Friday, February 27, 2009

Deluded Fans - An Anthropological Study

I have spent more than my fair share of time trawling the internet for pop news over the past few years and I'm constantly amused and entertained by the loopy fans I come across each and every day. Interacting with these delicate creatures can be confronting if you don't know what to expect, so I've put together a beginner's guide for newcomers. Here are my cheat notes for fruitful interaction with ten of the most bewildering and unique species of fan currently inhabiting cyberspace (in order of their level of delusion).

10. Mariah's Lambs

The first group of dedicated fans to be dragged under the Pop Trash microscope belong to Mariah. Their nickname originates from Mimi's habit of referring to friends, family and her small army of pharmacists as "lambs" - a label her fans now use as a badge of honour. These critters tend to be as warm and lovely as their animal namesake. Like Mariah, I suspect most Lambs are too high on Vicodin to chat about more than fairies and rainbows. Other happy topics include Mariah's record 18 US #1 hits and her titanic albums sales.

Delusion Factor: Moderate. According to The Lambs, Mariah was robbed of an Oscar for her work in "Glitter" and her albums never flop. They're just really HUGE in Japan.

Warning: Any mention Tommy Motola of Jennifer Lopez tends to throw these otherwise peaceful beings completely over the edge. They will start to cry and begin reciting chart statistics from the 90s, so tread carefully!

9. Toy Soldiers

As a loud and proud Toy Soldier, it's hard to be objective about this delightful species. Outsiders might have a completely different perspective but I find La Toya's long suffering fans to be both down to earth and downright hilarious. Our holy icon has never had a hit single in her 30 year career, so we're extra careful about throwing stones in our lovely glass house. Instead of bitching about other divas, we concentrate on loftier pursuits like making stunning fan art (above) and tracking down Toy collectibles from her major markets like Uganda and Romania.

Delusion Factor: Medium. Even the most ardent Toy Soldier is realistic about La Toya's shortcomings but we're still waiting with baited breath for her comeback album - 7 long years later.

Warning: Any mention of La Toya's much less talented sister Janet is like feeding red cordial to a child with ADHD. Avoid at all costs or face the consequences!

Leona has never, ever copied Mariah!

8. Leona's Loons

A relatively new but disturbing blight on internet fandom is the emergence of Leona's Loons. It's hard to imagine such a useless waste of space could actually warrant a fanbase but Leona's nausea inducing mediocrity is apparently some kind of inaudible siren's call to the mentally unbalanced. Popular activities include importing international editions of "Spirit" and bashing Alexandra Burke. Although it's hard to blame them for the second activity.

Delusion Factor: High. Leona's Loons deny all comparisons with Mariah, claim their horse faced leader has a better voice than any other diva in existence and rebuke insinuations that Simon Cowell played any role in their idol's success.

Warning: Excessive exposure to this bunch is enough to drive anyone to drink.

7. The Brit Bots

The average Brit Bot is a harmless homosexual with a soft spot for washing down a bag of Cheetos with a super-sized Diet Coke. While fairly innocuous as individuals, the Brit Bots are almost unbearably annoying when they come together as a collective. The level of denial on display would throw Dr Phil into a coma. The Bots steadfastly refuse to see Britney as anything other than a perennial victim of circumstance. The paparazzi are blamed for making her fat, crazy and constantly pregnant. At least they're usually too busy discussing Britney's brand of anti-depressants to bother other fan groups.

Delusion Factor: High. According to the Bots - Britney never mimes, she just sings over a backing track! Her photos are never airbrushed and she's still a great role model for girls.

Warning: Christina Aguilera fans are not exactly welcomed with open arms. You've been warned!

Janet - The picture of class and dignity

6. Janatics/Janazis

Janatics are the Tasmanian Tigers of the internet. After three flop albums, Janet's fans are a dying breed. Unfortunately, the leftovers tend to be humourless Jackson obsessives in their twilight years or truly deluded individuals who claim "Discipline" was a worldwide smash hit. Both groups are dull but generally inoffensive, unlike the nasty sub-species of Janet fandom known as the Janazis. These charmers spend their days sowing voodoo dolls in JT's image and get their kicks spamming other Jackson fansites.

Delusion Factor: Sky high. Common cries include - Janet is still at the top of her game. Her last 3 albums were all massive and if they weren't, then it's Jermaine Dupri's fault for giving all the best songs to Mariah. Janet is not and has never been fat. She's never had lipo or any other plastic surgery. Her songs are completely age appropriate and Nipple-gate was all Justin Timberlake's fault.

Warning: Prolonged exposure to this crowd can result in a complete break with reality. A general Jackson fansite is a better option for level headed Janet fans.

5. Al Kylieda

I don't know what happened to Kylie fans. We were such a fun, tight-knit bunch before "Fever" exploded and the dregs of society started flooding into Kylie fan sites across the internet. Appreciating the performer and her music has been replaced by constant bitching and an overwhelming sense of negativity. To combat this dire situation, many formerly balanced fans have become overly militant, resulting in the formation of Al Kylieda. These diehards live in a bubble (ie. where any kind of criticism is completely taboo. As far as Al Kylieda is concerned, the elder Minogue farts liquid gold and rides a pink unicorn to and from the studio each day.

Delusion Factor: Extreme. Members of Al Kylieda have been known to throw themselves in front of Kylie's limo to get autographs (I think she should just keep driving) and spend hours comparing their Kylie tattoos. Strangely, none of them seem to believe in actually paying money for their idol's music.

Warning: If you want to sharpen your bitch claws, head over to your nearest Kylie fansite and start spewing bile. You'll never be lonely.

4. GA-yers

GA-yers, or cunts as I like to call them, are the sorry souls who worship at the altar of Girls Aloud. This sad species can be divided into two separate groups. The first is mainly comprised of teenage gays who simply don't know any better. They pollute forums across the internet with text speak conversations like:

GA-yer1: "OMG Nicola iz tha best!"
GA-yer2: "Soz thats deffo Cheryl!"

The second group is far more insidious. Comprised mainly of aging homosexuals desperate to jump on any kind of pop bandwagon, this sub-species tries to justify their disingenuous actions by hailing Girls Aloud as the saviours of pop and throw around terms like "cutting edge innovators". I blame Pop Justice.

Delusion Factor: Frightening. Anyone who thinks these 5 slappers are anything but puppets of a once great production house needs medical attention.

Warning: GA-yers are becoming increasing unavoidable. I find posting this link tends to throw them off your scent.

Still the girl next door... to the plastic surgeon

3. Brainless Breltas (from the Cult of Dulta)

A Brelta is a highly disturbed individual who pledges allegiance not only to Dulta but also to her equally vile fiance, Brian McFadden. These poor creatures live in a world where your worth is judged by the number of photos you have with Dulta and how many copies of "Innocent Eyes" you own. Multiple purchases of each new release are not only looked upon favourably but expected. Outsiders are generally treated with complete mistrust and any criticism of Dulta or her porky Irishman will result in an instant fight.

Delusion Factor: Through the roof. A group of fans once got together to record a rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" for Dulta. Enough said.

Warning: Kerry Katona fans need not apply.

Madonna - a natural beauty according to her trolls

2. Madonna Trolls

Madonna Trolls are the great travellers of the internet. While most crazy fans are happy to remain among their own kind, Madge worshippers take great delight in rounding up new recruits and spend most of their time causing trouble on websites and forums dedicated to other divas. Interestingly, American Madonna trolls hold a special grudge against Mariah, while their English counterparts tend to focus their attention on Kylie. Camouflaged trolls can be distinguished by the speed with which they say "Madonna did it first".

Delusion Factor: Massive. They steadfastly believe that Madonna is the only diva capable of an original thought and deny all claims of plastic surgery. One Troll memorably put her new cheekbones down to pilates.

