From Eurovision bangers courtesy of Saara Aalto...to heavy metal swan songs a la Machine Head. From returning Welsh rap rock renegades The Kennedy Soundtrack...to returning Finnish goth godfathers Musta Paraati. From crossover WWE Superstar Elias...to young crossover Stranger Things superstars forming Calpurnia...you name it there's been something for everyone in 2018 and I like to think I've covered a fair unbiased amount of it. After over 200 albums and EP's, the above gallery showcases the best of the best of 2018 and I hope you agree with my overall picks. Below you'll find the link to the GTGC Facebook page, where you can find my lists in their entirety (Including the bonus WORST 20 OF 2018) and my official GTGC 2018 Spotify Playlist, and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed compiling it. Here's to 2019 and all of the new music coming our way...some of it will get the GTGC treatment, and you know you're looking forward to that. Peace out bitches...WUBBA LUBBA DUB DUB!!!!!!!!!!!!
Well well well...what can I say? 2018 has been and gone; some of it was awesome, some of it was interesting, some of it was amusing and a lot of it was spectacularly shit...however, one thing that's consistent is the sheer volume of music and art created around the world. 2018 saw me cover my usual rock and metal albums...there wasn't a lot of goth...but I dabbled in some pop, in some rap, in some hip-hop...that's not including that which I checked out for the team over at All About The Rock...ultimately 2018 has kept me on my toes musically and I'm sure that my Top 20's, no matter the category, can show you that.
From Eurovision bangers courtesy of Saara Aalto...to heavy metal swan songs a la Machine Head. From returning Welsh rap rock renegades The Kennedy Soundtrack...to returning Finnish goth godfathers Musta Paraati. From crossover WWE Superstar Elias...to young crossover Stranger Things superstars forming Calpurnia...you name it there's been something for everyone in 2018 and I like to think I've covered a fair unbiased amount of it. After over 200 albums and EP's, the above gallery showcases the best of the best of 2018 and I hope you agree with my overall picks. Below you'll find the link to the GTGC Facebook page, where you can find my lists in their entirety (Including the bonus WORST 20 OF 2018) and my official GTGC 2018 Spotify Playlist, and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed compiling it. Here's to 2019 and all of the new music coming our way...some of it will get the GTGC treatment, and you know you're looking forward to that. Peace out bitches...WUBBA LUBBA DUB DUB!!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s been a heck of a year for Brighton’s YONAKA…following on from 2017’s “Heavy” EP, the band have found themselves on some pretty impressive tours in its wake; sharing stages with the likes of reinvigorated king of partying ANDREW WK, DON BROCO and more recently playing arena’s with BRING ME THE HORIZON. The four-piece however (Consisting of vocalist Theresa Jarvis, guitarist George Edwards, bassist Alex Crosby and drummer Robert Mason) aren’t resting their laurels…and earlier this year they released not one but two, highly anticipated follow up EP’s entitled “Teach Me To Fight” and “Creature”. Have Yonaka burned through the midnight oil, or will it be the dawn of a new day for this south-coast ensemble? Let’s find out, as we check out the latter…
The four-track EP opens up with “Own Worst Enemy” and it speaks of a split-personality, battling your inner demons and confronting yourself over your own actions and choices in life. Their dark blend of sultry electronic pop and indie rock, coupled with Theresa’s semi-husky voice combines well for a groove-heavy, rhythmic track and a strong opener. The pop hooks and atmospherics bridge a nice gap for fans of say, JESSIE J and FLORENCE & THE MACHINE. The title track offers a serious EP highlight with its urbanised pop aesthetic; an almost classic disco funk rhythm with subtle R’n’B elements, along-side a catchy chorus, showcasing Yonaka’s ability to write a genuine tune.
“Death By Love” despite having a slightly slower tempo for the most part retains that funk-based core sound and really utilises a sense of easy-listening pop production…this is the kind of track that could easily (Given the chance) get them more mainstream airplay in the current chart climate, capable of appealing to a fairly wider audience compared to many bands in a similar position. We sadly then finish up too soon on final track “She’s Not There” and again they’ve opted for a slower, darker, slightly brooding heavy pop track to round things off. It ends proceedings on an almost cinematic vibe, with slick production, a simplistic yet conspicuous beat and minimal yet effective instrumentation; the riffs and percussion flowing effortlessly, carrying Theresa’s vocals through a brief yet hypnotic track. All in all, Yonaka have taken all that was good with their previous works and continued to build not only a sound of their own, but a name for themselves around the UK’s up-and-coming live scene. Both reliable on stage and consistently delivering quality tracks, Yonaka are certainly ones to watch and on this evidence, their debut album has the potential to be something very special indeed. You don’t follow Yonaka? You knackered…
Those of you who know me or follow this blog kind of grasp that, without beating around the bush, I’m not too up on my rap game. Sure I listen to the odd record for diversity’s sake (A bit like how Steve Hughes goes from Slayer to Enya) but ultimately my rap knowledge and awareness is sub-par at best…thinking about it that’s actually generous, I mean shit did you SEE my rapped review for the newest EMINEM record? HA! It never stops me checking out new music however and thanks to my latest reader’s poll, it was suggested that I sample some Posty…sadly I’m not on any illegal substances and this isn’t about to become the weirdest review of Postman Pat you’ve ever seen…we’re about to delve into the world of POST MALONE.
The New York born rapper has had an interesting journey into the music industry it has to be said; one of the few rap artists who can pull off not only a fun, rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, but remain relatively down to Earth about everything while at it, all while sustaining multi-platinum status as a rapper. I mean it’s not often you hear a rapper cite Guitar Hero and emo icons like MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE as a musical influences growing up, but despite this, Posty is now one of the biggest names in modern hip-hop and the recent mumble-rap explosion. Hammering home this point, here we have his most recent album “Beerbongs & Bentleys” highlighting both aspects of Post Malone’s crazy success story…let’s check it out…
We open up this 18-track monster of a record with “Paranoid” and for the most part it’s your typically low-fi, melodic, pop-infused hip-hop track; the slow, smooth rhythm and minimalistic instrumentation, coupled with the auto-tune laced vocal leads this to pretty standard radio-friendly stuff. The autobiographical lyrics speak of his circumstances since finding fame, always watching his back, wanting that normality but when those cheques came; people changed, and despite his accomplishments it’s given him anxiety; an interesting, character building start. The level of self-awareness continues through “Spoil My Night” too, which focuses on the opposite side of the coin, knowing he can use his new found wealth and fame to get the girl with the ‘beautiful boobies’…and that’s a QUOTE I shit you not. While not entirely bragging, he’s aware enough to know the behaviour is toxic and to a degree there’s a level of morality layered within the lyrics.
With over an hour’s worth of music to mull over there’s plenty to talk about here, and we have to talk about some of the collaborations on this record for sure…and this includes the lead single “Rockstar” featuring 21 SAVAGE. The mumble-rap qualities are all the more prominent and it’s easy to see how the modern Soundcloud rap movement helped shape artists like Post Malone. Another minimalist, trap-based track, it really benefits from the less-is-more approach with a slick beat and down-tempo groove, although 21’s vocals couldn’t possibly be any flatter…honest to god he’d better avoid Sweden, Ikea will try to sell him off as a fucking shelf unit that’s how flat he is! Another single “Ball For Me” featuring NICKI MINAJ delivers too with some sickly-sweet retro synths and benefits from Minaj’s more up-tempo lyrical pace and tone, she’s been on form in 2018 taking into account her album “Queen”, they work well together and the track compliments them both.
Posty likes to shake things up a little bit now and again mind and examples of this here are “Stay”, which is honestly a decent little acoustic-based ballad, highlighting his ability as a song-writer, while “Over Now” despite retaining the more guitar driven style, has a more subtle, alternative indie-rock feel to it, channelling those early influences. If there’s anything negative to be said here really it’s simply on a matter of consumption; there is so much to digest here and there are times where you can’t help but feel going over the hour mark was at the very least excessive. For the most part, despite the aforementioned tracks, he CAN come across as a little vocally one-dimensional and it seems he’s quite content with his overall formula…I mean it’s working for him don’t get me wrong, but 18 cuts is a couple of beerbongs too many to be honest, I’d be more inclined to call an Uber than get in the Bentley in this condition. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable album for the most part and I’m happy to learn that Post Malone isn’t some terribly named new sub-genre, unless he claims it as his own…I really wouldn’t put it past him. 
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, or, your name is Madeleine McCann, you’ve likely heard or at least HEARD OF Columbus-based chart botherers TWENTY ONE PILOTS. While the lads have been at it for a while now, it wasn’t until 2015 that they made their big breakthrough with “Blurryface” after signing to Fueled By Ramen…but when I say breakthrough mind you I don’t just mean they got a little bit famous; HELL NO…I mean they were EVERYWHERE. In the charts, on magazine covers, on posters, you name it; you could find Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn on it…
Not since the likes of MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE or early FALL OUT BOY had an act accumulated such an intense and loyal following in alternative circles, and their quirky concept album about metal health and personal struggles found legions of young rock and pop fans identifying with the characters and concepts contained within. Now, just a couple of years later and after a brief period of media silence, the duo are back with the hotly anticipated follow-up entitled “Trench”…another concept album following on from its predecessor with a sense of fluidity and continuity…but does it meet expectation? Let’s jump in…
We open up with the title track and things are going pretty swimmingly truth be told; fueled by a thicc (Yes thicc not thick), bass-line it surges forward with a super infectious groove, coupled with some subtly layered electronic elements, which are balanced well with Tyler’s laid back, often delicate vocals. Appearing to peter out, we get a soft piano transition, before the track re-erupts with a bassy climax with Tyler's voice tearing into an intense rage. Conceptually carrying on from the success attained by their last record; the new place he sings of, is where he finds himself surrounded by fame, and the pressures they’ve essentially put themselves under creatively; stuck in a trench battling with their own success. It’s a solid start, and really speaking so is the first half of the album in general.
“Levitate” transitions in smoothly too and here we shake things up stylistically, as Tyler embraces his hip hop and rap influences, delivering some slick bars over a classic ghetto beat. He speaks of cowards only showing up when everyone’s sleeping, suggesting that those without confidence or a set of balls don’t want the attention, only acting when people aren’t looking, but here Twenty One Pilots knew all eyes were on them in anticipation…this was always going to be make or break time and it’s been handled brilliantly, they’re very self-aware. This is backed up on “Neon Gravestones”, continuing the on-going theme of handling mental health with some very EMINEM-esque vocal delivery, though restrained it’s a well-paced hip hop ballad.
