CMT Crossroads Taylor Swift & Def Leppard (1998) / RED Taylor Swift (2012)

Once fine day, I saw a video clip posted by one of the Google+ users featuring Taylor Swift and Def Leppard performing Hysteria.  That electrifying performance is tantalizing in so many different ways.  First, as a huge fan of Def Leppard, to be able to see them perform live at this age, I mean, these guys still have it.  They still rock.  Later on, I read that Taylor Swift did this Crossroads collaboration partly because her mother is a big fan of Def Lepard.  That is kind of sweet of her.  Second, as you may have already known, I am a mega fan of Taylor Swift.  I am keen to see what the outcome of this collaboration would be, between a classic band like Def Leppard and a successful young female artist Taylor Swift one generation apart whereby the only commonality is the pop genre.

The main presentation has a total of eight songs.  Four tracks are from Def Lappard namely Photograph, Hysteria, When Love & Hate Collide, and Pour Some Sugar on Me.  Another four are Taylor Swift’s Picture to Burn, Love Story, Teardrops on My Guitar, and Should’ve Said No.  In addition, as bonus materials, there are three more tracks: Love, Our Song, and the all acoustic Two steps behind.

All the songs are nicely done.  Joe Elliott and Taylor Swift duet on each other’s songs.  Two bands are merged, very much like jamming on stage.  While I love all the tracks on this recording, When Love & Hate Collide and Teardrops on My Guitar stand out as my favorite tracks.  Interlaced onto the live performance is a set of interview that lends insight on the musical journey of both artists.  What a gem this DVD is.

RED

I wasn’t too sure if I would love Taylor Swift’s fourth album RED.  But I have a high level of anticipation nonetheless.  I like her country root.  Over the year, she seems to have spilled over to the pop genre.  When We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together first debuted on Google Hangout, I wasn’t sure what to make out of it.  That song does grow on me over time, like the rest of RED.  One good thing about her experimental journey in collaborating with other artists such as Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol is that it shows a different side of her.  A sign of growth and maturity, which in turn influences her own production.

My favorite tracks though as the ones written by her in entirety.  As well as All Too Well that is co-written with Liz Rose.  The Liz Rose and Taylor Swift collaboration has produced 16 songs including White Horse, Teardrops on My Guitar, and You Belong with Me.  I am hoping for more like these in the future.

Has anyone managed to crack the codes in her lyrics by picking out all the oddly capitalized letters?  I have tried but have given up.

Jewel – Sweet And Wild – The Title Says It All

If I could hand out album of the year award, I would seriously consider Jewel’s “Sweet and Wild” as one of the nominees.  That is based on the 8,000 songs I have downloaded over one year (thank you Nokia).  If you have heard Jewel singing live – which I did when I was working in Malaysia – you would agree that she sounds even better in front of the audience than her recorded album.  Her 1995 album “Pieces Of Me” thrills me.  More so, the inspiring story of her touring all over America to promote her album.  While her initial debut did not take off, her re-release of the same album has made history.  I also like her subsequent releases up to “0304” when she has totally lost me with her pop approach.  Thereafter, although I am still following her music career, the albums do not quite hit my spot.  Then comes “Sweet and Wild”.

Jewel remains strong, lyrically.  Take the last track “Satisfied” as an example (check out the video at the end of this post).

If you love somebody, you better let it out.  Don’t hold it back while you’re trying to figure it out.  Don’t be timid, don’t be afraid to hurt.  Run toward the flame, run toward the fire.  Hold on for all your worth cause the only real pain a heart can ever know is the sorrow of regret when you don’t let your feelings show.

The beauty of this song – besides its melody – is that she goes on with how to love and ultimately feel satisfied.

“Sweet and Wild” contains some emotionally desperate songs, like the dramatic opening track “No Good In Goodbye” that demonstrates her brilliant vocal capability.  That track is almost as sad as some of the songs in her debut.  But the crying sound is no more, which is more pleasing to the heart (l did not notice how much she used the crying sound until lately when I listened to her debut again).  Majority of her album are tracks that are so sweet that I cannot stop smiling listening to them.  Tracks such as “I Love You Forever” and “Stay Here Forever”.  I would suppose these are the songs inspired by her recent marriage.  There is even a song on a couple having a row that surprisingly, it sounds absolutely sweet.  Check out the lyrics excerpt for the song “Ten” on her stopping and counting to ten before leaving after a fight.  I am sure most of you who are or have been in a relationship would be able to relate.

One, I still wanna hate you.  Two, three, I still wanna leave.  Four, searching for that door.  Five, then I look into your eyes.  Six, take a deep breathe.  Seven, take a step back.  Eight, nine, I don’t know why, we even started this fight.  By the time I get to ten, I’m right back in your arms again.

And to sweeten the song, like the 10 things I love and hate about you, here is the answer to the emotion above when she counts her blessing because one could lose what one is not thankful for.  Lyrically, I think it is beautiful.  So is the song.

One, you still move me.  Two, three, you send chills right through me.  Four, you keep me wanted more.  Five, when I look into your eye.  Six, you’re my best friend.  Seven, that will never end.  Eight, nine, I don’t know why, but thank God it happens every-time.  By the time I get to ten, I can see how bless I’ve been.

“Sweet And Wild” – like most of her previous albums – is leaning towards pop than country.  It is not a powerhouse country pop album like others who do well in the chart.  But it is quite likely one of the sweetest and most accessible Jewel albums I have come across for quite some time and I fall in love with all the tracks in this album.

Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite – How Powerful Her Celebrity Branding Is

If you stop for a moment and ponder why one would buy into Kylie’s music, I reckon that has to do with the overall branding than the creativity and the technical execution of her music.  Using the image of the goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality – Aphrodite – as the title of her 11th album, I doubt if any one in the business today can carry that as suiting as Kylie.  In the recent interview with CNN, Kylie talked about her surviving cancer and thrives.  Researchers declare her as the most powerful celebrity in Britain.  But will this album work for you?

“Aphrodite”, overall speaking, is pretty average.  If not for the free music download service from Nokia, I would probably not own it.  Having said that, there are a couple of tracks that are insanely addictive.  The dance beats would stick on my mind the whole day.  I have put both “Cupid Boy” and “Aphrodite” on track repeat for days.  I could listen to these tracks for hours without getting sick of them.  It is rare these days and when that happens, how you wish that the rest of the album were as good, yes?  I feel as though I am not only drawn to the music, but also the goddess herself.  “Closer” is a mellower track that is worth putting into the play-list.  As for the first single release of the album, “All The Lovers”, while it lacks the instant hit quality as a single, the underlying message is strong.  If you check out the music video, there is a massive public orgy of very beautiful people (or bodies) with boys kissing girls, girls kissing girls, and (I think) guys kissing guys.  The lyrics of the music is weak.  But the video interpretation is powerful.

Assuming that you have checked out her latest video (and return!), tell me honestly, how you girls wish to look that good at the age of 42 eh?  For you guys, I don’t even want to know what is going on in your mind.

Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted – Now, Give That Girl Some Love

Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted

In a way, I am not surprised to read that Kelly Clarkson’s latest single “My Life Would Suck Without You” made the biggest jump from 97 to 1 in the US Chart.  After her last effort “My December”, I am reminded that big stars don’t necessarily make great albums all the time.  Look at Leona Lewis’s “Best Kept Secret”.  I want some “Bleeding Love”.  The blessing and curse of such successful titles, all eyes are on our American Idol’s very first “Because of You”.

“My Life Would Suck Without You” has all the elements of being a chart topper.  The beat, the tune, and it’s catchy.  I watched her on TV performing that song on this season’s American Idol.  She had so much fun on the stage, that confidence.  Unlike her last album, she put more effort in collaborating with other songwriters and producers, which is good.  I think she is a greater singer than a songwriter.  And like her last album, and the one before, and before, her lyrics seem to continue to revolve around her past failed relationship.  I really wish someone give that girl some love and perhaps, she may make a happier album next time.  Although, of all people, I shall be able to understand why some artists are more attracted to certain emotions.

The album “All I Ever Wanted” has its hits and misses, in my book.  I bought the deluxe edition that comes with a DVD and an extra two bonus tracks.  It was a good decision because the bonus tracks are really good.  Looking at all the 16 tracks of pop / rock / dance genres, there are 5 I absolutely love, 4 I absolutely don’t get it, 5 I am lukewarm towards, the remaining 2 are so-so-ok-ish.  Of those the hits, most are written not by Kelly Clarkson.  For the misses, it is a split.  So what does that say?  Collaboration with other producers seems to pay off.  There is still room to work on song choices.

