Pop classic. Oddity. 

I go back and forth between these two terms when I think about the new, improved, reformed, and reformatted Take That. The truth is somewhere in between. 

It was exciting to see Robbie Williams rejoin the band, and much anticipation was given to the release of this album. Commercially, it's a huge success, having become the second fastest-selling album in UK history. After the rise of the Robbie-less Take That in recent years, and the slow dripping away of Robbie's musical talents (and sales), it was a natural occurrence for this to happen. 

First, we got the "Blackbird"-quoting single "Shame" from Robbie and Gary Barlow, which managed to summarize both the animosity and inevitability of the return of the full Take That. That single is not included on the album, and that was probably the right thing to do. It was fun, but it doesn't quite fit in with the new direction that the band has taken. 

It's not that they've completely washed away the sound that produced "Patience" and "Greatest Day", though. "Eight Letters" is a Gary Barlow song that sounds like it could have been written as a postscript to "The Circus", which was the last Take That record. 

For the most part, though, Take That have managed to jump on and refine the synth-based pop that's prevalent now, and - again for the most part - they've succeeded admirably, if occasionally oddly. 

Take the first single, "The Flood". This is so obviously a Robbie Williams song; the lyrics are obtuse, the arrangement is flowery, and of course Robbie takes the lead vocal. The song climbed to number 2 on the British charts, outdone by upstarts JLS. It was hard to know what to make of the whole thing. 

So the album comes as a bit of a surprise. There are harder arrangements here than Take That have ever done ("SOS", "Kidz"), but that Robbie is no stranger to. Both of these songs are mostly just odd, though. "SOS", in particular, has a desperate edge to it that push it into the realm of the strange. 

But there's also some very nice, modern stuff on the album. "Wait" is a gorgeous ballad, and it's of a piece with "Happy Now", which is a bit neurotic but very up-to-date and effective. Both songs remind me of the Gorillaz when Damon Albarn is in his calmer mode. I'm going to hazard the opinion that the cartoon band was an influence on the new Take That. 

Many reviews have mentioned that the album is a bit Robbie-centric, but there seems to be a fair amount of equity among the songwriting and vocals. Only Jason Orange gets the short stick, relegated to a heavily-filtered vocal on the bonus track "Flowerbed". Sure, there's a lot of Robbie, but there's also a lot of the others as well. 

The album plays well as one piece, too, as some thought went into the sequencing and segues between tracks. 

All in all, this may turn out to be the best thing that Take That AND Robbie Williams have done. If you can take the occasionally jarring arrangements, and balance it with the moments of pop bliss, then you'll love this. Of course, you've probably already bought it, haven't you?

I give "Progress" a 7 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.
Last night's show was dedicated to my cousin Sarah, who is critically ill. For more information, check out http://sarahdsays.weebly.com/index.html . 

Here's what we played : 

Nero - Me & You
Take That - SOS (Progress)

Foghat - My Babe (Fool For the City)
Example - Two Lives (Won't Go Quietly)

Duffy - Endlessly
Rumer - Take Me As I Am (Seasons Of My Soul)

Vanity Fare - I Live For the Sun
Crispian St. Peters - The Pied Piper
Searchers - Sweets For My Sweet

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Paul McCartney & Wings - Jet (alternate version) (Band On the Run)
Beatles - Let It Be (Let It Be)
Beatles - Act Naturally

Patrick Wolf - Time Of My Life

Jessie J - Do It Like a Dude

Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water (dedicated to Sarah)

Gyptian - Hold You

Frank Ifield - Confessin'

Cheeky Girls - Cheeky Song

...and this week's top 5 songs in the UK :

5). Rihanna - Only Girl (In the World) (-1)
4). Olly Murs - Thinking Of Me (new)
3). JLS - Love You More (-2)
2). Ellie Goulding - Your Song (+1)
1). X Factor Finalists 2010 - Heroes (new)


A couple of new entries, both X Factor related, enter the top 5 this week, while Rihanna and JLS predictably drop. A bit more unpredictably, Ellie Goulding rises a place. 

