Winning the Bananarama Design contest
Fabulous Box set of Kylie’s third studio album, beautifully designed.
It’s Kyliemania all over again as Kylie releases her new single “Dancing”, an acoustic country tinged Dolly Parton-esque dancefloor anthem. The song is fabulous, the verses are absolutely brilliant with it’s double entendre about living life to it’s fullest. The song will be featured on the new album “Golden”, Kylie co-wrote all the tracks which were mainly recorded in Nashville. It will be released on April 6th on multiple formats including vinyl, cassette, photobook and an exclusive picture disc vinyl. Check out the bundles below or go to kylie.com
Deluxe CD Tracklisting:
Vinyl & Cassette Tracklisting:
7. Live a Little
On a side note: I started kyliecanada.com a fansite back in 2001 to promote Kylie at a time when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and social media didn’t much exist. Her Canadian record label at the time, EMI/Captitol Canada had no webpage featuring her, at one point they used to link to mine. I joined a group of fans and we would bombard Canadian and American radio stations to play her music, some of our efforts paid off as “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” became a huge success. The world has changed, I haven’t really updated the site since 2012, I’m not sure my site is still necessary, but this new album seems like a new comeback for kylie, a new chapter, who knows what the new year will bring… until then let’s go out dancing.
The Concert: November 20th 2017
I’m not sure I can justify in words how this concert and experience meant to me but “time of my life” and “Absolutely Fabulous” seems the best I can come up with. Being a huge Bananarama fan since the early days of Cruel Summer I’m probably a bit biased, but I’m far from the only one giving it raves reviews. It was one big fantastic dance party. From the moment Sara, Keren, and Siobhan stepped on the stage with the lost Supremes classic “Nathan Jones” the crow stood up and never sat down. There was no distracting elements, no circus going on, just a video screen, a live band and three best friends celebrating and singing all the hits, fan favorites and more. The girls especially Siobhan looked like they were having the time of their lives, you could see the camaraderie and fun coming through unlike some pre-fabricated bands that seem to be just going through the motions. It felt like I was watching my best friends on stage reminiscing through the best years of their life. For those critics that see the girls as just karaoke singers this couldn’t be further from the truth. I never understood why so many people put powerhouse singers above all else, sometimes you just need to sing the damm song, no need for a million vocal runs or voice athletics, which I sometimes find gets tiresome. The set list was a dreams come true, with Siobhan coming on board I feared we might not hear songs like “Nathan Jones” or “I Want You Back” because she was replaced with Jacquie on those singles, but we got them and more.
The biggest surprise and most poignant moment was when the three sang “Cheers Then” and Siobhan briefly left the stage, leaving Sara and Keren to start belting out the mega Shakespears Sister’s (Siobhan’s post Bananarama group) hit “Stay”. Speaking of vocal ability, Marcella’s Detroit part of that song is far from easy to sing and the girls did a beautiful job, the biggest applause though came when Siobhan entered the stage to sing her part. The image of them holding hands at the end in silhouette in front of the moon image on screen was so powerful, that some fans actually had T-Shirts made with that image taken from shots of the previous shows. I didn’t think it could get any better but after Stay, Siobhan announces that it was her turn to choose a song, it was her favorite track the girls did after she left the group, my favorite track too, “Preacher Man” which should have been a bigger hit from the Pop Life album. They did fan favorite singles including their social conscious songs “Rough Justice” and “Trick Of The Night” which had to be added back into the show after fans pestered Sara on twitter to bring it back when it was cut after the opening show of the tour. There were many songs that sounded better than the versions they recorded back in the day, including their first demo, the Latin tinged Swahili song “Aie A Mwana”, “Really Saying Something” and the Fun Boy Three duet “It Ain’t What You Do” which was slightly revamped with a fantastic swing 1950’s vibe. “I Can’t Help It” and “More Than Physical” was slightly disco-fied, even “Shy Boy” sounded better with each girl taking on separate verses while the other two did harmonies and back up. Nothing was a much fun as the Stock Aitken and Waterman section where most of the gay male audience broke into every dance and choreographed move they did from “I Heard A Rumour”, to “Venus”, and “I Want You Back”, it was a sight to see especially when some fans had the moves down pat, better than the girls. The few casual fans in the audience looked around a bit perplexed wondering if they missed the memo or why they weren’t in on the secret. The London show was filmed for a DVD release coming out in May, at one point during “Boy Trouble” the cameraman was filming next to me and turned the camera on me. “Boy Trouble” is the one song I don’t know well and to compensate I tried to do one of my Michael Jackson spins, but the floor was a bit slippery and I almost fell, the cameraman gave me a thumbs up anyways, now I’m wondering if I’ll make the cut, if not I’ll be happy to relive this incredible night, guilty as a girl can be.