Warning: The Trolls have low standards. Anyone capable of listening to "Hard Candy" more than once will probably have a ball with them.

1. Dannii Droids

And the award for the most deluded fanbase on the internet goes to the Dannii Droids. The younger, more talented Minogue is clearly a diva worthy of some serious worship but the Dannii Board (the home of The Droids) is an alternate universe unto itself. This is a place where Dannii's next single is always a sure fire #1 hit and Nafensays is looked upon as a holy deity for drip feeding the occasional piece of useless information. I'm constantly amazed that such a lovely diva can appeal to so many deranged individuals.

Delusion Factor: Nuclear. Favourite conspiracy theories - Kylie has been sabotaging Dannii's career from the start. Kylie got cancer to ruin Dannii's career. Kylie returned from having cancer to ruin Dannii's career. Dannii is a bigger star than Madonna in Australia because Dannii's biggest flop charted higher than Madonna's biggest flop. For a full expose on the Droids, check out Jay's riveting post on Postcards From Puerto Rico.

Warning: If you have a shred of independent thought, steer well clear of the Droids and their playground for the mentally ill.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bits & Pieces - Feb 09

I've spent so much time walking down memory lane over the past couple of posts that I'm starting to get blisters. It's about time I focused on music recorded after 1997, so I've decided to do a bit of a round up of things pushing my buttons at the moment. One of the most exciting developments of 2009 has been the release of Fangoria's latest single "Más Es Más" ("More Is More"). The theatrical duo are the Spanish equivalent of the Pet Shop Boys. In fact, the similarities are striking. Both acts specialise in electronic beats, boast a vocalist who speaks more than sings and have a fanbase comprised predominantly of middle-aged homosexuals. Basically, Fangoria are seriously fabulous and their latest track is a high camp celebration of the finer things in life. Watch the unfortunately rather dull video here.

I can't mention Spanish pop without talking about the Queen of Extremadura, my beloved Soraya. Her campaign for Eurovision glory is in full swing, sailing through to the final round of qualifying with a truly electrifying performance of "La Noche Es Para Mi" in the semis. Soraya looked stunning and sounded amazing. I also love the dance moves and her glamorous outfit is pure sex. The bitch had better win or heads will roll! Check out her magnificent live performance (above).

On the local front, I'm very excited about the return of Mandy Kane. I was seriously obsessed with his debut "Tragic Daydreams" in the early part of this decade and I still listen to that album all the time. After a few years in the wilderness (ie. the UK), he's back with a sinister slice of goth-pop called "25 Seconds". The single was released last week and contains the brilliant Gary Numan/Ade Fenton remix. Take a listen on Mandy's Myspace and download the track from iTunes. Moving on to something slightly less cutting edge, Slinkee Minx are back with "Turn It Up", a dance track that's been doing the rounds for the past 6 months. I love the girls but this isn't their finest moment. However, it's still a fun, upbeat anthem that should get Oxford Street dancing. I really hope it's a success because I want another album! "Turn It Up" is released on the 7th of March. Give the song a listen here. Speaking of Central Station acts, I hear whispers that the holy goddess of Australian pop and former Slinkee Minx labelmate, Melissa Tkautz, is in the very early stages of putting together her next musical masterpiece. Fingers crossed this one doesn't get scrapped at the last minute!

While not quite in Mel's league, I'm still seriously loving Jessica Mauboy's album and I'm pleased the title track has been selected as the 3rd single. "Been Waiting" is another upbeat urban pop jam that should follow the first two singles into the top 10 with any luck. Check out Jessica performing the track live (above). Ignore the flagwaving losers in the crowd. Jessica really knows how to belt it out. Another act making a splash on the Australian charts are American comedians The Lonely Island who deserve some kind of award from bringing a song called "Jizz In My Pants" into the Australian top 30. Another fun chart surprise is the return of Rozalla with yet another remix of "Everybody's Free". I'm not a huge fan of the Global Deejay's update but it is good to see dirty, old Roz back in the top 10.

Moving on to the UK where Shontelle, a glamourpuss from Barbados, climbs up the charts this week to a new peak of #6 with "T-Shirt". D'Luv from Chart Rigger listed this as one of his 10 worst singles of 2008 but I have to disagree with my Pennsylvanian homegirl. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who names their album "Shontelligence" is clearly a diva worth appreciating. The song is actually rather sweet once you get past the mental image of Shontelle standing around with her gash exposed. Much less offensive is the release of Alan Connor's latest fabulous Hi-NRG anthem "Let Your Love Flow". It's a camp delight and even comes with a classy animated video!

If you're looking for slightly less cheesy dance music, give "Everybody" a listen. It's handiwork of super hot Russian DJ Rudenko and debuts in the UK top 30 this week. It's also starting to burn up dancefloors in Australia. However, my absolute favourite dance cut at the moment is Ferry Corsten's retrotastic "Made Of Love". This gem sounds like something from 1993, dragged kicking and screaming into 2009. The song is gearing up for a full release in the UK and I really hope it takes off. Check out the cheap but effective video (above). I love this song!

As far as America is concerned, I'm still loving the latest singles from Pink and Beyoncé (I'm pretending her shiteous Oscars performance never happened - anyway, I blame that disaster on national embarrassment Hugh Jackman) but I'm really coming around to Katy Perry's "Thinking Of You". At first I just wanted her to shut the fuck up and get back to singing about faux lesbians but this has grown on me something crazy. I think the stunning video has a lot to do with it. This is surely the year's best clip thus far. It's more like a mini-movie. Hell, it even has a war scene and a funeral! Apart from those divas, the only thing to really catch my ear is, strangely enough, a track by T-Pain's new R'n'B girlband Sophia Fresh. "Save Yourself" is so unexpected (given the rest of their uninspiring output). This gorgeous mid-tempo ballad sounds more like something from Robyn's second album ("My Truth") than anything in the American charts. Sadly it's not going to be a single, so check it out here. What a waste! I'm also getting a kick out of Beyoncé and Solange's new haircare advertisement for Feria. My Sol-Angel even provides the soundtrack! Check it out below:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dannii - The $ucce$$ Interview

After dissecting Kylie's amazing B-sides, I thought I should turn my attention to her lovely sister's poptastic offcuts and have spent the past few days rifling through my Dannii collection. I'll get around to writing about her B-sides sooner or later but for the moment I've been completely distracted by a casual chat recorded almost two decades ago. It had totally slipped my mind that the Australian 7" vinyl of Dannii's enduring signature tune ("$ucce$$") came with a bonus interview disc (below) and I decided to give it a spin in the name of research. I'm so glad I did because it's a revelation, bringing back so many wonderful memories and providing some fantastic insights into the early career of my beloved Dannii before she got those WMDs strapped to her chest and set off to conquer the world - well, at least Ibiza!