I think we need to resign ourselves to the fact that the British top 5 will feature a healthy wallop of fluffy pop until the end of the year. Come the last month before Christmas, and all of the trends - grime, "new" R&B, dubstep - are swept out the door to make room for gloopy pop songs. In recent years, not only has X Factor controlled the Christmas number one (with the notable exception of last year), but has tightened its grip on the weeks preceding it. 

At number 5, Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)" barely holds onto the top 5 for another week. No other song has been in the top 5 longer this week; all the rest are new or only a week old. 

And - while I have no doubts about the hit power behind the tune - Rihanna's "What's My Name" is a much better song. It may not rise near the top, though, with so much else going on. 

"Only Girl" bounces along, disco infused and powerful. The song finally managed to climb to a number one position in America this week, after flirting with the top for quite a while. 

On the England Swings scale of 1-10, I give this song a 6.5.

Olly Murs (say that in your X Factor announcer's voice, please)! Much like his earlier hit, this new song is a reggae based, breezy little tune. It's slightly more annoying than "Please Don't Let Me Go", though, and that can mostly be attributed to a chirpy little synth flowing in and out of the mix. Someone should have told them. 

Olly seems to have found his niche here, doing reggae-lite and trying to style himself as a British Jack Johnson. That's okay, though - the song works. I give it a 6.5 this week. 

"Love You More", JLS's latest tune, drops from the top to number 3 this week. Last week, I dismissed it as as ephemeral and inconsequential. Around about Tuesday this week, I finally "got" it, and the song bounced around in my brain for the remainder of the day, and even through part of the week. I still have issues with the twee nature of the vocals occasionally, but I've begun to appreciate the tune for what it is. I wouldn't call it classic, but it's got a . . . .something going on. I hereby upgrade my appraisal to a 7.5 this week. 

And I'll go in the opposite direction with Ellie Goulding's "Your Song", which rises to number 2. If you think about it, the song manages to strip out most of what's interesting about Ellie, and turns her into a slightly quirky cover artist. She's better than that. The song has an innate charm, but it's not proving to have any lasting power. I downgrade it this week to a 6. 

Now comes the big banana, the bully that pushes all the other children out of the sandbox. It's a charity single, of course, but I've learned over time that that's no real excuse. 

This year, the X Factor finalists (with the glaring absence of Wagner - was he sick that day?) had Simon Cowell choose David Bowie's "Heroes" for them. 


Well, because the charity this year is "Help For Heroes", which offers assistance to injured soldiers. 

But one gets the impression that Simon just did a song search on his iTunes for "hero", and this was the only thing that came up besides the Mariah Carey song, which was the X Factor charity single two years ago. 

So we have this sanitized version of a song that perhaps should have remained inviolate - I'm sure that there are legions of Bowie fans burning Matt Cardle in effigy at this point. 

Not to mention the fact that the song is actually an ANTI-hero song, and that the words have been trimmed for this new version. I guess "You, you can be mean/and I/I'll drink all the time" didn't quite fit the paradigm. 

As usual, the track starts fairly decently, but has a thousand strings and voices piled on by the end, turning it into the sort of pseudo-gospel tripe that's the standard. Then, the arranger has the nerve to paste on a martial drumbeat at the end. 

My advice? Buy it for charity if you must, but maybe the message to Those Who Inflict This Sort Of Thing On Us should be, "Sure! Do a charity single! But at least make it interesting, or I won't be interested!" 

It should come as no surprise that I offer up a measly 3 on the scale for this one. 

There are definitely album reviews coming this week. I don't have to cook Thanksgiving dinner. See you then!
Today's England Swings show is dedicated to my cousin Sarah, who is critically ill. Here's hoping that the energy and love of our listeners is directed her way. She was an early and ardent supporter of the show; it's only appropriate that we send our thoughts and prayers to her. As always, we bring you the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the United Kingdom. Today we have new tracks by Nero, Take That, Duffy, and much more. We can be heard at 6:00 p.m. ET : In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27Anywhere else in the world : http://www.fcac.org/webr
The playlist from last night's show : 

Blood Red Shoes - Light It Up (Fire Like This)
Pulled Apart By Horses - Yeah Buddy (Pulled Apart By Horses)

