ROD STEWART: Some Guys Have All The Luck

HERE’S one for fans of British singer and songwriter Rod Stewart. With an estimated 250 million album and single sales worldwide, Stewart arguably possesses one of rock’s greatest and most distinctive voices.

Some Guys Have All The Luck is a definitive double-deluxe 30-song compilation spanning more than 30 years of his career starting from 1971.

Arranged chronologically, Stewart’s early solo years are represented by Maggie May and You Wear It Well from the Every Picture Tells A Story (1971) and Never A Dull Moment (1972) albums.

The opening disc also includes a nod to Stewart’s time with his band, the Faces (formerly Small Faces,) with Stay With Me from their 1971 album, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse.

His rendition of The First Cut Is The Deepest, a cover of a Cat Stevens song, went Top 30 in the US in 1977 and No 1 in Britain that same year.

Disc 1 also includes the stadium-swooning ballad, Sailing, the No 1 smash Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright), the Top 10 hit You’re In My Heart and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy from his 1978 album, Blondes Have More Fun.

In 1981, Stewart added further elements of New Wave and synth pop to his sound for the Tonight I’m Yours album. The title song and Young Turks both reached the Top 5 of the Billboard charts.

Disc 2 concentrates on music Stewart made during the 80s and 90s, including Infatuation, Some Guys Have All The Luck, Love Touch, Forever Young and Motown Song from the Top Ten 1991 album Vagabond Heart.

Baby Jane, the lead single from his Body Wishes album, was a UK No 1 single for three weeks in July 1983.

Among the other highlights is a rare studio version of Tom Waits’ Tom Traubert’s Blues, as well as a cover of Waits’ Downtown Train that Stewart took to No 1.

The disk also contains unplugged versions of Have I Told You Lately and Reason To Believe.

The collection concludes with a previously unreleased track, Two Shades Of Blue, recorded in 1998 and features a sample of Bordin’s Prince Igor.

Repeated release of Greatest Hits albums implies continued popularity and a growing audience. From this album, it’s quite evident that Stewart can certainly appeal to fresh audiences. — NST

LILY ALLEN: It’s Not Me, It’s You

AFTER her debut album Alive, Still sold 2,600,000 copies worldwide, British alternative singer-songwriter Lily Allen announced that she was moving in a “new direction“ on her upcoming record. And proved it she did with this second studio album, It’s Not Me, It’s You.

The album begins with Everyone’s At It — with the “it” here being drugs. The song revolves about the hypocrisy surrounding drugs. “Why can’t we all just be honest; admit to ourselves that everyone’s on it?“

This is swiftly followed by the danceable and slightly trancey part admission, part brag, part apocalyptic The Fear. The song picks at small-minded indulgences and the fickleness of fame; sticking out of a flood of soft synths.

Indeed, no taboo is left untouched by Allen. The inventively bluegrass-infused It’s Not Fair concerns itself with the sexual shortcomings of an otherwise perfect boyfriend.
I Could Say begins with emotive piano chords and sees the singer returning to the theme of duff relationships, while 22 is a unkind ditty about pretty women who — nearing 30 and single — find that they are worthless to society.

Allen’s desire to be taken seriously has led her to write a couple of songs about current affairs.

A one-track summing-up of the charm that is Lily Allen: Impolite truths in the voice of an angel.

On Chinese, Allen sings of her delight at tucking into beans on toast with a lover, conjuring up a world in which other girls are taller and prettier, but a Chinese takeaway and a cup of tea can soothe most of life’s problems .
He Wasn’t There could be about any number of unlikely male heroes who turned out to be sheep in wolves’ clothing, or about her dad’s lack of parental responsibility, while still calling him her hero. It’s fascinating how the song normalises her old man back into the traditional father-daughter narrative that she’s claimed she craved as a child

The title track, It’s Not Me, It’s You, taps into exactly what fans both want and expect to hear. Even if they’re still none the wiser as to what’s really behind those headlines.