Meet and Greet:
My experience was multiplied because before the show I got the chance to meet the girls and get my picture with them. The girls were absolutely amazing, stunningly gorgeous, and kind. I told them I came from Canada and I was there to celebrate my 50th birthday, Keren said something along the lines of “I looked great for my age”. They loved the T-shirt I designed for the concert, carefully checking out all the details.They graciously accepted the colour pencil tribute portrait I made of them. I had 3 prints done and was hoping I could give each girl a copy, they even posed with the prints in my picture.I was so nervous that I barely heard what they said to me, my friend Mike who was waiting in line, heard that Keren hilariously said, (about the portrait I drew), that her head isn’t that big. The photographer took many pics, including some of me as I was handing the prints to them. He even photographed me and Mike and our T-shirts as we stood in line. I thanked Siobhan for coming back and thanked Keren and Sara for keeping the legend of Bananarama alive. My hands were still shaking for about a half hour afterwards, I couldn’t calm down. While we were at the bar waiting for the show to start I was told that producer Pete Waterman was there, I was nervous but got the courage to go up and tell him I was a big fan and loved his music, he shook my hand. There were quite a few celebrities in the audience; I came this close to meeting Rick Astley only finding out afterwards he was there.
I’d like to thank the amazing Mike Devery for giving me this fabulous opportunity of a lifetime, cheers mate.
The Fans: I do have to say that my experience was that much richer because of all the fans I met from around the world, sharing that experience with them made it all the more incredible. The Saturday before the show there was a gathering for us to meet and it didn’t stop there, I met so many beautiful, kind and fabulous people throughout my trip of the UK. Bananarama really do have the greatest fans.
Cardiff St David’s Hall:
I was lucky to see the show a second time in Cardiff, this time I was closer to the stage in 4th row and I could see all their quirky interactions and facial expressions. The show was just as fabulous but the big difference was the audience, they seemed to be more restrained, subdued, a lot more seemed to be casual fans, nobody got up at the first song, everybody stayed quietly seated. When the girls finished the opener “Nathan Jones” they looked a bit perplexed and almost annoyed, thankfully they urged everybody to get up and dance. Bananarama is not a like going to the opera, it’s a party, a celebration, a time to let go.
It was 1987, I was in college, still listening to Madonna, Whitney Houston and George Michael; Kylie was still a year away from releasing her first album, but my favorite girl group crush would release their ultimate pop masterpiece simply titled “Wow”.
Let’s go back a bit, Bananarama first appeared on my radar in 1984 with “Cruel Summer”, their first top ten in North America, it was a cute little song with 3 confident girls having fun, but by 1986 the game would change. Their 3rd studio outing “True Confessions” featured one of the ultimate 80’s cover songs “Venus”, originally recorded by 60’s group Shocking Blue, the girls revamped the track along with superstar producers and Hit Factory makers Stock, Aitken & Waterman, they made the perfect pop combination. The girls loved Stock Aitken & Waterman’s previous work with the Dead Or Alive song “You Spin Me Round” and wanted that same hard edge euro dance sound for “Venus”, that coupled along with the super sexy and sultry video made them superstars and the song went
straight to the number one spot of the Billboard Hot 100. My best friend Chris and I had taken Jazz Dance as one of our gym electives in college, we were hilariously the only two guys in the class and our final dance routine was done to none other than “Venus”. Bananarama had other hits along the way like my favorite of the time “Trick Of The Night”, and “Robert De Niro’s Waiting”, but none would have an impact in North America.
“True Confessions” only had two songs produced by Stock, Aiken & Waterman but when it was announced that they would write, produce and arrange their entire next album I was beyond excited. The album “Wow” was co-written by the girls, who fought with Stock, Aitken & Waterman along the way, the producers were not used to writing songs with their artists. Unlike most pop groups today Bananarama were not a prefabricated band. They formed in 1979. Sara and Keren were best mates since early grade school. When Keren moved to London Sara followed and met Siobhan in college studying fashion journalism, together they rented a flat and as they say the rest is history. They managed themselves for the most of the time, they insisted to write or co-write their songs, designed they look, nobody told them what to wear, they were sexy, but strong and confident women, without just being arm candy for men.
