Tanya Plays Pop - I Know You Got Soul
Welcome, to the first of an occasional series where I dig into my unashamadly populist tastes and come up with some opinions. Popjustice? Never heard of 'em. First up, I struggle into a tight skirt and sing along to Mutya Buena and Amy Winehouse. #You know that I'm no good...#
Real Girl - Mutya Buena
As someone who has taken an interest in The Sugababes since their first single 'Overload', in 2000, I was keen to see what Mutya was going to come up with when she decided to go solo in December 2005. After tapping my toes to her first single 'Real Girl' (which samples 'It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over' by Lenny Kravitz), I became very enthusiastic after hearing Mutya's collaboration with Groove Armada, 'Song 4 Mutya (Out Of Control)' , whose addictiveness makes it quite possibly the best pop single of 2007. Therefore, I had high hopes for her album, which, it must be said, is nowhere near a failure. Mutya's strong, soulful voice makes the whole album a pleasant experience, and there's enough good stuff on there to make it value for money. The first track, 'Just A Little Bit' is a good, strong track, with the singles 'Real Girl' and 'Song 4 Mutya (Out Of Control)' really moving the album along. Unfortunantely, it's then a shock to be thrown into six album-filler tracks, none of which are particularly unpleasant, but which seem rather disappointing compared to the tracks that precede them. The album is saved from being dodgy value for money by a very lovely collaboration with Amy Winehouse in 'B Boy Baby' (sampling 'Be My Baby' by the Ronettes), and a beautiful ballad with George Michael 'This Is Not (Real Love)', but, given that Mutya has a better voice than many pop artists, it's a real shame that this album doesn't have enough good songs to make it a really good debut. It's interesting that Mutya's best tracks are either collaborations or based on other songs, which may signify a lack of confidence in her own ability. As the Mutya-era Sugababes were capable of some real corkers, I'll be interested to see whether Mutya can come up with something really special on her own once she's established herself, or whether her muse benefits from working with others.
Back to Black - Amy Winehouse
I didn't really get Amy Winehouse when her first album, 'Frank' came out; I could hear a fine voice, but the songs left me feeling, well, meh. Then I heard 'Rehab' and turned into a fan overnight. Although it's fair to say that I'm still not thrilled by all of 'Frank', not a single song on 'Back to Black' is disappointing, and it's right that the album opens with the defiant 'Rehab', which sets its face against our culture's increasing obsession with getting a professional to make things all better again with our minds. I saw Amy's MTV Movie Awards performance of this song on YouTube, with an outraged poster complaining about her bad attitude, and I thought she rather apty illustrated Amy's point. Amy's the first person to admit that she has a less than healthy relationship with the booze, but the song explains that she neither has the time nor the inclination to go through the rehabilitation process, claiming that there's nothing the process could teach her that her friends couldn't, and that the process gives a false impression that when you emerge, suddenly you're OK again, when you're only really at the beginning. Amy rightly feels that such pressure is unfair on her, and she'd rather find solutions to her own problems, which is a brave stance for someone so young to take, and a testament to her strength of character.
Ahem. And the rest of the album? Oh, it's fabulous the whole way through, with the confessional 'You Know I'm No Good', the soulful 'Me and Mr Jones', which could easily be sung by Nina Simone. Imagine the thrill of Nina singing "What kind of fuckery is this?", which is a fine phrase for anyone. The laid-back, reggae-influenced 'Just Friends' lays the ground perfectly for the magnificent title track, 'Back To Black', but 'Love Is A Losing Game' perhaps suffers from following that sort of perfection, despite being a good track on its own terms. 'Tears Dry On Their Own' is a good mid-album track (and now single), giving way to 'Wake Up Alone', which conveys the bitter-sweet sensation of waking up alone from a euphoric dream. The rest of the album coasts along pleasantly enough with 'Some Unholy War' and 'He Can Only Hold Her', finishing with the cheeky 'Addicted', where Amy tells her female friend to stop her boyfriend from nicking her weed, and to bring his own when he comes round to Amy's. Quite right, too. Frankly, the Parental Guidance sticker (thank you, Tipper Gore) is an insult, as there's plenty of life lessons for girls here, and the fact that 'Back To Black' is significantly better than 'Frank' suggests that Amy can only get better with age. If that's the case, I can't wait.