This year has been a bit of a belter for me music-wise with some great releases from heavyweights and old favourites as well as a few new acts and surprises.
I hate trying to do proper numbered top tens so instead I’ve just given my favourites in no particular order but split out into to broader categories of ratings.
Top of the Pops (my 9 & 10 out of 10 albums - ‘zomg amazing’)
The Next Day - David Bowie Yeezus - Kanye West Bangerz - Miley Cyrus Artpop - Lady Gaga Bloodsports - suede Random Access Memories - Daft Punk The Big Dream - David Lynch
Best of the Rest (7 & 8 out of 10 - ‘bloody good but not perfect’)
The Minutes - Alison Moyet Exile - Hurts Tales of Us - Goldfrapp Days are Gone - Haim Pale Green Ghosts - John Grant Kiss Land - The Weekend Seasons of Your Day - Mazzy Star Innocents - Moby Three - Charlotte Church Dead Ends - The Rumour Said Fire
Could do better (6 & 7 out of 10 ratings - ‘a few belters and a bunch of fillers’)
Swings Both Ways - Robbie Williams The Marshall Mathers LP2 - Eminem Rewind The Film - Manic Street Preachers Closer To The Truth - Cher
Great song but the album was a bit rubbish Roar - Katy Perry Anything Could Happen - Ellie Goulding
New act that deserves a mention on the basis of one song alone Take Me to Church - Hozier
Man of the year David Bowie - For being the best at keeping a secret ever.
Woman of the year Miley Cyrus - For cultural whiplash due to her unexpected smackdown on the pop landscape
Performance of the year Artpop at Swinefest - Lady Gaga Because sometimes the simplest move is right.
'Moment' of the year Wrecking Ball - Miley Cyrus For straddling the zeitgeist as well as the ball.
Gig of the year Suede - Glasgow Barrowlands Because that’s where I go, and that’s what I do..
Most anticipated for 2014 Ultraviolence - Lana Del Rey Artpop volume 2? - Could just be a scurrilous rumour More suede please!
I absolutely loved the Hunger Games books when I read them (you can see my review of the series here if you like) but never quite mustered myself to watch the first film. The trailers left me a little cold - or to be more accurate not cold enough - and having already been through the initially torturous process of learning to love the Potter movies I didn’t feel quite ready to sacrifice another fandom at the alter of the adaptation. However I had heard nothing but good about the sequel Catching Fire over the last week or two so I decided to man up and go and see it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Let’s get my kvetches out of the way first - as predicted all three of the main protagonists are far to pretty and healthy looking. You’ve been down the mines all year have you Gale? That’s funny because you look like you’ve been modelling Levis in a 50s garage. And speaking of Gale - actually why bother? A combination of a chronically underwritten character and an actor who might has well have been a piece of handsomely carved oak meant I really couldn’t care less about him. In fact I generally just forgot he existed. I realise he had a smaller part in the second book too but still, a bit of a waste.
On the other hand I thought Josh Hutcherson was really well cast as Peeta and once I got over her too-pretty face Jennifer Lawrence was actually far steelier and closer to ‘my’ Katniss than I had expected. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason were a treat too.
The biggest surprise for me was that even at a 12A it manages to quite effectively capture the brutality of the books. And although I felt it didn’t always fully realise the larger feeling of desperation out-with the tributes themselves they have more time to expand on that in the next film. Oh, and It made me cry once, but unusually for a movie not at the end.
A little too much lipgloss in the grime for my taste but on the whole a very good adaptation
I’ve started writing this review several times and in several ways now. There is so much to review in a new Lady Gaga album, such a weight of context, hype and explanation that I’ve found it hard to know how to tackle it. Do I review it as a ‘reverse Warholian experiment’, as a follow up to a divisive but ultimately artist-defining sophomore(ish) album, as an exuberant meditation on sex and drugs, as an exercise in pairing back and joining the dots between the simplicity of The Fame and the madness of Born This Way - or somehow all of the above? I decided to take a big meditative Abramovic breath (EAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYY) and dive head first into the actual music itself so forgive me for almost totally ignoring the other amazing parts of the Gaga package like videos, outfits, artwork and so on. Trust me I care about that stuff a lot but I also don’t want to write a PHD by accident..
