#CrazyStupidAlbum: The Corrs – ‘Jupiter Calling’

Just as, at one time, Leigh Francis in a rubber mask on ‘Bo Selecta!’ ruined Craig David for a large number of people, so too, did Ant & Dec and Cat Deeley, wearing black wigs and affecting Irish accents and proclaiming that they were ‘beeeautiful’ on Saturday morning kid’s TV, ruin one of the Emerald Isle’s most successful exports of the last two decades. Well, almost. They took it in their stride and appeared in one such sketch, after all.

But as Craig David’s own hugely well received comeback proved recently, that’s almost forgotten about now. So too, is that infamous SMTV Live sketch. What is also forgotten as well, is that Dundalk’s finest, The Corrs, were absolutely huge at the turn of the century. At one point, their chart slaying second album from 1998, ‘Talk on Corners’, which included huge hits like ‘What Can I Do‘ and ‘So Young‘, was sat at number one in the UK, whilst their 1995 debut ‘Forgiven Not Forgotten’ played catch up, meaning they held the number one and number two album simultaneously.

When they released ‘White Light‘, their storming comeback album after a ten year break in 2015, it felt like a reassuringly warm comfort blanket in audial form, with their ear for melody and harmonies, and their winning combination of traditional Irish sounds with a pop sensibility all still resolutely intact.

‘Jupiter Calling’, their seventh studio album, consolidates the success of this return, and sees them team up with the legendary T Bone Burnett, best known for his work with the late great Roy Orbison. The resulting record is one that maybe isn’t as immediate as predocessing ones, nay more stripped back in its production, but reveals multiple hidden layers with returning listens.

The haunting opening track ‘Son of Solomon’ is unlike any Corrs song that’s come before or since. With Andrea singing in a low register, it builds slowly to a gentle instrumental break of fiddle, tin whistle and brushed drums that are simple but beautifully performed.

The lyrics in the album also tackle subject matter that’s never been covered on previous albums – but they have a remarkable way of making it accessible through what they do best. Current single ‘SOS’ and ‘Road to Eden’ touch on their concerns for the recent (and ongoing) conflicts in Syria, and of the plight of its refugees. 

Anyone who investigated Andrea’s 2007 solo album ‘Ten Feet High’ will find much to compare here, as the former song in particular has echoes of a single from that called ‘Shame on You’, which spoke of the futility of conflict and warfare: ‘There’s pain on the border / As far as the eyes can see … They say the victims are dangerous / What a bitter excuse / Cause now we’re complicit / Believing a lie is a truth’.
There’s also a short but genuinely moving track on the heartbreak and grief of miscarriage, ‘No Go Baby’. Again, it’s very simply arranged – just a piano backing – but it reflects so touchingly in the lyrics and the vocal delivery.

Those seeking some of the more uplifting end of the Corrs’ canon will be relieved to know there is an equal bounty of that on this album as well. ‘Bulletproof Love’ and ‘Hit My Ground Running’ sound like potential singles and future radio hits whilst maintaining the back to basics feel in the production on here.

‘Jupiter Calling’ is a record with such heart and honesty to it – it’s simplicity is part of its charm, and that is rewarded from repeated listens. It takes the band back to the very ethos of what they were about both on record and in a live capacity before their late Nineties and early Noughties super-stardom came beckoning, and it’s refreshing to hear them make music in this set up again. If you thought you knew The Corrs, it’s time to think again.

STREAM THESE: ‘SOS’, ‘Bulletproof Love’, ‘Hit My Ground Running’

RATING: 5/5

‘Jupiter Calling’ is available to stream and download now on EastWest Records. Twitter: @CorrsOfficial

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#CrazyStupidAlbum: Niall Horan – ‘Flicker’

There will be a curiously late 90s/early 00s feel to the top end of the UK album chart this coming Friday, if the current midweeks are anything to go by. Not least because of the spectacle of a George Michael album currently leading the way to be number one (albeit a heavily repacked one), but of the sight of two former members of very successful pop bands slogging it out for the top spot. All it’s lacking now is an ‘are-they-aren’t-they’ red-top media circus with one of the artists conveniently starting a relationship with the 2017 equivalent of Chris Evans (that’s the radio DJ, people born after 1993, not the actor), a la Geri Halliwell. But that’s enough about Taylor Swift.

No, one suspects that Niall Horan won’t ever feel the need to stoop to such levels, even though his record is set to debut in second place (although it is set to debut atop the US Billboard chart as I write this review). In fact, much of his solo career thus far has happened quietly, perhaps by accident one could argue. When One Direction took their break exactly two years ago, all the immediate focus wasn’t on him when the harried talk of ‘doing a Robbie’ began to be bandied about, as is always the way when a major league pop act calls time or takes five for a bit ‘to pursue their own projects’.

