Guest Review: Kelly Clarkson "All I Ever Wanted"

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ArjanWrites.com reader Will W. had a chance to preview Kelly Clarkson's much-anticipated new album "All I Ever Wanted" and wrote up a glowing review. Read it after the jump. (Thanks for sharing, Will!)

“I've sold more than 15 million records worldwide, and still nobody listens to what I have to say. I couldn't give a crap about being a star. I've always just wanted to sing and write.” (Kelly Clarkson, 2007).

After going from the massive success of “Breakaway” to breakdown in her 2007 effort “My December”, Kelly Clarkson’s creative feud with her label RCA Records’ former Chairman Clive Davis mid 2007, is well-documented.  The label wanted to duplicate previous Clarkson hits, while Clarkson herself wanted full creative control over her work.  The feud finally came to an end with Clarkson having issued the following statement on her website: “I really regret how this has turned out and I apologize to those whom I have done disservice.”  Clearly, she does really care about being a star after all.

Clarkson cancelled her “My December Tour” and took a brief hiatus and got herself into a better place mentally after a deeply-affecting break-up.  She is once again in fighting form to reclaim her title as America’s new Queen of Pop-Rock, although we’re sure both P!nk and Katy Perry might have something different to say about the matter.  Current single “My Life Would Suck Without You” holds the distinction of making the largest jump ever to #1 in Billboard Hot 100 Chart history, selling a blistering 815,000 digital copies to-date.  If this doesn’t qualify as a victorious comeback, we don’t know what does.

“All I Ever Wanted” is Clarkson’s fourth studio album and it delivers; maybe even exceeding expectations.  The album hits hard with a six-fold smackdown beginning with her latest #1 hit, followed by rumoured second single “I Do Not Hook Up”, penned by Katy Perry and new American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi.  The track recalls Heart at their prime, but with current sensibilities.  “Cry” and “Already Gone” are beautiful power-ballads with country leanings, a similar recipe shared by Avril Lavigne.  What makes Clarkson stand out however, is that she executes these self-composed tracks (two out of six featured on the album) with a level of vocal mastery that reminds us once again why it is that America made Clarkson their first American Idol.  “Don’t Let Me Stop You” is the new P!nk track that we really wanted to hear off her new album, versus current single “Sober”.  Coincidentally, P!nk’s track shares the same title as Clarkson’s misfired second “My December” single.  A tip to aspiring pop songwriters around the world: do not name your next song “Sober”.  It has been done before.

Other highlights include Arjan’s personal favourite “Save You”, boasting its Mozart-inspired bridge and also a second Katy Perry contribution, “Long Shot”. The collection’s ultimate shining moment comes from “Whyyouwannabringmedown”, where Clarkson delivers some serious fierceness.  This banger of a track is one of two covers from obscure band Aranda; the other cover being the album’s title track.  It appears Clarkson is now giving a bit of leeway in terms of accepting “hand-me-downs” from other artists.  Some of us may recall her very public outcry against being told by her label to re-record a Lindsay Lohan track.  

In all, “All I Ever Wanted” is pure pop gold, striking a fine win-win balance.  RCA Records succeeds in getting an album chock-full of summertime hits and yes, foreseeable GRAMMY nominations.  Kelly Clarkson wins creatively in showcasing herself as a bona fide songwriter.  More importantly though, the public wins in getting back all the same “Kelly Clarkson” it ever wanted.

(Make sure to visit's Will's MySpace page if you have chance.)

February 27, 2009 in Guest Blogger, Kelly Clarkson | Permalink | Comments (11)

Guest Review: Christina Aguilera "Keeps Getting Better"

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Pop singer extraordinare Will W is contributing to ArjanWrites.com this week while I'm away on vacay. Will reviewed Christina Aquilera's brand-new album that is available now. Check out what clever things he had to say about this new disc:

Goodness.  Has it already been ten years since Christina Aguilera came onto the music scene?   Apparently so, as "Keeps Gettin' Better (A Decade of Hits)" would suggest.  Aguilera and Co. arguably are picking the poinsettias prematurely for the impending holiday album sales rush, as one might think it a little too soon to reflect on such a short, albeit lucrative career.

"Keeps Gettin' Better" neatly presents Aguilera's rise as one of her generation's finest vocalists in a 16-track chronology documenting her struggle to break free of the manufactured popstar mold to an artist who is now insistent in having control over who she collaborates with.

Essentials like "Genie in a Bottle", "Dirrty" and a Grammy-winning three-peat of "Lady Marmalade", "Beautiful" and "Ain't No Other Man" highlight the disc.  True "Xtina" connoisseurs who own her three English studio album discography might glance over this compilation's tracklisting and find little incentive to purchase it. 

What isn't clarified however, is that the disc actually includes radio mixes of early hits "What a Girl Wants", "Come On Over Baby" and "I Turn To You" which are not present on the initial pressing of Aguilera's eponymously-titled debut album "Christina Aguilera."