As I said the first half of the album unfolds very well, with further tracks like “Morph” which utilises a super smooth, soft-jazz R’n’B inspired chorus with brass elements, while “The Hype” harbours a simple yet effective, soft indie vibe almost plucked straight out of 90’s Brit-Pop with a very THE VERVE-esque structure. Sadly, the latter half of this new 14 track album does sadly limp over the finish line with some generally unexciting content. While the strength of Tyler’s songs does lay within his lyrics, it does help if the songs warrant listening to from an aesthetic standpoint and sadly here they don’t. “Cut My Lip” has some interesting Reggae influence and “Pet Cheetah” is just, well…I mean Jason Statham? What the fuck? Aside from that, it becomes a very flat and frankly tarnishes what was looking to be a properly strong album. The excitement generated around their return and the strength of the initial singles sold this record don’t get me wrong, fans lapped this up, and this initially looked like it was going to be a superb sequel, and it DOES start off that way, but they should have gone for a less is more approach. I know they called it “Trench” but they didn’t need to give us the fucking Mariana…
The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle…very much akin to that of any Santa Carla vampire really; you know…party all night and all that malarkey…well it turns out, a couple of UK bands didn’t get that memo last year! Maybe it’s just coincidence but both YOU ME AT SIX and today’s band, DEAF HAVANA (Despite charting favourably) pretty much underperformed and underwhelmed with their previous albums “Night People” and “All These Countless Nights” respectively. They may have been children of the night but oh what music they DIDN’T make…well this year both bands are aiming for redemption with swift follow-up records. I’ve already covered YMA6’s new one “VI” over at www.allabouttherock.co.uk but here I’m going to be looking at Havana’s new LP entitled “Rituals”.
Written with a fresh, interesting approach; here we found front-man James Veck-Gilodi throwing out the usual Deaf Havana rule-book to jot down no more than just some potential song names first. He would then write songs according to those titles, fitting the lyrics and music around those ideas and concepts, with the band then completing them in the studio once satisfied. The end result? The 13 tracks we have right now making up “Rituals”…let’s check it out.
The album rather appropriately opens up with “Wake” and while a completely separate body of work it’s still as though there’s this redeeming narrative that both aforementioned bands are focusing on; the morning after the night before, referencing the previous albums. No more than a 40 second intro with the words “You can fall” repeated in a choir-esque fashion…very hushed but slowly climbing in volume and presence, before cutting off and leading into first track proper “Sinner”. An incredibly jovial track combining elements of soft indie-rock and boy-band pop melodies; an incredibly light-hearted take on James’ own personal past experiences; a song of admittance and acceptance delivered with a very British stiff upper lip, but it’s very easy listening and enjoyable.
This general tone musically carries through the album fairly consistently…even conceptually as far as the single-word song titles. “Holy” utilises a subtle, underlying funk-inspired feel coinciding with the already established indie-pop vibe, backed with more choir accompaniment courtesy of the London Contemporary Voice Choir…”Worship” too with its percussion-driven acoustic tones and minimal synths makes for a very laid back listen, which can also be said for “Fear”, while album highlight “Pure” is rich in rhythm and delivers a simple yet effective chorus, even teasing at James’ grittier vocal qualities, highlighting his passion as a singer.
Some of the tracks do plod along, barely escaping 2nd gear towards the end of the album mind, with “Heaven” again utilising the help of the choir, providing gospel-inspired gang vocals over a generally slower, stripped back track, while the albums longest offering “Saint” makes you wish you had the patience of one. God it’s so slow and boring…I mean it’s touching, but boring…and who really wants to feel bored when touched? I’m getting off topic now…ahem…that sadly too leads us into the closing track “Epiphany” and it’s here I had a sudden realisation; this track is also sadly a bit dull, as well as feeling abrupt and almost unfinished. “Rituals” as a whole isn’t bad; it’s got its pleasant pop qualities, James is still a fine story-teller, plus it’s got more energy than its predecessor…and credit to them for experimenting with their entire approach to writing this time around. The only thing I will say is that know James can properly belt out the vocals when called upon with grit and conviction, he’s done so in the past, and this album again does lack some of that edge…other than that it’s a decent album. Now if you’ll excuse me I have my OWN rituals to sort out…these puppies aren’t going to sacrifice themselves…
When you casually commit your time to reviewing bands, what CAN happen is that, you’re so invested in the to-do list in front of you and going through emails that, you tend to miss a certain amount of stuff going on in the scene around you, and end up missing the boat with some artists. This is exactly what happened with today’s band…THE HUNNA. The Hertfordshire based quartet (Consisting of vocalist Ryan Potter, guitarist Dan Dorney, bassist Junate Angin and drummer Jack Metcalfe) formed in 2015 but have quickly garnered a level of hype among young alternative fans, with appearances at Reading & Leeds Festival and backing from BBC Introducing, and their debut album ”100” broke into the Top 20 too…from what I understand. This year saw the band release their hotly anticipated follow up album “Dare” and it’s here they entered my ears for the first time…let’s see how it went…
Now I’ll be honest…I judged a book (Or CD sleeve in this case) by its cover and it’s safe to say I was a bit…wrong. With the classic ‘Parental Advisory’ logo, the misty, back alley at night background and perception of gang-mentality I went in to this expecting something along the lines of like, the alternative hard-rock stylistics of EIGHTEEN VISIONS or ATREYU and maybe you could say I was expecting too much? The album opens up promisingly with some fuzzy guitar and a gradually building opening verse, before it erupts into this genuinely catchy, soaring melodic chorus. It’s got a great pop-hook and an infectious groove and though while the track does end on a more breakdown-inspired instrumental segment, this is far more up-beat and up-tempo than I was expecting, but it’s a decent start nevertheless.
This overall tone is continued on tracks like “Fever” which again is an incredibly light-hearted affair which utilises a strong indie-pop feel; more melodic guitar tones and big on chorus, in ways akin to the likes of YOU ME AT SIX in delivery, while “One” easily reflects the bands affection for artists such as KINGS OF LEON, it’s so easy to imagine this played in the same set as “Sex On Fire”, the influence is quite clear…which I guess can also be said for “Summer” too. Closing track “Y.D.W.I.W.M.” (Which stands for ‘You Don’t Want It With Me’…I was relieved to not have to play some sort of Mock The Week type guess the headline game with that let me tell you) does utilise more of that fuzzy, bass-heavy guitar tone, almost grungy and more resembling of artists such as DRENGE which makes for a grittier listen, but this is generally as heavy as it gets.
Several of the tracks opt for a considerably lighter feel such as the FOALS inspired “Babe, Can I Call?” which is a sickly sweet love song, “Lover” is a morose anti-ballad that’s both powerful and bold while trying to tug on the heart strings, while “Mother”, arguably the weakest track on the record plods along, ending on a repetitive note, really making you hope he was put up for adoption just to end YOUR suffering. Ultimately while there are some decent pop-rock cuts on “Dare” with a fair share of infectious melodies and enjoyable choruses, I really was expecting something with a bit more substance….ideally the hunna gunna’ wunna’ dare to show more fighting spirit next time around as, though while I’m not expecting a sudden switch to anything remotely metal, their songs really could do with a bit more attitude. 
If I were to maybe, oh I don’t know, chime in with some lyrics? Maybe something along the lines of…“I chime in with a ‘haven’t you people heard of, closing the god damn door?’”…a lot of you are going have flashbacks to those early emo years of the mid to late 2000’s, and many of you are going to fondly remember how bands like PANIC! AT THE DISCO ruled the airwaves. Well, you may have washed away the eyeliner, cut off your fringe and grown out of all of that since, but you wouldn’t be the only one…front man Brendan Urie has more or less done the same. While alternative rock music has gone through its trends following the emo outbreak, such as the huge metalcore boom, Brendan has very much gone on his own path, in more ways than one. Back in 2016 he released “Death Of A Bachelor” as pretty much the sole remaining member of P!ATD, and long gone were the soaring emo-rock anthems like “I Write Sins…” and “The Ballad Of Mona Lisa”, instead we had a man reinvigorated by the creative process; playing and writing everything himself, toying with ideas and musical avenues, and it paid off with the album doing incredibly well commercially, even though it continued on its clear departure from their original sound.
His new found creative freedom and exploration of pop music theatrics led him to the stage where he did a stint performing for the west end musical “Kinky Boots” and it’s here where we also find P!ATD in 2018 for album number six; “Pray For The Wicked”. Still the sole original member, here we find Brendan allowing his love of all things Broadway to consume P!ATD as he writes freely; full of glee and gay abandon, but does it work for the ol’ disco? Let’s find out…
We rather starkly open up with “(Fuck A) Silver Lining” and despite its initial 50’s feel we quickly transition into Brendan’s bold vocals and a rich, rhythmic jazz piece, but there are also elements of funk as well as early hip-hop layered within the percussion and it’s a real smorgasbord…lyrically it’s heavily focused on those silver linings, coupled with those “Cherries on top”, it’s a message of dissatisfaction; never settle for what you have and don’t be placated by those sweet cherries, you can always strive for more, you can always do better, and this song pushes for that, a possible nod to the bands evolution too if you will. Follow up track “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” has certain elements of religious confliction…housing the album’s title in its chorus, it’s as though he’s suggesting even the righteous need nights off, you can’t save everyone, it’s the weekend, let them do what they want...so while you may not condone ones behaviour, not everyone is your responsibility all the time, and understanding that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person…and I have to point out the high note at the songs climax, for want of a better phrase, JESUS CHRIST!
The rest of the album pretty much continues with this eccentric and essentially extravagant tone throughout, with Brendan really firing on all cylinders…only those cylinders come packed full of confetti and are accompanied by a full parade, backing dancers, a circus act and marching band. “Roaring 20’s” has this low-key Latin-jazz vibe at its core and highlight’s his experience on Broadway, at this young stage of his life how did end up here so to speak. Album apogee “One Of The Drunks” highlights the dependence society has on substances, the reliance on alcohol and the idea of ‘partying’ to love life, and it’s a powerful song of reflection amidst it’s electronic r’n’b…”The Overpass” again is rich with a heavy brass-driven funk influence, before closing track “Dying In LA” rounds things off with a morose piano ballad; closing the show with a tearjerker before curtains and to be honest Brendan plays to one of his strengths here; his voice. The less-is-more approach musically allows him to pour all the more passion into this, and accompanied by the string sections it’s a lovely little song. Overall while this may be a different band from what you remember from your youth; Brendan does compensate the lack of guitars with an abundance of energy and positivity and while they’ve subtly changed album by album, Brendan’s creative flare is forever a constant and he has to be admired for his daring to explore music. Let’s face it…not many rock stars would swap the sweaty gigs for the glitz and glamour of playing a drag queen in a west end musical, then come back and incorporate that into their day job…that takes some glitter balls! On face value, it’s a fun record as a whole but, it’s not one that’ll stick in your memory on the strength of any single standout songs. 
The UK music scene in the 90’s was an interesting place to be it has to be said…less of an exotic cocktail and more of a dirty pint if anything. At one end of the spectrum we had a rising popularity in girl/boy bands, spearheaded by the likes of SPICE GIRLS and TAKE THAT…at the other end we had the dawn of a new era of darkness by means of the freshly malformed CRADLE OF FILTH and MY DYING BRIDE, and somewhere in the middle of it all, MR. BLOBBY managed a Christmas number 1, I shit you not. The main talking point however was always Britpop, which was of course famously established by the war between BLUR and OASIS, but at the turn of the century when tastes all changed, bands either sank or swam…Blur front-man Damon Albarn however didn’t just swim, he evolved, grew legs, left the pond and changed the concept of performance art as we knew it…he created GORILLAZ.
