the highlights of it. The first single “It’s a Beautiful Day” it’s a proof of that. He sounds fresh and fun and in many ways it helps him renew his “too adult” image. Most of the album we have a bit more of the same we have heard of him in the last years, even with some awkward moments like Rod Stewart’s “Have I Told You Lately” which in my opinion doesn’t fit him in any way. He has his niche and they will adore this album. The occasional listener will like some tracks but will perhaps find it overall boring. This won’t win him any new adepts, but will indeed reinforce his fanbase. Not bad, but not for everybody.
The problem with soundtracks is often that they are a mash up of songs that don’t fit together on disc, but only on screen. Except for musical movies, most of the soundtrack albums are just collections of songs that were used in the film they belong to, and most of the times in short or minimal versions just to enhance a scene. There are some soundtrack albums that stand out for being well balanced and even conceptual (“The Craft”, “City of Angels”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and that’s the case of “The Great Gatsby”, or at least that’s what they tried to do. Thinking of this classic story with hip hop on the background is as weird as thinking of Eminem performing a Burt Bacharac song. Trying to be eclectic, Jay Z produced a soundtrack album that is sometimes just too odd and the artists that compose it sound strange together. Florence & The Machine and The xx are impressive as usual, but they sound out of place even for such album. There are several tracks that are completely remarkable and perfect for a film set in the 1920’s, but urban pop and hip hop just don’t fit with the lavish and exhuberant production of this story and those songs are really questionable: Beyoncé’s version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” with André 3000 is one of those moments I wish I never heard. Some tracks later, her “Crazy in Love” is completely transformed into a big band song with an interesting result. Many things here were created or adapted to be taken to the exotic atmosphere that Luhrmann tried to create for the film and some of them failed unfortunately. Other tracks are interesting and innovative, like Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” or Bryan Ferry and his Orchestra: they are closer to the whole concept and even enhance it. The second half of the album is more into that feeling, but the very first four tracks are just too out of place and makes the album feel uneven, bad news when you are trying to market it as a conceptual companion to the film. I’m not disappointed, but very surprised. Jay Z again tries to push the envelope and the overall product is (perhaps) unintentionally strange. The film has received mixed reviews and apparently its music too. It has its moments, full of cinematic magic, but others are completely forgettable. A potential collectible, worth for some tracks, but just that.
The Highlights: “It’s a Beautiful Day”, “To Love Somebody”, “Close Your Eyes”, “After All”, “I Got It Easy”.
The Highlights: “Young and Beautiful” by Lana del Rey, “Love is the Drug” by Bryan Ferry and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, “Over the Love” by Florence & the Machine, “Where the Wind Blows” by Coco O., “Crazy in Love” by Emeli Sandé & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, “Heart’s a Mess” by Gotye, “Into the Past” by Nero, “Kill and Run” by Sia.
AND THEN SOME
RATINGS 5 4.5 4 3.5 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5 0
Brilliant, extraordinary album. Excellent work. Great album, highly recommended. Good album - Positive reaction. Nice album - Mostly positive reaction. Average, mixed reaction. Below expectations, more flaws than highlights. Mediocre. Very Mediocre. Bad - Not recommended. Extremely awful, impossible to recommend.
As in any other form of art, the way the albums are evaluated is subjective, we all react in different ways to the points of view of the artists and producers, and the things some might find beautiful, others will find horrendous.
The copyright of the albums and their artwork reviewed in this blog, belong to their artists, producers and record labels, no infirngment intended.
This is a reviews and critics portfolio for music. The copyright of the albums and their artwork reviewed in this portfolio, belong to their...