GOOD GIRL GONE BAD – RIHANNA
Marketed and distributed by Universal Music SA
When Rihanna released Pon De Replay, she was hailed as the new Queen of Dancehall. Her second album produced hits like Unfaithful and the brilliant SOS (with its catchy Tainted Love sample), putting her firmly on the musical map. This year Rihanna returns with her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, and it is her best effort yet. Packed with the cream of the music industry’s’ finest on production and songwriting duty, the album manages to strike that elusively fine balance between R&B and pop. Rapper-extraordinaire, Jay-Z, heads up production and makes extensive use of Timbaland and StarGate to blend elements of dancehall, hip-hop, mainstream dance and balladry into a cohesive, highly listenable package. First single, Umbrella, which features Jay-Z, is a modern hip-hop/pop/dancehall hybrid that will have you singing along in no time, as is the fantastic (Timbaland-produced) Lemme Get That with its classic dancehall beat. In terms of ballads, Hate That I Love You (featuring Ne-Yo) and Rehab (featuring Justin Timberlake) are definite future hit singles. However, the songs that really stand out on the album, are the dance/pop/electronica combinations – most also featuring brilliant albeit very subtle sampling. Push Up On Me is the epitome of a radio hit (it features a sample of Lionel Richie’s Running With The Night), while Breakin’ Dishes has an addictively deep, groovy bassline. The super-catchy Shut Up and Drive features a very subtle sample of Blue Monday. Don’t Stop The Music is however the ultimate dance hit; its deep, funky beats fusing with the underlying sample of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something. Where her previous albums offered only a couple of noteworthy hits, Good Girl Gone Bad is filled with memorable pop tunes, and similar in style to Nelly Furtado’s Loose. In Rihanna’s case, third time is definitely the charm!
IT WON’T BE SOON BEFORE LONG – MAROON 5
Marketed and distributed by Universal Music
As one of 2007’s most anticipated albums, Maroon 5 doesn’t disappoint on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, the follow-up to their critically and commercially successful debut Songs About Jane. Musically the boys are at the top of their game, while Adam Levine, as lead vocalist, has matured in leaps and bounds. Their new album remains instantly recognisable as Maroon 5, even though it lacks the more rock-edged songs like Harder To Breathe. Instead, they’ve taken the sing-along funk we first came to know in songs like Sunday Morning to new heights, refining that sound into even more enjoyable pop gems like Makes Me Wonder, the brilliant first single from the new album. This funky-edge is carried on into pop tracks like the lovely Little Of Your Time and Not Falling Apart, while a raw edge shimmers through on Wake Up Call and Can’t Stop. In terms of balladry, Nothing Lasts Forever is a showcase of the group’s musical growth, sometimes reminding me of the Britpop sound – Won’t Go Home Without You being the best example of this. In my opinion, lead singer Adam Levine has not yet proven himself as someone worth seeing live and he often struggles to reach the higher notes (think She Will Be Loved). However, the new material will probably alleviate that problem – it’s not only more suitable for performing live, but doesn’t require too many vocal theatrics. It Won’t Be Soon Before Long is one of 2007’s best albums.
MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT – LINKIN PARK
Marketed and distributed by Warner Music Gallo Africa
When Linkin Park stormed onto the music scene with their phenomenal debut album, Hybrid Theory, most fans of rock and roll sat up: here was a band that made killer modern rock tracks fused with rap and vinyl scratches – and it worked. They then released Meteora and in the process shocked and surprised everyone all over again, leaving many in awe. Some time has passed since then (interrupted by an MTV Mash album with Jay-Z) but this year they’ve returned with a brand new album. Minutes To Midnight is not as instantly likeable or impressive as their first two studio albums. I had to focus and really listen to it numerous times before I could begin to appreciate what they’ve achieved. Leave Out All The Rest, The Little Things Give You Away and Shadow of the Day are all tender tracks, honest without being excessively angry or resentful, while Valentine’s Day has a bit more aggression in the music. Bleed It Out mostly features Mike Shinoda’s distinctive raps, a fast-paced and punchy track in true LP style. As for the best tracks on the album, first single, What I’ve Done, is LP in its truest form. It’s a solid rock and roll track; Chester Bennington’s emotive voice perfecting the lyrical metaphors of death and freedom. In Between is beautifully melodic and stripped down and Mike surprises (and impresses) with his vocals; I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard him sing. Musically, No More Sorrow is epic – the heavy beats a la Marilyn Manson again work brilliantly with Chester’s voice; in his trademark aggressive style. In Pieces is also brilliant yet comes frighteningly close to a pop song – the aggressive LP rock sound only coming in at the end of the track. With Minutes To Midnight, Linkin Park challenged me to forget all the preconceived ideas I had about them.
NB – NATASHA BEDINGFIELD
Marketed and distributed by SonyBMG Music Entertainment SA
It feels like just the other day that Natasha Bedingfield had everyone singing “I love you I love you I love you I love you!” Her debut album not only featured the ridiculously catchy These Words, but also first single Single and the beautiful title track, Unwritten; the song that proved to have the most staying power from the set. 2007 sees the gorgeous Miss Bedingfield return to the global pop charts with her sophomore album, NB. By now you should know that she’s managed to create a song that is sillier and catchier than These Words – the so-stupid-that-it’s-fun I Wanna Have Your Babies. But don’t let the first single fool you – as with Unwritten, NB has much more substance than you would think. The album opens with How Do You Do, a catchy track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Scissor Sisters album. Also on the notably upbeat side is Not Givin’ Up, while (No More) What Ifs features rapper Eve and will undoubtedly be a future single. On the slower side, an area in which Natasha usually excels, I loved the honesty and despair of Soulmate, the tender nostalgia of Backyard and the old-school instrumentation on When You Know You Know. However, none come close to the simple genius of Say It Again – my favourite song on NB. I thought it a nice touch to include Unwritten as the last song on the album – it also leads into two hidden tracks for some added value. NB was not entirely what I expected: After the considerable success of Unwritten I suspected (perhaps even secretly hoped)