Consisting of fictional members 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel, the “group” existed entirely in animated cartoon form and was spawned from Albarn’s growing appreciation for electronic and world hip-hop music, and they made their breakthrough in 2001 via their self-titled debut album and the mega hit “Clint Eastwood”, never looking back, only growing in success with further singles along the road like “Dare” and “Feel Good Inc.” until their eventual hiatus. 2017 saw them return with 26-track behemoth “Humanz” but 2018 sees them back already with the follow up album “The Now Now”…the question is, is it the good good?
We open up with the album’s lead single “Humility” which features famed jazz-guitarist George Benson and what we’ve got is a quirky little, low-fi synth pop piece…laid back in approach combining ambient funk and subtle reggae influences for a very fresh, Summery vibe. This is backed up by the music video, inspired by the Santa Monica lifestyle; carefree and easy-going, and it speaks of the inner struggles of failed romance and yearning, though not entirely serious with Jack Black doing, well, Jack Black things. It’s an OK start…follow up track “Tranz” however is a completely different kettle of fish. Whilst simple in structure and approach it’s got a definite, retro electronic tone musically combining the simplicity of KRAFTWERK and the edgier, darker tones of DEPECHE MODE, all the while utilising some really catchy pop hooks and it works wonderfully, this is easily an album highlight.
Sadly however, highlights over these 11 tracks exist in much the same way Harambe does; i.e. he doesn’t, not anymore anyway (RIP you majestic beast). “One Percent” harbours soft synth melodies that wouldn’t feel out of place in a scene from “Stranger Things”, while “Lake Zurich” is another up-beat, primarily disco / funk-driven instrumental for the most part and it has to be said, on the track “Hollywood”, it’s always good to hear a bit of SNOOP DOGG (Even though the guy will work with almost anyone, refer to my old COREY FELDMAN review for that)…the rest of the album however sadly lacks any real sort of momentum. “Idaho” is structured very much like a dreamscape which would not only put you to sleep, but the sheep you were counting too. “Fire Flies” strikes me as purely ironic and cruel as I’ve literally just reviewed an OWL CITY album and this track actually makes me miss that, before closing track “Souk Eye” rounds things up with some more dreary pop. Damon Albarn is a talented song writer and creator, that’s not in question, but there were days he used to write with a sense of positivity and fun, with more LIFE…lately this project sounds like he’s either half asleep or stoned, or both…honestly, take the W’s off of the album title and it’ll be more appropriate. 
I want you to cast your minds back just for a moment, to the year 2009…what a weird year in pop music that was. LADY GAGA exploded onto the world’s music scene with her debut album / virtual hit-factory “The Fame”…inspiring young women everywhere to dress like absolute twats…weeks before his massive come-back tour, MICHAEL JACKSON passes away from accidental overdose, making sure you double-checked your own prescription or else you too would be moonwalking to the morgue (On a serious note that was a bit unexpected)…SUSAN BOYLE became a thing, no really, that actually happened…and a little known artist by the name of OWL CITY would dominate the airwaves with THAT song “Fireflies”…seriously it was everywhere, like a synth-pop plague, going 19x platinum worldwide…you must remember, surely? I digress…following the immediate success of Owl City’s (Real name Adam Young) debut, he seemingly faded away…but he didn’t disappear. In addition to having worked on numerous film soundtracks including “The Croods” and “Wreck-It Ralph”, he now returns with his SIXTH studio album; “Cinematic”…shall we see what owl the fuss is about?
The album kicks off with “Fiji Water” and such is the innocent charm of the simplistic electronica I honestly thought this was inspired by the ‘Human Music’ from "Rick And Morty"…I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Jerry wasn’t singing this himself! Jokes aside, it combines the unsullied tinkling’s of a baby’s cot mobile stylistically with the sickly sweet vocals…the chorus is catchy enough and this is harmless pop music with some pleasant little hooks; a pretty safe start. Speaking of choruses, “Montana” delivers well with what could musically find itself at home on LINKIN PARKS’s “One More Light” album, naturally he’s no Chester but aesthetically it wouldn’t feel out of place, you can easily imagine Shinoda accompanying this.
Despite being known for the easy-listening electronica, there are a couple of tracks that utilise a more guitar driven approach…”Be Brave” being the first offering. Initially a delicate piano led piece, it takes advantage of the slow-build and gradually becomes this emotive, emo-rock track and it’s genuinely enjoyable as it kicks into gear. “Firebird” then swaps the piano for the acoustic strings and again, the hooks on this chorus are pretty infectious, allowing for a clear album highlight. This too can be said for “Lucid Dream” which when it gets going embraces a total European dance-pop characteristic…in the right hands a potential floor-filler this. By contrast then, the cutely titled “Not All Heroes Wear Capes” is a wonderful little tribute to his father via an acoustic ballad; equal parts nostalgic admiration and present-day appreciation.
While the tracks I’ve highlighted have their own charms and attributes…we can’t ignore the fact that, at eighteen tracks long…this is a lot of synth-pop to get through and given the very often butter-wouldn’t-melt level of innocence within the vocals and poppier-than-thou electronica, it can become overwhelming to the point of nausea. “House Wren” for example is just so incredibly corny, lyrically it makes my ears cringe…”Winners Never Quit” ironically made me want to abandon this review but I’m in too deep now…this might even make Charlie Sheen quit and he INVENTED winning! Aside from some alternate versions of tracks, the album officially closes on the title track and essentially it’s like an excuse to use a lot of movie-themed metaphors and analogies…no more. Essentially here, Owl City haven’t really changed one iota…their sweet electro-pop is still on the verge of troubling diabetics…while they can clearly still produce infectious, radio-conquering tunes, this album in its entirety is for want of a better word; excessive. 
When it comes to bands succeeding from day one, there are few in recent times who can honestly say they have hit the ground running as hard as FLORENCE + THE MACHINE…the London-born group fronted by Florence Welch dropped their debut “Lungs” back in 2009 and really haven’t looked back since. Multi-platinum sales, Brit Awards, Mercury Prize nominations…and that was just the debut! This form continued as both follow-up records “Ceremonials” and “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” each respectively gave Florence a hat-trick of Number 1 albums and the accolades kept coming…however the style was slowly but surely changing and they were in time becoming more refined…and this leads us to 2018 where Florence released album number four; “High As Hope”. Self-produced by the band themselves, let’s see how the machine is operating these days…
The album opens up with, (Or at least tries to) “June” and I say that because there’s at least a 14 second delay between the start of the track and you being able to actually hear anything, and I honestly don’t know what this aims to achieve, coming across as more of a production error rather than having any beneficial point within the song. When the song IS flowing however we get a piano led, restrained little track, gently accompanying Florence’s instantly recognisable husky, sometimes warbled vocals. It does have a slight, climactic flurry but it’s abrupt ending spoils that completely. Were the spare 14 seconds meant to be this side of the song, instead of being empty? Here it just sounds incomplete; a poor start.
Lead single “Hunger” then follows and admittedly this is much better; with a more up-beat rhythm its sounding far more positive, with encouraging lyrics and a gospel-inspired clap-along accompaniment, coupled with soulful backing gang-vocals, this is Florence as we know her and she’s so easily capable of writing songs that simply ooze with joyousness; this being one of them. This is reinforced by the track “Patricia” which again has all of the classic F+TM traits, wonderfully blending soulful pop with energetic indie…the string sections and bold chorus allowing for a dynamic listen and again it allows for an enjoyable song. Florence has always had subtle gothic tendencies mind you and here it’s showcased by the ultra-moody “Big God”…the almost haunted, deeper tempo with its sultry tones and slow-build gives the album extra character overall and is a definite highlight.
This albums primary flaw however, is in fact how stripped back it actually is…as despite only being ten tracks long, it feels a lot longer because of the level of restriction, with an almost shoegaze appraoch utilised. “Grace” whilst on paper is an appropriately titled graceful little piano ballad, it feels incredibly drawn out, and as assertive as Florence is vocally the track fails to hold attention, so too do the albums closing tracks suffer similarly, with “The End Of Love” and “No Choir” rounding things off in lacklustre fashion. Yes the point of this album was a more personal, raw recording and that does indeed resonate through Flo’s vocals throughout, her ability as a performer can’t be questioned, but taking this direction has denied us the proper banger's we all know the band are capable of…there’s no rush and excitement of “Howl”…there’s no drama and climax of “What The Water Gave Me” and there’s no feisty attitude of “Kiss With A Fist”…instead, while we have a well matured album, it’s pretty much just Florence…the machine seems to be on standby. 
As disappointing as it is, it’s not just day-to-day society that’s still behind in terms of equality between men and women in the work place…the world of rock and metal is still very much a male dominated genre of music and despite the best efforts of several high profile bands, it’s still dragging it’s knuckles to a degree…for example; Download festival (Arguably the most mainstream and high profile of the alternative rock and metal festivals) is yet to have a ‘female-fronted’ headline act on its main stage. Women in rock and metal just don’t seem to be getting a legitimate fair shot…but one young lady is hoping to change all of that; let me introduce you to DIAMANTE.
The Los Angeles-based singer found herself listening to the likes of AVRIL LAVIGNE and KELLY CLARKSON at a young age but through that soon discovered and developed a passion for classic rock, and artists such as JOAN JETT and PAT BETANAR. After dropping her debut single “Bite Your Kiss” back in 2014 she’s generated millions of streams on YouTube etc. and has recently dropped her debut full length album; “Coming In Hot”. Produced by Howard Benson (MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, MOTORHEAD) he’s proclaimed himself that the 21-year-old is the rightful heir to the throne of Joan Jett; while Diamante herself intends to make a statement…incredibly bold, let’s see if she can back it up.
The album opens up with the title track and lead single “Coming In Hot” and within seconds you can hear the influence that Joan Jett has had on the young artist…from the gritty, attitude-riddled vocal delivery and the simple, old-school style of the guitars, this will easily appeal to fans of all that is classic rock. Do you remember when BRITNEY SPEARS covered (And I use that term loosely) “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”? Well this is better, considerably better…follow up track “Sound Of Us” for the most part is more of the same though the pre-chorus has some additional melody, while the chorus itself has gone big, bordering on anthemic. The guitar solo here too is a pretty decent effort and ultimately we’ve got a straightforward yet enjoyable track here. Recent single “Had Enough” directly addresses the issue of women’s rights by supporting the #MeToo movement…with a video inspired by “Thelma & Louise” and a production staff consisting entirely of women, it’s more of a statement than a hit single as musically again it’s relatively straight forward, but the message is more important than the track itself here really.
Elsewhere the record does have further highlights including “Kind Of Love” which combines bold melodies and soaring gang vocals over some catchy pop-rock hooks for a solid, enjoyable track…”War Cry” takes things up a notch with a deeper, darker core sound, almost rooted in industrial given the lyricism and instrumentation; the riffs are heavier and the overall tone of the track is a little more sinister, while “Fight Like A Girl” is predominantly more groove-heavy with another strong chorus. The album isn’t without it’s lesser points however; “Definitely Not In Love” is a completely cringe-worthy track driven by spoken-word verses, I’m definitely not in love with THIS one, while “Black Heart” harks back to those early Kelly Clarkson influences, negating the whole classic rock vibe of the album, before closing track “Lo Siento” is just a Spanish version of earlier track “I’m Sorry” and serves little to no point, adding nothing to the album in terms of quality…it would have served better as a B-Side. Ultimately the album as a whole is a decent selection of rock ‘n’ roll track’s and despite her young age she’s done well, channeling the genre’s heritage through to a new generation of listeners, bridging the gap between pop and rock well, but there’s nothing truly iconic or memorable about the record. Diamante here coming in lukewarm if anything, but there’s no reason to suggest she can’t turn up the temperature next time around. 