In the two years since, Zayn Malik and Harry Styles have both released albums to critical adoration and laughable talk of being ‘renaissance men’ like they’re the second coming, but with heavily frontloaded sales that have belied these notions, and barely remembered number one hits, whilst Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson have released insignificant one off singles tapping into the generic, bland-o ‘Tropi-house’ sound with producers and DJs with names, that for all the world, sound like characters from the Wacky Races.

But what Niall’s launch has lacked in a loud social media fanfare, it has more than made up for with some truly brilliant music, with an appeal far greater than the supposedly more credible offerings of his bandmates. ‘Flicker’, his debut set, opens with ‘On The Loose’, a breezy, catchy soft rocking number that calls to mind Fleetwood Mac and ‘Brothers in Arms’ era Dire Straits. From there, it moves from the still gorgeously nostalgic debut top 10 single ‘This Town’, into a delightful country tinged number, ‘Seeing Blind’, a collaboration with Maren Morris that taps neatly into the new Nashville remit whilst retaining a lot of his Emerald isle troubadour leanings.

His biggest hit to date, ‘Slow Hands’, co-written with Tobias Jesso Jr (the man who was part of Adele’s mega selling last album ’25’) is currently the most played song on US pop radio at the moment, following its top 10 success here in the UK over the summer. Listening to it again five months on reminds you exactly of why. Cutting a fine, swaggering groove, with a cheeky lyric, it’s the sort of record you can imagine the same people who still swoon over the moment Justin Timberlake released ‘Cry Me A River’ 15 years ago will talk about in reminiscent, feted excitement come 2032 – and beyond.

Our former #SongoftheWeek ‘Too Much to Ask’ continues to be as beautiful and haunting as it was a month ago – even if it has criminally been deprived of ascending to the top of the charts thus far this autumn. A roguish detour into his home roots back in Mullingar makes itself known on this record, on tracks like ‘Since We’re Alone’, which again has a touch of the Nicks and McVie to it, and also via the Ed Drewett co-written ‘On My Own’, with an anthemic chorus that rivals The Chieftains in it’s charming sing-along tale of good time ribaldry: ‘I’ll drink ’til it’s empty / Stay out ’til it’s dead / I’ll wake up at midday / And marry my bed / I’ll kiss all the women / Get punched in the head / You could offer the world, baby / But I’ll take this instead’.

The real highlight of the album though, and the one that you suspect will grow to be it’s biggest if it eventually becomes a single, is the title track. Raw, stripped back and really showcasing his voice – rough round the edges, but warm and with feeling – it taps so neatly, as much of this record does, into its underlying themes of love, loss and heartbreak, in verses like: ‘When you lay there and you’re sleeping / Hear the patterns of your breathing / And I tell you things you’ve never heard before / Asking questions to the ceiling / Never knowing what you’re thinking / I’m afraid that what we had is gone’.

It’s the touchstone of a record that’s carefully but thoughtfully crafted, and OK, yes, it’s one that wears its influences outwardly – even down to the lovingly retro, 70s ‘Capitol Records’ style print on the CD – but it’s none the worse for all that. In an age when music is so readily being made to ‘sound like Spotify’ (yes, this is sadly an actual thing) and chase a seemingly unending trend of ‘will this do?’, Niall’s stood out just by following his own instincts and musical loves and, with ‘Flicker’, making the kind of album you suspect he’d listen to himself if he wasn’t him. And when, in a year or two from now, as with Take That and Spice Girls before them, the rest of One Direction realise that being a member of one of pop’s biggest acts will only take you so far for a solo career of considerable length and success, Niall’s going to be the one with singles on the airwaves and shifting the albums for a while to come.

STREAM THESE: ‘Flicker’, ‘On My Own’, ‘On the Loose’

RATING: 4/5

‘Flicker’ is out now on Capitol Records. Niall tours the UK and Ireland in March next year as part of his world tour, starting in Belfast on 13th March – tickets are on sale now. Twitter: @NiallOfficial

#CrazyStupidAlbum: Steps – ‘Tears on the Dancefloor’

It’s not unfair to say that, where my love of 90s music – and in particular its pop groups – are concerned, that for all their ability to sell concert tickets and records by the truckload c. 1997 – 2001, I was never on board with Steps as much as I was with say, S Club 7. Sure, I made sure I knew their dance routines down pat for school discos – hello to you, the million selling, chart topping cover of the Bee Gees’ “Tragedy” in 1998 with that ‘hands to the side of the head’ move. 