Supertramp - Bloody Well Right (Crime of the Century)
Nadine - Insatiable (Insatiable)

Beady Eye - Bring the Light
Cribs - Men's Needs (Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever)

Olivia Newton-John and ELO - Xanadu (Xanadu OST)
Jackie Trent - Where Are You Now

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Beatles - I Want To Hold Your Hand (live, Washington, DC, Feb. 11, 1964)
Beatles - Hey Jude
Beatles - Twist and Shout

Crystal Castles ft. Robert Smith - Not In Love
James Blake - Limit To Your Love

Krokus - Long Stick Goes Boom (One Vice At a Time)

Petula Clark - Don't Sleep In the Subway
Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger - This Wheel's On Fire

Louise - Stuck In the Middle With You

...and this week's Top 5 songs in the UK :

5). Katy Perry - Firework (-2)
4). Rihanna - Only Girl (In the World) (-3)
3). Ellie Goulding - Your Song (new)
2). Take That - The Flood (non-mover)
1). JLS - Love You More (new)


The balance of the top 5 switches to Britain this week, as two new entries by home country artists crash into the chart. Last week's big hits are relegated to the bottom portion of the top 5. 

And Take That doesn't move at all.

Katy Perry's "Firework" is becoming a bonafide hit in the USA at this point, slowly creeping up to number 9 on the American charts this week. In the UK, though, it reverses its fortune, sliding from number 3 to number 5. The law of diminishing single returns says that the third song from an album usually doesn't rise quite so high, and that's the case here. 

Even though it has that super-processed Katy Perry sound to it, the song is one big hook. The part where the cellos kick in before the chorus - cool. Katy's yelping "Oh, oh, oh!" - even cooler. As much as I hate to admit it, I really like the song. I give it a 7.5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10. 

Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)" drops back to number 4 this week after spending two weeks at the top of the British charts. That's a peak that's only been achieved by a select few songs this year; the switch at the top has been more common than anything else. The song has a old-fashioned disco beat, an only slightly auto-tuned vocal, and the synths don't come in until the chorus. That's restraint. 

That said, I don't think the tune is wearing that well. I know it's been hanging around for weeks, both in the UK and America (where it's managed a rise to a peak of number 2). It's good, but it's not great enough to become such a perennial. Time to move on, I wager - I give it a 6.5.

Well, our rather quirky Ellie Goulding has managed to have her biggest hit by doing a song that's not hers at all. At number 3, her version of Elton John's "Your Song" still maintains the oddity in some respects, but in my estimation it's the straightest thing she's done so far. Her unusual vocal tone is still there, but all the flashy production from her album seems to have been shoveled away from this song. 

I like that she keeps a strong accent for the song - and that's a sign that she doesn't care about the American market very much. I like the arrangement of the song, for the most part. It's low-key, effective, and pretty. 

Admittedly, the vocal performance takes some getting used to, but after a few listens it sounds more natural. I give Ellie a 7.5 for this. 

I'm no closer to figuring out what the *@#@! Robbie Williams is talking about in "The Flood", which - based mostly on an X Factor performance - has managed to hang onto the number 2 position for another week. The vocals can't be faulted, except to say that sounds like Robbie and a backup band. The song is pretty, but it's also odd enough to create some cognitive dissonance. 

Why do Robbie Williams' lyrics make me think that he's the Neil Diamond of the 21st century? 

I'm anxious to hear the rest of the album now; I'll hopefully review it a little later this week. In the meantime, we've got this anomaly of a song. I give it a 7.

JLS manage to top the chart with "Love You More" which - of course - they performed on X Factor last week. I'm not surprised that it went to the top, but I don't think it's their best song. It's got drama, and it's got a hook, sure, but the vocals are a little over-indulgent, and the song doesn't have sticking power. It's a bit frothy and insubstantial. Of course, one could say that about everything JLS has done, but this one is even airier. It reminds me a bit of early 21st century British boy-band "with an edge" songs, like the ones done by Blue. Except the knife could maybe use a little more honing. 

I give it a 6.

