The Downloading Portal
News, Views, and Musical Journeys
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2006, Volume 13, #11
Written by Simon Baker
Welcome to iRevue, your guide to the world of downloading. Each fortnight, we will examine the iTunes charts in the U.K. and provide you with the latest news, views, and reviews of the most downloaded singles, tracks, albums, and podcasts. Our goal is to highlight an eclectic mix of musical genres and artists, both new and old, that will help and encourage you to get the most out of your MP3 player.
Editor’s Note: Our "New Musical Journeys and Inspirations" feature has been suspended for several issues so that we can devote more space to the overwhelming slate of new albums and singles that are scheduled for release.
November 20th, 2006
With the holiday season chart race heating up and competition for Christmas sales increasing, the record companies have started to unload their "big guns" on the marketplace. Over the course of the past two weeks, some of the most popular artists have issued greatest hits collections, and an unusual scenario has developed in which those albums that are expected to be the largest sellers of the period were released on the same day. Normally, the heavy-hitters are spread out over a month-long time frame to give each a chance to obtain some recognition and not conflict with one another. This year has been different, and the labels seem to have disregarded these traditional marketing strategies in favor of an aggressive, head-to-head battle for sales. It’s not quite a winner-take-all scenario, but it certainly is a winner-take-most approach.
Top Downloaded Tracks
Last week in the U.K., the traditional slowdown of singles sales during the holiday period was halted by the release of a long-awaited comeback, a film theme, and another charity-benefitting tune. The resurgence of Take That was initiated by an hour-long television documentary, though nobody was more surprised by the boy band’s hugely successful return than the group itself. The massive outpouring of support that it received provided the outfit with the opportunity to thank some of its most loyal fans by arranging a few gigs in small venues. However, within a few days of announcing the shows, it quickly became apparent that more concerts — in bigger arenas, no less — were needed to satisfy the overwhelming demand.
With a nationwide tour that featured more than 50 shows at some of the biggest venues in the country, Take That broke the record for ticket sales. Capitalizing upon its reignited popularity, the ensemble has issued Patience, the first single from its forthcoming outing Beautiful World, which is due on the 27th of November. The quality of front-man Gary Barlow’s songwriting has been something that former member Robbie Williams has mocked repeatedly over the course of the past decade. Yet, there’s no doubt that Barlow knows how to pen pop songs, and Patience is one of his best to date. Lush harmonies, a strong vocal performance, and a chorus that is immediately ingratiating combine to form a tune that can only be defined as "classic." Judging by the rather muted reaction to Williams’ latest offering, it may be time for him to take a rather large slice of humble pie and rejoice in the inevitable future success of his former band members.
Prior to its release, the most recent James Bond movie received a lot of negative press, and hardcore fans seemed initially to reject Daniel Craig as the new face of the popular character. Once his performance was viewed within the context of the film, however, a turnabout of opinion was in order. So, with everything back to normal in Bond-land, it was no surprise to see the traditional chart entry for the new theme song. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Shirley Bassey, Duran Duran, Carly Simon, Tina Turner, and Madonna, it seems Craig is not the only one who had to meet some rather high expectations. Ex-Soungarden vocalist Chris Cornell was, perhaps, an odd choice, but he, nonetheless, has produced a title track that contains all of the ingredients of a classic Bond theme: a big chorus, chugging rock guitars, and huge production. As was the case with its predecessors, however, You Know My Name is best heard alongside the opening sequence of the movie, and it struggles to stand up on its own merits.
Finally, as part of the national, biannual BBC Children in Need appeal, ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton has released the single Downtown, and all of the proceeds from sales of the song will be donated to this very worthwhile cause. Having employed a full orchestral backing and a chirpy, ’60s ambience, Bunton delivered, in true Pygmalion fashion, a faithful rendition of the classic track by Petula Clark.
Album Download Chart
Over the last 25 years, George Michael, Oasis, and U2 have sold more records among them than just about anyone else in the world. The trio have set high standards for themselves by cornering the market not only in terms of music sales, but also in terms of concert revenues, political controversy, and, of course, scandal. The release of greatest hits collections by all three artists within a seven-day period has produced a flurry of sales activity, and not surprisingly, these albums dominate the download chart. The sets themselves need little analysis because just about every track on the outings is familiar to even the artists’ most casual fans.
George Michael’s collection is entitled Twenty Five, which, of course, is a nod to the number of years that he has been participating in the music industry. The outing contains all of his major hits — from the teenage exuberance of Wham! to his mature musings as an established artist. Although its contents are not presented in chronological order, the greatest hits package does trace the incredible career of a man who was once touted by some as the next Paul McCartney. Every song is steeped in memories for his 40-something audience, and yet the material remains approachable for 20-something fans. It almost goes without saying that this is a feat that not often is achieved from such a lackluster starting point.
Michael’s outspoken views and his stubborn attitude have caused a number of ups and downs throughout his career, but with age, he has learned to use the press to his advantage. His love/hate relationship with the U.S., his strong political viewpoints, his drug usage, and his sexuality have all seen copious amounts of column inches in papers on both sides of the pond. However, he always has followed the attention with a single, an album, or controversial video, and this often begs the questions, "Without the sensational press coverage, would he have been so successful in recent times? Who’s feeding whom?" Whatever the answers, Twenty Five contains some of the best pop songs as well as some of the most controversial tunes ever written by an artist from the U.K. Key tracks include: Everything She Wants, Outside, Shoot the Dog, Amazing, Careless Whisper, and Faith.
In its relatively short career, Oasis also has experienced the wrath of the press. Manchester’s own working class heroes — who have found it hard to construct a sentence without either being offensive, using an expletive, or ending a commentary with the phrase "you know what I mean" — have come a long way from their Burnage roots...financially speaking, at least. Brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher have lead the band through turbulent times both on and off the stage, though this surely is par-for-the-course for an authentic rock ’n‘ roll outfit. In spite of his being conversationally challenged, Noel Gallagher possesses the inexplicable ability to produce lyrics that reflect real emotions and issues, and he is capable of depicting working class society with as much accuracy and depth as any British laureate. In addition, he has an uncanny ability to cop from John Lennon and Paul McCartney with equal degrees of success, and he has demonstrated an affinity for combining this with the sort of big, edgy attitude that typically is associated with the Rolling Stones. As such, Gallagher is a mesmerizing front man who venomously spits out his words. His recipe for success was unparalleled in the ’90s.
Somehow, Oasis has managed to refrain from jumping into the lucrative retrospective market, and therefore, in the eyes of fans, the emergence of Stop the Clocks has been a long time coming. Fortunately, the outing was worth the wait. Each track is a classic in its own right, and surely, the affair will be viewed as an essential addition to any music collection. Key tracks include Wonderwall, Cigarettes & Alcohol, Supersonic, Lyla, Champagne Supernova, and The Masterplan.
The trilogy of retrospective sets is completed by the release of U218, a collection of U2’s chart-topping singles. This serves more as a "best of the best" collection because it contains only the most successful of the band’s hits. Once again, the material isn’t presented in chronological order, but there’s no denying that its contents have influenced and dominated at least one generation of fans. From the innocent, angry young Dubliners on I Will Follow and Sunday Bloody Sunday to Bono’s heartbreaking lament for his dying father Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, this effort is a musical journey through the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. The sophisticated sounds of One, Vertigo, Elevation, and Beautiful Day show that U2 has progressed very far from its humble beginnings, yet, the ensemble also has managed to retain a level of authenticity that is hard to knock.
Nevertheless, U2 has had its moments of insanity, however, as is evidenced by the pretentious Rattle and Hum project as well as the surreal sounds of Zooropa. Similarly, the political sideshow that continuously surrounds front man Bono has been an off-again, on-again distraction. Thankfully, U2 more recently has taken a back-to-basics approach to both touring and recording, and it remains one of the hardest working outfits in the music industry. For those who haven’t purchased the definitive, iTunes exclusive The Complete U2 or the substantial retrospective packages (The Best of U2 1980-1990 and The Best of U2 1990-2000) that are available at standard retail outlets, the truly concise U218 is a worthwhile investment. Key tracks include Pride (In The Name of Love), Desire, One, Mysterious Ways, and With or Without You.
Other collections worthy of investigation include: Irish pop family The Corrs’ Dreams — The Ultimate Corrs Collection; The Sugababes’ Overloaded — The Singles Collection; the latest Depeche Mode package The Best of Depeche Mode, Volume One; and Moby’s Go: The Very Best of Moby, which includes his excellent collaboration with Blondie’s Debbie Harry on the original cut New York, New York.
Potential customers would be forgiven for thinking that there are only greatest hits collections to choose from this holiday season, such is the high profile nature of this year’s crop. Nevertheless, there also are some quality new releases to sample. Some of the key items that also have been featured in the download chart over the past 14 days include: Tenacious D’s The Pick of Destiny, a comedic effort that is so good that it very easily could stand on its own as a bonafide rock album; Jarvis, the long-awaited release from ex-Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker; Snoop Dogg’s The Blue Carpet Treatment; Westlife’s The Love Album; the eponymous debut from All Angels; and An Other Cup, the excellent and long overdue effort from Yusuf Islam, who formerly recorded under the moniker Cat Stevens.
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box