And whilst they did release really great singles more often than not – ‘One for Sorrow’, ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘It’s The Way You Make Me Feel’ being the three finest examples of their singles canon, and of pop done properly – not one of their first three albums found its way onto 9 year old me’s stereo system. They were very much what-I-call a ‘singles band’. Simply put, I was invested as far as I could be invested. Not to mention I always found Ian ‘H’ Watkins a bit annoying, but then again so did most people my age.

The wheels for their comeback set in motion six years ago, when their former label Sony announced they were releasing ‘The Ultimate Collection’ album – essentially the same album as their 2001 best of ‘Gold: Greatest Hits’ – with or without them.

Cue Sky Living venturing up the opportunity for them to reform for a four part series titled ‘Steps Reunion’, officially one of the greatest bits of pop telly in the last 10 years, if not for inventing the Twitter drinking game ‘#DrinkWhenStepsCry’ (for most instances of which Lisa Scott-Lee was responsible), and a comeback tour. Cue the album shooting to number one and the tour being a sellout, yadda yadda yadda.

Then came a barely noticeable or remembered Christmas-y themed covers album ‘Light Up the World’ which passed without notice in 2012, and then all fell silent again. Until this year, a whole two decades since they first line danced into our consciousness with ‘5-6-7-8′. It seemed only right that this 20th anniversary was celebrated with new material – and the inevitable tour – of some form.

Heralded by Peter Loraine – he of course being the brains behind All Saints’ comeback album ‘Red Flag’ last year, Bananarama’s upcoming reunion tour, as well as the careers of Girls Aloud, The Saturdays and numerous other amazing pop people – ‘Tears on the Dancefloor’ is their fourth studio album of original material, and first since 2000’s ‘Buzz’. And just like that, Steps have released and found success as an ‘albums band’ as well as a singles one.

It helps that they’ve set themselves high standards from the off with all the singles that have come from the album thus far. ‘Scared of the Dark’, which knocked Ed Sheeran off the top of the iTunes chart back in March is exactly what you’d expect a Steps single in 2017 to sound like, but in the best possible way. It’s all dramatic strings and production with an epic chorus that’s up there with the likes of ‘Last Thing On My Mind’.

In fact, much of the album is set firmly towards four to the floor disco pop bangers, like the title track, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Glitter and Gold’. ‘You Make Me Whole’ even finds time to tap into a bit of a Rihanna with Calvin Harris sort of vibe with its calypso-esque backing, whilst current single ‘Neon Blue’ is all quiet and reflective with a soft piano backing before exploding into a monster of a floorfiller that’ll have you partying like it’s 1999 all over again.

But right in the middle of the album is a song that I suspect will be to Steps in years to come, what ‘Patience’ and ‘Rule the World’ were to Take That – aka the confirmation of their pop majesty to any doubters present, and of a pop act at the height of their musical potency. Their last single in June, ‘Story of a Heart’ is, as has been noted elsewhere already, the work of two men from the band that Steps were considered mutual bedfellows with in their first phase of success, namely Bjorn and Benny from Abba.

Originally recorded by Benny Andersson’s orchestra, and released in 2009, it was a song that I remember saying in a review of it that I wrote for a music website at the time would, if it ever happened, be the perfect comeback single for Steps. Eight years on, and happily that has proved to be the case. To paraphrase the famous beer advert at the time of their 90s success, if Carlsberg did wistful, moving Scandopop belters, they’d sound like this. It’s a real work of class.

In fact, dare I say it as an S Club fan, but this puts the S Clubbers’ 2015 reunion of one briefly reactivated hits album and a barely commited tour in the shade somewhat. Steps have delivered by honing to perfection all of what they really did best, and the strength and depth of ‘Tears on the Dancefloor’ really shines through with repeated listens. Better best forgotten? Definitely not with tunes like these – you’ll be stomping all night.

5/5

STREAM THESE: ‘Story of a Heart’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Glitter and Gold’, ‘You Make Me Whole’

‘Tears on the Dancefloor’ is out now via Steps Music/Absolute. Steps’ new UK and Ireland tour “Party on the Dancefloor” (with support from Vengaboys) starts at the SSE Arena in Belfast on 12th November, and finishes up at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on 7th December – tickets are on sale now. Twitter: @OfficialSteps

#CrazyStupidAlbum: Olly Murs (@ollyofficial) – “24 HRS”

Firstly, a hearty welcome back one and all! I’ve missed you all. I may or may not divulge in another forthcoming blog why there has been a silence of nigh on three months since my last post – real life mostly to place the blame on there. Secondly, Olly Murs is back (I know so, having met him again at his album signing in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush tonight – picture below. True gent as always). And with just seven weeks left of 2016, he has just released what may very well be the best pop album of the year.