I'll be a bit late with an album review this week, but it'll be here sooner or later. Check back, and don't forget to listen to the England Swings Show!
It's nearly Thanksgiving here in the good ol' USA, a holiday in which we give thanks for massive amounts of food and, incidentally, for everything else good in our lives. It's a long story, but it all started with Henry VIII and his break from the Catholic Pope in the late 1500s, because the Pope wouldn't approve of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. This made all sorts of folks leave the Kingdom for religious freedom, including all those guys who came over on the Mayflower. Along with the native Americans already living here, they had the first Thanksgiving. 
That means that we directly trace our Thanksgiving celebrations back to, um, England. 
So that's why you should listen to a good helping of British music today on the England Swings show, where we play the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the UK! We're there at 6:00 p.m. ET, and can be found : 
In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37
In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27
Anywhere else in the world : http://www.fcac.org/webr

And today, we'll say thanks with all kinds of new music, including tracks from Blood Red Shoes, Beady Eye (that's Oasis without Noel Gallagher), and James Blake. We'll also have some older tunes from Supertramp, Jackie Trent, and even Petula Clark. Plus : lots more music, old and new.We'll have our usual features, too : 
The Fab Four Freakout : With the availability of the Beatles music on iTunes, what songs have charted in the UK today?!
UK Music News : Latest stories from the world of music in England!
Top 5 Countdown : Two new entries! A new number one! Excitement!

Tune into the England Swings show today, won't you? Thank you!
There's been no shortage of UK divas in recent years, with everyone from Adele to Lily Allen making their mark on the public consciousness. From the brassiness of Duffy to the quirks of Marina and the Diamonds, we've seen it all lately.

So along comes yet another female singer, with a retro approach. This one, though, is something else entirely. 

Rumer's debut album, Seasons Of My Soul, is a bit like a warm bath. The record is fairly simple, with few adornments. Unlike many of the females near the top of the charts (I'm looking at you, Katy Perry and Cheryl Cole), Rumer writes all her own songs. She's also got a voice that could melt the coldest critical heart.

Rumer has opted to go on the slow route, with perhaps an older-than-the-average-pop-fan audience in mind. In some ways, that's too bad, because her lyrically complex songs and gentle arrangements certainly have something to show those younger whippersnappers. 

The influences in her music come from long ago, and include Burt Bacharach, Karen Carpenter, and 1930s and '40s jazz. It all comes together in 11 impeccable, beautifully put together songs, which have an appeal to anyone who appreciates music that's just . . . well, good. 

The only complaint I have about the album - and it's a minor one - is that there's not a lot of change of tempo in the tunes; they pretty much plod along in the same mode throughout. For the most part, though, that's okay - it matches the style of the singer and the songs. Rumer has a fairly deep emotional complexity to the songs, but in some ways there's also a refreshing reserve there as well. 

Nearly every song on the record is a standout, but my favorites start with the two singles releases so far : 

"Slow" is true to its name, and smolders seductively while telling a tale of a new love. The singer, perhaps, is not completely sure about how she feels, and how deep she wants to go. This is all accompanied by plucked strings and a soft rhythm. 

"Aretha" is a tale of sadness and loneliness. The singer filters her feelings about her life through the music of the Queen of Soul. Again, a story is told with subtlety and poignancy. The soft horns throughout the tune add a quiet emphasis. 

"Take Me As I Am" and closing track "Goodbye Girl" invite Karen Carpenter comparisons, but Rumer is, if anything, better than Karen, concentrating all of the vocal panache of the 1970s icon into more meaningful songs. 

"Saving Grace" is a classic, again telling a story. Comparing the drudgery of a poor daily existence with a new relationship, the song is honest and beautiful. The tune is a bit reminiscent to me, for some reason, of Bob Lind's "Elusive Butterfly". 