“I Heard A Rumour” the first single that preceded the “Wow” album was not a disappointment, the song became their 3rd and final top ten in North America going to #4. The album was a juggernaut and it had a unity unlike their previous efforts. “Love In The First Degree” my favorite song, became their biggest hit in the UK, Berry Gordy the founder of Motown said it was the closest anybody had to come to the Motown sound. Unfortunately after putting out 4 studio albums, 20 singles and living together for 9 years a split began to happen. Siobhan decided she wanted to pursue a different sound and went on to form Shakespeare’s Sister, their performance of “Love In The First Degree” at the Brits Awards in 1988 would be their last together.
Like The Supremes the group that inspired them, they would continue with a new member named Jacquie O’Sullivan. I have to admit this was an exciting time for Bananarama fans. They were inducted in the the Guinness Book Of World Records as the all-female group with the most chart entries in the world. The album “Wow” still had some hit singles left in it, so Jacqui’s voice was added to the super fab “I Want You Back” making it a number 5 smash in the UK. It was at this point I started realising the differences between the UK and American charts, none of their singles would chart in Canada or on the Billboard Hot 100. I started shopping at import record stores picking up all the UK 12” Bananarama singles I could find, I sadly couldn’t hear these hits on the radio but I could play them all I wanted.
Keren, Sara & Jacquie toured North America in 1989 and luckily Montreal was part of the schedule but sadly their only Canadian date. Along with my best friends Chris & Ernie we saw that fabulous show at the Metropolis Club on March 22nd. A year later Banarama would continue on with one of their best albums “Pop Life” but the imperial phase of them having hits would be over as the grunge 90’s were ushered in. In 1991 Chris and I saw Siobhan and Marcella Detroit as Shakespear’s Sister at a small club at the corner of St, Laurent and St Catherine called the Dome. I remember being so close to the stage that every time Marcella would swing her guitar around while playing I had to duck as I was afraid of getting hit.
After 3 years Jacqui would quit Bananarama and best friends Sara & Keren continued on as a duo. They reunited in 1992 with Stock & Waterman (minus Aiken) for the Abba-esque “Please Yourself” album. In 1995 the small Canadian record label “Lime” released “Ultra Violet” and they appeared alongside a dozen artists at the Montreal Forum to promote the album. They only sang 2 songs, the new single “Every Shade Of Blue” and “Venus”, but there I was with my best friend Chris, we were probably the only two real fans there to see Bananarama as the other artists and audience members were much younger. I remember holding up the program booklet from the 1989 concert which I brought along with me, Keren caught my eye then pointed to me saying “I’m sure you’ll know this song” as they went into “Venus”. They released a few more albums from 2006’s comeback “Drama” to the recent “Viva” in 2009.
I was floored when I found out this month that Siobhan was reuniting with them and going on tour. I can’t wait to see them live for the first time as a group. Thank you Sara, Keren & Siobhan, for all the music, the videos’ the dance routines and the fabulous times I’ve had in my living room singing and dancing along.
Note: If not for Bananarama I might have never discovered Kylie Minogue. I remember my best friend Chris going into that same import record shop buying her 12” single “I Should Be So Lucky” based solely on the fact it was produced by Stock, Aiken & Waterman, that started a whole new obsession and passion.
Thursday night I attended the showing of the documentary “Strike A Pose” at the Victoria Film Festival. In 1990 Madonna hired seven male dancers for her Blond Ambition Tour, they taught her to Vogue, were featured in that iconic video, but more importantly they were the subject of her film, the behind the scenes documentary “Truth Or Dare” which came out a year later. The film was one of the biggest documentaries at the time and those seven dancers were thrown into stardom. “Strike A Pose” takes a look 25 years later into the lives of those dancers. I had no idea till I was seated at the cinema that one of those dancers Kevin Stea would be present for a Q&A session. I was so excited and all I could think about throughout the film was what I could say to him. “Truth or Dare” was the first representation of gay men I had ever seen, this was a time when Ellen, Will & Grace etc.… didn’t exist, but there on the big screen was gay men openly living their lives, going to gay pride parades and just being themselves, some of us saw our first male on male kiss. I still remember seeing the film in 1991 with a close friend and I remember our reactions and talking about the dancers afterwards, I remember having a crush on dancer Salim “Slam” Gauwloos although I had no idea I was gay. Two years later I came out as a gay man and a few years after so did my friend. I always wondered through the years what happened to those dancers and now we get to see. The film is joyous and heartbreaking at the same time, as we discover that some of them were HIV positive and were struggling with this dark secret, while touring in a show that was all about “Expressing Yourself”. Some were not completely out or comfortable, Gabriel Trupin had asked Madonna to cut that famous kissing scene with Salim, but she refused, he tried suing her, sadly in 1996 he lost his battle with AIDS. Others sued her for a breach of contract, money they were owed, a sad but not uncommon tale for many in the showbiz industry, while others just lost their way with drugs and life. Seeing the six remaining dancers get together at the end was pure joy, it’s was nice to see that they were all OK all these years later and that they were still “family”. Oliver Crumes’ stood out for me in the original documentary as he was the one straight guy of the crew, as gay men we have our own prejudices, as I always wondered if he was really a closeted gay man and came out years later, but there he was still straight, his reactions to finding out that some of his friends were HIV positive was very moving, I could feel his pain.