It says a lot that of the classes of 2008 – 12 of “The X Factor” – read as the show’s peak years – only he, Little Mix and (a newly resurgent) James Arthur are still standing and making music. This, his fifth album in a thus far 7 year career also says a lot. The follow up to 2014’s chart topping “Never Been Better” thus already has a lot going for it.

It’s also a marked change in direction for the patron saint of cheeky chappy. Much has happened between now and his last album – some of which have been covered on here. We first got the hint last year that things were moving in a more mature direction music wise, when he released the brilliant “Kiss Me” as a new track from a repacked version of “Never Been Better”, a catchy but funky, slightly more moody dancefloor number which sounded fresh out of the late 80s and onto the 21st century airwaves.

Last year also saw him part ways with his long term girlfriend of three years, an experience which he has channelled into the lyrics and to the overall vibe of “24 HRS”. The results thus make for some of the most bold and adventurous sounds Murs has committed to record thus far.

Lead single and summer smash “You Don’t Know Love“, with its soaring chorus and electro tinged backing, sets up the tone of the album, beginning as it does right at the crux of a break up, which can be a painful experience however amicable it may be, but which vocally, Olly conveys perfectly. This theme carries on into “Years & Years”, a trip-hop laden demi-ballad wistfully mourning the passing of good times with a former flame.

Acoustic based jam “Grow Up“, the album’s current single, explores the more scathing side of a breakup as well, whilst maintaining the roguish charm of his earlier hits such as on the chorus line: “You’re so vain that I already know / That when you hear this on the radio / You’re gonna turn it up, turn it up, turn it up / Cause it’s all about you”. “Love You More” (not a JLS cover, sadly) and the oddly hypnotic title track with its Aqualung style sound also cover this theme further. Slightly sarcastic bitterness set to icy cold synths suits him down to a tee. Who’d thunk it?

Anyone fearing the album is missing his all important cheek though, need not worry, as there’s plenty of that abound – this time, taking on a racier, sexier direction. “Private”, his collaboration with wonderfully talented singer songwriter MNEK, is a straight up banger about keeping PDAs behind closed doors, whilst “Read My Mind” and “Unpredictable” glide charmingly and effortlessly along on a cool R&B vibe – both could be future singles.

For me, “Back Around” is one of the big standouts. It strikes a fine balance between the unique, uplifting sound that has got Olly to where he is now, but looks forward with this new sound of his as well, combining acoustic guitar with sharp dancefloor hooks in a manner many have attempted in recent months but few have convincingly pulled off. He is among that few.

With a career that has continued to defy expectations, and some of his strongest vocal and writing turns to date, “24 HRS” is a smart, honest but thoroughly enjoyable album. And there’s much to suggest here that Olly is onto potentially the biggest success of his career to date with this release. All the more praise to him for it!

5/5

STREAM THESE: “Back Around”, “Years & Years”, “Private”

“24 HRS” is out today via RCA/Sony. Olly is back on the road for a new arena tour in the UK and Ireland next March – tickets and dates available at www.ollymurs.com/live.

60 Years of the Official Album Chart: #MyFavouriteAlbum – Girls Aloud, “What Will the Neighbours Say?”

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A very special blog today this one. This month marks a huge 60 years since the Official UK Charts Company published the very first Official UK Album Chart. 60 years! To mark this occasion, they are celebrating a month of all things album (or LP for the old ‘uns amongst us) and have not only published a list of the UK’s 60 biggest selling albums of all time (some absolute gems amongst them. Hello to you, The Corrs’ “Talk on Corners”) and on their Twitter handle they’ve been asking music fans to tell them all about their favourite album using the hashtag #MyFavouriteAlbum.

I duly accepted this challenge, and so I am now going to write about #MyFavouriteAlbum and just why I think it’s the absolute best. I had a very tough time deciding what album this would be, but I knew deep down that it had be one album and one only. Ladies and gentlemen, and esteemed readers of this above average blog, I present you to my candidate for the title…

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It’s Girls Aloud, with their second album from 2004, ‘What Will the Neighbours Say?’.

Now it kind of goes without saying for anyone who really loves good quality pop music that Girls Aloud’s albums were as shit hot as their singles were. But why this album in particular? Well, it’s a number of reasons both personally and musically that this is the one I chose as my all time favourite. I’ve spoken before on this blog about how I discovered new music growing up. Cheryl, Nadine, Kimberley, Sarah and Nicola were a heady part of that process for the then early to mid teens me.