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve heard from THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS…not since 2013’s head-turning, art-rock concept album “Love Lust Faith + Dreams” in fact, which, while at least critically praised for its experimental qualities, was a drastic switch from their established grandiose emo-rock…so why the gap? Well aside from a Guinness World Record holding tour of over 300+ dates, front-man Jared Leto returned to acting for a string of successful supporting roles, (If you exclude his attempt at The Joker in “Suicide Squad”) most notably his appearance in “Dallas Buyers Club” for which he won ALL of the awards! Seriously, he won fucking everything! Now, after their five year absence, 30STM return with yet another concept via album number five entitled “America”.
Before we delve into the music here I have to point out the concept begins with the album cover itself and the band have seemingly opted to appeal to fans of Pokemon, honestly, collectors beware Jared wants your money! Despite being arguably the worst album art of the year, aesthetically anyway, the idea was that there would be lists comprising of what makes America “America”…and along with creative director Willo Perren, 200 were made…TWO HUNDRED! Luckily that was whittled down to six, but still, do we even want ONE copy of this album let alone six? That’s what we’re about to find out…
We get underway with lead single “Walk On Water” and we’re immediately met with anthemic gang vocal harmonies, backed by a rhythmic, sultry dose of electronica…the production here is so clean and it really sounds big, it’s like Jared has been listening to a lot of IMAGINE DRAGONS for example, and if that wasn’t enough in its own right it’s a very socially-politically charged song, with the video lost somewhere between being on the tourist board and having a random stab at propaganda…but it’s a decent start to be fair. “One Track Mind” features the first of two collaborations, with A$AP ROCKY lending his lungs to this one…an incredibly smooth, low-bap style of contemporary hip-hop, it’s layered with ambient percussion and a cold autotune-rich vocal delivery, with Rocky’s contribution itself being rather minor, though the restrained rapping does add texture before the very 80’s guitar solo ends the track on a high point. An instrumental piece “Monolith” then gradually builds up with some tribal drumming and snarling electronica, before it’s intense, dramatic, almost cinematic climax…leading into the utterly anti-climactic “Love Is Madness” featuring second collaborator HALSEY. Despite its powerful, emotive chorus, it’s quite a dull, stripped back electro-pop track, it really is a disappointment, and you’d swear they were doing this on purpose…
The rest of the album…? Well…just like several of the countries amendments, there’s plenty on this record that could do with a rethink. “Rescue Me” has elements of THE POLICE and the best thing going for it is its title because it really does need rescuing…”Dawn Will Rise”…if I’m to be frank even the Sun itself would struggle to get up for this one, it’s so lacklustre, “Remedy” while at least being a half-decent little acoustic piece is a far cry from the bombastic, passionate displays we know Jared can deliver which by now we sorely miss, before “Rider” ends the album quicker than you can find the word ‘abrupt’ in the dictionary…seriously, it’s like someone put the album out of its OWN misery. OK, yes, you can’t keep a band pigeonholed and 30STM have once again tried something a little different, but in essence they’ve gone and done a LINKIN PARK. As accessibly mainstream this record is in the modern climate, it’s as though they’re OK with losing chunks of their original fan base for another chart position. Jared is lucky he’s a handsome man and he’s got young girls getting all 30 seconds to moist queuing for their records, but musically this is just lazy. Make America great again? Start small…make “America” decent first is it lads… 
As you’re likely to be well aware by now if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, I have bit of a soft spot for Finnish bands; there’s just something unique about their blend of Gothic, melancholia infused music, with their penchant for all things doom and gloom…and whether it’s the dark pop hooks of HIM, the symphonic bombardment of NIGHTWISH or the riff-heavy pummeling of POISONBLACK, there’s always been something personally alluring about Suomalainen vaihtoehtoinen musiikki. Today however we’re doing the old switcheroo and sampling some of Finland’s ironically less popular pop music, and a lady by the name of SAARA AALTO. If you’ve paid attention at all to my posts over the past couple of months you’ll already have picked up on the fact that Saara was this year’s Finnish entry at the Eurovision Song Contest (And was my personal favourite) but doing a little digging through the snow, we learn she’s far from a new kid on the block of ice…
Saara was born in Oulunsalo in 1987 and prior to this year’s Eurovision she was already a recognised name in some aspects as a voice actor, having done Finnish voice-overs for Disney’s “Frozen” and “Alice In Wonderland”…however singing has always been her passion and she’s actually been releasing music since 2011, having several independent albums under her belt, as well as multiple attempts at talent shows including “Talent Suomi” and “The Voice Of Finland”…even “The X Factor” here in the UK! Her trouble though was a case of that classic saying; always the bridesmaid, never the bride…coming in at 2nd place every single time. 2018 sees her try to rectify that with her first ever major label release through Warner Music; “Wild Wild Wonderland”…let’s check it out.
The album opens up with that Eurovision entry “Monsters” and honestly it’s still as fun as ever, despite being originally released in February. There isn’t really much I can add to this one from my preview of Lisbon truth be told; with the subtle electronica and temple block inspired synths, coupled with Saara’s bold, melodic vocals, with a soaring chorus this is a wonderful dance-pop tune and it still sounds fresh, a faultless start here really. “HӒN” follows up and we’ve got a really rhythmic, funk-inspired piece with brass elements, coupled with Saara’s assertive vocal presence, its brief but it is enjoyable. “Dance Like Nobody Is Watching” on face value would logically be a big, bright, colourful piece of music, focused on letting your hair down and partying but in reality it’s a sombre piano ballad, actually making it that much more powerful; a very emotive track and rich in reflection and self-confidence, resulting in an incredibly sweet listen, absolutely lovely stuff.
“My Touch” continues to pump out the dance-inspired soft pop but does incorporate subtle R’n’B influences throughout the pre-chorus, while elsewhere Saara dabbles in other cultural samples with “Walking On Nails” having a slight Spanish guitar tone to its acoustics, and bonus track “No Fear” utilises low-key classic Indian instrumentation to add character to an already up-beat, positive track. The rest of the album is pretty much consistent really…Saara’s had a decent writing team working with her for the record and all things considered this is a pretty congenial, albeit straightforward pop album. It’s got its highlights, though it does peak far too early with THAT song getting the album underway, but there’s nothing overtly negative to be said about the record in all fairness, it’s worth the listen. 
Over the past decade or so the UK has properly stepped up in terms of the whole culture surrounding underground urban music, ranging from hip-hop to rap, grime and alternative R’n’B with everyone from THE STREETS to LETHAL BIZZLE and recently STORMZY, all contributing to what is now a flourishing scene up and down the country. You may be wondering why I’m talking about this as I rarely if ever touch rap and it’s many umbrella terms, but, it didn’t put today’s artists off getting in touch with me via email…and being the open minded fellow that I am I decided to swap the breakdowns for the beats and broaden my musical horizons; allow me to introduce to you TOO MANY T’S. The London-based duo (Consisting of Ross Standaloft and Leon Rhymes) have been described as the UK’s answer to THE BEASTIE BOYS and have had several high-profile endorsements from the likes of ROB DA BANK and WU-TANG already, and not too long ago they released their hotly anticipated debut album “South City”…the lads asked me to check it out so the question is, how many T’s is too many? Let’s find out…
We open up with “South City Court” and it’s not long before we’re taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane (If memory lane was a dark city side-street in the wrong part of town)…this is very much drawn from old-school hip-hop with its swagger, tinny percussion and overall tone, it’s so easy to understand where the Beastie Boys comparisons come in to play it has to be said. With its crisp production yet simplistic approach it starts the album off really well. Follow up track “Sixty’s Ford” again opts for a less-is-more mind-set with a primarily percussion lead piece, with subtle electronic elements filtered through sparingly…the vocals are slick and stylistically here they’ve gone for a more jungle-infused grime track, coming off as slightly deeper, slightly darker.
There are several strong cuts spaced out over the course of the album in all fairness showcasing a variety of influences, highlighting the level of quality the UK has been churning out in recent times, “Diamond’s Gold (Ice, White & Black)” for example utilises a strong melodic hook during the pre-chorus that channels artists such as GORILLAZ while the rapping quality has an attitude to it that would appeal to fans of say, KANO or PROFESSOR GREEN…elsewhere then trilogy completing “1992 pt.3” (Which you may recognise from Camden Hell’s lager adverts) is an upbeat, brass infused piece that has a strong DIZZEE RASCAL vibe layered throughout. New single “Tearing Us Apart” is a much softer, rich, R’n’B ballad type piece that has a genuinely infectious groove, showing further diversity, before closing track “Start The Fire” rounds things up with a bold, brassy, pulsing, techno-heavy number, gradually coming down to an almost TWENTY ONE PILOTS inspired piece of alternative pop.
It’s not all bloodclart quality though yeah you understand me fam? The ‘skits’ here are utterly pointless and serve the album no merit whatsoever, even on an artistic standpoint; “Sira’s Biscuits” and “FM Mangal” respectively as mundane as each other, if anything just highlighting the down-to-Earth mentality of the two but that’s scraping the barrel, other than that it’s a well delivered, diverse hip-hop album. Not my usual cup of ‘T’ (I’m sorry that really is one too many T’s) but definitely a recommended listen. 
At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m quite partial to a review…yes I spend a fair amount of my time writing up these blog entries and contributing to the team over at All About The Rock, but a lot of my free time is spent watching YouTube reviewers too; guys like Anthony Fantano, AVGN, Brandon Tenold and more recently I’ve stumbled upon a guy named Decker Shado; the internet personality with the best hair. He, like most internet movie reviewers has gone through the “Alien” franchise and having watched these particular videos over the last day or so, it’s only ironic that this next review has ties to the movie itself…thematically at least, let me explain…
Allow me to introduce to you a band by the name of SICK N’ BEAUTIFUL and to utilise some professional wrestling terminology here, they’re ALL about the kayfabe. Hailing from Acheron LV-426, a moon orbiting Calpamos, 39 Light Years from Earth, from which the USCSS Nostromo picked up a distress signal, before its crew got face-hugged the fuck out of in the aforementioned movie “Alien”. Or, if you prefer…Rome, they’re from Rome, Italy. The intergalactic 5-piece (Consisting of vocalist Herma, bassist Big Daddy Ray, drummer Evey plus guitarists Lobo and Rev C2) apparently “crash landed” in the Italian capital after their spaceship; the BFS9000 suffered engine failure on their travels and they’re a bit stuck, but as luck would have it they’re a space-age musical circus freak-show and request your generosity in funding the repair costs by checking out their brand new album “Element Of Sex”. Clearly not endorsed in any way by the Weyland-Yuntani group, let’s see if they deserve our hard earned dollar…
We open up with “Fire True” and immediately we’re met with a dramatic, string-inspired synth sequence, verging on symphonic really, before we’re thrust right into the crunch of some thick, throwback nu-metal riffs. The heavy intensity and subtle electronic elements musically places this somewhere in deep space between KORN and CANE HILL, add to that then a slick guitar solo and overall we’ve got a decent opener here. Recent single “Megalomaniacal” is up next and it brings the tempo with it too, mixing raw, punk qualities via Herma’s cacophonous vocals, with a classic hard rocking rhythm…also the “Mortal Kombat” inspired arcade game video that accompanies it is a bit bonkers to boot; all in all a fun track. “All Wanna Go To Heaven” then reaches an entirely different echelon as the albums clear stand-out track…the gradual build of seductive keys and simple percussion leading into cleaner vocals, capitalising on influences such as GARBAGE and NO DOUBT resulting in a perfectly catchy piece of pop music; the hooks and overall groove here will have you hitting repeat with no doubt ironically, this is superb.
