First of all, let's not be delusional about it. When Take That became a Beatles–sized phenomenon in the U.K. in the early to mid-'90s, they were both one notch above New Kids on the Block and one notch below: One notch above, perhaps, because band member Gary Barlow was actually a co-songwriter on all of their material since the beginning, and one notch below because taking off your shirt was a non-negotiable part of the audition process. (Needless to say, their pecs and abs were in fine order.) But something happened along the way, and it's a story that remains unprecedented in the last 30 years of boy band history: In the ten years that it took for Take That to break up and get back together, all five members somehow managed to become accomplished songwriters in their own right, and the resulting comeback records — 2006's Beautiful World and 2008's The Circus — were pleasurably sophisticated self-written albums that objectively validated this development. Last year's Progress was the first Take That album to feature Robbie Williams since 1996, and it was, by all accounts, the band's second reinvention. Progressed, an 8-song EP out today, is an extension of that sound — a retromodern synth-based pop produced by Stuart Price, whose work with the Killers and Keane are good reference points here — but it's also their first attempt to integrate the current direction with the anthemic orchestral pop that defined their first comeback: Album opener "When We Were Young" merges acoustic and electronic elements with Williams and Barlow's wistful back-and-forth and "The Day The Work Is Done" suggests that Mark Owen — whose solo albums veered more towards British indie rock — is Take That's most under-appreciated talent. If Progressed makes a wrong turn anywhere, it's arguably when the band falls too far back into the mid-'90s schmaltz and pomp of overwrought ballads like "Don't Say Goodbye." Because, as the album's title implies, Take That have always seemed to fare better when they're moving forward.
Currently out on a co-headlining tour with Taking Back Sunday, Thursday's Lukas Previn composed an interesting tweet on Saturday in which he revealed that the band had been tipped off to a potential protest of their Seattle concert by the Westboro Baptist Church. In response to the Westboro rhetoric, and in solidarity with the gay community, Previn tweeted, "We all are wearing pride flag t-shirts and Geoff and I just got called sodomites." A photo of the band wearing these rainbow flag t-shirts on before the show surfaced on the Internet, but Westboro were, at last tweet, a no-show.
This week's most bizarre story: Two men were arrested in an alleged plot to murder British singer Joss Stone. The men were arrested outside of her home carrying swords, rope, and a body bag. For her part, Stone is not unhinged: "I'm all good," she said. "People are crazy, but that's OK. I'm carrying on, I'm painting my bathroom. I'm baking cakes."
Were it not for Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, the space in rock music that occupies radical feminist activism and queer empowerment would be a whole lot emptier. This week it was announced that her latest project, The Julie Ruin — which also features Bikini Kill's Kathi Wilcox and Kiki and Herb's Kenny Mellman — are currently recording an album slated for release in January.
In addition to his forthcoming "techno album" with Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, this week Vince Clarke announced the return of Erasure. The duo will be touring in America this summer, while the new album — called Tomorrow's World and produced with Frankmusik — gets its release in the fall.
In case you missed it, Patti Smith inexplicably appeared on this weekend's Law & Order: Criminal Intent to play "Columbia University mythology professor Cleo Alexander." You can watch the clip now.
One more week until Patrick Wolf's Lupercalia makes its way to the States as an import, but until then, enjoy this top-of-his-game cover of Kate Bush's iconic "Army Dreamers."
Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino revealed that the video for their forthcoming single "Our Deal" will be directed by Drew Barrymore, and features appearances by iCarly's Miranda Cosgrove, Community's Donald Glover, and that awesome kick-ass girl with the purple hair from, umm, Kick-Ass. In other words, they can't go wrong.
Nerina Pallot's fourth album begins with "Put Your Hands Up" — the song she originally wrote for Kylie Minogue with husband Andy Chatterley, who makes progressive house records under the aliases of Skylark and The Buick Project. In Pallot's hands, it's not an Aphrodite-styled pop number nor a club track, but a vintage, bluesy, guitar-based song — and by the end of its first chorus, it's obvious that hers is the definitive version. Year Of The Wolfis like that: It's a pop album in the sense that the song is the thing, and Pallot's songcraft paired with an unlikely, but necessary production by Suede's Bernard Butler surprisingly positions Wolf for a potential breakthrough of Adele-like proportions. Tracks like "All Bets Are Off" or "I Do Not Want What I Do Not Have" (co-written by Linda Perry) are vintage, but not throwback; they hark to a golden era of pop music but resist the urge to wax nostalgic. In other words, timeless.