The year they launched in 2002, as winners of ITV reality show ‘Popstars: The Rivals’, was a bit of a non descript one by my standards music wise. Only Coldplay and Sugababes (the second line up with Mutya, Keisha and Heidi) were pushing my buttons at this time music wise. S Club were six months away from splitting, and the best pop got around this time was Atomic Kitten doing naff covers of Blondie and/or Gareth Gates doing his one man Westlife skit. It was all generally very not fun.

Over the next year though, starting with their chart slaying Christmas number one and debut single “Sound of the Underground”, the girls quietly became a force to be reckoned with, with some cracking singles to boot (“No Good Advice” and “Life Got Cold”, hello to you), courtesy of pop production giant Brian Higgins and his team at Xenomania. But it was in 2004 and into 2005 that I really began to sit up, take notice of, and then become completely obsessed with them.

Two key moments happened in quick succession for 16 year old me. The first was seeing the girls performing ‘Wake Me Up’, the fourth single from the album, on the BBC’s now defunct chart music programme Top of the Pops, where they were riding the Harley Davidson motorcycles from the song’s music video. It was catchy, sexy, trashy and flashy in one heaving mass of pop goodness, whilst they looked like the hottest Hell’s Angels ever – and the single was an absolute belter too, all crunchy techno pop rock with a pumping disco beat.

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A couple of weeks after this, and only two months away from sitting my GCSEs, I had my appendix out which rendered me out of action for six weeks (more on that on this previous blog I did here). Whilst I was at home, bed bound, eating chicken noodles and toast, and crying over the scene in ‘Casablanca’ with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, my mum decided to buy me some music as a treat to cheer me up and help with my recovery, and she bought me three albums: Green Day’s “American Idiot”, Gwen Stefani’s “Love. Angel. Music. Baby” and Girls Aloud’s “What Will the Neighbours Say?”.

I loved all three of those albums back then and I still love them now, but it was Girls Aloud’s I kept coming back to time after time after time – to the point where, a year later, when I was doing my A Levels, I actually had to get myself another copy of the album, as I’d worn out my first one. I loved it that much, it was like a pop comfort blanket. From the minute the album opens with its first single, “The Show”, with the gnarly, 80s synth riff that jags through the track like a neon lightning bolt, and the girls detachedly, wittily sing in unison ‘Shoulda known, shoulda cared / Shoulda hung around the kitchen in my underwear’, I was hooked.

It’s immediately followed with ‘Love Machine’, a technicolor word salad of 60s styled electropop and a guitar riff that, even now, only takes people all of five seconds to hear before they’re humming along and doing that infamous dance routine for it, and also put the phrases ‘We’re gift wrapped kitty cats’ and ‘Let’s go Eskimo’ into common parlance. Further down the album, more gems await. The All Saints-esque ‘Deadlines & Diets’, a trip hoppy ballad about nursing a hangover from the night before is one of their great lost singles that never were. So too, is ‘Graffiti My Soul’, a track originally offered to Britney Spears but that her people turned down due to its lack of chorus.

Ms. Spears’ gain was the Aloud’s loss, however, as it’s by far one of the best songs they recorded in their entire catalogue. From the minute it opens with Nadine’s sultry war cry of ‘Spiked heels and skin tight jeans / I gotta fist full of love that’s coming your way baby’, it builds and builds into this darkly comic monster of a track, part The Prodigy, part Madonna and part Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance”. It even won praise from traditionally more ‘serious’ music acts like Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, the latter of whom went onto famously cover ‘Love Machine’ for Jo Whiley’s Live Lounge show on Radio 1.

Also delightful is their 60’s cop show styled ‘Here We Go’, the deliciously frenetic ‘Real Life’, and a solo ballad from Nicola titled ‘I Say a Prayer for You’ which is all wistful and folorn and heartbreaking and has to be heard to be believed. It’s an album that stretches pop to its very limits whilst sounding completely fresh and unique at the same time – what The Guardian writer and critic Julie Burchill, one of the girls’ biggest champions, dubbed ‘pantyliner punk’ at the time of its release. Even now as I sit here, listening to the album again, I still hear new things or sounds on it that I maybe haven’t noticed before, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it 12 years on. And that is why I’ll keep blasting it in the 12 years to come – regardless of what the neighbours say.

What’s your favourite album of all time? Tweet me @ThePensmith10 or leave a comment below and I might even feature your favourites in a future blog 🙂

#CrazyStupidAlbum: Eddie Brett – “Parlay”

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Post-band solo careers. When this phrase is uttered, it usually conjures up one of two images. Either the image of the people who’ve gone on to get it really right (BeyoncĂ© headlining at Glastonbury 2011, Cheryl launching ‘Fight for This Love’ on X Factor in THAT soldier outfit, Justin Timberlake being all cool with The Neptunes) or the image of the people who got it spectacularly wrong (Brian Harvey and that incident with the baked potato, Lisa Scott-Lee and her lack of shame at letting MTV follow her untimely demise, all of Blue going bankrupt) crops up.