Fans of the MySpace queen shouldn’t be fazed if some songs are more download-worthy than others. The high points on It’s Not Me, It’s You are enough to boost Allen’s reputation as one of our most compelling pop stars. — NST

ZEE AVI - Zee Avi

Like any other modern-day Internet fairytale, Kina Grannis, Aria Tesolin, Brendan MacFarlane and Marie Digby all have one thing in common, the popularity that came along after posting their talents on YouTube. and heres one from our very own shore, former fashion student turned strummer, Zee Avi.

Twenty three-year-old Avi from Miri was expected to follow a career path toward being a lawyer. In her teens she took up guitar, often spending hours locked in her room practicing.

She put music aside for four years during which she went to London to study fashion design. But back in Kuala Lumpur, she got back to her music, and starting writing songs and playing with a band.

One of her friends missed her first gig where she played her first original song Poppy and asked her to send the song over to him. Avi didn’t know how, but did have this webcam on her dad’s laptop and one of those call centre headsets. So she ended up putting it on YouTube.

After her friend watched it, she was going to delete it video, but was persuaded to let it be, and “see what happens”.

She remember getting one comment and was so happy. Then she put her second video up and got three comments. It just went on from there.

Avi’s natural magnetism to the instrument led her to write and record her own songs and post them on YouTube.

One day, a guy from Monotone Records messaged her on YouTube, saying they were interested in talking. Next thing she knew, they had a rough draft of the recordings.

Her love of music — and of the Malay melting pot — is reflected in her self-titled debut album, Zee Avi, offered up by Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records as “an exotic vaudeville entertainment from the other side of the world”, and justifiably so.

The songstress is making the most of her opportunity to sport new material by displaying her unique voice and soft sound. Having amassed so many cultural influences by the time she began studying art in London, it was no surprise that lovely and diverse songs began to spill out of her.

Most of hers songs are about relationships, and as anyone knows relationships aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. Even when it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.

Avi tries to capture the reality of it. It can be a fairy tale, but it doesn’t always end up happily ever after. It it sets the theme for the rest of the album — almost wistful, but darkness permeates the lyrics.

With an opening song like Bitter Heart, where Avi describes the emotional roller-coaster of a love gone wrong while strumming upbeat-poppy rhythms, listeners are assured of a relaxing journey.

Her songs bring a tremendous amount of visual interpretation, creating an instant connection between Avi and her listeners, displaying the amount of emotional dedication Avi put into the album for the audience.

The bouncy composition called Darlin’ It Ain’t Easy, she is the one who dumps the guy, while on another take on a breakup comes on I Am Me Once More, the protagonist finds herself liberated after the dissolution of the affair.

Easily one of the standout tracks on the album, Poppy grabs the attention instantly from the first clicks of Avi’s fingers as she watches a lover succumb to opium addiction, blithely trilling...

“He used to love German Expressionism films / But now he drinks until he falls … the poppy took my baby away from me.”

In the gentle ukulele-plucked Just You And Me, she outlines the beginning of a breakup with a lilting...

“You were sitting at the coffee table where you were reading Kierkegaard / Minutes later you proceeded to say something that almost broke my heart.”

She stirs things up with the same dash of attitude in her cover of Interpol’s Slow Hands and Morrissey’s First Of the Gang to Die, in which the tale of tough is made poignant through Avi’s crooning and spaciously strummed-out acoustic guitar, while Honey Bee hints at Avi’s youth and bubbly personality.

Her self-expression comes through linguistically in the ukulele-based song Kantoi — where Avi takes a snappy cheater’s tale and turns it into contemporary folk-pop with attitude — a song sang in “Manglish” (a hybrid language of Malay and English).

It’s not pure Malay, but it’s a modern take on how everybody speaks now — a testament to Avi’s delivery that the song’s narrative emerges, despite the language barrier. And probably the pioneering song that will introduce Maglish to the world.

Avi, like other strong-voiced musicians before her has the both the power of quirk and the raw but sweet talent to make her voice stand out without having to raise it.

Her standout take on the ukelele, breathing contemporary life into it from being a mere island folk instrument, is refreshing.

From this delightful gem of an album you can tell shes going places.

Jazzy, trendy, smart and witty. Get your copy Now! — NST

Ryan Adams And The Cardinals: CARDINOLOGY

THE Cardinals is a rock band fronted by David Ryan Adams, the American alternative country-rock singer-songwriter from Jacksonville, North Carolina.

