Kate Boy: Live at XOYO, London

Alternative electro pop trio Kate Boy brought their stamp of underground cool to London’s XOYO on their UK tour and were amazed to find fans all the way from Brazil and Belgium in the front. Such is the magnitude of their reach, all before this Sweden-based band has even released an album.

Kate Boy live

Kate Boy, made up of Australian singer Kate Akhurst and Swedish synth and drumming masters Marcus Dextegen and Hampus Nordgren Hemlin, made waves on the blogosphere with their debut single ‘Self Control‘ a few months ago. At first play, this lot sounds like an edgier and darker version of Icona Pop, but it’s not until you see them perform that you realise this trio is an active live band on stage. Even Kate puts down the mic from time to time to join her band brothers for a stint of passionate drumming.

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Cheryl “Only Human”

Can we have a fair assessment of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini‘s new album?

Cheryl Only Human deluxe

Only Human is the ex-Girls Aloud siren’s fourth solo offering, another piece of the ever-expanding Cheryl brand which includes a high-profile role as a judge on the X Factor, a signature fragrance and autobiography. While she is unquestionably one of Britain’s hottest celebrities, Cheryl is quick to remind folks that she’s got all the makings of a proper popstar. This has been her bread and butter for the past 12 years after all. Naturally, Only Human is predicted to debut somewhere in the Top 3 as Cheryl has never had problems getting decent first-week sales. But beyond that, what will this album reveal and add to the Geordie entertainer’s oeuvre?

First thing’s first, as a body of work, this is Cheryl’s most cohesive album since her 2010 debut 3 Words. The vocals on the album are some of her most consistent yet and sonically it keeps her in the safe equilibrium of pop with electronic and R&B leanings. Only Human‘s main shortcoming is being a tad heavy on mid-tempos, even though most of which are pleasant enough and carry some form of life-affirming message. On one hand it borders on being too prosaic, especially since we know Cheryl is capable of dishing proper bangers like ‘Call My Name’, but at the same time it is quite a pleasant switch after her last album’s peppery break up themes.

The first single ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ (featuring Tinie Tempah) is surprisingly the album’s most rhythmic and addictive tune. The blaring horns, handclaps and merry ‘la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!’ bits seem to light up the album in ways unmatched by any other track. The song is produced by Wayne Wilkins, who was behind Cheryl’s first #1 hit ‘Fight For This Love’, and is his only involvement in the project. It’s a pity there isn’t nearly enough of this energy pulsating through Only Human.

 

The only other moment we get this burst of vitality is in ‘Firecracker’, a track co-written by Sia and produced by Greg Kurstin, who has done huge records for Lily Allen and Kylie. The track is a wig-snatching and semi comical index-finger waving alert to women eyeing up Cheryl’s man. She warns in about 100 words per minute: “He love a girl who can dance, not a girl with implants and a fake tan, wham bam thank you ma’am! Now I’m lit up like a firecracker. Don’t do well with a man highjacker. My man’s so cool, you know he just flattered. But you better run girl before I catch ya, catch ya!”

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Tina Arena: Live at St John-At-Hackney Church

It has been 10 long years since Tina Arena last played a show in the UK and she didn’t return empty handed. The Aussie pop diva delivered a lively and compelling 90-minute set of her best-loved hits from the last two decades and a few newly-christened tunes from her latest album, Reset.

Tina Arena Live in London

There were visitations from every chapter of Tina’s career, much to her fans’ delight: she has canvassed key singles like the 1990 uptempo ‘I Need Your Body’ to the landmark hit ‘Chains’, and right through to the present-millennium gems like ‘Soulmate #9′, ‘Never (Past Tense)’ and ‘You Set Fire to My Life’.

Vocally, Tina Arena is on-point as ever. It’s still baffling that such a big voice can come from such a petite woman. The chanteuse, who was voted Australia’s greatest female singer of all time, didn’t have any trouble at all in scaling the big notes she had carved her career with. ‘Chains’ is still the performance that best encapsulates the breadth of Arena’s vocal abilities in one song. She has got it so well calibrated, it just builds like a pressure cooker: she starts soft and slow in the verses and gradually crescendoes towards the final chorus, where she’s practically belting the roof off.

Right at the other end of the spectrum, and equally as impressive, is ‘Only Lonely’. The stripped-back performance hears Arena sing in a softer tone, accompanied by a piano. It is in this quiet moment that you realise Arena had amazingly just gone from working the crowd in a sparkly jumpsuit to making it feel like she was singing to you alone in this big old church.

Tina, although most recognised for her ballads, is no mere stand-and-deliver act. She moves with the fluidly of a seasoned entertainer between intimate acoustic numbers to energetic performances where she is strutting, twirling and closing each number with a pose. The theatricality comes to life on ‘Don’t Look Back’, a swinging number from her new album, where she belts: “I refuse to live an ordinary life!”. Indeed, ordinary, is far from anything you would describe a Tina Arena performance. What you’re essentially guaranteed is a wonderfully balanced helping of grace and razzle dazzle.