Dannii is dragged under the microscope by local television personality Maynard (who I recently saw hosting Leather Pride at the Midnight Shift!) for one of the most revealing interviews of her career. It covers everything from the impending release of "$ucce$$" right through to Kylie's sneaky attempt to torpedo her career by writing the awful "Love Traffic". Maynard asks some fun questions about leaving Home & Away and her relationship with Kylie but the most interesting part of the interview for me is the section about her then yet to be released album. As the reigning Queen of Clubs, it's easy to forget that Dannii's Australian debut was heavily influenced by American R'n'B but it really comes across when she talks about her influences (Bobby Brown, Janet, Aretha... and Kylie!) and her adventures recording the album in New York. A friend was kind enough to digitalise the interview for me and you can listen to it below:

Dannii Interview

As much as I love the juicy tidbits and musical insights, the best thing about the interview is Dannii herself. She's absolutely adorable - funny, unguarded and completely down to earth. Underneath Dannii's heavenly exterior lies the quintessential girl next door, she even has the heavy Australian accent to prove it! The interview captures everything I love about the younger Minogue and explains why I'm still hopelessly devoted to Dannii twenty years later despite her semi-retirement to host reality TV shows and release budget compilations. I think it's only right to finish this post by paying tribute to her self-penned theme song and it's stunning video (below). Dannii's glamorous tracksuit and lightning dance moves still rock my world!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Vanilla Vs Vogue

Firstly, I'd just like to say that this is my 400th post. Yay me! I can't think of a better way to celebrate this milestone than featuring what has to be Britain's worst ever girlband. And by worst, I obviously mean best. I'm talking about the glorious girls from Vanilla, who dragged popular music to a stunning new low with their legendary 1997 top 20 hit "No Way, No Way". Built around a sample of "Mah Nà Mah Nà" from The Muppet Show, Vanilla's anthem was a staggeringly awful attempt to grab a slice of the Spice Girls' pie at the height of girlband mania in the late 90s. I'm actually surprised "No Way, No Way" performed as well as it did given the quality (or lack thereof) of the song. The first time I heard it I was convinced it was a piss take. The "vocals" on this record have to be heard to be believed and the lyrics are even worse ("If you force yourself on me, things are going to get nar-sty!") That's not to mention the video clip (below), which highlights the girls' complete lack of coordination and breathtaking absence of style.

The crazy thing is "No Way, No Way" is actually a fantastic pop song in spite of itself. The sample is a stroke of genius and the god awful chorus gets under your skin like a flesh eating disease. In a nutshell, "No Way, No Way" is a cult classic that deserves some love for proving once and for all that any old whore can become a popstar. I have no idea what these legends are up to now but I like to think at least one of them is working the register at Woolworths. Speaking of British girlbands, it's interesting that the wheel has turned almost full circle after a couple of lean years and we're back to the boom days of the late 90s. The Saturdays have taken over from Girls Aloud as the current darlings of the pop scene, while bands like Red Blooded Women, Stonefoxx and City Girls wait patiently in the wings. Well, you can add another name to the growing list of up and coming UK girlbands - Vogue.

Vogue is comprised of three "stunners" from Yorkshire who describe themselves as "the new princesses of Clubland". They are currently supporting Cascada on tour so I guess it must be true. Scarily, these divine beings remind me of Vanilla. It's not their sound - the girls can actually sing and their dance beats are a world away from whatever craptastic genre "No Way, No Way" belongs to - but the similarity lies with Vogue's cheap and cheerful image (see above). They are geared to the lowest common denominator, which probably explains why I like them so much. Their upcoming single "Twilight" is an uptempo slice of dance-pop that should get Cascada fans all hot and bothered. It's scheduled for release on the 20th of April and I'd love to see it scrape into the charts. The video (below) is quite a glamorous affair and basically involves the ladies frolicking at the beach. I'd take them over Girls Aloud any day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Karen Danzig - La La La La La

From the lofty heights of Kylie to the more... common delights of Karen Danzig. Well, this place is called Pop Trash Addicts for a reason! The lovely and highly glamorous (see above) Karen first came to my attention a couple of years ago when she teamed up with Styles & Breeze for the UK top 20 hit "Heartbeatz". That song was surprisingly picked up for an Australian release by Central Station and swiftly became a firm favourite of mine. It even placed in my best of 2006 countdown, where I lamented that "Karen should be as massive as Kelly Llorenna"! Unfortunately that might be too great a mountain to climb but this plucky diva is giving it her best shot with another trashtastic dance anthem called "La La La La La". If anything this is an even bigger pile of fabulous Hi-NRG crap than "Heartbeatz". The song is pure tat with a chorus so cheesy it would shame Whigfield but I love it and I think fans of the genre will be equally smitten by Karen's little ditty. Make sure you check out the video clip (below). I want some of what she's on! To conclude, here are three facts you may not know about this stunning talent:

1. Karen appeared on the first series of X Factor with her girlband Tula.
2. She worked with Mike Stock and Matt Aitken as lead singer of The Park.
3. Her resume includes "performing" as a lapdancer!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Wonderful World Of Kylie B-Sides

Kylie B-sides rank alongside sex and chocolate as one of life's great pleasures. In fact, they are probably the best of the lot. Listening to "Made Of Glass" on repeat won't make you fat or give you crabs. So what makes these rejects so intoxicating? Well, as any fan will tell you, many of Kylie's best songs have routinely (and quite inexplicably) missed the cut over the years. It's not uncommon for the B-side to be superior to the actual single. I gave up trying to understand the phenomenon long ago and just accept it now as a quirk of Kylie fandom. The other interesting thing about B-sides is the fascinating insight they provide into the evolution of an album. At least they did before we were drip fed every minor detail via the internet. The "Light Years" B-sides, for example, are mostly organic guitar driven songs - light years (excuse the bad pun) away from the album's upbeat disco-pop sound, while the "Body Language" B-sides show traces of a dance album that never eventuated. The situation would be unbearably frustrating if Kylie wasn't so generous with her bonus material. I count approximately 40 B-sides, not including leaked songs, bonus tracks or side projects. Here are my top twenty:

1. Ocean Blue (2000)

Making my mark on tomorrow, doing nothin' today

The amazing B-side to "On A Night Like This" has been one of my favourite songs since the first time I heard it and only seems to get more beautiful with each passing year. Written by Kylie and Steve Anderson, "Ocean Blue" is probably the most pared back track of Kylie's career. It's just her, a guitar and some strings toward the end. The result, however, is unexpectedly magical. I love Kylie's voice on this and the lyrics really touch a nerve with me. I've always interpreted it as a kind of mantra to chill out and live for the moment but it could just as easily be a straightforward love song or an ode to water sports. Ok, probably not the latter but whatever the case may be, "Ocean Blue" is exquisite and shows a very different side of Kylie.

2. Made In Heaven (1988)

When it calls me is it just like music and lights
Or is that just a fairytale?

"Made In Heaven" was apparently going to be a double A-side with "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi" but was relegated to B-side status at the last minute. An unfortunate decision given that "Made In Heaven" is arguably one of the best songs Stock/Aitken/Waterman ever wrote. The sense of wide-eyed innocence and wonderment captured on this track is palpable and the production is suitably joyous and sweet. SAW were notoriously stingy with B-sides, which makes this all the more special. The remix (which was amusingly re-titled "Maid In England", "Maid In Australia" and "Maid In Sweden" depending on the release territory - despite the fact that they are all exactly the same!) is also a fabulous 80s treat. Check out the amazingly cheap video clip below. What the hell is going on with Kylie's hair?!

3. Tightrope (2002)

These days I find, you're always on my mind

My friends are going to be pretty shocked to see "Tightrope" only come in at number three given the fact that I usually list it as my all time favourite Kylie track. Written by Pascal Gabriel, "Tightrope" is one of the most majestic pop songs of the decade. It's wistful, melancholic tone sets it apart from just about everything else in Kylie's amazing back catalogue. The reason for its relatively low placing on this countdown is the subtle but obvious difference between the version that features on the Australian edition of "Fever" and the inferior mix used as the B-side to "In Your Eyes". Given that I'm ranking B-sides, I have to focus on the latter. I don't think an explanation was ever given for the changes but they were definitely not an improvement. Some interesting production flourishes were lost and the backing vocals are much less prominent, robbing the song of it's unique gospel-pop sound. Nevertheless, this is still a magnificent track. It's just a shame someone decided to fuck with perfection. Fingers crossed that Kylie works with Pascal again in the future.