If you're tired of the over-produced and processed music of today's pop world, you can do no better than to take a break from it with Rumer. I give this album a 9 on the England Swings scale of 1-10. 
Well, you missed a great show last night! We played the following : 

Biffy Clyro - Booooom Blast & Ruin (Only Revolutions)
Life In Film - Sorry

Deep Purple - Knocking At Your Back Door (Perfect Strangers)

Brian Eno - 2 Forms Of Anger (Small Craft On a Milk Sea)

Tim Berg - Seek Bromance
Raghav - So Much

Fleetwood Mac - Sentimental Lady (Bare Trees)
Rolling Stones - 19th Nervous Breakdown

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Peter Gabriel - Strawberry Fields Forever (All This and World War II)
Beatles - Sexy Sadie (The Beatles)
Beatles - Money (With the Beatles)
Beatles - The Inner Light

Pet Shop Boys - Together

Esben & the Witch - Warpath

Rumer - Aretha (Seasons Of My Soul)
KT Tunstall - Difficulty (Tiger Suit)

Amy Winehouse - It's My Party

...and this week's UK top 5 : 

5). Alexis Jordan - Happiness (-2)
4). McFly ft. Taio Cruz - Shine a Light (new)
3). Katy Perry - Firework (+1)
2). Take That - The Flood (new)
1). Rihanna - Only Girl (In the World) (non-mover)


It looks like the new-release onslaught has begun, and it won't let up until just before Christmas. This week, the top 5 sees two new entries, as the top song stays put and another continues a slow creep higher. 

Alexis Jordan's "Happiness" is rapidly becoming one of my favorite tracks of the year. It's just easygoing enough to not be a shock to the system, but it's also beautifully done, with sharp production, keen instrumentation, and a remarkable vocal. It's dropped a couple of places to number 5 this week, but since it wasn't even expected to stay in the top 5 this week, that's not bad. 

I like Alexis' tuneful humming, and I like how the track builds on the vocals to become a tour-de-force by the end. Why hasn't this song become a mainstream hit in the USA? Maybe it's time is still coming . . . 

I give "Happiness" a 9 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.

I wish I could say that McFly has vastly improved their lot by branching out into the sort of pop/R&B stuff that's so popular these days, but "Shine a Light", coming in at number 4 this week as a new entry, just doesn't do it for me. All the elements are there : the synth bass line, the nice piano antics, and Taio Cruz, but the whole thing just sounds pieced together - it's missing an organic oomph that would put it over the edge from prefab to fab. Props to McFly for trying something different, but I can't go any higher than a 6 for this one. 

Katy Perry slides up another space to number 3 this week with "Firework", and I'm nonplussed to notice that the song made a huge jump - from number 29 to number 10 - on the American charts this week. 

See the review of the Katy Perry album that I wrote a couple of weeks ago to gain some insight into where this artist is going (or, really, standing still). That said, "Firework" is ultra-processed, sung occasionally out of tune, and slick to the point of having no friction at all.

Except it DOES. The hook of the song is good enough to overcome all of the above, and I hate myself for liking it. Damn you, Katy Perry and your legion of handlers! I give the song a 7.5.

And what vision is this we see at number 2 on the British charts? Could it be . . . ? Yes! It's the re-formed Take That with the first and much anticipated single from their new album, and they've been Robbiefied! 

As a matter of fact, they've gone beyond "incorporating" Robbie back into the group, they've let him take over the whole thing. Yep, this is Robbie with his new backing band, and he never sounded better, or made less sense. Just what the @#%@ is this song about?! Very much a slightly bizarre Robbie Williams song, "The Flood" is just what the doctor ordered to revive the career of Mr. Williams, but it's at the expense of Misters Barlow, Orange, and the others whose names I can never remember. 

So why didn't this event of a tune make it to the top? Well, maybe because of exactly what I mentioned above - it's a Robbie Williams song, and those haven't gained much traction in recent years. I mean, "Wash your mouths out/Or you'll find yourself floating home"? Huh?

But the backing vocals are really good. After six or seven listens to the track, I'm beginning to like it, but it's defiinitely not one for the ages. I give it a 7.

So the world-beater Rihanna ends up once again at the coveted top spot with "Only Girl (In the World)", which is a bit like her monster hit "Umbrella", only, y'know, not as good. The beat is mechanical, and the song reminds me of nothing so much as a typical track by - um, Kylie Minogue. It's all so motorik that the song has performed for the worse in America, reaching the top ten, but with a number one tantalizingly out of reach. 

The song is, at least, a return to the dance club sort of stuff that Rihanna does best. Please, no more "Russian Roulette". 

