Sneak Peek: Justin Timberlake "FutureSex/LoveSounds"

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The pop world has gone a little mad. A few artists who are considered major stars and could do nothing wrong in the recent past are now being marginalized by mediocre album releases that simply are not living up to expectations. Take for example Beyonce who seems to have gotten totally off track in the studio with a sound that is chaotic, overproduced and simply oversung. Another example is Christina Aguilera who deserves kudos for thinking out of the box, but has not delivered the goods her core fan base was hoping for, and is disconnected from the pop loving crowd that propelled her to fame. And let's not forgot Janet Jackson's stalling comeback effort.

But I have good news for you. There is one exception to all the madness this season. Justin Timberlake's new record "FutureSex/LoveSounds" is a triumphant effort that successfully combines contemporary pop sensibilities while satisfying the singer's own desire for innovation. It is not necessarily the most original achievement, but it pushes a few buttons that will surely get many into the groove. Thankfully, we don't have to rely on Jessica Simpson to move the pop genre a little forward.

"FutureSex/LoveSounds" is an impressive blend of '80 inspired pop, R&B, funk, soul and rock that echoes Michael Jackson, Prince and, yes, James Brown. Timberlake produced all twelve songs on the album together with Timbaland, will.i.am and Rick Rubin who is mostly know from his work with Johnny Cash and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Undisputed highlight on the album is "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" that is nearly 8 minutes longs. The song progresses from a bouncy R&B jive into an epic tune that truly blew me away. If you think that "Sexyback" is on the bleeding edge of what Timberlake can serve up, you are grossly mistaken.

The only drawback of Timberlake's music is a lack of lyrical depth. Most of his songs deal with relationships and sex, but not in clever or thought-provoking ways. I believe that Timberlake's sound is mostly music that you feel and tap to led by his soulful crooning. There is one striking exception to my observation. The song "Losing My Way" is a gripping and unambiguous tale about drugs and addiction that will surely shock many of his teenage fans.

"FutureSex/Love Sounds" is in stores in two weeks from now, on September 12. I have written up a brief song-by-song review after the jump.

"FutureSex/LoveSound": A slow, throbbing groove with bouncy '80s-style synth bass that is basically a tongue in cheek song about making love. A signature Timbaland tune with a chorus that is somewhat reminiscent of Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous."

"SexyBack": Unmistakably the first singe, of course, with that oddly infectious static sound element. I'm still hearing Janet Jackson saying "yes" during the chorus of the song. But that's probably my wishful thinking.

"Sexy Ladies/Let Me Talk to You Prelude": A sexy funk stomper with a rippling bass line that invokes memories of early '80s Prince. Not only because of the song's production stylings, but also due to Timberlake's vocal inflection.

"My Love" (featuring T.I.): This mid-tempo jam is the second single that will be lifted from the album. Similar production values as "SexyBack" but has more melodious, soulful vocal parts. Cute is the addition of Justin's human beat box that is sampled throughout the track.

"LoveStoned/I Think She Knows Interlude": By far the best track on the album that is almost 8 minutes long. It really is one song with two different chapters, starting out fun and frisky with a delicious bass line (mark my words) and turning into an epic, propulsive pop rock anthem with a haunting string section and electric guitars around the 5 minutes mark. The last few minutes sent chills downs my spine. Really good stuff.

"What Goes Around/Comes Around Interlude": When I first heard Justin perform this track in Amsterdam I dubbed this his new "Cry Me River." A mid-tempo ballad in which he sings about heartache and revenge. This is a great single candidate that is more song than groove compared to "SexyBack" and "My Love." "What Goes Up" will have you humming along wheter you want it or not.

Chop Me Up (ft. Timbaland, Three 6 Mafia): Menacing hip-hop tune with multi-layered chorus of rap and vocals. Chaotic and overproduced. Timbaland should leave the soundboard alone once in a while. Enough is enough.