To the world outside of underground techno, John Tejada is probably best known as a technical advisor to The Postal Service's Jimmy Tamborello, who enlisted the producer for help on his James Figurine solo album in addition to working on The Postal Service remix of Feist's "Mushaboom." But in the clubs, Tejada is a respected producer and DJ whose work spans over fifteen years and literally hundreds of tracks. Parabolas is his first album for Kompakt, and with it, Tejada offers a refined sense of musicality and an expanded palette of subdued tricknology. The minimal breakbeat of "Subdivided" or the elegant melodic techno of "The Honest Man" tend to insinuate that Tejada is classically trained, which he is. But they are also cleverly designed to make you forget it.
The irrepressible Matt & Kim return with the second single from their sleeper third album Sidewalks, and here's the thing: Every time Matt & Kim make a new video, I'm convinced — if only for three-and-a-half minutes — that they're the best band in the world. Or that they should be my best friends. Because you can't not be happy watching this.
Rye Rye — "New Thing"
It's only been a week since Rye Rye released a video for her collaboration with Robyn; this week, the Baltimore rapper teams up with fashion designer Prabul Gurung for the second video from her long-awaited debut album. "New Thing" was directed by fashion photographer Kenneth Cappello and showcases Gurung's latest resort collection — which also serves as inspiration for the clip's set and lighting design.
Stars — "We Don't Want Your Body"
Seeing as gay men are often targeted for our alleged obsessions with body image, it's a relief to see Stars shine a light on the straights: Honestly, the men and women who star in "We Don't Want Your Body" make most of the guys on BigMuscle look kind of scrawny.
Belle & Sebastian — "I Didn't See It Coming" (Richard X Remix)
It wasn't until I first heard this track that I realized how overdue Belle & Sebastian were for a remix. Richard X, who has written and produced singles for Kelis and Sugababes in the past, almost effortlessly transforms this indie folk song into a Kylie–styled melodic club track, which — in some sort of alternate universe, anyway — actually has the muscle to put Belle & Sebastian on a modern pop chart.
(Apologies - posted this without the video earlier)
Via Joe comes this uplifting re-do of Erasure's "A Little Respect" from Andy Bell and LGBT youth at the Hetrick Martin Institute, along with some other cameos.
"Proceeds from the track will be donated to The Hetrick-Martin Institute, the home of the Harvey Milk High School, in New York, and the True Colors Fund. The Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation's oldest and largest LGBTQ youth service organization, provides a safe and supportive environment to all young people -- regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity so that they can achieve their full potential. The HMI Redux features a youth chorus from the Hetrick-Martin Institute who also appear in the music video, directed by filmmaker Jason Stein."
Originally released as a single in 1988 from the Erasure album 'The Innocents', 'A Little Respect' reached #2 on the Billboard Dance Charts and became a signature tune for the synthpop duo Erasure, as well as becoming an anthem for the gay rights movement.
The new recording of 'A Little Respect' will now include a youth chorus from The Hetrick-Martin Institute and it will be released as a download by Mute Records. A new documentary-style video, conceived by filmmaker Jason Stein of Laundry Service Media, will accompany the new recording. Both the single and video - which is intended to include cameos from high-profile supportive friends in the gay-straight community - are scheduled for release in mid-December with proceeds from the download of the music single earmarked to benefit The Hetrick-Martin Institute and the True Colors Fund.
In the wake of the tragic gay bullying incidents and related suicides across the country, Andy Bell was motivated to take action. As one of popular music's first openly-gay celebrities Bell felt compelled to get involved. "I am honored and moved beyond words to serve as an Ambassador to the The Hetrick-Martin Institute. Every opportunity we have to spread tolerance and compassion must be seized and I will take special pride in doing so on HMI's behalf."
Proceeds from the single will benefit The Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School, and Cyndi Lauper's charity the True Colors Fund.
Robbie Daw presents a weekly pop music update here on Towleroad. Robbie runs his own site called Chart Rigger.
This spring has seen somewhat of an electro-pop revolution coming out of England, and leading the charge, so to speak, is London-based duo La Roux (aka, Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid).
The pair's single "In For The Kill" cracked the Top 10 of the U.K. chart this week, and a remix of the tune is being included on the "Quicksand" EP that's to be released here in the States via Cherrytree/Interscope this coming Tuesday. In the meantime, you can download "Quicksand" in its original form, as well as several remixes, in an indie EP already up on U.S. iTunes.
La Roux have been doing several North American gigs this week. Tomorrow they perform at San Francisco's Popscene, while Saturday they'll be doing the Wyndham Palm Springs Hotel's Saturday Pool Party during White Party weekend. They wrap things up in the States at L.A.'s Roxy on Sunday night.
Below are some recent synth-heavy clips from across the pond:
LA ROUX: Their video for "In For The Kill."
ANTIGONE: The Aussie-born, London-based singer's "More Man Than Man." Her new single "Promiscuity" was added to iTunes this week, and her album AntigoneLand will be available on April 20.