The trouble with that is, the rest of the album can only go downhill, but it doesn’t go too far down it has to be said; “Hellawake” is another brilliant example of synth-pop combined with hard riffs and hushed ambiance for a solid, almost anthemic listen; layered incredibly well…”HeXxX (The Element Of Sex)” has a certain retro feel to it, partly channelling the likes of THE B52’S in tone giving it a fun, up-beat feel, while “Cryptid” utilises a pacey guitar driven approach, rich with gang vocals, melodies and subtle breakdowns for a well delivered ear-bashing, before closing track “C*mmunion” ends on a high note with more hooks and accessible pop-rock enjoyment. It’s not quite a perfect album over its ten tracks though sadly; “Slam!” despite being heavier and grittier musically plods along a touch too methodically, while “New Witch 666” undergoes a remix following its initial release in 2015…not the best of tracks to begin with, the revised cut gives it new life but it’s still weaker compared to what else is on offer. All in all however we have an undeniably strong album here and from start to finish these xenomorphs entertain on a number of levels. If we could just get Ash to sabotage the fuck out of their repair operation given his previous, maybe they’ll stick around a bit longer…because whilst sick they are indeed beautiful. 
You’re probably very well aware by now that I’ll tackle damn near anything on this blog…be it the recent return of the Eurovision Song Contest; with its multifaceted line-up, ranging everywhere between brilliantly bonkers to down-right dreadful, to even tackling things such as video-game crossover’s between IRON MAIDEN and ANGRY BIRDS…essentially I enjoy something a bit different now and again; my point being? Well today we’re looking at something incredibly bloody different as today we’ll be listening to (not looking at) DITA VON TEESE. That’s right; Dita (Real name Heather Renée Sweet) is mainly famous for tastefully wearing very little as she’s probably the world’s most recognizable burlesque dancer / model, but 2018 sees her swapping the corset’s for the recording studio.
She’s no stranger to music per se, for not only was she briefly married to none other than MARILYN MANSON of all people, appearing in a couple of his music videos in the early 2000’s, as well as for other artists, but she also appeared on the aforementioned Eurovision back in 2009 assisting with Germany’s performance on stage. Now we find her releasing her own self-titled record under the banner of “Dita Von Teese”…written by French songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sébastien Tellier, let’s see what she’s learnt along the way…
We open up with “Sparkling Rain” and what we’re given is very much akin to the ambient sounds of a dreamscape; the soft synths and gentle electronic pop allowing for a very mellow, fluid listen…coupled with Dita’s very delicate hushed vocals, the song sparkles in its own right as it’s so light and bubbly, perfectly matching the references to Champagne thematically. It’s an interesting start. We follow up with lead single “Rendez-Vous” and the overall tone hasn’t really changed whatsoever, although we’re given a slightly subtle tinny, almost Caribbean inspired feeling to proceedings, tying in with the exotic theme lyrically. Slightly sultry, she sings of erotic romance and forbidden fruit, although some of lyrics are delivered awkwardly truth be told.
“La Vie Est Un Jeu” reveals to us the albums underlying inspirations as it’s one of a few tracks that incorporates French…again, the overall tone of the song is the same but it’s got more of a shoe-gaze feel to proceedings; it’s incredibly relaxed with its whistling and soft piano, but the fake laugh is a bit cringe-worthy and sadly, the bulk of this album is on the verge of being very copy and paste. While “Fevers And Candies” does at least have a little more go to it in terms of momentum via the chorus’ simple hook, a lot of the album is teetering dangerously on lifeless. “Dangerous Guy” has some decent rhythm going for it courtesy of some funk-driven percussion, and “Porcelain” does include Tellier himself as a vocalist which adds extra character, but the album is so stripped back for the most part it fails to really motivate repeat listens. Fair play to Dita for wanting to try something new, but this is quite acquired taste…so acquired in fact that it only charted in France and Belgium…and even then only reaching 119 and 140 respectively…Dita Von Teese? Dita Von PLEASE…stick to writhing around half naked in giant Martini glasses you’re much, much better at that. 
As you all know by now, every year I do a round up in some way shape or form, of the annual EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. Highly regarded in the UK as an absolutely cringe-worthy cheese-fest, it's no surprise we haven't won it for years, and that's without getting into the shows regular politics let alone the utter shambolic level of fuckery we've found ourselves in under the "leadership" of Theresa May and the current Conservative government...well actually no I'll blame Cameron too, the pig-poking prick! Regardless...we enter every year and hope to not come last essentially. The 2018 final will be held on Saturday 12th May and will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, after SALVADOR SOBRAL won the Ukraine 2017 competition...here I'll be taking a quick run down of all 26 qualified acts and giving my own personal individual score / opinion ahead of the live final...in order of live performance; let's begin...
1] UKRAINE: MELOVIN - "Under The Ladder". Aged just 21, opening the Eurovision Song Contest would seem like a daunting task for many, but Melovin (Real name Kostyantyn Mykolayovych Bocharov) is perfectly at home here, as winner of season 6 of Ukraine's version of The X-Factor. The track is an up-beat, rhythmic dance-pop piece which should in all honesty kick things off really well in terms of tempo and entertainment, but on record it isn't the most convincing vocal display in places and I just hope things don't fall flat for him on the night. 3/5
2] SPAIN: AMAIA Y ALFRED - "Tu Cancion". This is a track taken from Amaia Romero's album "Sus Canciones" and is a collaboration with one Alfred Garcia...sung in Spanish, it's one of the songs this year traditionally sung in the native language as used to be part of the rules before they relaxed things, and for all intents and purposes it's a soft piano ballad with elegant string sections...a lovely song in some aspects but luckily one of the boring ones is now out of the way early. 1/5
3] SLOVENIA: LEA SIRK - "Hvala, Ne!"...NE! NE! NE! We are the knight's who say...NE! *Ahem* All jokes aside, Slovenia's answer to MO / KESHA does a decent job of bringing a modern twist to proceedings. Utilizing a blend of hip-hop production and combining electronica with soulful pop, it's got a decent beat to it overall but it never truly takes off, with the chorus sadly coming across as anti-climatic compared to the level of expectancy of the track. 2/5
4] LITHUANIA: IEVA ZASIMAUSKAITE - "When We're Old". Ironically titled by the 24 year old, and despite her youth this isn't her first Euro rodeo! Having enrolled to compete in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017, she FINALLY get's her opportunity to represent her country in 2018. It's an honestly lovely song, focusing on Ieva's hushed, whispered vocals over a gentle piano lullaby...it's a slow one, and one that will rely on mood and emotions conveyed on the night, but it's a wonderfully tranquil track and should score well regardless. 2/5
5] AUSTRIA: CESAR SAMPSON - "Nobody But You". Always the bridesmaid, never the bride...having performed as part of backing vocals for two previous Austrian acts, Cesar finally get's his own shot. Arguably one of the first bandwagon jumpers this year, Cesar brings a fully emotive, gospel sound to Portugal with his blend of soulful pop music, hammered home by a strong melodic chorus...if you're a fan of RAG 'N' BONE MAN then expect to be giving Austria your vote this year... 3/5
6] ESTONIA: ELINA NECHAYEVA - "La Forza". The show isn't over until the fat lady sings...well as it happens Elina is far from fat and we're less than a quarter of our way through so buckle up! A classically trained Soprano, Elina brings a touch of class and vocal quality to proceedings this year, with her powerful vocal range and dramatic, operatic elements...if you're a fan of TARJA TURUNEN for example, you may want to send your vote Elina's way! 2/5
7] NORWAY: ALEXANDER RYBAK - "That's How You Write A Song". FEED. ME. MORE! Oh...sorry...wrong Ryback I was thinking about WWE for a second...but no in all seriousness, Alexander is technically a Eurovision veteran; he WON the competition back in 2009 with a track called "Fairytale"...can the young lad with the violin become a two-time winner this weekend? This funk-driven almost 70's inspired combination of tinny guitar and violin has plenty of energy, but will it be Norway or NO WAY!? You be the judge...2/5
8] PORTUGAL: CLAUDIA PASCOAL - "O Jardim". The hometown-hero as such, Claudia represents the hosts this year taking the torch from reigning champion SALVADOR SOBRAL and will be hoping Portugal can pull off an unexpected victory to retain the Eurovision Trophy for a 2nd consecutive year. Another acoustic/piano ballad, it's got quite a slow build and is honestly quite soppy, potentially risking too many similarities to last years winning song itself...they say lightning doesn't strike twice, I guess Saturday we'll find out. 1/5
9] UNITED KINGDOM: SuRie - "Storm". Oh boy...if you could find me a more fitting song for the UK for this competition I will do sexual things for you no questions asked...not only is the song already two years old and theoretically out-dated, lyrically and thematically it pretty much sums up the state of affairs regarding Britain and the EU and the whole Brexit debacle...metaphorically of course. Musically it is a decent pop track and has it's anthemic qualities but despite any positives I can't see us doing well at all this year...3/5
10] SERBIA: SANJA ILIC & BALKANIKA - "Nova Deca". There's always an entry with utilizes traditional middle-eastern tones and this track is that entry...and seriously what a long-ass intro, taking up nearly a third of the song! It's got a generally simple beat and does pick up, leading into an ultimately pleasant, up-tempo track with subtle dance tones, but it could have benefited having more of this, less of the intro, as it's shot itself in the camel-toe essentially. 1/5
11] GERMANY: MICHAEL SCHULTE - "You Let Me Walk Alone". Another young talent with a background in reality TV; 28 year old Michael found mild success on Germany's version of The Voice in 2012, where he came third overall, before going on to release his debut album. This year we find him contributing yet another piano ballad to this years Eurovision playlist, and as you may have guessed it's another harmonious love-song with an impassioned climatic feel...again, nice but, it may get lost in the shuffle. 2/5
12] ALBANIA: EUGENT BUSHPEPA - "Mall"...I take one look at this guys name and I swear to god all I can think of is a bush-tucker trial...but my mental issues aside, here we have the first of our demographic-pleasing alternative entries. Eugent is a renowned rock performer in his home country and has actually supported the likes of DEEP PURPLE in mainland Europe, so he's got his credentials...but what is he offering here? A mellow, country-esque traditional folk-pop type piece with an acoustic lead and impressive vocals. It sounds good, I just wish I knew what he was saying. 2/5