I am very aware that Lady Gaga is critiqued against a bar much higher than that of any of her peers, in truth a bar higher than many other recording artists right now full stop. It’s not so much just that she is expected to be better (whatever that means) but that she is expected to be all things to all people. A great album will never be enough - she must be a juggernaut of cultural change and a singularly unique vision backed by music that will blow our brains, slicing through genre bias as it goes. Anything less is a failure. And in fairness she has no-one to blame for this but herself - with great ambition comes great expectation. How ARTPOP, or any album really, will ever square up against that I’m not sure but I’m comfortable in saying that as an audio experience it is certainly not a failure. Does it surpas Born This way for me? I don’t think so yet but it’s not a disappointment either and perhaps almost as importantly it’s a progression not a retread.
The sweeter the cake, the more bitter the jelly can be
Whilst the mission statement of her pre-fame Fame era was a tantalising combination of knowing pretension and pop sensibility Gaga’s later ascension into mainstream success via songs like Pokerface and Just Dance always felt like something of a trojan horse and though the Fame / Fame Monster was punctuated by moments that gave a heady glimpse into what you hoped she was capable of there was often an undeniable gulf between what you got on record and what she presented in person. It took until her last album for her to make a tangible connection between her lyrical content, her sound and her visual imagery achieving something that felt, however polarising, like it all made sense together. Where previously her emotional rawness was buried under too-generic production - or dark, sprawling videos were attached to songs that could barely hold them - Born This Way seemed to gather up all that had gone before and, in Gaga parlance, vomit it back out as a difficult, noisy, crazy and near-perfect fully formed thing.
All artists have ‘that’ album (if they are very lucky a few throughout a long career) that all future work is held against and doubtless Born This Way will be that for Gaga. Not because it was a unanimous critical success or because of world conquering sales figures but because it seemed to so completely say ‘This Is Lady Gaga’. And like many artists faced with what to do after that moment she has, on the face of it at least, done the exact opposite.
Artpop is ebulant, sexy, funny and unashamedly POP. Of course what words like ‘pop’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘experimental’ mean with Gaga will always depend what side of the fence you are sitting on. While her music is generally considered too full throttle, her lyrics too ‘alienating’ and her genre-influences too wide for conservatively chart-focused listeners she is also ironically still constantly berated by others for being too safe, too generic and too corporate. In trying wilfully to straddle both sides of the chart/alt pigeon hole she seems to often end up impaled in the middle. Standing before you in the divide, as it were.
How can I protect something so perfect without evil?
On first listen Artpop feels like a volte-face dash back to her earlier, less threatening sound but for me it is the logical combination and progression of everything she has done so far. Combining the slickness of The Fame and the uncompromisingly Gaganess of Born This Way Artpop is more hippy disco and less gothic springsteen but somehow it seems to make perfect sense in the here and now.
The early days of my love affair with Gaga were soaked in macabre imagery - the VMAs hanging, the pvc Juddermen of the Bad Romance video, the ever increasingly copious amounts of fake blood on the Monster Ball tour - and it seemed to me then that her appeal lay largely in her desire to bring the gothic to the dancefloor. To open a chart smash with a line like ‘I want your ugly, I want your disease’ was a pretty strong statement of intent and rather than Bowie or Madonna she seemed to me more like the flipside to Marilyn Manson’s Dope Show era pop flirations. The fact they collaborated on a (better than the album version) remix of Love Game seemed to suggest that she agreed.
If you had asked me to pick a song from The Fame Monster that I thought would signal her future direction I would have put my money on Dance In The Dark - an uptempo but tragic song with an anti-Vogue middle eight name checking ‘Marilyn, Judy, Sylvia’ and of all people Jonbenet Ramsay. I was in part right as Born This Way, sonically, was much more the industrial, kitchen sink sound of Dance In The Dark than the pure pop of Telephone or Pokerface but thematically a new Gaga had emerged. Increasingly using the Monster Ball tour as a platform to talk about love, acceptance and personal freedom I found myself viewing her more and more as some kind of punk hippy. Sort of a BE NICE OR GO FUCK YOURSELF kind of a thing. And indeed for all the leather, and whisky and consistently dark imagery that accompanied the Born This Way album it’s central themes are positive to the point of saccharine, saved only by her off-the-beaten-tracks lyrics and ‘putting the love in Courtney Love’ rock & roll persona. Indeed even You & I the albums sister-track to the fabulously nihilistic Speechless is a much more straight-up love song than it’s predecessor no matter how much more tortured (and the better for it) the production sounds.
