wears the trousers magazine

sounding off: january 2010 (iii)

In this month’s roundup, we’ll be looking at a bunch of stragglers from last year that we ran out of time to publish before Christmas, plus a few early 2010 releases in brief.

* * *

Vanessa Paradis
Best Of •••

In many ways, Vanessa Paradis’ 1987 hit ‘Joe Le Taxi’ still sums up how the English regard French female popstars: the heavy accent, delivered with a babydoll pitch, cute as a kitten with a little bit of vixen thrown in. Such was its provocative, innocent-girl charm that, out of nowhere, the song launched Paradis, then just 14 years old, on the path to a lengthy career. Next came a slightly more sophisticated album, Variations sur le même t’aime. Produced by Serge Gainsbourg, it ushered in a second wave of huge success in France, with the wonderful ‘Tandem’ barely off the airwaves, helping to really nail a credible career for the still young ingénue.

Paradis’ next steps took her to LA, where she paired up with Lenny Kravitz, who produced and wrote much of her eponymous third album, represented here by ‘Natural High’, ‘Sunday Mondays’ and the smash hit ‘Be My Baby’. Her first release in English, it established her, ironically, even more firmly in France, the retro Kravitz vibe diversifying her increasingly clichéd sound. Her accompany world tour curtailed by illness, Paradis stepped away from music for several years. Preoccupied with film roles and a newfound love with Johnny Depp, she did not record another studio album until 2000’s Bliss, a very personal but somewhat uninspired effort. It wasn’t until 2007’s Divinidylle, best represented here by the ’60s pop of ‘Divine Idylle’ and the R&B-styled ‘L’incendie’, that Paradis returned to the limelight, the varied yet cohesive set easily her most ambitious album to date. Best Of, then, serves as a timely reminder of a glittering, unconventional career that, for better or worse, remains something of a reference standard today.

Sara Silver
UK release date: 01/02/10; www.myspace.com/vanessaparadis

Carly Simon
Never Been Gone ••

Five days before the release of Carly Simon’s last album, This Kind Of Love, Starbucks closed the doors on its Hear Music label, essentially sinking any chances of the album catching on to a sizeable audience, coffee-drinking or not. In the midst of legal wranglings over this disappointment, the veteran singer-songwriter’s son, musician Ben Taylor, convinced her to get back in the saddle and record another album, her 25th to date. Taking the easy road, Never Been Gone is not a collection of new material; here, Simon revisits and reinterprets a selection of her back catalogue with an acoustic palette, provided by Taylor and friends. Given the frustration she must have felt at the time, Never Been Gone is perhaps an overly contented affair, with familiar songs affectionately ruffled rather than transformed.

Now in her sixties, Simon may be less able to hit the high notes but if anything her voice has deepened in character, particularly on ‘The Right Thing To Do’ and famous hit ‘Coming Around Again’. Her reedy delivery really shows its age, but at times this is a positive revelation rather than a flaw. However, while a stripped-back approach could have been the perfect way for Simon to let her new vocal style shine, the studio sheen on Never Been Gone is too cosy to reveal anything especially worthwhile. Taylor’s backing vocals intrude rather than enhance the songs and far too often the production is over-egged. Still, there’s no denying the quality of the songs; ‘Anticipation’, ‘That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be’ and ubiquitous karaoke classic ‘You’re So Vain’ stand the test of time. Even at its best, however, Never Been Gone serves as a reminder of how great Simon once was rather than adding anything new or notable to her canon.

Richard Steele
UK release date: 26/10/09; www.myspace.com/carlysimon

Angie Stone
Unexpected ••
Stax / Decca

Perhaps ‘Past, Present & Future’ would have been a more appropriate title for Angie Stone’s fifth studio album, since that’s essentially what it represents. Having lost her way somewhat in recent years, Unexpected could have lived up to its title simply by being up to scratch. The real story, however, is sadly more predictable. Things start off well with the short, funk-filled intro that harks back to the neo-soul glory of her 1999 debut Black Diamond, but the album pulls up short immediately after with the tragically generic first single ‘I Ain’t Hearing You’. Sounding like a parody of a Sly & The Family Stone song, the overwhelming impression is of an overly standardised pop/funk track we’ve heard a hundred times before. At least its message is uplifting. It’s not clear what we can take away from ‘Free’, perhaps the messiest track of Stone’s career. Here, a slow, ballad-esque piano loop mingles with a strange techno riff reminiscent of Cheryl Cole’s ‘Fight For This Love’. If Stone is having an identity crisis, ‘Free’ is right up there, going out of its mind.

The sequential snoozefest of ‘Maybe’, ‘Hey Mr DJ’, ‘Kiss All Over Your Body’ and ‘I Don’t Care’ repackages the type of disappointing fillers that ruined 2004’s Stone Love, to equally depressing effect. ‘I Don’t Care’ is the worst offender, containing a hook that sounds like a bastardisation of that album’s ‘I Wanna Thank Ya’. Then, finally, a light appears at the end of the tunnel with the entirely electronic ‘Tell Me’, which, despite a heavy handed production, succeeds by being completely unlike anything that Stone has done before. The vocals are heavily AutoTuned; the beat is loud; the pace is fast. If this is future Angie, then the future might be brighter than the rest of Unexpected gives us any right to hope. In the here and now, however, Stone flounders on an album that’s grossly over-produced and overly preachy.

Simon Christopher
UK release date: 01/02/10; www.myspace.com/angiestonemusic


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