13] FRANCE: MADAME MONSIEUR - "Mercy". France hardly needs the bad luck of performing 13th...their results have hardly been the most impressive in recent years, but they hope to change that in 2018. The ambient, synth-pop track follows on from recent success stories such as CHRISTINA & THE QUEENS and may go down well, and though there are no direct ties to the LGBT community, the whole MRS/MR approach could appeal to gender neutral's from an activist point of view...unless that's me looking far too deeply into what is essentially an annual song contest...2/5
14] CZECH REPUBLIC: MIKOLAS JOSEF - "Lie To Me". A potential favourite here depending on the right crowd...full of swagger and groove, Mikolas utilizes the southern blues inspired jazz tones of New Orleans to great effect here, rich in funk and passion, he confidently takes this track by the scruff and simply awaits the laudits of the Lisbon crowd. The recorded version does have some swearing in it, so that'll have to be edited during the final or he may find himself getting nil poi via disqualification... 3/5
15] DENMARK: RASMUSSEN - "Higher Ground". A man of many talents; Rasmussen (Real name Jonas) originally performed in a covers band, focusing on the likes of ELTON JOHN and ABBA, before he turned his attention to acting, focusing mainly on stage productions. 2018 see's him return to singing with this entry; a combination of power-pop and traditional, Nordic heritage in subtle tones. Despite the classic key-change sequence, it does lack a little oomph and falls just short of being an awesome entry. 3/5
16] AUSTRALIA: JESSICA MAUBOY - "We Got Love"...Hang on just a second let me just get Moe Sargi...'YO JESSICA MA BOI!" There we go...that's out of the way now...but no seriously Australia in Eurovision is still a thing. Yes it was novel having them there for the big anniversary show a couple of years ago but, despite not being anywhere remotely near Europe, here they are...the song itself is a generic, light, radio-pop song which wouldn't be out of place in some, teen Disney flick...it's fine but, I really don't see the point this year. 2/5
17] FINLAND: SAARA AALTO - "Monsters"...Finland you beautiful bastard of a country...as if you didn't already supply the world with some of the finest gothic metal and rock bands to ever grace the stage, you also have pop music nailed too by the looks! Saara Aalto ticks all the boxes having dueted with ADAM LAMBERT and ANDREA BOCELLI, not to mention having done voice acting for the Finnish dub of "Frozen", she's a proven voice. Here we have a sleek, electronic-pop monster in it's own right rich in hooks and mainstream appeal and it's an absolute top tune. All of the yes from me. 5/5
18] BULGARIA: EQUINOX - "Bones". Bulgaria's entry features yet another reality TV statistic in vocalist Zhana, who won Bulgaria's X-Factor in 2013...now, 5 years later we find them representing their country in Portugal with "Bones"...the haunting vocal tones and the predominantly dark-pop vibes of the song are pleasant enough, helped by its catchy chorus, but it sounds like a watered down version of "Skeletons" by 2017 Azerbaijan entry DIHAJ to me. 2/5
19] MOLDOVA: DoReDoS - "My Lucky Day". Three is the magic number as they say, and for this trio, it's third time lucky as they finally get to represent their country after failing to secure their place in both 2015 and 2016. Doritos as I shall call them from here on in, have a fun and up-beat approach this year combining modern pop with a GOGOL BORDELLO style of Oompa / alternative. 2/5
20] SWEDEN: BENJAMIN INGROSSO - "Dance You Off". One of the youngest performers at this years final in Lisbon, Benjamin started early and appeared in several Swedish musicals as a child and is hoping his performance experience can carry him through to another Swedish victory. With his soft vocals it can be said he's another JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE inspired pop-starlet but truth be told he's not of the same caliber previous Swedish winner MANS ZELMERLOW, he lacks that spark. A harmless pop song but I'm not expecting big things. 1/5
21] HUNGARY: AWS - "Vinszlat Nyar". Ever since LORDI won it for Finland back in 2006 there's almost always a rock song or two thrown into the mix to shake things up a bit and here we have that very token rock song. AWS deliver on all fronts with a strong melody and even stronger riffs for their hard rock performance, even including that cliched key-change and it has to be said it's a solid track...it wont win but it is a banger. 4/5
22] ISRAEL: NETTA - "Toy". While it's one thing to question Australia's inclusion in what is essentially a European competition, it can be said that you have to question Israel too...although politically and economically they are at least tied to the EU so there's that....anyway I digress this is a song contest not BBC Question Time. Netta Barzilai is an outsiders bet if ever there was one! A fun and up-tempo track for the most part, combining western pop influences with middle eastern traditions...it's a decent listen, that is until the random chicken noises...seriously I don't know if it's a gimmick or an affliction. 3/5
23] THE NETHERLANDS: WAYLON - "Outlaw In Em'". Real name Willem Bijkirk, he acquired his stage name after the late Waylon Jennings as means of a tribute and is no stranger to Eurovision. As part of THE COMMON LINNETS he finished runner-up back in 2014 and hopes to go one step further 4 years later. Mixing bluegrass with southern rock swagger, fans of BLACK STONE CHERRY and the like are sure to give him the nod of approval and send a vote his way. 4/5
24] IRELAND: Ryan O'Shaughnessy - "Together". Despite a lack of luck in recent years, Ireland are still the ones to beat as they've won Eurovision a record seven times since its inception, and they hope to add another victory in Portugal this year.Another TV talent show statistic, Ryan O'Whatshisface appeared in Britain's Got Talent back in 2012, reaching the final only to finish in 5th place...will he do better here? Another sweet, acoustic/piano ballad, it doesn't truly stand out as such but he's got enough Irish charm to win the voting public over...perhaps. 2/5
25] CYPRUS: ELENI FOUREIRA - "Fuego". Apparently Eleni here is the bookies favourite and I've been scratching my head to work out how and why...with her typically modern autotune-laden pop qualities I guess she'd make quick and easy money in the charts commercially, given the success of everyone from DEMI LOVATO to DUA LIPA and the like...it's decent enough pop song for what it's worth and catchy enough but, it's nothing special per se...we'll see. 3/5
26] ITALY: ERMAL META E FABRIZIO MORO - "Non Me Avete Fatto Niente"...It takes longer to say that than they'll stay in the top 10 this year if you ask me...it's emotive enough with its almost cinematic qualities in places but songs spoken in native tongue are hit and miss and never a guarantee...it might benefit from being on last in some eyes, but to many it'll be an afterthought as the audience suffers from fatigue and burnout, and it's hardly a climatic showstopper...I can't see this doing overly well. 2/5
So...there we have it...my run down of the 2018 Eurovision final! Have you heard any of the songs yet? Are you happy with your countries entry and more important;y, who will you be voting for? Leave your comments below, but for now...it's over to Graham Norton to entertain us with his commentary.
Sugar and spice and all things nice; that’s what little girls are made of…but by contrast, banter, pub crawls and the occasional cheeky Nando’s…there my friend, you have the lads; the bro’s, and what bigger bunch of bro’s, than DON BROCO? The boys from Bedford formed back in 2008 and in the ten years that have passed since; they’ve become one of the UK’s most established home grown talents, on a continual ascension with each and every album and tour…from headlining the Kerrang! Tour in 2015, from slowly creeping higher up the charts with each album, and last year they played their biggest headline show to date at Alexandra Palace…2018 sees them continue on their run with their brand new album “Technology”…let’s see how up to date they actually are…
The album opens up with the title track and we’re met with a brief but subtle, percussion led electronic sample, but it bursts into this bass-heavy barrage of riffs…it’s deep, it’s got some weight behind it and it’s an interesting way to kick things off. Vocally it’s as you’d expect; clean with a mixture of harmony and swagger as is their style, blending alternative rock with indie-pop charm making for a catchy, rhythmic chorus…it’s a decent opener. The same can be said for the single “T-Shirt Song”…it’s big…it’s bold and it utilises a similar approach to our opener, mixing bass heavy riffs with powerful, melodic hooks allowing for another strong chorus, while the rest of the track balances groove and delicacy well. This is the promising sign of Don Broco on form, as is also proven elsewhere on tracks such as “¥” which follows a similar formula again, delivering a simple but infectious pop-rock master-class riddled with groove…that is until the tracks climax…which descends into a distorted breakdown and despite being brief, it can’t help but bring the track down. The exchange rate for those Yen just plummeted…
The rest of the album however…over the course of its total 16 track run time gradually loses both momentum and point…while there are glimmers of potential found in tracks such as “Everybody”, which sticks strongly to an indie-inspired core sound, slightly funk-driven and rhythmic…there’s “Tightrope” with its sweet vocal delivery and “Got To Be You” which utilises a dramatic, echoed tone to the guitars and an emotive narrative, they are sadly lost among the annoying level of filler found bulking this album up. “Come Out To LA” has a fucking awful hip-hop / R’n’B structure to it which really negates the quality of the song, like it doesn’t know what it wants to be…”Porkies” has vocalist Rob shouting his way through the track and truthfully it doesn’t suit him at all, with the track as a result just sounding off. “Something To Drink” makes you want to drink in its own right with a predominantly dull display…Don Broco aiming for Dom Perignon but reaching white wine vinegar…before closing track “Potty Mouth” which has an annoyingly abrupt ending which is bad enough after what can only be described as a discarded GORILLAZ cut, followed by what is arguably one of the worst hidden tracks ever put to record. It’s a bit of a mess frankly…so to summarise, they could have easily taken a good six tracks off of this album and condensed it down into a simple, manageable listen as strong playlist, but they opted for quantity over quality where in reality less would have definitely been more. The good thing about technology is that, if you opt to buy “Technology” on iTunes you can buy individual tracks and not have to listen to the whole thing. If you have it on CD then you’d better be prepared to smash that skip button. 
Do you remember back in 2013, when FALL OUT BOY shocked the world and underwent what many called a renaissance? Their surprise come-back album “Save Rock And Roll” was not only a glorious return to form, chock full of tunes but it was also a mission statement…if you caught them live on that tour, the title track, ironically a moving ballad, was a call to arms…the stage production would show black and white images of icons such as Freddie Mercury, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain and many more, as if to say don’t let the music die, literally save rock and roll from the music industry…and everyone thought that this was the beginning of something special; a resurgence in rock music across the board, and in many ways it was…just…not for Fall Out Boy…after the 50/50 reception of follow up album “American Beauty/ American Psycho” which many described as a mishmash of songs lacking real direction, we find them in 2018 dropping another new album by the name of “M A N I A”…this one was delayed because they themselves felt it was rushed…was it worth the wait?