If the Fame Monster was a dark album masquerading as light and fluffy one then in a lot of ways Born This Way was the reverse. What I feel she has managed to with Artpop is both sonically and lyrically melt these things together into something that is hard to position one way or the other. It is neither as stridently activist as Born This Way or as throwaway as The Fame. As an album it has highs and lows (emotionally, musically and chemically) and despite seeming on the face of it more vacuous it somehow ultimately feels more personal. At it’s very core Artpop is about sex and drugs and very little else. And do you know what ? That’s fine because those are the twin anchors of the history of music, though typically for Gaga more commonly rock than pop. Sex and drugs and the struggles there within.
Sometimes the simplest move is right
Gaga’s songs can often suffer from a case of the James Dean Bradfield’s (although unlike poor James she’s only got herself to blame) cramming ideas and words into melodies that can barely accommodate them. This can deliver easter eggs of genius like the, ironically generally unheard, ear-condom lyric in Judas but can just as easily lead to un-necessary (if often hilarious) clumsiness like
in Marry The Night. Indeed it’s often seemed to me that her most effective lyrics are her ‘worst’ and vice versa. Not to say there aren’t exceptions to that but I’ve generally felt like the more she has to say the worse she communicates it.
It is clear listening to Artpop that there has been a conscious effort to pair back, open the windows and let some air in. Everything feels fresher, lighter, cleaner and less bogged down in ‘MEANING’. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Back To Basics - this is still an album that includes a pig-themed, techno-rave-out about sexual abuse - but on the whole it’s a much more streamlined Gaga than we had become accustomed to.
Thematically as I said the songs rarely stray from sex, drugs and er.. Donatella Versace .. but make no mistake this is still a very Gaga take on such subjects. The sex is kinky (and more than a little gender-bending), the drugs are fun.. until they’re not.. and the whole thing has a sort of Hair (the musical not the song) meets Hot Gossip meets The Shamen vibe about it that is at once both totally surprising and completely perfect.
Whilst perhaps Artpop fails to deliver the mission statement she promised it certainly succeeds on it’s own terms. Will it generate a seismic shift in the landscape of popular music? It’s unlikely but it will surely enrich my life and my CD collection enough that I’m very glad it exists in the world. To try and assess it in pre-retrospective terms like ‘impact’ and ‘reach’ feels futile but as a record, as as set of 15 vibrant, fun, occasionally moving and frequently peculiar songs, it’s a solid piece of work. It’s a very good Lady Gaga album and an exceptional pop album by most other people’s standards.
Track by Track
Enigma popstar is fun
This was the song most written about before the album was released due to it’s demo title of ‘Burqa’ although the apoplectic blog-rants have subsided to a quiet whine now that the song has been released and, somewhat anticlimactically, references the aforementioned clothing item precisely twice and so innocuously and apolitically that no one really has the energy to even bother saying the words ‘cultural appropriation’ out loud anymore. Aura has a great chorus and works well on the trailer for Machete Kills but I could happily lose it from the album. Thematically I understand it’s position as the opener (‘I killed my former and left her in the trunk on highway 10’ she tells us in the opening lines) but for me it’s a throwback and sounds out of place on Artpop.
Aphrodite Lady Seashell Bikini
A wonderfully camp, retro, disco tinged piece of froth that comes off like a Kraut-pop I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper. It contains the lyrical gem of rhyming ‘Uranus’ with her screaming ‘DON’T YOU KNOW MY ASS IS FAMOUS??’. To get the full picture of the hippy-diva brilliance of Venus it’s worth watching her windmill around in a smock while she sings it:
Let me be the girl under you that makes you cry
It’s hard to knock a track written entirely about being a power bottom, especially one as innuendo-filled and filthy as this. The thing I love most about G.U.Y is that for a song containing lyrics like ‘I’ll lie down, face up this time’, ‘mount your goddess’, and ‘I know you’ll wear my makeup well’ along with various astrological metaphors about things ramming into the atmosphere somehow it never feels like it’s meant to shock you. Titillate or amuse you, sure, but the sheer joy of it all doesn’t for a minute feel like she thinks she’s being in any way offensive, which just makes it all the more fun really.