But Adams recently announced that he would leave The Cardinals to step back from making music, citing hearing loss due to Meniere’s disease as part of the reason for his decision.

Before he left, Adams, along with Neal Casal (guitar, piano and vocals), Chris Feinstein (bass), Jon Graboff (pedal steel, guitar and vocals) and Brad Pemberton (drums and percussion) recorded one last album, Cardinology.

Adams’ drug problems and public tantrums have often overshadowed his music. But not in Cardinology.

Drunk on melody, high on musical history, the record throbs with great playing and singing, and thrums with hope without pimping easy platitudes. Replete with unforgettable hooks and poetic details, it’s one of the best work Adams’ has ever done.

Cardinology begins with four killers in a row. Born Into A Light prays for faith amid troubles over a Tex-Mex melody, weepy pedal steel and gospel-tinged vocals.

The fairly straightforward roots rocker Go Easy is a breathless love pledge with heartland-rock hooks. It starts off good, lyrically warm and features more piano than electric guitar.

But the repetitive chorus of “Go easy! Go easy! Go easy! Go easy! Go easy! Go easy! Go easy! Go easy!” gets tedious, to say the least.

The lead single, Fix It, is a plea for psychic repair and sees the band chart new waters with a slower 70s R&B rock groove with a soaring Bono-style chorus.

Meanwhile, Magick is pure mindless garage-rock pleasure. The guitars get louder and fuzzier, blasting out some power chord pop with a hint of lap steel in the bridge and outro to make it a legit Cardinals track.

The most interesting track on the album is Natural Ghost. It’s an eerie ballad supported by an ethereal echo guitar

Cardinology’s riveting finale and album-closing weeper is Stop, a fragile piano ballad sung in a shaky voice that slowly gains strength and takes flight about substance abuse and rehab.

While not every track on Cardinology is a winner, it is good to hear Adams let loose with possibly his most varied record to date.

A great collection for the fans. — NST

The Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D.

IN 2003, three Los Angeles MCs (African-American, Filipino-American and Mexican-Native American Taboo) hired a blonde bombshell named Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson to be in their band called The Black Eyed Peas.

Since then, they have gone from strength to strength. And now comes The E.N.D, the Peas’ fifth studio album and their first since Monkey Business in 2005.

The title is an acronym for “The Energy Never Dies”, and it’s somewhat representative of this collection of tunes.

Throwing every studio trick in the book at these songs, Will and the gang have gone more experimental this time around. This is further explained by Will’s computerised basso profundo voice introducing the opening track with: “This version of myself is not permanent/Tomorrow, I will be different”.

The record then segues into the number one hit Boom Boom Pow, and all hell breaks loose with eerie synth chords, screechy disco-diva wailing, 808 thuds, raps about 808 thuds and a dizzying barrage of doggerel.

The E.N.D. is slathered with vocals electronically altered by the Auto-Tune effect featured on recent singles by MSTRKRFT, David Guetta and Keith Harris. Will takes on electro, deep house, dancehall and dance-punk, to name just a few trends.

There are plenty of strong songs on the album. Ring-A-Ling, blending jittery keyboard figures, is a strangely innocent celebration of drunken booty-calling.

Now Generation, where the gang bellows over power-pop guitar chord, is a rant about social media.

I Gotta Feelin’ relies on a simple sunny pop melody to spread the joy of plunging headfirst into celebrating the end of the work week.

Rock That Body tosses up everything from huge kick drums to synth figures that sound like crow caws to a famous Rob Base sample, while One Tribe follows a bouncing-ball beat as Will suggests that world peace might come from an amnesia epidemic.

No song drives this point home better than Out of My Head, in which Fergie helpfully announces the coming of at the end of previous track Party All The Time by cooing, over and over, “I’m so ti’sy”.

Whether she’s being weepy in Meet Me Halfway or superbad in Imma Be (a rhythmic exercise that demonstrates hip-hop and jazz fusion grooves can be equally effective in inspiring movement), Fergie takes her part to its logical end.

