One of the best kept musical secrets right now is a New Zealand import, a one-girl music machine born with the fanciful name of Pip Brown. Artistically she’s known as Ladyhawke; she delivered an astonishing debut last fall. The self-titled album touches on synth pop, new wave and rock; it’s a sleek, catchy-as-hell offering that will appeal to both rock and dance fans.
The songwriting is topnotch. Coproduced by Pascal Gabriel, whose credentials include Dido, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Rachel Stevens and Bebel Gilberto, the album was preceded by single “Back of the Van” which hit the upper reaches of the Australian pop chart earlier last year.
Frankly I’d be hard-pressed to hear an album that was so loaded with potential singles. The current single “Paris is Burning” will appeal to pop fans and hipster douchebags alike. Written after Pip’s first trip to Paris, she encapsulates the French capital in such an utterly succinct way, right down to the sound. “Kids in the street drinking wine/ On the sidewalk/ Saving the plans that we made, till it’s nighttime/ Give me your glass/ It’s your last/ You’re too wasted,” she sings over one of the most addictive bass lines. The single comes complete with a French version, “Paris s’enflamme” and a remix by Alex Gopher. What more can you ask for?
Elsewhere on the disc “My Delerium” strikes an indie dance mood, while album opener “Magic” evokes an almost Men without Hats-esque synthesizer bass part that is simultaneously epic, soaring, melancholy, retro and completely modern. Chock-full of great tunes, great lyrics and topped off with a sweet cherry of resplendent production, Ladyhawke was one of the best albums of 2008.
Like her or not Britney Spears has never been far from the public glare; she’s been utterly inescapable over the past few years as we all witnessed her tragicomic (mostly tragic) descent into grotesque celebrity meltdown which became fodder for an equally grotesque pop-culture media industry. It was hard not to feel sorry for poor Britney. Judging from sound bites and interview clips the girl’s as dumb as a post, but that doesn’t for one second mean she deserved an ounce of the rotten treatment she received at the hands of the bloodthirsty pop media. But hey, if Perez Hilton can make a living off others’ humiliations, fair game, right? I can’t wait for that douchebag to be knocked down himself. But let’s get back to the music (When it comes to Brit it’s so hard not to wander off course).
After the miracle release of the stopgap yet somehow amazing Blackout it seems we now have the “official” comeback record that Blackout was meant to be. The new Britney disc Circus picks up where Blackout left off, albeit coming across as less banging, more pop and slightly more diverse sounding than its predecessor. The disc opens with the tantalizing pop nugget and first single “Womanizer,” which ranks as one of her best singles ever, and deserves accolades merely for employing use of the term “Daddy-o” (surely for the first time since 1955). It’s pure genius right out of the box and a strong start to the album. Score one Cheetos for Brit-Brit!
Unlike the thumping club beats of Blackout we are presented with several mid-tempo cuts on Circus, which are middling at best. Britney ballads always seem like a half-dead mylar balloon, saggy and lifeless, like her past hit “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” (an easy contender for worst piece of shit ever recorded). Thankfully on Circus we’re nowhere near lows like that, but their inclusion makes Circus a somewhat choppy, inconsistent affair. The best of the bunch though is the Bloodshy and Avant produced “Unusual You” which borrows a little (okay, a lot) from Imogen Heap — a nice slab of downbeat electro pop that fits nicely on the album.
“Womanizer” aside, the best track on Circus is “If You Seek Amy,” a song so bad, it’s actually really good. As Britney chants “Love me/ Hate me/ Say what you want about me/ But all of the boys/ And all of the girls/ Are beggin’ to if you seek Amy.” Sure it makes no grammatical sense, but who cares? She’s right, everyone does want to fuck her. Just check with Google and ask what their top search queries are.
“If You Seek Amy” represents Spears at her apex: She’s best when delivering relatively mindless pop music; she is the ultimate pop template, a blank slate for the world’s most expensive producers to show off their skills. Containing a few great moments — but not enough — Circus is an uneven offering but it gets the job done nicely. And right now the job is damage control after a disastrous few years.