There’s a lyric that’s listed in the CD book as ‘I’m going wear the tie’ but I’m utterly convinced she’s singing ‘tower’ and what with it rhyming with ‘power’ and all that bossy-bottom ramming and mounting that’s going on I’m not being told any different. Surely it’s time we all had a ride on her disco stick right?
(Oh, and there’s some Germanic yelling at the end. No idea why but it sounds great.)
We’re both convicted criminals of thought
Let’s white glove the bed
Gaga once fessed up that the video for Alejandro was about being a fag-hag, perpetually in love with gay boys (I can empathise) although in most subsequent interviews the sentiment was sadly sanitised to the more generic pro-LGBT ‘it’s for all my gay fans’. The ‘heard your boyfriend was away this weekend’ lyric suggests she’s either indulging in similar fantasies again - or she’s back to ‘bluffin with her muffin’. Either way Sexxx Dreams is a throbbing Prince via Janet piece of sauce that lyrically calls to mind the Eurythmics Sex Crimes.
Jewels N’ Drugs
I know that my habit’s expensive and you might find it quite offensive
When she played this at the iTunes festival I thought it was completely awful but it’s been the very definition of a grower for me and I absolutely love it now. I’m not entirely convinced that it sits well within the rest of the album pushing as it does towards the hip-hop/rap end of urban (featuring 3, count ‘em 3 guest rappers) rather than the smooth, sex jam side of things like Do What U Want but unlike Aura I enjoy it enough that I’m happy for it to be there even if it does stick out a little.
Touch me in the dark
Put your hands all over my body parts
I’m pretty sure she’s singing ‘salon’s enough for her’ but I swear it sounds like ‘Cylons’. Seriously though this is a real highlight of the album for me. Pop-rock in a way that brings to mind Joan Jett, Suzy Quatro and Toni Basil. A total earworm.
Do What U Want
You can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind but do what you want with my body
Musically and lyrically this song gives me flashes of Michael Jackson (the bits about the press not about her body obviously) and although it seemed a bit urban-light to me at first it’s surprisingly settled in as a highlight on repeat listens. R. Kelly’s chunk is hugely enjoyable (to the point of dare I say it almost overshadowing Gaga) making it feel much more like a duet than a ‘featured artist’. His ‘FUUUUUUUUUUUUUU’ is hysterical and I’d love to see them perform it together live as gloriously awkward as it would likely be. That said some of her solo performances of it have been absolutely knock out.
(I also have to give special mention to the now memetastic bit where R. Kelly sings ‘you’re the Marilyn, I’m the President’ and it sounds for all the world like ‘you’re the melon on the president’.)
A hybrid can withstand these things
My heart can beat with bricks and strings
My Artpop could mean anything
Easily the best lyrics on the album - both a mission statement and a superb get-out clause - set to a swoonsome Blondie / Kylie piece of sophistopop and another woozy, hippy love-in chorus. A centerpiece of the album for me. It also spawned one of my favourite ever of her performances:
I know, I know, I know you want me
You’re just a pig inside a human body
Squealer, squealer, squeal out, you’re so disgusting.
You’re just a pig inside.
So, there was this moment during the iTunes festival where she started introducing this song by talking about being taken advantage of when she was starting out in the industry, loss of innocence and so on and it got really pretty dark and heavy. Someone I know tweeted ‘is she about to tell us she got gang-banged for a record deal?’ and they were joking but it was heading in that direction. Then a minute later we are watching her leap about to a rave-inspired, glow-stick waving techno track whilst men in pig suits wearing gas masks descended from the roof. Only in Gagaland.
Now the white-dust has cleared from that unexpected performance what Swine presents is the proposition that you don’t have to sing rock music to get angry about the shit that’s happened to you in life. And that if you are going to sing about the bad shit that happened when you were 18 and coked out of your nut then what better a way to do it than in a piece of nasty techno?
I recently made up a t-shirt with the Animal Nitrate artwork and the lyrics from Swine in the suede font as a jokey nod to my two great loves and their pig obsessions but I was only partially joking. Thematically, if not musically, the songs have quite a lot in common. Violence, sex, abuse, self medication and the animal inside. Gaga spoke frankly on Howard Stern recently about how her early experiences made it difficult to engage with sex in a healthy way for a long time and I couldn’t help but think ‘what does it take to turn you on now your animal’s gone?’