When the film ended I made a straight line to the front row hoping to meet Kevin. Kevin was the associate choreographer for Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour and became the dance captain, when he left the tour he was broke but then went onto work with some of the biggest iconic stars including Michael Jackson his sister Janet, Lady GaGa, Celine Dion, Prince and David Bowie to name a few, he has starred in numerous commercials and films. I was so nervous when I approached him, I told him what it meant to me, seeing him and the other dancers on screen back in 1991, I was wearing my George Michael T-shirt and asked him about George, and I quickly got a pic with him. There was an event at the Copper Owl club afterward, a dance party to benefit AIDS Vancouver Island, I wasn’t sure I was going to go but when I heard Kevin was attending and that there would be a “Vogueing” session I quickly changed my mind. I was there alone, many others were in cliques, so I sat at the bar for about a half hour staring at my phone, Madonna’s music was playing but nobody was dancing. Kevin was sitting at a table talking to a few people but afterwards I noticed like me he was sitting alone. I turned around and said “How come no one is dancing”? We chatted for a good 20 minutes if not more, I didn’t want to seem like a stalker so I told him I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, he told me never to apologize for that and we kept on talking, he was a real gentlemen and a class act. When the Vogue lesson started we moved towards the dance floor, I didn’t end up Vogueing but afterward I danced nonstop for over an hour, it was one Madonna song after another, they even played one of my favorite album tracks from True Blue which was never a single “Love Makes The World Go Round”. At one point I was hoping they would play a bad Madonna song so I could take a break. Kevin was mostly chatting with others during this time but then they starting playing other artists, he finally came on to the dancefloor when Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy was played. Talking with him about music, dancing and life was a dream come true but I really wanted to dance with him. The dancefloor was really small, there were only a few people between him and me, then Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White” came on, I was thinking, do I dare dance up to him? It took me to halfway through the song to get the courage, at that time we were in a circle of people, I pushed my way through and busted my best Michael Jackson moves, including a few spins, I thought I was going to fall flat on my face or hit someone but I got through it, he started dancing to my moves, and I heard a few cheers, when the song ended I thanked him and he hi-fived me. It wasn’t till the next day that I found out going through his website that Kevin worked and danced on the video for “Black Or White”, my reaction was “OMG what was I thinking!”. If this wasn’t on my bucket list it, it is now, mission accomplished. I wanted to stay longer but I had work the next day, I went to get my coat, I saw Kevin sitting at the bar so I went up to say goodbye but again we ended up chatting for a while, then I stayed to watch the dance competition which he judged, a final goodbye and I was on my way. This was truly a night to remember. Thanks to Jose, Luis, Carlton, Salim, Oliver and Gabriel for being an inspiration all those years ago and to Kevin who was so gracious and has inspired me then and now.
To say I’m a huge fan is an understatement but I never really realised how big of an impact his lyrics, music and life had on me. My all-time favorite group and artists are The BeeGees, when Maurice and Robin Gibb died I was devastated, but I didn’t feel the same as when George died, maybe because they were older than me, not part of my formative high school years, but I felt that the BeeGees had come full circle with their last album “This Is Where I Came In” in 2001. I was also devastated after Michael Jackson died but his life was plagued with so many issues and I was so far removed from his reality. George‘s career, in my opinion was cut way too short, he was only 53, his last studio album of new material dates back to 2004’s album “Patience”, I’m still waiting for a follow up. When I got the news about George on Christmas Day I just crawled up in bed and cried. I was already emotional because Christmas reminds me of my mom who I lost around the festive time, so my emotions were running high, I had just posted some pictures of her on Facebook, I was feeling a bit down, then 15 minutes later the news about George popped up on my newsfeed, it was all I could bare.