And then there are the curve balls. The people who, more often than not, release a solo record that, regardless of its commercial or critical appeal, are like an unprecedented but brilliant gem. In all senses of the word, this sums up thus far the solo venturings of Eddie Brett.

His former band Loveable Rogues – whose debut and only album was reviewed on this here blog a little under two years ago – were the last truly decent music act to come from ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. In the space of two years, three singles including top 10 hit ‘What a Night’, that album, countless tours, signing to a major label, leaving a major label and releasing with an indie label all passed by in a whirlwind.

When they formally called it quits at the end of 2014, no immediate plans to stay in performing and writing music seemed forthcoming from any of them. Sonny is now a DJ with a weekly show on Phoenix FM in Brentwood, Essex. TĂ© likewise has moved into blogging, showcasing new talent via his SoundCloud account.

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The first hint that something new was abound in Eddie’s world, however, was when a video went up on his YouTube account in July last year, a spoken word poem titled ‘What is a Dream?’ – a fascinating, unique piece written to an old college lecturer of his, half spoken, half rapped, and one that invited many a repeat play from these corners.

Not long after, his debut five track EP titled ‘He Does What He Wants’ was released, and showcased a completely different side to what had gone before with his time in Loveable Rogues. The haunting yet oddly morbid ‘Lady in Red’ with its Dire Straits-esque nod was a particular highlight for me.

Which brings us to this week, as his debut solo album proper, “Parlay” randomly appeared (or in his words, ‘did a BeyoncĂ©’) for streaming and purchase online with no warning. Some may think that a risky move, but listening closely to the album, nothing seems risky about that decision at all.

Whilst it does possess the same witty, and tongue in cheek conversationalism in the lyrics that were in bountiful supply on Loveable Rogues’ material, musically, things have advanced forward, and Eddie has repositioned himself on a more harder, punky, at times even Brit rock style leaning – a far cry from the sprightly ska pop of say, ‘Honest’ or ‘Love Sick’.

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Opening track ‘One Little Thing’ and ‘Riots’ are perfect examples of this. The latter concerns itself with the laconic dirge of post-university real life with an eye on the idea of being a successful adult in a broken economic Britain, all without a hint of a soapbox.

‘She’s Perfect’ is the obvious choice for a future single, boasting a summery blast of horns and a chorus that will be in your head for days after. ‘The City Don’t Like Us‘, a laidback acoustic jaunt about London suburbia, and the only track to survive from the early EP onto this album still feels fresh a year on as well. But perhaps most interesting are the album’s two closing numbers.

‘Funny World’ is a frank, honest track that seems to be recounting Eddie’s coming to terms with life away from the band, but not in the glib, woe is me sense of this matter: ‘When everyone’s left the party, and you’re left to clear up all by yourself / The lights have gone to black, and your fame ain’t coming back / Tell me what is it that you’ve done?’ It soul searches amiably into its subject matter, and is one of the strongest tracks on here.

‘The Tale of the Cockney Pirate’ ends the album on a sudden note – a half sung, half spoken poem that clocks in at just over a minute – but is a quirky closer, with instrumentation and lyrics calling to mind a Medieval chorus actor than the rest of the album’s more rockier leanings.

“Parlay” is, true, not an album that everyone will get straight away – but that’s besides the point. Rather than make the classic mistake of dismissing his former pop past altogether, Eddie has kept onto the spirit of what he bought to Loveable Rogues, but has taken this and cleverly applied it to carving out his identity as a solo artist. His way with words as a songwriter and poet has advanced even further on here, and that alone makes this record a triumph.

STREAM THESE: ‘Funny World’, ‘The City Don’t Like Us’.

“Parlay” is out now to stream or download on Apple Music via EddieBrett.com. Twitter: @EddieBrett

#CrazyStupidAlbum: Little Mix – “Get Weird”

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From a quick glance at what occupies the top end of the charts these days – even the recently revealed track list for the latest Now compilation reveals a record 10+ count of ‘featuring’ tracks, most of which are faceless, generic dance and EDM fusing random DJs with random session vocalists – pure, out and out, multifaceted pop is all but on the back bench again, just as it was 10 years ago.