Hits and misses aside, Kelly Clarkson has such a God gifted voice.  And she can sing almost any genre, fast and slow.  She reminds me of the early days of Mariah Carey, whom I admire a lot.  I wish that “All I Ever Wanted” has a stronger song collection.  OK, Kelly Clarkson has established the fact that she likes to create a different album each time.  Kelly, you’ve just brought me back into the fan base and I am looking forward to what your next album would be like.  Country music please.

Below is the single “My Life Would Suck Without You”.  And I have found a really funky remixed version too.

No Line On The Horizon – An U2 Album that Splits Audience and Rewards Those with Patience

U2's No Line On The Horizon

Q Magazine wrote, “Good Lord, it’s a masterpiece”.  Oh well.  For all that’s worth, for better or worse, this 12th U2 studio album has offered the audience a listening journey that is rarely seen these days – from the music and lyrics to the visual experience.  What would this album be if U2 was to stick with producer Rick Rubin’s back to basics approach, I could only imagine.  I in especially love Rubin’s recent work with Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”, Dixie Chicks’s “Taking The Long Way”, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Stadium Arcadium” – just to name a few.  These are major success, beyond commercial.  And if U2 has decided to abandon the collaboration with Rick Rubin, one could only expect this album to be nothing but greatness.
 
But is it?
 
Some are quick to love it; some love it not.  Some are not impressed with the lyrics; some spend much time deciphering the theme – song by song – and even theorize how the last song takes us back to the first.  Some don’t get the film “Linear” by Anton Corbijn that features all the songs from the album and more; some do.  Some think this is an original piece of work; some disagree.  Some say that it is a far cry from being experimental; some swear by it.  To be frank, even for the not-as-good U2 albums, they are still way better than the majority of records in the market, past and present.  I doubt if the fans could ever agree on the best U2 albums ever made.  Or for those who like this new album, we debate on which track works and which doesn’t.
 
Why this diverse reception from the fan base?
 
It has got to be a testimony of the artwork diversity U2 produces over the year.  Here is my personal listening journey with “No Line On The Horizon”.  Like any of my “tier 1 artists”, I bought the album when it’s out, without sampling the songs.

At first listen, yes, it’s good old Bono’s characteristic over-the-top-passion-filled vocals.  Then I noticed the prominent bass line played by Adam Clayton, something I haven’t quite noticed since the days of “With Or Without You”.  Nice!  By the third song, I noticed The Edge playing solo.  That’s a surprise because I don’t recall to hear him plays in that style often.  By the time I have completed a first listen, I was much impressed by the drums variation Larry Mullen Jr. has poured in each and every song.  I think our drummer would like this album based on the fact that each song is presented differently.

But something seemed missing.  I wished that the choruses were more memorable than the verses.  Somehow the less-than-impressive kind of rhyming lyrics like “submarine” and “gasoline”, “restart” and “re-boot” got stuck in my head.  Yes, there are outstanding tracks such as “Magnificent” and “Moment of Surrender”, “Get On Your Boots” and “Cedars of Lebanon” that I would listen to them again and again.  But no, not every song I could fall head over heels with immediately.

After a couple of days of trying to comprehend U2’s latest work, I started to examine the printed lyrics (very nice booklet that comes with the CD by the way).  Very impressive piece of work.  Subtle reference to religion, little or no reference to politics, and much on humanity.  Words like “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose” or “[Your enemy] gonna last with you longer than your friend” talk to me.  And then I spent 3 hours downloading the film that comes with the album.  Very artistic film.  It’s not your usual MTV nor Hollywood production.  Simple, yes.  But if my band could make videos like these, I would be more than happy.

My initial impression on what’s missing remains, though much diminished the more I listen to it.  Could this be a masterpiece?  It is certainly an outstanding piece of artwork.  I tried listening to other albums at HMV today and the rest seem so bland.   I tend to agree with Q Magazine and Rolling Stone, “No Line On The Horizon” is their best album since “Achtung Baby”.

Related Post: U2! Down the Memory Lane on a Nostalgic Hazy Friday