1985 was my graduating year from high school and outside of Madonna Wham! was all the rage. My best friend Chris Dardzinski and I were Wham! I first met Chris in grade 4, like George Michael I was the new student arriving mid-term, and in the same way Andrew Ridgeley was assigned to be George’s guide in class, Chris was assigned to me, we became inseparable closer then brothers. I remember walking into the local record store, Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” and Wham! “Make It Big” albums were on display, Chris bought “Make It Big” and I bought the Madonna album, we would then make cassette tapes for each other so we could have both. Chris and I couldn’t sing or play any instruments but by High School, we dreamed of being pop stars, we photographed ourselves like photoshoots for record covers; we even wrote songs or rather poetry and compiled them into imaginary albums. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Wake Me Up Before You GoGo”, “Everything She Wants”, or the mega song “Careless Whispers”, all went to #1, but my favorite at the time was the #3 hit “Freedom”, not the George Michael song from 1990 but the song that accompanied the music video from their historic concert in China. Despite many writing them off as bubble gum pop stars, George knew how to write a hit and channel the magic of Motown. Looking back today those songs are still classics, and not as simple as some would believe.
As we started college everybody was growing up, but as Chris and I remained friends. We were shocked at the news of Wham! splitting up.Their final album “Music From The Edge Of Heaven” is still my favorite. I remember walking into the record store and buying it, I loved how side one of the vinyl with the 4 up-tempo tracks was called “The Hot Side” while the other side with the ballads was called “The Cool Side”. More importantly was the music, only eight songs long but eight amazing songs. “I’m Your Man” is probably my favorite upbeat Wham! song, when I saw George in the music video with the brown hair, cropped beard, tambourine and gloves I wanted that look, it wasn’t long before I grew a beard although not a neat as George’s. “A Different Corner” from the same album, credited to George as a solo artist is one of his best tracks, a beautifully haunting ballad with heart wrenching lyrics “Take me back in time maybe I can forget, turn a different corner and we never would have met, would you care?” Another favorite of mine is an album track called “Blue (Live In China)” I had no idea at the time that this song was originally the B-Side to their early single “Club Tropicana” then called “Blue (Armed With Love)”, but from the first few notes I fell in love with it. Chris and I kept writing more song lyrics throughout college and like Wham! we decided to fake-spilt up and write our own albums. The song “Blue (Armed With Love)” was on my first solo imaginary record along with my other originals.
We were both waiting for George’s next musical chapter to arrive but in the meantime 1987 brought us my all-time favorite duet, the chart topper “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” by George and Aretha Franklin. I still can’t help singing George’s part whenever I hear it. Then Faith happened and everything just exploded, at this time Chris and I had both graduated from College. I have to admit I wasn’t an immediate fan of his new sound it was a bit too R&B for me. I was not enamored with the lead single “I Want You Sex”, which was plagued with radio and MTV bans including Aretha Franklin who vowed to never sing with George again. It took some time but I got to love songs like “Father Figure” “One More Try,” “Monkey”, and the title track, four #1 singles from one album was quite a feat in those days. Two of my favorite songs from the album were the only two non singles, “Look At Your Hands”, and “Hand To Mouth”. Both Chris and I saw Michael’s legendary Faith tour at The Olympic Stadium, unfortunately it’s one of the worse places for a concert sound wise but we were thrilled to see him. The album went on to win Album Of The Year at the Grammy’s, there was no stopping George.
1990 was a huge year of musical change, the 80’s was gone, the sound of pure pop was giving way to Grunge and R&B. I remember walking into my local HMV and seeing no more vinyl records just lots of cassettes and CD’s, my musical tastes were changing and so was George Michael’s. That’s why George’s new album “Listen Without Prejudice Volume One” just blew me away. To this day it ranks at #2 for my all-time favorite album, just under The BeeGees 1975 record “Main Course”. “Listen Without Prejudice” was exactly the music I wanted to hear, incredibly produced with beautiful melodies and either personal or social conscious lyrics. George never gets credit as a record producer but he was one of the best, on his albums he did it all, the writing, the arrangements, the production and in some cases most of the instrumentation with just a few session players he trusted. “Praying For Time” is probably one of the greatest songs ever written, a commentary on social injustices “The rich declare themselves poor, And most of us are not sure, If we have too much, But we’ll take our chances, Because god’s stopped keeping score, I guess somewhere along the way, He must have let us alt out to play, Turned his back and all god’s children, Crept out the back door…” it went to #1 but with no video and George’s dispute with Sony nobody remembers it. The track most people remember from the album is the incredible “Freedom 90”, George’s plea to rid himself of all those pre-fabricated images, listening to the lyrics now we can’t help but wonder if his oppressed sexual orientation wasn’t hinted in the song. The album contains so many of my favorite songs, “Something To Save”, “Heal The Pain” whom he wrote for Paul McCartney, they even recorded a duet of the song for his compilation CD “Twenty Five”, the haunting rendition of Stevie Wonder’s They Won’t Go When I Go, the war torn “Mothers Pride, “Cowboys and Angels and “Waiting For That Day” the final single that should have been a huge hit but never was. I loved how the album ended with the Reprise song “Waiting” I hadn’t seen anybody do that since the BeeGees.