4. Glad To Be Alive (1987)

Life's so hard some days
You need something new to wear
Like a brand new hat

To paraphrase an earlier post, Kylie's output with Stock/Aitken/Waterman is rightly appreciated by pop fans around the globe but the Australian version of "Locomotion" and its fabulous B-side have been all but forgotten. It's a shame because the original 1987 "Locomotion" is superior to the hit factory produced "The Loco-Motion" and "Glad To Be Alive" remains one of my favourite Kylie songs to this very day. Written and produced by two members of Australian new wave band Kids In The Kitchen (another act signed to Mushroom at the time), the track is utterly joyful despite the dodgy lyrics about buying new headwear. It also offers an intriguing clue as to what Kylie's debut album would have sounded like if she hadn't jumped on that plane to England.

5. Love Takes Over Me (1998)

How did I fall prey to this?

I was floored the first time I heard "Love Takes Over Me". I couldn't understand why it wasn't the lead single from "Impossible Princess", let alone fathom how it could have been left off the album entirely. The B-side to "Cowboy Style" positively bubbles with urgency and foreboding. Kylie has never sounded so dark, sinister and irresistibly sexy - before or since. I particularly love the production on this, the electronic sound effects and intricate layering are dazzling. "Love Takes Over Me" still sounds as fresh and original as it did 11 years ago.

6. Good Like That (2002)

So take a chance and love me fast
I give you all, all that I have

The "Fever" era produced some of Kylie's best B-sides and "Good Like That" has always been one of my absolute favourites. This is a pure pop delight with an instantly catchy chorus and memorably sweet, if not particularly deep, lyrics. The track is also notable for being Kylie's first collaboration with producer Cutfather, one half of the Danish duo behind "Like A Drug" and "All I See" on "X". As much as I love the song, it's hard to argue that it actually belonged on "Fever". The American pop sound would have been jarring among the more synth heavy tracks but it doesn't change the fact that "Good Like That" is as cute as a button.

7. We Know The Meaning Of Love (1990)

This is the perfect example of a B-side compensating for a relatively shit single. "Tears On My Pillow" has never been one of my favourite Kylie songs but I absolutely adore "We Know The Meaning Of Love". It's a fairly standard Stock/Aitken/Waterman produced ode to young love but the song lacks the cynicism that mars some of their lazier moments and the upbeat production nicely juxtaposes the bittersweet lyrics. Many fans insist that "We Know The Meaning Of Love" was a #1 hit in Sweden but I'm yet to see any proof, so I'll put that down to urban legend. The song's phantom Swedish chart success aside, this would have made a lovely contribution to "Enjoy Yourself". Particularly to the ballad heavy second half. Check out a wonderful fan video for the extended version below. It's great to see all that old footage!

8. Never Spoken (2002)

Those three little words
Were they ready to be heard?

Another Collaboration between Kylie and Steve Anderson, "Never Spoken" is one of the four fantastic B-sides to emerge from the various releases of "In Your Eyes". This breezy slice of guitar pop isn't quite as majestic as "Tightrope" or as instantly catchy as "Good Like That" but I find myself coming back to it again and again. I love songs that capture an every day experience or emotion - like a brain fart that results in you telling someone you love them after a week. Not that I'm talking from experience anything. "Never Spoken" reminds me of a more upbeat version of "Ocean Blue" and I've often wondered if it evolved from those sessions. The track doesn't really fit the "Fever" sound at all, which might be why it stands out as such a fan favourite.

9. Soul On Fire (2003)

Forget all that I said
Can't we go back to bed?

I still remember how excited I was when I first got hold of "Slow". That stunning electro jam pushed all my buttons and the B-sides ("Soul On Fire" and "Sweet Music") promised even better things from the album. Talk about false advertising. While "Body Language" didn't quite live up to my expectations, my love for "Soul On Fire" has only deepened over time. Written by Kylie, Dan Carey and alternative pop princess Emiliana Torrini (the exact same team behind "Slow"), this seductive little number is an unexpected gem. Everything about the track is subtle and understated, from the beats to the chorus. "Soul On Fire" would have sounded amazing next to "Someday" or "Loving Days" but was cut in favour of trash like "After Dark". Go figure.

10. Carried Away (2008)

The heat of the dancefloor's just too sexy

The fabulous "X" B-sides have been conspicuously absent from my countdown thus far but I've tried to give extra to wait to songs that have already stood the test of time. "Wow" is generally considered to have delivered the best B-Sides since "In Your Eyes" with the tasty trio of "Do It Again", "Carried Away" and "Cherry Bomb". I'm fond of all three but the former is a little too Eurovision for my liking, while the latter suffers from Bloodshy & Avant's amazing ability to overproduce. "Carried Away", on the other hand, is a perfect example of what Kylie does better than any other diva - sing bright, shiny pop songs about having fun at the disco. Greg Kurstin's production is pure Eurodance, making this the closest Kylie will probably ever come to sounding like Kelly Llorenna. Which I consider to be a very good thing.

11. All I Wanna Do Is Make You Mine (1988)

I all really wanna do is make you so, so happy
All I wanna do is make you smile

As much as I love giving "Especially For You" the occasional spin, I've always preferred the B-side. "All I Wanna Do Is Make You Mine" is a rambling epic that borrows strongly from (ie. blatantly rips off) "You're The One That I Want". Little more than a demo, this cute duet with Jason Donovan sounds strangely underdone but it never fails to lift my spirits. Stock/Aitken/Waterman definitely had a patent on slightly inane but utterly joyous pop music.

12. Paper Dolls (2000)

There's nothing more I can do
Than fall a little more in love with you

"Paper Dolls" is one of the most romantic songs Kylie has ever recorded. The lyrics are gorgeous and Kylie's voice has rarely sounded so beautiful and delicate. This lovely gem was the B-side to "Spinning Around" way back in 2000 and has held up considerably better than its iconic stablemate. Yet another Steven Anderson collaboration, I think "Paper Dolls" had the potential to be a hit - it would have sounded brilliant on radio - but it just didn't fit on "Light Years". Writing about (and listening to) all these stunning tracks, I can't help but hope someone puts together a "Hits+" type compilation for the Parlophone era. These songs deserve better.

13. B.P.M. (2004)

I wanna lose myself in your beats per minute

Everything I said about "Carried Away" equally applies to "B.P.M." - well, apart from the whole Kelly Llorenna thing. This is Kylie by numbers: A fun song with a great chorus that makes you want to move your feet. Written by Kylie, Richard Stanning and Julian Gallagher, "B.P.M." came to life during the "Body Language" sessions before finally appearing as the B-side to "I Believe In You". This would have brightened up "Body Language" no end but I guess it was too catchy and upbeat for that album. Interestingly, the song has already been covered - twice! Swedish diva Dani Evermore had some chart success with her lovely version in Poland, while according to the jokers at Wikipedia 70s folk icon Janis Ian apparently covered it in 2005! I'll believe that when I hear it.

14. Just Wanna Love You (1989)

I could make you happy
If you'd take a chance on me

The Stock/Aitken/Waterman produced B-side to "Hand On Your Heart" boasts what could be the worst vocal performance of Kylie's career. Her voice comes across as dull and lifeless, while the whole thing sounds like it could have been recorded on someone's answering machine. The lyrics aren't much better. I can't help but laugh every time I hear Kylie sing "there's nothing fatal in attraction, I'm just looking for some action". And yet, I always get a cheap thrill when this pops up on my Ipod. I'm a sucker for SAW Kylie and "Just Wanna Love You" really is quite fabulous in a so bad it's great kind of way.

15. Made Of Glass (2005)

It's like a million beats in a Parisian heart

After producing Kylie's worst ever single ("Giving You Up"), Xenomania redeemed themselves somewhat by coming up with this spectacular B-side. "Made Of Glass" is everything that "Giving You Up" wasn't - fresh, original and edgy. The largely nonsensical lyrics are undeniably pretty, while the spoken word verses counterbalance the subtle but effective chorus. From memory, this was only leaked when Rachel Stevens expressed interest in butchering it. Sneaky! "Made Of Glass" was actually released as a double A-side in Australia and this received the majority of radio airplay, becoming a top 10 hit.

