Michael Jackson “SCREAM” (Album Review)

CD/digital download available: 29th September 2017

Vinyl record available: 27th October 2017

Produced by: MJJ Productions – Released by: Epic Records/Legacy/Sony Music


 

WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM

As Maestro of All Hallows Eve’s unofficial anthem, Michael Jackson has for many years been synonymous with the witching season. But it is not just on 1982’s monster hit “Thriller” (and that John Landis-directed 1984 short film) that the King of Pop got to indulge his love of the macabre in his music. While Christmas albums have long been a profitable tradition, this creepy compilation – the brainchild of the late star’s prolific Estate – is perhaps the first high profile Halloween-themed set. Executive producers John Branca and John McClain will hope Scream will rise from the grave to haunt record store shelves every October.

… Keep Scuttling!

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Lady Gaga “JOANNE” (Album Review)

Lady Gaga Reveals More 'Joanne' Song Titles

Label: Streamline / Interscope Records

Release date: 21st October 2016 (UK)


 

SMOKIN’ THEM ALL

“I confess I am lost…”

Three years in the waiting, Lady Gaga finally satiates her legions of little monsters with her follow-up to 2013’s critically-muted Artpop. Consciously stripping back the ostentatious gaud and circus-esque electro-surrealism she flaunted on stage as much as in the studio, LG5 – as it was known online before the official title, in tribute to her late-aunt, was unveiled – still has flourishes of beat-driven poppiness (A-Yo and John Wayne are rockier standouts) but on the whole this personal collection feels more mellow and repressed. Clearly crooning with Tony Bennett has had an impact.

… Keep Scuttling!

Michael Jackson – Auckland 1996 (Album Review)

Label: Zip City

Release date: 10th June 2016


 

HIS UNMASTERED VOICE

Testament to my unhealthily compulsive buy-first-regret-later obsession with anything Michael Jackson is this blatantly unauthorised (yet widely available, even making onto the “HMV Recommends” display in my local branch!) TV rip of the New Zealand Broadcast from 11th November 1996 of the King of Pop’s Ericsson Arena, Auckland stop on his mammoth HIStory World Tour.

… Keep Scuttling!

Star Wars: Headspace (Album Review)

Release date: February 19th 2016 (Digital), March 18th (CD)

Label: Hollywood Records


 

DARTH PUNK

While the electro-rocking helmet-wearing duo from France have long brought some shiny sci-fi sensibilities to the dancefloor, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who felt that what the contemporary music scene was missing was an injection of space opera. But in yet another example of how ever-present Star Wars has become in modern society, that is exactly what we get with new club-friendly compilation Star Wars: Headspace.

What sounds like an underground mixtape cobbled together in some obsessive fan boy’s bedroom is actually a fully-licenced album endorsed by Lucasfilm and Bad Robot. Those concerned that this is no more than John William’s iconic orchestral score sped up and set to a synthesized drum beat need fear not, as Headspace contains 15 all-new compositions written and performed by such accomplished disc-jockeys as Röyksopp (pictured below), Bonobo, Rustie and Breakbot, and co-executive produced by industry supremo Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C.).

True, the results are a mixed bag, but the majority veer on the decent and endearing side of experimental. Album opener “C-3PO’s Plight” by Kascade was clearly chosen to lead the pack due to its Bespin-high quality – mixing a summery, piano-led vibe with scant interpolations of goldenrod’s dialogue. Track 2, “Help Me!” by GTA is the closest offender to cheesily derivative, sounding mightily reminiscent of an Imperial March remix.

Track 6, “R2 Knows” by Claude VonStroke deserves special mention due to its extravagant robot rap by Barry Drift, which recounts an often cheeky summary of the original trilogy to music (let’s just say they broach the controversial topic of who shot first). The first time I heard it I winced in embarrassment, but a couple of listens later and I was gleefully chanting along with its catchy rhyming couplets!

A number of artists mine the same popular samples, so Darth Vader’s breathing and Leia’s “Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” line are oft-repeated, while certain elements such as alarm and siren calls become noticeable in their over-use, but Headspace is not the absurd laughing stock it could so easily have been. Audacious, trippy and a lot of fun, I can well imagine Ponda Baba twerking the night away in the Mos Eisley Cantina to “Scruffy-Looking Nerfherder”.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall (CD/Blu-ray Review)


12 – 93mins – 2016


WHEN THE WORLD IS ON YOUR SHOULDER…

Back in 2012, The Estate of Michael Jackson went all-out with a mega-impressive, multi-platform cornucopia of releases to celebrate the silver anniversary of 1987’s Bad album. Mouth-watering for diehard fans (amongst which I count myself), the mix of CD, DVD, regular, deluxe, super-deluxe and standalone formats confounded and overwhelmed casual music listeners, and the project did not hit the sales target Sony Music were hoping for.

The outcome of this was that acclaimed director Spike Lee’s anticipated feature-length Bad 25 documentary was somewhat overshadowed by album, concert and bonus disc releases, to such a degree that when it finally saw a home video release the following year, it was quietly snuck out as a web-store exclusive which, to this day, is rarely in stock.