The 90’s were a huge adjustment for both me and George, in 1993 I came out as a gay man while George had also come to this realisation, he kept it hidden for quite some time. His 1996 album “Older” gained him a bit of a comeback in the UK where it outdid the Faith album, in the US the haunting single “Jesus To A Child” and fabulous dance track “Fastlove” kept him in the top ten of the Billboard charts, to some of us this album confirmed he was gay with the non-too subtle lyrics and drastic change in looks. Perhaps for George this was fine, since he could have a career but didn’t have to deal with craziness of mega stardom. We both lost our mothers to cancer whom we loved dearly, unlike George I never got to talk to my mom about my sexual orientation; I came out a year after she passed. My mother’s death was a huge black hole for me, George seemed to suffer a similar fate especially when combined with the loss his first lover Anselmo to AIDS. George finally “came out” publicly in 1998 in that much too talked about bathroom incident, which in my opinion has overshadowed his musical output and place in music history. Both Chris and I wondered about George’s sexuality over the years but now we had confirmation with an out in your face song and hilarious video called “Outside” which mocked his arrest and made no doubt of the fact that George was like me, a proud gay man. At this time Andrew Ridgeley had long traded his superstadom life for a quiet retreat with his wife Keren from Bananarama. Like art imitating life Chris stopped writing songs and compiling album, I kept it going throughout the 90’s and the early 2000’s turning my lyrics to the struggles of me losing my mom and becoming a gay man. Chris got married in 1998 and just 2 years later would be the last time we were friends. In 2008 I was lucky to see George’s absolutely incredible concert “Live 25” at the Bell Center in Montreal; it was the concert I waited 25 years to see, I couldn’t help but think of Chris at the show, I wonder if he was there. To this day I still don’t completely understand what happened; Chris decided to give up an entire part of his life and most of his friends including me. It’s been over 16 years since we’ve spoken, every so often, a song, an artist or a place reminds me of him. I’ll never understand how such a close friendship could just be erased. George Michael’s death has reminded me all over again, I mourn George Michael, I mourn my best friend, I mourn my grad years and college, and all the wonderful music we’ll never hear from George. So again I ask: Take me back in time maybe I can forget, turn a different corner and we never would have met, would you care?
1. 50 Rick Astley
It’s too bad that Rick will always be type casted to Rick Rolling and “Never Gonna Give You Up”, his aptly titled album “50” (his age), is in my opinion his greatest. It’s his second #1 album in the UK after his mega debut. We always knew that Rick could sing but he is equally a talented musician and songwriter. He started showing his talents after leaving Stock Aitken and Waterman’s hit factory in the 90’s with songs like “Cry For Help”. For this album Rick writes and plays all the instruments himself. The singles “Keep Singing” and “Angels on My Side” are just as fabulous, catchy, and melodic as anything from the late 80’s but on these songs the lyrics are not just a throw away line that fits the song. “Wish Away” is lush and gorgeous. Rick gets downright gritty and funky in one of the album’s best tracks “This Old House” an old school vibe with fab guitar licks, the coolest heavy base and haunting keyboards, if anything could and should legitimatize rick as a musician this is it. ”Pieces” is a haunting fight for your rights rock/pop anthem. “Dance” is a lighthearted and cute song about the Angel and Devil, I dare you not to get up and Dance. Rick has something to say on every track without being preachy or corny and he is able to craft his lyrics around superb songs. Two tracks on here from his aborted 2013 album The Red Book, “I Like The Sun” and my favorite “Let It Rain” are perfect examples. “Let It Rain” is a fabulous song, I could hear it being sung in churches across the country with a huge choir, if there was a healing song on the album this is it. Rick keeps the praying vibe, although a little bit more upbeat with “Pray With Me”. Just when you think the album is going to lose steam the song “Coming Home Tonight” shakes you up with a fast paced marching anthem not far from something U2 could create.” the lyrics “And the saints came marching in, And I was free again….I’m coming home tonight, Waited all my life, I’m coming home tonight, I need to feel alive, I’ve been holding on to anger, I’ve been holding on to fear, I’ve been weighed down by an anchor, So many wasted years”. “Let It Be Tonight” slows it down a bit but the North American release of the album has two bonus tracks “A Letter”, and the acoustic guitar folk-ish ditty “Sailing”, as the song finishes it makes you want to listen to the album all over again. The album 50 is a must in your record collection.