16. Do You Dare? (New Rave Mix) (1992)

Do you dare?
Cause if you do I'll take you there

I used to think this was the coolest song ever released back in the 90s. Listening to it now, the trashtastic B-side to "Give Me Just A Little More Time" is little more than Kylie screaming the song's title over some incredibly dated beats - courtesy of Mike Stock and Pete Waterman. It doesn't matter, I still love every second of it. Put this on, grab some glowsticks and party like it's 1992!

17. If You Don't Love Me (1994)

You can tell me anything,
I'll believe you

The most famous "Confide In Me" B-side is unquestionably Kylie's version of St. Etienne's "Nothing Can Stop Us" but I've always found that fan favourite strangely underwhelming. I much prefer the other B-side, Kylie's acoustic cover of Prefab Sprout's 1992 single "If You Don't Love Me". I would have loved to hear an electronic version along the lines of the original but the song sounds amazing stripped back to basics. Kylie's voice is gorgeous on this, those high notes still give me goosebumps. It's relatively low ranking is only due to the fact that the song reminds me so strongly of the superior "Hits+" track "Stay This Way".

18. King Or Queen (2007)

Dancefloor royalty, that's what you are to me
I salute you!

Kylie, Karen Poole and Greg Kurstin apparently brainstormed "King Or Queen" in Ibiza and you can almost smell the Sangria and sweaty Spanish nightclubs. Another tale of disco shenanigans along the lines of "Carried Away" and "B.P.M.", the "2 Hearts" B-side stands out thanks to the overtly camp lyrics and the fabulous spoken interlude. I think this would have made a nice addition to "X" but it's not as glaring an omission as "Rippin' Up The Disco" or "Lose Control". Nevertheless, this is great fun and sorely underrated among Kylie fans.

19. Say The Word - I'll Be There (1991)

If you're deep in the jungle boy
caught in a winter storm
kidnapped by anyone
I'll set you free

No this isn't a cover of the Jackson 5 classic but a bad lyric (see above) filled epic written by Kylie and two thirds of Stock/Aitken/Waterman. Objectively, I know the "Word Is Out" B-side is sentimental crap without a redeeming feature but I've always found its shortcomings hugely appealing. Maybe it's the trash lover in me but I've played "Say The Word - I'll Be There" more times over the years than I care to admit. At the very least this should hold some interest to fans due to it being so different from everything else recorded in the "Let's Get To It" era. Don't judge me!

20. Cherry Bomb (2008)

The more I think of you, the more I melt like ice cream

I mentioned earlier that I'm not a huge fan of Bloodshy & Avant's heavily produced sound but "Cherry Bomb" is superior to their other "X" contributions and the song continues to grow on me with every listen. It's hypnotic, edgy and sexy - in a robotic kind of way. The sound is very now but I wonder how it will hold up in ten years time. In the meantime I plan to play this jam. A lot.

Worst B-Sides:

I've listed my 20 favourite Kylie B-sides. Here are 5 stinkers to avoid at all costs.

1. Love At First Sight (Live) (2004)

Utterly pointless.

2. Almost A Lover (2004)

Possibly the single most vile thing Kylie has ever recorded - after "You Make Me Feel".

3. I Don't Know What It Is (2007)

The worst "X" B-side by far.

4. Boy (2001)

Plodding, uninspired dance Kylie.

5. Cover Me With Kisses (2000)

Kylie channels Shirley Bassey. Badly.

Friday, February 13, 2009

September's Trashtastic UK Makeover

John from Pop Music Notes recently wrote a great post about the age old practice of overhauling music videos for different markets. This has been going on since the dawn of the MTV generation and shows no sign of letting up. John asked for memorable examples and I named Robyn's horrible UK remake of "Handle Me" as the prime example of how not to do it but I could have just as easily listed September's dreadful update of "Cry For You" (please remember that I'm talking about the video - not the song, which I adore). Almost a year has passed since that tragedy was unleashed on unsuspecting pop fans and September has finally found the time to re-work her "Can't Get Over" film clip to coincide with the song's impending UK release. Compare the Swedish original (here) with the new version above. Happily, this time the makeover is actually a significant improvement!

I know I'm in the minority on this. Most of September's fans have railed against the cheesy sci-fi theme and hilarious special effects but I love it and think it's a trash classic in the making. The new version has spaceships, a couple of robots and an array of tacky costumes that would make Melissa Tkautz green with envy. It's like an ultra cheap version of Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head"! The original, on the other hand, was a disjointed mess that went absolutely nowhere. I will concede that Petra looked significantly better in the Swedish version (there's some serious Benjamin Buttons shit going on in the UK re-make!) but all things considered, this bright and colourful visual journey is a much better fit to what is basically a very fluffy pop song.

Speaking of the music, I love the new remix. Does anyone else think they've added a cheeky sample over the intro? It's hardly original but it works and the remix manages to beef up the production, which previously bordered on the insipid. "Can't Get Over" has never been one of my favourite tracks from "Dancing Shoes" and I'm slightly concerned for its chart prospects. I have my fingers crossed that lightning strikes twice and September rides that fabulous spaceship to the top of the pops! "Can't Get Over" is released in the UK on the 9th of March and I'm told it will more than likely get an Australian release under the newly restructured Central Station Records. I'll keep you posted.

Note: Scandipop recently conducted an interesting and insightful interview with the Swedish diva. Check it out here.

The original Swedish cover - The new artwork is yet to be released

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Julie Anthony - Here I Am (Updated)

You're looking at one of my most prized possessions. I stumbled across this amazing 80s relic on Ebay a couple of years ago and just knew that it belonged in my collection. The sight of prim and proper Julie Anthony in that fabulous tracksuit immediately caught my attention and I was interested to hear her pop material. To cut a short story even shorter, it turned out to be the best one cent I've ever spent! "Here I Am" not only delivers an endearing selection of 80s cover versions, it also gave me a whole new appreciation for one of Australia's best loved divas. Like most people under the age of 30, I had always associated Julie Anthony with two things - the national anthem and St. George bank. The former due to her habit of performing it at every second sporting event ever held in this country and the latter for her memorable television commercials. I knew that Julie had a very successful singing career in the 1970s but I had no idea it continued well into the 80s and never, ever pictured her belting out a Hi-NRG cover of Irene Cara's "Fame" or ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All"!

One Of Julie's Iconic St. George Bank Commercials

Released in 1982, "Here I Am" mainly consists of faithful renditions of modern pop hits with a couple of standards and one original track (at least I think it is) thrown in for good measure. The production is fairly formulaic but all 18 songs are lovingly performed and hold up remarkably well more than 20 years later. Part of what makes the album so interesting is the eclectic tracklist. There are a couple of obvious choices ("Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific, Elton John's "Blue Eyes" and Cliff Richard's "We Don't Talk Anymore") but the majority of "Here I Am" is weird and rather wonderful. Julie's version of "Have You Ever Been In Love" gives Leo Sayer a run for his money, while a cheerful rendition of "Arthur's Theme" sits happily next to an outrageous cover of The Carpenters' "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft" - complete with a lisping alien, no less! That is probably my favourite track on the album along with Julie's aforementioned take on ABBA's oft covered "The Winner Takes It All". As much as I love Kylie & Dannii's recent attempt, Julie's dramatic version is infinitely better. Check out Julie's stunning interpretations below:

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft

Winner Takes It All

Other memorable moments include accomplished interpretations of Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only", Stevie Wonder's "Lately" and Michael Jackson's "One Day In Your Life" - as well as a very cute rendition of Joey Scarbury's "Believe It Or Not" and a toe tapping cover of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love". The track that I think might be an original is a pretty ballad called "China Blue" (it's definitely NOT a cover of Fancy's similarly titled Eurodance classic) but hopefully someone will let me know if I'm mistaken. You can hear short clips of most of the tracks in the amazing television promo below. I'm so grateful to the person who stuck this gem on youtube. Julie's outrageous outfits, stunning perm and glamorous eye make-up deserve to be preserved for posterity! "Here I Am" was only one of several cover version heavy albums Julie released in the early 80s. All of them are highly recommended and can probably be found lying at the bottom of a bargain bin near you.

