Sunday, 13 February 2011
A couple of female singers this month, from either end of the "pop" spectrum. From the left-field, we have Kate Nash, and from the more mainstream end of the charts - but still rather good nonetheless - we have Pixie Lott. To look at either blog click on the relevant tab top right.
"My fingertips are holding onto the cracks of our foundations"
Saturday, 12 February 2011
At the risk of sounding like a lazy journalist, it’s difficult to avoid the fact that the Noughties gave us not one, but two, female Ian Dury’s - Lily Allen, and Kate Nash.
Both were born in London, and both made their debut’s - after posting demos onto their Myspace accounts - via a limited edition 7”. Both also had an often uncompromising, direct approach in their lyrics just like Dury had often done (Nash’s debut LP had a song titled, simply, “Dickhead”) and were happy to allow their accents come through quite strongly on record.
Although both Allen and Nash became TV and Radio darlings after their debut albums were released, their careers have veered off in different directions of late. Allen had her own TV show, posed topless for GQ, and released a second album that became a major hit. She hit the festival circuit and found herself playing quite a way up the bills on the main stages. But whilst Allen was becoming a big pop star, Nash’s career has remained somewhat more “indie” - her second album achieved only moderate sales (not helped, I would argue, by some vicious reviews), she also hit the festivals but seemed rooted to the second stage or the “alternative” tent, and was certainly nowhere near whipping them out “for the boys”. A 2010 interview, first printed in the UK in “The Big Issue” saw her objecting to the concept of female singers feeling the need to pose for the ’lads mags’ in order to help further their careers. But I wouldn’t feel too sorry for Nash - that second album did spawn a pop genius moment in “Do-Wah-Doo”, and whilst she may not want to ever be headlining The O2 in London, she has claimed her third album will be inspired by Beyonce’s multi-million selling “I Am…Sasha Fierce” LP.
Nash’s debut 45 from 2007, a double A side 7” release, combined two tracks taped the previous year - “Caroline’s A Victim” and “Birds”. The former was a slighty strange, semi-electro “jerky” sounding piece of left-field pop, quite unlike the bulk of slightly poppier material that would end up on her debut LP. “Birds” did make the LP, albeit in re-recorded form. The single was issued as a limited edition 1000-copy pressing, but after selling out quickly, a second batch were pressed up. Soon after, a satirical swipe at Nash, Allen and the “new art-school” crowd, called “LDN Is A Victim”, garnered interest at Radio 1, despite the fact that the station was heavily plugging Nash and the other acts “attacked” in the song.
“Caroline” was issued on Moshi Moshi, the same label who later signed Florence And The Machine, but it was on Fiction that all future Nash releases would be released, a label who for years only seemed to be home to The Cure but have increased their roster quite a bit in recent years. The first single from Nash’s debut LP was “Foundations”, issued on a wallet busting three formats, each with exclusive B-sides. In the USA, the single was issued as a four track maxi single which included two of the UK B-sides, plus “Caroline’s A Victim”, whilst the Australian edition opted to include all three of the B-sides. It was the promo CD, catalogue KN1, that was officially Nash’s debut Fiction release - it included both a “clean” and “explicit” edit of the track, with the section about somebody being sick on Nash’s new trainers being edited out of each mix. The LP version appeared on all of the commercial releases.
“Made Of Bricks”, the debut LP, appeared in August 2007. It was the recipient of mostly positive reviews, although The Independent slated it quite badly. It appeared on Pink Vinyl, whilst the CD included the by-now compulsory “hidden” bonus track, “Little Red”, after the official album closer, “Merry Happy”.
Three more singles were taken from the LP - “Mouthwash”, “Pumpkin Soup” and the aforementioned “Merry Happy”. One of the two vinyl editions of “Mouthwash” featured a track called “Take Em Back”, which was mis-titled “Take Em Out” on the sleeve, whilst the B-side of “Pumpkin Soup” was a poem called “Pistachio Nut”. In Europe, a previously unissued live take of “Foundations” appeared as a B-side on all formats. “Merry Happy” was released as a hyper limited 45, 3000 copies only across three formats, with one of the vinyl B-sides, “Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt”, later being re-recorded for Nash’s second LP.
Nash’s second LP, “My Best Friend Is You”, appeared in 2010. “Do-Wah-Doo”, with it’s brilliant flight attendant promo video, revealed a slightly “new” direction, with Nash openly admitting that it took it’s cues from the likes of The Supremes and The Ronettes. “Kiss That Grrrl”, the second single from the album, meanwhile, sounded more like The Jesus And Mary Chain and came with an equally inventive “showgirl” promo. Both singles appeared on 7” and CD, with the CD editions including a cover of the A-side by a guest artist - the cover of “Do-Wah-Doo” was done by Ryan Jarman from The Cribs, Nash’s long time boyfriend. A third single, “Later On”, was only made available via Nash’s website or on her fall 2010 UK tour, with most copies being personally signed by the lady herself.
