Thursday, March 24, 2011

Britney Brings The Heat on Femme Fatale: A Review

Well to say I was excited about this an album would be a huge huge huge huge understatement. Despite many a flaw, from not singing live to questionable interest in her own music I'm constantly drawn into the perfect pop of Miss Britney Spears. 

Sure some of it is driven by the heady Britney obsession of my teen years but it also helps that Britney has been serving up genuinely edgy pop cuts for the past decade. Blackout was the zenith, a swirling mash of thump-y beats, groaned vocals and a sense of danger that was enthralling. Follow up Circus sold better and attempted to re-establish Britney as a down to earth and healthy popstar but it wasn't as cohesive or thrilling.

Thankfully Femme Fatale stands somewhere between the two. It takes it's thumping, club ready cues from Blackout with a sprinkle of the brighter Britney sheen of Circus. It's a perfect mix of brave ideas and glossy, radio ready melodies. The cliche of modern pop albums is that "Every song could be a single" and generally speaking it's rarely true. But Femme Fatale is such a slick and polished affair that with the right push any song from this album could enjoy a healthy chart lifespan.

Britney sounds great, even if her voice is processed, analysed and torn apart by Dr. Luke, Max Martin and all involved. But that's part of the point. Britney has always been pop's most robust robot, her vocals and personality spliced, diced and delivered by a ruthlessly efficient. That in truth makes her out of step with today's current crop who display more agency, more control over their image and are reaping the chart rewards. Spears is struggling to compete right now. The first 2 singles not having the staying power needed to build buzz on an album truly deserving attention. 

Still even the most casual pop fan will find plenty of moments to raise a smile on Femme Fatale. It's jumpy, thrilling and addictive and it just may be Britney's best album yet.

Track by Track

Hold It Against Me : Hasn't quite hit the chart home run all on Camp Britney clearly thought it would but this is still a stone cold Britney classic for me. Icy, pumping and melodic it's all that is right with pop in 2011.

'Till The World Ends: I've gone back and forth on this single. It's anthemic, likeable and lodges in your head for days on end. But it's a bit too anonymous for an artist like Britney whose strangled cat warbling is imprinted on to everything she does in the best possible way. Mind you if this is Britney at her less than stellar it's still a damn sight better than most popstars.

Inside Out : If this isn't a huge smash single than something is NOT RIGHT. Melancholic, downbeat but still possessing a sleek, dirty groove this is a gem. The chorus is undeniably impressive but those verses are clearly the real winner. Britney's syncopated delivery is on the button and this is a song that manages to both be slinky and seductive and still chug along at a mechanical pace. Brilliant.

I Wanna Go: Sort what 3 should have sounded like, this upbeat and cheeky number again has single stamped all over it. The jumpy beat, the infectious whistle and the vaugely raunchy lyrics make this a satisfying slice of Club Thumper Britney fun.

How I Roll: The quirkiest track on the entire album. Bloodshy and Avant prove their genius here on a jagged of robot electro pop. This one clicks and whirrs itself along in a very minimal but it's sleek melody is gold and although it's not as immediate as other songs on the set, it's also a real grower and one of the strongest.
(Drop Dead) Beautiful: A pleasing update on pure pop Britney. There's very little that's new about this one but it's so snappily written and dripping in sass that it's kept me coming back for more with every listen. It's hard to not love a song that contains the line "Yeah your body looks so sick/I think I caught the flu"

Seal It With A Kiss: Another ode to the early Britney with a naughty update. The lyrics may have Britney lining up illcit liasons over a dubstep pop beat but the melody is as light as air. She coos her way through this one and you'll find this is one of Femme Fatale's most earworm-y tracks.

Big Fat Bass: This should have been the album's stinker but Will.I.Am has rolled out something of a corker here. A house music piano riff, a huge huge beat and some brilliantly distorted vocals give this tune a menacing sound that offsets the vocal back and forth of Will and Britney perfectly.

Trouble For Me: UK producer du jour Fraser T Smith competes with the big guns to great effect on this tune. A grime inspired beat flickers underneath one of Britney's strongest vocals. This is a glittering gem and could be a fine single.

Trip To Your Heart: Britney's does her take on Madonna's Get Together (which she already tried on Circus bonus track Trouble) and it is pretty great. Sure the main hook is a tad cheesy but the trance-lite production and bubbly vocals make this hard to resist.

Gasoline: As close as this album gets to filler. Not a bad tune but stumbles in comparison to some of the corkers on display here.

Criminal: What. a. TUNE. Imagine if you will Madonna's Papa Don't Preach, Miles Away and Love Profusion in a Britney blender you're halfway there. This is lovely, rippling with melancholy but also with it's tongue firmly in cheek. It's completely not what you expect from Britney but brilliant for that very reason. If there's any justice in the pop world this will be a huge huge smash single.