CALVIN HARRIS: The 25-year-old Scottish songwriter/producer's new single "I'm Not Alone."
LITTLE BOOTS: A live clip of her upcoming late-May release "New In Town." Little Boots played South By Southwest in Austin last month.
It's hard to believe, but today marks 15 years since Kurt Cobain was found dead. Technically, his suicide is said to have taken place on April 5. Whether you're a fan of Nirvana's music or not, it certainly was a moment of cultural significance, and, as cliched as it sounds, the end of an era. Do you remember where you were when the news broke? (I'd just finished classes that Friday afternoon during my sophomore college year, and walked into the library where a bunch of students were talking about it.)
Two Suns, the second album from Bat For Lashes (aka Natasha Khan).
Erasure's career-spanning hits set Total Pop!—40 Hits. Also available in a 3-CD/DVD version is Total Pop!—Deluxe Box. Andy Bell will be signing copies of the collection at L.A.'s Amoeba Records tomorrow after doing an in-store DJ set.
Robbie Daw presents a weekly pop music update here on Towleroad. Robbie runs his own site called Chart Rigger.
Yesterday (March 2) marked 10 years since the death of British soul singer Dusty Springfield, known for such songs as "Wishin' And Hopin'," "I Only Want To Be With You" and "Son Of A Preacher Man." After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Dusty passed away the day she was to receive the OBE (Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace, and 10 days before she was to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in the U.S. She was 59.
At her funeral in London, Elton John noted, "I think she is the greatest white singer that there ever has been," while Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys said, "I think Dusty would have been amazed and moved to learn how much she means to people, what an impact her singing has made, what fondness people feel for her. The British have always taken pop music surprisingly seriously and they know that Dusty Springfield was unique, a soul singer, a star, the real thing. Dusty's voice is always there to lift you up when you're down. I feel proud that we knew her and worked with her and played a small part in her fabulous life. She was 'fab', and because of her music, she always will be."
The site Broadway World stated yesterday that Wicked and Pushing Daisies actress Kristin Chenoweth is currently developing a movie based on the life of Springfield, which Playbill mentioned in 2005 would focus on the singer's life while recording her classic 1969 album Dusty In Memphis.
Below are some clips of Dusty Springfield both in her prime in the '60s and after her successful comeback in the 1980s.
If you're planning to see M83 perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this Saturday, don't expect to hear "Kim & Jessie" or anything off the French band's recent album Saturdays = Youth. Says frontman Anthony Gonzales, "We'll play tracks that are more like orchestral material—mostly songs from my previous albums, for example 'Before The Dawn Heals Us', because I don't think it's really interesting to play pop songs with the orchestra."
The reunited No Doubt (above) to perform on the May 11 season finale of Gossip Girl. Then band will do a cover of Adam and the Ants' "Stand And Deliver" on the hit nighttime teen soap, before Gwen Stefani and Co. head off on tour this summer.
Metalheads, get ready to rock the big screen. The high-def documentary Iron Maiden: Flight 666 will air for one day only (April 21) on 400 screens in 34 different countries. The film chronicles Iron Maiden circling the globe on a Boeing 757 to perform 23 sold out stadium and arena shows. The band was named Best Live Act at the Brit Awards two weeks ago.
An interesting review of Erasure's Total Pop!—The First 40 Hits compilation from U.K. site The Quietus: "That Erasure were fated forever to remain in the critical and commercial shadow of fellow synth-pop behemoths the Pet Shop Boys seems largely down to their more overtly gay aesthetic: while Q journalists and Mondeo Man alike could cheerfully endorse the latter’s arch pop nous and ambiguous sexuality without too many hang-ups, it was harder to fully embrace Erasure’s flamboyant outrageousness without finding your masculinity just a little compromised. No matter: in an era when the contrived camp affectations of The Scissor Sisters and Mika is hailed as in some way progressive and ground-breaking, Erasure deserve to be celebrated for their sparkling originality and crusading flamboyance, but mostly for their impeccable tuneage. Be out and be proud."
TODAY'S NEW RELEASES:
U2's twelfth studio album No Line On The Horizon, featuring a photograph of the sea meeting the sky by Hiroshi Sugimoto on the cover. Last night in Los Angeles, a special U2 pop up installation was opened to the public at Space 15 Twenty on North Cahuenga Blvd. The installation is open today from noon to 9 p.m., as well. Rock photographer Anton Corbijn's pictures of the band are on display, and his new film Linear will be screened at the location.
Total Dance 2009, mixed by Tony Okungbowa and featuring remixes of hits by Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Estelle, David Archuleta, Coldplay and Chris Brown, amongst others. Annoyingly, iTunes only offers the continuous mix as one hour+-long MP3.