wears the trousers magazine

marina & the diamonds: the family jewels (2010)
February 18, 2010, 3:38 pm
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Marina & The Diamonds
The Family Jewels ••••
Atlantic / 679

The world of pop hasn’t always been a place where creative female singers, often lazily described as kooky, could find expressionistic harbour and great fortunes alike. Cyndi Lauper was the trailblazer for ‘kook-dom’ at a time when the biggest female popstars were almost uniformly playing most heavily on their sex appeal, all too keenly aware of the commercial impact of a sly wink and racy lyric. With her debut album She’s So Unusual, Lauper not only made the boldest statement of her career but paved the way for women to be more than just ‘Boy Toys’ (to borrow Madonna’s earliest tagline). They could be performance artists; they could take references from Pop Art and street culture and blend them with high fashion; they could flout gender norms and have personality, charisma and an offbeat way of viewing the world. In this manner, Lauper opened the floodgates for women from Tori Amos to Björk, Regina Spektor to Fiona Apple, Gwen Stefani to Imogen Heap, and Lady Gaga to Florence Welch.

Marina Diamandis, under the slightly misleading name of Marina & The Diamonds (the ‘diamonds’ are her fans, not a backing group), falls nicely into this pantheon of multifaceted women. Her unconventional singing style, strangely textured electro-pop, oddball lyrics and approach to melody – and of course her idiosyncratic way with fashion – have given way to comparisons with the likes of Alison Goldfrapp, Róisín Murphy and Amanda Palmer, and deservedly so. At a time when current female pop singers are increasingly taking their cues from Lauper, the release of The Family Jewels is well timed. The tantalising singles ‘Obsessions’, ‘Mowgli’s Road’ and ‘I Am Not A Robot’ (which featured on last year’s The Crown Jewels EP) steadily built sufficient momentum to land Diamandis a coveted place on the BBC Sound Of 2010 poll and borderline feverish anticipation for the album.

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sade: soldier of love (2010)
February 4, 2010, 11:54 am
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Soldier Of Love ••••

The title of Sade’s new album, her first in a decade, could not be more apt. The singer, who has been making music for nearly 30 years with cohorts Stuart Matthewman, Paul Denman and Andrew Hale, seems to have spent a lifetime not only battling love, but fame, life and her own personal demons. The result is a woman who sounds both defiant and weary, not only in her lyrics but also in the quality of her voice; slightly frayed around the edges but still as full of melancholic soul and rarefied as ever. Soldier Of Love is, in many ways, the final part of a trilogy of albums that started with 1992’s Love Deluxe and continued with 2000’s Lovers Rock. Not only are they all variations on love as a theme, but they are also cut from the same sonic cloth – a modern blend of soulful, sometimes hard-edged hip-hop, infused with country, jazz and blues. But where Love Deluxe was sensual and romantic and Lovers Rock was a paean to the strength relationships offer, Soldier Of Love is much more about the pain love exacts and the disappointments encountered, shot through with a belief that this most ungovernable of emotions will ultimately redeem and save.

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husky rescue: ship of light (2010)
February 1, 2010, 10:33 am
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Husky Rescue
Ship Of Light •••½

Husky Rescue started off as the one-man project of Finnish artist Marko Nyberg, whose cinematic and expansive music aimed to capture the dual qualities of photography and imagined film scores with the use of ambient and atmospheric flourishes. The ensemble as we know it was formed by Nyberg for 2002’s debut album, Country Falls, with Reeta-Leena Korhola joining on vocals, Ville Riippa on keyboards, Anssi Sopanen on drums and Miika Colliander on guitar. Despite this expansion, Nyberg’s early intentions are clearly in evidence on third album, Ship Of Light. These ten songs have a widescreen feel, full of space and ambient atmospherics, but it’s meshed with a synthesised pop mentality that prevents proceedings from becoming too ethereal, pinning the eerie sonics down with traditional pop song structures and Korhola’s precise enunciations.

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sounding off: january 2010 (iv)

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.

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The American Dream •••
Leon Russell Records

Few may have heard of singer Sugaree but they are very likely to have heard of her father, legendary singer-songwriter Leon Russell, on whose label Sugaree’s debut has been released. Though that fact smacks of nepotistic opportunism, saying so outright would only be permissible if the album was a dud. The fact is The American Dream is something of a pop gem, a contemporary album that is a million miles from the country-blues music of her father. A short album, at just over thirty minutes, it mixes different genres – rock, pop and R&B – with an electro-dance vibe that pulls all its disparate references into a coherent, if sometimes samey, sound.

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rihanna: rated r (2009)
November 25, 2009, 12:31 pm
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Rated R •••

There comes a time in every pop artist’s career when people start to focus more on the tabloid aspects of their private life and less on their music. For Rihanna, this was the case earlier this year after a very public assault by her then boyfriend Chris Brown prior to the Grammy Awards. For a time it appeared as though the controversy would engulf both of their careers, but Rihanna has since started to put it all behind her and put her energy into creating music. Rated R will never be completely free from the shadow of those events, and various lyrical references – though oblique at the best of times – could be interpreted to fit the paradigm of ‘vengeful woman’. What is quite clear from the outset, however, is that Rated R is full of anger and vitriol, though neither is directed overtly at the man the baying media have pinned up on a dartboard on her behalf.

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leona lewis: echo (2009)
November 18, 2009, 10:24 am
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Leona Lewis
Echo ••••

As another series of ‘X Factor’ ekes towards its conclusion and inevitable Christmas number one, another alumnus returns to remind the contestants what a little luck and lot of savvy marketing can get them. While some might view the recent chart successes from 2008 winner Alexandra Burke and mentor Cheryl Cole as having upstaged Leona Lewis’s comeback a little, the North Londoner has one thing that neither possess. For all Burke’s blasting and Cole’s ambitious wheeze, they can’t come close to her supple and powerful voice, or the impeccable control with which she wields it. Coupled with an extremely photogenic face and a sanguine, pleasant personality, Lewis has become one of British pop’s brightest stars, not least by virtue of having achieved the holy grail of pop: success in America.

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alexandra burke: overcome // cheryl cole: 3 words (2009)
October 22, 2009, 7:56 am
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b_lp_alexandraburke_09 c_lp_cherylcole_09

Alexandra Burke
Overcome •••½

Cheryl Cole
3 Words ••

Last year’s ‘X Factor’ finale saw a double victory for contestant and judge as Alexandra Burke delivered her much-maligned version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and her mentor, Cheryl Cole, celebrated her first win on the show. Both jumped up and down with glee in matching silver and gold dresses, perhaps anticipating what a boost this was going to be for both of them; Burke won the record contract she so desperately wanted while Cole stole away with the nation’s hearts. Fast forward 10 months and the two are locked in an interesting head-to-head battle, releasing their debut albums within a week of one another, through solidarity perhaps, or maybe through a residual competitive streak that’s carried over from the show. The problem is that by both adopting a glossy, R&B pop sound, the albums lend themselves to comparison all too easily. And, embarrassingly, it is Cheryl Cole – already an established act with Girls Aloud – who comes off worse.

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