A brave, challenging, sonically stuffed curio that really only Gaga could produce.
Walk down the runway but don’t puke
Musically enjoyable enough but the only song that edges towards filler for me. The pre-chorus has a good old Bow Wow Wow stomp about it but it somehow falls short of the standard of the rest of the tracks. Could be a grower.
Married to the night.
I own the world, we own the world..
Lyrically total frippery but musically this was one of my first favourite tracks. The verses bring to mind a little of Bowie’s Fame while the choruses swoon and crash all over the place. One of the most self assured, musically mature (in a good way) songs she has produced. It’s exactly the kind of song that would lead someone elses campaign but will be sadly buried in Gaga’s.
Oh, and yes she does already have a song called Fashion and no it’s not the same one. This one has an exclamation mark at the end. (!)
Mary Jane Holland
I don’t like to boast but our truffles are the most.
Mad magical in Amsterdam
Only Gaga could write an ode to weed as a club banger, but here we have it and it’s fabulous. One of the most unashamedly pro-drugs songs I can think of inside of pop or otherwise - it opens with her sparking up and ends with her taking a puff. This dubious message is somewhat softened by the two hander of this and the following track Dope but as it stands on it’s own she’s happy to let us know over a big squelchy, bouncing beat that she could be just fine ‘if she could be Mary Jane Holland tonight’. Musically it has every right to be a single but this will never happen for all the obvious reasons. Talk about gateway drug though, so infectious is this song that it almost makes me, a life long tea-totaler, want a blunt.
There’s also a fabulous bit in the middle (more than a little reminiscent of the middle 8 in, of all things, Geri Halliwell’s Look At Me) where she howls ‘I know that Mom and Dad think I’m a mess but it’s allright because I’m as rich as pissed..’
This and, funnily enough Dope, are probably my favourite tracks on the album and as a ‘highs and lows’ double whammy back to back they are top notch.
I need you more than dope
A desperate plea for a lover not to leave her even as she struggles to put them above her vices and addictions. Sung in a booze-soaked affectation she tells us she’s been ‘hurting low from living high for so long.’ Dope is pretty much the song that Speachless nearly was had it not had the life sucked out of it in the studio. The most gut wrenching bits for me are the lyrics ‘mine myself like coal, a mountain of his soul’ and when she sings ‘stay with me Bell Bottom Blue’ - no doubt a reference to the Eric Clapton song containing equally gut wrenching lyrics like ‘Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you? Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?’. There is no pride or ego in this song, just pure desperation.
I don’t want to be alone forever, but I can be tonight
A joyous celebration of life on the road and a welcome ‘IT’S ALL OK FOLKS’ after Dope. This one has future single written all over it. Reminiscent of a slightly more ebullient Edge of Glory and ready-made for tour adaptations during the bit where she name-checks half the world.
One second I’m a Koons then Suddenly the Koons is me
I thought this was a great lead single being as it it’s slightly weird but nice and hooky and serves as a bit of an ‘ok let’s get this over with, the thing about me is..’ song - cheekily dealing as it does with her artpopist leanings and addiction for fame (I found the vein, put it in here). In retrospect it’s maybe not that indicative of the album but I still think it was a good choice and personally would prefer it at the head of the album instead of Aura with Gypsy closing out. Yes, yes, I know it’s meant to be the encore but still.
For some people an album that uses hashtags in song titles and includes lyrics like ‘SMH, I’m pressing send on you’ will only ever be a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse. But let’s be honest those are not the people BANGERZ was made for. This album is shamelessly zeitgeisty, absolutely of its moment, a living breathing tumblr meme and will undoubtably become one of those time capsule albums that sums up a specific point in the timeline of pop culture. It’s also a damn good record.