"Damn Girl" (ft. will.i.am): Hot track sang almost entirely in falsetto by Timberlake. Production has a sweet, vintage soul vibe. I dare say he sounds like a young James Brown including the oohs and aahs.

"Summer Love/Set The Mood Prelude": Another hot jam with heavy percussion and sizzling synth bass. The song progresses in a sensual ballad with gospel-type background singers.

"Until The End Of Time" (ft. Benjamin Orchestra Wright): This is a pure soul ballad that is perfect for Timberlake's distinct falsetto ad-libs. I recognize elements of the "Purple Rain" percussion that Prince made famous back in the day.

"Losing My Way": It appears Timberlake is singing about drug addiction on this track. "Hi, my name is Rob and I work at my job making 40 something dollars a day.  I used to be the man in my hometown until I started losing my way," he sings. "Now I got a problem with that little white rock. And I can't put down the pipe. It is breaking me down." Nice touch is the children's choir at the end of the song, which turns it into a full-out prayer.

"(Another Song) All Over Again": This song was produced by Rick Rubin. But there is nothing rocky or grungy about it. Instead it invokes memories of a dark, smokey jazz lounge with Timberlake singing this homage to his favorite singer Donny Hathaway. This song is a worthy effort, but I prefer having the young Timberlake. This song makes him sound 20 years older.

(Click here to pre-order "FutureSex/LoveSounds" on Amazon.)

August 29, 2006 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (18)

Sneak Peek: Keane "Under The Iron Sea"

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When I spoke with singer Tom Chaplin of Keane last week, he insisted that the group's hectic lifestyle of the last two years has not changed the band's outlook on their music. But after relentless touring, a headlining gig at Live8 in 2005 and worldwide fame, it is pretty obvious that the band has lived and learned, which is expressed on their much-anticipated new record "Under The Iron Sea." Musically and lyrically, this new album is a lot bleaker than their previous CD "Hopes & Fears" as Keane tries to wrap their hands around the challenging times we live in. "This is by no means a positive album," Chaplin added. "Under The Iron Sea" will be available in stores on June 12th.  You can view the entire track listing of the record here.

Interestingly, Keane is able to convey their angst and concerns without the use of any single guitar. Instead, keyboard player and muscial mastermind Tim Rice-Oxley experimented with new and vintage synths that he collected while touring.

"Under The Iron Sea" kicks off with the angsty "Atlantic" that will be released as a digital video single in May. "Though the world is broken, I need a place to make my bed," sings Chaplin, capturing the darker overall theme of the record. The album picks up steam on the catchy "Is It Any Wonder?" that shows how Rice-Oxley has skillfully used synths to mimic a guitar-infused arena sound that still sounds distinctly Keane.

After this amped-up tune, the album ventures into more familiar Keane territory with the splendid melodies ("Nothing In My Way," "Put It Behind You"), a tear-jerking ballad ("Hamburg Song") and Chaplin's gifted choir boy vocals ("A Bad Dream"). In fact, oftentimes Chaplin's crooning is reminiscent of a young Freddie Mercury and even Rufus Wainwright, especially on "Leaving So Soon."

The album's title track is a crunchy instrumental composition that features haunting, electronic synths that reveal the dark sonic backdrop for the record. It is like the group scratches off some of the musical veneer to show how they really feel.

But after almost two minutes they put the gloss back on with the poppy "Crystal Ball," which serves up a glimmer of optimism in its sing-along chorus. "Lines ever more unclear. I'm fading out. Everything I know is wrong," sings Chaplin. "Crystal ball, crystal ball save us all. Tell me life is beautiful."

Another stand out song is the final track "The Frog Prince" that sounds like a lullaby for adults. Chaplin explained that song has no political undertones but is in fact a song about the trappings of fame and success. "Your prince's crown cracks and falls down. You castle hollow and cold. You wondered so far from the person you are." The song is a fitting finale to an excellent new album by the group of three childhood friends who have managed to remain down to earth while making great music.