The Peas has left the socially-conscious party raps of its past completely behind, in favour of club hits and the type of radio fodder that’s going to be filling the airwaves these few months.

In the end, The E.N.D. sounds like one big Café del Mar-style mix album with barely distinguishable song boundaries.

The true gift of The Black Eyed Peas is its demonstration that great pop music is ultimately constructed of the two primary elements — memorable melody and rhythm that produces a kinetic response. Both are in great abundance here. — NST

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings

FORMED in 1985 by John Myung (bass), John Petrucci (guitar), and Mike Portnoy (drummer), Dream Theater, whose lineup now includes along James LaBrie (vocals) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards), is one of the definitive bands in progressive metal genre, and their every release is met with anticipation.

The band’s 10th studio album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, released on June 23, entered the US Billboard 200 at No 6 and Eurochart Hot 100 at top spot, marking its highest entry on either chart.

The album sees the band moving back towards songs that are as much complete compositions as they are progressive and technical, instead of the normal extended jam session as in previous offerings.

There are only six songs on the album, but the shortest song is already 5.25 minutes long. With lyrics written by Petrucci and Portnoy, all except one concern personal experiences about disturbing or difficult moments of their lives.

The album opens with a huge thunder crash, before a haunting piano introduces A Nightmare To Remember, written by Petrucci about a car accident he was involved in as a child.

A song about the freemasons, A Rite Of Passage, is more of a standard heavy rock song.

Things slow down with the power ballad Wither, a song about Petrucci’s own fear of writer’s block. A five-minute ballad that’s harmonious and intensely hummable.

Then comes the band’s progressive metal masterpiece, The Best Of Times, written by Portnoy about his father who died from cancer. It opens with a mellow introduction featuring piano, strings and acoustic guitar before kicking into traditional Dream Theater mode. Vocals don’t begin until after the fourth minute, but once they do, it’s a very catchy track.

Undoubtedly, the best song on the album, the 20-minute-long The Count Of Tuscany, about an actual encounter Petrucci had in Tuscany, has plenty of repetition and self-indulgence, but the boys throw twists and turns to keep things interesting throughout.

Petrucci has become much more proficient at writing heavy, memorable riffs that are capable of providing a solid foundation.

Black Clouds & Silver Linings is sure to be a must-have album for all progressive metal heads. — NST


LAST year, Entertainment Weekly called the Kings Of Leon's third album Because Of The Times its "crowning glory" while Rolling Stone wondered: "How good can the Kings Of Leon get? They've already gone further than anybody could have guessed".

But if critics thought that the album was the work of a band -
comprising the Followills, brothers Caleb (vocals and guitar), Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass), and their cousin Matthew (guitar) - at the peak of its powers, they might want to reconsider after listening to its latest release, Only By The Night, which picks up where Because Of The Times left off.

"To me, it sounds like the Kings Of Leon are back, not only as a band,
but as friends," said Caleb.

"It was really a big family vibe. That's where the title came from. It's also a reference to a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and it has five syllables, like all of our album titles."

From the first bars of opener Closer, which Caleb says is about a lovesick vampire, with its gently weeping guitars and reverberating drums, you can hear the space that Nashville producers Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King have opened up in the Followills' sound.

The fuzz-crunched, hip-grinding Crawl, about relationships of all kinds and taking them for granted, blasts in with metallic thrum, sweeping in its savage grace.

The album's single, Sex On Fire, returns the band to familiar thematic territory of unbridled lust.

Then, another quick shift of gears into Use Somebody, a rousing, full-throated indie anthem, with Caleb sing-shouts Otis Redding-style: "You know that I could use somebody".

The dopey Manhattan is partly about dancing and enjoying life and partly about the struggles of Native Americans.

"Manhattan is actually a native American word that means `island of many hills'," said Caleb, whose family has Native American blood.

Finally there's the driving, forceful Notion, where the singer pushes back against anyone who says anything against anyone in his band.

The album closes with dreamy Cold Desert, about a man at the end of his rope who picks himself back up. It's the perfect maudlin end to this short, sharp album.

Only By The Night is an album not to be missed by rock fans, if only because the band has made rock fashionable again. - NST 09/11/2008