2. Encore Un Soir Celine Dion
Celine is back on form, I haven’t been too keen on her latest albums especially her French ones, this is her best since 2003’s “1 Fille & 4 Types”. Celine is best when she wears her heart on her sleeve and sings about her passions and not just a crafted hit song. She teams up with Jean-Jacques Goldman one more time for one of her best records, the heart wrenching lead single and title track about the loss of her husband. Don’t get me wrong this album is not a downbeat but an uplifting affair. “L’étoile”, my favorite “Les yeux au ciel” and bonus track “À vous”, brings the beats to the dancefloor with plenty of hope. Celine does take a chance on the oddly fitting cover of Robert Charlebois’ “Ordinaire”, Charlebois kindly changed his original lyrics to fit the songstress herself. For those fans that have never heard her French repertoire I always say the same thing, check it out. Her French albums have maturity, artistry and sophistication that her English albums just don’t have. I’m hoping this time her new English album, due soon will finally step up to the plate.
3. Charlie Puth Nine Track Mind
Charlie was my breakout artist of 2015. His debut single (outside of the mega hit “See You Again” where he is a featured artist alongside Whiz Khalifa) “Marvin Gaye” featuring Meaghan Trainor was my favorite song from last year. The track is a master blueprint on how to write the perfect pop song, engaging key changes, a beat that won’t let you sit down and a melody reminiscent of Motown but Puth still manages to keep it current and timeless. The same could be said about the album’s opener “One Call Away”, both songs should have been huge singles on the Billboard Hot 100 but “Marvin Gaye” stalled at #21 and the latter just outside the top ten at #12. It took the 3rd single, the weaker “We Don’t Talk Anymore” with the help of Selena Gomez to finally break through. The album has fabulous non single tracks including the mesmerizing “Dangerously”, the uplifting anthem “Up All Night” and Carole King-esque “Left Right Left”. Charlie goes all falsetto and old school R & B on “Suffer”. The closer “Some Type Of Love” like all the others could all have been fab singles on the radio. I can’t wait to hear what he does on his sophomore album.
4. Familia Sophie Ellis-Bextor
I lost track of Sophie two albums back but I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the first few songs from this album. Beautifully written and produced by Sophie and Ed Harcourt, Familia is an upbeat euro dance pop electronic extravaganza with just a splash of Latin influences. “Why Be so ordinary, why conform” she sing on the opener “Wild Forever” and that is exactly what she does, this isn’t just a retread of her older albums. “Wild Forever” wakes you right up with its encompassing and swirling keyboards and brash sound. The second Single “Death Of Love” is one of her best songs, a beautiful mesmerizing and haunting song with heartfelt lyrics and an “endless” melody to match. “Hush Little Voices” steers a bit into country folk-ish territory with its percussion and pedal steel guitar vibe. “Here Comes The Rapture” is breathtaking, the string arrangement is lush and gorgeous with a fantastic vocal falsetto to accompany it, Sophie has really outdid herself on this outstanding track. The lead single “Come With Us” makes you never want to leave the dancefloor with a fabulous four on the floor beat. The album never gets tired, but keeps on going with the sad “Casandra” pop orientated “Puppet Heart” and Latin flavored “Don’t Shy Away”.
Be sure to check out the fabulous artwork for the album including the photos and videos by director Sophie Muller filled in Mexico.
5. Joanne Lady GaGa
GaGa is back on track with a stripped away pop album that finally showcases her songwriting and vocal ability instead of noisy over production which has plagued her previous releases. Standout tracks include her heartfelt tribute to her aunt “Joanne”, “Angel’s down”, the rebel country tune “Sinner Prayer”, the one hit “A Million Reasons” and burlesque flavored belter “Come to Mamma”. I love “Just Another Day” which is oddly delegated as a bonus track on the deluxe edition. For those that want to hit the dancefloor, there are plenty of tracks including “Diamond Heart”, “Perfect Illusion”, and the 60’s vibe “Dancin’ In Circles”. There are a few missteps including A-Yo and “John Wayne” which did not set the charts on fire.