Monday, February 09, 2009

For The Love Of Merche

I've been meaning to write something about Spain's greatest living talent since returning home in December but I resisted. I honestly felt that mere words were incapable of describing her magnificence. However, an amazing gift from my Spanish friends has inspired me to try. Pablo and Bubu were kind enough to send me a copy of Merche's recently released discografia completa - a breathtaking collection that includes the Spanish diva's 4 studio albums, a disc of unreleased material and a DVD of her stunning low budget videos. It's probably the single most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life and perfectly captures the essence of Merche. I'm sure most of the people reading this are currently wondering - who the fuck is this fabulous bitch? Well, 34 years ago an angel farted over Cádiz and Mercedes Trujillo was put on earth to bring joy and bad fashion to the masses. She is an icon in Spain and one of my favourite divas. Here is my brief guide to Merche.

Before there was Merche, there was Luna. That was the awful stage name my sweet petal used to compete for Eurovision selection in 2001. In a shocking turn of events, Spain's gift to the world only came 6th in the national finals but she caught the attention of Vale Music and scored a record deal. Thankfully, they changed her name back to Merche for the release of her debut album in 2002. "Mi Sueño" is almost as classy as the cover (above). It's an engaging collection of pop songs - with a bit of flamenco flavour and even a slight Latin feel. The album is also notable for the fact that Merche wrote all the lyrics and music herself, making her perhaps the most fabulous singer songwriter in the history of music! "Mi Sueño" reached number 12 in Spain and sold Platinum on the back of four hit singles. I particularly love "Como Pude" but I think this single best sums up early Merche:

"No Me Pidas Más Amor" is a percussion heavy jam that showcases Merche's knack for writing a catchy chorus. The video (above) also established her amazing lack of style and helps explain why she is cruelly considered a low class trashbag by Spanish snobs. While it's true that Merche looks like a $10 prostitute who just got off the bus from Mil Viviendas, that's part of what makes her so fabulous. She really has the common touch! I particularly love her Kelly Llorenna sunglasses and the hideous brown leather skirt. However, the best thing about the video is Merche's amazing dance moves, her sexy bedroom eyes and the really hot guy! Mi Sueño is to meet him next time I'm in Spain.

2004's "Auténtica" was my introduction to Merche and gets my vote for her best album. It also brings back so many great memories of Spain. Parker insisted I listen to some Merche when I hung out with him and Coque in Alicante and even gave me one of his famous lectures about her greatness. As usual, he was right. It was love at first sight when I saw Merche's beautiful face staring back at me from a row of CDs in FNAC. For her second album, the Spanish goddess turned to Sweden for inspiration. The album was recorded at Dreamworld Studios in Stockholm and the Swedish producers gave Merche's music a new poptastic dimension. "Auténtica" was an even bigger success than "Mi Sueño". It peaked at number 7, spawned 5 singles and sold over 100,000 copies (which surprisingly is quite a lot for Spain). I love the entire album but special mention has to go to "Abre Tu Mente" (below).

I thought Dannii was the only diva fabulous enough to sing an upbeat dance song about domestic violence (ie. "Love Fight") but Merche did it first. And better. "Abre Tu Mente" is apparently a commentary on abused women - not that you can tell from the catchy beats and uplifting chorus! The video, as usual, is an absolute triumph. The first thing you notice is Merche's glamorous new image. Instead of looking like a prostitute, my angel now resembles a transvestite with her big hair and killer heels. For full effect, check out her stunning black leather bra and mini-skirt combination in the nightclub! Apart from the fashion, other highlights include Merche's brilliant acting and the hot, shirtless guy playing her husband. For more "Auténtica" trash, check out the amazing video for "Me Han Vuelto Loca". There's more man flesh on display and Merche raids her local brothel for some style hints. The slutty dance routine in the middle of the street is heaven!

If "Auténtica" was Merche's experiment with Europop, then 2005's "Necesito Libertad" is very much her American opus. The album was recorded in Miami and produced by Marcello Azevedo, who had previously worked with lesser talents like Paulina Rubio and Marc Anthony. Marcello's bold style was a great fit for Merche. The big ballads really showcase her amazing voice, while the uptempo tracks have a distinctly Latin feel. It's basically a return to the blueprint of her first album - only with better songs and production. That combination proved irresistible and "Necesito Libertad" swiftly became a top 5 hit in Spain and remains Merche's biggest selling album. There's so much to enjoy about this gem (I love "Dos extraños", "Todo Un Riesgo", "No Lo Olvido" and the title track) but the highlights are definitely "Eras Tú" (below) and "Bombón".

"Eras Tú" is the Spanish sensation's highest selling single and one of my all time favourite ballads. This is very much the kind of music Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera would make if they could speak Spanish. Properly. It's dramatic, emotional and completely over the top. Merche loses her restraint but it only makes "Eras Tú" all the more enjoyable. Unfortunately, I think Merche also turned to Mariah and Xtina for styling tips. The theme for this album is definitely "hooker" but it's a look that Merche does better than any other woman on the planet. She actually looks quite dignified in the "Eras Tú" video apart from the ugly Shakira hairstyle but she's back to her trashtastic best for "Bombón". This song and video sums up everything I love about goddess Merche. The red "dress" is amazing and those dance moves!

Who is the bland bitch on the cover of 2007's "Cal y Arena"? I refuse to believe that boring housewife is my Merche. A makeover was probably long overdue but some fuckwit has sucked all the fun out of my baby. Merche fans expect her to look like she's been styled by blind drag queens. This new, classy image was an unpleasant shock to my system! Unfortunately, the content of the album reflects the sterility of the cover. Produced by Carlos Jean (Miguel Bose, Marta Sanchez etc), "Cal y Arena" strips Merche's music back to the very basics. The sound is very organic, almost acoustic - which is typical for the Spanish charts. Unfortunately, this horrible less is more approach doesn't suit Merche's natural flamboyance at all and the album is a bit of a disappointment in comparison to her previous masterpieces. I guess it's not all bad. The title track and lead single (below) is delicate and pretty, while the follow-up, "Ya No Me Digas Lo Siento", is the closest thing to an upbeat pop track on the album. However, the highlight is the lovely third single. "Ángeles" is a soft ballad with a truly Merche-tastic video. She looks absolutely gorgeous and appears to be hanging out in some kind of gay bar. Well, that's the only explanation I can think of for the classy finale, which finds two hot men with angel's wings kissing. So Merche, so fabulous.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Liena - Go Crazy

There has been a distinct lack of exciting new faces on the local pop scene for the past few months but the drought has finally been broken by 20 year old Sydneysider Liena. The budding diva has been on my radar since mid-2008 but she has only just got around to releasing her amazing debut single. "Go Crazy" is a seriously fabulous slice of Australian pop. Produced by the super hot Audius (the man responsible for Jessica Mauboy's hit album), this is an effortlessly catchy summer jam that would sound perfect blasting from the radio. It's upbeat, fun and very now. Liena lists Beyoncé, Rihanna and Mariah among her influences - and while there is a distinct urban flavour to most of her music, "Go Crazy" is unashamedly POP. The song is available to download from iTunes now. The bundle comes with a couple of fun remixes, while the B-side, "End Of The Road", showcases her R'n'B leanings. Check out Liena's myspace and give "Go Crazy" a listen - I have it streaming below.