We open up with the first single “Young And Menace” and…this is an interesting direction to say the least. After a seemingly dreary, slow build to the track with sombre tones and an impassioned, angst ridden feel, we descend into a totally distorted, techno riddled breakdown of a chorus…it’s positively shapeless…it’s like the chipmunks dropped acid and hijacked a SKRILLEX sample…it’s honestly fucking horrendous! Luckily the follow up track is far more recognisable as the FOB we love and expect…”Champion” has a similarly slow intro but the guitar here is gritty and in ways reminds me of early KAISER CHIEFS…there’s more attitude here and despite the clear pop-production it’s got enough of that early emo-rock feel to stand out as a brand new classic and is bound to go down well live, this is much better. The same can be said for “The Last Of The Real Ones”…an up-beat energetic number with a really enjoyably catchy hook and huge sing-along chorus, this is massive FOB by numbers and the level of quality we recognise…
The trouble though is that, besides these two undeniable tunes, the album falls right back onto its arse and leaves the listener thinking, what the hell are FOB trying to achieve? “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea” just feels like they picked random words out of a hat…granted the message is one of today’s cut-throat culture, the competition for stardom and the spotlight with a really obscure reference to the 1994 US figure skating scandal (And I thought I made weird analogies) but again they opt to utilise a pulsing, bass-driven EDM foundation for the track…”Hold Me Tight Or Don’t” and “Sunshine Riptide” both jump on the bandwagon regarding Caribbean structured pop, tinny guitar, the subtle steel-drum tones and rhythm…it’s something a lot of mainstream artists have done recently so in all likeliness it’s a dig but it still doesn’t make it worth listening to, even ironically. “Heaven’s Gate” has this soulful, gospel inspired blues tone, before closing track “Bishops Knife Trick” ends proceedings on a predominantly lulling note…and another random reference; this time to “Alien”. A song of journey; torn between the feeling of freedom to explore and knowing where you call home, in ways summarising the album from a creative standpoint really rather well. FOB in ways here simply come across as oxymoronic…their save rock and roll gimmick went out the fucking window let’s be clear on that, and this album is almost a parody of itself. It sounds like the band are ribbing mainstream pop culture but the joke flew over everyone’s heads as it just blends in with the very thing they are ribbing…”M A N I A” in ways just reminds me of “Insania” by PETER ANDRE…he thought he had something new, something fresh and exciting but, it wasn’t. 
Way back in 1985, Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin exploded into the charts creating a burst of pro-feminism with their anthemic duet; “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”…encouraging women from all walks of life to stand up and be counted, reinforcing their already huge influence as artists. Franklin, the Queen of Soul, one of the most successful R&B artists of all time, and Lennox, one of the most influential pop artists to come out of the 80’s with her group EURYTHMICS…it sent a strong message and opened up the door for so many women in music to feel confident and we’ve never looked back…today we’ll literally be looking at a set of real life sisters who are doing it or themselves by the name of Klara and Johanna Söderberg, but collectively they are known as FIRST AID KIT. Formed in Enskede on the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden, the duo have a couple of releases under their belts already but 2018 sees them return with their brand new album “Ruins”…let’s check it out…
The album opens up with “Rebel Heart” and sadly, they aren’t paying homage to NXT superstar Johnny Gargano (-_•)…for that would be too awesome to be true…but instead we get a rather lengthy introductory track. At over five minutes it’s a little bold, especially given its slow tempo and overly-gradual build; the lulling tone of their country inspired vocals is mellow and harmonious but it does take a while for the track to get going to any real effect. Its climatic semi-flurry is welcome and it rounds track off nicely but it just feels like a stuttering start. “It’s A Shame” then follows up with a far more jovial little number…it’s got a real old school feel with the traditional organ effect coming through the synths giving it that retro 60’s vibe and it’s a charming little track with a deep rooted sadness born of love-loss and unmet expectations, which can also be said for “Postcard”. Channelling icons such as DOLLY PARTON through the classic country and western tone of the tack…it’s the type of track you can imagine being performed at an old road house.
The trouble is that while a lot of this album is, again, charming, the same percentage of the album is frustratingly dull…with their Swedish folk influences there is room for a wonderful collection of ideas and tunes and there are hints of it; “My Wild Sweet Love” is ever so adorable while “Fireworks” delves into a 50’s type, blue’s soaked pop ballad which is full of character, it’s like something you’d find on a “Dreamboats And Petticoats” compilation…but too much of the album fails to ignite a spark of interest…if it was an ice cream flavour it would be Swedish Glace sugar free, dairy free vanilla with a gluten free cone…my point really is that, while it’s perfectly suited for some people, I myself like my ice cream like I like my music…richer and fuller. There’s nothing wrong with them as vocal performers and credit to them they’ve come a long way since their days busking in the Stockholm Metro, but sadly this one doesn’t really inspire a repeat listen. First Aid Kit? Excessive…just give me some Pro Plus I’ll be just fine. 
"G’day mate! How are you going? Grab your togs and the Esky coz’ there’s this fair dinkum Aussie band we have to check out this arvo, so crack open the XXXX and let’s fuckin’ rock ya bogan!" Now that I’ve likely offended a lot of you stereo-typically because let’s be honest, you re-read that sentence with an accent, let’s get serious for a moment…in case you hadn’t realised we’re going to be talking about an Australian band and coincidentally, it was recently Australia Day, so that’s a nice segway. We’re going to be looking at a band by the name of TONIGHT ALIVE…formed in Sydney in 2008, the 4-piece (Consisting of vocalist Jenna McDougal, guitarist Jake Hardy, bassist Cameron Adler and drummer Matt Best) have always had natural comparisons to PARAMORE but they rightfully ignore that (Let’s be honest any group with a female vocalist post-“Riot!” was influenced by Paramore…right?) and so-far in their 10 year run they’ve always done their own thing. They’ve recently released a brand new album by the name of “Underworld”…so, get ya’ thongs on mate we’re going down under!
The album gets underway with “Book Of Love” and we’re met with some low-key electronica…the softness of it allows for a very ambient vibe and it’s rich in harmony, before it erupts into this bold, confident chorus, Jenna belts this one out and musically this is something fans of ANAVAE would lap up, a lovely start this…before we keep the quality coming with lead single “Temple”. The guitar is more prominent here for the most part adding an extra level of grit and weight, giving the track a more serious tone initially, but again it bursts into this massive, up-tempo chorus and it’s truly infectious…structurally it’s a 50/50 track but it works really well and it’s a definite album highlight.
There is a bit of a theme that runs through this album and it’s evident in tracks such as “The Other”…another up-beat, modern pop-rock anthem in every sense of the word, it’s got all the hooks, the intensity and massive chorus, likewise with “Just For Now”…Jenna’s got some powerful vocals when she gets going and again they ramp up the melody and throw this massive groove-laden chorus at the listener, they’ve nailed it on this record it has to be said, with really enjoyably choruses and hooks spread thoroughly across this whole album like a dollop of Vegemite…and their softer offerings aren’t bad too either! Closing track “My Underworld” is a wonderful collaboration with SLIPKNOT / STONE SOUR vocalist Corey Taylor and here he’s allowed to showcase his impressive clean vocals in a wonderful little duet, while “Looking For Heaven” is a quaint albeit soppy piano ballad. If there are any faults with this album, surprisingly it’s “Disappear”…featuring Lynn Gunn from PVRIS, it’s here you expect to be blown away with a dual-assault, bombastic, electronic pop-rock masterpiece given both of their strengths as front-women but, it’s really rather tame and a bit of a wasted opportunity. Other than that it’s a solid album from start to finish and well worth the listen…wherever you are in the world, tonight is very much alive…carpe noctem and all that. 
Picking up from where we left things last time, HIM were taking over the world; BAM MARGERA had helped them break out of mainland Europe into the UK and America, by introducing them to the MTV generation…their sales and fan base were on the rise, they were playing bigger stages at festivals, they were all over the charts internationally, Valo even won Metal Hammer’s prestigious Golden God award, and pandemonium couldn’t be sweeter…his infernal majesty had finally taken his rightful place upon the throne…but there’s an old saying; what goes up must come down and sadly, this began to happen sooner rather than later for HIM and it all came around the time of their next album…
In the September of 2007, two years after they hit their commercial peak, the band did a dramatic U-turn, ditched the radio-friendly pop-rock of “Dark Light” and opened up the gates of hell with their follow up “Venus Doom”…praised by critics for its experimentation and total change of direction, the band had embraced a new found sense of heaviness, channelling the likes of PARADISE LOST, with Ville reacquainting us all with his love of all things doom metal (As if the title wasn’t a clue already)…musically it was far heavier than anything they had ever done before, even their earliest work…the riffs, bass and percussion were all full of aggression and suffering…the deep tones of the album allowed Valo to truly hypnotise the listener with his impressive baritone vocal range, on times sounding truly demonic and chilling like on the title track, the lead single “Kiss Of Dawn”, also on the hauntingly beautiful prog-metal journey of “Sleepwalking Past Hope”…but no matter how harsh the band gets musically there’s always a delicately balanced track listing and this album was no different. From the brief, acoustic campfire ballad “Song Or Suicide” to the tortured lamenting of “Cyanide Sun”…this was Adams Family level Gothic romance and it was stunning…their rise in popularity even found the song “Passions Killing Floor” used for the original “Transformers” soundtrack! Despite the change in direction, they were still big, still in the charts, even getting Grammy Award nominations…but the fame came at a price…Valo had developed worsening alcohol problems which over time became more and more of an issue…plagued by exhaustion from the pressures of success, plus problems in his personal life, the writing and recording process took its toll on Valo and he damn near drank himself to death…until he was admitted to rehab. With the blurry oil painting depicting Venus, the goddess of love, now forever a reminder that in nearly dooming himself to drown in a bottle, Valo unwittingly perfectly encapsulated HIM's marriage of love and death, even if he was looking at her through beer goggles...I’m sure he appreciates the irony looking back 
"Digital Versatile Doom"
Their success in America and mainstream popularity up to that point led the band to release their first and only (The bonus 6-track DVD footage with “And Love Said No” doesn’t count) live album; “Digital Versatile Doom”…released not long after “Venus Doom”, it was recorded as part of their rescheduled American tour at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. The tour and resulting live album was heavy on Venus Doom content but also featured several of the bands biggest singles to date, acting as an updated (Albeit live) version of their greatest hits…for those who were never fortunate enough to see the band live in person for whatever reason, this is essential, especially as it came with a DVD of the performance recorded as part of a 2-disk package…here you can get a real feel for the band; how tight they are as performers and how emotional the songs truly are on the raw environment of the live stage…not to mention Valo’s cheeky sense of humour mocking Linde for the amount of solo’s he has to play…
"Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice, Chapters 1-13"
The trouble HIM faced for their follow up album was quite simply a matter of, where the hell do they go from here? They’ve just dropped the heaviest album of their career and Valo nearly did a George Best and put his liver through unthinkable punishment which nearly killed him…the answer? Another U-turn…yes this is where the band lost a lot of fans, as they began to yo-yo in style and lost a sense of credibility among the rock and metal community. In 2010 they released “Screamworks: Love In Theory In Practice, Chapters 1-13” (It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it) and Valo, again in his self-depreciating mentality dubbed it their DEPECHE MODE album…gone was the bleak bombardment of gloomy, doom metal…gone were the tortured wails of Linde’s guitar…in their place were gentle melodies and enough pop hooks to give Simon Cowell the horn…written and arranged with far, far more emphasis on Burton’s keyboard playing and a much softer song writing approach, HIM found themselves facing a lot of uncertainty…critics were again, generally in favour, praising experimentation once more and championing Valo’s song writing, but a lot of fans weren’t impressed. Many were confused at the direction and while though it retained plenty of HIM’s trademark melancholy, it lacked the bands usual depth and came across as all too synthetic. Even Valo had convinced himself that it was a failure upon release, but in honesty, it’s merely by their own already high standards…lead single “Heartkiller” was undeniably infectious and the majority of the tracks on the album followed suit; “Scared To Death” is quite possibly the sweetest thing the band have written since “Join Me”…while “Acoustic Funeral (For Love In Limbo)” does have a slight emo influence, which people were already moving away from. There were naturally tracks with a bit of attitude however, with the likes of “Shatter Me With Hope” and “Like St. Valentine” having the most bite, but they were a far cry from what had preceded them…before the album closed on the synth-heavy “The Foreboding Sense Of Impending Happiness”…possibly the lease HIM song HIM have ever written, but far from terrible. Ultimately this was a solid collection of commercially heavy pop-inspired alt. rock that sadly got lost in the shuffle…wrong place, wrong time with the wrong sound…from here on out things would slowly go downhill. 
Finland’s finest alt-rock romantics HIM have left behind a luscious and long-lasting legacy now that they have sadly called it a day, and last time round we revisited the band’s earliest albums as we reminisced over their formative years, and the tracks that laid the foundations for the band we grew to love. Continuing on from where we left things in 2001 and the band had established themselves throughout mainland Europe with multiple successful chart positions, but their journey didn’t stop here…oh no…there were other markets to tap into and thanks to a certain celebrity skateboarder and a shit load of plugging, Valo and co were about to break into the UK and beyond…and it all kicked off in 2003.
First and foremost, we need to talk about BAM MARGERA…say what you will (Some people disregard him completely but I personally believe that’s not fair) but without Bam, HIM certainly would not have taken the path they found themselves on, and you could argue that he directly contributed to a lot of their success outside of Europe. Bam discovered HIM while in Finland for a skateboard competition when “Razorblade Romance” was released and he was seeing HIM everywhere so, ultimately fell in love with the band. He was using songs for skate footage in the CKY DVD’s…he used tracks in soundtrack for his movie “Haggard”, he used the Heartagram on his official Element skate decks…HIM were getting exposed to the “Jackass” crowd and a lot more ears fell upon HIM’s music…the result? More success! Bam and Valo became good friends and when the opportunity arose, they naturally collaborated…he did them two music videos; "Buried Alive By Love" and "The Sacrament"...and they would both come on the next album…
HIM returned to the studio in 2002 with their original producer Hiili Hiilesmaa and the resulting album was a blistering return to form; “Love Metal”. Once a tongue-in-cheek term for their style of darkly romantic rock music, it had now become its own cult-like sub-genre so naturally, Valo (In all his sarcastic brilliance) does a VENOM and makes an album out of it! The Heartagram, in all of its glory emblazoned across the album cover in solid gold on a glossy, intricately designed Gothic black background was more than artwork, it was a thing of beauty, it was symbolic and the music within was just as powerful…opening up with “Buried Alive By Love”…with Gas crashing those cymbals, Mige and Linde bursting in with those powerful riffs…this was a band full of hunger and intent. As openers go you’d be pushed to find one with such impact…this was raw, this was rocking like a motherfucker and HIM were back! When the band get going it’s hard to stop them…tracks like “Beyond Redemption” feature some of Valo’s most powerful vocals and “Soul On Fire” is simply scorching…but they still manage to balance the beauty with the brutality. “The Funeral Of Hearts” with its rich melodies was their first foray into the UK charts hitting a very respectable 15, while “The Sacrament”, with Burton’s dreamlike piano intro was simply beautiful. Rounded off with “Love’s Requiem” and the seductive, spine-tingling “Circle Of Fear”…HIM were on the up. Very much like an erection Valo may say with a wry smile…
"And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits 1997 - 2004"
With their music now reaching across the sea…and having already been around for nearly a decade, now was the perfect time to capitalise on all of the new fans they had accumulated and in 2004 the band released their first compilation album; “And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits 1997-2004”…not only spanning their four full-length releases up to that point, they also acquired Bam Margera to direct them another two music videos for two brand new tracks to accompany the collection. The first was the title track, which with its quaint melodies and gentle vocal harmonies provided blissful listening, but tugging on your heart strings just enough to remind you that it was HIM here, it was still a bit dark…while the main single was another cover the band would arguably go on to claim as their own; “Solitary Man” by NEIL DIAMOND. This powerful rendition added plenty of the Finn’s character and took the song to another level, eventually reaching number 9 in the UK charts…HIM were on top of the world, or so they thought…there was just one more place to conquer; America…and the only thing in their way, was the Atlantic ocean, but they’d crossed oceans of wine to find you before…
Ville Valo has always made little jokes about himself and the music, being really quite humble…and in 2005 HIM would go on to take over the world with what he calls their BON JOVI album. Yes in the September of 2005 they released “Dark Light” after signing a deal with Sire Records…produced by Tim Palmer, it would be some of the sleekest and most polished work of the bands career and it did them wonders. Tracks like “Wings Of A Butterfly” and “Killing Loneliness” saw the Finn’s stamp their name on the charts yet again with their infectious pop qualities and the direction, despite being primarily more mainstream earned them many positive reviews with critics. As a whole the album was produced with accessibility and radio play very much in mind, with the band losing much of the aggression from its predecessor, but it retained Valo’s darkly poetic writing style which the band still carried off superbly…tracks like “Under The Rose” and “Behind The Crimson Door” being up-beat and a little feisty, another superb cover in the form of THE RAMONES classic "Poison Heart", while “Play Dead” and the title track heaped on the melancholy…too smooth for some fans, but it saw them become the first Finnish band to go Gold in America…HIM had made it…but pressures were mounting. 
“When love starts to die it begins with a kiss; violently soothing and warm”…beautifully morose, melancholy has always played a major part in the lyrical style of Ville Valo and it’s that tortured feeling of love-lost that catapulted HIM into the hearts of legions of fans around the world. With a whole tongue-in-cheek genre of their own in Love Metal and with a logo reaching semi-religious status (The Heartagram is arguably the McDonald’s M of rock music) they steadily took over the world, branching out of their native Finland into mainland Europe, the UK and then beyond to the US, selling millions of albums worldwide and becoming Finland’s most successful musical export. On New Year’s Eve…Valo and co put those words into practice at their final performance at Tavastia, Finland for the last ever Helldone…calling time on their 20+ year career and kissing goodbye to a sold out teary-eyed crowd. With a rich back catalogue of albums and compilations, right now I’d like to pay respects to the band by taking a retrospective look at each of their albums and remind the world that, we’ve just lost something truly special in HIM, and the pleasure was all ours.
"666 Ways To Love: Prologue" EP
The bands journey started way back in 1991 when Valo and Mige originally came together playing covers but it wasn’t until the release of 1996’s now infamous “666 Ways To Love: Prologue” EP that the ball truly started rolling…with only 1,000 copies originally made, it’s considered by many to be the holy grail of HIM memorabilia, just short of kidnapping Valo himself…and it’s this little 4-track EP that started it all. From the opening screams of “Stigmata Diaboli” we soon get a taste of the hard rock inspired gothic tones the Finn’s would quickly master…Valo’s baritone vocal accompanied by the raw riff-heavy approach of Linde gave them a distinction that would before long have us eating out of the palm of their hands. The song that put them on the map however, was THAT cover of sombre CHRIS ISAAK ballad “Wicked Game” and here we have the bands earliest recorded version…again, raw, but it was impossible to ignore the potential in these Finn’s and as far as covers go, it was original. “Dark Sekret Love”, a far drearier affair highlighted Valo’s love of doom metal with its bleak, methodical style and an early, rough rendition of “The Heartless” rounds things off nicely. Early days but plenty to be inspired by…his infernal majesty wasn’t quite ready for his throne. 
"Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666"
Just a year later they were back and the world finally got HIM’s debut full length album…”Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666”…and here we got a much better sense of direction from the band. Despite being a touch more polished with slightly better production quality courtesy of Hiili Hiilesmaa, you can still sense the raw, garage rock feeling the band used to deliver their intertwined messages of love and death. Housing some of their darkest and grittiest pieces of music; tracks like “The Beginning Of The End” and “Our Diabolikal Rapture” really embraced the gloom and channeled the influence of the likes of TYPE-O-NEGATIVE and CATHEDRAL…the beautifully bleak “When Love And Death Embrace” became a trusted fan favourite, a song the band would later rely on as a solid encore, and another cover in the form of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”…the BLUE OYSTER CULT classic getting it’s wrists slit to be bled out on a bed of roses…dark and romantic…HIM were here to violate us in the most sensual ways…
The next album wouldn’t follow for another three years but to say it was definitely worth the wait is by far an understatement…in 2000, after coming to Wales to record in Rockfield Studios, they dropped not only the album of their career…but arguably the greatest Gothic rock album for generations; “Razorblade Romance”. With its bright pink cover art acting as a middle finger to stereotypes and super slick production it saw the band rise to heights they’d never have expected in their own humble self-depreciating humour. With tracks like “Join Me In Death” hitting the top of the charts in both Finland and Germany, HIM could do no wrong and no wrong they did…with an album literally full of top tunes, they exploded onto the scene with tracks like “Right Here In My Arms” and “Razorblade Kiss”...and not forgetting that cover of “Wicked Game”…re-recorded here again but SO much smoother, it’s here the band claimed the song as their own, creating a modern Gothic rock anthem in the process. The newly found sense of melody also saw the band embracing their softer side too, adding a depth to their song writing and playing on their romantic rock style…songs like “Heaven Tonight” and “Gone With The Sin” helped balance the chugging with the charming and quintessentially, the record was a masterpiece. No…the record IS a masterpiece to this day…and HIM will forever be pretty in pink. Goth rock was sexy again. 
"Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights"
HIM’s next album wasn’t far behind as the band didn’t take long writing new material, but the huge success found with the preceding record had made the record companies aware that there was money to be made with these Finn’s…and a lot of pressure was put upon the band to release a record equal in commercial acclaim; the result was “Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights”. Aided by producer Kevin Shirley, the band found themselves embracing (albeit reluctantly) a far sleeker sound leaning more towards pop music, stripped away was the grit and vigour of their established style and in its place, was even more emphasis on melody and mass-marketing. While it raised questions from long term fans, it still had the strength of Valo’s song-writing backing it up and despite the criticism, songs such “Heartache Every Moment” and “Pretending” were still huge…Linde is allowed to perform some tight guitar solos and the lighter musical approach allowed Burton to shine on the keyboard. “In Love And Lonely”, “You Are The One” and “Please Don’t Let It Go” all highlight the beauty of not only Valo’s song-writing ability but the capability of the band too, to diversify and pull it off with ease. Deep Shadows behind the scenes, but brilliant highlights on record…and frankly an under-appreciated album. 
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Gavin J Griffiths, a.k.a GavTheGothicChav, lover of new music and supporter of bands. Inspired by a mixture of horror and comedy, and fueled by a blend of alcohol and sarcasm...if you're a singer / in a band and would like a review written up, please do get in touch via the email address at the top of the page and I'll get back to you ASAP. Much love x