But before I get down to the boring bit where I talk about the actual songs let’s deal with the giant dancing bear costumes in the room:
Yes, I thought *that* VMAs performance was a car wreck
Yes, I think it was absolutely meant to be
No, I don’t think she’s the devil incarnate but
Yes, she is having a lot of fun pretending to be
Yes, this kind of makes her a dick but
Yes, I also find it highly entertaining to watch
Yes, I hate the tongue thing because it’s gross (an Americanism suits it best) but
Yes, I also kind of love the tongue thing because it’s gross
I’ve always liked my stars to teeter right on the brink of self parody and cartoon. Ginger was my favourite Spice, I like Courtney more than Kurt, Country House is my favourite Blur video, I like Prince Charming more than Dirk Wears White Sox.. I could go on. The point is call it punk, call it privileged brattishness, whatever, I’ll take Miley’s ghetto-dyke posturing and fuck-you dry humping over most of her winsome, disingenuous or just plain dull contemporaries any day because there are no apologies and no get out clauses. If you don’t like it.. well, FU I guess. And more importantly because the bravado and infinitely giffable videos are backed by some really great songs.
I guess a lot of people in this country really had no idea who she was a few months ago (other than a vague memory of Achy Breaky Heart if you are old enough) but I’ve had my pop-culture magpie eye on her for a while now.
For those who don’t know Miley started out as one of those Disney girls like Britney or Christina only she played a character in a TV show called Hanna Montana who was a pop singer, sort of like herself but in a blonde wig. She also played Hanna’s alter ego Miley Stewart who was sort of like her in other ways (a ‘down to earth’ Texan girl with brown hair) who also happened to secretly be a pop star. So basically she was playing a version of herself who was also secretly another version of herself whilst also being a Disney star herself with all the pretending that comes with that. Oh, and she also went on a tour billed as starring ‘Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus’. Confused? You should be. So yeah, at 15 that’s surely going to fuck you up.
Don’t give your daughter to the Mouse Mr Cyrus.
But contrary to the crib notes most of the reviews are written from this is Miley’s fourth solo album and although she says she considers it her debut-proper since it’s her first truly post-Hannah release it’s by no means her first stab at a ‘coming of age’ album. That honour would go to the 2010 release Can’t Be Tamed, a patchy record with too much needless autotune but just enough potential that it peaked my interest. The song that hooked me being Robot - a dystopian journey straight through the dark heart of child stardom.
'You gave me eyes and now I see..'
Although certainly her breakup album I am however convinced that Bangerz isn’t Miley’s breakdown album. It’s the perfect storm of a well orchestrated publicity machine and a young woman having a blast with it and - for once - I think calling the shots. This clip of her arriving at the VMAs and throwing a wobbly because her entrance plan had got messed up (she was meant to arrive in a police car) is pretty fascinating stuff. The moment she get’s out of the car and immediately turns on the Miley #BANGERZ ‘schtick’ is an illuminating glimpse into just how aware of her persona she is.
In a lot of ways it reminds me of the heydays of the Spice Girls blitzkrieg - only with less tits and more tongue.
So to the music..
Miley is an old hand and unlike many of her peers she’s actually pretty talented. In fact one of the most surprising things about Bangerz is how enjoyable her vocal performance is. I’d go so far as to say its a highlight of the record. Her rapping does have such an obvious air of trying on a costume for size that it verges on the ridiculous but self-aware nods to being a ‘southern belle’ and so on pull it back from the brink and in the end I find it endearing.
The mix of styles covered in the album is unusual and it’s fantastically well put together - although I could do without hearing Mike Will’s name every 30 seconds like a fucking audio watermark. There are some surprising and brave decisions (mixing dubstep and hoedown anyone?) but it pays off and forms a remarkably coherent tracklist. It’s also an album that for being unashamedly mainstream absolutely has it’s own character and feels totally wedded to Miley rather than tacked on to whoever happens to be recording it in the studio.
Thematically it’s pretty much half and half break up/fuck you songs and party tracks - occasionally blending together in that ‘fuck you I’m going to party instead’ way and although it’s the shallow bits that grab you by the balls the first time round there’s a larger emotional range lurking behind the crazy. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s The Wall or something but it’s not all twerking and texting either.
Out of the standard edition there is only one song that’s close to a skip track for me and if that was replaced by the first of the bonus tracks it would be a full house. Compared to recent albums by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj and even Madonna where I only listen to half the tracks at best Bangerz comes out head and shoulders above most of her peer group. In terms of pure, unabashed pop albums only Born This Way has topped it for me in quality and effort in the last few years. In fact removing Gaga from the equation it’s my favourite pop album in a long time.