Disappointingly omitted are important tracks like "The Voice Within" from Aguilera's sophomore album "Stripped," Herbie Hancock collaboration "A Song for You," true first single "Reflection," or any of her outstanding recordings from Spanish album "Mi Reflejo" such as "Falsas Esperanzas".  Regardless, Aguilera's repertoire has remained relevant and does not in the least bit sound dated.

Fans will be surprised by the four electro-pop additions here which showcase uncharacteristically subdued vocals and complex production. These tracks include uninspired current single "Keeps Gettin' Better," new track "Dynamite," and updated versions of "Beautiful" and "Genie in a Bottle" - the latter simply outshining all else. 

One cannot help but note also that Aguilera has been listening to a lot of Goldfrapp of late and these results inevitably will have Lady Gaga fuming yet flattered at once.  The right opportunity was chosen here to take a musical risk considering that a new studio album is just around the corner in 2009.  With such a celebrated career already boasting 42 million albums being sold worldwide, really what more could a girl want?

November 17, 2008 in Guest Blogger | Permalink | Comments (16)

Report from Lady Gaga CD Release Party

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ArjanWrites reader Brian B. headed to NYC's Highline Ballroom earlier this week for Lady Gaga's official CD release party. The singer was performing together with a bunch of her pals including Semi-Precious Weapons, The Ones, Fritz Helder, The Daisy Spurs, Cazwell and Amanda Leopore. "I don't know much about Lady Gaga or any of the New York-based acts that opened for her, but the night proved to be fun, sexy, raucous and surprising," Brian writes me. Read on for this report.

The Ones:  Beastie Boys?  Keith Haring-inspired paint smocks?  Thoughts that came to mind.  But they were fun.

The Daisy Spurs + DJ Bill Coleman: I don't know what to think of this group, self-described as "gogocuntrypunkmashupelectrohouse" but I loved them.  So sexy.  Great mix of energy, music, and fun dancing.

Cazwell featuring Amanda Lepore: Several cocktails consumed, things are getting a little fuzzy.  The set featured two memorable moments. First, his hit song "I See Beyonce At Burger King," featuring an uncanny hair-teased look-alike, and a couple songs with the audacious Amanda Lepore.  It was the first time I've seen her perform and not just pout about a club.  She is a mainstay in this scene, and of course her clothes came off in the end.

Semi Precious Weapons: Loved these glam guys.  So much fun.  "Her Hair! Her Hair! Her Hair is on Fire!"  Though they have a big following already, they just earned another one in me.  They were my favorite surprise of the night.  Plus, I developed a big, fat crush on drummer Dan Crean.

Lady Gaga: Finally, Lady Gaga took the stage to a roaring and adoring crowd.  She performed five songs off her new CD including "Paparazzi," "Love Game," "Poker Face," "The Fame" and she closed with her hit, "Just Dance."  I have to say, she commanded the room.  In most concerts, my eyes tend to wander to the back-up dancers, but my eyes remained fixated on her.  Per your recent post, is Lady Gaga the next Kylie or Roisin? Doubt it. Butshe has a good run ahead of her and it will be fun to see her take off.

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October 31, 2008 in GLBT Artists, Guest Blogger, Lady Gaga, Semi-Precious Weapons | Permalink | Comments (2)

Photos of 2008 MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto

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The MuchMusic Video Awards (MMVAs) were held last night at the MuchMusic Headquarters in downtown Toronto, although set-up for the big night have been ongoing for the past week. Performers and guests this year include regulars on the MuchMusic programming and videoplay rotation such as Rihanna, Melanie C. (Spice Girls), Jesse McCartney, Akon, Hedley, Simple Plan, Girlicious, Sean Kingston, Flo Rida and a return to the stage of New Kids on the Block - their first performance in 15 years.

ArjanWrites.com reader Will attended the show's soundcheck and shares his story and photos:

"The soundcheck for the show was kicked-off at 10:30 AM EST with an elaborate suspension cord-bound rapper Flo Rida descending onto the stage, joined by Canadian pop-rockers Simple Plan mid-performance, in what looks to be an exciting opening act.  The two acts collaborated on Flo Rida's #1 record-selling single "Low", followed by Simple Plan's decidely R&B-rock single "When I'm Gone", which the group is scheduled to perform also at Perez Hilton's afterparty.  Between takes, David Desrosier (bassist from Simple Plan) was seen signing autographs for fans while ordering a cup of Taiwanese specialty, Bubble Tea, on Queen Street."

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Will continues, "After approximately 2 hours of run-throughs with the stage manager repeatedly warning all non-performers to clear the stage (Flo Rida was repeatedly missing his cues), a sudden rainstorm halted all rehearsals after a morning of blistering sun. Girlicious, the latest prodigies from Pussycat Dolls choreographer Robin Antin, came out to greet fans although they had entered the wrong stage. The girls were lovely and friendly under Antin's watchful eye, they eventually made their way onto the second stage on the other side of the building. Girlicious' young female fans could be heard screaming loudly from John St. during their rehearsal performance of single "Like Me".

Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishall took to the stage with his supporting rappers and dancers, without collaborator Akon, who was scheduled to perform with him on their single "Dangerous".  Shortly after Kardinal Offishall's soundcheck, uber-popular pop-rock band Hedley fronted by Canadian Idol runner-up Jacob Hoggard made a splash on stage.  Half-way through their performance however, more rain arrived, putting an even bigger splash on their performance.  The band did however seem satisfied enough with their rehearsal with one simple request from bassist Tommy Mac requesting his vocal levels be turned up.

After a 30 minute rain delay, the eagerly-anticipated Rihanna came on stage at 5:00 PM with an elaborate entourage and crew, including someone to hold her boots, a choreographer to assist with the performance of her chart-topping ballad "Take a Bow", a baby-grand piano and several backing vocalists.  Not satisfied with her first run-through where her voice could be heard cracking during the bridge, the gorgeous Barbadian requested another go and she did a stellar job the second time around.  Fans were heard wittily noting that a performance of her Grammy-winning "Umbrella" would have been more fitting today.

As the crew increasingly fell behind schedule, New Kids on the Block were rushed on stage in what should have been the most exciting performance of the MMVAs.  Many of the young on-lookers failed to recognize the group when they did actually appear on-stage.  Several crew members were heard mumbling about the lack of organization involved in the New Kids performance, including one member who indicated that "there are 100 people trying to direct the group's performance and they want to fit 7 songs into a 5 minute performance." This of course was followed by a head-nod in the "nay" sense.  From an objective standpoint, the rehearsal was quite a disaster.  Joey McIntyre, arguably the most popular member of the group, repeatedly fumbled choreography during the group's hits medley and he was also very off-pitch on some falsetto notes.  Admittedly it was fun seeing the group on stage, they clearly have much to work on if they are to live up to the hype attached to their comeback tour this fall.  One thing is for sure, they have all been hitting up the gym regularly.

Although it was my original intention to stick around for the actual show, more rain and thunder followed after the soundcheck had ended. After 9 hours out in the brutal combination extreme sun and rain, this onlooker is beat.  Enjoy these photos I've posted and also, this video of Rihanna's rehearsal I've posted on my Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/mrwillw."

(A big thank you to Will for contributing this blog post to ArjanWrites.com)

June 16, 2008 in Guest Blogger | Permalink | Comments (1)

Duffy Takes On New York City

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Special ArjanWrites.com correspondent Brian Burgess was one of the lucky few to attend a special Duffy showcase at the Maritime Hotel in New York City last night. Following on the heels of her successful gigs at SXSW in Austin last week, Duffy took her refreshing brand of soul pop to an adoring crowd in the Big Apple. Read on for Brian's full report.

Duffy, the Welsh singer-songwriter with the voice of a '60s soul diva, performed for an intimate crowd of 200 at the Maritime Hotel’s Hiro Ballroom in New York City on Monday evening. Before I get into a few details about the show, let me just note that there was some serious diva worship going on in the venue. Lots of industry people, but handfuls of adoring gays who kept getting in trouble for taking photos and videos. It was great!

The smitten-with-New York Duffy showcased most of the material on her debut CD, "Rockferry," currently #1 for the second week on the U.K. albums chart. She opened her set with the album's title track that was followed by her bluesy next single, "Warwick Avenue." 

Standouts in the set were the defiant "Stepping Stone" (she confided with the audience, "I fell in love once, but never told him so I wrote this song") and "Syrup & Honey," an acoustic song that only featured the singer's vocals together with guitar work from John Greene that was totally brilliant. It beautifully exposed the intricate nuance of her soulful voice as well as her sweet, natural charm. She finished the song with a big, dimpled smile singing, "baby, baby, baby, spend your time on me." Then, a wink.

I thought it was interesting to see how diverse her band was too. They looked like some were rock band members, others jazz, others R&B. Interesting reflection on her style, I think.

The show closed with her current #1 U.K. smash single four weeks running, "Mercy." After begging them for mercy, she left the impressed audience beggin’ for more, and she didn’t disappoint. She returned for one encore, "Distant Dreamer." Duffy is one to watch. Her talent only outshines her beauty.

Look for Duffy’s debut album to release in the U.S. on May 13 on New Mercury Records. In the meantime, download her smash single, "Mercy," on iTunes, which you can also stream below.

Full set list:

1. Rockferry
2. Warwick Avenue
3. I Know It's Wrong
4. Serious
5. Breaking My Own Heart [Free MP3]
6. Syrup & Honey
7. Stepping Stone
8. Delayed Devotion
9. Tomorrow
10. Mercy
11. Distant Dreamer

(A big thanks to Brian Burgess for the write up and sassy Ms. Sagert for making things happen.)

March 18, 2008 in Concert Review, Duffy, Guest Blogger, MP3 | Permalink | Comments (3)