I give it a 6 this week.

There will be an album review tomorrow in this here space. 
We promise quite a ride on the England Swings show today, as we'll travel musically from Ayrshire, Scotland to Barbados. We have new songs by Biffy Clyro (they're from Ayrshire), Brian Eno, the Pet Shop Boys, and . . . Amy Winehouse! There'll be older tunes from the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and more. MORE more. The England Swings show, playing the best, brightest, newest, and coolest music from the United Kingdom, commences at 6:00 p.m. ET :In Northern Virginia : Cox and Verizon digital cable channel 37In Reston, Virginia : Comcast channel 27Anywhere else in the world : http://www.fcac.org/webrPut on your gloves and come for a Sunday drive with us, won't you?
Early member of Roxy Music, producer of superstars, inventor of ambient music - the list of accomplishments by Brian Eno form a long list. 

But is he still musically relevant in these days of autotune and ultra-processing? Do his Oblique Strategies still hold up in today's world of music? 

Listening to his new album "Small Craft On a Milk Sea", the answer has to be yes, although it may not be a resounding affirmative. The album is carefully structured to recognize Eno's recent past, while pushing into new territories. His last album, "Another Day On Earth", harkened in many ways back to his first solo works, when his avuncular vocals were a major part of the equation. "Small Craft", though, returns to a purely instrumental approach. 

There are parts of the album that could be considered ambient, and other parts that are decidedly not. The record begins with several soft pieces, which are designed to do what ambient music does - remain part of the background, while still being musically challenging and rewarding to close listening. First track "Emerald and Lime" is a simple reverbed piano piece, "Complex Heaven" is an ominous and moody piece that hovers and dissipates. 

It's with the fourth track, "Flint March", that the mood changes. Led by a primitive and charging drumbeat, waves of synthesized sounds fly in and out of the tune. "Horse" continues to up the ante, reminding the listener of a black helicopter flying too close to the ground for comfort. 

"2 Forms Of Anger" serves as the centerpiece of this section of the album, starting with tension-laden gleeps, glops, and drumbeats, before bursting into a guitar based electric/electronic piece that actually sounds a bit like early Roxy Music. It's loud, it's exciting, and it's scary. 

From that, we go to "Bone Jump" (and Eno seems to have a fascination with bones and perhaps bone cancer that's been evident since the last album's "Bone Bomb"), which would serve as the ideal backing for a suspense film, or perhaps as a part of a Halloween mixtape. 

The helicopter chops return on "Dust Shuffle". "Paleosonic" is composed of oddly filtered drums and guitar bursts, all dropped into a blender. Here, he represents the best of the electronic pioneers of the past few years, showing them how it needs to be done. 

After the frenetic pace of the album's middle section, we're dropped back into ambient music with "Slow Ice, Old Moon", a futuristic landscape painting. Some themes are now returned to; "Lesser Heaven" is connected to the earlier "Complex Heaven" near the beginning of the record, and the reverbed piano of the opening track is repeated in "Emerald and Stone". 

The longest track is "Anthropocene", which sounds initially unchallenging and innocuous, but is subtle and mostly beautiful. We fade to "Invisible", featuring true ambient sounds of bird cries and market voices. Do you remember the music that soundtracked the galactic journey in "2001, a Space Odyssey"? This is an update of that.

This album is not an easy listen. It's not for the pop fan, or the heavy metal enthusiast. It IS for those who like a little challenge with their music, and who can appreciate subtle textures. 

Eno has spent years not worrying about what the public at large thinks of his solo work, and has continued to follow his own vision. In that time, he's created some timeless, amazing music. With this album, he progresses not to a new stage, but to a refinement of what he's done in the past, with occasional new tricks added in. 

This is not a transcendent album; many have matched and even surpassed him at his own game. It is a very good record, though, and one which deserves some attention. 