More of my interview with Tom Chaplin on a newsstand near soon soon. I will keep you posted.

April 19, 2006 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Sneak Peek: Nelly Furtado "Loose"

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Last night I listened to an advance copy of Nelly Furtado's brand-new album "Loose" that will hit stores worldwide on June 20. The record was initially slated for release in May but due to Nelly's tour dates in Europe, Geffen decided to delay the release until after her concert commitments.

Fan message boards have been buzzing for months about Nelly's new musical direction after the singer started working in a Miami studio with hip hop prodigy Timbaland on her third record. After hearing the album in its entirety, I can conclude that "Loose" presents a whole new side of Nelly. But fans can rest assure. The album maintains the singer's qualities, individuality and idiosyncrasies that made her a star in the first place.

At first listen, "Loose" is an explosion of pure, raw energy. Continuing her "Força," Nelly and Timbaland gather big beats and cheeky raps with lots of dance floor-ready production tricks. This album is primarily a hip hop and urban pop album in the same vein as recent material by Gwen Stefani and Missy Elliott. With this effort, Furtado adopts hip hop in her own unique way to push the genre further into the mainstream, especially overseas.

Good examples of Nelly's new vibe are the first singles "Promiscuous" (for the USA - a saucy, ghetto fabulous duet with Timbaland) and the irresistible club track "Maneater" (for the rest of the world). The album version of "Maneater" is longer than what has been leaked to radio stations so far. It features a very cool, extended techno outro (similar to what Pet Shop Boys did on "Go West"). Another hip hop track on the record is "Glow."

Just as on "Whoa, Nelly!" and "Folklore," the GRAMMY winner experiments with different ethnic influences on "Loose." And this is what the singer does best. Furtado includes Middle Eastern instrumentation on "Wait For You" and she even has recorded the sweeping "No Hay Igual," a full-on Spanglish reggaeton song. Daddy Yankee be warned, because this is a hot one.

The entire album sounds like a rough cut with studio chatting and Nelly's giggling between tracks and even into the songs that creates a very informal (read: loose) atmosphere on the album.

"Loose" features two high-profile duets. After the success of "Fotographia," Furtado once again teamed with Latin superstar Juanes to record a mid-tempo ballad. Much has been written about her duet with Coldplay's Chris Martin on "All Good Things" that features Martin's falsetto vocals blended in with Furtado's crooning (as opposed to a question & answer duet). Martin is only credited as a co-writer of the song. Due to a publishing rights issue, this song is not formally labeled as a duet. Nelly told me today that she considers Chris a "ghost" on the song.

A standout track is "Say It Right," an atmospheric mid-tempo ballad with a gorgeous melodic pop chorus that will stick you whether you want it or not. The rhythmic R&B ballad  "Showtime" displays Nelly's vocals range with her deep, velvety crooning.

My personal highlight is the intensely personal ballad "In God's Hands." Nelly wrote the song after she broke up with the father of her daughter. She sings, "You forget about love. You forgot about faith. You forgot about trust. You forgot about us."

After getting a sneak peek of the record, I have to conclude that this is a really, really good record.
"Loose" will surely be one of the most noteworthy pop releases of 2006 that will please her fans and pleasantly surprise the masses.

(I have to put up a little disclaimer about this sneak peek review: I listened to the advance record as it is pressed now. Things might be added, remastered, remixed, modified for the final release that will be in stores. I posted this review now to get everybody excited about this new album.)

March 23, 2006 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

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It seems that Andy Bell has taken most of the inspiration for his solo album "Electric Blue" right from the dancefloor.  In fact, if Bell had to come up with an alternate name he could just as well have titled the record "Confession On A Dancefloor" (just like her). After scoring hits with pal Vince Clarke in Erasure over the past two decades, Bell comes full circle with an album that celebrates all the good of pop, all the fun of disco and all the drama of the dancefloor.