Nash is heading out on another UK tour in March, having just completed shows in the US, and has Australian shows coming up this week as I type this. There is also a “History Of Cockney” exhibition at The British Library at present, the organisers of which have cited Nash as reflecting “a younger urban mode of speech with…use of the glottal stop in words like city and little”. Nash, having actually come from Harrow rather than Bow, may have been mercilessly ripped on the net for being a “Mockney”, but there’s no denying the “Englishness” of her music, which, despite struggling to maintain an audience in these N-Dubz and Jedward fuelled times, has marked her out as one of our more interesting singers. Forget Kate Middleton and the fact she will one day become Queen Of England, Kate Nash is my Queen - of indie, at least.
Made Of Bricks (CD, Fiction 1743143, also on Vinyl)
My Best Friend Is You (CD, Ficition 2733707, also available as "scrapbook" style boxset)
Caroline’s A Victim/Birds (AA 7”, Moshi Moshi MOMO4)
Foundations/Old Dances (Numbered 7”, Fiction 1735513)
Foundations/Navy Taxi (Numbered 7”, Fiction 1735511)
Foundations/Habanera (Numbered CD, Fiction 1735509)
Mouthwash/Dirt (7”, Fiction 1744950)
Mouthwash/Take Em Back (7”, Fiction 1744953)
Mouthwash/Stitching Leggings (CD, Fiction 1744949)
Pumpkin Soup (LP Version)/(Live From Cardiff Solus) (7”, Fiction 1754568)
Pumpkin Soup (1-sided 7” with etched B-side, Fiction 1754569)
Pumpkin Soup/Pistachio Nut (CD, Fiction 1754566)
Merry Happy/The Lion The Devil And The Spider (1000 only Numbered 7”, Fiction 1764010)
Merry Happy/Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt (1000 only Numbered 7”, Fiction 1764011)
Merry Happy/Model Behaviour (1000 only Numbered CD, Fiction 1764009)
Do-Wah-Doo/Grrrilla Munch/R N B Side (7”, Fiction 2736397)
Do-Wah-Doo (CD, Fiction 2737819, B-side by Ryan Jarman)
Kiss That Grrrl/Great Big Kiss/Song For Corrado (7”, Fiction 2741839)
Kiss That Grrrl (CD, Fiction 2741841, B-side by Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players)
Later On (Hand-autographed 7”, sold via website and on tour, B-sides by Brigitte Aphrodite & Sister Lovers, Fiction no cat no)
Later On/Froggy Froggy Froggy (Hand-autographed CD, sold via website and on tour, also features bonus B-side by Brett Alaimo, Fiction no cat no)
Note: every one of the above singles come in different sleeves, with the aforementioned US/European releases using one of the sleeves from the corresponding UK release. The Promo CD’s for the singles from “Made Of Bricks” all came in fairly simple sleeves, with a big “Kate Nash” logo filling the cover, and most of them opting to include just the one track in it’s original album form. “Caroline” is available on CD in the UK, as it was later included on the “Moshi Moshi Singles 2006-2008” compilation. The original mix of “Birds” was available on a Moshi Moshi “B-sides” cover mounted CD that came free with Artrocker magazine during 2008. The “2006-2008” collection, which included only A-sides, featured a photo of the original front covers of all the singles compiled on the LP, the freebie featured the same design - but with photos of the accompanying rear sleeves instead.
Further reading and viewing:
Kate's Official Site: http://www.katenash.co.uk/
Kate on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9yhCuOMOBA
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Year in, year out, The X Factor fails to do what it promises to do. It has given us such pop failures as Steve Brookstein and Leon Jackson - indeed, the amount of decent pop stars who have emerged from the show (either as winners or finalists) can actually be counted on one hand.
You would assume that one of the reasons the show exists is because there is a dearth of musical talent in the UK. But when you consider that the likes of Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Everything Everything and Friendly Fires have emerged during the same life time as the show, it’s proof that we really don’t need the thing at all. And it’s not just the world of indie that has happily continued to flourish without Simon Cowell’s help; some decent pop acts have also emerged without the help of the evil puppet master. Pixie Lott is the pick of the bunch. Blessed with a fantastic voice, Lott is everything you want from a pop star. She looks like a pop star should, and she acts like a pop star should. Whether it’s parading around outside nightclubs wearing a short skirt with over the knee socks, or turning up on the “Alan Titchmarsh” show in the run up to Christmas 2010 decked out in snow hat and full matching seasonal garb in what was probably a boiling hot TV studio, Lott stands out from the crowd. She knows that pop stars should be glamorous, so she is glamorous. Not all pop stars manage to act like pop stars - be honest, do you know what ANYBODY from The Wanted looks like?
Lott has not come from the “overnight sensation” scene that helped Joe McElderry sink into obscurity within a year, and her career is starting to blossom. She is starting to make waves in the US, has even had a role in a movie (albeit panned by most of the critics) and has just completed her first “proper” UK tour, where the audience were encouraged to get out the marker pens and draw cat faces on themselves for the gigs. OK, it may not be the full blown humans-in-animal-costumes madness that fill up Flaming Lips gigs, but in the sometimes deathly dull music scene, anything that is just that little bit different deserves some praise. And with a website that features different "Pixies" dancing around at the top of the screen every time you click to another page, and an FHM shoot under her belt, Lott is simply a lot more interesting than, say, JLS.
Lott had been involved in the entertainment industry for several years before her debut single in 2009, and even then, she had been working on her music for several years before “Mama Do” surfaced in the summer. A bit of a slow burner rather than a “Sound Of The Underground” style ‘in your face’ anthem, it featured a stylish, slightly saucy, slightly surreal video, but it was the song itself that was the clincher - it showcased Lott’s voice perfectly, and what a voice she had. Note perfect, pitch perfect, capable of hitting some impressive notes, here was somebody who could really sing - unlike the likes of Matt Cardle, a man who seemingly failed to sing in tune every week on “The X Factor” but still ended up winning. “Mama Do”, in these painfully bad X Factor times, showed how good Pop really could be if you tried hard enough.
“Mama Do” appeared on just one format - the already dying CD Single. It came with a “new” B-side, a track that would not make Lott’s debut LP when it was issued later the same year, “Want You”. It became a huge hit, and Lott became an omnipresent figure on TV and Radio. The follow up, the feisty “Boys And Girls”, was an exhilarating blast of genius pop, with another memorable video, Lott oozing sex appeal, but in a more “girl next door” than “Marilyn Monroe” way. This single also came as a physical release, again it was a 2 track CD Single with another non album track “If I Changed” on the ’flip’. Unlike other pop acts, Lott co-wrote the A-side, and would also contribute several more co-writes on her debut album.
The album, “Turn It Up”, surfaced soon after. It’s remained a fairly notable presence in and around the charts since it’s release, and seems to be one of those albums that has infiltrated people’s minds bit by bit, eventually being certified double-platinum in the UK nearly a year after it’s release. Soon after, Lott was involved in the Various Artists single, “I Got Soul”, an attempt by Lott and a gaggle of lesser soul/R&B acts to cover the uncoverable Killers track “All These Things That I’ve Done”. By now, her fame had put her firmly in the public eye, which led to a monumentally lazy article in “The Independent” which looked at “the current wave of female popstars”, and saw Lott being compared to Florence And The Machine, Marina And The Diamonds, Little Boots, etc. in the same way Sleeper, Lush, Echobelly & Elastica were all dumped in the “female fronted bands” genre in the mid 90s. Lott was individually targeted in the article and slagged off for being “too pop”. Why put her in the list in the first place then?
Lott’s career post-”Turn It Up” is very much reflective of the state of the industry. A few years ago, digital downloads would only count towards chart positions if a physical single was issued the following week, but this is no longer the case, and physical singles are now a rarity in the UK. The next three “singles” Lott released from the record appeared as digital-only releases, with videos being filmed for all three tracks - “Cry Me Out”, “Gravity” and “Turn It Up”. Promo CD’s do, however, exist for all of these releases.
Towards the tail end of 2010, with her first headline tour approaching (Lott had already done the festivals and a support slot with Rihanna), the decision was taken to re-release the LP, with a new cover and a slightly altered title - “Turn It Up Louder”. The decision to try to present the album as a “new” release was a new record label trick, and the likes of Ellie Goulding and Florence (again) did a similar thing at the same time. The original 12-track album was expanded to run for 22 songs, but because the extra tracks included covers and material previously available as downloads, the album was rather undersold by the record label who simply referred to it as having “five new songs”. “Want You”, from the “Mama Do” single, was also included on this new edition. One of the new songs, “Broken Arrow”, a sublime piece of melancholic pop, was issued as a single just prior to the reissue, and appeared on CD with an acoustic recording of the track as a B-side. Following the reissue, a video for another of the new songs, “Can’t Make This Over” was filmed, but there seems to be no physical release forthcoming, nor it seems any sort of digital release either.
What next? Well, Lott is just starting to release material in the US, and a revamped version of “Turn It Up” is due for release there any day now, which looks like it will include at least one track not on the UK editions. Lott has also helped co-write several songs for other acts (under her real name, in some instances, as 'Victoria Lott') as well as guesting on other albums, but it remains to be seen if she will continue to do this if her US career takes off. Let's just hope that the UK's brightest pop star continues to shine.
PIXIE LOTT DISCOGRAPHY
Turn It Up (2009, CD, Mercury 2700146)
Turn It Up Louder (2010, CD, Mercury 2752081)
Mama Do/Want You (2009, CD Single, Mercury 2711869)
Boys And Girls/If I Changed (2009, CD Single, Mercury 2714871)
Broken Arrow (LP Version)/(Acoustic Version) (2010, CD Single, Mercury 2753191)
Pixie's Official Site: http://www.pixielott.com/
Pixie on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81-eLoXKMaE