I give "Small Craft On a Milk Sea" an 8 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.
Last night, we had a playlist. It looked something like this :

Gorillaz - Doncamatic
Gruff Rhys - Shark Ridden Waters

Steve Hackett - Narnia (Please Don't Touch)
Prinzhorn Dance School - Seed Crop Harvest

Duffy ft. the Roots - Well Well Well
Robyn - Indestructible

Big Audio Dynamite II  - The Globe (The Globe)

Tommy Steele - Rock With the Caveman
Herman's Hermits - Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter

Hexachord Hex - If I Only Had Time
Broken Records - A Leaving Song (Let Me Come Home)

The Fab Four Freakout : 

Beatles - House Of the Rising Sun (Let It Be Sessions)
Beatles - Anna (Go To Him) (Please Please Me)
Beatles - Honey Pie (The Beatles)

Florence & the Machine - Heavy In Your Arms (Twilight : Eclipse OST)

Gold Panda - You (Snow and Taxis)

Cliff Richard - Congratulations
Cliff Richard - I've Got You Under My Skin (Bold As Brass)

...and this week's top 5 songs in the UK : 

5). Bruno Mars - Just the Way You Are (-2)
4). Katy Perry - Firework (re-entry)
3). Alexis Jordan - Happiness (new)
2). Cheryl Cole - Promise This (-1)
1). Rihanna - Only Girl (In the World) (+1)


While we prepare for the onslaught of Take That (Take Three), we have some interesting developments in the top 5 this week. The top songs flip-flopped. There's a re-entry. There's one new entry. 

And Bruno Mars is still hanging in there. 

"Just the Way You Are" drops to number 5 this week, and that makes it seven weeks in the top 5, including two separate weeks at number one. The tune has become one of the most ubiquitous of the fall; I'm guessing you've heard it by now - it's an R&B throwback of sorts while maintaining modernity. 

Although it's become so familiar, I still like it. I'm giving it a 7 on the England Swings scale of 1-10 this week.

Tired of Katy Perry yet, UK? Apparently not, as "Firework", her third hit this year, rebounds back into the top 5 to land at number 4, its highest position so far. As usual, America is slowly revving up to appreciate the tune, as it sits at number 29 on the Billboard charts this week. No one's expecting the performance of "California Girls" or "Teenage Dream" from it, but it will probably embed itself into the American consciousness sooner or later. 

The tune grows on you. Perry's vocal, while sounding occasionally off-key, is energetic and effective. The whole thing sounds a bit like an outtake by P!nk, really. The instrumentation is almost completely synthesized, from the drum-machine clomps to the fizzy water synths. There is what appear to be a couple of real violins in there, but they're probably programmed in as well. 

It all falls together as a pretty good pop song, though. I give it a 7.5.

Who Is Alexis Jordan? Why Does She Have a Major British Hit? 


She's an eighteen-year-old with a spookily Beyonce-esque voice, discovered by Jay-Z and given to Stargate. "Happiness" managed to stay under the radar in the USA, except for the dance stations (and where are the dance stations, anyway? I think I heard one in Miami once). 

So once again, the British propel an American star to the heights, while in the USA, no one's heard of her. "Happiness" is a surprisingly mellow tune, beautifully produced and ear-catching. If Beyonce went totally electro, this is what it would sound like. Alexis does a nice hum (mm-mm-mm mm-mm), and has a versatile, clear voice. She's happy. We're happy. We give it an 8.

Cheryl Cole, the darling of British pop, only hung onto the number one song for a week with "Promise This", which drops to number 2. 

I finally figured out that the odd vocal interjection that starts the song is French, mostly the word "Alouette". The song has a frantic, hyperactive pace; so much so that it takes a while to sink in. When it does, it reveals itself as a fair-to-middling pop song. Not her best, but not her worst, I give it a 6.5. And see last week's blog for a review of the album, yeah?

Rihanna has moved away from the edge of the building, and gone back to catchy little songs that are innocuous. No "getting it up" (like in "Rude Boy"), and no clicking revolvers ("Russian Roulette"). "Only Girl (In the World)" harkens back to the innocence of "Umbrella", which - one must assume Rihanna has figured out - is her bread and butter. 

Performed on X Factor last weekend, it was inevitable that it would rise to number 1 this week. Not so in the USA, where the song peaked at 3, and is now sitting at number 4. Respectable, but no "Umbrella", then. 

It does the job. I give it a 7.

There'll be an album review here tomorrow, so come back on in.