6. 24K Magic Bruno Mars
A short but tightly produced nine track album. Bruno has all the grooves, funk and mastery of the Rhythm and Blues of the 1970’s but infused with the jams of the 1990’s. I beg you to try sitting when 24K Magic is playing. Other standout tracks are “Versace On The Floor” which sound like a long lost hit from the mid 1990’s and “Straight Up And Down”.
7. In The Now Barry Gibb
The last standing brother of the mega group The Bee Gees, and my all-time favorite music artists. I didn’t think I would ever hear new music again but Barry along with his sons Stephen and Ashley are back with a beautiful album. Barry has not lost his touch; the sound and production are fantastic, first single “Star Crossed Lovers” sounds like it was plucked from the old Blue Weaver Bee Gees band sessions of the late 1970’s. Even in his 70’s Barry voice still sounds great. Stand out tracks include the title track “In The Now”, “Grand Illusion” which could be hits for the BeeGees today, and Blowing’ A Fuse. The album loses a bit of steam at the end but finishes with the poignant country flavored “End Of The Rainbow”, Barry’s tribute to brother Robin. Like most albums it offers a deluxe edition with three extra songs which are worth it. All were written a few years ago before this album. “Grey’s Ghost” sports a George Harrison sitar sound, although the instrument is not listed in the credit. “Daddy’s Little Girl” is a cute little country pop tune dedicated to his daughter Ali, and Soldier’s Son, a song Barry wrote for an album for Ricky Skaggs.
8. 57th & 9TH Sting
Sting is back on form with his first rock album in years, like a very fine wine he ages well. The production and sound is suburb, like the albums of the 1980’s, only 10 song long (minus 3 extra live tracks), but ten good song with no filler. What I love about Sting is his lyrical poetry and his ability to make it a hook, a melody and song which doesn’t sound forced. Lead single “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” has you immediate hooked, very reminiscent of his early hits. Stand out tracks include “50 000”, “Down Down Down”, and my favorite “One Fine Day” the catchy global warming cry for help. This album is not light pop, “Petrol Head” is as hard rock as Sting comes. No Sting album would be complete without a humanitarian song “Inshallah” meaning “if it is God’s will it will pass” fits the bill fine. The album ends with the beautiful acoustic, think “Fields Of Gold”, “Empty Chair” a tribute to James Foley the American photojournalist who was murdered in Syria in 2014.
09. Heavy Entertainment Show Robbie Williams
The album is a bit of a mixed bag, it gave Robbie another #1 in the UK but the singles failed to light up the charts. Singles “Party Like A Russia”, “Mixed Signals” and the title track are just ok. Standout tracks are “Love My Life” Robbie’s new lease on life and autobiographical statement. Is it bad that I love the song “motherfucker”, written for his newborn son, it’s so damm cheeky and catchy, I dare you to sing “Your uncle sells drugs, Your cousin is a cutter, Your grandma is a fluffer, Your granddad’s in the gutter, Your mother is a nutter, Your mother is a nutter, We are mad motherfuckers, You’re a bad motherfucker”. “Bruce Lee” is a superb 1960’s rock retro piece with Robbie doing a nice bit of falsetto. Produced by Stuart Price the track “Sensitive” is a nice little slice of electronic romp on the dancefloor. A beautiful touching ballad “David’s Song” a tribute to Robbie’s manager who passed away is very reminiscent of his mega hit “Angels”, no surprise it’s produced by Guy Chambers who along with Stuart Price seem to take turn on the production tables. “Pretty Woman” turns the album back around with a fun heavy rockabilly vibe. “Hotel Crazy” co-written by Robbie, Guy Chamber and Rufus Wainwright takes a slow jazzy turn, the song finally finds it’s groove with Rufus’ lead chorus and fun spoken bridge. “Sensational” sound like a culmination of all of Robbie’s songs, a perfect track to close the album or any show. Unfortunately most albums today have multiple releases with extra songs leaving consumers scratching their heads wondering which version to buy and reviewers questioning which version to review? Five extra tracks here make 16 songs a long album in my opinion. Out of the extras I like “When You Know” with its sparkling electronic sound. The biggest misstep is delegating the fabulous orchestral John Grant duet “I Don’t Want To Hurt You” to the deluxe edition. I think the singles could have been rethought, there’s a great album in here but it’s just a little lost in all the confusion.
10. Paul Young Good Thing
I’m not usually a fan of cover albums but Paul delivers a nice stroll down memory lane with a selection of Memphis soul. He has a knack of picking songs that are not as well known or covered too many times.