Any prospective newcomers are almost just as faceless. Alien Uncovered (officially the worst name for a girl group ever. And Thunderbugs were bad), who just last weekend were voted off the first live shows of X Factor, were themselves just six very unlikeable, scraggy and generic dancers come rappers. What was crucially forgotten was that having a bit of feistiness to your output is OK as long as you’re approachable.

Being approachable but feisty is something Little Mix have got down to a fine art in the four years they’ve been around thus far. Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Ann Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall (one of the best girl group members ever, FYI), themselves winners of the aforementioned ITV talent show – and so far still the only group in its history to win – they returned to its stage last weekend to perform their new single and showed to the recently ejected Uncovereds (as we are calling them only for the purposes of this blog/review) and all else concerned how it should be done.

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And, just as their predecessors in great girly reality TV born pop, Girls Aloud, found themselves as the last pop game in town on the release of their third album, the still glorious ‘Chemistry’ in 2005, so too, do Little Mix find themselves in 2015 with the hotly anticipated arrival of their third album ‘Get Weird’. All in their team are fully aware of this, and after two album campaigns where they were hugely successful but rather forgotten about under an avalanche of contemporaries – namely JLS, The Wanted, One Direction and The Saturdays, all of whom have now either broken up or are on a hiatus – the mission of this album is to announce their arrival into the big leagues.

It’s already started swimmingly, in the shape of this album’s first release and opening track ‘Black Magic’. Co-written by the wonderfully talented Ed Drewett (Olly Murs, The Wanted), it’s a pocket rocket, big chorused, shiny and melodic singalong pop banger with more than a hint of 80s era Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper. It was glorious to see this rightfully spend three weeks at the top of the UK charts this summer, and is without question the best pop single released this year. It’s definitely become a career song for them now, and you would perhaps wonder if it’d be hard to live up to.

However, its follow up and current single ‘Love Me Like You’ is equally winning on the singalong front, and wonderfully harmonised against a swaying, 50s high school sweetheart pop backdrop that Olivia Newton-John would be proud of. Both these songs are effortlessly cute and hard to resist but showcase a graceful maturity from their first two albums – showing their development but not at the loss of what made them such a winning prospect in the first place.

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Further down the album is packed chock-a-block with huge hits in waiting – among them, the sassy hip hop flavoured kiss off of ‘Hair’, the Katrina and the Waves aping ‘stuff the haters’ anthem ‘Weird People’, and the quirky, drum heavy neo-soul of ‘Grown’ and ‘A.D.I.D.A.S’. Props also have to be given to ‘OMG’, a minimalistic spike of electropop that sounds like the great lost collaboration between them and Charli XcX we’ll never hear.

The only real mis-step that the album manages to make is on ‘Secret Love Song’, a laboured duet with general Autobahn area Jason Derulo that shouldn’t have got past the cutting room floor. But considering that’s one misstep on a 12 track pop album in this day and age is an awesome achievement, and one that should rightly be applauded. In all the other eleven tracks on this album their personality and bounciness explodes like one of those abstract paint splattered canvases in Italian art galleries.

Now coming of age, we can safely say the girls have made their best album to date with ‘Get Weird’. And, perhaps most importantly, as pop experiences a commercial drought like never before, we need a group like them more than ever to fly its flag proudly – hopefully, their fans will agree too.

5/5

STREAM THESE: ‘Black Magic’, ‘Weird People’, ‘Hair’, ‘Grown’

‘Get Weird’ is out now via SyCo. The girls head out on the road for the ‘Get Weird’ arena tour in the UK and Ireland in spring next year. www.little-mix.com

#CrazyStupidAlbum: The Script – “No Sound Without Silence”

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An interesting point was made by Danny O’Donoghue, the charismatic lead singer of Irish rockers The Script when I saw them being interviewed on BBC Breakfast last week. Namely, that on the subject of critical acclaim. This was a question probably raised in light of a scathing – nay, toffy nosed – one star review given to this, the band’s fourth studio album, in that weekend’s Guardian.

Of their critics, he said: ‘We’ve got to the stage in our career where we measure our success by our tours, our albums and the support from our fans. The biggest failure you can make as an artist is to try and please everybody.’ And indeed, when you place the cold hard facts – 20 million record sales worldwide since their 2008 debut – next to their critics’ subjective, snarky soundbites, you begin to see why.

For it seems that, far from not pleasing everybody, they are pleasing a very loyal and broad crowd indeed. In fact, they seem to be one of the few artists out there at the moment still relying on good old fashioned melody and soul in their own unique brand of Transatlantic sounding pop rock.