Track by track
Starting an album promising ‘bangerz’ with a slowie is a brave move but it pays off. Adore You reminds me of that Beautiful South lyric ‘you can tell a classic ballad by how threatening it gets’. There is something about the claustrophobia of the chorus lyrics ‘When you say you love me, know I love you more. When you say you need me, know I need you more.’ that has ‘doomed romance’ written all over it. It’s a sad song that thinks it’s happy.
We Can’t Stop
As mission statements go ‘it’s my mouth and I’ll say what I want to’ is a pretty good summation of the Bangerz brand. An insanely addictive mid-tempo resplendent with in-joke Miley/Molly drug references and terrible grammar. A sure-fire hit basically.
If you find the word BANGERZ as endlessly amusing as i do you’ll love it. Otherwise it might make you angry. Oh, and Britney features on it apparently.
4x4 is a moment of mad genius. Not only does it combine a country hoedown vibe, rap and dubsteb in an alarmingly enjoyable way but it also has the unforgettable lyric ‘driving so fast about to piss on myself’. If there isn’t a tour mashup with Hoedown Throwdown it will be the crime of the century.
This is the only song on the album I could easily live without - although it does tend to get stuck in my head after I do listen to it.
Wrecking Ball is a soaring, angry, knockout ballad in the karaoke / slow dance / cry-along-in-your-bedroom sense. It’s one of those songs that makes me really glad I’m not 15 anymore.
Love Money Party
Money ain’t nothing but money when you get to the money. Love ain’t nothing but love when you learn how to love. Party ain’t nothing but a party when you party everyday.
Another one of the songs with the wonderfully weird country / hip-hop thing going on. This will soon be going in a playlist sandwiched between ‘Money, Success, Fame, Glamour’ from Party Monster and Lady Gaga’s ‘Beautiful, Dirty, Rich’.
A sweet sounding mid-tempo sex jam.
'Drive my heart into the night, you can drop the keys off in the morning.'
Drive has the dark, brooding feel of a Kanye track and is the closest to what could be considered a ‘mature’ sound on the album.
Everything about this song is fucking perfect. Broadway meets hip-hop meets dub step meets Bond theme. With lyrics about texting and LOL-ing and all the bitterness and adolescent hyper-drama of the best mega-ballads. The kind of song that makes you feel like if all else fails for the artist it will have been worth it just for those 2 minutes 28 seconds. If you only listen to one song on the album this should be it.
Do My Thang
'Don't you worry bout 'me. Imma be ok. Imma do my thing.'
There you go everyone, don’t worry - she gonna be ok.
I like this track a lot, it’s another addictive mid-tempo with a really hooky, soaring chorus. Next single maybe?
Maybe You’re Right
The only song on the album that could have come from a previous Miley album and on first listen I wasn’t keen but it’s grown on me, largely because she sells it well.
A slightly grimey, end-of-the-party number with a wonderfully aggressive shouty bit near the end.
And it feels fitting that the last lyrics of the album are ‘I’ve turned into someone else’.
Special mention for ‘Rooting For My Baby’ from the bonus tracks which is actually one of my favourites on the record. It’s a sweetly melodic, melancholy, folksy song that reminds me of tracks like Gone and Don’t Tell Me from Madonna’s Music album.
The (MTV) Crib Notes
Pop at it’s most shamelessly zeitgeist-grabbing coupled with strong vocals and genuinely well crafted tunes. Plus lyrics about pissing yourself in fast cars. What more could you want?
More consistent than The Casual Vacancy (although its highs were higher and lows lower) I found this to be an enjoyable, easy going whodunit that for the most part kept me engaged. Whilst the central characters felt quite cliched at the start they were fleshed out well throughout the story and by the end of the book were well poised for a sequel.
If I have any negative comments it’s that there is a strange combination of page-turner and long-windedness present in both this and The Casual Vacancy. Buried inside this book is a really gripping yarn half it’s length although unlike The Casual Vacancy it’s not as obvious to pinpoint where the extraneous information is. I never really felt bored while I was actually reading it, more that it just seemed to take far too long to get to the point. I’m a pretty gullible reader and never guess the endings to these things but in this case I did - I suspect mainly because I had so much prelude during which to wander through all the possibilities in my mind.
So to sum up..
A decent holiday read if not something that will blow your mind. Less divisive than The Casual Vacancy but ultimately less interesting too.
Hopefully there will be a slightly more brutally edited sequel to look forward to at some point soon.
Read it if you like: Colin Dexter, Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth George