Once more, we throw ourselves into the precipice of new album releases. Which acts have their parachutes firmly attached and who's trusting their fate to a rucksack and crossed fingers?
You can tell it's nearly Christmas time when the music industry's big hitters start to release their albums. This week, we have a stand off between Little Mix's Glory Days and Bruno Mars' 24K Magic. Both albums, while being catchy enough, high energy and perfect for a Christmas party where no-one is really listening, have quite significant problems. Bruno Mars, whether through personal choice or that or a record executive somewhere, has settled into a narrative that he seems unable to break whereas Little Mix can't quite seem to make up their mind what kind of image they are trying to give out to people.
Here is the day that record executives want you to believe Bruno Mars is having every day. Wake up, kick two women out of bed (Calling All My Lovelies). Drink some expensive alcohol (That's What I Like), run a comb through his hair once and achieve perfection (Perm). Go to a party, go to another party, go to a third party, go to one more for good measure (24K Magic). At each one, have every guest dazzled by his effortless cool and hanging off every twitch of his ball sack (Finesse). Then he cracks open the slow jams (Versace On The Floor, Straight Up & Down) for the benefit of a woman who clearly hasn't been listening to the way he's been speaking about women up until now (Chunky). No wonder he's alone and miserable in final track Too Good To Say Goodbye.
Though I didn't believe debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans was quite the masterpiece some people made out it was, at least it felt honest. It combined real, touching love songs like Just The Way You Are with sillier ditties like The Lazy Song and Count On Me. It wasn't obsessed with trying to hammer home a celebrity myth. There was a vulnerability to it as opposed to this album which just feels like a vain, quite chauvanistic man shouting 'look at me, look at me, I'm cool, I'm cool, I'm chilled, I'm cool, now take your clothes off' which is not really to my taste.
Little Mix, on the other hand, are having a far less mysogynistic time of things. Their narrative is girl power which is great. Songs Shout Out To My Ex, You Gotta Not, the unsubtly named Power and to a lesser extent Down & Dirty touch on the topic. I do have a fundamental concern though and that is song F.U. which has completely the opposite message. It is about a man who is 'dirty', 'disgusting', 'cheatin'' and 'lyin' but who the girls 'can't get enough of'. I don't think this is a message I would want to give my daughter for Christmas and I am amazed that anyone can sing the line 'I wish you were dead 'til you take me to bed' without immediately projectile vomiting.
Little Mix are one of the most successful, and in my opinion the most bearable, X Factor contestants since the programme's conception. In fact, their rendition of En Vogue's Don't Let Go (Love) was one of the few times I have not wanted an X Factor performance to end prematurely in a fiery ball of carnage. The problem that Little Mix have that Bruno Mars doesn't is that their back catalogue is not strong or diverse enough to get away with this paint by numbers songwriting. They have pretty much adopted their image since the very beginning and history has taught us it can only end one of two ways. Either they will organically change their approach and take a risk as to whether it osmoses or their Zayn Malik equivalent will pop her head above the parapet and it will all start to disassemble. I would pick their album over the Bruno Mars one but only because it didn't make me feel the need to have a shower afterwards.
If you fancy an alternative to vacuous chart fare, released earlier this week was a beautiful collection of the work of Washington Phillips entitled Washington Phillips And His Manzarene Dreams. A gospel and blues singer and pseudo-preacher from the late 1920s, Phillips uses his distinctive gravelled voice and simple string accompaniment to take us back to another world. During a time where electronic sound recording was in its relative infancy, it is amazing to think what work must have gone into capturing these songs. This knowledge amplifies every word on this album. It feels contemplated and, in an era where even the idlest thought can be stored for eternity through social media, Phillips made me feel nostalgic for a time where people who had something to say worked tirelessly to make sure their voice was heard.
A nice touch is that the tracks don't feel tampered with. I'm sure with modern methods, they could be cleaned up quite significantly but there is something so comforting about the crackles and imperfections. A particular favourite of mine is What Are They Doing In Heaven Today which was used in such an impactful fashion in Elizabethtown, one of my favourite films. All in all, a fantastic collection of songs that have survived nearly a hundred years to reach us.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Party time for Mars
Mix are a Little confused
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