Go Crazy:

Friday, February 06, 2009

Drinks With CC Martini

After almost a year of being "internet friends" (that sounded a lot less sad in my head), I finally met CC Martini in person last week. Australia's queen of pip pop - hip hop tinged pop - had just flown in from the States, where she has been hatching her plans for future world domination, and was in the mood to unwind with a few cocktails. A great idea under normal circumstances but I had been partying since midday and was in a complete state by the time we caught up. Thankfully CC is a really cool chick and pretended not to notice my general lack of motor skills. Bless. Despite the not so classy start, it turned out to be an awesome night. We knocked back some delicious passionfruit Caprioskas and wandered around King's Cross chatting about everything from CC's American trip to the merits of Katy Perry. I managed to do a bit of digging about the new demos (CC sang the chorus of "Dress Me Up" on the street - sounds amazing!) but mostly we just talked about normal stuff. I did, however, take some hot photos. I'm loving the pic of CC posing on the back of some dude's truck in the middle of the Cross. That shit should be her next album cover! There's also a happy snap of us together below. I had a great time and can't wait to do it again. CC, move to Sydney and be my new BFF!

Essential CC Martini Links:

"Double Dutch" Video Clip
"Champagne Taste" Video Clip
Her Myspace
Her Facebook
Interview 1
Interview 2

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sheena Easton - A Private Heaven

Every now and again someone will ask me to name my ten favourite albums of all time. Over the years the list has changed radically (the brief inclusion of Holly Valance's "State Of Mind" was a memorable miscalculation) but a handful of discs make a regular appearance. If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island for a year, I would definitely take Olivia Newton-John's "Totally Hot", Dannii's "Neon Nights", La Toya's "Heart Don't Lie" and Kylie's "Light Years" - along with as much food and porn as I could possibly carry! I would also pack my cherished copy of Sheena Easton's 1984 masterpiece "A Private Heaven". It pains me that Sheena will forever be remembered as the "Morning Train" girl. As great as that song is, there was and is so much more to this amazing Scottish diva. I love Sheena's early material but "A Private Heaven" took things to an entirely new level.

The seeds for "A Private Heaven" can be traced back to Sheena's hugely underrated 1983 album "Best Kept Secret", which updated her output from ballad heavy soft rock to more contemporary uptempo pop. That album not only revived Sheena's career in the US (it became a Gold selling top 40 hit) but also introduced her to producer Greg Mathieson, who would again take the reigns on "A Private Heaven". Chances are if a song was camp, fabulous and released in the 1980s - Greg had something to do with it. Toni Basil's "Mickey" and Laura Branigan's "Gloria" are just two of his contributions to popular music. While "Best Kept Secret" subtly modernised Sheena's sound, "A Private Heaven" offered a complete transformation. The pretty girl next door emerged as a sex siren complete with an impressive arsenal of edgy dance-pop anthems. The album was an instant hit in America where it sold over a million copies and spawned three popular singles. Inexplicably, "A Private Heaven" failed to chart in the UK and stalled at #88 in Australia. Perhaps the mix of synth-pop and melodic R'n'B was simply too American for the international market but I suspect the real culprit was the album's controversial lyrics - but I'll get to that later. Whatever the reason, the rest of the world missed out on one the best pop recordings of all time. Here is my track by track review:


The album's opening track doubles as a declaration of intent. "Strut" is a winning mix of driving beats and suggestive lyrics that still sounds vibrant today. The song perfectly showcased Sheena's new found confidence and attitude. The production was cutting edge and the kinky lines about wearing "leather and lace" and "feeling like a girl for hire" must have raised eyebrows back in the day. This was a completely transformed woman. Written by Julian Littman and 70s pop star Charlie Dore (who would go on to pen tunes for Celine Dion and German girlband No Angels), "Strut" earned Ms Easton a Grammy nomination for best pop/rock vocal performance and became one of her biggest hits - peaking at #7 in America and reaching the Australian top 20. Watch the video (above). No one works the camera quite like Sheena!

Sugar Walls

If "A Private Heaven" is remembered at all today it is usually for housing the Prince penned trash classic "Sugar Walls", which imbued the album with an air of notoriety that lingers to this very day. With amazing lyrics like "blood races to your private spots" and "come spend the night inside my sugar walls", it's pretty clear that this tune isn't referring to a gingerbread house! I doubt a mainstream diva would even get away with this kind of sauciness today (take, for example, the controversy surrounding Britney's comparatively prudish "If You Seek Amy") but the track caused a major scandal at the time. "Sugar Walls" became one of the few songs to be banned from MTV for lyrical content and was even included on Tipper Gore's "Filthy Fifteen" - a list of songs considered to be indecent and morally reprehensible. The media backlash did little to curb the song's popularity and it followed "Strut" into the American top 20, becoming something of a pop culture phenomenon. The controversy had a greater impact internationally, however, where the song failed to chart in just about every market. Despite the dodgy innuendo, "Sugar Walls" is an absolutely magnificent pop song. Admittedly the lyrics are highly dubious (and very amusing) but the production is unbelievably tight and the chorus is pure magic. Prince was at the height of his powers when he wrote this and Sheena was the perfect muse. They would go on to work together again many times but this is by far their finest achievement and remains a true 80s classic. Check out the banned video below.

Hungry Eyes

A single in Japan, "Hungry Eyes" is a Hi-NRG slice of 80s keyboard heaven. The catchy chorus is set against some truly weird and wonderful sound effects, making for one of the album's hidden treasures. Written by the album's producer and Trevor Veitch (who worked extensively with Donna Summer), "Hungry Eyes" positively channels Harold Faltermeyer's early experiments with electronica. The track hasn't aged quite as gracefully as some of the others but I think it perfectly reflects everything that was good about mid-80s pop music. I wish Sheena hasd played around with this sound more. It suited her voice and would have worked wonders in Europe.

Hard To Say It's Over

"Hard To Say It's Over" is a complete showstopper. This is the kind of searing power ballad that would have made Cher and Barbra Streisand green with envy. I've often wondered why this wasn't a single. It would have connected with Sheena's old fanbase and gone down a storm on American radio. I love the bombastic guitar solos and Sheena's brilliant vocal delivery always gives me goosebumps. I was interested to learn while researching this post that the song was co-written by Australian pop star Gino Cunico, who was signed to Arista in the 1970s. Some truly amazing artists contributed their talent to this album. And it shows.


If you need any further proof of Sheena's credentials as an innovator, check out the album's third single. Ms Easton incorporates a spoken word rap on "Swear" half a decade before Madonna got around to it on "Vogue". However, that's only a small part of the song's appeal. "Swear" is a fiery revelation from beginning to end with its driving guitar (that sounds vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"), attitude filled lyrics and experimental production. I wasn't aware until recently that the song was a cover and you can check out Tim Scott's original version here. In retrospect, I'm not surprised that it was originally performed by a man. "Swear" is such a strong and muscular track. Sheena's interpretation completely turns the gender issue inside out, making the song all the more powerful. The video (below) is also something of a masterpiece. Clearly inspired by Michael Jackson, the clip is a three and a half minute explosion of 80s fashion and fabulousness.

Love & Affection

I have often thought that "Love & Affection" is the odd song out on "A Private Heaven". This sublime cover of Joan Armatrading's 1979 top 10 hit is the only cut that wouldn't sound out of place on one Sheena's early albums. While the rest of "A Private Heaven" is a boisterous celebration of mid-80s musical trends, there's something pristine and classic about this gem. Joan is a pretty hard act to follow but this version is a silky smooth delight. I love the crispness of the production and Sheena's understated vocal delivery is nothing short of exquisite. "Love & Affection" hasn't aged a day and is one of the few examples of a cover version matching the quality of the original.