The audience, as delighted and grateful as they were for this long-awaited gig, kept the decorum for the first three quarters of the show. This is a church after all. But things started to shake lose in the last five songs, especially when ‘Symphony of Life’ blasted through the pews. The subtle dance pop single, which has been a firm fan favourite for over 10 years, completely changed the vibe and suddenly everybody was on their feet, clapping along.

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Tina Arena “Reset”

Aussie pop supreme, Tina Arena, returns with Reset: her first album of originals in 12 years. For most of my fellow Aussies, this isn’t news as you’ve had this album for a year now but it’s only just getting a UK release. Thus, this timely review.

Tina Arena REset

The singer, best known for her 90s hit ‘Chains’, has gone back to basics with a collection of pop mid-tempos that are sophisticated and heartfelt.

Despite this being her long-waited comeback, Reset doesn’t reek of desperation. Tina doesn’t have time to dick around with fleeting trends in pop. This is her ninth studio album, she knows what she does best, and that is bringing emotions and stories to life in song. And boy, does Reset have emotions and stories. 12 years between albums is a long time, with lots of living and growing up. (Side note: check out my interview with Tina for more.)

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Jennifer Hudson “JHUD”

Oscar-winning soul diva Jennifer Hudson has given herself a musical makeover with her new album JHUD. And frankly, it is well overdue.

JHUD

The 33-year old yummy mummy is hanging up the power ballads we’ve heard her do a thousand times before in favour of a vibrant disco and 1970s R&B styles.

But don’t get it twisted, Ms Hudson is not slacking off in the vocal department by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the upbeat production takes her vocals to new heights and puts her in the same field as iconic artists who have filled dance floors in past decades.

You may have slept on the singles she released in the last 12 months and I don’t blame you (anyone else thought ‘Walk It Out’ sounded painfully dated by Timbaland‘s standards?) but Jennifer comes to life in technicolour on JHUD. The best tracks are indeed the ones saved for the album.

Standout numbers like ‘It’s Your World’ (featuring R. Kelly) sound like something lifted from an old episode of Soul Train. You have Hudson and Kelly engaging in a five minute-long vocal showdown, spurred on by a funky beat and lush strings that would’ve done Earth, Wind and Fire proud. Basically, if they had made a sequel to Dreamgirls following Effie’s journey to solo stardom, this would be the starring performance.

 

You don’t need to check the receipts to know that this is one hell of an expensive album. Top-line hit makers like PharrellTimbaland and The Fugees‘ producer Jerry Duplessis have all checked-in.

The Pharrell-hemmed track, ‘He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, tops the bill with an Iggy Azalea feature. You’d think they would have rushed this one out as a single by now, considering Iggy’s stock.

Jennifer goes into sassy sex therapist mode here coaching her girlfriends on how to please their men. “Get what you want, get more pleasure. Leave no one, y’all come together. Whisper in his ear, it makes it hotter. Don’t wipe the sweat, it makes it better!’ she sings.

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Album Review: Tinashe “Aquarius”

If you liked FKA Twigs’ elemental approach to making R&B music but secretly wished it was more accessible, then walk this way. Tinashe’s debut album Aquarius delivers that and so much more.

Tinashe Aquarius

The 21-year old American singer/songwriter has been regularly name-checked by urban music tastemakers as one to watch out for ever since her debut single ‘2 On’ hit blogs this year.

The track is like nightclub candy, setting tongues wagging with its crisp beats, ice queen finger snaps and Tinashe’s sultry tones. The overall impression is sexy and daring without being raunchy, if you know what I mean.

 

The rest of Aquarius, however, takes on a more subtle approach. The album dives deep into atmospheric and fluid soundscapes that sound heavily influenced by the likes of Sky Ferreira and Jessie Ware in parts. Dev Hynes (who has produced for the likes of Ferreira and Solange) hems one of the album’s signature cuts: ‘Bet’.

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Amelia Lily ‘California’

We all thought Amelia Lily had an ace in her pocket when she teamed up with Girls Aloud’s hit-makers, Xenomania, for her debut album two years ago.

Amelia Lily California

 

‘You Bring Me Joy’, which peaked at #2 in the UK, was a brilliant yet subtle introduction to the kind of pop artist Amelia could be but she eventually scrapped her album with Xenomania, putting an end to their three-single partnership.

Cue ‘California’, which is essentially Amelia Lily 2.0.

The one-time X Factor contestant, now signed to Warner, reveals a more confident and American radio-friendlier sound. Her musical idols P!nk and Kelly Clarkson sound like reasonable influences here but to be honest, ‘California’ sounds like something Robert “Mutt” Lange would produce for Shania Twain.

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