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What’s more, far from sticking to a supposedly ‘typical’ sound, they diverge off and experiment with some of the sounds of their Irish roots on here, most successfully of all on ‘Paint the Town Green’. Its lyrics sound like every old woven story you’ve heard in pubs from Dublin to Donegal with subtly honorable music to match. Similarly, ‘Army of Angels’ is all military drum riffs and arms aloft lyrics that sound like a 21st century rebel anthem.

But one thing that cannot be denied, and that they really excel at, is their knack for a good aural earworm with simple yet effective song structures – album opener ‘No Good in Goodbye’ and current single ‘Superheroes’ are perfect examples of this.

So for all the accusations of being formulaic, not only is ‘No Sound Without Silence’ as far away from such a description as possible, it manages to be by far and above their best album to date. Long may The Script continue to have the last laugh over Alexis Petridis et al.

STREAM THESE: ‘No Good in Goodbye’, ‘Army of Angels’, ‘Paint the Town Green’

‘No Sound Without Silence’ is out now via Sony/Columbia. The band are out on their UK and Ireland arena tour in March 2015. www.thescriptmusic.com

#CrazyStupidAlbum: Loveable Rogues – “This & That”

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Up until this week just gone, life had several great mysteries that were still unsolved: why there wasn’t any cure for the summertime blues, why toast landed jam side down, and why Loveable Rogues, despite being easily the best band in a long while to get their springboard into the public consciousness via reality TV (the 2012 series of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, where they came 4th behind the perpetually irritating, gyrating mongrel Pudsey), were still yet to release a debut album.

After all, on paper, Eddie, Sonny and TĂ© (for it is they) should have been an instant smash. Formed of their own accord in 2010 while they were all still at college, this cheeky, chappy and indeed loveable band of bros from Essex and north London wowed the judges and public alike over with their self penned, conversational and witty tunes like “Love Sick” and “Honest”, two tracks that were the first in a long time by a band from such a show that didn’t make you want to inflict serious harm on anyone and were fine examples of pop done properly.

Indeed – signed up immediately by Simon Cowell to his SyCo label on finishing the show, they started making their album and touring the country – including a prestigeous support slot on labelmate and good friend Olly Murs’ last tour, which they promptly followed up with a debut top 10 hit “What a Night”. Alas, SyCo were too wrapped up in signing the intolerably bad Union J instead (whose own album has struggled to sell even 100,000 copies) to make anymore effort, prompting the boys to leave their deal and set up their own label, SuperDuper Records.

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So this album has definitely been a long time coming – namely for reasons out of their control. Now it’s here though, it’s more than worth the wait and is a real surprise the whole way round. It is hard to explain just why that is the case, but I will try.

When the words ‘concept album’ are bandied about, it’s in the context of so called “serious” musicians making (or trying to make) some massive statement, politically more often than not, in album form. But “This & That” feels right to be calling a concept album, in that it’s the first pop album to brilliantly capture life as a late teen/early twentysomething living in modern Britain since Girls Aloud’s ubiquitous “Chemistry” album from 2005.

An enthralling mix of energy, relentlessness and joie-de-vivre, the album’s first three tracks traverse and explore blossoming first love in the selfie generation via soulful cod reggae (‘Sweet Lovin’), derision and rejection of the straitjacket of modern day, middle class aspiration on part rapped, part sung jangly indie pop (has-to-be-future-single ‘Talking Monkeys’) and the naughty, toilet humour, lads h’away antics of house parties gone wrong via the bastard child cross of Blink 182 and Madness (‘What a Night’).

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Further into the album, the lyrics and experimenting with styles of music get all the more weird and wonderful: ‘Everything’s Better With You’ is twinkly dream pop recalling the more love struck moments in Lily Allen’s back catalogue. ‘This & That’, the album’s title track is a funky acoustic jam that recalls the hilarious joys of running a contraband school tuck shop in the post-Jamie Oliver turkey twizzler-gate shaming of the mid 00’s.

‘Nuthouse’ is a suitably named off the wall cut, recalling the ska vibes of The Specials at their eerie best, and ‘Front Story’ is a visceral, biting attack on exaggerated tabloid tattletales based around a more punked up version of the old ‘Bo Diddley’ riff utilised on George Michael’s ‘Faith’.

Their amiability and charm shines through on a record that takes no prisoners in sound or style. Even though they lack in the power and promotion of a major label, making away with the by-committee, ‘will this do’ executive codswallop looming over them has allowed Loveable Rogues to truly represent themselves as the pop band that they really are, whilst in turn becoming one of its most exciting in a very long time.

STREAM THESE: ‘Front Story’, ‘Talking Monkeys’, ‘Nuthouse’.

‘This and That’ is available to download now on iTunes. The band are on tour again in November, dates to be announced soon. http://www.loveableroguesmusic.com