The record counts fourteen tracks and includes duets with Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears and Claudia Brucken. The album was co-written and recorded throughout 2004 and 2005 with Manhattan Clique (Philip Larsen and Chris Smith) who have previously worked with Erasure, Moby, The B-52's, Stereophonics and Goldfrapp. The reocord will be released in the U.S. on October 4. (Click here to pre-order "Electric Blue" from Amazon.)

Read brief song by song reviews of "Electric Blue" after the jump.

The album kicks off with a fine piece of electro-bliss on "Intro." Consider it a brief warm up to the electro thunder that is about to unleash itself. Bell declares the dancefloor open with the synth stomper "Caught In A Spin" that includes some Spanish guitars which gives the tune a nice organic touch. The album reaches its first climax on track #3, the single "Crazy." The song is clearly the most obvious single choice. Bell knows that you can't go wrong with a deliciously hooky chorus and his choir boy vocals. This one will be stuck in your head after first listen. Bell speaks his truth on "Love Oneself," a duet with Claudia Brucken. Bell sings, "Life is a riot. We only have one life. This is not a rehearsal." Just like I said. This is perfect dancefloor stuff.

The next track is the much-anticipated duet of Bell and Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears on "I Thought It Was You." It is a fat slice of disco funk with Shears' high-pitched vocals craftfully layered over Bell's singing. The song is not particularly catchy, but mostly spotlights the teaming of two gay music icons. The sci-fi title track "Electric Blue" features a dirty, dark bass line and '80s handclaps. Bell lays out every gay man's issue in this song when he sings, "Pain in my heart. Pain in my soul. Pain my feet." Yes, that is right. The dancefloor is gonna get you.

"Jealous" shows off Bell's terrific songwriting skills. He is able to pack big emotions into (seemingly) simple lyrics. "Shaking My Soul" is a festive pop song featuring a horn section and group backing vocals while Bell has memories about "back in the day." "Runaway" is a fitting, mid-tempo electro ballad that comes just in time to take a short break from Bell's dancefloor.

Bell delivers some of his finest lines on the electro-clash, Warren Fischer-style "I'll Never Fall In Love Again," when he confesses so poignantly, "They say still waters run deep, and now I'm clinging to the shore." On "Delicious," he once again reunites with singer Claudio Brucken for a duet. "Fantasy" is a heartfelt singalong ballad that is low on synths but high on emotion.

Once of the album's highlights is "See The Lights Go Out" that brings Bell's dancefloor bliss to an end. While the DJ is about the spin his last tune, Bell sings "I'm searching for the angles in the sky. I'm loving this sensation tonight." The album concludes with "The Rest Of Our Lives" that serves as a dancefloor cool down with piano and acoustic guitar that oozes Bell's positive, lust for life attitude.

This album represensent some of Bell best songwriting and his unique, spirited vocals. Also, Manhattan Clique have added their own electro spin to give Bell truly a sound of his own. (Click here to pre-order "Electric Blue" from Amazon.)


 

August 17, 2005 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (14)

Sneak Peek: Jason Mraz "Mr. A-Z"

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Jason Mraz returns next week with his new album "Mr. A-Z." After scoring the mega hit "The Remedy" in 2003, Mraz went on an extensive tour to play songs from his debut album and meet fans around the world. Currently, he is on tour in the U.S. opening for Alanis Morissette. During the 2004 presidential elections, the singer took a strong political stand on his blog, and was a vocal advocate of equal rights for gays. Together with legendary producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band) he collaborated on his new album. "Mr. A-Z" lifts Mraz up to a new level of maturity that makes him more than a one-hit wonder. His endearing goofiness and humor is still there (listen to "Geek In The Pink" and "Wordplay" ), but his sentiments have grown stronger as shown on "Song For A Friend" and "Plane." This new record proves that Jason Mraz is a songwriting force to be reckoned with.

Make sure to check out my interview with Jason in the August issue of GENRE.

Arjanwrites_video Watch Jason Mraz "Mr. A-Z"

July 13, 2005 in Sneak Peek | Permalink | Comments (4)