For these reasons, The Estate have taken a more stripped back approach in releasing Lee’s follow-up passion piece on the King of Pop’s seminal debut solo LP, Off The Wall. So, gone are the confusing multi-disc bundles chock-full of club-friendly remixes, demos and rarities, gone are the live album and concert tour DVDs, and gone are the fan-servicing super-deluxe packages replete with programmes, t-shirts and posters. In their place we get the new documentary (on your choice of either DVD or Blu-ray format) together with the original 1979 album, as the artist originally released it – oh, and a piece of chalk, to graffiti the gatefold ‘wall’ in any cover-inspired way you see fit!The loyal fanbase will bemoan the omission of additional content (after all, who doesn’t already own multiple copies of Off The Wall?), but there’s something to be said – in this digital age of self-compiled playlists and shuffle buttons – for presenting Michael’s definitive, untouched vision for a new generation to appreciate. Meanwhile, older generations have the opportunity to rediscover this culturally significant album which is often unfairly overshadowed by the monster industry-shaping landmarks which followed.

I will shamefully confess that prior to this sets’ release last Friday, it had been a good few years since I last played the album front-to-back, but what instantly hit me as I soaked it in anew, was the energy and youthful exuberance which shines through, not only on the disco-infused hit singles everyone knows (Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Rock With You, Working Day And Night), but even on the lesser-known album tracks – including saccharine-sweet McCartney-penned ditty Girlfriend, which is generally dismissed as an easy skip!

So, what of Lee’s mouthful-monikered film? The Do The Right Thing director sticks to a very similar style and structure as on Bad 25, editing knockout performance footage and archival interviews with the man himself alongside present day talking heads of friends, family, musical collaborators and famous fans to best tell the incredible story of Michael’s phenomenal journey from cherubic lead signer in a Motown pop band to artistic juggernaut and biggest star on the planet. Like before, the second half delves deeper into the creation process with a track-by-track examination of the 1979 LP.

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall is a fascinating and inspiring film packed with production tidbits and behind the scenes anecdotes which is clearly crafted with L.O.V.E.. It benefits from a trimmer runtime than its ungainly predecessor (Estate executive John Branca allegedly requested a tighter edit) and fewer pointless testimonials from five minute wonders who never met the man. Sure, John Legend, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and The Weekend do all feature, but their contribution is more insightful and heartfelt than Justin Bieber’s gushing over Bad.

What most touched me as the feature drew to a close was how – even after 25 years of fervent fandom – Spike Lee still managed to open my eyes to the spellbinding talent, humility and drive which made Michael Joseph Jackson a real one off; truly irreplaceable. I will happily admit to welling up on multiple occasions as it hit home – not for the first or last time – how much this special man has inspired, brightened and impacted my life. His work will continue to entertain and amaze and, thanks to documentaries such as this one, his legacy will continue to burn bright for generations to come.

Chalk this one up as a success!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Imogen Heap “Sparks” (Album Review)

Release date: 18th August 2014
Label: Megaphonic Records


Ever-busy, yet far from prolific, by 2014 it had been half a decade since Imogen Heap’s last full album, the Grammy Award-winning Ellipse. Belated follow-up Sparks was in production – and lingering in pre-release hell – for three-and-a-half of those, and finally saw the light last summer, self-issued on her own label.

A concept album comprising 14 individual concepts, each “heapsong” was either commissioned or inspired by a different location or idea, whether that be a trip to Beijing as an artist in residence, a jogging app for mobile phones, a soundscape of a first date or a chair which records fans’ answers to a specific question. Recorded one at a time between 2011-13 (and initially released as singles as she went), it is no wonder that when bolted together these songs lack a cohesive flow.

Incorporating numerous genres as diverse as dreamy indie pop and stark electronica, Sparks‘ only loosely familiar element is the intermittent reoccurrence of Eastern themes, interwoven into three or four tracks when Imogen travelled.

It’s certainly ambitious – Imogen has never shied away from stretching herself – and there is some gold in here (Run Time, Lifeline, Entanglement, You Know Where to Find Me and Propellor Seeds are personal highs), but some of the more experimental tracks do fall shy of enjoyable. Neglected Space (a spoken word ‘poem’ from the perspective of disused buildings) and The Listening Chair (condensing the first 35 years of Imogen’s life into five minutes of hollered memories) grind any momentum to a halt and frustrate in their overlong sluggishness.

Personally, the ordering of the songs doesn’t sit well. For all its harmonious, piano-led sweetness, YKWtFM does not an impactful opener make. The same can be said for choosing the beautiful-but-airy Propeller Seeds as the ‘epic’ finale. Flitting from concept-to-concept makes for a staccato listening experience which I would forgive if the songs were presented in production order, but they aren’t; this order was purposefully chosen.

It pains me not to be bestowing indisputable praise upon an artist I adore; particularly one who is constantly innovating and challenging both herself and the mainstream. Some songs may simply take time to settle in (especially considering the length of time we have been living with some of the singles in isolation), however it is still evident to me that Sparks is not Imogen’s best work.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars