Albums I’m looking forward to!

It looks like the end of the year is shaping up to be the best part of 2008, music-wise! :) There are several upcoming albums that I’m eagerly anticipating the release of. November and December can’t come soon enough!

  • Girls Aloud will release their fifth studio album Out Of Control on November 3. I adored Tangled Up (from last year) so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that OOC will be just as good, if not even better! The girls have already released the first single from the album, the sixties-inspired “The Promise,” which also comes with a fab b-side called “She.” One of the album’s tracks, “The Loving Kind,” was penned for the group by the Pet Shop Boys! I’m far too excited about this album! :)
  • Sarah Brightman‘s Christmas album, A Winter Symphony, will be on sale on November 3. Sarah’s voice will perfectly complement the wintry tracks on the album which include “Silent Night,” “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” and “Amazing Grace.” I was a bit disappointed with her January release “Symphony” – too schmaltzy, Sarah! :O – so I’m looking forward to this new album. :)
  • Enya has a Christmas/winter-themed album, And Winter Came, coming out too on November 11. Enya’s trademark sound is perfect for the holiday season and first single “Trains And Winter Rains” is a good sign that the album will be great! :)
  • Dido will return to the music scene with Safe Trip Home on November 18 in the US. The two songs previously released from the album, “Look No Further” and the single “Don’t Believe In Love,” are beautiful (the single has funky bass!) so I’m guessing the full album will be lovely. I really love Dido’s first two albums so I can’t wait for Safe Trip Home!
  • And finally, the legendary Miss Britney Spears. :) Her album, Circus, is set to be released on December 2 in the US. After the awesome but under-promoted Blackout from last year, I’ve got high hopes that Circus will be a super pop experience. The first single from the album, “Womanizer,” was recently released and I’m loving it!

Sarah Brightman – Fly (1995)

I’ve featured Sarah Brightman here before, but her music’s so good, I’m going to feature her again!

untitled585858Sarah Brightman has been making music in the “classical crossover” genre for the last few years to great effect, but in 1995, for a brief, shining moment, Ms Brightman made a pure pop/dance album: Fly. Sarah had, of course, dabbled in disco while she fronted Hot Gossip – ‘I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper’ is fabulous proof of this. But then she spent most of the 80s on stage and singing Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, with driving beats and spiky synths nowhere to be heard.

In the early 90s Sarah released two albums that came closer to “pop” than she had for the last decade. And finally, what I consider the peak of Sarah’s pop career came about in 1995. Fly was the pinnacle of that short time between “Showtune Sarah” and “Classy Contemporary (with occasional forays into dance) Sarah”.

Fly opens with the buzz of… well, flies. A trip-hop beat and eerie synths begin to weave a hypnotic rhythm and then Sarah starts singing about pies and star juices and Mars! It’s weird, it’s kinda wacky, and it’s wonderful. ‘Why’ starts off all dreamy and synthy, then the guitars come in to rock it up a bit! A reversed drumbeat and breathy vocals from Sarah make this a dreamy rock/pop confection.

sbflyBack to the weird and wonderful with ‘Murder in Mairyland Park’! Atmospheric ambient synthesizers lead into an intimate, piano-accompanied Sarah vocal. The production, lyrics, and Sarah’s vulnerable vocals give the whole song a pretty creepy atmosphere. It all goes along fairly sweetly, then big drums come in and Sarah unleashes her more formal, operatic voice to sing some lines in Latin, accompanied by guitar. The song ends with the sound of footfalls. Creepy!

We get some more rock and pop with ‘How Can Heaven Love Me?’, featuring Chris Thompson. The album version of this song is, to me, better than the video edit. The video mix is cleaner, more polished – I like how the album version is a little more subdued and doesn’t scream “ROCK!” the way the video edit does. It doesn’t sound like it’s trying to be a rock song; it just is! Thompson’s guest vocals sound great with Sarah’s, and his little German interlude is neat. The song ends abruptly and then…

We come to one of Sarah’s all-time best tracks – ‘A Question of Honour’. Sarah classes things up with a bit of opera in the form of some lines from ‘La Wally’, then there’s the crash of thunder, some ambient synths, and some epic string work. A dance beat heightens the tension while more atmospheric production swirls around the mix. Snippets of Sarah singing from ‘La Wally’ pop up and the mix becomes thicker, leading up to a truly epic high note from Sarah! A male chorus sing some lines and more strings come in – then the guitars come to add yet more awesome to the song. Sarah doesn’t actually sing very much in this track, but when she does, oh man is it cool! We come to a breakdown with tinkling piano and then another very nifty breakdown that finds Sarah singing more lines from ‘La Wally’. If the last few seconds of the song don’t send chills down your spine, then I don’t know what’s the matter with you!!

After that bit of perfection, ‘Ghost In The Machinery’ starts with a neat bassline and grungy beat. Nice lyrics and more nifty production touches (sound effects, great guitars) make this another highlight of Fly. ‘He’s a shock to the system, he’s a wicked clown – no matter what you do he turns it upside down’. How cool is that?

Have you heard Sarah’s Harem album? Hear where it all started with ‘You Take My Breath Away.’ A sample of Asha Bhosle singing ‘Dil Cheez Kya Hai’, accompanied by synths, wind chimes, and sitar, takes us far away from the industrial sound of ‘Ghost In The Machinery’. Light beats and a chanting chorus support Sarah’s vocals. Then the instrumentation drops out to only feature Sarah and some Middle Eastern beats. The instrumentation and vocals build and then drop back out, coming in again with some acoustic guitar. The bassline is cool and the addition of some Middle Eastern-sounding samples make this song a gorgeous, atmospheric affair. Like ‘A Question of Honour,’ Sarah doesn’t sing a whole lot here. It’s kind of a set piece, really, but her vocals are beautiful and there’s this one bit where her vocals are phased – it sounds very cool. More guitars, a chorus, Sarah, and Chris Thompson come in to sing ‘You take my breath away’ as the beats get heavier and the mix gets thicker. Then the Asha Bhosle intro comes back in to wind everything down. Beautiful.

‘Heaven Is Here’ is a low-key ballad with subdued production (until the heavy drums and guitars come in at the end!) and sweet vocals from Sarah. For some, this may be too sugary sweet, but it manages to not sound saccharine and is actually a nice little tune. The track ends with some nifty bleeping ambient synths that lead into…

…’I Love You’, which is the only song so far in her career in which we hear Sarah “rap”! Well, sort of. And you know what? It works. Guitars and those bleepy synths lead into a trip-hop beat and semi-spoken vocals from Sarah. The lyrics are almost entirely composed of past pop culture references and with the 90s-sounding production on this song, you feel like you’re in a bit of a time warp while listening to this! The chorus is pretty and Sarah’s vocals sound as sweet as ever.

‘I Love You’ ends with lots of neat sound effects and spacey, sweeping synths, leading into ‘Fly.’ A sample of Neil Armstrong’s famous quote upon setting foot on the surface of the moon crackles as a flute whistles out a spooky melody. The tinkly, eerie synths of the first track are paired with a reversed drumbeat as more atmospheric production touches wind their way around the mix. Sarah sings some lines from the first track and then it all sort of explodes into a stunning mess of wailing guitars, marching drumbeats, electronic screams and sound effects. An ending to an album that will really take your breath away.

The FLY II edition, only available at La Luna Tour performances (and purchased by yours truly during a special sale thing from the official site a few years ago), has really great tracks that you can’t find anywhere else. Pretty much every song could have been an album track, and are must-listens for fans – both of Sarah Brightman and good music in general!

If you know Sarah Brightman only as a former stage diva, take a listen to Fly and get to know Sarah Brightman: Pop Diva!

Sarah Brightman – Dive (1993)

untitled698Born August 14, 1960, Sarah Brightman’s career began as a dancer/singer in Hot Gossip. She originated the role of Christine DaaĆ© in The Phantom of the Opera and ever since has been pigeonholed as a musical theatre artist. This is a terrible injustice, in my very humble opinion.

I’m not a big musical theatre fan. Broadway musicals make me kinda ill. Way too much saccharine for my taste! Sarah Brightman’s work in the theatre is definitely wonderful, but aside from a few excellent songs, I’m not too into that phase of her career. (And according to Ms Brightman herself, she isn’t too into musical theatre either!)

Sarah Brightman’s work since 1990 has been mainly operatic pop/dance or modern classical and is just amazing. She is one of the foremost ‘crossover’ artists today and is currently working on an album that will apparently have a ‘gothic metal feel.’ On paper, Sarah Brightman and gothic metal don’t really make a whole lot of sense, but fans of the diva know that she really could sing any genre!

00027912On to Dive! Released in 1993, Dive was Ms Brightman’s first collaboration with uber-producer Frank Peterson. The album is loosely based on water-related imagery and several tracks feature relevant sound effects (seagulls, rain falling, water flowing…).

The album begins with an instrumental/spoken word track that lifts text from Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams. Despite how it may seem, that doesn’t mean the album’s gonna be some wacky new-age thing about communing with whales! Although the next track, ‘Captain Nemo,’ may in fact be about a whale.

Well, no matter. ‘Captain Nemo’ sounds really nifty, with tinkly guitars, sweeping synths, and heavy percussion towards the end – and of course Sarah’s gorgeous vocals! ‘The Second Element’ sounds like a very 90s mid-tempo pop/rock song, with the downtempo beat and keyboards, but Sarah’s vocals pull the song out of the doldrums.

Keyboards, synths, and guitars are the main musical ingredients of this album, most prominently in ‘Ship of Fools’ (a light ballad), ‘Once In A Lifetime’ (a slightly naughty ditty, certainly for Sarah Brightman, with Enigma-esque beats, that references ‘pools of sin’ – oh my!), and ‘A Salty Dog’ (a Procol Harum cover that is just a teensy bit over-the-top – it would have been nice to hear this song sung and produced in a more low-key style).

The album has three tracks which aren’t really songs, but ‘interludes’ which seem to have grown popular with more recent album releases. The title track weighs in at 52 seconds, and ‘Cape Horn’ (which samples dialogue from Mutiny on the Bounty and doesn’t feature Sarah at all) and the vocalised ‘Siren’ measure 49 seconds and 1:14, respectively. Don’t skip them, though, as they do add to the nautical ambiance of the album!

The middle of the album drags a bit for me – ‘Siren,’ ‘Seven Seas’ (a rock-tinged power ballad), and ‘Johnny Wanna Live’ (another rock-tinged track, this time a cover of a Sandra song) are all good songs but lack any real punch. They sound a bit too ‘same-y’. Fear not, though, because the album picks up with ‘By Now,’ a light pop/rock track with a really catchy chorus.

Back to the ballads with ‘Island,’ but it’s not your average fluffy ballad about loooove – this one is seemingly about having an existential crisis! Songs like that are a dime-a-dozen, of course, but I dunno, I like it a lot. :) ‘When It Rains In America’ is another mid-tempo light pop track with more keyboards that sounds straight out of the 90s (which makes sense).

Now we come to the final two songs: ‘La Mer’ and ‘The Second Element II.’ ‘La Mer’ is often cited as one of Sarah Brightman’s finest tracks, and she even performed it live during her One Night in Eden tour. It definitely is a neat track, with whispered vocals, soaring chorus, and chill-out beats and tinkly synths – but, she only really sings during the chorus, and to me the song isn’t really a full-fledged ‘song’ but a track featuring Sarah Brightman. Does that make sense?

‘The Second Element II’ closes the album and what a beautiful conclusion it is! Sarah’s voice is accompanied by acoustic guitars and a back-up chorus on the… er, chorus. :) It’s a beautiful, laid-back track, and I for one would like to hear an entire Sarah Brightman album done in this style.

If you’re more familiar with Sarah Brightman’s musical theatre work and really love it, don’t get this album. If you’re more familiar with her recent work like La Luna or Harem, check Dive out to hear what Sarah was up to before she became the crossover phenom she is today! :)