There are numerous bonus tracks floating around too but we'll get to them later. Long story short: you need to get your hands on Femme Fatale right this minute.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kylie Brings Les Folies to Dublin: A Review

Kylie Minogue rolled her sutiably lavish tour into Dublin this week and I was lucky enough to head along to the first night in The 02. Aphrodite Les Folies is the latest in a long glitter-y line of big budget jaunts the star has undertaken to air new material. Touring has clearly become a priority for the star. Les Folies comes equipped with a suitably enormous stage, a suitably enormous budget (did you think those dancers were going to pay for those artfully ripped vest themselves?) and a suitably elaborate theme.

(if you haven't seen the show then stop now, as it is a tad spoiler-y)

Actually let's just get this out of the way, the whole Greek goddess theme almost threatened to derail this fine production before it was even 10 minutes in. 

While you wait for Kylie to arrive you take in the heart shaped catwalk heavy stage set up, the impressive use of Ancient Greek motifs/design to cement the now standard giant screen into the proceedings in an engaging way. You can't help but be impressed and be excited. Even if you haven't heard a tap about the water feature madness awaiting you or the amount of money gone into the show you know straight away that you're in for a treat.

Except act one, which opens with the title track of Aphrodite, left me a little nervous. The opener is great, Kylie arrives looking like a bit of a female Gladitor (isn't that a reference to Ancient Rome though? Are we getting mixed up already? Oh dear) prancing around and happily working the room. A handful of hits are then deployed with The One going down well (considering it's single release was truly bungled) and Wow getting plenty of whoops from the crowd. Wow feels too stagey though, with more focus on a bunch of dancing gladiators waving shields around, it feels too forced and "themed" to be truly enjoyable. The same plagues the next cut Illusion which for me was the only dud of the whole show. The performance drags not least with the inclusion of a vaguely ridiculous belly dancing sequence which reminds you that Kylie is not really an amazing dancer. 

It had me a bit worried I was going to spend my night watching Kylie flail around an historically inaccurate performance art piece.  The closing number of this act, the usually brilliant I Believe In You was just as worrying. Still one of her best singles, this take sees her wheeled around in chariot around the arena waving regally at the fans asking repeatedly "Do you believe?". Sure it's camp, it looks fabulous but it's also a bit too stuffy to really work. 

Well THANKFULLY come act two the whole thing lifted. Clearly sticking to the goddess theme gets thrown out the window for a series of distinctly styled segments that managed to balance plenty of hits with clever use of key Aphrodite album cuts. There's a simple version of Spinning Around with Kylie and perky back up singers bringing an entire arena up on it's feet, oh hell there Get Outta My Way in it's full "this is the amazing dance routine from the video glory",  welcome along spot on rendition of In My Arms and would you look at that it's a heart stopping version of Confide In Me.

Once the show really gets rolling there is a brilliant mix of simple pop thrills and full on production numbers. The big hits are left to breathe for themselves with beautifully executed dance routines and piles of energy leaving you breathless with excitement. The big set pieces relied on Aphrodite album tracks meaning audience members not knowing the words where not an issue. 

The Angel segment is a neat example. It was basically Kylie singing Looking For An Angel, an ANGEL appearing (See what she did there?), Kylie hopping on his back (did I make a barebacking joke? YOU BET I DID), Kylie flying closer to the audience while singing Closer (Kylie, you are... a genius) then Kylie hopping off the angel and doing a full on rave up version of the Eurythmics There Must Be An Angel.  There was an indeed an angel Kylie. There was indeed.

It is obviously camp as tits but it's so much fun and you see clearly how Kylie is a lethal cocktail of cute, bubbly charm personified popstar next door and hardened stage professional. Her on stage banter is refreshingly down to Earth (take note every other popstar ever), she attacks old tunes with a sense of enjoyment many performers are loathe to give their old stuff (think of how sniffy Madonna gets about her 80s back catalogue) and ultimately delivers you non stop entertainment. The staging is also genius, she spends her time working the whole room, giving everybody their own little up close moment (including those in the specially priced Splash Zone in the middle of the set up) with the pop queen. Of all the "revolutionary" stages I've spotted (I see you Madonna tours, I've got your number Britney's Circus tour) this was probably my favourite. Brilliantly executed. 

And that's before the encore/finale which hasn't so much set the bar for other shows so much as placed the bar so high that every other tour will struggle to even see it clearly. The double whammy of On A Night Like ThisAll The Lovers lets those specially constructed water features break out a water show the likes of which the 02 has never seen before (I'm guessing). All The Lovers ends with Kylie on a giant fountain at the centre of the arena, the combination of such a visual and such an euphoric pop song the best way to end the show on a high. Literally. She's on the top of a flipping fountain like. 

The show was amazing and probably one of the best pop concerts I've ever attended. If you get a chance to go then you absolutely must. 

And for all the water works, all the bells and whistles can you honestly, HONESTLY argue with a show that has one of the most likeable popstars ever, with some of the best tunes ever swaggering around in an outfit that is one third Mardi Gras Drag queen, two thirds Ghetto Fabulous Street Walker?

No. No you cannot.

I nicked the photos from the Twitter account of super talented artists Adrian + Shane, make sure to follow them and check out their website, they are very very very good.

For more on The Les Folies Tour click here, the album Aphrodite is out now.