Back In The City

Greg Mathieson and Trevor Veitch rope in the services of guitar legend Lee Ritenour for the album's only Latin flavoured jam. There's something so summery and laid back about "Back In The City". The slinky chorus is subtle yet catchy, while the heavy percussion adds a whole new dimension to the proceedings. Sheena released a Spanish language album ("Todo Me Recuerda a Ti") in Latin America around the same time as "A Private Heaven" and I've often wondered if "Back In The City" somehow evolved from those sessions. I was pretty sure the song was never released as a single so it was quite a surprise to discover the video clip on youtube (below). It's very grainy but still rather fabulous.

You Make Me Nervous

The keyboards return in full force for "You Make Me Nervous". Written by the team behind Robbie Nevil's 80s hit "C'est La Vie", this slice of 80s dance music isn't the finest moment on "A Private Heaven" but it is rather pleasant filler. I love the electronic sound but the guitar solos are unnecessary and the chorus feels slightly disconnected from the verses. It is, however, a welcome return to the uptempo pace of the opening tracks after a couple of mid-tempo detours.

All By Myself

The album's second big ballad is not a cover of Eric Carmen's similarly titled classic but an original penned by Trevor Veitch and Steve Lukather (the ex-Toto band member who heavily contributed to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album). "All By Myself" doesn't quite reach the melodramatic heights of "Hard To Say It's Over" but the delicate production and emotional lyrics more than make up for it. As usual, Sheena's voice is pitch perfect and utterly exquisite. I'd love to see this performed live.

Double Standard

It's only fitting that such a consistently brilliant album end on a high and "Double Standard" more than fulfils that objective. This extremely catchy serving of 80s synth-pop has always been one of my favourite songs on the album. It's just so upbeat and fun. I love the adorable chorus and Greg's production is spot on. "Double Standard" also reminds strongly me of Olivia Newton-John's output at the time, which isn't a coincidence. The song was written by Steve Kipner, who composed ONJ classics like "Physical", "Heart Attack" and "Twist Of Fate". It's a huge compliment to say that Sheena's effort more than holds its own in that lofty company.

A quarter of a century has passed since "A Private Heaven" was recorded and the years have wearied it to some extent. The album was very much a product of its time and some of the tracks sound very dated. However, that's also part of the album's immense charm. "A Private Heaven" is a veritable audio time capsule of 80s music trends and production techniques. It's a snapshot of a time when popular music was still inventive, irreverent and fun. Most of all, it showcases an amazing diva at the very peak of her formidable powers. "A Private Heaven" is a near perfect pop album that deserves to be remembered, appreciated and acknowledged as a triumph.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pop Trash Guide To London

A group of my Spanish friends are flying over to London next week and turned to me for some travel advice. As the world's worst tourist I'm probably the last person they should be asking but I'll do my best. Sightseeing bores the hell out of me and, if I'm totally honest, London generally rubs me the wrong way. That said, I always seem to go back for more so it must have something going for it. The city's appeal has a lot to do with my amazing friends (Mark, Paul & Bobby - I miss you!) but London is not without charm. I'm told it has a lot of pretty buildings and historical landmarks but I've never been very interested in piles of old bricks. You can complete my tour for a tenner and still have enough memories to last a lifetime! Here goes nothing...

1. Breakfast Bliss

No one does breakfast quite like the British. I suggest starting the day with a "butty" (bread roll) filled with sausage, eggs and bacon. From experience this is best consumed with a side dish of baked beans and extra toast. If you want to be fancy, order yourself a nice cup of Earl Grey. The delicious concoction above left my tastebuds screaming for more and cost all of two pounds. Value!

2. Channel Kerry Katona

The single best thing about the United Kingdom is Kerry Katona. Living in London, I became completely obsessed with her drunken television interviews, post plastic surgery nude spreads and signature fragrance, which she exclusively revealed smells "like me, like kebabs". Best of all, however, are Kerry's amazing commercials for Iceland (above) - a budget supermarket specialising in frozen food. One of my favourite pastimes in London was to grab a trolley and stroll the aisles of Iceland in the hope of running into Kerry. It never happened but the dream continues.

3. Be A Hoxton Twat

London is the home of all things cutting edge and cool, so you might as well get a taste while you're there. When in Rome and all that. I'm rather fond of East London but it is home to some of the nation's most pretentious wankers, so head over to Hoxton and do a bit of people watching. Just bring your skinny jeans and pretend to be strung out on heroin if you don't want to be mistaken for a tourist.

4. Walk Around Soho

Get on the tube and head over to Soho. It isn't the gay mecca it once was but it's still fun to wander around. There are a couple of second hand CD stores worth checking out, a bunch of sex shops for sluts (like my Spanish friends) and the former home of GAY nightclub. Lay some flowers in front of the Astoria in tribute for all the times a glamorous Minogue graced the stage. Make sure to pick up a copy of "Boyz" so you can make plans for the evening. Soho is also close to all the major stores - so drop into HMV, Borders or Zavvi for the latest Ladyhawke 7" vinyl.

5. Eat Some Fried Chicken

After all that walking, chances are you'll be famished. One of the most exciting things about London is the seemingly endless choice of fried chicken. When I stayed in the glamorous surrounds of Peckham, I counted 9 different outlets on the one road! I personally survived eating at Morley's, Texas Fried Chicken, CFC, Perfect Chicken and the Chicken Cottage. They all taste like the poor man's KFC so there's no point being choosy.

6. The Tate Modern

If you don't need to spend the next hour on the toilet, use the time to walk around the Tate Modern. I'm not completely immune to culture and the Tate Modern is my favourite gallery in London by far. I love the ugliness of the building and I'm yet to see a boring exhibition there. It's also close to St Paul's and most of the big landmarks, so you can tick a bunch of boring tourist attractions off your list in one fell swoop.

7. Watch Some Trash TV

It's time to return to the hotel for some down time after all that exertion. I've always found an hour or two of trash TV to be the perfect antidote to a busy day and the British are world leaders in the field. I never really got into UK soaps with their light-hearted themes of child abuse and mental illness but reality TV more than makes up for it. "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here", "Celebrity Big Brother" and "X Factor" are all world famous but I suggest checking out "The Underdog Show" (basically a bunch of Z Grade celebrities train dogs) and "Hole In The Wall". I love the horse faced hostess of the former and the latter could well be the most brilliant show ever made. Basically, the lowest "celebrities" on earth play human Tetris. It's genius - check it out above!

8. Eat Dinner

Defrost the frozen banquet you purchased in Iceland. I find paper plates and plastic cutlery perfectly compliment this feast.

9. Buy Bad Drugs In Vauxhall

After downing your delicious meal, it's time to hit the town. Consult your copy of "Boyz" to find a suitable location, which more than likely is located in Vauxhall. The clubs in Vauxhall are great but the real highlight is chatting with the mobile drug dealers that hang around each and every venue. The guys are usually good for a laugh and are generally pretty harmless. Just be aware that you will probably end up snorting crushed aspirin.

10. Experience Kelly Wilde Live

As far as I'm concerned, your London sojourn is completely invalid without witnessing the glorious goddess of Hi-NRG pop - Miss Kelly Wilde. This amazing diva's breathtaking vocals, stunning dance moves and exquisite costumes are the thing of legend. I was lucky enough to see Kelly at two extremely classy gay bars ("The Two Brewers" and "The Black Cap") and both evenings were unforgettable. Check her busy schedule here.

Bon voyage, boys. Have a fantastic time!